In the first part of this article, Arya shared about the selection process for working in a Japanese energy company. In this section, he is back to share with us the main challenges he encountered while working and living in Japan as well as tips on overcoming them. Here you can find helpful advices if you plan to pursue a similar career path in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Regarding data provision for Idemitsu, I am responsible for providing the summary of weekly middle distillate sales data and send it to all branch offices in Kanto Koushinetsu Area. The data carries numerical information of each distributor’s sales to and to which customers (factories) sales are made, as well as sales performance in previous years. Observing the data helps us to compare current sales trend and set sales plan. Our company also created oil professional community called ITMs (Idemitsu Technical Masters) whose members are our distributors’ sales representatives. Together we hold monthly assembly and share information each other to improve skills to satisfy the customers better. Though I have the least experience in oil industry compared to other oil professionals, my duty is to assist them when data regarding current oil trend is needed. Cooperating with ‘Lubricant Oil Department’ and ‘International Supply and Demand Department’, we undertake a wide range of job, from setting up the meeting venue, taking on small research to see current global oil market trend, to doing presentations. We do not merely carry out oil trade, but we also educate the customers by providing them better understanding about proper oil usage and treatment, as well as about global and domestic oil market trend.
As I mentioned earlier, although ‘marketing’ section in our company focuses more on middle distillates or industrial oil trade, it does not necessarily mean we comprehend nothing about gasoline station. As our company also serves the imperial family of Japan by completing procedures when the Imperial House Agency (IHA) refuel its vehicles in our gasoline stations throughout the country, it is important for me to always observe gasoline price movement and understand more about the country’s geography, because often, IHA uses the gasoline stations in the countryside. Our office connects IHA and the gasoline station’s person in charge of each region in Japan.
- The Concept of Harmony
If I must conclude Japanese business culture in three words, I would say, “ethics”, “ethics”, and “ethics”. 「暗黙ルール」(anmoku ruuru) is the Japanese phrase for “unwritten rules “ or “consensus”. As Japanese are always conscious of their hierarchical position in any social setting and act accordingly, there are almost impossible to remember all, numerous consensus in Japanese business world; starting from how to position yourself in the elevator, hand-in your business card, to where to sit in the car based on your level in the company. You might often hear how Japanese are extremely industrious and punctual compared to many other nations. Being at the office an hour to 30 minutes before the official office hour starts is a very common thing. Once you arrive at the company, do not ever imagine to chill out a little bit checking out your Instagram while enjoying puffy croissant. Get in, sit, and work. Some might consider it is robotic, but for Japanese, it is all about ethics.
Japan is unquestionably ruled by the Japanese. Unlike other developed nations, Japan is exceptionally homogeneous. For a millennium, Japanese way of living is based on the concept of 「和 – wa」(harmony, peace, tranquility, or balance). Harmony within society is highly cherished to evade turmoil, thus every single member of society is expected to act equally as others and should not perform distinctive conduct or behavior. As the result, homogeneity, equality, and esprit de corps (unity, togetherness) become inseparable entities within Japanese society.
Japanese robotic routine might be regarded as the country’s rigidity as well as austerity. However for the Japanese; it is a way how to keep balance and harmony. In addition, to constantly preserve harmony and balance, Japanese government also actively promotes “manner” (not to smoke while walking, no rushing into the train, reporting suspicious item to the nearby staff or police, etc). Japan has the lowest crime rate in the world. Tokyo and Osaka are considered as world’s safest cities despite their gigantic population. Japanese police officers do not carry lethal weapon (gun). Instead, they carry police baton (night stick) and patrol around by bicycle. I personally, and my other expatriate fellows, have never been a victim of crime in this country. Countless times, I accidentally left my cellular phone in the public toilet, fitness center locker room, or convenient store counter. It was just still there, or somebody else took it and hand it in the staff nearby to be kept in custody. I feel safe to leave my groceries bags in the bicycle basket while going away to another store. And I never concern of leaving the car unlocked in the parking lot. Japanese behave veritably “civilized”, both in daily life and in business world.
- Dealing with Japanese
Be constantly minded that Japanese people have group-oriented mindset, which leads them to hold high uncertainty avoidance. Meaning that, the Japanese look at dissimilarity, distinction, or discrepancy as matter of concern. In order to be able to work in Japanese company and to mingle within Japanese society, here are some points you might want to put in mind.
- Show interest. Once you make it to get in touch with Japanese company, either by introduction, direct interview, or competition, gather all information about the company and let them know you have keen concern to the company by asking questions related to it.
- Japanese proficiency. Be minded that most Japanese do not speak English. Inability of performing Japanese language skill is tolerated, but only at the first time. Once you manage to enter the company, upgrading your Japanese skill is a must. Remember that you do not want to impair the ‘harmony’, so at first, keep in mind “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. After gaining trust and becoming a part of them, with no rush, you can show your originality.
- Act as a group (report, contact, and consult). An individual (ordinary employee) does not have full right to make decision. Always discuss with your boss whenever you try to make decision to assure you do not surpass the guidelines. Information should always be shared with coworkers so when you are unable to deal with a certain matter, others can help. One for all, all for one.
- Speed above perfection. Of course, perfection is not less important. However, keeping someone waiting is impolite. For example, you are asked to provide data about current market trend and compile it into Power Point and given three days to complete it. Try to finish it within a day or two. When you find out that you cannot complete the task within three days and you realize it after accepting the deal, contact the person on the first day. Earlier is always better. Or, when accepting the deal, try to make time allowance, for example, instead of 3 days; try to negotiate if it is acceptable to complete the task within 5 days. But still you should attempt to finish it within 3 days.
- Ethics and manners above ego. Both work for professional world and daily life. Keep yourself and the environment around you clean. Public facilities are built for all citizens. Be considerate, concede to each other, and make concession not to monopolize them for your own interest. Bow as low as possible (keep humble) even to the people you think least important. Keep in mind that you are a part of the society. If you cannot contribute anything to the society, at least follow the existing norms, do as what others do, and try not to create commotion.
Last but not least, at first, when you become an expatriate in Japan, you might find yourself lose your identity as you have to act just like what others do. You do not lose your identity. You just need to fit in for a certain time, until you get accustomed. In Indonesia, you may do not get used to pouring drinks to your seniors and coworkers at the office, stamping all documents with your personal seal, separating the garbage conscientiously based on its kind, or braking your car and letting the pedestrians pass. Here, everything has regulation. Take some time to control frustration and ego, release your inner kindness and compassion, and be humble enough to follow the rules. Someday, you will be able to teach our fellow Indonesian to live under decent order and harmony as the people of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Photos provided by the author