Theresa May’s Visit to Japan & Brexit Negotations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

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Theresa May’s Visit to Japan & Brexit Negotations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Posted on 15 September 2017 in Inter-Cultural Training, Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
Theresa-May-shoes-Japan-tea-ceremony-847731

Theresa May’s visit to Japan & Brexit Negotiations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Theresa May’s recent visit to Japan may have been a good PR stunt but where do we stand now with Japan? The highly entertaining tea-ceremony and comments such as: “I like your dress”, “we have a good relationship” and the all-important “we will commit to a trade deal after Brexit”, were certainly reassuring but should be contextualised within the niceties often seen within Japanese negotiations. These were not false platitudes given by Abe to May, they are important parts of doing business in Japan-tatemae and relationship building- and should be read as such (reading between the lines is another important aspect of doing business with the Japanese). To assume otherwise would be arrogant, which in our current position, is not ideal. The fact is that many Japanese companies are considering something that is against all their business principles-ditching long-term business commitments to the UK- and there will be more to follow. The risk is simply too high (risk is the bottom line for all their business decisions.)

Nurturing Relationships with the Japanese

We certainly would be wise to nurture our relationship with the Japanese-they are one of our most important trading partners bringing with them high levels of job creation and long-term investment into training, education and cultural endeavours, many of which go unnoticed or unappreciated in the Western world of ‘business is business’. The simple fact is, we do business and form relationships very differently. Anyone attending the Hitachi Rail opening ceremony last year should have noticed the difference between the Japanese side’s sentiments and the British side just from listening to the speeches alone. Furthermore, the way David Cameron and George Osborne mentioned investments made into the UK from Japan at the ceremony (Nissan committed to massive investment into their Sunderland operations on that same day) with George then hotfooting it to China to tout for bidders for HS2 the very next day showed a clear contrast of our government’s mentality with the Japanese, who favour long-term relationships, loyalty and trust.

Arrogance may be our downfall

The detail-sparse and rather delusional “we are still incredibly important” flavour of Brexit negotiations mingled with a somewhat admirable British philosophy of “flying by the seat of our pants” does not in any way appeal to the Japanese. Brexit goes against the Japanese preference for long-term stability, an absolute need for details and a low-risk environment. There will also be an expectation of us meeting the obligations they would automatically expect from their investments here, which are currently neither forthcoming nor in any way deliverable. Instead, the lack of clarity and  policies based on rhetoric and arrogance currently coming from the British Government are making us look even more ‘risky’.

The UK is now a country divided by out-of-touch and in some cases quite dangerous politicians who, through a misinformed manipulation of people based in the regions who were voting against a neglect that has never been addressed rather than membership of the EU, have no real Brexit mandate from the British public-just more disillusioned people living outside of London and a negotiating charade with angry Europeans.

The fact that Downing Street were “surprised” by the demands outlined in a letter from the Japanese to the British Government regarding Brexit expectations and that Theresa May was subsequently “vexed” by the decision of the Japanese banks to leave the UK really does show a worrying level of arrogance. If we are not careful, this arrogance will stand in the way of another admirable British philosophy: our ability to “make the most out of a bad situation”. The environment we are offering now to the Japanese is not the right one. Recent comments in the press that the Japanese are being too polite to tell us don’t go far enough. They are telling us-it’s just that we’re too arrogant to listen!

For Japanese companies/executives in the UK: “Understanding why Brexit happened2

Find out more about British society and how Brexit came about by exploring Britain’s political landscape, finding out what the British people in the regions really think, why they actually voted for Brexit and understanding the different ideologies currently affecting British politics and society. We offer 1:1 Skype courses or in-house lectures on this subject aimed specifically at foreign executives in the UK or companies looking to invest here. Please contact us for further information.

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Working with Tokio Marine HCC-Building the Trust and Adding to Leicestershire Links

Posted on 13 December 2016 in Inter-Cultural Training, News -

Japanese Investment adds to Leicestershire Links

Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. bought HCC Insurance Holdings Inc. last year, in one of the biggest acquisition deals by a Japanese company to date. In doing so, they sparked a curiosity within the then HCC International into Japan and its culture, initiated by its office based in the Leicestershire village of Rearsby. The HR department there felt that their staff needed to know more about Japan, as for many of the staff it was their first experience working for a Japanese company.

