Oh, the things I wanted to be.

Here in Japanland, I’m currently working three different jobs in the Kansai area. I work part-time at Universal Studios, Kindai University, and Kindai Elementary school throughout the week, enjoying the different dynamics of each position. In the past as well, I worked on and off at different restaurants and learned a little more about how to work with customers. Despite the busy schedule, there is one position that I currently have my eye on. This one is different from the work that I have done up until now, and involves working at home from the computer. When I found it online, I instantly started daydreaming about applying for a job there. Yesterday I was challenged to think about why I want the job and be explicit about the reasons as to why this company would be a good match for me.

While I was pondering and doing a bit of writing for this, I got drawn back in time and thought about job aspirations from when I was younger.


I switched dream jobs a lot, but I enjoyed the idea of each one. Perhaps from reflecting on my younger self, I will be able to have a clearer answer as to my reasons for wanting to work from the computer.

When I was 5 years old, it was my dream to be Minnie Mouse. I don’t know how I planned on transforming into a fictional cartoon character, but I just wanted to become her. I liked the idea of it and had no concrete reasons for my passions.

When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a banker because the uncle that I admired and aspired to be like was(and currently is)the manager of a bank in La Crosse, Wisconsin. He also told me that my math skills would get much better if I would work there. I liked the idea of being able to improve in something I wasn’t confident in while doing work that I liked.

When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a baker. My hero at this time was Scooby Doo. I loved to eat and I thought I had finally found the best job for me. The possibility of baking for other people as well made me happy. While enjoying creating cakes that not only looked beautiful but tasted good, the idea of Eat, Drink, and Be Merry appealed to me.1929830_13522065777_2991_n

When I was 13 years old, I wanted to be a singer and pianist. My idols at the time were Hilary Duff, Fefe Dobson, and Avril Lavigne. I was really drawn into the teen idols of the time, and practiced singing until my tone-deaf self somehow managed to improve. I pursued this dream the longest, practicing and doing random concerts and entering competitions.

Now, I am 23. I still love all of these things. I work in merchandise so I do deal with money and my math has gotten better since I was five, though I have to admit I should brush up on my algebra and geometry.

I have classes at my house where I bake every week for students and get the chance to try my best at making creative foods. I also love to check out different cafe’s and restaurants in Japan.

I sing at different places and play live on occasion. I love the technical side of music and enjoy joining different open mikes in Osaka. It’s always in the back of my head to somehow play regularly for events.

1929830_13522080777_3968_nThe only thing that has yet to become a reality is the Minnie Mouse dream. That is one that I will have to keep on the back burner for now, but I am looking forward to what I could be doing in the future. Hopefully improving my writing and helping other customers and people in my life.


Levels of life

I managed to finish the book Levels of Life by Julian Barnes while taking my lunch break before the second half of my test. I enjoyed it and I was able to get into it enough so I didn’t have to worry about the two test directors that showed up just for me(I was the only one that was taking the test). Some quotes from the book that I scribbled down:

Perhaps the world progresses not by maturing, but by being in a permeant state of adolescence, of thrilled discovery.

So why do we constantly aspire to love? Because love is the meeting point of truth and magic. 

He could hear himself living.

We were together for thirty years. I was thirty-two when we met, sixty-two when she died. The heart of my life; the life of my heart.

It hurts exactly as much as its worth.

Perhaps grief, which destroys all patterns, destroys even more the belief any pattern exists.

There are two essential kinds of loneliness. That of not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. 

Customer Service Q&A. A chat with an artist friend from the neighborhood

IMG_0337One night after running up and down a hill in our neighborhood for exercise with a good friend from the area, I managed to get him to have a quick conversation about his experiences in customer service.

The following will be snapshots of our conversation and tidbits of speech that I enjoyed listening to.

My friend is from the States and we had the chat in my kitchen in Nara, Japan.

Johnna: Have you ever worked in customer service? What was it like for you to work in the States?

