The clock is ticking
The elevator is running fast towards the upper levels. We are on our way to our first real business meeting on Japanese soil, and we are pretty nervous. We have to get to the 7th floor, and we’ve read, and heard from a lot of people, that you have to be punctual in Japan. So, we get there in time. 1 minute before our meeting at 8. The reason for our un-Danish precision is, that we used the local Starbucks for adjusting the time, so we were sure to be at the elevator in time. With the coffee and nervousness pumping through the body, the elevator goes DING! And we are ready!

We were received with a smile and an apology. The boss wasn’t in yet. “Oh, come on”, I started thinking. “We went all the way from Odense to Japan, and the boss can’t even show up on time?” In spite of all I had heard about the seriousness of punctuality in Japan. “Hello, sorry I am late,” the boss says before my unsteady train of thought is through. That is how it is here. You are sorry about being 45 seconds late.
That’s a subtle way to learn it. Time is a serious matter, and you can forget everything about Danish time. We are going forward on Japanese time. And honestly, that makes everything easier and it’s nice to be able to start on time with everybody present.

Are you going to the Hilton?
I didn’t believe what I was hearing when our cab-driver for the third time asked us if we were going to the Hilton. We already told him that, when we went into the cab, and also when he started driving right away. Oh, and a couple more times on the trip from the airport to the hotel. But even driving into the hotel’s parking lot. Come on, that can’t be right. Did we get the most insecure driver in Tokyo?

Lunch at the hotel. Quite predictably we order the sushi. “You ordered the sushi?”, the waiter asks in a seemingly questioning way, with the dish in hand and an extremely high level of service and attitude that matches the best, and few, top waiters in Denmark. “well yes”, I think. “We already talked about that multiple times”, and then my thoughts go to the trip in the cab again. What is going on here?

Three in a row. There it is! That’s it! You can’t and won’t show insecurity or doubt. Therefore, we have this ongoing dialogue about what was ordered or where we are going. I have to get used to that. But it might also explain, why it can be difficult to work with an innovative approach, that almost require insecurity, doubts, and mistakes. And in this difference, there might also be an explanation to, why there is a market for us in Japan.

No news is good news
Back to the business meeting. I love meetings. It is a kind of marketplace, where opinions are broken, ideas occur and where different thoughts can create new unpredictable, exciting thoughts. Many of my co-workers know that for me, the meeting is both life-giving and vibrant.

Boom! I promise you, there is a difference there. The business meeting has another function in Japan. The meeting works as a kind of confirmation of what we already should agree on, and what we are going to do together. You are not supposed to come up with new things. You are not supposed to discuss unforeseen problems or difficulties. That’s how it is. It took some time for a person like me to learn. A person who loves the unpredictable, the infallible, and not least, the new.

But there is plenty of room for mutual idea-generation, tough discussions, and noisy, classical extrovertism. This happens in-between the meetings. It happens over coffee, a line of great drinks in the evening or during a nice dinner in one of the countless great restaurants. Then we can meet again at the business meeting and confirm, that we are on the right track and that the mildly adjusted plans might last.

It was tough for a guy like me, but I practice getting better at it all the time. This form works, once you get it. And it is actually an advantage, once you get it. Outside of the business meeting, almost everything is permitted. You can ask about everything and get all the sparing and support you need when the confusion continuously reports in the physical and cultural distance from Odense to Japan.

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I write what pops into my head when I sit down with the computer. I try to do it as real as possible and would love if you would like, share or comment on my stray thoughts.

Peter Julius
Peter Julius
CEO and partner