A recent book by Carroll School of Management faculty member Noriko Kameda has become popular among women and young professionals in Japan. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
"It's a book of self-reliance and entrepreneurship," she said. "It's not anything new here, but it is a new concept for young people in Japan."
Kameda said the traditional Japanese career path for men has involved "going to the right schools and working for the right Fortune 500 companies, almost like an escalator moving forward. Most women who really wanted to have a career needed to work for non-Japanese corporations. Some people call it a 'brain drain.'
"Self-reliance and entrepreuneurship is something that Japan really needs nowadays," she said. "Japan has been in an economic funk for 12 years. Young people say they are really looking for a role model."
This demand prompted Kameda to write the book, already sold out of its first printing and soon to be published in a paperback edition. Last summer she lectured on the topic at six universities across Japan.
"In Japan, people don't make distinctions between a job and a career," she said, noting that the idea of implicit lifetime employment had once been ingrained in that nation's work culture. "Now, for the first time, they are understanding that they have to think about their own career, but they don't know what that means or what it is.
"It's self-reliance," she said. "Now they are free to choose their own path. But that is very hard for young people because you really can't just say 'I'm going to get some self-reliance starting tomorrow.' It's something they have to struggle with and it's a very hard time right now in Japan."
Kameda broke from the established Japanese career pattern, finding her own way to an American college and graduate business school and then co-founding a successful manufacturing venture. Today, she urges Japan's young professionals to consider following in her footsteps.
Kameda learned English at private girls' school in her hometown of Yokohama. As a senior, she qualified for the American Field Service program and completed her secondary education at a public high school in Danville, Ky. There, she won an academic scholarship to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.
A post-graduation trip around the world convinced her to expand her employment horizons beyond Japan, and two years later she enrolled at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where she was the only woman among 10 Japanese students in the 300-member MBA class.
At Stanford, she also met her future husband and business partner, Thomas J. Burke, a 1966 Boston College graduate. After serving as director of the Office of Asian-Pacific Relations at Harvard Business School, Kameda and Burke founded Dark to Light Inc., a Boston-area manufacturing company that produced electronic photoelectric controls for the utility market.
When the couple sold the business in 1999, it was the largest manufacturer of such products in the US.
She began teaching international business at the Carroll School on a part-time basis in 1990 at the urging of Academic Vice President John J. Neuhauser, who was then CSOM's dean. In 1994, she joined CSOM's former assistant dean, Assoc. Prof. Louis S. Corsini, to organize student trips to Asia - the school's International Management Experience program - offering MBA candidates a first-hand look at business on a worldwide scale.
"I realized when I came to work at Harvard that people (on the East Coast) can be very 'Atlantic oriented,'" Kameda said. "It was so important to reach out to MBA students to talk about Asia.
"[The Pacific Rim] is so far away from the East Coast, but whether you like it or not, a lot of things are going on well outside of the United States," she said. "It's very, very important for students to see this.
"Even in my global course, some students do not have passports," she said with a laugh. "Some of them are living only in the Route 128 area and they take the course because they have to.
"My biggest challenge is to make them appreciate that they will be glad that they have taken this course when we reach the end of the semester."
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