Sunday, November 18, 2007

Re-Entry Japan



Picked up from Japan Probe

Re-Entry Japan: informing and thinking about biometric controls at entry gatepoints in Japan. A collaborative blog.

Fingerprinting will begin this Tuesday, November 20th; if you are traveling through Narita or Nagoya that day, be sure to write some notes about the experience and submit your story to this new blog.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

More Help Against Fingerprinting

A proactive blogger has set up an online petition to condemn the Japanese government's decision to fingerprint foreigners, set to begin November 20th.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

English as Therapy?

Were psychology patients recommended to go to NOVA in an attempt to create some normalcy in their lives? David Markle over at Japan Probe has collected an interesting pattern of stories from NOVA teachers.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

The Voices of NOVA

Trans-Pacific Radio has done a really thorough job researching and discussing the situation with NOVA. Ken Worsley was enough of an authority to have Radio New Zealand contact him for an interview, and now TPR has just posted phone interviews with NOVA employees, among them instructors who recently arrived in Japan expecting steady paychecks and housing...

What to do if you are threatened with eviction

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

More News on NOVA



More news on English language school NOVA. None of it good, I'm afraid. Japan Times articles...

Is it all over for Nova?

Advice for teachers


But perhaps most interesting was a personal letter sent to Trans-Pacific Radio from a NOVA teacher who very recently arrived in Japan. She was brought over less than a month ago, and now faces a financially uncertain future (without steady monthly payments and a guaranteed flight back home).

This brought to light the reality that NOVA is still actively recruiting teachers abroad. They can't pay them on time, they're closing 200 schools, and they're still recruiting. Although I haven't been able to find any postings on Craigslist worldwide, there are a few recently added promotions on SEEK, an Australian job website; this did not go unnoticed in New Zealand as well.

Anyone back in the states currently being interviewed by NOVA? What are they saying?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Interview with Blogs on Japan

My interview with Blogs on Japan is now up. Strategery. If you're unfamiliar, try a Google search.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Interview with Daily J

The first part of my interview with the website Daily J is now up.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

The Truth About AEON: Part V

Reprimands and Blogging

This entry covers the experience that caused the beginning of the end of a pleasant work environment for me at AEON. No, I didn't steal anything, insult anyone, or commit a fatal cultural error. I blogged about a business meeting. If you've been following me for some time (since September, at least), you know probably know this by now – it was one of the entries that scored me the highest hit count I had ever seen up to that point.

So what happened?

One Thursday after lunch, as I'm preparing for my next lesson, my manager pulls me aside and tells me we need to have a meeting. A little puzzled, I comply, and shuffle my feet towards an empty classroom.

"Tana sensei, other teachers read your blog, and we need to talk about it."

I was a little confused at that point. I had asked my trainer about blogging at AEON, because that was a big source of information for me researching back in the US, and I wanted to give prospective employees a better idea of what it meant to come to Japan and work in the eikaiwa. Although, I do have to admit my entries up to that point were very primitive and based largely upon GaijinSmash. My ignorance.

Still, my trainer gave me some advice that I took to be the official stance of AEON: don't mention names, and don't brag about any illegal activities that you may or may not be doing (I can't believe some people would put that kind of information on an easily traceable website). I had complied with this – I mentioned I was an AEON teacher and my location, but did not mention the name of my school or any of my staff. And yet...

"Some of the teachers read your blog, and they were so angry... [The assistant manager] read your blog and he was so angry. Why did you do this?"

She was mostly concerned with my entry about an AEON business meeting, which did not contain specific information about the earnings or students of the school, but did discuss my interpretation of the staff's reaction to certain information (e.g. genkiness in the workplace). I had also discussed my reaction to a terrible kids class I had taught earlier that week, and my own trepidation about teaching so many children's classes. In addition, I had covered some of the staff reactions to my presence in the office – this was mostly coming from my manager, but I had the impression they thought I was an idiot because of my poor Japanese skills: spelling everything out, using a childish tone to talk to me...

Essentially the meeting was me clarifying every point I had ever made on my blog. It was humiliating, and I can't believe she devoted company time to talk to me about it.

"Why do you write these things?"
"These are my thoughts, my opinions; I don't tell people these things. The blog helps me think things over, like a diary."
"But this is different than diary, you post these things on the internet. Anyone can read."

There was no point in arguing any further; I later wrote an entry about blogging in the workplace which summarizes my problem with this meeting very nicely: I didn't bring this information into the workplace. I kept my comments at home, on my personal weblog, which is by definition an online diary. The staff chose to read it, and find offense with it. It's no different than them snooping around a personal diary I might have had lying on my desk – they chose to read it, and must face the consequences of having that information. I didn't give it to them, I didn't complain to them, and I didn't see the point of bringing such problems into the school. Apparently management felt otherwise.

