The Hoffman Agency staff at Mount Fuji

By Laura Naland, Senior Account Manager

I’ve just spent 29 days in Japan. Yes, you heard that right — the country that thousands of people across the globe are waiting to enter for vacation. The country that has basically shut its borders ever since COVID first started 2 years back and continues to be incredibly slow in resuming international leisure travel.

It’s all thanks to Hoffman’s Building Bridges program — an initiative enabled by our incredible network across the region, where the company sponsors employees to visit and work out of other international offices so that they can gain new experiences and become better, global consultants.

I’ve been with Hoffman for three years, and our ability to work as one international team, closely collaborating with our different APAC offices is one of my favourite things about the business.

But Japan is a market I have a close affinity with — I have a deep love for the cuisine, have been to Japan several times on vacation and picked up the language in middle school (or what we call secondary school in Singapore and junior high in Japan).

With all these experiences, I felt plenty prepared for my trip. And yet, there were still so many surprises along the way — from simple day-to-day interactions all the way through to deep cultural nuances embedded in business. Here were a few of my Eureka! moments:

 

1. In Japan, you only do a cheers with drinks a single time for the night

Anime fans will likely be familiar with the phrase “Kanpai” — which roughly translates to cheers in English.

The first night I went for drinks in Japan — in an Izayaka with my colleagues Tai and Yumiko — we did the usual Kanpai opening to set the mood for the evening. But as conversations progressed, there was a moment where I shouted cheers again — only to be met with laughter.

“Why are you laughing?”

“We did cheers already, right?”

“Ya, but we can do another one, right?”

“Not really, no! We only do cheers once a night. People only do multiple cheers if they are super drunk and don’t know what’s happening.”

Oh … right then …

2. Showing you care by giving people a respectful distance

Another interesting conversation I had was in the different ways to show care or concern. In Singapore, it isn’t strange to ask a colleague how their family is doing, how they spent the weekend, etc. — especially if you’re close. After all, if each time we spoke we only talked about work, it might suggest that we didn’t care enough to ask about other matters in their lives.

In Japan, while colleagues who are close to each other may ask about some private matters, most of the time, showing concern means giving a respectful distance. Work is work and private time is private — the line in the sand is a lot clearer.

3. Facebook — more than a personal social platform!

Methods of communication in each country differ, but one that is especially worth a mention is how in Japan, Facebook is frequently used as a channel for business communication. It’s not unusual for Japanese PR professionals to connect with journalists on Facebook and to communicate with them via Facebook messages.

On the other hand, texting a Japanese journalist via Line or simple SMS would be considered crossing the line as those are “private” platforms.

This is a huge difference compared to Singapore — where WhatsApp is acceptable for most journalists but adding each other on Facebook would be too personal a platform.

 

I’ve spoken a lot about differences in the markets and what surprised me — but one thing I also want to highlight is how despite all these differences, the Japan team was so warm and welcoming.

Everyone knows people in Japan are very polite, so I knew I’d have a pleasant time. But the team that welcomed me went beyond “courteous.” From specially heading down to the office to meet me, bringing me around to eat delicious Japanese cuisine — or even openly engaging in debates with me on the differences between the two markets and how exactly Japanese tick — this trip has been incredibly enlightening, interesting and most importantly fun.

I’d like to close off this blog piece with what most people must have been waiting for — vicariously living through my pictures! Here they are:

The Hoffman Agency's Building Bridges Program

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