Entering a Japanese company: 1 inane photo, 1 hand-written resume, and a smoke free workplace

posing with a drug store character in Japan

Was it love that made me do it?
(Kakunodate, Akita)

Off to a superb start

Perhaps my new boss felt he couldn’t find someone to replace me in time. Perhaps he was excusing me as a silly foreigner. Perhaps he was overly kind.

It is impossible to explain why I felt the above photo was appropriate to forward to my new workplace in Japan. I can only think it was substantial miscommunication. Perhaps it was purposeful ignorance about workplace etiquette. Or was it love?

One year at a small but busy branch of a conversation school came to a close. I felt I’d learned as much as I could and wanted a new opportunity. My request to move branches for year two was thankfully approved by my manager and forwarded to head office.

The president of the chain had recently secured a contract for an English teacher at a large company in a different prefecture. The position was mine if I wanted it.

The pressing question was how far this new job was from my love in Tokyo. We had met only a few months earlier and my head and heart were soaring far above me most of the time.

two kids holding hands

We like each other a lot!
(This was part of a billboard for a school near my apartment.)

Hurrah! The “commute” of four hours by bullet train to see my darling would be replaced by three hours on a highway bus. This extra hour sealed the deal. Saving around $250 per round-trip compared to the shinkansen was a minor detail.

After I accepted the position, the president asked for a photo to send to his client. Since I wore a suit to work *every single day*, I have no idea why a casual photo of me in sunglasses, crouched beside a frog in front of a pharmacy, holding a second-hand Lonely Planet guidebook would pass as professional.

To provide context of how ridiculous this decision was, the executives and managers who met me on my first day were visibly relieved.

Why that photo was even forwarded and a request not made for a photo along the lines below is also a mystery.

Japanese standard work photo

A very old work photo of Hitoshi that I *still* carry around in my wallet.

Keeping the momentum going

The next request was for an updated resume. Refusing to follow rules I felt were questionable or love clouding my sensibilities meant I duly forwarded the Canadian version*.

It was the wrong content, the wrong size, and glaringly absent of any photographic evidence of me. In Japan, photos are required on resumes for any position. Well, almost any.

When I applied to the conversation school before moving to Japan, my resume was photo-less. As such, I was anonymous to my new manager. Facebook wasn’t open to all, friends and strangers via LinkedIn had not started sending me repeated invites, and my only Internet presence was a somewhat embarrassing half-marathon time.

After one year in Japan, I knew about the photo requirement but thought it unnecessary unless acting or modelling were in my future.

This stubbornness led to the stupid photo above. Anxiety attacks around the Japanese-style resume was the complement.

cute dog

I choose to not get it.
(Hitoshi and I met this adorable pooch while grocery shopping down the road from my place.)

*Canadian resumes shouldn’t include birthdate, age, citizenship, passport information, if English/French is your first language, political affiliation, religion, marital status, kid status, information on dependants or a photo. Anything before high school is skipped and if you’ve got a degree, high school is taken off, too.

Why stop when you’re ahead?

For reasons I never understood, the client wanted a handwritten Japanese-style resume. The forms were standard and available at any convenience store or department store’s stationary zone.

The form required a photo. The proper type was one taken at a professional studio. I skipped that part.

Hitoshi and I sat cross-legged on the floor in the barren living room of my new abode. I chewed my lip and stared at the unassuming two-page form.

Hitoshi started translating and I started printing, in English. Why not go all the way?

Argh! A spelling mistake. Start over!

An ink blob? Start over!

Blue pen? Start over! Only black is acceptable.

Can’t remember your high school hobbies? Too bad!

Don’t know your father’s income? Find out!

Smack! The black pen hit the paper-covered sliding door to the bedroom.

Exasperated and defiant, I concluded that if I never mentioned this resume, no one else would. I was right.

Japanese resume

Yes! It looked as inspiring as this photo.
This is the front page where it asks for the regulars like name and contact info plus education going back to elementary school, age, birthdate, and sex.

“Free” – a weighty word

Mr. President asked me if I had any questions about my new workplace.

Was it smoke free?

Having taught at companies where smoking was allowed fuelled this inquiry. I should clarify. The top brass felt smoking anywhere was okay. The students and I unwillingly bathed and spluttered in the remnants.

Japanese English has a few quirks and the word “free” is one of them. For me, smoke free means NO smoking or FREE OF smoking.

In Japanese English, smoke free means you can smoke anywhere, any time. You are FREE to smoke as you wish.

Mr. President panicked.

