Friday, March 30, 2007

Don't You Know It's Gonna Be...

(shoobedoo)...All Right?

I just stopped by Yoshinoya, the beef bowl chain, for a late lunch.

The manager was a young Japanese man in his late twenties, maybe.

The two men and the woman doing the cooking, washing the dishes and preparing the trays were all special needs individuals.

The two servers were Chinese women. The older one, who has been working at this particular outlet for a while now, had her name in just the one in kanji: Yang, with the hand radical, pronounced Yō in the Japanese. The younger one, however, had both her last name and furigana for the Chinese pronunciation next to it. Her name was Ms. Chang, with the bow radical, pronounced Chō in the Japanese. On her name tag, next to the single kanji, in parentheses, was the katakana "Chan".

Rather than passing as a Japanese--which she could have since Chō is a common family name--she instead was given the liberty to assert her nationality.

"It's not 'Chō' its 'Chang'--get used to it."

is not a message many of the old school would have ever imagined being said on these shores. Especially not in the service industries.

All in all, a snapshot of the meaning of full employment in downtown Tokyo, spring 2007.


Anonymous said...

This phenomenon is unmistakeable to the point that I've been able to recognize it during my very brief visits to Japan over the past 3 years. For one, I think that the population of Chinese people with the J-skills to take jobs like Yoshinoya/Family Mart didn't really exist 10 years ago. But now they are here (mostly as "exchange students"), and they are willing to work these low-paying thankless jobs, and are probably better disciplined workers than their Japanese counterparts (otherwise I don't see how they'd justify the hires). Perhaps the next step is for Chinese people to start *owning* these establishments?

MTC said...

What is stunning is the massive, largely unremarked mainstreaming of the once shunted areas of the IQ bell curve. That not just one person but the entire kitchen staff of a outlet of national fast food chain could be special needs is just flabbergasting. While I realize that the mentally handicapped were always around, probably accommodated in manual labor in small-scale retail businesses or simple assembly jobs at parts suppliers, their sudden, recent visibility in society is bracing.

I admit the possibility that in addition to the scarcity of labor pressing companies to search for workers outside the traditional labor pool, the government may be also be offering incentives for Yoshinoya and other large companies to hire persons with special needs. Another possibility may be the disappearance of many small family firms, necessitating the participation of special needs persons in the broad labor market.