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How to read Japan in business

  • Date : Thursday 6th of November 2014 from 08:00 to 10:30
  • Lieu : CCIG, bd du Théâtre 4, Geneva
  • Organisation : CCIG in collaboration with the Europe-Japan Dynamics and Vdf Coaching and Cultures

Do you want to know how to kick-start your business with Japan ?

The year 2014 commemorates the 150th anniversary of the beginning of official relations between Switzerland and Japan, 1864 – 2014. The CCIG in collaboration with the Europe-Japan Dynamics and Vdf Coaching and Cultures.is seizing this opportunity to organise a seminar exploring the embedded role of Japanese culture in business.

The intercultural concept needs to be fully understood and implemented in doing business with Japan, as the cultural gap between Switzerland and Japan is unimaginably wide.

75% of all international ventures do not achieve the expected results due to cultural issues.” KPMG, 2009.

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Crossing the culture gap

Through a presentation and exercises, you will learn how to go beyond your own mental and cultural programming to work better with your international business partners. The seminar will highlight the essential importance of cultural differences in business, lay out a set of values underlying the Japanese business culture, and guide you towards the right entrance into understanding how to do business with Japan. At the end of the seminar, you will better understand the reasons why Japan looks so unique and why the country appears so complex when seen from the point of view of a European set of values. You will be at ease with “How to read Japan” !

For registration — Click here

Do you know an invisible trap in doing business with Japan?

In appearance, Japan is not different from Europe; modern buildings, fancy cars and people dressed like Europeans. In reality at work, however, the country is very different.

What have Swiss business people learnt from their experience with Japan? Europe-Japan Dynamics interviewed fourteen (14) Swiss business people who had the first-hand business experience with the country.

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Tokyo Station (The south entrance)

Tokyo Station (The south entrance)

Overall, all the people interviewed like the Japanese as business partners and in a personal relationship. All think the Japanese reliable, polite, engaged and respectful to others. Many experts appreciated a long-term approach taken by the Japanese as this attitude creates better values in business.

That said, all the experts said that communication and a long time needed in decision-making had been considerably large challenges. Challenges in communication go beyond language issues. Even though both Swiss and Japanese speak good English, Swiss business people were puzzled by the Japanese reaction, as typically expressed by one manager, “I was often not sure if my Japanese business partners understood me.” It often takes a few years for Swiss people to understand how to interpret the Japanese “Yes” in the Japanese business cultural context.

"Ringi sho" - An important process in Japanese decision-making

“Ringi sho” – An important process in Japanese decision-making

A Japanese way of decision-making is another big challenge. The Japanese spend a long time in Swiss standard to reach a conclusion, and it is difficult for the Swiss to find who the decision-maker is.

Swiss business people see a good point in the Japanese decision-making, though. “The strength of Japan is that once agreed, the decision is firm and all the people work exactly as decided”, one interviewee said.

Despite these challenges, many Swiss companies are running successful business with Japan. They have learned through experience many clues for success. For example, it is important to ensure mutual understanding by asking questions step by step, and follow up on important matters. Soft and informal communication is “Must”. Some went out for a drink after work to discuss business matters with his Japanese clients. Or, some other played golf with Japanese business partners in weekends. Yet other visited museums or travelled outside Tokyo in weekends to better understand the country.

The study found that the common success factors are; to respect and accept different values, as one interviewee said, “Japan has its own way of doing things”, to be extremely patient, and to build the mutual trust before pushing business. The interviewees emphasised large advantages of doing business in the Japanese language, or at least, to work with a Japanese person who knows business. The centre of the matter is business culture, more than a language. Understanding the culture and value-set embedded in business is critical, even though it is not as visible as other concrete business matters as finance, products, R&D, or sales & marketing.

Last but not the least, human resource factors are far from negligible. Having a cultural competence is essential to do business with Japan. Underestimating the importance of cultural management in business may cost much.

