6th June 2019
My friend Simon has been my role model recently. He has just left the company where he worked for 15 years. He said his new colleagues are not as nice as his former ones, but he doesn’t care. I know he wouldn’t just say it but he really knows what he should worry about and what he shouldn’t. I want to become like Simon so I tell myself aloud, imitating his I’m-busy-with-my-own-business tone, “You don’t have to become a friendof your co-workers. You just work with them when you are in the office.”
Sasagawa has been on sick leave for four consecutive days.
“Your stomach is still aching, huh? after the three-day rest? Didn’t any of the medications work?” Our line manager is barking at Sasagawa on the phone. “Why don’t you try another medicine if that one doesn’t work? You know we are extremely busy here.”
Hearing his words was a great shock for me at first. I told my old friend Ami about those appalling phone calls, which I couldn’t help overhearing at my desk. “I’ve never seen a boss who gets so mad at his employees for being sick!” But I have learned that the line manager is simply sick of receiving sick calls from his workers. He assumes that people fake their illness to avoid him and even cause him problems.
“It was from Sasagawa. She still can’t eat anything because of her stomach ache,” spat out the line manager to the phone team leader Yuri.
“She must have lost a lot of weight,” was her disdainful comment.
“Haha, she must have. We can’t wait to see her thin figure when she comes back.” Yasue joined the contemptuous laughter as if they all knew that Sasagawa would look exactly the same when she came back, because she had lied about her stomach ache.
They knew that Sasagawa didn’t want to come to work, because her supervisor harassed her and no one helped her. In fact, she had turned up to the office punctually every day until she started being bullied.
“She is not going to quit her job, is she?” Hiro wondered. There have apparently been countless workers who left the office like this.
“Oh no, she can’t. She’s just got two kittens from our director.”
The women seemed to find Namiko’s point significant. “No, of course she can’t,” they assured each other. “She cannot just run away after getting those cats from this company free of charge.”
I see no connection between Sasagawa’s possible resignation from RA and her adoption of the cats. Yet I already imagined them chatting about me. “Megu left this company just after having the company’s free annual health check-up.”
Why am I imagining this conversation? Do I want to leave this company?
I shouted a big “No!” to erase the sudden idea from my mind. No, I will not quit. I will be happy in my new workplace. I will be OK even though the job is boring, my supervisor loves overtime work, my managers are yelling at sick workers and my co-workers are…my co-workers are…NOT nice.
I remember my text message to Rica in early April, saying that my co-workers were all nice. I don’t want to admit that I was wrong. I don’t want her to think that it’s my problem being unable to fit in with people around me.
“Act like Simon,” I tell myself. I shouldn’t care if my co-workers are nice or not, because I am not their friend but just a colleague.
7th June 2019
A new girl joined our customer service department in the RA group. I was delighted as I expected that she would improve the atmosphere in the office. But I soon learned that actually she wasn’t exactly new. She had worked there until two years ago.
“Tomo-chan has become such a pretty young lady.” Hiro was so happy having her old co-worker back.
“Indeed, she was only 20 when she worked with us. Now look at her!” Namiko sounded like the girl’s old nanny who hadn’t seen her for a long time. “The boys in the entire company are restless today.”
Evidently, young male workers had been glancing at Tomo’s long wavy hair and her cartoon heroine-like big shining eyes whenever they passed by her desk. She was also cheerful with her old co-workers and even with the managers. But when she looked at me, I saw a sort of cold indifference in the brown marble-like eyes. Probably she was just being reserved toward a stranger.
Sasagawa was working in the office today. Hearing her usual professional manner as she talked to customers on the phone, I see her strength there. As a stutterer, I can’t help admiring her steady tone.
“She looks exactly the same, doesn’t she?” The women whispered behind Sasagawa. “If you didn’t eat for four days, you would become a little thinner.”
Tomo was already part of the group, looking at me as if wondering why I didn’t join their fun chat.
“So, was she even bigger than now, before her sick leave?” asked the slim Tomo.
“Oh no, Tomo-chan. Sasagawa faked a stomach ache. We can’t see any change in her body.”
