Tomorrow a new year begins

And this is no April fool’s joke. The school year and the fiscal year both begin on the first of April in Japan. And I find it highly inspiring and uplifting.
Why should we begin school in September, when the sun is just starting to cool and the days starting to shorten? Is school the graveyard of the good times?
sakura 2
I appreciate the wisdom of starting the year with spring even more now than ever because I find myself in a crossroads where my options are at the same time scarce and endless: I just finished the studies I initially came to Japan for, and after fifteen long months of tenacious job hunting I am still on the side bench with no serious perspective of employment. It is a bit of a downer when I look back at my studies and work experience and most importantly my aspirations and motivation.
But seen under another light, it might just be the best thing ever that happened to me. I am finally forced to do something with my life. At last, I have enough time and resources to do whatever it is I always wanted to do. And this is a scary perspective: knowing that you no longer have the excuse of the job, the report to submit, kids or this infinity of little things we burry ourselves in just avoiding to answer the question: what is it that we really want to do?
So instead of dwelling on my miserable luck in finding a job in Japan, I will embrace the spring spirit and start this new year with a blossoming heart and a fresh look on life.
sakura 1

The ring: the true story

The Japanese phenomenal scary movie is known for its spine chilling story depicting a pure evil Japanese lady who comes back to haunt people through a video tape; or something along this line.
But what you don’t know is that behind the legend, the spiritual world and the ghostly atmosphere of the movie, there is a real life drama that lives on in modern day Japan.
Let me tell you the real story of the ring.
Once upon a time, there was a young Japanese girl who worked so diligently in school that she surpassed all her classmates and earned a scholarship to one of Japan’s best universities. Far from taking it easy as her girlfriends did, she worked even harder and ended up among the top ten of her class. At the same time, she met the love of her life. She was the envy of all the girls around her. Her long silky black hair swaying as she moved, she would run after class from the library, holding her books to her chest, and head to the nearby park to meet him. The blossoming cherry trees would rain pink petals on their dreams of a happy life together.
They got married by the end of her fourth year, and while he secured a nice job at one of Japan’s biggest companies, she went on to complete her master’s degree. Her friends would tease her about wasting her time in school while she would better be having kids and caring for her household. But she was determined to break the circle that shaped the lives of women around her; she wanted to prove to her mother that she could have it all, family and career, to her friends that her dreams weren’t to die.
The job hunting season started. Clad in black and white and facing freezing winter and hot humid summer, she went to companies’ events, filled entry sheets and submitted resumes. And interview after interview, she expressed her motivation, presented her credentials and defended her skills. But although on paper everything about her profile seemed right, all the recruiters seemed to see was the Ring. The wedding band around her finger seemed to gather the light in the room and draw a circle around her. And then she became invisible.
The ring that was her happiness for a long time began to eat at her little by little, shrinking the space around her and reducing her to a walking wife and kids’ bearer.
At first she thought there was a misunderstanding somewhere, she refused to give up and persisted approaching even more companies than she did before. She reviewed her ambitions, and the financial analyst positions that she coveted gave place to sales staff openings in garment shops. But it all went to no end. The ring was all any potential recruiter would ever see. They would be interested at first and examine different possibilities until their eyes fell on the ring and they asked the fatal question. She learned to dread the moment she had to state her marital status. She hated the shift in their faces from eager interest in her profile to disappointment and even despise in the look they shot her ring.
It went on for a year after she graduated, the heels of her black shoes were bent from walking from a company to the other, and the hate she had for her ring was only second to the suffocating sense of guilt that never left her. She was feeling guilty for disappointing her teachers that foresaw a bright future for her; guilty for not proving her friends wrong when they told her she shouldn’t try so hard and should just enjoy being a housewife; guilty for resenting her husband at times when all he did was support her endeavors; and guilty for feeling guilty all the time.
She was forced to give up at the end. She had to learn to live inside a house and an empty schedule, had to find activities that take her mind off the rage that boiled inside her.
Her house chores would be done by eleven in the morning, and then she would have nine more hours to get through by her self until her husband came home from his work.
She would sit long hours frozen at her window, looking at the sky.
From here on things only got darker and gloomier; so long story made short, she ends up finding an abandoned well in the backyard of her grandmothers house and while everyone is busy with the funeral of the deceased old lady, she jumps in.
Her restless spirits kept roaming around, angry at times and wailing its misery at others.
To make the story more bearable to viewers, they made it into a scary movie instead of the black tragedy it really is. And thus we got to watch the ring and hate the mean spirit.
I am telling this story because I am living almost the same story. But while I would never ever throw myself in a well, nor into anything higher than a 30 cm jump, I feel at times (more often than I wish to admit actually) like smacking those macho recruiters -who aren’t exclusively men- on the face and scream at them that even in Morocco, a Muslim country with an economy incomparable to the Japanese one and with a strongly patriarchal mindset, all the women I know work and keep on working through marriage, child birth, cold, back ache, family loss…and they actually get to occupy key positions in all fields.
So, what the hell Japan!!! How can such an advanced country put half its population on the bench and reduce them to a passive role of supporting THE husband and wasting years of education in shopping malls and behind the kitchen counter.
I have to admit that there are still outstanding examples of over-achieving ladies in all areas, but they are an exception to an overall male dominated society.
At first I found the enthusiasm of young Japanese girls suspicious when I said I was married, but then as my job search went on I understood their view of the institution as a life boat, an only option in a society where women are generally treated as second grade citizen.
The idea that Arab and Muslim countries are the only ones to oppress their women just proves itself wrong in Japan. While women here have all the freedom to dress as they like and do as they please when it comes to their bodies, they are still submitted to strong archetypes and social unspoken rules that push them to chose to care for their family above anything else.
And while it seems as a free choice, I believe that in many cases it is more of an only issue from a dead end situation. School hours and child care infrastructure just make it impossible for a working mom to conciliate career and family obligations, let alone advancing along the hierarchy ladder. Besides, the mostly macho mentality makes it almost a fantasy to count on the partner’s help at home.
Having stated this, and being the obstinate optimistic that I am, I just believe that I will find a path where I can have it all. Somewhere I can put my knowledge and experience to good use, all while taking good care of my husband and home. Maybe this is just the way the universe is pushing me to examine new horizons.
But that would be a whole different story.

