Author: Prachi Kulkarni
I take this opportunity given by Womendiaries to briefly put my 12+ years of experiences in Japan as a working mother & a wife/chief supporter to a husband with start-up business in Japan focused on IT & FOOD.
When we hear “Japan” it gives us an image of hard work & perfection. From day one till date, I found this very much true. Japanese people are extremely good in setting up processes, plan so well in advance & think from all aspects. Hence daily life is very much convenient.
Of course, if you want to work or mix in the society, then you HAVE to learn Japanese language. I took some basic classes which are arranged by the local municipal govt. (You can take an expensive class OR self-learn too. I chose the middle option as if you are with a group or with a teacher your effort sustains & you hang on). By learning Japanese language, one can explore Japan’s culture, food & mix with locals. Most importantly it helps to find job.
After initial settlement, I started working in Japan. It’s a very professional environment in Japan & they maintain Asian cultural values as well. Planning, long meetings & long working hours are inevitable in Japans work life. Senior –Junior work based relations, adopting to local Japanese working pattern was a must & while it was frustrating it was making me tough mentally and physically as you get drilled.
In 2001 my husband ventured into IT business in Japan. This again gave us an altogether different experience with a lot of learning. From that day uncertainty became part of our life. Starting something in Japan is very costly, sales cycles are long & getting people to work for Indians was difficult. With negligible savings & inadequate experience as a first gen entrepreneur the initial struggle was grueling adding to stress to our family life. Add to it, we were expecting our first child the same year & I had to leave my job. Uncertainty of the whole thing, feeling a loss of career, excitement of motherhood with a sense of loneliness as your husband is moonlighting with clients till late night – all came to me together.
It was a big question how to manage logistics to pursue career after our first child. There were few options grand-parents, nanny or day care centers. It is difficult for grand-parents to live in Japan due to visa /language constraints & as per Japanese law one cannot bring in nanny from India /neither hire anybody fulltime locally. Therefore even local Japanese women try to stall their marriage as much as possible as once they go for motherhood it is very difficult to get back to career.
There are government aided and private day care center available, but it is not easy for your kid to get enrolled as there is a long waiting list. While you wait to find the job and then think of enrolling child in a day center (costs are prohibitive), unless you start with the day care, you cannot focus on studying for interviews or meet people. Hence after lot of research & follow up I enrolled my kid to government aided day care centers since age of 7 months.
I found that the day care centers look after the kids very professionally while keeping safety-cleanliness , balanced food, good schedule (food, play time, nap etc.) , discipline ,entertainment and communication with parents. They fulfill the requirements and demands for each age group.
We were super busy with start-up business managed by husband, my full time job & growing kids. By now we had 2 kids, business was routine though not spectacular. People often make mistakes when things are smooth & tend to diversify or spread too much. We did the same thing & decided to diversify business further into retail business (food-restaurants).
We stepped into business without any research-strategy-backup plan & soon found that it was not just turbulence but a big tsunami. While in IT we were used to handling enterprise clients, it was altogether different dealing with retail customers & restaurant staff while maintaining quality & cost.
We made significant mistakes and learned from it. While it has been a challenge, now we are happily serving our customers to their satisfaction in the heart of Tokyo. “Swagat” is the name of our restaurant (we are running 2 in Tokyo in Roppongi area with different themes) and recently we have launched at “Mitsukoshi Ebisu” near garden palace. Swagat where one can get authentic Indian flavor with lots of variety tandoori to chat, south Indian cuisines to Bengali sweets.
Today I am back to India and still in settling phase, but what I learnt during my stint in Japan is helping me in terms of patience, listening skills & a solution oriented approach. My husband shuttles between Tokyo – Pune while I am managing household, settling the kids in the new Indian school as well as re-building new financial services unit under Fidel. It is again a new learning curve as I am learning that in India one has to be aggressive, more attentive and lot more (while politeness, being silent is more appreciated in Japan). We decided not to compare it with Japan or anywhere else as this adds to frustration & we have seen many NRIs returning back. So far it has been a learning experience & we have reached out to new friends and families.
I now manage a team within our own IT firm (@Koregaon Park in Pune) focused on financial tools & solutions for investment banking domain. I visit local brokers in Mumbai /overseas and find that this is still a male dominated area and difficult to crack. It will take some time but I think handling these challenges are still manageable compared to the homework of my 2 kids.