Monday, December 30, 2013

Kairo (Keeping Warm in Japan)

If you don't know, kairo are hand warmers. They come in all different types. 

Of course before coming to Japan, I'd never seen, nor heard of hand warmers. Michigan is cold, but, well...we man up. When you get inside, it's generally warm. My Japan is not nearly as cold as Michigan. But it's colder than Michigan in the sense that you NEVER. ESCAPE. from the cold. Never. EVER.

If it's 40 degrees outside, it's 55 inside. And for that reason, kairo are a lifesaver. There are a number of types: disposable, reusable and electric. Within the reusable types are ones that can be recharged in a microwave or in boiling water. The electric ones charge for a few hours before you can use them.

Let's take a look at some of the disposable ones. 

They are cheap. They are everywhere. They come in two types: ones that you can stick on your clothing and ones that you don't. The stickable ones only need you to tear off the paper for them to start heating up. The non-stickable ones need to be shaken. You generally keep those in your pocket. 
They can come in packets of 5 - 10, or boxes of 30 or more (see above for the boxed version). The boxed kairo run about $6. There are now kairo to stick in your socks or at the bottom of your shoes, also pictured above. Those are about $2-$3. The disposable kairo last for about 6 hours and you can toss them when you're done.
I spent many nights with these stuck to my body while trying to fend off the cold long enough to get to sleep.

I'm going to skip the electric kairo and the kairo that can be recharged in the microwave or in boiling water. Those ones are nice because they are reusable, but the time spent recharging them is generally longer than the heat you get out of them. Some only last as little as 30 minutes!

Recently, I've discovered kairo that use benzine. That kairo is the Hakkin Kairo Peacock Pocket Warmer. You pour a bit of benzine into the container and put the small cap on, hold a lit match to it for a few seconds to start the chemical reaction and then put that top on. After that, the kairo heats up and stays warm for up to 24 hours!

I was initially afraid of carrying something with lighter fluid around in my pocket, but it is quite safe. It gets very warm and it is a big lifesaver! My boyfriend bought me the regular sized one on the right, but i also bought the mini...just because! The smell is a bit annoying. If you are walking around, you don't notice it. But, when you are standing or sitting in one place, it's pretty apparent. There's some cotton? inside of the tank so that fluid isn't just sloshing around.
If you are an ALT, I would definitely recommend this because it's warm, it stays warm and I know that Japanese classrooms are cold. You can find them on amazon or Tokyu Hands! Alternatively, Zippo sells a similar kairo, but the cost (in Japan) is more; 2,500 yen vs. 3,500 yen!

Now go get warmed the fuck up!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What is Wrong with my Life?

So, last Friday was payday. 
I love payday. I love money. Who doesn't?

Every payday, I make a beeline for the ATM as soon as my break comes up. I send a few man (hundred dollars) home each month to pay the minimum balance on my student loan (still over $5,000 left *sigh*) and to help out my mom. She doesn't make much and she lives alone.

This month's paycheck was 188,000 yen. My last few months on JET, I was getting 230,000 yen a month after taxes. Since my rent at that time was 13,000 yen, and my cell phone an other bills took about 30,000 yen a month, I was able to send about 100,000 yen home a month. 

Looking at my paycheck. Looking back over my life since JET, I wonder...what the hell am I doing? I didn't go back home because I thought that I could find a job faster in Japan. Plus, with no savings and no driver's license, where would I be able to move to?

In the envelope with my payslip was another paper that had my earnings for the year...the equivalent of $29,000. What. The. FUCK?
I can make $29,000 a year doing shit in the U.S.! Why am I in Japan?! I make 1,500 yen an hour. $15 an hour?? I can make that shit back home! No wonder I can't save any money! No wonder I can't make it home. I am making fucking minimum wage in a foreign country!

I look at my pay. I look at my life, and all I can think is, "Where did you fuck up?," "You are worthless.," and "Are you trying to fail at life??" On the other hand, I don't know if I am in fact a lot more skilled than I give myself credit for, but Japanese companies are just cheap fucks looking for any reason to cheat people out of a fair salary.

Articles like this one in the Japan Times that point to the fact that the visa "perks" for "highly skilled foreign workers" aren't working. Salary is a big one. Someone making $34,000 a year or more in the U.S. who is also under 30 years old isn't all that strange, but in Japan it's fucking like unicorn territory. My inkling to Japanese low pay was confirmed when a Japanese recruiter told me, "For Japanese people, people in their 20s, salaries are 200,000 yen ($2,000) a month, and go up in their 30s with age and then experience."

