12.7.18

On Xenohopbia, Fangirls, and Japanese White-Collar Cluelessness

After reading some of the comments on our last post, we felt the need to clarify a few things with regard to Japanese business and perceived anti-foreigner sentiment in Buck-Tickistan. This is a bit of a ramble, but stay with us, because this stuff is important, especially for people who are interested in working Japan, people who believe that foreign fans are persecuted, and people who think that the Buck-Tick members themselves are personally calling all the shots (they're not, but more on that later).

First off, let's get one thing straight: the band members themselves are almost certainly delighted that they have fans all over the world. No, they never told us in so many words, but they did offer a few oblique words and many enthusiastic smiles, among other gestures. We have no doubt that Imai, Sakurai, Hoshino and the Higuchi brothers embrace their foreign fans wholeheartedly. 

If you still doubt this, think about it from their perspective - they spend so much time and effort making their music, so naturally, it should please them to know that people all over the world are listening to it and appreciating it so much. The only artist who wouldn't be pleased by a global audience is a racist artist, but if the Buck-Tick members are racists, I'll eat my hat again five times over. No racist writes songs like "Only You" and "Rakuen". If Sakurai hated foreign fans, why would he have gone out of his way to address the audience in English and Spanish in addition to Japanese at the DIQ 2017? If the Buck-Tick members hate foreigners, why have they collaborated with so many foreign musicians? (Most notably Raymond Watts, Sascha Konietzko, and Kelli Ali, but there have been others as well). Remember, Buck-Tick recorded the entirety of Taboo in London, and even performed a show there while they were at it! Furthermore, Buck-Tick's music has been influenced and inspired by music from many places (Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Asia, India... you get the picture), so to be appreciated by people from all over the globe is going to feel like the ultimate validation. Buck-Tick are not nationalists. I think y'all can rest assured that the five band members, at least, are happy you're fans.

So, to the extent that Buck-Tickistan is xenophobic, it's not coming from the band. It's coming from the management, and from the Japanese fans.

As far as the Japanese fans go, we have been following Buck-Tick's tours for 11 years now, and based on our experience, most Japanese fans are more intrigued/surprised by the foreign fans than anything else. In fact, up until about three years ago, if you'd asked us if we'd noticed xenophobia from Japanese fans, we'd have said no. Sadly, something seems to have changed in recent years - maybe it's because there are more foreign fans attending the concerts than there used to be, so perhaps some of the very insecure and neurotic Japanese fans feel threatened by that (which is totally silly and none of you should waste a single second feeling sorry for people like this. They need to grow the fuck up.) 

Then again, sad to say, maybe it's a zeitgeist thing - we're seeing a disturbing rise in ethnic nationalism all over the world, and while it's less pronounced in Japan than it is in Europe or the United States, Trump and Syrian refugees are all over the news even here, and we think perhaps it has emboldened the sorts of people who were always a little racist but used to have the decency to keep it hidden, in much the same way that Trump has emboldened such people in America. 

Certainly, there's a bit of jealous possessiveness going on. You can see it in any fandom - "alpha fans" gatekeeping by shaming newcomers and refusing to divulge desirable information so as to feel smugly superior to the "beta fans" not in the know. As we discussed here in our article about fangirl psychology, Japanese fangirls who view the Buck-Tick members primarily as ideal fantasy objects rather than as creators of fantastic music tend to act possessive of their favorite members, viewing them as "theirs". This is why they call Mr. Sakurai "Acchan" when they shout his name at shows, despite the fact that they'd never call him that to his face - they want to pretend at intimacy with him.

As to how this jealous possessiveness transformed into xenophobia, we can't be sure - maybe it was there and hiding all along. But it seems to us that The Mortal made it worse (and what a crying shame that is!) As we discussed in our live reports of The Mortal, The Mortal was a rude wake-up call to these possessive fangirls, because it put them nose-to-nose with the fact that the Sakurai they like to imagine isn't the Sakurai who exists on Planet Earth. With their simple hooks and danceable beats, Buck-Tick's songs are instantly accessible, even to people without any special knowledge of music. The Mortal's music, on the other hand, with its more complex harmonic and rhythmic structures, and dark, intense, disturbing philosophical themes, presented a much greater challenge to the kind of Japanese fans who got interested in Buck-Tick in their dandelion-headed youthful pop days, and stayed with the band more for Acchan-chan's face than for any broader love of music. To foreign fans, Buck-Tick's dark and gothical bent may be their most immediately striking feature, but plenty of Japanese fans are legacy fans from the era of Seventh Heaven, and they still have no idea what goth is or why Mr. Sakurai likes it so much - that's why they never danced to any songs on the Atom Miraiha tour except for "Cuba Libre" and "The Seaside Story." They didn't even dance to "Septem Peccata Mortalia" till Acchan-chan's thighs got thrown in the mix. Why? Because for the most part, dark music scares them.

