Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The saddest of them all...

There are many sad jobs in Japan: The over-worked salary-man going home at ridiculous hours only to dejectedly discover his wife and kids long asleep, the frustrated office lady who may just one day snap and pour boiling hot tea over her male colleagues. Not that many people could say they are ecstatic in their job, it's part of Japan's working culture, people are miserable, it shows how hard they are working after all. But I think the saddest job of all, is the guard man. I mean, security guards in most countries are seen as pretty lowly type jobs, but in Japan, the guard man has hit rock bottom. They are generally the same type, old, over 50, probably been retrenched just those few years too early and have no other option than to do the work. They can be bossy, probably bitter with the fact that they are the saddest form of human being within a 1km radius. And often they are totally unnecessary, people ignore them and depending on how big their big red flashing stick is, there's nothing they can do about being at the bottom of the food chain. No respect. No dignity. That, is the Japanese guard man.

But before we feel too sorry for them, we have to look at the up side, they get paid for doing a job that a sign could do. Fair enough it's minimum wage, and the Winter and Summer must be gruelling, but Spring and Autumn must be bearable?? OK then, there really aren't too many plus'...

I didn't think it was possible to have a level of sadness within the guard man ranks, but on the weekend I met him, the saddest guard man of all. I felt so bad for him I almost went back and told him not to give up on his life...
We pulled in to the popular cake shop on Sunday afternoon, the place wasn't that busy, but sad guard man was still there, waving his red stick for Ryota to go in the furthest entrance, Ryota, because he's an arsehole in general, ignored the guard man, and went in the closest one, pulling in to a space close to the door with such precision that it must have made the guard man feel even more insignificant. As we clambered out of the car with high hopes of yummy cake and hot coffee to warm us up, we spied two cats, to which of course Ashton and I had to pet and Ryota had to drag me away for fear I would adopt them and smuggle them into my bag. Now guard men rarely interact with customers unless it's direction related, but I noticed the guard man watching Ashton and I intently as we talked to the cats. I noticed, but just assumed it was because we were quite randomly talking to two stray cats in a busy car park, I paid no attention, nobody ever does.

After we'd spent enough time orgasming over fresh cream and apple pies with piping hot coffee, we once again braved the windy car park, rushing to bundle up inside our little car, when we were intercepted. I'd gone ahead of Ryota and suddenly the guard man was there, asking me what country I was from. "Ohh, ummm, Australia.." I'd hesitated because a guard man has never tried to make contact with me, he must have taken my hesitation as lack of language skills because he spoke quite slowly from that point, not that I minded, made a nice change! He then looked at Ashton and inquired his age and how cute he was, how lucky he was to speak 2 languages. Ash was looking under the cars for the cats so I felt a little awkward, where was the guard man going with this conversation? Was it OK to just excuse myself and go get my kid before he got run over?
He sensed my awkwardness because he felt the need to explain that his ex-wife was from New Zealand. I then understood why he'd taken such an interest, so I made small talk with him until a look of sheer pain and regret washed over his tired, wrinkled face and he said. "She left though... She went back, and I... don't know..."

I stood rooted to the spot, frantically searching for the words, in either language, to respond, but all I could come up with was the very convenient Japanese phrase of "Ohh, I see..." Ryota then came over and started bowing, wondering why I was engaging in conversation with a lowly guard man, and I said good bye, and for some reason I said thank you, it's a strange habit I've picked up from being in Japan, but I panicked and didn't know what else to say to him, his shoulders were flat, his red stick lay limp at his side as cars piled in to the car park. I really think seeing our family hit a nerve and he was genuinely sad.

So this may be the saddest man in Japan, he had a foreign wife and she took off and left him. Later, Ryota said he feels that will be his future, he'll quit his job but fail so will be forced to be a guard man and I'll up and leave him in disgust. Who knows, maybe that will happen. I told Ryota to at least stand tall in his failure, nobody likes a guard man to be even more pathetic than he has to be!

