JAPAN'S UNEASY U.S. MANAGERS They love America's cheap food, big houses, and great golf. But shadows follow them. They have to learn strange foreign ways -- and pay a stiff price when they go home.
By Brian O'Reilly REPORTER ASSOCIATE Frederick Hiroshi Katayama

(FORTUNE Magazine) – CONSIDER the Japanese salaryman. Along with tens of thousands of his countrymen, he comes to live and to work in America. His migration is born of spectacular success -- the rise of his homeland as an awesome, unstoppable economic power. Since 1985 his nation's direct investments in the U.S. have increased by nearly 50%, to $21.7 billion. The multinational corporations he works for now own about 600 U.S. factories and hundreds more bank, trade, and service offices; with the takeover of such corporations as Firestone, Union Bank, and CBS Records, the Japanese manager's presence will soon grow greater. Compared with his life in Japan, the expatriate in America seems marvelously well off. His food is cheaper, his house is bigger, and a round of golf costs a fraction of the $800-a-foursome it takes to play back home. Are things really that great? Cast yourself in the salaryman's shoes for a moment. Arrayed against those physical comforts are the many problems that a stint in America can create for him, for his family, and for his career. Whether he lives in New York City, Atlanta, or Washington Court House, Ohio (pop. 12,700), he must learn to adjust to America's strange ways. More important, and more difficult, perhaps, he must preserve his Japanese character in order to fit back into Japan's homogeneous society when he returns. This worry overshadows Japanese in the U.S. It isolates them from Americans, sometimes diminishes their performance as managers, and wreaks huge changes in their family lives. Holding themselves separate, they do not come to understand American business as well as they should. ''Concern about fitting back in dictates their behavior while they are here,'' says professor Toshiaki Taga, director of the U.S.-Japan Management Studies Center at the Wharton School in Philadelphia. ''We say they have eyes in the back of their heads. They may be negotiating with Americans, but they are really looking back to Japan.'' Twenty years ago, when Japan was desperately trying to assert itself in world markets, only the most promising businessmen went overseas. To be selected was a high honor. These days, when most executives can afford to travel for pleasure and even average salarymen get sent abroad to work, an overseas assignment is viewed much differently. ''Now all I hear is what a disruption it is to come here,'' says Simon Shima, a Japanese-born executive at Coldwell Banker in Los Angeles. Few Japanese turn down a request to relocate abroad, fearing, with justification, that to do so could hurt their careers. The nearly 200,000 in the U.S. stoically accept difficulties that would send their American counterparts packing: for example, the lack of an education good enough to prepare their children for the arduous entrance examinations at Japanese universities. They suffer through countless indignities large and little. A few years ago the wife of a Japanese trade official arrived from Tokyo to her new home in Pasadena. She was alone the next evening when people in grotesque clothes and face paint began ringing her doorbell. Frightened and unable to speak English, she slammed the door, but the ringing kept up for most of the evening. The Japanese do not celebrate Halloween.

WHAT IS life like for most Japanese expatriates? The experiences of Takeru Egawa, 43, an assistant general manager at Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank in Los Angeles, and his family are fairly typical. ''When I got off the plane in 1982, I couldn't understand anything the immigration agent was saying to me,'' Egawa says. ''He yelled and yelled and then gave up.'' As is the case with many salarymen, Egawa's family stayed behind for three months until he got settled. By the time his wife, Yumiko, and his three young sons arrived, he had rented a house in Torrance, 20 miles from his office (''good schools, not much smog''). Finding the house was easy, he says. Landlords like the way Japanese remove their shoes, saving wear on the carpets. He was amazed at the house's size -- three bedrooms on a private lot, much bigger than the small house where he lived in Tokyo. He was also amazed that Yumiko, ''who had never touched a steering wheel in Japan,'' passed her driver's test on her first try. / Learning English has been harder than driving for Yumiko. ''She is very shy,'' Egawa explains. She spends her days driving the children to school, cleaning, helping the children study, taking them to the park, driving one of them to a Japanese fencing academy (''It teaches good manners,'' says Egawa), and preparing dinner. To keep their Japanese language skills sharp, the boys are forbidden to speak English at home. Because of Yumiko's difficulty with English, her oldest son, Hirohisa, 12, helps with chores like shopping and paying the bills. In Japan, Egawa's wife would run the household and raise the children almost single-handedly while her husband pursued