It’s hard. Sometime, you think you knew something but later find out your knowledge was based on false assumption. And then sometimes someone tells you different story than what you thought to be true, and you become doubtful of what you know, and maybe go along with the different story. But later, it turns out you find out you were right and the other person wasn’t.
My 9-year old was looking around in the kitchen for a bigger glass for drinking grape juice. I started to hand him the bigger glass of the same design. Then my mother-in-law said from the dining room, oh, it holds exact same amount. I stopped short. What? But it’s exactly same design, and obviously bigger. She said, I compared how much each holds one day, and they were exactly the same. Wow! She must be right, I thought.
It turns out she was talking about different glasses, not those ones with the same design. This reminded me of Richard Feynmen’s story in Feyman’s Rainbow. When he was a graduate student at Princeton, he met a painter. A professional painter. When the painter said mixing red and white produced yellow, Feynman thought, it can’t be. But then again the guy was a professional painter, so Feynman gave what he know a benefit of a doubt, and visited the painter’s job site to watch him mix red and white paints to produce yellow. The mixture resulted in pink.
Doing business in Japan is like that. It could be some consultants telling you things are different in Japan. Things are indeed different between Japan and other countries, but if you have been good at observation and developing lasting, trusting relationship with people in your own country, chances are very good that you can do so in Japan too. It’s hard. Giving the other person chance to prove himself is good attitude, but in business, especially international business, you’ve got to know whether is the proof is valid in your particular case.