Why Career Goals Don’t Matter In Japan: Understanding the Japanese Salaryman’s Mindset

Understanding the Japanese Salaryman’s MindsetI started my career at a large commercial bank in Japan. Shortly after I received the offer, the HR manager asked me which department I wished to work in. Naturally, I told him my preference: the venture capital division.


I was sent to a different department, without receiving an explanation for that decision. I later discovered that the correct answer should have been a similar response to this:

Video conferencing: a winner in global collaboration

Phone Conference versus Video ConferenceI am constantly surprised by the number of people preferring to interact via e-mails and phone calls over video conferencing, especially when communicating and collaborating with their global colleagues.

  • “When I work from home I’m in my pajamas and don’t want to wear make-up”
  • “I feel uncomfortable to ask someone who’s at home to turn on his/her camera. ”
  • “E-mails are better because everything can be documented.”

Rude tourists in Japan

gyokutei nihon2Last December, I brought an American friend of mine to a hot spring. We decided to go for a luxury experience and went to a high end ryokan, a Japanese-style inn.

Here, you get to enjoy amazing food and hot springs experience in a wonderful atmosphere: a tourist magnet. Dinners at a high end ryokan are a relaxed, luxurious affair, where several different courses are brought to your room one by one, giving you the opportunity to savor and appreciate each dish fully and in peace.

A direct word for “google it, you dumb a**!”

ggrkYou may not believe it, but there is a word for "google it, you dumb ass" in Japanese: it’s pronounced "gu-gu-re-ka-su (#ggrks)."

The implied message of the word is this:
You’re cutting corners if you ask someone a question you can find an answer to later on and that you may even pass for disrespectful, as by doing so you’re wasting someone’s time.

Why Japanese don’t like small talk

Smalltalk“I don’t know why my boss in Dublin (Ireland) always starts our video conference by telling me what she did during the weekend. Why can’t we just dive into the meeting without wasting time?”

Many Japanese complain to me about how they don’t understand why their non-Japanese colleagues love small talk so much. "I have no problem when we’re talking about work" they say "but when it comes to small talk… I don’t know how to carry on the conversation and it’s a real pain.”

The one skill you should look for when interviewing freelancers

"So what is the secret for hiring good freelancers?"
I currently have 12 freelancers under my payroll from all over the world (2 personal assistants, 6 transcribers, 3 graphic designers, 1 web engineer) and have worked with over 100 freelancers on an ad hoc basis. I mostly hire freelancers via global crowdsourcing sites like oDesk (currently Upwork), Elance or freelancer.com.
I am constantly asked "the secret" in hiring good freelancers. Especially since you're never going to meet them face to face. My answer? Communication skill.

How the Nail that Sticks Up Gets Hammered Down

Some of you may have heard the old Japanese proverb “The nail which sticks up is hammered down.” Guides to doing business in Japan often illustrate this proverb using dress code (e.g., don’t wear flashy clothes to business meetings), but its meaning is much deeper than this.
A few years back, I helped organize a large conference in Tokyo, for which the goal was to have the young generation become more interested in politics. The speakers were top notch: CEO’s from established firms, a well-known TV news anchor, a journalist, a member of the National Diet, and a sociology professor from a prominent university. We invited young entrepreneurs and businesspeople on stage to discuss why young people aren’t voting and what we can do about it. Hundreds of college students came to watch this event. Then it happened…

Native English speakers must re-learn English

Ever felt anxious after communicating with your non-native English speaking global counterpart in fear that he/she didn't fully understood you? If so, probably you're right. She didn't. But before you blame on her English proficiency, you might want to blame on yourself and consider re-learning how you communicate in English.
For the past three years, I have been training non-native business people (mainly Japanese) how to speak up and contribute in global business meetings. I always felt that it was the non-natives that need to learn how to speak-up to communicate effectively with native English speakers.
But recently, I found out that this only solves half of the problem.  Yes, non-natives need to learn how to speak up but equally important, native English speakers must learn how to speak down,

Why Japanese don’t clarify even though they’re confused

I often get surprised reactions when I tell my non-Japanese friends that we, Japanese, do not stop you for clarification even if we get confused.
For those who are “confused” by this fact, I’ll try to do the best I can to explain. First, let me give an example:
I recently was talking to a friend who works one floor below my office. He looked very upset, certainly annoyed about something. So I asked him what happened. This is how the conversation rolled out (in Japanese, of course):

The Seven Commandments

"Why are Japanese businesspeople so resistant to change?"
A buddy of mine  from business school asked me this question while we were having dinner. The company he works for recently bought a Japanese firm and he was trying to integrate his company's "way of doing things" to the newly bought firm but experiencing difficulty.
So I decided to explain this through writing and came up with "The Seven Commandments" of a typical Japanese businessperson's mindset to help him better deal with Japanese businesspeople. He found it very interesting so I decided to share it on this blog . This is a very  rough draft so I am open to any comments or suggestions to polish/change the these commandments.

The Seven Commandments

  1.  We will not ask you questions to clarify even though we are confused.
    1. When growing up, we were constantly told by our parents/teachers/classmates:
      “Did you look it up by yourself before asking?”
      “You don’t even know that! How embarrassing?”
    2. Having been shamed with the above question for many years, we stop asking questions and will look up by ourselves later on where we got confused.