I Am a Cat
Many of you may have noticed that I make it a point to avoid “blog” when making entries here or on Outpost Nine. There are quite a few people doing me the favor of reading; I’d like to give everyone something more entertaining than what I did today, or what TV show I’m interested in, or what random place I went to. But you’ll have to forgive me if I slip into a blog post every now and then, and today is one of those occasions.
I’ve been in Japan for five years now. And I’m at the point where I’m wondering if my time in Japan is at an end.
I no longer like my job. There are various reasons why, none of which I really want to get into detail about. I would quit now if I could, but that’s not really a viable option. My contract ends at the beginning of 2009 – I have decided that I will not renew. So the question now is – what to do from there? There’s a few jobs I can think of here in Japan that I really want to do – if I can land those, I’ll stay. If not…then maybe it’s time to go back?
The funny thing about work is – it’s work. Not everyone is fortunate to love their job. And everyone has to deal with bad working conditions regardless of what country you live in. Annoying bosses, difficult co-workers, stressful projects and what not – these things are not exclusive to Japan. But I am starting to feel like I’m just not suited for the Japanese workforce, especially as a foreigner.
One of the most common jobs for foreigners in Japan is that of the English teacher. It requires little to no prior experience or skills, and is commonly available. But, even if you actually like teaching, the job has a very real limit. The system was designed to only accomodate an individual worker for a limited time – maybe two or three years, tops. As such, institutions aren’t interested in cultivating employee relations for a long and rewarding future, but rather getting the most out of you until you leave and someone else takes your place. Not to mention that, unless you plan on becoming a teacher, the job gives you no credentials or experience towards finding employment in another field.
For the few who do venture outside of the English teaching world, now you have to deal with the Japanese workforce, which is notorious in its own right. In Japan, working hard means working long. Good workers are the ones catching the late trains home everyday. While I’m not at all opposed to overtime when the situation calls for it, I don’t like the idea of having to stay late just for the sake of staying late. I have a life outside of work – I have a new wife, a baby coming sooner or later (no, she’s not pregnant now…), and hobbies and what not. If everything I have to do at work is done on time with no errors, then at the very least I want to be able to go home and see my family. Unfortunately, doing so means you’re a lazy worker who isn’t motivated to help the company succeed.
Also, Japanese society is built upon social hierarchy – everyone has their place. And there’s little to no equality, you’re either higher up on the ladder, or lower. Those who are higher love to kick around those who are lower. They got kicked around when they were juniors, and now that they’re seniors its their turn to do the kicking. I saw this plenty when I was an English teacher; sannenei bossed around ichinensei because they had seniority, and even in the teachers room, older teachers loved to take the piss out of younger teachers (see: The Story of Ms. Cinderella). While this is plenty unpleasant on its own, also factor in that we foreigners may never get that seniority status. After all, we are outsiders – Japanese people have a hard enough time factoring us into the social ladder at all, much less at the top of it.
After five years, I’ve more or less gotten used to living in Japan. Random stares and McDonalds English menu flips don’t bother me much anymore, if at all. I love living in Kyoto, and even have favorite date spots I like to take the wife to on weekends. I’m very comfortable with my life here…outside of work. I’d love to stay here a few more years at least. Of course, the big problem is money.
I have decided that I want to be a writer. Obviously, I’ve got a book brewing about my experience in Japan, but not just that – fiction, non-fiction, I just want to write. And if I may turn my modesty off for a second here, I think I’ve got some degree of talent for it. While I am still young, I feel that this is something I should go ahead and get started with. The problem with writing as a career though is, until you “make it” in the profession, that it doesn’t have the stable income as a regular 9-5 job. I am an amateur, and I don’t know how long it will take until I can depend on writing as my career. Meanwhile, I have a wedding coming up in less than three months that I already can’t pay for, and past that regardless of whether I stay in Japan past January or not I’m going to need money just to live and take care of my family.
So, I’ve got a lot to try and think about and figure out. And not a whole lot of time in which to do it. If I told you I had even a general idea of what to do or how to do it, I’d be lying. All I can really do now is work with what I’ve got and try to make things happen. I would like to stay in Japan for a few more years for various reasons, but right now its too early to tell if I’ll be able to or not. I hate that everything’s so uncertain but, that’s just how it is at the moment. I’ll just have to find a way to make it work.
Thanks for reading my ramblings. Next time I’ll have something more entertaining, I promise.
(Az’s Note: This entry’s title, “I Am a Cat”, is a reference to a novel of the same name written by Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki. There are English translations of the book available for those who may be mildly interested. Why I picked it for this entry’s title…while it has little relevance to the entry’s content, this is my attempt to avoid using something like “Life” or “Musings” or something else horribly cliche.)