Creating workplace at foreign companies in Japan

Workplace consulting in India was easy for me. We communicated. People were willing to openly discuss their point of view, as well as willing to listen to other people’s perspective.

In Japan, it is different. Many people working for foreign companies who can not speak the headquarter’s language, with the case of my projects, English, generally wants to say as little as possible, yet many wants to do things their own way.

A lot of them are embarreced about their limited capacity of English, and do not want to make a fool out of themselves in front of someone else.

But for what price! Because they don’t speak out, the HQ people or visiting managers think that Japan local staff agrees with what they say, but in reality it isn’t so, and problem never ceaces to come up later.

How do we resolve this problem, the very heart of communication problem between Japan office and the HQ?

4 thoughts on “Creating workplace at foreign companies in Japan”

  1. Jan ken poi! That’s the BEST way to solve communication problems! (great series of pictures!).

    Just joking…

    Perhaps just the fact that you are asking the question points to the heart of the problem of communication in Japan. Too often people in Japan percieve everything as “US and “THEM”, as if people in other countries or cultures are inherently different from the Japanese. There are even special terms which provoke the differences, like “Wareware nihon-jin, or even the implied difference in attitude when speaking either “Nihon” or “Nippon”. For any non=Japanese who can understand the nuances between such words, immediately a barrier is erected, which causes non-Japanese to get defensive and causes the Japanese to back away an keep quiet.

    While it is understandable that Japan, historically, has only just entered the dialogue with the entire world. compared with cultures like India or England or America, which have been interacting with peoples around the world for centuries, there is also something in the Japanese people themselves that prevents them from learning how to open up. Part of it is modesty (though at times a false modesty) and part of it is simply fear.

    Japanese need to get out of the country more and interact with other people, from when they are young (like you did). This doesn’t mean traveling to Italy to go shopping; that is only a fabricated impression of what Italy or other places are about. Japanese need to talk with and befriend non-Japanese so they can understand intrinsically and viscerally who and what people in other places are. Reading about them in books or pretending to understand another culture simply by its food or music does nothing to help people actually learn how to communicate. That can only be done by actually talking to other people and learning not to be afraid of them. Being afraid grows out of ignorance and it is this lack of understanding on the Japanese part that makes them afraid.


  2. PS…I also wanted to say, however, that on the whole, Japanese make FAR greater effort to understand and relate to people in the rest of the world than, let’s say Americans do. Just the fact that Americans in international companies here in Japan nearly always expect their Japanese employees to speak English, but almost never make an effort to learn Japanese shows very clearly just how self-centered these people are. You would think that managers in America would require their Japan-based American workers to learn Japanese, if simply for better company productivity, but no, almost all my Japanese students in my classes complain about how hard it is for them to communicate with their American counterparts because everything has to be done in English. How stupid and unfair of the Americans.


  3. Hi Fujiko… I’ve been feeling bad about my last comment, saying such strong words to you about Americans. I don’t know, though I don’t hate Americans, I am very angry these days at a lot of them. Just before I posted my comment to you I had been trying to find news on TV about the demonstrations in England… but found almost nothing. More time was spent on the trial of Michael Jackson. It’s one of the biggest world events, very important, but somehow the American media manages to control what we see (influencing organizations like NHK, of course). It is very disheartening.

    Anyway, I am sorry if I have offended you. I just have strong views sometimes. I don’t mean any harm.

    Hope you are having a nice weekend (^J^)v


  4. Wow, Miguel, three thorough comments in a row! I appreciate the time you take to communicate your views with me!

    Don’t worry. I am not offended. It’s kind of you to explain your thoughts. As for your comments on Americans, I know how some of them can be, especially when these people end up in Asia. Somehow, some people gets confused about their own achievements and someone else’s achievements. McDonalds, Starbucks, Gap, Nike, a whole slew of them are successful globally now, because some Americans gave great efforts to do what they believed in, and work for success were carried out by many talented hard working people. Somehow, some Americans act like it was they who did it all.

    I see such traits in some people working for well known brand companies too.

    You mentioned that it would help a lot of Japanese if they talk and be-friend non-Japanese. I think the same applies to Americans too. Good percentage of them never travelled outside of US, never talking or be-firending non-Americans. I should know. After living in US consecutively for 18-years, I was so Americanized, I never felt the need to travel outside of US. I never had the desire to talk to non-Americans. Actually, if my job didn’t require me to work with German, Dutch, British, Thai, Australian, Indian in very intimate way, I don’t think it would ever occured to me that I would need to even think about other culture and the state of the world.

    So actually, I was an epitome of “stupid and unfair American” to many Japanese I was working with for many years. Now that I am a bit more educated, maybe I should think about what all this means.

    Great food for thought! Thanks, Miguel!


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