Brendan: I worked at the front-end of a warehouse at a Sears. Whenever people had problems with lawn mowers or snow blowers, they would come to me and ask how to fix it.

What was the most difficult part about the job at the time?

Brendan: That people would come to me with problems that I would have no idea how to solve.

Were there customers that you had to hold your patience for?

Brendan: Oh yeah, all the time. I worked in a Sears and it was out in the country. Angry shoppers would come to me with problems and not be happy that the person that they had to talk to was an 18-year old kid.

Would you ever lose your temper?

Brendan: There were days that I wanted to. We had a big trash compacter to take out our frustrations with. We would throw in things like computers and televisions and watch the machine break down all the trash. It did help to release the tensions of the day. I am pretty good at staying calm though.

Did you have any co-workers that you admired for their customer service expertise? 

Brendan: I had a lot of co-workers that knew a lot about what they were selling. When you understand your product, it is easier to deal with people that ask you questions. If you don’t know what you are talking about, it’s a lot harder to walk them through it.

What do you think the differences in customer service are between Japan and America?

Brendan: For one, there is customer service here.(Laughs) No, I’m joking. The thing about the service here in Japan is that when you have a problem, every person working in the store rushes in to help and stands there looking like they are doing something, which is good and bad sometimes. If I have a problem that takes one person to solve, I don’t need four people come and help me with it.

I was in the library and asked if they had any books in English. I waited a half an hour while five people walked about looking. If just one of those people knew, the job would have been done. In America, the conversation would have gone something like: “Hey John, we got any books in Japanese?” ……… “Nope, sorry Phil”.

The interesting thing about the customer service in Japan is the way they address the people that come into the store. At the end of names they have many endings such as -san, -chan, -kun. But those that come into shops or or those with a higher position have the -sama ending. It is the same ending used for God as well. Okyaku-sama (customer), Kami-sama(God).

Brendan: Oh, thats interesting. I didn’t know that. I don’t know how I feel about being treated as a God though.

Changing the subject a bit, what do you think about people who are overly enthusiastic about helping you or serving you?

Brendan: If people over-do their enthusiasm, it breaks the illusion of their helping me. They are being super nice because they want my tip money or they want their boss to think they are doing their job. I would be happy with a simple, “Thanks for coming, have a good night”. If they act normally, then its believable. If they are over the top then its clear that it’s an act.

What if they are just really happy people? What if it is just their personality? 

Brendan: You can tell, I can tell, and most people can tell when people are faking it or being genuine. Some people make it clear that they are trying to make a good impression for a reason. They have a goal in mind.

Again, going off the topic, but so far from what I’ve told you, what do you think of Buffer?

Brendan: It seems like they genuinely care. Their Number One concern is how their customers feel about them and their product. It seems like they put a lot more effort in that part of the company than others do. If you call the customer service at Apple for example, they send you to a separate company that takes care of the details for them. The joke in America is that if you call a company for customer service support, you get forwarded to different country where the people on the other end of the phone speaks English as their second language.

It seems like the people at Buffer have their employees in the company actually talk to their customers. In short, from what I know so far it doesn’t seem like a bad place at all.

Customer Service Q&A. My twin answers my questions.

Lately I find myself fascinated with customer service and how to improve my own performance when it comes to dealing with customers and the people that we are around everyday.

So I turned to my sister this afternoon and I sat her down for a quick question and answer session to see what she thought about customer service.

My sister, Reylia Slaby, is a professional photographer who has quite an impressive resume’. She also helps out at a restaurant in down-town Osaka called Bistro New Orleans. Because of her current situation in having to build relationships with people daily, I thought she would be a good person to start off this mini series with.

12047394_10153115180100778_1509823996_nHi Reylia. Have a sit and let me ask you a few questions. Are there some things that you have done that can fall within the realm of customer service?

I have my own photography business, and I also do a bit of restaurant work. Seeing how customer service works in my own photography business is a bit more subtle, but in the restaurant it is obvious how it comes into play.

Is there anything that you have learned at the restaurant when it comes to dealing with a customer?

