Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Plastic surgery

In Japan, South Korean singers have become very popular in the last few years. According to the news, music sales in South Korea are less than one thirtieth of those in Japan because of the popularity of illegal music downloads and low-priced music CDs. Thus, Japan is a necessary and attractive market for South Korean music agencies. Under these circumstances, well-selected young South Koreans study not only singing and dancing but also the Japanese language before their debuts.

Speaking of South Korea, it's well-known in Japan for plastic surgery. Many Japanese people assume that minor plastic surgery is so popular among South Korean women that it doesn't a convey negative image there. I've head that it's partly because South Korean women place great value on beauty. As a matter of fact, they seem to make great effort to be as beautiful as possible. In a TV program, it was reported that South Korean actors/actresses tried to improve their acting skills to survive in the competitive show business there since it is thought that any actor/actress could obtain good looks through plastic surgery.

In Japan, minor plastic surgery has become common recently. Some people reckon that if plastic surgery can get rid of their complexes and change their lives in a positive way, there's nothing wrong with it. However, plastic surgery still conveys both positive and negative images in Japan.Personally, I don't want to risk looking even worse and complications, although it's said that the risk of minor plastic surgery is low.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Career-minded women exploited by companies.

About 15 years ago, despite many women still working at traditional assistant positions without promotion potential, well-known companies would take every chance to advertise themselves by showing what a good environment and opportunities they gave their capable female employees. Since the times and the law required companies to offer career paths to more women, major companies took advantage of a tiny number of their female employees working on the same level as men in order to improve their images. Unsurprisingly, this helped companies improve their image.

Contrary to good images conveyed by companies, I would often hear various complaints and about terrible situations from these career women. When a large company was introduced as a good workplace for career-minded women in a TV program, my friend working on the same level as men in the company sighed about the introduction, saying that the information in the TV program was far from the reality. She added that she had realized her company's ulterior motive behind the advertising campaign. Sadly, it's just one example.

As for my company where I was working in a male-dominated position, it didn't try to use their female employees in order to improve its image. Rather, my company didn't pay attention to doing that. However, I was sometimes requested to deliver a speech as a part of the recruitment activity of my company.

Today, women working on the same level as men have become much more common. However, many companies still try to show what a good working environment they give their female employees and what important roles their female workers are playing in their businesses. I think that these appeals imply companies have many problems solved.

Needless to say, all of these problems aren't attributed to companies. Our economic structure that is overly dependent on working long hours and some traditional ideas are the fundamental problems.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Career women supporting male co-workers after work

As I mentioned in my previous post (click here), when I was looking for a job in male-dominated positions with career paths while I was a senior in university many years ago, assistant positions without career paths were still common for women, although the law required companies to give women the same opportunity for promotion as men. Under these circumstances, in job interviews, some companies tried to make sure if I was used to male-dominated environments. The fact that I studied at a male-dominated economics department in a male-dominated public university was  often helpful. On top of that, my frankness and relatively male-like character (男っぽい性格), which might be have been developed mostly in such a male-dominated environment, unexpectedly gave a good impression to companies.

When I was in my mid-20s, like me, many women working on the same level as men were more frank, more independent, and stronger than the average Japanese woman, even if they looked cute. Thus, these career women were less popular among Japanese men since many of them culturally wanted to catch less intelligent, dependent and adorable women. Nonetheless, these career women, including myself, would be often asked to go out for dinner and a drink after work by their male co-workers. In my experience, when male workers wanted to grumble about their jobs and their families/girlfriends, they viewed career women as the best fellows. They reckoned that career women were still women and had enough knowledge about businesses to make conversations with them exciting and constructive. When I was forced to be a listener during conversations with my male co-workers at restaurants, I felt like I was a hostess at a bar (Note 1).

Today, the situation has changed. However, independent and solid women are still playing this role. I think they are still not popular among Japanese men, although I've noticed that more and more young men like independent and solid women.

