It’s important to just listen and trust
I was born in a country in Eastern Europe called Belarus, but my father is Bangladeshi, making me half Belarusian, half Bangladeshi. I lived in Belarus through high school, and after graduating, moved to Canada. Canada doesn’t just have a better reputation regarding education, but also has better career paths available after graduation. Everyone told me this was best for me, and so I went to Canada.
Right now, I could probably understand Belarusian if I heard it, but I can’t speak it. I can only speak Russian and English. I speak with my mother in Russian, and with my father, well, either will do. I spoke Russian at school up through high school. There was a course on Belarusian, and I returned to Belarus around once every two years, but well, everyone just spoke in Russian.
I studied English as well, but didn’t take it very seriously. So after I moved to Canada, I took an intensive English program for one year, and entered college while working at a part time job with full time hours. At first, I had no choice but to start off with jobs that didn’t require language. But I had colleagues I needed to speak with, so I inevitably slowly had to start communicating. However, Canada has a lot of immigrants, and there are quite a few people who can’t speak the language. So the people around me understood my situation.
I started studying Japanese for my own growth
When I went to Canada, I didn’t have money and couldn’t speak the language. This acted as a trigger and opened my eyes to various things, such as how I need to take studying seriously. It also made me realize I need to think about my career as well. I was a business major, but with all the people graduating around me, I wanted to differentiate myself. I could already speak two languages, but I thought it would be impressive if I could speak three.
I considered studying Japanese because at the time, I was interested in Japanese subculture such as animation, music, and manga. But that wasn’t my main reason. Having started studying English from practically nothing, I still managed to clear the intensive course in one year. I was impressed with my own growth, and thought it would be great if I could replicate that. And if I was going to start another language, I thought that choosing a more difficult language that I was also interested in culturally would be a good choice, leading me to Japanese. But I also knew it wouldn’t be any good if I didn’t take it seriously, and because there aren’t many jobs in Canada that use Japanese, there was a risk that it would just end up as a hobby language. So I knew that if I wanted to actually use the language, I’d have to go to Japan.
80% of people from abroad who work in Japanese companies drop out
I’ve been a working adult in Japan for around a total of seven and a half years. It’s not a particularly long time, and I know I have a long way to go, but during this time, around 80% of my friends from abroad dropped out. Probably around 60, 70% of those people hadn’t properly finished their Japanese studies. Generally speaking, in Japanese society, not being able to speak the language ends up handicapping career growth. So many of my friends had to experience having this handicap, and dealt with things such as having slower promotions than others around them. The other challenge was work hours. In Japanese salaryman culture, many workers have to stay at their companies for long hours, and many people from abroad are unable to keep up with this.
I have one example of someone who succeeded, although I don’t know if it can be considered a good example. I have a friend from abroad who’s one year my senior. He’s an extremely hard worker, and can’t speak Japanese. Understanding that, he was primarily assigned projects that could be done in English, and using his skills there, he was able to advance his career at a pace comparable to the Japanese people around him. It wasn’t that he was particularly fast, just equal to those around him. That’s the important part.
If I can be like a Japanese person, I can move forward, but I can’t, it’s impossible.
This may sound like me complaining, but well, I can speak Japanese, to a certain extent. So when I work with those around me, and speak like I am now, they tell me that I am “Japanese.” I can understand Japanese perfectly and read Japanese perfectly, and so therefore must be able to do perfect work with complete flawless understanding of Japanese culture. And so they tell me that they’ll evaluate me based on the same standards as Japanese people. But then, based on those standards, I’m not perfect. Because I’m unable to fully become a Japanese person, they tell me they’ll delay my progress.
However, I wasn’t raised in Japan, so I understood this was what I was getting into. I work harder than the Japanese people around me in order to deal with all the pros and cons of my situation. And sometimes that demotivates me. There are so many people around me who can use the language properly, that’s the problem. It’s not that I’m blaming Japanese people, but the way the system’s set up acts as a bottleneck. On one hand, they want to increase workers, but on the other, there’s no efficient way of actually incorporating the people who’ve learned the language into the system, which makes everything terribly inefficient.
I feel that current society allows me to make the best of my strengths.
One thing I want people to be conscious of is that no matter how good at Japanese a foreigner is, this is just one of their supplemental strengths, and that their most valuable skill is their understanding of the world outside of Japan. This is especially true when Japanese people don’t have much experience overseas, because then it’ll be those from abroad who can teach them about other countries. It’s important to listen to and trust us to an extent. For example, if a team member from overseas suggests an alternative way of doing something, Japanese people may instinctively reject their idea because that’s not how it’s done in Japan. So it’s important to listen to and trust us.
It’s fine to do it the Japanese way domestically, but you can strengthen overseas ventures by referencing how it’s done abroad. For example, if you want to spread your business to America, you might consult an American, and they may give you advice on how they do it over there. But people on the Japanese side might not fully understand, or think that because a certain way of doing things works in Japan, it can be applied in America as well, and I think we should avoid thinking this way. I think it’s important to have balance, to trust each other, and to create a hybrid version of our combined ideas. Having looked at a lot of businesses in Japan, although there are some exceptions, I know many still don’t take reference from overseas companies.
I’m able to enjoy myself now because I studied Japanese to an extent in advance
I’ve been to a lot of countries, but I really love Japan. Sight-seeing is incredibly fun, and a lot of things match my tastes. Daily life’s good too. I feel very blessed. It’s comparatively cheap as well. Of course, the pay’s cheap too, but that’s balance. People say the pay in America’s better, but it costs more to live there as well. When I ask my friends from abroad, 60, 70% of them are satisfied living in japan. The remaining 30% say they struggle a bit due to the language barrier, and while that’s not a problem for me, it’s true that work’s the greatest barrier. Daily life and work overlap considerably, and can’t be separated, so those from abroad who want to live in Japan long-term need to consider their work life as well.
I don’t think anything’s clear cut black and white. It’s true that a lot of things can be improved, but it’s also important to preserve traditional culture. I think that’s one of Japan’s strengths, and something that I too like about Japan, so it shouldn’t be cast aside. It’s just a question of how we do things. I think we can change just parts of the system, and understand the importance of that, and plan to make changes based on that understanding. I think it’s important to have people who understand the importance of that.