Incidentally, I moved to Japan to work earlier this month.
I've been working for about two and a half weeks now, and am slowly getting a handle on how things are done. Everything's written only in japanese and all my instruction is only in japanese. Still people at the company who I meet for the first time ask me if I understand japanese or if I can read japanese as well. I'm always wondering what the hell to say, because while I usually say something like "not really", I wouldn't be able to do shit at work if I didn't, and if they gave it a bit of thought, they'd realize it too.
The guy in charge of getting me into Japan, Noda, wrote he'd come and pick me up at the airport. For a bit I thought about telling him not to come, because I can do that fine on my own. Then I thought about stuff my friend Matsuoka, who works at the embassy has told me about the VIPs he has to go and greet at the airport when they have transfers. And then I thought that it might be good to have someone one on one for a couple of hours before going to the office, so there'd be at least one familiar face. And then I thought that this way I wouldn't have to pay for my fare.
I didn't sleep at all in the plane. The immigration took a lot less time than I expected, and I had told Noda not to come before 10, so I changed clothes and settled down to wait with my PSP and earphones. I waited for an hour and a half, periodically scanning the crowd for men looking like they were waiting for someone. There was one dude who had been pacing around for about 45 minutes, but he wasn't attractive at all. At 10.30 I went to the information desk and told them to make an announcement. Noda practically materialized at the information desk before the lady had even repeated her announcement. He is quite cute. He had also been there since 10. I was offered no explanation as to why he hadn't actually picked me up like he was supposed to, but it was probably because I look too much like a dude in my suit, and he was expecting a lady. He has a BA and two MA's so he's much more accomplished than I am. The math is easy because that's a BA and two MA's more than I have. He's also an all-around nice dude who smokes (which is bad for you) and likes Katy Perry (which is also bad for you, probably). At 30 he's probably the youngest of the men working at the office. I wonder if his job entails much besides looking good sauntering around and leaning on desks, walls and the copy machine.
Less than a week before my scheduled arrival, I got an alarming email from Noda. That said that they were going to have to order me a uniform, and that I should pick out a size. The charts included were for a standard office lady skirt and vest. I spent the day basically holding back tears of anger and despair. I asked a bunch of people for advice, and the best they could do was tell me a uniform's a uniform, and that perhaps if I hated the skirt so much, I could bear it for the three months probation and then tell them I wasn't going to wear it anymore. My sister made me watch a documentary about uniforms. Everything was pretty much shit. I looked over the charts, and none of the sizes would fit me as is. I informed Noda of as much, gave him my measurements, and asked if I could instead wear my own suit. The reply was that everyone wears a uniform. Everything was even more shit. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the eventual emasculation of having to wear a skirt and try not to kill anyone while wearing it.
The office actually has an array of as many as 6 or more different variations of uniform, since the uniform style has changed, but people who haven't been into the new one's keep using the old ones. Noda explained this to me on the way. "If that's how it is, why don't people just get to wear their own clothes?", I asked, and Noda laughed politely but made no comment. I immediately noticed that there were women in pants. I also noticed, as expected, that "everyone" meant all the women. The men have basically no dress code to talk about. Ties aren't mandatory, sports jackets are okay, dark colored shirts are okay, tartan patterned pants are okay. Noda and Ogawa, an older man from administration, showed me to my house. I have a balcony facing a house and on another wall a window facing another house. "Well, that's Tokyo", said Noda. It's about twice the size of my Tokyo Palace. Men from the gas company came to open the gas. I was given a ton of money to buy furniture with, and went off with Ogawa and Mihara, a tiny woman who's my supervisor and mentor. I bought the bare minimum of things, and tried to get the cheapest of everything. We went to look for a fridge, but all were huge. Buying a fridge and getting internet were left for another day. At this point I had been up for nearly 30 hours, and was ready to die, but instead of letting me sleep, I was taken out drinking with Tsunezumi and Adachi, my highest boss in the link of bosses before the CEO. It was extremely nice, with good food, good drink and good company. My sister calculated later that I was up for 33 hours total.
