Uniquely Japanese Job Interview Questions

On the surface, Japanese job interviews are a lot like Western ones, and the interviewers ask you the regular questions about where you worked before, your strengths and weaknesses, and the reason you applied for the job. But there are also a good number of questions that you’d probably never hear in other countries. When I changed jobs recently, I noticed that a lot of the questions I got asked dealt with how I felt about living and working in Japan, rather than focusing on my qualifications for the job. When Japanese companies hire a non-Japanese staff member, they’re often worried about whether the person will fit in with their coworkers, so there tend to be a lot of “Do-you-like-Japan?” type questions that are a really important part of their decision.

I think that there are two main things employers are worried about in Japan: 1) Is the person going to get along with his/her Japanese coworkers and not cause friction? and 2) Is the person going to stick around? When they ask you about what you like about Japan, what you think about working at a Japanese company, etc. they want to hear how much you know about Japanese business culture and make sure that you’re not going to head back to your home country in six months. Foreigners who have alienated all their Japanese coworkers, and people disappearing back to their home countries are huge problems, so it’s really important to convince a potential employer that you’re going to be able to get along with people and that you’re going to be around long enough to make it worth their while hiring and training you.
When I was helping do interviews at my old company, I sometimes heard  people saying they came to Japan because they wanted to date Japanese women or that something to keep in mind when working at a Japanese company is that Japanese people are uncreative. Obviously, this kind of answer isn’t going to make a good impression on a potential employer.

Below are some questions that often get asked at Japanese job interviews, sample answers, and important points to remember when answering. I don’t know if the answers are great or not, but I got a job in quite a competitive situation recently, so I hope  they’re at least worth reading.

Q. What do you think is important for foreigners to keep in mind when working at a Japanese company? Read the rest of this entry »

Firefighters’ Ladder Tricks at the Takao Spring Festival

I’ve been wanting to see one of these performances of traditional fire-fighting techniques for years, but I always seem to miss them. Last weekend, I finally got to take one in at Mt. Takao’s Spring Festival, and it was really impressive.
Back in the Edo Period (1603-1868), fires were a huge problem in Japan. In Tokyo, they were called the Edo no Hana (flowers of Edo), and could kill tens of thousands of people and burn large sections of the city.
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The pole with the white strips on it (below) is called a matoi, and it is actually a fire-fighting device. It would be soaked in water, and the firefighters would spin it around, and the spraying water and fan-effect would put out the flames or stop them from spreading. They are extremely heavy, and the operators, called matoi-mochi were the strongest men in the unit. They would line up on the edge of the roof and one man would weild it until he was exhausted or succumbed to smoke inhalation, and then the next man would take over.
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The men who held  the ladders were called hashigo-mochi. The poles they carried were called tobiguchi, and here are being used to support the ladder. Modern firefighters try to put out fires, but in the Edo Period, the main work was done by tobi ninsoku, demolition experts, whose job was to use tobiguchi and other tools to destroy nearby buildings, creating firebreaks so that the flames would not spread.

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These poses on the ladders aren’t just for show. They were used to let the other firefighters know about wind direction and progress of the fire so that the men below could decide where to build firebreaks and fight the flames most effectively.takao-fireman3

If you look carefully, you’ll notice that this guy has a rope around his right foot.

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The Takao Festival is held on the third Sunday in April every year. There is a parade of children in Heian Period costumes that starts from the ropeway station near the top of the mountain at 11:00. The ladder display starts at 12:00 at Yakuoin Temple. To get to Mt. Takao, take the Keio Line to Takao-san guchi (be careful because JR Takao Station is pretty far from the trail heads).

