I think “March 11th, 2011”, that day was the turning point of people inJapan. “What is the most valuable and precious thing？”
Not only a few people ask themselves this question.
Some of them might have changed their way of living, such as
where they work and live to find the answer. They might have already found it.
The person, who is reading this interview program, may be one of them.
We, Japanese people have kept having our own original mind;“Heart is more important than things we own.” The mind might have been put away from us before that day, but many of us may start to regain this kind of mindset to know ourselves.
In the meantime, depressing news towards Japan and Japanese people’s futures keep occurring against our will, but “The TokyoOlympics” will be held in 2020 despite situations like this.
With retrospection, we are facing the future with both anxiety and anticipation.
4 years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, and 5 years are left to the Olympics. Now, the timing, which is getting a big picture view of “Japan” and “Japanese people”, has come.
This may lead the answer to the question.
From those things, I came up with this program which is to interview people from overseas about Japan.
I hope these interviews provide the awareness of something special to you.
〜What does Japan mean to you?〜
Vol.2 Roger Berman from England
President of ZenWorks Co., Ltd.
Provides Japan and international brand license consulting, sales development, communications, media and coordination services.
Interviewer : Yohei Hayakawa
-Can you tell me about your company? Is your office in Shibuya?
I started my company 5 years ago. I ran my business as an individual enterprise for about 4 years out of a home-based office. And in 2014 I incorporated the business into a KK.
I’m involved in the brand licensing business, where we license well-known brand names to companies who then make products using those brands. The companies pay royalties for the use of the brand. One great thing about licensing is that I get to meet a lot of people from different industries including a lot of creators.
Actually I recently joined a co-working space here in Shibuya, and get to meet a lot of interesting creators. Shibuya seems to be a magnet for creators, which is great for my business. The co-working space I joined is called ‘Connecting the Dots’. It was a quote that Steve Jobs made during a speech when he was talking about his business philosophy on how you connect different dots.
In licensing I represent well-known overseas sports and lifestyle brands, and regularly meet manufacturers, advertising and sales planning agencies and product planners.
Another side of my business is license consulting. I help overseas companies enter into Japan and Asian markets matching them to good business partners. I also help Japanese companies expand internationally.
¬-How often do you go overseas for work?
Licensing is such a face-to-face business and you really have to meet people. It’s not a business that can be conducted by e-mail or Skype. So, I think I make about a minimum of 4 to 5 trips per year.
-I like your company name ‘ZenWorks’. What is the origin of the name?
Originally, when I was working in another company, I always wanted to start my own business. I registered this name about 10 years ago and started the business 5 years ago. Then I wanted to be involved with Japanese artisans. Every single prefecture has a traditional crafts industry, like in Niigata you have ‘metal work’, and in Noto you have ‘wajima urushi’. Every area has its own specialty. People who create these works-of-art are the true masters. But they don’t know how to market. So, my original thinking was, I do the marketing and sales and be a bridge between the artisans and overseas markets, so I was thinking of a business model to help them. Then the name ‘Zen’ just came up during a moment of inspiration! So the philosophy came after I chose the name.
The term ‘Zen’ has a number of meanings. For example, it could be meditation as in ‘Zazen’ in Japanese so I take a meditative approach to my business. I don’t like to grow aggressively but aim to grow business organically. Another word is ‘Kaizen’, meaning ‘continuous improvement’. I try to continually improve my business model and practice. The third ‘Zen’ is ‘Kanzen’, meaning ‘to complete’. I don’t try to be perfect, no one should, but I try to make the best result possible. These are the three aspects of the ‘Zen’ in my business. So hopefully “Zen” does “Work” – it’s quite deep, isn’t it!
-Why did you come to Japan?
Originally from Liverpool, I came to Japan in 1984. I was looking for more meaning in my life by traveling all over the world and Japan was one of the countries I happened to visit. When I was studying in college, which we called “polytechnics” in those days, I got a little bored of all the non-stop education I’d had since elementary school without a break. So I decided to take a break!
I think travel is in my blood. Ever since I was little, I’d go to the library to borrow books about traveling. I was also lucky that I got to visit a lot of places because my parents loved traveling, too.
In the early 1980’s, Hong Kong was my first port-of-call in Asia. I met a traveler there who gave me information about a place called “English Village” in Meguro, Tokyo. English Village was a dormitory where Japanese lived together with foreigners. It was a barter arrangement where I taught English 7 hours a week in return for free accommodation and free dinner. That was a pretty good deal back then!
-Can you tell me about Liverpool?
Well most Japanese who visit London will see it as a very busy place with a huge population and people who can be hard to get to know. However if you go to the North of England, everyone is so friendly. You will feel more relaxed and prices are cheaper. Wales has gorgeous countryside and Scotland is so lovely in the summer. If you like whisky definitely go to Scotland!