About the study — From April to July 2014, Europe-Japan Dynamics interviewed fourteen (14) Swiss business people who had first hand experience with Japan. Their industries varied, including legal, financial and human resource services, pharmaceutical, academic and luxury goods sectors. The author is very thankful to the 14 people who were willing to spare time and thoughts for the study.

For a free copy of the synthesis or consultation on your business issues with Japan, please call or write to –

Yoshiko KURISAKI (Ms), Director, Europe-Japan Dynamics

Tel. +41 (0) 76 411 6076, E-mail yoshiko.kurisaki@gmail.com

Ten hotels in a tag and delivery without mistake

Ten hotels in a tag and delivery without mistake

The Japanese Art is the finest in the world and so is the service, including luggage handling by the airport limousine.

Arriving from Europe at Narita International Airport, Susan was surprised at the tag attached to her luggage at the bus stop of the airport limousine. It was her first business travel to Japan. (The luggage may look funny but it’s for her business travel.) A man at the stop asked her hotel, and marked a green circle on the name printed to the tag. On the tag, the names of the ten hotels are neatly listed and printed (see photo). These are the hotels at which the bus will stop by along the way in downtown Tokyo.

When the bus arrived at the hotel, Susan’s luggage was taken out without mistake. If it were some other countries, which may include some in Europe, Susan would have had to keep her eyes on her luggage to make sure that it would be taken off at the right hotel. In Japan, Susan had nothing to worry about.

It may be a small experience but gave a strong impression to Susan to understand how much attention is paid to the detail and the Japanese standard of the perfect service.

It is said that the Japanese works in a group. What does that mean to you? There is always a risk to take a simple statement on one culture such as this word by word. The statement could help you if you interpret it in each case you may encounter. A simple statement may not help if you interpret it in your own cultural context alone. Nancy recently had an experience to understand what “the Japanese works in a group” could mean to her.

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Financial District in Geneva

Nancy works for a large travel agency in Switzerland. She is in charge of business travels of large accounts. Her company has travel, and event & entertainment logistic departments. Nancy belongs to the travel department.

One day, she asked me, “Yoshiko, why does my Japanese customer always put me in copy of his messages for the subject which I’m not involved in? I know him well as I take care of his business travels, but this is too much. ” “What happened, Nancy?” “He asked me a few months ago if my company could organise an important event for his company. I introduced my colleague, Ingrid, who works for the event & entertainment department. Mr. Suzuki, my customer, and Ingrid started discussion on the event. That is fine. My problem is that he always puts me in copy of his e-mails! I don’t need to be informed on the ongoing discussions. It’s Ingrid who is in charge of the event logistics, not me. I can’t help him.”

I’d understand why Mr. Suzuki always puts Nancy in copy. He trusts Nancy as she has been helpful for him, whereas Ingrid is new to him. He most probably thinks that Nancy should be in the communication loop on his discussions with Ingrid. In his eyes, Nancy introduced Ingrid to him. Therefore if he gets some problem in organizing the event logistics, he’d ask Nancy to help.

Mr. Suzuki’s behavior is popular in Japan. People share tasks in the workplace in Japan. Each person has his/her assignment but the boundaries of responsibilities are not always clear-cut. People work by sharing responsibilities. The decision-making is largely based on consensus, rather than on decision by one person who is delegated some levels of responsibility. Under such circumstances, it is not unusual that four or five or even more people are in copy of e-mails exchanged on one subject. If someone is missed out from the loop, he/she would be upset. People are comfortable to be kept in copy, even though the subject matter may be only marginally relevant to them.

In such a work culture, it is safe to keep all the people informed, even some may only be remotely involved. For Nancy, it is on the contrary. Boundaries of responsibilities are clear in Europe, or at least clearer than Japan. In her eyes, the event support for Mr. Suzuki is solely under responsibility of Ingrid. Nancy does not need to know what’s going on with it or can’t help Mr. Suzuki in her position.

