Journal

 

Friday
Aug072015

Average Annual Salary

   More depressing stats from one of my favorite websites of late, Heikin Nenshū Labo. This shows the trend in average salaries in Japan between the years 1995 and 2013. 

   In 1995, the average yearly salary for a "salaryman" in Japan was ¥4,570,000. The average salary peaked in 1997 at ¥4.67 million, but has fallen ever since. In 2009, the average salary was only ¥4.06 million, due to the recession that followed the "Lehman Brothers Shock" and stock market crash of 2008. Growth in salaries has been anemic in the years since. 

   Looking at this chart, I am curious to know, one, what the average salary was during the bubble years of the late 1980s, and, two, whether salaries have increased in 2014 and 2015. I would also like to know how "salaryman" is defined.

   In 2013, the average male salaryman earned ¥5,110,000, compared to an average of only ¥2,720,000 for women.

   This graph shows the average salary for men (blue) and women (red) according to age. 

   Doda has a pretty good breakdown of income according to age. The average fortynine-year-old man in Japan earns ¥6,830,000. 46% of those men earn more than seven million yen. Only 13% of men and 5% of women in their late forties earn more than a ten million yen a year. 

   At Career Connection, you can get information on the average salary paid by a particular company and read reviews by people who are working or have worked for the company. Nomura Securities, for example, pays workers in their forties an average of ¥16,240,000 a year. Not bad. TEPCO pays its forty-year-old employees an average of ¥12,170,000.

Wednesday
Jul012015

Four Burners

Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove. 

“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter. 

This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Pat has her own business, a good one that’s allowing her to retire at fifty-five. She owns three houses, and two cars, but, even without the stuff, she seems like a genuinely happy person. And that alone constitutes success.

I asked which two burners she had cut off, and she said that the first to go had been family. After that, she switched off her health. “How about you?”

I thought for a moment, and said that I’d cut off my friends. “It’s nothing to be proud of, but after meeting Hugh I quit making an effort.” 

“And what else?” she asked.

“Health, I guess.”

Hugh’s answer was work.

“And?”

“Just work,” he said.

 

From "Laugh, Kookaburra" by David Sedaris, printed in The New Yorker

 

   I normally don’t read Sederis for mind-bending existential content, but his short story “Laugh, Kookaburra” had me thinking about life changes I have made over the past ten years and the “burners” I have turned off or down.

   Shortly before I remarried, my fiancée would take me over to her parents’ home in the suburbs on Sundays and lock me up in their washitsu, forcing me to write for five or six hours straight. I had a good idea for a book that just needed to be written down, but I was having a devil of a time making any progress on it.

   Being locked up in that Japanese room for hours on end was torture at first. Whenever I would try to venture out of the room, my girlfriend, who kept guard over me in the adjacent room, would turn me around, shove me back in and say, “Two more hours!”

   “Two more? Can’t I have a drink of something or a smoke?”

   “No!”

   So back in I would go, and kneel down on the tatami only to stare for minutes on end at the empty white page on my MacBook, the cursor flash-flash-flashing as if to taunt me: “You got nothing. And you used to think you had what it took to be a writer! Hah! You got nothing!"

   But it worked. After a few weeks, I started to get into the groove and before I knew it I was writing almost every day, usually in the morning, but sometimes at night until I had finished Rokuban. And when I finished Rokuban, I did a major overhaul of A Woman’s Nails and finished that. Then went on to the next work, and the next.

   Where just completing a novel had once seemed like an insurmountable task, now I was faced with a new challenge: how to sell the novels I was now finishing.

   The improved productivity came partially from turning down one of those four burners: friends. I seldom go out for drinks or dinner anymore. If I do, it’s usually by myself. I used to hate being alone, but nowadays it doesn’t bother me in the least. Sometimes I prefer it as I can get stuff done while I’m eating.

 

 

   More later . . . 

 

 

Tuesday
Jun162015

Where it all goes

   I had the girls in one of my classes make mini presentations today, the purpose of which was to learn how to present data. One student gave a short presentation on how the typical Japanese student spent her money. It contained some surprises.

   As you can see from the chart, the two largest expenses are social (drinking, dating, hanging out with friends) and food. The third largest expense was clothing and beauty products. 

