Author: Anna

Learning Japanese: “Must Have” texts for Japanese language learners

by Anna
Published on: December 14, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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“Must have” texts for Japanese language learners

I was going through my library of books recently and came across some of my old Japanese language textbooks. It got me to thinking about what I would see as some of the “must have” texts for serious learners of Japanese language. Some books look quite worn but this testifies to how useful I found them.


Japanese Grammar:

(1) A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar  – Publisher: The Japan Times

(2) A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar – Publisher: The Japan Times

(3) A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar – Publisher: The Japan Times


(1) Essential Kanji – Author: P.G. O’Neill

(2) Illustrated Japanese Characters – Author/Publisher: Japan Travel Bureau


(1) Effective Japanese Usage Guide – Author: Masayoshi Hirose






Building a Successful Team (BCCJ Acumen)

(Originally Published in BCCJ Acumen Magazine September 2014 Edition)

Building A Successful Team

by Anna Pinsky, BCCJ Vice President

As part of our plans to increase the accessibility and transparency of the work of the BCCJ executive committee (excom), you will see more articles over the coming months from different members of our 2014–15 excom. In this issue I am taking the opportunity to share some insights from my own 15 years of experience working and living in Japan.

I am an organisational development specialist. My first experience of Japan was at the age of 17, when I worked as a volunteer in two Leonard Cheshire Disability’s homes for the handicapped, located in the Kansai region.

A scholarship from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology provided an opportunity for me to return to complete a Masters degree.

I have spent most of my professional career working with British organisations, often during their start-up stage in Japan. This has given me the opportunity to observe some of the common pitfalls experienced by new market entrants.

It is well known that Japan is one of the most difficult countries in which to recruit the necessary quality of talent. In fact, ManpowerGroup’s 2014 Talent Shortage Survey of over 37,000 employers in 42 countries cited Japan as the most challenging market for filling job vacancies.

Securing quality bilingual staff is usually one of the first priorities in setting up an office in Japan, but the limited availability of experienced bilingual talent means that finding the right candidate can be fraught with difficulties.

The eigoya problem
Part of this challenge relates to eigoya, a term used in the local HR community to describe candidates possessing excellent English skills but lacking basic business knowledge.

An eigoya-type candidate could be an individual who has spent most of his or her career focusing on developing close-to-perfect English language skills to the detriment of gaining business knowledge and expertise.

He/she may come across as eloquent and persuasive in an interview context but, once hired, struggles to build rapport with others and fails to develop the working relationships necessary to carry out the role.

The accidental hiring of an eigoya candidate is not uncommon. This type of poor hiring decision usually is made when the interviewer does not speak Japanese and is lulled into a false sense of security by the candidate’s high level of English, forgetting to thoroughly check their experience and track record.

Richard Boggis-Rolfe, chairman of recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, emphasised the danger of hiring based on one’s gut feeling, at one of our BCCJ events earlier this year. He mentioned the importance of preparing a clear and prioritised list of requirements for the role and using this list in a disciplined way.

This helps ensure that candidates are compared and selected based on objective criteria, and that the final hiring decision is not overly influenced by other subjective or emotional factors.

For particularly crucial positions, one way to better grasp candidates’ people skills is to arrange for them to take part in a simulated work project.

This could entail a short role play, in which the candidate has to address an issue relating to a subordinate’s poor performance, and would offer a more precise indication of the candidate’s communication skills and ability to develop rapport.

Look for potential
Another way that some firms have overcome the hiring challenge is expanding the list of acceptable candidates to include individuals who have 80–90% of the English language skills required for the role.

I have seen some firms successfully build a strong team by identifying individuals who may not have the necessary standard of English at the time of the interview, but who have the right attitude and level of motivation to improve their fluency in a comparatively short time upon entering the organisation.

There is no one right solution to finding and developing the best talent for your business in Japan, but I hope these hints and tips will help your business avoid one of the common difficulties.



Why coaching is effective – presenting options but not advising

by Anna
Published on: April 12, 2014
Categories: Coaching
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This week’s BBC Radio 4 “Inside Health” Programme covered the topic of effective weight loss and touched on how the interaction between doctor and patient can influence a patient’s success in losing weight.  The programme referred to research conducted in 2012 (Aveyard at el., 2012) on how the way in which a doctor presents support to a patient can influence the chances of a patient being successful in changing behaviours.

Research has demonstrated that doctors are better able to enable patients to change behaviours to improve their health by inquiring whether the patient would like support first, rather than jumping into an advising approach of telling the patient why the fact that they smoke , or are overweight etc., is bad for them, telling them to quit, and then offering support.

