Gaijin Smash

Sour Apples – Part II

Posted in Blog by gaijinsmashnet on October 30, 2008

After months of searching and spending my free time being Japan’s first house husband, I began work at my new, non-English teaching job in January 2007. The position I applied for and originally worked was that of customer service – answering emails from customers about the various products on our site (“no ma’am, even if you tell me how big your breasts are in centimeters I cannot tell you what bra size you should order…”). Eventually, I transitioned from that to translation checking.
We had a fairly large amount of translation to be done. We sent out the majority of it to freelance translators; we’d give them a certain amount and a deadline, they would turn it in, and then someone would have to look over the translations to make sure that they were correct, fix any possible errors, and try to unify these translations we got from several different people into the site’s standard. When I first started working, the site didn’t really have a standard – I don’t know if I was the first native English speaker to work there, but at the time I joined the English Team was composed of two other employees – a Japanese lady (U-san), and a lady from Hong Kong (A-san). I suppose the Japanese lady could speak English…but in the however many months that we worked together, I never heard her speak English, not even once. Even just looking around the site, at products or even informational pages, it was easy to tell that the English hadn’t been written by a native English speaker. Lots of spelling and grammatical errors, and a few things that would have made a worthy addition to Engrish.com.


Most of our outsource translators were Japanese – not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but these particular translators…their English translation level just wasn’t that good. When checking translations, aside from being grammatically odd, there were plenty of times when I just didn’t understand what was being said in English. I had to re-write much of the translations, and in some cases, I had to re-translate it from scratch. It occurred to me that the time I spent checking and correcting the outsource translations was just as much, if not more than the time it would take me to just translate the file myself. So I asked my supervisor, who at the time was in charge of the English outsource translations, and subsequently our company president, to stop using the vast majority of our freelance translators. While we looked for more competent translators, I would pick up the slack on my end.
I suppose I could have settled for “just good enough.” Just worry about catching spelling mistakes or bad translations, and let the non-native feel and unnatural grammar slide. That certainly would have been a lot easier. But, I had a lot of pride in my job and the company, and professionally I didn’t want to put that out there. Japan is known for broken English, and we foreigners love to laugh at all the mistakes and wonder why they couldn’t just drag even one foreigner off the street and ask “Hey, is this English OK?” This company did have a native English speaker, so there was no reason why they should be publishing mistaken English. I didn’t want to let that happen.
In an ideal situation, my vision might have worked. In an ideal situation. Of course, reality always proves to be very far from the ideal. Our English Team went from 3 members to 2 as U-san quit just a few months after I’d joined the company. She cited “not agreeing with the company’s policies” or something like that as her reasons – at the time, I didn’t really understand why she was quitting. Although the lady from Hong Kong, A-san, was still there, she could only work until 3:30, 4PM at the latest. She had two young daughters – 6 and 4 years old, and she had to go home to pick them up from nursery school and take care of them. These were the conditions that she was hired on, and I certainly couldn’t find any fault with that – she was a mother before anything else, and one day when I have kids of my own I plan to be a father before anything else as well. However, with A-san leaving early, it meant that anything and everything else English related fell on my shoulders. As she put it, “the English Team is at 1.5 members right now.”
Sometime around November/December-ish, we got the translation data for the spring fashion lines. I guess spring and fall are the major new clothes seasons, so there was a lot of data. As we only had one or two freelance translators who could be trusted to not write broken English, I assumed responsibility for the vast majority of it. It was a volume that, ideally, would have been divided up among 5-6 translators. Despite the daunting amount, I should have been able to do it all with no problems. What I forgot to take into account however, was that I was now responsible for almost everything English within the company. This included a lot of internal translation as well – it was common to have people literally lining up at my desk to tell me about the English translation they needed to have done as soon as possible. As a result, I didn’t have nearly as much time as I’d calculated to work on the product translations during normal working hours.
So I ended up having to do overtime. Lots of it. Only after other people started to go home could I actually work on a project uninterrupted. More than that, I just didn’t have the time. My working hours officially ended at 6PM, but I often stayed until 8, 9, 10, and even past 11PM, catching the last train home. I brought translations home, and would wake up in the middle of the night after my wife had fallen asleep in order to make progress. I worked on them on the weekends, and even went to work on the weekend a few times. I had become the dreaded Japanese salaryman – I spent more time in front of my work computer than anywhere else.
Amazingly enough, I was actually okay with this. The long hours were tough, sure, but I actually liked my job. I was glad to no longer be an English teacher anymore – I felt like I’d broken the mold and was inching closer to the adult world. I was being entrusted with these tasks, so I wanted to succeed and reward the trust that had been placed in me. I also still liked my co-workers, including my supervisor and the company president, I liked the goals of the company, and I wanted to see them – I wanted to see us – succeed. I also assumed that this was not a permanent thing – the president promised that as soon as the storm of activity passed we’d start hiring new freelance translators, and hopefully someone to work in-house as well.
So, I weathered the storm, and in January things seemed to clear up. There were a lot of bumps and bruises and a few missed deadlines here and there, but I got all the projects done. As he said he would, the president gave me the OK to put out ads for translators. I was able to add some really skilled individuals to our list of freelance translators. And we got another native English speaker to work in-house – an Australian guy who’d come all the way from Hokkaido to work here. The president, my supervisor, and everyone else seemed really appreciative of everything I’d done – I got a pay raise, and became the “English Division Director.” Things were definitely looking up.
Little did I know, the worst was yet to come…
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45 Responses

