On the US-Japan Relations Court as a Manager

Having just written “Delivering the World to The Yomiuri Shimbun,” realistically speaking I tell myself that my position at the U.N. was not a real-world job. Yes, there was competition. There were many obstacles to success. However, I was protected by two large, powerful organizations--the U.N. and The Yomirui Shimbun--and I operated in an insular environment. In that sense, I consider my two years at the U.N. to have been an internship of sorts.

My first real-world job in New York, with the accompaning challenges and professional development, was at the company I joined next: Fresco International,  with offices in Manhattan (Fresco onwards).

On June 2015, I was hired as manager of an import/export trading company called Fresco, the parent company being Strategic Device, with its offices in Tokyo. Our main client was the Japanese Air Force. Compared to what I had encountered at the U.N., the workload was overwhelming.  I often was at the office till midnight and spent frequent weekends there as well. The work content and office atmosphere were far more rigorous than what I was used to at the U.N., where I would attend daily “networking” coffee breaks with diplomats, along with frequent parties and dinner outings.

I was Fresco’s sole complete bilingual American employee, and I worked surrounded by Japanese personnel. I gained valuable experience, and also it was the first time in my life I was ever manager of an organization.

At Fresco, I observed firsthand how US-Japan relations operate at the ground level, and I was able to take part in and contribute to this process. Since childhood it's been my desire to contribute to US-Japan relations, and this desire led me to found Matthew Edwin International, LLC. Fresco was my first taste of making a contribution in a very direct fashion.

Let me give you specific examples.

Fresco’s main task was to purchase military-grade equipment the Japanese Self Defense Force required and deliver it to the offices of Strategic Device in Tokyo. Along with manufacturing companies, Fresco had established relationships with the US State Department, Japanese and US Customs, and delivery organizations from multiple countries. As the manager, I would facilitate the flow of information, money, and equipment between all these organizations and negotiate solutions as problems arose. It was also my duty to  develop relationships and negotiate contracts with new manufacturing companies.

Immediately after I joined Fresco, word came in from a delivery company at JFK airport. Expensive equipment was stuck there, as US Customs was not allowing its delivery to Tokyo. The Japanese military made it clear that if the equipment was not delivered within a week, they would not make the payment. Fresco was facing the prospect of a significant monetary blow.

Phone calls alone were no help in shedding light on what the problem was. I made my way to JFK alone to see what could be done.

Upon arrival at the airport, I went around to introduce myself at the delivery company and at Customs. Representatives did not hide their amazement and relief to see an American manager with high Japanese skills from a Japanese company that had previously been hard to communicate with; they were glad  that communication would now be smooth. Finally, by going back and forth between Customs and the delivery company while maintaining communication with the main office in Japan, I was able to cut through the red tape and solve the problem.

It turned out the paperwork had been improperly done.  I rewrote it to specifications and resubmitted it. After Customs approved the corrected paperwork, the equipment was delivered to the Japanese military on time.

This all may sound easy, but it was actually harder than it sounds. First of all, time was limited. With a looming deadline, I had to pinpoint the source of the breakdown in communication. I then had to solve the problem while engaging and maintaining the flow of communication between the two sides. Next, I composed paperwork satisfactory to both the shipping company and US Customs and got it approved, then verified that the shipment was safely sent to Tokyo. Throughout this process, I had to accurately convey the content of my discussions with the American organizations to my Japanese colleagues in Japanese. I also had to deliver requests from Japan to the US organizations in English.

Here is another example. The previous manager could not understand instructions provided by the US State Department on how to deliver a specific type of expensive  equipment to Japan. The equipment had been collecting dust in a warehouse for nearly two years. Negotiations with the State Department was going nowhere.

To resolve the issue, I read through the email exchange between Fresco and the State Department going back two years. Much of the English writing done by Fresco’s Japanese staff was garbled and clearly hard for the State Department to understand. I called the State Department  and asked for instructions on how to proceed. I then forwarded these instructions to Fresco and Strategic Device personnel in Japanese. As a result, the expensive equipment was finally released and delivered to Japan.

I contributed to the flow of daily operations as well. I not only intervened when communication broke down, but I worked to prevent problems by doing everything from correcting grammar to representing the Japanese side in phone negotiations with Western private and governmental organizations. I leveraged my bicultural skill set to maintain the flow of communication, goods, and money amongst multiple organizations.

I left Fresco after six months, primarily due to issues related to health insurance. However, the experience I acquired during the six months was priceless. It was the first work environment where I made continual active use of my bilingual, bicultural skills.  At the same time, I saw firsthand at the ground level, and through the business side, how US-Japan relations work.

Just as I contributed to this business during my stay there, it is my sincere wish to make a useful contribution to various organizations and further the development of harmonious relations between Japan and the US onwards in my career.