Archive for 4 June, 2014

5 ill-conceived things in Japan

No country is perfect, and certainly, it’s easier to see things when you’re on the outside looking in. However, in the hope of improving life, or making life just that bit easier, here’s five things that weren’t so well thought through, and lessons could be learnt from. In case you don’t like what I say, do remember that last month I did 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock, and that no country is perfect, every country has problems and awesomeness.

1. Free Wifi for Tourists: 3,000 Wifi hotspots for foreign tourists (Sankei). It sounds great, right? You would hope that it would be ‘no strings attached’, but I doubt it. Two of the sponsors are the Osaka tourism bureau and the Kansai business association. In other words, they want to feed you with “information” about where you should spend your money, whilst only providing you with “information” about their club members. I would also be wary, especially when you should consider safeguarding your personal info. “Free” wifi hotspots in Japan are apparently already available in English, but typically there is a sign up page in Japanese, and they are likely to send you spam, in Japanese. The sign up page is likely to ask you for your demographic information, which won’t be related to providing you with free, unbiased information. JR East, the train company that services Tokyo and surrounds, has sold customer Pasmo card information to companies, including age, commuting information, statistics, and so forth without prior consent or such. Apparently, they have not sold customer names, but no word on if they also sold customer contact details or not. So far, no privacy guarantees have been made regarding what they do with the information you provide and your browsing data, and I really doubt they will bother. However, it isn’t such a bad thing. Currently, it’s nearly impossible for a non-resident to get a mobile phone sim card in Japan, even for tourists (see how you can get a sim card at this previous blogpost). Consequently, free internet is better than allowing phone companies charge for phone and internet access (they won’t let you use your overseas model, but force you to buy a two-year contract). Currently, most of the proposed wifi hotspots will be around tourist areas and public transport just in Osaka. Otherwise, Starbucks provides free wifi at the cost of a coffee, and simply only your email address.

A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.

A tourist using Google Maps on an iPhone at a major tourist destination to find their way.

 

2. English language websites and information

Bouncing straight from internet to Japanese “English language websites”, is the lack of credible English language websites. Many major companies (far bigger, and much richer than JapanesePhotos.Asia), has websites with extensive information in Japanese. Train companies have some good and detailed information on how to get discounts for travel, and earn points on your travel card. However at time of writing nothing in English, or very little or it’s very out of date. Considering that banks and train companies deal with tens of thousands of non-Japanese speaking customers every day, it’s amazing to consider that they think nothing of a sizeable portion of their expat customers. That’s right, banks do not provide any web-based banking services in English (or other major languages in Japan, including Portuguese, Chinese, nor Korean). Banks do have English language websites, but these are only for investors, not customers. Is JapanesePhotos.Asia any different? Well, I wish I had a budget and team of people to write and translate stories. What information I do provide in Japanese is for potential models, though (model call).

 

3. Employment

Japan has a three tiered system. At the top is the full-time tenured employment, with full benefits for health and pension. Second is contract full-time, usually for a maximum of three or five years. At the bottom is the part-time contract, also for only three or five years maximum. The reason for this is that only full-time tenured employees are entitled to health and pension benefits at company expense, but no-one else is. Most companies want to avoid paying health and pension, so they usually employ staff for a limited term. Even if the job is permanently required, the person filling it is not. As a consequence, most workers in Japan are temps. So is it any wonder that over 70% or 90% (depending on source) of people haven’t felt any benefit from an apparently improved economy? (CNN, and Japan Today). Also, some companies apparently have 70% of their staff classified as managers, which is supposedly because companies aren’t legally required to pay their managers overtime, allowing a loophole for cost-cutting. Japanese companies demand undying loyalty of their workers, but don’t seem willing to return in kind.

Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.

Company employees carefully crossing the street in icy conditions.

 

4. Software, Internet, and computing

This time it’s not a problem of Japanese people’s making (I think), it’s mainly America’s. If you’ve never lived outside of your own country, you may find it hard to understand, but this is such an important issue for expats in Japan. Companies like Microsoft, Adobe and such are the biggest culprits, and others like hotelclub.com and surveymonkey.com. Websites for these companies detect that you’re trying to access their website from Japan, because the IP address is Japanese. Consequently, the website software is designed to respond to the IP address locality and provide the website for the assumed language of the reader. So, Hotelclub.com points me to their Japanese language version of their website, because the website designers assume that there are no expats or travellers in Japan, only Japanese people live in Japan, and that all people in Japan can read Japanese. Worse still, you can change the language to your preferred language, but you need to read and understand which one of these is yours: 日本語 and 英語 or ドイツ語 or even 韓国語. The solution would be easy, just write the name of the language IN that language (Wikipedia does it); or instead of detecting the IP address location, use the browser’s language detection. Microsoft’s and Adobe’s strategy to prevent software piracy is to make it impossible for expats in Japan to get their products from shops or even download from their websites their software. Microsoft forces you to use their website in Japanese, and prevents you from trying to purchase software from their American (English language) website. And the Japanese MS website will only allow you to download the Japanese language version of their software, anyway. Consequently, years ago many of my expat friends had to share software. Now we don’t try, we just wait until someone does a trip overseas and ask them to purchase it for us. No wonder why people here have changed from Microsoft and PC machines to the multi-lingual Apple software (I even changed to Linux for a while). Such treatment is a constant reminder that expats don’t belong.

Customers in the Apple store in Japan.

 

5. Illegal tracking

It was recently announced that Japan Rail Osaka will allow a company to install cameras and face-recognition software to track customers. It’s actually illegal to do this, but the company will do it anyway. The reason given is that they will use the data for disaster evacuation research. However, in normal conditions people will chose exits they need to use, rather than the closest one available. Besides, why is facial recognition required for disaster evacuation? This was not explained. What will the company do with this information? Again, not explained.

 

6. Customer Service

Yes, I know, “But Japan is renowned for it’s high quality customer service!”. Yes, I have experienced the I-couldn’t-care-if-you-lived-or-died customer service in my own country. Here, when you present yourself to store staff, they go through the robotic motions of pretending to care and go the extra mile for their customers. It’s a quality that Japanese people think is unique to Japan. It’s not. In Korea they say “the customer is king”, meaning treat all customers like royalty. In Taiwan it varies, where there is a desire to please (to have return customers) to having personalised care for the customers they actually do like. In contrast, Japanese store staff avoid me. In the big stores the customer service staff steer clear from me, and it’s only when I catch one in flight between (Japanese) customers can I get my questions answered. Who are the culprits? Well, all of the major companies so far. Bic Camera (see the picture below), Softmap, Yamada Denki, and even when the Starbucks person goes round with free samples, I’m either last or don’t get any. Which, is why I’ve added this number six point in a list of five; I’m writing this in Starbucks, sitting next to a Grande Cappuccino, and contemplating where I’ll have my lunch. Also, if the staff at McDonalds, Starbucks, or a supermarket say something and you either didn’t quite catch it or didn’t understand their Japanese, they may repeat it in well-pronounced competent English. Only to return to Japanese for the rest of the interaction, which is totally bizarre. In Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and most European countries, if they suspect that you’re an English speaker, they use English with you from start to finish. Only in my experience in Japan (and Italy) do they use only their first language with you, and only in Japan when they are obviously more competent in English than you are in Japanese, do they insist that you continue to struggle in Japanese. Good luck with that in the 2020 Olympics.

Customer service fail

Customer service fail

Also see 5 Things About Japan that Totally Rock.

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