Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Mask

I'm sick. I feel like some of my closer friends reading this are saying, "Yeah, yeah, tell us something we don't know," but really, I think I have a cold.

I'm sneezing, sniffling, shivering, coughing, aching, but @fobkoa told me last night that I'm not feverish, so I'm leaning more toward cold, than flu.

Yesterday, I woke up knowing I was sick, took some American Dayquil, then figured that sleeping 16+ hours would be enough to have me wake up bright and chipper this morning. Alas, I was mistaken.

I spent a miserable hour commuting to work. Pants wet from the rain, sweating from the overheated train, trying my best not to go into a coughing or sneezing fit, for fear of not having fast enough access to the huge wad of tissue I stole from home and shoved into my bag. As the day has dragged on, I realized that man, I don't sound so good. My voice sounds strained, my breathing is rumbly, and I'm popping Honey Lemon Vitamin C Throat Lozenges like Dr. House pops Vicodin for his leg pains.

I debated about coming in today. Another 16 hours of rest and some overdosing of Vitamin C wouldn't hurt in helping me recover, but having just started a week ago, made me hesitate. That and Japan's obvious lack of sick-days. Perhaps it is because I have only ever been a contracted worker in Japan, but it seems as though Japan does not have sick-days. (For those that don't know, sick days are a set number of days per year that you can use to call in to work absent because you are sick, but still receive full pay for.) As a contracted worker, it seems there are two option: call in sick and not get paid or come in sick and get paid.

Japanese Face Mask
If you, like me, choose to come in sick, then it is Japanese custom to wear the obligatory face mask.

They are made of paper, with two lengths of elastic banding to be hooked behind your ears, and a thin metal wire along the upper length of the mask so that it can be molded around the bridge of your nose. The more expensive models have some other bells and whistles, like cushioned nose pads and easy-breathe medicated strips.

It is believed that wearing these masks helps to prevent the spread of whatever disease you're carrying. You see, unlike us selfish American types, who don't mind getting others sick if we can get well sooner, in Japan, they keep their sick germies to themselves so as not to infect the masses.

Upon coming to work and telling them that I was under the weather, I was directed to get one of these snazzy masks immediately, as well as pick up some medicine from the health room. Apparently, it's also believed that Japanese colds are best combatted with Japanese meds, and since I was already there, I got some meds along with my mask.

I don't know if these crazy masks really work. I know it makes it harder to breathe, makes my glasses fog up, and it gets really sweaty in there. Labored breathing and sweaty face are not exactly ideal working conditions, but if this is what I have to do to get paid for today, well... I'm trying my best to assimilate.

Maybe if I just tell myself that I'm pretending to be a ninja or cosplaying as a Japanese person, it'll be easier for me to "be in character."


Friday, May 20, 2011

No Mini-Skirts = No Suits

Today I started my new job.

I'm working on a contract basis via a placement agency for DeNA, Inc. They are the parent company for Mobage, Japan's currently most popular social network and mobile gaming company. Unfortunately, I'm not involved in game development or anything of the sort. Instead, although I'm currently title-less, I'm helping to develop the in-house English education program for their employees.

As DeNA, Inc. expands and works toward reaching the global, rather than the local market, they're finding that English is becoming more and more a necessity. This is where I come in -- to tailor the program to meet the individual needs of the bajillion employees who need to speak English. Yes, bajillion. That is a real number.

While Japanese companies are typically all navy-black suits, neckties, and 45-degree angled bowing, this company seems to want to move beyond that. Ok, maybe there are still opportunities where 45-degree angled bowing is appropriate -- I know I did a number of those bows today. They try to foster a creative, non-inhibiting environment by allowing their employees to dress more casually. They don't have to wear a button-down collared shirt, slacks and shiny shoes. Nice t-shirts and jeans or capri style pants and a not-so-fancy blouse seemed to be the norm. I even saw a few slippers!

You have no idea how exciting I find this to be!