Tokyo’s most famous firefighting festival is called the Dezome-shiki, and is held every year on January 6. It has all kinds of high-tech fire-fighting equipment, a demonstration by an elite fire-fighting squad, as well as traditional ladder skills: http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a02_fes_dezome.html
There’s a video of the Dezome-shiki at: http://samuraidave.wordpress.com/category/hikeshi/. The ladder tricks start at about 2:20 into the video.
I found a very interesting-looking book called Taiho-jutsu: Law and Order in the Age of the Samurai online. You can read a very interesting explanation of firefighting in the Edo Period at: http://books.google.com/books?id=g5BP7DGuNFsC&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=edo+firefighters+ladder&source=bl&ots=s28Zqo2lWb&sig=9EKpL0TC_OltZuXM1v1glr9CIZ4&hl=en&ei=bybzSZaAPNKLkAXWy933Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7#PPA13,M1

Professional taxi hailer

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Despite the recession, Japanese companies continue to employ armies of useless people. Elevator girls, crossing guards at places with street lights, and human pylons waving people around construction sites are just a few of the incredibly easy jobs you can get in Japan.

The guy in this picture is a taxi hailer. He waits at a taxi stand and guides people into their taxis. It looks like he’s opening the door for a passenger, but actually all the taxi doors in Japan are operated by the driver, so he just puts his hand on it as it swings open.

Professional baby namer

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The sign on this Osaka business says Akachan no nazuke (Baby Naming). This branch of Japanese fortunetelling invovlves helping parents choose a name for their baby that will bring him or her good fortune based on the number of strokes.

Bored Souvenir Seller

I guess selling souvenirs isn’t the most exciting job in the world.

The Election Truck


For a country that invented rock gardens, personal stereos, and tea ceremonies, Japan sure can be noisy sometimes. Walk down pretty much any street here and you’re going to face a sonic assault by everything from sweet potato vendors to crosswalk songs to right-wing extremists. With all the noise pollution in this country, you might think the politicians would want to do something about it, but that’s not going to happen any time soon because they are some of the worst offenders in the whole country. Come election time, every political wanna’ be rents a truck and the biggest speakers he or she can find, and starts cruising the streets.

Senkyo-sha (election vehicles) are all about name recognition. In Japan, ballots do not have the candidates’ names written on them, so voters are required to write down the name of the person they want to vote for from memory. Plastering the car with the person’s name and repeating it over and over really does get extra votes.

A lot of people wonder why on earth politicians choose to drive around all day in sound trucks instead of campaigning door to door or putting up posters. As is so often the case in Japan, there is a semi-logical rason/pat answer for this. Before 1945, vote-buying and influence peddling were a huge problem in elections. Often, an important businessman or landlord would go around telling people how to vote, and everyone in the commmunity would have to do what they were told because their jobs or homes depended on keeping him happy. Due to this practice, candidates often won 100 percent of the vote in their areas, and many elections were jsut a sham. To solve the problem, it was decided that door-to-door campaigning should be made illegal, and political candidates turned to sound trucks to bring their message to the people.

Another reason for sound trucks is that political candidates today face a bewildering array of campaign rules and regulations. They cannot hand out business cards, approach people on the street, and even the number of election posters and pamphlets they are allowed to print is strictly regulated.

On top of the van in this photo, you’ll see two uguiso-jo, or “bush-warbler ladies.” Their job is basically the same as that of a seven-year-old child on a long car trip – wave at anything that moves. When the politician is speechifying on top of his truck, they take turns standing beside him and waving at the crowd. When the candidate needs to take a rest, they stand in his place repeating phrases like “Thank you for your attention,” or sometimes, just saying his name over and over.

From 8 AM to 8 PM (you can practically set your watch by them in the morning if you live at the beginning of their routes), sound truck drive slowly through the streets, disrupting traffic and deafening bystanders with their ear-splitting volume. The speakers on most election trucks are capable of amplifying a regular human voice (around 60 decibels) up to around 100 decibels. One hundred decibels may not sound like much, but since 100 decibels is 40 times more intense than 60 decibels, people who get blasted by sound trucks could be in for some serious ear damage. Why are there no restrictions on noise pollution in Japan? Seeing as the biggest noise-pollution violators are one: Japan’s politicians and two: Japan’s right-wing extremist groups (who are some of the biggest contributors to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party) what incentive do the politicians have to pass a law that would stop them and their supporters doing something crucial to their existence.web analytics

Wall of Meishi

A wall covered in meishi (business cards).web analytics

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