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Making the Most of Japanese Innovations

“Now I work while traveling between Japan, the U.S., and Hong Kong,” says Romanian-born Cristian Vlad. Cristian first encountered Japan in his first year of high school. “I came for a homestay visit in Yokohama, a city twinned with my hometown of Constanta. My host mother taught me Japanese as a mother would teach her own child. I began to appreciate Japanese gardens, which reflect a respect for nature, and went to Sankeien Garden many times,” he says, looking back on that time.

Cristian wanted to study more Japanese, so he joined the Foreign Language Program at Bucharest University. “I listened to Japanese cassettes a lot. I watched NHK programs on topics that appealed to me, such as ‘the Silk Road,’ and watched them over and over again. Finally, with scholarship money from the Japanese Ministry of Education, I was able to study abroad at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture, where I read and studied works by authors from Aomori like DAZAI Osamu and TERAYAMA Shuji.

While staying in Aomori, he became well-versed in the local dialect. “During a summer vacation I worked at a local hot spring and they were surprised at my Tsugaru dialect. The next summer I workedat Osorezan and learned the dialect of Shimokita Peninsula spoken by the itako (mediums between the living and the dead),” he says. “The other day when I visited the hot spring where I used to work, I saw that the English website I designed for them a long time ago had been very helpful and that a huge number of foreign tourists had been coming to visit,” Cristian says proudly.

He once organized an international exchange event and invited the Romanian Ambassador from Tokyo. “And because the Ambassador was coming, the President of Hirosaki University decided to come too. Once the Ambassador and University President were involved, the Governor of Aomori Prefecture came as well, and it was a huge success,” Cristian recalls.

After graduating, Cristian became the first foreigner in a car manufacturing company to be hired fresh out of college as a full time employee. “Right after joining the company, I was told to speak business Japanese on the phone, so I was given ‘special’ training to learn this,” Cristian says with a pained smile. He worked in the overseas marketing department and was in charge of event planning and negotiating with event participants. “It was a daily struggle because the more I tried to create an event that customers would enjoy, the more the work piled up for my coworkers, so there were a lot of sour faces.”

Currently Cristian runs his own consultation company. “Even though Japanese companies have a lot of technical knowhow, they don’t try to step beyond their accumulated expertise, or think outside the box. Without innovation, they will be relegated to simply making new products that foreign companies design. I love Japan and Japanese businesses, so I’d like to give advice that will allow companies to foster innovation in their own workplaces.”

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