10 years in Japan
Exactly 10 years ago, on October 1, 2009, I started my work at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (JAIST), arriving the previous day in a place not completely unknown, but with a completely different outlook: I had a position as Associate Professor, and somehow was looking forward to an interesting and challenging time. Much has changed since then, and I thought a bit of reflection is necessary
Four years ago I wrote a similar blog, 6 years in Japan. Rereading it today it, there is a considerable overlap:
6 years later I am still here at the JAIST, but things have changed considerably, and my future is even less clear than 6 years ago.
How true it was back then, what did I know that within a few months after posting this, the JAIST, in a move to promote internationalization, has purged all but one western foreigner from the faculty (outside the English department), and I found myself unemployed, with a new-born child, not knowing what to do and where to go. It relates cleanly to the paragraph on The biggest disappointment. How much can I laugh now looking at what I considered my biggest disappointment back then, and how I felt half a year later.
The biggest disappoinment
Asked today about the biggest disappointment, it would be clearly the Japanese academic environment. I have never seen such selfish and reckless scientist – maybe better careless – having no interest in the fate of colleagues with whom they have worked for years. Having found myself with a new-born child in unemployment in Japan, guess how many of my colleagues dared to even once ask how I am doing!? The answer is an impressive zero, naught.
Comparing this with the academic environment in which I have grown up in Vienna, I was left dumbfounded: Till now I try to search for work places for those that have been employed in my projects, the group in Vienna always tried to help each other even in hard times, bridging over holes by shifting between projects. I can’t imagine any of my colleagues from my home university to not even ask a colleague in troubles.
Well that is Japan academics, I lost every trust and faith in them.
The happiest thing
Back then I wrote that despite many hardships, the happiest thing was that I found a lovely, beautiful, and caring wife. To topple that, we got a lovely (and lively, but also challenging, at times nasty, etc etc) daughter that changed our life considerably. The three+ years since she is with us, many things got considerably more difficult, and bringing up a child brings out cultural differences and disagreements much more than living in two. But the love and fun we are receiving from our time together is for sure the happiest thing (for now, until I write another blog in 10 years?).
Present and future
After loosing my job at JAIST, and six months of unemployment, a lucky coincidence gifted me with a great job at an IT company in Tokyo, that allows me to work remotely from my home. I am incredibly thankful to everyone there who helped made this happen. It is a complete new world for me. After 25 years in academics being thrown into a Japanese company (all Japanese, I am the only foreigner), with business meetings, client support, etc was something unexpected for me. Maybe I count it as one of the big achievements that I manage to function properly in this kind of environment.
I still try to keep up my research work, publishing articles every year, and as far as possible attending conferences. My OSS activities haven’t changed a lot, and I try to keep up with the projects for which I am responsible.
What the future brings is even less unclear: Now that we have to think about the education of our daughter, moving is getting more and more a point of discussion. I really detest Japanese education system, in particular junior high school which I consider a childhood and personality killer. OTOH, we have settled into a very nice place here in Ishikawa, and at my age moving is getting more and more burdensome, not to speak of another job change. So I feel torn between returning to Europe, or remaining here in Japan. Let us see what the future brings.
Such an adventure! I admire your courage and ‘ausdauer’ to go through it all. Best wishes!
Thanks Frans, indeed an adventure, although it feels less and less like it. Staying in the same country for long time one gets used to it and its habits. Somehow a challenging new country (Korea? NZ?) would be nice…
For a couple to both be in a ‘different’ country can be helpful, sharing the same wonder and bewilderment. One advantage of being in a really far away country from your homeland is that you *expect* to be somewhat alienated. Years ago I read that Dutch people who migrate to Africa succeed better than those who migrate to Belgium with the expectation that Belgium is much like Holland but just funnier.