Like robins heralding spring there are signs that the new year has started in Japan - the students are back on campus and brand new salary men are sporting shiny new suits. I overheard two conversations on my way home today that reinforced these two images.
Conversation one - between two young men, university students, probably starting their third year.
Student 1: I thought you took human anthropology last year?
Student 2: I did, and the prof was really cool, you know, the grandpa? Well, he told us we pretty much didn't have to come, and so I didn't. But then I figured I should at least show my face in the classroom, so I did and, you see, it turns out the old geezer had collapsed and had to be replaced, and the new guy was really strict, and was like, expecting students to go to every class and all, so then I like, failed the exam, ya know?
Student 1: Well you should take the first term of cultural anthro, its good, and really easy.
Student 2: Yeah, I kinda took the second term last year, but I was like - THIS IS TOUGH! So then I failed the exam.
Student 1: But there's no exam in first term. All you have to do is submit a paper, and it can be on anything.
Student 2: Anything? But that makes it tougher, eh...
Student 1: Well yeah, but I wrote something like 3 pages on the history of the town I live in and like got an A, so you could do ANYTHING.
Student 2: Huh, maybe I could just hand in the paper I did for my sociology last class, not make any changes or nothing. Cool. I think I will take the class if it fits in my schedule.
Student 1: Yeah, I'm so not happy with my schedule this term. I mean, I've got classes all day and stuff and its just way too much. I mean, come on, its just way too hard to have to sit in classes all day! By fifth period I'm like exhausted and just can't stand it.
Student 2: Totally! And, then first or second period, I'm hardly awake yet, and there's the chance I'll be late, so it'd be nice if I could just have classes in third period.
Student 1: Yeah, but like on Thursdays I only have class second period, and then I'm done for the day and I have nothing to do cuz all my friends still have class, so I'm like "I'm going home now" and then that really sucks.
They really have it tough, don't they?! (they were already on the train when I got on, so I'm guessing they aren't students at my school, but just for comparison for us period one is 9-10:30, period 2 is 10:40-12:10, period 3 is 1-2:30, period 4 is 2:40-4:10, period 5 is 4:20-5:50, period 6 is 6-7:30 and period 7 is 7:40-9:10.)
After 4 years of that type of schedule, the students graduate and join the real world. Having spent most of their fourth year going to interviews and otherwise job hunting (and not attending classes), these new graduates become shinjin (literally "new people") and will likely spend a few weeks or even a few months in training, learning the ropes (and being taught all the things that they DIDN'T learn at university).
Which leads me to conversation number two, between a youngish salary man and a newbie salary man.
salary man: Hey! Long time no see! What's up?!
newbie: Jeez, you scared me there!
salary man: Wow, you're a shinjin now, hey?! Look at that suit...! It sure doesn't suit you, ha!
newbie: Yeah, it takes some getting used to.
salary man: How's training going? How ya holding up?
newbie: Its exhausting! I'm getting up at like 5 am and trying to beat the rush, but the trains are packed!
salary man: You have to transfer through Shinjuku don't you? That sucks, its always crowded.
newbie: Yeah, so I go early, have a coffee and read the paper. But then I'm exhausted by like 8 at night!
salary man: Ha! You'll get used to it soon enough.
newbie: I know, but right now I don't know what to do with myself. I mean, we finish training at 6pm, and after that I don't know what to do. I could do something I like, but I feel bad, like I should stay at work and be useful.
salary man: I wouldn't worry 'bout that, its not like they're actually going to let you new guys do anything important. But, the really important issue is, what are your co-workers like? Any girls? Anybody promising? Hey??? And how about your superiors, do they seem strict? Have they taken you out for drinks, shown you the local watering holes yet?
And another over-worked, alcoholic, womanizing salary-man is born... yup, spring is in the air, a new year has begun.