Do you remember Del Cook? Delicious food guaranteed!

I do hope the name Del Cook rings a bell for you. Or if not, try the picture on the side… In case you are still completely lost and have no idea what I am talking about, no problem, I am here to help. Last summer I had interviewed Del Cook about Japanese food and whether it is possible to combine good food with suitable wine. Before the interview I could not imagine how to truly mix two different taste origins: Wine with European origin (or should I say Egypt) and traditional Japanese food. In case if you had not read yet the previous interview, check it out here.
Guess what last Thursday evening Del Cook was presented as a unique cook, who focuses on local food ingredients, but giving everything a French twist and creating completely new taste combinations.

If you cannot imagine what I am talking about, just have a look below. Would you have ever combined shiitake mushrooms with walnuts in a pie? Although I was just watching TV I thought I could smell it.

In case you are not yet impressed and want to see something more mouth-watering: Just check out local meat with red wine sauce and local vegetables.

Some might think I might have now completely gone nuts about food, but let me point out why I am impressed about Del Cook. Instead of following everyone’s goal to be known at some trendy spots around the world, he is not only making a difference in the country side, but as well he is grateful for his environment far from “high society”.

For me this mind-set makes all the difference! I hope one day I can enjoy myself this wonderful cuisine and until then I wish only the best of success to Del Cook.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Insights in regard to business with Japan: Richard R. Newton

For this week’s interview I am very happy to have a chance to hear more insights from a long time Japan specialist: Richard R. Newton. Although he currently lives and practices law in the US (Birmingham, Alabama), part of his heart still resides in Japan, where he’s twice lived and to which he still travels 1-3 times each year. Richard’s competence related to Japan/Asia is immense. His specialties range from business matching between Asia and the U.S., to consulting/training in cultural matters related to Japan/Asia. On the strictly law-related side, he incorporates new businesses in the U.S., assists Japanese and other companies from abroad in the U.S. legal sphere, negotiates contracts and provides employment law consultation. Although at first sight this article may seem somewhat “involved,” I can promise you that you will love every word of it.

Sibylle Ito: You have been working related to Japan/Asia for many years? Can you observe a shift away from Japan to China, or is it mainly a topic in the media?
Richard R. Newton: I believe that this is true on its face, that some significant degree of U.S. business interests, and interest in general, is to some extent shifting from Japan to China. That’s not to say that American companies and businesspersons have lost interest in Japan, but about three years ago the United States exports to China did, for the first time, overtake its exports to Japan. And it’s been eight years since the China overtook Japan in terms of imports to the United States. So these things go beyond any kind of media-generated thing. Moreover, there are only so many hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the month and so forth, so that for every project that consumes the attention and resources of an American — or British, or German, or French, or Canadian, etc. — company, that’s a day that, likely as not, may have been devoted to business development with or in Japan.
On the other hand, China has also afforded, and will continue to bring, opportunities to Japan. Here I’m not merely talking about this or that particular project, supplier or market for this or that product. I’m talking about all of these things, and more. A growing, thriving, China will provide innumerable avenues for Japan’s well-established businesses, technologies, products, universities, and international market know-how to thrive and enjoy a “spillover” from Chinese prosperity, but only to the extent Japan’s corporate culture embraces Chinese prosperity as a thing to actively promote and participate in. So far I think that that’s the case and bodes well for Japan, as an economic ally of China. In fact, I think Japan should, subtly, pitch itself as a conduit for, a jumping-off point into, China for medium-sized American companies desiring to “go global.” Japan is not the “Wild (business) West” China can be. For all of the myriad challenges a North American or European company may have in cracking the Japanese market or otherwise consummating a deal in Japan, Japan offers structure and experience and a sophisticated consumer base the likes of which are only beginning to emerge in China. I should add that, Japan’s legal system also enjoys a well-settled and established maturity when dealing with business related issues, from contracts to regulations to intellectual property protection. American companies know this and take this into account when deciding whether to launch a product, or collaborate on technology development, in any one of several Asian countries.
Japan’s economy enjoyed a 4.5% growth rate in the third quarter, and its GDP has returned to (barely) top China’s, putting Japan back for now as the world’s second largest economy. It remains a leader in green and clean technology, life sciences and nanotechnology. So there are numerous aspects of Japan’s economy for its business community to not only tout, but grow and continue to develop. Thus, the “shift” towards China should not be seen as an indictment of or against Japan.
Finally, Japan as a whole, as a Nation, and Japanese companies in particular, need to keep in mind and be proud of the fact that it is a representative democracy which stands far above China when it comes to free speech and freedom of conscience. When I say “be proud” I don’t mean be nationalistic, it just seems to me that the internal freedoms Japanese citizens — and residents and guests — so enjoy should not be taken for granted and, indeed, I believe it would behoove Japanese businesspeople to sublty remind their Western (prospective) partners of this.