35 comments:

  1. Maybe they all have stories like that. The secret hidden pain of the parking attendants of Japan. You'd imagine anyone whose life choices have led them to a role which could be performed more reliably by a stick has a fair number of regrets...

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    1. I don't know, maybe most of them are quite happy, but this guy certainly wasn't!

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  2. Might have done him good to see that guy :)

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    1. Yup, reality check is never a bad thing!

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  3. that is sad, i am nearly in tears over here. :(

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    1. Right, I felt really bad for him for what he'd lost. :(

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  4. Every honest man fears that a little, becoming the metaphorical lonely 'guard man'.

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    1. haha, lonely is a big fear I think, for all of us.

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  5. Brahaha at how your husband sees this to be his future...but that's a sad story for the guard. Still he could have been an ass to his ex-wife. Who knows?

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    1. That's true, we don't know the whole story, it's funny that Ryota made that connection to himself though, guilty conscience much!? :)

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  6. Most of the guards I speak with are pretty interested in chatting about stuff, but I think they are mostly the retired types filling the gap before their pensions kick in, like a number of cab drivers who've also had a knack for gabbing. Your story reminds me of a guard in a museum in Canberra, how he seemed to know about everything. In contrast, the ladies sitting in their corners of the Chinese temple museum in Nagasaki were nodding off. Sometimes, I think I'd love to be a guard man as long as I had an ex-wife too. Serenity...

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    1. Really?! I've never had a chatty guard (in Japan) but maybe that's my fault too, I'm not really that chatty to strangers in general... hehe, actually any job free from a ball and chain might be nice now you mention it... :D

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  7. Am I the only one who loves that Will talks about "guards" plural that he's spoken with? From now on, I vow to smile and say "hello". Not sure about engaging in actual conversation, that story is just so sad, not sure if I'd manage not to cry if I'd heard it first hand.

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has never talked to a guard! It really touched me, the look on his face and his voice trailing off really got to me. :(

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  8. People don't talk to me.
    I never get that "chat up the gaijin" thing. I give of a very bad vibe apparently?

    But..
    If I broke it down by occupation...who I have actually talked to besides students and girls....it would be the guards. I love cats so i always buy cat food and feed whatever wild cat is around (did it today) and they mosey on up next to me and deem me to be not so bad and speak Japanese to me but it's all good.
    I'm feeding a cat, they are admiring the universal language of kindness and I just mumble "I like cats" which is obvious to him. The guards....why does everyone treat folks based on their perceived rank?

    Burn the World...except me and some hot of child bearing age babes and lets start over.

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    1. Really!? Wow, this is interesting, I must not be a guard appealing type perason because I get the chatters all the time but this was the first guard.
      Animals are always good for convo starters and I thought that was it but he totally came out of left field with his wife leaving him story! Can never judge books I guess.

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  9. I think this post is disgusting! People have different jobs for different reasons and I think it is very disrespectful to say that guard men have nothing they can do about being at the bottom of the food chain with no respect and no dignity.
    Why are you an English teacher? Because that's all you are capable of doing in Japan. It is easy for English speaking foreigners in Japan to get English jobs, even if they aren't very educated, as long as they are fluent in English.
    I think you are really childish and have no respect for anyone because you are so wrapped up in your own little life!

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    1. Thanks for the call out, you're right, this post is making big generalizations and I apologise if it offends.
      I have no idea why a lot of people do different jobs, however the guy I met, I really do truly believe he was in a bad place. I should have stuck to him only, thanks for the comment!

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  10. I don't usually post when there's word verification anymore but I'll break my new rule to say that one thing I love about Japan is that I don't think the average person looks down on any kind of job here.
    People do their jobs so well, even the guard men, they take pride in what they do and I think most people return in kind, giving them respect.
    I know I do but then again I am always on a bike so am 'closer' to those doing these jobs - the road workers and so on.
    Everybody has a story, even the homeless who I used to have breakfast with after coming home from clubbing, back in the day.
    I respected the Japanese homeless, although I know that most Japanese don't, but these are the true outsiders, but the others, those with jobs we might deem as menial, I don't think that's the case, I don't think the snob value exists that exists in our countries, and this is why I lived here for so long, because of this respect at all levels.

