Education & Career

How To Deal With Your Japanese Colleagues

( | Press Release | 2021-07-24 00:16:07 )
One of my worries before coming to Japan was the idea of how to deal with my future Japanese colleagues.

To ease my worries, I watched some videos on YouTube and read several articles about the Japanese working environment.

Those videos and articles formed certain preconceptions about the Japanese people in the corporate world or in the workplace.

The predominant idea was that Japanese people are workaholics.

They tend to stay in their workplace as late as they can due to the tons of work on their desk. This actually worried me and made me think of ways how to deal with my Japanese colleagues who are workaholics.

Other preconceptions formed in my mind were the following: Japanese people are quiet and shy; they have no time for small talk and funny conversations; they are reserved; they are passive, and they are not confrontational.

When I stepped into my workplace in a Japanese school, I was able to confirm that some of my preconceptions are correct while the others are not.

Is it healthy to have preconceived ideas about your Japanese colleagues before you set foot in your workplace? Sometimes it is. But personally, I think it’s not.

Having those preconceptions will definitely affect your day-to-day dealing with them.

I experienced how I hesitated to approach my Japanese colleagues due to my preconceived ideas about them.

The preconceptions are like pre-judgments in which we already put our Japanese colleagues in a box and we don’t give them chances to unfold their real personalities to us.

Hence, when I realized the subtle harm my pre-judgments are making to my relationships with my Japanese colleagues, I tried my best to remove all my preconceptions and started to treat them as new persons with unlimited opportunities to show who they really were.

As I started to do that, I learned some ways to deal with them in ways that are helpful to me and them. Below are the five ways how I dealt with my Japanese colleagues in the three schools where I was working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).

1. Read between the lines

Since most of our Japanese colleagues do not express what they think or what they feel about a certain situations or opinions, it is highly advisable that we should try to be more sensitive and apprehensive.

It is not only because of the language barrier, especially in Elementary schools, but also the cultural upbringing.

Most Japanese people prefer silence when it comes to certain issues that would rock the boat.

One of the JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) in the JHS where I was teaching shared one time that he prefers not to share his ideas if they would cause inconvenience to the majority or threaten the harmony of the school community.

In almost all of the situations in our school, Japanese teachers and students do their part to be extra-conscientious to maintain such harmony among them.

Detailed instructions are given in each activity so that through repetition, they create some systems of doing things.

These systems govern the daily life in schools from putting the students’ shoes in the right place to conducting classes and preparing school lunches.

And because of those systems, Japanese teachers somehow assume that ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers), who enter into their community life in school, are already oriented on how to go with the flow of life in school by following certain systems.

This is also true when it comes to teaching the English language.

In the JHS where I taught, three of the four JTEs rarely gave me hints on the activities they prepared for the class.

I remember one time Ms. Miya (not her real name) did a word game activity. After giving the students a lengthy instruction in Japanese (which I understood none), she turned to me, and voila!

She just said: “Hi! Excuse me! Rock, scissors, paper, one… two.. three…” (I also did the janken since I know that.)

She won, and then told me “make”. I answered, “make”.

Then the whole class laughed.

The JTE laughed too and shook her head.

I laughed too like an idiot. Deep inside I felt embarrassed because I did not know what she wanted.

I needed to redeem myself.

I just acted in a fun way and made a funny face.

I scratched my head like a clown (which made the students laugh more).

Then the JTE asked again: “see” and I answered, “see” (to which the whole class laughed wildly).

I felt I was blushing.

The JTE said (with a gesture): “Switch. Say some verbs.”

I said: “make”. She answered: “made”.

(The whole class clapped their hands with collective “ohhhh, Sugoi!”)

I said: “write”. She answered: “wrote”.

(The whole class clapped their hands again with “Yatta!”. I also clapped and stomped my foot which made the students laughed all the more.

I got what this JTE wanted.)

I asked few more verbs and I enjoyed the game.

That was a quick demonstration that the JTE wanted the students to do.

From then on, I tried to be attentive to what she wanted.

I tried to be always at least one step ahead of her.

Her classes were fun, and the students and I enjoyed them. And I learned a lot from her.

Well, that is just a simple situation when most of the time our common sense and sensitivity help us act accordingly.

There are plenty of situations when we need to read between the lines, especially when our Japanese colleagues speak with us.

There are things they cannot say but we can already guess what they want.

It is up to us to ask and clarify things when we need to.

Do not hesitate to approach your Japanese colleagues when you need to clarify things.

They appreciate it when we initiate a conversation with them.

The first way how to deal with your Japanese colleagues requires a lot of common sense.

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