Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

How About a Little On-The-Job Learning?

Some of you (amazingly enough) may recall that, about a year ago, I put up a rather lengthy post describing ye olde academy's first-ever shokuba taiken (lit. "workplace experience") in which I drove an unlikely trio of boys a couple of hours away so they could spend the day picking strawberries. Well, the chief of this year's grade 9 class decided that last year's event was such a big success that he wanted to do it again this year. The day of this year's vocational extravaganze was today.

For the most part it was the same as last year, but they carried it out a little differently. The schedule and procedure were simplified, the teachers were given a bit more of the workload, and a bit more care was taken when choosing venues to make sure that things stayed a bit closer to home.

Last year I was in charge of two groups which carried out their work study on different days, so I was able to be totally focused on each, one at a time. This year I was responsible for three groups which all did their thing today. It was a bit hectic, but at least they kept all three of them in Itako City. Plus, as it turned out, it turned out to be an interesting day (if a bit less eventful than the trip out to the farm last year).

Whenever I drove toward Itako I could always see that big, square, blue-and-beige smokestack towering up over the hills, but I never knew what it did or what it was attached to. For all I knew, it could be playing atonal choral music while apes danced around and touched it (and then ran off to smash things with whatever they found lying around while the intro to Also Sprach Zarathustra played in the background). Today I actually got an opportunity to satisfy my lingering curiosity. Two of our 9th grade boys were sent to the Itako Clean Center as part of their day to be spent touring Itako's main municipal projects. Although I knew where to find the smokestack, I used my car navigation system to plot my course just for fun. It turned out to be quite an interesting complex.

The Clean Center consists of two large, squarish buildings with connected but different functions. One (the one with the smokestack but, sadly, no Legiti, no apes, no tapir skeletons being smashed) is a high-tech, ultra-high-temperature trash incinerator which is said to produce little in the way of emissions. (It certainly doesn't have much of any smell to speak of!) The other, however, is a recycling center, and that was where our boys were sent. I arrived to find them just suiting up after having seen an orientation video.

After that, we went into the center, which was like a small factory filled with humming and banging industrial machinery. It looked fascinating. I don't know what all the boys got to do there today, but while I was there they got assigned to a sorting belt.

I was told that about two tons of cans and bottles go through the center every five hours. All of them have to be sorted by hand before going to press or shredder. Bottles with labels still on them have to be de-labeled. Cans that are rusty have to be sorted out. All this takes place in a noisy room that smells sour milk. It's an important job, but I'm really thankful I don't have to do it.

The PET bottles get shredded and turned into things like serving trays and shopping bags. Cans and white glass bottles get sent out to plants to be turned back into cans and bottles. Colored glass is powdered and mixed into certain kinds of building materials. (Actually, until last year, it was also used to make asphalt for road surfacing, but the government pulled the plug on it on account of its expense.) Bjorn Lomborg, author of (the horribly misnamed) The Skeptical Environmentalist, says that recycling only makes sense when resources are scarce. I'd say it also helps a lot in terms of keeping waste useful instead of littering beaches and roadsides.

Seimiya's Aso branch has been my family's main supermarket for several years, and we're generally happy with its prices, selection, and service. I also sort of know the owner of the whole shabang (because I taught both his daughters in their senior high days). When it came to dealing with them for this event, however, I really had my doubts. When I called the head of the personnel department to ask if they were interested in participating, the guy said really brusquely, "We'll do it. The same arrangement as last year is fine. Is there any need to say anything more?" He then cut off my lavish, traditional Japanese thank-you rather rudely and terminated the conversation. A month later, he sent us a fax saying (in surprisingly brash language), "The number of student participants is too high. Split them up."

Aye, friggin', aye, SIR!!!!

After finishing up at the Clean Center, I popped by the main Seimiya store in downtown Itako to check up on the students and say thank you to the store manager. I found the kids hard at work stocking shelves, but they all had smiles on their faces. As expected, photographs were strictly banned, so no pics here.

