August 2013 News

for August, 2013

August 2013 News

Posted on 20 August 2013 in Uncategorized -

TEPCO, Fukushima and Radioactive Water Leaks

After 2 years of officially ad. hoc decommissioning activities, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, has submitted a plan that has been approved by Japan’s nuclear regulator. The plan lays out all the procedures that Tepco is following to decommission the plant including the equipment it will use and details of essential safety checks. The Government is also considering allocating more funds to support the building of a large underwater wall made from frozen soil.  These are much needed interventions given the negative publicity surrounding TEPCO- just after the election, TEPCO finally revealed that contaminated water from the plant has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean and a leak of water with dangerously high levels of radiation has only just been discovered this week! These disclosures are only the latest in a series of well-documented problems at the nuclear plant: a power outage, the release of radioactive steam and limited space to store the contaminated water. The cycle seems familiar: first denials and delays, then admissions and apologies from TEPCO officials. This attitude and slow progress can possibly be viewed and understood more from a Japanese cultural perspective of not wanting to losing face and indeed no-one could have anticipated the events that led to this, but these are very worrying developments for the health and future of the Japanese people.

Yakushina Shrine Visit and Ripples in Asia

August 15th marks the anniversary of the surrender of Japan in World War II and has been traditionally marked by Japanese Prime Ministers by a visit to the war shrine Yasukuni in Tokyo, which, as well as honouring Japan’s war dead, honours the souls of several war criminals. This has always inflamed tensions with other countries, especially China and South Korea, who feel that Japan have never really acknowledged or atoned for their use of comfort women and other atrocities committed during the war. Abe decided this year not to visit the shrine, although other prominent politicians did and instead he sent an offering to honour the Japanese men who fought for their country. Notably, Abe’s speech broke with 2 decades of tradition by NOT expressing any remorse for Japan’s war time aggressions. It is no secret that Abe has desires to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and there are genuine concerns worldwide that he will use his power to re-establish a form of nationalism that will further these tensions even more!

Read more

Improve Communication-Reduce Frustration

Posted on 16 August 2013 in Inter-Cultural Training -

Improve your Communication-Reduce your Frustration

We all have different ways of communicating based on our own cultural backgrounds so it is not surprising to find out that the Japanese generally communicate in a different way to us based on their own unique cultural and historical contexts.  To not appreciate this or to remain ignorant of the cultural reasons behind it can not only cause frustrations and possible misunderstandings, it can in some cases destroy business relationships with the Japanese.

As a general overview, the Japanese communicate in a very indirect, non-verbal manner sometimes described as “reading the air” or “talking through the gut”. In fact, their language itself is very context driven and so much is implied instead of spoken you can sometimes feel you are talking in code or are not getting the answer you need to a question you have asked directly. All sorts of cultural reasons come into play; face saving and maintaining harmony are the ones that spring to mind immediately when trying to explain why certain communication issues arise. For example, a request may be described as “difficult” or even ignored instead of being refused to your face, a colleague may not flag up potentially serious issues that may disrupt the harmony unless ordered to, you may lose respect for not thinking of other people’s face when nothing has been said to make you think you are doing the wrong thing, it’s just that in Japan you are expected to have read the air and got the hint that you are on the wrong track or you may not be following the heirarchical and often slow chain of communications often expected in Japanese corporate culture.

Communication differences can even frustrate on more simple business matters-power point presentations in Japan are not supposed to entertain or  be especially inter-active, they are to inform and give detail, the all important element needed by most Japanese businesses wanting to make decisions. The Japanese do not necessarily respect or trust the one who talks the most- in fact still in some cases, the one who can sit and listen patiently and take everything in is given more acknowledgement. I have written a previous blog about nemawashi (consensus building Japanese style) but this also highlights differences in communication cultures especially within decision making and meetings.

Of course you will always come across exceptions to the rule: the Japanese business person who is very direct and aggressive, the German business person who doesn’t flag up problems to save people’s face. Indeed there are circumstances in which the Japanese express intense dissatisfaction and directness. My main point is though: knowledge is the key. Look at your own communication styles, look at the styles of the culture you are wanting to do business with and see if there are any modifications that can be made. If not, at least be aware if the pitfalls, why they have arisen and deal with them patiently and wisely.

This article highlights the presentation style differences

This article is a fun one about Japanese style communication.


