Sunday, May 12
I was flattered to receive an invitation for some overtime at work. I also jump at the opportunity to pad my paycheck a little more. But this opportunity was a little more than the standard office work and lessons. This was a widely promoted English Fair, think of an expo, that was being hosted in downtown Tokyo. Without knowing any details I signed on for a half day of helping out.
The expo was essentially an old school open house. Young adults ranging from junior high school to college came out to talk to recruiters. The recruiters represented universities and businesses from all over the English-speaking world. If an accord could be reached the Japanese students would go study overseas. My company held a booth to do English level checks and recruit for our own schools. I talked with to all sorts of people, some with no English abilities, and others, expats would had lived abroad for a decade or more.
What makes this event blog-worthy were the foreign recruiters. They were so… foreign. The Irishman, Scot and Aussie across from me could not have been more different if they had tried.
Everyone’s body language was causal. Their demeanor ranged from uninterested to inconvenienced. Neck ties weren’t to be seen. And most interesting point were their working hours. They started packing up at 4:45. And at five, when the expo ended, they were out the door.
Contrast all that with my table. Rigid body posture. Swooning over potential clients. My tie had a tight knot and sat right under my neck. And we didn’t even consider packing up until 5:10, long after everyone had cleared out.
Not long ago I would have been just like those Westerners. Now I sat across the aisle watching in horror. Can a tiger change it’s stripes?
Saturday, May 25
In most western countries whaling is abhorred. However Japan continues to whale every year. They say they’re hunting whales in the name of science. And the fact that whale meat can be bought at most grocery stores or restaurants is a good thing. The “scientists” sell the whale meat so they’re not wasteful.
Anyways, whale was on the menu and so we ordered it. We were served eight sashimi-looking pieces. The meat was raw and it looked like tuna. I grabbed a piece with my chopsticks and smelled it. Odorless. I put it in my mouth and began to chew.
Gag reflex. I choked a little when I swallowed my first bite.
It didn’t taste bad, but a part of my brain rejected the food. Western thinking had invaded my mind and told me I shouldn’t be eating whale.
I stopped chewing and collected myself.
“When in Rome…” I thought to myself. And I went back for another piece.
I finished chewing the piece and swallowed. I sat and examined the aftertaste. It looked like fish. It came from the ocean. But it didn’t taste like fish. It tasted like… meat. The flavor was very subtle and it had required a moderate amount of chewing. Otherwise it wasn’t especially noteworthy.
I helped polish off the rest of the dish and washed it all down with my draft beer. Consider that one more experience in Japan.
Sunday, May 26
On Sunday I moved out of Yokohama apartment. After eight weeks it had started to feel like home. However the new employee was coming in and I needed to vacate for the cleaning crew. I packed my two bags and caught a train north. Back to Tokyo.
In the afternoon I shaved my head again, my favorite summer cut. I sat down at the QB House, home of the 10 minute & ¥ 1,000 ($10) haircut. I told the barber to take it all off. After four or five rounds of, “are you sure,” he went ahead and cropped it off.
I love watching barbers shave my head. Once they get my approval after the first pass, they go to town cutting off the rest. My long light hair, thick with waves and curls, fell slowly to the ground. The barber laughed and laughed watching it float down.
10 minutes later I walked out ready for summer.
Monday, May 27
On Monday I splashed out and bought a new watch. My previous watch was still in working order. It’s an awesome graduation gift from my brother and sister. However it has a brown leather strap and is more of a weekend watch. I wanted something more business oriented. Using some gift cards, I bought myself a new Seiko watch. Seiko is a household name in Japan for all types of clocks. It’s a solid brand and I so I splashed out on something I could use for a long time.
While shopping I also picked up some business clothes. In the office we were returning to the summer dress code of “cool biz.” Remember cool biz? No jacket, no tie, and short sleeve dress ups are okay. I had a few articles from last year but I decided to add a little more. I’m beginning to understand the importance of rotation in a wardrobe. So I bought a little more than the bare minimum with the hope of rolling some of this into next year.
Between the new watch, the new clothes, new glasses and a new haircut, I was looking pretty darn good.
A friend of mine recently returned from a trip back to the States. I asked them how it was.
“Shocking. The customer service was atrocious. The gas station clerk didn’t take his eyes off his cell phone during the entire transaction. He simply threw my change on the counter. The McDonald’s employees threw my meal into the bag, and I assume shook it violently, the whole thing was a mess. The customer service clerk at the…”
They continued on for sometime and I mentally checked out.
Was customer service really so bad back home? Certainly there were times, but on the whole? ‘No,’ I decided. I think my friend and I were both just accustomed to Japanese customer service. The service in this country is… outstanding to say the least. After two and a half years you just start to expect great customer service. But as my friend reminded me Japan is the exception rather than the rule.
Take my own company for example. I am extremely aware of how I present myself to prospective and current clients. How I dress. My body language. The way I speak to them. How I conduct myself when in their presence. I’m always sensitive to what I’m projecting and how they’re feeling. And compared to my Japanese coworkers, I’m still a little rough around the edges. They will walk clients out the door and give a humble bow. They’ll even hold the bow until the client is out of eyesight. .
Granted the service we provide is at a premium. But the amount you’re paying doesn’t really factor in. When I’m shopping at an electronic store the employees give me a bow when I enter. They smile and help me as much as they can. They use honorific Japanese when speaking to me. Even McDonalds’ employees will graciously bow as you enter and exit, accompanied with a verbal greeting and farewell. Convenience store, bar, clothing store, everywhere you go it’s safe to expect these formalities.
It is a regular practice at many department stores, and even grocery stores, to greet the customers in the morning. For example, my local supermarket. When the doors open at 10 AM the employees are gathered by the entrance. As the (usually elderly) customers rush in, the employees all bow deeply and say in unison “いらっしゃいませ (welcome to our store).” Talk about service!
It’s all so nice. I find the gracious way I’m given change to be comforting. Or the bow of appreciation as I enter the store. I feel not only like a consumer but like a human being. It’s all very comfortable and it’s all very Japanese.
Back to my friend, I reminded them that they had grown used to fantastic Japanese service. That the US had better service than some other countries. They agreed with me.
“Yep, you’re right. And I would just as much rather stay here.”