That said, Nancy’s emotional intelligence tells her that Mr. Suzuki wants to keep her in copy. “It’s OK”, she thought. She just let the e-mail exchange going without stepping in the discussion.

A few months later, Nancy went to the airport to see-off Mr. Suzuki, who was leaving Switzerland to assume a new position back in Tokyo. Being a travel agent, Nancy usually doesn’t do the same for other customers. When I asked why she did it, Nancy said, “When Mr. Suzuki had advised me that he was going back to Japan, I read his mind. He wanted me to say ‘Thank you and good bye’ at the airport. He was a good customer, so I thought it’s OK, I’ll do. ” Nancy well assessed her customer’s mind-set! Assessing what’s in other person’s mind is very important in communication with the Japanese.

True, Muriel wrote, “Please just come with empty hands”.

I did read this in the invitation for tea at her home. Then I immediately started thinking of a nice gift that would please Muriel.

On the day of the tea, I brought her a bouquet of tulips grown in a farm house near my home. I like them as they are always cut in the morning and full of fresh energy. It was my pleasure to bring the tulips to thank to her.

The tea started with a warm welcome by Muriel and her husband, Ted. They were happy with the tulips and I was happy to see them happy.

When Muriel left to the kitchen, Ted whispered to me, “Yoshiko, when we say, ‘Please come with empty hands’, it is the warmest expression of welcoming friends. We mean it. “

I was almost startled!

I’ have realized that what I did goes against their kindness!

Muriel and Ted were kind and open-minded to understand my thankfulness. We enjoyed the tea and an apple pie baked by Ted in a sunny salon.

Three days later, I received from Muriel and Ted a photograph of the tulips happily placed in their sunny living room.

 

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Tulips that crossed two cultures.

Lesson 1

I interpreted “Please just come with empty hands” in a Japanese way. In Japan, you are uncivilized if you go to your friend’s home without anything, even though your friend may say so in her/his invitation. In Japanese culture, always think what it is meant by words.

Lesson 2

It is safe and would even please your Japanese friends to bring some small gift, when you are invited. They may tell you beforehand, “Please just come with empty hands”. Do not take it as the words say. Words need to be understood in the Japanese cultural context. They may not expect a nice gift, but it is safe and even better to bring some small gift to express your thankfulness.

 

 

 

 

 

The 84th Geneva International Motor Show was a good opportunity to discover a number of “what’s new”. I’m not particularly a car lover but the show offered many things that satisfied my curiosity.

Please share with me my picks of the day.

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View of Hall4, that hosted major Japanese brands.

1. Electric cars, Audi

I saw for the first time a car that receives the power source from its front nose (photos below). In the car, batteries are laid out under your feet. This signals that the shift of the power source of the car will change its design, structure, drivers’ habit to charge energy, location of energy supply, knowledge needed for garages, and more.

Taking the power source from the front.

Taking the power source from the front.

Loaded with batteries.

Loaded with batteries.

2. Autonomous drive – A half-way through to a robot, Nissan

It’s a dream!

Your car drives itself for you (Photos below). Moreover, the car controls its own movement and position in relation to other cars on the road to ensure the safety.

And this dream is under development in Nissan in Japan.  Market launch is planned in 2020, a bit far from now but it’s OK.

The secrets are a number of small cameras and sensors attached to the car. These are the sources of the car’s intelligence. It’s a robot that moves autonomously, rather than a vehicle operated by huma beings.

Autonomous drive, a near robot car.

Autonomous drive, a near robot car.

A car with sensors and cameras.

A car with sensors and cameras.

3. Home charger, Toyota Prius

That is true! We request CO2 free cars. We welcome electric and hybrid cars as a solution. Our society however must install power supply infrastructure that feed those eco-cars. It’s a big task that requires time & investment.

Toyota’s solution is the “Home charger”, which allows you to supply electricity to your car at home. “Home charger” is sold in a package with Prius.

Home charger packaged with Prius (Toyota).

Home charger packaged with Prius (Toyota).

