Table Speech

Towards a Japanese-style Globalization based on World-class Japanese Virtue

April 23, 2014

Ms. Ruth Jarman Shiraishi
CEO, Jarman International K.K.

 I joined the Recruit Co., Ltd. in 1988 and have worked solely for Japanese companies throughout my career. I got acquainted with 40,000 foreigners from many different countries through my work. They posed me a variety of questions on Japan that helped me gain an in-depth understanding on the good points of this country. Being a non-Japanese from Hawaii, I wish to share with you today my observations on “internationalization of Japan” as well as the ideal way of globalization.

 Let me show you a photo taken as a marketing material of a company in the serviced apartment business targeted for foreigners. You see three ladies in kimono. One is from Akita, Japan, the other is from Calcutta, India, and I am on the right. This photo tries to convey the corporate image that they “provide the best service to clients from a variety of countries by staff members also from a variety of countries.” In my opinion, the ideal way of globalization is to become more fully human by incorporating foreign elements into one’s original identity. I have lived in Japan for 27 years and have absorbed its good points and utilized them in bringing up my children, without sacrificing or losing anything instead.

 Let me share my experiences as a non-Japanese that illustrate how internationalized Japan has become in 27 years. One is about my favorite McDonald’s. You hardly came across a foreigner walking around Shinbashi 27 years ago. Back then, I sometimes felt homesick partly because I could not speak Japanese. When I heard McDonald’s was going to open in Ginza, I felt so happy to eat my favorite hamburger at a place where I could communicate in English. As I approached the counter attendant, however, he looked alarmed to see a foreigner and I could not get myself understood in English nor get an English menu. Today, you find a foreigner behind the counter who speaks fluent Japanese at McDonald’s in Shinbashi. Another example shows how willing Japanese people have become to communicate with foreigners. I recall one late Friday night in 1988 at Shinbashi Station. As I was looking up at the subway map to find my way back to Minami-Gyotoku, where I used to live then, a group of businessmen approached me in a cheerful mood after drinking. I had a faint hope that they would help me out, but to my disappointment, one of them rushed towards me with a pen, exclaimed “This is a pen!” and ran away. Today, when I look a little puzzled at the ticket-vending machine, people come over immediately asking “May I help you?”

 As the world gets more internationalized, we must realize, once again, the virtues and advantages Japan and its people have. We must also try to promote internationalization without losing our identity. I published “33 More Reasons to Be Proud” (Asa Publishing Co., Ltd.) with the hope that especially the young people would get my message. Feedback from people in their 20s and 30s has been encouraging, as they stated “many episodes sounded familiar.”

 Let me quote some episodes from the book, which reflect the virtue of Japan. Firstly, I was amazed to find a notice saying “lost article: cash” near an elevator at the Nippon Press Center Building where I had worked for 12 years. I imagined the story behind the notice: somebody dropped his/her cash, which went into good hands of the finder, who reported it to the building caretaker. The caretaker registered it promptly to return the cash to the right person. This exemplifies that Japan is a country based on deep trust. We are held accountable to hand down such virtue.

 Another episode is about nice flower arrangement displays we find at many railway stations. I learnt that many mothers volunteer to arrange flowers and such activities continue over a long period. I believe continuity is the key in building business relationships with Japanese partners, while business practices in other countries tend to go for a single-shot project or duty on a tentative basis. The Japanese excel in keeping continuity.

 Thirdly, the Japanese refrain from giving immediate answers. I once gave trainings to Indian companies willing to do business in Japan. Some complained that the Japanese counterparts had hesitated to speak out or give clear-cut answers in meetings. I explained to them that “giving no immediate answer is actually the advantage of the Japanese.” While Japanese companies do not answer right away, once they give an answer, they are determined to fulfill their commitment.

 Being considerate for others is also another Japanese virtue. People in Japan try not to bother people around them by paying due attention. Their behavior is also based on a strong sense of gratitude. There are so many different ways to express gratitude in the Japanese language, and I adore them all.

 Before closing, let me ask you to convey what I think real globalization is to the young staff members working for you. I believe we can achieve real globalization when we become more fully human, by learning from and assimilating the good points found in beautiful foreign cultures. To this end, we must first become aware of the good points of Japan and its people, like good manners, cherish them as well as put them in words so that you can make yourself better understood.