My Japanese friend, 30-ish, former competitive cross-country skier*, now a sushi-man working in Poland, moved all the way from the other side of the wMy Japanese friend, 30-ish, former competitive cross-country skier*, now a sushi-man working in Poland, moved all the way from the other side of the world to Warsaw, just to make sushi for local yuppies. Can you imagine? In order to escape Tokio's corporate nightmare, he swapped continents, traded cultures, left his family behind and moved to this obscure little country called Poland. I mean I like it here, but it's not the most foreigner friendly place. Especially not if you are a slender Japanese dude with long silky hair and a cute pudgely face.
Just to give you an example, this friend of mine gets giggled at by teenage girls just because of his androgynous fashion choices and petite builds, I'm guessing he confuses the shit out of them, but come on, grow the hell up girls. Then he gets mean stares from clerks because his Polish doesn't live up to their snooty standards. Oh and he gets hit on while in clubs by hoards of horny women who want to satisfy the itch for something exotic. Just to be even, he gets hit on in clubs by horny men too**, again I think it's all about the curiosity and the exotics. All that is minor annoyances, the most worrisome is that my friend gets looked down by his coworkers. Even though he's the most involved of all the business partners, had invested the most $$ and is the only one among the bunch with the intricate knowledge of sushi making, he is treated as someone less worthy. Nothing better than racist colleagues, is there? People sometimes suck.
And if you put all that crap he's dealing with on top of the regular ex-pat maladies (homesickness, scarcity of home food, cultural misunderstandings, etc), it can really get nasty. So it made me wonder***, for him to put up with this crap every single day, how bad the typical Japanese workplace can be? How awful Tokyo's corporate overlords? To my understanding my friend was just a regular guy, living normal life - no Yakuza, no kink.
Amélie Nothomb gives some answers to that, she did the opposite of my Japanese friend has done. She left her native Belgium to live and work in one of Tokyo's major corporations. From her book you get a taste of what work in such an environment is like, what's expected from a newbie and why some might find daunting. The book's funny (I got quite a few laughs), lyrical at times (much appreciated melancholic descriptions from time to time, and well crafted description at that) and a little... fake.
Nothomb lies her ass of. That's her writing style. Most of it is exaggeration and fact twisting, I'm sure it's done for comical relief and to prove a point, but still, to me that to a degree undermines the credibility of her story. In short, if you can live with shameless exaggeration, you'll enjoy the book. Otherwise - prepare yourself for a whole lot of teeth grinding.
___________________ * He was serious about it: medals, international competitions, crazy training sessions... ** Some of it is due to confusion with his sex (he blames his haircut), some of it isn't. *** We're finally getting into the proper review part of this review...more