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Whether you’re applying to a traditional Japanese company or a Gaishikei (a foreign company in Japan), here are a few expert tips to help you ace that job interview.
Do your homework before interviews and before accepting an offer
Get as much background information as you can on the company, the job and the concrete expectations of the Hiring Manager. It’s easy enough to look online, but we’ve always found it best to reach out to people who are either currently working in the company or former employees, as well as those who have interacted with the organization, or even your potential Hiring Manager! Be diligent with your research by getting real data from reliable sources. Having a second, third, or fourth opinion allows you to see the company from a variety of viewpoints.
Prepare your questions in advance of interviews
Many people overlook the fact that having well-thought-out questions for your interviewer is actually one of the best ways to show your competence and sincerity of interest in a role. While this might have been a bold move in the past, nowadays I feel it should be standard for all candidates to do their own due diligence on companies by asking questions at each step of the interview process – especially in today’s candidate-driven market where the ratio of jobs available to candidates in the Japan market can be as high as 7:1 depending on the exact domain of the job and requirements.
In terms of the types of questions to think about when preparing for an interview, it is important to understand who you are meeting and calibrate your questions to the audience. Some ideas are as follows:
HR Interview – focus your questions on career development systems, training, company culture, the type of people whom have been successful joining, as well as the types whom have not, the challenges they see in the organization and how they plan to address those, etc. Direct Hiring Manager Interview – focus your questions on their current challenges, future goals for the team, short term (less than 12 months) and mid term (12-24 months) goals of the role, how they define success for this position, perspective on company culture, thought about business prospects and risks, etc. Executive Interview (more senior than the direct Hiring Manager) – focus on the bigger picture, more macro topics such as overall direction of the business, threats to the business or organization, challenges they are facing in growing the business, etc.
One area we do not feel candidates should directly address through their questions (especially early in the process) is the topic of compensation & benefits. We have seen many people over the years send the wrong message to a prospective employer by asking about their salary budget, airline seat class policies for business trips, etc. in the first interview. Focus on the organization, role, business prospects, career development opportunities, etc. If you do well enough and are interested in what you hear, there will be plenty of time to talk about compensation & benefits later in the process.
As mentioned in our previous article, because of the political and cultural landscape of Japan, traditional Japanese companies and even many gaishikei (foreign companies) tend to ask questions here that may not be customary overseas. If you are interested in our thoughts on this topic, please check the link at the end of the article.
Another point to be aware of is the length of time the interview process may take to complete (of course this depends a lot from company to company, so we are talking in broad brush strokes here). We have seen many interviews here last 1.5-2 hours at times because Hiring Managers have spent a lot of time and effort to talk about personal topics with the candidate they are interviewing and also have seen many hiring processes easily last 4-5 months as many companies continue to prioritize collective decision making processes and want to build consensus along each step of the process. Japan is still a very consensus-driven decision making culture – it’s often the community or the workplace that decides on hiring decisions, not a single person.
Even if you and the hiring manager have very good chemistry, there are often still numerous other stakeholders involved in these decisions, so that naturally tends to lengthen the decision making process here vs. other, more pragmatic approaches to hiring. The tech sector, as well as a handful of Japanese companies, are catching up and trying to speed up their processes in general, however, as a rule of thumb in Japan, patience will go a long way in helping you manage your nerves in most interview processes.
Preparing well for any endeavor involves getting the right mindset and setting your expectations straight. If you keep these three tips in mind, we are certain that the interview process will be more manageable for you.
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Interviews in Japan can be quite different when compared to those in other markets and we hope that this article is able to help you prepare for your pending job-seeking activities.
In some of our previous articles, we went over the behaviors and mindsets to adapt to in order to build a successful career in this country. If, after reading that, you’re still keen–maybe even eager–on pursuing a professional career in Japan, then the next step would be to look for opportunities and start submitting your CV. This can prove to be both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience for candidates, regardless of where they are from or their experience level.
Getting a foot in the door with a prospective employer in Japan takes preparation, patience, and a general cultural awareness if you are to be successful in your endeavors. There are some aspects to the interviewing process here that are quite unique, and if you are unprepared for them they can come across as very administrative, awkward and downright invasive if you do not understand the context in which they are happening.
When looking at hiring processes in Japan, it is very important to keep two fundamental concepts in mind so that you can understand why certain questions or processes are taking place in your interview process.
The first concept to understand is that Japan is generally a very pro-labor country, with labor laws highly skewed towards protecting employees rather than employers.
Secondly, Japan has historically had very low labor liquidity amongst mid career hires, so this has led to the country having a comparatively less sophisticated, more administrative approach to talent acquisition vs. some other markets globally.
A Pro-Labor Japan
In terms of the country’s basic political landscape relating to employment, Japan is very pro-labor. Labor laws in the country are generally constructed to protect full-time employees, making it very hard for companies to fire their people if needed. One of the positive derivatives of this pro-labor backdrop is that it generally helps to cement strong commitments between companies and their workforce over time.
