The Tokyo Career Forum was supposed to help me find a job. Instead, it helped my find myself – and more specifically, it led me to the realization I would not, and did not, want to work for a traditional Japanese company (at least by the traditional, post-graduation, job hunting methods).
I don’t want to work my way up from the bottom in a Japanese company.
And here’s why.
At the Tokyo Career Forum, there were over 200 companies looking to hire bilingual employees. After about an hour and a half, I had interviewed at one company (and failed), scheduled interviews for two other companies, and listened to a couple “job lectures” about certain Japanese companies. Nothing so far had really struck my interest – nor did I feel qualified for a position in each company.
But suddenly I spotted my friend’s company.
Here’s the thing. I teach English at cafés in Japan. I have an online teaching profile, all sorts of people will contact me hoping to practice conversational English with me. My students are housewives, businessmen who need help with English, junior high English teachers themselves who want to improve their speaking ability, and entire families. I don’t like to play favorites with my students, but one of my favorite “lessons” is with a businessman who is one of the head researchers in a makeup company.
He gives product presentations all over the world; we meet up a couple times a week and I help him with pronunciation, flow, and occasionally even editing the company slides. Sometimes he will bring friends; I’ve helped all sorts of people from that small, makeup company. I know their product line by heart. Their facial cream is the best thing my face has ever felt.
So when I saw their booth at the Tokyo Career Forum (I’m omitting the name of the company for professional reasons), I excitedly headed over to see if any of my friends were working there.
But I saw one of my favorite pieces from their product line – a makeup remover that hadn’t been released yet. I smiled. I actually felt a little proud – if anyone asked me, I could tell the the chemical percentage of each component inside that little vial.
However, right avobe the blue vial, I saw their language requirement sign (all booths at the Tokyo Career Forum are required to have one). It had no requirement for English, but had the words “Native Business Japanese Level Strongly Recommended.” Oops, I guess I can’t interview here…
One of the ladies manning the booth saw me and walked over. With light brown hair and bright blue eyes, I’m pretty foreign.
“Do you speak business Japanese?” She asked me in incredibly polite Japanese.
“Ummm, no. Not really. I just-“ I stopped. I wasn’t officially hired to help my friend (and his friends) with their presentations. I didn’t want to get them in trouble (on the off chance they aren’t supposed to talk to outsiders about their new product line before it launches).
“Um, I just really like your products,” I finished lamely. I pointed at their blue vialed makeup remover. “Like this one. This one feels really good and works very well!”
“If that is the case, I don’t believe this is the company for you. We will not be able to interview you.” She replied curtly.
“Ah, ok. Sure. Thanks! Bye.”
She watched me slink off. No “thank you for coming by” or “I hope you find a company you qualify for.” Nothing. In a country prided for their hospitality and politeness, this kind of reception is rather rare. And massively uncomfortable.
I would understand this kind of reception if I had asked to interview. But I hadn’t. I was merely standing near the booth (not even in front of it). That was uncalled for.
Once I had slunk off a couple booths, I peeked back. She was deep in conversation with a short Japanese girl with her hair pulled into a tight, black bun. The interviewer handed her a clipboard so she could schedule an interview, all smiles.
Something clicked. Yes, I am foreign. Yes, I have issues speaking keigo (polite Japanese). But that doesn’t mean I’m not smart.
I get it. They paid a lot of money to get a booth in the career forum. But when I came by, there were five employees standing around with no one at the booth. If they don’t want to hire me, that’s ok. It really is. But you don’t have to be rude about it.
Through my own channels, I’ve made a bit of a name for myself in that company. I know their product line; I’m friends with a lot of the employees. What started off as a simple English pronunciation lesson morphed into something else. Now, my friend trusts my opinion completely. If I suggest he change the wording on his slide, move a picture to the side, or add in another explanation slide, he will do it. I’m doing good work. I really am.
But if you take me out of the context, if you throw me into the traditional job hunting context, I’m floundering. I can’t compete with the other Japanese job hunters, the ones who have read countless books on how to job hunt, who know the proper angle to bow, who have their professionally taken picture plastered onto the front of their resume (resumes in Japan must have your picture on them, since some companies don’t want to hire fat or ugly employees).
Above all, I’m white. My whiteness sticks out like a sore thumb among the sea of black suits.
To be honest, I don’t have it in me to spend two or three years working from the bottom up. I’ve heard enough horror stories about unpaid overwork time, company dormitories, and sexual harassment to make traditional Japanese companies seem less of a haven and more like a personal hell.
I looked around.
“Why am I here?”
I don’t want this. I don’t want lifetime employment.
When there is one standard of right and wrong in job hunting, individuality isn’t exactly cherished.
But I’m too stubborn. I’m too proud. Maybe I’m just too American.
So I left.
My fiancé met me a couple stations down. He laughed a bit when I told him what happened. “No offense, but I kind of expected this to happen.” He hugged me. “It’s ok, baby. You make lots of money teaching English – and you have so much fun!”
“Or,” he continued, taking my job hunting bag, and helping me out of the job hunting suit coat, “you can just be a writer. I love the way you write!”
Then, instead of spending the day at the Tokyo Career Forum, as I had originally planned, we went to the beach. It was great.
I didn’t even go to the second day of the Tokyo Career Forum.
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