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Translation | The future of Japanese organizations lies in creating of mutual understanding between Thais and Japanese.

mediator co., ltd. Kantatorn Wannawasu

[ This article is an English translation of an article written for Japanese. ]

We often heard that crossing boundary of culture begins with speaking the local languages. If we understand the language, we can truly understand the locals. But is it really true?

Even you can speak the language fluently or being the same nationality participating in the conversation, it does not mean you can always understand each other. Kantatorn Wannawasu, CEO of Mediator Co, Ltd. Is sharing with us his experience.

If Japanese organizations in Thailand would like to pursue “Localization” process smoothly, first thing is to know the differences between Thais and Japanese. They must try to understand the differences systematically and start for proper adaptation. These are clearly discussed by Kantatorn who we would like to introduce his story to you.

“Japan” is a very close subject to me.

Kantatorn is very fluent in Japanese language in all communication levels including formal, business and blending of four-lettered Kanjis (Yoji Jukugo) to suit all requirements. (TPO) Kantatorn firstly experienced “Japan” through his father’s influence as his father was working in the Japanese company and speak Japanese. So, Kantatorn had been automatically familiar with “Japan” and “Japanese Language “. When he graduated his high school level, he decided to go to Japan to further his study. He studied hard in the Japanese language school, and successfully enrolled for the university in Japan later.

While studying in the university, he learnt that the relationship between individuals in Japan have much wider distances comparing to those of Thais. Those distance turn into uncrossable barriers that cause him concern from his study till working life. He worked in the department of industry at the Embassy of Thailand for 5 years. His job scopes included escorting any high rank officers from Thai government such as directors, directors-general, permanent secretaries, manage their schedules and transportation and being their translator. Kantatorn learnt the Japanese values through his years of work experience.

Then, one day he was criticized by one of Japanese businessmen who he met at work. The Japanese business man know Thailand so well criticized him as such.

I was criticized that what I was doing is not the real translator job just yet. I realized that my translation was not good enough as a translator and know how serious the Japanese put effort in their work. Later, I learnt about Thailand economy and other relations of different countries from the Japanese business man. I, then, know of how little I know about Thailand.

Knowing that he has been away from Thailand for so long and know too little about his hometown. So, he thought of going home and traveled back to Thailand. Once he repatriated back, he worked as a freelance translator for some time with regular tasks. Then, he got assigned with more than just “translation job” from the Ministry of Industry, Thailand and some government organizations of Japan, hence he decided to start his own company.

I have established “Mediator Co, Ltd.” In 2009 with the thought that my experience would be benefit for people on the larger scale and will encourage the better relation between Thais and Japanese.

HR management of Thais by Thais are not always smooth.

Mediator co, Ltd. Started off the business quite well. Many companies know of Kantatorn ‘s fluency of Japanese language skill and became his customers. As he had no enough expertise at that time to choose what tasks to take, so he did all the tasks offered. Mediator started off with 3 employees including himself, and grew to the larger scale company of 30 employees.

But the wok doesn’t go well as planned, even with more numbers of employees. The turnover had also been raising. So, Kantatorn took time to contemplate on the situation.

I was thinking in such Japanese way that “If I could do it, my employees should strive to do it even with no training. “But this concept is not for Thais. Decision to resign is not only the employee’s judgement , but also my incompetency to really show what skills needed and how to attain such skills. In short, I was not able to do” Visualization” of skills and give training for those employees. The result is that I cannot harvest the comfort of management positions. So it is indeed “Vicious cycle”.

That situation made Kantatorn realized that “Speaking Japanese language does not mean ability of working in Japanese style”.

I hired Thai employees who can communicate well in Japanese language but it does not guarantee his ability to work as Japanese style. At the end, Japanese language is only communication tool. I had lived in Japan for so long that I understand and adopted the values of Japanese, whereas other employees never experienced the same life experience as me. My mistake is that to expect other employees to understand Japanese values the way I did.

What are Thai things that Japanese people should learn about?

Even we are all Thais and speak the same language, we sometimes have some misunderstanding. So between Thai and Japanese, misunderstanding could happen as well.

Japanese company have established their business in Thailand for approximate of 60 years now. From JETRO (Japan External Trade Organisation) ‘s survey mentioned that there are over 5,444 Japanese companies in Thailand. Numbers of Japanese companies attempting for “Localization” of their business, are now growing. But only few companies are successful for such purpose. The question is Why?

The firs issue is that Japanese people’s understanding about Thais are not sufficient. Even if we are all Thais, but those from the city and other provinces are already holding complete different values and personalities. Moreover, background and values of those with university’s degrees and non-degree achiever are quite different. So it is a must to understand that even they are all Thais, they are in fact different tribes of people from two planets.

