Monday, December 14, 2009

Geniuses, Fanatics and Comedians only!

Turns out Japan isn't as open for foreigners as even I had thought. I took part in a careers fair last month. There I heard the international outreach chap from a supposedly internationally-minded university proudly proclaim that 4% of its staff are foreigners, 50% of whom are language teachers (so have no job security), and the other 50% are "permanent", where those who can't pass the standard written exam (in Japanese) are still called permanent but are actually on short-term contracts. Wow... (BTW "short term" in Japan means your contract may be terminated at the end of each year for no reason).

The fair had presentations from 5 people who had been sort of successful in Japan. Two had survived in Japanese companies and were clearly exceptional individuals, having reached full proficiency in Japanese in a single year as well as excelling at their jobs. What about mere mortals? The three researchers were slightly less remarkable individuals. One guy had risen to the heady heights of a boss at RIKEN, a place like JAMSTEC, running a group that was at least 50% foreign. Well done him. Another was a recently employed Assistant Professor who had landed his job after a postdoc in Japan, after some superhumanly persistent networking. The other one was ... me! Here's my talk. Preparing for this event I thought I'd worked out how we have survived in Japan: there are two of us which enables survival in a pincer movement kind of a way. But while giving the talk I discovered the real reason we are still here. As I spoke, the Europeans laughed politely in a kind of "Ah, British humour - must adjust brain to understand - 'ha ha ha'" way, while the Japanese in the front row were doubled-up guffawing into their face-masks and, despite all the odd things I'd said, greeted me afterwards with happy smiles and teasing comments.

General Douglas MacArthur may have called the Japanese a nation of 12 year olds, but I suspect he never managed to make any of them laugh.


EliRabett said...

Interesting, Eli can make Chinese scientists laugh (and visa versa), but Japanese, not so much. YMOV

Deep Climate said...

Well you made melaugh!

Promoted each time the laboratory changes its name?

That stuff is gold - gold, I tell you!

But second level points need different bullets.

Bart Verheggen said...


Then you haven't been to a Karaoke bar with a bunch of Japanese.