    I never ride past somebody working on the road or directing cars in a car park, without a hello and a thank you.

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    1. Haha sorry for the word verification, I'm honored!
      Really, you think there's no snobbery??? I think there is, it's just buried deeper than our countries...
      I think all people deserve respect though, I always bow and say thank you to guard men too, it's common decency I would think! Thanks for the comment!

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  11. Sheesh. You are sure making a lot of assumptions about these men. The few I have talked to have been older men looking to keep busy after retirement. I think it's wonderful they have a place in this society even if you think it is a sad job that could be done by a sign. Frankly I know those who believe your job could be done by a tape recorder.

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    1. Fair play, I am making a lot of assumptions. Thanks for the point out.
      I guess I was so shocked at this guy's sadness, because I think he was actually really sad, as in pain sad, not pathetic sad... It's true, everyone has jobs for different reasons, I just got the vibe from him that it wasn't his choice, I'm not used to strangers baring their soul to me quite so easily!

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  12. In the current economy at some level he's surely feeling a bit lucky for even having a job. I think its quite great the country pays people to do these jobs. I get so used to seeing so many guard men at road works places that when I come across an actual sign - that looks like a man waving his arm - I get taken aback. I think the first one I saw scared me. Bloody hell. I do feel sorry for the man - being married to a kiwi for a stint. We're quite hard work :) I was going to say I'd never had someone bare their soul that easily but thinking about it, last weekend my friend's partner's mother, whom I'd never met, asked me if my husband was kind. My saying he was obviously prompted her to bare her soul about her dead husband and how unkind he was!!

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    1. That's true, I guess he is lucky to have any job at all these days!
      And yes, the fact they get paid anything to do a sign's job is pretty damn amazing!
      haha, I thought of you when he said Kiwi as well!
      Actually, I've had a few students spill their guts about bad husbands, I guess coming from a man it was a little more shocking for me too!

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  13. this post made me laugh because you and your husband are really in no position to be criticizing this poor guy. At least this guy seems to have the drive/effort to want to work....maybe your husband should take a page from his book, instead of behaving like the jap equivalent of white trash. Like one of the above posters said, its easy for english speakers in japan to get jobs or open "schools" despite having little education.
    Maybe he should of knocked up his kiwi a couple of months after dating her then maybe she would of stuck around.

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    1. We're totally not in a position to be criticising him, we're both lucky to have decent paying jobs. However I wasn't criticising him, I felt nothing but pain for this poor man, not because of his job, but for the way he described his situation to me. As I mentioned in another comment reply, my digs at all guard men were sweeping and apologies for any offence!
      It's true too, English speakers in Japan are very lucky with job availability, however it takes something different to actually be successful on your own, I know a lot of people who have tried and failed, so despite the fact that I am a lucky bastard with a pretty cushy job, I am still proud of my success. Thanks for the comment!

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  14. awww.... what a sad story!!!

    but as for Ryota's comment at the end, you should use it to your advantage and tell him that he needs to shape-up if he doesn't want that to happen to him! lol.

    still, very sad... i've never felt bad for the "stick-men" before, but have had long conversations with friends discussing how useless they were... ok, maybe not that long :p but seriously. these guys are useless, they are wasting the country's money and there's really probably something else they could/should be doing, even if that's early retirement...

    japan has so many useless jobs, and although it's nice that they have the lowest degree of unemployment in the world, they would probably manage to make things change/advance more if they got rid of a few paper-pushers... just my opinion.

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    1. Yup, I think I will use it from now on, whenever he gives me shit- "You wanna be a guard man with no wife?!"
      Some stick men are really necessary I think, like the crazy busy places where everyone is fighting for a space, love them! But around big shopping centres where there are like, a million... yup, totally useless!