Note 1:
In Japan, there are many bars called スナック(sunakke, this word is from snack bars in English) and clubs. In these bars, women called hostess/ホステス sit beside customers whether they are men or women and talk with them. No physical contact is allowed. Some men go there just to get the hostesses to listen to their stories while drinking.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Female workers struggling with the idea that women should be かわいい/Kawaii

When women are evaluated or described, being かわいい/kawaii(cute, pretty, adorable and so on) both in appearance and in characters is highly valued in Japanese society. I would say that being かわいい/kawaii is an important element for women to attract men. Despite that, the concept of かわいい/kawaii is so ambiguous that I can't clearly define it. However, I can say that men still tend to view immature or less intelligent women to be かわいい/kawaii, although more and more young men don't do that. 

I started working at male-dominated positions with career paths immediately after graduation (It was many years ago). At the time, assistant positions without career paths were still common for women, even female university graduates, I would often be forced to struggle with the idea that women should be かわいい. The fact that some women were working on the same level as men was annoying for conservative men, although they understood that the times required it. Companies expected these women to perform better than the men. This was because companies need to convince their conservative male workers that they had made the right decision to employ these women since their conservative male workers were against hiring these women. However, the better these women performed, the more negative attention they attracted. Both male and female co-workers gossiped about them, saying that 女のくせに. I don't know how I translate the typical phrase into English, but the translation might be that you shouldn't do it because you are a woman or it's unbelievable that women do it. The phrase is used when women exhibited behaviors go against the stereotype.

Women working on the same level as men sometimes suffered from the feeling that the more highly they were appreciated at work, the less value they had as women. In fact, it was not easy for these women to find a boyfriend who appreciated and supported their careers. 

Today, more and more people, regardless of gender, keep an open mind. However, I sometime find that some men still stick with the idea that women should be かわいい/kawaii. As a matter of fact, some men don't want to work under female managers. Some male managers don't want to hire capable women because these women seem to be smarter or older than they are. I think that these attitudes are based on this idea. However, as far as I know, men who can manage capable women well and take advantage of their abilities tend to succeed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Come to think of my first job hunting when I was a senior student

When I was writing about the recruitment of new graduates here a few days ago (click here), I thought of the old days when I was struggling with job hunting as a senior student.

First, ridiculous interview questions asked by companies such as "do you want to get married and have a child in your 20s?" came to my mind. These were not just questions to break the ice. Companies seriously asked these questions; in fact, a board member of a major corporation spent some time asking me in the final interview whether or not my parents would mind if I were transferred since I'm a only child. I had a hard time convincing him that my parents wouldn't.

When I was a senior in university, companies offered positions with career paths to male university graduates, expecting them to work many years; in contrast, companies still tended to offer traditional assistant positions without career paths to female university graduates, expecting them to support the male workers. Thus, when female university graduates applied for the male-dominated positions, they were always forced to deal with such questions since companies tried to make sure that their female candidates were suitable to the positions in every aspect.

Next, these tough circumstances reminded me of a male friend with whom I studied economics in my university. During a conversation with him, when I blurted out that I felt like I wanted to give up pursuing the male-dominated positions since I had great difficulty obtaining a job offer for the positions, he asserted that I should work on the same level as men, saying that taking an assistant job was meaningless to me. His strong words got rid of my wavering mind, making me feel like I was qualified, and encouraged me to keep struggling to obtain an offer.

After that, I imagined what my life would be like if I had accepted an offer from a company at the time. The company liked me and gave me an offer, expecting me to work in Europe five years later after joining the company. When I was a senior, I neither had an interest in English nor working abroad, and my TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) score was not good. Despite that, people of the company insisted that I was cut out for working abroad and tried to convince me that I would be able to improve my English if I took the English courses provided by the company. Although I didn't join the company, now come to think of it, the people judged me well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Japanese people are missing their hometowns and old days

A few days ago, the 92nd All-Japan Senior High School Baseball Championship Tournament ended. A team from Okinawa won the championship. The victory made Okinawans feel very happy not only because it was the first victory for an Okinawan team but also because Okinawans were greatly frustrated with the government's attitudes toward Okinawa.

