I’m half Japanese, I speak Japanese fluently, and I studied Japanese business and culture in college as part of a minor. Yet I don’t think I’ll ever be employed by a Japanese company in the US or abroad. This is deliberate and a decision I’ve come to after what I’ve gathered from my studies and internships at Japanese companies. With that said, I have a deep love of Japan and its culture.
There are two cultural points. The first is that Japanese ethnicity is directly tied to the culture and that culture is distinctly “on” or “off”. Other cultures don’t necessarily suffer from this binary interpretation of culture. Most cultures exist on a spectrum. One can be “pretty American” or “pretty French” and are treated accordingly. The second is that culture is too often tied to character rather than just mannerisms. Japanese people feel that they share a societal obligation or burden with each other which is not shared by others.
How That Affects Me
Personally, there is an aspect to this that is perverse because I am half-Japanese. My appearance, my familiarity with Japanese culture and speaking Japanese helps me to quickly develop relationships with Japanese team members. These relationships allow me to enter what seems to be the inner circle before immediately hitting the wall of the actual inner circle. The ACTUAL Japanese circle. Seeking acceptance to this circle is a long process. Japanese people working in the US are only here 2-5 years. That is not enough time to develop the meaningful relationship I referred to earlier in order to become part of the inner circle.
This is further complicated by American counterparts who think I have an “in” with the Japanese. This breeds expectations or fears that I am some kind of agent or double agent within the organization. Trust me, this isn’t a healthy place to be.
I’ve regularly been in situations where I’m asked to “listen-in” on the other’s conversations while at the same time being excluded from the same group’s conversations. Further, when I tell one group something and by inadvertently omit the other group, offence is taken. I am often in situations of Catch-22.
At the same time, I’m aware that my position is a somewhat privileged one. With my background I have an insight into Japanese culture and particularly the rift that is often present in the relationship between Japanese and Americans. I think these challenges can be overcome through education, communication and work. This has led me to believe that I should work in an environment to improve cultural understanding between Japanese and Americans. I’ve decided to begin writing and studying Japanese culture like never before. Unlike many blog posts on the internet, this is the beginning, not the end.
Learn the fundamental Japanese cultural concepts that I teach in Course 1 for Japanese culture.