A couple of days later, Okayama said Soga would take us out to lunch to discuss my contract. At 12:30, the three of us walked over to a nearby seafood place. We went inside and sat on cushions around a low table on a raised tatami mat floor. After ordering and a few polite conversational preliminaries, Soga said, "So, Okayama tells me you'd like to work for us full time."
"Yes, definitely, I hope so."
"Okayama speaks highly of you. We want to hire you full-time. But we have our salary structure, and we have to be careful. If we pay you too much everybody will want raises and the whole organization will be messed up."
Ah, I thought, now it begins. Their whole salary structure will collapse if they pay me a decent wage, will it? That's a crafty ploy. I braced myself for a long back-and-forth struggle over my salary. I was ready to get down and negotiate. I hoped. "I understand," I said.
"We're prepared to offer you about $3,000* per month," Soga said.
I was literally speechless. I suspect that my mouth literally fell open as well. My only previous experience negotiating wages in Japan had been with Mr. Hayashi at Ginza English Conversation School. His first offer, you may recall, was so low that I actually stood up and started to leave. But now Soga was offering exactly what Okayama had said he would tell Soga that I wanted -- more than I had asked Okayama for.
I glanced at Okayama; he smiled and nodded encouragingly. In Japan, matters are often settled behind the scenes, through go-betweens. A meeting is then held only as a formality, to ratify the decision that has already been made. After I recovered from my initial surprise, I realized that this was what was happening. Okayama had acted as my go-between with Soga, and "my" offer of $3,000 had been accepted. I assumed Soga meant $3,000 gross, and decided to accept his offer.
All this took a long silent moment for my Aspergian brain to process, however, and Soga misinterpreted my hesitation. "That's take-home pay, of course," he said. "If you want more than that we'll need to consider it some more, maybe take it up with the Board of Directors."
Gulp. For once, my lack of visible affect stood me in good stead, because if I freely expressed my emotions I would probably have jumped up and down, hugged Soga and Okayama, and shouted "YES! YES! YES!" at the top of my lungs, which might have somewhat compromised my negotiating position. But I kept my cool, and for the briefest moment even thought about trying to get more out of them, since Soga had left that option open. I decided not to press my luck, though. "Uh, yes, well, I guess $3,000 take-home will be adequate," I said.
"Good," Soga said. "You're not a man who quibbles about money. That's one of the things we like about you." Quibble? Do people who die and go to heaven quibble? Soga was offering me way more than what I'd intended to be my opening offer, and maybe 40 percent more than I would have settled for. My income was about to soar, and more importantly, I was finally, finally, getting a Real Job, and not just any Real Job, but one I still thought was interesting and intrinsically important to boot.
That same night, I gave notice to Mr. Hayashi at the English school. Two weeks later, in mid-October of 1990, I became a full-time employee of the Recycle Movement Citizens Association.
*All these negotiations were actually in yen, but I'm using rough equivalents in dollars.
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.