A LOT of people seem to think that living and working in Japan would be equivalent to living and working in some kind of anime film clip complete with epic flying robo-heroes, samurai inhabiting the desk next to you, and epilepsy-inducing wonder flashes. And the day I ate the suss tofu was very much like that… however, for the most part, sadly, dare I say it, it is perfectly mundane. It is living and working just as one would anywhere. But of course, it IS Japan and nothing is ever quite as mundane as it seems.
One of the more noticeable elements of the day is the chorus that greets every morning - the "ohayo goziamasu" (which sounds like, `Ohio Go - Zymus!!). This is sung at every passerby and gives the impression that everyone you come across is SO FREAKING HAPPY IN THE MORNINGS! My mornings in Australia looked a whole lot like a massive pair of sunglasses and a coffee big enough to wake my zombie body, and any attempt at good humour directed towards me was met with a monosyllabic grunt of some kind. I don't really "do" mornings… my previous co-workers would attest to my shock and confusion at being asked to attend 9am meetings ("WHAT?! 9am?! What the hell even happens then?!"). So to say that this wave of early morning cheer and enthusiasm was a touch overwhelming would be a gross understatement. But if there is anyway to overcome your inhibitions and get amongst the morning-super-happy-fun time, it's to respond with your own addition to the chorus. "Ohayo goziamasu!" indeed! Yeah!
Of course, once you're at the office and into the very serious business of the working day, the tone changes entirely. It's like a gong is hit somewhere to signal that the working day has started and hence, silent diligent work commences. It is ser-i-ous. The daily working routine is highly venerated in Japan and there is unquestionable focus of workers during office time. Japanese working culture can be characterised to a certain extent by saying that the way something is done is almost more important than the final outcome. This incorporates the rituals, the customs, the respect and politeness, and a fanatical attention to detail and perfectionism that are all part of daily Japanese working life. The commitment to the working ideal gets taken to such an extreme that the Japanese have a word - "karoshi" - which literally translates to "death from overwork". I hope the gravity of this is getting through to you - that people work so hard they work themselves to death and it happens so frequently that there is a WORD FOR IT. That Australians have little grasp of such a concept is Gross Understatement Number 2 for the day, and to be honest it’s a bit overwhelming.
I tried in vain to communicate that the Australian work ethic had more in common with a comatose slug than what I was seeing here (complete with Hawke-esque, "Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum," quotes that were met with expressions of deep, deep confusion and I could have sworn that a tumbleweed rolled through the office…). But this shouldn't imply that the office is a place of moribund gravity without a showing of fun. Not a day has gone past since I started work here that a member of the Board of Education hasn't come around to every person working in the building with some little food treat. Sure, this often results in my new favourite game - "Can You Really Eat That?!" - but the inclusive nature of collective gift-giving is really very endearing. And there is a genuine environment of support within the office among co-workers, which I am sure is a direct correlation to the culture of socializing with your co-workers. And by "socializing" I mean "getting wankered and karaoking the s**t out of the evening". It's hard not to be impressed with the professional credentials of the guy that belted out Total Eclipse Of The Heart with such enthusiasm and high kicks the night before.