by Alma R. H. Reyes
Beat the Heat
There is a lot to be said about the heat and humidity that swept Japan these past months. Despite coming from a tropical country, one never stops to complain about the heat… heat… heat… The extreme humidity is just so overwhelming that, especially for myself, I would find myself completely laid back, lethargic, not being able to function well, think well, nor eat well. Many Japanese actually develop a kind of sickness due to the heat, with some elderly people collapsing in their homes.
Last year, after the colossal nuclear plant explosion, there was the “setsuden” (electric power savings) mode that ruled all over Tokyo, especially. It was equally discomforting to go to shopping malls, stores, and train stations with air-conditioning controlled at 28 C; line up behind one escalator because the rest of the escalators were blocked; and crowd behind turnstiles because the rest of the turnstiles were also blocked. This year, however, the “setsuden” mode did not seem as harsh as last year. In fact, it felt like the Filipino “ningas cogon” wherein we start with something but don’t continue it later. Did the Japanese have enough of “setsuden?” Did they already learn from their mistakes? Of course, the answers are NO. But, whatever and however they plan to do to maintain social consciousness in energy saving, one can only hope they do it wisely and sincerely.
Japan, According to the Book of Jobs
You know how they say, when it rains, it pours? Japan’s economy is said to be going down the drain, with increasing unemployment in the air. Many people have been losing their jobs; many businesses have been closing down. And, many still cannot find job replacements. The first step in preparing for a job hunt in Japan is to organize your “rireikisho,” the Japanese curriculum vitae. Many of us may have seen this one folded sheet, with items listed that you just need to fill up. It is not like the Western-style curriculum vitae, where you practically have to draft it by yourself, enumerate your past work experiences and current potentials and credentials. In the Japanese rirekisho, the format is summed up to your educational profile, work profile, hobbies, and any certificates you may have garnered, with of course your address, date of birth and photograph. This format has been used for generations, without a single amendment; whereas in the Western-style curriculum vitae, the date of birth and photograph are sometimes omitted, and your personal profile is trimmed for a more customized outline to suit the specific company or establishment you are applying for.
Nobody likes job interviews. I’m certain, likewise, that many of us who work in this country, have had nightmare experiences with job applications. I certainly have. I can never forget one of my very first job interviews in Japan. I was fresh out of the university and had neither knowledge nor preparation on what a job interview in Japan would look like. In fact, on the same day of my job interview, I had an appointment to go to Kamakura to spend a day with a Japanese acquaintance working for Matsushita Corporation. As it was a pleasure trip to Kamakura, I merely wore a casual long skirt and blouse. Having badly estimated my train schedule back to Tokyo, I showed up late for my interview, in one of Japan’s biggest multinational companies, the Mitsubishi Corporation. I was on the phone several times informing my in-house contact at Mitsubishi that my train was running late. She started to panic for me and kept reminding me to hurry. When I arrived at Mitsubishi, I was sweating with a mix of anxiety and tension, knowing that I arrived late. My friend escorted me quickly to the interview room. I did not even have time to pass by the ladies’ room to groom and calm down myself. When I opened the door, I thought I would have a heart attack. There was a long table with about more than fifteen if not more, manager-looking businessmen in suits seated, looking and waiting for me impatiently. And, I showed up in a casual long skirt and blouse! My friend did not inform me it was going to be a panel interview. I imagined the whole time it was going to be a man-to-man interview. There was a single chair in the middle of the room, which was obviously my seat. I entered bowing with an apologetic face, feeling so small and timid, grossly embarrassed. After I expressed my apologies for my tardiness, one of the managers spoke, “So...how was Kamakura?” Ughhhhhh…… Do I have to conclude if I got the job or not?
You probably see how around February or March, many young women walk hurriedly in the streets, train stations and outside office buildings. They wear typical black business suits (skirt and blazer) and white undershirt, black shoes, and a black bag. For men, it is the same: black suits, white undershirt, and a black portfolio. This is a typical and standard “get-up” for a typical job interview for a typical Japanese company. You would not dare show up in any other attire as this, or Japanese would simply think you “don’t fit.”
School interviews are the same. Fathers and mothers dress up in business suit attires—for mothers, normally in dark blue color, and dark blue or black pump shoes. Their children, as young as kindergarten-age, likewise, dressed in crisp children’s suits: business-like short pants for the boys; and smart-looking black or dark blue dresses for the girls. Dress code is such an essential factor in formal interviews in Japan.
When you are over 30 or 35, the job market in Japan is very hard to penetrate; double the difficulty for women. Like in any other setting, you would end up with not what you know, but whom you know.
I did some part-time private English teaching when I was still studying in the university. During those years, one could earn an hour’s teaching job for twice the rate being given today. What a shame!
Yes, times have changed. And, no longer as rosy as we wish to imagine…