What are your thoughts when you start working?

Nihonbashi Since I have started my part-time job at a Japanese Udon chain, I am now exposed to a much more Japanese environment than ever before. So far I have worked at foreign owned companies in Japan or then at a very American style local employer. Even though I have worked for more than 11 years in Japan, these days I am learning a lot about different behavior and rules. Of course one can argue that now because I work in the food industry, which has very little in common with life science and chemical environment that I have been active so far, therefore my observations only seem to be new. I personally doubt, because my husband is doing the same observations.
For me the most impressive new rule is to recite the motto of the company every day in the morning including the guidelines of the company. This daily ritual forces everyone to remember what the goals of the employer are and the expectations for the employees. Due to privacy reasons I am not able to provide the lines that I say every morning, but I have been introduced to Gosei, which is used in some companies in the food industry. The origin of Gosei comes from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, but is presently used as well by the The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). The goal in the past was that every evening the cadets were expected to meditate over the questions below.

Hast thou not gone against sincerity
Hast thou not felt ashamed of thy words and deeds?
Hast thou not lacked vigor?
Hast thou exerted all possible efforts?
Hast thou not become slothful?

I can tell you for sure that my thoughts and intentions at work have changed and my customer focus has increased immensely. I thought I knew how to appreciate my customers, but I think I was pretty shallow compared to now. I am sincerely grateful to have the opportunity to experience my self selected apprenticeship and learn so much daily. My recommendation for you is just to try to recite these lines in the next few mornings. I am sure you will see a difference too.

Brought to you by a happy student,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

P.S. Let me point out even though I am a pacifist, Gosei showed my an option on how to give my best daily.

The myth of easy money made at Japanese English schools

Shinagawa Tokyo Surprisingly the myth of being able to make easy money as an English teacher in Japan is still alive. Although this seems to have been true during the bubble period in Japan, nowadays it is much more challenging to make a living – I am not even talking about a decent living – in Japan based solely on an English teacher salary. While the situation outside of the big cities might be better with lower costs of living, considering the local cost for daily life, there is not much left at the end of the month. Understand me right, living and working in Japan is a wonderful experience and I recommend it highly to anyone, but I would never recommend it for financial purpose. Many tend to forget that the living costs in Japan are similar for example to Zurich or New York, but the salary ranges are different. Comparing to the salaries that I have experienced and know for example in Switzerland or then the USA, in general the Japanese salaries are much lower here, even at the better paying foreign companies. Furthermore I see quite a gap of the salaries paid in Japan for foreign workers that work within the language teaching business or then specialists that have found their local professional niche. For those interested or potentially even considering the step into a new life as an English teacher in Japan, I highly recommend to consider your motivation for coming over to Japan. Although I am still not a big fan of the newspaper Japan Times, recently I must say the quality of the articles are wonderful. Enjoy the honest insights to the Japanese English teaching business in details here.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did the article by Craig Currie-Robson.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

What does it mean a record high number of foreign workers in Japan?

Japanese office Chances are you have noticed that recently the Japanese media pointed out that now a record number of foreigners are working in Japan. But what does it mean in reality? What kind of percentage of foreigners are truly working in Japan? According to the Asahi Shimbun now a record number of 717,504 foreigners were working in Japan in 2013 (based on data from the labor ministry Jan. 31, 2014). Compared to previous month of October this reflects now an increase of 5 percent. While the number is not small, I have to say I am surprised how small the figure is considering the total working force in Japan of 65.44 millions (Japanese Statistics Bureau). We have now reached a number that is just a bit more than 1 percent (actually 1.10%). This number seems extremely low to me, but let me provide some comparison with other countries.
In general it is said that the ratio of the share of migrants to share of population in industrial countries is 3.3 (industrial countries had a 3.3 higher share of migrants than their share of global population), highlighting the fact that migrants usually move from poorer to richer countries. Personally I perceive still Japan as one of the richer country in Asia and I would basically expect at least the same range or even higher percentage, because the global comparison percentage is focused on a ratio of the total population.
Based on Wikipedia now 14 Million of foreign workers live in the USA, which then reflects a ratio of about 4.4 percent, which I believe is considered rather high, especially as historically the USA was building their economic growth based on the ongoing immigration. Because immigration had been a hot topic in the American media for a while, let me then try to find a more suitable example. Why not relate then as well to the background of this blog as well: Switzerland.
When looking at Switzerland, I end up most likely with the other extreme, when one in four wage earners comes from abroad (Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, or then much more detailed here). Basically I am ending up with another country that seems too far off with the comparison with Japan.
Personally I believe we can see this trend of increasing numbers of foreign workers in Japan, because more and more economical pressure within the country forces companies to try to find a market outside of Japan, most likely South East Asia. This is then reflected in the number of foreign workers, but furthermore in the respective changes. Asahi Shimbun states by nationality, Chinese formed the largest group with 303,886, up 3 percent from a year earlier. They were followed by 95,505 Brazilians, down 6 percent, 80,170 Filipinos, up 10 percent, and 37,537 Vietnamese, up 40 percent. These numbers make even more sense, when looking at the rather high number of Japanese companies that hired foreigner, furthermore the actual size of these companies (Asahi Shimbun).

