Strictly Business

I work with Japanese companies.  As I’m an attorney, I’m duty-bound by strict confidentiality rules to never disclose any of the goings-on between me an my clients, any of them.  I’ve been employed by a Japanese company, JVC.  My short, nine or ten-month tour of duty with JVC occurred before I went to law school, so all bets are off with that employer.  Those stories will come someday.  I’ve no actual scandals to report.  The words “wacky” and “mad-cap” are much more descriptive of life as an American employed at a manufacturing facility owned by a Japanese company in the U.S., at least much moreso than, say, “witness-to-scandal.”

That said, I’ve recently lived- and worked-through a Situation with one of my Japanese corporate clients, which, of course, will remain nameless.  I won’t describe the Situation.  I will say that I’ve enjoyed serving this client for more than a decade and hope to continue to for years to come.  The client seems satisfied with my work, too.  I’m honored to have been this company’s U.S. attorney for these many years.

What I can do is share a story with you, dear readers.  The facts laid-out in this story are nothing like the facts involved in the Situation I’ve been a witness to.   However, by reading the story set forth below, a true story, you will begin to understand the broader contours of the Situation, about which I’m not allowed to, and would never, discuss.  By reading the story, though, you will begin to understand a lot about Doing Business in Japan (or with Japanese companies that do business overseas).

This very short story, Parking Anyone?, is true.  Robert J. Collins wrote it.  Collins was a corporate executive for an American company in Japan for years.  He wrote columns about his adventures as an American businessman living and working in Japan for The Japan Times.  A couple of times his columns were gathered together and sold as books.  This was back in the late 1980s.  Collins wrote under the pseudonym “Max Danger,” though everyone knew that Max Danger and Robert J. Collins were the same guy.  Collins’ Max Danger books remain Must Reads for anyone who finds himself, herself, on the brink of Doing Business in Japan.

Max Danger

I present most of Parking Anyone? by and under U.S. Fair Use law.  I’m not offering it for commercial purposes and seek no commercial benefit by reprinting this story in its entirety.  It’s just a short chapter in the larger work, More Max Danger: The Continuing Adventures of an Expat in Tokyo, which I encourage you, gentle reader, to buy.  In fact, I think Mr. Collins and his publisher should thank me for the free advertising.  At any rate, let’s get back to the point:  I invite you to read Parking Anyone? and understand this Situation I won’t discuss, and about Doing Business in Japan. I include a couple of links which, of course, are not part of the actual tale.

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P a r k i n g    A n y o n e ?

There is a “Rube Goldberg” quality to the way things work around here.  For those who don’t remember, Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist whose specialty was depicting the accomplishment of a simple task through an incredible series of spectacularly complicated events .  .  .

There are good things to be said about these kinds of arrangements, however.  Well, at least one good thing — the system guarantees involvement.  And involvement means full employment.  But adjusting to this three-ring circus of activity takes time.  And patience.

Max Danger had the good fortune to witness, and compare, two identical projects as planned and executed in his New York Head Office, and in his Tokyo branch operation. The occasion was the seventy-fifth anniversary of his company’s founding, which coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the company’s Japan operation.

While on a business trip to New York, Max happened happened to sit in on a meeting wherein a tiny corner of the Head Office celebration was being planned.  The tiny corner of activity involved arranging for complimentary parking in a midtown Manhattan hotel for the guest of the company at a gala reception/cocktail party.

The strategy involved calling in a young dude from somewhere deep in the bowels of the building and telling him to call the hotel and “make arrangements.”  He said, “O.K.”  This aspect of the planning session took between twenty and thirty seconds.

A week or so later, back in Tokyo, Max witnessed the beginning of a series of events in quest of the same goal — complimentary parking for the guests of the Japan branch at a gala reception/cocktail party.

So as to preserve an accurate chronicle of activity — perhaps for future study by management consultants, or as background information to be used in the preparation of a doctoral thesis — Max is reporting the following on a parallel basis.  New York and Tokyo.

NEW YORK, DAY 1:  “Call the hotel and arrange for complimentary parking.”  The young dude says, “OK,” and slouches off.  Time elapsed:  twenty to thirty seconds.

TOKYO, DAY 1:  “Call the hotel and arrange for complimentary parking.”  The seven people from the General Affairs Dept. look at their hands, cigarette lighters, out the window, at the ceiling, at each other — anywhere, in fact, except at Max.  Careful questioning reveals that the group is not certain why this should be done.  Careful explanations follow, with subsequent desultory conversation in Japanese among the group.  Finally, consensus is reached.  It should be done because it’s a good idea.  The meeting ends.  Time elapsed:  forty-seven minutes.

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NEW YORK, DAY 2:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 2:  A meeting is convened during which it is reported that the hotel would like to know the makes and license numbers of the cars of the people attending the party in advance so that arrangements can be made.  The practicality of this is discussed, but it is concluded . . . that the “hotel’s request cannot be complied with.  The group is charged with the responsibility of effecting an alternate plan — perhaps free parking stickers.  The meeting ends.  Time elapsed:  one hour and nineteen minutes.