I guess since Japanese parents pay for their kid's schooling, apartment set up, furnishings and more, $2,000 a month is a lot. Fuck that.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Help! It's my first bonenkai/shinnenkai!!

So, it's your first year in Japan, and you're going to the company (or school) bonenkai or shinnenkai (new year's party). But, you don't want to fuck things up.

Here's a quick rundown of how to get through the party intact: 

1. Wait for the kampai to drink.
You'll be asked what you want to drink. Don't spend time looking at the drink menu. Just say beer (nama). Everyone does the kampai with beer. Everyone starts off with beer. And yes, yes, yes, there will be a handful of people who order something else. If you don't like beer, but like alcohol, my advice is to take the beer, do the kampai, take a small sip and then order what you want off the menu. Leave the beer in the cup unless it's one of the places where you give your empty cup to the waiter before getting a new drink.
If you absolutely HATE the idea of having a drop of alcohol pass your lips, then order oolong tea or orange juice. 


Seriously. Hold the glass. You'll be holding it for a while. After everyone raises their glasses, take that as a cue to get ready to drink. Then drink.

2. Pace yourself!
The food will be sparse, the drinks will come relatively quickly. If you are a guy, your male co-workers will probably want to see how much you can hold. Don't enter this challenge unless you can keep your head on straight. If you're female, no one gives a fuck what you drink. Either way, there is a LOT of alcohol available, don't lose your head.

3. Talk to your coworkers!
Yes, even chit-chat. If you can't speak Japanese, heaven help us all. Try the best you can with what you have. Smile, don't dominate the conversation. 

4. Don't complain.
Even if you want to, hold your tongue. You're a foreigner and unless you have a group of co-workers that you can trust, just keep your ideas of reform and such to yourself for the time being.

5. EAT
There's a lot of alcohol. Don't drink on an empty stomach.

6. Do NOT get boisterous 
This is not the U.S. or Canada or where ever. No matter how much you drink, you have to remember that you are a representative of your country. Any foreigner that works there after you; any foreigner from your country or your state will be judged based on how YOU are. 

7. Pour some beer for your co-workers.
Japanese people don't pour beer for themselves, they pour it for the people around them and one of the group reciprocates. If you see that your co-worker's beer is low (usually half of a cup) offer some to them. That co-worker will chug down the remainder of the beer and hold out their glass to you (let them hold the glass, do not take it). You pour beer to fill up the glass. The co-worker will do the same for you or offer to order another of the drink you had been drinking. Then you do a small "kampai." 
Brownie points for pouring the beer with the brand label facing up AND by pouring with both hands!!

8. Don't be afraid to be the butt of a joke.
If a game involves wearing a silly costume or singing, go for it. No one is judging you. 

That's about all I can think of...any questions??

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Working in Japan: Bonenkai

It's December. It's the end of the year. And in Japan, that means it's bonenkai season.
Bonenkai are gatherings/parties held at the end of the year. Most companies hold them and friends, people in the same hobby group, etc have them, too. Basically, they are a way to have fun and drink before taking off for the long New Year's holiday.

All bonenkai are held after work. Apparently, back in the U.S., holiday parties are often held *gasp* during work hours! I'd love to have a bonenkai during work hours.
I have also heard that for the holiday parties that are held after work in the U.S., that workers can invite partners, spouses, kids...dogs? That ain't happening here in Japan. Bonenkai are strictly for the members of that group; the people in the office, the members of the tennis club, or whatever. No family. None!

They typically start with assigned seating. (Yes, you heard me.) After being seated, you order your drink and listen to a speech. The speech can be anything from two people giving a brief "nice job, guys," to a parade of boring ass old men (always old men) talking shit about helping the company or how they are retiring and hurry the fuck up and kampai mutherfucker!

let's party.

Unless the kanji (person in charge of organizing the venue, etc) has freedom, good tastes and knows what people like, most likely you'll be in some place that serves small bits of fucking shit. "Oh, foie gras? Uni (sea urchin)? Raw horse? Yes, I totally skipped lunch to eat this cold stuff and have my coworkers stare at me in wonder whilst I choke it down...gimme a beer."

At some point during the dinner (always dinner), there will be some game. Again, the fun factor of the game depends on the kanji and the people you work with. If everyone's cool, then even a lame game can be pretty fun. Funner if you win a prize!

