Shaze 社是 – Company Rules

korea-saluteLike most traditional Japanese companies, we begin each morning by doing light exercises.  After that, on a rotation basis someone goes to the front of the room and reads out the SHAZE (company rules/motto/philosophy). They then have to give a short ‘one point speech’ about ‘anything they want’ although it must be about work, and must be deadly serious.

What is SHAZE?

The SHAZE is basically a list of rules that we employees must abide by.  Here are some examples:

  • Always greet others loudly and clearly (ちゃんと挨拶をするな)
  • Enjoy your work (楽しき働き)
  • Work together as a team
  • etc etc

As you can see, despite reciting these every day for the last 3 years I cannot actually remember more than 3 of the lines from this 15 line chant.  This is because the rules are so vague and redundant.  In reality, I do not see anyone obeying these rules, and in fact most of the time they do quite the opposite. Nevertheless we continue to recite them every morning.

The true purpose of SHAZE

Superficially, SHAZE is there to get us to obey these lame rules.  However I suspect that the real purpose of SHAZE is this:

  • Force everyone to arrive on time by having a very large an public meeting right on the starting bell at 08:30
  • Create a kind of ‘OK it is work time now’ moment (Japanese like to clearly seperate timezones in this way, there are many other examples such as the communal hand clap at the end of a work party)
  • Force everyone to improve public speaking skills and confidence by running the SHAZE once every 6 weeks.
  • Create a kind of military-like ‘we-are-one’ atmosphere where everyone stands to attention and acts in unison.
  • To avoiding deliberate non-conformance to Japanese tradition

SHAZE Directors cut

Most days we just do the standard 15 line SHAZE.  But sometimes we have what I call the ‘Directors Cut’ which can last up to 5 minutes.  There are several versions of it:

  • 1st of the month Directors Cut
  • 21st of the month Directors Cut
  • Presidents version
  • New Year version
  • New Fiscal year version

The contents are basically ‘more of the same’, but just last longer and are harder to say.

Dodgy Religious Element

The is something about SHAZE that gives me the creeps in that it reminds me very much of a prayer or religious chant.  There is the vicar character at the front leading the pulpit, and the rhythm of the speech is very much like a prayer.  It is difficult to describe, but it also has this very distinct ending with is very much like ‘amen’.

In the New Year SHAZE they even bring in a real priest and get them to do SHAZE in the company’s shrine outside in front of the whole company.  Interestingly the priest turns up in this massive 7-series BMW, so I suspect it is a profitable business for them.  It is beyond ridiculous to see a fully fledged priest in all the robes, strutting around the shrine splashing water in the idols while at the same time reading out bizarre company slogans about some of the projects we are doing.  We use a lot of acronyms so the priest has to chant about ‘TTOP’ project and ‘BMO’ initiative etc.  It is really horrific actually.

How I deal with it

Personally I never say the SHAZE and I notice a few others around me dont either.  When we are hit with the Directors Cut, I genuinely cannot say it anyway is it is too long to memorise.  When I have to lead the SHAZE myself, I have it written in romaji so I just read it numbly in the best military voice I can muster.

For my ‘one point speech’ I normally have to spend a whole morning preparing something, writing it up and getting it reviewed so it is understandable.  I normally just explain what I have been doing lately or some little challenge that I was faced with.  Its banal stuff.

Translation Notes

It is not easy to translate directly but SHAZE basically means company rules or company motto.

In my opinion it would be better translated as ‘a big fat waste of everyones time.’  For example:

  • Wow, todays meeting was a real SHAZE.
  • With the late start, long distance and all the traffic, by the time I got to COSCO it was already closed.  It was a total SHAZE man.
  • We spent 3 weeks preparing the data for system dept, but in the end they decide to pull a SHAZE on us and cancel the project.
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Goumon 拷問 – Torture

torture

Anyone who has worked in a Japanese school/office will get the sub-joke above.

Today I had to go and renew my driving licence for another three years.  Who would have thought such a simple thing would lead to today’s word being Torture?  Read on…

I should have known the Gods were against me when I punched in the phone number of the traffic centre to my car’s navigation system: “No matches found”.  I then looked for the post code of the traffic centre on the little reminder postcard they had sent me: no postcode.  No problem, I thought, lets just type in the address.  Oh, I cant read the kanji…:(  I then spent about 10 mins trying to find the place randomly on the navi before getting out of the car and trying to find someone to read the address.  A kind lady looked at it and said ‘Im not sure how to read that kanji, why dont you call them?’.  So I did, but its was 12.30 (lunchtime) and there was no reply.  In the end, I found someone who could read the kanji, got it registered in my navi and we (my son in tow) were off.

