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The Voice Of Choice

With Sharon Otaguro and Thao Le

Published on: Jul 23, 2020

Known for its technology and attention to detail to personal products and services, Japan is considered an Asian superpower in the global economy. However, in some other areas, Japan is still old fashioned, specifically around family values and their attitude toward women. On today’s show, Kimchi Chow takes a look at Japanese culture and how women’s role plays in a family and at work. Joining her are two different women on the panel – Sharon Otaguro and Thao Le. One is Japanese born and raised in America. The other is Vietnamese live in Japan for many years. Both are married to a Japanese man and have children.

The Voice Of Choice With Sharon Otaguro And Thao Le

Kimchi: Japan has a unique culture among all Asian countries. One of the traits that I admire is its technology and attention to detail to personal products and services, but in some other areas, I think that Japan is still too old-fashioned, specifically around family values and their attitude toward women. They don’t seem to treat women equally as men. We will learn the perspective of two different women on the panel. One is Japanese born and raised in America. The other is Vietnamese who lives in Japan for many years. Both are married to Japanese men and have children. I know you will get some insight about Japanese culture and how women’s role plays in a family and at work. Please help me welcome our guests, Sharon Otaguro and Thao Le. Sharon, please briefly share with us about your childhood and what you love from your family tradition.

Sharon: Thank you so much, Kimchi. Growing up as a Japanese-American but Hawaii has a unique blend for Asians. We’re the dominant population and we call it the melting pot. As a child, I was blessed growing up with many different Asian-American families such as Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Caucasians were the minority. We didn’t recognize race much. I remember a time where I was growing up. I was about ten years old and I went horseback riding. Horseback riding is more of a Caucasian sport, I didn’t realize it, but all of my other fellow riders were also Caucasian. They spent one sleepover belaboring how difficult it was to be Caucasian. I said, “I don’t understand. I hadn’t been discriminated against.”

It was my first situation recognizing that I was yellow or Japanese. As I grew up, having contact with people on what we call the mainland or the mainline USA, that was where I started to see the differences in culture. For me, it was a unique perspective. I celebrate that my family brought me up integrated into the culture both American and Asian. At the same time, having come out of World War II, coming from Hawaii, it was interesting because the emphasis was on the American and not the Japanese or Asian. I remember asking about some of our Japanese cultures. We lost some of it because my parents and my grandparents were trying hard to prove that they were American. I enjoyed not having discrimination, but at the same time, I miss not having some of my Japanese culture instilled in us because of that emphasis on being American. Thao, what about you? What did you experience?

Thao: It’s lovely to hear about your story, Sharon. My name is Thao. You can call me or Le Thao or Koyoma Thao because my husband is Japanese. I was born in a small town in Can Tho city, Vietnam, which is 200 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. You heard about Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City, but I don’t think you heard much news about Can Tho City. I was born and grew up there. We have one of the biggest rivers in the whole region. It is the Mekong Delta. It’s beautiful and lovely. I went to a University in Can Tho City and I won a scholarship for my Master’s to come to Japan to study my thesis, my Master’s degree.

After I finished my Master’s, I worked for JICA Project for six months. I started working for one of the four biggest companies in Japan regarding food and drinks. I work there for more than eight years and I met my husband. We had children, grew my family in Japan trying to fit into the Japanese culture because I could consider Japan as my second hometown, but I miss Vietnam. Although we go back often every year. With my business, we work with Vietnamese a lot too. We always want to have traditions. We get together in Vietnamese Lunar New Year and then we travel together with the whole family.

Kimchi: What are the top five values or characteristics that most Japanese are proud of that you know, Sharon? 

Sharon: When you asked this question, it was interesting for me because you are giving voice to Asian women. In Japanese culture, the voice is not emphasized on the female. The values that the Japanese are typically proud of, the family is one of them and the woman plays a role, but it then ties into respect. I remember my father telling me stories about how the man is the leader of the family. Even as a child, because he was male, he could come home at 1:00 in the morning. His mom would wake up and ask him if he wanted food or if he needed anything. The woman’s role was to serve. The value was family, but the emphasis was placed on the male. When we were talking about it before this interview, it was important for the female voice to be heard. I thank you for this opportunity.

Family, respect and loyalty were important both at home and work, then hard work, which sparked some of the work that I do. I work in success and identity coaching for the professional female in wellness. It’s because hard work is a great value, but it also limits us when we work too hard and become workaholics, which is what I had become for a while. Finally, the fifth value is the emphasis on academic education. Education is important. Respect, family, loyalty, academic education, and hard work were some of the top values that came to my mind. Thao, I’m sure you’ve experienced some of those, but what do you have to share from Japan?