Unlike in other markets where poor performance can easily cost you your job, in Japan, you will typically find that companies must stick with their employees, even through bad performance because the process of actually firing them is too costly, painful and time intensive given the protections in place for labor in the country.
The downside of this, from the employers’ perspective, is the difficulty in risk-managing hiring processes to limit the downside of a bad hire for companies operating in Japan. This has led to a generally more cautious, risk averse hiring process for many companies in order to try to avoid the high costs associated with a bad hire.
General Expectations for the Job Interview
These two fundamental aspects of the Japanese labor market steer the direction of job interviews into ways that most foreigners are not used to. For one, foreigners will find that Japanese companies casually ask about one’s 個人情報 (Kojin Joho) or private information, which includes age, salary, salary verification, marital status etc.
This might be uncomfortable for foreigners who are not used to disclosing such things, and in many ways goes against the current of popular culture relating to privacy rights we have seen erupting around the globe. However, regardless of global trends around privacy, according to local labor law In Japan, companies have the right to ask such questions in the interview process as part of their due diligence in hiring mid career talents for their team, so rather than fighting the process, you might as well get prepared to disclose such information in most cases if you want / need the offer from a prospective employer in Japan.
Given the strict labor laws protecting employees highlighted above, hiring managers are compelled to carefully consider the personal background of their candidates in order to better ascertain their fit to the organization and to attempt to minimize risks associated with mishires, so might as well be prepared to disclose such information if you want / need an offer from your prospective employer.
Another part of the standard interviewing process in Japan, which we feel is actually generally more of a positive than a negative, is the focus from the employer on genuinely building a relationship with prospective candidates and getting to know one another on a personal level to ascertain cultural and philosophical fit to the group. Many hiring managers and companies will spend extended time getting to know a candidate’s personal hobbies, family situation, etc. in order to attempt to deeply understand them as an individual and to try to gauge their overall fit to the team. This may not happen in all interview processes, but we see it more often than not with more traditional organizations in Japan as such organizations are often more focused on protecting their organizational 和 (Wa), or harmony, rather than simply maximizing performance by bringing in an all star from outside the group.
At the end of the day, understanding the context as to why certain things are happening or why certain questions are being asked in an interview process can go a long way in helping you to successfully navigate your job seeking activities in Japan.
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Collaboration to Accelerate Use of Autonomous Vehicles and AI Technologies Expands to New Testing and Validation System
Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD) and NVIDIA today announced a new collaboration to develop, train and validate self-driving vehicles.
The partnership builds on an ongoing relationship with Toyota to utilize the NVIDIA DRIVE AGX Xavier™ AV computer and is based on close development between teams from NVIDIA, TRI-AD in Japan and Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in the United States. The broad partnership includes advancements in:
AI computing infrastructure using NVIDIA GPUs
Simulation using the NVIDIA DRIVE Constellation™ platform
In-car AV computers based on DRIVE AGX Xavier or DRIVE AGX Pegasus™
The agreement includes the development of an architecture that can be scaled across many vehicle models and types, accelerating the development and production timeline, and simulating the equivalent of billions of miles of driving in challenging scenarios.
“Our vision is to enable self-driving vehicles with the ultimate goal of reducing fatalities to zero, enabling smoother transportation, and providing mobility for all,” said Dr. James Kuffner, CEO of TRI-AD. “Our technology collaboration with NVIDIA is important to realizing this vision. We believe large-scale simulation tools for software validation and testing are critical for automated driving systems.”
NVIDIA founder and CEO Jensen Huang added, “Self-driving vehicles for everyday use and commercial applications in countless industries will soon be commonplace. Everything that moves will be autonomous. Producing all these vehicles at scale will require a connected collaboration for all elements of the system. Our relationship with TRI-AD and TRI is a model for that collaboration.”
AI, and specifically deep learning, has become a vital tool for the production of next-generation automated vehicles, particularly because of the need to recognize and handle the nearly infinite number of scenarios encountered on the road.
Simulation has proven to be a valuable tool for testing and validating AV hardware and software before it is put on the road. As part of the collaboration, TRI-AD and TRI are utilizing the NVIDIA DRIVE Constellation platform for components of their simulation workflow.
DRIVE Constellation is a data center solution, comprising two side-by-side servers. The first server — Constellation Simulator — uses NVIDIA GPUs running DRIVE Sim™ software to generate the sensor output from a virtual car driving in a realistic virtual world. The second server — Constellation Vehicle — contains the DRIVE AGX car computer, which processes the simulated sensor data. The driving decisions from Constellation Vehicle are fed back into Constellation Simulator, aiming to realize bit-accurate, timing-accurate hardware-in-the-loop testing.
This end-to-end simulation toolchain will help enable Toyota, TRI-AD and TRI to bring automated vehicles to market.
About TRI-AD Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development, Inc. focuses on the advanced development of software for automated driving efforts. Its mission is to build the world’s safest automated driving car, as well as strengthening coordination with Toyota Research Institute (TRI) and the research and advanced development teams within the Toyota Group. Activities include developing automated driving software, leveraging data-handling capabilities and creating a straight line from research to commercialization. See more at www.tri-ad.global.