The concept about financial management is also depending on individuals’ social status. If one is from the well-off family, managing money is how to invest for more money. The one from middle-class family emphasizes on how to save money, while those from low income family may have nothing about financial lessons to teach their children.

In short, those Thais are not belonging to the same category, and the single similar approach will not work for all types. For those with limited education, close communication about their original hometown, previous work experience and intention to return home, can build trust. While the highly educated group of people will require attention towards their opinions during any conversations.

Even, there is so many difference, we hold one similar concept. That concept is “Money is not always the priority.”

Over half of Thai people actually think that ways of living is more important than making lot of money. Thais often think that even owning lots of money, if one has no networks of friends, then one is at high risk. So, instead of putting up with the job they dislike to earn good salary, they would prefer to choose the jobs which please them. They also give importance to spend joyful moments with friends and families. This concept of thought is not affected by levels of education.

Thai people give values to results.

If you wish for Thai employees across your organizations to hold Japanese people’s advice respectfully, you must know Thai’s values and know the differences of two nations.

Kantatorn explained to us with the example of Zaru soba.

When we look at Zaru soba, we can identify 3 components. One is component of INPUT (or in this case “ingredients”) such as Soba, Shiyu sauce, seasonings, water, gas to cook soba. Then, Zaru soba is the OUTPUT of all inputs together. And lastly, the taste of Soba if it is good or lame is the OUTCOME. While Japanese people highly value “inputs” of the items, Thais mainly focus on “OUTCOME” of the items. For Thais, what matter is “the taste of the Soba”, whereas Japanese pay attention to details of ingredient or inputs. Another classic example is cosmetic products, which Japanese care about “What’s inside? (inputs)” of the product such as Q10, Hyrulinic Acid and Collagen. On the other hand, Thai people will welcome the products with advertisement phrase of “This supplement is formulated under collaboration work from doctors of the renown hospitals” or “I am better looking because of the product”, rather than considering of product’s components.

The Japanese values that pay attention to “Input” is shown through how they implement their working system and plans. Japanese explain the theory of work “from the beginning “thoroughly, whereas Thais wish to know in concrete explanation what their work roles and outcomes should be expected. So, that is the reason why we must understand the difference in thinking system of two nations prior to make any work orders.

Thais often resign after short working period of time and it is hard to find capable Thais. This problem has been long continued in many Japanese companies which is the result of unclear outcome of work.

Among “The most wanted 100 companies Thai people wish to work for survey”, it is such a pity that less than 10 Japanese companies belong in the lists. Most of qualified personnel prefers to work with European, American or big Thai companies. The main reason why they chose those companies is because of clearer career path comparing to Japanese companies. The clearer career path illustrates what possible future position and the increment of salary. Thais dislike relying on others, so they choose the companies where future of their carrier is concretely reflected and have tendency to move to other companies when they do not “feel Right”.

100 times of attempt is better that 1 time attempt for perfection

Trading partners of Japanese companies in Thailand mostly are Japanese companies because the main missions of affiliated companies in each country is to “Control and Continue “production plans. Hence, the Japanese management personnel sent to work in Thailand has no authority to make decisions as their core mission is just to “Manage and Control of situation for continuous stability”. As a result of such authority models, the rights to make decisions belong only to the headquarters in Japan.

Kantatorn pointed out that such situations disappoint some Thai employees.

Many Thai employees joined Japanese companies because of “Japan’s good image” as many of the Thais have in mind. So, the expectation is very high and started to work with the expectation to exchange opinions for better work result. However, the reality is that Japanese colleagues or team leaders barely listen to their opinions and have no authority at work place. The authority of decision is only from the mother company in Japan. As a result of such disappointment, some Thais leave the jobs eventually.

Kantatorn gave honest advise on rigid manner of Japanese companies as followed.

Japanese ways of thinking emphasizes on 70%-80% of planning and 20% of implementing, but for Thais or Chinese is the other way around. Thais or Chinese plan for 20% and 70-80% is about implementing and adjusting the plans accordingly. This point is the main fundamental difference. We cannot deny that flexibility brings about risks, but I would like Japanese companies to try doing different things with no fear of risks. European, American, Thai or Chinese attempt things with challenges and possible risks. To be successful for one time, it may need 100 times of attempt. But, Japanese companies shows no interest to even attempt for once but hope for one perfect success in single go in real operation.

This strict advices is derived from his strong intention to become “The bridge of relationship between Thais and Japanese”. Going across culture and value barriers is very challenging. The most vital key is to accept and understand the existence of such barriers. Then approach and interaction methods are the heart of “Localization”.

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