Between the paddy field and the river

paddy field

One thing I love about Japan is being able to enjoy nature everyday. I live between a river and a paddy field, far from the crowded streets and skyscrapers of the city center. So on weekends I can take long stroll on the river banks, watch the kids practice baseball and trains pass through every couple of minutes in the distance.
I love this peacefulness, being able to drink my tea on the grassy hills by the river, side by side with my better half. This is exactly the Japan I came looking for.
River-sideSilver river


Parmi les choses que j’aime le plus au Japon, c’est d’être au contact de la nature tous les jours. Je vis entre une rizière et une rivière, bien loin des rues encombrées et les gratte-ciel du centre ville. Cela fait que je peux passer mes week-ends au bord de la rivière à faire de longues balades, regarder les gosses courir après leurs balles de base-ball et les trains passer toutes les dix minutes au loin.
J’aime cet atmosphère paisible, pouvoir juste boire mon thé en regqrdqnt le coucher du soleil avec mon chéri. C’est exactement celà le Japon de mes rêves.

Playing by the river

Milestones

Keep Calm
As I mentioned last time, I don’t really do new year resolutions. The main reason is that my personal working schedule doesn’t always fit the calendar. This year for example, I spent most of the holidays working in front of my computer.So all the new year feeling just hit me today.
I finally submitted a work that took almost four months of my life, all with sleepless nights, full working week ends and liters of black tea.
I handed my twenty seven pages of painfully squeezed combination of theory and data analysis, edited and re-edited, and then re-edited again until there was only the essence neatly presented; and then I was empty.
You know that lightweight you suddenly feel after a long term stress, a mixture of relief, a good deal of tiredness, a feeling of loss and a bit of anxiety (I was running through my mails and agenda looking for some appointment I might have forgotten about).
I had this big hole in my heart, so I got a lot of junk food to fill it.
Six hours later, here I am in front of my computer again, still trying to digest all the oil (no more Mc Donald’s for two months) and my brain is burning its neurons off building castles and launching projects in all directions.
So two deep breath, slow down, pour a nice cup of tea and let’s take a look at the last three years.
The good:
– My student life is over…yeay??
– Went from zero to a business level (theoretically) in the language I always wanted to learn: Japanese.
– I nailed the lemon tart
-…and made turkish manti, from scratch (winner dance)
– Got back to learning piano…14 years later.
The bad:
– I have no perspectives for the future whatsoever, except a guaranteed position of super-qualified housewife.
– My Japanese is good enough to graduate, but still way far from what it takes to get a decent job in Japan.
– I am no longer 20!!
– My physical activity is down to a two kilometers walk a day…on good days.
What’s to come:
– I could start a franchise of the real housewives of Japan, it might be dull though seen how Japanese tend to avoid drama.
– The job hunt is still on.
– Study more Japanese.
– Blog??
But for now I will just take time to smile upon that milestone and tomorrow is a new day.

