Working in a country with a different language, culture, and set of customs can be challenging. Romaguera Maryrose Maligalig speaks from experience. The global staffing agent, from the Philippines, describes problems people from abroad have faced in Japanese companies. She also offers possible solutions. In the latter part of the program, NHK Sapporo's Yoshikawa Ryuichi explains how and when to rely on disaster evacuation centers.
Living in Japan! Hello everyone, thank you for tuning in to our show. I’m Ruth, I’m Stuart.
Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan, whether now or in the future. We share hints and tips to make the best out of your life in Japan.
Japan is now in the middle of the May holidays, Golden Week. This year too, we need to spend the holidays with taking infection control measures, right?
We do. Yeah, it's very important. But I hope all of you enjoy Golden Week in your own way.
Yes it is, and I think it's a time to breathe a sigh of relief, especially for those who started a new life in April.
Indeed. But some of them find that they have been tired of their new life during the holidays and their motivation tends to drop a bit after Golden Week.
Yes, I know this. In Japan this is called May illness. So today we would like to introduce some examples of problems faced by international people working for Japanese companies, as well as some hints on how to solve those problems. Sounds great. OK, let's welcome today's guest.
HINTS FROM SENPAI
It's time for our main section, Hints from Senpai. Senpai is a Japanese word for whoever has more knowledge or experience than us. Every single show, we will invite a different senpai that can give us tips and hints on how to do things better.
Yes, and today's theme is tips for handling workplace challenges. Nice! Today's guest is from the Philippines. She worked for a Japanese company as a technical intern herself, and now works for a global staffing agency, helping to match Japanese companies with international people who wish to work in Japan.
Would you please welcome Miss Romaguera Maryrose Maligalig.
Hi Maryrose, thank you for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
Now Maryrose, you worked as a technical intern. When was that and what kind of a place did you work at? I worked at an automotive warehouse for three years, starting last 2014.
How did you feel when you worked in Japan for the first time?
To be honest, I had the impression that Japanese people are very detailed and strict, but of course it's a warehouse, so I understand that it should be strict to prevent accident. So aside from that, I remember if I made a mistake, even a small one, my boss will get angry, and I had to reject the flow again and again.
Oh no, how did you overcome that?
Basically at that time I just apologized and tried my best not to repeat the same thing. This is more or less in the case in every company. If you follow the rules, there won't be any problems. So, we have to think it positively.
That's really important. Today's topic is tips for handling workplace challenges. So, please also tell us about the challenges you have heard from maybe other international people who are actually working in Japan.
Yes, for example, a person who works in a nursing home had a concern that she or he doesn't understand what the elderly people in the facility are saying.
Oh, I can totally understand that. For international people working in Japan, language is a barrier they have to overcome, right? But the words of the elderly may be even more difficult to understand because their voices might be quiet or kind of unclear, or they have like some accent. So, what kind of advice do you give to the person?
For me, as a previous technical intern trainee, basically I studied Japanese to some extent before coming to Japan. However, it is difficult to master it perfectly in a study period of about six months. Therefore, they have no choice but to learn while working and living in Japan. If you leave things as they are because you don't understand them, you will not be able to communicate using their own language. Right.
So basically, not only for those who are living in Japan, but also for those who are currently waiting to come to Japan, our company are giving some Japanese study groups and promotes study methods that can be done in one spare time, such as watching Japanese anime or dramas and learning while having fun.
I used to learn a lot of my Japanese from watching Chibi Maruko-chan, Sazae-san, and these kind of cartoons on a Sunday evening. And then by doing that, one thing—I think this is a really important point for people—it’s actually a very mathematical language. There are certain patterns, for example, if something you want to do, nani nani wo shitai, that comes at the end of a sentence, right? So, if you remember that and just substitute the words, the verbs and the nouns and so on, you can use that one sentence to talk about whole range of different things.