Read more

Nemawashi-Consensus Building

Posted on 16 August 2013 in Inter-Cultural Training -

Blog-June 2013

Nemawashi-Consensus Building Japanese Style

Last week, I did a presentation at a company in London for a number of their Managing Directors, who have found themselves working with the Japanese through an acquisition made. They are having to do lots of relationship building trips to Tokyo to meet and share information with their colleagues. Not only did they need training from me on meeting and greeting etiquette, they also needed a more in-depth look at the Japanese way of negotiating and making decisions as they were finding it frustrating not getting on the spot answers to questions they had asked or ideas they has presented. After all, in such a limited amount of time, in our corporate culture, meetings are the ideal place to share and disseminate information and indeed make decisions.

Not so in a rigid Japanese corporate culture (note that I am not implying that all Japanese companies operate this way). When I did a bit of research on the Japanese company involved, I found out they were still viewed as having a quite traditional Japanese corporate culture so I had all areas of business culture covered. However I was pleasantly surprised that one of their Japanese colleagues had already recommended that my client learned the concept of nemawashi, literally translated as “digging around the roots of a tree” before transplanting it, which is the unique Japanese art of consensus building.

Nemawashi is done to make sure the senior people know what is going on before a meeting takes place (to save face), to make sure there is no scope for public displays of conflicting opinions ( to maintain harmony) and to gauge opinion on ideas and modify them accordingly. It can be done in small groups with various key players, informally though socialising or more formally in a nemawashi meeting. To us, it may seem like a very long-winded and frustrating way to operate but it does seem to work and is certainly a major art of Japanese style decision making.

For people wanting to work with the Japanese, it is worth at least knowing this goes on, being patient with it and joining in where possible. When I work with Japanese governmental organisations, I always make sure I submit my agenda for meetings and proposals beforehand giving them enough time to discuss it and always assume that meetings are not necessarily for making decisions but for discussing and presenting ideas. I advise companies doing business with Japan to engage in a bit of nemawashi themselves by: submitting ideas in advance and asking for suggestions and ideas, finding out all the key decision makers and involving them all in your ideas, sending agendas and powerpoints over in advance, organising a series of meetings instead of just one seminal one if possible, using informal ways of gauging opinion through socialising and being prepared to modify ideas if you are getting certain  feedback from it.

As with all my advice on Japanese corporate culture, I believe it is so important to know the cultural context from which it has arisen, so that you can understand it better.

Read more

Japanese Women in Society

Posted on 16 August 2013 in Inter-Cultural Training, Market Insight, womenomics -

Blog May 2013

Japanese Women in Society

When I came back from Japan in 1999, I was invited to give a speech at the Japan Society about my experiences in Japan and to choose a subject of my choice. I chose to talk about my views on Japanese women in society and this speech was very cleverly edited and published in “‘Japan Experiences-Fifty Years, One Hundred Views-Post War Japan through British Eyes’. I remember it caused quite a stir as I was must have seemed quite judgmental and it was not the glowing insight into Japanese life that maybe some members were expecting.

It spoke mainly of my frustrations in Japan as a woman in such a male-dominated, patriarchal society, where office women performed menial jobs, poured the tea, took lower salaries although they weren’t expected to stay as long as their male counterparts and were woefully underrepresented in management and decision making. I also expressed irritation by what I perceived as social pressures on girls and women to “be cute and child-like, carry bags with little kittens on, speak in high child-like voices and exclaim “kawaii” at everything” (see April blog for insight into kawaii culture) On TV and in certain manga, women were portrayed as defenceless and infantile which I found and still find offensive and I believed that the way they were perceived by the media and how they behaved did not allow women to be taken seriously as equal members of society, especially in business.

In hindsight, I can honestly say I still agree with my views although I didn’t have the depth of understanding and maturity that I have now to see how culturally ingrained and multi-layered they are. I have described the culture of kawaii in my April blog and that certainly is as prevalent today as it was then, if not more so. (see News May)

However, things in the world of business do not seem to have improved significantly -the percentage of women in senior management in Japan in 2012 was an embarrassingly low 5% (one of the lowest in the world) compared to 46% in Russia and 32% in the ASEAN countries. However, there are so many  cultural, legal and political barriers facing Japanese women, it is not an easy issue to address by just imposing Western values or quotas, as some commentators on Linkedin implied, when it was suggested that the appointment of a high-profile woman Catherine Kennedy as the next Ambassador to Japan would solve this issue by giving Japanese women something to aspire to!

According to Yoshio Sugimoto in her seminal sociological research on Japanese Society, Japan’s female labour participation rates  still lag behind other industrialised societies and part-time work has become the dominating option for women wanting to re-enter the market after child rearing. This has led to a predominance of housewives who go back to work later in life not for economic independence or career progression but to supplement their family income.

