Don’t Work When You’re Sick

When you’re sick, you are working with less than your full physical and mental capacity. And because you’re sick, you’re not always a great judge of exactly how far below your full capacity you’re actually working.

I happen to strongly agree with this advice, and would add work when you’re sleep-deprived to the list of don’ts.

Meanwhile, in Japan…

就職した友達が研修で「体調不良でも会社のために出勤しないといけない時はある。熱なんて計るから風邪になるんだ、熱さえ測らなければ風邪かわからないから出勤できる。体温計は捨てなさい」という旨のガイダンスを受けたらしく早くも目が濁り[sic]始めてた

At training for friend’s employer, [friend] was given something to the effect of this guidance: “There will be times you must come to work even when you’re not feeling well. If you don’t take your temperature you won’t know how much of a cold you have, and you can come to work. Throw away your thermometers”, [friend] has already fallen under their influence (lit: eyes have become clouded)

(Tweet reference via: RocketNews24, translation and bolding mine)

My experience in Japan has been: if you don’t have a fever, you’re not sick. Nope, snot running down your face, hacking up your lungs, dizziness, double vision are all signs of your moral failings and lack of gaman (我慢; endurance, stick-to-itiveness). You’re not really sick unless you’ve got a fever. Not just any fever; less than 38ºC (100.4ºF) will be semi-derisively labeled a low-grade fever (binetsu 微熱) with an undercurrent of “quit bitching and get back to work, you pussy”. Explosive diarrhea is a close second to a high fever in the “eh, I guess you could take time off if you can’t hack it, slacker” sweepstakes.

People regularly come to work sick, usually wearing face masks, which is thought to help block some transmission vectors (though even Japanese sources say they don’t really help). Face masks do nothing to protect against contracting a cold, and do absolutely nothing about the frequency with which people wash their hands, which is the main way most infectious agents are spread.[1]

From friends reports of their experiences at private companies as well as my own experiences, nobody really gives a flying bukkake session about your productivity, accuracy, or anything else. Your ass better be in your seat during the appointed hours or you will face social and workplace consequences. Hell, I’ve seen people sleeping at their desks in the middle of the day. No one gives them shit. But better believe they’ll get stink-eyed if they show up 30 seconds late to the morning meeting.

In my early jobs, I was required to show proof that I went to a clinic to see a doctor in order to take sick leave, as opposed to mandatory use of my regular leave (i.e.: “vacation” time). Leave (kyûka 休暇) was considered a general pool of time that was also used if I was late for any reason — including the time I got hit by a car while biking to work — or had to take time off for banking,[2] sending letters or getting money orders from the post office, etc. There was no separate sick leave.

Things have gotten slightly more lax in the intervening years, but in general being sick with anything that doesn’t require hospitalization isn’t much of an excuse, so everyone comes to work sick. A lot.

The one exception is influenza, which is determined via a lab test by the doctor, not just your say-so. Kids are not allowed to come to school if an influenza test comes back positive, and even more hard-assed companies will tell you to stay home.

Japanese are positively paranoid about flu epidemics, probably because Japanese mortality rates are much higher than US populations. In the 2009 outbreak, they actually quarantined people entering Japan from overseas and shut down schools due to an estimated 3/4 of a million people being infected. There were enough people being treated that it put a strain on medical resources and personnel.

So, yeah, they take that shit seriously. Moral of the story: want some time off in Japan? Get the flu. Otherwise, come to #^¢*ing work.


  1. Judging from my restroom visits (and those of others) very, very few guys wash after pooping. Even when someone [me] was audibly in the next stall and could hear them walk straight out afterward. Ironically, Japanese kids are absolutely drilled in basic hygiene like handwashing and toothbrushing, so maybe this is a sign of adult rebellion.

