Japanese guy, western girlfriend: The guide for happiness

signal in Kuala Lumpur Recently I had been asked by a local publisher why I had chosen to write a guide (Japanese Man Looking For A Foreign Girlfriend: 17 Rules For Happiness) about having an international relationship in regard to Japan. In addition the question came up what I personally see as the biggest weakness for a Japanese man in a relationship with a foreign woman. I thought these are reasonable questions and would like to share with you my thoughts.
First of all, let me point out my intention for this guide is very simple: I would like to see more happy local or international couples in Japan or around the world. Unlike in many other countries, I believe Japanese men are facing quite a lot of societal and cultural pressure to be the provider for a girlfriend or a family. Personally I see the difference then in a relationship with a foreign woman that the pressure of being the sole provider falls most likely away. The relationship is much more based on a partnership with equal rights and duties. Considering then that for most Japanese men the dream of having a work life balance is out of reach, I think a different kind of relationship can give Japanese men a new perspective of how much more comfortable and fulfilling their future could be.
Moving on to the second point of the potentially biggest weakness of Japanese men in a relationship: Knowing themselves! I have seldom heard about a man that he is perceived as being secure enough to know how to express and fulfill his dreams, understanding his weak spots whether it is with his personality or lifestyle, plus having made up his mind on how he has planned to spend his future. Most likely Japanese men have not considered this part of self development connected with dating or a successful long term relationship. With the 17 rules my goal is to give some guidance on what can make any Japanese more successful with women. Of course the books covers more than just the mentioned topics above. I believe a fun approach to dating, combined with real advice is the key for success.
Let me point out that I wrote this book not based on stereotyping neither the Japanese nor the foreign side. For those curious to know more, check out the link to Amazon.


Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Guess what! The guide on how to find a foreign girlfriend as a Japanese men is published

flowers The wait is over for Japanese men looking for some realistic guidelines on how to find, date, love and keep a Western woman as a long term partner. I am very happy to say that on the last weekend I was able to get my book uploaded and published on Amazon. The book with my personal experience and discussion with other women is now available as a kindle version. My goal is to help as many Japanese men to find their partner for life. I believe there is no reason why a Japanese man should not be successful in finding and keeping their foreign counterpart for life. You deserve to be happy! If you are interested to know more, below is the cover page.


I am so excited that the book is ready, so feel free to get back to me in case of any questions or concerns.

Wishing everyone lots of luck,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Working on a new project

Not sure whether it was actually noticed, but I have been rather quiet the last few months. There were no updates on this blog. The reasons are multifold: On one side to be honest I had to re-evaluate how japanese society is functioning after the Fukushima incident. While it has been for me a life-changing moment, the general public away from Fukushima has moved on seemingly without any after effects. The event itself or the consequences of it, is no more a real topic in Japan. Based on the result of a popular news paper sponsored questionnaire the top concerns of Japanese society these days are about the lack of felt growth of the local economy, second about national security and then as the third aspect come nuclear power related concerns. Keeping this list of priorities in mind, understanding Japan has become much easier again.
In addition to the above, I have been busy with a new project of writing a guide book for Japanese men on how to find their foreign desired partner. This project of mine had started a few years back, but I want to make sure now that it gets finalized. I am presently at the hopefully final book review level and my goal is to publish the within this year as a kindle version on Amazon. I cannot give you much insights of the content yet, but as a first glimpse, I believe the title page can give you some idea on what to expect.

For sure I will keep you informed about the progress on the book, plus some sample contents will be provided as well. Additionally I plan to continue to update more frequently this site with new articles. In case of any early comments to the book or in regard of future topics to be discussed here, feel free to let me know.

Along the same lines of new announcements, did you notice the new header picture?

Thanks for your patience with me!

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Looking at Japan from a different angle

Usually I do not make any recommendation on books in regard to Japan, but it is time to make an exception. What impressed me most about both books I am going to recommend is that they have been written quite a while ago, but are still so true in 2012. Although I hear daily in the media about Japanese society changing, becoming more transparent and open, Japanese companies embracing global business styles…at the end I wonder how much has really changed. Based on my personal experience for more than 10 years living and working here, apart from the March 11 event with the Fukushima disaster, it is difficult to see noteworthy changes, which is good from my perspective. Otherwise if Japan had become globalized and easily understood from the outside, there would be no reason for me to continue this blog 😉 Japan is still a mystery for a big part of the world.
The first book I would like to focus on is “Freakonomics”, which was first published in the U.S. in 2005 and based on the Freakonomics website went on to sell more than 4 million copies around the world, in 35 languages. The authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner bring interesting moral and economic issues to the light. Most likely it will redefine the way you view the modern world, or at least it did for me. One of the covered topics is in regard to sumo wrestlers and yaocho (yaocho is the Japanese word for match-fixing). For those who have not read the book or not seen the movie, have a look at this link:

The Numbers in Sumo Cheating: Freakonomics Movie

The second book worth reading is “Beating Japan” from Francis McInerney, Sean White. The book was written 1993 during the time when the US feared that Japan might take over a big part of the global business. The essence of the book is that the world has not to be so worried, unless Japan starts to radically change and overcome some economic limitations. Quote from the book:

“The Japanese are in a tough spot: they need the loyalty of foreign customers, but have firm hold on them. To get closer to their customer, they must overcome significant cultural differences. At the same time, the Japanese economic engine is running out of steam: the industries that powered its postwar recovery are mature or in decline. New competition is emerging elsewhere in Asia eager to imitate the Japanese and gobble up the markets they fought so hard to win. A breakthrough source of export energy is needed to keep the engine in high gear. Japan has not found that source.”

