A day in the life

At a little to seven a blue, earless robot cat starts singing at me with a chipper voice that it is morning and that I should get up. Still asleep I bash it on the yellow propeller sticking out of its head, which shuts it up. After so many years it is hard to imagine I was once taken in by the idea of an alarm-clock shaped like a kids’ anime character. Pulling myself out of bed, which takes more energy than I ever expect to be able to muster, I have a quick shower, and spend the next 20 minutes sitting on the sofa, toothbrush in mouth, toothpaste dribbling on my naked chest, as I watch the Simpsons on the Fox channel, another rerun, as my brain slowly reboots. As the closing theme plays I an yanked into consciousness, throw on some clothes and make my way to the station, with the first of many cigarettes of the day smoked along the way. I get there in time for the 7.39 train, or sometimes the 7.42. Today it is the former.

There are few people on the platform, but I am not fooled by that. Entry into the train goes smoothly although I spot one troublemaker already; a young woman trying to read a newspaper. By the time we’re a few stops down she realizes it will be an impossible task as more and more people pile on. There is some shoving and jostling. I position myself near two young schoolgirls, as I know they all get off a few further stops long the line, at which point I will be able to take their spot, right next to the door, leaning against the side of the bench; a spot you cannot be jostled away from and one which offers most support against the starts of the trains movement.
Indeed, a few stops down the girls get off, but a sea of people behind me pushes me off and forces me to wait outside. Just as I’m about to step back in an old guy squeezes into the spot I was so jealously eyeing. In my mind I stab him through the throat with a disposable chopstick, the bounder. I am in luck however, as he too gets off a few stops further down and I can finally take my rightful spot on the train for the second leg of the journey.

Things go fairly smoothly until a few stops shy of my destination when the largest crowd squeezes on. At this point in the trip it is always war; for the last two or three stops it is every man for himself as the carriage is packed beyond capacity. When one guy gets on, my age but fairly stocky, in a suit and carrying a briefcase, he doesn’t move into the train but moves sideways into me. As I have no place else to go, with metal bars behind me, I offer some resistance but he doesn’t seem to notice. At this point I give up pretence and physically push him off me with my arm, which somehow seems to annoy him. He makes a face and starts sighing in a dramatic manner. There is no space for my feet so I happily let one rest on top of his. Annoyed he pulls his foot from under mine and puts it on top. I return the favour at which point he gives up, moves his foot away and gives me a look of pained annoyance and sighs, frowning. I stare at him impassionate and I hold his gaze for a little longer than he is comfortable with. He turns away, defeated, and starts sighing. After a half dozen sighs it is obvious everyone is ignoring him, especially me, and he stops. But he is not done with me yet.

When the train sways people lean in on each other, at which point my position becomes dangerous. Squeezed in between a metal pole and a sea of people can knock the wind out of you. I offer as much resistance as I can but it is no use. I try to go limp, which is often the only way to survive. Mr. Foot, however, is carrying his briefcase in front of him and a corner of it pierces my thigh painfully. The guy squeezed in between Mr. Foot and the door also has this problem, as I see him try to look behind him with a pained expression. It is not just me he is inconveniencing, I noted, which somehow justifies some kind of revenge. When the trains stops and the sea of people sways the other way for a fraction of a second I turn sideways. As Mr. Foot sways back in my direction my high is now on the flat of his briefcase forcing him to take a slightly bent stance. This ensures he spends the rest of his trip in an uncomfortable position. I try to leverage myself against the door, accidentally prodding the other victim. “Oh, excuse me,” I mutter, to which he gives a polite and conspiratorial nod. Mr. Foot has no hope. When it is time for most people, including myself, to get off, I make sure I push Mr. Foot sideways in a defiant gesture that shows him my contempt for his person. A hollow victory, but a victory nonetheless.

