National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Shinji Kayamori

Making sure projects proceed unimpeded, that’s administration’s job.

Administration Department, General Affairs Group, Payroll Unit

Shinji Kayamori

Mitaka, Mizusawa, Nobeyama, Hawaiʻi, and Chile. Covering far flung locations.

The NAOJ Administration Department consists of five groups: General Affairs, Financial Affairs, Accounting, Facilities, and Research Promotion. In addition to the headquarters here in Mitaka, NAOJ has branches in Mizusawa (Iwate Prefecture), Nobeyama (Nagano Prefecture), Hawaiʻi, and Chile. Department members are transferred between the five groups at the five locations every two to four years. I was first assigned to the Procurement Unit under the Accounting Group, where I worked in contracting for four years. Then I was transferred to the General Affairs Group to work in human resources. I’m still in the same group but in another unit, the Payroll Unit, and manage payroll and taxes for employees. We are busy and often work overtime during the year-end and the period around the change of the fiscal year, when tax adjustments are made. By contrast, the period from June to August is not that busy, but then the year’s end comes with a hint of fall in the air.

Sometimes, I have to make a business trip, not every year but about twice a year at most, to audit a branch office or to help organize the Mizusawa or Nobeyama Special Open House Day (note) upon request from the organizing project. In addition to these locations, I was once dispatched to Vienna in 2018 for the IAU (International Astronomical Union) General Assembly, which meets once every three years.

What’s more, when I was in the Accounting Group, my boss asked me on a Friday at the end of the fiscal year whether my passport was still valid, and on the next weekend I found myself heading all the way to Chile. Every day during the visit, I just commuted to the office to help with accounting work and then back to my hotel. But one day, a local researcher who might have been worried about my situation invited me for a meal. It was quite pleasing.

To be honest, I was anxious about entering the world of work.

I joined NAOJ back in August 2014. After completing graduate school in 2013, I didn’t go on to a full-time job, but earned a living as a part-time employee. At that time, I thought I didn’t have to force myself to work full-time. However, after a year of working part time, I started to feel that it was time to look for a full-time position. When I heard that NAOJ had a job opening, I decided to take the employment exam. Having already visited Mitaka Campus and being familiar with the Subaru Telescope since high school when I had a homestay in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, I thought it would be wonderful if I could work at NAOJ. After taking the written test in May and having interviews in June and July, I was selected and finally started working at NAOJ in August.

To be honest, I was anxious about entering the world of work until I started working, suspecting that the workplace was severely stratified. But such anxiety dissipated just a few days after I arrived at NAOJ. I found that all my colleagues were kind and the researchers were friendly.

About three months after joining NAOJ, I complained at the party after the Special Open House Day that there were some narrow-minded people who said unpleasant things. But one researcher encouraged me, “Many people appreciate your efforts, so don’t be discouraged by words from a handful of people.” That left a lasting impression on me to this day.

That’s when I decided, “I’ll always be loyal to her!”

One thing sticks out in my memory: about six months after I joined NAOJ, I made a big mistake during procurement work, one that could affect a contract. By the time I realized my mistake, it was all too late, and consequently I caused problems for both the NAOJ project and the supplier involved. However, having heard about my failure, my boss went with me to apologize to the project, saying, “it was all due to my lack of supervision.” Then she also apologized to me later, “Sorry for not having kept better tabs on you.” I could not be too thankful. That’s when I decided, “I’ll be always loyal to her!”

Small mistakes can still happen no matter how careful I try to be, but accusing a particular individual when pointing out a mistake is not the norm in this workplace. My boss and colleagues are people who always analyze where and how such mistakes occurred.

On another day, it was a busy season, and I felt ill while working so was laying down in a break room. Then my boss and a colleague came and kindly asked me if I could eat rice porridge and bought me back lunch, even though it was due to my own bad health management that I was absent from work during a busy time. I wondered, “Have I died and gone to Heaven?”

Your attitude toward your job may be more important than your aptitude.

Clerical duties at NAOJ entail working with obscure issues, and we are expected to organize, label, and process these issues in compliance with rules and regulations. Complying with rules and laws is a matter of course and breaking them will lead to nothing good for the people involved, but what is important here is knowing that there are always real people behind any work assigned to me and being able to imagine their faces. I think this job requires something like a “sense of involvement,” the ability to think about a particular issue from the perspective of the people behind it while complying with rules and laws.

Sometimes, I find it rewarding when nothing goes wrong. These days, I am coming to find my work particularly fulfilling when I try to figure out how I can maintain an ordinary, mistake-free environment.

I didn’t attend school much during my junior high school days, and when I completed graduate school, I even thought that I didn’t have to go on to work full-time. Although I have loved and reread “Night on the Galactic Railroad” (a classic novel written by the Japanese novelist Kenji Miyazawa) many times since childhood, my interest in astronomy remained at that level, and I had almost no knowledge about science. But I feel my current job is well suited to me. I think an organization requires more than just one kind of person. It should be composed of a diverse set of members, such as those with good communication skills and those able to concentrate fully on their tasks. Even if you are not good at one or two things, you just need to show enough ability in your specialty. In fact, your attitude toward your job may be more important than your natural aptitude for that job.

Interview Date: July 12, 2021 / Published: November 26.
Interview & Article: Masami Usuda / Translation: Ryo Sato and Ramsey Lundock / Photo: Shogo Nagayama
With a few exceptions, the contents of this article are as of the interview date.