Suit-up, Ready? Wait a second…

A vos costumes, prêts ? une seconde…


If you thought this fancy navy suit will serve you any good you are so wrong!! And you lady, gray is no color to meet a potential recruiter, better think again.
As a matter of fact, the first thing that any prospective graduate should do when starting a job hunting process in Japan is to dress the part.
In Japan, one does not simply suit-up Barney Stinson style to go job hunting.
First, you have to make sure to get the black suit. No prints, no fancy fabric, just simple double buttoned black suit. If you are a girl, you still have a choice between a skirt and pants suit. But then again, you should keep the color to a simple black and the pencil skirt to knee length.
Complicated much? Go tell the poor Gaijin (foreigner) that I am!!
When I first started my “job hunting” endeavours, I went naturally shopping for a suit. I started looking around different shapes and sober colours. I couldn’t stray much from the sober anyway because in Japanese serious suits shops, you could hardly find anything very far from the gray-navy-beige spectrum.
So here I was looking around, picturing how convincing I could look in that beige suit, when a nice shop clerk came to help. As I explained what I was looking for her face lit up with a knowing smile. She then directed me to a corner of the shop with all the “recruit suits”. I wasn’t very thrilled at the sight of all this black and white, but I still gave it a shot.
When I saw the silhouette looking back at me from the mirror in her black suit and crisp white shirt, I half expected her to start speaking in perfect Japanese. And knowing my level of Japanese, that kind of deceptive impression wouldn’t do me any good.
I finally settled for a dark grey suit, determined to make up for this slight deviation from the rules by keeping a more by the book attitude in everything else.
That was before I knew what this implied.


Si vous pensiez que ce luxueux costard bleu-marine vous serait d’aucune utilité, vous avez vachement tort !! Et vous madame, le gris n’est pas une couleur à porter lorsqu’on va à la rencontre d’un recruteur potentiel ; vaut mieux y réfléchir à nouveau .
Le fait est que, au Japon s’il y a une chose à laquelle un future diplômé doit faire attention avant d’entammer sa recherche d’emploi, c’est bien l’aspect vestimentaire.
Au Japon, ce n’est pas aussi simple que d’enfiler un costard à la Barney Stinson pour aller à la coquête du marché de l’emploi :
D’abord, il faut être sûr d’avoir le costard NOIR. Sans motifs ni tissus élaboré, simplent un costard noir à double bouton. Quant à vous mesdames, estimez-vous chanceuses d’avoir encore le choix entre un ensemble avec jupe ou avec pantalon. Mais là encore, il ne faur surtout pas envisager une couleur autre qu’un simple noir, et si c’est une jupe, il est vital que ce soit une jupe droite au niveau des genoux.
Compliqué? Si seulement la pauvre Gaijin que je suis en eut été consciente !! (c’est pas du plus que parfait qu’on a ici … pardi)
Quand j’ai commencé à rechercher un emploi ici, j’ai bien entendu commencé par aller en quête de l’ensemble qui tue sa race. Je ne suis pas la super cool nana non-plus, donc j’ai commencé par voir du côté des coupes et couleurs plutôt sobres ; et puis de toute façon il est difficile de faire trop criant au Japon : côté ensembles, on ne s’écarte pas de la sphère bleu-marine/gris/beige.
J’étais là à examiner ce charmant ensemble beige et m’imaginer l’allure « d’executive » qu’il allait me donner, quand une adorable vendeuse me vint en aide (naturellement). Dès que je lui expliquai ce que je cherchais, elle me dirigea vers le rayon « recruit suits » avec des ensembles tous noirs et des chemises toutes blanches. Malgré le choc de vision pinguinesque, je me suis dit que je ne perdais rien à essayer.
La silhouette qui me fit face dans la cabine d’essayage était si convaincante que je m’attendis Presque à ce qu’elle se mette à me parler en un Japonais parfait. Ceci, vu mon niveau de langue, m’aurait été aussi fatale qu’une publicité mensongère.
En fin de compte, j’opta pour un ensemble en gris foncé, en écart des « règles », mais plus en accord avec qui je suis ; tout en me promettant qu’à l’avenir je me rattrapperai enrespectant plus méticuleusement les codes de la « chasse à l’emploi » .
Ce fut avant de réaliser ce que ce voeux impliquait.


