Posts Tagged ‘Work’

Blaming the translators

Posted 17 Sep 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Japan, Japanese Language, Work

My job is not something that I usually write about, partly because it’s not all that interesting, and partly because doing so brings up a lot of frustrating incidents that I’d rather forget. Besides, there are plenty of other people, such as Mr Salaryman, who already do a very good job of writing about Japanese office life. Today, however, I feel like whinging about work. So if you don’t like whinging, you should stop reading now.

Recently my company began using professional translators to translate Japanese materials into English. This sounds like a good idea in practice, as it should remove the possibility of misunderstandings between Japanese and English speaking staff. However, translating and understanding are two very different things.

If you’ve ever studied a foreign language you’ve probably come across phrases or expressions for which there really isn’t an English equivalent. Japanese, for example, contains a variety of set phrases, such as 「お世話になっております」(“Osewa ni natte orimasu” or “Thank you for your help”), that are frequently used at the beginning of Japanese emails but sound odd in English. Usually these phrases are not a barrier to understanding: it’s simply a matter of either leaving them out or replacing them with something simple, such as “I hope you are well”. The major problem with work I’ve seen translated recently is not with the translation itself, but with the original Japanese text. In a lot of cases, the author doesn’t seem to have had a clue who he/she was writing for.

For me, brevity is a virtue; for many of my colleagues, it is a sin. They love to use obscure technical terminology and company jargon. Rather than explain something in a simple way, like “This software will reduce the amount of time users spend on data entry”, they will write “This software aims to boost the productivity of users by recalibrating their workflow practises from data entry to other activities” instead. This may be fine for a Japanese audience that understands newspeak, but it is incomprehensible to the intended English-speaking audience. And rather than consult someone in the office who knows how much of the translations English speakers will understand, “them upstairs” choose to send them directly to satellite offices abroad, unedited and un-localised.

As you can imagine, this lack of audience awareness and consultation causes an enormous amount of trouble. When misunderstandings arise – and they often do – a “poor” translation is blamed. This implies that the original Japanese text is perfectly fine, though often the writers cannot rephrase their ideas in plain Japanese, never mind plain English. It also leads to a bizarre situation where the writers think they are “too clever” for mere mortals to understand, and the mere mortals are made to feel stupid because they can’t make head nor tail of the gobbledegook presented to them.

In the end, most people feign understanding during meetings and devise their own explanations later; very much in the same way a clever, rational Alabaman kid might deal with “science” lessons on creationism. What frightens me about the whole thing is the amount of time and money that’s wasted because some people are either unwilling or unable to communicate properly.

Infiltrating Insurers

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo, Work

Every day during lunchtime my office is infiltrated by the dreaded life insurance saleswomen. Their job is to hang around the entrance saying “Konnichiwa” as the hordes scuttle out to pick over their slimy katsudons and fetid bentos. These saleswomen also leave flyers on all the desks, together with a little packet of tissues (you can never have enough tissues). The flyers are usually of the innocuous “Oi! You got life insurance, punk?” variety, but today’s was something special.

This life insurer was new to the game. For some reason she was compelled to fill her flyers with information about herself, including her date of birth, hometown, hobbies (snowboarding!) and – I shit you not – blood type.

Bizarrely, most Japanese people know what their blood type is: they employ it in a creepy Nazi eugenics kind of way to determine a person’s personality. It’s a bit like star signs, only more ‘scientific’, you see? In other words, it’s total and utter bollocks. But just you try telling someone that. Go on, try it.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is why on earth would I want to know her personal details? Is she looking for a husband as well as a big commission? I was both disturbed and confused in equal measure.

Office Life in Tokyo

Posted 03 Feb 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo, Work

I’ve spent three years working in the same office, sat at the same desk, seeing the same salarymen day-in, day-out. I still don’t know who everyone is (four hundred people = a lot of names), but I have managed to come up with plenty of nicknames for the most peculiar individuals:

Man Child
This fellow has the head and voice of a man, but the body of a child. His head is absolutely massive: the fact that his neck can support it defies all the laws of physics. He also spends far too long in the toilet, rustling the tissue paper a little bit too vigorously.

The Womble
A sixty-something mumbler with all the speed and grace of a sloth. He has no internal monologue and spends considerable time saying ‘unnnn, sou ka’ (‘ahh, I see’) to inanimate objects. His job is to… well, to be quite honest, I have no idea what his job is. He spends much of the day wandering between floors with a small bag, occasionally picking bits of dust of the floor.

Named after Family Guy’s evil toddler, pint-sized Stewie seems far too small to be at work; he should still be at infant school! He sits at his big boys’ desk all day, his little legs dangling off the chair, issuing commands down the phone like Napoleon’s younger brother.

Bill Gates
Nothing much to say about this chap, apart from that he is the spitting image of Bill Gates (if Bill Gates was Japanese).