The next day in the morning I introduced myself in front of the whole office, and then Noda explained the rules of the company to me. When we got to the bit about the uniform, I asked him if I could wear a tie with it, since people were free to wear whatever under the vest. He told me he didn't see what the problem would be, but later, after consulting with his superiors, he asked me if the tie was very important to me, because apparently some people might have a thing or two to say about it. I felt even more despondent about the uniform. I followed Noda and Ogawa out for a smoke, and they blithely discussed my affairs, which was actually pretty lucky. As Ogawa was explaining my problem with choosing a fridge, Noda remarked that he had his old one at his place and if I wanted I could have it. I was explained some more things, signed some documents, and went to lunch with Tsunezumi. She told me she'd been listening in to Noda going through the staff handbook with me, and how she'd giggled at how serious he sounded. Afterwards Ogawa told me Noda would be taking me to the city office, and to discuss the internet. I told him Noda was probably up to the gills fed up with me, and he just smiled. We walked to the city office and talked about Katy Perry and how I don't know any of her songs besides that "I kissed a girl" -song, which he actually knows the name of, and how I always confuse her with Lily Allen possibly because they're both Brits. "But Katy Perry's American", he said. "Oh, but she's married to Russell Brandt, isn't she?", I said. Etc. They're actually divorced now. After the city office we took the car to the hotel to pick up my bags and then to Noda's place to get the fridge. He didn't let me in, because his place was "filthy", but when I looked in from the door, truth be told, it was a lot nicer than my Tokyo Palace. But then again, my place was like an episode of Hoarders... In the car I told him that my place was so terrible my friend had to wake up at 5 to clean it up when she was staying over. His impression of me was slowly getting worse, I could tell. Also, because he forgot his keys at the office, we made the drive twice, so I know where he lives. I creep myself out.
We went to take my bags and the fridge to my place, where I met my landlady, a small old lady, for the first time in the hall. She took a look at me, and said "I thought the new tenant was supposed to be a woman". I told her I was, but her attention was already on Noda who was coming in carrying the fridge. We talked about something for a bit, before climbing up the stairs. At my door she repeated her question to Noda, who laughed and told her it was just my short haircut. She was extremely apologetic, and that evening came to bring me two huge grapefruits. I later gave them to people at the office and shamelessly lied about eating them. I don't even have a knife or cutting board.
I work in sales, import and export. A few days after me, a part-timer started at the company. She's some sort of a sales wizard. I felt even more despondent about work. She politely chatted with me, and I told her that I have zero experience in work or any qualifications. She then asked where I had my interview, and when I told her it was in Helsinki, she didn't ask me any more questions or say anything at all. It was Friday, and I felt extremely depressed. I thought that everyone at the office was probably wondering what the hell I was doing there, and I was wondering the exact same thing. Then I realized that it was exactly the sort of paranoid delusion I have when I start falling into depression, and almost cried at the thought of having to go back on depression meds. Then I had a nice weekend of eating and drinking, and on Monday I was feeling pumped. And then the uniforms for me and the other newcomer arrived.
We got up to go and try them on, when Mihara sprung up from beside me. "What is this?", she hissed at the girl from administration, and then to Ogawa, "Why is there a skirt?". The other newcomer, Matsugu, went to try hers on, while Mihara took my uniform and waved me to the meeting room and shut the door. "You can't wear this", she said, "You're transgender, right?". She told me that they couldn't make me wear a skirt against my will, because other women also wore pants, and also it would be discrimination. So we talked about it a bit, both apologizing to each other, me for being a bother and she for being a bad supervisor. She never even gave me the uniform while we talked. It also turned out that Noda can't read a women's size chart, and had ordered the biggest size, so the vest was actually more like a potato sack. Either he took "none of the sizes will fit me" to mean I'm huge, or he just looked at the first size I put down, which was shoulder width, and looked at that row. That might also explain why he apparently couldn't pick me out from a crowd.
As it was, Mihara took care of explaining the issue to the higher-ups. The next day I was taken aside and asked if just the vest with pants would be alright with me.
I've been working and walking around mostly. Most of my friends probably still don't know I'm even here. I've been taken out drinking three times in total. Yesterday I got to put my signature on the invoices I write. I got my own magnetic card too, so I don't have to use the tacky visitor card anymore. Perhaps soon I'll get my official work stamp and operator code. Everyone at work is really nice.