SI: Over time do you think the US “got more used” to dealing with Japanese business practices?
RN: I believe that American businesspeople are more adaptable than many others in the world give them, give us, credit for. That is, while Japan offers a “comfort level” for American companies, American intrepidness — when it comes to developing or diving into new business opportunities — continues to inform business decisions and ready the internationally-minded American businessperson to tailor their goals, models and attitude to the opportunity at hand. And, as with young business persons from every country, there are Americans in their twenties and thirties who have no compunction, no hesitation, about throwing themselves into China, or Japan, Korea, India.

SI: Apart from limited English abilities on the Japanese side, what do you see as the biggest hurdle in global business negotiations?
RN: It’s with regret that I continue seeing too many Japanese decision-makers — that is, board members, presidents, vice-presidents and senior managers — who seem stuck in 1989. That is, they remain too insular. Too many corporate leaders do not seem to fully grasp that when it comes to making decisions, the luxury of time, of meandering through the process of ringiseido (consensus building decision making) which they practiced in previous decades, cannot continue unchanged. In the 20 or 30 years ago today’s Japanese executives were mere underlings, were just beginning their corporate careers. They’re continuing to model their actions based on what they learned back then. But time-consuming consensus building now can easily lead to their Western counterpart merely taking the opportunity to another Asian country, to a country hungry to do a deal. In other words, when Japan was “the only game in town,” American or other businesses had to wait in line. Those days are gone. And for all the unique opportunities and comparative advantages Japan still enjoys, demand for Asian partners and Asian markets has grown elastic; such markets, namely China, and partnership prospects have grown exponentially since the Bubble days. Younger Japanese businesspeople and the growing entrepreneur class in Japan certainly “get” this. But today, in the beginning of the second decade of the 21st Century, the culturally sensitive, bi-lingual or tri-lingual Japanese engineer or lower level manager in his or her 30s or even 40s continues to sit silently while too often company leaders operate as if the Bubble never burst, as if India was still socialist, China had never seen a traffic jam and Theory Z was still required reading in every American MBA program. Japan must modify this decision making model if it wants to hold its own.

SI: In a Japanese business environment if you could change something, what would you change?
RN: Along with and related to the need to stream decision-making, Japanese companies must learn to stop fearing failure. That doesn’t mean they have to take crazy risks, but I would like to see them risk more. One neologism I’m hearing more and more the U.S. is “deal flow.” That is, that the more agreements, deals, transactions, partnerships, projects a company can bring online, the more opportunities for success come that company’s way. That’s not to say companies, from any country, should undertake crazy or stupid projects in order to hit one “jackpot.” And a high deal flow risks turning a good project bad by a company’s spreading itself too thinly. So a balanced approach is certainly called for. Right now, though, I still don’t see much of that balance in Japan; I see much of the same plodding, overly cautious, slow-go approach to making decisions both large and small. It would be helpful to Japanese companies to open up more to foreign partnerships, international collaborations, to joint R&D. Of course this happens, collaborations and partnerships have been going on for years, but I would like to see the pace picked up. Besides — and this is the positively ironic part — taking the risk to partner more shares and spreads and mitigates overall project risk. This applies to any company, of course: whether Japanese or American or Indian or British, what have you.

SI: For so many years you have been connected to Japan. Why can’t you stop?

RN: We never forget our “first love,” do we? Perhaps, for example, had I studied Spanish and the history of Spain and lived the life of a college exchange student in Spain, rather than Japanese and Japan, then I would feel the depth of emotional connection with that great country the way I do Japan. It’s been more than 25 years since my first time living in Japan and I’ve gone through several phases of my life wherein I’ve either lived in Japan, or in which Japan’s played a pivitol role. Japan’s brought me opportunities and it’s formed the backdrop for personal aspects of my life — both indescribable joys and inconsolable tragedies — that are forever intertwined with who I am. I can no more think of Japan not being part of my life than I can think of cutting off a limb. Besides, as a long time resident of Japan, an American friend who lives in Kyoto, told me last year: “There’s a surprise every day.” I think that that’s part of what makes Japan continue to be so fascinating to me, I am simultaneously completely comfortable and braced for “the surprise of the day” whenever I’m in Japan. I should mention that, while I live in the United States now, when I’m scheduled to travel to Japan — business usually takes me there one to three times a year these days — and I’m mentioning this to someone in Japanese, I don’t use the verb “iku,” (to go), but, rather, “kaeru” (to return), as in Nihon e kaerimasu. It may not be grammatically proper, but it’s what I feel.