About TRI Toyota Research Institute is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor North America under the direction of Dr. Gill Pratt. The company, established in 2016, aims to strengthen Toyota’s research structure and has four initial mandates: 1) enhance the safety of automobiles, 2) increase access to cars to those who otherwise cannot drive, 3) translate Toyota’s expertise in creating products for outdoor mobility into products for indoor mobility, and 4) accelerate scientific discovery by applying techniques from artificial intelligence and machine learning. TRI is based in the United States, with offices in Los Altos, Calif., Cambridge, Mass., and Ann Arbor, Mich. For more information about TRI, see www.tri.global.
About NVIDIA NVIDIA‘s (NASDAQ: NVDA) invention of the GPU in 1999 sparked the growth of the PC gaming market, redefined modern computer graphics and revolutionized parallel computing. More recently, GPU deep learning ignited modern AI — the next era of computing — with the GPU acting as the brain of computers, robots and self-driving cars that can perceive and understand the world. More information at http://nvidianews.nvidia.com/.
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The so-called Earth Overshoot Day has moved up by two months over the past 20 years and this year’s date is the earliest ever, a study by the Global Footprint Network says.
Mankind will have used up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for all of 2019 by Monday, a report said.
The so-called Earth Overshoot Day has moved up by two months over the past 20 years and this year’s date is the earliest ever, the study by the Global Footprint Network said.
The equivalent of 1.75 planets would be required to produce enough to meet humanity’s needs at current consumption rates.
“Earth Overshoot Day falling on July 29 means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate. This is akin to using 1.75 Earths,” the environmental group, which is headquartered in Oakland, California, said in a statement.
“The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, or the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter leads to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events,” it added.
Calculated since 1986, the grim milestone has arrived earlier each year.
In 1993, it fell on Oct. 21, in 2003 on Sept. 22, and in 2017 on Aug. 2.
“We have only got one Earth — this is the ultimately defining context for human existence. We can’t use 1.75 (earths) without destructive consequences,” said Mathis Wackernagel, founder of Global Footprint Network.
Maria Carolina Schmidt Zaldivar, Chile’s environment minister and chair of the Climate COP25 scheduled this December in Santiago, said a major cause of the date falling earlier and earlier was growing amounts of carbon dioxide emissions.
“The importance of decisive action is becoming ever more evident,” she said.
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Google made almost all its money from ads. It was a booming business—until it wasn’t. Here’s how things looked right before the most spectacular crash the technology industry had ever seen.
The crumbling of Google’s cornerstone Back when Google was still just an idea, its founders thought that “advertising funded search engines [would] be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.”
They changed their minds.
With that change, Google became one of the wealthiest, most powerful companies in history. Search was Google’s golden goose, as well as its only unambiguous win. So when Amazon rapidly surpassed Google as the top product search destination in 2017, Google’s foundations began to falter.
Amazon was fighting Google on its home turf, and it was winning. Even worse, the people turning to Amazon over Google for their shopping searches were from the most important group for advertisers and the future: young people. Advertisers followed them, and Amazon began to siphon away ad dollars that once went to Google search ads. Google’s mighty engine had started to sputter.
Google realized that it was hard to convince people who were used to getting something for free that they should now pay for it.
A shift from search to discovery also started to take shape in the late 2010s: When shoppers weren’t searching for things directly on Amazon, things were finding them. Advertisers realized that money previously spent on Google’s search ads was better spent either on Amazon ads or native ads in content feeds, like Instagram and Facebook. Google had no engaging content feeds, so it completely missed the wave, just like it had with social media and instant messaging.
Seeing the signs on the horizon, Google tried unsuccessfully to find revenue in areas other than advertising. Google struggled to make money with its hardware, cloud services, and wildly ambitious “Other Bets” categories.
For all its efforts, the money Google earned from its nonadvertising ventures only ever accounted for a mere 15% of their revenue. And revenue from Google’s moonshot “Other Bets” didn’t even cover a small fraction of the increasingly massive fines the company started to receive from looming regulators.
The war on ads In late 2015, Apple—Google’s main competitor in the mobile space—added a feature to their devices that allowed users to block ads.
Devices running iOS were responsible for as much as 75% of Google’s revenue from mobile search ads, which is probably why Google was paying Apple billions of dollars every year to remain the default search engine on Apple devices. By making this move, Apple was simultaneously weighing in decisively on the great ad blocking debate of the 2010s and dealing a substantial blow to the future of online advertising.
This move from Apple reflected the unprecedented mainstream adoption of ad blocking software happening at the time. Having one of the biggest technology companies on the planet standing behind consumers only emboldened the movement.
Well over a quarter of desktop and laptop users in the United States were blocking ads by the year 2018. Those users would soon block ads on their mobile devices, too, as mobile ad block usage eclipsed desktop usage in 2017 and rose even faster.
Mobile ads were one of Google’s biggest areas of growth during its final years of domination, but people started to block mobile ads en masse once they realized that ads and tracking scripts were costing them as much as $23 per month in bandwidth and using up a significant portion of their battery life.