Once on the road we got there OK, parked illegally in front of a restaurant with a ‘no parking – fine 10,000yen’ sign in front of it, and went inside the traffic centre. They might as well write ‘welcome to the microcosm of Japan’ on the doors because that is exactly what it is – all the best and worst things about Japan rolled into one little 100m3 space.

The entire building is dedicated to renewal of car licences.  Thus, you are basically put onto a conveyor belt system the moment you step inside and guided, cajoled and sometimes pummelled around the building through “steps 1-8”.  Division of labour, Fordism…I now know exactly how a sausage roll feels on its journey from being a pig to a little deep fried thing wrapped in coloured plastic.  I am not complaining about the efficient bureaucracy, I was just surprised (impressed?) to see such a simple task improved to such a degree…at the expense of any humanism whatsoever.  I think they must have gathered 50 of Japans most anally retentive people into a building, put little blue jackets on them, then left them there to breed for two centuries with instructions to improve the licence renewal system.

Steps 1-6 were great, you just get given a bit of paper at step 1, you give it to someone else at step 2 and they stamp it.  You show the stamped paper to someone at step 3, then pay some money to someone at step 4.  Next was the eye test, which took about 8 seconds.  At this point I was almost having fun because it was so ridiculous but also so smooth.

But Step 6 was odd.  I was given a bit of paper with two 4-digit pincodes on by an old man.

Him: Please invent two 4-digit pincodes and type them into this machine.

Me: OK…do I have to type these numbers?

Him: No, just make some up.

Me: So whats this paper for then?

Him: Its just an idea for some numbers.

Me: Ah OK…well should I make up some numbers that I can remember?

Him: No, theres no need to remember them.

Me: What is the purpose of the numbers actually?

Him: They get written on your drivers licence card.*

Me: Yeah, but why?

Him: You dont have to understand why, just pick some numbers.

Me: OK. Can I use these numbers on the bit of paper?

Him: yes of course.

Me: OK then I’ll do that.

Him: Thanks.

Me: By the way, why dont you just put the numbers onto the card automatically instead of printing them on paper, asking me to use them or pick new ones, then getting me to type them into another machine?

Him: I dont know.  Please go upstairs now to Step 7.

* This is not actually true, as the numbers are not printed on my card.  I think you have to quote them if you ever lose your licence card.

Step 7 was only one step of 8, but it took 2 hours whereas the other steps took only a total of maybe 8 mins combine.  Step 7 was the torture step.

You see, 4 years and nine months ago, I ran a red light on my scooter and picked up some points and a small fine.  Because that occured less than 5 years ago, it affected my licence renewal.  Not only could I only get a 3 year licence (standard one is five years), but I got put in the naughty room with all the other naughty people that had picked up points on their licence.  This is what step 7 was – torture/revenge for breaking the law.

I handed my card to the man upstairs, and his smile turned to a look of mild disgust and admonishment as he saw that I was destined for the naughty room.  He led me all the way to the end of the corridor and set me down.  The room was like a Japanese classroom – spartan and designed to last the eons, not for comfort.  The chairs were harder than the desks, and we were packed in like sardines too.  Shortly after another man came in and lectured us all for 10 mins about what the next 2 hours would entail.  He then showed us a crappy video which lasted 40 mins, then spent 80 minutes telling us various obvious things.

First up was that we have to wear seatbelts.  He illustrated the point with literally 7 or 8 different newspaper articles, and several sets of charts.  Several other points were given in exactly the same way: speed, drink driving, running red lights – all of these are dangerous and the stats back it up 100%.  About 10 mins into his lecture my son fell asleep on me and started snoring – I made no attempt to stop him as I was starting to hate the lecturer with a passion and came close several times to just standing up and throwing things/people around the room.

But the time passed, I got my licence (and a numb arse), then we were back on the highway.  I thought to myself: next time I will bring a magazine.

Translation Notes

I actually learnt the word Torture last year, for reasons I will explain in another post one day.  I was told that it can be translated as GOUMON 拷問 or GYAKUTAI 虐待, however when I looked up Torture on ALC I could not find GYAKUTAI mentioned anywhere.  It turns out that GYAKUTAI means ‘abuse’ rather than torture.

