“Uchi – Soto”, the Japanese glass wall. — Highlights of “Moshi moshi, Japan”, 8 May 2015

Though many people like Japan, some of them notice that there may be a glass wall in the Japanese mind beyond which a non-Japanese may not go. Many people felt, “The Japanese are kind, but it looks like there is a limit in becoming friends with them.” Why? What is this feeling?

I presented a set of notions that helps to look at the Japanese mindset, “Uchi and Soto” and “Ura and Omote“.

Uchi-Soto, Ura-Omote
Uchi-Soto, Ura-Omote

The discussion went on based on experience of working with the Japanese in Japan or Switzerlans. Highlights are;

  • I was a president of a Japanese company and only foreigner. I had to be accepted and must understand various codes. For example, I had to be present on the first working day of the new year. I had to be aware of the feeling of employees by knowing the level of politeness (“Keigo”) in the language they talked to me.
  • I had to know the level of politeness in the language (“Keigo“). It was difficult for me but people didn’t talk to me in plain Japanese. Beer helped our communication.
  • I didn’t have a problem in communication in English with the Japanese business partners.
  • I was also the only non-Japanese in my ex-company. I felt I didn’t have to follow the invisible rules in the office. So I left the company at 7 PM everyday, instead of much later as my Japanese colleagues were doing. –> It is another side of “being outside (Soto)“. You were allowed to leave the office earlier because you were accepted as someone who was not a member of their community (Uchi).
  • It was important to have non-Japanese friends, when I worked for a Japanese company in Japan. In addition, I did Aikido to clean up the stress.
  • I didn’t feel a non-Japanese friends but didn’t have a problem. I became frieda with the Japanese people who were newly hired as I was.
  • In the Japanese office, all must behave in the same way. Being a manager and an only foreigner, I leaned that I had to manage in a Japanese way.
  • If you are the only foreigner in your company, it is important to take things as it is. That said, you may lose your sense of judging the people if you are too open-minded. You must keep your own value and make decision on your own, while accepting all around you.

Forthcoming meetings —

  • Date: Friday 19 June, 18:00 – , “What is it like for a French man to be a president of a company in Japan?”
  • Place: McDonald (1st Floor), 22, rue du Mont-Blanc, 1201 Geneva, 1 min from Cornavin station (New Place!)
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Author: Yoshiko KURISAKI (栗崎由子)

I am Yoshiko Kurisaki, Japanese, executive consultant specializing in cross-cultural management between Europe and Japan. Being based in Geneva, I travel between Europe and Japan. Culture may be a stop factor in business. That said, if you go beyond that, culture is a vaIuable source of inspirations and innovation. I help European businesses to turn cultural barriers to innovation.   栗崎由子(くりさき よしこ)、ダイバーシティ マネジメント コンサルタント。二十余年間欧州の国際ビジネスのまっただ中で仕事をしてきました。その経験を生かし、日欧企業むけにビジネスにひそむ異文化間コミュニケーションギャップを解消し、国籍、文化、性別など人々の違いを資源に変えることのできるマインドセットを育てるための研修やコンサルティングを行なっています。文化の違いは”面倒なこと”ではなく新しい価値を生み出す源泉です。日本人の良さを国際ビジネスに生かしながら、違いを資源に変えて価値を創造しましょう。ジュネーブ在住で、日本とスイスを往復しています。

2 thoughts on ““Uchi – Soto”, the Japanese glass wall. — Highlights of “Moshi moshi, Japan”, 8 May 2015”

  1. This is an interesting post, thank you for sharing these insights. I particularly like how you mention both the need to fit in and adjust your approach to the Japanese way (such as management style), as well as being able to maintain some non-Japanese ways (such as leaving [relatively] early).

  2. Dear 36viewsofblackmountain,
    Thank you very much for your thoughts. It’s interesting to know how the Western people reconcile between their own self and the Japanese group culture, which often requires to put the individual self behind the group values and objectives.

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