070: Cross-cultural Differences and International Relations Between the US Midwest and Traditional Japan w/ Chie Schuller

podcast Sep 15, 2020
 

On this episode of the Small Business Japan Podcast I talk with Chie Schuller about about cultivating corporate cultures that embody both US and Japanese values as well as embracing our differences and diversity.

Chie was born and raised in Ishinomaki, Miyagi, Japan. Even though she grew up in a small rural community, she was always curious about other countries and cultures. She came to the US as an exchange student when she was a senior in high school. After graduating Japanese and American high schools, she continued her college education in US. She has been working for a Japanese company in Ohio for the past 15 years. She is a wife and mother of two kids and one Shiba-inu.

As a leader in international relations and cross-cultural engagement with a focus on US-Japan relations she’s spent over a decade at THK Manufacturing of America breaking down barriers and serving as a catalyst for international collaboration.

If you’re interested in learning more about cultivating corporate cultures that embody both US and Japanese values as well as embrace differences and diversity, bringing people together despite differences is at the heart of what she does.

Born and raised in rural Japan, she always dreamed of relocating to the US to pursue a career in Japanese language education. She fulfilled her mission and kick-started her career by teaching Japanese language and culture to K-12 students in the Midwest.

I noticed many parallels between rural Japan and the Midwest US. Finding these commonalities amongst differences is one of my greatest strengths.

 

She found a similarity to Japan and a comfort in the rural community of Ohio.

She naturally became a cultural liaison for Japanese people as well. She found that people from Tokyo had a harder time adjusting to rural life in Tokyo and have to go to downtown Columbus for that sense of urban life.

Two large cultural differences coming to the area are adjusting to a rural area and also how friendly the people in the mid-west are.

In Japan, especially if someone can see you, an effort should be made to show that you are taking time importantly by running or moving fast. She has had to learn that you can not run or look hurried on the manufacturing floor for safety reasons.

Sometimes what you intend to say can be perceived very differently due to an accent, tone, or just miscommunication. The meaning can be misinterpreted due to cultural context.

She had a desire to share Japanese culture through Japanese language, especially because she grew up experiencing traditional Japan. Many Japanese people nowadays do not have that traditional experiences especially with growing up in a multi-generational family.

At her current company in the US she feels appreciated as a female employee and isn’t sure she would have been able to advance the way she has if she were at a similar company in Japan.

If you are coming to the midwest:

Have a Positive intent

Be honest and humble

Come with an open mind

Fake it til you make it doesn’t work

Yuushi Kyousei - “If you have the determination, it will become true/reality”

Automation and technology is changing in the Japanese manufacturing industry in the US. They are in an area with a shortage of skills.

They have become more efficient and now hire more engineers as opposed to lower skilled labor which has been replaced by automation.

If you are expanding your business outside of Japan you have to believe in your product and it has to be great, not just mediocre.

Product and service has to begged, and you have to believe in it, and you have to differentiate it from the competition somehow.

Resources

Fishermanjapan.com

Recommendations

The Grit

 

 

Transcript 

Welcome to the show Chie. 

Josh 

What is your connection to Japan? 

Chie 

Well, um, I was born and raised in Japan city called Ishinomaki in Miyagi, Japan. 

Speaker 1 

OK, how did you get your start with your relationship with the US? 

Speaker 2 

So well, I always wanted to go outside of Japan and teach Japanese as a second language, an I first thought I would go to a Great Britain. 

Speaker 2 

And I did a go for two weeks, uh, during my winter break. And then I met a student who was there as an exchange student and, um. 

Speaker 2 

And I always wanted to be an exchange student, but I thought we have to have a straight A's, which I didn't have straight A's, but he was like no. If you have, you know 3.0 you will be fine. So I applied the last minute I got in but I didn't want to go back to Britain, but I want it to be somewhere has more diversity and. 

Speaker 2 

Um United States was among the country I wanted to wanted to go too, so that's how I started my journey within the United States as an exchange student when I was senior in high school. 

Speaker 1 

OK, senior in high school and an afterwards he went back and graduated in Japan. 