    And on an undoubtedly completely unrelated note, I’d never even heard of norovirus, much less been infected, until I came to Japan. Can we get a whoop-whoop for absurdly crowded living conditions and shitty hands?!  ↩


  2. Bank hours in Japan used to be 09:00–15:00 (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) almost everywhere, even in big cities in the early 2000s when I first got here. ATMs used to close, and be locked inside alarmed fortified anterooms, at 18:00 (6:00 p.m.). There was very little inter-bank cooperation, so you had to find an ATM from your bank even to withdraw money. If you weren’t married or living with your parents, you basically had to take time off to do any banking.

    There are many more 24-hour inter-bank ATMs and branch offices that stay open later now, but even 10 years ago I’d have to take an hour off once a month or so for banking, insurance, etc.  ↩

'Smooth Criminal' Arranged for Koto and Shakuhachi

This has been posted in a few places. I tracked down the original upload and my link goes straight to the account for what I believe is the original video creator.

[Update: the original has apparently been removed, so here’s a link to the Digg version. I’d rather support Digg than the other people who freebooted the video in the first place.]

Two things immediately struck me: the arrangement for the instruments is superb, and Jackson’s original melody is so strong that it holds up under extremely divergent treatments.

Alt-metal band Alien Ant Farm did a cover in 2001 that was obviously a less drastic change from the original than this. I can easily imagine an orchestral version being made someday.

Credits

琴(箏):伊藤江里菜) Koto: ITÔ, Erina (personal blog, links to professional sites)

尺八:辻本好美 Shakuhachi: TSUJIMOTO, Yoshimi (official site)

十七絃箏:渡部祐子 17-string koto1: WATABE, Yûko (official site)

Criminally, the original video has (at this writing) only 3,821 views on YouTube. The Digg imbed that brought it to many people’s attention, and whatever source they linked from — which is definitely not the original given the watermark on Digg’s version of the video — must have many times that by now, if not hundreds of times more. It’s terrible that the original creators of content that goes viral often don’t get properly credited.


  1. A traditional koto has 13 strings. The much later variant “bass” 17-string koto added strings and construction elements for a different pitch, and has a different playing style.

Diversity

One of the most common questions I’m asked by Japanese when I’m meeting them for the first time is「日本に来たとき、どう思いましたか?」or, “What was your first impression of Japan?” I quickly settled on the answer「皆は日本人です。」“Everyone is Japanese.”

This chart from Priceonomics helps explain:

 From the Priceonomics Blog post “The Most and Least Diverse Cities in AmericA”

From the Priceonomics Blog post “The Most and Least Diverse Cities in AmericA”

(Via Priceonomics )

I grew up in California. I lived out in the Sierra Nevada foothills as a kid, which are still far less diverse[1] than most of California, but I lived near Sacramento from mid-elementary to a couple of years after graduation. My baseline normal is seeing whites, blacks, hispanics, asians, and an assortment of people of less-easily-categorizable ethnic and national backgrounds around me all the time.

When I walked around my hotel the night I first came to Japan, it struck me: everyone was Japanese. And I do mean everyone. Once you get away from Narita airport, non-Japanese faces become vanishingly rare. Once you get out of the Tokyo area, you might be the foreigner in a town. I had suddenly become a very small minority in a very homogeneous society.

This was an extremely odd feeling for me. While I never lived in a place where whites (and other Anglo-American mutts like me who appear ostensibly white) were an actual minority, there was enough mixing that everyone mostly treated each other like individuals instead of representatives of a racial group. I did have a few minor encounters with racial tensions in school[2], but knowing how teenage males are, I probably would have had similar experiences with analogous assholes even if everyone in the school was racially homogenous.

Being in Japan was my first experience being on the receiving end of openly discriminatory attention. Sometimes, the attention was benign to neutral: curious grandmas following me around commenting to themselves on what I was buying at the supermarket; children running after me, yelling “haro!” eager to try out their English on a real-live foreigner; or gaijin-groupies using me for vicarious contact with the outside world.

