Sunday, August 29, 2010

I passed all 4 parts in USCPA exam! I made it!

I sat for all 4 parts of USCPA exam in Hawaii last July.
Two days ago, I finally learned that I had passed all 4 parts!

The scores are BEC 83, AUD 85, FAR 92 and REG 89, where 75 is the passing mark.

I am very grateful to those who helped me successfully achieve the goal. I'd like to say the biggest thanks to my mother, who kept encouraging me while I was preparing for the exam.

I studied for the exam during the 7 month period starting December 2009 and ending June 2010. I studied about 1,000 hours during that period. REG was the most difficult part for me.

My main textbook was Wiley. I also used some Japanese textbooks but didn't find them very useful.

Business Environment and Concept(BEC)

Auditing and Attestation(AUD)

Financial Accounting and Reporting(FAR)


Friday, August 6, 2010

Tweeting in English

I have just started tweeting in English at @elm200e. Please follow me if you are interested.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why are Japanese white-collar workers inefficient?

"Why are Japanese companies so slow in decision-making?"
"I never know who is responsible for what in Japanese companies."

These are common complaints made by foreigners who conduct business with Japanese companies. Even Japanese people including me often feel frustrated in the same way.

Japanese companies can be very different from those in the West. A Japanese company does have a organizational chart that is very similar to one in a western company. However, the way they actually operate is very different. In a Japanese company, its formal hierarchical organizational chart is less relevant than its informal power structure. In Japan, power is much more spread toward the lower rank than in the West. More than often, a Japanese boss can be a mere symbol that integrates his or her section rather than an active leader who command his or her employees. You can recall the position that the Japanese emperor occupies in the constitution. Probably, this implies something more than only a coincidence.

Even if you are a businessperson in negotiation and have reached an agreement with a person who is supposed to have authority in a Japanese company, therefore, you can never feel relieved. His or her promise will not fulfilled unless his or her boss, coworkers and even subordinates in the company also agree with it. People have to go through a prolonged process of soliciting supports from other "interested parties" in the same company. This process is called "nemawashi" in Japanese, and one of the most important techniques you have to be proficient in to get work done in a Japanese company.

Cumbersome as it might look, the lengthy solicitation process or nemawashi has a positive aspect. Unlike an imperative working environment in the West, Japanese employees are encouraged to participate in decision making processes even if they are low-ranking. Japanese employees can have a high morale and feel that "we are supporting our own company". This mechanism seems to have worked very well until 1990 when Japanese economy enjoyed a rapid development.

However, the serious pitfall of this "all-participatory management" is that it is very obscure who has real authority and responsibility. When a company has to embrace a drastic change, it suddenly becomes paralyzed. Since nobody seems to take a responsibility, it is extremely hard for the company to make a risky but potentially profitable decision. Nobody takes initiative. Every single employee becomes quite conservative and sticks to status quo as much as possible, even if they are subconsciously aware that things won't last forever.

In a nutshell, this is where we Japanese are. These phenomena are quite pervasive and can be observed in every single aspect of Japanese society now. Probably, many people outside of Japan have already realized how ineffective Japanese politics are. This is only one example of the wide spread "indecisiveness syndrome" that inflicts Japanese society.

As a Japanese national, I long for the solution that addresses to this problem. However, I am also aware, with a little resignation, that it will take a long time before Japan gets rejuvenated by overcoming this issue because the problem runs deep in the very Japanese culture itself.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Japanese society resisting change

My Japanese blog is getting even more popular these days. However, it doesn't make me so happy. The more I think about Japanese society, the more despair I feel.

Many Japanese companies still force employees to work for long hours and are even reluctant to pay for their overtime. This is obviously an illegal act but the Japanese society is somehow lenient with it.