Research showed that 54% of users reported a lack of trust as their reason for not clicking banner ads, and 33% found them completely intolerable. The average banner ad was clicked on by a dismal 0.06% of viewers, and of those clicks, over 60% were accidental.
Even those who weren’t blocking ads had trained themselves to ignore them entirely. Researchers dubbed this phenomenon “banner blindness.” The people most likely to block ads were also the most valuable to advertisers: millennials and high earners. Young users are a strong indicator for future trends, and they were heavy users of ad blocking software. Internet users had spoken, and they hated Google’s ads.
The ad blocking epidemic presented significant threats to Google’s business: People were getting used to using the internet without seeing ads, and Google was losing money every time their ads were blocked.
In early 2017, Google made the desperate, confusing, and legally questionable decision to add its own form of ad blocker to Chrome, but it did nothing except attract more antitrust regulation. It would quickly become clear to Google that even though ads were getting slightly better, ad blocking numbers would continue to rise.
Later, in 2019, Google tried to make it harder for users to block ads in its then-dominant Chrome browser. All while Google was paying huge sums of money to let its ads through the most popular ad blocking software.
Google wasn’t willing to acknowledge the problems people had with the system they helped create, and it was clear that the company had no idea what to do when people started rejecting it. Too many people had become accustomed to a web without invasive banner ads following them around and slowing down every site they visited. Internet users had waged a war on ads, and Google was losing.
An unprofitable behemoth A key platform where Google served ads was YouTube, which it bought in 2006 and quickly turned into one of its biggest entities. But even with a sixth of the world visiting this video-sharing behemoth every month, YouTube never became profitable.
While attempting to coax big brands and advertisers onto the platform in the hopes of finally turning a profit, YouTube misunderstood, alienated, and downright angered the creators and communities that had turned the platform into a global phenomenon.
In an attempt to combat the effect of ad blockers, Google launched an ad-free subscription model in late 2015, but the subscription numbers were underwhelming, and eventually, Google realized that it was hard to convince people who were used to getting something for free that they should now pay for it.
YouTube ads were interruptive and annoying to users, and the video-sharing site never proved to be as effective for brand awareness advertising as Google needed it to be. Global ad spend continued to move online from traditional media, but it wasn’t going to Google’s platforms.
The turning tides Google’s products were free, innovative, and used by billions of people. In order to get access to these free products, people had to give up their personal data and their valuable attention. Google’s ads weren’t something its users wanted—they were simply a tax for accessing the Google ecosystem.
Google was enticing people into trading their privacy, data, and attention for the convenience of its amazing free products and services, some of which had no good alternatives. However, scandal after scandal after scandal proved that the trade might not be worth it, and people started to question what they were giving up by clicking “I agree.”
Every word uttered to Google Assistant, every action in any of Google’s numerous apps, and every data point about every one of their billions of users was stored and analyzed in the name of more accurate advertising.
And it wasn’t just Google’s users questioning the trade-off. Regulators and decision makers also finally started to understand how free internet products and services made money, and the companies behind them soon faced a long-awaited reckoning.
With its golden goose getting old, ad blocking rising, public opinion shifting, regulation closing in, and all of its ambitious bets on the future failing to make money, a lot was riding on Google’s next moves.
It made the wrong ones.
How Google missed the chance to pivot If losing a major portion of their audience and annoying the rest wasn’t bad enough, Google also failed to get ahead of one of the biggest shifts in the internet’s history.
Google’s strategy since day one could be summed up as “aggregate and advertise,” as George Gilder put it in Life After Google. Every word uttered to Google Assistant, every action in any of Google’s numerous apps, and every data point about every one of their billions of users was stored and analyzed in the name of more accurate advertising.
Google’s business model was built on the foundational belief that in order to serve ads accurately, it had to collect and analyze as much data as possible from as many people as possible. This belief led the entire advertising industry to turn the web into a monstrosity of tracking and surveillance.
The holy grail of accurate advertising is perfect targeting and perfect attribution: getting an ad in front of the right people, knowing exactly when and where someone saw an ad, and being able to prove where credit is due when they make a purchase.
The entire industry was spinning its wheels chasing this vision, but eventually realized that its approach to the problem was completely backward. A vast, seedy, unfathomable landscape of tracking tendrils spanning the entire web would only ever overcomplicate things, ruin the user experience, and enable a staggering amount of ad fraud. True attribution and accurate targeting used to be rocket science, black magic, and nearly impossible.
The breakthrough was this: If everything from interest matching to ad placement happened inside the user’s device, it would be possible to show the user ads they would actually find relevant and understand exactly which ads they interacted with and how, all without the user’s private data ever leaving the device.
It turned out that ads didn’t need to broadcast a user’s private data into the ether in order to be accurate, nor did they need to slow down websites and cost the user their bandwidth and battery life in order to fund good content.
Treating people as people turned out to be a winning strategy — not just for advertising or the bottom line, but for society.
As Google’s revenue grew, so too did consumer awareness of how Google was profiting from our data and attention. We became increasingly unwilling to exchange privacy for convenience. We stopped clicking “I agree,” a trend that only accelerated when the company was forced by regulators to be more transparent about its business model. A perfect storm was brewing.
