Subtle psychological pressure...
In my job contract, it says that my working hours are 8.30am to 4.30pm. On numerous occasions, I have been told that, when 4.30pm arrives, if I have finished all my work then I can leave. Easy right? Well, not really. You see, my colleagues are all Japanese, in every sense. Despite the fact that they too can leave at 4.30pm, they always stay until at least 6.30pm, out of a sense of propriety and duty. Fair enough, I can appreciate that. However, I am not prepared to sit around for an extra 2 hours twiddling my thumbs when I have other commitments. Most of the teachers I work with live in the same town as the school. I, however, live a distance away, and what with waiting for buses and trains, it takes about an hour and a half to get home.
Any westerner working with Japanese colleagues will know that whilst Japanese people certainly work longer, they don't necessarily work harder. My work day consists of 3 lessons and 4 free lessons, or vice versa, which leaves lots of time for lesson planning and administration. My colleagues have similar schedules, yet they seem to drag their duties out, all show and no substance. If you want an example of this, go to the post office or city hall with a simple, 2 minute request and see how it's dragged out to 30 minutes for appearances sake.
Anyway, so at first I left at 4.30pm on the dot. Partly because of the above, and also because I need to catch a bus to the station, which leaves at 4.40pm. If I miss this bus, I have to catch the next one, at 5.20pm, and I can't make the 5.35pm train, so I therefore must wait until 6.05pm. After a few months, I kind of felt guilty about leaving so promptly, whilst all my colleagues were sat "working"... added to this, our identity card swipe machine is positioned in front of the main office, in full view of some senior school bigwigs. It has always felt a little humbling leaving so soon, under the watchful gaze of my superiors.
Now, in my 3rd month of employment, I 've decided to mix things up a little. If I want to get home promptly, I leave on the bell. If I'm not fussed, I wait until just after 5pm. Sometimes, with lucky traffic lights and no old ladies to pick up on the way, the 5.35pm train can be made.
I suppose the conflict for the western-minded worker is the drilled-since-childhood maxim of why put of tomorrow what you can do today in a society where not completing a job is acceptable as long as you appear to have tried in earnest. In truth, most days I have finished by 3pm. I'm left to plan far off lessons and tidy my desk. I sometimes wonder what would happen if there was another native English speaker here. Certainly my dark humour would have an outlet, and my humorous asides would have a chance to breathe and not fade to the back of my mind as I sit through another interminable morning meeting.