his career. ''You don't get to see your children's faces,'' says Masaaki Hayashida, general manager of Komatsu America Corp., Caterpillar Tractor's main competitor. But Japanese families often become closer when they move to America. Fathers see American men playing with their children and socializing with their wives, and begin to do it themselves. Egawa arrives home around 10 P.M. That is earlier than many salarymen, who usually go out for ritual drinking with their co-workers. At 10 P.M. the Japanese nightspots in downtown Los Angeles are just warming up. One popular spot is the Lotus, a luxurious, smoke-filled kara-oke bar, where Japanese men engage in a favorite pastime: standing in front of their friends and singing into a microphone, backed up by music and aided by words and pictures played on a special video machine. For the salaryman still waiting for his wife -- and for many whose wives are already in the U.S. -- there are piano bars, complete with sympathetic hostesses to listen to their troubles at $6 per conversation. Egawa says he has grown to enjoy life in Los Angeles; the directness of Americans is refreshing, he says politely. But his widowed mother is living alone in Tokyo -- she doesn't like Los Angeles -- and Egawa feels duty-bound to return. Hirohisa is eager to get back too. He and Takehisa, 9, have stayed Japanese enough to suit their father. But Egawa worries that Katsuhisa, 5, may be picking up too much of the L.A. lifestyle. ''When I yell at him,'' says Egawa, ''he just shrugs.'' A few years ago, when Japanese factories churned out goods that were cheaper and better made than American products, their foreign offices were little more than glorified order takers, barely able to keep up with demand. But the weak dollar, trade friction, and stiffer competition from Americans have all made the life of the overseas Japanese more difficult now. Their jobs have been further complicated by the problems they have managing -- and mixing with -- Americans who work in their offices. ''The Japanese are underperforming, given the quality and innovativeness of their products,'' says Robert Paulson, a management consultant who heads McKinsey & Co.'s office in Los Angeles. ''They are not finding it easy to operate here.'' They frequently have trouble with English when they first arrive, making it hard to operate effectively with American colleagues. Although the Japanese often study English for years, they are trained mostly to read and write, not to speak. Sometimes language problems become so acute that the Japanese and American office staffs drift apart. The problems only get worse if the company conducts all important meetings in Japanese -- an easy habit to fall into, since up to half the managers in a typical Japanese company's U.S. office are expatriates. By contrast, says John Q. Anderson, a McKinsey partner who specializes in international management, only about 15% of the executives who work in a U.S. company's Japanese office are American. Japanese and American managers use different methods to arrive at a consensus, often confounding both sides when they try to work together. The Japanese move slowly, soliciting everyone's opinion, while Americans prefer to thrash things out vigorously. ''The Japanese manager believes successful decision-making does not generate heat and confrontation,'' says William Ouchi, author of Theory Z, a best-seller about consensus management. ''But in the U.S. we have made a high art out of confrontation.'' Kazuo Sonoguchi, general manager of planning at Mazda's huge new auto plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, is amazed at American behavior: ''In Japan a raised eyebrow means a lot. Here, Americans pound the table. In Japan that sort of thing is frightening.'' The Japanese custom of late evening eating and drinking can cause more tension with the American staff. When Japanese bosses go off to restaurants or bars with their underlings to talk over the day's events, share gossip from Tokyo, and develop a team spirit, few Americans join in. ''The Americans would rather be home with their wives and kids,'' says an American who works at a Japanese electronics company in New Jersey. ''But important business is done at these get-togethers. Consensus is built and subtle information is exchanged. At the staff meeting the next day, the Japanese managers might unwittingly raise a point that was discussed the night before, then criticize the Americans for not being aware of what's going on.'' ADOPTING WESTERN management methods is rarely an option for the Japanese. In fact, becoming Westernized -- even by accident -- is a major worry for expatriate salarymen. Americans who think going abroad gives them a little worldly polish would have a hard time comprehending what awaits the Japanese when they go home. A Southern Baptist returning to Mississippi after working in a Times Square porn theater would get a warmer welcome. Just being absent from the clique at the home office can sidetrack a Japanese manager's career. ''While he's in the U.S., all his buddies are drinking with the boss in the Ginza,'' says a former Mitsui executive. ''You don't know if the boss is saving a place