2014 The year of the Horse-Openness and Decisiveness

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2014 The year of the Horse-Openness and Decisiveness

Posted on 21 December 2014 in Cultural Awareness, Market Insight, womenomics -

Interestingly, the Horse in the Japanese Zodiac represents openness and decisiveness-characteristics that have been attributed to Abe in his leadership and the resulting debates and discussions from reforms promised through Abenomics.

Japan’s history of frequently changing Prime Ministers was humorously referenced in speeches given by Ambassador Hayashi and William Hague at the Emperor’s Birthday reception. As forecasted, the year ended with Abe being voted back into power giving Japan more political stability and the subtle implication that Japan Inc. will now instinctively support Abe’s reforms for the economy.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Abe has certainly displayed a decisiveness seen as unusual compared to previous leaders and his policies have certainly opened up debates and opinions whether that is on women, defence or energy. This year also saw Abe embark upon an impressive global meet and greet with world leaders-he even met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, hopefully signalling the opening of a diplomatic relationship, that has been strained to say the least.

Womenomics has also received more attention in Japan and in the world’s media this year. With one of the fastest ageing and decreasing populations in the world, encouraging women to work-not just in managerial positions in which they are woefully under-represented-but to find work that is supportive of their lifestyles, is now a fundamental, economic necessity. Even incidents such as the sexist taunting in Parliament one woman received and the unfortunate rise of “mata hara” (maternity harassment) are pre-empting a realisation that Japan still has very culturally ingrained cultural attitudes to women and work and are thus bringing it more into the open arena of discussion.

Next year is the year of the Sheep, representing “peace” and “security”. On this note, I wish the people of Japan and everyone I have worked with this year a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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Adapting to Cultural Differences-Abe’s Visit to the UK and Australia

Posted on 25 July 2014 in Cultural Awareness -

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.

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