Sometimes, the attention was not so nice: police following me for several blocks or going out of their way to “talk” to me (and <ahem> incidentally check my identification); bôsôzoku[3] making overtly threatening gestures at me when they rode by; people saying that they couldn’t understand my English even when I was speaking Japanese (with, I’ve been told, a pretty decent accent); countless nasty remarks, jokes, and incidents of minor violence that I would probably never have had to deal with if I were a Japanese person.

Diversity is going to be a major problem for Japan in the not-so-distant future. The birth rate [4] is still steeply negative, and the elderly proportion of the population is growing as longevity remains one of the highest in the entire developed world. Japan has been dealing with labor shortages for a time scale edging into decades now, and their immigration policies and domestic systems are absolutely not designed to deal with an influx of foreigners.

The last time Japan tried to import labor, they tried offering special work visas preferentially to the descendants of Japanese residing abroad. That didn’t work out as they hoped, since nisei or sansei (first and second generation descendants of Japanese) are culturally no more Japanese than “regular” Brazilians or Peruvians. They actually started offering financial incentives for them to go back to their country of origin. And not come back.

I’ve run into discrimination even as one of the more desirable minorities; Caucasian, educated, employed in an area that competes minimally with Japanese. Japanese society is going to have to adjust drastically to survive with anything approaching the current standard of living intact.

Even notoriously egalitarian Sweden has had riots due to inequality — whether perceived or real — between mainstream Swedes and immigrants. If Japan stops being 98–99% Japanese, I feel pretty comfortable in predicting race riots in less than a generation.

The US has had a long history of dealing with different races and cultures, and still fuck it up constantly. Japan has nearly zero experience with integration and peaceful co-existence. Oh sure, there are Koreans and Chinese in Japan, but being Asian they can usually elect to “pass” as Japanese and even so, integration into Japanese society has not been at all smooth. I do not expect that to change with respect to people who are quite different in appearance and therefore more easily “othered” than ethnic Asians.


  1. At the time, there were more poor to lower-middle income whites than anything else. Now, I’ve heard some old familiar areas referred to as “tweeker hills”, with all of the usual associations you’d have with an area where meth labs are prevalent.  ↩

  2. There were a lot of asian and hispanic gangs in my area, with a few smaller black and white gangs to provide some flavor. Nearly every violent encounter I had in school was with kids who were either in a gang, or wanted to be.  ↩

  3. 暴走族, “violent speed tribe”; members of flashy biker gangs. (“Speed Tribes”, whose title was inspired by bôsôzoku, was a pretty good book, by the way. Captured the zeitgeist of the time.)

    They tended to have right-wing politics and prejudices, i.e.: “throw out all the damn foreigners and take back Japan for Japan”, and cause (mostly) low-level trouble. More ambitious members often ended up in a yakuza family if they “graduated” to grown-up violence. Known membership has fallen significantly in recent years.  ↩

  4. Working link to the referenced paper available here  ↩

Baby Hair Brushes

No, not brushes for brushing your baby's hair. Calligraphy brushes made out of your baby's hair. More practical than bronzed shoes, you have to admit. Akachan (赤ちゃん) translates as "baby" and a fude (筆) is a brush for writing kanji characters.

Oh, and for the few regular readers who still think Japan is high-tech, the catalog is a PDF of a print catalog. The way I found this was through a flyer left in my mailbox. They used their phone number as the referral URL, which resolves to the link above. If you're interested, you can order by phone or fax, and if you call the toll-free (in Japan) number, you can get a catalog sent to you by mail for free!

Open Voluntary vs. Minimum Mandatory

Mathias Meyer at Paperplanes: “From Open (Unlimited) to Minimum Vacation Policy”:

I was horrified reading this, and it dawned on me how wrong we’ve approached our internal vacation policy. This text sums up exactly what’s wrong with an open vacation policy. People take less time off, and it’s celebrated as a success of giving people more responsibility.

