Working with Japan

for May, 2015

Working with Japan

Posted on 28 May 2015 in Inter-Cultural Training, News -
Sarah Parsons speaking at the Scottish Parliament with the Cross Party Group Convener, MSP Alex Johnstone.

I recently said a few words about “Working with Japan” at a “Japan Scotland” Networking reception at the Scottish Parliament, co-organised by the Cross Party Group on Japan, the Japan Local Government Centre, London and the Japan Exchange and Teaching Alumni Association (JETAA) Scotland Chapter. It was great to see so many existing links & Japan related interests there. The audience included MSPs, the Japanese Consul General to Scotland, JETAA members, representatives from local councils & universities with links to Japan, local businesses including some who have succesfully entered the Japanese market plus Hitachi Rail Europe, who have just signed a contract with Scotrail.

With such a mixed audience and with such a short time slot, it was quite challenging to encapsulate what “Working with Japan” means. For those looking to break into the Japanese market, naturally a good USP and knowledge of market is needed. For those looking to attract Japanese investment, reliable partners and workforce plus attractive financial incentives are paramount. However, the key to working with Japan in any sense is successful relationship building, nurtured with integrity and patience (frustrations abound in most cross-cultural transactions) and trustworthiness. Some may argue these are out of date values in a fast-paced global world with instant access to information. Structurally, barriers to market entry are falling and Japan is becoming much more open with Abe’s globalisation strategy. I totally agree that now more than ever before, Japan offers so much potential for working with foreign partners. Still within this, relationships, which culturally form a backbone to Japanese society, are key.

There is sometimes a misunderstanding as to what constitutes a successful business relationship with the Japanese and how to maintain it. Although it is not a deep, dark mystery, it can seem significantly different to our more individualised methods and can at times seem impenetrable and a lot of hard work to those preferring a “quick fix” or to those who believe that “business is business” wherever you go. Many Japanese ex-pats who have lived long enough overseas have become very skilled at adapting to Western methods but there is still very much a default position of preferring to deal with Japanese suppliers/clients, mainly because the many facets of Japanese relationships are implicitly understood. Reciprocal obligations, risk aversion, face saving, consensus building and hierarchy still feature heavily in Japanese culture and although Japanese society is changing and becoming less group orientated, these are all still elements that need understanding and navigating within long- term business relationships.

There are many viable options out there to help you work with Japan-Japanese speakers who can connect you up with their language skills and effectively build the relationships for you, researchers who have immense knowledge of the market but in some cases no real connection with their contacts or agencies with business matching capabilities that leave you after the matching has been done. I prefer to help companies and organisations understand how to form successful relationships and give them opportunities to network, using carefully nurtured relationships. If this appeals to you, I would love to work with you.


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Breakfast Meeting with Haruno Yoshida-All about Womenomics

Posted on 20 May 2015 in Cultural Awareness, News, womenomics -

This week, I was lucky enough to have been part of a small group of Japanese and British women who attended a breakfast talk with BT Japan’s first female CEO Haruno Yoshida to find out about her life and how she recently made headlines by becoming the 1st ever female executive of the Japanese business association-the Keidanren.

Yoshida san was obviously not destined to follow the traditional wishes of her family by entering a suitable company where she was expected to find a good husband and then leave to bring up a family. Her life took a different turn-she left Japan and worked her way up the ranks in the Telecommunications industry of the 80’s in North America, often having to compete in a man’s world with weekend golfing and business trips away from her daughter whilst having to prove she was 2 or 3 times better than her male counterparts. This obviously caused her grief as a single mother. However, significant life events plus her passion for her job have all led her to this current moment, where she is able to wield significant influence within a tide of change that is sweeping Japan-womenomics-or more precisely, getting women to enter the workforce and contribute towards Japan’s economy.

In which direction it will flow, we do not know yet. All we can be certain of is that the time for change is now. Japan has reacted slowly to this up to now and has been left with a declining birth rate and low figures of female labour participation and women in leadership positions compared to other developed countries. Womenomics is now a key policy of Abe’s government mainly because of economic necessity and it has opened discussion and will hopefully pre-empt the necessary cultural changes for the empowerment of women.

Restrictions to Japanese women’s progression in the workplace lie very heavily within their cultural and societal expectations of women. Corporate culture has become so ingrained with prohibitive recruitment practices, male-orientated career advancement opportunities and inflexible work expectations that in order to get ahead, some women still have to work within very masculine environments and simply don’t want to do that. In some cases, they don’t get recognised or promoted for their talents and predictably, give up on rising through the ranks, especially if they have a family too with a lack of support for childcare. After having children, many do not re-enter the workforce and a high percentage of those who do mostly do so on a part-time, temporary basis. It is almost unthinkable that a single Japanese mother could work her way up within a major Japanese corporation and become CEO. I meet many young, ambitious Japanese women outside of Japan forging successful careers-it is indeed a poignant part of Yoshida’s story that her rise to success was mostly done outside of Japan.

Her main motivation now is to ensure that opportunities for enjoying a fulfilling job alongside bringing up a family should be available for her daughter. Let’s hope that her voice and those of other Japanese women can ensure that womenomics is not just all about economics but actually gives women an environment where they can be a valued part of the workforce and be inspired to participate within it.

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