Today I discovered a surprising fact. According to this paper, working hours of Japanese workers have not changed at all during the period between 1986 and 2006. This report's conclusion apparently contradicts Japanese government's official statistics, which show a significant decrease(more than 15%) in working hours in Japan. This mystery stems from the existence of unpaid overtime work, also known as "complimentary overtime work(sabisu zangyo)". Employers report their employees' working hours based on the amount they have actually paid to them. However, it is an open secret that employees are "not allowed to ask" their employers for overtime payment to the full extent. Therefore, the governmental statistics inevitably show a lower number than the actual one in working hours. How unfair.

Now we know that the working hours are about the same between 20 years ago and now. Here, we need to pay attention to the fact that Japanese economy was enjoying such a prosperity so called "bubble economy" 20 years ago. People were much better off then than now. Yet Japanese people work as long hours now as 20 years ago. It is puzzling.

The conclusion is rather simple: after all, Japanese companies have failed to improve labor productivity miserably. Or maybe they even have not tried to do so in the first place. For many Japanese people, labor is supposed to be cheap or even free just as the name "sabisu zangyo(complimentary overtime work)". They never really made an serious effort to save labor cost by restructuring the workflow. Employers simply chose not to pay overtime time payment.

You might wonder why Japanese employees are still as obedient as sheep after this kind of unfair treatments. The answer can be found by looking at a unique feature of Japanese labor market. It's very difficult for Japanese workers to switch workplace. It is still considered a social stigma. Working long hours is thought to be a sign of diligence. Innovating a new way to save labor time is not really encouraged and it is sometimes labeled as a form of laziness.

Japan's economic stagnation is blamed on Japanese companies' own behavior. Japan has been defeated by itself. But they are yet aware of it.

It's alright. That's THEIR way. They go their way, while I go my way. It's them who are ultimately responsible for their own acts. I will go my own way on my own risk. Nobody can prevent me from doing so.

Monday, April 12, 2010

TweetMonkey allows you to tweet from any page on the web - latest Google Chrome version has been released

TweetMonkey is a web browser tool that allows you to post messages on Twitter from any web page on the spot. Tweeting has never been easier!
(NOTE: This article is obsolete. Please refer to this post for a newer version of TweetMonkey Chrome extension / August 21, 2011)


TweetMonkey allows you to tweet from any page on the web

TweetMonkey for Google Chrome

I have just created a TweetMonkey for the latest version of Google Chrome.
(Actually, the old version of TweetMonkey no longer works on the latest Chrome)

All you need should be the latest version of Google Chrome. Mine is version 4.1.249.
(There's a report that one user successfully uses it on Mac, too)

How to install
Installation got much easier than before with the official version of Google Chrome extension.
(It used to be a beta version)

Download TweetMonkey

Clicking on the above link will allow you to install the extension automatically.

How to use
Right-click TweetMonkey icon in the right top corner of Chrome and choose "Option". Once an option screen shows up, you should enter and save your Twitter account and password. (I take advantage of a HTML 5 feature called local storage here)

You left-click on the same TweetMonkey icon and will see a pop up show up. Enter a text and click on "Update" button to tweet. You can also enter a shorten URL of the active tab by clicking on the chain icon.

Enjoy it!

Tutorial: Getting Started (Hello, World!) - Google Chrome Extensions - Google Code

Google's tutorial and API descriptions. Very easy to understand. I guess these people are so smart.

Tutorial: Debugging - Google Chrome Extensions - Google Code

Especially, debugging has never been easy like this on web brower extentions. Google rocks.

Source code
You can get a file called tweet_monkey.crx from the download link above. This is the extension file but it is merely a zipped file. Once you unzip it, you can have a look at source code of this software.

I am devoting more and more time to Twitter recently. Twitter is such a great social media that it can even transform the world ... maybe. At least, I love it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The sun will set soon

Hello, my dear readers.

I have been away from this blog for a few months...not for specific reasons. Well, maybe, part of the reason would be the fact that my Japanese blog got popular recently and I was busy with updating that blog. Since a number of people read a new entry on my blog once I post it, I can't update it casually like before any more. This is a side effect of getting popularity on my Japanese blog.

Contrarily, no attention is paid to this English blog. Nobody really cares what I write here. This fact gives me some relief.