Thao: You talked about that in Japanese culture, they emphasized the voice of males more than females. I agree with you on that point. Many years ago, the woman roses on way herself. I don’t want to say it, but my mother-in-law was always serving the whole family and don’t think about herself at all. I do believe that Japanese women nowadays in this society, understand the value and also they are trying to speak up and stand up, but they need a strong woman and a strong foundation to support them. Kimchi, if you ask me to pick my top five values or characteristics that most Japanese are proud of, they are polite and punctual because I work for our Japanese corporation. They are very punctual and kind. Kind is something that’s fun for me.

Sharon: Kindness and respect are the decorum.

Thao: They always bow as they say thank you. Sometimes I feel like it’s too much. Not like in my culture, we feel comfortable, even when we first met, chat means they have to be reasons to be friends. They’re always calling, for example, they don’t call my name Thao, but we’ll call Erina’s mom. We are kind, but at the same time, they are serious. Another characteristic of Japanese people is they are clean. Their culture asks them to be clean in public, but if you visit some of the houses, it is different though. They are group and relationship-oriented. You have to get the reason to be friends. For example in a group, she is the friend in that group. She is the friend in this moment for example. That’s what I think. The Japanese love being formal too. They are very formal. I don’t know if you learned some Japanese. What is it in Japanese? I feel like there are too many different formal forms. Sometimes you don’t understand and you can’t translate it into English or Vietnamese. Language is culture and because that culture is polite and formal, sometimes it’s rooted up with some foreigners like me to live in Japan. Do you visit Japan many times, Sharon?

Sharon: I visited probably about several times more in my youth and we traveled a lot more. I agree with you. The formality is a big part of it. Even living in Hawaii and growing up, the people that are from Japan, I’m not formal enough. My language skills are not qualified. I have to say I’m a third generation. I’m Sansei Yonsei. If I say I’m the second generation, my dad’s from Seijo Tokyo, so I’m technically the second generation, but I can’t say I’m right from the first generation because I’m too Americanized in Japan and I’m not formal enough. I’m not qualified enough to speak in public settings.

Kimchi: That’s interesting. Politeness and kindness depend on whether that kindness coming from being polite or from their own heart. It’s up to us to judge. What are the beliefs that most Japanese men and women have? Do you think those beliefs are holding back Japan, Sharon?

Sharon: I think it’s both. The values that we have given from our cultures and our upbringing create one base level of who we are. The most important thing about this question is self-awareness. If we know what values we’ve been given and we explore them, then they can become strengths. In Japanese culture, if we don’t have awareness, they become limitations. It brings to mind two different New York Times articles. One in the past, that was called The Tiger Mom. I don’t know if you have read it, but the tiger mom is the Eastern philosophy of bringing your children up. All of the Asian children know three languages, have music and math as their skills. They have to do a musical instrument.

It’s a well-rounded upbringing versus the Western upbringing is more of protecting the ego and protecting the child from society. One assumes strength, the other assumes weakness. At the same time, we see increased suicide rates in Japan in students because the pressure is too much for them. We see the identity crisis in Western children because they can’t deal with the difficulties of society. The Eastern versus Western, the tiger mom is the duality between the challenges of whether it helps or hurts Japanese in society. It is limiting if you don’t include the second half, the female power. A New York Times article in 2018 criticized Japanese education institutions. They were found to have doctored the admissions so that the less qualified male students were being admitted versus the qualified female students.

If you don’t acknowledge the power of the female, then you cut out half your society. It struck a chord. I think the values of family, respect, and education are important, but if we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge the limitations of that, then we will never reach our full potential. For me, it was learning the American communication style because of my soft voice and my speak as the female, after the male. Being polite limited me. My bosses wanted me to bang on the table. My last boss was like, “Bang on the table and tell me when you believe in something. Fight for your beliefs.” I was like, “No, I will tell you, but I won’t fight with you because that’s not my culture. I don’t need to fight. If you respected me, you would listen.” It’s both, but it can limit us. I’m curious to hear how your experience, Thao, because the Vietnamese voice is so forthright.


Women In Japanese Culture: The Eastern upbringing is well-rounded versus the Western upbringing, which is more of protecting the ego and the child from society. One assumes strength; the other assumes weakness.

Thao: In Japan, my bosses were different. I was born in Vietnam and I was raised with Vietnamese culture. I believe that Vietnamese culture creates some of the strongest female voices in the world. We have to be proud of ourselves as Vietnamese women, but then when it comes to Japan, we were facing a lot of changes. When I talk too loud, they were like, “She’s talking too loud.” I need to learn how to talk with a softer voice and learn how to fit into the culture, especially when you work in a big corporation. You have a lot of bosses to decide for you, the work to do and you have to follow. I feel like the generation gap in Japan is big, for me. They don’t share but they rank 110 something in 149 countries. The participation of women in both political empowerment and economic is very low compared to other countries, especially compared to Vietnam, where I was born. When we went to a meeting to meet some of the clients from abroad, the board member always have women but in Japan, sometimes you cannot see women board members, but only at the junior level.

