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Germany – Japan Cultural Awareness

Germany – Japan Cultural Awareness

Bizarrely, I’ve been spending a couple of days in Frankfurt working in the ‘Brexit-hedge’ subsidiary of a Japanese bank.  Lots of financial services organisations (and others) have been forced into opening an EU-based office to guard against the potential consequesnces of a disasterous no-deal Brexit or a bad Brexit.  The cost of all of this to the organisations involved is truly mind-blowing and it is essential therefore that these new offices ‘hit the ground’ running and deliver an ROI as quickly as possibe.

Hence my presence in Frankfurt running cultural awareness training programmes on working with Japan (and also the UK).  It’s quite a copmplex jigsaw puzzle if you work in an office in Frankfurt which reports into the UK which then reports into Tokyo!  Lots of potential for cultural misunderstandings and inefficiencies in all of that!

In one of the cultural awareness training programmes where we were focuing more on Japan than the UK, I had the good fortune to have an experienced Japanese expat and a British guy who had worked in Tokyo for Japanese banks for 15 years and who was a fluent Japanese speaker.  At one point I took these guys aside and asked them to feed back to the rest of the group what they felt were the top ‘need to knows’ when working into Japan.  These are what they came up with:

  • The pace of work is slow and decisions take a long time to be reached
  • Hiererchy is very important and this manifests itself in lots of ways but one impact they really stressed was on respect for age
  • The Japanese don’t expect foreigners to ‘get them’
  • There is a delicate balance between business and social – you have to do both with colleagues and socialising outside the office is critical
  • The Japanese are ultra-change-resistant and this is partly a result of both consensual decision-making and the rotation policy used by all large Japanese companies
  • Face is vital – do not do things to make people lose face.

I had a slide ready covering all of these issues but thanks to these two great delegates I didn’t need to use it…….