The most depressing thing about living as a student in Japan is the semi-permanent surveillance you are subjected to and the arbitrariness of the rules. We had a little chat with Seb recently about the police in Japan and though his assessment of them was on the whole positive, I was struck by his warning “don’t try and use logic with them, or talk about ‘your rights’”.
Japan is a stratified and hierarchical place where you do as you are told because you are told and not because it’s a sensible thing to do. I have a new student who I teach once a week in Tenjin. She works for an import/export firm that does business in China. Her job is to inspect and modify contracts, except that she’s too good for the work she gets and often finishes very early and has nothing to do. She asked her boss if she could go home once she had finished all of the useful work she could do. She was categorically told that she could not. Why? Because I say so. Indeed, the Japanese are famous for working long hours. Unfortunately this does not mean working hard, whatever they might like to think (The Japanese are very comfortable making sweeping statements about themselves and I’ve heard, more than once, things like ‘the Japanese are industrious’ and ‘the Japanese are all very kind’). It is an too often unspoken truism that the Japanese sararyman’s day consists of ten hours of faffing, smoking, coffee-drinking and making sure those thumbs are nicely twiddled.
I have gotten myself into a number of low-heat conflicts in recent weeks, similar to my student.
First, the bike saga continues:
You might recall that, at first, the Cambridge House staff (rest assured that we’ve come up with nicknames for them that are too unpleasant to write here) were royally cheesed off when we started parking our bikes in the “incorrect” bike parks. Rather than park them round the back (which adds a good few minutes to one’s journey, especially when they lock the back doors) we thought we would put them in the infinitely more convenient bike parks at the front which are always empty. Oh no! No no no. They were then upset that we didn’t put them in order (my bike is no.4 for some reason, so I’m supposed to put it in bike park number 4); this despite the fact that there are only 9 bike parks and 10 bikes. I think we’ve gotten away with that one. The new and most vicious of the bike related conflicts relates to an entirely new rule they have created that we cannot leave our bikes elsewhere overnight. Of course they go and check. This, if we were to obey it, would cause great inconvenience and we have no plans to obey, especially because they’ve clearly done this to annoy us. So every time I go for my bike key I have a little note telling me off for a bike related offence. Fortunately, however, it’s usually one of the ladies on the desk who are a million times more sympathetic than the grumpy old men and who, I think, realise how ridiculous this all is.
I’ve also been in conflict with two of my employers who are never ever satisfied with the way I fill in the reports they insist I write after every lesson. I should preface this by saying that these reports are utter fantasy: I teach several children whose English is more or less non-existant, and yet they have pages and pages of reports detailing all of the complex grammar they “know” and have “reviewed”. Also, it’s not obvious to me what purpose these things serve. Anyway, I have been told off in recent weeks for my handwriting, even though I’m the only person who reads it, for writing in pencil (“What would you think if your employee wrote in pencil?” “Would it be legibile?” “Why does that matter? It’s pencil! You can’t write in pencil”), for writing in blue pen and for writing in red pen. Also, if I don’t write down a page from the useless textbook, I’ve done it wrong apparently. Watch this space.
The most annoying of the conflicts we’ve entered relates to the primary school we teach at. Every day four of us have to go there and be ignored by five or six children. We pointed out to the powers that be that, not only is this over-staffing a waste of our time, but it is counter-productive for the children who don’t really know who we are, are confused by us and our contradictory instructions. This, of course, fell on deaf ears.
Increasingly, I look forward to the day when a person in a pretend position of power tries to insist on my doing something so outrageous that these small, niggling conflicts become all out disputes. I doubt I’ll win of course, but I think I’ll have fun.