Jun. 3rd, 2009

naukhel: (kuon: dark)
 Today is one of those days that reminds me how careful you have to be when you work in a Japanese office environment. I really would like to write about this publicly, so I'm going to do my best to obscure the names of workplaces, companies and colleagues here, because it's an issue worth talking about.

The subject was touched on briefly last night when I was chatting with [personal profile] aeslis about my upcoming job interview next Monday, and it's worth reiterating here. I have never had to be half as careful what I agree to do in any job in the West as I have to be here in Japan. Even when I was studying at unviersity here, there was so much unspoken obligation that was simply expected of you that I gained quite the reputation for being "difficult" and "unreasonable" among the office staff by asserting my right to say no to things that I didn't want to do.

There is a very delicate balance between wanting to be accepted as "just like anyone else" in this country (which - though I don't like to put it this way - in essence means being accepted "as Japanese") and asserting rights that are still very much overlooked. You don't want to be treated like the ignorant foreigner all the time among your colleagues, so it's not good to go playing the "foreigner card" every other day, but there are also times when I really feel that the Japanese need to be reminded of how the rest of the world works. I may be an "ambassador for my country" over here, and thereby partially responsible for the positive or negative views of foreigners that I'm creating by my actions, but I also think that responsibility can extend to helping Japan become a more truly international country.

For example: my Japanese colleagues rarely take time off work. Even if they're entitled to it, even if they're sick or desperately need the time off, it's "not the done thing". However, just because the expectation is that they will struggle into work and never use their paid holiday does NOT mean that I will not or should not. It's in my contract, I am entitled to it by law. Similarly, they can't force me to do things that are not stipulated in my contract, or things that are definitively stipulated against - such as if they ask me to teach classes on my own. It's happened once or twice, and luckily I was on the ball about telling them that I'm not allowed to by law.

It's always better to make sure that you are firm from day one about things you will or will not do. I like to think that I am fair about the things I agree to do at work, or the things I voluntarily undertake; but undertaking one thing voluntarily does not mean that I will always agree to it. I've been asked to work at weekends for no extra pay and with no compensatory time off, and that is not something I am going to blindly agree to. I understand that while often in Japan "would you do this?" means "we expect you to do this", but I am a person and not a machine. I've often felt as though my co-workers feel like I am a tool that simply gets switched off when I'm not at work, and not a human being who might not always be ready and willing to give up my free time and work work work.

This has all come up today because of some typical stipulations that my current workplace are trying to make now that I'm leaving. More things which I am NOT required to do. I still have not come to a conclusion about whether Japanese companies deliberately attempt to pull the wool over your eyes (especially if you're a foreigner in Japan) or if it's simply something they do to everyone. Today I got to work and was told "you HAVE to go home to your country when you quit, and then come back again." I know exactly why this is; the minute I go through immigration at the airport, they'll invalidate my visa. Unfortunately for them, I have plans to change sponsorship of my visa, and there's no reason that I should be "required" to leave the country and come back again when it can all be done on Japanese soil without my having to pay for a return flight.

Let's not get into the "surprise bills" you seem to get whenever you finish your term somewhere in Japan. When I was about to graduate from my Japanese university, I was suddenly presented with a bill for 71,000yen. Apparently it was a "backlog" of money I owed for various things - all things I had no idea I owed money for, of course. I cried when they gave it to me, because I literally didn't even have that much money in my bank account, and I still had to survive for two months and pay my way back to the UK. In the end I had to borrow £1,000 from my parents just to make it home. I could mention the trouble [personal profile] aeslis had with her former company this year when she left, but suffice to say that no-one owes 7.5 million yen to their former employer for "damages" and "defamation" simply by quitting when their contract is up. Did I mention that none of this is legally binding? But if you're not used to the way things work in Japan, especially if you don't speak the language, it would be all too easy to be caught out into thinking that you absolutely have to do these things or pay these bills.

I guess in a way this is just a reminder to anyone who doesn't already understand these things that they DO happen. You have to be careful. 


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