Speaker 2 

So my high school was a public high school, but they did. 

Speaker 2 

Uh, I took the credit from the US so I didn't have to repeat by did a graduate three months after my friends graduated, so I was able to graduate from the high school in the United States and then graduate in June from the Japanese high school. And then I went to college. 

Speaker 2 

Come back and then continue to education here. 

Speaker 1 

OK, and somewhere along the way then yeah, you developped like a passion for international relations and cross cultural engagements. Did that then bring you back to the states again. 

Speaker 2 

From the beginning, my dream was to become a teacher in the United States in a public school. So that's how I started. 

Speaker 2 

And that's why I went to school for and I got a teaching degree from Indiana to teach Japanese. So I did a lot of, uh, teaching not only language, but the Japanese cultures to students in Indiana, um? 

Speaker 2 

And after I graduated, I didn't really go back to the teaching field. An still working for my first job was a USA Girl Scouts. 

Speaker 2 

As a paid staff, but that was overseas, that was a. 

Speaker 2 

Office in Dzama camp in Tokyo and. 

Speaker 2 

Even though we are serving a girls. 

Speaker 2 

Whose father or mother was stationed in Japan or GS jobs and. 

Speaker 2 

I was more cultural, um liaison between USA Girl Scouts stationed there and Japanese Girl Scouts. 'cause they did. Did have several exchange program and when they have a conference that we invite someone to Japanese troop leaders. So I wasn't assistant to the executives. But at the same time I did. 

Speaker 2 

Um interpretations and set up some of those meetings and stuff like that. OK, but that's how I would say how I started my international relations in the business scene. 

Speaker 1 

OK, and then is it after that is even stepped into the current business that you're working for? 

Speaker 2 

Right? 

Speaker 2 

So after about a year and a half then I moved back to uh states with my husband and settled in Ohio. That's when we started working. When I when I started working for the current company. 

Speaker 1 

Oh God, and was that, um, how? How was Ohio the deciding location? 

Speaker 1 

Was that your familiarity with Indiana University before? 

Speaker 2 

Uh, we didn't talk about going to West Coast, but in the last minute, um, we just come back to Ohio because that wasn't where my husband was from. I know. So he had a sister living Columbus and I knew there was big Japanese community in Ohio. 

Speaker 2 

So we thought might be easier me location wise an I was of course familiar with the Midwest, so that's pretty much why we decide to come back to Ohio. 

Speaker 1 

OK, I I was not aware that there was much of a Japanese community in Ohio. What is it? What is that based around? 

Speaker 2 

So I would say. 

Speaker 2 

Two sections, one central Ohio around Columbus, but also there are bigger um populations, or the companies around Cincinnati area as well. And there are some North of I was in northeast or maybe kind of close to Detroit. There some here and there. 

Speaker 2 

Um Japanese companies. 

Speaker 1 

Oh God. 

Speaker 2 

But most of them are in central Ohio, I would say. 

Speaker 1 

God Anne you were. 

Speaker 1 

From a rural community in Japan an you notice any similarities there with the Midwest. 

Speaker 2 

Yes so. 

Speaker 2 

When I first came to Italy to the United States as an exchange student, that was an Illinois city called Rockford. That's kind of border of Wisconsin and Illinois, so you probably drive 1015 minutes and that's Wisconsin. OK, um, I couldn't pick where I would go, so organization would place to wherever. 

Speaker 2 

Um, I couldn't really pick. I don't think I was able to put preference either, but I always want to California, but ended up in the Midwest. 

Speaker 2 

The only thing I knew about Illinois was like Chicago, right? Um, and that's pretty much it. So when I landed. 

Speaker 2 

I think we had to. 

Speaker 2 

Transfer from O'Hare to then small airplane and landed in Rockford and host family. Picked me up and then when we are driving through I was looking through the windows and it was just cornfields flat and a cornfield an that we might. I was just like looking at it and I remember my host mother was thinking telling me you'll get to what are you thinking? 

Speaker 2 

I don't know how I sounded, but I wanted to say was it kinda looks like where I'm from it just not the rice field, it just cornfields. And it looks like Hokkaido. 