The companies that thrived were the ones that understood that people are not pawns in a game of corporate chess, bids in an infinite automated auction, data points in a sea of categories, or correlations in obscenely large data sets. People are people. And treating people as people turned out to be a winning strategy—not just for advertising or the bottom line, but for society.
Google wasn’t forever At its peak, Google had a massive and loyal user-base across a staggering number of products, but advertising revenue was the glue that held everything together. As the numbers waned and the competitors circled, Google’s core began to buckle under the weight of its vast empire.
Google had been a driving force in the technology industry ever since its disruptive entry in 1998. But in a world where people grew to resent being tracked and profiled, Google’s business model was not innovation-friendly, and it missed several opportunities to pivot, ultimately rendering its numerous grand and ambitious projects unsustainable. Innovation costs money, and Google’s main stream of revenue had started to dry up.
In a few short years, Google had gone from a fun, commonplace verb to a reminder of how quickly a giant can fall.
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Aurora, founded by veterans of Google, Uber, and Tesla, is building technology for self-driving cars.
The autonomous vehicle industry is looking a lot like a middle-school dance. Monday, Aurora and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced they would work together to put the startup’s self-driving tech, called Aurora Driver, into FCA’s commercial vehicles, including cargo vans and Ram pickup trucks. On Tuesday, word leaked that Aurora and Volkswagen had discontinued their 18-month joint effort to build an urban robotaxi system.
Wednesday, Aurora and Hyundai said they’re doubling down on their own partnership, with the South Korean company (and its conglomerate partner, Kia) pouring more money into Aurora’s now $600 million Series B financing round. The companies will continue to work together to build Aurora’s tech into Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered Nexo.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen and Ford, already working together to build electric commercial vehicles, are reportedly eyeing a more intensive autonomous vehicle tech partnership based around Argo AI, the Pittsburgh-based startup in which Ford has a majority stake. Hyundai recently poured money into Yandex, the Russian tech giant that is also building robotaxi technology. FCA is still building Chrysler Pacificas for Waymo’s self-driving tests; now Jaguar is building I-Paces for Waymo, too.
Plus, earlier this year Toyota doubled down on its investment in Uber, working with Japanese automotive supplier Denso to write a $667 million check that helped the ride-hail company make its self-driving unit more independent. (Uber also worked with Volvo to release on Wednesday a new generation of its testing robocar.) In March, Daimler (which is also working with Uber) officially pooled its resources with fellow German BMW on AV and mobility efforts. Apple, with its still-stealthy self-driving program, is eyeing the startup Drive.ai as a prospective acquisition, according to a report from The Information. Honda said in October that it would contribute $2 billion to Cruise, General Motors’ self-driving unit, over the next 12 years.
Through one lens, this is just how relationships work—especially when a middle schooler, ahem, industry is young and doesn’t quite know itself yet. Even a few years ago, when General Motors acquired Cruise and Ford poured money into Argo, self-driving tech companies and more traditional automotive giants understood that they needed to work together to get passengers into robocars. “The stage we’re at now is much more open to partnerships and collaboration, a model stolen from the tech industry 15 years ago,” Thomas Jönsson of Autoliv, a leading supplier of car safety systems, told WIRED back in 2017.
Now these breakups and makeups show that the companies understand better what they need from a partner, or at least have the good sense to know when something isn’t working. VW and Ford, for example, have been in talks about all sorts of collaborations, so it makes sense that VW would prefer Ford’s self-driving partner, Argo, to Aurora. (Some executive turnover at the German automaker probably helped, too.)
Through another lens, these alliances are signs of industry consolidation—no surprise in a sector that has spent billions to develop a tech that has yet to become a commercial product. Many in the industry have adopted the notion that self-driving tech will become more commodity than distinguishable branded product, says Mike Ramsey, an analyst at the research firm Gartner. That would mean the real money is in getting your technology into as many hands—or beneath as many butts—as possible. And after all that spending on research and development, no one wants to be left holding the bag. “This was always going to happen,” says Ramsey. “The musical chairs are disappearing.”
What sets 2019’s alliances apart from those made just a few years earlier are the deals between big automakers: Daimler and BMW; Ford and VW; Honda and GM. As tech development grinds on, even some of the largest multinational corporations in the world seem to need a dance partner.
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Building a successful career in Japan requires a recalibration of certain mindsets one may possess in order to better adapt to the culture and business norms here. Here are some of the mindsets one needs to embrace in order to flourish in Japan:
Don’t expect to be treated differently just because you’re a foreigner
When I was just starting to build my career in Japan, one of the things I appreciated from the Japanese was how accepting they were every time I would make a mistake culture-wise—they gave me a lot of room to learn. At the same time, I wasn’t given any special treatment or promised certain concessions for being a foreigner. And one should never expect otherwise.
