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American working in a small, traditional Japanese company - please help

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  • American working in a small, traditional Japanese company - please help

    Hi all. I am new. Thank you in advance for reading my post. To give you some background, I am a 30 year old female who was hired by a small Japanese company (about 120 people in total). I am the first foreigner that has worked for them. I have been employed there for almost 10 months now and I still have the same problems. It is not getting better. When I was hired I was told I would do communications between foreign companies and ours, however, my current job is research and analysis. I had worked as an English teacher 7 years ago and that job went very smoothly, this one, however, is not going very smoothly.

    1. My Japanese is not very good and the management in my company does not speak English well. I am always unclear as to what exactly I am supposed to be researching. When I do provide a document, I am told that that is not what I needed to research and that I need to cover other points. I am told that I need to ask more questions, which is good advice, but the manager is always busy and rarely has time to explain. He also does not speak English and it takes time for me to understand the Japanese. His expectation is that I would "know" what he wants. I would like to mention that there have been people in the company who left because of this manager.

    2. I try to communicate with people but often they do not wish to communicate with me due to the language barrier. Co-workers think that it is my fault because I do not try hard enough. However, everyone can see that I try to make conversation, but I get very little response from some of my co-workers. I sometimes mention the difficulties I am having communicating, but I am told that it is my fault because I am the one who needs to try harder. I feel it is very one sided. I can only try to a point.

    3. I am never told about what is going on in the company, yet when I ask, some people don't know or do not have time to explain. The documentation is all in Japanese and I can't read kanji. I am learning but it takes time. I am told that my company is not a school and that it is my job to know what is going on. Unfortunately, I am not sure how to do this since there is a big language barrier. I am always told that I need to communicate and ask but since I do not know what is going on most of the time, I am not sure what questions to ask. I don't want to look completely ignorant.

    4. Since I am the only native English speaker in the comapny, I am asked to do tasks well beyond my area of knowledge. I am a business major but am asked to understand and explain technical things. I try to understand what I can but since I am not an engineer, I need a lot of time and even with time, there are some things I just do not understand. The engineers can't explain it to me since they do not understand it either. They do not speak English that is why it is my job to "summarize" it to them.

    Any advice would be appreciated. I do want to make this work, but it seems that any issues I have are met with "you are not working hard enough". I also feel like I am Jack of all trades and master of none.

    What should I do? I am always stressed and unhappy.

    My philosophy is work to live, not live to work. This is a big problem for me in the company.
    Last edited by DD2; 2012-10-10, 09:06 PM.

  • #2
    They wont change - Japanese people don't know how to.

    And they are notoriously cr@p at communicating - even with each other..

    So if you are not happy there.. start looking around for an alternative job.

    I admire you for having stuck at it this long.. I couldn't work for them.

    Comment


    • #3
      To the OP:

      Are you in danger of losing your job? No? Then fuck it and fuck them. Stop trying to do better and eventually they will leave you alone.

      Drink more.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Dangerous Porker
        I'm always a bit perplex about these comments. Do you want japanese people in Japan to accommodate you and start speaking in English?
        Never mentioned English.

        Never mentioned language at all.

        Did mention communication - but was not talking about language - as is evidenced by referring to them communicating poorly with each other.

        Maybe you would be perplexed less often if you thought a bit more before responding.

        Comment


        • #5
          Well, DD2, ... (is that DD-squared? or double-DD?) ..., have you ever considered that perhaps you were hired for reasons other than your obviously excellent English communication ability?

          Comment


          • #6
            I'm not sure if I read your post correctly -- were you an English teacher 'seven years ago' ... or for the past seven years before joining the current firm (10 months ago) were you in Japan teaching English?

            In either event, I would think most sane motivated professional people in your situation would be busting a nut to get their Japanese-ability up to par. If there is some kind of learning disability, unfortunately the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply in this country.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by NorthByNorthwest View Post
              I'm not sure if I read your post correctly -- were you an English teacher 'seven years ago' ... or for the past seven years before joining the current firm (10 months ago) were you in Japan teaching English?

