I still remember walking through the front door of that Japanese Company for the first time with my heart racing, and thinking “This is going to be the most amazing thing ever, if I get to work for this Japanese Company!”. As I walk through the door, I’m constantly being greeted by my (potential) future colleagues.
At my first meeting, they’re unsure of who I am or why I am there, but nonetheless I am greeted with big smiles, and staff who are doing their best effort to communicate to me in English (which also puts a smile on my face).
The night before, I spent researching about the company and prepare for any possible questions they may throw at me. I even practice answering them out loud, and of course reviewing polite Japanese (Keigo) and annoying my neighbours in the process.
In the interview, I’m greeted by an American gentleman and feel more like I’m being interrogated by the authorities. I am asked questions I didn’t think they would ask, and they were asked like they were holding an invisible stop watch, because time is money!
“Are you able to work long hours? How many days a week can you work?”
“What kind of VISA do you have? And how long do you have left?”
And the most puzzling “When can you start?”
I was not asked about any of my past experience, what I know of their company, there was no Japanese level test or even to a request for my Resume.
They let me try out a few of their procedures and ask if I can see myself doing this long-term, and then before you know it, they said “you can start Monday!”. I remember the ecstasy of going home that day, like it was the happiest day of my life, and thinking after my first shift my life will change forever!
And so my first day finally had come, I arrive nice and early on Monday morning and before I know it I’m being surrounded by all my Japanese colleagues. As it turns out, I am the first ever non-Japanese person to join their company, and so it seems they’re extremely excited to speak to me!
I’m hearing all kinds of questions from all different angles and in both English and Japanese! I’m literally throwing one word answers back at them hoping to cover everything and everyone while trying not to miss anyone.
The most common questions I was asked were:
“Where are you from?”
“Can you speak Japanese?”
“Can you use chop-sticks?”
I am then greeted by a bleached blonde hair Japanese fellow, who says to me “Call me Goku” and it turned out that’s all he knew to say in English. He begins blabbering in Japanese and I only understand about 15% of what he’s actually saying. I asked him to repeat some things 2-3 times, yet still have no idea what he is saying. After a while, I just nod, pretending to understand as I don’t want to make myself look like an idiot on the first day, which may I add was practically impossible anyway.
After a few hours of being lectured, which seemed to be in any language other than Japanese. I am back at the office and asked to take a break. I am still freaking out, panicking that I barely understood anything so I refuse to eat. However, quickly realise this is self-destructive, so I take a deep breath and try and get a hold of myself.
I am then greeted by another colleague who speaks a few words of English and asks me “How is it so far?” I tell him I feel Japanese is so difficult and that I can barely understand what ‘Goku’ was trying to explain to me this morning. He laughs and shrugs his shoulders saying “don’t worry he mumbles a lot.. none of us Japanese working here can understand him either”. At that crucial point, I could feel the weight on my shoulders instantly lifted, and believe it or not my hunger returned!
For the next few days, things are still as confusing as ever, whether I am lost in Goku’s mumbles or the Japanese language itself. Even after 2 years of study and I feel completely helpless, I wonder if this will continue for the foreseeable future in this ‘dream’ job of mine.
Join me for my next feature, providing insight into how my life in a Japanese Company pans out …