“The workers were employed by 127,000 enterprises, up 6 percent from a year earlier, another record. More than half of the employers were relatively small, with a work force of less than 30. More than one-third of the workers, 260,000, were employed by manufacturers, while 16,000 worked for construction companies.”

While it is good news to see that there are changes ongoing in Japan to rebuild the economic strength, at the end the speed of the execution of these company strategies is what really can make a difference. Japanese companies are not known for making quick decisions, so I hope by learning to adjust due to financial pressure we can see a new business culture arise.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Where is the Japanese economy going?

DVC00038.JPG When I look at the Japanese media, I see a lot of comments that especially in 2014 now everything is so much better: The economic situation, the mood of the consumers, we can highly expect a rise in consumption with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and the outlook for future sales of the private industry is much brighter. To be honest, this is a topic that interests me very much. Since the last quarter of 2013 I felt and observed that although there are more people going out, filling up the malls or supermarkets, I could not see people really purchasing much. I made the same observation in business, especially when talking with others. The orders just did not seem to come in, plus to make it worse the order volume were lower than the same period last year (which had not been that good either). On one side with the rise of the stock market we can see an upwards trend, but when I look into the reality of the daily life the baskets of the people shopping contain only the necessary daily goods. I might be at the wrong places and I might be missing the bright side. Basically I cannot find people really splurging with money.
For the Japanese employees there is a high hope that one day the steady decrease of salary will turn around and as promised by the Japanese prime minister the salary would rise again. Furthermore in December the winter bonuses were paid and many hoped for a positive surprise. Here again, I don’t know anyone who was lucky. It seems the lucky ones were the ones who did not get the bonus cut in any way. Seeing such a big gap to the Japanese media, I got concerned. I was lucky to find a well researched article (Deflation Watch: New Year’s scorecard) in the Japan Times that basically reflects the same thoughts. We are being told that things are moving towards the bright side, while most of the Japanese population has to live with a much darker reality. While on one side I am happy to see that my senses are not completely wrong, at the same time I am worried about the rising gap between what I am told to see and what I am personally observing.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Japanese blue is Western green?

Street in Tokyo Every Non-Asian Japanese language student will be confused at some point about the different meaning of the color green in Japanese. All of the sudden a traffic light, fruits or vegetables might be pronounced as blue (青い) in Japanese, although they seem clearly not to be blue! So why is actually something green colored actually called blue? Originally green was considered a shade of blue and did not need special distinction in communication. Based on Wikipedia not until the Second World War did Japanese educational materials distinguish between different colors of green and blue. In daily life I come across both namings, but two occasions still confuse me. I still struggle to get used to say that I like blue vegetable juice when the mix seems greener than spinach to me. Another example is the traffic light, when you drive or walk on blue. Below is the actual example of the description of the blue traffic light in this year’s official Japanese safe driving handbook.

safe driving book

Although some mishaps occur in daily life, but I have to say it is much less dangerous when the “go sign” can be misunderstood than the “stop sign”.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Highly recommended Japan business review

View from Tokyo Tower Sadly there are only very few good Japanese business related resources online. Most that I know is either outdated, far from being practical or written with pink glasses on to show that Japan is the most unusual market on this planet. I think readers deserve to have access to useable, real life business information. Whenever I come across highly recommendable blogs or websites my goal has always been to share it with you. Furthermore I expect with the increased hype now with the Olympics 2020 in Tokyo, even more people are interested to know more about the real Japan. One of best resources I know are the Beacon reports. I can only recommend you to subscribe to their mailing list. The content is always very professional, down to earth and with highly valuable insights.
This time the article focuses on the topic “Can Japanese firms compete in a global market?”. I especially like the article because there are enough facts listed to give you the opportunity to establish your own opinion. For this time I keep my opinion to myself, apart from hoping that you like the articles and the Beacon Reports as much as I do. My hat tip to Beacon Reports!

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

3D barcodes as the key for safe shopping

microwave rice Most likely I belong to only a few shoppers who is concerned to know the actual source of the food or beverage I consume. Although it is impossible to control all my intake, I would like to make sure that what I prepare and consume at home comes from a region that I perceive as not affected by the fallout from the Fukushima incident. In a previous article on this blog I had hoped that manufacturer’s declaration on food products become more detailed (actual article). To my surprise some of the goods sold at a major Japanese supermarket Aeon (Japanese company website) have now 3D bar codes that allow to check for the origin of a product in hand. While on the top of the article the actual packaging of easily microwaveable rice is shown, the picture below shows the result of the 3D bar code search.


This additional detailed information is for me a great help and relief. Not only can I find the rice type, but as well the region where the rice grew and the packing site. I can get a true sense of what I am buying and with it I become a loyal customer. I am sure the addition of this small 3D bar code will result in higher sales turnover of this product. I strongly believe that today’s customers want to be informed and given a choice of what they want to buy. Having choices allows me to make a difference to support the products I believe in. Although many Japanese households live these days on a tight budget and limited choices, I believe over time customer choices will show that more information is better. In the meantime Aeon has for sure caught my heart.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)