Sunday, May 23, 2010

An outsider opinion regarding modern views of society.

Hello everyone,

Before leaving the US for my move here, I was somewhat unaware of how mentalities differed between the two countries. Granted that Asian countries have become more Westernized, I came to Japan with no expectations of it being that way. Unfortunately, some of these Western influences (both good and bad) have somehow made its way over here. Today I wanted to discuss several impacts I have witnessed of Western pop culture on Japanese and American society.

Pop culture references from the US, such as "Sex and the City," "The OC," and "The Desperate House Wives" have all found some kind of popularity here in Japan. An abundance of females watch these television shows, possibly thinking that these are representative of the modern American woman. Strong, liberated, opinionated, and independent are probably some of the words that come to mind from viewers in America. There is a bit of glamor and envy in many women who aspire to be as "strong" as the characters of Sex and the City. To my surprise, however, some of the Japanese viewers have described the women as "selfish," "superficial," "inconsiderate," and "not willing to cooperate." Keep in mind, that not all Japanese saw it this way, as many actually fancied the idea of being just like the portrayed "modern woman."

My very brief experience of watching Sex and the City before coming to Japan did not phase me, but it has been quite eye-opening as of late. I used to think that the empowerment of women was just part of the evolution of American society. Now looking back, I have realized that a lot of this may be working to destroy what were originally good core values for marriage and relationships. The ones that work most against these traditional/core values are the characters "Carrie" and "Samantha" (save for the character "Charlotte," the only one who maintains these values). They appear strong and independent, but seem to control things on their own terms, at times with complete disregard for their male counterparts. At some points during the show, the main character is so self-absorbed and concerned with her own issues, that she doesn't even bother listening to her close friends. They seek some kind of love or affection, but like to remain emotionally-detached enough to prevent themselves from becoming too hurt or vulnerable. Throughout the story, they are getting involved in on and off relationships and are consumed by the plethora of material goods and brand-name fashion items around them. I heard these characters eventually realize that they need "grow up" and let go of their independence, selfishness and greed in order to find marriage, but literally years after the series began. Could this idea of being "strong" just be a cover up for them actually being "weak?"

In my opinion, a fully-engaged relationship is lowering your barriers, opening yourself up, and always thinking of your partner's happiness before your own. Unfortunately, with the onset of this post-feminism movement, new phrases such as "co-dependency" diagnose this type of behavior as very bad. It defines attachment, your partner's happiness being tied to your own, and dependence on one another as a major factor for disappointment. It reinforces that you maintain your own ground and keep your feelings independent of one another. If you are in an abusive relationship, I see this as being true, but can this behavior be applied to all relationships? Is this cold and distant view of relationships a healthy outlook?

The major difference between both cultures likely has to do with the definition of "strength." While the Japanese association of strength is more "patience" and "understanding," the Western association of strength has more to do with being vocal and "taking control of the situation." While Japanese women have become more vocal than men as of late, it is largely still a male dominated society. Sure, there is a need for equality, but when one starts to feel entitled to being selfish or greedy, where should the line be drawn? With "post-feminism" movements abound, the desire for women to be able to handle things on their own has gained huge momentum. Could this face an extreme and be potentially destructive of Western traditional marriage and its core values?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hikosaemon's - "How to argue with Japanese people."

Here's a rather interesting video I found about difference in communication styles out here. Enjoy!

Japan's current job system and the future.

Hi everyone,

It has been a while since I posted, but today I would like to discuss a few things I have thought about Japan's job system recently. After a few encounters with many working professionals in Japan (including my own relatives), I have pondered a lot about the good and bad of this system and its future.

Japan's traditional system focuses on company loyalty over technical skills. Most focus on hiring based on that person's educational background, and not their skill-set or abilities. If that person happened to graduate from a university such as Todai or Keio (The Harvard & Stanford of Japan), it is likely you can get hired at a very good company and work your way up to the top of the ranks. They will of course train you along the way, but part of the training includes working long hours, strict discipline, and intentional work harassment (as many would see it in the US). The norm is for an individual to work extremely hard under these conditions for the first 10 years of their career, only to finally settle in during their 30's. The work load will lessen over the years and their salaries will increase dramatically as they maintain higher positions as managers.

Salaries will often times include an employee's bonus in the figure, but can change based on that employee's performance. The bonus is paid twice a year, usually on the 6th and the 12th month. Retirement fees are paid through what is called "Nen-kin" (It is the 401k equivalent in Japan) and can only be received after 20 years of consistent working. You must also pay what is called "Jyuuminzei" while living here after your first year, but it is determined by how much you make during a year's time. It is probably the equivalent of paying state/federal tax.

A friend of mine was previously a headhunter at a well-known job hunting agency out here in Japan. When I asked her about this system, she brought up a few good points:

  • If you come from a good school, it is pretty much guaranteed that you will find a good job at a company.
  • Your pay will be determined by the amount of time you are with that company, instead of how well you know your trade.
  • Japanese systems are known to get easier with time and will pay better as you climb the system.
  • It is assumed that sticking to your job as a "Sei-Shaiin," or full-time employee, will grant you a lot more stability.
  • The Japanese government protects your employment - laws make firing an employee much more difficult.

And a few bad points:

  • Japanese salaries tend to be 1/3 of American salaries (or the international standard) starting from the bottom of a company.
  • Japanese companies recognize loyalty and brand recognition, unlike American companies that will pay according to your skill or merits.
  • Your private life is not valued; Your working life takes precedence.
  • You must work your way up, earning your boss's trust ("Settai" Appeasing the client/bosses, "Nomi-kai" Drinking with the boss, and "Zangyou" working of long hours).
  • Age discrimination usually takes place - If your boss/co-worker is older than you, it is an absolute must to pay them your respects (saying "No" is not allowed), despite them being right or wrong.
  • If the individual happens to lose his job in his/her 40's or 50's, many with this type of job background usually do not have a skill (They tend to know a lot of general information, but lack a specific trade); therefore, finding a job can be extremely hard because of old age discrimination/lack of skill.

After learning about these specifics, I started to ponder about American systems as well. Certainly there has to be some major positives or negatives about the American system.. Here is what I came up with for positives:

  • Your pay will be of international standard (or 2-3 times more than Japanese standard).
  • Your private life will be respected.
  • You will be respected by your ability and skills, not by your age and educational background.
  • Your opinions are respected; You are able to more freely voice them (without going overboard).
  • As long as you maintain your trade/skill, laws in the US prohibit work hiring discrimination.
  • Power harassment and sexual harassment are also more strictly enforced.

And negatives:

  • Your skills and abilities are valued, but having skills that become outdated cannot guarantee you a job.
  • Even though discrimination is illegal, it still exists in the US.
  • Despite how hard you worked to get your education, studying hard is not enough. You have to be able to prove your value to a company and why they need you.
  • It is easier to fire an employee in the US. Japan has stricter laws that protect their employees from being let go.
  • Salaries will be higher, but responsibility will also be as well. Typically when a company lets go of their employees, the highest paid are the first to go.
  • Being a full-time employee does not guarantee long-term stability.

With the globalization of Japan and the significant increase of in International/American companies and foriegners living here, can the Japanese system survive? While the American system has its merits, is there anything that can be improved to grant the stability of the Japanese system?