It’s like you mentioned, women always followed, not always lead. In my entire years in Japan, I think they’re changing a lot now compared to before. When I first come to Japan, I speak too loud, but now they say, “Speak up and say what you want.” Even my family, my Japanese family encourage me to do what I want to do. That’s why I stopped and worked for a corporation to start my own business. I believe that the situation is changing, especially the Prime Minister of Japan, Abenomics. He is the one who wants a lot of women to participate in the labor force. He encourages women to go to work again after having babies. The situation is getting better and better but compared to the US and Southeast Asian, like Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, it’s still low.

Kimchi: That’s the reason that we have this conversation. I hope that with your help, Thao and Sharon, that you’re going to broadcast this in the Japanese community because we are here. This is a platform for Asian women to speak up, show up, and stand up. Sharon and I, we witness over here that there’s discrimination against blacks and Asians as well. In Japan, everybody is mostly Asian, but the key point is women’s movement is growing. I want all the women in Japan to take advantage of these, join forces. Start to speak up at work and home if you feel that you are being treated unfairly because you are a woman. People would step all over you. Don’t allow that to happen.

I hope that this episode will explode in the Japanese community. It’s okay for people to disagree on that, but at least they are aware. I was thinking about having a conversation and asking you these questions in my mind and say, “Who are you? You talk about Japan like somebody you’re going to hold them accountable for it.” I say, “I’m going to hold accountable for the leader of Japan.” As women, we need to speak up. In any country, there are good values and some values, traditions, thinking, or beliefs that are hurtful for the whole country, the whole race. It is time to stop it and to be aware of that. Thank you for sharing. Is there any equal rights movement in Japan or in the Japanese community that you are aware of?

Thao: Yes, we have a lot of movements on university campuses. They also have a foundation and association in their own universities to raise awareness about gender parity. As a part of All Ladies League, we met in Egypt, we want to raise gender parity in Japan as well. We want to organize our first meeting for Women Economic Forum in Tokyo, Japan. We are working on that forum and I know that a lot of my friends are trying to raise their voice, speak up, stand up, and show up, like what you write in your show because they know that if they don’t speak out and stand up, nobody would hear their voice.

Sharon: For us in America, there is a lot that is showing up in terms of female empowerment and female leader empowerment. What I would add in here for this conversation is that I’m seeing such pain and impact for the Asian-Americans, both male and female. When you layer on that, Trump is speaking about the China virus and what that’s doing for Asian-Americans. There was a horrifying video on YouTube of some youth jumping up and kicking an Asian woman in the face at a subway station because she was a female and Asian. I am hearing stories in the hospitality space where going down a water slide at a park and this was pre shut down. It was the side of the sentiment where a Caucasian mother saw her child going after a Korean woman down the slide.

She said, “You can’t go down this side. She might have the virus.” I live in Arizona, and my daughter at her school, some of the other kids are saying, “Don’t play with the Asian kids.” The sentiment because of COVID is impacting Asian-Americans. We need to have a voice. There are a couple of hotlines that are out there so that we can report it. There is domestic violence on the rise and because everyone’s in lockdown at home, the women can’t speak out even more, but there are a couple of movements where they’re trying to speak out. It’s impacting all of the layers of discrimination so to speak up, stand up, and show up is important for any group that’s feeling impacted and evermore the females and the Asian-Americans and the Asians globally. Thank you for this opportunity, Kimchi. The more we speak up, the more we can share community, share support, give tools, and help. I appreciate it very much.

Thao: I appreciate it too because, in Japan, we don’t have any problems with Asian-Americans. There is no discrimination in Japan at this moment because we are in Asia, but I can understand and see how you are feeling in Arizona, Sharon. Thanks for sharing that.

Sharon: It’s important. Even Vietnamese, my brother-in-law is Vietnamese and his mom owns a nail salon in Hawaii. There are many resources for how we’re showing back up in hospitality, in spa space, and yet, all of it is in English. There are certifications to prove that we are being safe, being clean as we reopen our businesses, but they’re all in English. Where are the resources for the Asians as we come back and build consumer confidence? They’re not there. My brother-in-law and his sister translate some of the certification courses into Vietnamese so that their family could have the resources. The Vietnamese nail salons have such a reputation, but it was impacted because of a couple of bad incidents on whether it’s a safe place to be now and evermore. We need to build the confidence that what we offer is high quality and very clean. In Japan, the cleanliness standards are above par. What we can offer in terms of security, community, and connection is important.

