Do the right thing in Japan, always


Reputation in business is critical. Being honest, law-abiding and treating business partners in a fair manner is the best policy for enhancing our reputation. Japan is a hard place in which to get into trouble, but that doesn’t stop some from trying.

The obvious thing to avoid is crime. You are probably thinking this is not an issue, and hopefully you are correct. Surprising things happen though. I had met a fellow Aussie businessman socially when I was Consul General in Osaka and the next time I saw him, he was in the pokey. As a word of caution, those unfamiliar with how consulates work might imagine that their government is somehow going to get their loved one out of jail. Sadly, the consular vehicle won’t be backed up to the compound wall to spring their national. All embassies will do is make sure you are treated equally under the law and inquire whether you would like them to let your family know you are now a jailbird in Japan.

In this case, my Aussie compatriot did not want his family informed that he had been nabbed by the store security for shoplifting a small value item from a major retailer. Nor that in his bag the police found a substantial wad of cash and a smorgasbord of illegal pharmaceuticals.

After conducting many prison visits to incarcerated Aussies, let me assure you, don’t wind up in jail in Japan. The sheer fear in the eyes of all those I visited was seriously scary. One drug mule, a hulking deck worker on prawn trawlers, was so obviously terrified of his guard, it still lingers in my mind’s eye. I don’t know what the prison guards do to their charges inside the walls of the prison, but the terror it induced was palpable and unforgettable. Jail time in Japan is not aimed at redemption by the way - the purpose of the entire experience is punishment and that is a big difference from many Western countries.

No jail time for me, you say. But you might be juiced up having a big night on the town celebrating in Roppongi and a fight suddenly erupts with some fellow muscular revelers sporting crew cuts. You jump in to help your mate, things rapidly go south and the cops arrive to clean it up. Binge drinking Brits and alcohol and testosterone fueled Aussies with short tempers, in particular, be careful!

It might be social media that brings you undone. Your good name can be trashed all over the Internet very easily and quickly. Recently, I received a broadcast Facebook query looking for help in locating a bad debtor. “Amazed” didn’t even begin to describe my reaction, as I knew both small business parties. Wow, this is going everywhere, I thought and how damaging that was for the named business partner’s reputation.

Another cautionary tale came about from a false website. The Facebook posting looked like it was real, had an intriguing tag line and took me to the fake site, where the dirt was piled high. This site was bursting with this person’s alleged business skullduggery and their reputation was being shredded on the spot. It took me a moment to work out it was a fake posting, because it was so well done, but the damage to reputation must have been enormous.

Paying your way is always a critical thing in business but some people are too clever by half. They have worked out that when you owe a substantial sum of money, the problem is now the other guy’s. Collecting the amount owed is costly and time consuming. Knowing this they offer pennies on the dollar. The immediate issue around cash flow may be removed, but the long-term damage to reputation is not so easily unwound.

Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is always a popular policy in choosing business partners and due diligence is a compliance must these days. It may take years to recover from a blow to one’s reputation and the Internet leaves a trail for all future business partners to see. A heavy price will be paid at some point.

Sticking smaller suppliers with 60 – 90-day payment terms is a favorite for some of the larger players. The irony is that the people who need free credit the least, extract it from those who need prompt payment the most. Might may be right, but it does take the sheen off the brand and the firm’s reputation. As a small business owner, I find this happens way too often. Basically your choices are few but it does leave a bitter taste in your mouth and a negative view of these brand name companies' ethics.

Fortunately, Japan is pretty "amae" (indulgent) with foreigners. However, let’s not get sucked into a false sense of security. Jailbird time here is no joke, so just don’t take the risk. Social media is an instant killer of reputations, the stain is semi-permanent and very hard to erase.

So let’s always do the right thing.

As the saying goes, “the radius of the circle of karma is shorter than you think.”

© Japan Today

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Some good points. Greg knows but doesn't say that if you get in a fight with the locals, even if the locals started it, the Police will invariably side with the locals, regardless of what happens. When out drinking, ignore provocation from Japanese males.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

I never really grasped what the intentions of this article were. It goes in circles. Can anyone fill me in?

