Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's Ecology! 11: The Big Interview (part 1)

The interview was set up for Friday afternoon. I got off the subway at Kanda station, the one nearest to the Recycle Movement Citizens Association's office, and called for directions as instructed. They told me how to get there and said to come to the eighth floor. I found the building without any difficulty. But when I got there, the sign at the entrance on the first floor said the eighth floor was a company called Tamaki Network Corp., while the Recycle Movement Citizens Association was on the fifth floor.

Now I was thoroughly confused. Did they tell me the wrong floor, or did I misunderstand, which was more likely since the conversation was in Japanese? Or maybe they're the same organization? But then why are they separated by three floors? And why does one have a name that implies "civic group" while the other has a name that clearly says "business?" Should I go to the fifth floor? But I was sure I had heard "eighth floor." I was already nervous about the interview, and this confusion didn't help. Obviously, though, the only sensible thing to do was to go to the eighth floor and see what happened.

I was a few minutes early when I got out of the elevator and entered the Tamaki Network office. It was a typical Japanese office, one big open room with rows of desks facing each other, a couple of tables that could be used for meetings, and cabinets lining the walls. It was somewhat messier than many offices, however, with boxes of junk on top of the cabinets and with desks piled high with books and papers. The employees weren't dressed like people at an average Japanese company, though. Most of them were wearing jeans and T-shirts rather than the navy blue or gray suits that were de rigueur at Japan, Inc.

A relatively tall Japanese man of about my own age (28) greeted me. Still rather confused by the situation, I stammered out that I had a 3:00 appointment with Mr. Takahashi but I wasn't sure if I was in the right place. "Is this Recycle Movement Citizens Association?" He assured me that it was and that they were expecting me.

He escorted me to one of the meeting tables and after asking me to sit down and wait he gave me a big envelope stuffed full of pamphlets, a magazine, and copies of newspaper and magazine clippings. "This will explain something about our organization," he said. "Please take a look at it while you're waiting." I thanked him and started looking through the materials.

It seemed that their main line of business was putting on flea markets. Apparently, this was considered a kind of recycling in Japan, which explained the "Recycle" name. There were also some articles about an organic food business called "Turnip Boy," with which they also seemed to be somehow involved, and about importing bananas from the Philippines, buying directly from farmers' cooperatives and thus helping to raise the farmers' standard of living rather than exploiting their labor.

This Philippine banana business impressed me; it seemed so different from the typical Japanese, or American for that matter, way of doing business in the Third World. "This might be a pretty good place to work," I thought. In all this literature, however, the mysterious Tamaki Network Corp. did not appear.

At this point Yuichi Takahashi made his appearance. My first thought, recalling his wife's "short and bald" description, was "You left out 'fat'," because he was actually short, only slightly balding, and quite pudgy. He also seemed very warm, friendly and outgoing, and rather "boyish" looking for his age, which was mid-thirties. He was accompanied by another Japanese man in his late thirties, about the same height but more muscular than pudgy of build, and with a rather scraggly, thin mustache that together with his darker skin and picaresque grin reminded me of the pirates in the Jackie Chan movie Project A.

They promptly introduced themselves and presented me with meishi, business cards, which are ubiquitous in Japanese business. Being a mere English teacher, I had no meishi of my own, but since I was there representing only myself and not an organization that was not a breach of etiquette.

Their cards were interesting though. Mr. Takahashi's card had English written on the back, with the name of the organization translated as the "Recycle Movement Citizens Association," and the slogan "Alternative action now!" boldly printed across the top of it. His piratical friend's card, written only in Japanese, said his name was Masahiko Soga and that he was the General Affairs Department manager of Tamaki Network Corp.

At last, I thought, the mystery of Tamaki Network will be solved. Seeing that Soga's meishi only said Tamaki Network, Takahashi told me, rather vaguely I thought, that Tamaki Network is "one part of our organization." Then with a smile he said to Soga that he should do something about his card. At this, Soga only grinned piratically.

Next week: Part 2 of the Big Interview. More "Let's Ecology!" posts are here. "Let's Ecology!" is the story of my stint with a Japanese environmental group (or sort of an environmental group -- it's "complicated"). Look for new posts every Monday. The names have been changed to protect me from lawsuits. Everything else really happened.

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