Gifts at a private invitation — Hidden gaps you may not notice, Business communications between Europe and Japan (4)

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.


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.






Japanese eyes in Europe (2) — Author’s pick at the Geneva Motor Show 2014

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.

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

Japanese eyes in Europe (1) — Geisha?!

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!


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.