Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Favourite Customer - First Encounter

During my time working at Softbank, I met quite a few different people. Most were just ordinary folks you wouldn't really remember, but there were some that stuck in my memory. Today, I'd like to introduce one such customer.

It was fairly early on in my time at the store - around the end of September, I believe - when the man I have since dubbed my "favourite customer" (I never learned his name) first spoke to me. He was a middle aged man of average height, wearing a grey coat and a wool hat. (He would always wear this hat every time he showed up in the store, for reasons which will be made clear in due time.)

He asked me: "What can you tell me about the iPhone 5?"

Something that will always ensure this man's place in my memory is the fact that he, despite being Japanese, spoke to me in perfect English, with only the slightest trace of an accent. I imagine he has live abroad for quite some time.

I, having little to no interest in phones and gadgets, and still being quite new at the job, did my best to explain some of the key features of the new model. I mentioned how it was faster, slimmer, had lots of new features compared to the older models, but he didn't seem very impressed. He took out his own phone, an older iPhone model, and asked me what model it was. Since I had no idea, I guessed randomly:
"An iPhone 4?" He shook his head.
"Ah, is it the first one then?"
Again he shook his head, and grinned.
"No. You've got it all wrong!"
By now, I was getting a strange feeling that this man was testing me. For some reason, I thought he may have been sent by Softbank to test new employees on their knowledge of the products we sold. Nonetheless, I instinctively bowed and apologized, to which he said:
"Don't bow to me. We are speaking English, so it is weird to bow."
"Sorry", I said. "It just comes naturally, with this kind of job."
"How long have you worked here?"
"Just a few weeks."
"So, you're going to be here for a long time?"
"I don't know. For a year, at least. Then we'll see."
"But you do not know much about cell phones." It was a statement, not a question.
It was true.
"No. But I'll just have to learn."
He looked at me and said, with a serious voice.
"Learning something that you don't know is a great thing." He nodded a few times, then continued:
"I think you will make a lot of money. Then, you can do whatever you want."
Then he said goodbye and left, just as suddenly as he had appeared.

This was my first meeting with my favourite customer. I was almost sure that he was some sort of instructor from Softbank at the time, but I would soon learn the true nature of this unusual man. And so will you, if you stick around to read it.

Have a good day!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I have only cried once upon checking my e-mail inbox. This happened on the 6th of February 2013, the day I found out that I had got a new job.

Yes, the patent office I mentioned in my previous post decided to hire me as a translator. When I read that mail, I burst into joyful tears and danced around my apartment. At last, my worries were over. At last my life could begin anew.

From the day I found out I was going to be fired from Softbank until the day I received that mail, it had felt as if my life was on pause. As if I was not really living, but merely existing, trying to find a way to truly live again. And finally, that day had come.

So, I moved from Kyoto to Gifu, got myself settled into my new apartment, and then started on my new job. Life was good once again. And it still is. Since the beginning of March this year, I have been working as a translator at this patent office in Gifu, and I am really enjoying myself.

This concludes the brief sum-up of what's been going on in my life since my last post in May 2012. There are still quite a few interesting episodes to be told, and I think I'll reach into my vault of memories and retell some of them when I get in the mood.

Well, that's all for today. Until next time, have a good day!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Job Hunt 2: Electric Boogaloo

As the clock struck twelve on the 31st of December 2012, I wondered what the new year would hold. With a few job interviews lined up and a half-formed plan to move from Kyoto to Nagoya, things seemed like they might be all right after all.

Winter in Japan is very cold. Sure, it may not differ that much from Sweden in terms of outdoor temperature, but what makes Japanese winter so awful is the fact that the inside of the houses get freezing cold as well. So I basically had to wear several layers of clothes on indoors as well as outdoors. Great.

In any case, my first interview was at a kindergarten which held all its lessons in English. With no experience working with young children (2-6 years old), the head teacher asked me to come and try working there for two days, to see how I handled the kids. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. The kids were really energetic and cheerful, and it was a lot of fun. What really surprised me was how good they were at English. They could speak pretty well for such young children. I guess it's true that the younger you are, the easier it is to learn stuff.

But in the end, working as a kindergarten teacher isn't for me. Not that I don't like kids, I just can't bring myself to be as strict as you need to be to keep them in line sometimes. Oh well...

Next up was a written exam, called SPI, which is yet another workplace aptitude test that the Japanese seem to adore so much. It didn't go well. I am absolutely terrible at maths, and that test was chock full of it.

My next interview was at a paralegal office specializing in patents and trademarks in Gifu, the town I had lived and studied in together with my friends back in 2010. They were looking for a translator, and I got to do a trial translation for them following the interview. On the whole, it felt like it went pretty well.

January drew to a close, and February came along. By now, I had decided to move out of Kyoto. I wanted to relocate to the area around Nagoya, to be closer to my girlfriend. My money was slowly running out, though. The last pay check from Softbank came in the end of January, and after that I was on my own.
I had set up a time limit for myself. If I couldn't find a job by the end of February, I would give up and go back to Sweden. With the pressure rising every day, I kept on applying for jobs, and waited for any mail of phone call from the companies I had been interviewed at.
Time was running short...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Once more a NEET

So, I left off around the part where I needed to secure my working visa to be able to work full time at Softbank. Let's see how all that went, shall we?

Upon receiving the news that I needed a bunch of additional documents, including papers from my home university which proved I had a degree, I got busy. I mailed my professor and the graduation department and managed to file an application for graduation. Now all I had to do was wait for it to be finished and they would mail it to me by e-mail. So I waited. September gave way to October, I celebrated my birthday despite the anxiety that was starting to build up again, and October eventually turned to November. During this time, my boss frequently asked me about my visa status and when he should expect me to be done with it. I kept telling him "soon" and prayed that I would get my visa quickly.