By this time, you're about an hour and a half in, and everyone's pretty sloshed. Some staff grab large, glass bottles of beer and walk around giving aisatsu (greetings) to their coworkers and managers. Other people can FINALLY run away from their shit seating assignment and talk to their real friends. Voices rise. Someone spills wine. All is good.

Another speech. Another kampai, and two hours have passed and the bonenkai is over.

Now, this is where the fun starts. There's always an after party. Always. Some places have enough staff for several groups to form. Within these groups will be the people that always go with the CEO/Lead manager/whatever person holds power. These people are, almost always, men. Their ni-ji-kai (after parties) are held in snack bars or strip clubs, where the oldest man pays. This is also where strong bonds are formed, and you get someone who's gonna watch your back if you watch theirs.

Women'll go to karaoke or some cafe for coffee. 
So, that's about it. I will have my bonenkai on the 30th. I don't expect much.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Countdown to Xmas

Well, there are about 14 days until Christmas.
The weird thing is that while I know Christmas is around the corner, I don't feel like I can judge how close or far away it is. There is no pressure to buy presents here. Parents buy one present for their child and put it next to their pillow. The kid wakes up to their one, lonely present from Santa.
In a strange twist, Santa visits the homes of some kids on the 23rd so that they can open their presents on the 24th. For the "older" crowd, Christmas is couples time. Couples will make reservations for hotel rooms and fancy dinners for Christmas Eve.

Seeing a trend?

Yes. Everything Christmasy is happening on the 24th. Well, it's not a Japanese holiday, so I can't feign surprise. But, the lack of Christmas shopping, gift exchanges, the "holiday spirit," etc. make me feel like I'm in some strange dream. Now that I think about it, that feeling persists throughout the year. 

There's no real big buildup to anything in Japan. As far as I can tell. When I was in the U.S., as soon as August rolled around, you knew that people were getting ready for something: the start of school; Halloween; Thanksgiving; Christmas; New Year's. It's like everything just gets better with each passing month. Here in Japan, this month isn't all that different from the previous one.

I guess that's another reason why I feel so down at this time of year. There is nothing to look forward to. What do Japanese people look forward to at this time of year? Spending time with family during the long New Year's holiday (my company is off from Dec. 31 with work starting back on Jan. 6). And if you work for a company: your winter bonus (which, I've never received in all of the time I've worked in Japan).

Since Christmas is not a holiday here, I'll be at work. And for New Year's my boyfriend is going to be spending time with mommy; so, I'm thinking about what I should do. Last year I slept and walked around the city. Maybe I will try and get some New Year's sales...

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Working in Japan: Differences

I enjoy reading Ask a Manager while at work. It helps keep me sane and it helps me to see what's going on in the U.S. But, every once and a while, I'll come across a post with a question that seems crazy to the poster, but totally normal to me.

The other day I read a post where someone questioned about having to give six weeks notice before taking time off. 

If you are working in Japan, this is not all that unusual. I don't think it's all that unusual for vacations in the U.S. either. Things that might be unique to Japan, when it comes to vacations and such include:

- Filling out a form for time off. The time off has to be approved by your supervisor, their supervisor, and a few other people up to the boss. Or, in my company's case, the CEO.

- In my company, if you are a few minutes late for work, you have to fill out the above paper for time off. Yes. Two minutes won't slide.

- If you are sick, you take paid or unpaid time off.

- If you are dying, you can take sick leave...maybe...
No one takes sick leave.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Misc. Post of the Day 12062013

Just a few thoughts before heading into the weekend...

1. You will never have enough experience...

Earlier this week, I applied to a few jobs online. The recruiters for the company I applied through for the job, called me for a phone interview on Thursday. I spoke with a woman in English, and then her Japanese co-worker. They both asked for my desired salary. Now, I know I'm being underpaid in my current job. Making the equivalent of $15 an hour might be great if I was fresh out of university with no skills, but that's not the case.

So, I told them I wanted the equivalent of about $40,000 a year. The job salary range was $35 - 55,000 a year. Safe, right?

But, after telling me that I was smart and talented, the lady then said, "JET pays well. But, in Japan, new grads make about $2000 a month and salary increases with age and experience. You don't have much experience, so I wouldn't count on such a high salary."

I was annoyed to again hear that I lacked experience. So, that night, as I talked with my friend N in Fukuoka, I asked for her opinion. "Am I really lacking in experience? Am I that shit?" Her response was as follows:

"You have enough experience. But, they are going to say you don't for this job. In my case, I worked as an instructor and when I was looking for jobs they told me that I didn't have sales experience or that I didn't have office experience. There will always be something that they can find so they can say that you don't have enough experience."

