The unwritten rules of working at a Japanese company can be confusing. Which seat you choose at a table, in a taxi or on a Shinkansen depends on your seniority and whether you’re the host or guest. As the only European employee in the Tokyo head office for Hitachi’s railway-systems business unit – and the only person who isn’t fluent in Japanese – Paul Cooper has had to learn these rules the hard way: someone tells him when he’s made a mistake. “I don’t have a booklet,” says Cooper, an engineer. “It’s been an incredibly intense education.”
He joined Hitachi’s London sales office in 2005 and was seconded to Tokyo HQ nine years later. It was supposed to be short-term but in April the company offered an official transfer to Japan – and his colleagues in Tokyo have made him feel at home. “Employees don’t leave: they stay for their whole careers,” he says. “I’m used to people in the UK joining a company and leaving if they want to do something different; here it is more like a family, so relationships are long term. You treat people differently. You have to work through everything and I like that.”
LIFE IN JAPAN
Starting a family far from home is not easy but since Cooper and his wife had their daughter in late 2015 they have begun to feel part of the community. Their second daughter will be born later this year. “It made a difference having children: where we live, people started recognising us as locals,” says Cooper.
GETTING A VISA
As an engineer with a master’s and more than a decade of experience in the railway business, Cooper qualified for Japan’s five-year highly skilled worker visa in April. It makes him eligible for the country’s Green Card programme and puts him on the fast track to permanent residency, if he applies. He also gets a permit for his wife, who is allowed to work full-time.
Cooper’s role is as a commercial manager, working with Hitachi’s factories in Japan, the UK and Italy to deliver on orders for new trains from major European railway companies. Being in Japan has given him insight into his company’s potential. “So many of the world’s busiest railway stations are in Japan. The technology here is advanced and if it’s deployed somewhere else it will revolutionise travel.”