In the end, after making me feel pretty lousy and telling me all the teachers at the school hated me and didn't want to talk to me, she asked me if I would like to transfer to a different school (also in response to my uncertainty in teaching kid's classes). I said I would if it would solve the problems here (I didn't really want to pick up everything and go after just three months, but she made it sound like there was no recovery from this). She also stipulated that if she informed corporate headquarters about this, they would fire me; essentially, I was being censored. Told to remove all references to AEON or be fired. I walked away and stayed pretty silent for the rest of the day.

That night, I wrote this entry (sorry about the Lost in Translation cliché) as a way of apologizing and explaining myself. I also included a small note along the lines of: "Since I have not been understood at my current branch, I will be transferring to a different school as soon as possible."

The next day. About two minutes after I arrive at the office my manager pulls me aside and wants to talk about my latest entry. Again, devoting company time to my blog. This is beyond ridiculous.

"This part is ok, but why did you do this? Why did you say these things?"

Referring to my decision to transfer. It's my choice as an individual. Am I not allowed to talk anymore? If I choose to confide that information to someone, am I in violation of AEON's rules? Regardless, the point is moot, because it was written on a blog, and I didn't bring it into the workplace. It was so pathetic seeing sympathy from her, as if this situation warranted sympathy – she was completely ignoring the root of the problem: there was no problem unless you happened to bring it into the light.

Again, censored. Told to remove all reference to the transfer, and prepare for another meeting next week. Later that day, I also received a call from my trainer telling me I was going to be reprimanded and it was a "serious situation".

I didn't want to make a stand over this. I wanted to stay in Japan. To be honest, I found the whole situation laughable – AEON, a supposedly respectable Japanese company, was devoting company time to addressing a problem they were perpetuating. Over a blog.

And why? Why would the company waste time and resources talking to me about these things? My blog entries were interpretations of cultural differences, hardly whistle-blowing material. Yet, according to the policy manual, AEON has the right to control "anything detrimental or embarrassing to the image and reputation [of AEON]." They used this policy to fire two teachers in Tokyo over information they posted on their blogs, and actually employ someone to search the blogosphere for any and all information.

The next week, I had an official sit-down with my trainer, who observed one of my classes (no doubt to determine on behalf of AEON if my "dangerous behavior" affected my classroom performance), and gave me an official Disciplinary Notification:

This is an official notice of disciplinary action up to and including dismissal, as indicated in the AEON Foreign Teacher's Policy Manual, if the areas of performance discussed do not improve. Immediate and effective improvements need to be made in teaching and/or interpersonal skills.

The reasons for this notification have been explain fully, as well as guidelines and suggestions needed for improvement.

The employer reserves the right to take disciplinary action or terminate the employment contract, if performance or behavioral problems continue or do not improve.


Although I stubbornly felt the problem was with management and the company spending so much time discussing the "problem", I did make an effort to rectify things with the staff at my school. I wrote an official letter of apology. I stayed late without saying a word. I did things without question, even when they warranted questions. I talked to the staff, but it was all very mechanical, because I was dead inside; from that point onward, I decided not to let a single aspect of my outside life or personality show through in the office (classes were the exception); placing that AEON nametag around my neck first thing in the afternoon was like amputating part of myself.

There was a reason behind it all; if AEON didn't want to know my opinions (good or bad), then they wouldn't get them. They would get nothing, just like they wanted. No personality, no stories, no ambition, no emotion. Nothing. I hope I lived up to their expectations. You can't have the light without the dark.

These feelings only improved slightly over the course of the next several months, due to my own stubbornness and the conceit of the staff.

Long-term ramifications

All this occurred before my renewal evaluation in December. All these opinions were embedded in the management and head teacher before my renewal.

My contract was not renewed, mainly on the basis of co-worker rapport. The staff let their feelings affect a person's career. Unbelievable. Of course, I hadn't planned to stay for over a year regardless, but to be turned down on the basis of a blog (and letting those feelings alter their judgment about my performance in other areas)... it was a little frustrating.

So where am I now? Writing about AEON on my blog. In the end, they accomplished nothing except giving me fire to fuel the raging debate about working in eikaiwa.

In all honesty, I was never really angry about the company's reaction to my articles. I knew the intent and purpose behind them, and it wasn’t meant to be personal or insulting – just information about working in Japan. There's only so much you can put up with before you decide what will and will not get to you. This was it for me. I just didn't care after that point.

