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   The other day I overheard a student of mine mention that she was a manager at the McDonald’s where she was working.

   “A manager? Really?” I said. “But you’re only, what, eighteen?”

   “I just turned nineteen.”

   “How long have you been working there?”

   She replied that it was her fourth year at the hamburger joint, that she had started in her first year of high school when she was fifteen, something that also surprised me as very few high schools allow their students to work. I know what you’re thinking, whose business is it whether a student has a part-time job or not? In Japan, the teachers tend to make it their business. They want their charges focused on little else than their studies. (We can discuss the wisdom of such rules later.)

   “And how long have you been manager?” I asked.

   “Only a few months.”

   She went on to explain that of the sixty to seventy employees at her restaurant (if you can call a Mickey Dees one), there were fifteen managers, all of whom were “part-timers”. Part-timers in the Japanese sense of the word meaning that they are not full-fledged employees of the McDonald’s Japan Corporation with bennies rather than someone working less than thirty-two hours a week. This particular woman was currently working six days a week for a total of about thirty-four or so hours each week. During the summer break she put in over forty hours a week.

  “How many ‘full-fledged employees’ (正社員, seishain) are there at your branch?”

   “Just one, the store manager (店長, tenchō),” she answered.

   I once knew a twenty-something-year-old woman who was one of these tenchōs. The sweetest, most unassuming woman you could ever meet, she was managing what was one of Japan’s busiest branches. It wasn’t unusual for her to remain at work until four in the morning, go home, sleep a few hours, then return the next morning to do it all over again. Her dream was to work at Hamburger University, a training facility run by McDonald’s Corporation, and for all I know, she may be working there now.

   I continued to badger my student about the details of her work and learned that when she first started working she earned ¥700 ($6.70) an hour, but after a few months was bumped up to ¥720 ($6.90). As manager she now earns ¥750 ($7.19) an hour, considerably less than the $8-15 per hour an “hourly manager” can make in the States, but then she is able to keep 90% or more of her income due to the low level of taxation on part-time work here. Her counterpart in the U.S. might see some 30% of his income withheld in the form of payroll and other taxes.

   As manager, she is responsible for overseeing the shift, training new employees, managing the money, and dealing with customer complaints.

   “I like the job,” she told me, but admitted that the customers can be insufferably petty at times.

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