Tokyo’s lackadaisical regulation of the foreigner community, and where that really hurts.

I am picking up on a subject from the post about Goldman Sachs union of a few days ago.   I was in discussion with one commenter about what kind of licensing is, or should be, necessary for people holding themselves out as a service provider to the other gaijins.    The matter at hand was something petty, whether a former U.S. lawyer should do business as “esquire” in Tokyo, if the service is basically gatekeeping for businesses (not representing clients).   It got me thinking about the more serious instances where people are going around without the certain background that they claim to have.   Or putting themselves out as more than they really are.

About two years ago, I did a post, “Why incompetence pervades the expat accounting community in Tokyo.”   It’s really as fresh now as it was two years ago.   In it, I discuss the various ways that bluffing and puffing create an expat accounting community in the city that is only fractionally competent.   There are very good bilingual international accountants in Tokyo, but they tend to be rare birds, and well taken care of.   The rest are either stronger at Japanese than algebra and U.S. reporting expectations.   The foreigners are better at teaching Eikaiwa and chumming with their former Eikaiwa buddies who “transition” over into headhunting in “finance”, which accounting tends to be folded into.

I don’t know how many honest-to-goodness U.S. CPAs there are in Tokyo, but I doubt it’s that many.   And do you know what?   Anyone can say they are stateside certified, and have it be a lie, and Japan does not care.   Some sizable fraction of the “U.S. CPAs” I met in Tokyo, were not.   Maybe they had some piece of the exams, or they had sat at one point.    Maybe they passed the exams and never bothered to do the paperwork with a state so that they would actually have, you know, a license.    That part about one to four years (depending on the state) of deep accounting or auditing experience kind of helps make those license requirements, too!

To me, that kind of resume fraud is something to get feathers ruffled over more than how someone who actually has a resume decides to market himself or herself.    That sort of outright fibbing is more in tune with the other sorts of things you find crawling out there when you kick over the rock:   foreigners in Japan who just make up their own laws.

As I wait for the IBM USA / IBM Japan discovery answers, I already feel that I know some of what I am going to get back:  evasive responses in every area where it will have been about someone making up their own labor law, or their own corporation code.   Because I’ve seen this in other contexts.   When it comes to law, foreigners in Japan just make their own stuff up—even (and often especially) the ones who profess this deep respect and admiration for Japan.   You’ve got borderline criminal harassment on the internet there, and you don’t have anyone speaking out against it as violating at least a half dozen Japanese laws.

“Well, the target is non (ethnic) Japanese.”

“Well, we live in our own internet bubble, where some of us show off our bilingualism to prove our solidarity with Japan, and that we’re not like the gaijin who live in the unilingual bubble here.”

It’s a recurring theme.   It gets played a hundred different ways, but in the end, it’s about foreigners writing their own, situational-ethics driven, code of behavior when it comes to their living in Japan.

Along the way, I really concluded that it isn’t so much about how these various gaijin hold themselves out in their public and internet personas.    Rather, it’s more about their situational ethics, how much lying and lawbreaking, and–quite often for Americans–whether they seem to have forgotten where they came from.

Someday the Japanese runners of things will wise up, and start consistently applying the rules and regs of the place to the foreigners who choose to live there, however permanently attached those foreigners feel to the people and the place.   They’ll start discerning what sort of activity really is good for the island kingdom, and what sort they need to discourage, rather than have the foreigner community be this separate bubble or two.

I feel what they let happen now is, in the long run, detrimental to Japan.    The wrong people have too much influence over other foreigners in the country, and the internet and long memories guarantee that some of the backwash is going to lap the shores.

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One comment

  1. Johnny · March 28, 2012

    Good post.
    I often get financial advisor type people cold call me at work, in defiance of the laws around solicitation, but the regulators don’t care as it is NJ companies calling would be NJ clients.

    One such firm though got into trouble when they tried the same tactics with Japanese clients. The regulators came down on them like a ton of bricks.

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