Yoko Ogawa (小川洋子) is a Japanese novelist, born in Okayama prefecture (岡山県) in 1962. She won one of the most important prize in 1988 with her debut novel, "Agehachou ga kowareru toki (When the swallowtail breaks)" and since then she became one of the leading novelist in Japan.
The first book I pick was this, "Kanpeki na byoushitsu (the Perfect hospital room)".
The story is about the little brother of the protagonist who is about to die.
The theme is a little dark but some how it was subjective. I mean I know he is dying but the focus isn´t on his death.
One of the characteristic of Yoko Ogawa´s work in general is silence. It´s not plain nor dull, but it wraps you in the silence, as if you are in a crystal cubicle which is totally sterilized. Very clear her writing.
In the private life, she is an usual housewife who love music and a fanatical fan of Hanshin Tigers (One of the Japanese baseball teams).
Some of her book available in English are these.
ISBN : 9780099521341
ISBN : 9780099521358
ISBN : 9780099548997
Yes, breakfast. I love breakfast, probably the most favorite dish in the day. To have a good start, it cannot be unpleasant. So when my friend commented about horrible brekky in Madrid, I immediately thought about Japanese breakfast I ate most of the time at home.
Japan is still suffering from the catastrophe, the government still promotes to save the electricity as much as possible. As one of the solution, the government now encourages Japanese salarymen to work from home. For many of you, this might be a smashing news, even some already grab his bag and a half way out of the office. On the contrary, it´s not so good news for Japanese salarymen (サラリーマン), but why?
This is the first series of four which was a feature of JB Press a little ago.
Japanese salarymen have fear of ¨working from home¨
A man in his 30´s to 40´s is strolling in the neignbourhood during the weekday is really strange, looks quite suspicious. If he bumps into someone he knows, even more complicated. They probably think that he´s been laid off because of the recession (Risutora / リストラ in Japanese).
This behaviour is the main issue which stops Japanese people work from home. ¨I can´t even go out to get lunch because I get worried about how they see me¨ says a man smiling wryly, who works from home twice a week.
It used to be more complicated to work from home for the matter of security as they needed to take documents out of the office.
However nowadays, most of work can be done with the computer unless you work in the factory. I mean, more work cannot be done without computer. This means that as long as there is the internet connection, we can work anywere. As the security system is improving, with an appropriate measure, it doens´t matter if you work in the office or in your house.
Despite of this technological advantage, working from home doesn’t seem to spread between Japanese salarymen.
Working from home is also known as “tele-work” and there is even “Japan tele-work association” has been established in Japan. And according to a survey of this association in 2009, more than 68.3% of Japanese companies didn’t apply tele-work system. Only 18.6% of the companies had introduced “mobile work”, means they allow the workers to work from outside only when they are seeing clients or during the business trip. The companies promoted working from home was just 4.8%.
I would be the first one hopping out the office to home and there, I probably with my computer working all day in my pyjama Tshirt and my hair sticking up. How wonderful it would be working in a beach like this and still get paid.
The next articule will tell us the actual situation of working from home among bigger Japanese enterprises.
To be continued.
More about Japanese working situation
That day, I was watching BBC Live News on line just to check what was going on around the world. While people were so happy and excited about this young price´s wedding, what caught me was something different. It was William´s head.
Wow, you poor thing, William…
¨Poor thing¨ I thought. But why? He´s just losing his hair in his late 20´s and from the look at it, he´ll have a nice and shiny head top by the time he becomes 30. Then you might say, ¨so? what´s the big deal?¨
Then a Japanese girl over the coffee, has confessed me that she wasn´t sure if she could like a guy she´d recently met as her boyfriend. Because the boy in his mid 20´s, already shows the sign of boldness, well he has a bold patch.
The way people talk about boldness sounds like almost a phobia and actually I see many ads in everywhere.
I´m sure anyone who has come to Japan must have seen salary-man with this type of hairstyle.
It´s quite gross. I mean this looks quite a loser to me. Once I myself was a student and used to be in the train with many ojisan (おじさん/ middle-age men). I wondered ¨how long do they spend to stick this much hair on the head?¨ As they put some sort of wax or oil in order not to move the hair, they all smelt greasy smell which we call oyaji-shuu (オヤジ臭/ smell of middle-age men). And this type of hair, grow one side and stretch to the other side of the head is called ¨barcode hair¨ as in barcode of the products we buy.
It seems like they believe that their bald head is well covered. It´s obvious to me but belief is incredible. Oh, I´ve read in somewhere that the barcode reader can read barcode hair like the one with the red T-shirt above. That´d be really funny, ¨peep! 280 yen¨.
Our PE teacher in the primary school had thin hair and as we were kids and cruel, we called him ¨hage (禿げ)¨ means bald in Japanese. 10 years after we had a school reunion and as usual, we started talking about the teachers back then. There, one said, ¨hey do you guys know that Mr.A has had hair implant?¨ We were all curious and decided to go to the school festival in that year.
