So, the way I even heard about this bilingual Japanese/English career forum is that my Japanese roommate from before I had considered studying Japanese, Ko-star, went to the Boston version. It both inspired me and made me jealous when I realized that “wow, Ko-star is totally fluent in two very economically valuable languages, and here I am messing around with nothing but a good-but-not-4.0 GPA to my name”.
Where did I get the idea to finally go myself? Well, as you probably know, a lot of colleges in the US have career days and stuff. But somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to go through the suit-wearing, resume-writing, smiling motions. I always admired my classmates who were capable of doing that. Because, dude, we all know what college is actually like. Why, suddenly, when it’s a “career fair”, do we wear suits and act like we really learned from those classes, when, at the time, we were just trying to get them out of the way? I’m not saying this to put down education, I am putting down classes, which even professors and instructors will readily admit, are flawed. I don’t know. I sound like a whiny teenager, but, I really did feel like a complete fraud in interviews, wearing a suit, doing my adult-sounding “deep voice”, talking about my school experience like I actually gave a crap, and trying to spin every little tangentially related job I had done into “work experience” and talk about the “skills and strengths” I had built, like…I don’t freaking know!! I don’t know…it’s probably just me and I need to “grow up” or something.
Anyway, somewhere in there, I realized that I wanted to go and make cool electronics at one of the great Japanese electronics giants, especially the one responsible for CDs, MDs and even floppy disks. At some point, I figured that to do that, I would first need to go to grad school in Japan to get the necessary linguistic and technical knowledge. But then, somewhere else in there, I started this “all Japanese all the time” experiment and was rapidly acquiring Japanese proficiency all on my own. When American kids saw me speak Japanese with my Japanese friends, some would ask if I had grown up in Japan; I guess they didn’t know better, but, still, it was a sign that I was getting good. And so it dawned on me that I could skip the grad school stage and go straight to my Japanese electronics giant. The career forum would be that opportunity.
Four or five months before the career forum itself, I decided to go. As it happened they were having a technical version of the usually economics/finance-based career forum, so that was right up my alley. I reserved a room at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel – the same hotel as the career forum – in L.A., and bought the cheapest Southwest Airlines ticket I could find. My Japanese study went into overdrive; I was afraid as many people are that “Japan” would be like “what the heck do you want, bwoy!?”, so I wanted to have really, really, good Japanese. I learned about keigo/敬語, business manners and “interview talk”. By now you’re probably realizing that I was learning to do the very same “act” to which I had such objections at regular college career fairs. I guess the reason I was so against even going to the regular career fairs was that I didn’t want to live or work in America that much. Plus the career fairs always seemed to be going on when I was busiest with my schoolwork – they say a busy person is just a bad time manager, and that may well be true; I always gave my schoolwork far more time than I should have; I wish I’d known about Steve Pavlina and Brian Tracy earlier in my life (didn’t find out about them until near the very end of my undergrad). Anyway, so…
Skip to the day of the bilingual career fair. When I got there (straight off the plane from Utah, took a cab driven by the rudest man I have ever had the displeasure of meeting…don’t swear at me because it’s “inconvenient” for you to take credit cards, bee arch!), I almost turned back — I mean, 100% fear; my stomach was churning, everyone but me, it seemed, was Japanese, and I just had the biggest feeling of: “Dude, OK, game over. Who are you even kidding? You’re not Japanese! Just ’cause you’ve watched hundreds of hours of Gokusen and your friends from Japan say you’re jouzu, that doesn’t mean you’re gonna make it; this is the real world. Go home now before you embarrass yourself. Just get on the plane. Speak English like you were raised to”. And I almost did turn tail and head for LAX, but for the fact that I saw two 20-something Japanese kids in suits…who were clearly lost…and asked them if they were going to the career fair and told them I’d show them the way…in Japanese…and they were excited that I was speaking the nihongo and they were nice to me, and I thought: “maybe we’ll be fine after all”.
Anyway, so there I was in my $100 suit (still own it) with my $20 business satchel (still own that, too). I had interviews with all these companies whose electronics I had used as a kid:
- Matsushita (now Panasonic)
- Toshiba (did you know that this company dates back to the Meiji era?!)
