Information for Companies Part 5: JET Alumni Working in Japan

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企業向け情報 Part5 日本で活躍するJET OB・OG
企業向け情報 Part5 日本で活躍するJET OB・OG
Aisha Levine

Sales Section 16
Solutions Team 2
Account Solutions Office
Dentsu Inc.
*Position at time of interview

From the USA. After graduating from university in 2002, took up a role as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Kameoka City, Kyoto Prefecture. Joined Dentsu Inc. in 2005. Currently works in the Sales Department, where she is responsible for foreign capital companies engaged in business in Japan. She is also a supervisor for non-Japanese staff.

JET Alumna Working at the Front-line of Japanese Business

I worked as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) at Kameoka City Hall for three years, starting in 2002, during which time I was involved in work supporting sister city relationships, and in planning and operating grass-roots level promotional activities and events designed to enhance international understanding among the citizens of Kameoka. Today, I make use of these experiences in my current role as an account manager at Dentsu, Inc., where I am responsible for providing total communication support to foreign capital companies engaged in business in Japan. Specifically, I make use of a diverse range of information sources, including in-house experts, as required by the needs of each client, to develop optimal solutions for the challenges our clients face. I believe that the JET Programme, which has now celebrated its thirtieth year, is invaluable to Japan. Foreigners with an interest in Japan are able to use fresh perspectives to introduce their own cultures to Japanese people, while also being given the opportunity to learn about the many wonderful aspects of Japan, which they can then promote throughout the world. However if I had to identify an area for improvement for the JET Programme, based on my own experiences as a JET Programme participant, I would say that it would be to enable JET participants to build up a more diverse portfolio of frontline experience throughout their tenure on JET. Such experiences would lead to an increased sense of job fulfilment as well as facilitate their search for employment post-JET. Going forward, I would like to play a positive role in improving the economy of Japan, by introducing as-yet-unknown foreign brands and services into Japan through business models not yet in use in Japan.

Comments from former HR Manager
In my experience, many foreigners who have previously worked as Coordinators for International Relations (CIR) are equipped with both advanced Japanese language skills and strong intercultural communication skills and, as such, strike me as having great potential in an increasingly globalised Japanese market.
Here at Dentsu, we were looking for someone passionate about communication and business, with outstanding interpersonal communication skills, and an inherent curiosity that made them constantly on the alert for new services and businesses. Aishah joined us after working as a CIR, and as well as having all the qualities we wanted, she demonstrated both a level of kindness and compassion towards others so often lacking in Japanese people today and a profound understanding of Japanese culture. Now, she makes full use both the sense of balance and the bilingual ability which are part and parcel of the CIR job, and in doing so has made herself an essential member of the team here at Dentsu. I very much hope that the JET Programme will continue to produce alumni of the outstanding calibre embodied by Aishah.

Hiroshi Suga, former staff of Human Resources Division at Dentsu Inc.

Kevin Meek

Corporate Communications Department
Mitsubishi Corporation
*Position at time of interview

From Spanish Town, Jamaica. Studied International Relations at the University of the West Indies and then majored in International Studies at the graduate school of the University of Chile. After graduation, worked as a Programme Associate for the United Nations Development Programme. Came to Japan as part of the JET Programme in 2003, working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) then a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Miyagi Prefecture. After gaining experience in several other jobs, joined Mitsubishi Corporation in 2012. Currently works across the Corporate Communications and Global Human Resources Departments, engaged in a wide range of activities including global PR and leading training seminars.

The Lasting Relevance of the JET Programme Experience

I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in prefectural high schools for three years, then was appointed for two years as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) and Prefectural Advisor (PA) in the International Relations Office of Miyagi Prefectural Government. I now make use of those experiences in my role at Mitsubishi Corporation, where I am assigned to both the Corporate Communications and Global Human Resources Departments. My responsibilities include the planning and production of various materials for international audiences and leading training seminars for overseas staff. During my time as an ALT and a CIR/PA, my duties included the explanation and promotion of plans to external parties, the introduction of my home country of Jamaica, information gathering, analysis, and negotiation, and holding presentations as a training instructor. In this sense, my current role in corporate communications has many similarities to the work I undertook through the JET Programme; it would not be an exaggeration to describe it as a continuation of my JET Programme work.
I think the JET Programme is clearly a programme with proven sustainability, as it has continued for thirty years even as alternatives for foreign language education and international exchange have increased. Compared to thirty years ago, relations between Japan and the rest of the world have advanced considerably, but I believe that many challenges still remain in terms of how Japan should best engage with the world, including in its business operations overseas.
JET Programme participants contribute to intercultural understanding at the grass-roots level during their time on the Programme, but in the sense that there are many Japan-related organisations, Japanese companies, and venues in the regions where participants were placed on Programme where alumni are able to make meaningful contributions, I think the JET Programme will continue to play a significant role in the future.
Looking to my own future, in my role within this major company—which has more than 70,000 employees worldwide on a consolidated global basis and more than 1,000 group companies—I hope to develop my knowledge of corporate functions, beyond those of corporate communications and human resources, and work as a bridge between overseas and head office staff in order to enable closer, deeper relationships to form. I would also like to contribute to promoting greater understanding about how Japanese companies operate among overseas staff.

