Monday, May 9, 2011

Postcard from the Kaisha: nuclear apocalypse edition

I found myself staring at the form requesting days off retroactively - what to put in the blank under "reason for leave request"? Cramp-inducing fear? Possibility of nuclear destruction?

In addition to these concerns, my secretary has been using her beauty mister per usual. I can't help wondering whether she is using bottled water for it and feeling indignant at the waste, or using tap water, thus making me feel resentful that she is pumping out her own little radioactive cloud over the partition.

She also has the earthquake alarm on her phone set to scare-the-shit-out-of-me loud, and I have been treated to its screams every now and then when an aftershock has rolled in during the work day. On a related note, I have mine set to 5 (Japanese scale) and over - I do not need to know about anything lower than that.

On the day we found out the nuclear reactor broke, people looked at each other with wide eyes as they reached for their coats and tried to quickly tidy things up before taking off. One Professional had the gall to try and get some of us to do work after receiving the notice. He preempted his request with an acknowledgement that we were all to leave the office shortly, but could we not possibly get this one thing done first? I politely brushed off the request. I believed I would be coming back to the office eventually and so resisted the urge to tell him where to stick it.

Throughout that afternoon and evening, a stream of automated "disaster safety" emails came in, not saying much at all except to await further instructions. At long last, a longer explanation came through: the Kaisha had not received any special information prompting the call to leave the office but as a result of careful consideration of several factors (among them the nuke situation and the messed up public transportation), it had been deemed best to empty the office for the rest of the day. Barring any negative developments, we would receive word to come to the office as usual the following morning at 6am. For the next few days until my scheduled trip, I received an email in the morning telling me to come in, to which I replied that I simply could not. In case you are wondering, I had already booked and had approved a week off for my trip, but for those extra days I was at home with the curtains drawn and my hair getting knotty, I had to use some of my precious paid holidays (an umbrella term for days to be used for both vacation and sickness - there is no differentiation). The Kaisha has also taken a hard line when it comes to asking for unpaid vacation in the event I run out of days. Fear of nuclear meltdown is not a plausible appeal to this rule.

I understand where this stems from (blind stoicism), and I don't really blame the Kaisha. On the other hand, expecting the few foreign nationals you employ who do not speak Japanese to be able to soldier on with little information to go on (those disaster safety emails only started being translated into almost passable English about ten emails in) is an unforgiving stance. If similar shit had gone down overseas, you can bet the Japanese living there would be on the first plane out. Again though, this is not really about whether you should stay or not, but the level of tolerance surrounding what a person decides to do in order to feel safe. There was no precedence here and no contingency plan for how to carry on with business after something like this happens. I'm lucky I had planned and announced my trip for the sole reason that to the Kaisha it didn't look as if I was running away.

In the Kaisha bathroom it is also business as usual. I got Sound Princessed several times, which is when you are peeing for all to hear and someone in a neighboring stall turns on the old SP to silence you. I was pretty fucked off. Here we are in a crisis and these women are still concerned about another woman hearing them pee. Not to mention the power that could be saved if we all forwent the SP. One of these days I am going to unplug all the toilets. I can't wait.

I am used to the relative dimness around the Kaisha now. With the exception of signs telling us to buy our own bottled water and tea, it all looks quite normal. Until, of course, a big after shock comes, prompting a piercing overhead speaker to announce several moments prior that a fair amount of shaking is expected so please ready yourselves. Then during the shaking, the speaker keeps telling you to remain inside the building. Eventually the swaying stops and the speaker tells you to await information on any fires and then that the elevators have been stopped. I can appreciate the knowledge of an earthquake before it happens, but that alarm has got to go before I end up doing more damage than letting out a drop of pee.

I will admit to googling information about my office building, its age, and how up to date its earthquake architecture is. This is not stuff I want to know and it is not going to aid in any decision. I am here to stay. It is scary but what are the alternatives? Go somewhere and get hit by a car? No, I will stay. I think I am finally starting to think like a Tokyo resident, or at least a stellar Kaisha-ite.


TheOctopus said...

