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"Not an International Way of Thinking" - Stephen Mayaka on Fitting Into Japan's Corporate Team World as a Foreigner

JRN interviewed Stephen Mayaka, the first Kenyan high school runner in Japanese history, for an article in the May issue of Running Times magazine. This month we present the complete interview in serialized form in our subscription series JRNPremium. In part one of the interview Mayaka talked about being recruited and his experience as a student runner. In part two he talks about life on Japan's corporate teams and the difficulties Kenyans and other foreign runners face in fitting into the shifting demands of the system. Highlights from part two are included below. To read the full interview along with others in the JRNPremium series, click here to subscribe.

Part Two: The Corporate Life, Pros and Cons
We had some South Africans, Kalamori, I know him, we raced together, from Burundi, and Morocco. Some Ethiopians are coming but they are difficult because of the Ethiopian language and their culture. But it became to happen that the companies mostly prefer the Kenyans very much because of the ability to speak in English. South Africans were difficult because of the training and they were far from home, and I think there was a misunderstanding of the communication. They wanted to do their own training and didn’t want to run with Japanese. And Moroccans, I think it was tough. I don’t know if they had trouble because they were Muslims or such conditions. I think most of the companies stick with the Kenyans because of the communication, and because there are other Kenyans around so that they can communicate with each other so that they cannot feel so homesick. That’s way better. They know the system. Whereas you put in an Ethiopian, and then they say, “The Kenyan was better because he could understand.”

In my case, because I speak Japanese, I used to go to the company office during the week. Most of those ones who have studied in Japan, they usually go to the office. But you can’t bring somebody from Kenya straight and go to the office right away! (laughs) Because they are going and sitting there, seeing the Internet. (laughs) I think there are those who are going to come and they’re going to finish one year and then go without even saying, “I’m going to come back.” There are some problems arising now, like, you know someone comes for the first time and he doesn’t have someone to assist him, he feels homesick, he goes to Kenya. He doesn’t come back because of the language, and he says, “I’m not eating this food,” something like that.

That’s a small thing, what somebody is used to eating, but it’s going to get worse if he doesn’t get assistance and doesn’t communicate. In Japan you’ve got to get somebody to support him. If he doesn’t get help with it, somebody gets heartbroken and goes back, saying, “Let me go, stop my contract.” Most of them, they’re going back because of the language, and some of them are bad behaviors. They don’t do what they are being told. “Now we are going to start our training by 6:30,” but somebody comes around 9 o’clock. Why? “Because it’s cold.” But this is too much, so bad behavior and the language have made some of the people go back home.

Some of those who have come straight, they have misunderstanding, they don’t follow the regulations of the country and the system. They have no plan to know about the Japanese system and how to get around. When someone has stayed for five years he thinks now he knows everything better than the others. But he’s wrong. (laughs resignedly) You have to follow Japanese regulations. Sometimes the Kenyan Federation Rules are breaked. They have to be told that Japan has its own rules. You are not going to stay in Japan like that, acting like when you are still in Kenya. So, they must be educated first before being released from Kenya. I say that if we are bringing an athlete I have to tell him, “If you are going to Japan, this is the rules. It is very strict. One simple mistake, you are back to Kenya.” And someone says, “I’ll do that, yes,” and there are those who say, “No, no, this one is difficult.” That is okay. You get someone who is interested.

But I think that new rule [restricting foreign runners to the shortest stages in ekidens] is very bad. It is not an international way of thinking. Those who made that rule, they were thinking about themselves. It’s not good to say that this is the section for only the Africans. I don’t agree with their thinking because Japanese aren’t going to America and are told that you have to run only this. That experience is so often practiced in Japan. And it is very bad, to my sight, because if you go to Olympics, you don’t select people you fight together. And in Japan there are different companies. These different companies are going against each other. A competition is a competition. And then to shorten the distance, I think it is very bad. There are some individuals who don’t want foreigners, and there are those who want foreigners to run. For ladies you know it is 3.3 km. I see some companies are closing the market. They don’t need Kenyans, because 3 km, you can only make a difference of 10 seconds, which the Japanese can cover for the 3 km. So their number is going to reduce.

Click here to subscribe and read the complete interview. Part three will be available next week.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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