Raising Interest in Japan

Together with the HR department, we developed an introductory presentation for staff in Leicester and London to get an insight into current Japanese culture, society, language and corporate philosophy. There is a big interest in all things Japanese in the UK, but the two cultures are very different. The training was tailored so that participants could really grasp the basics of Japanese culture to understand current events that are happening in and around Japan, raise their cross-cultural skillset and transfer these to any direct involvement they might have with their Japanese colleagues.

Angela Baker, Head of HR for Tokio Marine HCC, said:

“We had over 185 employees attend the presentations that Sarah delivered, and the feedback that we received was very positive.  Staff enjoyed the sessions which gave a real flavour of the culture and the economic and social issues in Japan.”

I was very impressed with the genuinely positive attitudes shown towards Japan from Angela and her team and the high level of interest shown by participants through their questions and prior knowledge about Japan. Every time I visit the offices, people are always talking about Japan and they all know the name of the Japanese representative from Tokio Marine in London -Kenichi Sakakibara – better known as Ken to the local staff.

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In front of the new company sign at Tokio Marine HCC, The Grange, Rearsby, Leicestershire. From left to right, Sarah Parsons (MD Japan in Perspective), Angela Baker (Head of HR) and Jane Thorpe (HR Co-ordinator)

East Midlands/Japan Regional Links

This raised awareness of and interest in Japan highlights the soft power of Japanese investment in the UK, which has not only brought economic benefits but has fostered cultural and educational exchange on a regional level. There is a lively Japanese community in the East Midlands based around Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK in Derby and NSK in Newark. The University of Leicester has an active Japanese student population and Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako (the Emperor’s grand-daughter) recently graduated from there. Leicester is also well known to the Japanese thanks to the recent success of their football club and Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki. Hopefully now, staff from the Leicester office can access the Japan – UK links already developed in the area, and create more.

 

 

To find out more about Tokio Marine HCC, please visit their website, tmhcc.com/international.

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The Japanese Relationship with Humanoid Robots

Posted on 25 April 2016 in Cultural Awareness, Inter-Cultural Training, Market Insight -
Hitachi Robot

When I go into British companies to talk about Japan, I often get asked, “Why do Japanese people love Robots so much?” Although the development of Artificial Intelligence is happening on a global scale with robotic manufacturing technology no longer dominated by Japanese companies, they have developed a close relationship with and acceptance of “humanoid” robots as seen by the recent examples serving in shopping centres, banks and hotels (although technically this one was a dinosaur). With a rapidly ageing and decreasing population (with no real signs of immigration filling the gaps) alongside limited child-care facilities, the use of humanoids is certainly attractive for Japan’s current social challenges. Last year, PM Abe opened Japan’s Official Robot Revolution Initiative Council and called on the nation’s corporate sector to “spread the use of robotics from large-scale factories to every corner of our economy and society.” The humanoids that are being developed by Japanese companies such as Soft Bank (Pepper) & Hitachi (EMIEW3) can express themselves, have good mobility and seem to offer an alternative to the “human” experience.

Japanese Acceptance of Humanoids

The Japanese have never had much of a problem forming strong emotional bonds with substitutes for human connection. Look at their relationships with manga characters and let’s not forget they were the country who gave us virtual pets such as Tamagotchi. Many of these create intense emotional connections. The social media network LINE’s AI school girl character had men falling in love with her. I have often heard people quote the Shinto concept of ‘animism’ in Japan (meaning that all objects have spirits) to explain the emotional relationship between Japanese people and robots.

Cultural Factors Needing Consideration

A recent symposium* on the acceptance of humanoids comparing the UK and Japan showed that there is a significantly lower acceptance of humanoids in the UK and alarmism that they may take away jobs and render humans useless. Findings from the same symposium stated that: “In order to further social acceptance of the humanoid across cultures, designers of robots need to consider cultural factors in their potential users.”  Japan must culturally assimilate these humanoids outside of Japan to avoid an inward focus of their technology. They may be leading the way scientifically with face recognition yet facial expressions of Japanese people can be quite hard to read and even come across as indiscernible to more expressive cultures. The ritualistic set phrases used in different social interactions may foster a sense of intimacy for Japanese users, but may prove too distant and again “robotic” if used elsewhere.

However, to meet Japan’s current social challenges, humanoids may well be a solution-recent Nomura research indicates that almost half of the jobs in Japan could be managed by robots. However, I still remain unconvinced for their substitute as a child-care option..

*4th International Symposium on New Frontiers in Human-Robot Interaction-April 2015, Canterbury UK: Differences in Social Acceptance of Humanoid Robots between Japan and the UK.

