July 2018

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NPO Japan Intercultural Intelligence

- Cultivating “cultural synergy” by fostering diversity to create a friendly society -

In Close Up this month, we introduce NPO Japan Intercultural Intelligence (JII), a non-profit organization which promotes “cultural synergy” by fostering diversity. It engages in varied initiatives to support mainly foreigners residing in Japan. The president of the organization, Ms. Yang Miao, came to Japan from China nearly 20 years ago as an international student, and after graduating from university founded the NPO while establishing her career in a Japanese company. She believes that having the perspective “we are all the same”, rather than focusing on our differences, opens the door to cultural synergy when encountering another culture. On this occasion we spoke to Ms. Yang on the founding of JII and its activities.

Ms. Yang Miao,
President of NPO Japan Intercultural Intelligence

Please tell us what led to the establishment of Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

Ms. Yang

While working for a Japanese human resource consulting firm, I acted as a secretariat and interpreter of specialized conferences where company presidents and politicians from Japan and China got together to socialize and exchange opinions on the economy and culture. Though it was a time of elevated levels of anti-Japanese demonstrations in China, the participants treated each other as old friends which made me realize that genuine relationships between people can only develop when there is face-to-face contact and dialogue. I thought of offering Chinese foreigners coming to Japan the opportunity to socialize with Japanese people and experience Japanese life, and in 2010 founded the NPO. During the first years I dedicated my time between the company and the NPO, but after having and raising children, my focus shifted from the business community to society in general, which made me want to offer support to foreign residents facing similar challenges to mine. As a result, I left the company at the end of 2016 to dedicate myself to the NPO and create activities that would be more socially impacting.

During website renovation, the homepage image and logo
were created by Shinichi Imanaka, painter and illustrator.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

An affectionate world brimming with originality
that JII hopes to foster is wonderfully depicted.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

Please tell us about the principal current activities.

Ms. Yang

There are three foundational activities. The first is providing consulting services and offering information to foreign residents; the second is offering career support services to international students; and the third service is offering opportunities to develop the “cultural synergy abilities” of children. It would appear that these three activities are unrelated to one another, but in reality they are a combination of support structures in the lives of foreigners residing in Japan. That is: to help international students who make up the largest portion of future foreign residents with their job prospects, a prerequisite to putting down roots; support those who choose to become residents of Japan (among the future foreign residents) with any major problems they may have concerning quotidian life, such as child rearing and medical assistance; and offer all children the opportunity to improve their “cultural synergy abilities” in order to build the foundation for the future society.

The “Xi Yang Yang Club” where children from
different backgrounds play together speaking Chinese.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

Children communicate making ample use of
the five senses, without speaking Japanese.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

The first activity, consulting services and providing information, consists of 2 types of consultations: general and expert. In general consultations, appropriate advice is provided to find better solutions to the problems and situations encountered by the person seeking advice. For example, what is the best option between a daycare center or kindergarten, how to choose a school for their child, what are the options for extracurricular activities, how to proceed when faced with a complaint concerning a childcare worker, etc. These problems do not have one correct answer, and the solution selected depends on the individual. However, in the case of foreigners there have been various examples where they acted on ideas or assumptions from their own country which caused unanticipated problems. Through consultation we can provide information to help them decide more wisely and can dialogue with them to avoid unnecessary risks and mitigate worry and doubt. In addition, for more complex and specialized requests JII can present an appropriate specialist for expert consultations. We invite foreign residents to use this service which presents them with an expert who is not only qualified in the matters discussed but also meshes with the person asking for advice.

What are the peculiarities of JII’s consultation services?

Ms. Yang

Consultations regarding child rearing issues and medical assistance are case-by-case dependent and there are no standard solutions. Though municipal consultation services have greatly improved in recent years, our strong point is to offer our clients consultations with follow-ups to their distinct situations which municipalities are unable to consider, such as the unique circumstances and values of each household. We charge a fee for JII consultations because we would like to offer responsible extended support. Take for example an international student who arrives in Japan, begins to work and later forms a family and raises children. We want to accompany and help them choose which direction to take at each fork in the life of this person. Our minimal cost confirms our mutual intention to walk together.