The Fifth Beatle
Long straggly hair, enormous Bose headphones and a ‘God you’re so unfair, I hate you!’ teenage pout. He also seems to be something of a hypochondriac, and spends a good portion of his day gargling antiseptic mouthwash in front of the bathroom mirror.

The Weasel
A fifty-year-old silver-haired weasel who is terrified of his computer. Every time he sits in front of it his face contorts into a picture of abject horror, as if he’s watching a streaming video of an Al-Qaida hostage being beheaded. Perhaps someone told him that if you click the mouse buttons too hard the whole internet breaks, so he’s being extra careful.

Do you remember Danger Mouse? (If you don’t, go here.) This guy is the spitting image of Penfold, right down to the glasses and hair (or lack of). The only thing missing is the occasional ‘Cripes, DM!’.

Earthquake drills

Posted 27 Jun 2008 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo, Video, Work

On Thursday morning we had to take part in an earthquake drill. With Japan being one of the most, if not the most, earthquake-prone country in the world, drills like this are routine. I had expected there to be a grand system set in place in order to swiftly whisk people out of their office and onto the (relative) safety of the street – yellow inflatable slides that pop out from under the windows, for example. The reality was, unfortunately, far plainer: at 12.00 the loudspeaker announced that there had been an earthquake. Five minutes later we were informed that the lifts were out of order and that everyone was to congregate in the basement car park. With all the speed and alertness of sloths everyone left what they were doing and proceeded downstairs.

In the basement a large blue sheet had been strung between the walls; a cardboard sign with the kanji “fire” was stuck in its centre. In front of the sheet stood twenty small fire extinguishers and ten triangular buckets of water; in front of them stood two middle-aged, beige-overalled men with megaphones. They were… The Instructors.

The instruction was far from rigorous. One of the men asked for volunteers to spray the “fire”. People were hastily pushed out from among the crowd by their friends or superiors. Some of the older salarymen, relishing the opportunity to muck about like ten-year-olds, had already scrambled for the fire extinguishers.

The instructors gave one blow of their whistles: the volunteers sprang to life!

The older salarymen took to it with gusto, waddling towards the sheet, shouting “Kaji desu!”, deftly removing the safety clip then, bracing themselves for the expected recoil, aimed the nozzle at the (imaginary) inferno before them and squeezed the trigger. The result? One wet sheet, and several very smug-looking salarymen. Annual earthquake drills appear to be one of the high points of their otherwise routine working life.

Next up for demonstration: the buckets. They were strange, triangular-shaped things with one circular hole in the corner. Was this to help direct the water? Was it stronger? Was somebody having a laugh? Nobody seemed to know, but I’m sure thousands – if not millions – of test buckets had been created, debated, blown up and prodded with weasels in order to reach this final design

At any rate, more volunteers came forward and the buckets were duly put through their paces. Despite the strangeness of their shape they performed admirably, dispensing their moist goodness in a consistent manner, which was the best you can expect from any bucket, really.

With the demonstrations over, one of the instructors concluded by muttering something incomprehensible through his megaphone. Knowing my luck, it was probably the most important part of the training, something along the lines of: “If there’s an earthquake don’t forget to leave through Door X because all the other doors will be closed and you will die a horrible painful death and nobody will come and help you at all, so there.” Nobody else seemed to be listening, but of course they’d heard it a thousand times before and probably knew it by heart.

While the whole experience is difficult to sum up in words, this scene from Big Train sums it up very well indeed:

You’re gonna eat lightnin’ and you’re gonna crap thunder!

Posted 07 Aug 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Personal, Work

Apollo Creed
If I were Rocky Balboa, this week would be my Apollo Creed.

One Saturday in Kyoto

Posted 21 Jul 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Travel, Work

8:00 a.m. – Leave home
8:10 a.m. – Take train to Tokyo
9:00 a.m. – Take shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto
11:30 a.m. – Arrive at Kyoto
11:35 a.m. – Take subway to conference centre
12:05 p.m. – Arrive at conference centre
12:30 p.m. – Conference begins
4:30 p.m. – Conference ends
4:40 p.m. – Take subway to Kyoto
5:00 p.m. – Arrive at Kyoto
5:20 p.m. – Take shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo
8:00 p.m. – Arrive at Tokyo
8:10 p.m. – Take train to home station
8:50 p.m. – Arrive at home station
9:00 p.m. – Home

Time spent travelling: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Time spent enduring pointless speeches: 4 hours
Time spent admiring Kyoto: 10 minutes

Time wasted: 13 hours

Ah’s not dead yet, like

Posted 16 May 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Personal, Work

The morning rush-hour train to ShinjukuBeen grafting canny down’t pit of late, and the gadgies at work are nebby, so I cannat write owt there. Will write more the morra if I have time. Tara for now.


