I never dreamt I would start a business in Japan. Or actually anywhere for that matter! I always thought that people who started their own businesses were so motivated, so street-smart, so up for anything. So not me.
I like the worker-bee mentality in Japan, although I would definitely strive to be one of the slightly senior bees, I was quite happy to work for the man, punch in and out, get paid and live happily ever-after until I was 60.
Of course then I became a housewife and spent the most boring, unfulfilled year of my life stewing in my own unfulfilled, bitter juice. The thought that I could be a housewife/stay at home mother for any longer actually made me really anxious. So I was faced with the dilemma, go back to worker-bee mode but juggle kids and a house with it (much harder), or to start something of my own, on my terms. And thank God I did. Starting my own business has been one of the best experiences of my life. I can take pride in something I built, that I am almost solely responsible for, and something that even if it fails, means I had a good hard crack at least!
Now I've never started a business anywhere else, and I imagine some aspects are international, but doing business in Japan has really been a cultural eye-opener. And by eye-opener, I mean like when they do lasik surgery and clamp your eyes open and shoot lasers in there kinda eye-opening! There were so many aspects that side-swiped me, no matter how many business books I read or how much I planned, I just had to learn about it by doing it and making mistakes.
I got lots of advice when I started: "Work hard!" "Do your best!" "Speak Japanese!" "Don't speak Japanese!" and loads more that I just let wash over me because I was actually so clueless that my brain didn't know which compartment to file all the advice and just kind of blocked it out. But there was one piece of advice I got from a (Japanese) friend of mine who also ran her own business, and it was:
"Don't try to be too Japanese, you'll have a much better business if you act like a 'dumb' foreigner."
Now I had no idea what she meant at the time, and she said it in a really nice way so it wasn't at all offensive to me, and I've realised, after 3 years that this was possibly the best advice I got.
But now it brings the question of, why??
And all I have to do is turn the TV on to get my answer. The foreigners on Japanese TV aren't the ones fluent in Japanese language and culture, they're the 'stupid' ones who make mistakes and cultural blunders all over the place. Bobby, Laura, the girl on the washing powder advertisement, the guy in the McDonald's commercial a few years ago, they all have a 'dumb foreigner' character that they play, and play very well. But what is that doing for the vast majority of us who CAN speak Japanese, who CAN be culturally sensitive?
Not that I really care that much, I may get on my moral high horse but really I just want to run a successful business, so I find myself stressing less about my perfect telephone manner, about the whole other 'polite language' that is so crucial when speaking to a customer, and hey if making exclamations of amazement when being told that Japan has 4 seasons and the best rice means good business, then I can handle that!
I think the fact that dumbing myself down is a good business practice should somewhat annoy me more than it does, but at the end of the day I don't think I can change Japan, I can change my own life to make a success for my family, and that is the only thing that matters to me. Selfish? Yes. Can it be helped? No.
So I will continue to make mistakes, because it can only be good for me! (and it takes all that pressure off too!)