Friday, January 24, 2014

Roger Agustin

Musings Of A Sarariman
Newbies and May Blues

July-August 2013

Back in April, on my way to work, I enjoyed watching young new recruits in their new black suits walking fast in teams, vibrant and full of energy. It reminded me of my “newbie” days two decades ago and I guess it hasn’t changed a lot since then. After all, the new recruits these days must be happier and more motivated after all the hardships they have gone through to get a job offer, being one of the best picked among the many.
In May, they somewhat disappeared from the scenery which made me ponder…They could have been going through the so called May Blues (of Go-gatsu-byo), a type of depressive state typically experienced by young recruits or new students after the stressful April events or may have been assigned early on to their respective departments. I would say the first three months is the most stressful, being a newcomer who has to be taught on and learn everything, bowing your head here and there all day or being scolded for whatever trivial mistakes you make. The first three months in a Japanese company is considered as a probationary period and it is a common belief that anybody on probation can be terminated if he or she does not meet the company’s expectations. Besides that, all those welcome drinking parties are really physically challenging as well as exhausting especially when you, the newbie, are not expected to decline every toast that requires a bottomsup gulp. Just like what my sempai warned me in advance, ‘Prepare yourself, you’re gonna be soaked in alcohol for the next few weeks!’. It may sound odd but these drinking sessions are the Japanese traditional way of fostering relationships between your would be peers and bosses, the ‘honne’ part of the ‘honne-tatemae’ concept in Japanese communications. And it seems like we all get to know each other better when drunk compared to when we are sober inside the office! I guess it is true to some extent…

In my case, I was recruited in a conservative Japanese company, an affiliate of a bigger conglomerate. Back then in my ‘shinjin’ days, all of us new recruits went through a lot of old style ceremonies. Our first week was spent in a very quiet training facility, withdrawn from the noises of the city, away from all distractions. It was more of a retreat session, least to say brainstorming sessions with daily lectures of senior engineers preaching the teachings of the founder and the ideals of becoming an engineer. When we finally reported to work, to our surprise, we were given military like gray blue uniforms and boots, and we were told we would be part of the fire brigade for the next 6 months as part of our training. I’d bet that none of my college batch mates nor my friends have ever experienced this type of ‘company’ training. This was a very rare experience not only for a foreigner like me but to my Japanese colleagues as well. And every day for the next 6 months, we were trained like soldiers, saluting to the gate guards every morning and to all superiors whenever we meet them. We had to gather after every lunch break for a roll call and marching drills. And after work, we were trained in simulated fire drills rolling and unrolling that long and heavy water hoses. Aside from this rare training, we were put on rotations every week to different departments, learning all the technical stuff including a month (or even two) long assignment at the manufacturing and assembly plant, because until the training is over, work assignments are not final. We also had to attend a daily session with the senior engineers who would lecture us on the company culture and ideals. I believe this was the secret of the Japanese industrial prowess a few decades ago, passing on and sharing knowledge, ensuring a consistent and unified consciousness based on 和 (‘wa’ or harmony) and the unconditional loyalty to the company. The training sessions are both used to acquire new skills and to pick the right candidates for the right job within the company. And so during the so called ‘bubble’ days when lifetime employment was the norm, Japanese companies invested heavily in employee training which may not always be affordable these days.

As if a coincidence, after the 3-month probationary period comes summer. After the busy spring and the melancholic rainy season, summer is something to look forward to as if finally everybody can take a breather, get out in the sun and justify the reason for leaving work early for the summer beer sessions.
The positive impact of the drastic policies from “Abenomics” is drawing a lot of attention from my fellow sararimen and is giving us some feeling of optimism towards a better economic situation. If it proves to be so, the beer in the heat of summer would taste better than last year!

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