Before actually coming here, anyone I talked to regarding my plans to live in Japan invariably responded with “I bet you’re going to get married over there.” As if this was some immutable rule of the cosmos or something. “Gravity pulls things down; space is really cold; and Az will get married to a Japanese girl in Japan.” Even my own parents got in on it, with my Mom predicting that I would give her cute little half-Japanese grandchildren in the future.
Leave it to me to go and prove them right.
However, thinking back on it, what did that say about me – that I was going to be an irresistible chick magnet to the Japanese, or that the people who knew me had no confidence in me succeeding with an American girl? What’s up with that, anyway?
I will admit though, a certain part of me also hoped this would be the case. Though I have since fully recovered…yes…at the time, I did have Yellow Fever.* It wasn’t a terrible strain as I’ve seen in some of my other fellow men, but it was a fairly strong outbreak. Looking back at my porn collection of that time is downright embarrassing. “Why the hell did I download this? Just because the girl is Asian? She looks like a 13-year old boy and…why is she crying?! This isn’t even remotely sexy!”
It’s not at all unusual for those of us living here in Japan for our parents to come visit us at some point. For them it’s a nice vacation and for us it’s a chance to show the folks where we live and work. Since Japan is a safe and developed country, we only have to worry about our folks ducking under too-small doorways and whether or not they can stomach raw foods.
However, I’d been here for over 5 years, and my parents had not yet come to visit.
This was mainly because of my mother, and her paralyzing fear of airplanes. She used to fly – she was in the Army at one point, and had been stationed overseas. I always thought that she’d watched too many airplane distaster movies on the Lifetime Channel, but as she explains it, one day she was on a small plane and they were hit with heavy turbulence. Not the kind of shaking that you blow off as a part of air travel, but the kind where oxygen masks drop from the ceiling and you start to see the flight attendants freak out a little. My mother prayed, and said “God, if you let me off this plane and on the ground safely, I swear I’ll never get on one of these things again!” Up until now, she’d kept good on that promise. She’d said that she would only brave the airplane and come to Japan for two occasions – my wedding ceremony, or to see her grandchild.
Well, one down.
I’d finally hit my breaking point and quit my job. I had no new job lined up and with a wedding sucking on my finances, no money saved either. Needless to say, it was far from an ideal situation. But I was at my mental and emotional limit, so it was something that had to be done. Amazingly enough, merely quitting would not mark the end of my problems with this company.
Sometime in the middle of August, a week or two after I’d originally turned in my notice of resignation, the president handed out two papers. One was sort of a “promise to the company” where we’d sign this form promising to be good little workers and work hard or whatever. Another was a proof of identity – this one was tricky, because we had to have two co-signers sign for us. I believe I’ve mentioned before that co-signing in Japan is a pretty big deal. For most Gaijin, if we need a Japanese co-signer, we turn to our work colleagues, who’d spend a good amount of time soul-searching and consulting with the Lost Gods of Mt. Fuji before giving us an answer (which isn’t always yes!). If its work asking for co-signers…well…that creates a bit of a problem doesn’t it?
Since I was quitting the company, I figured these documents didn’t apply to me. I stuffed them in my desk drawer and didn’t give them much thought. However, in my last meeting with the president, a day or two before my last day, he told me to be sure to turn the papers in – “or else you might not get paid.” Nothing about that seemed right to me, but I took the papers out of my drawer and stuffed them in my bag anyway.
I can’t believe there’s a Part VII…
After a half-year of being miserable at the job, I finally gave my notice of resignation on a Tuesday at the beginning of August. I sent the email at the end of the day, so on Wednesday I went to work not really knowing what to expect. But for Wednesday as well as Thursday, it was business as usual. Neither the president nor the supervisor mentioned my notice of resignation, and my supervisor actually seemed to be avoiding me. I was fine with this – so long as they honored my final working day, I would have been content to just continue working and then no longer show up.
However, on Friday the president called me out for a private talk. He asked if I’d cooled down and changed my mind, which explains why neither of them had brought this up sooner. I explained that this wasn’t some hasty decision I’d made in the heat of passion – it had been building for months until I’d finally reached a breaking point. He then said that he didn’t want me to quit – he asked me to write up all the grievances I had with the company. The following Tuesday we would talk about it and he would make his plea to get me to stay. I agreed to write out my complaints at least, with the president telling me to hold nothing back.
We did meet the following Tuesday – I was expecting a talk within the company, perhaps with the supervisor included. Instead of that, we ended up going to an izakaya drinking bar (the one the president now owned), just the two of us. There, I presented him with my list of complaints I’d had over the past year. I tried to include everything that had frustrated me since the beginning of the year – getting ridiculed over errors, given tremendous amounts of work with no help and no acknowledgement that it was a lot of work, the supervisor’s constant riding of me…well, you’ve all read the story up until now.
With the project finally up and running, I felt a small sense of relief. My supervisor was still riding on me pretty hard about everything in general, but I hoped that with the project underway, I could simply focus on that until January. I knew I was not going to renew my contract, but I hoped I could hold out in the job until then. I wasn’t really in a good position to quit, and 2 years at a job on a resume would look a lot better than a year and a half.
