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.

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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.

One last goodbye

I just had a lovely moment. Our eyes met. I blushed and looked down. This happened many times while he was talking to his friends sitting across from him on the train. I wondered at that time what kind of connection they might possibly have.

We were going in the same direction on the train. Would he get off at the same station? Who was this person? Half-asleep, my brain was a tangle of questions and possible answers.

The train slowly pulled up to the platform, and the station’s name was announced. He picked up his bags and the doors opened. I saw him wave to me as he exited the train. With a smile he mouthed a good-bye. From the windows I saw him stretch his hand out for one last wave. I copied his gesture and with a tired grin I also said good-bye.

This is one of the reasons I like to stay awake on the train even after a tiring day of work. Someone can touch your heart when you least expect it.

In that moment no one wanted to use me to practice their English. There were no words or exchange of conversation, but the intense feeling of curiosity and the happiness in the stolen glances.

I felt in love in that moment. I fell in love with that moment.

He wrote a poem

photo-179In my last post, I talked about my first encounter with the artist, Mitsushita. Each time we met up until now has been conversations over two hours, the kinds of talks where you happen to glance at a watch and you jump out of your seat, surprised at how fast the time had gone by.

In the beginning, because I am a cheapskate, I had no intention of buying his art. After speaking to him however, I decided that I wanted a piece of this fantastic person.

He drew me —blue wig and all— but he also wrote me a poem. It was not what I had expected, and I was beaming.. As I read, I knew that during our marathon talks he had been listening with ears as well as heart. It was an amazing feeling to be heard.

I will write the Japanese and try my best to translate it into English.

たくさん泣いてきたね。
涙をこらえて頑張ってきたね。
涙を流せる優しいあなたへ。。。
あなたがもしも恐がってほうならボクはあなたの笑顔になりたい。
もしもあなたが涙を流すなら、ボクはあなたの涙を幸せに変えたい。
あなたの笑顔世界で一番キレイでも。ボクはあなたのキズも愛したい。。。
あなたの笑顔がボクの幸せなんだ。信じたい。。。
You cried a lot coming here didn’t you.
You did your best and held in your tears.
These words I will write are to the kind one that lets her tears fall.
If you are scared, I want to change your fear into smile.
I want to change your tears of sadness into ones of joy.
Because your smile is the most beautiful. I will love all of your faults.
Your smile is my smile. I will always believe this.

The Snake Handler, Mr. Matsushita and a Blue Wig.

These days I have been getting into a funny new habit – selling postcards on the street after work. I haven’t been out this past week because I couldn’t find a place to sleep in the city, but I will get out again next week if the timing works out.

photo-178It all started when I finished a Chai tea and a sandwich at the coffee shop near Shinsaibashi-suji. One by one the shops in the area closed down for the night, leaving only the footsteps of those coming home from the office, or the ones on the way to their questionable midnight jobs. By this time it was around 11:00 PM and against the shutters of the medicine shop, I see the artist Matsushita on the street open for business. There hasn’t been a night that I haven’t seen him sitting there, yet I had never approached him. I didn’t like the idea of making small talk when I had no intention of making a purchase. This particular evening was different however, and I decided to go and ask if it would be okay for myself to start selling postcards along this road. He explained to me that it would be no problem as long as the shops around were not open. I was excited to start laying out my small postcard collection. I admired this artist and the stand that he started packing up after his long day. Matsushita and his snake-handler sidekick Daisuke were about to leave. With a few words of advice about selling and pricing, they reminded me to watch out for old drunk men, and left shortly after.
I was alone and some people actually came up and started a conversation, commenting on my art and the blue wig that I wore, which was an attempt to hide myself from any potential acquaintances that could walk by. I enjoyed meeting these new people of the night, feeling very incognito.
One man who spoke English came up and introduced himself. We talked for a good twenty minutes, and he decided that it was his job to help me get more customers. His business strategy began with trying to lure people to my little chair by practically harassing them in English. His theory was that people walking by would be more interested if I started speaking in English to them and leave out the Japanese. In my experience however, that is 100% not the case. In Japan, people are afraid of things that they are not interested in. I wish I could be as confident as he was, but I don’t think I could fall into that way of selling.photo-177
After a while, and a few postcards lighter, Matsushita comes riding back on his bike. He was worried about me and came back to check on how I was doing. It was so thoughtful of him to go out of his way.
No other customers came to buy postcards after that, but we talked for hours about his life, what I do for a living, and our opinions of the conventional way of approaching work in Japanese society. His family had different expectations of him, but he choose to be a full-time artist. Now around 30, he questions his choices in a positive way and doesn’t regret them. He told me that he loves what he does and is glad even though he struggles doing it sometimes.
He has lead an interesting life, one very much opposite to the usual briefcase carrying salary-man you see all the time.  I admired his relaxed disposition, and desired his lifestyle.
What would your mind be like after meeting different personalities and observing the world all day?
I hope to go back to the shopping street and see my artist friend and his funky art very soon.