for you.'' Many returning Japanese feel as if they are being ostracized. Japan is such a homogeneous society that it rejects anyone out of the ordinary. Anyone suspected of picking up Western ways -- becoming a tad impatient, perhaps, with the slowness of consensus-style decision-making -- may be sent to a remote office until he reforms. ''Even the normal Japanese man has to work hard to be part of the group,'' says Masayuki Kohama, a senior representative for Hitachi, in Los Angeles on his second assignment to America. ''For the man who has been 13 years in the United States, it is very difficult. When all the Japanese men go out drinking together after work and you say, 'I have to go home to my wife,' they say, 'Oh, he's a guy from the United States.' '' One man who had studied in the U.S. found that all the ideas he proposed to his peers in Tokyo were scorned. ''Every time I spoke people would say, 'Oh, there goes the returnee again,' '' he recalls. ''I got so fed up I transferred to a small factory far from Tokyo. I never told anyone I had been in the United States.'' Even children must hide their differences or risk teasing and bullying. ''If people could be more accepting of the children who return, we could enjoy our living experience here more,'' says Yasuko Jozaki, a housewife in northern New Jersey. Takashi Wakabayashi, a banker's son fluent in English after many years in California, returned to Tokyo just as his seventh-grade classmates were beginning their ABCs. ''He sat through months of lessons before he ever told anyone he spoke English,'' says his father, Shiro, head of the Bank of Tokyo's operations in Los Angeles. Expatriates worry about their children's education as much as they do their careers. Few trust American schools -- often a year or two behind identical Japanese grades in subjects as critical as math -- to prepare their children for admission to top Japanese universities. Almost without exception, Japanese parents send their young children to Saturday schools run by the Japanese government and local Japanese businesses. The Japanese government also subsidizes a five-day-a-week school in Queens, New York, for 450 children in grades four through nine. Keio University, one of Japan's most prestigious, recently announced its intention to establish the first Japanese high school in the U.S. The school is scheduled to open in September 1990 on the campus of Manhattanville College, north of New York City. Graduates who receive faculty recommendations for admission to Keio will be allowed to forgo the entrance exams. SOME Japanese parents take a drastic approach to education: If they are assigned to the U.S., they leave their high school-age children -- particularly their sons -- behind. Shiro Wakabayashi put Takashi, now 16, and his 18-year-old brother, Shigeki, in a bank-owned dormitory in Tokyo when he returned to the U.S. three years ago. Near Atlanta, Kinya Takeuchi, head of a Makita power tool plant, is debating what to do with his seventh-grader. ''If children stay too long in the United States,'' he says, ''even at home they start speaking English with their brothers and sisters.'' He fears he will have to send his wife and children back to Japan before it is too late. Most managers separated from their children put on a brave face, as though it were routine business. But a Toyota executive with teenagers in Japan admits, ''It is very hard. My wife is very worried.'' Daughters don't get left behind quite so often. Because most parents are content to see their daughters become good housewives, they are under less pressure to be admitted to a big-name university. But they, too, pay a price for living in the U.S. ''A thoroughly Westernized daughter may have trouble attracting a Japanese husband,'' says Jill Kleinberg, an anthropologist and management school professor at UCLA. Many children of expatriates wind up unsure of their identities. Reiko Aoki, 17, the daughter of an executive working at an auto parts maker in Washington Court House, Ohio, was planning to go to Ohio State University. ''One day she said to me, 'I'm not Japanese,' ( '' her father, Hiroyuki, recalls. ''She had met some newly arrived Japanese, and she suddenly felt her Japanese wasn't good enough and that she hadn't read enough Japanese books. Now she wants to go to college in Japan.'' Kazuo Sonoguchi, the Mazda plant manager, wonders about the effect of his second assignment to America on his three children, particularly his daughters. ''Sometimes I feel sorry for them,'' he says. ''I have a feeling I may have confused them.'' For reasons like these, Japanese expatriates and their families develop an obsession with going home, donning blinders to help preserve their identity. Few seem interested in mastering the intricacies of doing business in America or understanding the culture. They are eager to return as soon as their assignments -- usually four years -- are over. AIKO LEEDS, a Japanese woman who married an American, runs a Japanese women's organization in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. She divides Japanese families into two unequal camps: ''I'd say 98% want to socialize with other Japanese. The other 