In other words, placing the patient in a situation where they can consider the right option for himself or herself first, is more effective than starting with a one-way “telling” or advising approach.

Coaching is effective for the same reason: An individual can be more successful at achieving positive behavioural change in a coaching context because the coach helps the coachee see the options available but does not advise. This means that the coachee remains in control of choosing the option that works best for him or herself throughout the process.



BBC Radio 4 “Inside Health” 9 April 2014:

Aveyard, P., Begh, R., Parsons, A. & West, R. (June 2012). Brief opportunistic smoking cessation interventions: a systematic review and meta-analysis to compare advice to quit and offer of assistance. Addiction 107 (6),  1066–1073.



(Autumn colours from Kita-no-maru Park in Tokyo)

Why being “global” in Japan is not just about English language skills

by Anna
Published on: March 8, 2014
Categories: Japan
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Why being “global” in Japan is not just about English language skills

I had the opportunity to attend a symposium on global talent development two years ago in Tokyo.  “Global Talent Development” or “Guro-baru Jinzai Ikusei” (グローバル人材育成) has been the business buzzword for the last couple of years among Japanese companies struggling to find a way to help their businesses successfully expand globally against the background of a dropping birth rate and a Japanese economy slipping behind its Asian neighbours.

“Global personnel” or “globally-minded personnel” tend to be defined in Japan as individuals who, (a) are able to communicate effectively in an environment of diverse views, (b) can demonstrate effective leadership in order to achieve a mission as part of a global strategy and, (c) have the knowledge and ability to manage overseas offices outside of Japan. (*1)

There is a tendency in some Japanese businesses to interpret “global personnel” simply as individuals skilled in English language and with experience working in different cultures.  This has resulted in most Japanese companies being quick to set up English language training and increased international assignments for Japanese staff.

In addition, Japanese companies are also hiring more non-Japanese staff but are struggling to understand how to successfully bring non-Japanese employees onboard.  Although Japanese companies are shy about revealing figures on retention rates, my informal chats with HR managers at Japanese companies and some publicly available information indicate that high turnover rates are becoming more of a concern.(*2)

My belief is that Japanese businesses are struggling not simply because of employees with lack of English language skills, but rather because traditional Japanese culture works against the characteristics that are required for a company to adapt in a global environment. That is, in order to adapt to a more rapidly changing international environment, Japanese organizations need to be able to develop a workforce that is better at learning and adapting to new circumstances quickly.  This means that organizations need to be better at becoming “learning organizations”(*3)

So what does being a learning organization mean? In short it means,

(a) Creating a supportive learning environment that allows for appreciation of differences and openness to ideas.
(b) Development of processes that support learning and experimentation,
(c) Demonstration of leadership that supports learning (*4)

However, traditional Japanese culture can make it difficult for some organizations to put in place these fundamental aspects of a learning organization.

I’ll be writing further on this topic and expanding on the specific aspects of Japanese culture that are obstacles to creating a learning organization and practical steps to take to overcome these obstacles.  I look forward to sharing ideas and hearing how your organization is addressing the challenge of global talent development in Japan.

In case you are interested in reading into exploring this topic in more detail, I have summarized the main resources I used for this article below.

(*1) Akisato (2008) Kyuumu no kadai: Nihon kigyou wa guro-baru jinzai wo donoyouni ikusei subeki ka. [An urgent task: how to help Japanese businesses develop global personnel] Kigyou to Jinzai, December 2008. 4-9. Link to original document in Japanese here:
(*2) Japan Society for the Promotion of Machine Industry – Economic Research Institute. (2010). Monozukuri kigyou ni okeru gaikokujin kenkyuukiahatsusha no senryakuteki katsuyou [The strategic application of foreign researchers in the manufacturing sector]. Kikai Kougyou Keizai Kenkyuusho H21-32A. Link to summary of paper in Japanese can be found here:
(*3) Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. (rev. ed.) New York: Doubleday
(*4) Garvin, D. A., Edmondson, A. C. & Gino, F. (2008c). Is yours a learning organization? (Interview with David A. Garvin & Amy C. Edmondson) Harvard Business Review Magazine March 2008. Link to original article can be found here:

Delivering Successful Training and Development Initiatives in High-Context Cultures (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: February 22, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: February 18, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky


In my previous blog, I talked in general about the challenges and opportunities of working in new or unfamiliar international cultural contexts. Now, I would like to focus on the area of training and development in high-context cultures.

