On a sunny afternoon, I met with an extremely well-mannered, well-dressed, and warm-hearted female entrepreneur — Yoko Yamada of a Business Manners Consulting Company. An inherently positive person, Yoko does her best to uplift others through her seminars. In fact, she even hosts workshops around building self-esteem and self-confidence called, “自分を褒める” or “Praise Myself.”
Every morning without fail, Yoko positively uplifts herself by saying “今日も頑張ろう！” Or, “Let's do our best today!”
Recently back from a whirlwind 10-day trip to conduct a Business Manners course for a few companies, Yoko Yamada was full of energy, and dare I say, impeccably dressed. In fact, she looked younger and more vibrant than me, even though she has a 20-year-old son.
Plus, for the past two years, she has been pursuing a Masters Degree at Doshisha University. As part of her University's Social Innovation Course, Yoko launched an NPO (non-profit organization) with government funding for NEET people — young Japanese people who are not going to school, work, or any form of training. Over a period of two years, she worked with severely depressed young people, who had difficult family situations, and helped them reenter society.
Transitioning from Full-time Housewife to Consulting Work
After spending 8 years as a full-time housewife, Yoko became a single mother. Her son was 7 at the time, and Yoko was not sure what she was going to do next. With her husband out of the picture, she had no one else to rely on but herself.
Reentering the workforce seemed like an enormous task — one that was ripe with challenges such as the speed of working in a typical company, the different methods of communicating, and how to balance both a household and working full-time. Most importantly, Yoko sought to find a job that she truly loved. But figuring out what she truly enjoyed doing, would ultimately take time.
Instead, she decided to take on jobs that she knew she could easily do, slowly reentering the workforce at her own speed. Coupled with the amazing support of her friends, and a deep desire to do the best she could possibly do for her child, Yoko slowly began building more confidence.
A Pivotal Turning Point
One day, while her son was at school, Yoko finally had some quality time to sit down and think. That's when she realized her purpose in life.
“僕のお母さんが頑張るから、僕も頑張りたい!” I want my son to see how hard I am working, so he too, will work extremely hard!
With a refreshed spirit, she began working very hard on a long-term plan to generate income, while working part-time jobs to make ends meet. Sleeping around 4 to 5 hours per night, Yoko was able to accomplish everything she set out to complete each day.
Embarking on a Brand New Business
Through a combination of leveraging the internet and spending hours at the library, Yoko began researching everything she possibly could about the world of business manners and social customs — an area that she found fascinating.
In Japan, this encapsulates everything from proper table seating arrangements to formal telephone conversations. The incredibly complex array of business customs and conventional practices, even dictates where a person must sit in a taxi, depending on his or her status. Yoko even shared with me where the lowest ranking person should stand on public transportation, when riding with superiors.
Pouring her heart and soul into learning as much as possible, Yoko quickly became an expert in this field.
Overcoming One Final Hurdle
Through an introduction by an acquaintance, Yoko landed her first opportunity! But leading up to the day of the workshop, she was paralyzed with fear and could barely sleep.
Thus, she spent her waking hours working on the presentation and reaffirming all of her knowledge. As a result, her first job was a resounding success. This led to more and more opportunities as a Business Manners consultant. After a few years, her reputation even exceeded the time she had available to teach.
With the sole purpose of conveying valuable information in a way that made sense to all types of learners, Yoko always felt elated when her participants understood the importance of what she was saying, and how they could apply it to their own lives. And each time, she stood up in front of a class to speak, she strengthened her own self-confidence.
Slowly but surely, Yoko created a thriving business that provided her with the flexibility and income that she so desired.
A Little Bit More About the Business Manners Consulting Company
Geared towards new company employees, Yoko travels all over Japan to run training workshops for primarily clients in banking and manufacturing. And of course, the companies pay for her transportation, accommodations and meals. What a sweet deal!
Besides a clientele of mostly young college graduates at large companies, Yoko also teaches proper etiquette, facial expressions, and manners to those who work in convalescent homes for the elderly. Apparently, there is a growing need to teach caretakers how to respectfully take care of an aging population.