Uncertainty about how many days are okay to take time off can also stir inequality. It can turn into a privilege for some people who may be more aggressive in taking vacations compared to people who feel like their work and their appreciation at work would suffer from being away for too long.

From my experience living and working in Japan, this would be viewed as a feature — not a bug — in most Japanese workplaces. Quitting time and time off are both on an invisibly-adjusted sliding scale, modified by seniority and other opaque social cues. The result is that you are never sure about when you can go home from work. You are never sure about how much time you can take off. You explicitly have only a maximum amount of time you can take off. No one wants to violate social norms and be considered a selfish piece of shit, so no one ever, ever takes all of the time off they are theoretically entitled to.

I honestly would consider killing for a job where the people in charge of the company thought like this:

Starting in 2015, we’ve implemented a minimum vacation policy. Rather than giving no guideline on what’s a good number of days to take off, everyone now has a required minimum of 25 (paid) vacation days per year, no matter what country they live in. When people want to take time off beyond that, that’s good, and the minimum policy still allows for that. But it sets a lower barrier of days that we expect our employees to focus on their own well-being rather than work.

This policy is not just a guideline for our employees, it’s mandatory for everyone, including the people who originally founded the company. As leaders, we need to set examples of what constitutes a healthy balance between work and life rather than give an example that life is all about the hustle.

… instead of the normal Japanese model, where you are expected to show your dedication by working more than everyone else, taking less time off, working longer hours, and do all that extra work without demanding any overtime pay.

"Hakuhô rewrites sumo history with record-breaking 33rd championship"

Another Mongolian has set records in the sumo world. I earlier wrote about Asashôryu who was, for a few years, not just a yokozuna but the only yokozuna in sumo.

Since more and more foreign athletes have tried competing in the sport in recent years, the sumo world has had an influx of talent. Non-Japanese wrestlers have topped the match charts, broken old records, and set new ones. While the new dynamism has recently generated some renewed interest in a sport shackled by tradition — to the point of keeping many of the trappings of its origins as a religious ceremony centuries after the fact — sumo recruitment in Japan has been trending downward.

A future in which there are more foreign wrestlers than Japanese is probably not too far off, even with the unofficial limit of only one foreigner per stable the sumo association has decreed. Particularly in the higher ranks, foreigners have been dominant. There hasn’t been a Japanese yokozuna in over a decade.

Here’s a link to video of the record-breaking match between Hakuhô (白鵬) and Kisenosato (稀勢の里).

"Japan complains after China says 300,000 died in Nanking Massacre"

Kyodo News via Japan Times

[President Xi Jinping] called on Japan to own up to responsibility for the tragedy, saying that acknowledgment of the countries’ shared troubled past is crucial to improving relations between them.

The Japanese government told China via a diplomatic channel after the speech that the figure is “different from Japan’s position” and that it is “difficult to determine the concrete number of victims,” according to the sources.

What an utter surprise. This kind of thing has never happened before.

Kanjilicious

Kanjilicious is a game/study tool looking for funding on Kickstarter. He’ll be using the funds to buy rights for assets like music and illustrations, as well as paying some people for app-related work. I’m personally not a big fan of gamifying study. I get better results by working alone most of the time (shocker), but I’m not most people.

The huge popularity of games like Words with Friends and Letterpress show that a lot of people like competitive word/puzzle games. I think he’s going about it in the right way, by setting up a base that he can build on for future games and kanji sets.

Kanjilicious has a learning tool at its base, and even anti-social humbugs like me may find that the social gaming feature of the app gets them to open the app and review more often, whether they actually engage in game matches or not. My son will very shortly be getting to the point where he could really use bilingual learning tools (he’ll be turning 4 in a couple of weeks) and this might be an app that he’ll use for learning to read in Japanese.