Speaker 2 

But where I lived was in the countryside kind of suburbs, and where you need the car no matter where you go, which is pretty similar to where I'm from, although doubts need to have a car and you had drive through this long path of the rice field to get to the city. So the lifestyle itself was very similar. 

Speaker 2 

And I didn't really have much hard time adjusting to that kind of a lifestyle. Um, I missed that mountain, though. That was for sure. Scenery Wise people would always ask me what do you mean that missed the most? I wasn't homesick per southeast, but I missed. 

Speaker 2 

Seeing the mountains. 

Speaker 2 

I missed it so, but. 

Speaker 2 

Scenery wise, similar? Uh but. 

Speaker 2 

Uh, but I felt like immediately good we like was the lifestyle but also the people. Also in a way, um. 

Speaker 2 

They may not have much interaction with the people from different countries, but once you start talking to them they are just. 

Speaker 2 

Normal, I mean, I wouldn't say no, but there are just nice people, an more curious and welcoming part. In a way I don't have any um perception in a way in a bad way, so they're very welcoming. And I was one of the I think I'd school. I was the only Japanese. 

Speaker 1 

Oh OK, so later on then I guess. Tell us about the company that you decided to work for. 

Speaker 2 

So this is Japanese owned company, a manufacturer for machinery parts, an automotive parts. A lot of companies around Ohio supplier for automotive parts. 

Speaker 2 

Um, but our company has two sections and one produces automotive parts and another section produces machinery parts. So I was hired as an administrative, bilingual administrative assistant to the president, but also to assist the Japanese families and Japanese expats for more daily. 

Speaker 2 

Means communicating the teachers or making appointments for a doctors setting up an appointment for um apartments when they relocated here, so I would do a lot of relocation assistance. And then when they go back to Japan, there's a lot of things need to be taken care of afterwards. So I would use those kind of things too. So I was able to. 

Speaker 2 

Do those business related interpretation translations, but also more community type interpretation as a medical interpreter. 

Speaker 1 

So yeah, in a sense, on top of the business side of it you you had to be very much a cultural liaison as well. Having to explain a lot of like American culture and local culture as well. Is there a a Japanese school for people to attend on the weekends or? 

Speaker 2 

So there there is a Columbus Japanese language schools, they do Saturdays. 

Speaker 1 

And have you worked in or continued with the teaching side of things? Or is that no longer? 

Speaker 2 

No, I did. 

Speaker 2 

Little bit when I was in Japan, I taught um. 

Speaker 2 

English to some of the I tutor them like private lessons and right now I don't really teach Japanese per se, but we do have a program where we invite local students to kind of give them the opportunity to learn about the business in the manufacturing, and it will count what kind of. 

Speaker 2 

Career path they can take and during that time we do introduce a little bit about Japanese cultures and stuff like that, so I assist. But um, our company also provide Japanese program to our employees, but we do have, uh, someone in my Department who does that. I'm not really involved in, I'm. 

Speaker 2 

I managed the Department but we do have someone who is specifically to do that as an instructor. 

Speaker 1 

And does your company then sometimes send local employees to Japan as well? 

Speaker 2 

But sometimes yes for business trips. 

Speaker 1 

What would be a? 

Speaker 1 

An example of some of the the culture shock that maybe some of the Japanese families are experiencing coming to around your locality. 

Speaker 2 

To the United States, yeah yeah, well this year well couple of things if they're from Tokyo then they have to use their lifestyle of being the country kind of setting. 

Speaker 2 

You know they have to commit in the car. Um, 'cause I also had a friend who went to school where I went to for the first 2 years. I went to small junior College in Illinois that was really country setting too. There's no public transportation and middle of nowhere situation and she was near from. 

Speaker 2 

From Tokyo, she had to get out. She was like I can't handle this, so she moved to Atlanta in downtown. So if they're from Tokyo, sometimes, um, they say they kind of missed the downtown feeling, so they have to go downtown Columbus to kind of get the feel of I'm in the city. 

Speaker 1 

OK, yeah, so that's it for me. 