On the short walk to the office I pop into the convenience store, Sankus, to buy me a new box of tissues, a piece of equipment no developer should be without, and an ice latte, which will be my breakfast. In front of the office I have a quick cigarette before going in and think to myself “damn, I’ve dressed too warm again”. The weather is all over the place and you still see people with bare arms walking about. I was caught off-guard last week in a wife-beater and a T-shirt on a day temperatures were decidedly wintry. Since then I have been wearing winter clothes under my light jacket and in response the sun hasn’t stopped shining. Still, I’ll be glad of it in the evening when things cool down remarkably.
I enter the office, unlock the doors and switch on all the lights. Noone stayed overnight so the air is clear and the temperature do-able. I switch on the PC, wash my hands and switch on the kettle, ready for a few hours of uninterrupted work before my colleagues saunter in. It is now roughly 8.30.

Suddenly the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the empty work-floor is broken as the team lead’s mobile phone goes off where he left it on his desk last night. “denwa desu denwa desu denwa desu” a female voice repeats quickly for about 2 full minutes. As I am not in the habit of picking up business phones in Japan, let alone other people’s private mobiles I let it finish and get back to work. Not five minutes later the process repeats itself. “denwa desu denwa desu denwa desu”. I wonder what kind of psychopath rings a mobile, lets it ring for two minutes and then, after it wasn’t answered tries again shortly after. It finishes and I get back to work.
Not five minutes later, the mobile decides to change its tune and suddenly starts bleating an electronic ragtime tune, again for a full two minutes. As this time it is much louder than the female voice, it shatters the calm like a sledgehammer. At this point I have a deep personal hatred for the absent lead I had never felt before, or at least never so strongly. And again, five minutes later the phone goes off again. And again. I carry it outside and put it in the kitchen area. Peace and quiet once again.. The discovery of the phone there later in the morning by a colleague will cause some whispers and confusion.

I open up the web browser and fire up BBC internet radio; I can’t imagine what I’d do without it. With my headphones on I start up Maya.
As I’m working on some model, cleaning up and reworking, which bores me to tears but is sadly a necessary task, other people start coming in, some quiet and some offering a friendly “hello” as they step through the door.
I check the clock, it’s about 10.30, not everybody is in yet. I go for one of the many cigarette breaks which I’ll partake of during the day; in quiet times once an hour, when I’m busy less often, but I always smoke two very light cigarettes in a row. I have many conversations with colleagues during these breaks.

What weather, eh? It’s so easy to catch a cold. Wasn’t it cold last week compared to now. So, you getting a PS3? No, what about you? Too expensive. No interesting games. What are you playing these days? Yes, I’ve heard of it. How do you say this in Japanese? Sensei arigatou! Haha! Do the Japanese actually care about HD-TV? I may get one if the December bonus is alright. What are you working on right now? The boss decided what?! He really is a buffoon. You planning on coming in again this weekend? Yeah, me too, probably. What time did you leave last night? Wow. By the way, how do you do this in 3DSMax? No, I prefer Maya. Did you hear about, oh, yeah, I was quite shocked. What brand is that you’re smoking. What are the winters like in England? Aren’t the lifts in this building slow? The what? Oh, elevators. Did you hear about Wii pre-orders yet? I’m not queuing. Aren’t Japanese game company working practices utter shite? No, how old do you think I am? And you? Wow, I thought you were younger than that. I’m so tired. Otsukaresamadesu.

The morning is uneventfully wasted away by me fiddling with this model. 3DSMax crashes: 5, Maya crashes: 0. Time wasted while waiting for the exporter to do its job: 30 minutes orso.
A colleague taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I want lunch. A few of us go out and spend 20 minutes finding somewhere nice we haven’t been to before. Eventually we find a restaurant where we all eat ishiyaki lunches, a variety of foods served in a hot stone bowl, so it cooks still a little at your table. I chose the curry and as it is brought to the table I regret it instantly; it is massive and piping hot. Valiantly I attack it with a metal spoon and soon kick the largest part of it into a cocked hat.
Despite the dutiful image Japanese workers portray they can bitch and moan like the best of them and most of the lunch is spent arguing about how dire the situation in the office has become. I drift in and out of the conversation as I am still tired and can’t concentrate on the Japanese well enough. Also, I have burnt the roof of my mouth on the curry.
After lunch we all pay, separately, at the till and a colleague and I pop over to Starbucks for a take-away coffee.