Her answer really helped me to realize that Japanese companies are cheap and full of shit and shit. 

2. Why I would never have a kid in Japan...

I was searching through images on Google images (as you do), and came across this:

This picture just sums up everything that's wrong with multiracial people and children in Japan. Mixed kids (only white and Japanese) have their faces plastered on a tsunami of ads, fashion mags, etc. They are told that they should model from the time they are young. 
Now for the clothes. I'm going to just say it: Japanese people dress their school-age daughters up like prostitutes. This is NOT cute!! 

Heavily made-up face? Check.
Come hither pose? Check.
Hooker socks? Double-check, muthafucker!
And, oh, lord, do those shorts have ruffles? RUFFLES??? What the hell is going on here?! And this ad is tame in comparison to what I typically see when I'm out. I see girls with shorts shorter than these, wearing fishnet stockings or thigh-high socks, heels (!!!) and shirts that look like rainbows and the English-language threw up on them.


Monday, December 2, 2013

End of the Year Blues

The last four months of the year (September - December), are my favorite months of the year. They are also the months that cause me the most anxiety. When I was back home, school would start in September. I also have a September birthday. Then we've got the best holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. As much as I love those holidays, I always felt that I never got to fully enjoy them. Money was the big item that stood in my way.

If I had money, I'd have a nice Halloween costume; a nice Thanksgiving dinner; I could buy cool presents for my family and friends and I could go somewhere fun for New Year's Eve. Before my first xmas/New Year's in Japan, my friend told me in October that she had already made her end of the year plans. "Japan sucks on Xmas/New Year's. I was all alone when I did study abroad, so I made plans early this year."

I thought that she was weak. Who needs people? We're in muthafuckin' Japan!!11
I was certain there'd be parties and festivities and even if there was nothing, at least I was in JAPAN!!11 A foreign country, and I'd never spent Xmas/New Year's in a foreign country. So, I spent my first Xmas in Japan at work and my first New Year's alone. (Well, a friend did come for NYE and left the next day, if that counts)

In 2008, I went home for my first Xmas/New Year's since coming to Japan in 2006. I haven't spent Xmas/New Year's in the US since then.

Christmas at Tokyu Hands

Japan, on Xmas, fucking SUCKS. First, as you can guess, Xmas is not as big a holiday as it is in the US. In fact, it's marketed as a "couple's day." And it's not even Christmas, but Christmas EVE that's the big day. Couples reserve hotel rooms, eat Christmas cake (strawberry shortcake), fried chicken (KFC, anyone?) and exchange presents. Is certainly isn't a day off. 

New Year's is worse. New Year's is when families gather together to ring in the new year. Think of it as Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. Aside from large chain stores, most places are on vacation from December 31 - January 3 or 4. A large majority of people return to their hometowns to spend time with their families. It's not the time of partying with friends and lovers that we have back in the U.S.

What this means is, not only are you alone on Xmas (because you are single or your partner is working), but you're also alone on New Year's (because you are single or your partner is not having you over to spend time with the family). Most shops are closed. There are no New Year's parties. Going to the temple/shrine at midnight is something, but unless you have a local there to explain what to do and how to do it, it's a bit of a let down. 

Then, when work starts back and your Japanese colleagues come in refreshed, you are there...just as stressed as ever. The part that hurts is that, in my case at least, my pay is just at survival rate. And my coworkers have never been abroad, so they ask dumb fucking questions. Around Golden Week, one guy asked, "So, are you going to go back to your home country?" This past month, again, he asked, "Are you going back to America?" It might be an innocent question on his part, but it just makes me feel even shittier. This dude just doesn't understand.

He can go back home for the 3-day weekend and come back to work refreshed. I have to travel close to 24 hours to get home. (This includes all of the layovers and stuff) There's no way for me to go home and come back in 3 days. Even 5 days is pointless. The round-trip fare is close to $1,800. Who spends that much for 5 days?! Two of which are spent on the plane! Then my co-workers wonder why I'm in a bad mood.

I'm trying to find something to look forward to, but I'm not succeeding. I guess I can't expect my coworkers to understand. I don't understand how big Chinese New Year is or how big Diwali is.  But, is it too much to expect my office to give me enough money to cover my loans AND have enough to get home for a major holiday? Seriously. Japanese offices in America that employ Japanese workers understand this and pay accordingly. Gar!