At work I recently encountered another example for why I prefer living and working in Japan rather than living and working in Europe. In the company I work for we have a highly regulated workshop where the staff can give feedback to the manager who is supervising them. The staff fill out a questionnaire anonymously and the result is displayed via a point system. The manager fills out the same questionnaire in a self-assessment. His/her result is compared to the result of the staff people and focus points are jointly agreed between staff and manager. Then the manager leaves the room, and the staff discuss what the manager could improve concerning the focus points in question and presents them to him/her at the end of the workshop in form of suggestions that the he/she is supposed to listen to. The manager does not have to commit to picking up those focus points but most managers going through this process do so in the end.

I moderated such a workshop for one of our managers last week and thought it went pretty well. After the workshop was done I asked one of the participants, a Japanese guy in his fifties, what he thought about this workshop and his first and spontaneous comment was, “man we’re working in a good company. In Japanese companies such a feedback of the staff to the manager does not happen, at least not that I would’ve heard.” Five minutes later I asked a 35-year-old European expat the same question (who earns more than the mid fifties Japanese colleague) and got the answer, “well, the result was a bit meager for spending four hours on it.”
My spontaneous gut-feeling reaction hearing this was: you spoiled ungrateful brat!

I’m living too long in Japan now maybe, but I totally agree to the Japanese colleague who said, man, we’re working in a good company.
Yes, we are. It is not a matter of course that a company offers such a feedback opportunity, paid, during working time.
I think the attitude of the European colleague totally sucks. (The person is not German but from another European country). Europeans live in luxury and yet they are complaining, complaining, complaining. It’s always “but”… Instead of being grateful to be given the opportunity for feedback, that high earning expat whines about the result. And then, you were participating in creating that result, if you had wanted more result, you should have contributed to it!

I think that the “western” individualism is also a factor in the constant complaining about everything. “Westerners” have the tendency to look more for personal gain. The much more group oriented “Easterners” have often a more positive attitude towards the things happening around them and appreciate more what they have. What a difference – what does the Japanese colleague see: a good company. What does the spoiled expat see: we “wasted” four hours on something that is supposed to improve social interaction.
Needless to say, which attitude towards life and work I prefer.
Of course there is a lot of stuff that need improvement in Japan also, but man, Westerners: stop complaining about stuff that is in principle positive and work on your attitude.

Working in Germany? No, thanks.

I just flew to Germany for a business trip and after an intense week, there is one thing I’m sure of, no thanks, I don’t want to work in Germany again.
Our working conditions in Japan are not the best in the world and yet I prefer working in Japan ten times to working in Germany and here is why.

Germany is a very individualistic place, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Whilst Germans have more holidays, get on top of that paid leave if a doctor signs a magic paper declaring you are sick, “nobody” gives a damn about you.
The person who was supposed to help me setting up my trainings on Japanese business culture over here, was busy with some customer emergency and not available, and so I stood there alone, having to organize everything by myself in a work place I am not familiar with. People saw me dragging stuff around and did not offer help. When I asked if someone could help, I got blank faces, lame excuses or was outright ignored with the result that I had to do all the crap alone.

On the last training day, I held the training in an exposed place where many people pass and three colleagues from my office in Japan walked by, who were on business to Germany as well. They saw me, immediately came in and asked if they could help.
That is why it is okay to work in Japan despite less favorable working conditions. People look out for you, people help you, without even having to ask them. Of course that happens mostly or more easily if you are part of a group.
In Germany people think in boxes and if there is something out of ones own box you very quickly hear the term, “that is not my responsibility”. I’ve come to thoroughly dislike the phrase…

Having worked in Japan for quite some years now, I have gotten used to doing what is needed, rather than doing what is in the realm of my responsibility and my Japanese colleagues do the same. Only to a certain extent of course, but that extent is so much wider than in Germany. I left the German headquarters quite sobered and it is clear to me that I don’t want to work in such a cold and impersonal environment ever again, even if there are more holidays and paid sick leave.