Elected to Japan Society of the UK Board of Trustees

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Elected to Japan Society of the UK Board of Trustees

Posted on 28 June 2016 in News, Uncategorized -
The Japan Society Logo

I am proud to have been asked to serve as a Trustee on the Board of the Japan Society in the UK-the leading independent body in the UK dedicated to the enhancement of the British-Japanese relationship- to represent my activities within Japan UK business and also as Chair of JETAA UK. I am also honoured to have been elected at such an important time for raising understanding and trust between our two countries post Brexit. Never has it been more important for us to re-build the trust and make this relationship between our 2 countries stronger.

I was also pleased to have been involved  in gathering stories for the chapter on the JET Programme for the recently published book “Britain and Japan-Biographical Portraits” compiled and edited by Hugh Cortazzi and I attended the launch of this book after the AGM.

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Symposium:In The Wake of Japan’s Nuclear Tsunami. The University of Sheffield

Posted on 25 April 2016 in News, Uncategorized -

I was asked to make some opening remarks for this Symposium held at Sheffield University on how the Tsunami had affected me personally, as it had prompted me to get back in touch with Japan, get involved with JETAAUK and ultimately start up my own business relating to Japan. I also spoke about how it was viewed by the rest of the world by bringing in observations from people I have spoken to with no knowledge of Japanese society-how they viewed the Japanese people’s  reaction to a crisis, the behaviour of whom was viewed as quite unusual such as the relative law and order and resilience that was still evident even in a time of crisis. I referenced the somewhat fatalistic Japanese spirit of “gamman” meaning to persevere or stick with it, something that people from more individualistic cultures find hard to understand let alone practise. Although there are negative sides to this mentality sometimes resulting in a tendency to not complain and put up with things that are not acceptable at all to avoid the shame of being seen to not being able to practise “gamman”, it did show the world the indomitable spirit of Japan that has stuck with many observers.

At this symposium, we also got to hear from fantastic PhD students who were doing research in areas that linked into the topic such as the nuclear debate and the planning of playgrounds in the affected areas to support the children. Some of the staff from the University are directly involved in implementing these play areas and the clean up of the Nuclear Plant in Fukushima. We also heard from Japanese representatives from Mitsubishi Research Institute and the University of Tokyo about the rehabilitation efforts that are still on-going in these areas.

 

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Brexit and Misunderstanding of Japanese Business Values

Posted on 18 February 2016 in Cultural Awareness, Japanese Corporate Culture, Market Insight, News, Uncategorized -
Brexit

David Cameron recently urged non-British leaders of major companies in the UK to support his opposition to a Brexit by implying they would take their business elsewhere should the UK leave the EU. However, both Toyota subsequently said they would not reconsider their investment should that happen. This was reported in a recent article in the FT as a ‘blow’ to his campaign and incorrectly used as an implication of their support of a Brexit.
Apparently Mr Cameron wasn’t listening at the Hitachi Rail Opening Ceremony in Newton Aycliffe last year when Hitachi CEO Hiroaki Nakanishi announced that they were there to stay and both him and the Japanese Ambassador spoke of historical ties between Japan and UK concerning train manufacturing. (See my blog about this event) This sense of commitment is one particular aspect of doing business with the Japanese that comes from a corporate culture that values long-term relationships, obligations and loyalty over quick profits. Resulting disparities between these values and those of a globalising world have forced change in many areas for Japan, some of which were inevitable such as the shedding of less profitable products of companies and an openness to competition as opposed to supplier/brand loyalty. Such co-operative values are not particularly valued nor are they very effective in western societies where short-term profits and logic prevail. However, these values still remain very much part of Japanese business culture and generally mean that a contract with a Japanese firm, however painstakingly long and arduous it is to forge, is, by western terms, something you can rely upon unless you do something unforgivable.
I am also not suggesting that the Japanese businesses in the UK will stubbornly stay here regardless in the case of a Brexit if it means they will lose profitability or access to vital supply chains. They have shown in the past they will pull out when things go irreparably wrong. Let’s hope it does not come to that. However, it is naïve to expect Japanese bosses of major Japanese companies that have been in the UK for many years, have historical and emotional connections to them and have built communities around them or even more so one that has committed to basing their global HQ for train manufacturing here to publicly deny the values which underpinned that investment in the first place, even if it would further an aim that most Japanese businesses in the UK support- the UK staying in the EU. You only have to consider the Japanese values of honne (real feelings) versus tatamae (public feelings) and face-saving alongside the above mentioned sense of obligation & commitment to understand why this would not be a comfortable situation.
Japan is one of the major inward investors in the UK and has shown immense commitment to R &D, training and education, job creation and community involvement here. I often feel that this long-termism is not always recognised nor appreciated and in this case has been used for political posturing.

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Is Japan the Land of Convenience and Politeness?

Posted on 9 November 2015 in Cultural Awareness, Satogaeri (Hometown) Project, Uncategorized -

On first glance, Japan still appears as the land of convenience and politeness, making it a fabulous if yet somewhat surreal experience for the first time visitor, especially if you are unused to high levels of hospitality and customer service. If you want a banana, there is a vending machine for that. On the metro, the intricate signs tell you in exact metres how far it is to walk to some of the different lines (believe me it’s far) and there are still station guards dressed in full uniform with white gloves waving off trains and directing people around minor construction works apologising to the passers-by for the inconvenience.  My hotel owner at 7am this morning phoned up local courier who collected my bags and delivered them to another hotel on the same day for the grand total of £20.

Unsurprisingly, it can be very seductive and somewhat misleading to assume that all Japanese people are more polite and nicer than the rest of us. Their group orientated society demands certain behaviours to make sure it all ticks along nicely and people are aware of their effect on others. As a result, rituals and rules dominate. Everywhere you turn, there is a sign telling you what to do and how to do it and generally, this is respected. In effect, this is the pay back for a still highly functioning society where people generally do as they are expected to do. I have experienced the long-term effects on this as a non-Japanese living in Japan as it is not always a positive thing for someone from a more individualised society to adapt to when the politeness and rule following can result in inflexibility and prevents a depth of human connection.

In the world of fast paced business, some of these rules seem never to be questioned and can obfuscate and cause frustrations, especially for the non-Japanese, who are unaware of their roles in maintaining the status quo. However, for this trip I am completely happy to follow the rules and enjoy the ensuing harmony and politeness. Having recently experienced such poor levels of service in the UK, I can never get enough of being profusely bowed at and thanked when I come in and out of a shop and can have all my purchases wrapped beautifully without having to remember my ‘bags for life’!

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