Saturday, September 22, 2012

Visits from the Overlords

I've been working in the Japanese subsidiary of a foreign company now for almost ten years. During this time I've quit often had visitors from global functions in the head office come visit us in Japan for various purposes. Most of the time customer visits are scheduled for these visits. Taking non-Japanese people from global functions to visit customers can be an interesting and sometimes terrifying experience, all depending on how Japan experienced and/or culturally sensitive the person is. 

Although I could generalise the ease in terms of country of origin of the visitor, based on my experience, the most critical point is the personality and attitude of the visitor. Some people are overly concerned about adhering to Japanese business etiquette, having devoured books about the "do's" and "don't do's" before their visits, usually resulting in awkwardness as the person is trying too hard to bow just the right angle, trying to mimic the way Japanese hand over business cards only to get it wrong (wrong side towards speaking partner is a common mistake). I've even met people who, before their visit, have had business cards in faulty Japanese printed (usually resulting in giggles)...

Generally, most Japanese customers welcome visitors from the head office,some because they find it fun or interesting to meet foreigners, some because they realise that the people from the head office are our (i.e. Japanese subsidiary) overlords with deeper pockets and the power to start projects that could benefit them. Very rarely does a customer decline a request from us to set up a meeting/visit and sometimes it can be actively demanded from us. However, from the local subsidiary perspective it can sometimes create problems...

For your education and possible amusement, I've here compiled profiles over the most difficult visitors.

1. The Over-Enthusiastic Promise Giver

These guys/gals are usually really excited about being in Japan, meet our customers and can't wait to work with them. Their intent is usually very good but problems can come when they start to promise A) Stuff that the Japan team are not able to deliver on (budget or legal restraints) or B) Stuff that they have not properly secured in HQ and later casually cancel via an e-mail to us... These guys/gals don't realise that promises are not given casually in Japan and can cause us significant distress and efforts in cleaning up afterwards and trying to find ways to compensate the customer for the disappointment and problems caused by the broken promise(s).

2. The Japan "Veteran"

These guys are thankfully few and in-between but I have encountered these on occasion, almost always in senior management positions. This type has visited Japan countless times and believe that they know exactly what they're doing and have no need to learn anything more. This type is often loud and abrasive towards the customer (even though they dial it down a little compared to their domestic attitude). Some of these are so confident in their cultural proficiency that they sprinkle in Japanese words and use "-san" as a suffix to names, but fail to use it the appropriate way... In the best case they are merely considered as "odd".

3. The "Just-like-home" Guy/Gal

This group of people is relatively common. Although the above type 1 might have been trying a little too hard in understanding Japanese business culture, this character has not been trying at all. If anything, he/she does not understand why things cannot be done exactly like home. Although slightly annoying, they usually do not cause any huge problems as the customers might not understand what the person is going on about but chalks all breaches of etiquette up to "I guess that's how he/she does it at home". In terms of fallout, it's usually quite easily managed by an additional visit from the Japanese team to explain what the person actually meant and then things can continue as usual.

The people that I find easiest to bring to Japanese customers are those who don't try too hard. Of course, being nonchalant, slouching in the chair etc. is a big no-no, but people who smile, listen to the other person speaking and behaving calmly and friendly are easy to bring t customers and hardly ever create any problems.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Down in the Cave

Again, sorry about the lack of posting and commenting on people's blogs, a combination of business at work, busy at home with the small kids and the return of the summer heat keep my energy pretty low...

While walking home from the train today I had my iPod on, listening to an old playlist and the song Nine While Nine by the Sisters of Mercy started playing. Although I hold the song as one of the best songs ever made it's so firmly implanted in my mind that I rarely feel like I need to listen to it.

It made me recall a hot summer night close to 15 years ago when I was visiting Tokyo with a bunch of friends and a late night in the Shinjuku Kabukicho me and my buddy Henrik found a hole in the wall place that we thought seemed interesting due to the post-punk music band posters plastered around the entrance. The place was called "The Cave" if I'm not mistaken. My buddy was a guitar based indie music kinda guy while I was more of an EBM-head (Industrial music) but we had a common ground in that we both liked the classic old school goth bands.

The place was empty except for the bartender managing the place and was literally only 5 or so seats at the bar counter. The drinks were expensive as we were students, but for some reason this night we didn't care that much. The bartender handed us a book with a huge list of the songs she had on CD so we could pick which ones she should play. I remember me picking Nine While Nine and both of us agreeing that it was the best song ever made, we spent over 2 hours there drinking and going through Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxe and the Banshees and other post-punk goth bands although I remember some debate erupting as to whether the Fields of the Nephilim was good or not (me arguing for, him against).

Nothing particularly exciting or interesting happened that night, no girls, no strange encounters, just us listening to the music and talking; mostly about the music. Still, for some reason it's one of the nights out in Tokyo I remember the best. Good times.  

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Involuntary Education

The choreography was probably from an app
There is a certain type of mother that is infamous here in Japan; the "Education Mom" (教育ママ). The Education Mom's are known for their extreme focus on the education of their kids, starting from a young age and drilling the kids to get into the right kindergarten so it then can get into the right elementary school, right high-school and then finally, the most prestigious university. These are the types of parents who put their kids in all kinds of cram schools and putting pressure on the kids to get the highest grades from a very early age. I guess it's not a uniquely Japanese thing as these kinda parents exist all over the globe, but I would think that there's more of them in Asia with the focus on education (as exemplified by the whole Tiger Mom deal).

Needless to mention, me and Mrs. Sunshine does not take this approach. As toddler Sunshine is just a little over two years now our efforts in educating her are very mild and more focused on getting her to say "thank you" and "please" with very little to show for it. However, the iPad is packed with apps for her to play with, some puzzles, annoying songs, simple games but also some educational apps on English, counting and learning the ABC. 

The other day we were standing in an elevator and had just pushed the button to the floor  we were going to when Toddler Sunshine happily started pointing at the numbers and reading them, later in the day during dinner she started spelling out the text written on her plate (a Hello Kitty plate if you must know) shocking both me and Mrs. Sunshine. 

This is fantastic news for us though as we can just let the iPad handle all her education and we don't have to bother sitting down with her and going through numbers and the alphabet! We can just outsource all of that to the iPad. The next thing I need to start looking for is if there are any apps out there that can teach her to become an ethical responsible adult as that seems to be a real hassle to teach. Although most urgently I am hoping to find an app that either teaches her to change her own diapers or one that trains her on the potty!
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