Kentou 検討する – to consider it

fingerWhen I first started working at this company I didn’t get off to a good start with the Systems department for various reasons.  They were very cautious and would always give me the bare minimum of permissions, and be very guarded about their reasons for doing various things.  Unfortunately, while setting up the company website, I needed their help for various things including asking them to use their time to set up various things on the server (because they would not give me access to do it myself).  Often they would refuse to do it, or they would take months to do it, or they would do it completely wrong etc.

One of the senior guys in that department has spent too long staring at a UNIX command prompt, and he seems to think and act like a computer.  He has basically no social skills, although he is very knowledgeable about IT, server admin and so on.  When he writes emails, he doesnt address you with ‘Dear Mr X’ and he doesnt bother to sign off with ‘Best Regards, Mr Y’, he simply writes what he wants to say in the simplest way possible. Actually I think this is a good way to write email, I find it a pain in the a– to always type those salutations every time, however it IS social ettiquette and should be respected as such.

Translation Notes

Anyway, one time I asked them to do something and I got a very simple one line reply:

検討します

I hadnt come across 検討 before so I looked it up and it was translated as ‘to consider’ or ‘to deliberate’.  I took this as a good sign, thinking it just meant he would think about it and then do something.  However a week or so later there was no follow up.  I tried to follow it up a few times but my emails were ignored.  In the end I got my manager involved and he told me that 検討 has quite a negative nuance of ‘I cant be arsed to do that’.  Basically if someone says that to you they are politely saying ‘I’m not going to do that for you’. It seems to be one of those Japanese words that shouldn’t be translated literally

Baishuu 買収する – to bribe

bribeRecently there has been a lot of talk in the news about Prime Minister Aso giving out free cash to Japanese households in order to kick start the economy.  They are only talking about something like 20,000 or 30,000 yen per household, so it is very hard to see what difference this is going to make to anyone.  At the same time, it is obviously going to cost the government a huge amount of money to do.  You wonder about the logic in peoples minds sometimes.

Anyway, more likely it is a bribe to get him re-elected.  It seems that this is not going to happen until after the next budget, and the next budget will happen after the next election.  So this may happen some time in the next 12 months, or it may just fade away as an empty promise.  MY wife is Japanese so I wonder if we, as taxpayers, will be eligible to recieve.  Im not holding my breath.

Translation Notes

As a noun, a bribe is translated as WAIRU わいる.

When a verb is needed, BAISHU SURU 買収する is used.

Examples:

あそさんはわいるを使って勝ちました。

  • Mr Aso won by using bribes.

あそさんは日本自民を買収しました。

  • Mr Aso bribed the Japanese people.

Seikyo 逝去 – to pass away

memoEveryday my inbox gets peppered with trivial announcements from the ‘General Affairs Department’ (総務部).  Maybe one in 100 times it may be something useful, but invariably it is banal stuff like this:

  • Factory floor will be polished from 10am-11am this sunday
  • Server XYZ123 will be rebooted this saturday at 11pm
  • Bob Smith’s Dad died
  • Sally Jones had a baby
  • Roger Brown got married
  • A new PDF manual for product A1SH-NL is available.
  • etc…

These emails are always incredibly wordy, and are loaded with pompous old Japanese that I suspect few people can read without a dictionary.  Actually the mails look more like Chinese than anything else due to the sheer number of kanji (Katakana is rarely used).

If I can be bothered to read it, the wording usually goes something like this:

Dear Sirs,

This is [senders name] of the General Affairs Department of [company name].  I am humbly writing this mail to announce [email subject].  Please read this email if you are interested in [email subject].  If it is of no interest, please accept my sincere apologies and stop reading the message.

We are going to [email subject].

Yours Sincerely,

[sender]

That is if you are lucky.  Often it contains several large paragraphs of background and explanation all mixed together, plus several broken attachments to fill in (half of the attachments do not open on my machine because they have double byte Japanese characters in the filename, or the spam server has wiped them).

Anyway, it is quite alarming just how many peoples parents are dying, because I am getting at least 3 such emails every week. Of course, I filter out all these announcements to a new folder on my mail client.  Then I simply scan the subject of the emails for 逝去 and I know I can just delete those ones.