Without any knowledge of the British gothic post-punk world The Mortal was hearkening back to, these fans, who fancy themselves Acchan-chan's Chosen, were in over their heads, and they knew it. They desperately want to claim Mr. Sakurai for their own, but they could no longer keep up the charade once they saw him getting so much enjoyment out of such a dark and creepy solo project. They didn't understand it, they couldn't parse it, they resented the lack of fan service, and it made them angry, so they got violent and hit each other. On the other hand, they could easily witness how the foreigners in the audience were nothing short of thrilled to hear "their" Mr. Sakurai sing Bauhaus lyrics in English. We can't help but wonder if it was partly The Mortal that brought out the xenophobia in certain fangirls, because they were upset to hear Mr. Sakurai singing in English that they couldn't understand, and resented seeing Mr. Sakurai and foreign fans being mutually in on something they lacked the power to grok. By and large, these fangirls don't grok Buck-Tick, either, but there's no point telling them that.

Beyond that, foreign fans tend to stand out at Buck-Tick shows like a few awkward pink cockatoos amidst an angry murder of crows, which means that sometimes they get extra attention from the band members, and that pisses off certain Japanese fangirls, because they feel that, as Japanese fans, Buck-Tick belong to them more than to people from other countries. Seems like some of the foreign fans also believe this - but let me turn this on its head and ask you, kids - do The Beatles belong to their British fans more than they belong to their Japanese fans? Do the Australians get to tell the rest of us that we can't listen to Dead Can Dance or Nick Cave? Do the Americans get to say hands off Kurt Cobain, none of the rest of you touch him, he's ours? Part of the great power of music lies in its ability to transcend the boundaries of language and culture. Westerners, accustomed to sitting at the top of the white imperial colonialist cultural hegemony, are never surprised when Japanese people overflow with passion for the Rolling Stones or Chopin or Dali or Hollywood movies, so why should anyone think for a minute that non-Japanese people somehow have less "right" to Buck-Tick? Taking pride in the artistic output of your nation is a fine thing, but refusing to share is perverse and counter to the fundamental purpose of art.

Sometimes it seems that certain foreign fans even enjoy the idea that they are persecuted by the Japanese fans, but whether it comes from a desire to claim victim status in order to feel like a special snowflake, or an old-fashioned Orientalist fetishization of Japan as some kind of precious quintessence of the "inscrutable other" (a tale that, while not as old as time, goes back at least as far as the 1600's), I'm telling y'all, cut that shit out right now. If you want to feel special, keep your dignity and do something to make yourself special, and leave victimhood for the foreigners in Japan with real troubles, like the Nigerians and Nepalese who get shut up in abysmal conditions in detainment centers for months on end for overstaying their visas. And the more you perpetuate the "inscrutable other" narrative of Japan, the more wind you puff into the sails of the other group of people who love to trumpet about how the Japanese people are so unique that no one else in the world can understand them - right-wing Japanese nationalists.

So that's the fangirls. But do the fangirls even matter?

By rights, whether fangirl xenophobia exists or not shouldn't be an issue from the perspective of either the band or the management. From the band's perspective, they don't have to care about or condone the shitty beliefs/behavior of a minority of their fans. Every band has some shitty fans to their name. That's what comes of being famous. And from the management's perspective, it's in their interest to promote the band as widely as possible, including overseas - after all, the management's job is to ensure that Buck-Tick remain popular and keep making money, and if possible, that they get more popular and make more money. The Japanese fanbase is either shrinking or staying the same as it continues to age, but the foreign fanbase is full of young blood and it's definitely growing. The management would have to be idiots not to be interested in the potential business opportunity there.

