Social Expectations in Japan and Why I Can’t Ever Live in Japan

During Sakura-Con, I had chance listening to Roland Kelts talking about foreigner living in Japan. He said that if foreigners visit Japan, they can’t be one of them (Japanese) but they will be able to enjoy benefit of being in Japan without being expected to be Japanese. (and any effort of blending into them will be taken favorably by Japanese.)

This was very interesting to hear from “foreigner perspective”, as its flip-side is exactly what I had in mind, and what I have written in the past. In the US, even though I’m considered to be American, a lot of people still may see me as foreigner, but at same time, that doesn’t mean much, as a lot of Americans are originally from foreign country; it’s just part of the society. However, this creates very awkward situation for me to be in Japan.

I have been long enough in Japan; first 13 years of my life to be exact, and I understand sociological norm in Japan. However, it is also true that I have lived in the States for 18 years. This makes it very awkward when I visit Japan; while I understand that norm, I do not necessary believe in executing it myself. I speak perfect Japanese, I look like Japanese, and I don’t look like a foreigner — so unless I pretend I don’t speak Japanese; which actually I have done casually in the past, Japanese people expect me to behave, and more importantly, think like Japanese.

Because their social expectation for me to act like Japanese, I do not get any credits for efforts of act (and think) like Japanese, because they assume that what I am supposed to be doing, yet any deviance from it would count negative toward me.

I don’t have any problem living in the States looking like Japanese, but this is why I sometimes wish I looked like foreigners in Japan.
While I am doubtful I will ever be living in Japan, this will be certainly life-long wonder of how I should mitigate this “identity crisis” every time I visit Japan, or merely dealing with Japanese elsewhere.

Sakuranbo Elementary School Fiasco

Sakuranbo, a Japanese word for cherry, sounds quite innocent. Probably so if you stick that as name of the elementary school, well, unless it was already being used by mature themed sexual game (eroge) group.

Here’s what happened. In Higashine city in Yamagata prefecture, there is new elementary school being built. Since Higashine city is known for its cherry produce, they are pushing to name many of their city features with name of cherry — and it is now natural for the city to try to follow that trend with their newly building elementary school.

While they were searching for possible overlap, they seems to have done many kind of checking, but one very simple thing — searching on the Internet.

Searching for Sakuranbo Elementary School (さくらんぼ小学校) on Google and other search engine reveals that this name already is being used as branding for mature game. The city was notified by residents about this problem. Mayor of the city, Seigo Tsuchida, initially responded their lack of intension to reconsider its name, with reason “by changing the name, we are approving mature games.”

For the meantime, Sakuranbo Elementary School, the mature game group, announced on their webpage, about their willingness of cooperate with school by changing the name of the group if necessary.

Later, the city reversed its decision of not changing the name, with mayor’s statement that “I feel like I was struck by a car.”

Analyzing the whole situation, this situation well could be prevented by the city conducting simple search on the Internet. Sakuranbo Elementary School, the mature game brand, has been in its existence for 8 years since 2002, and search would easily reveal existence of the group. It’s city’s sole responsibility to make sure their branding is not overlapping with existing entities.

Legally, anyone who knowing something about trademark would see that they aren’t in infringement to each other, as they are in different class. Therefore, the city should be legally clear to open up their new elementary school in that name. This only got problem because the group was offering mature products.

The group’s offer of changing their branding is extraordinary, considering they are legally not required to.

The city, in other hand is under big fire, possibly perpetual for years to come. Apparently, the mayor of the city has received message from his staff by this problem — with no luck persuading the mayor.

It is worthwhile to note that for past 10 years, the mayor, Seigo Tsuchida was reelected without contests 4 times. Perhaps lack of residents’ interests choosing proper leader might have also contributed this problem.

Borrowing Tsuchida’s word, no car was there to struck the city, it was city rammed into the wall.