I’m in for $25 because I think this is an interesting approach — and having only the first set unlocked would make it really, really pointless for me. The game aspect will probably make it appealing even to people who only have a casual interest in learning Japanese, which I think is a Very Good Thing. Demystifying a subject for people is nearly always positive, in my experience. If you have even a slight interest in learning the Japanese writing systems, backing this project would probably pay off for you.

I’ve used iFlash on my Mac from around 2005 for learning Japanese vocabulary and kanji. I also have used the free Japanese dictionary imiwa? since I got my first iPhone, back when it used to be called Kotoba!

I’ve tried several other apps for making study more fun or ingraining habits, like 30Day Japanese Words and similar structured study apps, but the ones I’ve found most “sticky” are ones that were multiply useful. imiwa? has a Favorites list that I can export and use to make a personalized deck of words which I’ve had to look up recently. iFlash is a venerable tool that I’ve used for memorization practice for years, and the creator set up a deck-sharing feature that I’ve found interesting; I recently downloaded a Russian cyrillic letter deck, for example.

I won’t know until I actually use it, but it looks like the kind of app I’ll find useful enough to launch on a regular basis.

Nintendo Closing Großostheim Headquarters

Look for Nintendo to double-down on 内向き (uchimuki; internal focus) in the future, with an even stronger emphasis on the domestic market to the exclusion of the world market.

It doesn’t take the prognostication talents of Nostradamus to predict this, since it has precedent. One weakness that was repeatedly pointed out in the release of the original Wii was Nintendo’s seeming disinterest in how well their new console was selling overseas. Supply was rarely impacted in Japan, and despite sales that were better than double in North America and Europe compared to Japan’s, they held back on production to the point where some saw it as a marketing tactic. It took 3 years after release for the supply outside Japan to meet the demand. The ramp-up of production was slow and cautious, probably because they didn’t want to get burned if the popularity of the Wii wasn’t sustained.

Globally, the PS4 might be outselling the Wii U, but in Japan, it’s a different story. Nintendo’s sales are phenomenally better in Japan. Considering that with the original Wii the non-Japanese markets were doing everything short of promising sloppy wet blowjobs contingent upon a better supply of consoles and Nintendo’s response was <yawn>, foreigners who love Nintendo games might want to start brushing up on their Japanese now, because it’s a pretty good bet that there will be significantly delayed releases and very short supplies for overseas markets for further Wii U revisions or successor consoles.

Streaming Music Services Aren’t a Thing in Japan

Why I can’t really get excited about the streaming music services that seem to be all the rage with kids these days:

  • Pandora: not available in Japan
  • Spotify: not available in Japan
  • iTunes Radio: not available in Japan
  • Beats Radio: not available in Japan
  • Google Play Music: missing from the Google Play Store
  • Rdio: not available in Japan

The two streaming services that are available are solidly Japanese-oriented: Sony Music Unlimited and Recochoku.

 Sony Music Unlimited

Sony Music Unlimited

 レコチョク (Recochoku)

レコチョク (Recochoku)

Yeah, I know, I’d never heard of them either, despite living here.

In an article from last year, Recochoku was featured in the Japan Times in an article about streaming services. It was originally only available for Japanese feature phones from the surprisingly “ancient” (in ’net terms) time of 2001, per The Bridge. Recochoku is an affiliate of Avex Group, a holding company for multiple entertainment subsidiaries (Japanese-language page).

Sony and Avex alone represent roughly 18% of all Japanese music sales, and I wouldn’t expect either organization to voluntarily participate together in a unified streaming service unless there was an enormous upside for them. And they’d still probably insist on running their own competing services.

Given how the Japanese market usually works, and particularly how Sony chooses to operate, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any foreign incumbent to make inroads in the market. The only one that might have a chance is Apple, and that only because of the popularity of the iPhone and existing deals with distribution through the iTunes store to provide leverage. Beats music alone would have been a total non-starter in Japan. With Apple’s support? It probably still won’t be available for years, if ever.