Japanese woman lively works in U.S. Undaunted by unfamiliar work environment

  Charlotte, North Carolina - This Hakumon Herald reporter had a chance to visit the city of Charlotte in North Carolina, located in the southeastern part of the United States. The city may be unfamiliar to many Japanese. But it is North Carolina’s biggest city with a population of 730,000. The financial services industry has developed here since the end of World War II. Today it is one of the largest financial centers where Bank of America, the country’s second-ranking bank, is headquartered. Many Japanese companies have set up offices in the city, which has the Japanese Association founded 35 years ago. I visited the office of the association to meet a Japanese woman who has been living in Charlotte since her marriage with an American. Ms. S. (her request to be called) talked mainly about the working environment in the United States.



-What does your Japanese Association do routinely?



  Ms. S: We serve as a hub for Japanese businesses and their families who live in Charlotte, organizing seasonal events such as a Bon festival dance, Japanese cultural introduction at local schools and running a Japanese-language supplementary school for the children of resident Japanese business persons.




-What has brought you to the United States?



Ms. S: I married an American and as my husband worked mainly in the United States, I came over here with him. I had worked for a travel agent for 12 years in Japan before then. I like working so I’ve been working for 15 years since I began to live in this country. But it wasn’t easy.




-Can you tell us more about that?



  Ms. S: To begin with, I had to go through difficulties trying to find a job. For instance, I sent my resume to more than 10 travel agents, hoping to take advantage of my work experiences in Japan. But all my applications were unsuccessful. I found American travel companies adopt systems quite different from those in Japan. I learned that my applications were turned down because my skills were quite different from the ones they required.




-So what did you do then?



Ms. S: It may sound a bit of exaggeration. But I had to work to support my living. So I applied for a part-time position at a local grocery store. But, you can’t make light of a job interview even it is one with a grocery store. It takes long time to get an appointment for your interview.




-What do you mean by that?



Ms. S: For example, you have to send a resume totally different from the one in Japan. You don’t need to fill in your age, gender or attach your photo. All about you is judged by your academic records, work experiences and self-appeals. It’s just the same irrespective of whether the job you seek is full-time or part-time. Furthermore, they give you a computer-aided test on situation assessment. It’s about an appropriate timing for discount sale and management of claims. I chose the prepared answer saying, “I will make a decision after consulting my manager.” But I failed in the test. The right answer I should have chosen was: “I will make a decision by myself after assessing the situation.” Here in the United States, you are supposed to act based on your own decision which you think the best. In other words, you don’t frequently consult your manager, especially when you can solve problems within your discretion.




-So, are you suggesting that people accustomed to the Japanese working style are disadvantageous in the United States?



Ms. S: In my opinion, the strong points of Japanese people are their diligence and the spirit of mutual aid (or teamwork). You have to adjust yourselves to the American culture to some extent. Productivity and efficiency will improve once you get used to it. You won’t be disadvantageous as long as you are fluent enough in English, especially in conversation skills, and have some aspiration and patience.



-What impressed you most while working in the United States?



  Ms. S: While I worked at a restaurant kitchen, I told the people around me I can play the piano. My manager asked me to give a piano performance at dinner time instead of working as cook. I jumped at the offer. I was confident because I had prepared myself to enter a music college in the past. My performance ended in a great success and my manager asked me to repeat it. Since that day, I had to double as a cook and a pianist. I was the only foreigner among the restaurant hotel staff. I found that American people appreciate my personality and skill regardless of race and culture. That was one of the most impressive experiences for me. I ended up with playing the piano at wedding receptions. Of course, my salary went up.




-Have you experienced any work-related troubles?



Ms. S: I struggled with the southern accent. I was also often annoyed by the late arrivals or delayed work schedules. I think people born and grown up in Japan will need time to get used to that. But they say “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”


-Lastly, what a country is the United State for you?



Ms. S: Right now, I work four different jobs. It’s not easy to keep a balance between my work and personal life. But I feel lucky to experience four different jobs. I really enjoy my fulfilling days. By the way, your credibility is measured in every way in the United States. I think it’s one of things that distinguish the country from Japan. They assess how you are credible in payment in terms of numerical data. You need at least 10 years to have your data upgraded even if you keep properly paying your bills or credit card. Your upgraded data will benefit you when you take a new loan to buy a house or a car. It may be one of culture shocks for Japanese who are in favor of cash settlement.

People in other countries criticize the United States in various ways. But I think one of great things about this country is that its people are really open-minded. I am referring in particular to adoption of child. American couples often adopt children whether or not they have their own kids. I’m impressed each time I see children different in features and skin color from their parents live together as a family.





-Thank you.




Interviewed by: Hideki Kato