On Japanese E-mail Mannarism

One of Japanese “E-mail mannerism” article is causing bit of arguments on twitter. Idea is that the article is saying that one should be suffixed with sama (Japanese Mr./Ms.) to names showing up in “TO” header, which a lot of people claim it is bad know-how.

I actually believe it is very bad idea. Simply because TO headers are not context sensitive. For example, say, someone sends you E-mail with you referred with suffix of sama, among with your colleague in CC, each with same sama suffix. You reply to that E-mail and suddenly, what you see your colleague referred as sama and other person referred without that suffix. It is considered rude that you refer your colleague with sama suffix, when you are talking someone outside of your organization, and further more, it is of course considered rude you don’t put the sama suffix for addressee, if you are appending the suffix at all, it is very inconvenient.

Some other things considered part of E-mail manner in Japan with my take on them:

  • Don’t send things in formatted E-mail (as long as it’s not WINMAIL.DAT, it should be fine these days — but also append text version of the E-mail. Most software do this automatically if you send in formatted mail.)
  • In the body, address recipient with his or her company name, department, and name. (Many people do address someone this way. I don’t do it for few reasons. First it’s redundant, and second, it risks recipient’s personal information when it happened to be delivered to someone else. I even omit this completely for quick responses.)
  • Introduce yourself on the every E-mail. (Not necessary bad idea, but I don’t personally do it unless I’m sending E-mail to someone for very first time, or case it is first E-mail in very long time.)
  • Include your full name, E-mail address, company name, company address, company URL, etc. as a signature (I think name and company is enough. There’s privacy implications as E-mail is not necessary private. I also put in statement that the message may be signed because I do sign E-mail, and to prevent confusion when signature.asc ends up in the E-mail — which is not applicable for everyone.)
  • Put in line break often. (I think this is stupid. Because putting in line break will cause ugly display when someone adjust their window size. I’m not opposing putting in extra line between topics.)

The Way Japan Treats Japanese

There’s a law in Hyogo, and now Saitama prefecture that forces parents writing essay to their carrier in order to the parents to lift mandatory internet filtering service on their childs’ mobile phones.

It is their effort of preventing children in their community to not be exposed to inappropriate contents, but I just felt it’s quite creepy. It is parents responsibility to be conscious about what their children are being exposed to, but isn’t it ultimately parents’ decision, and also authority to determine what their children can do and not? I just don’t see why parents need to “beg” to their service providers. (It is worthwhile to note that this clause is also included in TWYFO as well.)

In recent years, I’m starting to see news about government going into individuals’ jurisdiction. For example, people cannot use mobile phone at some ATMs because that would encourage fraudulent transaction directed from the phone.

Seriously, people in Japan are willing to put up with it?

Using Microsoft Excel as Word Processor? You Bet!

Few weeks ago, Japanese Slashdot.org put up an article, titled Americans Surprised in Craze, Japanese Using Excel for Graph Paper. Idea is that a lot of Japanese use Microsoft Excel for doing work seems to be more suitable with word processors, such as Microsoft Word. (I personally like OpenOffice.org, but that’s not the point here…)
Indeed, I have seen a lot of people writing anything from concept proposal, to design documents (or specifications) on Excel. Luckily, I haven’t had to edit or maintain any of them.
Somehow, Japanese developed obsession to lines on paper — there are many electronic document they are creating consisting of boxes, which you’d see on IRS forms, just they are everywhere in Japanese documents. (In fact, earlier versions of Japanese Microsoft Word had its own special function to make it — now it should be there universally. OpenOffice.org is slow to adopt some advanced aspects of those features, because this is quite localized requests.)
This maybe due to the fact that Japanese language consists of character in constant size, with no kerning. A lot of Japanese people seem to use spreadsheet applications, for ease of being able to start paragraphs anywhere on the paper.
I haven’t seen anything personally, but apparently, there are people out there who would paste bitmap image on Excel, and send it off to others. (I’ll go nuts if I see that happening!)
I’m strong opponent of using Excel (or any spreadsheet application) for making document. There are some valid reasons to it.

