*Or, how the middle class monkey suit and choke collar has no bearing on anything whatsoever.
Recently [okay, not so recently, but I started writing this last month and I've been meaning to finish up for a bit now], esteemed fellow JET and Fukutsu resident [and ALT at Sandy's old HS Genkai in Koga] Mike attended the JET renewer's conference in Kobe. Ah, I remember last year's conference like it was yesterday. To be young again! But I digress. So Mike returned from Kobe with strong feelings about...
Adventures in the Not-so-Orient: Professional business attire does not mean come to work dressed like a vagrant.:
"This past week, I went to Kobe for a JET conference for recontractees...
While I realize that not everyone agrees on what exactly professionalism is, it seems that some sort of minimum requirement is necessary...
...this means that you willingly play the role again of not only a representative of your home country, but of your school/CO as well.
Cargo shorts, untucked polo shirts, khaki pants, or running shoes do not fall under the realm of professional business attire, yet I saw an abundance of this in Kobe. There are some justifications I'm sure people cooked up for their attire: this is how I dress at work, or this is what is considered professional where I come from; or I'm not Japanese, so their conventions don't apply, or I don't want to lose my sense of identity; I didn't want to pack extra shoes because their heavy, or a shirt and tie are too hot for Japan; it's the last day of the conference and I didn't want to bother getting changed again or repacking my bags...
Ultimately, I think how you present yourself is indicative of how you view your commitment to your job. If you choose to be taken seriously, you will present yourself in that manner. Putting on a tie doesn't mean you lose your personality, a fact that is made plenty evident by the quality of some of the workshops I attended. But if you choose to dress like a tourist, then I have to wonder what kind of attitude you take with you into the office. Perhaps you do go to work with shorts and a t-shirt. That's fine if you're at work--I wouldn't want to run around the room with a bunch of 8-year-olds in a suit or tie either. Perhaps you dress in hawaiian shirts in your home country, as that's acceptable business attire. That's fine if you're back home.
But the simple fact of the matter is that you are NOT at your workplace, and you are NOT in your home country. You are at a professional business conference in a country where you are expected to dress appropriately for the occasion. I guarantee that those other teachers, who you work with and wear jeans and t-shirts to work with you, would be in their suits and ties if they were at a teachers conference.
...Its sad that there's little real consequence to this, as the disapproving Japanese group eye has little or no effect on some people. But that doesn't stop me from wishing that something could be done about it. Photos are probably out of the question, as that would seem to smack of the sort of pseudo-fascist STASI-esque surveillance. Besides, we're adults right, and should know better. But a greater MEXT (Japanese Ministry of Education), or CLAIR (Council that in is charge of the JET Programme) presense might help curb some of the more excessive dressing habits.
It's a shame, because it's probably unprofessionalism like this which is helping destroy JET. The Programme already has a reputation for good pay for little or no work, and things like this can't help it. Assuming that the various Contracting Organizations get reports on what actually went on, it's no surprise that more and more places are opting for cheaper, probably more professional, non-JET ALT options like Interac.
OK, end rant."
Now, I sympathize with Mike. Poor confused, misguided and brainwashed Mike. [Hi Mike!] But alas... no. Just no.
Where, oh where to begin? Well, firstly, we must understand that Mike is a high school ALT. And a fairly good academic school at that. A place where I imagine, things changing at a glacial pace in almost all climes and places, is generally made up of the shirt and tie, and occasionally coat wearing set. So Mike, let me introduce you to the world of the Jr High ALT. Where I, and many of your fellow ALT's are coming from...
My fellow Japanese teachers? Well, about half of the guy teachers teach while wearing sweatsuits. Or the classic T shirt, sweatpants combo. [Sweatsuits, not just for P.E. teachers anymore!] Except for the couple guys who wear shorts. [Don't think I'm criticizing. They are my heroes.]
Now, I've never rocked the shorts to start off the workday, neither at school or the midyear, but an untucked polo? Most assuredly. De rigueur on the daily is the untucked polo or button down + a pair of khakis or slacks. And that was more than adequate for the midyear I attended 'lo those many months ago. If it's more than enough for MY ACTUAL JOB [amongst "superiors"], then it certainly meets the qualifications for a series of meetings comprised almost entirely of my "peers."
That goes for the monthly JET meetings in town as well. Telling us, once, to wear our "Sunday best" certainly rubbed this heathen the wrong way. [I'll skip the long digression here where I learned "church clothes" were all about trying to impress your fellow churchgoers and improve your social status. My heart was filled with hate that day...]
As for the "more and more places are opting for cheaper, probably more professional, non-JET ALT options like Interac" the operative word for that is "cheaper" and very little to do with "professional." Contracting orgs don't have to worry about figuring out housing and the myriad of other logistical difficulties in bringing gaijin to the land of the rising sun. And with over 5500 JETs, nope, not shrinking and not going away. Not being outsourced, rhetoric to the contrary. JET is not being destroyed, despite some close minded Japanese teachers who might wish it so [that I've been lucky enough to never meet, but you hear stories...] and while it is good money for not so difficult work, considering there's been no increase in pay, or cost of living allowance in the the 20 years of the program's existence, arguments to the contrary abound. [For better money and lower cost of living, see teaching English in Korea, Singapore, China...]
Attire has nothing to do with performance. One might think with my 5 years in the USMC and 4 years at USNA I'd be all aboard the "spit and polish" train. But what those 9 years taught me was that a smartly attired incompetent remains an incompetent. And a whipsmart disheveled type remains kick ass smart. All the attire might do is lull you into thinking otherwise, one way or the other. Until performance disabuses your of your preconceptions.
I've worn my suit, maybe, 3 times this past year. Graduation ceremony [cause the kids deserve it, for putting up with the Japanese educational system], welcoming ceremony [cause I'll get onboard with the "first impression" thing, just to reduce conflict] and when I had to present at last year's mid year conference [cause I look damn good in it.]
But a meeting of OTHER JETS? Pass.
And true, there is no consequence. Attendance was taken when I went to Kobe, and that I get. They pay for you to go - GO. But clothes. No... problems are the things we were told about at our conference. Dumbass JET's tossing things off balconies or skipping out with unpaid portions of their bill. Really retarded shit that actually matters.
It pays to remember, in Japan, you are in the system, but not of the system. And you never will be. You are GAIJIN! [Say it loud, say it proud.] You never will be of Japan, regardless of your linguistic fluency, your attitude, your gambaremasu or anything else.
So your role, should you choose to accept it, Mr Phelps [and even if you don't] is to be gaijin. One of the goals of JET is mutual understanding, so help them understand casual Fridays. Or, cross your fingers, ALOHA Fridays, as in Hawaii, everyday is "casual" and on Fridays you leave early. God, I miss Hawaii.
I mean, it's just all so absurd. A tie was a was originally a damn napkin and a bib. Now it's a bit of dressing refinement?
As an aside, until women folk are forced to wear ties, I'm refusing on gender-equality grounds.
But Mike noted, and it's important to address, as most think it's true - "I think how you present yourself is indicative of how you view your commitment to your job."
But, again, no.
Your commitment to your job is your commitment to your job.
Your willingness and friendliness to teach, to interact, to connect with the students [and teachers] at your school is your commitment to your job. The clothes you wear? Not so much...
Okay, that's my opinion, and most will figure I'm wrong. [I'm used to it.]
My rant is done. I still luv ya Mike! Don't hurt my Venture Bros DVD's, okay? :)