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  1. c45j said, on October 30, 2008 at 1:15 am

    i have a man crush on you.

  2. Joe said, on October 30, 2008 at 1:34 am

    All this makes me wonder how things are progressing on the “move back to America” plan? Is your wife’s English at a level where she wouldn’t feel isolated in America? I hope things go well after all this trouble 😦

  3. feitclub said, on October 30, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Wait, I’m confused – I thought you just got married a few months ago, but this story speaks of a wife in 2007. Or is there more than one author working at this blog?
    Love hearing these work stories, even if I know it’s going to end badly and the whole thing makes ME worry about my future in Japan.

  4. Gino said, on October 30, 2008 at 2:51 am

    For every high point there comes a time when things get really low. One of the most important things to remember is that no matter how deep of a hole you dig for yourself, eventually you are going to dig back up to the surface.

  5. evil_tennyo said, on October 30, 2008 at 2:52 am

    I’m glad you’re posting what had happened. I’ll be waiting for the next update!

  6. russian pineapple said, on October 30, 2008 at 3:06 am

    seing you, succeding in that dauntling country like this almost made me cry. you were doing it, a succesful gaijin, breaking the system.
    it almost made me think 4 years of studiying japanese are worth it…
    and now, knowing the best part its going to come…
    please update soon ^^

  7. Maryn said, on October 30, 2008 at 4:04 am

    Well, this is shaping up to be a nice little story. I look forward to your next posts.

  8. CF said, on October 30, 2008 at 4:09 am

    “If you take more than your fair share of
    objective, you will be given more than your fair
    share of objective to take.” [Unknown]

  9. Paul said, on October 30, 2008 at 4:12 am

    Hey Az,
    I’ve been reading your posts for a looooong time now and this is the first time I felt that I had to post.
    Being from the States myself and now working in Seoul for a Korean company, I can see a lot of similarities between your old job and mine.
    However, what your boss did WAS extreme and beyond illegal. As much as I admire the dedication of the workforce in Asia, you deserve what is rightfully yours.
    Go get your well earned paycheck!
    ps-Congrats on the wedding and if you’re ever in Seoul, I’ll buy you a beer! (Overworked expats UNITE!)

  10. Chay said, on October 30, 2008 at 4:59 am

    Its terrible… I know doom is coming and there is nothing to avoid it…
    Thanks for posting this story after all. I really wondered what actually happend after everything looked so good for you.
    btw you teached me some very important things. Thank you!

  11. Tyberius said, on October 30, 2008 at 5:29 am

    I’ve always enjoyed your stories Az. I relate with this series of stories the most, having gone through similar situations in the past. Keep up the excellent writing. Can’t wait for the conclusion.

  12. cactus said, on October 30, 2008 at 6:18 am

    thx for your story.I really appreciate and i love your style of writing.It makes things really interesting to read.
    cactus

  13. Mariko said, on October 30, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I’m guessing your downhill was because your boss thought, hey, it’s not fair a gaijin is doing better than me in the first place, I shall abuse him by making him do everything else! Make him work his share of the paycheck!
    But anyway, thanks for telling us the story anyway even though you didn’t get enough donations. Hope things turn up soon.

