K San

I Almost fell off my chair when the Japanese man, an executive from a large company in Japan, sitting in front of me in the restaurant, asked my hand to read my future.

The Japanese, Mr. K, or as it is said in Japan K San, was visiting the United States on a training program.

I’m not going to mention people’s full names to keep their privacy.

Mr. K’s schedule included an entire day with me, and that day I never forgot.

Physically he was not tall, on the contrary quite short, but that day I discovered that Mr. K, was a very special person, extraordinary, unconventional. From him I learned a lot about Japan.

To begin with, he coming from human resources, was being trained to be the chief technology officer of the company he worked for in Japan. Throughout my professional career Mr. K is the only person I know who has become chief technology officer coming from the Human Resources area. I don’t know anyone else, Human Resources, is not part of the normal progression to reach Technology management.

In that’s day morning, I who had moved to the United States recently, speaking broken English, tried to explain to Mr. K, who also did not master English very well, but better than me, my company’s international technology organization and the main processes we adopted.

When it was time for lunch, I asked:

“Let’s have lunch, what kind of food do you prefer”

His answer was brief.

“Fish”

I knew some restaurants in the vicinity, none that I was sure, served fish. I risked one of them who happened to serve a fried fish, I don’t know if it was to Mr. K’s liking, he didn’t complain. In the restaurant the conversation turned on various subjects, he asked me:

“You’re from Brazil, do you speak Portuguese?”

“Yes, I also understand Spanish and some Italian. I had a year of French at school, but I only understand a few words of French.”

“And how about you, besides Japanese and English, do you speak any other language?”

“Yes, Arabic”

“Arabic? What a surprise!” I said visibly admired.

“I also read hands”

I didn’t believe it, reading hands is a Gypsy tradition, I never expected it from a Japanese, especially from an executive. Mr. K, noting my skepticism, asked my hand to read. He told me I’d live many years. So far, he got it right.

I didn’t want to go back to the office, preferring to talk to Mr. K. Since the conversation was becaming personal, I risked asking:

“What do the Japanese think of the Americans and General MacArthur?”

Douglas MacArthur the five-star general who commanded the Pacific campaign in World War II, was the American authority to whom the Japanese formally surrendered when they lost the war. Shortly after the surrender, MacArthur was appointed governor and oversaw the occupation of Japan that lasted from 1945 to 1951. During this period, MacArthur had absolute powers over Japan, more than any emperor. That’s why I was curious.

“In Japan, we like Americans and we love General MacArthur”

I was surprised at the answer, after all the Japanese were subjugated by the Americans.

“But why”

Mr. K explained to me that General MacArthur, ended the feudal system that was in place in Japan before the war, and by having absolute powers, made an agrarian reform, and other structural reforms in the economy and processes adopted by the Japanese. Mr. K attributed Japan’s success, being at that time the second largest economy in the world, to General MacArthur.

I had no idea.

We became friends, but distant. At work we had few opportunities to meet.

Years later, I spent a year working in Australia and was returning to the United States with my family, my wife and my son, who was about four years old. We decided to take the opportunity, make a stopover and visit Japan.

I told Mr. K of my plans.

“Don’t worry J San, I’ll be your host on your visit”

I had no idea what Mr. K meant by being my host. He asked me a few questions. You’re going to come alone or with your family, what would you like to see in Japan? I replied that I would be with my wife and son and that we would like to see, in addition to Tokyo, the wonderful Mount Fuji.

The trip to Japan was amazing. To this day my wife and I talk about it.

When we arrived in Tokyo, Mr. N, in the behest of Mr. K, was waiting for us and left us in awe. Knowing our four-year-old son Mr. K brought along his little daughter, the same age as my son to keep him company. An admirable gesture that moved us.

He took us to the hotel and informed us that he would come and meet us the next day, and would be our cicerone on the visit to Tokyo.

The next day, a rainy day. Mr. N, showed up on the agreed time with the daughter and umbrellas for all of us. He apologized to us for the weather, and informed us that because of the continuous rain, it  would not be possible to visit several outdoor places that he had scheduled, we would visit indoor attractions instead.

He took us to the wonderful Tokyo aquarium and several other places, some for the children to play. He paid for tickets to all the attractions, plus lunch. Our money had no value to Mr. N. At the end of the day he dropped us at the hotel.

The next day, before we left for Mount Fuji’s tour, I went to visit Mr. K’s at his office. Similarly to what I had showed him in the U.S., he walked me trough a presentation of his company and the Technology group.

The presentation included an organization chart of the various technology areas and clearly showed for each of the areas how many men and how many women were part of the organization. First time I saw an organization chart showing this kind detail.

I noticed that almost all of the personnel in the area of systems development, which included programming and systems analysis, were women, and I made a comment.

“Mr. K, interesting that the systems development area is composed almost entirely of women. My experience with women in this area has always been very positive. Women are more dedicated, more focused and tend to be much more productive than men”.

I didn’t expect Mr. K’s answer.

“J San” he said “We have the same experience here in Japan, but as you may have noticed, the area of systems development count with two men to be promoted!”

At that moment I understood the role of women in Japan and why they always walk a few steps behind men. I respect Japanese culture very much and I know that Japan is what it is, because of principles, righteousness and discipline. I also know that Japanese women are gaining more space in Japanese society, but these achievements take time to happen, especially in the country of the rising sun.

Visit to Mount Fuji and the nearby lake was sensational, we love it. The Mount Fuji observatory was filled with mid-level students, the vast majority, girls, who surrounded us and were delighted to see our son. They probably didn’t have much opportunity to meet kids from places other than Japan.

I don’t forget and I always remember Mr. K and Mr. N, although in the last few years, we’ve lost contact.

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