              In either event, I would think most sane motivated professional people in your situation would be busting a nut to get their Japanese-ability up to par. If there is some kind of learning disability, unfortunately the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply in this country.
              First, I have to say that I am offended by the last part of your response. I have no learning disability but most intelligent people understand that you can learn only so much in 10 months.

              I worked in Japan 7 years ago as an English teacher. I was here for 1 year. That was 7 years ago. And to respond to your comment about "most sane motivated professional people" in my situation would be trying to learn Japanese the best that they can. Well, guess what? I am! Why is it that few people in my company are making an effort to try to communicate with me? Why should it only be me who tries? Cultural understanding works BOTH ways. It is not one sided. Both sides need to try. I study on weekends (read books, learn kanji, etc) and I regularly meet with Japanese friends to practice my Japanese. So, I do try.

              I am not sure if you are Japanese or not, but your comments are not constructive. They are rude.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Deathblob View Post
                Well, DD2, ... (is that DD-squared? or double-DD?) ..., have you ever considered that perhaps you were hired for reasons other than your obviously excellent English communication ability?
                DD2 is just DD2. =)

                I was initially hired by an agency.Then after a few months the company hired me directly. 90% of what I was told about the job I would be doing turned out to be inaccurate.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Since you are having troubles communicating with your immediate bosses and co-worker it is best to walk away. You could enroll in a language school and learn more Japanese or you could find work as an English teacher. The whole thing if you are being stressed out and not getting any help the best thing is to walk away, before it all makes you ill. No job is worth it!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by DD2 View Post
                    First, I have to say that I am offended by the last part of your response. I have no learning disability but most intelligent people understand that you can learn only so much in 10 months.

                    I worked in Japan 7 years ago as an English teacher. I was here for 1 year. That was 7 years ago. And to respond to your comment about "most sane motivated professional people" in my situation would be trying to learn Japanese the best that they can. Well, guess what? I am! Why is it that few people in my company are making an effort to try to communicate with me? Why should it only be me who tries? Cultural understanding works BOTH ways. It is not one sided. Both sides need to try. I study on weekends (read books, learn kanji, etc) and I regularly meet with Japanese friends to practice my Japanese. So, I do try.

                    I am not sure if you are Japanese or not, but your comments are not constructive. They are rude.
                    "...I am not sure if you are Japanese or not, but your comments are not constructive. They are rude."
                    Well, I think you're lazy and whiny - so if I apply a bit of your logic there, would be politically-incorrect to ask whether you're black?

                    I'm a white as$hole and voting for Romney

                    If somehow your expectation is that your co-workers "meet you halfway" by making the effort to up their English-language ability - unless you're the in-house engrish teacher or something - then you are seriously deluded.

                    Ten months is plenty of time. Smart resourceful people who realistically figure out they probably won't be able to read business or technical documents in Japanese find ways to cope. For example, scan the docs and at least get a basic idea of what is being written by having it machine-translated. Emails and other digital documents like MS Word are the easiest: copy & paste into Google Translate (which is free free free BTW so no excuses there).

                    Not much has changed since the 90's for many Japanese companies and it sounds like your company is one of them. Therefore these two 90's classics sound just about right for your situation:

                    A relevant book by an American woman: "The Rice-Paper Ceiling: Breaking through Japanese Corporate Culture" by Rochelle Kopp
                    A relevant book by an Aussie man: "Working for a Japanese Company: Insights Into the Multiculture Workplace" by Robert March

                    If you suspect you are clinically depressed, visit almost any GP and he (or she) will be happy to prescribe you the latest happy pills ...SSRIs etc that are one or two generations behind from those in the US. Avoid benzodiazepines as you can get physically addicted to them in less than 3 weeks. And, with this kind of universal healthcare system, actual counseling is hard to find let alone in English. You can always call TELL http://www.telljp.com/ however.

                    Sorry no prescriptions with happy rainbows and gay unicorns.

                    Quit & go home, suck it up*, or figure out what you're not doing even if it means working harder.

