Japanese expats in Seattle discuss their jobs in America
As Seattle is growing into an international hub, more and more Japanese companies are opening offices in the greater Seattle area. Here are some translated articles from the Post’s sister paper, Soy Source, interviewing Japanese native workers who recently moved to Seattle to manage their company’s businesses in the greater Seattle area. They share details about their careers and how they enjoy and struggle with American life.
Interview by Ai Isono, Translated by Bruce Rutledge
NAOYA MORISHITA Kinokuniya Book Stores of America
Naoya Morishita Born in Tokyo, he joined Kinokuniya in 1999 and moved to its Seattle store in 2018. He enjoys mountain climbing. While he is in Seattle, his wants to travel to Guyana, near Brazil and Venezuela, to see the unique animal and plant life in some of the more remote areas.
I graduated from the economics department of my university, so a lot of my friends started working in the financial industry after graduation. But I’ve loved books for a long time and I decided on this path so that I can spend my career surrounded by books. At first, I was at the flagship store in Shinjuku and in charge of business books. I worked at Kinokuniya stores in Yokohama, New York, back to Shinjuku, Kagoshima, Kurume and now Seattle is my seventh destination. I am hoping to settle here for a while.
Kinokuniya has 12 stores in the US. We also have stores in Sydney, Dubai, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and other areas for a total of 31 overseas stores. The company culture is one that aggressively sends young employees overseas to give them experience. My first overseas assignment was to New York when I was 27. I could barely speak any English that time. The customers were mainly Japanese back then, and I was put in charge of Japanese books. For better or worse, I lived and worked in New York and only used Japanese. My assignment ended without me ever learning much English. In Seattle, I am surrounded by local staff who are fluent in Japanese, and my bad English only makes an appearance when I am handling complaints and in other limited ways.
As store manager, I talk with the staff of 12 about what to sell and how to sell it. We work to make the store the best it can be. We are quick to pick up on Japanese information and trends and we work to match those things with the local tastes and shopping habits of local customers. The Seattle store has a lot of Asian customers and we sell not only books but lots of character goods. For example, we have a lot of character goods from famous Studio Ghibli products like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service” because Kinokuniya is an official partner of the studio. Of all the US shops, our Seattle one sells the most of these goods. In the US, goods related to “Howl’s Moving Castle” are especially popular. This year is the 30th anniversary of “My Neighbor Totoro,” so we built a plan to sell commemorative goods based on past sales results and experiences and considering various other factors.
Since joining the company, I have had all sorts of experiences at the various stores. My favorite memory is from my second stint at the Shinjuku store as the person in charge of paperbacks. In most sections, only new books that are featured in the media sell well. But in the paperback section, you can dig around and discover potential best sellers. Paperbacks are relatively inexpensive and need smaller space to be displayed around cashers for special promotions. When arranging the shelves and display, you can fully reflect your personality and preference. It was very fun when I was able to increase sales of books that were published a long time ago or didn’t have good sales in the past.
I live on First Hill and walk to work. I only cook simple things like curry, stews, and somen at home. The room has a nice view and I really like it. I love reading books in my house. I am enjoying my single life in Seattle. On my days off, I enjoy mountain climbing and hiking. Please come visit the Kinokuniya Seattle store to say hi.