  1. Spreadsheet application can’t define hierarchical structure of the document. Which means the resulting document will not have structured heading, contents, or sub-headings.
  2. Cross referencing is nearly impossible. Mostly, coming from the fact above. If there are no structure, it cannot be defined. If you think you can define it as a position of a cell, read on.
  3. It is nearly impossible to retain structural information without extensive repair, should the document needs to be updated. Any primitive aspect of the document, including line break needs to be adjusted manually. (you could put the contents on one big cell to solve this problem by having line wrap take care of this, but doing this defeats whole purpose of the spreadsheet supporters trying to achieve using spreadsheet to do word processing.)
  4. Printing is nightmare. If you try to print it, especially across different paper sizes, or even different printing environment (fonts, etc.) this will be nightmare.

So what do I recommend? Do it on word processing applications! Well, it is practiced mostly in Japan, so I guess saying this in English wouldn’t help much. Though, there are now a lot of Japanese website that showing strong opposition of using Excel for this purpose, it seems like this is strong trend, and I feel sorry for opponents living in Japan…

Just few notes about my “work environment” related notes

Before I go on with more of work environment notes in Japan. There are few things I’d like to make it clear.

First, I have not worked in Japan before, so a lot of articles do come from news sources, and other blogs. Those articles are screened through to see how credible they are, by comparing them with Japanese trends from news, personal contact, and also cross checked with many different corporate environment related sources.

Second, for couple of notes already, I have criticized Japanese work environment, mainly their work-life-inbalance. Just to be clear, I am not necessary criticizing overtime (although I do criticize unpaid overtimes for those paid hourly.)

After all, I work for video game industry, which involves overtimes, and sometimes overnighter. I want to make it really clear I am criticizing Japanese way, because of their harmful mentality, for example, they cannot leave when they are done with their work and their hours up, because they are expected that they ask their senior or a boss to see if there any other work to do, before you leave, and you are asked to stay to complete such tasks. If you don’t this, or if you refuse to stay, often, you are classified as defunct Japanese worker, because you are not working hard like everyone else.

Yes, I have to confess that I was asked to stay in this industry in the US, but that’s only because there were things relevant to my area of work, and it often was for crunch time. Andstill I was not prevented leave if I had to. But, if you have to stay late everyday, like it is becoming your norm, that’s just different story. And I usually have remedy if I had to stay late; there were no sweat me showing up quite late next day. A lot of Japanese business environment where you are expected to put in excessive overtime, you are still expected to show up at 9:00AM or when their work start next day. (could be same day, if they are working until 2AM)

You think I’m exaggerating? Let me tell you that more than 30,000 people commit suicide in Japan every year. When I was going to the job for internship, my instructor told me “leave within 5 minutes if you have finished and you say bye, as people will assume you are incapable of getting things done,” I guess if I do that in Japan, I’d be screwed.

Third, I’ve briefly touched on Japanese athletic mentality and about Senpai and Kōhai deal in Japanese sub-hierarchy. About athletic mentality, which somewhat related things mentioned above. It’s basically is excessive focus on how hard you work as opposed to how efficient you can get things done. For example, if you and your friend working in same kind of task. And say, you finished your work, because you figured out the way to do it faster, but your friend is still working on it, ended up working all night finishing it up. In the end, it will be your friend who will get better view. In these athletic mentality, they often assume you are trying to slack off by inventing new efficient way.

As for Senpai and Kōhai, frankly, I hate the concept. Perhaps, part of the reason I hate it is because I haven’t grown up in culture that practice heavily on the concept. But mainly, it is because, I consider people I work with colleague and not my senior of juniors. After all, as far as people of same corporate hierarchy, I feel each of them have unique and different talent, with different skills, and years at the company serves very little relevancy. There are few of my contacts trying to fit myself into this annoying scheme. I can tolerate them just because they are 4800 miles away from me, but if they are to be here permanently next to me, then that’d be the time for me to start looking for new place to work. I really don’t appreciate the way they try to step into my psychological personal space, just because they think I’m their Kohai, either. They aren’t necessary bad people, but I have disagreement there and I can’t get along with people showing such attitudes.

