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Career Aspirations

Blogging will resume in a few weeks, more on that later.  For now, I just have to share this great quote from the movie Say Anything.  Hopefully that will bring you back to the 1980s!

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a
career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy
anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or
processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a
career, I don’t want to do that. – Lloyd Dobler

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Life After Death

As I was driving through the nothingness that is between Atlanta and Augusta in the state of Georgia, I passed the time listening to Ira Glass’s latest This American Life program. The show can be a real hit or miss–sometimes it is best to turn it off when driving as it can put you to sleep. I always give it a chance though. This week’s program, Life After Death, was a very good one that really makes you think. The topic was guilt over accidental death, and how an individual deals with it.

The story covers three people:

  • A twelve-year old thought he was responsible for the death of his friend because he challenged the devil
  • An 18-year-old who hits a bicycle pedestrian
  • An Iraq war veteran and his experience in the war and in returning home

I thought the bicycle accident story was particularly strong and forces one to pause and give thought. After all, it could happen to any of us any day, whether in the car or on the bicycle. Give this a listen while at work or commuting or where ever you have some time in the day.

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Winter Storm

Hard to believe it is already February first.  Where do the days go?  It has been getting warming in Charleston recently, and despite the winter storm blowing though, it will only get warmer.  Hopefully then I’ll be able to take the family out for exploring downtown Charleston and all it has to offer.

I’ve been busy cooking away recently, particularly on the grill.  Winter is the best season to grill because you can keep warm in front of the flames while you cook a good hearty meal. Nothing like coming in from the cold after grilling to a warm home and a hot meal, eh? I’ve grilled a few steaks, some home-made cheeseburgers, and a new favorite, miso-marinated chicken.  Aichi-ken will just not let go of me, I have to get my miso fix from time to time. Speaking of Japanese food…

IMG_0036

Daikon at the supermarket – the picture doesn’t show it well, but it is much smaller than the daikon in Japan, and more expensive too.  Of course when it comes to aubergines, they are tiny in Japan and gigantic in the USA.  Could it be an analogy on a standardized test?  Daikon : Japan :: Aubergine : United States

So I finally saw the Avatar 3D IMAX film after hearing everyone rave about it since late December.  While the story ended a little bit too happy for my tastes, the 3D effects and the virtual world they created for the film completely blew me away.  I had no idea that computer graphics had progressed this far.  The 3D was really interesting too, it makes you feel like you are so much more apart of what is going on.  I can see the film industry splitting in two in the future, however.  One will do classic film, perhaps the big name stars who refused to be computerized, as well as the art-nouveau types.  Then there will be the Hollywood blockbusters and animated features that go to 3D filming. Apparently 3D television sets are due on the market soon too…anyway.  Even if you’re not into science fiction at any level, go see this film just to enjoy the visual world they’ve created.  It is fabulous on the big screen!

I was back in Charlotte just in time for a big winter storm.  Snow was dumped all over the mid-Atlantic, and while many people groaned and whined about the winter storm, it made my year.  I wish it snowed every year!  The white snow blanketed the ground and made everything look nice and clean once again.

IMG_0039How can you not like this?

I’ve seen my snow for 2010, so I can try to be a better sport about the intense summer coming up in a few months.

So what is up with Toyota?  As the proud–yet now rather embarrassed–owner of a Toyota RAV4 that will need to be recalled, I wonder if it was worth the extra money to buy from Toyota.  Though visually the RAV4 looks better than the mini-SUV from Hyundai, the prices and warranties from Hyundai are much better.  I bought the Toyota for the company’s reputation for quality and safety, but in trying to top GM for the #1 in sales spot, Toyota seems to have lost their magic.  All they had to do was wait for GM to go bust again.  My fingers are crossed that my gas pedal doesn’t get stuck anytime soon.  CTS Corp. and Toyota…work overtime to build the new part and ship it to the dealers ASAP! C’mon!

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Looks like NHK is reporting that the DPJ took the majority in the lower house of the Diet.  Hopefully DPJ will be able to bring about the change that the people of Japan are hoping for.

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Aerial views of North Korea

I’ve always enjoyed using Google Earth to look at areas I’m familiar with fromt he birds-eye view. I’ve retraced bus travels from my trips in Taiwan, found former residences, and even located interesting geometries that I could never have seen from the ground.  So I was fortunate today that the BBC has a fascinating article online, Satellites uncover North Korea.  Perhaps it is the reclusiveness of the country that sparks my interest, but I really enjoyed the satellite photos.  Come to think of it, wouldn’t being a satellite analyst be an interesting job?

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I’ve been working with a number of Japanese recruiting agencies that operate in the USA placing candidates in Japanese-owned companies in the USA.  Previously I had felt that I could find the most opportunities with Japanese firms that might appreciate my business experience in Japan and my business language abilities. I feel very differently now, but that is an issue for another post.  Regarding the recruiting agencies, some are the big global names that you see plastered all of the trains in Tokyo, and some are small companies that were launched in the USA solely.  After dealing with quite a few of these, I thought I’d share my experience.  However, living in the “Land of Litigation” now, I won’t call out any particular agency by name.