At the monthly briefing held this Monday, our director told everyone that we needed to relax and chat with our workmates sometimes. I do want to relax and chat, but how can I enjoy this topic? I’ve never felt like joining Namiko’s habitual complaining towards our customers either. Their gossip about TV celebrities also inevitably excludes me since I don’t watch a television.
Just concentrate on your task, I tell myself. Become Simon.
I visualize myself as the cool IT guy who doesn’t say unnecessary things. People think those quiet types are smart and reliable, right?
“…Oh Ishikawa-san? …no, she’s too quiet…no, she’s not that type, unfortunately…”
My ear caught someone’s hissing voice pronouncing my name. They sounded like they didn’t appreciate my quiet manner at all. Why is a quiet woman a disappointment to everyone, while a quiet man is seen as a genius? It’s not fair.
10th June 2019
While I was texting a birthday message to my dad, I kept thinking about how much I disliked my supervisor Namiko. Of course, dad isn’t the right person to bitch to about my workplace, but I have this craving for a listener.
It might be my fault. I shouldn’t have overestimated the 38-year-old supervisor. When Namiko told me, “If you have found any strange expressions in our apology email templates, feel free to let me know,” I really felt she meant it. So I pointed out the sentence I had been concerned about since I started working in this office.
“ご不快な思いをおかけし sounds strange. We don’t say, 不快な思いをかける, right? ご不快な思いにさせてしまい orご迷惑をおかけし may be better.”
Immediately, I sensed that I had said the wrong thing. The sentence was in all apology letters and had been used for years. Possibly, Namiko was the one who wrote it. To make the situation worse, I saw Sasagawa nodding intensely as if agreeing with me.
“But… it can’t be wrong. The sentence has been used for a long time…” Namiko instantly started to search it on Google and her face turned pale. She must have found her mistake.
“But… no customer has ever mentioned it before…”
“Of course”, I said in my mind. It’s not a Japanese language examination. Who would pick up such a subtle mistake, especially in an apology email they had received?
“You know, it’s not a big deal,” I hurriedly said. “Customers would perfectly understand what we’re saying. The important thing is that they receive our apology, right?”
“Yes, it is…”
My supervisor’s chubby face was so stiff that I regretted my remark. To change the topic, I picked another weird sentence.
“…いただけますようお願い申し上げます, sounds a little strange, doesn’t it?” I laughed.
“Yes, いただけたら幸いですor …して下さいますようお願いします is more natural. We can’t say ‘If you would do this…’ and ‘Please do this’ at the same time,” Sasagawa commented from her desk, smiling at me.
Namiko didn’t smile at all. Her mouth above her slight double chin was an unhappy N shape.
Oh no…what have I done just now?
After that day, my supervisor’s attitude towards me became colder and colder. Her icy spiky fingers started to prick my thin skin under the freezing air-conditioner in the office.
“I showed you where the files were before. Find them yourself.” Namiko has stopped helping me, though she was like, “Sorry, I know finding a file in this mess must be very hard for you,” before. And our shared drive was a real mess with thousands of disorganized, unrecognizable titled files like “List”. Soon my notebook was filled with a what-is-in-where list.
“Happy Birthday, Dad,” I wrote to him at the platform of Yotsuya station. Dad, I can hear my co-workers whispering about me behind my back. “Megu is not working hard. She doesn’t try to remember where the files are.” I can hear Namiko’s voice. “She just wants to finish her tasks quickly and go to the gym.” Yasue tells them how I walk fast toward the train station after work. “She probably thinks she is superior to us, just because she sometimes works for our director,” Hiro adds her opinion.
All these thoughts are just my imagination running wild. So dad, don’t worry. I’ll be fine in my new office. I mentally told him and sent out just the one sentence in my message, “Happy Birthday, Dad.”
14th June 2019
As our director, the little black mouse, calls me into his office more frequently now, I’ve become more uncomfortable with my co-workers. This morning, just after Namiko told me to make an urgent phone call, the mouse noiselessly appeared from nowhere and asked, “Ishikawa-san, could I borrow you for a minute?”