So if AEON had fired me? So what? I could have done a job search and come up with something, or I could have gone home and searched for a job there, after blogging about the events and probably writing a news article for a legitimate media source.

If the staff had tried to make my existence in Japan as uncomfortable as possible? They didn't help, but again, it was impossible to let their behavior throw me off.

What if? What if...? The possibilities are endless. Nothing's changed about corporate responses to blogging – if the information is out there, someone will find it; I mention this because I told no one in the company, foreigner or otherwise, about my blog's URL or name. Be careful, but don't stop writing; you're always helping someone.

The Truth About AEON: Part I
The Truth About AEON: Part II
The Truth About AEON: Part III
The Truth About AEON: Part IV
The Truth About AEON: Part V
The Truth About AEON: Part VI
The Truth About AEON: Part VII

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Self-Sponsored Visa


Image courtesy of frangipani


Thanks to William for sending me this link. It contained some of the most comprehensive information I could find on visa self-sponsorship.

Here are some excerpts:

The Initial Requirements Requested

1. Certificate of "Retirement" [a taishoku-shomeisho 退職証明書] from the last company who sponsored your visa
2. Certificate of Employment from your current companies/agencies (jinbun chishiki kokusai gyomu)
3. Payslips [kyuryo-meisaisho 給料明細書] for the past year
4. Tax forms for the past year
5. Invoices [seikyusho 請求書] for any private students you will be paying tax on (i.e. any agency who will be filling in a Certificate of Employment for you)
6. The Department of Immigration three-page "Application for Extension of Period of Stay" form
7. A cover letter explaining that you are looking for a self-sponsored visa.

They told me there would be a 3 - 4 week wait.

Most importantly, I did get an email that same day from another friend who had applied for a self sponsored visa in December. He was granted a full visa and he only handed in copies of his contracts (and nothing else)!

Amazing - it sounded like I actually had a good chance, like it might actually be quite a reasonably easy process. Just as long as you can prove that you are earning at least 250,000 yen, although I also heard from one source that someone who earned only 220,000 yen received a self-sponsored visa last year. Could be just a rumor though.

...

15 days after I put my self-sponsored visa application in, I received my notification postcard back.

I went to the "approval stamp" counter and waited in line for 20 minutes. The woman took out my folder, glanced inside, asked for the 4000 yen stamp (purchased from the convenience store downstairs), gave me ticket number 32 and asked me to sit down and wait for my number to be called.

15 minutes later, 32 came up. The woman handed me my passport, open at the golden, gleaming new approcal stamp, told me to report my changed status at my ward office and then went back to her paperwork.

That was it. Done. Too easy.



Too easy indeed. Although it does sound like the paperwork can be a hassle, there are some important things to note:

1. Apparently the laws or enforcement of the laws surrounding self-sponsorship are somewhat arbitrary; different paperwork is required depending on the office you go to, the person you talk to, the day you arrive. Just bring everything to be safe.

2. One- and three-year visas are available by the self-sponsorship method. Although you are "self-sponsored", your visa still falls into the category of your job type (i.e. you maintain a "Specialist in Humanities/International Services", or "Entertainment", or "Instructor" visa). The only difference is - no employer backing your paperwork.

3. Even the monthly income requirements seem to be up in the air - between ¥200,000-250,000 minimum, depending on any factors.

4. I'm not entirely certain about obtaining a self-sponsored visa prior to a working visa; it may not be a rule that you have to have worked in Japan before sponsoring yourself, but it may give the bureaucracy the leeway to make you jump through a few hoops.


I'll start gathering my paperwork together and let you know how the process goes. Of course, if I find a suitable sponsor before then... mute point. Any advice? Wish me luck.

In Hiroshima Prefecture, there is a hotline available for those with visa-related issues. Call the Hiroshima International Center at 0120-783-806 or 082-541-3888 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM.


Jobs in Japan self-sponsor information
The best story I've read about self-sponsorship
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan - Visa Information
Gaijinpot Forum - visas

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Recommendation

Arudou-san recently referred me to one of his speeches directed at members of the JET Program in Hokkaido. Ignoring all the references to being trapped in a small, iced-in town up north, I found this was still quite a good read for those living in Japan. The "survival strategies" section in particular was enlightening, and I realized that I was trying to convey about 90% of that in my regular blog entries. Take some time and have a go at it.