In my daily life I come across many Japanese, who yearn for change, but at the same time are looking for someone who can create a path for them and guide them. Only in very few cases I have come across people here, who bravely dash forward into the unknown. I guess the fear of the unknown is still much higher than the pain of the present. Personally I see this behavior as positive, because for me the mystery of Japan is still ongoing. Maybe one day I understand Japan a bit better 😉

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Book review: Japan, Funny Side Up by Amy Chavez

During the recent weeks news abroad in regard to Japan were full about tragic, sad and dramatic events related to Japan. Time has come for some funny episodes about Japan. I was lucky to have the opportunity to read “Japan, Funny Side Up”, which was for me especially a joyful experience, because I had always liked Amy Chavez articles in the Japan Times. I had read parts of the book before the earthquake and had now finished it in the last few days. What I liked about Amy Chaves approach in “Japan, Funny Side Up” is that she challenges the reader about the common perception about Japan in a truly funny way. It worked for me well, because I found myself laughing out loud many times. Additionally I was happy to read the same concerns or questions that I still have myself after more than 9 years in Japan. For example I am still getting annoyed many times outside in public to see Japanese adults dragging their feet. After reading Amy’s book I have shifted my perception. Instead of getting annoyed every time and screaming inside of me “can’t you walk?”, I guess I should learn to do it myself with Amy’s instruction:

“The proper way to drag your feet is to lean back on your heels and point your toes out. You should hear a definite scraping sound with each step so you effectively wear down the rubber on the soles.”

I guess after having purchased for the first time in my life last week a yukata and fitting geta (Japanese style sandals) it is the prefect timing for me to learn how to walk the Japanese way. So far learning to walk at home was not too effective as I tend to wabble on the geta.
Another example which felt close to my heart: Japanese letters. I have to confess I am a rather impatient person and Amy’s description about the pain of receiving a Japanese letter is just wonderful. Opening a Japanese letter is truly a painful task, because no matter what you will do, you cannot get a Japanese letter open the way you are used to do it abroad:

“Round one: Try to open the letter by sticking a thumbnail under the corners of the flap. Try again, this time using the thumb and index finger to start peeling the flap off. Defeated!
Round two: Letter opener poised, attempt to insert the very tip of it under the corner of the flap. Dig and pry, dig and pry. Curse. Try again, this time using a sashimi knife. Defeated!
Round three: Fetch a pair of scissors to cut open the end of the envelope. When you realize you’re cutting the letter because Japanese stationary fits so tightly, it leaves no extra room in the envelope, curse again. Defeated!
Round four: Go ahead, get the sledgehammer.”

I think I had ripped up countless Japanese letters, simply because I could not open them properly. For sure her comments about Japanese culture, business and everyday life let me laugh out loud many times with her unique description of Japan which are so true: “Japan: A nation ruled by cartoon characters”, the immensely colorful clothing style of children or then the explanation of employees at a bank in terms of ants. Furthermore at the end of the book I enjoyed the Gaijin quiz, which was funny and reflects reality the way I perceive it too. For Japan beginners the glossary is very helpful.
If you care about Japan and want to have a good laugh, “Japan, Funny Side Up” is the book I recommend.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Browsing through Nikkei Shimbun

