Archive for category General


Sarcasm does not translate well in Japan!

Posted by on Saturday, 10 December, 2005


Sarcasm does NOT translate well in Japan. Be aware of this fact when you venture out in this country trying to be “funny” !! I am not joking when I say this, but deadly serious. There are extremely few situations where you can get away with sarcasm and your intent and meaning actually is understood by the recipient!

Sarcasm illustrated

I will give a very simple example, and I am not kidding around when I write this, even basic sarcasm such as I will display below DOES NOT translate in 9 cases out of 10!

It’s a cold gray day, rain is pouring down outside. You say to your (Japanese) co-worker:

– Oh, LOVELY weather today, isn’t it!? (今日は素晴らしい天気だな~! “Kyo wa subarashii tenki desne!”)
– Huh? What do you mean? I don’t really like rain! (え?どういう意味?僕は雨があまり好きじゃないけど! “Eh? Do yu imi? Boku wa ame ga amari suki janaikedo!”)

he replies while thinking “Strange foreigner…”

– No, no, no. That’s not what I meant, I meant…..ah…forget it!

I kid you not. This is what the conversation would be like. And now don’t get me wrong, I don’t credit this to stupidity, ignorance, or any language barrier. This is simply a cultural wall. The Japanese language, in itself, is so ambigiuous and vague that direct sarcasm simply does not fit. There are lots of situations where Japanese people say one thing and means another, but that is hardly sarcasm – that is simply the way polite conversation works here.

On the other hand, there are a FEW situations where you can get away with sarcasm as I’ve learned recently. However, I think it only works if you’re female! You see, women in general are not really allowed to be rude or angry and can definately not curse in public. So if some rude old “ojisan” (old man) rushes in front of you onto a train or bus or any similar situation where you’ve been blatantly ignored or offended, you may use sarcasm to get back at him – AND IT WILL TRANSLATE FINE! Such is the magic and mystery of the Japanese language! I will give you a quick example:

You are standing on a train platform, patiently waiting in line to get on the train. At the last minute a smelly old man squeezes ahead of everyone onto the train. Then you can say:

ご親切に! (“goshinsetsuni”)
あら~、失礼しました! (“ara~, shitsure shimashita!”)

The first phrase really means “Why, how kind of you” and the second means “Oh, excuse me” but said with a certain dry intonation (very important) and a dry look (also important), you’re meaning will be understood by everyone around you (and everyone except the old guy will chuckle inside).

Hopefully this simple warning and small tips can be of some use to you in your everyday life!!


Apologies for the inactivity

Posted by on Monday, 28 November, 2005

Well I want to apologize for the nearly two-weekthree-week inactivity! As you know from reading my earlier posts, I am enjoying some hard earned days off, so time has escaped me and I have simply not had the time or energy to post here.

Further, I just came back from a week’s holiday to the US, and jetlag was really bad yesterdat so I could not really do anything.

But I will try to put up some new entries during the next few days – part two of my “job searching in Japan” series plus some of my views on the US from a Japanese/Swedish perspective.

Stay tuned!


Job searching in Japan

Posted by on Saturday, 5 November, 2005

Well, as I promised in an earlier post, I will try to tell you a little bit about my experiences in searching for work in Japan, and perhaps give a few pointers to anyone who is interested. (Warning: Very long)

Basically, if you’re looking for a professional career in Japan there are a few choices, and also a few things that are pretty much beyond your control. First of all, I will not talk about how to become a traditional “ex-patriate,” i.e. sent out by a company in your home country to Japan for a limited time. Personally I am locally employed and have basically the same type of employment contract as any Japanese. Whereas your choices as a non-native Japanese might be limited, a company will probably be more interested in hiring you on a local basis compared with ex-pat basis due to the lower cost incurred.

How good is your Japanese? If it’s anything but “Very Good” to “Native level” than your choices immediately slim down to English teacher and….yeah… that’s about it, unless you are considering a “career” in being a hostess. Maybe I’m being overly harsh here, but in my experience, the only foreigners in the Japanese society who DON’T know Japanese are either ex-pat contracted personnel, English teachers and hostesses. Everyone else will have to know quite good Japanese for them to be competitive and qualify for “real” jobs. (No offence to all English teachers out there!!)

If you have any way of securing a job *before* going to Japan that is a great plus, since it’s hard to be in Japan with no job. Naturally, having a job before you arrive in Japan can be hard, unless you fall into the ex-pat or English teacher categories (JET programs etc.) so chances are you will be in Japan searching for a job while living officially as a student or something like that. Living costs being as high as they are, naturally this is a process that you’d want to short down to a minimum!

