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Select Readings – Upper-Intermediate

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  1. Chapter 1: The Youngsters Behind Youtube
    Before You Read
  2. Reading the passage
  3. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  4. Building Vocabulary: Understanding Compound Nouns
    1 Practice
  5. Reading Skill: Identifying Main Ideas
    1 Practice
  6. Discussion and Writing
  7. Chapter 2: When to Use Female Nouns
    Before You Read
  8. Reading the passage
  9. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  10. Building Vocabulary: Using Female and Gender-Neutral Nouns
    2 Practices
  11. Reading Skill: Supporting Main Ideas
    1 Practice
  12. Discussion and Writing
  13. Chapter 3: Your Negative Attitude Can Hurt Your Career
    Before You Read
  14. Reading the passage
  15. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  16. Building Vocabulary: Using Synonyms and Antonyms
    2 Practices
  17. Reading Skill: Scanning for Specific Information
    1 Practice
  18. Discussion and Writing
  19. Chapter 4: The Colorful World of Synesthesia
    Before You Read
  20. Reading the passage
  21. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  22. Building Vocabulary: Understanding Verb-Forming Suffixes
    1 Practice
  23. Reading Skill: Making Inferences
    1 Practice
  24. Discussion and Writing
  25. Chapter 5: What Is Creative Thinking?
    Before You Read
  26. Reading the passage
  27. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  28. Building Vocabulary: Understanding Figures of Speech
    1 Practice
  29. Reading Skill: Using Context
    1 Practice
  30. Discussion and Writing
  31. Chapter 6: Listen Up
    Before You Read
  32. Reading the passage
  33. Understanding the Text
    3 Practices
  34. Building Vocabulary: Using Adverbs and Intensifiers
    1 Practice
  35. Reading Skill: Recognizing Sentence Transitions
    1 Practice
  36. Discussion and Writing
  37. Chapter 7: Students Won't Give Up Their French Fries
    Before You Read
  38. Reading the passage
  39. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  40. Building Vocabulary: Learning Idiomatic Expressions
    1 Practice
  41. Reading Skill: Summarizing
    1 Practice
  42. Discussion and Writing
  43. Chapter 8: Why I Quit the Company
    Before You Read
  44. Reading the passage
  45. Understanding the Text
    3 Practices
  46. Building Vocabulary: Understanding Phrasal Verbs
    1 Practice
  47. Reading Skill: Paraphrasing
  48. Discussion and Writing
  49. Chapter 9: East Meets West on Love's Risky Cyberhighway
    Before You Read
  50. Reading the passage
  51. Understanding the Text
    3 Practices
  52. Building Vocabulary: Using Modifiers
  53. Reading Skill: Identifying Points of View
    1 Practice
  54. Discussion and Writing
  55. Chapter 10: Don't Let Stereotypes Warp Your Judgment
    Before You Read
  56. Reading the passage
  57. Understanding the Text
    2 Practices
  58. Building Vocabulary: Forming Participle Adjectives
    1 Practice
  59. Reading Skill: Recognizing Sources
    1 Practice
  60. Discussion and Writing
  61. Chapter 11: The Art of Reading
    Before You Read
  62. Reading the passage
  63. Understanding the Text
    3 Practices
  64. Building Vocabulary: Learning Word Forms
    1 Practice
  65. Reading Skill: Recognizing Analogies
    1 Practice
  66. Discussion and Writing
  67. Chapter 12: When E.T. Calls
    Before You Read
  68. Reading the passage
  69. Understanding the Text
    3 Practices
  70. Building Vocabulary: Understanding Nouns Derived from Adjectives
    1 Practice
  71. Reading Skill: Recognizing Scenarios
    1 Practice
  72. Discussion and Writing
Lesson 45 of 72
In Progress

Understanding the Text

Rathanak May 27, 2021

When I tell people that I quit working for the company after only a year, most of them think I’m crazy. They can’t understand why I would want to give up a prestigious and secure job. But I think I’d have been crazy to stay, and I’ll try to explain why. 

I started working for the company immediately after graduating from university. It’s a big, well-known trading company with about 6,000 employees all over the world. There’s a lot of competition to get into this and other similar companies, which promise young people a wealthy and successful future. I was set on course to be 10 a Japanese “yuppie.”

I’d been used to living independently as a student, looking after myself and organizing my own schedule. As soon as I started working, all that changed. I was given a room in the company dormitory, which is like a fancy hotel, with a 24-hour hot bath service and all meals laid on. Most single company employees live in a dormitory like this, and many married employees live in company apartments. The dorm system is actually a great help because living in Tokyo costs more than young people can afford—but I found it stifling. 