   What struck me as somewhat odd was that rent accounted for only 4% of their expenses the same as the phone bill.

   I'm not sure how the data was collected or who was asked, but I assume that the reason rent does not amount to much is because the average student even if he is living alone does not pay for his own rent. His parents do. Such is the rough life of the typical student in Japan.

   My own experience couldn't have been more different. 

   In my second year of college, three of my friends and I shared a two-bedroom two-bath apartment in La Jolla just north of San Diego. The rent was $800, which came to $200 each. At the time I had a "part-time" job, working 32-plus hours a week (M-Th, swing shift) at the La Jolla Cove Hotel, a real dive, that paid about four bucks an hour. I took home about a hundred dollars a week, half of which went for rent and the remaining half I had to somehow feed and clothe myself with. It was no day at the beach, let me tell you. 

 

   According to the Department of Industrial Relations, the minimum wage in California in the early 80s was $3.35 an hour. In 1988, it was raised to $4.25.

   I remember taking the job, one, because of the location--it was just a few blocks down the street from the apartment--and, two, because I thought the pay and work schedule were pretty good.

   One of the interesting things about the job was that in an age when computers were starting to take off, the hotel continued to do everything in completely analog fashion.

   We had several large boards measuring about a two and a half feet by two feet on which all the bookings were recorded. If someone called to reserve a room we would first have to ask when and how long the guest intended to stay and in what kind of room. The usual questions? But, then we would have to go over these boards and see if there was an availabilty. It would sometimes take five minutes just to confirm whether a room was available or not. If we had a room and the price was right, the guest would reserve it which consisted of my physically writing down the guest's name on the board. Surprisingly, there weren't many mistakes. Guests weren't always happy with the room they got, but we seldom forgot a reservation.

Tuesday
Jun022015

Child Soldiers

Dad giving the one-finger salutThere was an awful report on the BBC this morning about child soldiers fighting in Syria's civil war. Unimaginable the horror these young boys are experiencing.

But then, . . .

It occurred to me that my own grandfather was sent to the front in WWI at the tender age of 16 where he would fire a massive cannon, making minced meat of the enemy.

His son, my father, joined the Navy at the age of 17, just a few years after WWII. He would later re-enlist in the Marines and get sent off to Korea. (Obviously, I wouldn't be around today if he had been one of the more than thirty-three thousand Americans who died there.)

One of the themes of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 is that WWII was fought by boys. The oft-forgot subtitle of that novel was The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.

Seems, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday
Jun022015

The Joy of Writing

So, the lecture went sumfin like this:

I've been asked to speak about the "Joy of Writing" but, to be honest, it ain't fun. It's work. It can be satisfying at times, but for the most part it's not.

So, instead of that, I'm going to teach you How to Write. Or at least I'm going to try.

There's a saying in English: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. Sadly, it's often the truth. There are professors of English who couldn't string a proper sentence together in English. There are teachers of business who have never run a successful business. (If they could, they probably wouldn't be teaching, would they?)

Most of your writing teachers will show you how to put a paragraph together. They'll make you draw these silly diagrams like Amway marketing schemes. I don't know who taught them to teach like that. Well, you can forget about all that.

First off, on the piece of paper you've been given I want you to write about something we all have: family. Tell me about your family.

(I give them a few minutes to write and then tell them to stop writing.)

How many of you began with the sentence "My family is . . ."?

(Out of the twenty or so girls in the class 16 of them raise their hand. The remaining four or five, have written a variation of "There are . . . people in my family.")

I understand why you do this. It's the first thing that pops in your head. You're thinking "Watashi-no kazoku-wa . . ."

Well, stop that. It's boring. Nobody wants to read what you've just written.

So, Rule One: Don't just give facts or makes lists. Be creative. Be different!

Rule Two: Tell me a story and through that story, include the information you want to convey. 

For example, I just wrote this before coming here:

(Reading.)

"One day when I came home from kindergarten, there was a newborn baby in my mother’s arms. 

“'Say hello to your new sister,'" my mother said.