The floor manager at the service counter was busy but polite and accommodating. The store manager (who I think was the owner's son) was not. When the floor manager called him to the front so I could talk to him he approached to a distance of about five meters (fifteen feet), glared at me, and said, "What do you want?" When I identified myself, stated my business, said my thank you (as briefly as possible because the guy looked impatient as hell), and held out my gift, he huffed with annoyance and stepped only as close as he needed to allow him to lean over, arm stretched out full length, and snatch away the package like I was radioactive. Then he turned on his heel and stomped off before I could complete my last sentence.

Asshole. I know where I won't ever shop again. Then again, I don't need to shop much in Itako, anyway.

Itako Post Office was completely the opposite of the supermarket. I arrived to find only two customers and a very relaxed, easy atmosphere. When I went to the counter and identified myself to the postmaster, he smiled and invited me back behind at once. The whole crew back there was extremely friendly and an interesting group of individuals to boot. As it turned out, since it was an unusually slow day in the mail room, our kids were upstairs in the administrative section, where I found them hard at work counting unused, blank New Year cards.

Once that was finished, they were given a ten-minute break, where I couldn't help being a typical gaijin with a camera and having the kids pose for a shot.

After that, half of the crew got to use a special boring machine to punch holes in the cards' postal stamp marks so they couldn't be stolen and used again. (Huh...I posted two pictures of it on my photo collection site, and they've both disappeared! Oh, well...)

Meanwhile, the other two were put to work stapling together official mail notices.

The boys told me that their eyes would probably never be the same again after that ocular workout.

Reluctantly, I pried myself away from the really interesting postal crew and made my way back to ye olde academy where, unfortunately, I arrived in time for the English Department staff meeting. (zzzzzzzzzzzz*)

Okay...that's a wrap!


  • I used to sort carrot slices, shovel vegetable muck, and build totes as part of a summer job while I was going to college. I hated every minute of it, but it was a job I could count on, and it paid fairly well considering.

    By Blogger Pa've, at 12:25 PM  

  • I worked at Domino's Pizza one summer. The air conditioner in the store was broken, and, in keeping with company policy, the stoves were cranked up higher than their rated capacity (to cook the pizzas faster...rotating between them as they broke down and got fixed). It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in that store at all times, and we were obliged to work overtime without overtime pay. I was actually dizzy from heat exhaustion on many occasions, but I still had to drive deliveries (and wound up getting in one accident that the company refused to compensate, thus killing off most of what I'd earned).

    Tellingly, during the orientation session, the regional manager told us point blank that we'd all be working in conditions that were "technically illegal" and added, "If you want to take us to court, fine. We have the resources for it. I really doubt that any of you do, especially at the salary you'll be earning."

    I should have taken the hint and bolted. Oh, well. It was a character-building experience, and it helped me treasure the times I worked at Toys R Us during the Christmas rush.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:29 PM  

  • hmmm.. interesting.. Thanks for the post.

    So when the students go for OJT, the teacher must also follow??


    By Blogger Robin, at 3:25 PM  

  • Has it been a year? Yikes.

    Well the first part of this post is garbage, Moody. Literally. ararar. So that's where my wine bottles and Momo's dog food cans end up - or some place like it.

    The episode with the Seimiya owner was shocking.
    While staying in Japan I've only dealt with people who interface with customers, so never encountered anyone who wasn't polite, let alone a total jerk like that guy.

    On the bright side of your Domino's job, the company cared so much about it's employees that they gave them their own sauna. You were so ungrateful.

    I bagged groceries one summer in high school. The store policy prohibited tips, but many customers would insist after I helped them to their car. (those were the days when service still meant something). Anyway, I owed my success at that job to my mother, who taught me how she liked her groceries to be bagged. Yeah Mom.

    So do the New Years cards get sent out to be recycled after that?

    I think these outings are a great idea.

    abygyrt - a kind of fermented milk product specifically for people with type AB blood.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:31 PM  

  • This is a great concept. Schools here ought to be doing this too. Thanks for sharing, MM.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 1:49 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home