That's really smart. My style is reading out loud, so every morning I have a Japanese some kind of text, and I read it and I say it out loud. And then the other thing that I learned, one more tip, is when you are trying to communicate and the other person speaks very fast to Japanese—if you speak slowly with your Japanese, oftentimes the Japanese person will think, “Ah I need to speak at that speed for her to understand.” So, I try to speak slowly, and I notice a lot of Japanese people would try to speak slowly to me. So, that helps me a lot. That's a good idea. Yeah, and Maryrose, what other work challenges did you hear about?
Yes, this is another concern of the person who works in a nursing home. At the facility, they are able to have meals with the elderly, but the person has religious reasons for not being able to eat certain foods. So, the person asked me if it would be OK if she will refuse it.
Hmm, is that something the person should not ask?
Of course, it's OK to ask, but the person couldn't ask it because she thought it might be a problem if she did.
Right, so I understand that people wouldn't want to cause a problem at their workplace, right? Especially if they just started working there. So how did you actually advise that person?
So, basically for religions, there are rules for dress, prayer times, and food regulations. But basically at my company, before we matched the candidates, the company—we asked the conditions. And then after that, there will be no religion related issues. But there are some issues that come up unexpectedly in the course of work, like—for example—when that happens we still have resolved it through communication on both sides. Of course, selfishness is not acceptable, but if there is something difficult in the workplace, it is important to communicate it clearly and create a comfortable working environment for yourself.
Communication is so important because you're dealing with religious, cultural, and personal differences. And if you're too scared to communicate, you feel reluctant to get involved with that, and you try to avoid it all the time, whereas by avoiding it you're making it far worse. Japanese people do actually, really, they're quite open to communication in a workplace.
Yeah, I agree. You want to hear my funny story? When I entered my Japanese company in 1988, December 25th was a work day, and I was just, “What? December 25th?” In my country that's absolutely nobody would ever think of working. That's the day you go to church. Christmas, it's Christmas Day. So, I thought, oh, I shouldn't say it because that's my selfish personal thing.
So, I woke up in the morning. I went to work, and they were all having the morning meeting, and one of the guys said in Japanese, “Today is a very special day!” And I was like, oh man, they know, they know that this is the special day. And then he said, “Today is a special day.
Today is Santa Claus's birthday!” Ah, that's a little different than actually what it is. Slightly different, yes.
So, I felt like OK, next year, I definitely wanna take this day off because I understand that conforming is important, but I don't want to break my heart, right? If it's something that important to you, correct? So, I talked to my boss and I said, "Next year would it be OK if 25th I took a break?" And my boss said, “Why didn't you say earlier?” Exactly.
He said, "Whatever is important to you is also important to us." So don't hold back. Please say something that's so important to you. So, I think if it's something that's so close to your heart, it's good to be have courage and try to say something.
Now had you not brought that topic up, that may have been an issue between you and your workplace for a very, very long time going forward, so it was a good thing you did that. Exactly. Well done.
Today's topic is tips for handling workplace challenges, and our guest—Maryrose, who works for a global staffing agency. Wrapping up, Maryrose, please give us some encouragement to international people working in Japan.
Yes, the last thing I want to tell you is to overcome the first obstacle. Actually, I did not like Japan at first. I came to Japan to support my family rather than my own choice. When I was working in an automotive warehouse, I would not be able to communicate well with Japanese people. And when I greeted them, they ignore me. But in fact, the Japanese just did not know how to communicate with us. Yeah, so I kept talking to them without giving up. and gradually they started to talk to me.
I hope you will work hard, overcome the first obstacle in a certain period of time for three months or six months, and then look back on the reasons why you are here in Japan and trials that you had before you came here. In this case, it may help you to gain strength and more confidence to stay and fight all the trials that will come to you in the future.
Alright, that was Romaguera Maryrose Maligalig. Thank you very much for your time today, Maryrose. Thank you very much as well. Thank you so much.
GOOD TO KNOW
Good to know. Time for us to get informed, enlightened, and maybe even a little surprised. We've invited an anchor from up north to join us today. Say hello to Ryuichi from NHK in Sapporo. Hi, Ryuichi.