I also tweet. But I don't tweet in English that much any more because most of my followers are Japanese speakers and perhaps many of them are not good at reading English. So I am also exposed under pressure to write in Japan there, too.

Now I am not in the mood of updating my Japanese blog. I have been thinking of how to revive Japan's economy. But I feel more and more depressed when I think of the current gloomy political situation in Japan. Many thoughtful people point out the fundamental problems of Japan's economy. Solutions to address them are also actively suggested among the intellectuals. However, nothing changes. These radical reforms are not supported by the public of Japan.

Lawmakers from the coalition show off their populist policies, which deeply disappoint me. But that's exactly what the public wants. The lawmakers are just doing their job. If the majority so wish, how can I object to it?

As The Economist puts, the economic situation of Japan won't be sustainable soon or later. If the catastrophe is inevitable, what's the use of worrying about it? This kind of resignation is a Japanese way of thinking when coping with a serious disaster(I suspect that it has to do with the fact that big earth quakes regularly destroy everything on the ground in Japan) Anyway, thinking of Japan is too depressing now.

Yeah, surely, we need a "big bang" in the Japanese society to break the ice. But it's a long way to go, though.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can Japanese organizations embrace diverse people as members?

As I mentioned in my previous post, the recruiting process for new employees have stayed the same in the last 40 years in Japan. Basically, big Japanese companies hire permanent employees only from among new graduates just once a year. They do not only avoid to employ old workers who used to work for other companies, but also stay away from young people who graduated just a year ago and have not found a job yet. Some people sarcastically say that it is because Japanese companies seek only "work experience virgins".

This unique recruiting practice in Japan has a specific name "shinsotsu ikkatsu saiyo" or "concentrated hiring of new graduates" in English. The Japanese version of wikipedia on this term tells us an interesting fact. According to a governmental study in 2006, the top 2 reasons why Japanese companies continue this recruiting practice is (1) to maintain the age structure of employees (balance in numbers between the young and the old) (2) to acquire human resources who have not been (adversely) affected by other companies' corporate culture. Japanese companies expect these new employees to hold a solid loyalty to them and work for them until the time of retirement. It helped Japanese economy grow fast and steadily until the 1980s.

In the age of globalization and the flattening world, however, this Japan-specific hiring practice most likely will not work any more. The fundamental defect of this method is that it miserably fails to embrace different kinds of people in an organization. Japanese organizations assume homogenious members and if not, they make desperate efforts to uniform the members' ideas by "brainwashing" them. In another word, Japanese people do not know how to organize people other than by gathering people with the same thoughts and background.

In a Japanese organization, members are expected to look the same, think the same, and behave the same. Exotic attitudes are not publicly criticized but privately finger-pointed. Unwritten rules govern the organization. Real power often resides in the people who have no position on the organizational chart, even out of the organization. It is very hard for outsiders to understand. Sometimes it is confusing even to insiders.

This is the time when companies place an appropriate person to a position only on the ground that the person has suitable skills and talent. Other elements (sex, age, ethnic background, etc) are not essential. Only Japanese companies go to the opposite way. Are they stupid? I used to think so. But now my thought has changed slightly. Probably, Japanese companies simply don't know how to deal with diverse people. The management executives have never worked in an environment where different kinds of people work in harmony. It is not that they are willing to keep the traditional recruiting process; they just have no choice but to keep doing it. Maybe, we should feel a little pity for them, instead of despising them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Japanese university students take to the street demanding a better recruiting process

Do you know how university students in Japan find a job after their graduation? Actually, they start looking for a job long before they actually graduate from university. Students go to university for 4 years in Japan. As early as they are a junior (the 3rd grade), many of students start their activity in search for their permanent job - this activity is called "Shukatsu".

This job search activity or Shukatsu is a prolonged process that can take up to 1.5 years. Candidates must go through an IQ test and several interviews before they finally acquire a position. The competition is fierce for a limited number of openings in some popular corporations. Usually traditional big corporations are popular among prospective graduates.