So... are they idiots, then? Obviously, not entirely, because they took some of our suggestions. But there's probably a fair bit of idiocy left in them, far more than there is xenophobia. Or rather than idiocy, let's say cluelessness and ignorance. 

Japan is a very isolated country in a lot of ways, and many Japanese people, especially the kind who rise to middle management positions at big-name companies like Victor entertainment, have lived their whole lives surrounded by people exactly like them - sheltered, rich, and Japanese - and therefore, they reach adulthood without learning how to deal with diversity. Japanese elite schools are training grounds for corporate conformity. At elite Japanese schools, students all wear the same uniform, and marks of individuality, right down to earrings and colored hair bands, are generally banned. Students are required to take part in all sorts of group activities such as eating the same school lunches and cleaning the classroom together after school. Yeah, being forced to eat the school lunches teaches them to eat a healthy diet and not waste food, and cleaning the classroom teaches them the importance of hygiene and shared responsibility for keeping communal spaces neat and tidy, and we can't argue with that. But there's also a darker motive behind these kinds of group activities, and behind the general "because I said so" blanket rule enforcement at Japanese schools - it quashes individuality and rebellion. There's a reason why many of Japan's great creative minds went to "bad" schools or dropped out early. "Bad" schools tend to allow students more freedom, while a university education is generally seen as a luxury of the wealthy, a precursor to a life of corporate slavery disguised as middle-class success, or the sort of place where especially talented students go to continue their training before pursuing careers such as medicine and law.

Through high school, education in Japan is largely focused on rote memorization of facts and rules rather than critical analysis or debate. Students are taught that if they get the right answer on the exam, they will be successful human beings. Students in elite schools must pass a series of entrance exams - kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, university - unless they're lucky enough to land a spot in one of the coveted "escalator schools," which offer education from kindergarten through uni. Escalator schools are known to be the domain of the rich and privileged, so it's not like kids are seeing much diversity or learning to think for themselves here. And for everyone else, at least for students with high hopes for attending elite schools, life revolves heavily around preparations for a series of increasingly difficult exams, which may feel like matters of life or death. 

People who get more right answers, and therefore higher scores on the exams, get into the "good" schools. Those who don't do as well don't get into the "good" schools. The people from the "good" schools get hired by the "good" companies. The message is clear: the people who get more right answers than other people are better than other people. If the key to being a good person in childhood is following rules and getting the right answer, in adulthood, rules and "right" answers continue to seem more important than creativity or critical thinking. Plus, critical thinking isn't something people are born knowing how to do. It has to be taught, either through formal academic education, or Mama Life's School of Hard Knocks.

Since Japanese academia doesn't teach critical thinking, the result is that on the whole, the sorts of people who went to the School of Hard Knocks (the Buck-Tick members included) end up being much more critically-minded and individualistic than the people who went to the "good" schools, and furthermore, the people who went to the "good" schools have only ever learned how to deal with people exactly like them, who all follow the same rules. Thus, even when they reach adulthood, the elites from the "good" schools are constantly searching for a "right answers" manual that will tell them what to do, what to say, and how to act - and they often find it in goody-two-shoes adherence to the letter of the law, or in lazy thinking based on broad stereotypes - so as such, they have no idea how to handle the unpredictable situations engendered by diversity. "Diversity" includes not only global diversity, but also the diversity found within Japanese society, which in turn includes both ethnic diversity (Japan is home to a healthy population of ethnic Koreans, Brazilians, Chinese, Filipinos, Nepalese, and the remaining indigenous peoples of Hokkaido and Okinawa, in addition to a growing population of short-to-long-term expatriates) and perhaps more importantly, socioeconomic diversity. 

The idea that Japan is a classless society is nothing but a myth. In Japan, socioeconomic elites still hold a firm grip on power both corporate and political. To obtain power in Japanese society, you need to look the right way, have the right pedigree, and constantly kiss the asses of the right people. Anyone from an "undesirable" background, or who looks a little different, is going to have to work much, much harder than the child of an elite family to have a fighting chance, and anyone who starts to do things a little differently, like grow out his hair or get a tattoo, is likely to get thrown out of the corporate elite world permanently.