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Japanese Stand-up Comedienne Wins Prize laughing at UK/Japan Idiosyncracies

Posted on 7 December 2015 in Cultural Awareness, Inter-Cultural Training, News -
comedienne

It was refreshing and heart-warming to listen to the sketch of Japanese Stand-up Comedienne Yuriko Kotani, who recently won the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy Award. As someone who has lived both in Japan and the UK, I found her sketch not only hilarious, but poignant. She cleverly contrasts the poor punctuality of the British train system and our attitudes towards it with Japan, subtly inferring that since Japanese society is so structured, the British obviously have more time to “mess about”. Signs declaring the comparatively woeful punctuality record of the trains would in Japanese society indeed be seen as an apology or, as she puts it a “confession.” Her take on the use of “ish” in our vocabulary is insightful. We use it to cover up shortcomings not only in the punctuality of transport but in our own more flexible attitude to time-keeping. These represent some of things that Japanese people living in the UK indeed find very different and in her case, mildly refreshing as she quotes, “I don’t want to live like a robot”. This is a sentiment shared by several longer-term Japanese residents here, who embrace the less structured side of society and enjoy the freedom that living outside of Japan brings.

However, it is not always easy moving outside of your cultural norms. Having worked with newly arrived Japanese ex-pats in the UK, facing certain British idiosyncracies in a business setting can cause problems ranging from annoyance, frustration, mis-comprehension, judgemental attitudes and in some cases, a complete rejection of a different culture. This is something I myself went through when living in Japan-bewilderment at why things were so different and no context of my own to compare it with. It is easy enough to become frustrated and cynical. Humour such as this is incredibly useful to break up these frustrations and promote understanding, which is an important part of successfully living in other cultures without going mad!

Through a simple 5 minute sketch, she shows two different cultural perspectives of everyday things as well as appealing to the British sense of humour through dry sarcasm and laughing at our own failings -I can’t wait to hear more from her! Listen at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p038n60h

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BBC Radio 4 Misunderstanding Japan: Contrasts and Complexities

Posted on 20 August 2015 in Cultural Awareness, Inter-Cultural Training, News -
midunderstanding japan

I recently spoke on a Radio 4 programme called “Misunderstanding Japan”, where I wanted to convey that Japan will naturally seem quirky and incomprehensible to people who have no understanding of its cultural context. People wanting to do business or engage with Japan need to understand the complexities of the cultural context to avoid misunderstandings. However, things are not always as they seem. At a recent UKTI seminar on Business Japanese for Beginners that I delivered to local businesses looking at working with Japan, we covered many interesting contrasts in Japan that can sometimes muddy the waters nad indeed revealed some interesting pre-conceptions. Some examples include:

  • The clutter of outdoor advertising and information vs the order and Zen like calm attributed to Japanese lifestyles
  • Hierarchical company structures vs an emphasis on a very Japanese style of consensus within decision making
  • The status and importance of Japanese business leaders vs their fairly anonymous presence in marketing campaigns/PR about the company (although this is changing with entrepreneurs such as Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani and Masayoshi Son)
  • The bureaucracy and seriousness of Japanese government institutions vs the cute mascots they take very seriously to promote them
  • The seemingly submissive role of women within one of the most masculine societies on earth vs the relative dominance of women within the home/ child rearing and control over finances.
  • The infantile behaviour and use of childish, cute objects on TV adverts/reality shows and the drunken fairly inhibition free after karaoke-session vs the conservative behaviour within traditional Japanese corporate life.
  • The immense need for detail contrasted with the indirect vagueness of Japanese oral communication
  • The garish packaging of the “kawaii” culture vs Japanese minimalism
  • Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, J pop idol- a grown woman who dresses and acts like a 10 year old vs kimono -clad, demure enka singers
  • The hidden emotions and public masks vs the immense emotional outpouring at national competitions and the general irony-free sentimentality of the Japanese
  • The sensuality and open acceptance of sexual desires and practices vs the low birth rate and reported lack of interest in sex amongst the younger generation.
  • The peace of a Japanese temple vs the onslaught of noise and announcements within Japanese everyday life.
  • The expectation of convenience and high levels of politeness & hospitality displayed in the service industry vs inefficiencies and a lack of flexibility within this industry
  • The high-tech nature of Japan and their use of the latest gadgets vs the fax machines still used in most Japanese offices and the emphasis on written communication.

The list could go on-do you have any more?

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