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Monday, February 20, 2017

Better Never Late Than Ever

In Japan, society as a whole appreciates and expects conformity... especially when it comes to being on time for things.

Whether it's work, enkai/party, a date, it's train, subway and bus systems, punctuality is key.

It all comes down to the Japanese belief in wa (aka harmony).

And, it actually comes down to wa/harmony in work.

The trains, subways and buses all run to the second of being on time to their prescribed schedules - it's one of those great things about Japan.

You can expect a train to arrive at the station when the schedule says it will, and you can expect to arrive at your destination when you should... allowing you to accurately assure your day runs smoothly - especially necessary when it is time to get to work.

Work is one of those things that the Japanese expect - no demand - its employees be on time for... and the only time you can NOT set your clock, is for when it is time to leave... as you are expected to leave AFTER the boss leaves to show your dedication to the cause... to work... to the family that are your co-workers... to show wa.

This past Sunday morning, we (the family) were late for a hockey game my son was playing in.

My wife had received an e-mail back in January detailing a change in schedule... from a 10:50AM start, to an 8:30AM start.

So imagine my surprise when my wife smacked me over the head at 8:15AM to scream at me that we were late and that I had screwed up the times and we had to go now.

Turns out she was the only one who knew about the time change, and had forgotten to mention to anyone else. And this is hockey... where you have to dress up in a lot of gear... so we did.

While it was Hudson's turn to be in net (he alternates with the head coach's kid), I assumed that since we were late that his boy would be dressed for goalie... so we had Hudson put on his forward's gear.

We arrive 10 minutes late (me... I'm the assistant coach - so everyone assumes this was my fault)... find out that no one is playing goalie, so Hudson has to rip off the forward equipment and put on the goalie gear... making us miss nearly the first half of the game.

Strangely enough, the score is 0-0 by the time Hudson gets in net... and we eventually win 3-1.

I'm never late for anything. It's something I have taken great pains to ensure never happens... and when something unforeseen like this... or bad traffic makes me late... well... I'm just plain embarrassed... and angry at myself for having let everyone down.

This is the concept of Japanese wa. It is something I was doing even before I went to Japan.

In Japan... I was never ever late... it just makes you look bad.

There is NO excuse for it... especially in Japan where you take a bus, train or subway or bicycle or walk to work. Cars - I just assume everyone leaves early enough to give them enough time to assure themselves of not being late - but I don't know.

All the people in Japan I know who drove... they didn't have to drive within a big city like Tokyo or Osaka... they were small town people going to their small town jobs. No problem with traffic.


I can recall having to ride my bicycle 10 kilometers in a harsh February wind that was bone-chilling as it blew into my face the entire way... wiping my runny nose with one hand as I steered the bike along the busy sidewalk dodging other bicycle riders and pedestrians... my very dark RayBan sunglasses on making it difficult to see things in the near dark, but a necessary evil to keep the cold wind from tearing my eyes, which would have made the drive even more perilous as I would have to make sure I didn't wipe frozen snot into my peepers.

I can recall arriving at Nozaki Chu Gakko (Nozaki Junior High School) in Ohtawara-shi (Ohtawara City), Tochigi-ken (Tochigi Prefecture) that first morning when I rode in... and the Principal coming out - not to see if I was okay, but to ensure that I... the gaijin-no-sensei (the foreign teacher) was on time... talking to me after school that he was very happy I was able to have made it on time to work that day.

He says he hears from many other principals at different cities how the foreigner teachers are not always as conscientious about their work.

You'll notice that in this case, "my work" had nothing to do with my "output" rather it had everything to do with appearances.

If I could show up for work late, I would be setting a bad example to the other teachers... and even though I never considered myself to be a teacher, the Japanese school system did in this instance.

See... it doesn't matter to them if you are Japanese or a foreigner... punctuality means something.

I was thanked for showing up on time... which was appreciated, but also insulting... but I guess some of my fellow foreigner teachers had helped hurt their wa with their schools... meaning they had helped hurt the wa achieved by others who dared be on time.

Wa affects everyone like one large butterfly effect. 

The following is just for those involved in the teaching profession... because the "foreigners" I know in other jobs do so in the Japanese manner.

Conversely... they know that since you are a foreigner... and do not have to work as late as your Japanese counterparts... you aren't marking tests or creating them.... you aren't creating detailed work plans in Japanese... and they are also aware that you work your 9 to 5 routine, five days a week - not having to coach or teach a club activity.

As well, they know you do not have to come in on Saturdays to work half-a-day. And then teach a club activity.

Of course... you are welcome to teach a club activity... but only if the coach says it's okay and you really, really know your stuff... because the last thing you want to do is destroy the club/team's wa.

As a junior high school AET (assistant English teacher) on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme... you can understand WHY I never thought of myself as a teacher... and certainly not on par with my fellow JTEs (Japanese teachers of English)... I didn't put in the same amount of work as the Japanese... I merely did what was expected of me as a foreigner... except for being punctual.

So... my advice to any of you who are living and working in Japan at this time or are thinking about it - never, ever, ever be late for work.

It's just not wa.

Andrew Joseph
PS: If you don't think the butterfly effect is valid, consider Chaos theory (as explained in Jurassic Park)... which is the same thing... 

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