Make training safe through careful design of exercises

Effective adult learning requires the provision of a space in which it is safe to try out new skills, where it is acceptable to make mistakes, and where individuals can be given support to learn from those mistakes.

However, in some high-context cultures training can be challenging due to the fact that training participants are going to be less willing to try something new for fear of making mistakes. One reason for this, in Japan, is the traditional education system which focuses on rote learning rather than learning through inquiry. Mistakes are seen as something to avoid at all cost rather than as a part of the learning process itself. Consequently, it is said that the education system does not encourage learning from mistakes and creates an environment of fear.

For example, Japanese students are generally known to be much quieter and less willing to ask questions in classroom situations than their western counterparts. B.J. McVeigh writes inJapanese Higher Education as Myth that it is fear rather than shyness that leads to the lack of a response or questions in a classroom setting.

So, what are the implications for us when we are delivering training in such contexts?

What it means is that we have to be more creative with exercises so that individuals can take the risk to try new things without fear of being seen to “be wrong” in front of others. In practice this might mean focusing on replacing large group exercises with more small group or pair exercises and letting individuals prepare answers or exercises with others before presenting to the wider group.

Take time to check needs with participants—not just the training sponsor

Prior to delivering any training in high-context situations, it is also well worth your time to conduct interviews with several training participants—and not just the training project sponsor.

Doing so will not only enable you to get a better grasp of the participants needs, but also help you start to develop a relationship of trust with individual participants so that they can help act as your supporters to demonstrate various exercises and make other participants more willing to take the risk of trying out new roles and activities during the training itself. Keep in mind that individual interviews can be conducted over the telephone, if necessary. 

Check for insight and awareness first

The Development Pipeline, outlined by D.B. Petersen in The Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook, is one model used by many coaches to gauge where the greatest need for development is required for an individual client. In other words, the Development Pipeline is a useful model to identify which aspect of learning might be preventing the individual from making progress with their own development.

Here is a simple summary of the five parts of the Development Pipeline:

  1. Insight: Extent to which the person understands what areas he or she needs to develop in order to be more effective.
  2.  Motivation: The degree to which the person is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to develop oneself.
  3. Capabilities: The extent to which the person has the necessary skills and knowledge.
  4. Real-world practice: The extent to which the person has opportunities to try out new skills at work.
  5. Accountability: The extent to which there are internal and external mechanisms for paying attention to change and providing meaningful consequences. 

Precisely because of potentially different cultural norms and expectations, when delivering training or development initiatives in high-context cultures one should set aside extra time to ensure that “Insight” is addressed. That means making sure you have checked that training participants understand why the training is taking place, what issues the training is intended to address, and what different behaviors and tasks participants will be expected to demonstrate as a result of the training.

What have you learned that you would add to the above list to help others prepare for training in unfamiliar or different cultural contexts? 

Networking as a part of Employee Development (BCCJ Acumen Article)

by Anna
Published on: February 1, 2014
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Benefits of Networking as part of Employee Development – on behalf of the Executive Committee of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan

(Originally Published in BCCJ Acumen Magazine January 2014 Edition)

Making the Most of Membership

by Anna Pinsky

• Alternative form of staff development
• Free seats available at most functions
• Chance to apply skills with diverse crowds

As a member of the BCCJ Executive Committee with a focus on organisational efficiency and development, I believe many of our member companies and individuals may not be reaping the full benefits of their membership in the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Many BCCJ partners may already know that free seats are available at BCCJ events for Entrepreneur, Corporate, Corporate Plus and Platinum members. Are you and your company taking advantage of this?

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the additional advantages of this membership benefit. In particular, having staff attend chamber events is a great way to offer and promote employee development.

Exposure to many cultures
Global talent development, or gurobaru jinzai, continues to be a hot topic in Japan. The concept has been recognised by government, business and higher education leaders as one of the key challenges facing Japanese businesses, whether it applies to plans for expanding abroad or for building international partnerships on a domestic level.

The announcement of Tokyo’s selection as the host of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games has also put the issue in focus. There is now a great deal of pressure on firms to speed up workforce development to enable staff to work more effectively in multicultural situations.

With this increased need for staff who can effectively function in multicultural teams, it is more important than ever to expose staff to situations in which they can mix with people of different nationalities and backgrounds.

Participation in multicultural networking events, such as those provided by the BCCJ, is one way to provide this type of exposure opportunity.

Often overlooked training tool
Talent development is not just about teaching new skills or imparting knowledge. It’s about developing a workforce that is better able to adapt to a future that promises increasingly rapid and unpredictable changes.

