Saturday, February 7, 2009

Welcome to the Boys Club

So, I got this big meeting coming up on Sunday. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have recently been promoted. Well, now I will get my official induction into management. It will be a strange experience for me. I mean, back in the states we all considered management to be the enemy of sorts.

It was the coming opinion that managements job was to order us around and tell is everything that we are doing wrong. They were not our friend. We only talk to them when we are forced to and no one has a drink with the boss after work. This kind of separation of employee and management develops a kind of good old boys mentality within the brass. In their cycle the employee is the constant butt of jokes. They watch each others back and take secrets to their grave. They know what is going on at all times but the average worker is kept in the dark until the last possible moment. Their agenda is only to increase profit margins and keep their own ass clean. Yeah, in many respects , managements teams in the states form their own little good old boys system fairly quickly. While, it offers total loyalty to the company and confidence from within the inner cycles of managements, the good old boy system has one major drawback. It breaks down the idea that hard work alone will provide a proper reward. In a good old boys system, it is not what you know but who you know. Being friends with the right person is all important to the good old boys.

As I am on the heels of entering lower management, I wonder if I will be faced with a good old system. As far as management goes in my current company their are three levels. Two other guys, and myself, will be at the lowest level. We are called Instructor leaders or regional managers. We were chosen by the second level of management which includes, Instructor manager, Training manager, and all the Japanese assistant managers. The third level is the VP`s and CEO of our company. I know the Instructor Manager, Training Manager, and one of the Japanese assistant managers. They all seem like a good bunch of guys for the most part. I have had a few beers with these fellows. Hell, when the company new year party went down the Instructor manger invited me for a little meet up for some per-party drinking. I am wondering if my friendly attitude toward management was a big factor in my promotion. If it was then I am dealing with a good old boy situation. If that is the case, then I maybe fully ready to survive. The whole idea of a good old boy came from the south. I have seen it, and been involved in it, enough times to know exactly how the game works.

Actually, I wish not to be involved in a good old boy system. I like the idea of earning things based on my own merit. Although, the truth of the matter is, Japan is infamous for good old boys. For example, in Japan drinking with the boss is almost a requirement. It is really rude to say no to a drinking invite from the boss. I have yet to understand what is rude about saying no to a bender with the boss. That is just the way things are in Japan. The boss is king and you have to do just about anything he wants.

Hell, so what if I run into a few good old boys in Japan. It is not like it is something new for me. It is actually fun sometimes to be `one of the boys` in a company. You get looked at as being kind of special within the company rumor mill. You can also get away with some stuff that other people cannot; as long as you do not take it too far of course. However things end of being, I am just glad that I am having a little success in Japan. It is not easy to survive in this damn crazy job market.

Friday, February 6, 2009

J-Blog of the Week Ed#4 Mad Tokyo

I had been nursing a hang over for the majority of Thursday, so this weeks J-blog is arriving on Friday. Yeah, I have just been sleeping and taking it easy. I guess I drank a lot more than I thought. I assume everyone living in Tokyo can relate to a good long night of getting smashed. I needed to get hammered. I had to drive out some unneeded emotions and alcohol worked like a charm. My mind is sharp even though my body is still feeling a little rugged. I am turning the corner with my stir craziness. Tokyo really can drive a person to madness so this weeks J-blog of the week is John Turningpin`s Mad Tokyo.

John has been living in Japan for a while. In the about section he mentions living in Japan permanently as an office drone. As many J-blogs focus on `how different and strange everything is` Mad Tokyo is more about everyday life in the land of the raising sun. Some people have complained that there are not enough blogs about `real life in Japan.` The point these people make is that too many j-blogs focus on things which are of little interest to gaijin actually living in Japan. Well, for those who have such a complaint Mad Tokyo is the site for you.

Mr. Turningpin does not pull any punches about living in Japan. He gives it to you straight. This maybe a refreshing change for long term gaijin. I have found his site to be very interesting at times. The whole angle he comes from attracts me to Mad Tokyo. He is honest, while at the same time, very entertaining.

The site is pretty easy to get around. The recent posts and tags on the side bar are easy enough to use. I doubt that many people would be disappointed by any post they click on John`s site. A lot of the posts contain topics and and issues that most gaijin come across daily in Japan. For example the post titled Mr. Mouth-Breather, which is about this guy on the trains in West Tokyo who has the worst breath ever, is something that we have all experienced. Another post I ran across which is good is the Uncle Hilter thing that happened on Japanese TV. If you not think that Japanese TV sucks, you will have reading about Uncle Hilter.

Overall, Mad Tokyo is a great English language J-blog. It is usually fun to visit his site and read what comes out of his brain. I check it from time to time and am ever let down. If you want to skip the `cute Japan` stuff then head right over to Mad Tokyo.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stir Crazy Part 3: Local Drunk

Now that I have resolved to be a proud Gaijin here in the land of the raising sun; I am still left with a lot of bent up frustration. You know, after coming to a resolution to a personal problem there is still the emotions which will not fade so quickly. It is kind of like the feeling one experiences after a good fight. The fight is over, you are the winner, but you are still left with your heart beating a mile a minute and your mind racing. You don`t know if you should enjoy your moment of glory or get ready for the next wave. That is how I felt this cold winter night. In these kind of situations the only thing to do is get a good drunk going.

