Japan Intercultural Consulting - Europe, Middle East & Africa
Improving Cross-cultural Communications and Business Practices
Japan Intercultural Consulting is the leading training and consulting firm focused on Japanese business in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. We have been operating across EMEA since 2004, providing cultural awareness training and consulting to over 250 Japanese companies and their suppliers and partners in Belgium, Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the UAE and the UK.
Our facilitators all speak fluent Japanese and have many years of practical business experience, working in or with Japanese companies.
We help clients improve working relationships in multicultural environments through cross-cultural awareness training seminars, management and communication skills training seminars, teambuilding programs, human resource management consulting, and executive coaching services.
When I attend various shinnenkai (New Year’s parties) at the beginning of each year, I find it hard to snap back into remembering to bow properly, whilst negotiating my wine and canapés, and exchanging akemashite omedetou ("Happy New Year") with Japanese business acquaintances.
It feels awkward at first if I haven't been socialising with Japanese people for a while, but thanks to my time in a Japanese school, where we bowed every morning to the teacher, and had twice weekly outdoor assemblies where we rehearsed standing at ease, then standing to attention, then bowing – the proper way to bow is somewhat instinctive for me.
For most non-Japanese people, bowing correctly is a challenge, and in my opinion, we worry too much about it. Most Japanese people, when meeting with a foreign person, will expect to shake hands. I usually advise that a slight nod of the head or bend at the waist is a good cultural compromise when shaking hands with a Japanese person. If you have not been brought up to bow, and also had it drilled into you again at an induction course in a Japanese company, when you do try to do a full bow, you will almost certainly get it wrong. Bowing too deeply or for too long a time will result in your Japanese counterpart feeling obliged to dip down again for a further round of needless bowing.
You often see this happening in public in Japan, where neither party wants to stop bowing first, in order to show respect. In the mid-1990s, an English-language magazine targeting Tokyo’s expat community extrapolated on this phenomenon by publishing an April Fool’s article saying authorities were going to set up “no bowing” zones, near revolving doors and on station platforms as excessive bowing was causing a safety hazard. Plenty of people believed the article.
I do know of one case where bowing actually did lead to physical injury. A British employee of a Japanese company in Europe related the story to me: “Our new Japanese Managing Director for Europe was going round all the departments to introduce himself and as he turned to me I put out my hand to shake hands. He, however, had started to bow down low, and I caught him right in the eye. Fortunately it turned out he has a good sense of humour, and whenever I see him in the corridor now, he covers his eye with his hand!”
Bowing is deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche, it would seem. One Japanese friend of mine, who has been living in the UK for 30 years, still bows whenever he meets a Japanese person, even in the streets of London. I asked another Japanese friend of mine, who has also been living for many years in London, if she would ever consider hugging her mother when she came to meet her at Narita airport each time she returns to Japan. “Ewww no!” she said, and then laughed, realising how years of kissing, hugging and shaking hands in the UK had made no impact on her instincts at all.
It has just been announced that Polish immigrants now represent the largest group of foreigners living in the UK. There were around 831,000 Polish born residents in the UK in 2015, overtaking Indian born residents. This represents a ¾ million increase on 2004 when Poland joined the EU, showing the scale and speed of the increase in immigrants from Eastern Europe – one of the root causes of the British vote to leave the EU.
Poland’s connections to the UK go back further than this, however. A large group of Poles settled in the UK after WWII, and were welcomed because of the well-known heroism of Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain.
I was looking at my diaries from when I was 11 years’ old and living in Japan, and was amused to see that I had written in them that my burning ambition was to be a politician. Quite a few of the people I knew at university have become politicians, so I suppose on reflection this was not an impossible dream for me.
I then wondered why I did not try to realise this ambition. I think it is because I really don’t like confrontation and I take it too personally. This might be rooted in my childhood in Japan – Japanese schools do not offer as many opportunities to debate as they do in the UK. But I also spent my teenage years in British schools, where, like many schools in the UK and Europe, there were plenty of opportunities to become good at arguing, such as school debating societies and public speaking competitions.
Nidec’s Nagamori-Ism Brings Profits And Productivity To German Acquisitions
Nidec acquired Geraete und Pumpenbau, a German pump manufacturer based in Thuringia in 2014. The 1000 or so employees were worried about their job security as a result, according to Nikkei Business magazine. Nagamori visited shortly after the acquisition and said “you are making a superb product. We can sell this not just in Europe, but US and Asia,” he declared in Japanese, without an interpreter: “Let’s make GPM even bigger.” Michael Grellmann COO of GPM, says that since joining Nidec Group, they have been able to reduce costs and double profitability thanks to thorough “progress management”. Nidec started acquiring companies in 2010. mainly in North America and Europe. They have now made 49 acquisitions, of which 24 are overseas.
How Nidec Reduced Overtime by Improving Communication
Manufacturer of electric motors Nidec was famous for having hard working employees who didn’t care how many hours they put in. The founder, Shigenobu Nagamori, himself said “I only take a holiday on New Year’s Day”. Now, according to the Nikkei Business magazine, Nidec is undergoing a revolution where going home on time is the norm.
Nidec started a project last year to promote the better utilization of female employees. Overtime working at Nidec’s headquarters had been on average 30 hours a month. The first step was to get senior level managers to go home on time. This immediately decreased overtime by 30%.