Therefore, it's precisely those people from the "good" schools who end up in the positions of power. The kinds of people who reach management level at elite companies almost always come from affluent, white-collar households, which were able to send them to elite prep schools and universities to be educated, which is why the gatekeepers at big-name companies let them in - here, the name of your university matters a whole lot more than the grades you get. The strange thing about these people is that despite the fact that they've purportedly got an excellent education, since their only experience of the rest of the world is limited to interactions with people exactly like them, they have no idea how to put themselves in the shoes of another person, or anticipate the needs or interests of a person with a background different from their own - including non-elite Japanese people. 

As we already mentioned, not all Japanese people are affluent white-collar elites. Blue-collar workers, members of the "water trade" (the bar, restaurant, nightclub and sex industries), the self-employed and the pierced, tattooed counter-cultural outsiders occupy an entirely different social sphere from the salarymen in suits who work in offices. And the strange thing is, while the non-elites know all about the existence of the elites, in our experience the elites often seem to know nothing about the existence of the non-elites (for example, once upon a time, when we worked for an mutlinational Japanese megacorp where our very sheltered affluent elite coworkers were shocked when we told them we knew people with tattoos. Tattoos aren't that uncommon, even in Japan, but they're verboten in the white-collar elite social class. Some counter-cultural types are able to successfully disguise themselves as white-collar line-toers, but that's another story.)

So if it's hard for Japanese elites even to understand the members of different social classes in their own society, just imagine how much harder it is for them to understand people from other countries. English education in Japan is still lacking, which means that most Japanese people, including affluent elites who went to good schools, still can't speak English worth a damn. It's also likely that despite their privilege, they haven't traveled abroad much, or had much interaction with people from other countries or people from different ethnic backgrounds. Japanese people who do have real experience of diversity, either from attending international schools, or being raised abroad while their parents were working overseas, are often viewed with suspicion when they return to Japanese society, despite the fact that these returnees are precisely the best people to bring Japanese business up to speed with the rest of the world. Many large Japanese companies still haven't entirely woken up to the fact that Japan is no longer the global business leader it once was. They pay lip service to the idea of globalization, while ignoring the input of all their employees who don't fit that perfect cookie-cutter prep school mold. They don't seem to be able to fully grasp that true globalization means drawing on the experience of foreign employees and returnees, gaining better fluency in foreign languages, and adapting the norms of Japanese business to be more in line with global standards.

We can say from direct experience that the biggest difficulty for foreign workers in Japan is that their Japanese bosses often expect them to act and speak exactly like Japanese people - without even realizing how unrealistic that expectation is. You can tell them to globalize till you're blue in the face, but they won't listen. Since most Japanese managers grew up surrounded by people exactly like them, they literally can't conceive of how different things are in other countries. To them, being Japanese is as natural as breathing. They may understand on a vague intellectual level that people from different countries have different customs, expectations, and perspectives, but too often, it doesn't penetrate to the gut level. Even when you point out to them that they would be at least as confused and lost if they were working in New York or Paris or London instead of Tokyo, many of them simply dig in their heels and harumph, "this is Japan, do things the Japanese way."

To Japanophiles who've never worked in Japan, that might sound natural and reasonable. Why should Japanese business be compelled to adopt Western standards? Isn't that colonialism? Well... no. Why not? Because "Japanese" business standards were largely imposed upon Japan by pressure from the Western imperial hegemony, first during the Meiji Restoration in the latter half of the 19th century, when Japan desperately sought to adopt European norms and technology so as not to become colonized by Europe like many parts of Asia already had been, and then during the American Occupation in the aftermath of World War II, when the U.S. government put heavy pressure on Japan to adopt American ideals and norms. Some of that was great, like the fact that equal rights for men and women were enshrined into the Japanese Constitution. Some of it wasn't so great, like the fact that Japan got taken over by corporations just like America. We could write a whole book about the ways in which many of the worst aspects of modern Japanese culture that old Japanese men love to proudly trumpet and harumph about are actually forced imports from America, but we'll leave that for another time. 

