August 2012 Bar Bulletin
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August 2012 Bar Bulletin

Traditional Japanese Business Making Gradual Changes

By Naoko Inoue Shatz


In the late 1980s, while in college, I was a classical pianist. In that capacity, I often traveled throughout Japan meeting new people in a variety of situations. Music taught me how to connect with others and I realized I very much enjoyed travel and seeing new things from a different perspective. Though I valued my time as a pianist, I gradually realized that the lifestyle of a professional pianist was not appealing.

Thus, I joined a Japanese company in Tokyo after college. At that time, women usually worked only in administrative positions. In Japan, women were not believed to be qualified enough to be the equals of their male counterparts. Although the law concerning equal opportunity and treatment between men and women in employment had been enacted in 1985, many Japanese companies had yet to take any steps toward implementation.

While I was looking for a job, I was often puzzled by the expectation that women would wear uniforms and serve tea to male employees and the company's clients. I questioned the absence of women in any managerial position or decision-making capacity. Many companies held close to tradition, hiring women primarily for support or administrative positions.

Despite this, I was lucky; I was hired to be the sole woman in a 30-person sales and marketing department. I was assigned to interact directly with clients and their accounts, and I often had meetings and dinners with those clients. Indeed, I succeeded in creating substantially more accounts than the company had expected.

Arguably, I benefitted from the bubble economy that was then developing, but I believe that it was more than a rising tide lifting all boats. I believe that because I was female, I brought a fresh perspective that resulted in a competitive advantage.

From the 1980s through the early 1990s, moving to the U.S. for study or work was fairly popular amongst Japanese, and U.S. culture and systems became hot topics in Japan. During that time, I learned that there were many lawsuits against Japanese companies in the U.S. Often these lawsuits arose from employment matters.

I became interested in the content of the lawsuits against the Japanese companies, and I often read articles relating to those lawsuits and the U.S.'s legislative intent. Among the books and articles I read, I specifically remember being excited to learn about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its application to the requirements in the workplace.

I gradually became interested in exploring the world from the U.S. perspective. I eventually decided to study in the U.S. and be involved in international business and law.

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