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The real title of this should be "The traditional employment model sucks", and I agree with that statement.

I spend 60+ hours a week on the clock as a Japanese salaryman. It kills me. It kills everyone else even more than me because a) I'm the slacker American who actually leaves after a mere 60 hours and b) I don't have a wife and kids.

And looking at my paystub, oh boy, the incentives at the margin make me weep. Monetarily and otherwise. A starting Japanese engineer makes $2,200 a month plus biannual bonuses of something like $4,000 plus benefits. I've got 4 years professional experience so I'm above that but not grossly above it and, anyhow, treble it and it wouldn't make a difference.

The incentive at the margin, on a professional level, is to spend one hour slowly working through the 473rd unit test case on a feature that will be used once a year that isn't crucial to any client anywhere. The feature exists largely to keep up the appearance that the company is working hard for their money. I love programming but I don't love this programming.

The incentive at the monetary level is, well, "less than motivational".

Now I also own a small business selling software. Its no great shakes, but I get to pick the features I implement and the marketing/etc direction I choose. And when I do stuff right, its not the 473rd bullet point on a spec that may never see the light of day, its fifteen paying customers sending me Christmas cards with pictures of their kids. Or if I kick butt and take names for two weeks, rather than getting a pat on the head from the boss, a new stack of busywork, and $60 added to my Christmas bonus (yaaaaay), my sales increase by $400 a month FOR FOREVER.

Is it easy? I don't think anything worthwhile is easy: I've been part-timing this for 2.5 years now and am just creeping into the $20k a year sales range. But someday, in the not so distant future (certainly not 5 years from now like the slideshare presentation suggests), it will be enough. (It actually would cover my burn rate at the moment but I'm a bit of a cautious type.)

And then I will calligraphy-up my resignation letter, make my bows, and walk out of the office while the sun is still shining for a change.

And, as God is my witness, that will be the last time I ever deal with a company as an employee. If they want to be business partners, we can be business partners. If they want me to live my life for them out of a sense of obligation, ho ho ho, I will be happy to introduce them to service providers who are more appropriate to their needs.

(This isn't really a Japan-only thing, incidentally. There are any number of American companies which could be my company, easily. And there are Japanese companies which are better but, really, none is ever going to be as good to me as I would be.)




Just curious, given the long hours and low wages, why do you choose to work in Japan as a "slacker American"?


I choose, for the moment, to live here, in a little town I rather like, close to friends I rather like, attending a little church I rather like, etc.

For better or worse, choosing to live here (or really, anywhere) generally means you get to work nearby as a package deal. I'm working on making that more of an a la carte selection.

(Edit: Incidentally, I don't dislike my job. Parts of it are actually quite fun -- it has made me a much better engineer, I've learned quite a bit, and it has done wonders for my ability to read web application stack traces in Japanese.

Its just that, well, I have a finite number of years to live and hours in my waking day. They can have a few years and many hours. Or they can have many years and few hours. But I'm not willing to sell many years and many hours.)


I'm curious as well as to where you live... and also, about your experiences doing software over in Japan. I've never really had the chance to live there for an extended period of time, but I'd like to give things a go in a year or two... just to get that nagging monkey off my back, and to do something different.

Hopefully, the stack traces don't just read 'エラーが起きました。たいへん申し訳あります。' grin


I think you mean 申し訳ありません (inexcusable).

Though I've tried using 申し訳あります (literally, there is an excuse) before as a joke to lighten the mood when apologizing. I'm not sure they got it.


Damnit, I can't believe I typed that, and didn't catch it. Goes to show how bad my Japanese has gotten over the past year. I really need to start studying again, and not just chattering with my girlfriend.

Yeah, 大変申し訳あります sounds like something you'd see in 漫才.


If you don't mind sharing, whereabouts do you live? I'm guessing a commuting town near Tokyo?


ho ho ho, I will be happy to introduce them to service providers who are more appropriate to their needs.

So polite, the Japanese ;-)


OK, so this is sort of a pet peeve of mine: Japan is a polite country. It isn't a uniquely polite country. My post is a bog-standard American businessman pleasant refusal for a request without saying "Your business is unprofitable so #"$& off and die."

Relatedly: Americans have been known to say one thing but believe another. Gasp! I actually had a Japanese coworker who was flummoxed when that happened to him -- he said, in as many words, "What is the world coming to?! We invented [the Japanese word for the distinction between what one says and what one actually believes] and now even the Yankees are doing it?!"


A management course I recently took referred to this as the "integrity snowman." Think of three big snow balls labelled "what I think," "what I do," and "what I say" stacked on each other :-) The challenge is to keep them balanced in a straight line.




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