Liverpool is a great base to be for exploring the North. Also many Japanese know it is the home of The Beatles and for football fans, it has two great teams, Liverpool and Everton.
-Your Japanese is very good. How did you master Japanese?
I spent two and a half years going to Japanese language school. I got a student visa and went to a language school in Shibuya. It was a very unique school being located in a 100-year-old traditional Japanese house with a small garden. I was lucky to have great teachers. I made a lot of Japanese friends and talking to them helped me a lot.
-Could you tell me about the most surprising experience you have had in Japan?
I didn’t have any expectations when I first arrived, so I didn’t really have any surprises actually.
As for first impressions, when I arrived at Narita airport and took the limousine bus into Tokyo, the amount of urbanization really surprised me. Riding the bus through Chiba, I strongly recollect more apartment blocks than greenery.
I wouldn’t call Tokyo a pretty city. If you go to Paris or London, you will see a lot of old buildings that exude history. Tokyo is very chaotic but very tidy at the same time – that’s quite unusual. Reflecting the perfection of an artisan’s work, you also can see how perfect the finish quality of construction work is in Japan.. With the mass of people in Tokyo, this city is a wonderful mix of chaos and perfection.
-Could you tell me about the most positive and negative aspects about Japan?
In terms of social fabric, it is safe. For example, I have no worries about my daughter walking at night and coming home late. If I accidently leave my mobile phone in a restaurant, the shop still will keep it for me or if I lose it, someone would deliver it to a Koban police box. Japanese are very honest, polite and tidy.
A negative aspect is it is very hard to make good friends with Japanese people, and it is even harder to develop deep friendships. Besides my wife and daughter, I can’t honestly say I have a Japanese “best friend”. Also Japanese don’t really react well to spontaneity. For example, in the UK if I want to see a friend, I can just drop in to their house uninvited but for Japanese, going to someone’s house without arranging things in advance is a big thing. Here sadly you can’t just drop in and have a cup of tea.
-What do you think are the differences and similarities between Japanese and British?
I think one similarity is that both are reserved by nature. At first, they are a bit cautious. But once you get to know someone, they will warm to you. Shyness is another common trait. Many people say this is because Japan and Britain are both are island nations but I’m not really sure if that is true factor. As for differences, that is hard to answer. I don’t actually find any differences – both are human! I can think of more similarities than differences.
-I heard that the number of travelers from Britain going overseas is twice or three times that of Japanese going overseas. What do you think about it?
Generally speaking I think Japanese are more insular. Instead of looking out, they look in. When Japan was a closed nation, most European nations were more outward looking. I think that maybe one of the differences.
-What are your top three recommendations to your friends who don’t know about Japan?
Can I talk about the three best alternative recommendations? Too many people mention climbing Mt. Fuji, eating sushi and visiting Kyoto!
I’d say homestay with a Japanese farming family for a week. That way, you will really get to know how the people live in the countryside and you’ll get to experience a rural lifestyle.
Another one would be just to hang out in Tokyo for a week. Walk around the Yamanote line, all 35 km of it! It can take about 12 hours but it is so interesting as you get to see so many different neighborhoods. I did a charity run around the Yamanote Line earlier this year and it was fascinating! And that is saying something for someone who has lived here 31 years!
And the last one would be not in Japan! Open your home to Japanese visitors as a homestay, especially students coming to study in your country. You will get to know far more about Japan by living with someone than by just being a tourist.
-The Tokyo Olympics will be held in 2020. What do you think is the key for success?
I think it’s the people. I think the success of the London Olympics, was primarily due to the volunteers.
-If you become an Ambassador for the Tokyo Olympics, what would you do?
I would make sure the volunteer program is the best of the best. I would concentrate on the people and that they are motivated.
-How would you like your life to develop?
To stay healthy. To have a happy outlook. To take a holistic approach. To take care of my family. To be true to myself and my family. Having money is useful but it is not everything.
-What keeps you living in Japan?
Well my life is in Japan now. My family and my business are here. I even have a gravestone here with my family name carved out in katakana! That alone makes it difficult to leave! Seriously though, it’s a comfortable place to live.
-Have any Japanese people influenced you?
Besides my wife, unfortunately no. I don’t think there are any other Japanese who been an influence. I just think different people and different circumstances have influenced me in different ways.
In business, my first employer – a businessman and scholar – who was originally from New Zealand and came to live here after the Second World War influenced me to think as an entrepreneur.
I do like philosophy, and especially that of Saneatsu Mushanokouji. I happened by chance to visit the commune, Atarashiki-Mura, in Saitama and came across his literary and artistic works. I really love the things he wrote especially ‘Stars in the sky, flowers on the earth, and love for people’ 「天に星、地に花、人に愛」. His philosophy has also influenced me in my approach to life and business.
-Thank you for your time. It was a great pleasure talking with you.
Great talking with you, too. It’s been my pleasure.