A lot of the organizational expectations that are fundamental to organically Japanese companies still apply to foreigners. Such expectations include how often the Japanese take personal holidays (they take very few), the number of hours they put in for work (typically very long), the strict channels of decision-making, and even the generally top-down hierarchical structure of the organization itself. Japanese work environments tend to be quite rigid and strict—a huge difference from workplaces in the West that are more easy going and lenient towards people’s personal situations.. While Japanese companies are slowly evolving to keep up with global trends, they still have a long way to go, and an organization of 2000 people isn’t going to simply adjust to a few foreigners. So it’s better to manage one’s expectations if you are to build a career here. It may seem difficult at the beginning, but it’s also a means of growing as a person, not just as a professional as there are many positive aspects of Japanese corporate culture such as teamwork, commitment to one’s work, and a strong sense of responsibility to collective whole rather than just the individual as well as many others.
Calibrate your expectations in terms of compensation and timelines for professional development
What most foreigners with prior work experience outside of Japan are used to is a system that provides focus: you’re trained to do well on a particular task. This streamlined method makes development much quicker. On the other hand, the traditional model in Japan for hiring new graduates is this: hire a bunch of fresh graduates, spend about four months training each on a variety of tasks, and slowly build a workforce of generalists who know multiple company operations. In many ways, this set-up is effective because knowledge isn’t limited to one but is spread to the group. The downside of this is that the timeline of development has always been longer since you don’t get as much responsibility as quickly.
Even though this resonates more strongly with new graduates, it is still relevant to those in the middle of their career as well. In most Western companies, those in their early to mid-30s can already be executives leading large businesses, whereas, in Japan, people don’t normally get that same responsibility at least until their mid-40s. So if you’re a capable, high-flying person seeking to get executive exposure, joining a Japanese company in your 30’s may not be the best option, however, if you are inclined to become an entrepreneur and believe in your abilities, Japan provides various excellent opportunities to build a successful business here.
In addition to the above, salary compensation in Japan is generally not as competitive as in other first world developed countries such as the UK, US, etc. The reason behind this is mainly cultural—Japan values equitable distribution of goods and resources, making it a fairly balanced society. As opposed to other countries where there are widening gaps of wealth, in Japan, you typically don’t see extremely high pay for the all-stars and low wages for blue-collared workers—there tends to be more equitable distribution of compensation across the masses here than in other regions of the world. This is not to say that you can’t make a lot of money in the country—you can! But as a rule of thumb, if you’re joining a standard Japanese company, compensation is typically going to lag those of other first-world, fully developed nations, so you need to assess your priorities and adjust your expectations accordingly in most instances.
Have the initiative to learn the basics of the language, culture, customs, and norms
I think this is the most obvious mindset to adopt. I often get frustrated when I find foreigners unwilling to at least speak in Japanese and insisting on strictly English. English may be the lingua franca, but remember that Japan has a long history and a deep-rooted culture that had very little interaction with the English language for centuries; the country remained in self-imposed isolation (Sakoku) until about 150 years ago when the Meiji Era opened Japan’s doors to the world. I of course believe that to stay competitive Japan must improve its overall English literacy, however, one cannot expect to have deep relationships or deep engagements at work without some working levels of Japanese in my experience.
So if you intend on building a career in Japan, learn the language—conversational Japanese, at the very least, to help you engage with people and understand what’s going on. Aside from that, it’s important to learn basic customs and cultural norms such as bowing, exchanging name cards, or even excusing yourself when you need to leave your desk in the middle of work hours (yes, it exists!). Some people may find it strange, but in Japan, it’s basic etiquette.
You don’t have to try to become Japanese yourself (in fact, I don’t think you should try!), but you should at least make some basic efforts to assimilate in order to “rock the boat” less and gain more depth in your relationships here.
It may seem like a lot, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. Japan is a phenomenal country with excellent opportunities to build a unique and interesting career. For foreigners, as long as you know how to shift through the differences in culture and expectations, Japan is a goldmine for personal and professional growth and can provide you with a lifetime of excellent memories and meaningful relationships.
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For young professionals, mid-career entrepreneurs and people in the core of their career planning to uproot and relocate to Japan, here are a few behaviors to be kept in mind in order to have a smooth and growth-directed adjustment.
When anyone decides to move to another country and establish their respective careers there, it’s always important to understand the culture-shaping it and its people. This includes knowing the country’s customs, traditions, belief systems, work mentality, etc. and also being conscious of one’s own culture in relation to it. This understanding—of another culture and of one’s own—is crucial in building a successful career outside of one’s home turf.
As a foreigner working in Japan for over ten years (I’ve been here since 2006), understanding the Japanese culture and being aware of the differences—as well as the similarities—with my Western, American upbringing, has helped my career grow with fewer hurdles. In terms of one’s attitude, here are some of the things I’ve picked up that are key to building successful working relationships in Japan:
Don’t Dominate Meetings and Be Comfortable With Silence
Most of us who grew up in Western cultures, such as the U.S., Canada, and Europe, were raised to be assertive, to voice out our opinions, to speak up and express—for Americans, think “Thanksgiving dinners”. In short, we talk a lot. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you find yourself in a meeting with Japanese colleagues, you’ll find that Westerners usually dominate the discussion. It may be due to the fact that we’re culturally more assertive or that we’re more fluent in English but in general, the Japanese tend to be more reserved with their speech. They don’t like to voice out their opinions as boldly as Westerners and they are also very polite, so much so that when someone starts talking too much, they wouldn’t try to stop or cut that person off. That’s why it’s easy for us to dominate meetings, even if it isn’t our intention. Be aware of this so that your opinions don’t eclipse those of others.
