Friday, January 29, 2010

Culture Clash: The Japanese Bureacracy (FoF)

I was none too thrilled by the way the big wigs handled the dissemination of information after the recent death of a colleague. They decided to just not tell us.

Why should THEY need to tell us? Well, out here, we live pretty far apart. My prefecture is huge, so it takes 4 hours by train to get to the furthest parts. And heaven forbid you live in a area not serviced by a train line. Most of us don't have another foreigner living nearby, and it's possible to go weeks and months even without seeing the others. In fact, there were some people who I only saw once all last year.

So if anything were to happen to someone, there'd be no way for anyone else to know. Except that in Japan, your office is like your family, and if anything happens that's who they contact. If you have a car accident, you have to apologise to your employer. Crazy, right?

So anyhow, they decided not to tell us.

I was at my neighbour's house. The 4 foreigners in my town (3 JETs and one wife) get together every week and have a WII night. A little after 10 pm, my neighbour, C signed on to facebook to send a message to my other neigbour who'd just left. T messages him. "Have you seen Rodger's facebook status? It says he's dead."

"What? That's gotta be some strange kind of joke." -C
"It would be an awful joke to play though. Since he's in Japan and all his friends are back in America." -me

I call B. He's a Prefectural Advisor (PA). If something happened he will know about it. But B doesn't pick up. Next idea, call M, because he lives in Hanamaki. But I don't have M's number so I call D. I don't tell D what's going on. I don't want to freak him out, especially if it is some warped joke. He gives me M's number and I call.

"Have you heard anything strange about Rodger?"
"No. Why?"
"His facebook says he's dead."

M starts a mini-freak out and decides to go over there, because he only lives 5 minutes away.

My phone rings. It's D. M called him freaked. I tell him what's on Rodger's facebook. I tell him I called B, but he didn't answer and I don't have the other two PAs' numbers. He says he has A's number and he's going to call her. He hangs up.

M calls me back. There are no lights on and no answer at Rodger's. But it is almost 11 on a weeknight. He could just be asleep. His phone beeps. He says he'll call me back.

M calls back. It's true. A confirmed it. He sounds shook up. Apparently another (young) friend of his also died recently. He also has a message to keep it under wraps til the big wigs announce it. Under wraps? It's on facebook!

I nod to my two neighbours as I talk to M. We hang up.

My phone rings. It's B.

"I just wanted to check about Rodger. I found it."

"Please don't spread it around. I wanted to tell you guys today, but-"

Yeah, I know. In Japan the company comes first. They probably had to notify all the way to the Japanese Minister of Education, before we could be told.

I tell him okay, but remind him it's on facebook.

The next day we get a message giving the details that the prefecture had.

He became ill in the middle of the night, and died early the next morning in a hospital in nearby Kitakami.

I was pretty angry at the Japanese system that day. I thought I understood the differences between cultures because of my languages. But the difference between Francophone or Hispanophone culture and Anglophone is like the hole in a toilet paper roll. And the difference between Japanese and Anglophone cultures is like the Grand Canyon!

The whole day I kept thinking how horrible it must have been for M, getting a call after 10pm to go check if his neighbour's dead. And D, who really had nothing to do with the whole thing, except I need M's number. I was glad our other neighbour had gone home and hadn't had to go through the saga with us.

By the way, I'm in the capital tonight and I ran into B, and he told me the cause of death was on his youtube page: acute pancreatitis. I felt sorry for B. In his position he deals with all these confidential things on his own. It must be very lonely being a PA. :(

And then, on top of regular confidentiality, having to deal with the Japanese madness...

Anyhow, here's the second instalment of Iwate Swan, as promised.

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