I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2014 reading challenge 2014.
The Blue-Eyed Salaryman: From World Traveler to Lifer at Mitusbishi - Niall Murtagh
I lived in Okinawa from 1986 to 1992, teaching English at a university. My Japanese language proficiency reached the intermediate level for speaking and listening and the level a Japanese 13-year-old for reading and writing. So for me to take seriously a book about the expatriate experience in Japan, I have to trust the author whose credibility depends on time in country and language proficiency.
I trusted Murtagh because he has lived there a long time and earned an advanced degree in a language not his own. An Irishman, he arrived in-country the same year I did, during the period Japan was talking about kokusaika, or internationalization. He earned a PHD from the respected Tokyo Institute of Technology, majoring in computer science and engineering. He was hired as a research scientist by Mitsubishi Electric.
He tells stories that will be familiar to many foreigners in japan. He had to jump through hoops to get an apartment in Osaka since the old-fashioned landlord was nervous about renting to a foreigner. His blue eyes threw off eye exam devices that assumed everybody had brown or black eyes. His neighbors in Osaka attributed all his behavior to the fact that he was a foreigner, who all have such odd ways.
He tells many excellent stories about dealing with the stodgy corporate culture of Mitsubishi. He had to apply for permission to bicycle to work. He developed work-arounds to deal with the endless writing of weekly reports that nobody read. He endured the incessant meetings. With a light touch he makes telling points about discrimination against foreigners, a narrow and confining office culture, and the lack of independence of thought or action.
This book joins the few expat memoirs of Japan that are worth reading. Though I don’t think they spoke the language fluently, Donald Richie The Inland Sea (1971) and Pico Iyer in The Lady and the Monk (1991) wrote classics. Leila Philip’s The Road Through Miyama (1989) is quiet memoir that covers her two-year apprenticeship in a pottery village in southern Kyushu, almost as far away as Okinawa. Alex Kerr’s Lost Japan (1994) is a must read about the uglification of Japan and the beating traditional Japan has taken from modernized Japan. Kerr’s language proficiency is such that he writes for Japanese newspapers. Two incredible books by the late Alan Booth are The Roads to Sata: A 2,000-Mile Walk Through Japan (1985) and Looking for the Lost (1995).