The championship is held every August at the Koshien stadium/甲子園球場 in Hyogo prefecture/兵庫県 next to Osaka. In June and July, prefectural tournaments are held in every prefecture, and the winners (49 teams) can attend the championship. All the games in the championship are broadcast live on TV. Surprisingly, every year, many people pay attention to the championship; in fact, the stadium is packed with spectators throughout the 15-day period.

The long time popularity of the championship seems to reflect how much people miss their hometowns and old days. In Japan, many people leave their hometowns to enroll in universities, or to start working. It's not easy to meet people who were born and raised in Tokyo. People from outside Tokyo tend to get tired of living in the spiritual desert, Tokyo. A few months ago, it was reported that the long term popularity of a Japanese restaurant in Shinbashi/新橋, Tokyo was because the restaurant had a way of reminding its customers of their old days in their hometowns. (Shinbashi/新橋 is popular with a lot of businessmen as an entertainment town). In the restaurant, there are shelves of notebooks; each notebook has the name of a high school written on its spine (click here). ts customers are free to read them. If you find one with the name of your high school, you can leave your comments in it. If there isn't one, you can add a new notebook for your high school. Many comments written by people from the same school or same town make you unwind, and encourage you to struggle on your life in Tokyo (click here).

Although I've moved many times since I was a little girl, I've never missed my hometown (I could say that Osaka is my hometown). However, I always feel closer to people from my high school than from my university when I first get to know them after graduation. I don't know why.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Unique companies' attitudes toward new graduates in Japan

In Japan, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced a few weeks ago that the employment rate for new graduates of four-year universities this March was 60.7%, down 7.6 points from last year (In Japan, the school term begins in April and ends in March).  It turned out that 16.7% of the graduates had neither enrolled in graduate schools et cetera nor started working. These graduates are most likely to find themselves in a serious situation since they will have great difficulty getting a job. This is becoming a social problem.

Until a decade ago, it was common in Japan that people worked many years for the same company. Changing jobs, especially in your 20s, was frowned upon, giving the impression that you were unable to overcome and adjust to obstacles in the workplace. Because of this, recruiters focused on hiring new graduates who had great potential to contribute to the company. In fact, corporations would hire a large number of new graduates in April every year. For the first few years after they joined companies, they were trained without being expected to show a performance equivalent to their salaries.

With the introduction of Western management systems and the Japanese economic downturn, however, more and more companies have reduced the investment in their new young employees and have come to seek for people having job experience and expertise. Job changes have more common, although frequent job changes in your 20s are still disadvantageous.

However, having said that, most of the companies, especially corporations, still interview large numbers of university juniors and seniors to secure capable human resources, and then officially promise some of them that they will be hired if they can graduate. This indicates that if university seniors don't get an offer before graduation, it will be very difficult for them to obtain a stable job after graduation. Because of this, when university seniors realize that they have no chance of obtaining an offer before graduation, they tend to fail classes purposely in order to stay in university since an undergraduate status gives them more opportunity to get a stable job.

It's been said that the issue of how society will increase employment opportunities for new and young graduates without job experience is a challenge in the current recession. However, the future of Japan depends on them. I've heard that this attitude toward new graduates is unique, although South Korea seems to have a similar attitude.

In your country, how do new university graduates get a job?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Graves remind me of an annoying tradition

As I mentioned in my previous post, there is a tradition of visiting family graves during the Bon period (If you are interested in finding more information about Bon, click here).  When I went to a cemetery a few days ago, the graves reminded me of a tradition I didn't want to follow. At the same time, I realized how many people don't like the tradition much, since I found more untraditional tombstones where one character words such as 心/heart and 愛/love were carved.

