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Building a new career while deepening my understanding of Japanese culture

Building a new career while deepening my understanding of Japanese culture

Austen McBain
Sony Group Corporation Headquarters, Finance Dept., Investor Relations Sec., Disclosure Team

Fascination with the Japanese language originating from anime and manga

I majored in Japanese at university, but my interest in the Japanese language was sparked by the anime and manga that were starting to become popular in the United States when I was in elementary and junior high school. In Japanese, people often add honorifics like "san" or "chan" to names, but as this doesn't translate well into English, some manga use "san" or "chan" as-is, with a note explaining the cultural context. Reading those notes encouraged my interest in the Japanese culture and language. I've always enjoyed studying languages and wanted to enjoy anime and manga without English subtitles or translations, so I started studying Japanese on my own. In due course, I developed an interest in and fascination with Japanese culture and decided to study it in earnest. I entered a university in the United States that offered Japanese language classes, and I joined a one-year program to study in Japan, where I worked as an intern at a lodging facility in Nagano Prefecture for about a month, shoveling snow and cleaning. I really enjoyed the job because the employees I worked with were very warm and friendly, and there was a great sense of community. This made me want to work in Japan even more.

After graduating from university, I joined the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. sponsored by the Japanese government. This initiative invites young people from overseas to participate in international exchanges and language instruction in Japan. There are two types of positions in this program: Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), who teach language at schools, and Coordinators for International Relations (CIRs), who translate, interpret, and work in international exchanges. I chose a CIR position because I wanted to work in a job where I could use Japanese. At first, I was a little worried about not being able to choose the location of my assignment, but I was sent to Fukui Prefecture where I worked at the Fukui Prefectural Government, the largest prefectural organization. My main work centered around sharing information and translating materials for inbound travelers, but I also gained experience in important jobs such as interpreting for the prefectural governor, disseminating information to foreigners living in Fukui, and introducing Fukui to foreign travel magazine editors and tour package planners. Although I only spent two years in this job, it was an invaluable experience because I really gained a lot of hands-on knowledge and got to know Fukui very well.

During my internship in Nagano Prefecture. I gradually got used to an unfamiliar environment with over two meters of snow, and even learned to enjoy shoveling snow!

The challenge of working in a diverse workplace with no prior experience

I've always wanted to live in a city because I grew up in a rural area of Indiana, USA. I enjoyed my life in Fukui, but since there weren’t many other foreigners around, I decided to move to Tokyo, where the population is more diverse. At first I started looking for a job in translation, interpreting or tourism where I had some work experience, but then I was given the opportunity to apply for a job in Sony's Investor Relations department. Because IR work requires extensive knowledge of the business and financial fields as well as fluency in the language, I was initially reluctant to apply for the job because I didn't think my experience qualified me for it. When I mentioned this to a friend, he told me how IR is an important job from a company's perspective because it involves providing corporate information to investors, and encouraged me to take up the challenge. I eventually decided that if I studied, I might be able to do the job even though I had no experience in the area, and decided to apply. I was also already familiar with Sony because it is well known overseas, so I had a sense of security.

My image of Sony was that of an electronics and entertainment company. I had been using Sony TVs and headphones for a long time and was also interested in Sony game consoles. When I joined the company, I was assigned to the IR Group in the Finance Department, and as I studied basic information about the company, I was surprised to find that it covered a wide range of businesses. For example, I had no idea that there was a medical solutions business within the electronics business, and didn’t know anything about other Sony Group companies such as Sony Life Insurance and Sony Assurance in the financial sector. At the same time, Sony is also the international company I always imagined it to be. For example, in Japan, people in positions like section chief or general manager are usually referred to by their job titles rather than their surnames. At Sony, however, people are referred to by their family names regardless of their job titles. The custom of addressing people by their job titles doesn’t really exist in the United States, so personally I feel that this makes it easier for non-Japanese employees to get used to the environment and feel closer to management.

IR work is interesting because I get to see the entire company

I am currently working in the Investor Relations Group, providing investors in various countries with information on the company's business situation and future direction. Although "providing information" implies a one-way street, our actual role is to act as an intermediary between investors and management, communicating management’s messages to investors and conveying investors' opinions and expectations of Sony to management. I am also a member of the Disclosure Team, where we are in charge of disclosing information about acquisitions and other important matters for investors, in addition to materials relating to financial results which are the responsibility of all IR staff. Information is primarily disseminated through our website, but we also communicate directly with investors at conferences, and are interviewed by investors and analysts and respond to their questions.

This job is interesting because it lets me oversee the entire Sony Group. Sony covers a wide range of business areas, each of which involves even more different businesses. It was tough at first because I had to keep track of so much information, but I was able to get a better overview of the company as a whole as my grasp of the details improved. I'm interested in entertainment in general, and games in particular, but the appeal of IR work is that it gives me the opportunity to dig deeper and understand better the areas I like. While many aspects of the job are rewarding, I really feel I have done a good job when investors tell me that my explanations were helpful to them. Information gathering is another particularly important aspect of IR work. Since investors at conferences and meetings ask many questions, we need up-to-date information to respond quickly. Sometimes, the information does not originate in Japan, so I check American news sites and social media, and if there are any articles that have not yet appeared in Japan, I work to share them within the IR group.

Work environment where foreign employees can make the most of their abilities without being treated as exceptions

While working in Japan, one thing that struck me about the differences between Japanese and US culture and customs was the concept of "the seat of honor" when sitting in a room. I never paid much attention to this in my earlier job because I was often working on my own. When I joined Sony and attended my first meeting with an outside party, I was in a support role and went to sit towards the back of the room where the materials had been placed. However, another member of the IR team told me that business customs require participants to sit in order of seniority. I had been about to sit in the seat of honor! Since then, I have been careful about where I sit whenever I meet with outside parties.

From my viewpoint, the main advantage of working at Sony is that non-Japanese employees are able to work just like their Japanese colleagues without being treated as exceptions. I think it's also important to have programs such as talks and discussions on diversity to help Japanese employees better understand and increase their acceptance of others. It is great that the company looks at diversity issues from a global perspective and adopts initiatives aimed at improvements. When the Black Lives Matter movement in the US triggered global anti-racist protests in 2020, I felt frustrated because I could only watch the news from the sidelines in Japan even though it was happening in my own country. Sony launched the Global Social Justice Fund early on to support this kind of movement, and that made me feel proud to be working here.

I want to grow still further in Japan to meet the high expectations from those around me

I'm glad I joined Sony for many reasons, but one major reason is that there are many women in the management ranks around me. Over the longer term, Sony offers me many possibilities to gain a great deal of experience, continue to grow while thinking about my career and life plans, and actively participate. Looking ahead, I expect to see further increases in the ratio of non-Japanese and female employees. While it is largely up to me, I can aim for a management position, and above all, it makes me happy to feel that others have high expectations of me through my work. I will continue to work hard so that I can live up to these expectations.

I am particularly interested in gaming. I've loved it for a long time, and it's my number one hobby today. In the future, I’d like to gain experience in a job where I can help share the appeal of gaming with a wide variety of people. Since the culture of building your own career is deeply rooted at Sony, and various systems have been established to support this approach, I want to learn more and continue to take on new challenges going forward. On a personal note, I haven't been able to go out much in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I belong to a Yosakoi dance group which used to get together to practice and perform at festivals, but all these activities have been canceled. Because of this, I've recently been searching for a new club that can be active despite the pandemic. I truly hope that the pandemic will be brought under control as soon as possible so that we can regain that sense of community once again.

I enjoy Yosakoi dancing because it cheers up not only yourself but everyone around you. In 2019, we took part in a variety of festivals
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