Classroom training has traditionally been seen as the standard for developing staff. However, more firms are now expanding their menu of growth opportunities to include coaching, mentoring, on-the-job-training, action learning and online learning, among other methods.

Among the training tools employed, peer networking or networking with other organisations are often overlooked.

Providing opportunities for staff to network and meet other individuals in either the same or different industries can expose them to new perspectives and ideas, which they can take back to the workplace to approach problem-solving in a more innovative manner.

A break from the normal working environment can also enable people to view business issues with fresh eyes and explore ways to address issues that might not have been apparent before.

Perhaps most importantly, networking is worthwhile because it allows staff to interact with, and learn from, a diverse group of individuals.

Such interaction helps people develop the skills to more readily adapt to an unpredictable future, thereby better positioning your business for long-term growth and success.

Applying skills in real time
The field of personnel development used to rely heavily on teaching new technical knowledge or soft skills.

However, personnel development goes beyond such traditional measures; it is also about providing opportunities for real-world practice of newly acquired skills or knowledge.

In addition, a core function of individual development relates to increasing self-awareness, or insight into one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

A healthy level of self-awareness enables people to take control of their own development and be more proactive about finding new learning avenues, rather than simply waiting for direction from their bosses or human resources.

Networking is valuable in that it allows staff to apply new competencies, such as communication strategies, with different types of people. It also is an opportunity to refine self-awareness, because individuals can observe how people from a wide variety of backgrounds respond to their personal communication style.

Last but not least, networking can lead to higher motivation among staff who attend events such as those organised by the BCCJ, as attendees feel more valued when their company provides opportunities for new experiences above and beyond the daily tasks at the office.

Next steps
BCCJ members receive regular updates on upcoming events through various communication mediums, including our Weekly Round Up (WRU) sent via e-mail and notices on social media channels.

Try forwarding the WRU to your human resources or training and development department, and encourage them to consider BCCJ free seats as a new type of development opportunity that can complement the current training offerings for high-potential staff.



Opportunities and Challenges of Working in Multicultural Contexts (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: January 26, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: January 13, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky

I am originally from the United Kingdom, and have been living in Japan for 15 years. Even after all this time in Japan, I still find myself coming across unfamiliar territory and having interactions that challenge my views and assumptions.

Working in multicultural contexts and teams are an excellent opportunity for development. Exposure to diverse people and experiences can uncover that you might be making incorrect assumptions or missing out alternative perspectives due to overreliance on your own cultural background.

Common mistakes

A common mistake in multicultural training or development is making generalizations and assuming that national cultural norms are the same as the organizational norms.

I’ve worked with various companies in Japan, both domestic and international, and in every case, the company culture has been different. More important, the internal culture has challenged my preconceptions on “western” or “eastern” working practices.  In fact, over time I find it increasingly difficult to make general statements about organizations in Japan, the United States, or the United Kingdom.

Indeed, one of the first Japanese organizations I worked for seemed to fit what I had read about in books on Japanese culture. Everyone was very polite, individuals rarely shared their honest opinions in a formal context, and the relationships were very hierarchical.  It was an organization with a long history and an industry in which change was notoriously slow.

However, later on I had the opportunity to work in a Japanese organization in which communication was quite direct. The communication was so direct, in fact, that individuals could come across as quite rude at times. In addition, tasks were carried out by individuals with little reference to their official title or history within the organization. This was a “younger” organization, with a more entrepreneurial, individualist management style.

 Check mutual expectations

When delivering training or development projects for an organization, especially in a different international cultural context, it is always best to check that you understand your counterparts’ expectations. This includes not just the expectations of your role, but also their understanding of the purpose of different tasks and activities.

For example, in some Japanese organizations, formal meetings are primarily spaces for sharing information and decisions are often made outside of the formal meeting. However, in other organizations, the meeting is the place for decisions to be made and information sharing is seen to take place prior to the meeting.

It is always best to check mutual expectations and the perceived purpose of different channels and contexts for communication when joining a new organization or team—and even more so when working in new and unfamiliar international contexts.

Foster multiple methods of inquiry

I had the opportunity to talk to a successful managing director in a western subsidiary of a Japanese-owned company recently. Her advice on working with colleagues from different cultures, such as Japan, was to ask the same question in several different ways to check that you have really grasped the core issues.

In high context cultures, such as Japan, sometimes an individual’s first reaction is to answer questions in line with what they think you want to hear, rather than what they really think. In this respect, the ability to inquire about the same point but using a wide variety of questions is a useful skill to develop when working in international contexts.