In Japan, family names are generally carved on tombstones like 田中家之墓/Tanaka family's grave. 田中/Tanaka is a one of very popular family name. 家/ke in this context means family. 墓/haka means grave. Since the rate of cremation in Japan is over 99%, your ashes are placed in a tomb. In addition, a few family members' remains are usually placed in a single tomb. The full names of all the family members are carved on the side of the tombstone or a small stone placed beside it. In other words, your ashes are supposed to be placed in the family grave to which you belong. If a woman marries a man and takes his family name, she will belong to her husband's family. If she unfortunately dies young before her husband does, and if he is conservative, her remains will be placed in his family grave where the ashes of his parents or grandparents are placed. Needless to say, you can have your own grave if you want and are allowed to do so.

It's tradition that families are considered more important than individuals. In the past, if a woman married a man named Taro Tanaka, for example, she culturally took his family name:Tanaka. She would be always referred to as a 田中家の嫁/a daughter given to Tanaka family. Actually, there isn't an English word equivalent to 嫁/yome. If I were referred to as ○○家の嫁, I would feel offended since the phrase often implies that I have to pay more attention to my parents-in-law than my parents or things like that.

Recently, individuals are emphasized more. More and more people don't stick to the traditional idea of which family you belong to. However, at wedding parties, the expression "○○家 と○○家の結婚披露宴/ a wedding party for ○○ family and ○○ family" is always used. Other than that, you can sometimes find the tradition in daily life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Japan has become a tropical island

These days, the heat wave has been making headlines.The topic of which city reaches the highest temperature today in Japan is reported every day and catches public attention. This summer, all the cities throughout Japan can probably win this competition. Even some cities in Hokkaido/北海道 (which is located in the northern part of Japan and usually has relatively cool summers) sometimes reach 37 degrees C, so they are able to make the top 30. In Hokkaido, which is well known for dairy farming, the cows are suffering from a lack of appetite due to this abnormal heat. As a result, they yield less milk. The heat wave is expected to have an adverse effect on dairy production. Vegetable yields are also suffering from the heat. Prices are soaring. To be honest, I don't mind the summer heat. I used to play golf under the burning sun when I was living in Malaysia. However, this scorching summer heat is intolerable and discourages me from doing anything.

At Narita International Airport, which is currently crowded with Japanese travelers returning from foreign countries, this hot and muggy weather seems to make these travelers realize that their summer vacations are over. n the news, they are surprised to see how hot it is in Tokyo, realizing that it's hotter in Tokyo than in the tropical islands where they spent their vacations such as Phuket in Thailand and Hawaii.

I've heard that many places worldwide like Moscow have abnormal summer heat. Russia announced about a week ago that it would temporarily halt the export of wheat due to the drought. Since Japan is overly dependent on imported foods, it is expected to affect our lives. What is going on with the earth?

Please see the links below. These beautiful pictures make me determined to protect the earth.

(This sentence is a typical expression used in greetings around between the 8th of August and the end of August)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mrs Watanabe--Japanese housewives having a great influence on the foreign exchange market

As you might know, the declining birthrate is one of the big issues that Japan is facing. The public has realized that it will definitely put Japan into a serious situation. However, some of our social situations make people hesitate to have a child or more children and our government still hasn't taken effective measures against these situations. In addition, although the government requires companies to give their employees environments that encourage them to have more children, they haven't fully met the requirements. In my opinion, as long as companies keep requiring their employees, regardless of gender, to work long hours, the birthrate won't increase.  Given the fact that the workforce in Japan is shrinking, I think that companies should take advantage of capable mothers, although I know that it will compel companies to bear more cost.

Under these circumstances, capable stay-at-home mothers and housewives, many of whom were forced to quit their jobs, tend to start doing their own businesses or make extra money at home. Electronic financial transactions are particularly popular among these women since it's easy to start doing if they don't expect to make big profits. Many of them don't have a high level of expertise. Although the transaction amount with which each person deals is usually very small, the total amount is big enough to have a powerful impact especially on the foreign exchange market.