Thank you so much Richard for taking so much time to provide us with these amazing insights. Honestly I was really surprised that you had mentioned that you see the Japanese legal system as mature, because from a legally inexperienced person’s viewpoint I just perceived it as so complex and incomprehendable, that I gave up trying to understand even a part of it. At the same time, I agree that in Japan a contract is still a contract and I have not experienced any situations where a contract seemed to be “only a piece of paper” without legal consequences. Additionally I agree with you that the business decision making process can be too slow in Japan, especially when dealing with a larger, long established Japanese company. On the other hand, this lack of time concern creates lots of opportunities for smaller newer companies, who are very proactive and flourish in comparison. I am really curious whether one day (again?) Japan will create an environment for “go getters”, proactive business men with a time efficient approach, not being afraid of taking risk in business in order to create some “hit” on a global scale.

You can find more information about Richard R. Newton on his firm website:

Or then his Culture & Arts of Japan blog:

Twitter: @RichardRNewton

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Support in two directions: Saul H. Fleischman

Today it is “Interview Wednesday” again. Saul H. Fleischman has created his own company “OsakaBentures” with the focus on either supporting companies to gain better access to the Japanese market, or then the other way round Japanese companies to get a better foothold of the global market. His services are available not only to larger companies, but as well he knows to support smaller niche players. Saul definitely understands the challenge that companies naturally sense, when entrusting sensitive business information to an off-site contracted person. Moreover his company becomes even more attractive to hire, because he can offer services for only a few hours per week and therefore companies do not need the heavy first investment to make a difference related to Japan.

Sibylle Ito: What do you see as the top mistakes foreign companies do while trying to enter Japan?
Saul H. Fleischman : Many assume “people are people,” and expect to win market-share in Japan without changing their packaging. Easy solutions include colors, inner layers of packaging – since for Japan, particularly with food/beverage/body goods, Japanese may be more likely to re-purchase products that seem cleaner. As for colors, they mean different things in different countries, and one does well to at least ask Japan-side contacts for opinions.
Finally, for a favorite example of mine, let’s consider Swiss (sorry, Sibylle!) chocolate bars. They are some of the best in the world, and always have been – but they are huge, hard to display with similarly-priced and target-market chocolate bars in Japan, and again, they always have been. Pity, maybe we would see Lindt, etc. in more stores, and they would surely yield more profits by selling one or two smaller bars for the Japan-market.

SI: Is it really necessary to have in Japan a “Japanese style of sales channels”? Isn’t the distributor network going away slowly, but surely?
SF: Well, you don’t have a Japanese sales channel yourself (your company, I mean), you get distributed thoroughly and rapidly by choosing an active and plugged-in distributor, and when you negotiate with them, ascertain that your line will not wallow in the pages of a catalog, but rather will be actively marketed. I am one to stipulate this when I negotiate for Japanese manufacturers that are in a position to choose between several distribution partners per country or region.

SI: Where do you see for the Japanese side the main challenges of becoming successful internationally?
SF: They still are getting nowhere with English and making little headway with foreign culture sensitivity. Then again, this is why I have been so handy to Japanese firms that see opportunities for sourcing products to import or have produced overseas (OEM), or to market overseas: they need foreign businesspeople like you and I do work with “the other side.”

SI: You are focusing quite strongly on Social Media. Do you see it efficiently used with Japanese companies compared to abroad? Do you have a favorite Japanese company?
SF: In fact, I still consider myself a student of social media. I think most of us who are strong with it should take this stance, though few do. I am most critical of groups and companies that run media events and bother to organize a uStream channel and a Twitter tag for a major event – but then don’t bother with the many, who try to interact remotely. I know this frustration is shared by many – who are not fortunate enough to be available (and in Tokyo, London, San Francisco, etc.) for the events there. So, while I have many favorite non-Japanese information blogs/sites, such as readwriteweb, techcrunch, and then favorite SNS, like LinkedIn and the groups I have created and continue to build in LinkedIn, I have many “unfavorite” companies due to how they fail to engage and rather “broadcast” self-promotional information feeds.