I kept pushing the telephone buttons. For me, making the director wait is far less scary than putting my supervisor’s request on the back burner.
“Sorry, I’ll come to your office after I make this phone ca—”
“I’ll do it for you,” Namiko’s rough voice shut me up. “Don’t worry about the call. Go help our director now.” Her eyes were saying, “Are you crazy, making your big boss wait for such a stupid phone call?”
Though the mouse mildly offered, “Sure, please come after you’ve finished what you’re doing now,” I had no choice but to say thanks to Namiko and leave my desk.
In his office, the director indicated the email he had received, showing his large PC screen to me as usual. He understands English emails perfectly, but he wanted to double-check it with me and ask for my opinion.
“So, the accounting firm of our London branch is saying that I might need to come over there next month?”
The mouse never shows his emotion so I didn’t know whether he was excited or felt exhausted about the prospect of a trip to London.
“Yes, the bank is demanding to see you in person. But they’re saying there are other banks which don’t require the face to face meeting when you open a new account,” I said, confirming what the email was saying.
“Hmm…next month,” the director was thinking. “My schedule is packed actually, but we do want to open our account with this particular bank.”
“Maybe, we can have an online meeting?” I suggested. “Not only your official IDs, but also showing our website and all the event brochures which have your name and picture on them might work. When they meet you on Skype, they can identify you.”
The mouse then asked me if I could suggest it to our accountant in the UK.
“Sure,” I happily answered. “I will write to him right away.”
Even with this calm director, my voice sometimes shook. Even when I was happy being asked for my opinion, my throat unpredictably choked. But I didn’t care about my stutter so much with this boss, because his tiny round eyes were saying, “Don’t worry. I’ve come across people like you in my long life and I do not care. What I care about is what you do for me, and you are doing well.”
Compared with the mouse, my supervisor made me fear my stutter tremendously. When I came back to my desk, Namiko was whispering something to Hiro.
“I talked with the shop owner and found out that actually the customer had already called up our phone team as well,” my supervisor solemnly said to me. “The customer was very worried and wanted our answer immediately. It was a very important, urgent call.”
After hearing my sincere thanks to her again, Namiko got back to her chat with Hiro. Their topic was about how the new girl Tomo was not only pretty but also quick and clever.
“Tomo-chan speaks very confidently,” they say, “and her voice is so clear.”
If you were overweight and you hated your body, you might take offence at praise for slim people. I guess I’m in that mood right now. As a stutterer, I’m very sensitive to words such as “speaks confidently” or “a clear voice”. I already imagine Namiko reporting to our dpt. manager that Megumi Ishikawa stuttered when she talked with a customer and she wasn’t eligible for this customer service position. My negative imagination has just kept running away. Will I be dismissed again, just after ITCM?
I noticed there was a message from our line manager in my email box. It was an invitation to the business etiquette training next Thursday. When I realized that we would be asked to read some lines from a text-book aloud, my fear gushed up. Then my eyes caught the last sentence saying, “If you cannot join the training, please reply to me.” The reason for this sentence was because the training would be held at 6.30 p.m., after our regular work hours.
“6.30? I have a dentist’s appointment after work on Thursday,” I heard Yasue complaining.
But Namiko and Hiro, who usually worked until 8 p.m., would show no surprise with the invitation. I asked them if these training sessions were often held after work like this and was told, “You know, we are so busy during office hours and we can’t find any spare time for training.”
I wrote a reply to our line manager. In my politest manner, I clarified that I would not wish to work more than 8 hours every day. Sitting at the desk from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. is the limit to what I can do while giving my best performance. I also pointed out some unnatural Japanese sentences in our email template, to show my commitment to business etiquette.
At 6.15, I left the office with no regret. The line manager and the bachelor wouldn’t appreciate my reply. They were typical managers who only valued their followers. But it’s time for me to show them what I am thinking. I’m ready to be disfavoured by them. After all, I was convinced that I could never confess my fear of stuttering to them.