4. Wheel chair access to the stands, Nissan and Honda

Last but not the least, as far as I saw, only Nissan and Honda’s stands were designed to facilitate visitors on the wheel chair and families with baby buggies. Slopes to step in the exhibition space are sign posted with a wheel chair symbol.

Bravo for attention to diversity of customers!

Nissan. A slope and signpost.

Nissan. A slope and signpost.

Honda. A slope is also prepared and sign posted.

Honda. A slope is also prepared and sign posted.

Author’s pick of the day! = Autonomous Drive, Nissan

Special Prize for customer focus =  Nissan and Honda for slopes for wheel chairs

I’m Japanese and live in Europe for 20+ years. Throughout these years, I worked in an international environment, in business, volunteer activities and off-time.

I sometimes feel Europe and Japan are far from each other. Not only due to the geographical distance, but more importantly people on both sides don’t know each other very well yet, at least. Yes, we have the Internet, Wikipedia, we travel over the globe, but still … something is missing.

I am lucky to have trained eyes to see Europe from Japanese eyes and Japan from European ones. My multifunctional eyes are well trained through variety of experiences piled up day by day in the past over twenty years.

Europe is full of interesting, sometimes funny, interfaces with Japan.

Why don’t I share with you, who are as curious as I am, these interesting topics caught by my Japanese eyes in Europe?

Please enjoy!

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I am a great fan of the municipal library of City of Geneva. The library provides luxury space for endless intellectual interests with quiet study rooms equipped with free wifi. It well represents Swiss devotion to the cultural support for citizens.

That said, I was shocked this week when I opened a booklet prepared by the library. The booklet lists a number of books and DVDs to suggest for future travelers to the countries of Asia and Oceania. The information is well sorted out per country, starting from A — Afghanistan.

For the cover page of the section of Japan, three photos are placed; “Geisha”, “Tokyo by night” and “Mount Fuji” (see the photo below).

What? Geisha and Mount Fuji? Do they represent Japan?

OK for “Tokyo by night”.  Central areas of Tokyo looks like the photo, but I have reservation for the rest of the two.

Mount Fuji was listed as the World Heritage by UNESCO in 2013. In this sense, one can say that a beautiful view of the mountain may symbolizes Japan. The photograph used for the booklet, however, is strange. The mountain is with a temple colored in red. It is obviously an artificial image, that doesn’t exist in reality. It is an old fashioned and stereo type image of Fuji an Japan. The modern appearance of the Mount Fuji would be largely different.

What surprised me more is “Geisha”.

First of all, I’d say that the photograph looks like “Maiko”, not “Geisha”. “Maiko” is a trainee of “Geisha”, and these are two distinctly different status of women entertainers.

More importantly, “Geisha” is a product of a feudal era when women’s human rights were completely neglected. When rich men were having parties with “Geisha”, their wives stayed at home looking after children and housework.

“Geisha” women carried out difficult lives. Usually, they were “sold” by their parents when very young to the houses that keeps “Geisha”, that lease women for parties. These girls were often from poor families in rural Japan, and sold to those houses. They had to work hard as entertainers to pay back the large debt to the houses.

Knowing the history of Japanese women, I’m not comfortable to see Geisha’s photograph as a symbol of Japan. Though their status has largely been changed in the modern society, and they don’t work to pay back debts any more, majority of Japanese women are not Geisha.

Geisha and Fujiyama -- Still a stereotype  of Japan?

Geisha and Fujiyama — Still a stereotype of Japan?

What I saw here is the fact that Japan is not known, even to public libraries, where plenty of knowledge is kept. There must be an extreme short of information about Japan in Europe. It’s pity because there is plenty of interesting things to know, to see and to do in Japan.

I wish to bridge between Europe and Japan. Hence I started a series of blog postings.

PS. if you’d be interested in real life of Japanese women in the modern history, I’d suggest to know a story of “The Gift from Beate”, a documentary film.

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