Why Yoko Chose the Consulting Life
First of all, the structure of typical Japanese companies is one that does not allow for any flexibility. Everyone is required to work between 8:30 am and 8 pm (20:00), rarely leaving their designated desks unless it's to attend a meeting, and never once leaving before one's boss.
Face time is paramount — even if you are napping at your desk, you must be there! Sick? Get a doctor's note!
Secondly, it would be considerable stress for Japanese women to work full-time and take care of the children, household duties, and daily errands.
In Japan, the mother is primarily responsible for attending all required PTA meetings, supporting the 運動会 or sports events, preparing 弁当 bento box lunches, helping with daily homework requirements, and preparing for school exams and entrance exams. Once the child is on summer and winter vacation, then the mother has to take care of the children herself, or hopefully, have a family member nearby who can babysit for a few hours. If and when the child becomes sick, the mother is the one who will take care of the child.
Currently, Japan has one of the world's lowest rates for males supporting household duties and childcare responsibilities. Of course, Japan is rapidly changing, and each firm and household is different, but there is still a strong tendency to keep things the same as it was ~30 years ago. As the society ages, the people in the top management companies are elderly men, who generally want to maintain the status quo.
Finally, with no babysitter culture, few daycare facilities, lack of awareness around work-life balance and flexibility, working full-time is nearly impossible for women — a yet unattainable dream.
Eventually, Japanese companies will become more flexible to solve one of their biggest issues of the day — a declining and aging population.
A Deeper Look into Yoko's Non-Profit Organization
For over two years, she ran a series of workshops to build the self-esteem and self-respect of those defined as “NEET” individuals — young people who are not going to school, work, or any form of training.
Yoko felt like she could truly make a difference in this field, as she too, had experienced depression and lack of self-confidence. Thus, she wanted to help these young people overcome their challenges and reenter society.
In the first year, her class consisted of 10 young people between the ages of 16 and 29. Many of them had terrible relationships with their parents, and didn't have the confidence to even leave the house.
As such, the workshop revolved around simple steps to build confidence. The class would cook together, share what they liked about themselves, and compliment those around them.
Initially, the workshop's main goal was to get NEET people to come. As it took an incredible amount of bravery and courage just to leave their house, Yoko eagerly embraced them and made them feel as comfortable as possible. She repeatedly complimented everyone for attending and gave small awards to every participant.
Eventually, the goal was to help all of these young people reenter the world by either pursuing further education or working at a company.
In the second year, two additional participants joined. And by the end of the year, all 12 students ended up entering companies as full or part-time employees.
By helping these young people gain the skills they needed to believe in themselves, and know what they were good at, Yoko was able to help them transform their lives.
Yoko's Words of Caution & Words of Wisdom
And to end on a positive note, Yoko provided the following advice for those who want to follow in her footsteps.
I. Create a Long-term Business Plan
To avoid succumbing to the stresses and pressures of daily life as a working mother, Yoko recommended creating a long-term business plan — one that is 5 to 10 years into the future. That way, working women wouldn't be overwhelmed and find it to be an insurmountable task. Instead by thinking about the long-term and acting in the short-term, Yoko said that anyone can create a business in Japan.
II. Network with Entrepreneurs
By having a strong network of fellow business owners, Yoko said that it becomes easier to not give up during challenging times, and to receive the right advice at the right time. Through her network, she has surmounted very difficult situations such as being deceived and not earning as much money as she could.
III. Advocate for Yourself by Hiring Tax Specialists & Lawyers
Looking back, Yoko felt she could have avoided deceptive and painful situations by educating herself about the rules and regulations around tax and finances, personal business loans, and sexual harassment. After starting her business and thinking certain situations were odd, Yoko began researching and quickly learned how little she knew.
Now, she consults with a tax specialist and even has a common lawyer.
IV. Trust Your Gut Instinct
When conducting business meetings, Yoko highly recommended that women trust their gut instinct and stand up for themselves. If they feel that something is off, it most likely is and isn't a normal part of business. As such, Yoko advised women to trust their inner feelings and never fall into the trap of belittling yourself or excusing odd behavior, when conducting business meetings.
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