I was only five at the time and wouldn't know where babies came from for at least another ten years. By coincidence, our new living room furniture arrived from Ethan Allen on the same day as my mother’s return from the hospital. She was sitting on the new sofa holding the baby. I looked at the baby. I looked at the furniture--the sofa, the recliner, the ottomans, the coffee tables, the side tables, the . . . For all I knew, my eighth sister had come with the furniture."

Now, that's not the best writing in the world, but, one, it tells a story that you (hopefully) want to hear more of, and, two, it includes information: I have eight sisters, the eighth sister is five years younger than me, and so on. (For the record, I have nine sisters, and three brothers.)

Now start writing again.

(Ten minutes later, I tell them to stop writing.On the white board, I have written 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person; past, present, and future tenses.)

How many of you wrote in the 1st person, present tense?

(Most of them.)

How many of you wrote in the 1st person, past tense?

(The rest.)

Just because you are writing about yourself, doesn't mean you have to write in the first person. 

Rule Three: Break the rules. 

Rule Four: Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Read what you have written, find the mistakes, correct them, change the sentences, make them better, make them funnier or more interesting. Even famous writers such as Murakami Haruki spend more time rewriting their novels than they do writing them. You should, too.

I give them a few minutes to read what they have read to their partner.

One last point I'd like to make is that if you really want to write well, you'll have to do it a lot. And I mean A LOT. Practice really does make perfect. It's the same with sports, or a musical instrument. No one sits down at the piano for the first time and plays Chopin.

Also, read A LOT. Learn from the masters.

I gotta run. 


Thursday
May282015

The Kindy Bus

I took my son, Yu-kun to kindergarten this morning and managed to arrive at the very same time as one of the school busses.

The kids all clamored out of the bus and were herded by two teacher to the main gate of the school where they put their hands together, bowed deeply, and shouted in unison: "Hotoke-sama, ohayō-gozaimasu! Enchō-sensei, hayō-gozaimasu!" (Good morning, Buddha! Good morning, Mr. Principal!)

It was my first time to see this, and I must say it was adorable.

Yu-kun also takes the school bus from time to time depending on the weather and my wife's energy level. (He rode it yesterday but ended up vomiting all over himself and had to be sent back home.)

The “pink bus”[1] usually doesn’t come rolling into our neighborhood until a few minutes after nine in the morning.

When the bus comes to a full stop, one of the teacher hops out, grabs the kids and throws them in like sacks of recyclables. Once on board, the kid is then free to sit wherever he or she likes. Yu-kun sometimes sits in the very front next to the driver, sometimes in the middle near a girl he likes, and sometimes in the very back like yesterday (which may be the reason why he threw up).

The kids are usually dressed in a variety of uniforms. Some wear the whole get-up with the silly Good Ship Lollypop hats and all, while others wear their colored class caps. Some are in their play clothes, a few in smocks, and fewer still wear their school blazers. Anything goes really and that’s fine by us.

A year and a half ago, my wife and I were considering four different kindergartens. Two were Christian, one Buddhist, and a fourth was run by what appeared to be remnants of the Japanese Imperial Army’s South Pacific Division.

It was this fourth kindergarten that initially appealed to us. The kids were said to be drilled daily and given lots of chances to exercise and play sports outside, something that offered us the possibility that our son would come home every afternoon dead tired.

Well, in the end, that school didn’t want us. (So, to the hell with them!) We went for the free-for-all Buddhist kindy, instead.

I think we made the right choice.

The other morning, I happened to see the bus for the Fascist kindergarten. Although it pulls up at the very same place where Yu-kun usually catches his own bus, the similarity stopped there. For one, all the kids were wearing the same outfit with the same hats, the same thermoses hanging from their left side. When they got in the bus, they did so in an orderly fashion, the first child going all the way to the back, the second child following after and sitting in the next seat. The bus was filled from the back to the front and I wouldn’t be surprised if the children filed out of the bus in the same orderly manner. Once seated, the kids sat quietly. It was at the same time both impressive and horrifying.

 


[1] I still have no idea why it is called the “pink bus” because nothing on it is pink. Every time Yu-kun says, “Oh, the pink bus!” I scan it from bumper to bumper to try and figure out how on earth he can tell it’s the pink bus and not the “yellow bus” which is actually yellow.