The Minami-senju Fashion Plate

Here’s an unusual-looking character that I often see around the Minami-senju area.

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 »

Jomyo-in, the Jizo Temple

I rode my bicycle past Jomyo-in Temple hundreds of times on my way to work, never suspecting that it might be worth visiting until last year they started doing construction on it, and I got a look inside because one of the walls was torn down. It’s actually pretty interesting because its filled wall-to-wall with thousands of Jizo sculptures.

Before the Meiji Restoration, all of Ueno Park and a lot of it’s surroundings were one huge temple called Kan’ei-ji, and Jomyo-in was one of its 36 sub-temples. Kan’ei-ji was closely associated with the Tokugawa Shoguns, and Jomyo-in is named for the mother of the fourth Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna.

The temple was renamed Jomyo-in in 1723. The front gate is said to date back from this time.

The jizo thing was started by a monk called Myoun, who became the chief priest of the temple in 1876. He was originally from Osaka, and at the age of 25, while living as a hermit at a temple in Nikko, he came have great faith in Jizo. He started out with the idea of making a thousand jizo statues, but when they were finished, he started thinking big and decided to go for 84,000. The temple and some sites that I checked seem to indicate that there really are 84,000 jizo statues there, but there clearly aren’t.

There’s a really cool 360 degree panoramic photo of the temple here: http://www.360cities.net/image/jomyoin#695.86,-9.07,110.0

And a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY_gi-UPjo4&playnext=1&list=PL851D134A302A2D60

The temple is right next to the entrance of the Yanaka Cemetery.

There’s a very good map and detailed access information on this PDF: http://www.yes-tokio.es/pictures/fichas%20zonas/yanaka.pdf

Here is the temple’s official homepage, in really difficult to read Japanese: http://www.tendaitokyo.jp/jiinmei/jinss/ss3jyomyo.asp

 

Stuff I Wish I Knew About Japanese Preschools a Year Ago

If you’re a parent in Japan, I’d like to tell you about a few lessons I learned the hard way related to Japanese preschools:

1. If you want to go to a private preschool, call the school the day your baby is born because there are incredibly long waiting lists. A lot of parents seem to try to plan their delivery dates so that the child is born early in the year to get ahead on the waiting list. Our son was born in September, and by the time we got around to applying for a preschool in November, we were number 25 on the waiting list.

2. The reason you want to call a private preschool is because if the one my son goes to is typical, public preschools are insane:

a) They take my son’s temperature three times a day. If it’s over 37.5 in the morning (my parenting books says that’s the upper limit of a normal temperature) he is not accepted, and if at any time it goes over 38 we have to pick him up, even if it goes back down a few minutes later (which it often does).

b) Every time he sneezes or gets a pimple on his little toe, they insist we take him to the doctor, even though the doctor rolls his eyes every time he sees us and says, “Wow, your pre-school is really strict.” They have also rejected kids even when the doctor gave permission for them to go back.

c) They don’t seem to understand the concept of “day care,” because they’re constantly accusing my wife of being a bad mother when she works overtime or applies for extended-hours daycare.

d) One teacher got angry at my wife for speaking English to my son because she claims he doesn’t understand Japanese as well as the other kids (ignoring that fact that he was the second-youngest in the class).

e) They’re constantly telling us how to raise our child.

f) They give us lectures when we’re (literally) five minutes late picking him up.

Other reasons that I wish we’d gotten into the private preschool near my apartment are that their opening hours are much longer, they let you drop off your child any time during the day (making it much easier to take him to the doctor and letting you use a half- rather than a full-day off), they’re just generally a lot more flexible.

But then again, if we’d gotten into the private preschool, my son wouldn’t have gotten to wear this cool disaster hat after the March 11 earthquake, so I guess that’s something.

Earthquake Sickness

BURBANK, CA - NOVEMBER 13:  US Secretary of th...

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Sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, I suddenly feel the ground shaking, but when I look around, everyone else is just sitting there calmly. I always feel really stupid, and I was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Last night, however, my wife did the same thing, and then this morning I came across an article about ‘jishin yoi (link is in Japanese only).’ ‘Yoi’ usually means ‘drunk,’  but ‘kuruma yoi’ is ‘car sickness’ and ‘funa yoi’ is ‘sea sickness,’ so ‘jishin yoi’ can be translated as ‘earthquake sickness.’

The article defines it as “feeling dizzy or shaky even though there there is no earthquake happening.” Apparently, it’s becoming quite common in Japan due to the terrible earthquake and all the aftershocks these days.

I wonder if there’s a word for my other neurosis, obsessively checking the radiation levels in Tokyo every five minutes (The link is in Japanese only, but the first column is the maximum, the second is the minimum, and the third is the average. The normal level is 0.028~0.079 micro sieverts.)

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Fearsome Nio at Entsuu-ji Temple

Entsuu-ji is a kind of a cheesy-looking Zen Temple near Minami-senju Station in Tokyo, but it has some really cool Buddhist sculptures.

These are kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” and they stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that one, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and one, the Mishabe Kongo, (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

Entsu-ji probably isn’t worth a special trip, but you might want to combine it with a visit to the Yoshiwara former red-light district or the Kotsukappara Execution Grounds.

Here is the temple’s homepage (in Japanese only) http://www6.plala.or.jp/entsuji/

Getting there: From Minami-senju Station, go out of the West Exit, turn left, and walk to the stop lights. Turn right and walk north to the next set of lights. Turn left, and walk to the second set of lights, which is a big road called Nikko Kaido or Route 4. Cross the street, and turn left. Entsu-ji will be on your right. You can also take Exit 3 from Minowa Subway Station, turn right, and north on Nikko Kaido/Route 4. Coming from Minowa, Entsu-ji will be on your left.Address: Tokyo, Arakawa-ku, Minami-senju 1-59-11 (Japanese: 東京都 荒川区南千住1-59-11)

TEl. 03-3891-1368

These are Kongo Rikishi (aka Nio),Kongo rikishi, the “power lords of the diamond realm,” stand guard at many Buddhist temples in Japan. Bare-chested, sneering deities, the kongo rikishi are not your average Buddhas. Unlike the serene Kannon, Amida and Jizo statues, their ferocious faces and body-builder physiques are meant to frighten off evil spirits from the temple grounds, and in fact, they’re not true Buddhas at all, but rather protectors of the Buddha.

Kongo Rikishi also represent the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Look closely at their faces and you’ll notice that the one on the left, the Missha Kongo (the secret-knowing Kongo) always has his mouth closed, and the one on the right, the Mishabe Kongo (the secret-speaking Kongo) always has his mouth open.

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G-Cans Water Tunnel

For years, people living by the Tonegawa, Arekawa, and Edogawa Rivers faced the threat of terrible floods during the typhoon season. Every few years, anywhere between a few dozen and tens of thousands of houses would be inundated with water, and as the Tokyo metropolitan area expanded, the problem was only growing worse.

In the early 1990s, someone came up with the idea of huge underground discharge tunnels for the rivers to prevent flooding. Construction started in 1993, and 13 years later, the G-Cans Water Discharge Tunnel was completed. It’s a really impressive structure, and and the facility is open to tourists. I visited this December and found it to be really impressive.

There are a bunch of videos here. The website and videos are in Japanese, but just click on “broadband” or “narrowband” to watch them.

Official Site (mainly in Japanese): http://www.ktr.mlit.go.jp/edogawa/project/g-cans/frame_index.html

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