Comments from HR Manager
At Mitsubishi Corporation, we were looking to recruit someone with communication skills underpinned by a certain level of both Japanese and English language capability, with strong ideas rooted in a global perspective, and with the ability to work with confidence even when faced with unfamiliar contexts.

We employed Kevin after his time on the JET Programme. He met all of our criteria, and had an excellent reputation as an outstanding JET alumnus. As this might suggest, through his efforts, there are now more opportunities for the exchange of opinions between overseas staff and the head office, and communication with each overseas office has become easier. He really has contributed to the strengthening of the relationships between us and our international offices. Another of his responsibilities to coordinate a meeting of managers working across the world. In this role, not only has he demonstrated great flexibility in handling the organisation of a challenging meeting, he has also managed to foster positive relationships with the managers attending. My sense is that these achievements are the result of Kevin having come into contact with a diverse spectrum of people through the JET Programme, and of him having managed to overcome intercultural difficulties. Thanks to these experiences, his approach is both flexible and forward-focused, and he is able to make good use of his experience as leader.

Going forward, one of the problems we are facing as a corporation is the question of how to reinforce the global responsiveness of our external communications functions. We hope that Kevin will contribute to the development and implementation of strategies focused on how to translate the complex and sometimes confusing work we undertake as a company into an accessible message for external parties, as well as to the building of stronger relationships with international media. Internally, with regard to training for local staff at overseas offices and inter-regional relationship building, we expect Kevin to analyse existing problems and raise pertinent issues, and to take on a greater role in this area of work.

Yukari Abe, Global Human Resources Department

Ashley Murphey

Global HR and HR Development Section
Human Resources and General Affairs Department
Sojitz Corporation
*Position at time of interview

From the USA. Graduated from Illinois College in 2009 then took a position as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture. Joined Sojitz Corporation in 2014. Currently works in the Global HR and HR Development Section of the Human Resources and General Affairs Department. Her interests include ultimate Frisbee and she regularly takes part in competitions across Japan.

Bringing ‘the World’ to Japan

I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for a five year period, from 2009 to 2014, at 3 junior high schools in Fukui City, Fukui Prefecture. At first, I was only intending to stay for one year but I was captivated by the rural charm of the area and decided to stay for longer. Despite having almost no Japanese ability I was able to make Japanese friends in Fukui City and I forged a strong bond with the area. My friends weren’t able to speak English, but they still endeavoured to introduce all the good things about Fukui to me. As my five years as an ALT came to an end, I wanted to remain in Japan, but at the time I didn’t have any clear idea of the sort of work I wanted to do. I was introduced to a number of companies at a career fair held by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) before I returned home. It was at that time that I became interested in Sojitz Corporation, and fortunately I was able to secure a job with them.
Sojitz Corporation is a general trading company with a large number of overseas branches. It has been expanding its business scope as a trading company, including investments, for more than 140 years. At present, I work in the Global HR and HR Development Section of the Human Resources and General Affairs Department, where I very much enjoy my work. My main duties are related to the organisation of management training seminars for overseas staff and of short- and long-term practical training seminars for younger staff working at our head office, as well as the organisation of language and professional skills training at our Tokyo head office and overseas offices. Through my work, I come into contact with staff working at our offices around the world, which I find very interesting. In addition to the aforementioned work, I am also responsible for activities relating to the recruitment of new foreign graduates. Whatever the work, I am in contact with people from all over the world, and am required to travel regularly to various locations, so it is a very stimulating role. I have been able to meet and communicate with many staff members, and sharing the spirit of Sojitz with them is the real thrill of HR work. It is thanks to the JET Programme that I am able to build my career in this way. Having felt just how difficult communication can be in rural surroundings and having left the States for five years and experienced a Japanese working environment, when I made the move from Fukui to Tokyo I was able—despite there being some repeat culture shock—to make a smooth transition into working for Sojitz Corporation.
I am truly grateful to the JET Programme, for enabling me to learn about culture and to build up both professional and personal experiences. My time as an ALT in junior high school s was the very first step in my career in Japan, and it is thanks to this initial position that I am now able to work in Japan in this way. I very much hope that everyone who wants to remain in Japan after completing their time on the JET Programme will be able to do so, just as I have done.

Comments from HR Manager
Sojitz Corporation is a general trading company with many locations overseas, so we work constantly with overseas staff and partners. Moreover in order to expand our international business, we are seeking to strengthen the recruitment of non-Japanese staff at our head office.