15th June 2019
It’s a rainy Saturday. I like walking to Suginami Public Hall in my rain boots. The streets are not so crowded even at noon. I can enjoy colourful patterns of the umbrellas wheeling along the straight mall.
We’ve been practicing two songs at my chorus group. One is “Have You Never Been Mellow?” and every time I sing this song, I feel like I’m the one who is being sung to. The other song is “The Seven-Coloured Arch.” This also sounds as if it was written for my current days.
“You can soar in the sky again,” the lyrics go. “Fly to the new world. Believe in your strength.”
So, am I going to change my job again?
Until quite recently, I didn’t realize that I had never “really” sung a song in my life. I thought I was singing, but I was just reading the lyrics and following the melody. I especially liked humming the melody, but it wasn’t singing. When I really sang a song for the first time, I was standing in this room with this same chorus group members. We sang, “The Song of Life” and I couldn’t hold back my tears when the line went, “生まれてきたこと、育ててもらえたこと―” but everyone was looking down at their music sheets, so I wasn’t noticed. I wondered how our chorus master, the pianist, had chosen this song particularly after I lost my dog.
When I was a kid, my sister Rica and I laughed at some enka singers who became emotional while they sang. We thought they were fake tears for the TV performance and that first-class singers practiced in order to cry beautifully. We never knew “sadness” then.
Since the Song of Life, I have learned to think of someone when I sang, like my dog Ana. One problem was that I was sometimes too preoccupied by the song.
“When you are hurt and almost lost, someone sees your struggle and stands by you…”
Is there anyone who would stand by me in the RA office? My brain depicts the stern-faced bachelor actually turning out to be my white knight and supporting me, just like the person least expected to become the prince in some novels. But soon his mean voice accusing his junior worker of being “a failure as a human” came to my mind.
No. I shake my head. He can’t be…
“Did you not bring the music of this new song?”
I look up and see Ms Natsu’s kind face trying to read my mind.
“Here you are. We have this extra piece,” she said, handing me the music sheet of “The Journey”. Apparently, everyone has been singing the next song while I was still staring at the lyrics of “The Seven-Coloured Arch”.
After the chorus practice, I go to Seiyu for some groceries and stay home until my evening swim in the gym. That’s my current typical Saturday. I sometimes meet Kumiko in the swimming pool, but we’ve stopped meeting up and going to the gym together since I dropped out of Ms Oda’s ballet class.
At home, I opened Rica’s text message which I received this morning. I never feel bad about writing back to her so late, because she is the one who always writes when she wants to write.
“I’m drawing you and Ana,” my sister’s text said. “I’m going to make a calendar of my drawings for next year.”
Really? She is drawing me and our late dog again? My immediate thought soon made me feel guilty. I must be a very bad person to be annoyed by my sister’s kindness.
“My drawing has been going very well so far. I’ll give it to you for your birthday.”
Since Ana passed away, Rica had given me quite a few drawings of our dog to console me. She is a kind girl who liked doing something nice for people. Not that she just loves drawing.
“Wow. Thank you! I can’t wait to see your drawings,” I replied.
What else can I say? If I said, “Actually, I have no space to put another picture frame in my room, and to be honest, I do not want to see my dog and me all the time every day. Moreover, they don’t look like me and Ana in her drawings,” she would never talk to me again.
I put my mobile phone aside and checked Skype on my PC to read Kim’s message. She had been patiently reading my writings and giving me advices for my blog.
“I can’t wait to read your next one,” said Kim.
Does she really mean it? I suddenly have this doubt. No. She is just encouraging me. I was still writing about my February days and I knew it was boring. My friend might have been hoping that I would stop sending my writings soon, like I hoped Rica would stop giving her drawings to me. For a while, I felt depressed with my own thoughts.
19th June 2019
Lunch break was the only time when I could relax in RA. Luckily, Uchida was at the small table in the lunch area today.
Being asked how I am, I needed to choose my words. “I’m fine, but everyone is coughing around me these days.” Especially our line manager has been suffering from a severe cough and runny nose. I suspected it’s caused by the Natto smelly air conditioner above our desks.
“The atmosphere is particularly bad in our room.”
“Is it?” asked Uchida.
