Wednesday, March 30, 2016


She resembles the sun.

We cannot live without her.
She alters her face every day.
We periodically see the same landscape over generations,
yet life is so short that no one can remember that.

He resembles the moon.

We rediscover him in each decade.
Only if she helps us can we see him.
He frequently changes his appearance not because he is evolving
but because we are revolving.

We call her nature.
We call him artifacts.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

“The Culture Map” – the Compass in the 21th Century

Ambitious navigators in the Age of Discoveries used compasses in order to indicate where they were and find the new world. In this century, we already have an accurate world map and we can identify the location in a second just by using cell phones. However, there are many misunderstandings with cultures worldwide, resulting in having a difficult personal relationship or making business unsuccessful. We definitely need another tool to confront the tidal wave of globalization. It is “The Culture Map.”

Before I came to Boston, I read a book, titled The Culture Map. Although it functions as a guide for business people who work in a multi-national environment, I believe it is quite instrumental for all professionals to help them understand other cultures. The book was published in 2014 and written by Dr. Erin Mayer, an American professor, who was selected by the Thinkers50 Radar list as one of the world’s up-and-coming business thinkers in 2015. She developed eight scales to visualize culture traits by studying for more than ten years and interviewing thousands of business leaders. This book provides the eight scales−communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling−as well as dozens of case studies for each scale, and practical solutions so that we can learn easily. Thanks to her careful investigation and acute insights, I found not only the difference of cultures but also our own culture itself; just as fish don’t know they are in water, people often find it difficult to see and recognize their own culture.

Erin is no exception in that. She admits that she had never noticed her American tendencies until a Chinese journalist, Chen, pointed them out in a meeting. Although he is quite an articulate, extroverted, and very knowledgeable person, he doesn’t speak out about anything during a meeting with her customer. She gradually gets frustrated, upset and disappointed with him thinking he is unprepared. At the end of the meeting, she makes mention of this. He begins to explain things clearly, and the meeting turns out thoroughly successful. He was patiently waiting for her to call on him, showing he is a good listener by keeping quiet. Interrupting one’s speaking is considered to be very impolite in China. “You have two eyes, two ears, but only one mouth. You should use them accordingly,” says Chen. Erin realizes she has been speaking out so much. This episode totally meets my experience. Americans may have stereotypes of “the shy East Asians.” It is a fact that Americans speak twice as many words as Japanese do on average. I, however, don’t think I’m too shy. I just need more silence before jumping in.

Reading this book, I rediscovered how unique a culture we Japanese have. Erin illustrates that Japan is the highest-context country in terms of communicating. We have developed our culture with only one language and only one nation on our isolated island over two thousand years. Consequently, we are sharing deep context, and we incline to be emotionally unexpressive and avoid confrontation. If someone speaks the words “no, thank you,” in Japanese, it can mean either yes or no. It depends on the context and we are implicitly trained to communicate between the lines. In a high context culture, we prefer fuzzy expressions to clear ones. We do not speak a lot. We do not have to answer to a question directly, and even accept leaps in logic. This is because a listener is expected to have a large assumption. On the other hand, the United States is the lowest-context country in the world. The speaker always has a responsibility to explain things clearly. They think the more explicit answer is the better and abhor keeping quiet. Even though I am struggling with this gap, I try to use words as clearly as possible when I speak English.

The most interesting scale in the book is the trusting. Erin mapped countries in a range from task-based to relationship-based. In a task-based country like the United States, trust is made by accomplishments, while in a relationship-based country like Brazil, China, and Japan, trust is developed very slowly only by personal relationships so that they can trust them by heart. In my work experience, drinking together and having social events are the best way to brew trust. Since I have lived in the United States, I was surprised that Americans are so friendly to strangers. However, Erin concludes that friendly does not equal relationship-based. She states that there are two cultural tendencies and describes them as a peach and a coconut. In peach cultures, people tend to be soft with others they have just met, but after some interactions, you may suddenly get to the hard shell of the pit where the peach protects their real self. In coconut cultures, people are more closed with those they don’t have friendships with. It takes a while to get through the initial hard shell, but relationships last longer. Erin also says that the task-based trust can quickly drop, so American companies sometimes made a crucial decision to their employees or customers. This explanation makes a lot of sense to me.

I was curious why people from some countries like China, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia are not very punctual. The scale of scheduling is a key. Germany, Japan, and the United States are ones of linear-time countries, which means that time flows linearly, and we are ruled by a clock. On the other hand, some countries have flexible-time perception. Erin argues this is connected to the country’s fluidity. For example, political systems and financial systems are somewhat unstable there. Transportation or water supply might frequently cause problems. In the Middle East, the schedule is often altered by religious leaders or events like a sign from the moon. Successful managers ought to ride out the changes with ease and flexibility. In those countries, people believe the fixed schedule is even inefficient, and the schedule must be flexible. Personally, I feel comfortable with punctuality that Germans and Americans have rather than tardiness. Even though we need to recognize those differences, we had better try to conform to a culture that we are in.

In school, I meet students who come from many different countries, having different cultures. Of course each person has his or her own background and different characteristics; however, only if we understand and respect other cultures can we build a truly good relationship. Erin’s words make my comprehension of others easier. By using neat concepts of scales such as communication, trusting, and scheduling, I am now able to visualize cultures underlying every person, including me. In addition, I was impressed by this book because Erin mentions much about Japan. While our faces and colors are similar to those in China and Korea, we have completely different cultures. I highly recommend this book, The Culture Map, to everyone, especially to the language teachers of expatriate students. This compass will surely help your exploration of life.