My first full time job was in a very large Japanese company right outside of New York City. I liked working near the City because of the cultural and social amenities it affords to its inhabitants. There are few places like New York where large segments of one ethnicity can live in a distinct community, right next to another large group of another ethnicity. Just think of how Little Italy sits right next to China Town. The line between them is blurry because there is no real boundary, pizza shops live next door to Chinese bodegas and it seems natural in New York. Not even the planned juxtapositions in EPCOT Center in Disney work as well.
My office was more than 50 percent Japanese, and sometimes it was just like working in another country. Not only was I in an ethnic minority there, but the Architectural Division was a much smaller part of the corporate structure than the Construction Division, housed in the same building. It was a completely different world to me.
At one time, the office was working on a very large competition to design a Japanese Corporate Headquarters in the Midwestern US. I was given a very small part to work on in the grand scheme of things, but I was none the less invited to the design meetings held in-house. I presented the things that I was working on to the group, as I might have done in any office, but to my surprise, I was invited to leave the meeting after my portion was discussed because, as my boss said, “we want to speak Japanese now.”
I didn’t really have anything else to add to the meeting, but as an intern right out of college, it would have been valuable for me to hear the rest of the discussion. At that exact moment, I realized that I either needed to learn Japanese or I needed to go somewhere else. I figured I was too old to learn a different language, especially one that doesn’t read left to right.