Occam’s beard

In Japan many things are made incredibly easy for you; excellent service everywhere, a lot of choice in products and services, you can even pay in convenience stores with mobile phones and vending machines selling whatever the heart desires stand on every street. But when things become slightly official it suddenly turns around and the country follows what can only be described as an inverse variation of Occam’s razor; if there are different ways to accomplish something the most obtuse and difficult route is the only correct one. This is evident in your dealings with the ward or foreign offices, where most things are hand-written on paper and signed in triplicate with copies of your passport, gaijin card and bank details, but any decent sized game company is not immune. Holiday allocations, salary details, insurances, everything is pushed through the mangle of obtuseness.

Regular readers probably already know I look askance at the Japanese "bonus" system, and if it wasn’t enough of a scandal in and of itself it is made even more onerous with process and hierarchies. I could not begin to describe the calculations made to come up with my bi-annual “bonus” as I am not well versed in pataphysics, chaos theory or quantum finance, but it is mostly based on evaluation.

At certain times of the year I am required to delve deep into the depths of our intranet system to fill out my goals and targets; together with the lead we think up some guff along the lines of “try to finish stuff on time” or “create art of a high standard” and, for good measure, “improve Japanese skills”. Later on in the year I have to grade myself from D to A with S, as most people who play Japanese games know, being the “super” or “special” rank, whichever it is supposed to denote.

I am no fool. I have experience of evaluations and the one cardinal rule is to never grade yourself too low. If your bonus, or in this case “bonus”, depends on it you grade yourself too high if anything. If your producer had a mind to give you an A but finds you have given yourself a B it is very likely he’ll concede to your decision; after all, why pay more in bonuses if you don’t have to? So this time too I marked myself handsomely, a smattering of As with a few S grades thrown in here and here.
This evaluation then goes to the producer who gives you a final grade which is part of the Bonus Calculation Formula. Needless to say my S grades were ignored and I was granted all As in stead. It is then checked by the producer’s boss, his boss’s boss and the president, who all sign off and return the command down the chain a few times and then pass it on to finance.

Now you may think a scorecard consisting of only A grades is a pretty dandy thing and deserves a pat on the back; back at school that would certainly have been cause for celebration, I’d imagine. Well, no, apparently not. This merely allows me to get 100% of my “bonus”. Lower scores can take away from your bonus, but only S ranks can add to it. Blast! So over some cigarettes I broach the matter with my colleagues who tell me that these elusive S ranks are usually only given out to producers when they “produce” hit titles that earn the company a wad of cash. If working untold hours of overtime, weekends and holidays only gives me an A then why bother? Good question, my colleagues say. They don’t know, really. So even if I kill myself, even more, I will probably never get an S grade and so never get more than1 00% of my “bonus”? Indeed.
My colleagues have a laugh at the grades I gave myself. “Us Japanese are too humble for that,” they say. So am I, I tell them and explain my reasoning. A light bulb goes off in their heads and they start kicking themselves.

I really can’t tell you enough how I despise the “bonus” system in Japan. It is my salary they are holding back and there is no guarantee Ill get it all when the time comes. It is hung over your head like a carrot on a stick; like Tantalus we stand knee-deep in excrement which rises accordingly as we try to climb out, with moneybags over our heads which are always out of reach. Though my evaluation is in there are still things that can go wrong. Our project could suddenly die, the company could suddenly incur some immense costs, I could accidentally have a fight with the administrator on the train, mostly things out of my control.

Chances are they won’t screw me over. It is very probable that I do get my 100% “bonus”, or the rest of my promised salary in one chunk as it really is, but the thought that they might, they could withhold it is an extra helping of stress just when I don’t need it. I really need that money too, for some much desired luxuries: a new television, new clothes, a Wacom tablet, a haircut. “Bonus” payout day is next month and I’m sure I’ll let you know if things turn ugly, which they probably won’t, but they might.

Developers, be aware that signing that “seishain” contract automatically and irrevocably enters you into the “bonus” system. Unless you really need it for your Visa stability you might as well stay on a per-contract basis and enjoy the fact you won’t have to deal with this “bonus” nor have to spend afternoons ploughing through the paperwork to get it.

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