According to the news, some Western foreign exchange dealers found that transactions made by Japanese individual investors, particularly housewives, often affected the exchange rate when they examined factors for frequent dollar-buying that any technical analysis couldn't explain. Since a British newspaper referred to these Japanese housewives as Mrs. Watanabe, which is a common Japanese family names, the term "Mrs. Watanabe" has been used in Western countries. I don't know why Watanabe was chosen. I wonder if it's because a Japanese actor named Ken Watanabe is popular in Hollywood these days. Actually, I didn't know about the term until I watched a TV news program a few days ago. Have you heard of the term?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Is longevity good or bad? It depends on how you have led your life

About a week ago, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan announced that the average life expectancy of Japanese women was 86.44 years old and that of Japanese men was 79.59 years old in 2009. The average life expectancies of both men and women reached the record high consecutively for the last four years. The average for women has ranked top for the last 25 years in the world.  Right after that announcement, it was reported that a 113-year-old woman who is the oldest in Tokyo was missing. She doesn't live where the resident registry data shows that she is supposed to be living. It turns out that 34 people over 100 are missing throughout Japan. These incidences reveal our social problems. It's a sad fact that nobody, including their children, know where such elderly people are. However, given the current social situation, it can happen.

I have a lot of relatives and longevity runs in those on my mother's side. My great-grandparents on my grandmother's side enjoyed their lives for over 100 years. Since both of them died of old age without struggling with diseases, I would say that they literally enjoyed their lives. Ironically, before my great-grandmother passed away, her daughter (my grandmother) started suffering from dementia of the Alzheimer type. A 92-year-old female relative still enjoys playing mahjong with her friends every day. According to her granddaughter, every time I lived in a foreign country, she tried to get to know about the country well. Actually, her strong curiosity often astonishes younger people. In contrast, some elderly relatives are so selfish and persistent that their families, friends, et cetera have a hard time taking care of them. As a result, their peers tend to drift away from them.

Every time I see these situations, I realize that your last life stage reflects how you have led your life, although some diseases are beyond your control.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Japanese people tired of pinching pennies

In Japan, it's believed that the spirits of our ancestors come back to see their descendants around the 15th of August, so there is a tradition of visiting family graves during that time. It is referred to as Obon/お盆. Because of this tradition, many factories temporarily suspend their production for a few weeks around the 13th to the 16th of August in order to give their employees a long holiday. Even people working for other companies still tend to take their summer holidays around this time, although recently more and more people take them during other periods in the summer to avoid the peak season crowds. 

Elderly parents, especially those living far from their children, expect them to come home during the Obon period. This is mostly because older generations consider it to be a traditional day of family gathering. In contrast, younger people tend not to want to go back in part because the return home costs them a lot more money than they would like to spend. In addition, many of them want to take advantage of their long holiday and travel overseas, since the summer holiday is the longest holiday for many workers.

According to the news, this year, a lot more people are expected to depart for foreign countries during the Obon period than last year because of the strong Japanese Yen and people being tired of pinching pennies(節約疲れ in Japanese). because of many people being tired of pinching pennies these days, プチ贅沢 is a catch phrase to appeal to consumers. プチ/puchi is from the French word "petit," and 贅沢/zeitaku means luxury, so the phrase means spending a little more money than usual to make yourself happy. Yesterday, McDonald's Japan announced that it had been very successful during the first half of this year due to high sales of new burgers costing four to five US dollars each. This is significantly more expensive than ordinary burgers, and the new burgers were introduced in order to meet the needs of customers desiring プチ贅沢. 

It's been said that many Japanese people try to save a high proportion of their disposable income, regardless of the state of the Japanese economy. As a matter of fact, the high propensity of the Japanese to save has enabled Japan to avert a critical crisis, as it is able to borrow locally to finance its budget deficit. On top of that, it's known that the number of suicides in Japan has been increasing for years. Some of the Japanese elite are suffering from depression.Given these circumstances, if people can afford it, they sometimes spend a little extra money to help ease their stress, not considering it extravagant.

It's said that Japan could get enmeshed in an irreversible situation like Greece if our government doesn't take action as soon as possible. Because of this, the hike in consumption tax from five percent to ten percent is being discussed. I'm sure that the hike will be enforced sooner or later.

Anyway, every time summer comes around, I start wanting to listen to the following song. I think that this song reminds many Japanese of the old days.