                    * One thing that might happen in a Japanese organization is that after a year or so, if they see you gutting it out, formerly distant or indifferent colleagues will start coming through for you. It tends to happen in traditionally run sports clubs or associations too. So, you may be at the turning point and not even realize it.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I can sympathize with this. I worked for a small Japanese company as the only English speaker, and the first year was rough. I really didn't understand what was going on for that first year or so. But in the second year, it all started to click, and by the third year, I could understand everything. So it does get easier if you stick with it, the question is whether or not you want to stick with it that long.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Hang in there!

                        Originally posted by DD2 View Post
                        Hi all. I am new. Thank you in advance for reading my post. To give you some background, I am a 30 year old female who was hired by a small Japanese company (about 120 people in total). I am the first foreigner that has worked for them. I have been employed there for almost 10 months now and I still have the same problems. It is not getting better. When I was hired I was told I would do communications between foreign companies and ours, however, my current job is research and analysis. I had worked as an English teacher 7 years ago and that job went very smoothly, this one, however, is not going very smoothly.

                        1. My Japanese is not very good and the management in my company does not speak English well. I am always unclear as to what exactly I am supposed to be researching. When I do provide a document, I am told that that is not what I needed to research and that I need to cover other points. I am told that I need to ask more questions, which is good advice, but the manager is always busy and rarely has time to explain. He also does not speak English and it takes time for me to understand the Japanese. His expectation is that I would "know" what he wants. I would like to mention that there have been people in the company who left because of this manager.

                        2. I try to communicate with people but often they do not wish to communicate with me due to the language barrier. Co-workers think that it is my fault because I do not try hard enough. However, everyone can see that I try to make conversation, but I get very little response from some of my co-workers. I sometimes mention the difficulties I am having communicating, but I am told that it is my fault because I am the one who needs to try harder. I feel it is very one sided. I can only try to a point.

                        3. I am never told about what is going on in the company, yet when I ask, some people don't know or do not have time to explain. The documentation is all in Japanese and I can't read kanji. I am learning but it takes time. I am told that my company is not a school and that it is my job to know what is going on. Unfortunately, I am not sure how to do this since there is a big language barrier. I am always told that I need to communicate and ask but since I do not know what is going on most of the time, I am not sure what questions to ask. I don't want to look completely ignorant.

                        4. Since I am the only native English speaker in the comapny, I am asked to do tasks well beyond my area of knowledge. I am a business major but am asked to understand and explain technical things. I try to understand what I can but since I am not an engineer, I need a lot of time and even with time, there are some things I just do not understand. The engineers can't explain it to me since they do not understand it either. They do not speak English that is why it is my job to "summarize" it to them.

                        Any advice would be appreciated. I do want to make this work, but it seems that any issues I have are met with "you are not working hard enough". I also feel like I am Jack of all trades and master of none.

                        What should I do? I am always stressed and unhappy.

                        My philosophy is work to live, not live to work. This is a big problem for me in the company.
                        My impression is that you have a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow. You certainly do have many challenges right in front of you but it will be worth it. Attitude is everything.

                        1. It does seem apparent that you need to communicate with your boss more. If he is too busy, E-MAIL HIM. In fact if you e-mail him, you should be able to get away with listing your questions in English (and I suggest at least attempting a Japanese translation with it). Your boss wants you to see things from his point of view. If you are not researching the right thing, you are just wasting everyone's time.

                        2. I would imagine everyone in your office is thinking how it would be for them if they were to work in an American firm in the US. No one would be able to speak their language and probably most people would not be simpathetic to them not being able to speak English - so why should it be different for an American? This will not improve straight away, but you must keep on studying Japanese. It is much easier these days with the internet and everything. Don't let 2 weeks pass without doing any study!

                        3. The documentation in regard to what's going on in the company is confidential info., so you can't obviously take it to a friend outside of the company and ask. This problem won't go away easily either, but if you were just to try and study just one sentence in each document, I'm sure things will change. Learn to enter the Kanji radicals into an app on your phone to look up the kanji, ask the person next to you.

                        4. "Since I am the only native English speaker in the comapny, I am asked to do tasks well beyond my area of knowledge. I am a business major but am asked to understand and explain technical things. I try to understand what I can but since I am not an engineer, I need a lot of time and even with time, there are some things I just do not understand." Again, this is a WONDERFUL opportunity to learn valuable skills. This will also take time. After about 3 years you should start to get on top of things. Use the internet - we are living in a post information revolution era!