- Fujitsu (I even owned a Fujitsu laptop at the time, which I later sold to a soldier on eBay…I wonder if it runs military programs now, LoL)
Plus a couple of smaller or less-well-known operators:
- Tata (from India, and not really that small at all) and
- Fullcast (the shaaaaaaaaaaaadiest company ever; I thought the interviewer was going to take my resume, use the address to find my house and try to molest my cat; he was just that greeazy; as it turns out, my instincts were right, Fullcast are guilty of all kinds of legal violations. I don’t usually make statements this strong, but, Fullcast as an organization is the scum of the scum on the socklint of the scum of the earth).
Tata were nice. Fullcast were evil and a little scary. Fujitsu didn’t go so well because I sucked. The Toshiba people were kind of…condescending jerks who called me “君”/kimi; I don’t think that reflects on the organization as a whole, though, just those two guys. Panasonic were super-nice, but when they found out I knew some Chinese, they wanted me to do parts procurement in China, but I wanted to actually make stuff so that didn’t work out.
The very last company I interviewed with, the one for which every other interview was actually just a practice run, the one company I really wanted to go to, and the one where the interview was less like an interview and more a relaxed chat with a group of my closest 40-something engineer friends, was Sony. Funny story – the lady from personnel/international HR used keigo that I had never read in any of the keigo websites I had studied. It’s kind of a “new keigo” and actually very common in Japan right now, to the point that it’s getting recognized as legit. The keigo in question is: “-させて頂きます”/sasete itadakimasu. When I first heard it, I was always like “wait, so are YOU doing this action or am I”? From my reading, I was expecting her to use “致します”/itashimasu or just “-ます”/masu. I seriously had to confirm what the HR lady was saying by repeating it back to her, whenever she went and させて頂くed on me. She also talked at like 500 words per second even when she was sleepy (trying to save on international phone bills?), but all the rap music I had listened to had prepared me for that.
Long story short, I owned the Sony interview. I was all warmed up from the previous 5 interviews, and I genuinely loved Sony. I even owned a Sony MD player at the time, and I proudly busted it out to show the interviewers/40-something engineer buddies. This is what Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People/人を動かす called using drama and display to win the audience. It’s one thing to say you like Sony goods, it’s another to fish one out of your butt-pocket, put it on the desk and then discuss and analyze it, all in Japanese.
So all this is happening in LA. Two weeks later Sony call (ring-ring!), and it’s the rapping HR lady, whom I am by now quite used to listening to. She させて頂くed a follow-up interview for me in Japan. And so my first trip to Japan (October 2005) was very kindly paid for. It was also my first trip out of the US in almost five years. In order to line up my visa, I called the Japanese Consulate-General for my region and always spoke in Japanese. This had a HUGE effect. When you call the Japanese Consulate, they first speak in English, in a “we’ll be polite, but keep it quick, OK?” voice. But if you speak Japanese, it’s suddenly “You just done entered the root password, what is your will, okyakusama? The cherries are blossoming beautifully, please allow me to be allowed to be of service to you.” Even though I clearly was not Japanese by blood or nationality (I’m applying for a visa, right?), just by speaking Japanese I got the “citizen treatment”; the visa desk guy treated me like a long-lost son. Whenever there was a stupid rule (like the one about how college students must have TONS of money – hello! That’s why I’m looking for a job!), he waived it.
Japan was just like I expected it to be. Technology 15 years ahead of the rest of the world (ohhhhh the toilets, my boy, the toilets…even the toilets させて頂く your hiney all nice and clean). LCDs on everything. Small-but-comfortable hotel room (Shinagawa Prince, baby)! To this day, Shinagawa Prince is my “実家”/ancestral home in Japan. It’s where it all started for me. Whenever I’m lost, I’m like “if I can just get to the Shinagawa Prince everything will be OK”. The other day, I had this meeting for some IT consulting I do, and I needed an adapter to make my 3-pin laptop power thingy plug in to a 2-pin Japanese outlet, and I was like “how far is the Shinagawa Prince? They have this shop in the lobby…”, and the other IT guy was like “dude, I have a converter downstairs”, and I was like “yeah, but the Prince…”
One thing that struck me as weird was how busy Shinagawa station was even at 10pm. I was like “do these people ever sleep?” The answer is “no”. But more on that later.
Coming back to the US sucked because the immigration lady was caught between her irresistible attraction for me (see the photo on the About page for details), and her apparent duty to screw over foreigners, which only made her act more mean to hide her real feelings. I waited in line for-ever.
A couple of weeks later Sony called and made me an offer. I was super happy and I (rather foolishly) thought that being at a brand-name company meant “success”. No one among my peers, teachers or family disabused me of the notion, not that that’s their job, but…hmmm…I don’t know; it’s complex. But like I said, more on that later…