When I want to get a good drunk buzz on without much hassle there is only one place for me to go. The local watering hole here in Aoi. I found this little beer joint when I first came to Japan. I had a lot of extra time on my hands when I first arrived in Tokyo. One night, while wondering around, I came across this little drinking spot. The bar tender, and owner, was kind to me so I kept coming back. Over the past year I have gotten to know the regulars. They seem to take well to me and give me no gruff. The bar tender is even nice enough to always keep my favorite black beer on tap.

Anyway, tonight I ended up at the local bar. I needed to get drunk with some familiar faces. I just wanted to be around people who accept me exactly as I am. Everyone knows my name and give me a big happy greeting every time I make a visit. I am kind of like the local gaijin. Sadly, there are not a lot of gaijin in Aoi. It is very rare for me to see fellow Gaijin in my little neighborhood. Maybe once a month I will see another gaijin walking down the street or waiting at the train station. They do not talk to me. In fact, they try to avoid looking at me all together. I understand that some gaijin are not comfortable speaking to their own kind. I do not blame them at all. It can be hard to speak to other gaijin sometimes. It would be nice to be able to go to the local bar with someone who is a native speaker of English; but I am not crossing my fingers.

I got a pretty good dunk buzz going on. It was fun just to be able to relax and talk about a whole bunch of nothing. We talked about the super bowl, Japanese pop culture, the latest happenings in the local area, and girls of course. It really took a huge load off my mind. Now, I find myself at home, half drunk, and enjoying a cup of cheese and tomato noddles. Stir crazy or not, It seems that living in Japan is more of a challenge then I thought.

Stir Crazy Part 2: I can feel a change

So, at work Wednesday I tortured myself with trying to figure out why I have been feeling sort of off balance recently. I thought about what exactly is causing me to feel such restlessness and aggression. What is causing me to fall into a constant state of mania. Well, after considering all the different angles I think I have came up with an answer. I think I am starting to feel the effects of being a minority.

Before I go on, please do not confuse me with the Debito crowd. I am not the kind of person who wines about not having the same rights as the majority. I know that I will forever be gaijin(outsider) as long as I live in Japan. I have no desire to change Japanese society. My native culture is just too different for the Japanese to fully understand. Rather, I am pretty sure that carrying the status of `outsider` on my shoulders everyday is starting to tear at me mentally.

I have never experience standing out simply because my DNA is slightly different. I have always dealt with being different on a social level; not ethnic. Everyday people notice me just because my skin does not have a golden/pale yellow hue. It is strange for me to be stared at in such a way. I try to blow it off but I think, deep down inside, it gets under my skin a little. I am not bothered by the simple act of sharing, but the context in which people share is what I think is starting to rub me raw. When it happens I do not make a fuss, because it happens all the time. There are days when it actually serves as a boost to my ego. You know, the whole somebody noticed me thing, that makes you like you at least exist. Yet, I think being so different day in and day out is causing some kind of mental conflict in my subconscious.

Considering that people from the United States make up only 2.4% of gaijin living in Japan, it is safe to say that I am a rare breed in the land of the raising sun. I grew up being in the majority. I never thought about the stress of being a minority. In fact, I always assumed that I would be in the majority. I never developed any copping method for dealing with having a minority status. I had several friends who had minority status in the states. They never talked to me about the experience of being a minority. It was just one of those things we silently agreed never to talk about. I wish I would have asked a few questions becasuse now I find myself with many unanswered questions.

So, what I decided to do is accept my minority status and wear my gaijin badge with pride. It is kind of fun to be in the minority. I get away with stuff that Japanese people can never do. I can say things that are taboo for Japanese people to even utter. The kind of fun I can enjoy maybe out of reach for some Japanese because they are bound my society rules much more strictly than me. I get to be funny and so K.Y. without much negative effect. It is not so bad once I just consider the advantages of being a minority. I am going to have fun with my minority status.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stir Crazy?

Am I becoming a little stir crazy? This thought rolled around in my head at work Tuesday. I have been in Japan for a year now. I have not had a good dose of American culture in a long time. I have already dealt with the feelings of detachment, but now I am starting to feel like a rat trapped in a cage.

I mean, there are days when I feel like life has been sucked out of me. I get these little tight headaches which dive me crazy to no end. I find myself with a strong taste for beer the closer it gets to the end of my work for the day. I am not eating as much recently. In fact over the past year I have lost 10.o kg. My weight lose will start to really trouble me if I lose too much. In the mornings I am a smoking and coffee drinking manic. Hell, by the time I get to work I have had at least four cups or cans of coffee. Dammit, I have even got up to smoking a whole pack of cigs a day!

