IbM: Making a difference early morning in the business world!

This is the third of a series of interviews adding more insights from other local professionals in regard to Japan, its culture or additional insights to the business environment in Japan. This time the focus is on a new boom: Breakfast meetings.
Mr. Jun Ito is the founder of IbM (International breakfast Meeting), which is hold weekly either in Shinagawa, Tokyo or Ginza. The goal is to connect Japanese and international professionals working in Tokyo.

Sibylle Ito: Before you started your own IbM (International breakfast Meeting), you had experienced other Japanese networking breakfasts. Now with the IbM is the atmosphere really different?
Jun Ito: Now Japanese breakfast meetings, or rather to say AsaKatsu (朝活、Morning Activity) are booming. Presently you can find many variations of morning activities and each one has a unique atmosphere. Some meetings focus on academic learning, some meet to do exercise together and some focus on dating…
For me the ideal IbM is a place, where people can communicate freely about differences they experience from an international viewpoint. As is written in your previous blog about “Galápagos syndrome”, we Japanese are now facing the critical situation to be globally isolated, and potentially forgotten. We Japanese need to understand the difference between Japanese thinking and global thinking. Furthermore I enjoy hearing different viewpoints. Overall I think those Japanese who are joining the IbM continuously are those who are curious to learn more about potential differences.

SI: Why did you come up with the idea of starting an international networking group? What can foreigners really bring to the meeting?
JI: The whole idea of having an international breakfast meeting is based on a small incident. One day, I asked one of my “Gaijin” friend to join a Japanese breakfast meeting. (Just on the side, I dislike the term “Gaijin – the external people”… it sounds ridiculous and selfish.) The actual meeting was good. However, after that, I received a complaint from the organizer stating that one of Japanese guest asked him not to bring anymore any “Gaijin” to the breakfast meeting. The reason was simple, because “Gaijin” tend to be “different”…
On one side I can also understand the origin for this concern. Speaking English is one of most admired skill for many Japanese. Most Japanese have studied English for 6 to 8 years, however few can actually speak English. Most are ashamed not being able to speak fluently, because they believe they need to speak a perfect English. Most know very well English, but simply cannot speak due to this mental barrier. Personally I really enjoy having IbM, because this is the place where Japanese dare to speak to precious guests coming from all over the world. We can enjoy talking about the different viewpoints.

SI: Meeting many foreigners now living and working in Japan, did your perception of foreigners change?
JI: Yes, my perception changed quite a bit. I found that foreigners in Japan also want to have a chance to meet Japanese. So far I believed that they are happy to be in their own closed community and have limited interest with the Japanese community. But it was wrong.

SI: Can you give me some examples of good or bad experiences of the IbM?
JI: A good example is to see Japanese improve their English skill through attending IbM after several times. urther I’m so happy to see people make friends across borders and start some other activities outside of IbM. It is so fun.
So far I did not had any bad experience… or I believe so (laughing).

Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions. Anyone interested in joining the IbM should check the link below.

Further I have to point out, although Jun Ito’s last name is the same as mine, he is neither related to me or to my husband.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤).

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