Project work at Nagasaki shipyard
Megumi Hayashi is still a little dizzy after returning from a leave of absence of 18 months in Japan. There she had her first contact with the shipyard industry and continuously experienced clashes of cultures during the busy working days.
The implementation of an international shipbuilding project is an enormous puzzle which is put together by a diverse group of people representing dozens of nationalities. The Nousiainen-based company FCR Finland Oy (FCR) was a Finnish overall supplier to a building project of two cruise liners for the Japanese shipyard Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The cruise liners were built for the shipping company Aida Cruises jointly by a number of European and Asian subcontractors. FCR prepared for language and culture barriers by recruiting the Japan-born Megumi Hayashi to assist them in the project.
”The shipyard industry was completely unknown to me, but I didn’t stop to think and decided to go for it. I travelled to Nagasaki directly from a fair in Tokyo, and thought that I would have a little time to see the city during the weekend, but I went to read my e-mails, and the work started right away and not on Monday. I don’t remember much about the first weeks”, Ms Hayashi says.
The shipyard environment was new to her, and she really had to get out of her comfort zone and learn everything, starting from the use of a walkie-talkie. She felt like an almost 24/7 problem solver for any given matter. For example, she helped to arrange the accommodation and visas for the employees, sorted out cases of illness and police matters, and helped in ordering materials and preparing the documents required by the shipyard.
A stranger in her own country
Working in English at a Japanese shipyard is not easy, but even a native speaker of Japanese will not automatically master the special terminology.
”I had to ask them to explain to me like to a 6-year-old, so that I would understand what materials or tools I needed to order. Besides the orders always arrived late. We made it a habit to joke that it should have been done yesterday”, Ms Hayashi says.
Nagasaki was a new place for her, too, and she says that she often lost her way in its alleys. The locals could also tell from her speech that she wasn’t one of them. Some restaurants would not serve foreign customers.
”That was an astonishing drawback. They could do with a little respect and an open attitude. I haven’t experienced anything like it in any other country, and I don’t understand why the money of the foreigners was no good, even if they can’t provide service in English. But luckily that was not the case in all restaurants and we became regulars in many of them.”
Applying diplomacy and plan B
During the project there were many clashes and they taught you to defend yourself.
“Although the shipyard had not supplied the materials according to the agreed schedule, we had to present the case diplomatically and not by shouting. You need to be tight, but it’s better not to lose your temper with the Japanese.”
In addition to the differences in Japanese and Finnish working cultures, there was the matter of learning the shipyard’s own culture. Large companies have their own ways of working and many levels of hierarchy which slow down the decision-making.
”Sometimes it was frustrating when it took an incredibly long time to make a simple decision, and we couldn’t wait. I quickly learned to introduce plan B.”
Based on her experience from the project, Megumi Hayashi considers it a miracle that ships are ever completed. The building of a cruise liner includes a million details that need to click into place.
Back to Turku
Moving back to Turku after 18 months required getting used to life in Finland again, although Megumi Hayashi has lived in Turku for more than 20 years. She originally came here as an exchange student and met her Finnish future husband, so it was a classic story. Her advantage is very good skill of Finnish language.
”Speaking Finnish is a means of survival. When I came to Finland, there were only few immigrants, and nobody really knew in what language I should be addressed. That has changed since then, but you need to learn Finnish, you can’t give up.”
There are three children in the family, aged 21, 18, and 9. The family did not travel to Japan with Ms Hayashi, but they visited there. For example, the two oldest daughters visited their grandparents and went to a wedding of their relatives in Tokyo, and Megumi Hayashi also managed to get there.
Back home in Finland she has re-learned her old habits, and is planning e.g. to start gym again. Another activity she enjoys is cooking. She likes to cook Asian foods, including sushi, but it is not made on a ball of rice like in restaurants in Finland.
Soft landing to work
Ms Hayashi’s workplace changed during the project in Japan, as Turku Development Centre merged into Turku Science Park Ltd and the new company moved to the ICT building in Kupittaa district. Her soft landing to work started after one month’s holiday on 10 July, when most of the students and other occupants of the building were still on summer holiday. There were only a few colleagues in Turku Science Park’s office.
”I’ve taken my computer into use and wondered where to start. ‘Piano, piano’, or little by little, as they used to say at the shipyard.”
Before leaving for Japan Megumi Hayashi was working e.g. on a co-operation project with Tianjin, Turku’s twin city in China, and will probably continue to do that.
”We were planning to start education exports. Lastly we had a group of upper secondary students on a camp in Finland to learn about the studying opportunities and see the beautiful nature. We arranged, for example, workshops and nature excursions for them as co-operation involving universities and private enterprises.”
On the other hand, there has been talk of another shipyard project.
“It’s interesting, but I haven’t given it any thought. Maybe an adventure will beckon again, if I get the chance.”
Text and photos: Anne Kortela
Trade Ombudsman, Turku Science Park Ltd
- Bachelor of Arts (BA), English, Kansai Gaidai University, Osaka, Japan
- Antwerp Management School, Understanding China, EU-China expert program
- 6/2017– Turku Science Park Ltd, Trade Ombudsman
- 10/2015–6/2017 Leave of absence: FCR Finland Oy, Project Assistant in Nagasaki, Japan
- 3/2000–10/2015 Turku Region Development Centre, Trade Ombudsman, co-operation project in China; Deputy Chief Representative of Turku, Region Tianjin Office City of Turku
- 2005–2012 Åbo Akademi University, part-time teacher, International Culture and Communication
- 2006–2008 Åbo Akademi, University, part-time teacher, Japanese language
- 10/2013– Turun Sanomat, columnist
- Japan-EU Trade Industry Group, member