Before I talk about my experience with the Japanese recruiters in the US, I should probably speak a little about how recruiters operate in Japan.  Recruiters play the necessary role of the middleman, bringing together mid-career professionals and small to medium-sized companies in Japan.  Staffing agencies supply hourly and contract labor to the large Japanese enterprises that traditionally do not take mid-career professionals.  Unlike many companies in North America, Japanese companies rarely directly advertise open positions and instead prefer to use recruiting and staffing agencies to fill any gaps.  Japanese firms abroad also do not advertise their openings, rather they turn to recruiting and staffing agencies to find Japanese-speaking and bilingual candidates.

Getting Started

The first step with the recruiting agencies is to register your candidate profile on their website.  This is no different than from the regular American staffing agencies either.  Shortly afterward–a few days usually–a representative from the agency will call you and try to get a better understanding of your skills and abilities.  They will also try to assess your Japanese language ability too.  They will ask you what type of position you’re looking for, your desired compensation, and eventually ask you to send them a MS Word formatted resume/CV.

Some agencies may ask you to drive to their offices for an in-person interview.  Simply refuse to do so unless you live in the same city as their office; they just want candidate profiles and at this point they are in no position to introduce you to an actual job opening.  If the agency says that you must do the in-person interview first before they can introduce a job, my advice is to stop doing business with them immediately.  It is not worth your time or your money.

Applying for an open position

Next you will be able to apply to jobs listed on their websites, or the recruiters may even send you openings via email.  Usually, very little information is listed regarding the position.  The job title and location are always available, but salary information, qualifications, and other important information are often missing.  To find out more you contact the recruiter expressing interest in the opening.  You’ll most likely be in for a surprise regarding the following issues:

  • Salary and compensation:  For example, US $60k for a network engineer in Manhattan, US $50k for a software developer in downtown Los Angeles, and $25k for a firmware developer around Detroit.  If you’ve done your market research you quickly notice that the Japanese employers are offering at times about half of the going market rate for such positions.
  • Benefits: Because the recruiters know that the salary is low by market standards, they will try to pitch to you that the benefits are great with this client.  But what does that mean?  Potential employers will not offer transportation vouchers, no Japanese-style bonuses (i.e. guaranteed), no health club memberships, or any other perks.  Some claim that their health insurance policies are better than the usual plan, but then again that is what every company says about their health insurance plans.
  • Interviewing: Your are expected to shoulder the travel and lodging expensives for an interview.  If the position is on the opposite side of the country, you’re looking at hotel expenses, car rental and cross-continental airfare.  In Japan this is normal practice, but in the US the employer, unless specifically looking for local candidates only, is expected to fly the potential candidates out for interviews.
  • Visa sponsorship for non-citizens: While most American companies will not sponser a visa unless they really must, the Japanese companies are very open to the idea of visa sponsorship.

Let me recap: below market rate salary, benefits do not offset the lower salary, and the job hunting expenses fall all on the potential candidate.  Why bother! Yet what can we extrapolate from this?  The Japanese companies simply want to do business as they do in Japan.  US $60k or 6,000,000 yen is plenty of salary to live comfortably in Tokyo, where 900,000 yen or US $900 gets you a nice apartment with a short 30-minute commute to downtown Tokyo.  But $60k in Manhattan is hardly enough to get by in Queens or Brooklyn without living in the shadier parts of the city and commuting for 90 minutes.  And downtown Los Angeles for $25k below market rates?  Imagine how much money is spent on gasoline and parking garages, as well as the time sitting idle in gridlocked traffic on the freeways!

The fact that Japanese companies in the USA are open to visa sponsorship stands out the most, however.  It indicates to me that they primarily feed off of Japanese students studying in the USA as undergraduates or MBA students and looking for work in the USA after graduate.  Based on my experience, I say don’t bother unless you really want to have the chance to speak a little Japanese at the office.  If you feel otherwise, then stick to the direct placement adverts and the regular recruiters.

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Hatoya Japanese Market

I was delightfully surprised to find that even Charlotte has its own true Japanese market.  My hometown back in Virginia had many Chinese, Korean  and Vietnamese markets that carried some of the most common Japanese shelf supplies, but never a Japanese market that carried the less common Japanese foods.

Hatoya, located just off I-485 and 51, is a decently sized market located inside a typical North American strip mall.  (There is also an Indian and Mexican grocer in the same center) While I’m sure it cannot compete with Japanese markets on the West Coast, it had plenty of Japanese products, including “sato imo”, “naga imo”, “natto” (blech!), mugi-cha tea bags, green tea leaves,  as well as all sorts of common frozen and shelf products one would find in a typical super market in Japan.  They even stock Cook-Do easy Chinese kits!  They do not stock rice grown in Japan, but they have a decent selection of Japanese-style rices grown in California.  For the same size bag of rice, the cost here in the US is one-third to one-half the price in Japan–that was surprising.

Besides food products, they also have a video rental service, Mild Seven tabacco, a small selection of sake, and Japanese personal care items.  The personal care items surprised my wife and I quite a bit.  When I was in Japan I found that Japanese hair care products dried out my hair and scalp too much, and I had to import American shampoos.  I imagine that American hair care products are probably not suitable for treating and take care of Japanese hair, so it was certainly a relief to see “Asience” and other hair care products.

While we’re here in Charlotte until I can find a job, it looks like Hatoya carries all of the items we need.  If only they sold oolong tea bags–I guess we’ll have to go to the Chinese market for that.

For reference:

Hatoya
605 N. Polk St.
Pineville, NC
(704) 889-6600

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