Makiko Ikariya discovered a love of traveling. “I have already visited 22 countries,” she says. At the very beginning of our conversation, she wanted to make it clear that she was not one of those people who go on a whistle-stop tour photographing cathedrals, monuments and famous places. As far as Makiko is concerned, this is simply an inaccurate cultural cliché. “I want to spend time with people, I want to talk to them, understand them — immerse myself in their culture.”
She started working at Sennheiser Japan eight years ago in the Finance department, but her boss quickly saw how well she interacted with her colleagues. And so, Makiko eventually became the Senior HR Specialist, which also meant that she could travel. “I went to Germany for training and HR conferences and got to know a lot of people from different cultures. It was what I had always dreamed of.”
We asked Makiko, who works in Japan for a brand with headquarters in Germany, about the subtle cultural differences between the countries. “I think,” she contemplates, “that the differences start at school. The way we are taught is different. In Germany, you raise your hand if you have something to contribute. Whereas, in Japan, the teacher would say: ‘Makiko, now it’s your turn.’ We are more reserved in Japan. I remember one of my leadership training courses where we were looking closely at what makes us special and at our vulnerabilities. One of my colleagues was very moved and briefly left the room in tears. That would be very unusual in Japan. Germans, and Americans too, like to come up to you and give you a warm hug. That was also new to me. But I quickly got used to it, I even like it. Hugging someone, even someone you are not related to or have not been friends with for years, is a very positive thing.”
We are excited to see which foreign culture Makiko will experience next — and hope that through her, more people will come to know and love the rich Japanese culture. Of course, to truly understand someone else’s culture, you have to fully immerse yourself in it.