People love to giggle at Japan’s continued use of fax machines, Windows Vista, and paper copies. I get it. It’s kinda funny, I agree. And as a techy person (picture me gesturing wildly to this whole site that I cobbled together with my two hands and a keyboard) it’s pretty funny. But at the same time, I see both the roots and the very real merits of such a reliance on the old. Japan is a place where stuff changes v e r y slowly. And meticulousness is huge. Plus writing is traditionally regarded with a lot of respect (see: shodō, a.k.a. calligraphy, as an artistic and meditative practice; the emphasis on proper penmanship). I get it.
It makes using tech in the office SUCH a pain.
I knew going into an office full of middle-aged teachers would be an experience unto itself. Cultivating meaningful relationships that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers is hard enough — with people twice and thrice my age, I knew, would be a new challenge I was looking forward to. And it’s great! Everyone is very supportive and interested in chatting with me about stuff from religion to vaccines to American food culture. It’s really eye-opening to see Japan from their varied perspectives, and to get a better understanding of how they view the world beyond their borders.
At the same time, I like being helpful in teaching them keyboard shortcuts (I printed out a cheat sheet for one of my teaching partners, and she taped it to her desk), how to make screenshots, and other computer skills. But during my first or second week, I was showing someone how to quickly make and fill tables in [widely used cloud-based word processor] and closing out with the steps to export as a PDF. But it turns out that for security reasons, we aren’t allowed to connect external drives to computers that are connected to the school network.
That’s perfectly reasonable. But here’s the weird part.
Most teachers have school-provided laptops that use the wireless network. As far as I am aware, the sensitive documents (the ones that are protected by the USB rule) aren’t accessible by those wireless devices — at least, not without an external app that enables network storage access (installation of which is disabled via admin privileges). The laptops are only used for access to [cloud-based storage solution] and [cloud-based classroom platform].
So in essence, I can’t use USB drives to ensure the security of files that my laptop doesn’t and can’t have access to.
Okay…, I thought. I’ll get a USB drive that plugs into my phone so I can skip the laptop entirely. Download from phone, print at school.
When I presented my solution, it sparked a 45-minute hushed conversation with two teachers, the vice principal, and no IT person in sight. They came over and told me that from now on, printing has to be done via a designated USB drive that otherwise stays with the VP.
It’s the most roundabout thing I’ve ever seen. And the printing situation is already messed. Get this: I wanted to print a bunch of double-sided worksheets. In any other workplace I’ve been in, I’d plug a USB drive into the connected computer (or directly into the printer) and just print the file double-sided. Easy.
How many Japanese printers does it take to make a double-sided worksheet?
Two: one to print the worksheet single-sided and one to make copies of those two pages. Oh, and a double-wide piece of paper — you know, because you can’t make double-sided copies, so you gotta copy two pages per side. And don’t forget the paper cutter! Since the paper is, well, double-wide.
All this to say that tech knowledge is not super strong in the teachers' room, and while I know that it’s policy… it could stand to be more informed. And to be overseen by a person who’s trained in computer networks. And computers in general. But you know what? That’s just part of entering a new workplace, is getting to know all the rules and procedures, even the ones that don’t make a lick of sense. I’ll keep working toward an efficient solution, comforted by all the knowing looks and unamused glances toward the print room that fly around the office.