“It is. You know—” I make sure she gets my implication. We can’t talk here like we do at Seiyu. People might be able to hear us through the thin partitions. “I would also catch the same bug sooner or later,” I said in a somewhat accusing tone.
Uchida seemed to have understood that I wasn’t talking about only the coughing, and she gave me a pitying look. Unlike me, she was happy working with her nice supervisor and co-workers in a different room.
Soon after I came back to my desk, four women around me stood up from their chair at once. They were going out for a Yakiniku lunch together, Yasue happily said.
“See you later. Enjoy your lunch,” I made a smile as usual.
Yasue had stopped asking me if I would like to join them a long time ago. Never mind. It should have nothing to do with Namiko. Then I started to depict a scene of the three women emphatically listening to Namiko’s bitching about me, over the Yakiniku smoke…
Even after enjoying her Yakiniku lunch, Namiko told me off about an email I had written.
“Didn’t I tell you not to use the words, these, those or such これらの、このような、そのような in your apology emails?”
I now remember that she has told me this. But it’s just one of the thousands of rules which I don’t really see the reasons for.
“Sorry. You told me this before.” I apologised, but challenged her, “but I think using the word such makes the writing clearer than using the same words again and again, don’t you think?”
“If I don’t use the forbidden words, the writing would be like, we are sorry about the burger with burned bacon and soggy bun…serving a burger with burned bacon and soggy bun to our important customer is totally unacceptable and we regret…to show our sincere apology about the burger with burned bacon and soggy bun….”
I smiled, expecting Namiko to laugh with me. But her face was like a stone.
“So?” my supervisor asked, as if I hadn’t provided enough evidence against her judgement.
So I continued. “I just don’t understand why we cannot use those words. These, those, such, are very useful words which help us from repeating the same long expressions. It’d be kinder to our readers if we used them.”
“No,” Namiko said firmly. “Megu-chan, it’s the rule. We do not use those words, all right?”
“When I said no, I meant just do not use them!”
I was quite shocked by her raised voice. I didn’t mean to upset her.
“I’m sorry, I won’t use those words. I just wondered why…”
Namiko had already swivelled on her chair and started to tap her keyboard furiously like playing the piano fortissimo. I had once thought that I would smoothly fit in with Japanese office workers, but I’ve totally lost my confidence now. Obeying directions from superiors “without questioning” should have been the basic rule. So, have I just broken the rule? But it was a simple question. Namiko could have just shrugged off, saying, “I don’t know the reasons. I was also told the rule when I joined this company,” right? And then we would have laughed together and possibly thought how to change the wording for the future?
I’m getting tired of attempting to read my supervisor’s mind.
“Don’t worry about her. Just concentrate on your tasks,” Simon would have said. But I can’t complete my tasks without Namiko’s approval. I wouldn’t be able to go home at 6 today. It’s more about Namiko’s mood than my progress.
“Have you finished marking the completed tasks?” she would ask at 6 p.m.
Many tasks are often still outstanding because people like her would keep working until 8 or 9 p.m. One day, at 5.50, I reported that I had finished the marking on our system, but later Namiko found two completed tasks which hadn’t been marked yet and called me a liar. Well, “a liar” weren’t the exact words she used, but she told me not to tell a lie. I was so shattered, considering that one task had been added at 5.56 and one had simply been missed out because of some confusion with duplicate task names. I even thought it must have been a trap by Namiko.
“I know you want to go home as soon as possible, but please do your job properly.”
My supervisor said this loudly to make sure everyone in the office could hear her. I had marked about fifty tasks and only two had been missed out, yet I was labelled as a lazy worker who tried to skip her work.
Somebody, please tell me. Am I not being bullied?
21st June 2019
The bachelor told Namiko, Hiro and me that he would like a one-on-one meeting with each of us in the afternoon. He didn’t mention the subject, and no one dared to ask anything when he looked as if he was suffering from a severe migraine.
My turn came first. I diligently brought a notebook and a pen in the small meeting room. He asked me how I was doing at my job and I answered that I was doing well. Next, he asked if there was anything I would like to say, so I told him that I really like my role in the global project and hope that the task volume will increase in the future.
