Friday, 9 October 2015

Book Review: The Accidental Office Lady by Laura Kriska

I've seen this book a few times (in Kinokuniya), but never bothered to pick it up. But, since it's available through overdrive, I decided that, why not, since I'm already looking for a job.

Really, I don't know why I do this to my self. First, I take that class which basically made working in Japan sound terrible for ladies (no career path, really tough time when you're a mom, etc). And now, I read a book that reinforces that idea. Good thing the book was written a fairly long time ago though, so I can hope that things have drastically improved since then.

The Accidental Office Lady is the story of Laura, the first Western lady to ever work at the Honda head office. According to her, she has deep ties to Japan, being born there, and having gone for an exchange at Waseda. But of course, this is what, 1980s Japan? And things don't go as smoothly as expected. Among other things, Laura has to wear a uniform, is bossed around by the queen bee of the secretaries, and has general problems fitting in to the culture.

One thing I didn't get about Laura was how fluent in Japanese she was. In the prologue, she talks about how her "first words were Japanese", on some days, "spoke Japanese exclusively", and generally gives off the impression that she's very, very fluent in Japanese. But as the book goes on, she talks about having to have people explain things in English and Japanese, which confused me. Isn't she supposed to be fluent? How is there a language barrier? I'm guessing that she's like me, ok with conversation, but unfamiliar with business/office Japanese. This was a huge motivator to actually go practice keigo.

One thing I did understand, in fact it's one thing I worry about, are the cultural differences. By the time I graduate, I'd have spent 5 years in Japan, but assuming I can get a job, I don't know if I will be able to navigate things smoothly. Reading about Laura's experience makes me fervently wish that things have gotten better, or I have no idea how I'll last for long periods of time.

Basically, this book is like a worst-case scenario for me. Assuming I can get a job (big assumption there), I'll be going in ready to adapt to the situation as and when it needs be. You know, to change the things you can, but accept the things you can't. But you know, if things turn out to be more egalitarian, I would be thrilled.