Back at the office the severity of the lunch settles in on me and a food coma is palpable. For the better part of the afternoon I fight off the drowsiness and try to cope with the heavy feeling in my gut. Tomorrow, I tell myself, a light lunch is in order.

I preview my morning’s work on the monitor. Hmm, that is odd. I have to recheck those material settings and re-export. As I wait I ask the art lead about my upcoming tasks. We have to be art-complete soon, too soon. I still have to do X, Y and Z before then. Oh, I can’t do X yet, I am told, as the planners haven’t thought about that yet. The art lead sees the look on my face and gives me a half-smiling nod of acknowledgement. I tell him if they don’t decide this by tomorrow I will not be able to finish it on time. He nods. If I’m lucky I have what I need by the end of next week, experience tells me, by which time only a massive effort by me, lots of overtime and a weekend or two will guarantee it is finished on time. I put the planner on my mental list of people to put against the wall when the revolution comes.
The afternoon passes and I am surprised to find it has gone dark outside as I go for a cigarette break. That means it’s, what, 5 or 5.30 or something. The after-lunch food coma has subsided and made way for a general feeling of malaise and tiredness. I can’t remember when I had my last full weekend off. It wasn’t too long ago, but 6 day weeks really take it out of me at my age.

I ask the art lead about this week’s national holiday on a Friday. The congenial chap nods, thinks and starts chatting about schedules. He ends with “I’m not going to tell anyone they have to come in”, which on the surface sounds decent enough, but I know him well enough to recognize the underlying plea for me to come in anyway. Sigh, a three day weekend shot to Hell. Again.
BBC 7 radio is now broadcasting its Kid’s Hour. I switch it off and start browsing my music library for things to fill the rest of the day with. D&B? No, I’m too headachy for that. Some techno? Some audiobook? In the end I opt for the calming, soothing strains of Prokofiev.

By early evening my productivity has dropped immensely. I finish this last task I have set myself, re-export and check it running on a monitor. Damn, still some unexpected problems, all due to some undocumented and unexplained problems with the exporter plug-ins no doubt. Or maybe someone changed some code again. In stead of going home I sigh and resign myself to the fact that this needs to be sorted before I can leave. I set back to work, changing a bit here and there. Redoing a texture which was showing a few problems. Changing the UVs in that little corner. In the end the previous exporter problems turn out to be my fault, or rather 3DSMax’s; importing models from a Japanese version of Max, my colleagues’, into an English version, mine, can bugger up material names if they contain Japanese. These turn into gobbledygook which then confuses the exporter. I go through all the materials, just to be sure. Why does 3DSMax’s material editor suck so badly? I re-export, check it and think “good enough”. I upload my work to the server, which has no source control and decide to go home. I switch off, making a big show of packing my bag and putting on my coat to dissuade anyone from approaching me right now to ask for this and that to be done by tonight. “Osakini” I say to the team, “otsukare” they call back individually. And I’m out the door. First one in, first one out. It’s 8.30 again. Good, I think. I’m early.

On my way to the station it’s fairly busy. Why do so many Japanese people walk so slowly? I duck and dive my way through the crowds and climb up to the station platform. And old geezer in a suit is staring into space around him and notices me. He stares at me for a bit until I make eye contact, at which point he realizes what he is doing and turns away, almost embarrassed. The ride back is busy but not as busy as the mornings. Still, the only time I can ever get a seat is when I go to work on weekends or national holidays. Like this coming Friday and Saturday, Well, that is one thing to look forward to, I guess. I get jostled a little on the train but not much. By this time I am way too tired to have a fight with anyone, so I let it slip

It’s about 9.30 when I get home. I have a quick supper; check my emails and forums, and the blog. Damn, I think to myself, I didn’t write anything this lunch break. I open Word and stare at the blank document for a while. I close Word and watch some television. Shall I have a bath? No, probably not. I’m off to bed, it’s midnight.
I slap the earless robot cat on the head and it chirps at me that it has been set up. I try desperately to sleep but can’t help thinking of those tasks yet to do. By 1 I fall asleep.


