2002年03月16日 土曜日

Yu-Tsung Chang

by Mizuko Ito

Biculturalism, Business, Features, People

yu tsung

Managing Director, Tokyo, Standard & Poor's Credit Market Services

Two years ago, after a meteoric rise in the world of international finance, 31-year-old Yu-Tsung Chang became the youngest managing director of Standard and Poor's, heading the company's Tokyo office. As the Nikkei Shinbun wrote at the time, "Because of his work on securitization, everyone in this field knows his name." Nikkei's coverage glowingly describes Yu-Tsung's unique background spanning Japan, Taiwan and the US. "His cosmopolitan perspective gained from experience in various countries serves him well in the ratings field which requires an objective eye."
General practice for Standard and Poor's and other US-origin multinationals is to bring in a foreign expat manager to head the Tokyo office. Yu-Tsung represents a rare case of a "local hire" making it to the top, a case even more unusual in the fact that he is a thoroughly Japanized Taiwanese national. Spanning four languages and three cultures, born and raised almost entirely in Japan, educated mostly in English, more than most people in the world, Yu-Tsung complicates our ideas of what it means to be a local Japanese, or a gaijin for that matter. Most chanponites feel it is complicated enough managing two cultures, but Yu-Tsung manages three with a characteristic nonchalance. Is there anything unique in being tricultural? Yu-Tsung answers, "I'm not sure that there is anything in particular, except that everything gets even more complicated."

Yu-Tsung took some time to talk about his life as a manager of a high-profile financial firm as well as reminisce about school days with Mimi Ito and Junko Sumiya of chanpon.org, classmates of Yu-Tsung in his elementary, junior high, and high school years. Buried in a red bean bag chair in Mimi's office, Yu-Tsung is still the kid we remember from high-school, tall, lanky, relaxed, comfortable in his jeans and polo shirt, and we settle quickly into a casual chanpon conversation. Our image of Yu-Tsung was of the cool and collected smart kid at the back of the classroom, breezing through life. But Yu-Tsung confides that it wasn't so easy for him growing up in Japan, particularly in early childhood when he was first picked on in a Japanese school for being Chinese, and then struggled to pick up English in his first years at Nishimachi. "I think I did okay, but I felt like I could have done better if language had not been an issue."

Now most would agree that Yu-Tsung has done more than okay. Overcoming an identity crisis that hit him in his college years, he now sees himself as a citizen of the world, fortunate for his mixed cultural heritage. He finds his Chinese name and background an asset in doing things his own way. "It's actually easier for me because I'm not Japanese. I have a Chinese name, so people don't expect me to be completely Japanese." Yu-Tsung is one of the core members of the growing transnational and multigenerational chanpon community, and is sending his children to Nishimachi just like himself. "Once a chanpon, forever a chanpon."

The Basics:

Q:Can you tell us one story about when your chanpon background helped you?

A:I probably can come up with many stories. Not sure if this is really chanpon background, but the one that immediately comes to my mind is when I make presentations and speeches in Japanese and how the audience is impressed just because I speak Japanese fluently without any accent. The content of the speech is probably of lesser importance.

Q:Can you tell us one story about when your chanpon background hurt you?

A:I don't have a story to share, but would like to say that chanpon background can hurt you when people assume that you know everything about the culture and customs. I particularly feel this way when writing Japanese letters. Do I use haikei? Where do I put 'shigi' [text on an official notice meaning the notice concerns a personal matter]? What is the appropriate seasonal introduction to the letter? Don't want to appear shitsurei as some people may assume I should know these things.

Q:What do you miss most about Japan when you are away?

A:The sense of security. Being able to get heavily intoxicated without the worry of being mugged.

Q:What do you miss most about Taiwan and the US when you are in Japan?

A: US - Watching professional sports on TV (e.g. doing a hashigo of NFL games on TV every Sunday during the fall).
Taiwan - Food - real Chinese food.

Q:What makes you feel Japanese?

A:In situations when Japan is in disputes with other nations (mostly the U.S.), I know where the Japanese are coming from and why certain Japanese practices do not conform to what the West calls 'global standards'.

Q:What makes you feel you aren't Japanese?

A:When I have go to the ward office (kuyakusho) every few years to renew my alien registration card. I still remember the feeling when I was 16 and needed to submit my fingerprint for the first time. A rude awakening - I'm actually a foreigner in this country. I'm now exempted from fingerprinting thanks to the change in the law, but I still need to go to the ward office every few years.

