September 2015 FEW Meeting Recap: Cheering Women and Businesses in the Age of Japan’s New Normal

September 10, 2015 FEW Meeting: Cheering Women and Businesses in the Age of Japan’s New Normal
Speaker: Ruth Jarman, CEO of Jarman International 

Recap by Katharina von Tschurtschenthaler, FEW Programs Director

“Figure out how not to give up!“

The ability of reading Hiragana brought Ruth Jarman, our speaker at the FEW September monthly meeting, her first job. Fresh out of uni in the United States, she checked the university newspaper and found the job advert of a Japanese recruiting company looking for foreigners to help the business grow more international. The ad: entirely in Japanese. Shortly after that, Ruth found herself starting her life in Japan, as a blonde, female foreigner, almost 30 years ago, with rather poor skills in Japanese.

These days, Ruth Jarman is fluent in Japanese, a successful writer (she published three bestselling books written in Japanese) and businesswoman running her own company, Jarman International K.K., where she and her team provide tailor-made marketing and business development strategies for Japanese and international companies. Before that, Ruth had set up her own translation and interpretation office, and gained experience in the real estate business after having passed the Japanese Real Estate certification as the first Western woman. Ruth is a truly empowering woman: in 2013 the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan selected her as the ‘Female Leader of the Year’ for Tokyo.

It was her competitiveness and willingness to survive in this male-led country that made her stay despite many late nights crying and encountering failures in the office.

”We have to be the ones who kick the door in“, says Ruth, who still sees herself in the role of a cheerleader – during uni cheering for the football team, now as a cheerleader for women’s empowerment in Japan.

“It took me a lot of time to figure out how not to give up“, explains Ruth and mentioned the points that worked for her:

  • It’s okay to say no, but explain why it is important. For Ruth it was taking off on the 25th of December, an important holiday for herself, but no special day in Japan. ”I found out that this is a point I don’t want to accept.“
  • Learn to enjoy the difference – this is where the fun starts.
  • Do things that are unexpected. Try to have one “wow“ in your resume.
  • Observe and emulate. Conformity can be your ally. “I always wanted to be the one stand out breakthrough“, says Ruth. But then she realized that she could not compare the US with Japan. In the US the consensus is build around a goal/end result. In Japan, the consensus is build around the process, too.

Ruth also advised to constantly keep working on the language – and not only on foreign languages; “try to maintain your high level of your native language as well. Because this is who you are.“ To improve your level of Japanese try to read the paper, watch Japanese movies (even memorize one) and TV shows (ZIP in the morning) and learn the communication difference (listen, ask, listen, ask, find out what your counterpart wants by repeating the request, like: ”Is it this what you were trying to tell me?“).

unnamed-2In the last part of her presentation Ruth stated the most important rules of Japanese Business:

  • Give, give, give and give again.
  • Create your network; help whenever you can.
  • Even if Japan is a No-country, try not to say no, always find an alternative.
  • No excuses (they never work).
  • Be prompt and err on the side of conservatism (dark suits, longer skirts, nylons give good first impression. Keep the casual outfit for the moment you established yourself.).
  • Don’t be afraid of language. It is more important what you say; no one will be looking at your mistakes.
  • People always forgive and put the work goals above personal issues.
  • Reliability will make you. Everyone misses deadlines sometimes, but make sure to be clear about it and forecast.

In every company there is a cycle. Ruth has experienced the ‘3 months, 1 year, 3 years cycle’: The first three months are like a honeymoon. Everything is fresh and new, your colleagues will give you a break (even if you don’t notice). Those happy times are followed by a year, where every employee goes through hell. You are supposed to understand the company system (but you don’t), people need to learn your values (but you cannot communicate). This is the time where you have to keep in mind: DON’T GIVE UP!

Because what comes next is a period of joy: you settled in the company, you found your comfort zone and you know what you are doing and talking about.


About Ruth Jarman Shiraishi
Ruth Jarman
Growing up in the multicultural paradise of Hawaii, Ruth Jarman (Shiraishi)  is a long-time Japan-resident based in Tokyo. After coming to Japan in 1988 to work at Recruit Company Ltd, Ruth spent seven years building her translation/interpretation business before being recruited by her mentor Hiromasa Ezoe in 2000 to help grow the Serviced Apartment venture begun at Space Design Inc. Here she served as outside consultant, sales manager, general manager and finally for three years on the board as Director of Business Development. Ruth is also the first Western Woman to pass the Japanese Real Estate certification making her the only Western woman who is qualified to directly execute real estate contracts in Japan.

After eleven years working for Space Design,  Ruth stepped out on her own in 2012 to set up Jarman International where she leads a  talented and highly motivated team who provides tailor-made marketing and business development strategies for both Japanese and international firms.

In 2013 The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ)  selected Ruth as ACCJ 2013 Female Leader of the Year for Tokyo in recognition of her contributions as Co-Chair of the Chamber’s Special Events Committee. She has also authored two bestselling books in Japanese – “33 Reasons to be Proud (日本人が世界に誇れる33のこと) “, (やっぱりすごいよ、日本人)and more recently published “Samurai Ladies to Forge Japan’s Future (世界に輝くヤマトナデシコの底力), in which she encourages Yamato-Nadeshiko Japanese women to empower Japan!  Ruth is also a regular on Japanese television and serves as business consultant on NHK E channel’s “Basic Business English” (しごとの基礎英語).

For more information on Ruth, visit the Jarman International home page.


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