More than that though, financially I couldn’t afford to quit. My wedding ceremony was just two short months away – through careful budgeting and planning I figured I would barely be able to save up for the wedding. But things were very tight, and they would remain so even after the ceremony wrapped up. That’s if things had gone as planned. By now, I’m sure you all realize that’s never the case.
One day in mid-July, the president called me out for another private talk. There, he informed me that he would be cutting my salary for July, August, and September, because I “didn’t work hard enough” for the months of February, March, and April. I tried to protest the “didn’t work hard” claim again, but much like the last time, this wasn’t so much open for discussion as it was an official announcement. Although the portion of my check he was cutting was supposed to be $350 per month, my paycheck was ultimately $500 lighter. To date, I’m not sure how the numbers worked out – I think resident taxes may have kicked in at really bad timing, or perhaps I was getting taxed on my whole paycheck first and then the $350 was getting taken out afterwards. I’m not sure, but either way, my take-home pay was ultimately cut by $500.
I was growing increasingly miserable at my job. The project I was given turned out to be much harder than expected. The more I progressed, the more things seemed to move further out of reach. It was like unlocking one door and finding three new locked doors behind it. I still had no one to help me, and now my ability to research was limited as I figured my computer screen was probably being monitored.
One of the most difficult aspects of the project was the handling of data. One early problem was that the data I got on our end was incomplete. I’d asked our computer programmer to create a data file for me, and he did, but for some reason two or three cells of every line of data were cut off – missing information. I asked him to remake the file, and he did, but the same problem arose. The computer programmer guy was plenty busy with work of his own, and I didn’t really feel like asking again – even if he did remake the file it probably would have had the same error again. So I set out to fix the file myself – which involved looking for the translation file, finding the particular line of data, and then fixing the cells that got cut off. I had to do this one by one, and considering I had to handle hundreds of product information data lines…well, it was a time-consuming task to say the least.
There was also the issue that I’d never really worked with processing data like this before. It took me a little while just to understand how it worked on our end. And then I had to figure out how it worked on eBay’s end. I’d never done this type of thing before, and suddenly I had to familiarize myself with two different formats of doing it.
As I mentioned before, around the end of November heading into December I ended up doing a lot of overtime at work. The reason being that I had asked the company to stop using most of the outsource translators we had at the time. I’d like to think it wasn’t me being picky – their translations were of the mangled English that we foreigners like to laugh at everyday. Clumsy, inadequate, and oftentimes, incomprehensible. If I was willing to settle for the bottom line – “hey, at least it’s not in Japanese anymore!”, then perhaps things would have been easier. But I took a lot of pride in my work and the company, and didn’t want to put that kind of English on the website. As a result, with no other translators to turn to I took on the majority of the translation work. It was a workload that, ideally, a team of several should have taken on, but we didn’t have ideal conditions. I figured I’d just work hard now, and later we’d get better translators.
However, because I was so overworked there were a number of missteps. A few deadlines were not met. And as time was an ever-present concern, I couldn’t go back and do meticulous error checking, so format, accuracy, and even spelling errors occurred. I suppose you could also factor in that this was my first experience working at a company doing translation, so some errors may have been caused by inexperience as well.
While I was in the midst of the storm, the president and my supervisor were nothing but supportive, appreciative, and perhaps even a little apologetic. In January the workload settled down, and I renewed my contract, going from part-time to contract with a pay raise and more official responsibilities. In February, Curly and Ms. Shocker joined the company, so I felt like I’d weathered the storm and things were only going to get better from here.
Little did I know, I couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Looking back on it, it seems like I’d worked for an entirely different company. I loved my job, liked all (or most…) of my coworkers, I’d just gotten a raise, and got to call myself the “English Division Director” as well. How could things possibly have gone so sour from here? It all started with A-san’s untimely departure from the company, sometime in late January/early February.
One day, not long after A-san had arrived at work, the company president called her out for a one-on-one talk. Maybe 10 minutes later or so, we could all hear the president’s voice as he screamed something out in anger at her. It was such a sudden and short outburst that we had no idea what he’d said. We only knew that it was an angry yell. A-san returned from the “meeting” a few minutes later, and perhaps an hour after that, quietly informed me that she’d be quitting in two weeks. Later, she told me about what had happened during that meeting.
During a company drinking party a week or so earlier, apparently A-san had made some kind of off-hand joke. Although I was at that drinking party, admittedly I don’t remember much about it. Anyway, after that, a new hire joined the company – a Chinese college student who was studying in Japan and would do part-time translation work for the company. The president went around doing individual introductions – when it came time for A-san’s introduction, he repeated the joke that she’d said at the drinking party. A-san wasn’t too happy about this, but instead of making a scene on the spot, she e-mailed the president later and asked if she could talk with him privately, which became that fateful meeting. She said that she didn’t appreciate using the joke like that – its something she’d said after work in the company of friends and with a little alcohol present – she certainly didn’t want it to be someone’s first impression of her during work hours. The president’s response was along the lines of “But, you said it. That’s the kind of person you are. I’m not wrong.” He then revealed the fact that he knew she’d been to a job interview lately. “Going to an interview means you plan to quit right? So tell me when your last working day is.” A-san hadn’t planned to quit, but being cornered like that, she felt like she had no choice but to give her two-weeks notice. The president then berated her for her working habits – coming to work at 10AM and leaving around 3:30-4PM, saying that he was a great guy and had it been any other company, she would have been long since fired.