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On Building a Career in a Japanese Company Beyond Sakura and Sushi

Isn’t it about time to look at Japan as a place to seriously build a career?


Are you learning Japanese only to get a work visa because you want to stay in Japan to enjoy its culture? That’s fine, but is that all?


If appreciating Japanese culture is your dream, that’s fine. I don’t mean to throw a wet blanket to your love of Japanese aesthetics.


But, IF you are feeling anime, sakura, sushi or Shibuya (a hot spot for entertainment) shouldn’t be all, and there must be something more worth spending precious few years working in Japan, please read on.


there must be something more worth spending

precious few years working in Japan


●Reality: I meet too few job seekers online and at real job fairs in Tokyo where I often give talks who know anything deeper than exchanging business cards and bowing!


In fact, however you exchange cards and bow and even if you forget to bring cards and choose to shake hands or use polite phrases in an odd way, its loss to your employment odds or deal-making is so LITTLE.


You are a foreigner. You apologise professionally for the lack of knowledge of the local protocol. Then you are forgiven. (of course it is better to know it in advance: one must speak the customer’s language in international business)


When it comes to how decisions are made and why and concrete actions to observe in order to earn the trust they need to move up the corporate ladder, they know so little. Very few reads about Japanese management.


When it comes to how decisions are made and

why and concrete actions to observe in order

to earn the trust they need to move up the

corporate ladder, they know so little.


One Singaporean banker of a Singapore-based Japanese bank told me: “What I learned in this 2-day Diversity Manager course about Japanese corporate behaviour is much deeper than what I learned in my 5 years employment at my bank”. This is the reality of crosscultural understanding. (his Japanese manager would not know too much about this man either. It takes two to tango.)


●Japanese Logic: Japan offers an extremely unique environment in terms of how organisations are organized, how business is conducted and how people are related.


By digging into the interplay among the elements, one can discover whole new alternative lifestyles vis-à-vis his original upbringing. Knowing them means living a life of multiple persons.


I give you an example of the new alternative lifestyle. This is the diagram I use in training programs.






How does that look to you? Japanese Behaviours column contains the comments often made by non-Japanese people working with Japanese, except VUCA which is the terminology referring to the nature of a global marketplace under G-Zero world where a single global leader is absent.


What are in the Reasons column are the Japanese logic that justifies their left-hand behaviours or appearance of behaviours.


Take the bottom left “Look not passionate” for an example. I was taken aback to hear this comment from an Indonesian staff of a Japanese IT firm in Tokyo. And the logic “constantly aiming higher” is the explanation I immediately told him. Typical workers in a country of craftsmen do not show emotions easily just after one achievement. Their fire doesn’t explode. It implodes. They often keep their lips closed tight when emotions are high inside.


Their fire doesn’t explode. It implodes.


Looking at the diagram carefully might invoke new ways of how a job is done (craftsmanship), relationship is built (multiple balance), an organisation functions (organic), and a national character is formed (following the law of nature or shizentai 自然体). It goes without saying the Japanese logic leaves a lot for debate. It will be a topic of another article soon.


Your Future: Many courses about Japanese language and culture appear to never touch on such huge potentials non-Japanese professionals can tap into if only they are guided to dig in inside the tatemae (official statement) barrier.


Obviously Japan has a lot more to offer than anime and manga. If you learn Japanese, learn it for a strategic purpose toward a professional excellence.


So, are you keen about building a career in Japan? Then, dig in deeper, observe and find out what you can learn from the Japanese bahaviours, which are in most cases antithesis to Western logic. That’s the way to go beyond a translator and a substitute worker just because Japanese are more costly.


I will write about various aspects of how to get more out of Japan experience in next articles. See you soon.


*Success Japan Initiative is organising a new program "How to Work Together Effectively: Asians and Westerners" by Rie Eichmann on April 9th, 2021.

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