There have been a lot of changes in Japanese society since we started J-List in 1996. First, the old concept of lifetime employment, that Japanese workers will generally stay at a firm their entire lives without ever changing jobs, fell by the wayside when iconic companies like Sony started eliminating jobs and laying off employees, something that had never been done in the past (although companies would often force layoffs in their subsidiaries when times got tough). Another big change was the idea that Japanese companies could be headed by (gasp!) foreigners, a trend which probably started when Brazil-born Lebonese-French Carlos Ghosn assumed leadership of Nissan in June of 2000, turning the company around by eliminating jobs that the company's core business couldn't support. Now it seems that many of the most visionary Japanese companies are headed by foreigners, for example Shinsei Bank, a popular Internet-based bank that's breaking rules and taking names in the extremely conservative Japanese banking world, introducing concepts like not charging a $6 fee to transfer $20 to someone's account, letting Japanese use ATMs without fees when traveling in other countries, and having bank branches that stay open past 3 pm. (My theory is that banks in Japan close so early in Japan to encourage young men to get married, so they'll have wives who can do their banking for them.) Foreigners have taken the lead in sports, too, for example Coach Bobby Valentine, who made a name for himself as the talented coach of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
There's another company in Japan run by a foreigner which you may have heard of: it's J-List. When we founded the company, Japan was really at the dawn of the Internet -- I mean they were tapping stones together to send TCP/IP packets. When we incorporated, we asked our bank we could go about setting up an account for credit card processing, and our request was so bold and unexpected that one of the vice presidents of the bank came out to personally apologize, saying they didn't believe the Internet would be appropriate for processing financial transactions, forcing us to do our banking through the U.S. instead. I sometimes reflect on what it's been like for the Japanese staff who have worked at normal companies to come to J-List and suddenly have an American for a boss. My staff tells me that it's interesting working for a gaijin because I don't play games with the concepts of tatemae (something we pretend is true even though we all know it's not) and honne (the truth; the way things really are); we're more likely to call a duck a duck. (Although, me suddenly asking my staff what it's like to work for an American all but guarantees whatever they're going to tell me is also a tatemae, and I'm fully aware that it was a pretty difficult thing to ask them.) Also, foreigners have a way of doing things that would be impossible for Japanese, and that strange latent power that gaijin seem to have in Japan has helped us make J-List what it is today -- almost by definition, we don't know what can't be done because we don't know what the hell is going on around us. Personally, I'm sure it's challenging for them working for a person who's more emotional and less organized than a straight-laced Japanese shacho (company president) might be, but hopefully the fun we have bringing wacky and fun products to customers around the world make up for it.
Do you work for a foreigner, or otherwise challenging person because he comes from a significantly different background from you?