Because customer service is so emphasized in Japan, there aren’t too many things I’ve learned yet that I didn’t know before starting. Things like presentation, packaging, and the rhythm of the work were new skills that I learned, but when it comes to customer service I feel like there are things that are just a given. It’s obvious what good service is.

When it comes to the customers, what are some thoughts that you have while working?

I want people to feel comfortable, relaxed, and to have a good time. I want people to have good memories in the restaurant.

Is it difficult to be genuine in a job where you go through the same patterns each day?

I think you can be bored, tired or rundown, but the workers can still be genuine even if the job becomes routine. Customer service works in other directions too. It’s about making people feel good. It’s not limited to the customers either, but the workers in those jobs also have to feel well-treated as respected. It’s all about creating an atmosphere of harmony.

People wonder why service can below par these days, but one culprit I believe is that the inner workings and philosophies of the companies are negative and quite possibly corrupt. So many companies these days don’t value a healthy working ethic, and settle to hire those whose work performance they know to be lazy or poor.

It’s also important to cultivate kindness in the workspace. Everyone should give encouragement.
It’s a shame that we have this idea that we can’t have friends at work or we can’t be friends with our bosses. I don’t think that working hierarchy should exist.

Changing the topic slightly, but what do you think about the company Buffer?

It sounds amazing and like something you would be good at. I believe that you do cultivate good feelings and the person across from you feels cared for.

Do you think their transparency policy helps?

It helps a lot. It’s hard to be honest, especially for a company. In fact, its almost impossible for a company to be 100% honest these days. So I give them tops.

What do you think I personally need to work on?

You are good at diving into something and giving it your whole heart. But, once you’ve reached where you believe to be the top, you move to something different. If it doesn’t continue to satisfy or fulfill you, you move on to other things that will. I believe that this trait can be used to a companies advantage, although.

What is one quote that comes to your head right now? Any quote related or non-related is fine!

Very unrelated, but one quote I like these days is that “Art is not a healer, it’s an x-ray that helps you to understand pain.”

Jottings from the 18th.

I randomly jot down sentences that pop up in my head. If you would like to comment on the two questions presented here, feel free to do so.

photo-176August 18th, 2015.

I run my fingers though my own hair to comfort myself.

Why do people have to lie? Why do people have to pry?

Do you need reassurance that you are a good person? Do you need other people to remind you or tell you?

Wind is amazing. You can’t see it, but it takes you in and envelopes you.

We all have to go through the same process of learning. Whether we are five or if we are thirty, trial and error happens. Mistakes must be made before you can see all angles.

Mr. Morita brought potatoes

The first week of June is almost ready to bid us farewell. I woke up early this morning and grabbed my laptop first thing to check my messages and Facebook. Although I have a number of goals from here on end, I would say that killing my reflex of immediately reaching for my electronics would be high on the list.

Because we have been having lovely hot weather recently, I decided to take up a new challenge: Planting potatoes! I have been told that even if you have never worked with vegetables, the potato plant is a great place to begin. I bought healthy soil, followed the instructions I found on the internet, and after a month I was pleasantly surprised to find actual plants coming out of the ground. I showed them off to whoever stepped in the door and talked with neighbors to see if they could give me some tips. I was hoping to harvest my first crop this year, but after a trip to Korea I came back home to my house to find potatoes that had been long neglected while I was away. There was absolutely no rain while I was gone, and the potatoes started to rise out of the dirt, exposing themselves to the hot sun.

I was sad at the possibility of my potato planting efforts being in vain. However, as I was walking back home from the station this past week, I saw mypotato neighbor Morita-san walking up the mountain ahead of me. He lives two minutes down the hill and he loves to talk about gardening.  I ran up the mountain to catch up to him. In the beginning of my potato planting adventure, I mentioned often to him that I started making use of the big plot of land that I have. He would give me loads of advice and was excited about my new hobby. I was sad to have to let him know this time about the bad news. He immediately invited himself over to the house and told me he would check on them and give me a diagnosis.

