I remember seeing comedian Andrew Maxwell in Vicar Street a few years ago, and he was taking the piss out of the amount of Polish immigrants working in Ireland at the time.
"The Polish LOVE working, don't they?! Just love it! Any work they can get. They just bloody love working," he said, or something similar, which made me laugh at the time. It's been floating around my head for the last few days, except now I just substitute "Polish" with "Japanese". While he was saying it with tongue firmly in cheek, because the Polish were all slaving away to send money home to family or just save, and not really for the love of it, the Japanese really just generally seem to like work.
Here they have a completely different attitude to what I know. The concept of TGIF doesn't really exist; people don't complain about work and similarly, don't seem to understand when we foreign folk complain about being tired or working hours or anything labour-related. It's just in our blood to complain about working really I think and who would question tradition?
It's a good thing really. Complaining is a bit of a waste of time. Also, the Japanese take pride in any work, no matter what kind it may be. No grumpy checkout staff at the supermarket or bored bitchy old women at the post office - everything is done with a smile.
It's just that sometimes, it's work for the sake of work. The cleaning staff come into our little two person office twice a day to empty the bin and to meticulously clean the whiteboard that has not been used since the last time it was cleaned. Head office staff from Tokyo come to observe our classes, arriving on campus at 8am (classes start at 9.10) and staying around til after 6, even if they only have to watch one 40 minute class. They seem to just create work for themselves to do and prolong meetings with lots of awkward silences, and head back to Tokyo late, meaning they don't get home til after 9pm. Then they work on Saturdays and Sundays, when they could probably get it all done during the week with a bit of thinking.
The post office here doubles up as the main bank and sending money home to my Irish bank account took far longer than was necessary because it was all done on paper with carbon copies. When I had to go back to give them another code, it took them ten minutes to find my file because they had to dig through a mountain of paper. This is Japan - the country people associate with high speed technology and digital everything - and the national post office and bank are still working by carefully printing everything character by character on paper. It's nuts.
The problem is when foreign folk like us work for a Japanese company like mine. I've been finished work for two hours and here I am, with another hour and a half on the clock. There is genuinely nothing else I can do today. One of my superiors came in a while ago and I didn't even bother to hide the fact that I was reading the news. I work 45 hours a week and teach 8 of those hours, with maybe two more hours of tutor type classes on top of that. I still have to sit here for the rest of the time, hence the aforementioned creeping insanity. My colleague had a fall two weeks ago on her way to work - didn't get the day off, even though she had to go to the hospital to get stitches and the dentist because she chipped her tooth - and is now having ongoing dental work, twice a week, from 7pm - 9pm because they won't let her leave an hour early, despite having nothing to do.
This might just be my company who are, on the whole, a bit bonkers.
Generally, though, it does seem like they could be a bit more efficient. Sometimes there are lots of people doing one person's job. Then, on Saturday, we get on this one-man train (quite poetic but it is actually called that) where one dude drives the train, then stops, opens up the window into the carriage, takes everyone's fares, keeps an eye to make sure no one's hopping off, legs it on to every platform and into an office to collect something, gets back in, sticks his head out the window to check the coast is clear and gets back to driving.
What's becoming clear about Japan is that it is very advanced in many ways, but seriously backwards in others, like this, and womens' attitudes like I've said before. What's also becoming clear is that to travel here is one amazing, must-do experience; to work here is something entirely different.