Speech to JETs

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

An Interview with Arudou Debito

I found an old interview from March 2006 with Arudou Debito on YouTube, posted by a video blogger who has since repatriated himself:

Yamato Damacy (link is broken for now)


















Points of interest

His description of how he got started in activism was very enlightening; he sounded very humble, in that he was just trying to improve the way of life for people in his position: namely, foreign university professors who were working under 1-3 year contracts and not tenure.


There are five basic tastes the tongue can recognize: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami (旨味, "savory").


http://www.2ch.net/, a Japanese website accused of libel more than once


Cartels of the Mind, by Ivan Hall. A different take on foreigner exclusion in Japan.


A request from victims of discrimination in Japan. I don't know if this case is still active.


The Steve McGowan story


Kathy Morikawa was instrumental in the case ending the fingerprinting of foreigners entering Japan


Debito's answers to the chopsticks question:

- "It's an innate ability, not a skill"

- もちろん, mochiron, "of course"

- "Can you use a knife and fork?"


This was by far the funniest story involving Japan I have ever heard. Around August 2002 a seal washed ashore in Yokohama City. The seal, in a most peculiar place, was adopted by the city and dubbed Tama-chan. Soon after, it was given residency status in Japan.

Legally, foreigners could not obtain a permanent residency certificate. At the time Debito and other activists must have been very curious as to how a sea lion could obtain in a short while what a human living in Japan could never do, if he happened to be born in another country.

To raise awareness of this issue, a small group of foreigners (Debito included) gathered on the same shore that was known to be frequented by Tama-chan, donning black wetsuits, plastic flippers, and drawn-on whiskers, attempting to pass themselves off as seals and obtain residency status.

Full story


Be sure to read the transcript of Debito's recent lucheon at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ) on February 26th, 2007: link

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Is it any wonder...

...that some Japanese people fear the foreign presence in Japan? I've seen my share of hospitality, normality, stares of awe, and some of disregard, but never have I quite encountered those of hatred as I've seen online in recent days. Family Mart, a popular convenience store in Japan, has stocked a rather shocking book on its magazine rack. Let's look at the facts:

January 31st



Family Mart stocks "Gaijin Henzai Ura File", a book that essentially blames all crime and indecent behavior in Japan on foreigners. Not even exclusively Europeans, Americans, or caucasians - it includes Chinese, Africans, Indians... I don't even want one percent of what that book says posted on my site - it doesn't go one sentence without mentioning a racial slur.

Racial slurs in Gaijin Henzai Ura File - in Japanese and English

From accusing black people of raping Japanese girls, to providing bloated statistics of foreign crime in Tokyo, to playing games of hatred like "Catch the Iranian!!", to showing members of the American military robbing taxi drivers, this book is something you might expect to find in the back allies of Japanese culture or on some racially charged internet site. Instead, we see it being offered to the mainstream public in a widely used store.

Official Website by the publisher, Eichi


February 1st

The public responds. Arudou Debito, a foreign resident of Japan living in Hokkaido with comprehensive knowledge of Japanese law as it pertains to outsiders, posts his encounter with the magazine. Japan Probe follows suit.


February 3rd

Japan Probe calls for a worldwide boycott of Family Mart stores and their affiliates, seeking an official apology, removal of the racist book from their shelves, and assurances of no repeat offenses in the future.



Family Mart, in response to written complaints, relents and states it will remove the magazine "within 7 days."


February 4th

Debito posts a boycott letter in both Japanese and English to encourage resident gaikokujin to visit Family Mart stores individually and ask for removal of the magazine.


February 5th

Japan Probe reports that Family Mart has agreed to remove all copies of the magazine immediately.


I personally have not seen this magazine in Hiroshima or Fukuoka Family Mart stores, but will keep a copy of Debito's letter just in case. First of all I'd love to come across a Japanese person reading it casually in Family Mart or on a train and ask them exactly what they think about it.

This story comes on the heels of a recent revelation I had about racism in Japan; it's unique, to be sure. Of course, there are plenty of people with nothing but pure hatred in their hearts, but I would say a lot of racism in Japan is based on ignorance: people who know so little about another culture that they find you to be more of a joke rather than a menace; something to be pitied or laughed at. Unfortunately, this is still racism.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blogging in the Working World



The Foreigner Knows

Prohibition in the United States was repealed on December 5th, 1933, following the ratification of the 21st amendment by the state of Utah. Nevertheless, you should stay sober while reading this blog.