MI: Mimi Ito
YC=Yu-Tsung Chang
JS=Junko Sumiya

MI: What is the corporate culture like at Standard & Poor's in relation to Japanese and Euro-American culture?

YC: Like many other foreign multinational institutions in Japan, the culture is a mix of Japanese and Euro-American. With the recent increase in Japanese employees though, the culture at the Tokyo office is turning more Japanese. The business practices and the way we operate remain very Euro-American.

MI: Is there still an issue here in Japan that it is better to work in a Japanese firm versus a foreign firm?

YC: I think that's kuzurete kiteru very recently. In the past, it was considered prestigious to get out of top Japanese universities and work for large Japanese companies. But now that Japanese companies, including large companies, are actually restructuring and firing people, I don't think there's that strong of an incentive to work for a Japanese company anymore. I think we are starting to see a demolition of that whole concept.

For example, I see more interesting resumes these days when recruiting for open positions. I think many foreign firms are finding an easier time hiring young talented Japanese from top Japanese universities and that's a reflection of the shift in preference. Many people now prefer to work for a foreign firm than a Japanese firm.

MI: Did you consider working for a Japanese company?

YC: I did consider that when I got out of college. I didn't expect to work for a Japanese company forever, but I thought maybe I could do that for three years and see what it is like. But not at this point in time, no, unless I was hired at the top and given the opportunity to change the company. I think I'll get frustrated working for a Japanese firm. Many of the younger Japanese businessmen are increasingly getting frustrated with their companies, frustrated with the seniority-based hierarchy, sudden transfers, long and inefficient work hours, and so on. Frustrated basically with the Japanese business system that has been in place since the end of the war.

MI: You don't feel discriminated against because you're not Japanese?

YC: I don't. My colleagues are Japanese, but they work for an American company and understand that we don't all have to be Japanese. It's actually easier for me because I'm not Japanese. I don't have to act or think like a Japanese and can still get away with it. I can afford to be rude. I have a Chinese name, so people don't expect me to be completely Japanese. But if you are Japanese, even though you come from a chanpon background, I think people would still expect you to behave like a Japanese.

I make presentations to people outside, and they look at my name and they expect me to do it in English. But I make presentations in fluent Japanese, and the audience doesn't care about the content. They are just impressed that I speak Japanese. Two years ago, our company held a reception when I took over the office. I got on the podium and spoke for three minutes. And then after that, everybody came up to me. "Where did you pick up your Japanese? It's amazing." Even if I tell them that I was born and raised here, they are still amazed.

MI: How is that you were able to maintain such good Japanese? After college did you have to work on Japanese to get up to speed?

YC: Not really. The only thing was my keigo was not that good. I think for those of us who attended international schools, our keigo is not good compared with other Japanese. For you two, that might be a handicap, but for me I have an excuse that I'm not a Japanese. Now my keigo is better because I've been in Japan for ten years dealing with Japanese businessmen and was able to pick it up.

MI: Do you find that your background is an issue in your professional life? Do people orient toward that a lot? Do they ask you about your background?

YC: Yeah, I do think that is a focus for some people, particularly the Japanese people. Because I'm Chinese and speak Japanese fluently I get asked about that all the time. If I had a Japanese name, they probably wouldn't ask. It's funny. Japanese people think that I'm American, and American people think that I'm Japanese. I go back to Taiwan and many people will treat me as a Japanese just because I live here.

MI: Can you tell us about your background and your relationship to Japan?

YC: Sure. I was born and raised in Japan. I am the first child and have two younger sisters. My parents are Taiwanese. My grandparents spoke Japanese, and my uncle was already living here when my parents moved to Japan, so he had picked up Japanese. My parents picked it up really after they came here.

MI: Can you tell me what your experiences in school were like?

I started school at first in a Japanese kindergarten, but it didn't really work out. It was a big issue that I was not Japanese. I don't remember this myself of course, but my mom tells me that one day I came home from school and told her that kids were picking on me for being Chinese. And that was when my mother said, "this isn't going to work out" and she put me in Nishimachi International School. It was hard for me though, especially in the beginning, since I didn't speak English, and my parents didn't either. My parents couldn't support me in my academic work, plus I was learning a whole new language. It was really different for my sisters, who went to Sacred Heart. I had been through it and was able to help them out. I think I was like a father for them especially for my younger sister who is eight years younger. I think about this a lot when I think of my son, who has just started at Nishimachi. I want to be able to support him in a way that my parents weren't able to support me.

When I started in Nishimachi, I didn't know what to expect. Every year I didn't know what to expect. There would be a note saying that Nishimachi would have a field trip, and my mother would say "What is a field trip?" You know how difficult that is? I am in second grade, and I am supposed to read this note and explain to my mother what a field trip is and what she needs to prepare. It was so stressful.

JS: That's right. It's not just the translation. It's the whole idea of a field trip. It's funny, though, when we were kids going to school together, I always had the image of you as doing really well academically.

YC: Really? I was struggling. Language acquisition was very difficult for me. Picking up Japanese was relatively easy because I watched TV and heard it around. But before starting Nishimachi, I had not been exposed to English. I think I did okay, but I felt like I could have done better if language had not been an issue. Applying for college was the same. I had to educate my parents. That was the process for everything. I didn't know the process myself, and which I could have been educated by someone.

JS: Did your parents want you to go or stay in Japan for college?

YC: They wanted me to go to the States. A lot of my cousins were born in the States or had already gone to the States for college. So my parents already had an idea of what college in the States was like.

MI: What was it like in college for you?

YT: I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I had a good time in college. But people weren't really sure how to place me. They thought I was from LA, or Chicago.

I did seek out international students. I was in the Chinese association and Japanese association. I became friends with many, but as you know, my background also didn't fit in perfectly with these international students either. During college, at some point the identity crisis thing really hit me. I'm not Chinese. I'm not Japanese. I'm not American. So who am I?

MI: I know what you mean about college and identity. It can be a rough time. When I was in college in Boston I hung out with my friends from high school as much as I could, and was flying to New York a lot, missing Tokyo and hanging out with other chanpon friends there. I did not have a good time in college. I think we were so spoiled in the international community in Tokyo, being in this very unique cultural context. And then when I went to a US university that had a whole different status hierarchy, I just couldn't find a place for myself there.

YC: Wow, I didn't know it was that tough for you.

MI: So how did you resolve your identity crisis, or did you?

YC: Asahi Shinbun actually carried an article about this. Maybe it was my Freshman year, when I went back to Japan during the summer. I was on a flight from Chicago to Tokyo. And I was tamatama sitting next to a guy who was a president of a conveyor belt company. I don't know why, but I started talking about this, how I have this nayami, this identity crisis. I didn't know who I was. And he told me that I'm a citizen of the world "Why are you so worried about your identity?" And I thought, maybe he is right and I should just stop thinking about this. A lot of people would feel fortunate in my position, so I might as well feel fortunate about it too.

MI: Speaking of identity, what are your ties to Taiwan and your Taiwanese family like? Are there any particular issues in being tricultural?

YC: I learned Taiwanese and Mandarin from my parents. It was important for them that I spoke Taiwanese, even though Mandarin is the official language in Taiwan, because there is a nationalistic sentiment. Our family is native Taiwanese, meaning we were in Taiwan before Chiang Kai-shek lost the war and fled to Taiwan. I'm not sure that there is anything in particular that is unique about being tricultural, except that everything gets even more complicated.

In a Taiwanese family, there is a focus on maintaining Chinese ties, marrying Chinese, things like that. Some of this is tough for me. They expect me to be Taiwanese. I'm Taiwanese, but at the same time, I'm Japanese and American. My family really wants me to retain ties with Taiwan and go back to Taiwan sometime in the future and live there. They can't really expect me to do that. I'm telling them that. I've been in Japan all of my life and pursued an American education, and can't be a pure Taiwanese.

I still go back to Taiwan every year, and I want my children to speak Taiwanese and Mandarin. I'm not completely sure how this is going to work out for them as I'm not completely fluent myself. And it's not just a language issue, but also a cultural issue.

MI: So I know that you still keep in touch with the chanpon crowd in Tokyo. Is that your comfort zone?

YC: Yes, of course. Once a chanpon, forever a chanpon. [laugh] Sou omouyo.

Mimi Ito studies culture and technology as a researcher at Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus. President of the Momoko Ito Foundation, Ito contributes regularly to Chanpon.org. She's in the process of moving from Tokyo to Los Angeles with her husband and their two Chanpon children.

Junko Sumiya is the community host for Chanpon.org. Class of ASIJ 1986, she attended NIS with the class of 1983 as well. She works for an acclaimed nihonga painter. In her spare time, she lacquers and lives with her family in Tokyo.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2002年03月16日 07:15

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