Originally, I was told that I'd be working in a suit every day. I kept thinking, I don't have that many suits! And they'll notice if I wear the same 2 suits over and over! But since I was told today by a co-worker that they think it's weird that I was wearing a suit in the first place, my worries about dress code are over. Well, they did advise against wearing mini-skirts and camisoles to work (ugh, they read my MIND!), but I can compromise. If no mini-skirts means no suits, I'm down.

I will be commuting to work each weekday, for over an hour each way, and I'm still trying to figure out the best route. This means I have to head out early and come home late. But you know what? Who cares... at least I'm EMPLOYED!


Monday, May 09, 2011


For the last year, I have worked in various elementary schools as an English teacher. I worked with grades 1 - 6, as well as a mixed-age, mixed-level special needs group. For the most part, I enjoyed my time as a teacher. I found that I often was able to establish a good rapport with the students and homeroom teachers and it was rewarding to especially hear at the end of the year that the students have learned to love and look forward to their English classes.

However, I am no longer an elementary school teacher. At the moment, I am unemployed. Here's why:

When the large earthquake happened on March 11, 2011, it affected the TEPCO Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima. There was very real danger of a nuclear meltdown occurring. It was not going to be of Chernobyl proportions, but concerns about radioactivity affecting the food and water supply (and worse!) caused quite a stir in Japan, especially amongst the ex-pat community. Several embassies, in an excess of caution, had called for the immediate evacuation of their citizens from Japan. America did not ask for their countrymen to leave, but did offer voluntary evacuation options, going so far as to sponsor flights out to other Asian countries for Americans looking for immediate departure.

It was scary. No one knew exactly how imminent or ominous the dangers were. No one knew whether the damaged plant or the area around it could be saved. There were scares regarding the safety of drinking water for infants in the Tokyo area and bottled water, canned foods, rice and instant noodles disappeared off the shelves or jumped up significantly in price in some areas.

And of course, there was the lack of information and the overabundance of misinformation.

My family was understandably worried about my safety. They wanted me to leave immediately and were trying to find every possible way to get me the hell out of here. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that I could leave for a number of reasons. I was still on contract. My company, at the time, had my passport with them for visa renewal. @fobkoa's passport was lost and we were waiting for a new one. My having my passport reissued or leaving before the visa renewal process was finished would have tagged me as an illegal alien in Japan, resulting in my inability to re-enter the country for 10 years. Kekoa's family members were here, visiting. I have pets. Blah, blah, blah. And really, by most scientific (non-news media) source available, we were going to be okay.

I'm still not really sure if all of my family members understand why I stayed or forgave me for not obeying their wishes, but anyway, I stayed.

During this time, I was in the middle of negotiating my new contract with my old company. I honestly wasn't sure whether or not I would be staying in Japan. I mean, I wanted to -- and that's what I had told my family members -- but at the same time, I wasn't sure that I wouldn't succumb to the pressures of my family. I wanted to let them know I was okay and still, as sure as I said I was that I was safe, I wasn't really sure since no one was certain about the developing situation at the power plant.

So, I told my company that I was hesitant in re-contracting for another year. I feared that things would take a turn for the worst and that I would have to break contract. To me, it seemed better NOT to sign than to sign and then break contract. In the end, the deadline passed and the Board of Education for my area said that if I could not commit on that day, they would have to find someone to fill my position immediately, so the position would no longer be available to me. With some regret, I said that I could not commit 100%. With that, I became unemployed in a foreign country where, mind you, I am supporting not just myself, but another person, too!

A week after that, it seemed obvious that I would not be returning to Hawaii any time soon and that I needed to find a new job. That's when the search began. I applied to many places -- most of them, media related.

It's been about a month and a half since I've had a full-time position, although I do currently work part-time. I do have a job offer pending, about which I'll write when I have a signed contract in hand. Until then, it's about trying to make what I have in the bank last as long as possible -- but still enjoy my time here. And that's exactly what I'm trying to do.

As fun as it can be not to work and as stressful as it can be to work, I must say I would rather work and not have to worry about finances, than not work and always stress about whether or not it's okay that I'm going to spend $8 for 10 hours of karaoke when I could just stay home and save.

Ah well. Hopefully, things will work themselves out soon and I'll no longer be UNEMPLOYED. I'll keep you updated.