Japan is getting more and more Western each and every day but no matter what it will always be Japan and as such they have a different way of doing things. At times they might infuriate us but we have two choices – change them or change ourselves. At present the Japanese population is about 120 million so I think the latter’s out. That doesn’t mean we have to become Japanese but rather consider the differences between our cultures and whenever possible try to adapt. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is the attitude we should have. After all this is their country and we’ve chosen to live in it.
As I mentioned in my intro I was lucky enough to live in The Philippines and Thailand and was face to face with internationalism each and every day but after graduating college and choosing to stay with my family in Myanmar (Burma) for 4 months was truly an eye-opener. While commerce in South East Asia is radically different than in the West the differences become abundantly clear when we observe how businesses are run in Myanmar. Myanmar was unlike any other country I’d ever seen but it sheds light on our perspective here in Japan and how thinking we’ll be able to impose our Western will is a pipe dream.
There banks opened at 10 only to have breakfast served for the staff between 10 and 10:30 and lunch between 12 and 12:30 during which time tellers would simply walk away from their counters regardless of the number of customers. Then at 2 the whole bank would close. Basically banks were in business for 3 hours a day, a day!! No, that’s not a typo. My father had worked in the Philippines in the 80s and Thailand in the 90s but even for him it was tough to adjust to the logic that was presented to him there. But just as he had in the other 2 countries he understood what business systems would work there and what were just wastes of time.
Every 2 years the head office located in Europe would send their newest hotshot over to “fix” things. I say “fix” because things were not going the way they wanted them to. Each and every time they would step off the plane with ideas of grandeur believing that they had what it took to be able to succeed. My father had become a master at dealing with the locals yet the new guy would come in and make radical changes only to have them fail because he never bothered to consult with my father or simply ignored his advice. Each and every time my father would come home and tell me about the new guy and his ideas and we’d both laugh. Applying business systems that work at the head office will work in countries that have the same rules and resources as the head office. At the time while the millennium was approaching there were still many cars on the road that were easily 50 years old, black outs were regular, supermarkets ran out of supplies and had no idea when stocks would be replenished and the average wage of a university professor was $40 a month. So I ask you, will applying the same systems in Europe work when their workers are protected by a union, people have passports and can travel freely, where food is practically unlimited and resources such as water and electricity are taken for granted? Japan isn’t America, it isn’t Europe, heck it isn’t even Asia – it’s Japan. It’s been around for over 2000 years and has prospered time and time again with its latest accomplishment: becoming an economic power in just 50 short years yet despite this so many people come here thinking they need to change it.
Even myself having seen this I still came to Japan and felt I needed to change it yet after having lived here for over 10 years I see that it’s me who’s actually changed, and with it a new-found respect for the country that I’m proud to call home.