Personally, I have been in a job-searching position twice since I came to Japan in 2003 (before that I was only here on holiday or as a student). When I first arrived, I thought getting a job in Japan with my qualifications would be easy – but I soon found out it was far from a walk in the park! All jobs I found required “fluent” to “native” Japanese level (my Japanese was a bit rusty at the time) and having no prior work experience in Japan also didn’t do my case any good. Thankfully, through my family I knew a lot of people, who got me a few interviews, and finally, after two months I found a job working in a Swedish company. The company was active in an industry I had no interest in or knowledge about, but I couldn’t be picky so I took it.

The second time I was job searching was this summer/fall, when I was still employed – so the need to quickly find a new job was less immediate, but still stressful. This time around I was much better prepared! I prepared a traditional Japanese “work history” document which is often submitted together with a resume, detailing prior job experiences, I contacted two recruitment firms who I let search for jobs for me, and in the meantime I searched the various Japanese job-sites on the Internet. FInally, one of the two placement firms I had been in contact with managed to get me an interview with a highly interesting company, and after a few interviews the job was mine!

So, in summation, if you are going to be looking for a job in Japan, here are a few pointers:

* Study Japanese! In my experience, anything less than fluent (at least speaking) will count as a big negative in interviews. Often your Japanese will be tested by either having the interview in Japanese, or, if the interviewer is foreign, by bringing in a Japanese colleague to have a short conversation.

* If you’re not desperate for full time work, a good place to start is temp agencies. There are many temp agencies that will hire specialists for various tasks, ranging from secretarial work to IT-implementations.

* Use a recruitment company. Many of the good jobs go to professional recruiters only, and going thorugh one of these agencies is the only was to get to them. They will also do the actual job applying for you, so it’s also helpful in that aspect.

* Think twice before applying to a Japanese company. If your Japanese is not excellent, and you possess some unique skills, there is no reason for them to employ a foreigner. And a Japanese company WILL hire a native Japanese over a foreigner everytime unless you have something really special up your sleeve.

* Foreign companies in Japan is usually your best bet – often there will already be foreigners at the company, so they have showed that they are not totally against hiring foreigners. Further, if the official language within the company is anything else than Japanese, it will make your life much easier!

* Proper documents are a must, you should prepare a Japanese resume (履歴書), an English resume, and a Japanese work-history (職務経歴書). The English one can be written basically any way you want, but the Japanese ones follow rather strict guidelines. You can by templates in bookstores, or download Word/Excel ones from the Internet.

OK, I think that’s about it for now. If you have any questions, just leave it in the comment section. I will probably do a follow up post with some useful links in a few days, too.


Adventure lies ahead!

Posted by on Friday, 4 November, 2005

Yesterday was the last day at my job, and because of some outstanding vacation days, I now how roughly three weeks vacation before I start my new one! Hooray!

Well if you’ve followed my posts for some time, you’ve seen that I hardly mentioned my work (except for the coffee post) and I plan to keep it that way. No way am I going to blog about work and risk getting dooced. People who know me personally know where I work (and will work from December 1st) and those who don’t… well, if you REALLY wanna know, just drop me an e-mail! 😉

Anyway, I would like to post about job searching in Japan – which is no walk in the park, that’s for sure. I’d like to share my experience and offer some small tips. But I will prepare a proper post for that, and write in within the next few days. Stay tuned!


Be the next James Bond – MI6 are recruiting!

Posted by on Sunday, 16 October, 2005

So it seems SIS (aka MI6) are recruiting on a wide front!

If you look at their homepage, here you can see what types of careers are possible. Right now it seems they are recruiting for every kind of position!

But, is working for MI6 anywhere CLOSE to how it’s depicted in the Bond movies? If I apply, will I get to sip dry martinis in a casino with at least two beautiful ladies at my side? Will I get the niftiest and deadliest high-tech gadgets at my disposal? Will I get to throw my hat onto a hat rack with 100% precision?

Well… Checking the FAQ on the SIS homepage one can find this truly wonderful passage:

Q How realistic is the depiction of SIS in the James Bond films?

A James Bond, as Ian Fleming originally conceived him was based on reality. But any author needs to inject a level of glamour and excitement beyond reality in order to sell. By the time the filmmakers focused on Bond the gap between truth and fiction had already widened. Nevertheless, staff who join SIS can look forward to a career that will have moments when the gap narrows just a little and the certainty of a stimulating and rewarding career which, like Bond’s, will be in the service of their country.

Lovely! So the life of a spy IS truly exciting, at least at times!! Where do I sign up? Oh, I need to have at least one British parent… Darn…. :-(