What are your thoughts when you start working?

Nihonbashi Since I have started my part-time job at a Japanese Udon chain, I am now exposed to a much more Japanese environment than ever before. So far I have worked at foreign owned companies in Japan or then at a very American style local employer. Even though I have worked for more than 11 years in Japan, these days I am learning a lot about different behavior and rules. Of course one can argue that now because I work in the food industry, which has very little in common with life science and chemical environment that I have been active so far, therefore my observations only seem to be new. I personally doubt, because my husband is doing the same observations.
For me the most impressive new rule is to recite the motto of the company every day in the morning including the guidelines of the company. This daily ritual forces everyone to remember what the goals of the employer are and the expectations for the employees. Due to privacy reasons I am not able to provide the lines that I say every morning, but I have been introduced to Gosei, which is used in some companies in the food industry. The origin of Gosei comes from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, but is presently used as well by the The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). The goal in the past was that every evening the cadets were expected to meditate over the questions below.

Hast thou not gone against sincerity
Hast thou not felt ashamed of thy words and deeds?
Hast thou not lacked vigor?
Hast thou exerted all possible efforts?
Hast thou not become slothful?

I can tell you for sure that my thoughts and intentions at work have changed and my customer focus has increased immensely. I thought I knew how to appreciate my customers, but I think I was pretty shallow compared to now. I am sincerely grateful to have the opportunity to experience my self selected apprenticeship and learn so much daily. My recommendation for you is just to try to recite these lines in the next few mornings. I am sure you will see a difference too.

Brought to you by a happy student,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

P.S. Let me point out even though I am a pacifist, Gosei showed my an option on how to give my best daily.

How much do you know about udon?

DSC07069 One of my most favorite food in Japan is udon, no matter in which form (Sanuki udon, houto, kishimen, Goto udon, Yoshida udon…), cold, warm or hot, traditional or fusion style, I simply believe udon is the best soul food available in Japan. Did you know that most likely the oldest version of udon comes from the island Go near Nagasaki? Consequently it is called Goto udon. Can you imagine that the technique to make udon was imported from China most likely in the 8th century? At first udon was only food for the Japanese upper class, because it depended on having access to fine flour, which was made then with mortars. Only the upper class or monks – who drank as well macha – had a need for mortars. These essential mortars for flour making did not become easy available until many centuries later with the spread of wheat farming. If you are curious and love udon as much as I do, I highly recommend you to have a look at the video below. It is in English and shows a good overview why so many Japanese fell in love with udon.

Don’t you have to rush off to get your own bowl of udon now?

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

The myth of easy money made at Japanese English schools

Shinagawa Tokyo Surprisingly the myth of being able to make easy money as an English teacher in Japan is still alive. Although this seems to have been true during the bubble period in Japan, nowadays it is much more challenging to make a living – I am not even talking about a decent living – in Japan based solely on an English teacher salary. While the situation outside of the big cities might be better with lower costs of living, considering the local cost for daily life, there is not much left at the end of the month. Understand me right, living and working in Japan is a wonderful experience and I recommend it highly to anyone, but I would never recommend it for financial purpose. Many tend to forget that the living costs in Japan are similar for example to Zurich or New York, but the salary ranges are different. Comparing to the salaries that I have experienced and know for example in Switzerland or then the USA, in general the Japanese salaries are much lower here, even at the better paying foreign companies. Furthermore I see quite a gap of the salaries paid in Japan for foreign workers that work within the language teaching business or then specialists that have found their local professional niche. For those interested or potentially even considering the step into a new life as an English teacher in Japan, I highly recommend to consider your motivation for coming over to Japan. Although I am still not a big fan of the newspaper Japan Times, recently I must say the quality of the articles are wonderful. Enjoy the honest insights to the Japanese English teaching business in details here.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did the article by Craig Currie-Robson.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What does it mean a record high number of foreign workers in Japan?