Maybe I have just been pushing myself too hard over the past several months. Although, I might be having a delayed reaction to living in a different culture. I have been going hardcore, without looking back, from the moment I set foot in Japan a year ago. I have only spent a little amount of time to stop and check myself. It is as if I left America hell bent on diving into a journey on the other side of the earth. My life went into overdrive the moment I started living in Tokyo. Everything shifted to a higher gear very suddenly. I guess I just started to react without taking much time to stop and smell the roses.

So, am I going a little stir crazy? Well, it is not as if Japan has gotten the best of me. I actually enjoy living in Japan. It is not so much the people because, after all, we are all just humans. The daily grind is tough but I make it though each day without too much of a problem. I think it is a combination of things which are making me feel a little stir crazy. I know I will be fine after a while. I just got to keep pushing forward with my head held high. One thing I really need to do though is remember not to let little thing get to me so much. All I really end up doing is putting useless stress on myself. It will be a big help to not care so much about everything. I will not go completely nuts in the land of the raising sun.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Saw Something On The Train That Got Me Thinking

So, I was coming home on the Joban Line a few days ago, when I saw something a little unexpected. The train was packed, which was not unexpected, and I ended up smashed against the door. There was an old man pushed up against me so close that I could smell his old man stink.The heavy beer odor coming from the old man`s mouth made his natural stink all the more powerful. I do not know if he was aware of his own stink or not. He seemed to be either unaware of just did not give a flying fuck. I thought that he would at least have the decency to try and lay off the back of my neck. Sadly, I underestimated the old bastard, as the train went around a tight corner he leaned into me causing this dirty old lips to make direct contact with my neck. His lips were crusty along the edges, while being wet in the middle. The old bastard did not even attempt to show any shame. He just rode the neck kiss out until the train made it around the corner.

After an unpleasant, and unwanted, homoerotic moment I really wanted to get the hell off the train. It is a very strange feeling to have some old fuck press his lips against the back of my neck. I gave him a real dirty look but he seemed not to be phased by me in the least. He appeared to be playing it off like nothing happened. He got off at the next station to my relief.

Wanting to put the odd experience behind me, I stared at the floor of the train trying to get lost in my own thoughts. Usually I am able to drift off pretty easily, but I caught something from the corner of my eye which kept my mind in the moment. Besides me were two high school boys. It was around 9:00 pm at this point so I found it a little strange to see them on the train. They were standing next to each other very close; even by packed train standards. After a second look, I noticed they were holding hands. Not only were they holding hands but one was whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the second. I was not convinced they were gay until they gently stroked each others neck. This was the first time I had seen a public display of gayness on the train. I mean, I expect to see it in a place like Shinjuku but not on a train full of salary men. See these two young lovers on the train got me thinking about what is must be like to be gay in Japan.

It is no secret that Japanese society puts an overwhelming amount of pressure on people to conform. While there are a lot of unique individuals in Tokyo, an army of suits and ties storm on the city daily. Early in the morning it looks like a strange scene out of 1984 as a mass of working men and women march off to slave away at an office. Also, modern Japan has a strong, and at times very strange, conservative vain which underlines society. To be different, i.e. gay, I imagine must put a large amount of stress in a persons life. In a society which expects people to sit down, shut-up, and do as they are hold it must be hard hiding a gay lifestyle. In the states the culture is slowly becoming more acceptable of gays. Hell, in California gay people can get a legal marriage. I have not been to all parts of Japan, but in Tokyo is seems that gay bars are confined to certain areas of the city; referring to the infamous golden gia. Also, some to think of it, I have never ran across an openly gay person at work. Although, I think that one of them is very much gay or at least Bi, even if she will not admit it. Japanese can be real keen at noticing if there is something different about a person, so being a closet gay at work must take an Oscar winning performance daily.

While Japanese may, in many respects, not allow much room for the gay lifestyle, I do see a tide of change. There are several TV stars in Japan who are trans-gender and gay. I was a little shocked to see just how popular and famous these people are in japan at first. These days I have gotten used to, and even enjoyed, being entertained by trans-gender and gay people on TV. Some of them are actually pretty good looking(did I just say that?). The person I enjoy seeing the most is Ai Haruna. When I first saw her/him I really thought the person was a women. Strangely enough, a good looking women! When someone told that she did not start life as a women I was honestly surprised. She is very funny and entertaining all the same.

In Japan, trans-gender folks are called New Half. They are very popular on TV and seem to be integrating into society well for the most part. Does this mean that Japanese society is becoming more open to gays and trans-gender people? Well, as modern Japan seems to accept many things off the beaten path, open displays of same-sex affection may become common place in the years ahead. I still wonder how things will play out in a working environment. Will Japanese people be OK to work along side a very open gay or trans-gender person? The work environment in most Japanese office is about as bland and conservative as a GOP poker night. The Japanese usually never to anything out of line at work. Hell, it is rare for them to even crack a joke. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when a person like Ai rolls into the office for her first day of work.

Jason at Jason`s Random Thoughts wrote a good article looking at the raise in popularity of New Half in Japanese pop culture. You can read it here.

Is Japan becoming accepting of gays and trans-gender folks? I would like to hear your thoughts.