We sorted it out.

No smoking sign

Strolling confidently while balancing a log-sized lit cigarette on one fist is strictly forbidden. (Mount Tsukuba)

What happened?!

Perhaps Mr. President thought he had chosen an offensive, culturally clueless, chain-smoking lunatic to represent his company at a new high stakes contract.

Luckily for him, I showed up for work on the first day wearing a suit, looking the part, and sufficiently “good-looking” for the job. I shall take a wide circle around that last comment, for now.

The executives teased me about the sunglasses photo (Egads! Yakuza!), told me to immediately report any sexual harassment from the students (Is there something I should know?), and handed over ten class lists, each having ten students (hmm… that would be 100 students).

They also told me to be myself. This would foster understanding of new cultures.

And so began my new job inside a Japanese company. I felt like a giddy fly on the wall of a secret world.

Japanese k-car

And I got a car… and a Japanese driver’s license, which is another story.

Have you worked at a company in another country? What was it like? If you did the same or perhaps even more ridiculous things than I did, please comment and we’ll start a club.

6 thoughts on “Entering a Japanese company: 1 inane photo, 1 hand-written resume, and a smoke free workplace

  1. Hahaha, wow. I’m surprised/glad you got the job! I tried to think “outside the box” when I was job hunting in Japan (but alas, I failed, which is why I work from home).
    I was shocked, SHOCKED when I went in for an interview and was told my past 1 year internship at a start-up in Shibuya and 1.5 years as a teaching assistant/office assistant in college was a strike against me, since I wasn’t a ‘fresh employee’ anymore. That was my first hint that I was in a new, scary, and radically different place… hahahaha.

    • 😀 Thanks! I think it helped that I was transferring with my current employer. It can be tough, eh? I’ve heard stories about graduated students returning to Japan after working abroad and being shunned for being too old or too tainted, like in your case. It is so different and Hitoshi ran into his own version of the same shock job hunting in Canada!

  2. I’m considering venturing into the airline pilot world again, and I’ll also need a photo to attach to my resume. Green plastic frogs, watch out!
    I’ve worked in Spain, Greece and Norway, but my most remarkable experiences were an internship in Japan. There was only one computer with internet, and it was placed in the middle of the office, so everyone could see what you were doing:) We had an arrangement with one of the girl’s mom, making bentoboxes for all of us. It was great:)

    • Cool! Perhaps I’ll update my post to say if I am planning to be an actress, model or pilot! 😀 That is quite interesting though. I assume that’s for security purposes??

      Wow! That sounds like so much fun. What kind of internship was it?? I can imagine about the computer. I ran into interesting computer related things at that company. Maybe I’ll chat about that in another post. 😀

  3. That is the one thing I found so strange and maybe ‘unprofessional’ when I moved to Taiwan – large English chain school would specify that they wanted someone under 35 years old. However, other schools would ask for a Canadian or American female. And some ads would specially say ‘Asian looking native English speakers welcome to apply.’

    When I moved from Taipei to where I reside now, I had an interview for a job that I couldn’t get out of fast enough. I passed him my resume and he said he didn’t want to read it. He said ‘All you foreigners are the same. Look at me – blue eyes, brown hair – give me a job. He told me the job was mine if I wanted it – I said ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’

    As for my resume, I always submit one in the format used in Canada. The standard resumes here ask about age, height, and even weight and there is a place for a picture as well. And I have a feeling that if I needed to submit of these, I would be writing MYOB a lot (mine your own business)!!

    • It is so different, eh? I was surprised too when I was helping a friend from Europe with her resume when she started job hunting here. I crossed off a pile of info that wasn’t permitted in Canada but completely normal where she was from. She left many things on anyway, just like I wouldn’t add things in my case. Too many HR courses and internal wiring to not bend like bamboo when I don’t agree with something. Ha ha ha! 😀

      I haven’t seen height and weight info in Japan but I’m sure flight attendants get that and of course, anything in the entertainment industry. When I was going to do a voice acting profile (I know – me and everyone else), I was surprised that I had to get a professional head and body shot done. “But it’s for my voice! I’m allowed to be ugly!” ;D That just showed my ignorance for that whole industry though. It’s the same here.

      Yikes! That interview sounds awful! Awfully insulting if you’ve got integrity but perhaps there’s a grain of truth in one regard. I’m going to make a sweeping generalization by saying that the English industry is its own beast in Asia. This is a topic in itself and one that has been flogged to pieces so maybe I’ll throw in my two cents, too. 😀 Have you written about it??

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