An interesting tendency in Japanese companies is that they don’t really care what students have achieved in university. What the companies are more interested in these prospective graduates are which university they come from. The more prestigious university the candidate comes from, the better. They would hire a graduate from a prestigious university with GPA 2.0 rather than a graduate from a less known university with GPA 4.0.

A prolonged recruiting process coupled with indifference of companies toward students’ academic achievement leads to Japanese students’ typical thinking that studying in university is of no use. You might be so surprised to find how much students – especially those who study business related disciplines like economics, management, marketing and law - do not study on campus in Japan. Electing subjects they major is not considered important. Their sole purpose is to go to university and it does not matter what they study. Furthermore, you don’t need high marks to get a job. As a result, it is rational for them to study more than barely to pass final exams.

This mysterious attitude of Japanese corporations stems from their traditional belief that on-the-job training and company-held seminars are sufficient to turn these potentially intelligent but ignorant students into competent employees.Companies invest education in employees and their grateful employees work for one company for a period long enough to allow the educational investment to pay off. This is a beneficial cycle that brought a splendid success to the Japaneanse economy – until recently.

Now the cycle has rather become a vicious one. Japan has seen a still ongoing economic stagnation in the last 20 years. It is increasingly more difficult for university graduates to find a “good, stable and well-paid” job nowadays. The period for a job search becomes longer, while the chance to find it is slimmer. Some frustrated students finally decided to take to the street. Now they are organizing a demonstration demanding for a fairer and less-burdening recruiting process. One of them sent me an email asking me to promote this event to the public. The demonstration will take place in Tokyo on January 23rd. Joining this event might help you understand more about plight that Japanese students face today.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why is China often considered to be a threat to the rest of the world?

Google and the Limits of "Cyber-Democratization"

An unidentified cracker, while the Chinese government is strongly suspected, attacked the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights artists late last year. In response to this incident, Google has decided to stop self-imposed censorship on search results in China. The world's largest web search engine corporation has stated that it might withdraw the business in China unless Chinese government abandons its strict access control imposed on the Internet of its territory.

Sigh. How many times have I sighed thinking of the Chinese government's repressive policies on its freedom of speech?

An article titled "China Threat" or a "Peaceful Rise of China"? analyzes why the West often considers China as a threat. According to the author, there are three reasons:

(1) ideological and cultural factors
(2) geopolitical and geoeconomic factors
(3) possibility of the collapse of China

The issue (1) concerns difference of the values between the West and China. The issue (2) has to do with China's sharply rising economic and political power which potentially overshadows the American hegemony. The issue (3) is related to the Soviet Union-type sudden breakdown of China and enormous confusion thereafter.

In my opinion, the fundamental reason why many citizens in the West feel eerie about China is the issue (1) - especially China's reluctance toward democratization and negligence on human rights including the freedom of speech.

Personally, I understand that the Chinese government is standing on a very shaky ground in the midst of social upheavals coupled with its rapid economic development. There are so many domestic problems both economic and political in China, anyway.

Still, I strongly wish China would be a democratic country. OK, maybe it does not have to have general elections like in the West for now. The real problem is weakness of the governance structure of the Chinese government. The government policy is not controlled by the parliament whose members are chosen through a general election. Nobody has accountability of what they are doing. No activities are checked and corrected in a coherent and transparent manner. This is a fearful situation for both Chinese people and outsiders.

This concern leads to the issue (3) above, which involves the potential collapse of the China regime.

I think that the Chinese government does not need to introduce full-fledged election system from the beginning - like elections for the National Assembly members and even its Prime Minister. In order to avoid the social unrest, the government should start with elections for some important positions within the Communist Party. Voters will be only Communist Party members which make up of only a few percentages of the whole Chinese population. After they feel confident in electing important positions, they should gradually move onto larger-scale elections whose voters are normal Chinese citizens.