I think that another reason for this tendency to “over-talk” is our discomfort with silence. We feel pressured to fill these gaps in speech with words, even to the point of nonsense. Although to us, silence is considered an empty pause, to the Japanese, silence has value—it’s an opportunity to reflect or to give the person you’re talking to time to digest what you said. This practice of pausing and reflecting has actually helped me engage in more meaningful conversations within and beyond work. So instead of making an effort to fill gaps in a conversation that can rattle others and derail the discussion, aim for purposeful silence.
Gain Influence Through Softer Means
If you’re working at a Japanese company and you want to make an impact or steer the work into a direction you feel is important, go soft, not hard. In Japan, it is not normally customary to confront an issue, insist on an agenda, or question one’s superior in front of everybody (a definite no-no). You have to ease your way in instead of asserting your points bluntly.
The Japanese value harmony over disruption and operate within a very hierarchical management structure. Influence isn’t given instantaneously but requires effort and time. To get your foot in the door, you first need to climb the ladder, which entails earning trust and doing consistent, quality work over time. If it seems like a lot of effort, it is—but trust me, this creates firmer, more resilient roots to support flourishing work relationships over the long run, something people in Japan tend to focus more on than others in my personal experiences.
Act as a Bridge
Although Japan has begun to take more aggressive steps toward learning the English language, according to a survey conducted by the Japanese Ministry of Education (and in my everyday life experiences here!), the general population still has low levels of English literacy, thereby creating humongous gaps in access to global information.
There is usually a two to four-year lag in Japan in terms of some cultural trends (think keto diets just taking off here!), industry trends, business management, and even issues related to workplace diversity and inclusion. But these gaps can be an excellent opportunity for foreigners to act as bridges. If you plug into the wealth of information across the globe and stay on top of the best practices, there are a lot of opportunities to arbitrage these between Japan and the rest of the world. Utilize those gaps, as they can be spaces for you to grow credibility, influence, and trust. This is a great way to add value to those around you – just remember point #2 and not to push too much too fast.
If you keep these three behaviors in mind—don’t dominate meetings, gain influence through softer means, and act as a bridge—it will be easier to transition to Japan and more importantly, establish a successful career in this wonderful country.
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The advantage of person-to-person skills transfer is that over generations, we keep improving.
Imagine a manufacturing plant in the perfect world of the internet-of-things. All machines are programmed, connected and humming smoothly 24/7. Breakdowns are prevented by automated maintenance. Noise fills the plant but no workers are in sight, with the exception of a few in white lab coats in a central control room.
That picture may be accurate today for some consumer products, such as pharmaceuticals, but in reality few factories are so highly automated, particularly outside the consumer industries. One still sees technicians on the shop floor.
Despite the hype around automation, the position is unlikely to change much for the foreseeable future, even in Japan, where labor shortages are especially intense.
Even the most advanced machinery makers say some technologies will remain analog in a digitized world. A company may supply the most sophisticated industrial robots to customers around the world, but to make them, they often rely on 50-year-old machines operated manually by seasoned workers. If the machines break down, these skilled workers know how to fix them.
Even in a world of ubiquitous internet and automation, there is room for analog human intervention because not everything can be digitized, at least not for a long time. Replacing equipment typically takes place over multiyear cycles, during which the workers take time to familiarize themselves with the kinks of the machines they work with.
The fashionable solution, in an increasingly tight labor market, is to use artificial intelligence to replicate human expertise. Many initiatives are underway to instill human nuance into AI so that it can reproduce a skilled technician’s movements precisely, eliminating the need for human apprentices.
Problem solved? Not so fast. AI, while perfectly capable of performing the tasks it is taught, cannot stumble across new and better ways of doing things. The advantage of person-to-person skills transfer is that over generations, we keep improving. Technological development is an accumulation of serendipitous accidents. This is the element often overlooked in when presenting AI as a magic bullet in manufacturing.
Of course, human workers do have one huge disadvantage versus AI: They get older.
Like the Japanese population as a whole, the country’s manufacturing sector is suffering from population decline and a growing imbalance between young and old. According to a government survey, Japan’s manufacturing workforce shrank 9% from 11.7 million to 10.6 million between 2008 and 2018. While the share of workers over age 65 in manufacturing employment rose 2.4 points from 6.5% in 2008 to 8.9% in 2018, the under-35 age group fell by almost 4 points from 29.0% to 25.1%.
