Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Female and Working in Japan

I remember when I was in high school and working at the public library. I came across a wealth of books, and most days I would pause (look nervously over my shoulder) and flip through interesting looking books. That's where I found my first set of "Doing Business in Japan" type books. Some were about taboos, some were biographies, and two were specifically about women and for women. One was The Accidental Office Lady, and I can't remember the other. 

What I do remember about these books was that women were expected to serve tea, wore uniforms and were below men in every way in Japanese offices. I tried to take these books with a grain of salt; most were published in the early and mid-90s by people who were writing about time spent in Japan in the '80s. So, before taking off for JET, I spent time on internet forums reading through everything I could get my eyes on about life in Japan.

A lot of it was useless to me in the end. Here are some of the things that I was expecting, but never panned out:

"You will be forced to drink tons by your coworkers!"
If you are a guy, perhaps. But, I've never been asked to chug down another beer. I've never been in any drinking contests with Japanese coworkers. Why? Because number one, it's just not something that any man would ask a woman to do. Men don't get into drinking contests with women. The ramifications of a man forcing his female coworker to drink would be incredibly bad.
But, the lack of drinking presents another problem... The way men get in good with the boss (who is almost always a man) is to go drinking with him. They drink until late, and probably go to a snack bar or other girlie bar afterwards. Men would never invite a woman because it's a form of male bonding, but male bonding can lead to someone getting a promotion faster. Which, in my opinion, is one way that women get left behind. They can't join in on the afterhours boys' fun.

"You will have to serve tea to the men!"
Nope. When I worked for City Hall, yes, the person that typically served tea to guests or the bucho was a female secretary. However, when/if she was away, a male coworker would serve the tea. Unlike the "old days," men aren't getting tea and coffee every hour. And the only person getting served was the bucho...after lunch. On the other hand, the lower ranking female staff did wash the cups and coffee pot.
This is the tricky area. In City Hall, the women who were considered civil servants did not wash and dishes. The women who were considered contract workers, did. I would offer to wash dishes as a way of getting along with my female coworkers. BUT, no one expected me to. Foreign...or at least Western, women will not be expected to wash dishes or serve tea. And the reason is because you are a foreigner. (This may not apply to Asian women from other Asian countries. Asian American women would NOT be expected to partake.)

Some things that I wasn't expecting that are giving me trouble:

No Sempai! (...no douki, either!)
Your sempai helps you learn the ropes of your place of work. They tell you who to suck up to and how to suck up to them. Who seems like they have power and who actually has power. It's a relationship that you maintain throughout your time at the company and even after, depending on the circumstances. Douki, who are roughly the same age as you and join the company at the same time, serve as people to lean on in hard times. You are at the same level and can help each other out. You form bonds that will last through your time at the company.
...Unless you are a foreigner, that is! It's hard enough for a foreign man to get a Japanese coworker to take him under his wing, but as a female?? Maybe I just have bad luck, but the number of females in higher ranking positions is low, and at my office, I have no other female to show me the ropes. Personally, I don't care if it's a man or woman, but Japanese society and offices often divide along these lines.
Without someone to show me the ropes and pull for me, I'm just there...existing. 

Women be quitting work when they get married!
WTF Japanese women?! Why you be quitting work as soon as your man pops the question? That's why there ain't any women in managerial positions! And that's why, the older you get, the LESS LIKELY you are to get any responses to job apps. Maybe this has nothing to do with foreign women...I'm just pissed that Japanese women are so stupid as to go the homemaker route.

People don't know what to do with me!
I'm not a giraffe. I can lift heavy things. I can speak in Japanese. Again, this might just be me, but I feel like a foreign (white) man at a Japanese company is something that Japanese people can accept more than a female. Guys are afraid of asking me to do something that I might find offensive. The girls are kind but at the same time, there's no sense that we're in this together. 

I'll wrap it up here, for now.

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