Thank you so much Saul for sharing your insight. It seems to me although with all the multi-media we have become more and more interconnected, but the challenges seem to stay the same: Not recognizing the difference of the Japanese market or then the challenge of Japanese doing business in English. For sure I wish you only the best that more great Japanese products become known abroad and being selfish, hopefully more Swiss chocolate becomes available in Japan.

More info in regard to Saul H. Fleischman can be found at

or then his company or then the LinkedIN profile

English profile:

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Learning Japanese is fun: Munezai Yo

After a couple of weeks of a break, it is Interview Wednesday again. This week we can learn more about foreigners learning Japanese at Kai Japanese language school in Tokyo from the School Administrative director: Munezai Yo. Personally I am still struggling with some aspects of the Japanese language, so I was curious to hear more about why others come to Japan to learn the language and whether their challenges are similar to mine.

Sibylle Ito: Anime is promoted as an export item and I have heard that more young foreigners become interested in learning Japanese. What are your observations?
Munezai Yo: Almost all of our students just “love” anime! I think that’s one of the main reasons to come to Japan recently, especially European students who take up more than half at our school. It’s a wonderful cue for foreigners to get interested in Japan and Japanese culture, however, some students love manga too much and told me they don’t read newspaper or magazines but manga even though they study Japanese here! I don’t think it’s a good behavior but once again I want to emphasize that it’s a wonderful starting point and I’m very happy to hear that all of them found wonderful things of Japan other than manga during their stay. In addition, most of them say they want to be bridges between their countries and Japan, which we really want to support. Actually, that is our goal.

SI: I think for all Non-Asian Japanese learners the biggest challenge is remembering all the Kanjis. What else to you see as a common difficulty?
MY: I would say non-kanji area people, not Non-Asian, are having difficulties remembering all the kanji since only people in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea use them. We have Kanji contests 4 times a year and interestingly students from non-kanji area often get very good scores. That’s often because kanji-area students tend to underestimate it. So I want to stress that even people from non-kanji area can master kanji.
Back to your question, another common difficulty beside kanji is probably keigo. Many students say they’re having a hard time how and when to use it. They particularly feel difficult about the usage of respectful, humble and formal terms. One of the reasons why they feel so is it’s often related to Japanese culture. And that’s why we make a strong effort to culture related classes.

SI: At Kai you are promoting a multinational environment. What have you personally learned from this environment?
MY: That is cultural gaps for sure! Let me tell you an example. A few months ago, two of our teachers gave an internal presentation about their class focusing “understanding different culture”. In the lessons, the students share how to apologize or decline friends’ favors in their home countries. Those from the same countries gather, discuss their country ways of apology and rejection in their native language first, and make a presentation in Japanese. The teachers showed a video of Japanese ways and after that they discuss how different they are. It was very interesting to know the difference was so big and it’s different in each culture. I think we’re very lucky to have students from over 30 countries all over the world, which allows us to have this type of classes at school.

SI: Can you tell me more about the research activities your language school is doing?
MY: That’s another thing we’re very proud of. Our teachers continue research activities all the time and make several presentations at conferences such as “The Society for Teaching Japanese as a Foreign Language Conference” every year. Our original textbooks are the result of their efforts and our students really enjoy studying with them. Our research activities are basically to develop better teaching methods, educational materials and student support. They include “In search of effective learning and teaching method of shadowing,” “Research on the needs of short-term stay learners,” “Improving teachers’ ability for inward and outward communications” and “Writing lessons with Japanese supporters.”

SI: Is there something you wish you had known before being involved with Japanese language teaching?
MY: Actually, I was teaching English at a different school once and that’s why I could imagine what’d be like before I got involved. The necessary paperwork is a lot more than I imagined, though… But I really enjoy working here and want to spread around how easy Japanese is to learn! Many of the foreigners and even Japanese think Japanese language is difficult to learn. And that’s also what I thought. But now I know it’s not correct! That’s because syllabic sound system is simple, word order is flexible, and there’s no gender to nouns and adjectives, etc. Moreover, we have wonderful teachers, staff and educational materials! LOL Anyway, I want to emphasize that I want more foreigners to study Japanese language and better understand Japanese culture and love Japan more and more!

Thank you so much Munezai for introducing your experience teaching Japanese to foreigners. I have to confess I am one of those, who truly believed that Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, but your arguments about the word order, no gender to nouns… has truly convinced me. I guess I have now no more excuses on why my Japanese has not improved lately.

More info in regard to Munezai Yo can be found at

or then directly the Japanese language school

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Weekly interviews continued?