First of all, the suit is nothing without proper shoes.
The picture here explains the subtle implications of a rounded shoe versus a pointed one.


Tout d’abord, le costard/ensemble n’est rien sans les chaussures appropriées.
L’image ci-dessous explique bien la différence subtile existant entre des chaussures à bout rond et d’autres à bout carré.

Ladies shoes-shuukatsu

And gentlemen, if you thought you were off the hook, don’t be so eager to rejoice.


Et messieurs, si vous pensiez être saufs, attendez de voir le reste.

Men shoes-shuukatsu

Do I need say more?


Y a-t-il encore quelque chose à rajouter?


After these futile material matters are taken care of, we move on to more spiritual subjects. My dear friends, please know that the height at which you decide to tie you pony tail is crucial to the impression you give. It is actually directly proportional to your ambitions.


Et après toutes ces futilités matertielles, passons aux coeur des choses. Mes chers amies, sachez que la hauteur de votre queue de cheval est crutiale pour l’image que vous projetez. Plus bas vous attacherez vos cheveux et plus terre-à-terre est l’image que vous donnerez de vous.

hair style

And I won’t even get into the philosophical aspects of make-up, because as you certainly know it, a tad too pronounced cheek color may ruin the day. I won’t even bore you with the tale of the “job hunting make-up seminar” I unintentionally found myself sitting at just to get “strongly advised” to apply concealer to my eyes so as to make them look smaller.


Et je n’irai même pas aborder les aspects métaphyisiques de votre maquillage parcque, comme vous devez certainement savoir, un coup de fard un peu trop prononcé a le pouvoir de ruiner votre futur. Et je n’irai certaiment pas vous ennuyer avec la « formation en maquillage pour recherche d’emploi » à laquelle j’ai assité par pur malentendu, et où je me suis vue vivement recommander d’utiliser un anti-cernes de façon à rappetisser mes yeux (si telle chose est possible).


Well, after all this is said and done, rest to master the art of sitting:


Après tout celà, vient bien entendu l’art de s’asseoir:

How-to-sit (1)How-to-sit (2)

Bowing (of course!!!)


Celui de s’incliner (bien evidemment)

How-to-bow

And let’s not forget about the most important of all, knocking at the door!!


Et n’oublion surtout pas le plus important, la maîtrise de la technique mystique de la frappe à la porte qui te debloque toutes les portes.

How-to-knock

With all these dos and don’ts, you’d probably think I am a bit funny in the head to continue with this whole job hunting craziness. What would you think then if I told you that after close examination of the above mentioned book, I started seeing sense in what was said, and even trying to convince Mr.Not-Japanese-at-all of their logic.
It might be the time I spent here, or the desperate need to “fit-in”, or else the seemingly strong logic on which this book relies; but at the end of the day, I can’t help but be amazed at the religious efforts made to keep this ceremony (or masquerade, depends on where you see it from) going on, and feel somehow lucky to be different enough not to be subjected to the tyranny of the color of my suit or height of my pony tail.


Après toutes ces règles plus insensées les unes que les autres, je dois passer pour une folle de persister avec cette « chasse à l’emploi ». Que penseriez-vous donc si je vous disais qu’après avoir regardé d’un peu plus près, j’ai commencé à saisir le sens profond de ce livre et même essayé de convaincre mon Jules du bien fondé de toutes ces théories.
C’est peut-être tout le temps passé ici, ou ce besoin d’apartenir, de fondre dans la foule, ou encore l’apparente logique que ce livre avance ci habilement pour défendre tous ces principe ; mais en fin de compte, je ne peux qu’admirer à nouveau tous ces efforts consacrés à perpétuer ces traditions cérémonieuses (ou ridicule, tout dépend de votre perspective), et de me sentir tout de même chanceuse d’être tout juste assez différente pour ne pas avoir à subir la tyrannie de la couleur de mes habits ou la hauteur à laquelle je décide placer mon chignon.