The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

At their first meeting in 1948, the Founding Forty—members of the first 40 US companies that established the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ)— sat down to business with one clear fact in front of them: there was no Japanese membership. In the 70 years since, things have changed considerably. Although many of the key chamber principles have remained firm, an aspect that has shifted—much like the United States itself—is demographics.

Currently, Japanese membership stands at more than half the chamber. There are many reasons for partici­pation—including advocacy, networking, and business develop­ment—as demon­strated through a survey of Japanese members conducted earlier in the year. What isn’t as obvious are other reasons for Japanese members to join.

Did you know that the ACCJ is often seen as a safe and domestic MBA-like program? Companies, regardless of nationality, often view the chamber as a symbol of global leadership, diversity, and best practices. And this is the type of environment in which they want their talented workforce to participate. Without a doubt, this is a wonderful reflection of our organization.

However, past findings have also shown that Japanese members are often under-engaged and inactive in chamber functions. There are many benefits to membership, but how that value is perceived can be very personal—and at times cultural. Although representation of US companies remains firm at about 55 percent, with membership being the asset that it is, US and non-US companies will likely continue to add Japanese employees.

The task I face with my colleagues Nozomi Takasaki and Mina Takahashi, co-chairs of the Japanese Membership Relations Subcommittee, is straight­forward: to increase Japanese member satis­­faction and participation.

The committee was formed in 2014 after a working group showed that engagement of Japanese membership could be improved. A step that has been taken since is a monthly new-member orientation held in Japanese. Of course, we also enjoy connecting with not-so-new members who missed orientation when they joined. The entire effort is supported by ACCJ Member Relations & Development Manager Aki Watanuki.

Which leads to a call to action: steps for boosting parti­ci­pation and engage­ment for Japanese member­ship. Our subcommittee hopes that 2018 will be a good year to raise awareness and partici­pation. Bilingual orientations are a good start, as they help Japanese membership pre­pare for the US-centric culture and can add some reverse-culture shock for the non-Japanese. This is healthy in itself, as mem­bers can become more confident.

But we shouldn’t stop there. Language support is another way to raise participation in chamber activities. Plans this year include events with Japanese speakers, which can increase engagement and broaden the available pool of presenters and topics. Our Asakatsu (morning vitality) series—when presentations are given at an early hour, usually to small groups—has been popular among attendees.

We also need support from leaders and members. This can be as simple as reaching out to a new face at chamber activities or promoting committee activities across groups.

Becoming a mentor is certainly another way to lift engagement and partici­pation among the less active. Sub­committee proposals have included a short-term mentor program to help new Japanese members better navigate the ACCJ.

The fact is everyone can contribute. I recently attended a reception where former ACCJ President Christopher J. LaFleur made the comment that Japan’s success is central to that of many ACCJ company exec­utives and busi­ness owners. I think we can add that our Japanese member­­ship’s success is central to the ACCJ’s success.

Aaron Lloyd is vice-chair of the Japanese Membership Relations Subcommittee and director at Sompo Japan Nipponkoa.
Our Japanese membership’s success is central to the ACCJ’s success.