Some of my friends who worked in Japan may disagree with me, especially if you are not Japanese. Because if you are foreigner in Japan, they do not consider you “one of them” in terms expectation of how you do things. Frankly, I’m the kind of guy Japanese people hates the most; because I have very Japanese appearance, speaking Japanese, but my mentality has departed from it. This is certainly why I experience bit of awkwardness every time I go to Japan, too.

Management of a Company Retires Over Hostile Work Environment

Ok, I’m exaggerating here, but I found this hilarious.
NHK and other reports that Stuart Chambers, the president of Nihon Itagarasu (Nippon Steel Glass) who was transferred from its own subsidiary in England a year ago just resigned.
He says:

“I think many many Japanese people, particularly the classic salary man, if you like, puts the company first, and maybe the family second. I don’t say there is anything wrong with that, but in my case, I’m not able to do that, I have discovered.”

This is crazy. He pretty much said “Japanese working environment sucks, so I resign.”
I think it’s good chance for Japanese society to review their work environment; but I have feeling that not gonna happen…

Battle over satire song by Vocaloids

Multiple sources including Slashdot.jp reports that Crypton Future Media, the company who has produced voice synthesizing software, Hatsune Miku (初音ミク) and others requested Niko Niko Douga (ニコニコ動画) to take down parody song with satire, coinciding with arrest of Japanese actress Noriko Sakai (酒井法子). The song, in question is a parody of Noriko Sakai’s famous song Aoi Usagi (碧いうさぎ, Blue Rabbit), was named Shiroi Kusuri (白いクスリ, White Drug) with lyric replaced with satire about her arrest from use of illegal drugs.

According to Crypton Future Media, on their official blog, the reason they have requested this taken down is:

  • Product created by (Crypton Future Media) is being used to create the work that is potentially illegal activity civil and criminal, that constitutes to be defamation, and the work is being distributed over the internet.
  • The fact above is being publicized over major internet news websites, and is being known to people who do not know the products created by (Crypton Future Media).
  • The above may result in negative and inaccurate image about creative work using the voice generation technology including products created by (Crypton Future Media) to general public.

Thus (Crypton Future Media) requested Niwango on August 11th to remove video in question due to potential loss of sales and reputation.

In most of these taken down notice, story ends here.

However, as J-cast reports, Niko Niko Douga’s operator, Niwango overturned its early decision of complying take down, citing that request by Crypton Future Media does not have legal standing, thus putting back the video taken down earlier, however with the message to poster that the license holder of the software used to produce the work is requesting taken down.

Now, there are interesting questions come up.
First, does Crypton Future Media has legal standing to request for the work to be taken down? What if you used Les Paul to play satire song, can Gibson ask you to stop it?

Second, only binding contract between established regarding use of Vocaloid software is between Crypton Future Media and user, in the form of EULA. I think Niwango’s decision is heavily based on this fact. By people putting up their work on Niko Niko Douga, it is users who are violating EULA, and they are merely requesting to solve the problem between parties in contract. While the work may be violating copyright law, Crypton Future Media is not a copyright holder, thus is not authorized to issue take down notice from this reason.

Third, if Crypton Future Media claims rights to have “inappropriate work” removed, then potentially, Crypton Future Media itself may be liable in future arising from damages created by users of their product. Is Crypton Future Media ready to respond to such claim?

I don’t know if the particular work will be ultimately taken down or not, but it may be that both Niko Niko Douga and Crypton Future Media may have opened up a can of worms.

You may be screwed if you don’t write your resume by hand

According to the research by Business Media Makoto, Japanese HR personnel exercises rather criteria when they screen their candidate.

