Dec 7, 2013

Thoughts on Do in Rome as the Romans do.

Hello there.

I guess it's about a time to brush up my English. I haven't studied or trained myself for long time.

So, this post will be my rehab post in English. Bear with me, if you keep on reading ;)

In last post, I wrote about a book called "Greed" written my Jin Mayama who is my most favorite author.

The book was actually No.4 of the series called "Hagetaka".

It is about a banker named Washizu, who used be a partner of KKL (which should be KKR in real world.).

Although the book was about Washizu completing his mission during Lehman Shock and financial crisis, one of the big theme to me was "What is American like?".

I've been thinking about that for quite a while. I know this topic has been talked and discussed over by many others and maybe even you know well more than I do.
But still I wanted to write how I think now and by doing so I can organize my mind.

Here is the phrase still gets my mind thinking.

"A Japanese may want to become American. But it is impossible to understand the physiology of that multiracial nation. To say that the driving force of the American Dream is greed not ironical avarice at all. The United States professes itself to be a country of the freedom, but they need to defeat another person and greedily running the race to survive it simply because of the freedom. It is the United States. However, they may not live if they do something like that in Japan."

I remember the first culture shock that I had with American.
It was when we were playing the video game.
Not everyone could play at same time, so we took turns.
I wasn't good at the game, so I was little hesitant to play it in fear of causing trouble to my team.
I wanted to play but I couldn't say "yes" right away when they asked if I wanted to.
I ended up not playing at all, simply because I could not assert and say that I wanted to.

Another occasion, (this might be special but still do) is when my church had "retreat", but men did not like that name. They said they never retreat. So the name ended up being "excursion".

The real picture in the book is derived from the fact that those "CEO" could not admit their company is about to collapse and causing the big mess in the market.

I'm currently reading the book "TOO BIG TO FAIL" by Andrew Ross Sorkin.
It amazes me how many times the top, especially Richard Fuld, could not face the reality and made himself believe that his company can last. (that did not happen in the end...)

Yes, I believe to some degree that the mind of those people were so greedy that they did not care others interest and strive only to increase or at least keep their money.

I know many kind and generous Americans. They are very nice and have a good heart.
Still,  I can see the "physiology" Mashizu referred to.

Here I am not making the case that Americans are not good but rather making my personal observation.

The last part of the statement is  "it is the United States. However, they may not live if they do something like that in Japan."

Recently, I see more books about "the ability of listening and elicit others' views" in book stores. That, I think, shows how much we Japanese put emphasis on listening and see is as a skill.
Actually one of the biggest lesson I learned during my college life in Tokyo; fully immersing myself in Japanese culture, was the importance of listening to others.

It is more than cliche that Japanese would not say their true opinion easily.

As a matter of fact, it is not difficult to understand there is a great cultural difference. And one way that works in its homeland would not work in another.

I understand that I need to change my mindset when I work with Americans so that things would so smooth.
But, I often get frustrated because of this cultural difference.

I really understand the way American takes is usually rational and effective.

Sadly, because of its rationality and effectiveness many think it is the way that works everywhere in the world. I've seen that happening quite a bit times.
Some have asked me why, I would simply answer that is just Japanese way. (Of course I can't blame everything for its culture since some are due to their personality.)
But that is not true.

Yet, I understand why they act and say. They grew up in the culture of survival. They need to win to be alive. They should not admit their fault easily. They must say if they think it right.

The way of thinking is deeply rooted in them. It is not easy to put it aside.

So, we cannot say and judge which either is good or bad.
It is simply their culture.

But still I think the important thing is this.

"Do in Rome as the Romans do."

It is a such a huge challenge to me.

Difficult part is switching.
Every day, I work with Japanese so I need to try to think our way as Japanese.
I need to "try" because I am well Americanized and can't be the way there.

But, other occasion, my mind needs to be switched to American so that I can work with and understand them better.

It is a good struggle.

With Japanese I get to learn how to listen and draw out their true opinions. With Americans, I get to practice to assert and speak up when I need to.

I'd love to hear what you think. Please talk to me or comment if you can.


  1. I am, in part, at a loss because I don't know enough Japanese to have a conversation in Nihongo. So I can't really comment on what type of communication skills are necessary in Japanese society or how they differ from those in American society. However, I can comment from the perspective of an American.

    The first thing I have is a question: Can you please elaborate on the following passage?

    To say that the driving force of the American Dream is greed not ironical avarice at all. The United States professes itself to be a country of the freedom, but they need to defeat another person and greedily running the race to survive it simply because of the freedom.

    Is it stating that the driving force of the American Dream is greed and that Americans feel obliged to trample anyone on the pathway to success just because they have the freedom to do so? If so, that is one possibility. There is a lot of greed in American society. But I would point out that there are many different opinions on the definition of the American Dream. The American Dream is the possibility of success, the right to pursue your interests and either fail or prosper. Just like it says in the Declaration of Independence:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    The American Dream, in my opinion, is not that everybody has a nice house with a fat bank account and a brand new car. The dream is that we have freedom to better ourselves and our situation in life. The Pursuit of happiness is the American Dream, not happiness in itself. Those that trample others down with reckless abandon on the pathway to success are filled with greed, and I would hope that they are in the minority.

  2. Now when it comes to the difference in communication between Japanese and Americans...

    Americans are very direct. I can't tell you if I learned it from the military or America or just by being an adult male on Earth, but I believe in directness. I've been taught that if you want to be heard you need to make yourself heard. You have to speak up. You also have to think before you speak. You can only make one first impression and new acquaintances are often easily written off just because of poor communication skills. Right or wrong I can't say, but that's been my experience. If you are going to speak, get to the point. I don't need to be buttered up, if your intentions are good and your reason is sound, then your voice will be heard and your opinion considered. Sometimes people will not let you speak and you have to yell. Sometimes, even yelling doesn't work and you might need to (figuratively) step on some toes or throw an elbow to be heard. It's all dependent on the situation and the circumstances.

    Now, there is one thing I like about communication in Japanese culture that I find largely absent in America. I cannot verify this personally but it's something I've somewhat picked up on and heard a lot about. In life, there are some things that cannot be taught, they can only be learned. The Japanese seem to require more attention and listening skills to hear what's really being said. And that's a necessary tool because sometimes approaching the issue head on isn't going to work out. There are some conclusions people have to come to on their own, some lessons that have to be learned and not taught. Also, words fall short sometimes. Sometimes there are just no words for the situation or the issue and it needs to be approached from a direction other than just head on.

    I would venture a guess that in general American males have a lack of finesse and a surplus of brute force when it comes to communication. I know for a fact its true with the guys in the military. And I like it. But at the same time, finesse cannot be disregarded and it is equally important.

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason; so we can listen, at least, twice as much as we talk.

    I don't know if all that makes sense but it's what I have for now. Neither the Japanese or American way are wrong, they are just the Japanese and American way. I find the Japanese way mysterious and look forward to getting more familiar with it.