Speaker 2 

No, not not too far away. It's about probably half an hour drive or depending on where they live, but we live in kind of closer to the Columbus. It's not too far away to go downtown. OK, so some have told me that, um, but other than that, um. 

Speaker 2 

What some people have told me was they're friendly. 

Speaker 2 

Um? 

Speaker 2 

But also that something American stuff that I hired who have lived never lived in the Midwest but lived in maybe West Coast or the East Coast said well, people in Ohio is really friendly because, you know, at the grocery store they start talking to me. No, that didn't really happen in New York, but. 

Speaker 2 

The Japanese also make a comments like that, and then a lot of times they don't know what to say. 

Speaker 2 

To reply, uh, so sometimes they're like and I'm glad they're really friendly. But I don't know what they're saying. Or sometimes I know what they're saying, but I just don't know what to say. 

Speaker 2 

So the cultural difference. I think there is a lot of them that I can unless someone end up kind of comes up to me is one kind of getting used to the. 

Speaker 2 

Rural area or the suburbs lifestyle and also how friendly it can be depending on where you go and some people from Japan. It's not really used to that kind of talking to a stranger and say hi on the street. 

Speaker 1 

Let alone in in, uh, not your native language, right? Yeah, OK. Oppositely, have you had to. 

Speaker 1 

Explain something about Japan to a lot of people. 

Speaker 1 

Is there something in particular that people are always wondering about? 

Speaker 1 

Um? 

Speaker 2 

Well, a lot of people were. 

Speaker 2 

Some would ask me why is Japanese people so nice, but at the same time, when you're in Japan, they don't really, um, say sorry when you're running into each other or they don't hold the doors. 

Speaker 2 

I would have been. I would be asked why and also a lot of times, uh, sometimes I was asked. Well, when you're in Tokyo when you get train station or in a crowded train, um, there will be elderly people or pregnant person or female in front of you. But then a lot of business. 

Speaker 2 

World guys or younger people? 

Speaker 2 

Don't really give up at seats. 

Speaker 2 

Why? 

Speaker 2 

So there are so small things, uh? 

Speaker 2 

That I was asked why? 

Speaker 2 

Um, there are like that or typical things like why did it bow when they're talking on? 

Speaker 2 

The phone, but I'm pretty sure. 

Speaker 2 

He might have touched. 

Speaker 2 

It was like I don't know um or why people running all the time that I was asked by that one of executive when I was working at the USA. Girl Scouts who were stationed in Europe and now she was. 

Speaker 2 

Station in Japan and she had to go to City Hall and. 

Speaker 2 

When she noticed that people were called to go to the counter, they were running and so she wouldn't be asking why are they running um there right? There? They are not running away and my explanation was that, well, a lot of time in Japan. We were told that somebody is waiting for you so you have to kinda hurry up and again. 

Speaker 2 

Especially that person can see you. So you kind of have to sense the urgency there. That's how I explained it, but that's how I am too. I'm always I'm not supposed to run on the floor, but I'm kind of unconsciously running around and somehow some people have to remind me chair you're not supposed to run. 

Speaker 1 

Yeah yeah, in manufacturing facilities and things like that may have a different different set of rules and regulations. 

Speaker 2 

Right, so sometimes Japanese might think when they're just walking when they're late, or when people are just waiting. Why? Why you? Just walking waste, Hurry up kind of thing. I can kind of see that. 

Speaker 2 

Um, sometimes as a patience, some people might think Japanese have a lot of patience, but sometimes, specially when they're in the customer service side, they went something really fast and quick. 

Speaker 1 

Yeah, I I see what is. 

Speaker 1 

A mistake or a hurdle you've had to overcome at your company. 

Speaker 2 

At my company. 

Speaker 1 

Or personally. 

Speaker 2 

Personally, the mistake. 

Speaker 2 

Well, there's a lot of mistakes, but one not so much about the cultural per southeast. 

Speaker 2 

But as a manager. 

Speaker 2 

One big mistake that I can recall that I learned so much was that. 

Speaker 2 

The way I ask questions a lot of times being seen as an attack which my kids always tells me. 

 

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