Japan and Israel: A meeting of two peoples

Japanese and Israelis working together. The desire to move ahead in today’s innovation-rich environment is bringing both sides closer together. How far is this succeeding? Read these two revealing interviews. 

The interviews were conducted by Mike Druttman. In one case it was with an Israeli businessman setting up an operation in Japan. In the other case it was with a Japanese businessman resident in Israel who plans and coordinates the activities between the Israeli and Japanese sides.

Interview 1with David Rosen*, an Israeli businessman

Mike: What’s the background about you and your company?

David: I’m the marketing manager of a company selling a very successful national car parking payment app. The idea is that within a country, this app allows you to buy parking in any city without looking for local payment machines.

Mike: What was the connection with Japan?

David: We wanted to enter the Japanese market and we identified a strategic partner there with a strong position in locations all over the country. They are a long-standing company with many traditional values.

Mike: So how did the negotiations go?

David: Well, everything was very formulated and official, which was difficult for us to adapt to as Israelis. Before having the first business meeting we had to submit detailed information about our background, our objectives and even what questions we intended to ask. There was some serious homework to prepare.

Mike: Then how did you manage in the meetings?

David: Of course, you do make progress – but everything is surrounded by much protocol and there’s an accepted way of doing most things – where to sit, when to talk, who to talk to. We faced a rigidity that was hard to deal with.

Mike: Can you give me an example?

Getting fruit shakes

David: Actually, an out-of-office experience is a good anecdote. One day during an office break I went to a local shop selling fruit shakes. I asked for a banana and melon mix. The salesgirl prepared one glass of banana and another glass of melon. She said that it was not allowed to mix shake flavors in the shop – not even if I mixed them myself. I found this lack of flexibility almost everywhere in Japan.

When in Japan, everything must be done exactly in their expected way. Japanese and Israelis working together is quite a challenge.

Mike: Does this situation impact the acceptance of overseas technologies?

David: Yes, I think so. It’s hard to see how this can be avoided. When somebody brings you an idea from the outside there’s a cultural shift to make – if only to encourage the effective exchange of information.

Mike: So what happened to setting up the Japanese connection for your company?

David: We decided to quit trying. For our initiative we invested over 12 months and more than 6 visits to Japan. But after 8 months, we had hardly made any progress. Ours is a technology product and it was time to make a final decision about where this was going.

Mike: Were your potential Japanese partners not interested in your product?

David: Well, that’s the irony. Yes, they were very enthusiastic about what we were offering. But all progress had to happen at their pace. We simply couldn’t afford to wait so long and decided to focus in other geographic areas instead.

——————-

Interview 2with Koji Nagano*, a Japanese businessman resident in Israel

Mike: Let’s begin with some background about you being in Israel.

Koji: I’m employed by a large Japanese company and a year ago was sent to the Israeli subsidiary company to assist in aligning processes and work methods in line with the parent company.

Mike: So your job is focused on smoothing the way between the two sides?

Koji: Yes, that’s a basic explanation but the situations can sometimes be very challenging! There’s both a language barrier and even more, a cultural barrier. This makes direct communication between the sides almost impossible.

Mike: And yet, there’s been significant progress between the Israelis and Japanese, hasn’t there?

Koji: Sure, we’ve come quite a long way. I like to think of it not as one big solution but as a series of small solutions that all add up in the end. I find myself in the constant role of encouraging tolerance and flexibility. If you’re a Japanese living for a long time in Israel or an Israeli living for a long time in Japan, you’ll know what I mean.   

Mike: Where are the areas for improvement?

Preparation and understanding

Koji: On the Japanese side, much greater preparation is needed for working outside the country and especially knowing how to communicate. Doing planning yourself when seeking a relationship in a foreign market is just as important as asking foreigners to plan for entering Japan.

On the Israeli side, there needs to be much greater understanding of how to connect to people and which people to talk to. They have to work through the layers of Japanese management and be extra-patient.

Mike: This is where the intermediary can contribute?

Koji: Exactly! Otherwise there’s too much of a ‘culture shock’ – and perhaps the wrong decisions may be made as a result.

Mike: To end on a positive note, we’re seeing improvements, aren’t we?

Koji: In Japan, we’re definitely seeing a ‘softening’ of traditional approaches and greater acceptance of foreign ways. However this trend needs to speed up in order to help Japan regain her competitive edge in the world.

Assessment

These were not easy or especially comfortable interviews. But they do emphasize the central role of ‘cultural interpreters’ acting between the Japanese and Israeli people. There’s much goodwill on both sides, which can be harnessed with a great deal of explanation, understanding and patience.

Mike Druttman

* names altered for the sake of privacy