Yes, he did have abundant fringe which used to be some fluff. We all saw him and had a little chat although some did have a strange smirk on their faces.
He is just a school teacher and was so conscious about his hair. So imagine if they are handsome actors or cool dancers.
He is a leader of one of the famous Japanese Hip-Hop group, Da Pump, Issa.
He must be only 25 or 26 and his hair is in a danger. He often shows up in the TV with hats to cover his hage. Yeah, he´s got hair like chick.
Then he´s shaved. It looks much better.
Like him, there are many Japanese men worried about being bald. They are trying to deny, to hide and to increase their hair secretly.
According to Kleopatra, bald men are sexually strong. It´s said that her powerful lover, Julius Caesar was bald but he was well known as a womanizer. In fact, his another name was ¨bald lady killer¨ in Latin.
I´ve never heard of this but this maybe true. They are bald because they have more male hormone. Hmm, Kleopatra was right, she had proved it.
Whatever Kleopatra said good about bald men, yet it´s not so cool to be a bald man in Japan.
If you are sumo wrestler, how strong you are, you have to retire if you lose hair and no longer possible to tie a topnot, like this wrestler. That´s the rule. Being a bald man in Japan doesn´t give you a special bonus in your life, unfortunately.
He is Naoto Takenaka, an actor (photo right). He is hage and he´s accepted his baldness. It looks so much nicer like this than this (photo below).
It´s understandable that it´s sad to lose hair but it doesn´t mean they can traumatize the rest of us.
When we think about hage, it reminds us barcode hair and its smell. And that block us to think that it´s OK to be bald.
So please, guys, just shave it off!
And girls, having a hage boyfriend isn´t embarrassing!
Oh, those who just thought that Japanese men are sissy, this is not just Japanese men but is universal. Here are the photos of hage gaijin (禿げ外人/bald westerners).
Exactly two months later from the earthquake in Japan, on the 11th of May it hit a small town, Lorca in the south of Spain. I heard that someone predicted an earthquake in Rome and some how it moved down to Spain.
I heard the news and opened Spanish newspaper, el País´ page. There were fotos of people´s faces in shock, crying and shouting. I thought ¨it must´ve been a huge quake¨.
Then I saw the letter M5.2.
My first thought was is that all?¨.
I know it´s nothing like ïs that all¨ about in any disaster. Each one of them are serious and tough. So please don´t take it personal if you are Spanish but I´m from a country of earthquake and must say that M5 is a regular quake. Of course you can feel the shake but it´s nothing serious.
Then how come Spanish quake looked more serious than Japan by the look?
I realised it was the facial expressions.
This woman had just lost her family.
This Japanese woman also had just lost her family.
Spanish people in shock
Japanese women in shock
Holds her scream looking at a collapsing building.
Holds her sadness.
Spanish men do cry
Japanese men don´t cry
A car´s been crushed
A car´s landed on the tree
As you can see, Spanish people are very expressive or you can even say that Japanese people are expressionless. The major difference I can see is Spanish people tend to up their face whereas Japanese people tend to down the face. When they cry, Spanish people will shout, scream and cry out, while Japanes people will just shed tears or sob.
Even the gestures are different. My teacher in the secondary school told us that it´s not so educated way to talk with your hands. She said it means you don´t have enough vocabularies to express yourself. Is it really?
I was always amuzed by American TV or film characters express themselves loudly. I thought they were exaggerating. Then I was even more amuzed when I saw my English teachers got super excited about a little present we gave them. Her face broke into huge smile, eyes wide open, screamed ¨wooooooooow! then started giving kisses and hugs to everyone. Have I ever seen any Japanese people have such facial expressions? I can´t recall it.
On one hand we are quite jealous of them expressing themselves so easily but on the other hand for us, it looks a little too exaggerated to get others´ attention.
There is a saying in Spain ¨No lloras, no mamas¨ means ¨if you don´t cry, you don´t get any food¨, and this is true, this seems to be a reality in Western world. Whoever shout louder will get what he/she wants. On the contrary in Japan we say ¨Awateru kojiki wa morai ga sukunai (慌てる乞食はもらいが少ない)¨, means ¨a desparated beggar receives less help¨.
When a Japanese person comes back to Japan after living overseas for years, often notice the change of the face, even the shape of it. It seems to be noisier, in the sense of, as if the face itself is chatting. When this person talks, the eyeblows and the eyes move, even the mouth moves much more than usual. Of course they talk a lot of gestures, the soulders, the hands and body.
Then some of their friends may say that person looks like gai-jin (外人/ foreigner) and some may say he or she is ¨acting like gai-jin¨.
Japanese people may have less obvious facial expressions than westerners and yet, we can feel others´ feeling quite well. We transmit people´s feeling.