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NEW YORK, DAY 3:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 3:  “Do free parking stickers mean free to the drivers but paid for by the hotel or by the company?”  The question had merit.  A sub-committee is established to analyze the quotation of prices, from the hotel to the company, to determine accountability.  Time elapsed:  twenty-six minutes.

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NEW YORK, DAY 4:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 4:  Parking must be an extra charge to the company because the ice-carving is being provided at a discount.  Would the company consider parking slips, sent with the invitations, instead of stickers?  Also, how many attendees will there be?  The hotel, a new one, has somewhat limited parking facilities, and arrangements must be made for the cars of the regular guests.  Answers slowly emerge.  Time elapsed:  fifty-four minutes.

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NEW YORK, DAY 5:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 5:  “Should the company logo be on the slips, and/or are there special number sequences preferred?” At issue is the question of paying a flat fee for all slips mailed out with the invitations, or merely paying for those people who actually attend with cars.  Of course — and how can we overlook these things?  “And what about overflow?”  The meeting group has expanded by the addition of two serious guys from the Accounting Dept. — the chaps in charge of watching the gala reception/cocktail party budget.  Answers sort of emerge.  Elapsed time:  one hour and thirteen minutes.

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NEW YORK, DAY 6:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 6:  The slips are too big for the invitation envelops.  Should:  a) the slips be reprinted, b) the envelopes made bigger, or c) the slips folded?  The last alternative is finally selected.  Elapsed time:  forty-one minutes.

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Max is pleased to report, if only for the sake of comparison, that the end result in both places, New York and Tokyo, was precisely the same.  Scholars will note, however, that it took the Tokyo operation five hours and twenty minutes to plan for it, whereas it took less than a minute in New York.

Oh, yes, the end result was precisely the same.  Disgruntled guest in New York lined up in cars for over an hour waiting to pay parking charges on the way out of the hotel.  It seems the young dude had resigned from the company within days of receiving his assignment, no one noticed, and nothing had been done about complimentary parking.

In Tokyo, the black cars were backed up to parking level B-3 waiting to pay fees.  It seems that the folding of the parking slips created mysterious technical problems, and if the invitations were to be mailed on time, they had to go out without the slips. . .

Author’s Note:  The Japanese parking slips were eventually mailed, and were received by most guests the day after the gala reception/cocktail party.

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I have disclosed nothing about my recent Situation with my cherished Japanese corporate client, about its management, about anything having to do with my representation of it.   And, yet, you now know all.

  1. This Situation reminds me of my dealings with certain US corporations. There are little bits of Japan right here in the US of A.

      • RN
      • April 27th, 2013

      No country or culture has a monopoly on such time- and energy-sucking Bureaucrankery. But while some business cultures are merely competent at chasing their own tales, others have raised such silliness to an art form. On a related note, I highly recommend any and everything written by Vladimir Voinovich. Once a Hero of the Soviet Union, he was eventually kicked-out of the USSR in 1980 (to West Germany) for his satire and send-ups of Soviet Bureaucracy. For starters I recommend _The Fur Hat_ or _The Ivankiad_. Hilarious. But here’s the thing: while Voinovich was focused on skewering Soviet Bureaucracy, he may as well have been talking about your local power or gas company, any of the U.S. telecoms, or pretty much any Fortune 500 “Customer Service” department.

  2. a good read Richard,
    reminds me of changing $200 Aussi dollars in a Japanese bank a couple of years ago, total 4 clerks and 3 different seating positions for me, time= 30 minutes consisting of filling out forms, waiting, signing forms, waiting, a passport copy, waiting, then I finally received my Japanese Yen… service with a frown and a smile …

      • letsjapan
      • April 28th, 2013

      Indeed, andy. I think there could be a book in there somewhere: a compilation of gaijin Exchanging Currency stories. Those who run those little airport banks/kiosks are actually quite good, owing to volume and experience and their sole, focused mission. But, yes, I think all of us have had our share of Kafka in this or that bank when it comes to exchanging currency. I’ll have to say (noting Meta’s comment above), American banks can find all manner of *other* ways to be Kafkaesque.

  3. My new-to-me copies of Max Danger and More Max Danger arrived a couple of days ago, and boy, are these funny! We have decided to make them our new family read-aloud entertainment.

    So, now I wonder – do the Japanese also find this stuff funny?

      • letsjapan
      • May 9th, 2013

      Wonderful, Meta!

      I promise you, except for those who’ve spent a lot of time in North America, Western Europe, or Aussieland or NZ, 90% of it would be lost on them.

      Which is part of the irony and all.

      Happy reading. I’ll let you know when mine comes out.

      RN

  1. May 10th, 2013

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