  14. Dran said, on October 30, 2008 at 9:19 am

    What an ominous end to the editorial.
    Love listening to your stories, mate. Wether the stories are told in a funny or more serious tone, you always manage to tell an interesting and catching one.
    γŒγ‚“γ°γ£γ¦γ­!

  15. Corrupt_Ideal said, on October 30, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Hey, I’ve never posted here before, though I’ve been following the site for several years. Taking Japanese this semester has really heightened my interest in teaching over there (yea, I know I’m sure you hear that a lot), so I just wanted to personally thank you for your constant (and frequently hilarious) insight into aspects of the culture that an American (in this case) might not be aware of.
    I really like this story so far, though I must constantly remind myself that it will eventually go horribly wrong. This seems particularly distressing considering how optimistic the story starts off. Well, okay, I don’t want to ramble, so I’ll just say keep up the great work!
    (also, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d be interested in more “multi-part” stories)

  16. Fulluphigh said, on October 30, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    I envy you, Az. You’re doing something a lot of people do only in their heads.
    You’re actually going out there, and living.
    Sure, you’re not doing some sort of dream job, or making a ton of money. But you’re exploring new places, and trying different things.
    Things aren’t always turning out how they ideally should, but for every down there’s always been, and always will be, an up.
    That’s pretty sweet, you know.

  17. Albert said, on October 30, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    @Joe: If you haven’t figured out by now. This is Azrael’s work story in 2007.
    Looking forward to 3rd one.

  18. tekuno said, on October 30, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    thanks again for part 2. You have no idea how insightful these posts are. Or maybe you do.

  19. slsonic said, on October 30, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    lmao, man crush xD

  20. Goat said, on October 30, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    This is a very good story, you see you don’t always need to write comedy to keep the mob (me included) happy. Looking forward to the conclusion. Also you are very good at cliff hangers holding us back, making us want more.

  21. LaoWai said, on October 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Hi Az, long time reader. your story sounds eerily similar to mine cept I work in China instead of Japan.
    Would love to see how it all unfolds, please update soon! cheers

  22. Justanothermom said, on October 30, 2008 at 10:39 pm

    In my job, I hear a lot of stories from people about their (sometimes former) employers. What I am reading here seems to fit a pattern; I can already see what’s going to happen. Oy.
    Your command of English after so much time in a non-English speaking country is really awesome, Az. Unfortunately, it makes me cringe that much more when someone who is a native English speaker writes/says something that is, for me at least, glaringly not correct (I have to say it – it’s CAUGHT, not “catched,” & TAUGHT, not “teached!”).

  23. mem3nt0 vivere said, on October 30, 2008 at 11:59 pm

    Hey Az, I’m a long-time reader. This actually has nothing to do with this editorial (although hearing the story of your dreaded job is quite interesting), but I had an idea. While reading this, it occurred to me that it’d been forever since I started reading Gaijin Smash, which made me think of how many editorials there are by now… enough, really, to put into a book. I think it’d sell well (you’re an awesome, engaging writer), and while it’d take a LOT of editing work I think it’d pay off in the end, financially-speaking. Just my two cents. =P
    Keep up the good work, I’m eager to read more!

  24. Joe said, on October 31, 2008 at 1:31 am

    @Albert: Yeah, I know that, but it still makes me wonder about today. After all, this job crap leads to financial crap which leads to trouble. You may not remember, but I remember being the only one who remembered a few stories back during one of the pre-wedding stories that Az’s wife actually wants to come to America… πŸ™‚
    So I am paying attention here.

  25. Almighty Me said, on October 31, 2008 at 3:49 am

    Have you ever thought of becoming an bodyguard?

  26. gmarth said, on October 31, 2008 at 4:16 am

    hi, thanks for sharing this story…
    Still I have to ask, are you really sure you don`t want to become an english teacher.
    it pays the bills and you also have time to study some more. get your first kyu, and get some other qualifications that may help you in the future.
    and all that while you`r able to EAT…. doesn`t that sound good?

  27. Wayland said, on October 31, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Man-crush on you? wtf Anyways. I think this is one of your greater pieces. Keep it up man.