Allowing older workers to stay on the job longer is one way to ensure continuity on the factory floor, traditionally a strength of Japanese manufacturing. Even so, today’s work environment is not kind to older staff. Most companies — 79.3% of all companies and 88.7% of manufacturers have a designated retirement age of 60, according to a 2017 Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare survey. Although the revised Law for the Stabilization of Employment of the Aged stipulates that employers must offer jobs to those who wish to remain employed up until the age 65, their salaries are often slashed after they hit 60 — by 20% to 40%.
When it comes to older workers, Japan could learn a lesson from Germany, another advanced manufacturing nation grappling with an aging workforce. Backed by a system of corporate governance that gives workers direct representation on company boards, and a voice in management decisions, Germany works hard to retain older skilled workers. German manufacturers often provide tailored contracts to experienced technicians, who may work three hours a day, or on call. They sometimes receive mechanical assistance, for example, with heavy lifting.
ABB, an engineering powerhouse, founded a Generations Center in 2012 in Mannheim-Kaefertal to promote a better workplace environment and in-house recruitment opportunities, as well as to address the health care needs of older employees. Bosch, a well-respected leader in automotive sector, welcomes the retired experts to return as consultants on project-basis. Companies in Germany understand that these experienced workers value respect and care, which motivates them to work harder.
In Japan, a progressive approach to older staff is easiest seen at small to mid-sized companies, perhaps due to their acute labor shortages and the short distance between the shop floor and management. A mid-sized industrial pump manufacturer, for example, handcrafted flexible working conditions for a company veteran in his late sixties. Despite suffering cancer, the employee continues to contribute in quality assurance, his specialty, while teaching the trade to younger colleagues.
The traditional manufacturing sector in Japan is vertically constructed with layers of small to mid-sized suppliers which collaborate seamlessly often despite a lack of capital ties. The older generation has built the trust to work together between companies, providing a hidden lubricant to the system. For this reason, we must not underestimate what older employees represent; human relationships in addition to technical competence.
For employers, investing in younger workers by offering training and benefits is a no-brainer. But young, talented employees may well jump ship, taking the current employer’s investment to another. Investing in senior workers, something employers may overlook, lowers that risk: Senior workers have already demonstrated their loyalty.
Employers must ensure that older workers’ knowledge and skills pass to the younger generation.
Keeping older engineers happy, healthy and working longer is a necessary defensive strategy. Employers must ensure that their knowledge and skills pass to the younger generation.
Older workers also preserve analog technologies and techniques. As companies digitize, analog processes are often neglected or dismissed by management. For those older staff who feel left out, a possible response might be management buyouts or starting their own companies.
There are examples of successful venture capitalists who focus on a niche group of entrepreneurs, such as SoGal ventures, which specializes in helping women entrepreneurs. Why not a Japanese fund that would invest in older engineers with access to specialized, mature technology? With proper access to the global market such companies could thrive.
Seeking external funding is not the only way to build scale. In the internet-of-things era, factories are no longer islands but can be connected online. If skilled tech workers and their shop floors are connected, they can form a networked manufacturing platform for outsourced operations through every step of the manufacturing process — from prototyping to scaling.
If those who need process expertise can be coupled with those who possess the equipment needed to do the job, older entrepreneurs can be an engine for the new “manufacturing-as-a-service” business.
The “silver economy,” is a buzzword in developed economies. It tends to focus on older people as consumers, or their particular needs, such as health care. But one must not forget older workers and entrepreneurs are a vital part of production in the silver economy. Older people are not simply warm bodies plugging a hole in the labor market, but a source of innovation and competitive advantage in manufacturing.
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Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2019—The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota) agreed today to study the possibility of collaborating on international space exploration. As a first step, JAXA and Toyota agreed to further cooperate on and accelerate their ongoing joint study of a manned, pressurized rover*2 that employs fuel cell vehicle technologies. Such a form of mobility is deemed necessary for human exploration activities on the lunar surface. Even with the limited amount of energy that can be transported to the moon, the pressurized rover would have a total lunar-surface cruising range of more than 10,000 km.
International space exploration, aiming to achieve sustainable prosperity for all of humankind by expanding the domain of human activity and giving rise to intellectual properties, has its sights set on the moon and Mars. To achieve the goals of such exploration, coordination between unmanned missions, such as the recent successful touchdown by the asteroid probe Hayabusa2 on the asteroid Ryugu, and manned missions, such as those involving humans using pressurized rovers to conduct activities on the moon, is essential. When it comes to challenging missions such as lunar or Martian exploration, while various countries are competing in advancing their technologies, they are also advancing their cooperative efforts.
JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa had this to say today about the agreement between JAXA and Toyota: “At JAXA, we are pursuing international coordination and technological studies toward Japan’s participation in international space exploration. We aim to contribute through leading Japanese technologies that can potentially generate spin-off benefits. Having Toyota join us in the challenge of international space exploration greatly strengthens our confidence. Manned rovers with pressurized cabins are an element that will play an important role in full-fledged exploration and use of the lunar surface. For this, we would like to concentrate our country’s technological abilities and conduct technological studies. Through our joint studies going forward, we would like to put to use Toyota’s excellent technological abilities related to mobility, and we look forward to the acceleration of our technological studies for the realization of a manned, pressurized rover.” Read More