Imagine if you will - an average American Joe worker going about his daily life in the corporate world. Joe wakes up at 6:00 AM, grabs his $8 decaf non-fat latte from Starbucks, and drives towards the cubicle that is both his source of financial security and his reason for seeing a psychologist for the past five years. He does his job well, despite the fact he may have reservations and insecurities at times. He enjoys the company of his co-workers, although he has certain misgivings about them as well. Joe shows respect for his manager, even though at the core, he's the source of all his pain. On this particular morning, after arriving early to enjoy his caffeinated beverage and check his email, Joe's manager calls him into his office, looking rather serious. Reluctantly, he complies.


"Joe, I'm afraid we have to let you go."


Joe is at a loss. He's never been late, never done his job with anything but absolute precision, and has always behaved in an appropriate manner while in the workplace. What could he have done to be fired so unexpectedly?


"It's about your blog..."


Ah, yes, Joe's blog. Although Joe has always acted appropriately and professional while in the work place, in cyberspace, another story is unfolding. What is a blog? According to Dictionary.com, a blog is "an online diary; a personal chronological log of thoughts published on a Web page." Joe's blog definitely meets the definition - on occasion, he gets frustrated at his manager. Rather than express those troubles to the manager directly, he chooses to use a different outlet to vent those feelings: his blog. Why not? After all, a blog is by definition a diary, a collection of opinions, nothing more. Joe feels no sense of shame or betrayal in writing his opinions in his own personal journal. His manager, however, disagrees:


"You mention the company in several of your entries. This will not stand."

"But I don't mention any specific names or classified information about the company. And even if I did, it's freedom of speech, isn't it?"

"No, I'm afraid it isn't, Joe."


15-love to the manager. True, most Americans hold the first amendment as paramount in expressing their beliefs. In public forums, this is accepted whether the message is widely approved of or not. For example, the US is fairly split right now on the Iraq war. Neither side may like what the other says, but we have to respect their right to speak thus. However, as far as the private industry is concerned, the Constitution may as well not apply - they have their own rules, "laws" if you will, concerning public statements. It's really as simple a policy as the one you see in convenience stores - "we have the right to refuse service to anyone." Companies don't have to charge employees with slander, libel, or even prove defamation of the corporate name. If someone thinks you have go, you go. This is a point of contention still under review, as blogs are relatively new.

But does this apply to blogs? Although Joe is in America, his blog isn't anywhere - it's in cyberspace, hosted from one server to the next across three continents. Could one argue since his message isn't being "broadcast" in America, that he's free to say whatever he likes? What right does the company have to censor him? In some cases there are actually clauses you sign in your employment contract to not cause damage to the reputation of the company. Regardless of where the information is coming from, the source is still 100% Joe. Be careful to read the fine print.

So what exactly caused this dismissal? Publishing information that would be crucial to stockbrokers? New management, or a corporate merger? No... interoffice politics. Breakdowns in communication between Joe and his manager and co-workers, ones that he feels angry enough to warrant a few blog write-ups. Does this affect his behavior or performance in the workplace? No... and yet it's enough cause for him to be fired.

Although this is still a grey area in corporate policy, what executives need to understand is that there is no difference between blogging and writing in a journal at home. Now, I know some people disagree with that statement, but there really isn't. Bloggers aren't accredited or acknowledged authorities (well, most of them, anyway) on anything - they are simply people with opinions. You don't have to read them, you don't have to look at them. If you are a higher-up, and know an employee with a blog talking about you specifically, ignore it. The worst thing you can possibly do is bring it up in the workplace, because you make it a work-related issue, not the blogger. You bring it into the light, not the blogger. If you don't want to make the blog an issue, leave it be. It's just yet another opinion about your company on the internet, among thousands of others. All the blogger wants to do is write his opinions in peace. The blogger is perfectly content to continue venting his frustrations, rather than having them affect his performance in the workplace.

What's the best thing to do after you've been fired due to blogging? Keep blogging. In all likelihood the termination will spread like wildfire among your co-workers, contacts, and news organizations alike. There have been cases where decent bloggers have been offered book deals to discuss their experiences with blogging in the workplace.

If this isn't for you, and you don't feel like making a stand, there is no shame. You need to support yourself with a steady job, and a blog just isn't worth the risk. There isn't a firm across-the-board policy on bloggers as of yet, and until there is, we may expect to see many more terminations and lawsuits. If you want to express your opinions but are worried about retaliation, here are some tips (although employers find ways around these too):

1. Remove all references of the company's name and purpose

2. Lie or be ambiguous about your location

3. Don't use your real name, and especially don't use your last name

4. Don't mention any contact with co-workers or managers


For more information, see the following:

Blogger's Rights
Legal Guide for Bloggers
Dooced


Japan has its advantages. Learn about them from me. Mata ne.

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