“I had actually expected to use my English skill more,” I tentatively said, “that was my purpose of applying for this position, sir.”
Indeed, in the job interview, the bachelor told me that my main task would be the global project and I would be asked to help the Japanese customer service team until the start-up business gets into gear.
“I see where you are coming from,” the department manager frowned, though the change was hardly recognizable from his original bitter countenance. “I heard you are not so keen to learn from your Japanese customer service tasks. Your supervisor told me.”
I was stunned into silence.
“Your supervisor says you’re doing your email tasks half-heartedly, prioritizing your tasks assisting the director. I did promise you more global tasks when we talked in the job interview. But for now I want you to learn more about Japanese customer service, because in our global project, we—”
“I don’t do any of my tasks half-heartedly,” I said, unable to hold on.
The great bachelor hates to be interrupted just like my former director in ITCM. But even the court allows us to shout “Objection!” during the opponent’s speech, right? Expressing our thoughts should be acceptable, in my opinion.
“Can I finish please?” The manager glared at me. His sky-high pride very much resembles Fred’s.
“I’m sorry, please go on,” I apologized.
“Now, I want you to learn more about Japanese customer service under Namiko. We’ll need to communicate with people from the Japanese government for our global telecommunication project in the future, so learning polite Japanese language will be useful for you.”
Learning whatever from Namiko would make my heart evil instead of polite! My shout was soundless.
“…and you might be thinking that you are very helpful with our global project, but actually our director thinks you’re not good enough. You still have many things to learn.”
The director thinks I’m not good enough…
“So, I want you to keep working with the same task volume for the next few months, all right?”
“Yes sir.” I nodded, sensing that objecting to him would be totally in vain. I even felt he was going to fire me when he said, “Oh, and about your email to your line manager, I must tell you that we are not going to change our email templates.” The bachelor looked somewhat triumphant declaring this. It must be my paranoia; the meaner the things he utters, the happier he looks.
“Even though some are not exactly correct Japanese, we’ve been using these lines for many years and our clients like them. We would need to ask them for their opinions if we change the templates. Do you understand?”
“Sure, I do,” I showed my understanding, though I could see no difficulty of asking for the clients’ opinions. “The most important thing is to show our apology to the customers. The wording is not so important.”
“Exactly,” the bachelor liked my response. “You also mentioned our repetitive polite words in the templates. You know INGINBUREI: 慇懃無礼? Check the dictionary later. In fact, our clients like these double and triple polite words, so we are using them on purpose.”
慇懃無礼 means that when polite words are used tautologically, it actually sounds impolite. That’s what I have pointed out, but is he saying that sounding rude is all right?
“I see,” I chose to finish this pointless talk as soon as possible. In fact, it’s not my business to worry about. Don’t be nosy, Megu. Why can’t you be like Simon?
Our meeting went smoothly after I became silent. The bachelor talked unilaterally and looked satisfied. Just before we were closing the meeting, he stated,
“In fact, I don’t agree with Namiko that you’re doing your tasks half-heartedly. I’ve seen you taking lots of notes and trying hard to learn your tasks for the past three months.”
I stared at my manager’s scary face as if searching for a tiny mole which I’d never noticed before. He was right. I’m the person who stupidly tries to be perfect in everything and to please everyone, even when I find no value in the tasks.
“Yes sir. I always try my best in my tasks. But I can probably figure out why Namiko thought I wasn’t.”
I told him that I tried to finish all my tasks by 6 p.m. every day, while Namiko always aimed to finish later than that. My quick work might have been mistaken as careless and rushed by her.
“We should actually reduce our reliance on overtime work in this company,” the manager unexpectedly said. “The Japanese government is suggesting a work-style review, 働き方改革 this fiscal year, you know.” He muttered as if he was telling this to himself and ended the meeting.
Namiko was called next into the meeting room. I resumed my tasks at my desk, but the bachelor’s malicious voice lingered in my mind for the rest of the day.
“…but actually, our director thinks you’re not good enough.”