Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Torture Never Stops

So the other day my university has this big meeting for the entire faculty...

I wonder if anyone's ever done a serious study of meetings in the Japanese workplace. What a treasure trove of fascinating information is just sitting here waiting to be dug up by some industrious academic go-getter. In over 8 years of working in Japan I must have attended at least, oh, I don't know, 75 trillion meetings, give or take. There are two or three things that the careful observer will notice about any meeting in Japan, regardless of the occupations of those attending:

1a. Before the meeting a memo will be passed out to all staff who are to attend. The meeting will consist of one or more people reading the contents of the memo.

1b. (Usually for larger meetings) No memo has been passed out before the meeting. Instead, all those attending will be given a thick handout on their way into the meeting room. The meeting will consist of one or more people reading the contents of the handout.

1c. The same as 1b, except that the contents of the handout will also be on display as part of a PowerPoint presentation.

2. It is a requirement at Japanese meetings that at least (but no more than) 20-25% of those attending be fast asleep within 10 minutes of the meeting's commencement. There must always be at least two people sleeping during any meeting (it would be considered rude to be the only one sleeping), meaning that at meetings of fewer than 10 people sleeping is forbidden (although I'm convinced that many Japanese have mastered the art of sleeping with their eyes open).

3. The mere hint of anything that might be considered useful, interesting, or mildly amusing is strictly forbidden at Japanese meetings.

...Anyway, as I was saying, my university had a big meeting the other day. The purpose of the meeting was to instruct faculty on a newly installed database system that we can use to input our published research (yeah, right...) and reference the research of others. This was a 1c-type meeting--big handout and PowerPoint.

Now, friends, know my horror: at these meetings everything is in Japanese--the speakers speak in Japanese, that handouts are written in Japanese, the PowerPoint is (amazingly) no less annoying in Japanese. I'm so tired...


  1. Salamaat,
    Poor K, the torture! Oh's like combining all the bad facets of meetings and introducing powerpoint too! and in japanese!


    you are a man of steel!

  2. I, too, endured a career punctuated by incessant meetings.

    Before I retired from the State of Louisiana, I often wondered how the Brilliant Minds in Authority had devised their meeting strategies. Now I discover the source. Japan leads the world, or, at least, the rest of the world follows. Why think for yourself when someone else has done it before?

    Oh, and by the way, our speakers spoke Japanese, our handouts were written in Japanese, and the ubiquitous PowerPoint was formatted in Japanese. Try to get a Looziana dude or gal to comprehend that. We don't even speak American. And N'awlineze is another language altogether.

  3. Maliha,
    It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it (if my kid is going to go to college!). ;-)

    With meetings this boring I don't suppose it really matters what language they're in.

  4. Hey all - Happy New Year!

    K - great post. Lost track of the cross-referencing (perhaps you could send me a handout?!) but with respect to 1b or 1c I'm sure you've realised (having been the giver as well as the recipient) that this stuff all gets handed out at the meeting 'cos it's only finished at about 2 o'clock that very same morning......

    ... on a related note, sometimes my meetings are so disorganised that they invent a category 3, whereby there is no agenda or materials for the meeting and we spend the entire time discussing what should be on the agenda, and then running out of time before we actually talk about any of it..

  5. Man, I do love how you've captured the essence of meeting. If it's a consolation for you, meetings in Mexico go along the same line, with a 1d. addition: whenever an issue regarding responsibilities to solve a problem arise, 2 hours are spent looking for a culprit to blame, no time on looking for a solution.

  6. Pal and Usual Stuff,
    Yes, I recognize your additional points as being part and parcel of Japanese meetings as well!