Decision Making, Feedback and Understanding of Time in Japan

By Josh Del Pino

In general, decision-making in Japanese schools is top-down decision making. Examples of this can be seen every spring when many teachers and other public employees are switched to teaching positions at new schools and offices. Teachers themselves do not decide where to teach, but rather that decision is made for them. In Japan, in general, the 先輩(せんぱい) or senior will make the crucial decisions and will be responsible for directing the younger teachers. Within a school, the principal and vice principal probably have the final say on any English projects you are working on, whether that is creating an English board, implementing an after-school English club or planning an “internationalization” trip with students to Tokyo Disneyland. So if your JTE says no to an idea, don’t take it personally. Your JTE may actually like your idea, but the vice principal or principal may have vetoed it.

And if instead there is no response within 24-hours of suggesting your idea, don’t worry about it. In general, decision making in Japan takes more time than what many of us are used to in our home countries. In the United States, decision making is often cut and dry. In Japan, however, more people are involved in the decision making process, and confrontation is avoided, so decisions take longer to reach. What’s that, you’ve got beef with me? You better not even look at me with that tone of stare!

And this is a nice transition into the section on feedback in Japan. And that concludes our section on feedback in Japan. The end.

If you don’t get this joke, give it time; you will. So in general, feedback is not given as openly and readily as we might be accustomed to in our home countries. And once again, this is related to avoiding confrontation. I am not saying this is bad. It’s just different. Rest assured, sometimes you will be confronted. If you are doing a less than stellar job, or if you have consistently broken some basic etiquette rules like wearing outdoor shoes indoors, or arriving at school at lunch time, or abandoning bathing to support the Occupy movement, then someone will politely confront you. You’ve been warned, so use some soap and take a bath!

In Japan you can see students and teachers measuring the distance down to the centimeter between chairs for an entrance or graduation ceremony. You can see immaculate gas stations, courteous and polite construction crew workers in Japan. You can anticipate a train or bus departing from a station within a 1-minute window. You can receive a cup of tea at precisely 10 and 2 each day. You can hear the bells chime on the dot or see a teacher diligently ready to set off the school chime at the designated moment.

But the sense of time is different for different parts of the world, different countries, and even within different regions of a country. Ostensibly to foreigners, Japanese society seems pretty rigid. This is true in many ways, and Japanese society is highly disciplined and organized. BUT (this is a big BUT), once you begin to observe and work in a Japanese school, you will begin to realize that all bets are off when trying to anticipate your schedule. It can be a futile endeavor. Save yourself some time and energy and let the day come to you. I know that sounds New Age, but just be aware that a schedule that is displayed on the board or on your desk is not always the same schedule that will actually take place that day. I have had days where I thought I would have a full day of classes and instead I was told to do some manual labor instead.

In fact, the day I wrote this, I thought I would be responsible for giving self introductions to first-year students. Instead, in the morning I literally shoveled dirt into a truck. And in the afternoon, I enjoyed the tunes of Kool and the Gang’s “Ladies Night” over the radio at Juntendo, a do-it-yourself store, and picked up bags of charcoalized cow manure nuggets, other fertilizers and beams of lumber. I did all of these activities while dressed in clothes more fitting of a Banana Republic greeter. Let the day come to you, and savor the smell of dirt in the morning, or manure in the afternoon.


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