Hello, well, thanks for having me today. Absolute pleasure. Yeah, well, the year is still young, but we've already experienced some serious earthquakes in Japan. Yes, that's right. Even though we know they're inevitable, they always come as a surprise.
That is so true. And not only earthquakes. Wherever we live in Japan, we cannot ignore the need to be prepared for natural disasters. Quakes, typhoons and things of that sort are unsettling to just anyone. Especially so to those people from abroad. Of course, you speak Japanese, but how have you reacted in these type of situations?
There's always a moment of uncertainty. For example, when you first feel an earthquake, you wonder—is this going to be a big one, what should I do at this moment? So, one of the most important ways to be ready is knowing how to get to the closest evacuation center, called Hinanjo in Japanese.
Hinanjo. The centers are set up in response to some disaster, but the locations are designated in advance. Is that correct?
Yes, that's correct, and they are often in public school gyms or other facilities run by your local government or governments of the area where you work or study. In case of disaster occurs, then you can check the locations on the municipal website. Go to Bosai or disaster prevention category and there's usually a list of evacuation centers, sometimes even with a map. And even if you cannot find it, you can always call them and ask.
Oh my gosh, I'm gonna check mine today.
So, for example, in my case, I know that the nearest evacuation center is an elementary school just 500 meters from where I live.
OK, do you have to go to the one that's closest to your house?
Well, not necessarily. Just go to the one that's easiest to get to, but make the plan in advance though. Of course, you may have to improvise a bit in an actual situation: for example, if a road is blocked. So, you'd be wise to know of several locations, not just one.
Of course, several locations near where you live. Also, if you're a student where you study, and if you're a worker where you work, it's very important as well. What can we rely on it to do for us?
Well that depends on the scale of the disaster we're talking about. So generally, though, you should be able to expect three meals a day, a futon mat or cardboard bed to lie down on, and sometimes they have temporary baths. Cities and towns with substantial Muslim populations are starting to serve halal food too. That's good, that's great. The evacuation centers also function as information hubs. So, you will be able to get the news you need there.
If you don't speak Japanese well, can you still go to an evacuation center?
Absolutely, the goal is for everyone to be safe. Where I live, the city is reaching out to the international community. Last year, it organized a group called SAFE. What SAFE stands for: Sapporo Assistance for Foreigners in Emergencies. And the SAFE consists of right now 33 residents from 15 countries. So, they are all fluent in Japanese. Once evacuation centers are set up, they go around and work as a liaison between the staff and the international evacuee.
That sounds really, really helpful. Now is this kind of service available in other parts of Japan?
That's right, so even if you are one of only a few people from overseas in town though, don't hesitate to evacuate when necessary.
Anything else we international residents should keep in mind about evacuation centers?
Well, I would say don't let a lack of language skills hold you back. Find what you can do to help the center keep going. It's a cooperative venture, and if you do happen to be fluent in Japanese though, maybe you can also work as a translator. Of course, we all hope to never need to evacuate, but we have to act as if we will and be prepared.
Thank you very much Ryuichi.
Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me.
May, it's the season to enjoy spring to the fullest before the rainy season hits us in June. Actually, for me May is really special for Golden Week because I do a bunch of kids’ live shows, singing songs in English to hundreds of kids all around Japan. Brilliant. Ruth, now is there anything you're looking forward to in May, especially?
Well, I mean, May is a really special month for me because it's actually my birthday, but the best birthday present for me every year is the fact that my daughter was born the very next day. So, my daughter's birthday is the day after mine, so I always get the best present in the world. That’s wonderful!
I hope everyone has a wonderful spring.
Yes, of course. Now we're looking forward to more and more listeners joining us here. You can listen to this show on our website too. Go to NHK WORLD-JAPAN website, click on On Demand, choose audio, and find Living in Japan. Also, if you have any comments or requests, please send us a message through our website. We'll be back on June 5th with another edition of Living in Japan. Bye.