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

by Anna
Published on: December 14, 2014
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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






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

by Anna
Published on: February 22, 2014
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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? 

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

by Anna
Published on: January 26, 2014
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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
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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
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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
▲▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲ ▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲△▼△▼△▼△▼

Japan Association of Corporate Executives (経済同友会) view on increasing non-Japanese students and employees to help Japan compete internationally

by Anna
Published on: October 22, 2012
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The Japan Association of Corporate Executives (経済同友会) published a paper earlier this month on global talent development in Japan and how to increase the participation of non-Japanese employees and students in industry in Japan.

This paper appears to only be available in Japanese at the moment, and you access the paper here:

Overall the conclusion of the paper is that Japanese government, industry and higher educational institutions, despite stating the intention to increase foreign worker/student participation, do not have a viable strategy and action plan in place.

Here is a highlight of some of the recommendations made in the paper based on what each sector should do in order to increase participation of non-Japanese employees and help Japan compete more effectively in the global marketplace.

– Develop a human capital strategy
– Set up cross-departmental teams in order to make best more effective use of limited budgets.
– Review the current immigration “point system” to position Japan so that it can attract top international talent more effectively.
– Improve the general infrastructure and environment to make it easier for non-Japanese people to live and work in Japan.

– Develop more transparent HR systems and policies that foster a fairer working environment for non-Japanese employees.
– Create more transparent career paths with more options to better retain non-Japanese talent.

Higher education institutions
– Be more proactive in promoting Japanese higher educations institutions abroad.
– Each institution should better clarify the benefits that they can offer foreign students and develop a strategy to increase foreign student numbers.
– Provide more foreign student support, financially and otherwise, to help foreign students with issues relating to living in Japan (such as finding suitable accommodation and Japanese language learning) and finding work after completion of studies.

In terms of the recommendations for industry, it is interesting to note that policies and processes are the main focus.  However, I also wonder if there was any discussion in terms of developing leadership that fosters team environments in which people of diverse backgrounds can work effectively together.  Aspects of corporate culture, such as long hours of overtime and rigid hierarchies of management, are also known to put off non-Japanese talent from coming to Japan so feels like this would also benefit from further discussion.

And, finally, interesting to note the scarcity of non-Japanese people on the very long list of committee members for this publication…

English language website for Japan Association of Corporate Executives can be found at

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