Find a trusted informal adviser or mentor

When working in new and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is very worthwhile trying to find individuals who you can provide you with another perspective or “interpretation” of specific behaviors that you come across in the new working environment.  This doesn’t have to be someone in the same organization, but it should be someone who can help you view the behavior through a different lens and understand what unconscious assumptions you may be making based on your own cultural background.

If you know that you are going to be working on an international assignment for more than a few weeks, it is worth taking time to find out about possible networking opportunities, either within your own industry (such as international ASTD networking groups) or on cross-industry topics, so that you increase your chances of coming across someone who could be a potential informal adviser.

These tips are just starting points. What additional advice would you give people on working in new or unfamiliar cultural environments?

Why coaching is effective – especially in high stakes situations

by Anna
Published on: December 1, 2013
Categories: Uncategorized
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New research carried out by Francesca Gino at Harvard Business School has presented evidence that our decision-making faculties are not at their best when in a state of anxiety.

In summary, the conclusions of the research were that,
(1) “Those in the anxious state were … more likely to take the advice they were given,”,
(2) “Anxiety reduced their ability to discern between good and bad advice”, and
(3) “People who were made to feel anxious were more open to, and more likely to rely on, advice even when they knew that the person offering it had a conflict of interest ” 

These conclusions provide further evidence for utilizing coaching as a method of individual development and growth.  One of the central principles of coaching is that the coachee remains “in the driving seat” and is always accountable for decision-making.  Francesca Gino’s research reveals that the ability to discern good and bad advice is reduced in states of anxiety which is exactly why having access to a coach, rather than simply a mentor or advisor is so important.

The coach facilitates learning and an increase in self-awareness through powerful questions, and the introduction of relevant tools and methods through the coaching process.  However, the choice as to what tools to use and what actions to take are always in the hands of the coachee, not the coach.  In the coaching relationship, the coach is not the advisor but instead helps the individual better see what options might be possible – the choice of which option to take is firmly in the hands of the coachee.

The coaching approach means that an individual in a state of anxiety is not put in danger of being influenced to take one approach over the other.  This decreases the likelihood of an individual making a decision that they would not normally take if under less pressure.

So, for those high stakes decisions where we are under pressure and looking for the “right” answer, getting the support of a coach may be the best place to start.


You can find out more about the research mentioned in this blog via this link on the HBR Blog Network: How Anxiety Can Lead Your Decisions Astray”  By Francesca Gino


“The pictures on radio are better”: why co-creation matters for successful organizational change

by Anna
Published on: March 11, 2013
Categories: Uncategorized
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I happened to catch the program “Something Understood” on BBC Radio 4 today and was impressed by a quote from the radio producer, Simon Elmes, that “the pictures on radio are better.”

I keep on top of what’s happening in the UK via BBC radio news and sometimes listen to the radio dramas not just because of ease of access on the internet, but because I often find the programs are better structured than those on TV. However, it wasn’t until today that I also realized that I like listening to the radio drama programs because I am able to be more “involved” and that the images can be more vivid precisely because I am a co-creator in the experience.

Here we can also find a lesson on successful organizational change: research demonstrates that allowing people to be involved in co-creating or shaping the change – even if in just a small way – increases the engagement and commitment of the person, thereby increasing the likely success of the change.

Employee involvement from an early stage is now part of the change mantra but change programs in business still often end up as top-down instruction because it seems the easier option when time and resources are limited.  Asking people for opinions and advice as part of a change program may feel like it takes up more time, but ultimately it increases commitment, increases the likelihood of success and saves you more time in the long term.

The “pictures on radio are better” because as a listener we can be involved in creating the vision of the story – how could you instill successful change and involve your team in creating the vision of your organization’s story?

Ambiguous Communication leading to low retention rates: Dissatisfied employees in overseas branches of Japanese companies

Another example of how the traditional style of ambiguous communication is not helping Japanese companies retain staff in their overseas offices.

Mr Toshimasa Akisato from Global Jinzai Ikusei Juku reveals the low scores that Japanese managers receive fromd locally hire staff in overseas offices in terms of gaining trust and providing support.

The original post in Japanese from Toshimasa Akisato copied below:


を対象とした非常に大がかりな調査を早稲田大学政治経済学術院 白木三秀教
塾長 秋里 寿正
 〒542-0083 大阪市中央区東心斎橋1-15-25
リッツビル 4F
電話/FAX: 06-6271-4060
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