One of my favorite weekend activities is browsing through Nikkei Shimbun not only with the viewpoint on what news are available, but much more what is presented and how. What kind of market reviews or ads are popular? Are there changes over time, or is the difference just seasonal based? Overall the marketing style does not change much considering the rather fixed given readership.
Another highlight from the marketing perspective: As Nikkei Shimbun is a business related newspaper the number of potential rip off ads is rather low, but still existing. I truly admire the marketing genius of the many low-cost manufactured products promoted over time. Of course there is always the chance that I cannot value the uniqueness of all these products and they might be actually really a great bargain as promoted.
Last weekend my focus while browsing through the newspaper: What kind of books can get larger ad space? As advertising space is not cheap only books that allow the biggest potential success are shown, consequently these books must then be the present trend. Two books got my attention, while I had to smile about the first one, contrary with the second one, I am concerned that insecurity and fear are used to push sales.
On the left hand side, you might notice a book about “The Japanese Way of Sitting”. Personally sitting the Japanese way is for me a painful exercise, that gets rapidly truly painful and can only be compared to torture. Either my legs or my pain level is not made for Japanese style sitting. Over the years I have asked many people on how they avoid this horrendous pain, but no one could give me useful advice. Potentially not only me, but many younger Japanese cannot handle long time seiza style sitting anymore and this book might be the solution.
The next book on the bottom right is addressing the increasing fears that are felt inside of Japan caused by the economical challenges locally, potential decreasing market size all combined increased competition from abroad. The rough translation is “The day has come when the weak are dropped”. For years now Japanese business/society has been working hard to get out of the business slump, but so far no success. It seems that step by step other regions have found a way for improvement, plus now as a final eye opener China’s financial influence can be felt in daily life. All of the sudden Ginza is full of Chinese tourists that spend much more on shopping that the locals. In order for the locals to increase their sales, more and more companies are forced to make the decision whether to stay local or go global. For sure financial pressure pushes many professionals to rethink their business approach. What can actually a Japanese company do to keep their market share or is there no choice but to go abroad for survival? As an employee with limited English and international exposure how is it possible stay with the present job with increased global competition? Many are caught up in the increasing tougher rat race and are wondering what could be done. The book by Camel Yamamoto seems to have the solution for the main concerns.
What can you do if you need to learn to think global, but you cannot go abroad? I believe this is a challenge that most Japanese professionals are facing now.
How can you become an equal partner in global negotiations? Due to the general Japanese insecurity of their English skills, international negotiations become very difficult to handle and I had seen very seldom a negotiation in English that was actually a partner level negotiation.
How come that the “technological strength of Galapagos” is not understood and adapted abroad? In telecommunication, electronics or measuring standards, most of the time a Japanese standard exist, that might be even developed before other regions in the world, but at the end the global standard does not reflect the Japan standard.
How do you deal with foreign coworkers or even boss? Although the numbers are not yet high, compared to the past more multilingual foreigners are employed at Japanese companies. Apart from being fluent in Japanese, having the right professional background combined with international business experience, I believe it is not surprising when fear pops up. I think it is natural that every society or group that has to accommodate “outsiders” shows some reactions to the “newcomer” so these concerns are understandable.
Another challenge: Limited knowledge of global legal systems, finance procedure and HR practices.
Personally I wish I had the time now to read and review the books from Camel Yamamoto as he seems to have published several along the topic of globalizing Japanese people. In case if you had read one, do keep us informed!

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Preferred resources for info about Japan: Links, books, movies

Paulo from Portugal contacted me through LinkedIN with the request whether I could share with him my preferred English based news websites worthwhile to visit in regard to Japan (“not in a highly deep level but more to know of relevant things that are happening in Japan”). As I am always very happy to be contacted through comments here directly on the blog, twitter or LinkedIN, I think the question raised by Paulo is worthwhile to create an article. Of course there are many sites, books and movies to recommend, so I will focus only on those sites I visit for sure several times a week, book content that stayed with me and movies that I have seen at least twice.

My every day lighter news source is Japan Probe. I get my daily updates by email through subscription of what topics are popular on TV. For serious deeper level news update, I prefer Wall Street Journal (Japan Real Time). Although most of the news are written from a Western Perspective, unlike other news sources I perceive Japan Real Time from a less US based viewpoint than others. Otherwise from a Japanese perspective either the English version of Asahi Shimbun or Yomiuri Shimbun works for me.

There are many books written in regard to Japan, but a lot are outdated and do not reflect the present Japanese culture or business style. If you like to have a good laugh while reading about Japan, check out Amy Chavez “Japan, Sunny Side Up”. When time finally allows, I will be reviewing the book on this blog too. If you are interested in the heart of business dealings of the Japanese companies with foreign companies, a great eye opener is “Saving the Sun: A Wall Street Gamble to Rescue Japan from its Trillion-Dollar Meltdown” by Gillian Tett. It is the true story on how Shinsei Bank came into being. Another page turner about the darker sides of Tokyo is written by Jake Adelstein “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan”.

If you want to see a heart warming movie about the Showa Period, check out “Always: Sunset on Third Street” (ALWAYS 三丁目の夕日). Actually there are two parts of this movie and no matter which you see, I can guarantee you a couple of heartful, teary moments. Although the story is based on a manga from the past, the strength of the story is to remember how small town once Tokyo was. In order to observe more about Japanese culture I recommend Departures (おくりびと, Okuribito). Although death plays an important role in this movie, for me personally it is an optimistic, respectful movie. Let’s say you are interested to know what it actually means for some Japanese salarymen to work for a larger Japanese company, do watch: Sun Never Sets (太陽は沈まない). Although it is a very long movie, I have heard a lot from the original book was cut, but still I am deeply impressed by this movie.

Enjoy all the above sources and do remember, if you have any questions or comments, just add it here or contact me under LinkedIN or then twitter (sibylleito).

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)