  1. workaholic they say... hope everything works out fine, don't worry the revolution will come!

  2. Hope you have more "day in a life" articles that happen to be my favorite things about blogging, reading about people and their daily lives. But this time I am reading about someones daily life while they are doing a job that interest me and in a country that also interest me. Maybe you will enjoy a decent break sooner then you think.

  3. Yeah, the Maya material editor is GREAT isn't it :/

    Anyway, nice to read something about you specifically for once. The train jostling section was particularly entertaining.

  4. Anon#3, are you being sarci? Max's so-called material editor can't hold a candle to Maya's excellent Hypershade, especially when it comes to ease of use! Mind you, I'm on a big Max downer at the moment, so maybe I'm biased.

    Anon#1, I wouldn't call myself workaholic. Given the chance I'd be at home being a lazy sod. I just...can't right now, is all.

    I could write more about my daily life but it would become very repetitive. I can't write much about what I'm working on because, despite not having signed an NDA, I don't want to get the company into trouble, or myself. Beyond that I could only write about the many different !"experiences" I usually have on the train, but don't think that is what this blog is all about.

  5. That really does not sound appealing at all, especially after hearing about how the salaries are significantly less in Japan. I'm getting less interested in working at a Japanese game company after reading this blog! (it's interesting none-the-less of course)

    Any reason you don't want to move back to the west where you can work a more reasonable schedule, with most likely less commute, and get paid more?

  6. Apart from the hours, the salary, the trains and the language life is good here, you know. I'd quit the game industry before considering moving back.

    It's not always this busy though. To be fair it often is, but not always. So, consider this blog a free public service announcement.

  7. A very appreciated Public Announcement :)

    Like Anon, I am interested in Japan and maybe working there one of these days but now it's turning more into a more theoretical interest in the japanese game industry. I would still like to work/live there a while though :)

    Thanks for keeping up a very interesting blog.



  8. I've also had romantic visions of working in the Japanese games industry. After reading what it's really like it probably isn't for me. It's not so much needing to learn the language, it's more the schedules and hours are bad enough in the West!

    I do enjoying reading all about it though ;)

  9. No source control? Dear God!

  10. I like your description of train-rider warfare here. Going limp really is the only option during full-on rush hour. I've basically ended up laying on people while I ride, the entire mass shifting crazily as the car throws us back and forth. I've heard that on the Saikyo line there are people collecting an hourly to push people into the train cars so the doors can close, among other tasks.

  11. It's not just the Saikyo line! My line too has white-gloved human crowbars at most stations! They're pretty adept too, they can really shove in those commuters even when you yourself think there is absolutely NO WAY they will ever fit in, somehow they manage.

  12. i really liked this blog-entry as well! I am not as "shocked" as some readers seem to be about the japanese working hours, (and trains for that matter). I work at a game company in sweden, and the amount of working hour i've put down on one of my games is probably equal to that of any japanese game.. And not to talk about the trains, riding the trains here, on the mornings & evenings, in the winter is hell. They are probably late by 20 min or more everyday because of snow and whatnot, which means they are fully packed, japanese style (i do have 1st hand experience with the japanese way of riding the subway:))
    The good thing is that developers here are indeed trying to better the planning/overtime work, because they have noticed people quit when they can't cope with it any more. And finding good experienced people in sweden isnt really easy..Anyways, keep it up Barnett, i enjoy reading it very much =)

  13. haha, similar life in Beijing.