At this point, I am sure you may have asked yourself: "Did he get the visa or not?" Worry not, dear reader; in the end, I did indeed get it. As it turned out, though, that was only the start of my problems...

Looking back, I suppose it was no surprise that I was fired from Softbank. I had not told them anything about how long it would take to get the working visa, mostly because I myself was not aware of all the facts. My preparations had been insufficient, in other words. But it was still quite a shock that November evening when my boss told me to stay behind after work for a meeting. I was unsure of what the meeting was going to be about, but I did not even imagine what was about to happen. My boss, the store manager and I sat down in a small meeting room, and they told me what was up. "You still haven't gotten your visa, and quite frankly, your performance here has not been good enough to warrant waiting any more. There are plenty of others who are eager to work here, and hiring one of them instead of you would be much more economical for us."

And so, just like that, I was without a job. They didn't kick me out right away, though. I was to keep working until the end of the year, and then quit. After getting over the initial shock of this notice, I concluded that my only option now was to brush up my CV, wait until I got my visa, and then start job hunting again.
A few weeks later, I received a notice in the mail saying that my visa application had been approved, and that I could come pick up my new Residence Card at the immigration office. This news made me leap with joy. At least now I had a fighting chance. With a working visa, there was no reason for companies to hesitate about hiring me. Armed with this new hope, and a do-or-die determination to fight until the end, I greeted the end of the year, and said goodbye to my job at Softbank. My time spent Not in Employment, Education or Training was about to begin.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Unforeseen Developments

So, with the promise of a job in Japan, I was once more invigorated. I immediately began looking for a new place to live, and found a nice apartment not too far from Kyoto Station. Then, after a brief visit to my home town back in Sweden, I returned to Kyoto once again to start my new life.

The first thing I did, as any responsible foreigner looking to stay for a long time in Japan should do, was to go to the immigration office and apply for a working visa. Having given them all the documents they asked for, I went to check out my new home. It was small, yes, but big enough for me. My girlfriend came over and helped me get some necessities like a frying pan, plates, chopsticks, a desk etc.

Then came the first day of work, or rather, training. Perhaps it is appropriate to explain my job in further detail here. In short terms, I would work as a salesperson in an electronics store. This entails approaching potential customers and try to make a sale, provide information about our goods and services, and register the customers' cell phone contracts. Having little interest in technological gadgets, not to mention cell phones, this was all very new to me, and quite daunting. Being an introvert, having to talk to dozens of strangers everyday, and at the same time be cheerful and try to persuade them into buying something, sounded downright scary to me. But, a job is a job, I thought, and decided to do my best.

So, after four days of training, learning everything about price plans and phone specs, I finally arrived at the shop. My co-workers gave me a warm welcome, and I thought this might be pretty nice after all. And so my days working at Softbank began. Let me tell you, working in retail is tough. Extra tough in Japan, I would imagine. If you've ever been to almost any store in Japan, you know how polite and proper the sales staff behave. There is a strong focus on correct behaviour and respect for the customer, and usage of proper respectful language. Couple this with the fact that I as the only western employee stood out like a sore thumb, and you can imagine the pressure I feel. Like I am constantly being watched.

Be that as it may, the work seemed fun at first. A lot of the customers took an interest in me when I talked to them, and many of them were surprised that I could speak Japanese so well. There were also many foreign customers, and a lot of them seemed very relieved to get assistance in English, since most of the Japanese staff could not speak English very well.

The first shocking news arrived a few days after work had begun. Upon returning home one day, I found an envelope from the immigration office in my mail box. The letter inside informed me that I needed to provide them with additional documents in order to get my visa application approved. Among the necessary documents were my diploma from Lund University, Sweden. The problem? I had not yet officially graduated. The bigger problem? Receiving my diploma would take ten weeks. Far longer than the immigration office was willing to wait. Devastated at first, I could feel the world crumble around me. But, I refused to give up. Maybe I would still be able to get my working visa after all. At the moment, I was only legally able to work three days a week, and my boss had already expressed impatience with this. I explained to him that I needed to gather a few more papers before I could get the visa and start working full time, and he told me to hurry up as much as possible.

And so, my struggle to secure my place in Japanese society had begun.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Up to Speed

Hi everyone!

As promised, I'm going to tell about what I have been doing in the time between May 2012 and now. A lot of things have happened, so I will probably have to split this up in several posts. Well then, let's get started!

As you may remember, I was studying as an exchange student in Kyoto, Japan last year. (See the archive for more details on that) While studying, I used my spare time to look for a job, since I really wanted to live in Japan after graduating. May made way for June, and the weather got hotter every day, and I felt more and more desperate. There had to be a job for me somewhere out there, there simply had to!

I still managed to enjoy my time at the university, learning lots of interesting new things, hanging out with my friends and meeting my girlfriend every now and then. In the beginning of June I went back to Gifu to visit the new students at the summer school, and was overcome by intense nostalgia when I once again set foot in the dormitory where I had spent the best summer of my life two years earlier. It was nice to meet the new Swedish people, and my two friends who were studying at Gifu University at the time.

July came, and the heat became almost unbearable, as did my nerves. Still no job offer in sight, I was ready to give up and go home. And that's when it happened. I got an interview at Softbank, one of the three major cell phone companies in Japan. The following day, they called me and told me I was to start working in September.

For a moment, I was stunned. Just like that, I had a job. Of course, I was ecstatic about the future now, and I graduated from Ritsumeikan University feeling happy and enthusiastic.

Little did I know of the trials that still lay ahead...