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  15. Fck, I just had to comment again even though I am meant to be boycotting blogs with frickin' wanchor verification...Kawaii blah blah above, you are wrong on so many fronts....you put down the 'stick men' etc. Blimey, they actually do a job that a sign can't do. Have you noticed how narrow the average street is in Japan? A sign could not stop cars from hitting each other head-on. These men, and sometimes women, do have a point, their position is not a waste of money.
    I cycle everywhere, no matter where I am on the planet, and sometimes I wind up in vehicles that go faster than a bike, and whilst they help me get from a to be with speed, they don't bring me the same joy that I get from getting up close to workers like the 'stick men', whose faces are etched with character, whose smiles make my day, even for that fact, the smile, their salary, which probably isn't much, is worth more than the money paid to the advertising executive who you might meet on some air-headed nampa date.

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    1. I agree, some guard me/ traffic directors...? What's the pc term?? Do an AMAZING job in Japan, there are roads and carparks that I would never have even contemplated had they not been guiding me. I do think there are tons of them that aren't needed though, massive shopping centres are a good example I think, every weekend they stand there with a sign that says, "shopping centre this way" and not just one on an obscure road, many on main roads, it's wasteful of everyone's time and money in my opinion.

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  16. I feel sorry for the guy, not his job, but just the lonely part.

    The roadworks people and so forth here are quite good and certainly appear to be working harder than some of the people I saw in Australia.

    Good on your for being a good sport with the criticism, there are some borderline harsh comments floating around.

    A new mall just opened here a couple of months ago, so the guys were out on the street holding up the signs to say whether the car park was full or not. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about it as we passed by one in our car, I was a bit negative with the waste of money, use a machine type rhetoric, but they were quite optimistic, saying that it is a necessary job and they are working hard. The footpath is too small to put up a sign and the road was quite narrow with a lot of traffic, so the sign could blow on to the road or something and cause problems I suppose. Plus the area around the mall is literally a car park and so they need the guards I reckon. I am pretty sure some of it is also to appease the local government and must be a condition of opening something like a pachinko place that attracts a few people.

    Anyway keep telling it how it is, I enjoy your honest accounts of things.

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    1. Me too, that was actually the point I was making, I felt really sorry for him as a person!

      I like criticism, if it isn't blatant abuse with no point or opinion then that's different, but all for nasty comments if they have a point! ;)

      I guess the situation just differs so much, there are places where it is too dangerous to have a sign, but I've seen a lot where it hasn't been dangerous, it's just weird. I might take up snapping useless guard men as a new hobby! :D

      Thank you for your comments, they are always insightful and lovely to read!

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  17. Aww!! This is a sad story!! I think it's always a bit worse when it's a man with a story like this!! I definately feel for him!!
    I also think a lot of the people who read your post completely missed the whole point of the story!! Why are people so quick to be so nasty?? You don't deserve a lot of the comments posted on here!!
    I think sometimes you need to hear sad stories like this to put things back into perspective!!

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    1. know right, it's like seeing your Dad cry, so much worse than your mum!
      There's always going to be nasty people, you're too nice and understand me too much though my sheepish Lion ;) Thank you!
      xxx

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  18. Reading through the comments here, and Corinne, while I appreciate how it looks like you are trying to approach the particularly negative ones with grace, I'm just not sure some of them deserve as much as you've offered. I don't see treating them like they are actual constructive criticism because they're just direct personal insults, so any point that person may have had becomes moot in my opinion.

    I have been reading your blog for some time, because I enjoy the voice you write in (seems a lot like how I think, with /almost/ as much vulgarity) and if someone doesn't, or can't, 'get it' I don't know why they are here. I know that's teh interwebz and all--people being dicks just because they can--but I don't know... I think they should be ignored or whatever, but definitely not killed with kindness.

    That's just my 2 cents though. I would hate to see you wasting energy on some douchebags who can't string enough words together to properly make a point.

    -Andrea

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