He jumped right in and started covering the potatoes with dirt. He instructed me that no matter what you do, you have to hide them from the sun unless you want to eat very bitter vegetables. After a few minutes, he bid his farewell with a, “帰るわ! Kaeruwa!”, and left as quickly as he came.

I followed his instructions and covered my precious potatoes with dirt and weeded the garden. I thought that that would be the end of gardening for this week, but this morning I heard a loud pounding on my front door at 8:00 AM. Who would that be at this time? My sisters? My mom?

I let out a timid, Hello? with no answer and slowly opened the door to find Morita-san with gloves and a little bag in hand. I was surprised to see him so early. He had come again to help with the garden and also had brought new sweet potato plants to grow. After working in the garden for a bit, he explained to me what I had to do, and again was quickly on his way.

After he left I watered my new sweet potatoes and headed back into the house with a smile on my face. I now have something better to do than going straight to the internet in the morning: working on my new potatoes from Morita-san.

Nagano: Hums of the Homesick

The second day of my trip to the more northern part of Japan: Nukuta, Nagano.

It was only my second morning and I was already battling feelings of home-sickness. If you want to see the first post in this series, check it out here: Click me!

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The next morning I didn’t wake up in my bed. There was a water bottle at my feet, and I heard shuffling and voices coming from the next room. I made sure that they didn’t know I was up. I would take my time.

As I emerged from my futon, I walked into the kitchen. There was no one there and I decided to take a peak outside to see the morning. It was simply beautiful. The fog started to settle on the trees, and the sun was reflecting off of the early dew. It was something that my camera tried hard to capture to no avail. Something like that must be seen with ones own eyes.

He came back home after a few minutes and prepared me some of his wife’s steamed bread. It was light and fluffy. I made a mental note that I would attempt it when I got back home. I noticed that he only called his wife Yumi-san. Because adding -san to the end of a name is a sign of respect used with people you are on polite terms with, I was very surprised that he used it with his wife. I don’t know many people who use it in Kansai to their spouses.

When the afternoon started to roll around, I somehow was getting restless. I had traveled to Singapore and Bali for two weeks earlier in the year, but this trip seemed even longer than the time I had spent outside of Japan. I wanted to go home and I didn’t know why. I decided to combat the feelings as best I can and tried to not show my uneasiness.

Another interesting thing about the both of them is that they did not compliment a lot. It can go to your head with out you realizing it back in Kansai because everyone is on the complimenting wagon. If you do the smallest thing, they say that is great, but this couple from Nukuta didn’t.

My job that day was to help with the garlic. He took me in the morning to see his greenhouse and at my feet he placed a big bag of garlic bulbs that we would work on together for the next three hours. I had no idea that it could be so much fun. I was with Yoshida-san for the whole day, and we talked and talked and talked while the garlic smell started to become imbedded in our fingertips.

We hide the things we want to show to people, and then slowly, we start to forget them ourselves.

When he would say things like the above, I would want to rush to my Itouch. I can say that it is true for me. Growing up here, I think that I suppressed a lot.  Now when I encounter a situation I am not comfortable with, I give myself a hard time about it and I don’t know why.

When you are out in the garden with yourself being the only one keeping you company, you think a lot. He told me in the evening that he was dwelling on a problem for three months before he discovered the answer within himself. Perhaps all of the questions that we ask, if we spend a little more time thinking the answers could be dug up.

I had my first bath at the 和合(Wagou) house the night before. I was actually thankful that it was separate from the main house because I could take my time. I welcomed taking a long bath that evening. When you have so much to do, it distracts you and you can not fully enjoy it. When I was there I had no people to see, and no plans to make.

I think the feelings of home-sickness arose because my body went into shock without me realizing it. Up until that point I was busy everyday, greeting hundreds of people at work. Now I was alone, with no company. I learned to appreciate the sound of the dripping from the faucet, the grumbling of the water heater, the sound of silence, and the smell of garlic that was coming from my hands.

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