2% want to mingle with Americans. But they can't, so they wind up joining the first group.'' For the frustrated 2%, the problem isn't racial, says Leeds, but cultural: ''The Japanese woman can't find American women her age to talk to because they're all working while she's at home. She can't invite American couples over to dinner because her husband comes home late. And he can't make friends because he's working so long.'' Retreating into a Japanese expatriate community isn't hard to do in New York City or Los Angeles. The New York area attracted big Japanese banks and trading companies in the 1950s and now is home to 365 corporations. In the late 1960s, Japanese car companies settled into cities near Los Angeles like Torrance and Gardena, close to large populations of Japanese-Americans and the port of Long Beach, where their ships came in. More companies followed there and downtown, pushing the number of Japanese expatriates in the Los Angeles area to 27,000 last year. Relations between the expatriates and the 150,000 Japanese-Americans in Los Angeles are cool. Some Japanese-Americans still resent Japan for the suffering they endured during World War II, and others don't like Japanese corporations taking over in Little Tokyo, developing bars and restaurants that cater to expatriates. The expatriates often feel they have little in common with the Japanese-Americans, whom they disdain as the offspring of immigrants. A SALARYMAN living near Los Angeles can go days without speaking a word of English. Three and four Japanese families live on a single block in parts of Torrance. A shopping center in Gardena owned by a Japanese company has 40 businesses catering to the Japanese that sell goods from dried fish to golf clubs. In downtown Los Angeles, Japanese bank buildings occupy most of the real estate at some intersections. Two minutes away from downtown sits Little Tokyo, an eight-block section crammed with Japanese hotels, bookstores, bars, nightclubs, supermarkets, and a clothing store for women under 5 feet 2 inches. Working in all those places are scores of people of Asian descent, including Japanese-Americans and young people from Japan living in the U.S. on student visas. Opportunities that don't exist at home lure many workers from Japan. An ambitious sushi chef facing years of apprenticeship in Tokyo, for instance, can go to America and run his own restaurant in short order. Back east, Fort Lee, New Jersey, is so full of things Japanese, says a housewife, that ''I wondered if this really was America.'' A Japanese yellow pages lists, among other businesses, 11 Japanese restaurants and four stores that sell Japanese food. North of Manhattan, so many Japanese cluster in the suburbs of Westchester County that the late-night commuter trains carrying salarymen home have been nicknamed ''The Orient Express.'' (New York offers a minor benefit that only the Japanese could appreciate. Many New Yawkas don't pronounce their r's, so the Japanese, who have a tough time mastering that letter, feel they are forgiven if their enunciation slips a little.) Although fewer Japanese live in big Southern cities, some who do feel more comfortable there than in New York or Los Angeles. There are touches that remind them of home. Kinya Takeuchi, the Makita power tool plant executive who lives near Atlanta, likes Southern hospitality. ''In the restaurants,'' he observes, ''people say, 'Yes, sir.' '' Shusaku Hirano, a Japanese trade official in Atlanta, appreciates what he calls the group work ethic: ''Workers put the group before themselves.'' Hirano also thinks Southerners may sympathize with the Japanese in a way Northerners do not. ''They lost the Civil War, and we lost World War II,'' he says. ''I think a person from Atlanta who saw Tokyo after the war and who remembered stories about the destruction of Atlanta would identify with what we went through.'' ! Tiny Japanese centers are springing up in the unlikeliest places elsewhere. Near Detroit, Mazda wanted a place where its 300 Japanese workers could relax after hours, so it arranged for a sushi bar to be built near its plant. In the daytime housewives meet there to practice flower arrangements and tea ceremonies. Out in the horse country of Lexington, Kentucky, where Toyota is building a $1.1 billion assembly plant, the Japanese had no place to drink and sing. So Fujio Cho, chief operating officer of the plant and Toyota's highest- ranking executive in America, had a kara-oke machine shipped to his home. Workers meet almost every night to sing in his basement.

Once in a while a salaryman decides that he can't go home again. After six years with Mitsui & Co. Ltd. in New York, Mitsuo Kurobe quit last year. He moved to California, where he helped start several small computer and peripherals companies. ''I didn't want to wait until I was 65 to make vice president,'' says Kurobe, 35. ''I wanted to get ahead and do things on my own.'' He is one of the few to break ranks: More than 95% go back. Men bid their Volvos goodbye, women worry about squeezing back into a tiny apartment, youngsters bone up furiously on their Japanese. Then they all pray that no one notices that they once lived in America.