                        A lot of people would kill for your job. It may be tough, but it will be worth it.
                        Last edited by Since1990; 2012-10-11, 09:41 AM.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          By the way, others have mentioned scanning documents so that you can try to translate the kanji. This is good. There are a few other things you can do as well:

                          1) If you are using a mail client (program) to get your email, you can use ThunderBird, and get the rikaichan plugin. This will allow you to hover your mouse over kanji and get a reading and translation for that kanji. This was invaluable to me when I was in my company trying to read Japanese emails, and I learned a LOT of kanji from it. If your mail is web-based (think Gmail/hotmail or some other service where you log into a site to read your email), you can use firefox and the rikaichan plugin (I think it may be avilable for google chrome too).

                          2) I used to bring a notebook into meetings, and I'd make a point of writing down words that I heard a few times. Then after the meeting, I would go and look up all the words (sometimes with help from my co-workers). The more I did this, the more I started to understand what was being said in company meetings.

                          3) If you haven't already, pick up a few books on business Japanese.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            My situation resembles yours a little. I work for a major Japanese company undertaking English editing work and the like.

                            My advice is basically that you should always remember that you will remain a foreigner forever, and there are limits to the degree to which you will be integrated. As the only foreigner in a small, traditional company you may scarcely be integrated at all. Workmates may even want to avoid having lunch with you etc.

                            But you are or can be of value to the company in certain ways, presumably to do with your English or other abilities. So try to do the work as best you can, in the circumstances. Let people know that you prefer to communicate by email in English, if that's the case. Do things well that you are able to do well. Let people know if your abilities are not up to handling other work tasks, and try to find ways around that.

                            After a while they will be making a judgement as to whether or not you are worth the cost they are paying. If you can deliver some value (even if it's not everything) and are not a burden to them, they will most likely continue to employ you. They know that you are a foreigner, and will not understand everything. Over time they will get a better understanding of what you are able to do and what you can't do. But if you consistently seem unhappy and are a burden to the people around you, they will want to try someone else.

                            The problem that remains, however is that this situation will never be as user-friendly to you as you might hope. Depending on your personality, it might even become a psychological burden. You need to think of ways to deal with this outside of the office, rather than placing pressure on the people in the office.

                            Good luck! One good point is that working in a Japanese office is a good learning environment, of language and behavior, that will help you more broadly within Japanese society.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I also had a position which seems pretty similar to yours. I lasted 3 years, the seven or so Japanese who followed me into the company left before I did, so I did try.

                              It really was a horrible time in my life but here are two thoughts off the top of my head. Firstly, how did you get the job? I got mine through an important contact in a big company, actually Shinetsu Kagaku. My company did a lot of work for them and they took me on as a favour without having any real idea of what I would/could do. I basically spent my first few weeks sitting in a room alone. I did everything I was asked ranging from dogs body to going on overseas trips to "explain" things my company had designed. Like you I'm not an engineer and the engineers were too busy to waste time explaining basic things to me. Mostly I sat and studied Japanese. In the end it put me off Japan quite a bit but got my Japanese up to a pretty decent level.

                              The second thing was that occassionally I would complain that I had nothing to do. The common answers seemed to be that in Japan people don't really get formally trained in small companies rather they learn by watching and copying. I guess I should have been more proactive, just did things to find a niche that would have made me (at least seem) more useful.


                              I'm glad I left and I should have done it sooner. The work culture was too alien for me and I wasn't flexible enough to adapt. I personally doubt things would have gotten better. Within weeks of leaving the company I was earning more and working less, all with less stress.


                              One last thing I'll say is that my company had went through a strange/rough time just before I'd joined. The shacho was a kind man (the general staff far less so) but shacho by defalt and he didn't was to run a company. After I left they did phone me up on the pretext of offering me some part-time work. I told them I was doing fine and never heard from them again.

                              If you can use the company, gain some experiance and move onwards and upwards that's great. If not, I'd cut my losses (unless the pay is really good).

                              Comment

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