My life rapidly became reduced to a shuttle between the dorm and the office. The working day is officially eight hours, but you can never leave the office on time. I used to work from nine in the morning until eight or nine at night, and often until midnight. Drinking with colleagues after work is part of the job; you can’t say no. The company building contained cafeterias, shops, a bank, a post office, a doctor’s office, a barber’s… I never needed to leave the building. Working, drinking, sleeping, and standing on a horribly crowded commuter train for an hour and a half each way: This was my life. I spent all my time with the same colleagues; when I wasn’t involved in entertaining clients on the weekend, I was expected to play golf with my colleagues. I soon lost sight of the world outside the company. 

This isolation is part of the brainwashing process. A personnel manager said: “We want excellent students who are active, clever, and tough. Three months is enough to train them to be devoted businessmen.” I would hear my colleagues saying: “I’m not making any profit for the company, so I’m not contributing.” Very few employees claim all the overtime pay due to them. Keeping an employee costs the company 50 million yen ($600,000) a year, or so the company claims. Many employees put the company’s profits before their own mental and physical well-being. 

Overtiredness and overwork leave you little energy to analyze or criticize your situation. There are shops full of “health drinks; cocktails of caffeine and other drugs, which will keep you going even when you’re exhausted. Karoshi (death from overwork) is increasingly common and is always being discussed in the newspapers. I myself collapsed from working too hard. My boss told me: “You should control your health; it’s your own fault if you get sick; There is no paid sick leave; I used up half of my fourteen days’ annual leave because of sickness. 

We had a labor union, but it seemed to have an odd relationship with the management. A couple of times a year I was told to go home at five o’clock. The union representatives were coming around to investigate working hours; everyone knew in advance. If it was “discovered” that we were all working overtime in excess of 50 hours a month, our boss might have had some problem being promoted, and our prospects would have been affected. So we all pretended to work normal hours that day. 

The company also controls its employees’ private lives. Many company employees under 30 are single. They are expected to devote all their time to the company and become good workers; they don’t have time to find a girlfriend. The company offers scholarships to the most promising young employees to enable them to study abroad for a year or two. But unmarried people who are on these courses are not allowed to get married until they have completed the course! Married employees who are sent to train abroad have to leave their families in Japan for the first year. 

In fact, the quality of married life is often determined by the husband’s work. Men who have just gotten married try to go home early for a while, but soon have to revert to the norm of late-night work. They have little time to spend with their wives and even on the weekend are expected to play golf with colleagues. Fathers cannot find time to communicate with their children, and child rearing is largely left to mothers. Married men posted abroad will often leave their family behind in Japan; they fear that their children will fall behind in the fiercely competitive Japanese education system. 

Why do people put up with this? They believe this to be a normal working life or just cannot see an alternative. Many think that such personal sacrifices are necessary to keep Japan economically successful. Perhaps saddest of all, Japan’s education and socialization processes do not equip people with the intellectual and spiritual resources to question and challenge the status quo. They stamp out even the desire for a different kind of life. 

However, there are some signs that things are changing. Although many new employees in my company were quickly brainwashed, many others, like myself, complained about life in the company and seriously considered leaving. But most of them were already in fetters of debt. Pleased with themselves for getting into the company and anticipating a life of executive luxury, these new employees throw their money around. Every night they are out drinking. They buy smart clothes and take a taxi back to the dormitory after the last train has gone. They start borrowing money from the bank, and soon they have a debt growing like a snowball rolling down a slope. The banks demand no security for loans; it’s enough to be working for a well-known company. Some borrow as much as a year’s salary in the first few months. They can’t leave the company while they have such debts to pay off. 

I was one of the few people in my intake of employees who didn’t get into debt. I left the company dormitory after three months to share an apartment with a friend. I left the company exactly one year after I entered it. It took me a while to find a new job, but I’m working as a journalist now. My life is still busy, but it’s a lot better than it was. I’m lucky because nearly all big Japanese companies are like the one I worked for, and conditions in many small companies are even worse. 

It’s not easy to opt out of a lifestyle that is generally considered to be prestigious and desirable, but more and more young people in Japan are thinking about doing it. You have to give up a lot of superficially attractive material benefits in order to preserve the quality of your life and your sanity. I don’t think I was crazy to leave the company. I think I would have gone crazy if I’d stayed.

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