This photo might be one of the most known one and as you can see, the girl is wailing. Japanese people can express their feeling but they grow up learning to control their feeling, to pull themselves together all the time.
Perhaps this is a disadvantage for them, not being able to be understood well and I personally still like their modesty, try not to be all over the place or not to bother others. But at the same time, makes me so happy when my Australian friend smiles and screams when she sees me at the airport after four years since we saw last, or a Spanish friend just repeats ¨woow, wooow, woow¨ and keeps eating a little cake I made. Facial expression is a simple way to show their feelings even though sometimes it seems a little exaggerated and too comical.
Is it possible to be somewhere in the middle? Not too attention seeker but not too subtle either? I´ve learnt the importance of facial expressions from the earthquake in Spain.
A Japanese construction company, Daiwa House Group revealed that there were unpaid salaries for overtime work for two years, between 2009 and 2010 to 40% of its employees.
And the amount was 3.2 billion yen.
There was an inspection done by the Labor Standards Inspection Office and they'd found out that there were many overtime work hours which hadn't been informed.
Daiwa House was saying that it was equivalent to about 6 to 7 extra houra a month for each employee. But this doesn't include the construction workers in the actual field. Also it's hard to imagine the company paid until 2008 and "some how" they forgot to declare these two years.
Officially, we can only work 40 hours a week in Japan and if the company needs thier workers to work overtime, they have to present certain document to the Labor Standards Inspection Office. This is for to protect employees…. in theory.
As most of us know, this doesn't function well. If they can not work officially, they hid it and it's called "service overtime work". What ever the law comes out, the reality doesn't change. If they have to stay, they stay and work.
This time, Daiwa House had a bad luck but it seems like the situation is more or less the same in any companies, and most of the time a family of the employees informs to the Labor Standards Inspection Office to save their husbands or fathers from obligated "service" overtime work.
I have once worked in a stock company. I knew it was tempporal and needed to save money, so I registered myself as a tempo stuff. They sent me to this stock company as a data imput.
The team I was located was small, there were about 10 girls and a boss. 6 of them were full-workers and there were two tempo girls, then me and another girl who stopped coming to the office in day 2…
Our "official" woking hour was 9 to 17:30. The first day and the second day, the girl who taught us work said to us to go at around 17:30. But I noticed that no one didn't seem to stand up or even started tidying up, including those two tempo girls.
When we left, no one didn't look at us but bowed their head only to show that they knew we were leaving. "Strange" I thought.
Look, my parents never worked at office or for a company. I wouldn't know how Japanese salary men worked. And there, for the first time, I saw it.
The day three, another tempo girl dropped. I knew she wouldn't come to the office because when we left the day before, she told me that the job was too difficult for her and she wouldn't complete what they expect. Hmm, she was a little slow but I just told her to relax and within a week, she'd get used to it. But she didn't show up, no one knew why, besides me and the person in charge was quite annoyed by that. The tempo office phoned our boss a little after that the girl had quit.
Anyway, I stayed. The job was boring, typing in enormous numbers which were actually the price of stocks the companies bought and sold. It was so enormous that I forgot it was actual money amount. After one hour of entering the numbers, the sum messed up and you have to do it again. They gave me a super calculator which you can sum up to billions. Sometimes you keep going back to calculate just to find out the missing 1 yen… Horrible…
17:30 came, no one told me to go. I started peeping others. No one moved, kept working as if it was still 11 o'clock in the morning. At 18:00, I poked one of the temp girls, Kato san. She looked a bit shocked.
"Kato san, why no one goes home?"
"We normally stay back" Kato san whispered.
"But until what time?"
"Well… normally they let us go around 19:30 or 20:00 but full-timers stay until late"
At 18:15 I stood up and went up to boss' desk and told him that I had to go because I have evening classes. He asked me if I had them every evening. I said yes and "unfortunately" I could only stayed until 18:00 the latest. He told me that he understood.
I left the building.
And went to the gym for a swim.
Later I became close to one of them and she told me that she was so tired despite of what she earned. They had no life outside of work. Sometimes they stay until 23:00 and even worked on Saturdays as a service overtime work. Just because the boss stays late or came to work. They check the timecard something around 20:00 to show officially they finished working and kept working.
Kato san told me that she couldn't go because she was scared that other workers might say something for not being a team worker, and she was a little jealous of me leaving earlier without any problems.
The curious thing is that if you leave earlier than others, no one will complain. But many people get that stage because of the tension runs through the office. They will send you a vibes of "why can you go when all of us are working?"
The silence pressure.
I ignored completely. The evenings were mine. I have a life.
After 8 months, I left Japan to London. It was my first and the last experience in Japanese office and I think it was enough. If any of those people who were working in that office, I'm sorry I lied. It's prescribed, isn't it?
Daiwa House can make nice adv like this. Hope soon no companies abuse their employees anymore under the name of "service" overtime work.
More Japanese behaviour
More Japanese costum