Thursday, July 18, 2013

Western Women Working in Japan

I am now getting ready for my new life abroad. Thankfully, up until June, I worked at a college, and this made researching for my new job relatively easy. 

One of my colleagues and mentors published this book in 1995, and in 2013 I picked it up and hoped to follow in the footsteps of those courageous business women before me. 

In the very beginning of the text, the authors describe the target of their study: high-level professional women in Japan working in fields besides teaching (English instructors are by far the largest group of western foreigners in Japan). At that time, professional Western women in Tokyo were very few, with the study estimating that there were only around 200 professional (non-Englih-teaching) women in Tokyo in the early 1990s. These women were composed of company transfers (very few), trailing spouses who found jobs after relocating to Japan for their husband's position, and a substantial group of women who moved to Japan on their own, and begun searching for employment. 

For me, I could see a lot of myself in the latter category of women. They were the go-getters. The ones who risked moving to Japan and with no job security and somehow they managed to make a life for themselves there. Although I have a gig lined up in Japan, I am hoping to make a successful career change while I am there, and I will likely be working in the field of international HR. I want to be one of these "'globalists' – people who 'think across borders' in their task of marketing, producing, or managing resources. Such global thinking demands that firms have people able to act as 'chameleons,' casually and comfortably adjusting to and thriving in multiple cultures and settings" (4).

Although much has changed in the last two decades since the book was published, I still gained a lot of insight into the journey I am about to embrace. 

To that end, I have compiled a list of the skills I am hoping to acquire though my experience overseas this year:

  • Improving my language ability

I'm far from fluent in Japanese, but I hope to at least become proficient in a professional setting this year. Language skills are important because "the greater a woman’s ability to communicate verbally, the more she perceives her acceptance as a professional as positive" (91).

  • Forming relationships with coworkers despite a linguistic barrier
While we are on the topic of language, one advantage to increasing my Japanese ability is that it will allow me to bond with my coworkers. I have never actually had the chance to form professional relationships with people who were not at least conversant in English, so this is an exciting new challenge. "A clear and strong connection between their job and work adjustment and the quality of the relationships they have with their Japanese colleagues and other with whom they work (105)

    • Increasing my tolerance of ambiguity
    I need to increase my ability to thrive in situations with minimal (or no) guidance and instruction. Management styles in the west involve giving clear guidance and expectations, but that is not the case in Japan (or much of Asia) .

    • Learning how to adjust my expectations
    I talked a bit about this when I first learned my placement. Its almost impossible to enter into a new situation with no expectations, so I at least need to learn to adjust them accordingly as new information becomes available. 

    • Learning how to quickly and affectingly adapt to new situations
    "A key to living and working in successfully  a foreign culture is the ability to adjust to new ways of doing things" (103). Along with adjusting my expectations, adaptation is critical to succeeding abroad. 

    •  Learning to work with and without autonomy
    Autonomy was one of the things I loved about my last job, but in reality, I cannot expect to always work in positions in which I am granted the same level of autonomy. There may come a time I  have to deal with micromanaging bosses, nosey colleagues, and inefficient or less-than-competent teammates. Because Japan is such a collectivist society, it is unlikely that I will find a position which gives me the kind of autonomy that I had in the West, so I will need to learn how to better thrive in a team. 

    • Reading the air 
    The Japanese expression for this is 空気を読む (kuki wo yomu),  which literally means, "reading the air." This skill refers to one's ability to decipher  the  unspoken thoughts or feelings of a group of individual. Japanese society is such that people are unlikely to feel comfortable expressing their feelings directly, so one cannot expect direct feedback and instead must try to sense others' thoughts. 

    • Knowing how to choose my battles

    This is an important one. I know it seems pessimistic to anticipate the negative elements of a job before it has begin, but I certainly cannot expect or assume that everything will go my way. Learning which elements of my new role I should challenge and which I should accept will make life a lot easier:

     "Women gained flexibility from dealing with Japanese attitudes toward woman professionals in general. As they experienced sexual bias and harassment, they cultivated the ability to recognize and understand another cultural perspective. By grasping that perspective, the woman also said they learned to concentrate on the important aspects of their jobs and to avoid being pulled into peripheral frustrations….Learning to sort out the unimportant ones(letting Japanese men precede her onto the elevators)  had taught her to focus on the essentials of relationships rather than on surface behavior" (125). 

    • Building up emotional resilience
    I once took an intercultural competency assessment which rates how prepared an individual is for dealing with intercultural contexts. With all my traveling and experience, I thought I would nail it....and it did...except for one area: Emotional Resilience. This means that when I fuck up, I practically beat myself over the head with a dictionary, and it takes me days to recover. In fact, I was so upset at having failed the Emotional Resilience section, I brooded about it for weeks....hence, proving the point of the assessment. Inevitably, when I am in a new environment, I'm going to screw up a lot, and I have got to learn how to bounce back quickly and learn from the experience, instead of scolding myself and crying in the bathroom from embarrassment. 
    Makes sense. 

    1 comment:

    1. First, Japanese men tend to be more reserved than Western men. They are really quiet, passive, and serious most of the time, which make them so boring when you are with them. Japanese women who are more outgoing and fun can easily get bored with those reserved Japanese men and find Western men much more attractive to go out with.

      - See more at: I cannot find Japanese men attractive!


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