Some thoughts about business in Japan compared to the Pacific Rim

Yes, I am really lucky. My job gave me an opportunity to spend one week in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and one week in Taipei (Taiwan) for business meetings and trainings. Not only the business meetings gave me many insights about business trends in Asia, but all the discussions during lunch or dinner showed me the growing gap of the countries in Asia compared to Japan. What could I wish more than doing personal observations, many discussions with professionals from all over the Pacific Rim (not only Malaysia and Taiwan), which allowed me to have direct access on local information. At the same time, I have to point out that I was focusing solely on changes to the business environment I work.
As Japan means home to me, for quite a while I had been concerned about the economical future of Japan, when with the 3/11 disaster the need for Japan to be more proactive on a global stage seems now much more urgent to me. The thoughts and observations are in random order, as I cannot set any priority:

– Cultural flexibility:
While most Japanese still struggle with effective communication in English in a business setting, I was strongly impressed about the cultural flexibility of business people in Malaysia. Many times I could observe the business partner to switch their behavior based on the communication partner, furthermore while speaking English, Chinese (or Cantonese, other Chinese dialect) or then Malayan. I strongly believe that being able to speak in another language is one important step, but being comfortable to adjust the communication style based on the culture of the business partner is equally important. Furthermore I was positively surprised to find business partners, who can switch between doing business in the European style or US style in English.

– Speed and efficiency:
One observed strength of Japanese business is the goal to provide an almost perfect service or product, while the goal for perfection is the biggest weakness of Japanese business at the same time. Most of Asia functions now on achieving “80% of the quality target” is good enough, which allows them to be in constant development and improvement. While Japan is promoting a new product release, other countries have already copied the same good, adapted it to local needs, while keeping the costs very low. Where do you set the level of what is good enough quality?
Another example is the experience at hotels abroad: No matter what question or concern I had, within a very short period everything was done to complete satisfaction. Honestly I felt so pampered, I had forgotten that I was not in my “home country”. Coming back home to Japan and travel then for business locally in a similar price class of an international hotel chain, as a strong contrast I had to remind the front desk several times for a small task requested. Additionally unlike in Japan my privacy was respected abroad, because no one bothered to comment about my Japanese last name or my Japanese speaking ability.

– Decision making process:
These two weeks let me deal directly with many professionals from all over the Pacific Rim and I was shocked to see the gap in flexibility and adjustment to new circumstances. Most of the Chinese influenced cultures had adjusted to a new marketing strategy within minutes, plus were already setting up plans and goals for their approach as soon as they had returned to their headquarters. As a gap then with the Japanese participants, their goal was to discuss the learned new facts internally after coming back to their headquarters, and only then afterwards come up with a new strategy after internal agreement.

– Drive to succeed:
I might be wrong, but for me the 3/11 disaster was a wake up call, that Japan needs to create more local profit in order to cover all the occurring costs related to the disaster or the country’s debt will grow to an even scarier level. After getting back on my feet with the “new reality”, I feel the strong urge to work harder and more efficient than in the past. At the same time I have to say I was taken aback about the drive I could sense of all the other professionals for the Pacific Rim. The personal urge to succeed is so high abroad and let me wonder whether Japanese professionals actually want to make a difference, or then even worse, Japanese professionals might not even know the gap in their lack of passion to succeed.

I can only hope the “Ganbaro Nihon” is not only a local marketing slogan, but a felt spirit that reaches everyone to give their best. Japan needs for sure increased activities, efficiency and speed.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

2 thoughts on “Some thoughts about business in Japan compared to the Pacific Rim

    • Dear Elle Marie,

      for sure Ishihara is an interesting person in Japanese politics. Ishihara is known to slash out with surprising comments and the apologize if pressured afterwards. Although I am not so much in favor of him, simpy because of the famous quotes he made a few years ago, as “a woman who works and has no kids is a waste to society”, still I dare to try to make a difference here in Japan. On the other hand, I have to say that this time his comment is not so strange. Simply have a look at the public dept of Japan.

      I doubt that it something Japan can be proud of.

      All the best,


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