I've been avoiding the office like the plague as some of my female colleagues have got various earthquakes and alarms set up to go off every time a fish farts off the Tohoku coast, and it's been driving me slowly crazy.

FWIW we have nothing as sophisticated as a Sound Princess in our modest office, and for added lulz the single toilet is separated from the main office by nothing more than its door and a partition, so the aforementioned colleagues have got the art of peeing during a single flush down to a fine art. (By unspoken agreement any larger activities are delegated to the quite nice facilities in a nearby office block).

Japan Australia said...

It was a scary time for many people in Japan at the time. Hopefully Japan is on the road to recovery.

Japan Australia

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Octopus how I love your comments. "Every time a fish farts off the Tohoku coast" is solid gold! Clearly some of the ladies at my office could learn from those at yours.

Chris said...

"If similar shit had gone down overseas, you can bet the Japanese living there would be on the first plane out."

I said this to my adult students because of a possible Tsunami in Hawaii 10 years ago the Honolulu Int Airport was flooded with Japanese...almost exclusively as it was a big next day story. The Hawaiians have always felt used and been treated like a vacation home by the Japanese...they spend money so... but that was NEWS because the Hawaiians pointed out rightly......first to come is first to go. Koreans...Chinese...Filipinos...?? Nope just JTB scrambling to send the Japanese home and fucking up the airport in the process.....the tsunami was about 2 inches tall and i couldn't see it among the other waves.

Anonymous said...

"If similar shit had gone down overseas, you can bet the Japanese living there would be on the first plane out."

Yes, this is what I keep thinking when I hear people going on and on about the disloyalty of "Flyjin".

And I did end up going home for about a week after maybe the 4th explosion at the nuclear plant. Officially, it was a waste of money, but only because nothing happened. If, God forbid, they hadn't been able to keep things just barely under control like they did then everyone would say going back home was the smartest decision I could make. So, I mean at the end of the day you gotta do what you feel comfortable with.

Jhunas Tillero said...

I saw this activity featured in National Geographic once.
And I think it showcases how wonderful and rich Japan's heritage is.
I haven't been to Japan but would surely want to visit the place someday.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Chris: Exactly. Depending obviously on where you come from, dealing with stuff like this is even harder in a country not your own. I remember how freaked out Japanese people overseas got during bird flu, pig flu etc. There's no wrong reaction but to expect everyone to just lay down and take it is ridic.

jskoolisin: Love your blog!! You do have to be comfortable with your own decisions and at the end of the day, all that matters is feeling you made the right choice at the time for you personally.

Jhunas Tillero: And which activity would that be??
If that link from your name is your blog, you are apparently already here...

StarBrooke said...

I love your blog, Green-eyed Geisha. I'm also a western woman (American) married to a Japanese man and fellow blogger ( I wanted to comment here that every Japanese company in Tokyo took a completely different response to the crisis situation after the earthquake. At my company, for example, the entire foreign staff deserted the office. We didn't even have to take vacation, as we were permitted to engage in 自宅作業 from wherever we went. A French guy went to Okinawa; an Australian guy went to Okinawa; I went home to America; Korean staff went to Korea, etc. Management was surprisingly extremely chill about the whole thing. Despite management's flexible attitude, though, NONE of my Japanese co-workers left Tokyo, except one guy who had a planned business trip to China. Even coworkers whose 実家 is far away, like somewhere in Kyushu, took their jobs, projects, and clients too seriously to ask if they could go home. I both admired them and wondered about their sanity. I wondered if you noticed any major difference in the reactions of Japanese and foreign staff in your office to the crisis?

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

SraBrooke: Thanks for commenting. You're lucky you had the option to work from home. Did they offer this to everyone, foreign and Japanese? I don't know of any Japanese at my office that took off, although who knows, some may have sent their wives/children away. A majority of our small foreign employees took off, some with no notice whatsoever.
In terms of the reaction, nothing has been directly said, but it's come down that "some people" were not happy with what had happened. They did end up making note of who left, which I believe I was exempted from because I had already scheduled my holiday with them months before. Either way, it was a shitty shitty situation and ultimately, companies were completely unprepared for something like this happening.