I have seen an aggressive Japanese male provoke a fight ever.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

@shonanbb: It was, it seems, just an opportunity for the author to get some attention. It could have been summed up in about 3 sentences.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Correctly, said in fact when it comes to illegal activities your playing with fire! As Foreigners we have a bad reputation. Have fun in Japan, do as the Roman's! Cheers Geeno

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The biggest issue I have is the stereotypes, and the generalizations. First, the sage advice he offers is common sense for business in any country. Nothing special here. But then he smears millions by saying 'Binge drinking Brits and alcohol and testosterone fueled Aussies with short tempers,' is he actually commenting on culture by bringing up a stereotype which insults a great many people who are polite, hard-working citizens who did nothing to deserve his ranting?

Japan does certainly bring some of the most 'interesting' people from all over the world, but it is his comments which serve to strengthen stereotypes, ruins the image of those of us who make Japan our home, and makes it harder to be taken seriously here.

Thanks Doc.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Do the right thing in Japan, always As I always say, there appears to be a difference in emphasis in morals between Japanese and Westerners rather than so much of an absolute difference in level. Early visitors to Edo Japan noted to man and woman, that there was very little thievery in Japan, and that for instance people would pin bank notes as rewards to lost and found notices, or that money could be left out in rooms protected only by paper panels. But the the same early visitors to Japan (E.g. Bird and Satow) also noted that their trusty Japanese servants and guides, who could be trusted with valuables and never steal a single coin, would quite happily add a mark up to purchases such that they cost considerably more often by a factor, just in effect "robbing" (can it be called that?) them of half their money. And so it is to this day that one can walk through the streets of Japanese cities with ones wallet hanging out of ones back pocket, leave ones bag on ones table when going to a restaurant, leave ones bicycle, car and even house unlocked, and fall asleep next to people sitting next to you on the train, but when it comes to mark ups, cartels, corporate compliance (think Olympus), politicians, and people saying "hey granddad its me, me" on the phone, can almost be trusted to be untrustworthy, at least according to Karl Van Wolfren. That said, I find that Japanese are monumentally trustworthy in all the ways that matter to me, and don't care about a mark up, or if I do, I buy it myself. It seems to me further that the Japanese emphasis on walking the walk rather than talking the talk leads to happier outcomes since walks (or all things corporeal and visible) have more of an impact upon human happiness.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

"I don’t know what the prison guards do to their charges... but the terror... was palpable and unforgettable"

So why is it that the Japanese themselves are literally QUEUING UP to be sent to prison??

-3 ( +2 / -4 )

So why is it that the Japanese themselves are literally QUEUING UP to be sent to prison??

I don't think that word means what you think it does.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The truth hurts doesn't it... :-)

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Yes, this article is, as they say in Australia, a dog's breakfast. A few random ideas about doing the right thing thrown together. I also don't like the stereotyping Charles Noguhi mentions, and this from the very same writer who was asking for cultural sensitivity last week. There are also plenty of westerners, even in the prison service, who believe prison is about punishment, not redemption. Some comment on these pages and support the death penalty. And if the writer has any evidence whatsoever that the terror of prisoners inside a Japanese prison has anything at all to do with torture then he should make it known.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Never been to Japan, but have been to many other countries, and the absolute last thing I ever want to do is got on the wrong side of the law. It is my experience that officers of the law are willing to look the other way over minor infractions, such as not understanding the local rules for pedestrians, but having seen American police in action, I have no desire whatsoever to find out how foreign police compare.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Surprising? What's surprising about that Aussie guy? I think it's pretty easy to avoid being nabbed for shoplifting while carrying around a lot of illegal drugs. First you refrain from stealing and second you don't get involved in dealing drugs. When you steal and deal in drugs no one should be surprised you end up in jail, least of all the guy in jail. But not his writer friend.

Hey, I've been here on an off for quite a while now and I've been pretty drunk in some pretty sketchy places but I've yet to find myself on the wrong side of the law here because I don't do really stupid things like jump into bar fights. Or crash a bicycle into a taxi cab in front of a cop. Or fall asleep drunkenly on the sidewalk a couple of blocks short of my apartment. I know people who've been locked up overnight for all of those things. I didn't do those things back home, either. I'm certainly not going to do them in a country where I'm a guest of the J-Gov's magnanimity as long as I don't act the fool anywhere but online.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm certainly not going to do them in a country where I'm a guest of the J-Gov's magnanimity as long as I don't act the fool anywhere but online.

Totally with you. I'm a guest in this country, and I try never to forget it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Binge drinking Brits and alcohol and testosterone fueled Aussies with short tempers - haha too true, especially the ones that post on this site.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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