This is not exciting at all. But I believe that this way will be the most practical and the most probable scenario to democratization of China.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More young Japanese people should go abroad to study and work

I have posted a new entry in Japanese. The entry's title is "If you are a 15 year-old Japanese person, get out of Japan and go abroad".

In this post, I insisted that young people under 15 years old give up entering a Japanese university. Japanese universities, especially those teach liberal arts, are infamous for allowing students to graduate from them without substantial study. After 4 years of study, students would neither acquire any professional knowledge nor English proficiency. They are like innocent babies compared to students who studied in English speaking countries like US. Why? The reason is simple; Japanese companies have never looked for graduates with professional knowledge. They are just looking for young ignorant people who graduate from prestigious universities for screening purpose only. They don't care what students have studied in university.

This post has aroused strong emotional reactions among the readers. I have got more than 20,000 hits within only two days. Perhaps, a half of the readers supported and the other half of them opposed my assertion.

Why has this kind of post created such vehement responses from a variety of people? Probably, almost all Japanese people are already aware that something is seriously wrong with Japanese economy and feeling uneasy, at least subconsciously. Nevertheless, many of them do not wish to admit it. When you witness something that you don't want to see, it will cause an intense discomfort in your mind. This explains why my post saw such fervent oppositions.

Some people who live abroad and are able to speak a good English have also attempted some objections to my post. Probably, many of them simply don't know what's going on at workplaces in Japan. Anyway, they can survive anywhere in the world, so good for them. More miserable people are those who are monoligual and have no choice but to stick to Japan. I am afraid I can't come up with any good solution that allows them to get by in this tough economic situation in Japan. I am sorry, but they need to think by themselves.

I just want to give a piece of advice to the younger generation below 15 years old. "Get out of Japan to get a broader view". They are innocent. It is our responsibility to help them acquire abilities enough to lead a happy life in coming days. They will deadly need English skills and global perspectives. This is just minimum requirements for them to have a good life in the future. After making some effort to get professional skills, they will be able to get a job anywhere in the world including Japan.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The language barrier makes Japan so unique, but is it really beneficial?

This is a good essay about "foreignness".

The Others

This is well-written about how expats would feel after spending many years in a foreign country. Since I have also lived outside of Japan for nearly 6 years, this essay is very persuading to me. The funny part about this essay is a paragraph that describes Japan as "the last remaining place you can feel truly foreign in the world"

The most generally satisfying experience of foreignness?complete bafflement, but with no sense of rejection?probably comes still from time spent in Japan. To the foreigner Japan appears as a Disneyland-like nation in which everyone has a well-defined role to play, including the foreigner, whose job it is to be foreign. Everything works to facilitate this role-playing, including a towering language barrier.

I laughed a lot. This is painfully true. After visiting more than 20 countries and spending several years, I have come to the conclusion that Japan is so unique that no other country is alike. This uniqueness was brought by the geographical isolation, the huge market with purchasing power, and the language barrier.

Chikirin, one of the most popular Japanese bloggers, showed in her recent post her optimistic view on Japan's future. According to her entry, there are three reasons why she believes in Japan's bright future:

1. Uniqueness of Japan is valuable
2. Younger generation is increasingly more excellent than the elder
3. The global economic center of gravity is shifting toward Asia

However, she did not forget to mention that even though Japan owns numerous aspects of its valuable uniqueness, Japan has been failing to turn it into money effectively so far. I believe that the fundamental reason why it happens resides in Japanese's lack of communication skills with outsiders. The language barrier, that is, lack of English proficiency of Japanese people, plays an important role. Most Japanese including intectuals are monolingual and so myopic. They don't know and are not willing to know what is happening outside of Japan. Naturally, they can't imagine how outsiders look at Japan. Japanese people don't know what foreigners find valuable in Japan and what they don't.

Japanese need to learn how to communicate with outsiders. Japan used to be called "the factory of the world". It has completely become a past. New industries with high added value often involve services(not goods) and languages, communication and media often play a critical role. We Japanese need to be more proficient in English to work with non-Japanese people. When these conditions are met, Japanese economy will be properous again like the past glory days.