I was interested to see how Prime Minister Abe’s recent trip to Australia differed from his visit to the UK in May. Political agenda and geographical differences aside, there were some interesting moments where Abe had to adapt accordingly to different cultural expectations of behaviour. In the UK, I saw him at an “Invest in Japan” seminar and also at a Dinner hosted by the City of London Corporation at the Guildhall-both very formal and business orientated. The Guildhall was grand and historical and the correct formalities were followed with great pomp and circumstance. Abe mirrored this with a fairly formal Japanese speech introduced with the required humourous reference to alcohol we Brits seem to appreciate plus a mention of our traditions and our long, shared history. He then opened the floor to questions, one of which I thought was slightly inappropriate and indicative of our ” need to be heard” individualistic culture. Finally, he was presented with a “made in Britain” silver horse statue, representing his birth year in the Japanese Zodiac.
Now skip to Australia, where he gave a warm speech in Parliament in English honouring their ancestors, used a rugby scrum analogy and even mentioned WWII. On the subsequent tour with their Prime Minister Tony Abbott, he engaged in jocular banter and drank Australian wine. He was presented with a gift of Australian made RM Williams boots-proudly displayed by both men in a pose that caused consternation in some quarters about the overt display of machismo. I thought Abe looked slightly uncomfortable in this pose- the Japanese representation of macho-ness is very different-but he was certainly able to adapt to this more relaxed attitude to state visits.
In both contexts, the tone of his speeches engaged their audiences well using cultural assumptions of what would appeal to them. Stereotypes are never true across the board in such diverse societies. However, when operating in different cultures, it is essential to have a general overview and understanding, so that presentations and behaviour can be tailored accordingly. Naturally Abe had the support of briefings and PR machines, which I am sure, for a seemingly introverted man, helped him immensely on these visits.