Japanese office Chances are you have noticed that recently the Japanese media pointed out that now a record number of foreigners are working in Japan. But what does it mean in reality? What kind of percentage of foreigners are truly working in Japan? According to the Asahi Shimbun now a record number of 717,504 foreigners were working in Japan in 2013 (based on data from the labor ministry Jan. 31, 2014). Compared to previous month of October this reflects now an increase of 5 percent. While the number is not small, I have to say I am surprised how small the figure is considering the total working force in Japan of 65.44 millions (Japanese Statistics Bureau). We have now reached a number that is just a bit more than 1 percent (actually 1.10%). This number seems extremely low to me, but let me provide some comparison with other countries.
In general it is said that the ratio of the share of migrants to share of population in industrial countries is 3.3 (industrial countries had a 3.3 higher share of migrants than their share of global population), highlighting the fact that migrants usually move from poorer to richer countries. Personally I perceive still Japan as one of the richer country in Asia and I would basically expect at least the same range or even higher percentage, because the global comparison percentage is focused on a ratio of the total population.
Based on Wikipedia now 14 Million of foreign workers live in the USA, which then reflects a ratio of about 4.4 percent, which I believe is considered rather high, especially as historically the USA was building their economic growth based on the ongoing immigration. Because immigration had been a hot topic in the American media for a while, let me then try to find a more suitable example. Why not relate then as well to the background of this blog as well: Switzerland.
When looking at Switzerland, I end up most likely with the other extreme, when one in four wage earners comes from abroad (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, or then much more detailed here). Basically I am ending up with another country that seems too far off with the comparison with Japan.
Personally I believe we can see this trend of increasing numbers of foreign workers in Japan, because more and more economical pressure within the country forces companies to try to find a market outside of Japan, most likely South East Asia. This is then reflected in the number of foreign workers, but furthermore in the respective changes. Asahi Shimbun states by nationality, Chinese formed the largest group with 303,886, up 3 percent from a year earlier. They were followed by 95,505 Brazilians, down 6 percent, 80,170 Filipinos, up 10 percent, and 37,537 Vietnamese, up 40 percent. These numbers make even more sense, when looking at the rather high number of Japanese companies that hired foreigner, furthermore the actual size of these companies (Asahi Shimbun).

“The workers were employed by 127,000 enterprises, up 6 percent from a year earlier, another record. More than half of the employers were relatively small, with a work force of less than 30. More than one-third of the workers, 260,000, were employed by manufacturers, while 16,000 worked for construction companies.”

While it is good news to see that there are changes ongoing in Japan to rebuild the economic strength, at the end the speed of the execution of these company strategies is what really can make a difference. Japanese companies are not known for making quick decisions, so I hope by learning to adjust due to financial pressure we can see a new business culture arise.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Time to celebrate: 150 Years of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan!

What a wonderful event! 2014 is a special year for two countries dear to my heart: Japan and Switzerland. We can celebrate that now 150 years ago on February 6, 1864 representatives from the Tokugawa shogunate and the Swiss delegation signed the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce. This is especially noteworthy, when considering this was just the eighth of such an treaty signed by Japan with a foreign country. More details on the history of the friendship between the two countries can be found on the Link of the official site of the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs.
In order to get you in the mood of the upcoming celebrations in February have a look at the video showing the similarities for both countries

I hope there will be an opportunity to potentially find you at one of the special events organized to celebrate this long friendship of two countries.

Brought to you by a very happy Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Where is the Japanese economy going?

DVC00038.JPG When I look at the Japanese media, I see a lot of comments that especially in 2014 now everything is so much better: The economic situation, the mood of the consumers, we can highly expect a rise in consumption with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and the outlook for future sales of the private industry is much brighter. To be honest, this is a topic that interests me very much. Since the last quarter of 2013 I felt and observed that although there are more people going out, filling up the malls or supermarkets, I could not see people really purchasing much. I made the same observation in business, especially when talking with others. The orders just did not seem to come in, plus to make it worse the order volume were lower than the same period last year (which had not been that good either). On one side with the rise of the stock market we can see an upwards trend, but when I look into the reality of the daily life the baskets of the people shopping contain only the necessary daily goods. I might be at the wrong places and I might be missing the bright side. Basically I cannot find people really splurging with money.
For the Japanese employees there is a high hope that one day the steady decrease of salary will turn around and as promised by the Japanese prime minister the salary would rise again. Furthermore in December the winter bonuses were paid and many hoped for a positive surprise. Here again, I don’t know anyone who was lucky. It seems the lucky ones were the ones who did not get the bonus cut in any way. Seeing such a big gap to the Japanese media, I got concerned. I was lucky to find a well researched article (Deflation Watch: New Year’s scorecard) in the Japan Times that basically reflects the same thoughts. We are being told that things are moving towards the bright side, while most of the Japanese population has to live with a much darker reality. While on one side I am happy to see that my senses are not completely wrong, at the same time I am worried about the rising gap between what I am told to see and what I am personally observing.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Having lots of questions in regard to Japan?

Omiyage from Tokyo There are aspects of the Japanese culture or society that had and will continue to puzzle foreigners. I came across a youtube channel that addresses in a very honest, curious, non judging way about several aspects like why there is such a mix and match of buildings in Japanese cities or how come Japanese like to take pictures with the peace sign. While there is a lot of not noteworthy material in regard to Japan presented on the Internet, I have to say I am impressed with The Japan Channel Dcom. When you have time, check out the videos to the topics of your interest. I can only recommend it.


Wishing you lots of entertainment and laughter,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)