The hearing was conducted from 1416 hiring personnel in companies, between April 17th and May 1st.

Question were regarding resume, and respondent were expected to answer each of them in scale of “Strongly positive,” “Somewhat positive,” “Somewhat negative,” “Strongly negative,” “Doesn’t matter,” and there were people skipped a question as well.

So here’s some breakdown:

Good Penmanship

  • Strongly positive: 32.4%
  • Somewhat positive: 58.8%
  • Somewhat negative: 0.5%
  • Strongly negative: 0.0%
  • Doesn’t matter: 8.1%
  • No response: 0.2%

Neatness of Penmanship

  • Strongly positive: 13.6%
  • Somewhat positive: 61.9%
  • Somewhat negative: 0.5%
  • Strongly negative: 0.0%
  • Doesn’t matter: 23.7%
  • No response: 0.2%

Handwritten Resume

  • Strongly positive: 16.7%
  • Somewhat positive: 37.9%
  • Somewhat negative: 0.3%
  • Strongly negative: 0.0%
  • Doesn’t matter: 44.8%
  • No response: 0.3%

Prepared in Word or Excel

  • Strongly positive: 1.3%
  • Somewhat positive: 12.4%
  • Somewhat negative: 18.1%
  • Strongly negative: 5.0%
  • Doesn’t matter: 62.7%
  • No response: 0.6%

So, in Japan, if you don’t handwrite your resume, you will be screwed. If you don’t handwrite your resume, it may not be attractive to 54.6% of HR personnel, while it will appear attractive to puny 13.7% of them. Oh, but don’t forget it will be seen unattractive to 23.1% of them. Even if you are willing to handwrite your resume, but if your handwriting sucks, you’ll still slip off from 91.2% who feels good penmanship on your resume appear positive.
Of course, these won’t be only factors determine your fitness to the particular work place you applying for, but it sounds quite stupid to me that there are more people feeling negative about resume prepared by computer than people feeling positive about handwritten resume.

One note, though is Japanese resume format is not free form, they require specific format, which you can find some samples by Googling them.

You don’t think it is painful to write all that? Well, if you make mistake, be prepared to redo your resume from the beginning, as 78.5% of them feel use of those correction fluid negative.

The husband got into trouble when his wife found out that their daughter got her name from an adult game

Japanese Slashdot article explains that:

According to some Anonymous Coward, article from Ameba News, there is 2ch BBS thread where the story explains how the man got into trouble because of the fact that his wife found out their daughter was named after the character appear in Japanese 18-kin (appropriate for 18 and older) video game. She found out about this because there was a box of the said game place on the computer keyboard when he returned from the work. Name in question was “Kana” (加奈) and his wife thinks her daughter’s name “Kana” was named after her. (and apparently so, according to the poster of the article.) The article ends in question, how would you explain to your son, or daughter, if their name happened to be named after anime, manga, or novels? Shoud you be honest to them?

Japanese naming convention in recent year has been quite interesting. It is not very uncommon for people to name their children after many of modern media works, let alone, anime, manga, novel, and other works intended for general public. The name shown in the above case, is “Kana” which is relatively common name, so fortunately, it is nothing very unusual, and it is perhaps only matter of fact how specific they should get to in terms of where her name came from. Incidentally, another relatively common name, however is not usual contender of most common name in Japan is Sakura (さくら) and this name actually came to top five for couple of years when popular show Card Captor Sakura (カードキャプターさくら) was aired in Japan.

In recent years, increasingly a lot of crazy names are being registered in Japan, because their national registry system only registers kanjis and not how to read them. Some of them being ridiculous and bizarre. (For example, what do you think someone naming their children Pikachu or Hamtaro. They are real names registered in Japan, and there are more than one case of them each.)

So in my opinion, beside real truth to what her name came from, I’d like to praise this father of daughter for naming her, at least something not crazy.