When I first met Ashley at her interview I was surprised not only by her Japanese language ability, but also by her strong understanding of Japanese culture; both of these are thanks to the JET Programme. More than anything else, however, she had a lovely smile and superlative communication skills. I remember that the interview progressed very amiably. For us, the most important thing is the ability to communicate; I felt convinced that she was someone who possessed positive qualities characteristic of both Japan and the United States, and decided to offer her a position.

Two years have passed now since she joined, and by now it is clear that my conviction was not in error. Her contributions include clarifying within our recruitment process for foreign staff what it is that a ‘general trading company’ actually does, this being something that can be rather unclear, and working on the recruitment of outstanding foreign students. Within the global training programme for our young head office staff, she is responsible for tracking the progress of every staff member sent overseas on language or practical training programmes, as well as for planning our English language training programme. She demonstrates strong ownership of her work, and is diligent in her work, and as such the level of trust she enjoys from colleagues increases with each passing day. She is also studious, coming in early each morning to study Japanese or accounting; her attitude is very inspiring to those around her. When I think about the future growth of our company, I anticipate that the expectations placed on the foreign staff in our head office will only continue to grow. In this context, I would like to work with Ashley to develop a career plan that will benefit both Ashley and Sojitz going forward. I would very much like to see Ashley work on realising her full potential here at Sojitz Corporation.

Yoji Abe, Global HR and HR Development Section, Human Resources and General Affairs Department

Angie Tong

COACH A Co., Ltd.
*Position at time of interview

From Canada. After graduating from university, worked as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in Kawasaki City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Joined COACH A Co., Ltd. after this. Now involved in organisational culture transformation and leadership development as a coach for both companies in Japan and abroad.

Towards a Future in which both People and Organisations can Thrive

The two years I worked as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) in the Kawasaki City Hall in Kanagawa Prefecture are, for me, an irreplaceable part of my life.
Through JET I was able to discover so much about the character and culture of Japan, things which I would not have been able to appreciate fully without direct personal experience—things which I would not have understood just by reading a book or watching a film or listening to someone else’s story. These included the charms of Japan’s four distinct seasons, the unique torment of a packed commuter train, and the umami distinctive of Japanese cuisine. The JET Programme is a priceless opportunity for each participant to experience Japan as only they can experience.
Through my experiences as a CIR, I have come to believe that international exchange is something that begins when people meet and are able to find a common emotional understanding. It is from this emotional understanding that an interest in and a desire to comprehend the perspective and values of others can arise.
The JET Programme, which has now been in operation for 30 years, provides a platform for encountering perspectives and backgrounds held by people from all over the world. It also gives many children and citizens across Japan the opportunity to open new doors. My experiences on the programme led me to hold a very strong desire to enable many more people to experience the warmth of that moment when two people are able to find common understanding on an emotional level.
Today, I work as a Business Coach at COACH A Co., Ltd. In this role, I function as a partner providing support for leadership development and organisational transformation, mostly to leaders working at the forefront of companies in Japan and overseas. I want to be able to facilitate as many moments as possible for these leaders, who are active on the global stage, to overcome the barriers that differing cultures can present and instead come into contact with diverse perspectives and values, thereby making new discoveries and identifying new potential.
Armed with my experiences on the JET Programme, in my role as a coach I hope to contribute to a future where both people and organisations can thrive.

Comments from HR Manager
COACH A provides coaching services to executive-level professionals working in companies and organisations. Just as top athletes work with coaches, so too is there demand for coaches to provide support to corporate executives who wish to perform to the best of their abilities and develop leadership skills that will enable them to maximize their organisation’s capability.

The first time I met Angie was at a seminar held by our company. At the time, Angie was working in local government, but she had learnt about coaching through volunteer work and developed an interest, which had prompted her to come to the seminar. We spoke during the question and answer session, and I was struck by her attitude—she was reserved yet passionate, saying ‘I want to learn about coaching. I want to become an executive coach in the future’.

The corporate culture here at COACH A demands that our staff be strong self-starters. They should not simply perform the duties given to them, but rather we expect them to think for themselves and take action for themselves. Angie was tremendously curious, relentlessly positive, and was prepared to give anything a go. I felt that this made her a great match for our corporate culture. Whether speaking in Japanese or English she is quick to understand, has a great range of expression, and able to impress just how sharp she is in even the shortest of exchanges. She is a very composed person, and while she had only been with us for one year, she is already trusted by the executives working at our client companies.

Our clients include many global companies, and the recipients of our coaching services are not always Japanese. I think there will be many more opportunities for coaches who, like Angie, can speak multiple languages and have diverse cultural experience. Today, there is an increasing demand for global staff, and, as such, the value of the JET Programme to society can only continue to grow.

Yusuke Osada, Director of Talent Acquisition

Copyright 2015 by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR)