The Aozora Bank was originally established in 1957 under a different name, that of The Nippon Fudosan Bank and underwent a few changes up to the present. In 2001, the bank finally changed its name to Aozora Bank, Ltd. and converted from a “Long-Term Credit Bank” to an “Ordinary Bank” in 2006.
The head of the International Finance Group, Mr. Hideaki Kuraishi affirms that the organization is pretty much diversified in nationality and today there are people from United States, Canada, France, Greece, Cambodia, and Korea, working for Aozora. It seems that before they used to also have people from the UK, Indonesia, China and Uzbekistan in the team, but as any other workplace, people are coming in and going out, so now there are about six different nationalities and Japanese citizens working as a team.
Japan Info had the pleasure to visit their office and have an interview with the two members of the International Division, Emeric and Anthony that talked a bit about their duties, the staff, the office atmosphere, work in Japan and Japan seen through their eyes.
Before we start with the main part of this article, I wish to say a few words about my first impression I had seeing the office and take this opportunity to share with you the first thoughts that came into mind when I first interacted with Aozora Bank’s employees.
The headquarters are located in Yotsuya inside of the Sophia University Campus Building. It is probably the only Bank situated inside of an University, and before arriving I couldn’t even grasp an idea of how it would look like.
I went there with one of my superiors and we were given a badge to enter the building. On the first floor is the retail banking business and from the 7th floor up to the 16th floor consists of the office area.
From above you have a beautiful view of the area and you can also see the Akasaka Palace over a cup of coffee while doing your work up in the office or while taking a break in the cafeteria upstairs. (also used after lunch time, for those who want a quiet time to get some work done).
For a change of pace, employees can also go to the cafeteria after lunch and get some work done surrounded by a more relaxed and peaceful atmosphere or go to the Aozora Museum downstairs and have a look at the “many types of Japanese Blue” and skillfully crafted pieces of art and beautiful paintings available on the exhibition.
Now that I introduced you to the office, let’s get to know more about the staff.
As I said above, the two members of the International Division that kindly answered to our questions are Anthony, born in Canada and that has been part of the team for quite a long time now and Emeric that came from France and joined Aozora about four years ago.
Below, they were kind enough to answer in detail to all our questions and hopefully, it will help you understand more about what they are doing, who they are, how working in Japan is like, how they came through this opportunity of working for Aozora bank and at the end, find out what their advice to those that want or are planning to work in Japan is.
Q1: Can you please tell me more about your responsibilities here? What are your main duties at Aozora Bank?
Emeric: I belong to the International Division of the Bank working under Anthony’s guidance and mainly monitoring the bank’s investments in North America.
Anthony: We work in the same group however I look over to manage the group and Emeric is one of the members of our team.
Q2: What is it that you enjoy most in your job?
Anthony: For me, finance is what I’ve always been doing for approximately 25 years now; basically is the challenge. I’ve been trying to invest in assets , i.e. make safe loans and contribute to the company’s growth.
Emeric: I think that Anthony looks at things from little bit higher point of view than I do. It might be because he oversees the whole portfolio we have invested here. I am especially looking at it in details, for example, how the borrowers are performing.
The good thing is that I get to learn about many kinds of products and to know different thing are happening to different companies. Same events might impact different companies in a different way and we get to learn a lot of things about the industries and the market dynamics.
Anthony: Like a big puzzle
Emeric nodding in agreement: Is a big puzzle, yes
Mr. Hideaki Kuraishi, Managing Executive Officer: Basically, Anthony is heading the team and he brings in the variety of the investment opportunities. He assigns transactions to each member of the staff and Emeric being one of them, and also in charge of doing the credit analysis of the transactions that Anthony brought in. If Emeric is comfortable with that credit, then he further discusses with Anthony and myself to decide whether to go ahead with the transaction. After deciding, we go up to our internal Credit Committee including the top management of this company, for the final approval. This process is really a team work.
Q3: How many people work for the company?
Anthony: Aozora has around 2,000 employees today, and the International Finance Group has around 100 people in total. My team consists of 25 professionals, of which 7 people are foreigners.
Q4: Do you usually communicate in English?
Anthony: In my case, I communicate mostly in English just in order to avoid any sort of miscommunication as I usually try to be precise and I want to make sure that people fully understand what I am asking for.
There are indeed some people in the team that might not be too comfortable with speaking English and if that is the case, I usually try and make an effort to communicate with them in Japanese.
Q5: Why did you choose Japan? How did you find out about the job position at Aozora?
Anthony: I didn’t really plan on coming here or working for Aozora. It is more like one of my former colleagues were to join the company back in 2003-2004 and they introduced the job to me saying it’s a good opportunity to contribute and help to the growth of the organization. So I basically came over and joined them almost around that point of time. It was actually my first time in Japan, so it wasn’t planned at all. It just happened.
Emeric: In my case, I grew up abroad and went back to France for university. After graduating, I wanted to keep some of the international experiences, so I went to Hong Kong, found a job there. After a while, I got invited by a French bank to come and work in Japan and now I am here. At that point of time, I wasn’t very good at Japanese, so I was grateful they invited me to join the team.
I came to Japan around 6 years ago, and joined Aozora 4 years ago, so looking back now, it’s been a while.
Q6: Is it how you expected it to be? Can you tell me a few good points about your job and if you’ve experienced any hurdles?
Is it quite different from your country?
Anthony: I think every company has its own type of culture so is quite hard to judge that. I used to work for a Canadian bank and the feeling in the office is indeed a bit different.
I think the way organizationally things are set up in Japan and the degree of politeness people have, also the comfort they have in terms of communicating with each other are the differences.
When I initially came to Japan and started working in Aozora , there were cases where people are more formal, however when you get to know them a little bit better, they became much more relaxed and sensible, so I think that a lot of it is just based upon how the corporate organization is set up in the respective culture.
Emeric: I started working for a Japanese company in France and then came to Japan and worked for a French bank in Japan and now I am working for a Japanese bank in Japan, so I’ve always had this Japanese angle in my career, therefore I can’t say I was surprised and I could actually find a lot of similarities with my past experiences.
Getting back at what Anthony said, – finance is itself a formal business regardless of the country, so it will always be this hierarchy; in a way, I think that things are not that different from what I was expecting when I joined Aozora.
Mr. Hideaki Kuraishi: Actually, I used to work in London at the Japanese international bank almost at the same time he was in Paris, and maybe that is one of the reasons I take comfort in working with foreigners and having foreign employees around.
Emeric: Yes, coming to Japan I realized that it is such a small world. In France, I used to work for the Mizuho Bank and during the interview at Aozora. I had a chat with Mr. Kuraishi, now my superior.
He named all the managers I had in France…small world.
Q7: Can you tell me more about your schedule and working hours?
Emeric: My schedule varies depending on the work flow. Sometimes we get quite busy, for example, we have to digest all the credit information in a very short period of time. However, sometimes the market becomes very quiet and there are not so many transactions coming.
Anthony: I constantly make an effort as there is a lot of stuff I need to review and in case there is nothing to review, I would find a way to generate business for the bank.
What I also do normally is to have direct contact with North American market, although time zone is different.
I sometimes do it outside of the office through emails or phone calls.
Emeric: We usually start working at 8:50 up to 17:15 and depending on the person, there are times when the schedule gets a bit more flexible.
However, I always try to make a distinction between private and work.
Q8: What do you do in your free time?
Emeric: I study finance and hope to take a few qualifications in finance. I am also trying to improve my Japanese as some of our colleagues are not that comfortable with speaking English. For now, I have succeeded in passing the N1 level of the Japanese Language Test.
Anthony: Well, I have a dog, so I just play with the dog in my free time or I try to keep myself active by going to the gym etc.
Q9: Do you have “nomikai” (drinking parties) with the employees of Aozora?
Anthony: Sometimes. There are welcome parties, farewell parties, when somebody gets transferred etc.
On other occasions, I drink at the bars nearby the office with my colleagues who want to join.
Some love to drink, some are even very knowledgeable when it comes to sake, some keep drinking with their circle of friends, some just prefer to go home.
Q10: Is there anything that surprised you about Japan or that you particularly like about Japan?
Emeric: I think it is the social events as mentioned before. In France, we use to go out with friends but rarely with the company staff, just like we do in Japan.
Anthony: I think that Japan or maybe Tokyo, is quite a convenient place to live. It is much easier rather than expected and people are always kind when providing assistance.
When I go back to North America, I also notice the difference in service and realize how clean everything is in Japan, the quality that is much higher when it comes to customer service, not needing tips and it makes me more relaxed.
Q11: Do you have any plans for the future? Anything you’d like to achieve?
Emeric: I try to improve my Japanese and maybe as a future plan, I’d like to be more independent to be able to travel more.
Anthony: Up to the present, I’ve been spending most of my time around Tokyo. My parents came to visit Japan and they’ve actually seen more than I did, although I have lived here for such a long period of time. So I’d like to travel, go up to North Tohoku, down to Nara etc.
Q12: How does the system work when it comes to promotions/bonuses?
Anthony: In terms of the employment system, each company has its own system. I noticed that in Japan, promotion is given after a long term employment (longer compared to foreign banks).
Q13: Do you have any message for foreign workers or for those who plan on coming to Japan to work?
Anthony: I think that we welcome people to join and we are always looking for qualified people; because we have international citizens and use international languages, and having people who possess a lot of knowledge is very useful for us.
Emeric: Give it a try because it’s much easier that it seems from abroad.
Don’t worry about the language barrier because Japanese people are very welcoming and take me for an example: I went to Hong Kong, but it didn’t work out, so I ended up coming to Japan and I’m still here after 6 years. It says something.
Our interview finished with a message for those who want to work in Japan and as you can see and I can also affirm, it’s easier than it seems.
The Aozora staff is very qualified and everybody is hired based on their skills and level of professionalism in equal terms with the Japanese staff and the organization itself is foreigner friendly, let’s say.
There was actually a time when the Aozora Bank was under Cerberus and the management team was basically formed of foreigners, reason why, unlike other Japanese Banks, their documents were written in English, therefore people here are comfortable with English and even nowadays use it in documents, so that makes it the perfect environment for foreigner employees who plan on coming to work in Japan.
They are welcoming people from all around the world to join the company and the atmosphere that surrounds the workplace is very cozy and nice, disposing of many resources, the staff also very knowledgeable and friendly, ready to kindly answer all your questions.