The difficulties encountered as a foreigner can be sources of ideas for business opportunities. This belief is demonstrated by Park Tae Moon’s 18 years in Japan — and his successful transition from a newspaper delivery worker to the owner of a 20-staff magazine publishing/consulting business.
Park, a 40-year-old South Korean native and president of Daigo, a consulting company that publishes a monthly free magazine for Korean and Chinese students in Japan, first came to Japan in 1990 as a Japanese language student. He expected to return to Korea after studying in Japan for about 10 years.
At the time, there were few other Korean students, and very little information about living in Japan was available, he says.
In the years preceding the 2002 soccer World Cup and the hanryu boom surrounding Korean movie stars in Japan, he often found himself lonely and scorned by the Japanese locals. It was a situation that could not be attributed to the language barrier.
Also, in those early days, Parks recalls finding it very difficult for several weeks to find a place to stay. He recalls that many real estate agents would refuse to cater to foreigners, and that some even displayed signs reading “No foreigners, no pets, please.”
He took his first job delivering newspapers because it came with lodging. After a while, as his Japanese improved, he sought a job with which he could use his computer graphics/design skills. It was how he started designing business cards, fliers and other printed materials for Korean businesses in Japan.
“There were lots of Korean people here who were full of creative ideas for their printed materials, but who couldn’t communicate their thoughts well to the printers, which were almost all Japanese,” he says. “The inconveniences that I felt (and other people felt) led to business opportunities.”
After doing such design work for five years and finding that the market was saturated, he switched to magazine publishing.
Today, he has business relationships with 300 Japanese-language schools, which post ads in the magazine and solicit advice from his company on attracting students from Korea, China and Taiwan.
It was through business contacts such as these that Park learned the business etiquette of Japan, from the correct seating arrangement for guests to the formality involved in the exchange of business cards. “Meeting people and exchanging ideas is crucial to me,” says Park, who lives and works in Tokyo’s Takadanobaba area, an area with many students.
Married to a Korean, Park has dinner bookings daily with his clients. “My company is not in the manufacturing business but in the business of creating new ideas,” he says.
For advice on doing business in Japan, Park refers to the Japanese saying: Go ni haireba go ni shitagae. (When in Rome, do as the Romans do).
“Many Koreans may think that because they are Korean, they can do things the Korean way,” Park said. “But as long as you want to do business with Japanese companies, you will have to adapt yourself to their sensibilities.
“You have to observe the manners and etiquette that Japanese people expect from other Japanese.”
Park says that while he misses his hometown of Yeosu, a port city in the southern part of South Korea, and his mother and two sisters who live there, Japan has truly become his home.
He especially feels the homesickness when he travels to Seoul on business trips, often more than 10 times a year.
“My Korean staff are envious of the trips I make to South Korea,” he says. “But when I go, I only go to Seoul, which to me is like a foreign city. I’m relieved when I arrive back at Haneda. “Home is where your family is.”