Posted 08 Jan 2007 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Events, Gaming, Personal, Photography, Technology, Tokyo, Travel, Work

2007 already? I’m scared at how quickly time is disappearing before my very eyes. I can still distinctly remember New Year’s Eve 1999 as if it were yesterday: I was working in a horror-show bar in Newcastle city centre (Dobson’s. The name sends a shiver down my spine to this day), and slipped down a flight of stairs while carrying a crate of Smirnoff Mule at around 10.30pm, smashing bottles everywhere and smacking my head off a step. This gave me a fine excuse to leave work early and bomb down to Saltburn in my trusty Vauxhall Nova for the celebrations. I arrived down my local about 10 minutes after midnight with a slight concussion, to discover my mates either dancing on tables or passed out in a corner. Treasured memories indeed, and there are many…

NYE 2006 was a far more sedate affair spent in Aichi-ken with the in-laws. We went out for sushi, watched TV, ate some more food and talked about, well… stuff. I rarely drink these days as my hangovers – which were always bad – are now so utterly terrible that I really can’t stand experiencing the pain and torment more than a few times each year. Many Japanese visit their local temple at midnight to say their prayers in the hope of having a successful new year, but it was really cold, so we did it the following afternoon instead.

Japanese monolithGoing back a bit further, my Christmas was about as Christmassy as you could expect considering only 1% of the population are Christians, meaning it was a normal working day for me and everyone else here. My new job – so far at least – is going well. After being a teacher for so long it’s really nice to not have to be “switched on” all the time. I can come into the office, sit down at my desk and quietly get on with my work without having to pretend to be interested/jolly for hours on end. Incidentally I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be doing at work most of the time, so I’ve been attempting to try a few things and pretend to look busy, which, in Japanese offices, has been perfected to a fine art form. Nobody has sussed me out yet, so I think my technique must be pretty good.

In light of not being able to go anywhere nice or return home for the holidays, I continued my quest of buying unnecessary things instead. The most recent addition to my collection turned out to be a PlayStation 3, which weighs more than all the planets in our solar system combined and bears an eerie resemblance to the monolith from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. It now sits under the TV and quietly purrs away in an ever so menacing fashion, emitting so much heat I can now happily live without central heating during the coldest of winter days.


Posted 27 Nov 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Work

Taken from a restaurant in Ginza last night. I’m writing this entry using my mobile phone on the train home from work as there’s not enough arm space for me to open a book and read, and to be quite honest I’d rather not just have to stand and stare at the back of someone’s head for 10 minutes, which is the only other option. Last Friday some random weirdo decided to do a full gymnastic warm-up by using the handles for standing passengers. It was like a mobile version of the olympics, only totally rubbish. What was the other passengers’ reaction? Pretend to sleep, of course!

Moving On

Posted 26 Nov 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Japanese Language, Only in Japan, Video, Weather, Work

Yes indeed, after eighteen months of teaching at A Big university I will finally be moving on to pastures new come the end of December. Learning some Japanese seems to have paid off and I’ve managed to secure a job in central Tokyo doing interesting stuff (well, interesting for me, at least). My new company wants to employ me for at least the next five years, so it looks like I’ll be in Tokyo for quite a while yet. But… it’s very possible I’ll be making business trips between Japan and the UK (as well as Australia, South Africa and Singapore – cool!) over the next few years, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see at least some friends and family sooner rather than later!

In other news:

  • Bought a new sofa last week, which arrived this morning and is sweeeeeet. Lying on it feels like being back in the womb.
  • The weather has turned: It’s now most definitely cold. The upside is that almost every day is incredibly clear and bright; I can see Mt. Fuji from my office again!
  • Christmas has arrived. It’s impossible to go shopping without being bombarded by Xmas songs, tinsel, horrendous plastic reindeer and lights, so so many lights. But – what with Japan being not being a Christian country and all that – Xmas Day is in fact a normal working day. So what’s the effing point? Ey?
  • Have a Japanese exam next Sunday and have come to the conclusion that I haven’t studied anywhere near hard enough recently. Oh well…

Today we decided to have dinner at home for once (we usually eat out on Saturdays). This is what we bought:

Seafood Feast

Now that’s what I call fresh! Cooking them proved a bit of a heart-wrenching experience (word of advice: never grill shrimp unless you are 100% sure they are dead first), but as you can see, the end result looked pretty good, and the taste wasn’t bad either. Recently I’ve been trying to at least put some effort into cooking. I think everyone has the impression that everything in Tokyo is ridiculously expensive (melons more expensive than human kidneys and so on…), but to be honest I would say the UK is probably even more expensive these days, especially when it comes to restaurants… But anyway, it’s late and I’m in dire need of sleep. Ciao for now.

The Japanese Sandwich

Posted 25 Sep 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Food, Only in Japan, Photography, Tokyo, Work

The Japanese Sandwich

One thing that really could be improved upon here is the quality of pre-packed sandwiches. Usually it’s best to not even try and work out what’s inside, the truth would be too depressing.

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