Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi
Mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Export sales manager of a vegetable company
(She’s been in the US since 2000)
She looks very funny, doesn’t she? Shoko Matsuda is originally from Osaka Prefecture, western Japan. Generally speaking, Osaka people try to outdo each other with how much they can make others laugh.
She went across the ocean and joined the vegetable trading company in Salinas, California as an intern about 7 years ago. Since then, she has been working as a “bridge” between Japan and the US. What has she seen and what has she felt in the different cultural environment?
Californians who are similar to Japanese.
Salinas is a small town. I would say 60 or close to 70% of the people in that population are involved in agriculture. So Salinas is different from other cities in the US. When I started working there, I thought Salinas was like a Japanese old village. Everybody knew each other and grew up together. And they still had a kind of “big wall” between local residents and outsiders.
So it was totally different from what I expected. Americans are friendly, everybody’s open, everybody likes each other. I felt they were like Japanese rather than American.
When I went there for the first time, I couldn’t speak any English. Originally, according to my friends, I’m talkative. But as soon as I moved to the US, I couldn’t say anything, any word. I had a difficult time for at least half a year.
Important things for intercultural communication.
I have a brother and he has three kids. His desire is to send one of his kids to somewhere else. I always tell him the important things for kids; Having knowledge in Japanese language and learning history.
Above all, the most important things are “what you think” and “what your opinion is”. As a Japanese, each person has to be able to speak up about what you think. You have to be able to negotiate or converse with somebody who doesn’t agree with you. Once you start talking to people who do not agree with you, or even oppose you, how do you keep conversation going? It’s really important.
One more thing you need is to collaborate with other cultures and other people.
After two or three things are put together, something new has to be come out.
I usually say creating “C. “A plus B” should NOT be “A”, “AB” or nothing. A plus B is supposed to be “C”. After two or three things are put together, something new has to be come out.
Now Japan has “A” and “B”, but it doesn’t have “plus” and “equal” yet. That’s why “C” doesn’t come out yet. A lot of people have really good sense of knowledge but they don’t know how to talk in public. Also they have to listen to other people in order to create something new with people who have other backgrounds.
Moreover, it’s always good to have something that you can be very passionate about. It’s food in my case. Wherever I go, I can talk about food because I’m so interested in food. If somebody asks you about your favorite things, you will be very happy to talk about. That’s a very good trigger to start communicating and make relationships.
I was very upset about everything, every single thing.
I would say probably I was disappointed and depressed six days a week in US. Even if I sent fax, they didn’t give me a call or they didn’t fax me back for confirmation. So I called them and asked to fax me back. And I asked them to tell me if they received it from me. They said, “OK”.
My job was done.
But the next morning, our customer called me and said that the products had not arrived. A truck never picked up the products and never delivered.
It still happens. Not because of my English skills, not because of me being Japanese. I think that’s their way to deal with business. So adjustment of differences is really important.
If you’re trying to change something out of you, you spend your whole life on it.
I changed myself because that’s the easiest way to deal with things. If you’re trying to change something out of you, you spend your whole life on it. So it’s easier to change yourself.
American culture and Japanese culture have something which doesn’t exist originally. Then you start thinking how you can modify or compromise them.
And again, “A + B = C”. If I only have “A” and somebody has only “B” and if we were fighting all the time, we wouldn’t be able to make anything better. So what I could do is just try to create something else.
I make them understood that we change certain part and it gets better for everybody. Even if I tell them that they should do this way because this is efficient, they wouldn’t understand. So I accept everything first and think about their way of doing things.
And “This and this could trigger a problem.” Then I present to them what I think like, “This is good, this is also good, but this could be a problem. Is there a way to change it or make it better for everybody?” Not just for me, not just for them. Both of us, my customers and everybody.
What is America to you?
It’s a challenge. To me, it’s a challenge of expanding myself.
How much I can expand myself beyond being a Japanese, being a girl, being Shoko, whatever.
Also it’s still a frontier mentally and physically. It’s fun!
European Vegetables Specialties Farms Inc : http://radicchio.com