Friday, May 2, 2008

100 DAYS IN JAPAN


I reached Japan Narita Airport via Bangkok on 12 December 2002 at around 9 in the evening. This was my first experience of this exotic island. There were no butterflies in the tummy nor were any kind of apprehensions. I was not feeling anything different as if coming to Japan was something which I had anticipated from quite some time. When I left all my loved ones back in Hyderabad and was walking away from them at the Begumpet Airport, there was once a feeling of taking a step back but then there was a stronger urge to keep the chin up and walk ahead and grab this opportunity with both hands. This is the job opportunity which I had been waiting for and knew that this would be a big step forward in my career in IT

Staying in Japan probably came naturally to me. There was never a feeling of being in an alien world. This might be due to the fact that Japan was there in my system for the past a year and listening and understanding so much about it had made me much more comfortable about what is in store for me before hand. Another reason could be my fortune of getting born in India, a country so diverse in culture and ways of living. After being born and brought up in Delhi, the northern part of India, I shifted to Hyderabad after spending 21 years of my initial life in Delhi. Staying in Hyderabad helped me in getting exposure to a different kind of a culture and lifestyle. This has helped me immensely in getting adjusted to any kind of a atmosphere and culture very naturally. So staying in Japan came quite easily and naturally to me.

My experience of Japan has made me richer in terms of lessons learnt. Japanese are very Asians (They are Asians after all ) in terms of human relationships. But again, not uncommon to India, the younger generation has a major western hangover. The US of A complex is very evident in the young people of Japan. Getting the hair tanned is so common that one gets the feeling that black is not the natural color of Japanese people like other Asians. In fact you will feel that people with black hair looks like the odd one out in a young crowd. The younger generation is louder, aggressive than their predecessors. The kind of fashion of forgetting to wear one earring (initially forgetting what it is worn for, if at all any of them is aware of its purpose) and having the punk style of hair cutting ( giving them the excuse of just getting up from the bed and straight away heading to face the outside world). On the streets of Japan, you find everybody literally running, as if this is most natural sport or rather exercise to keep fit.( One thing I must admit that I have hardly seen a Japanese with a pot belly). In public I have never seen the Japanese showing any kind of emotions. They always seem to be lost in their own world. In the trains the Japanese do any of the three things. The first is doze of into another world, second is read the famous comics (Manga) or any other book and the third one is too play with their most famous toy called “Keitai Denwa”, which we in normal scenario best know as Cell/Mobile phone.

The trains are the most common mode of transportation. The frequency of the train is quite impressive and the timings can be matched to a few seconds of perfection. In fact each minute makes a lot of difference eventually in a journey. The trains are packed to the capacity during the rush hours and it is better to practice standing on one feet before leaving for Japan (but those who have traveled by local buses of Delhi and Hyderabad this is not applicable since they are already forced professionals at this). The trains are so packed that sometimes the guard who stands at the Platform has to literally push people and sometimes their baggage in forcibly, otherwise the automatic doors of the train would not shut and the train cannot move till all the doors are shut. In spite of all this, the best part is that one does not see even an iota of irritation or discomfort on their faces. There will be no stares, no glares, and no murmurings of any kinds. The train will be packed but surprisingly people will find enough places to move their hands and read the comics or play with their toys. Some Japanese can be seen standing and dozing. (They must have practiced this art for a long time by now). One more interesting aspect of their sleep is that they have got tiny eyes and whether they are sleeping or looking at you will keep you confused for sometime. And while you are still wondering, they actually would be sleeping and the moment their station comes, get up and leave as if they had practiced the art of sleeping and be alert. My friends from India say that this is common in India also. The people who travel daily usually doze off and get up just before the destination comes. I agree to it but also there is a fact attached with this. Most of the people who get up in India like that will look drowsy when they woke up with that star in their eyes kind of looks and look here and there. But here they are different. They look as fresh when they wake up and just get up very mechanically without a look or word. And they do not get up before the train stops at the station.

Majority of the people I found were very skeptical about speaking in English. I have understood that it has more to do with their fears of making mistakes than the knowledge of the language. English is taught in the school and colleges for a substantial period of time and the lack of practice speaking it makes the things difficult. (Maybe their shyness of speaking in English is the reason of me learning their language and shaping my career).

Japanese lack leadership qualities. They believe in moving in a group and individuality is almost always minimal. It is always the use of “We” rather than “I” in Japan. That is one area where many Indians can boast about. Nowadays in an average Indian company you have more than one center of power and everybody seems to be imposing their own views on whomsoever they can. I had mixed experiences dealing with Japanese people when I got lost. Whenever you approach them, they look very nervous as if having the “why you choose to ask me” kind of look. But once you try speaking in Japanese (in bits and pieces), they calm down and do their best to help you. My friends had experienced people accompanying them till their destinations at times to help by going out of their way. I had an experience, which may be an isolated one, where couple of guys refuses to stop and look at you. (Note that I was wearing a tie and a suit when this happened and it was tailor fit one).

The work culture in Japan is very interesting. The Japanese are always on time for any appointment and they respect you if you also abide by the rule. They feel very annoyed if you are not on time and will not take any pain to hide the fact. In the office they are before time and stay long after the office hours. Here in most of the companies people get money for the over time. (So some of them only work in the overtime period).

They look so mechanical when they are working that sometimes you mistake them for robots. Their eyes will almost always be fixed on the screen in front and never talk with each other or look around (So unlike me who often has the bored look). They will be almost on the feet the moment the bell rings for lunch break or in the evening. Some of them finish their lunch within minutes and then doze of for the rest of the one hour break while others will go back to their work or read comics or newspaper. (The newspaper in Japan is delivered at 4 in the morning). I still wonder how their family life is because majority of the employee’s families stay at a far off place, some even as far as 800 kilometers. So they are able to visit the family only once or twice in a month and that too for a short period of two days. It is even more difficult in the cases where both wife and husband are working at different places because it is very difficult for both of them to be free at the same time. I still wonder what family and social life is left after working so hard in life. Most of them work for 14 to 16 hours in a day. (The best part is that you see them in any time of the day and you feel they are always as fresh as ever). Most of them eat only twice a day. They have lunch and then some light food in the evenings at 6. They prefer having their dinner before 7 in the evening. (It is time for the bell to ring and people will just rush now and I must also get my Japanese lunch from downstairs from a very sweet lady who comes on vehicle carrying food packets). She always greets with a smile which seems to so genuine. I am not very sure whether I am now comfortable speaking Japanese or not but the fact is that I have developed a liking for these people.

The life seems to be passing off in a flash in Japan. It seems to be just yesterday when I first arrived in Japan, and here it is more than 100 days of stay in Japan. The days seemed to have just flown off with so much of fun and made me richer in experience. There are so many things I learnt in terms of human relationships and the best part is that I developed more respect for my Mother land after staying in an alien country. The elders in India always say that you understand the worth of something only when you are away from it. It is so true.