Can you talk about the service offering career support to international students?

Ms. Yang

An important consideration to foreign international students seeking employment in Japan, is whether they can find a workplace where they can work long term and be themselves. The employment rate of international students is still quite low in Japan, and the retention rate even lower. In reality there is a large percentage of mis-matching between students and Japanese companies in terms of the expected role of foreign workers. As a result, this year JII created the MIKATA program, a comprehensive career support service providing help, from searching for employment to offering follow ups after hiring to verify how they are settling in. We are also considering to present various proposals to Japanese companies regarding the use of foreign workers. Though there has been an increase in the number of foreign workers due to reductions in the domestic labor force, there are still very few examples where foreign workers are able to demonstrate their full work potential and to the satisfaction of the company and foreign worker. I think companies should be urged to undertake self-reform in terms of re-examining the type of employment awarded to foreign workers, the manner Japanese colleagues treat them, management and evaluation styles, and more.

A leaflet presenting MIKATA, a program which helps international students find work.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

What is needed so that foreign workers can demonstrate their full potential?

Ms. Yang

In a time when products manufactured abroad are sold locally, foreign workers can assume various roles. For example, take charge of marketing by targeting local markets and consumers, offer new ideas not considered by Japanese workers, or find new sales channels to market Japanese products or services modified or re-made to meet local markets. I believe it is important for Japanese companies experiencing difficulty coming up with new ideas to be innovative, to create an environment where foreign workers, who by their very nature are innovators, can use their foreign talents rather than attempt to convert them to the Japanese way. The fate of a company is decided not by doing something for foreign workers, but by exploiting the unique qualities of people in the organization. A workplace where foreigners feel comfortable is a place where women and persons with disabilities feel comfortable to work too. The Japanese culture instills that it is better and safer for all people to be the same, but in reality it is advantageous for the majority of people to respect and benefit from diversity. Rather than change oneself for someone, better to accept and celebrate the culture and differences of the other. This is the philosophy behind the cultural synergy of JII.

Which activities develop cultural synergy ability?

Ms. Yang

We organize a program called the “Xi Yang Yang Club” in which children play while speaking the Chinese language. It involves children from different backgrounds---such as both parents are Chinese or Japanese, or mixed Japanese/Chinese parents---where the children play and learn together. There is such a massive response, much more than expected, that we plan to continue to offer it regularly in the future. My experience working to establish a local subsidiary in Shanghai for the human resource consulting firm I previously worked for, led me to consider creating opportunities to develop “cultural synergy abilities”. Many Japanese businessmen could not open themselves to the local Chinese culture and would only fraternize with other Japanese, isolating themselves from the locals to the point that some became mentally unstable. Faced with these cases I strongly felt that before reaching adulthood it was necessary to raise the ability of a person to associate and communicate with people of different backgrounds. We want to offer children the opportunity to have contact with people that are different from themselves in a natural and fun manner.

The Xi Yang Yang Club uses videos, hand-made
picture story shows, as well as picture books.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

Children do not naturally differentiate
between countries and cultures.
© Japan Intercultural Intelligence.

How will future activities be developed?

Ms. Yang

We are planning consultation sessions where individuals with minor problems, ones they feel are too small to warrant a reservation, feel welcome to drop-in to talk with us. We plan to collaborate with experts, such as pediatricians and child psychological counselors, providing people the opportunity to listen to their talks and consult with them regarding any problems they may have. Another project this year is the holding of the “Playback Theatre”. It is a method of sharing one’s life experience with other people through improvisational theatre and is used in different contexts, such as to prevent bullying, to present child rearing advice, to stop discrimination, etc. With Playback Theatre we can offer childcare instructors and parents with children in childcare centers, which have increasing numbers of foreign children or children from mixed marriages, the opportunity to reflect on how they interact with an individual from another culture and with different values. We hope that the opportunities presented to the Japanese community can help them better understand the feelings and problems encountered by families with roots in other countries and will result in a society where everyone feels at peace raising their child. As for career support for international students, we want to enthusiastically invite more companies to use MIKATA, the service which facilitates the hiring and stable employment of international students.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023
TEL:03-5294-6542 FAX:03-5294-6540