During the summer, I worked as a waitress at a restaurant/bar in Shimbashi. In this time I learnt about working in the service industry and unfortunately the effects of one’s identity on how you are treated in the industry. Although the discrimination I received was minimal it made me think about how people’s identities affect their opportunities in life, especially in their careers.
In the time I was working as a waitress, I was often called “Rola”, a multicultural celebrity who is prized for being beautiful but extremely unintelligent, by my coworkers. Although it was clear to see that these names were meant with the best intentions, and they were attempting to compare me to a famous and beautiful celebrity that had the same identity as me, it was uncomfortable to be stereotyped as an Asian dumb blond, idolized by the Japanese community. This was especially upsetting knowing that people expect her to act and stay dumb, which is seen harsh lash back she received when commenting on the politics of Japan. (ローラの‘政治的発言’) When commenting on the architectural plans for Okinawa and collecting signatures for a petition to stop it, many decided it was their place to speak up and say, “you’re a commercial talent, you should not be talking politics” and shut down the post because of their expectations for Rola to continue to be their dumb doll for tv. While initially, this doesn’t seem something to be upset over, the existing ignorance in Japan towards the rest of the world is appalling. In addition to being called “Rola”, when serving customers, they would always wonder what my ethnicity was. Not only questioning, but people would guess my ethnicity. People thought I was from India, Philippines, Brazil, etc. I felt treated like the stereotypical dumb blond constantly. People who were inebriated would take photos of me during my work hours, people would attempt to speak English to me believing I was unable to and would stop me to have conversations with me during busy working hours. Although not upsetting it was, to say the least annoying. Finally, the experience that made me the most upset during my experience happened while I was setting the table for a group of businessmen having a celebration. An older man sitting down near me called my name, as written on my name tag. When answering the call, the man replied that he was just saying the name to try it out. Continuing to set the table, I heard the conversation between a younger coworker and the man who had called my name:
“Can you call her name like that without the use of a suffix?”
“Of course. She’s a foreigner.”
This was extremely upsetting because within Japan using suffixes at the end of someone’s name is a sign of respect. Although I am used to people not using a suffix as I did not grow up in a fully Japanese community, I was upset that the man’s reasoning as to why he should not have to place respect towards my name was because I was a foreigner.
The job itself took little thought. Although at the beginning I found the job exciting as it was a challenge. It was the first job I had taken up outside of the international community where I would earn money properly. Within a month though, the repetitive nature of the work failed to excite me and it made me realize that I would not like to attempt at working as a waitress again. Without a goal to reach, a job can become mundane and lose its importance. My daily challenges simply included attempting to carry as many beer glasses in a tray and balancing acts. The most exciting part of the day was when they fed me dinner because I received food from the restaurant, and having conversations with the bartender I had befriended.
Working as a waitress made me realize how one’s identity can affect their experience in the workplace, and appreciate the challenges of being in school. I strive to land in a workplace that challenges my intelligence and creativity, whilst providing me money to live with.