  28. Anonymous said, on October 31, 2008 at 10:23 am

    @ Justanothermom.
    Az has stated before that he purposefully leaves in grammatical and spelling mistakes, because… he can. Or something.
    He’s like Bear Grilles, throwing himself off a mountain just to prove it’s not a good idea. It’s intense.

  29. Anonymous said, on October 31, 2008 at 10:23 am

    @ Justanothermom.
    Az has stated before that he purposefully leaves in grammatical and spelling mistakes, because… he can. Or something.
    He’s like Bear Grilles, throwing himself off a mountain just to prove it’s not a good idea. It’s intense.

  30. skizz said, on October 31, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    @LaoWai: nice name..a bit of subtle humor there :p
    (“lao wai”, which is Chinese, means basically the same thing as “gaijin”)
    More stories ending with ellipses…getting suspensful!

  31. Zantetsu said, on October 31, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Your life is really eventful. If a manga about you isn’t in the works already it’s about time it gets started.

  32. Justanothermom said, on October 31, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    @Anonymous: I wasn’t critiquing Az’s grammar; I was critiquing the grammar of two other posters. I was actually complimenting Az for holding onto his good grammar, in spite of being flooded with Japanese about 95% of his waking hours.

  33. Joe said, on October 31, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    A manga? I always figured that Az should’ve made a guest appearance in γƒœγƒœγƒœγƒΌγƒœγƒ»γƒœγƒΌγƒœγƒœ somewhere.

  34. Corey said, on November 1, 2008 at 1:25 am

    I’m turning Japanese
    I think I’m turning Japanese
    I really think so…
    After Gino’s comment, I just noticed that the business cycle applies directly to life as well. Prosperity, recession, depression, recovery, prosperity – repeat.
    Also, I agree with everyone else. I demand a manga or novel of some kind be made about you.

  35. Stan said, on November 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Az, I agree with others that your writing doesn’t have to be funny to be good. Good stuff.

  36. Brian said, on November 1, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    WHAT’S WITH THOSE CLIFFHANGERS AZ T_T you’re killing my friend and me.
    keep it up, you’re our Idol haha

  37. Muzras said, on November 2, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Plz tell us moar. πŸ™‚
    Me like teh storiez, berry interestingz.

  38. Ian Suttle said, on November 2, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    “Most of our outsource translators were Japanese – not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but these particular translators”
    What about translators’ ethics?
    All the literature I’ve read says that translation should ideally be done into the translator’s native language. IDEALLY. But the head of my university’s Japanese-language crew (a Japanese native) once told me that the majority of Japanese-English translation is dominated by native Japanese speakers, making it presumably difficult for the more properly qualified non-Japanese translators to find jobs…
    You should know, with your current job hunt on…
    (Az’s Note: This is an excellent point, and I could really talk more about this but that would be veering off. I agree that translation should ideally be done into the translators native language. I leave room for exceptions though, as towards the end of my job I had one outsource translator who was fantastic – she was native Japanese, but you honestly couldn’t tell within the translations.)

  39. Mike said, on November 3, 2008 at 4:07 am

    Your first mistake was coming to Japan as a black man and expecting to find any meaningful work. This aint the states and never will be. Your still at the stage many of us were at years ago. Probally will only get worse until it gets better, this has been my experience, but thats me. I dont like it here, and will leave once I get my stash of cash in hand.

  40. Cameron said, on November 3, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    I wholly agree with the suggestion that you try to get this blog into a book. You want to write, you have an excellent flair for it, and you really deserve to get into print. I have lost track of many hours reading your entries, and I’d definitely pay to re-read it all again.

  41. steph said, on November 3, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    hooray, finally read through all of the archives!

  42. Jay said, on November 3, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Hey Az
    have you thought about going into bussines for yourself?
    maybe a translation service wich you work from home.

  43. Anonymous said, on November 3, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    screenplay perhaps?

  44. Anonymous said, on November 3, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    screenplay perhaps?

  45. Falk said, on November 8, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Speaking of books – why not try and get your hands dirty with an e-book edition of your adventures? I just recently read how it takes ages to get your work printed which is discouraging to say at least and probably keeps most people from even starting the venture.
    The target audience is readers of the blog anyway (used to reading on the screen) and it’d be the perfect chance to make some money on real premium content! You could brush up some old entries and make selected ones available in the book only while focusing on the writing and not the publishing process.


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