She sees the reason for this as being because Japanese business leaders have traditionally split female labour into two tiers. The first tier are the largest category, who are expected to play less important roles in their company and are not expected to follow a career path. The second tier of female employees, who want to carry on working full-time, are expected to take on the same working conditions as men: working long hours, accepting transfers to jobs far away from family and to carry on working without interruption during the child-rearing phase of their lives.

This split can be better understood by looking at the traditional cultural expectations placed on Japanese employees-until relatively recently, Japanese employees (traditionally the male) have stayed at one company for life, have dedicated themselves to that company above all else and have received many benefits by doing so. Japanese corporations place great emphasis on intensive on-the-job training and expect their employees to take part in high levels of work-related socialising-an integral part of Japanese business practice-used in building relations and cementing deals. From a human-capital point of view, this training is not given to women who can’t fulfill these obligations to the company because of child rearing. If you add into the mix the rapidly ageing population and the cultural expectations that women take on the traditional role of carer alongside the fact that the majority of Japanese companies don’t let their employees take leave to look after elderly relatives not to mention the woeful lack of childcare places and the intense competition for the existing ones, you can see why the female participation figures are so low.

There is hope though- although the LDP have in the past expressed rather chauvanistic views, Abe san has hopefully recognised the potential of his under-utilised female workforce in his growth strategy and has included it on his 3rd arrow of Abenomics (see April News)  It remains to be seen and believed but I for one believe in the women of Japan!


Cortazzi, H. Japan Experiences Fifty Years, One Hundred Views, Post-War Japan Through British Eyes, 2001, JAPAN LIBRARY

Sugimoto, Y. An Introduction to Japanese Society 3rd Edition, 2010, Cambridge University Press

Grant Thornton International Business Report 2012, Women in Senior Management: Still Not Enough

Read more

UK-Japan Global Seminar

Posted on 16 August 2013 in Market Insight -

On Thursday 20th June, I attended the UK-Japan Global Seminar Fostering Strategic Partnerships at Chatham House, London. I attended three sessions all with eminent Japanese and European experts on the panel:

Session 1 ECONOMY

This was an extremely lively debate  about  Abenomics and whether it can work, what else is needed for it to work, whether Japan should enter the TPP, will the currency deflation get out of control, how Japan can move on, are the actions of the third arrow sufficient and have the first 2 arrows hit the mark enough to even warrant the third one being drawn.

There were disagreements about why Japan has been in a recession for so long, why the top Japanese companies have fallen off their perches, does Japan need more bank credits, will bringing women into the workplace increase productivity, are wage rises the only way to increase productivity and can normal growth be achieved alongside deflation. There was consensus that Japan needs to raise productivity and move from predominantly manufacturing industry to new areas such as IT and innovations and it was also suggested that the government could focus corporate tax reduction on innovation whilst raising taxes. Issues of corporate governance were raised-are companies holding on to non-productive employees and still hanging on to seniority system and the issues of immigration and tourism as growth areas were touched upon.

Session 2 – SECURITY

This session focused on how the security relationship between Japan and the UK/EU is evolving and outlined various poignant points: the centre of economic power is shifting from Europe to Asia, China is becoming more important for the US and that the UK defense and security is still very focused on Afghanistan.Discontent was voiced from the Japanese side about the lack of multi-layered co-operation between Japan and the UK ( as exists between Japan and the US) and recommendations were made for more dialogue between Japan and the UK,  more tri-lateral co-operation between Japan, EU and the US, particularly in light of North Korea It was noted that the UK Japan Security relationship was in its infancy, having only been agreed by the two Prime Ministers last year and it is a significant challenge to include everyone with so many other national interests at stake.

An interesting proposal was put forward for the UK to fund


This session was mainly about how emissions have raised and how both countries can cap these emissions. Various issues arose: both countries need innovative cutting edge technologies although questions were raised about how long it takes for these technologies to get to market. Fukushima has changed public perception about nuclear power and even Germany shut down significant nuclear plants after this disaster and de-commissioning and ensuring safety of other nuclear sites is Japan’s priority. There was broad consensus that other energy alternatives need to be found to meet the targets of cutting down global emissions and various alternatives were discussed: Artic resources, hydrocarbons, methane hydrate, carbon capture & storage (CCS), in which Japan is a world leader & cleaner coal technologies. Questions were raised about why energy efficiency has gone down in Japan and up in the UK (now the 2nd most energy efficient nation in the world) and how to bring down the price of CCS through science and technology.

A transcript of the opening speeches by Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP and Ambassador Hitoaki Fujii can be found onChatham Houses website and I am sure the full transcript of the seminar will be available soon.

Read more