Translation Notes

Of course SHINU 死ぬ is the common way to say ‘to die’ or ‘to pass away’, but 逝去される seems to be the ultra-polite form that also has the nuance of ‘loss’.

Ikimu 息む – to Strain

urinalI was chatting this lunchtime with some colleagues about a particularly unpopular manager who openly coughs and burps in front of his subordinates.  He also has a bad habit of clearing his throat every 20 seconds or so very loudly.  Actually these are just the more tolerable aspects of his character.

I proceeded to tell them about a time when I was next to him at the urinal at a business dinner a few months back, and he was straining as if trying to squeeze a melon out of his nose.  I guess he wanted to win some race with me or something, or maybe he just has some trouble downstairs.

Translation Notes

Anyway, I realised I don’t know the verb for ‘to strain’ so looked it up.  It seems to have two kanji for the same meaning/pronounciation:

息む

力む

Konketsu 混血 – Mixed Race

Barack Obama – “the first black president.”

obama-and-mother

Obama's Mum and Dad separated soon after his birth.

I find it interesting that he is considered ‘black’ when actually his mother was white.  Surely he is is half white and half black, mixed race?   I guess it is all relative…if he had been elected president of Kenya, perhaps they would have called him their first white president?

Anyway congratulations to him, he was surely far more electable than his opponent who was 142 years old and promised little more than to repeat the misery of W’s presidency.  I thought McCain made a huge gamble on his running mate – I guess he thought he could pick up all Hilary Clintons supporters and reduce the democrats votes in half.  Instead it seems he failed in that, and also alienated a lot of Republicans.  I think it would have been interesting to see if Obama could have won against a younger man (for me 72 is not an electable age) with a sensible running mate.  Maybe we find out in 4 years time.

Anyway I think its a huge moment for the US.  I wonder if the days of positive discrimination will soon be over?  How can anyone claim to be the victim of racism now that:

  • the President himself is black
  • 45% of white voters voted for him? (note that 95% of black voters voted for Obama)

It is going to be very interesting to see how things develop.  Personally I have good feelings about him.  He is promising ‘Change’ but I reckon this is just a buzzword and nothing radical will be done.  I just think he will be more sensible and fair than Bush was, and this will improve relations with other countries.  Maybe he will do for the US what Tony Blair did for the UK.  I think there is a similar feelgood factor going on, and already people are talking about ‘Cool America’ in the way of 90s ‘Cool Brittania’.  Maybe the US will start to churn out crap girl bands that cant sing/dance/interview/look pretty and lame rock groups that copy verbatim old Beatles songs.

I just noticed this book Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Obama containing his feelings about his upbringing.  It has good reviews and seems to be non-political, so I’m going to try and get hold of a copy.

UPDATE (Nov 19 2008)

It seems many people are expressing the same opinion that Obama is mixed race.  One guy offers the curious and bizarre opinion that he is not black because he is not descended from slaves – Is Obama black? Anyway I think it doesn’t matter.  Everyone is mixed race to some extent.  Myself I am caucasian but no doubt a strange ‘mixed race’ of Anglo-saxon, Roman and Viking.

Translation notes

Of course in everyday life people in Japan refer to mixed race people as ‘haafu’.  Like ‘gaijin’ this is a controversial word, though it tends to be only the extremely uptight and self-righteous that get upset by it.  I’ve heard some people respond to it by saying ‘no not haafu, but double’ but this is surely ridiculous. Personally I think the way something is said counts much more than the word itself, and I rarely pick up any ill feeling when ‘gaijin’ or ‘haafu’ is used.  On the contrary, if anything I would say people mean it as a compliment most of the time.  My kids get worshipped everywhere they go, ‘haafu ha chou kawaii ne!  ningyou mitai!’ – it is never meant as an insult.

Today in a restaurant my daughter got bored and went walkabout.  She ended up getting coo-ed over by a group of 4 grannys and they were talking to her.  I went over and one of them said ‘shes a haafu isnt she’ so I said ‘yes she is, actually I have another one over there, so I have two haafus – together they make One’ but they didnt seem to get the joke 🙂

KON – This seems to mean ‘mix’ or ‘blend’.  I wonder if it is used as cooking vocabularly (to mix the flour and water etc)

CHI – This means blood.

混血

KONKETSU

A mixed race child is KONKETSUJI 混血児 where JI means infant or child.