Saturday, 4 February 2006

GSOH can be a handicap

Some years ago the Japanese president of the international organisation I was working for asked me to employ in my office a young executive—let us call him Kenji—who was being groomed for promotion. The idea was that he would come over from Tokyo for a year to improve his knowledge of English, learn something about European ways and generally gain experience which he would find useful in his career.
I was also told that I should help him to acquire an English sense of humour. It seemed to me that this would be difficult and probably not of much help to him in climbing the Japanese corporate ladder, so I resolved not to make a conscious effort with it.
Kenji was an intelligent and agreeable young man and very quickly adapted to English customs; his command of the language soon became more than adequate. I found him a flat, he bought himself a car so that he could have some sort of social life and in general he fitted in happily; he also fell in love with one of my daughters (who wasn’t interested).
He travelled with me within England and on the Continent and enjoyed working in my office. Obviously he had a good time, and although he looked forward to seeing his parents again he was in no hurry to go back.
By the time he left I realised that he had become more Anglicised than would be good for him in a Japanese context, and I was right: somehow he had picked up a delicate sense of humour which would inevitably mean that he could see the funny side of things which in Japan are not to be laughed at.
I was never actually told that I had corrupted Takeshi by encouraging him to become attuned to our frivolous ways, but it later became clear that on his return he was a great disappointment to his employers. I heard that his attitude to work had become unacceptable (probably he didn’t like seventy-hour weeks and no holidays) and that he was insufficiently respectful to his superiors. This did not mean that he was bolshie, of course—no Japanese sarariman could ever be that—but he may have occasionally allowed a hint of unseriousness to show in his demeanour.
So he never rose to high office in the organisation, and later left it for a different job, itself a very un-Japanese thing to do. I lost touch with him later so I never knew whether he finally achieved the success that his abilities warranted. I hope so, but anyway I like to think that the memory of his relaxed year in Sussex sustains him through tougher times in Tokyo.


Minerva said...

You may have sabotaged his career entirely, but probably left him a happier man?

Tony said...

Yes, thank you Min, it's a nice thought and I hope you are right.