Last night at dinner with my parents, Mama Gaijin asked me how my job was going after my recent promotion in February. I told her things were actually going very smoothly, despite a few hiccups and missteps along the way.
She smiled at me and said “That’s wonderful, Mike. You deserve to be happy at work. You haven’t been happy at work for the longest time. Especially when I came to visit you in Kentucky, you were so depressed. We are all glad to have you home, and are looking forward to having Ayaka immigrate here as well”.
“Thanks Mom”, I replied. She wasn’t wrong. Working with the Japanese, the thing that I wanted to do ever since I started learning Japanese, turned out to be an overall negative experience for me, as well as setting back my professional career at least 3-5 years.
But at my current company, I’ve turned my career around and became a valuable assets to my branch of the company. I went from working less than 20 hours a week part-time (while juggling Simple Gaijin and my now defunct Uber business), to getting promoted to a supervisor (still part-time, but a higher pay grade and more hours), til finally "proving my worth" to the company and becoming full-time earlier this year.
Now don’t get me wrong, this was what I wanted, and I got what I wished for. But, unlike a lot of other people that are still trapped in “Japan Inc.“, I now realize that leaving it behind and burning my bridges was probably the right thing, and the smartest thing to do.
While Simple Gaijin, from 2016 - 2018, was still a fledging language learning business, I had the opportunity to work at a few different Japanese companies in both Ohio and Kentucky. At the time, I really needed to find a break into the industry, especially since my academic background wasn’t exactly... well, marketable. After all, I only majored in International Studies, a rather useless Liberal Arts degree.
To be completely honest with myself, I always regretted changing my major from International Business to International Studies after one bad spring semester I had in 2011 (While getting an A in Japanese 2, I got low C’s in Intro to Macroeconomics, Business Law, and Organizational Behavior). But instead of roughing it out, I took the wussy way out and switched to an easier major. I guess I didn’t have the emotional maturity to do business, especially with me going to a famous liberal school.
Now, for my first company, I worked at a small engineering firm near Dayton, Ohio. They were looking to expand their American business, and hire their first native American employee. Now I’m no Native American, but after being approached by a recruiter for a technical sales role, and passing their interview, I was offered a chance for a $20 an hour role, non-exempt, travel intensive role. Not only that, I would have to travel to their HQ in Funabashi, Chiba to learn their business. And of course, the training would be entirely conducted in Japanese.
When I arrived in Ohio in June 2016, the surface, everything seemed to be going well... that was, until I arrived at their American branch office. Almost immediately, the Japanese staff told me to leave because “外人禁止 (がいじんきんし - Gaijin Kinshi - No Foreigners Allowed). It wasn’t until the American branch President, my soon-to-be boss, appeared and welcomed me. The faces of my soon-to-be coworkers went bedsheet white.
When my boss explained that I was their new American employee, all of them looked like they all wet themselves. One of them, not realizing that I could speak and understand Japanese, said “チクショ、このバカ外人にこれから英語で話さなきゃと？！- Damn it, now I have to speak English to this damn stupid foreigner?”) to which I replied “ご安心してください、先輩。日本語で話し分かります (It’s ok sir, I speak and understand Japanese).
Then they started to panic more. I slightly felt uncomfortable with what I was seeing, but maybe they had a rough day and weren’t in the right state of mind. I decided to let it go.
A few days later, I arrived in Funabashi to meet the rest of the company and to start my training. And almost immediately, I realized that something wasn’t right.
When I entered their HQ near Funabashi Bay, my boss told me that he would greet me at the recepyou it’s at 0800. When I arrived at 0755, the young Japanese receptionist asked me what business does a foreigner have here at their esteemed company. When I explained that I was here to meet Kiyooki (my boss - name changed at the recommendation of the Simple Gaijin Legal Team), the receptionist asked me to leave, as he has nothing in his agenda with any Gaijin today.
Kiyooki-san came out just as I was about to argue my case to the receptionist. The receptionist asked him “この外国人の方はどちら様でございますか？” (using polite Japanese in front of her boss while seconds earlier she was using rude Japanese In front of me). Of course, Kiyooki-San explained that I was the new American employee, and like the guys at the American branch, her face went bedsheet white.
After going up the elevator to the main floor for the company, I could see a lot more of the employees there. As soon as I stepped off the elevator, somebody said “外人だ！(“It’s a foreigner!) The entire room went quiet, so quiet that you could hear a pin drop. Kiyooki-San said to me (in Japanese), “さ、真伊久君、こちらへ。社長と打ち合わせなければなりませんよ。 (“This way Mike, we must meet up with the company president.”), to which I replied “はい、田村部長” (Yes, Mr. Tamura (name changed)).
My Japanese response, again, caused my soon-to-be coworkers to look at me either in awe, fear, or a mixture of both feelings. What was causing them to look at me like I was... well, a Gaijin from another country (..... oh wait.....)?
This work is a work in progress. Check back weekly to see more updates!