The Uninvited Guest - Part Three

The Uninvited Guest - Part Three

Being an uninvited guest employee in Japan is a bit like being an
encyclopedia sales person. You knock on 9 doors and they slam in
your face. But on the 10th visit you find someone with a child who
hasjust started middle school and has been thinking about buying
reference materials. Actually, the Japanese have a saying that the
only successful sales person is one willing to go back to a
customer after 9 rejections. And, indeed, I know some Japanese
CEO's that will automatically say "no" to a new business partner's
approach, until they have come back at least 2-3 times. It's a kind
of test to see whether the new partner is sufficiently motivated or

Understand, Japan is not an easy country to do business or get a job
in - sometimes people are deliberately negative. As a foreigner,
you have to get used to it and learn the ropes. This nation did not
cram 128 million people into less than 25% of its land mass and
stay sane by teaching people to be "nice". Rather, the society has
some hard edges and complex means of interrelating. As a foreigner
you have a lot of leeway to short-cut the protocols, but you still
need to learn what the limits are. For this - rely on your Japanese
partner or friends for advice. You're a toddler again, drop that
Western-sized ego and become a willing student of life - you'll be
rewarded for it.

Back to our discussion of targeting the local technology firm CEO
with the objective of gaining employment. Let's say that you've
tried, but he/she is just not warming up to your approaches. It
could be that the CEO really is just too busy, or maybe you slipped
up somehow, coming on too hard and fast and making him/her
suspicious of your motives. It is really important during your
initial approach that you present yourself as a positive, hard-
working, unique and trustworthy - but interestingly foreign -
individual. Be the underdog - Japanese love underdogs and really
identify with them. If you're young, show that you're poor and
needy. If you're older, show that you're distinguished but modest
and trustworthy. Either way, play the role and be an ambassador -
because in the absence of any other reference point (prior
employment at another Japanese company), your appearance and the
CEO's preconceptions are all that the CEO has to go on.

Unfortunately, even after doing everything right, and despite the
"10 times to be successful" statement above, sometimes you just
have to cut your losses and give up. But before you do, remember
that over-populated Japan is built on personal interdependencies.
So check your partner's or friends' family connections. Often those
young Japanese who travel overseas come from families that are
somewhat entrepreneurial or elite, and thus have great business
connections. Although it may sound corny, your cute partner may
have an uncle in Osaka with a manufacturing plant and an interest
in exporting his products. Indeed, I met one foreign gentleman who
after marrying the daughter of an import/export company
eventually took over the family business!

In my own case, my ex-partner wasn't from a wealthy family, but
as it turns out her great-great grandfather was the founding CEO of
a major Japanese electronics manufacturer, and I was able to
translate that, with a lot of help from her, into some business with
that company. I have to say that I felt very strange using the
family ancestor as a selling point - it went completely against the
grain of my childhood "pioneer" independence training, and my
Western logic. However, it worked because she understood how to
target the company at the right level (a senior manager above the
"hamster wheel" divisions) and tell a good story in a non-
threatening way about the family history. The manager took this
most tenuous of relationships and gave us some business - because
we'd established a relationship and given him something he found
engaging. I've seen this kind of business approach work over and
over again in Japan - by that I mean the trade of intellect and ideas
as a means of establishing a personal bond and thereafter a
business relationship...

Terrie Lloyd is the founder of DaiJob, Inc. He also writes a weekly
newsletter for entrepreneurs and business people about business
and political opportunities in Japan. You can find the newsletter at
For further contact with Terrie, email him at