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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Has Japan Changed?

Posted on 9 March 2014 in Inter-Cultural Training, Market Insight, womenomics -
Yanaka, Tokyo

After 16 years away from Japan, I recently returned on business to Yokohama and Tokyo and the question everyone was asking is: has it changed a lot? My answer would be yes and no. No, because on the surface the same levels of politeness are still evident in the service industry including uniformed subway staff ushering everyone through the station and apologising to everyone about disruptions at the station, overly attentive service and packaging still very evident in department stores with store managers greeting shoppers upon the opening of stores and female lift attendants directing and helping people plus there is the same high level of convenience including ice-cream vending machines now! The “kawaii” culture is still influencing products and advertisements and some British companies have embraced this too (I will blog about this separately).

Kawaii goods on sale on Ginza. popular amongst older generation too

Ice cream vending machine on subway


Yes things have changed in a sense of  there being more altruistic activities: people on the streets campaigning about anti-nuclear, collecting for Tohoku and dogs for the blind. There was a lot more evidence of homelessness and poverty out in daily life. With all the talk of Abenomics, it was interesting to see whether any of his policies had caused visible changes. Let’s start with globalisation: English was used a lot more than when I was last there (polite notices on the subway asking people to use their manners, people trying it out with me) although still lots of senseless English around advertising Japanese products that I think we have to accept is a feature of their relationship with the English language and doesn’t seem to bother the target audience. Think Pocari Sweat and Vanilla Air as big name brands and you will see where I am coming from.

Enjoy your life! Enjoy your inner style, your socks & your inner & your homewear style

Enjoy your life! Enjoy your inner style, your socks & your inner & your homewear style

There was a lot more katakanisation of words (foreign words adapted into the Japanese language) and also lots more foreign faces dotted around although I still caused a group of High School boys to giggle nervously and say “hello” to me in Yokohama-nice ego boost for me admittedly.

Next up: Womenomics and child care issues. I spoke to a few women in Tokyo still struggling with this and finding it almost impossible to get places at their local state funded centre-one who wants to go back to work as a nurse has since got a place although the only option is full time. I also spoke to women about the stringent work hours expected and lack of flexible working hours within Japanese companies even for women with children and the Chairwoman of a governmental organisation said she had often come across counterparts asking her when the Chair was about to arrive, mistaking her for someone of lesser status. Encouragingly though, Nomura Bank has just appointed its first female head.

Emerging markets: I visited a Smart Week Expo (I will be writing on this for Cambridge Clean Tech next month) and there was certainly a massive interest in this area from all parts of the globe-Caroline Kennedy opened the Expo! I have never seen so many booths and prototypes of wind turbines!

All in all it was a positive re-affirmation of my love for Japan and confirmation that there are still many cultural differences but Japan is still resilient. Please feel free to contact me about this blog or any other aspect of doing business in Japan.



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