May 01, 2012

Career guy: Alex Eramus, Tokyo, JAPAN

Kinkaku-ji or ‘the golden temple’ in Kyoto

Alex is Digital Creative for Edelman Digital, helping run the practice in Tokyo.

E: I’ve always been fascinated by Tokyo, could you describe your first impressions of the city?

A: One of the first things you notice is the sheer number of people, all rushing about in orderly lines. The city is really well organized and everyone looks very smart. At the same time, the city as a whole is quite grey and you don’t see a lot of individuality or colour in the way people dress. Another thing that hits you is how monocultural it is. I recently found out that 98.5% of people in Japan are Japanese. Whenever I see another non-Japanese person, I find myself staring at them like I’ve just seen a ghost,.

E: How are you settling in with the Japanese culture? What’s been the best/worst experience so far?

A: Even though I grew up near London, it was a huge culture shock to go from Auckland to Tokyo. Jumping from a city of just over 2 million people to the most populated city in the world (well over 30 million), was difficult to get used to. I loved the cherry blossom season, but probably the best experience has been going to all the different restaurants and trying the local food. I also enjoyed getting the train out to the seaside town of Kamakura, about an hour outside the city centre, where I took a walk through the woods to check out the Great Buddha, a statue completed in 1252. The worst experience has been realizing that most people speak little or no English. Not being able to properly communicate outside the office is frustrating, tiring and can make you feel very isolated at times.

E: How does the work culture differ?

A: There is more importance placed on hierarchy and people’s job titles. As a result, junior staff are often nervous to speak up in a group session or with a client. It’s a lot quieter, which is tricky for me as I have a voice like a fog horn! I’ve also noticed less creativity than England and New Zealand, where I’ve worked before. This is probably due to the strong Japanese conservatism, but you get the sense that the younger generation are slowly breaking free from this mindset.

E: What would say are the main things that everyone should experience when visiting Japan?
A: Eat in local restaurants, even if you can’t read the menu. I often don’t know what I’m ordering, but just ask for whatever the owner recommends. Take a bath at an onsen, which are dotted around the whole country. It’s relaxing and a very Japanese experience. Wander into side streets, down back alleys and always look for places that are up or downstairs as this is where most of the coolest places are. Tokyo is very safe so don’t worry about going off the beaten track. And visit Kyoto if you get the chance, which has the best temples and shrines. If not, there are plenty to see in Tokyo itself.

E: What have you learnt about yourself whilst being there?

A: I’ve learnt that I can adapt to different environments and make the best of my surroundings. It’s re-enforced my belief that I’m an independent person who enjoys challenges and exploring new places. At the same time, I’ve learnt that when I put down some roots, I want it to be in a smaller, more manageable city.

E: What cultural/societal traits would you like to take back home with you?

A: People are really helpful and friendly, even if they don’t know you and can’t speak your language. You don’t see enough of this is England, especially in London. Despite hardly any rubbish bins on the streets (cost cutting by the Government), you rarely see litter.

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