Based on my stat counter plugged into my blog profile, it looks as though I'm becoming something of an odd phenominon in Japan. I am not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but since I used to work for a Japanese company, I must somehow assume it's related.
I'll never forget working at that company. Most of the people in the office were Japanese with the exception of a french woman married to a Japanese man and who spoke 5 languages fluently, and my immediate boss, who was Gaijin like me.
When I applied for the job, right off the bat I got along with the woman who would turn out to be my boss. She valued the opinion of the french woman highly though. The french woman, an adorable gal by the name of Aurelie, could read people by their shoes. Imagine that - I wonder where I got the idea from a few years later. She took one look at the lovely little black peep-toe sling backs I had on and knew right off the bat that she liked me. I got the job.
My boss turned out to be one of the neatest people I ever worked for. She was funny and brilliant, though she rarely gave herself the credit she deserved. She took me under her wing and taught me anything I could absorb. Other than a brief period of being burned out and growing lazy because of it, I worked very hard for her. That one period of growing lazy eventually was realized though, and by then it was too late. I had screwed things up royally.
I did work hard though. I learned not only my job, but parts of the Japanese language. I would ask someone for a new word every day. They would teach me and I would practice all day long. I would write it on a sticky note and tack it to the edge of my computer screen. Before long, I had my numbers 1-10 memorized and many of the polite words needed to greet others any time of the day. I didn't tell anyone, but I was getting to where I could understand it more than I could speak it. Even now I can pick up on a conversation and know exactly what is being talked about, even if it's not exactly what is being said.
I made decent money and was proud. For the first time in my life, I could afford my own place (albeit with a roommate) and I fully supported myself. I didn't have to rely or depend on anyone but myself. It was a feeling of liberation. I owed that all to the wonderful Japanese company I so dearly loved working for.
Eventually I moved up from being the phone receptionist and took over the National Sales when my boss Michele went out on maternity leave. I would travel from coast to coast, doing dealer visits, product training and trade shows. I very much enjoyed it, but while I was working for the company I met Pete. He and I started to get more serious, and eventually I couldn't see spending that much time traveling anymore, no matter how much I loved it.
When the job offer came in for me to make nearly double what I was making for the Japanese company, I couldn't afford not to take it. Unfortunately, the job didn't work out and I was let go within the first 30 days of employment. Certainly my old company wouldn't take me back and I didn't blame them a bit. There I was, having moved in with Pete 2 days before, and suddenly going from making TONS of money to not having a job at all.
I learned a valuable lesson about loyalty from that brief bit of history. The Japanese people and company are highly loyal and honerable. I wasn't loyal to them in return, and I missed out on something really great. Though I do get paid better NOW than I got paid in 2006 working for them, I miss the culture of the place. I miss the language lessons, the traveling, the kindness, respect and loyalty they all showed to me. I miss Mr. Katayama coming over from Japan for his visits and always wanting to sit next to me at the dinner meetings. I miss Mr. Nishikawa and his kind words. I miss Mrs. Kawano and her angelic face, her sugary voice. I miss Aurelie and her lovely french accent. Most of all I miss Michele. She really was a great boss.
I aspire to be like Michele with the way I run my crew now. She shared a few lessons with me that I'll not easily forget. I adored her and her quirky personality. She had a lovely smile that would light up the room as soon as she shared it. She only had a couple of employees and I have 12 now, but the fact remains that she taught me how to run things.
Probably my favorite story though of working for the Japanese company happened when Michele was out on leave. Nobody was in the office when I returned from lunch and I was left pondering the vacant offices around the hexigon building. I made my way over to my office and sat down. Still wondering where everyone was, I stood up again and poked my head out of the door. Just then Mrs. Kawano came scampering in like a little mouse from the warehouse out back.
"Amanda-san! Amanda-san, ah, we need your help!"
First of all, calling ANY female by name with the added 'san' at the end is a term of extreme respect. I was called Amanda-san by almost everyone in the office, with the exception of the company president and the American born Japanese guy, Mr. Ikeda, who had the office next to mine.
Mr. Ikeda, Mrs. Nakamura and Mr. Masaki were all waiting for me in the warehouse. Mrs. Kawano lead the way to a closed door in the back. When she opened the heavy wooden door on the groaning hinges, it opened into a pitch black room with a vague, distant light shining somewhere in the depths.
As I stepped inside the room, my eyes adjusted to three different lights, shining at white pieces of paper all the way against the back wall of the room. I walked over, slowly.
"Mrs. Kawano," I asked, "What is this?"
"We, ah, need your help. We have brown eye," she said, pointing at her own eyes with an extended finger. Her freshly manicured hand smelled like kiwi melon. "You," she said, pointing at me, "have blue eye." Still confused over everything except what color our eyes were, I arched one eyebrow and scrunched the other to look closer at her. What was I missing? She continued, pointing to the lights on the back wall. "Ah, what color is light?"
"What color is, ah, light?"
"Which one?" There were three lights shining on white pieces of paper against the back wall. Which one of the three was she talking about? As far as I could tell, all three were slightly different shades of color.
"Any," she said.
"Well," I started slowly. Mr. Masaki looked at me, holding one of the lights up and waiting. Mr. Ikeda and Mrs. Nakamura almost appeared to be holding their breath. "That one Mr. Masaki is holding looks slightly more blue, and Mr. Ikeda's looks like a normal white color. But Mrs. Nakamura's light looks a little yellow."
"AAAHHH!!" Mrs. Kawano exclaimed. "Thank you Amanda-san! So we, ah, all have same eyes!"
"Mrs. Kawano, what are you talking about?" She had clearly established already that my eyes were blue and hers were brown. How could that be related to her statement saying we had the same eyes?
"All of us have, ah, brown eye. We didn't know, ah, if you would see Mr. Masaki's light as, ah, more blue than the other," she paused, "because you have, ah, blue eye."
I pondered over this odd hypothesis they had collectively come up with for the rest of the afternoon and failed by the end of the day to make sense of the whole thing.