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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Things About Business Culture I Didn’t Expect

[From January Issue 2012]

Alessandro ALLEGRANZI

Although Alessandro ALLEGRANZI, holds dual American and Italian citizenship, Japan has fascinated him ever since reading the samurai novel Musashi in junior high school. “It was great fun, and really opened my mind to a completely different culture and world,” he says.

“I’ve had an interest in Japan since that time, but unfortunately didn’t get to study the language until college, when I attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenessee, USA. I studied the language for four years.”

The big change for his Japanese came, however, during his semester abroad at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. “I remember for the first few weeks people kept giggling at my Japanese, and when I asked why, they said it was because I spoke like an old woman. Thankfully, after a few yakuza and samurai period movies, the problem solved itself.” He goes on, “I learned more during those four months in Japan than during the four years in the US combined.”

He now works for a freight forwarding (shipping services) company in Tokyo. “I focus on the USA-Japan lane, and sell the company’s services, organize rates and customer support, etc.” More specifically, “On a typical day, I actually spend most of the time outside the office, making sales calls, visiting clients and prospects. I usually get back to the office around four or five, and stay there until seven or eight glued to the computer doing correspondence and clerical stuff.”

“I am the only foreigner in the office. The vast majority of my sales calls are in Japanese.” He continues, “Business Japanese is a totally different beast. Just in terms of vocabulary I felt like I had to learn a whole new language. ‘Bonded warehouse,’ ‘customs inspection,’ etc., were all terms I had to learn from scratch. Additionally, in school I had learned keigo (formal Japanese) towards the end of my studies as a sort of afterthought.”

The culture also presented some surprises. For example, “One of the guys who works under me in exports leaves every day at 6pm sharp.” As a result, everyone criticizes the man: “He is lazy; he doesn’t care about the job, the list goes on.” Yet, according to Allegranzi, this is the most efficient man in the office. “To me, as an American, the whole phenomenon is ridiculous. However, in Japan, in a lot of cases, how long you work equals how well you work.”

According to Allegranzi, this is because, “In Japan, generally the company is the focus, and the individual is a cog in the machine.” But actually, he has come to appreciate one effect of this. “The sense of unity and togetherness also has its positive side. It takes a while to break in and be accepted, but once you’re part of the group, you’re in.”

Text: Gregory FLYNN


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