Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When worlds collide

Today is one of those days when the Japanese workplace is really frustrating me:

First! After a few months of lamenting about how I'm going to be able to go home for the summer. I gave in to the only option I had that I thought wouldn't ruffle too many feathhers - to use up my entire nenkyu for next year with a couple of ::ahem:: extra days, at the beginning and the end. Fortunately for me, the lamenting I did earlier spearheaded a movement within the Board of Education that gave all high school ALTs in my prefecture an extra 5 days of summer-time only nenkyu (you're welcome, lol). So safe right? The extra days I took wouldn't be a problem now! Doubly awesome was that I heard I would get another five days due to the logistics of having 5 new summer holidays for this year's contract AND 5 summer holidays starting next with our next contract period which starts August 1st. YAY! But wait..I already booked my flight home and am only using 2 days in the month of July, so maybe I can have them roll over into next year like my regular nenkyu does? I asked my JTE and he said no. Great. Well, either way, I'm safe for my impending vacation home. Then I gave me JTE my flight schedule and even broke down how my nenkyu will be used to show that I'm within boundaries (well, at least now I am thanks to the last minute addition of summer holidays). He tells me that he'll check if it's -ok- with the Vice Principal. What? I know that it's customary to get the approval from your higher ups, but the notion that it could -not- be ok would leave us at an impasse. The reason it might not be ok is because after all is said and done (and because I can't roll over my newly given 3 days of nenkyu from July), I will only have 2 days of nenkyu for the year which is about 18 short of what they're comfortable with (an exaggeration but not far from the truth..ugh).

Second! My fellow teacher and apartment complex neighbor wants me to give her 15,000en (more than $150) for a 'community fee.' I originally understood this to be something official I'd receive in the mail, but today I was asked for it directly. I simply stared at the poor JTE who was translating what she was saying in a mingled look of 'are you kidding me' and 'kill me now.' My American mindset understands something labeled as a 'community fee' to mean a tax. If it's not a tax then it's a voluntary donation. So this is basically how the conversation went on my end:

Oh ya that, I never received anything in the mail.
I should just give her the money? Ok, but where's the official notice/statement?
Oh it's not coming? I'm suppose to hand it over to you because you're a community official?
Oh you're not? You're going to take it to the next town hall meeting where it will be collected?
Oh.. ok, so what services are being provided?
...None that apply to me..
...OH, this fee is voluntarily??
No, not voluntarily..just expected.. so I'm -supposed- to give this.
Ya, my mind isn't wrapping around this concept.
Yes, I get that it is all for the good cause of maintaining our community.
Yes, I get that everyone chips in.
Yes, I understand this is a local thing.
But wait, then who decides on the amount of 15,000en then?
Oh, the town hall meetings (that I have zero input in)..
So, if this is for community maintenance, why doesn't anyone cut my grass, like, ever?
Oh, because that's my school's property..
So, what should you tell her you ask? Tell her I feel conflicted about this.
Yes, I understand this is the Japanese way.
Yes... Yes, Yes.
::stare at each other awkwardly::

Besides all that, I had four very long classes today, plus interview tests. Needless to say, it was a long day..

I think this has made me appreciate the Land of the Free a bit more on my first Independence Day away from the States. Speaking your mind and making sense of a situation are not so much of a hassle or frowned upon there.


  1. Are you serious, but I guess that's why japan is so clean. tell any American that they will lose there mind

  2. Gotta love/hate these cultural exchanges. I had my own issues with the French paperwork system that drowns you in a sea of documents...documents that you have certainly handed at least five times and that, somehow, have always conveniently disappeared so you have to continue being trapped in their paperwork vortex!

    I have to wonder what was going through their minds while they were explaining this to you.

    "Crap. The foreigner realizes how messed up this system is. Foiled again! Let's refer to our default explanation of that's the way things are and call it a day."

    -Barb the French Bean

  3. Tyrone: Maybe..but I've seen that they basically scoot a lot of trash out of view and then literally dump in on a remote mountainside. And ya, any American wouldn't stand for it.

    Barb: I think that is exactly what they're thinking! And I'd love to read a post about any similar cultural disconnects that you had while in France. :)

  4. Hmmm...never had to pay any fee like that myself, nor did I know anyone who had to (or told me about it). Must be something your community decided upon? I would also be hesitant to pay and would try to get more information. Honestly, unless you interact with your neighbors a lot and fear their ill-will, you may want to just hold your ground and not pay. It may be the Japanese way, but you're a temporary resident there and people often make allowances for us foreigners who clearly don't understand how things are supposed to be done. =P

    As for the nenkyu, I can understand why they might be concerned. Things do come up, and it might be pretty rough if you don't have any vacation days to fall back on in the case of an emergency or whatever. But in my experience, even if they do object, if you stand firm and tell them the trip is already planned and the tickets purchased, they won't forbid you from going and make you waste all that money you spent.

  5. Thanks Blue Shoe. That's the kind of 'I'm a foreigner' allowance I was hoping would just be assumed and thus I wouldn't be bothered about this kind of thing, but one other foreigner in town was also hassled about his but it's only about 5,000en.

    I will have three days of nenkyu left (now that I figured something else out), so I really don't get the problem. I definitely get how unexpected stuff comes up and some nenkyu is good to have. I'll hold my ground and post an update on the results! :)