The point is, corporate capitalism is a Western imperialist invention which Japan adopted out of necessity to avoid being taken over by Western imperialist powers. So, to the extent that business norms are growing more relaxed and progressive in Western countries, Japan should have no reason not to follow suit. And furthermore, in many cases, the rigidity of Japanese business norms (lifetime employment and promotion by seniority rather than by merit, reluctance to listen to the opinions of young employees, reluctance to promote women to management positions, reluctance to make effective use of the language skills of foreign employees, blanket refusal to hire people who look "different," to name a few) render Japanese companies less adaptable and competitive in an increasingly fast-past, volatile, globalized market. Therefore, it would be better for the interests of Japanese business if they adopted a more liberal, global, modern viewpoint - because they would remain competitive and therefore continue to make money.

The problem is, since Japanese business elites have been raised to follow rules and procedures, rather than think critically and independently, they find it extremely difficult to try radical new initiatives or adapt to unexpected changes, so in many cases, they would rather bury their heads in the sand rather than try a new initiative, even if that initiative might be an excellent business idea. Even the upper echelons of Japanese business are aware of this problem, and sometimes they write manifestos and white papers about it. But with the entire middle management class populated by a horde of procedure-following robot-people, there's little they can do, until they fundamentally overhaul the education system to teach critical thinking. And naturally, a lot of the people in power are resistant to that idea, because citizens who think critically are a lot harder to control. Teach your citizens to think for themselves and they might not be so content with your small party of vested interests continuing to play gatekeeper for all the resources and opportunities...

But we digress. The point is, that as far as many Japanese managers go, it's better to continue to do the same thing than to try something new. It's not the Buck-Tick members themselves making these decisions - it's their marketing team. The band members clearly hate business. The band members spend most of their time focused on their creative work alone. 

Therefore, Victor's marketing department is the one currently making the decisions about how to sell the band. And from their perspective, Buck-Tick have always been marketed exclusively within Japan, so why start marketing them to foreigners now? The Japanese major label music industry gazes relentlessly at its own navel and has never given a fig for overseas marketing of anyone, ever. Japanese bands which have pursued success outside of Japan are few and far between, and often, for these bands, international success has come at the expense of domestic success, because the "rules" in Japanese business are so specific and arcane and removed from global trends. Part of that is Western racist resistance to listening to Asians playing rock-n-roll, but part of it is the insularity of the Japanese music industry, not believing that overseas sales are worth it. And part of it, of course, is simply the expense and difficulty posed by the physical distance, to say nothing of the language and cultural barriers. 

For a long time, that was why the Buck-Tick marketing management never offered anything to foreign fans. They didn't see the point. They probably didn't even consider the option. In all likelihood, it was only when they started to get mountains of letters from foreign fans that they even realized that overseas marketing was even a possibility. In all likelihood, until y'all started spamming them with letters, their mental map began and ended with the Japanese islands.

But they don't know how to proceed, because they still can't understand how people from other countries think, what they want, or what they need. Hell, the word "gaijin" gets tossed around so much in Japan without many Japanese people ever seeming to realize that the world is a kaleidoscopic patchwork of myriad different national, racial, and ethnic groups, and that throwing Japanese people into one bin and "gaijin" (i.e. everyone who isn't Japanese) into another bin is a laughably ignorant way to categorize people - Buck-Tick have fans everywhere from Russia to Chile to Indonesia, but do any of these nations have more in common with one another than they do with the Japanese? Probably not. This is not to say that no Japanese people understand global diversity - plenty of them do. But the kinds of people making business decisions often seem to be woefully ignorant of globalization-related topics.

Working as a professional translator for a variety of Japanese companies, we've had ample opportunity to witness for ourselves the cluelessness of Japanese managers when it comes to foreign marketing. Despite the fact that Japanese managers continuously lament their foreign employees' lack of facility with formal Japanese, since many of these managers don't speak English very well, they don't seem to understand that putting Google Translate English on their website makes them look pathetic, unprofessional, and untrustworthy - because they were never taught how to put themselves in another person's shoes, and try to imagine the world from a different perspective. 

It has literally never occurred to them that Google Translate English sounds as jarring to native English ears as botched keigo does to the ears of Japanese management.

It probably has never occurred to them that in other countries, smartphones aren't necessarily as popular as they are in Japan, or that in some cases, people may not purchase smart phones because they're too expensive to be worth it. 