I had received some inquiries, whether the weekly interviews have stopped. Of course not, because I believe that giving a voice to others in regard to Japan is an important part of this blog. My apology due to my increased international travel schedule and work load, I was not able to conduct as many interviews as necessary, but let me assure you, I am still continuing to interview others. Thanks for understanding.
Feel free to let me know in case of any interview requests, questions or concerns.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

A Swiss woman living in Japan

This week I am adding my own recent interview with internet site Expat Arrivals, an information source for professionals planning to work abroad. As an exception this week enjoy the interview below or have a look at the original site. For sure I enjoyed this week having an opportunity to answer questions related to living in Japan.

About you

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m originally from Switzerland, but before moving to Japan I lived in Los Angeles California for 7 years.

Q: Where are you living now?
A: Currently, I am living mostly in Tokyo, previously about a year in Yokohama.

Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: Almost nine years.

Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?
A: I moved alone from the US to Japan.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My personal goal is to increase my global understanding in life science / biotech / chemical business after gaining work experience in Switzerland and US. I work in market development or sales mainly for foreign companies in the area of life science, biotech and chemical products.

About your city

Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life?
A: For sure the top quality of food and not only Japanese style, but also other styles. I can get whatever I might need. Warm-hearted friends and interesting local community. Apart from the long working hours and work pressure, for sure top quality of life.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Long vacations, otherwise nothing.

Q: Is the city safe?
A: Very much so, because I always have to remind myself when leaving Japan that I need to be careful about security again. In the real countryside most homes do not need any locks.

About living here

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: You should choose where you’d like to live depending on your Japanese language capabilities. Not all areas are home to English speaking Japanese people, and therefore some expats prefer to live around areas where there are more foreigners – like Roppongi. Personally, I prefer those areas of Tokyo or Yokohama where only few foreigners live.

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: As with every dense, large city rent is not cheap, but not as expensive as in New York or in Zurich for the same space.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Again depends on what scale you compare it too. From personal experience I would say cheaper than in Los Angeles, but not as expensive as in Zurich. Good food is cheap even on a global standard, and prices of previously high priced items – like apparel – has come down recently.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: I call Japan my home. Since moving to Tokyo I’ve mainly had contact with locals, but recently I’ve started to meet with a few long term expats.
The community you choose to mingle really depends on what your reason for being in Japan is. If it is just for short term like 2-3 years with limited Japanese, then local contact will be more difficult.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Very easy and I experience a more supportive network than I experienced in the US or in Switzerland.

About working here

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: No, was rather easy to get a working permit.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: Depends really on your professional background and your Japanese language knowledge. From my professional experience in Japan 95% of the contacts or meetings I have are conducted in Japanese. Therefore limited language abilities can be a big problem.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: Compared to my working experience in the US and in Switzerland the working hours are longer, and due to the work load potential work on the weekend is not unusual. The inter-dependence and level of teamwork is higher in Japan than anywhere else I have experienced. As a consequence, taking more than 3 days at a time off really disrupts the work flow and has effects on the working environment.
The biggest challenge I have seen between locals and foreigners is that the shorter working hours and the additional days of leave taken by expats creates a perception of less commitment among the Japanese.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, I moved on my own.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: My husband is a Japanese National, and I got married here in Japan. Consequently there were no adjustment problems.

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: From what I have heard it can be challenging to go to local schools if Japanese language skills are not good enough. So, international schools are often an option, but this can depend on financial status.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Depends on the location of the practice.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: I definitely fell in love with Japan. From personal observation, it seems that the expats who compared Japan to other countries faced the biggest problems adjusting. The people who tried to change the style of doing business in Japan, or those with a lack of desire to learn Japanese struggled the most.

“Where Mt. Fuji meets Matterhorn” is half a year old!

Half a year ago I decided that I got too tired of reading and being annoyed by the lot of nonsense that can be found in the online world about Japan and instead of complaining, I realized that I should take actions on my own. By this simple decision this blog started with the intention to show Japan from a multicultural perspective. Now after half a year let me go back to the top 10 articles that you as the readership were visiting the most.

1. The unexpected on a Shinkansen

2. Japanese manners: Info from an expert!

3. Matsuri: Sense the origin of Japan!

4. Japanese history of feeling really good

5. Women’s purchasing power not to be neglected

6. Most popular summer activities in Tokyo

7. Tokyo as the third and last step

8. What is your limit while working abroad?

9. No choice but need to hire from abroad?

10. Japanese PR explained by Patrick Budmar

Thank you so much for your support and loyalty. I sincerely appreciate it!

Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)