It probably has never occurred to them that foreign data plans don't always work in Japan, and that having to rent SIM cards or wireless dongles still causes headaches for foreign visitors to Japan on a daily basis.

Obviously, it escaped their notice that not every member of Fish Tank who is a Japanese resident has a Japanese name.

Sometimes, Japanese people have asked us if Japanese CDs get sold in foreign CD shops, and we have to laugh, and tell them no. Did Victor executives understand just how hard it was for foreign Buck-Tick fans to purchase Buck-Tick's albums until we told them? we doubt it.

So you can see, a lot of this isn't racist malice - it's simple ignorance. That's why offering feedback is key. 

Even if there is a certain amount of xenophobia art work, offering feedback is still key. The more they hear your voices, the more they'll be forced to acknowledge that you exist. The more they'll be tempted by the opportunity you present. The fact that they adopted our last round of suggestions so readily suggests to us that they wanted to do something, they just didn't know what to do. If they can't think for themselves, we can do the thinking for them. If we offer them some good ideas, with luck, they'll realize that the answers we've given them are the right answers. And if they don't listen, it's their loss. At least we tried.

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9 comments:

  1. Cayce, you write absolutely stellar articles with wonderful insight. Thank you for all you do & I'll certainly be sending feedback to FT.

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  2. I'm the one who did the joke about cats in your last post comments section,I'm sorry I didn't meant to tell BT were racists against foreign fans (^u^)'.In last FT magazine I was delighted to see foreign fans drawing in the "illustration square" pages .
    Sometimes obstacles help to developp ingenuity I think but I hope things will get simpler :)
    Thank you for your brillant pop-laroids about Japanese culture Cayce ! :)


    J


    J

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    Replies
    1. It's not just you - seems like a lot of people have been a bit confused about what the circumstances are like in Japan. It was just your comment that made me realize that an explanation might be helpful, because it's not as if the world of Japanese business is visible from overseas. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  3. It seems that even if you have a smartphone with the EMTG app
    you have to possess a japanese phone number according to the EMTG FAQ (translated by robot ;) :"It will be a smartphone with a phone number contracted in Japan starting with "090, 080, 070" which can connect to the Internet" .
    Do you think renting a smartphone phone when arriving in Japan will solve the problem (renting a phone as you adviced with globaladvancedcomm) ?

    At least BT helped me to get me interested to new technologies Xp

    Thanks again for your great work (^_^)

    J

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    Replies
    1. Please copy and paste the Japanese text where it says this, or at the very least, a direct link to the page. I will check it out. If you can't use the EMTG app without a Japanese smart phone, but foreign fans are only allowed digital tickets, which you need the EMTG app to access, then they've basically set up a catch-22 for the foreign fans, and that's completely unacceptable. Renting a Japanese phone is not a solution, don't even consider it! If foreign FT members have paid 6000 yen for the FT membership, same as the Japanese members, but they don't get the same access to tickets, that's unfair and we need to write to them and tell them to change the system.

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    2. http://faq.emtg.jp/emtg/?p=7604
      here it 's but I think you find it already ! :-)
      BTW the Credit card seems to be in accesss now to EMTG-My Page page ,and the contact team absolutly ain't replying to the contact form you send them (>_<)
      I understand the "gatchaman" tour goods ,is that to distract us from that fiasco X)

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  4. wow... love this post
    Thank you for always your eyes about japanese culture and norms as well as your way of thinking.
    I always believed in japan for the japanese, but you are right, in a world that is becoming increasingly global, it is necessary to open the mind more

    excuse my bad englsih

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  5. Hi Cayce!
    So applications for FTO tix have started and us international fans have met with a rather... unsurprising problem.

    Despite EMTG mentioning in multiple clauses that E-tickets are recommended for international fans, the form provided by the site...

    does not accept international phone numbers :)

    Will it be too much for us to ask for help with crafting a standard letter in Japanese to send in our grievances to EMTG with?

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  6. I would like to share your incredible understanding of Japanese management with my boss. It is so recognizable. I hope it doesn't hurts you, after all you are a free spirit with a free mind. Thank God! I am going to print this article and send it to my boss I swear. Too much lean of an old and starry management tool is out of date in these times No more grey costumes or attitudes. Please publish this article on more sites and go world wide

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