Kimchi: What kind of work did you do before and after you had the baby?

Sharon: For me, I spent so much time proving that having a baby wasn’t going to change anything that I hurt myself physically. I was working at a hotel that was 40 acres. I kept working all through my pregnancy until the baby popped out. I was emailing in the delivery room. I wanted to prove that I could, which is why my platform is to avoid burnout and get over our workaholism. What we sacrifice for our identity, this title, or what we think we need to prove is not worth it. For me, I did prove it. I went back after two months and the interesting thing was, everyone was surprised when I came back to work. They said, “We’ll see if you come back.” I was like, “I’m coming back.” It was a question, whereas, for the male, it’s never a question whether they’re coming back to work.

I found that odd. Work didn’t change, but the expectation was that I might not come back. I don’t know what that meant or what opportunities they may or may not have limited for me. Also, the need to prove that I could drove me past probably the smart point. It took about a year and a half for me. I had plantar fasciitis and my joints got way too loose. I was in pain every single day. I couldn’t get out of bed because I had forced myself to prove that I could. That was my experience of proving that being a female didn’t stop me. Thao, what about you?

Thao: To be honest, I haven’t prepared enough for coming back to work after my maternity leave. I was born and raised in Vietnam. After having a baby, taking a break from maternity leave, it’s normal to be back to work fully and responsibly. It’s like in Vietnamese culture. Maybe because my company was too big. I was working as a sales representative for Vietnam and Singapore. I have a lot of business trips. When I came back to work, they gave me office work, which was different from what it was I imagined. I was shocked, but I follow the culture because I understand maybe they’re kind and polite.

I love the company, the organization, and people in the organization, but I disagree with the way they treat female employees after they come back to work. Maybe my opinion is different from my colleagues because a lot of my Japanese friends said that they don’t want to work that much after coming back from maternity leave. It depends on what you think and what you want to do. After coming back from maternity leave, I can’t remember how many times I raised my hand to say that I want to be back to work and to have the responsible work. I don’t feel comfortable receiving that big salary when I’m doing office work.

I tell them straightly and my boss said, “You won’t have nomikai.” It is a drinking party. It is one of their business cultures. They will work behind my back. Some of my friends and colleagues said that you’ve got to wait until your daughter goes to high school so that you can go back to the responsible job. I was like, “That’s crazy.” I said something I couldn’t imagine in my life. Why do I study my Master’s, come to Japan and have to wait for that long? If I have another son or daughter, I need to wait for more. In fact, a lot of my senpai or senior and junior or kohai are having that kind of problem as well.

Some of them even don’t get married or have children. They devote all their lives to the company, but they couldn’t be promoted. Maybe because the organization is still big, but for me, it’s strange because my culture is different. Even you work for the bank, you go to the bank in Vietnam, you see a lot of women who are in a very high position, in the board member of something. I don’t accept that fact so I left the corporation to start my own business. I believe that a lot of my Japanese friends want to do that, but maybe they are not brave enough to leave their comfortable job. I can’t take it. That’s me.

Sharon: I have to say that my dad as well experienced age discrimination. There’s a law in Japan that once you hit 60, you’re supposed to retire. It’s the same thing with women where I acknowledge that the values in Japan, from what he’s taught me, and from what some of my friends that are Japanese nationals say, it’s generated from respect. The respect is high for the elders and the women. The culture feeds around that honoring and that protection. We want the elders to rest and the women to look after children, to focus on the children because they are our future. At the same time, it’s exactly why you have this program because it misses the voice of choice.

While I want to say that my dad was respected, he needed to work. The limitations that were placed on him after that impacted his health, his stress levels, his wellbeing because the company was trying to push him out. He was in America, but it was a Japanese run company. After 60, they minimized his work and they changed his shifts also that he would retire on his own. It’s the same thing with women, while women should be cherished, we need to have the voice so that we can choose not to be delegated menial work or whatnot. It’s a balance. I acknowledge how much Japan is trying to honor at the same time, as we’re evolving, we need to have more of a voice and more choice.

Women In Japanese Culture: The culture feeds around that honoring and that protection. We want the elders to rest and the women to focus on the children because they are our future.

Thao: It’s about balances, but the way the Japanese corporation balances, their structure is a little bit outdated compared to some Western countries. Maybe it is changing after I left the corporations. I’ve met some of my friends a few months ago and they told me that it is changing a lot at this moment, but I still think that the point is when you’re raised in Japanese culture and when you’re raised in a different culture, they always have gaps. As you mentioned, they emphasize the male voice than female, and I agree on that. At the same time, if you don’t let female do their responsible work, not just office work, how can they contribute to the communities? They are half of the population. They are the ones who give birth to the new generation. Because of having children, that can hold them back from their works and from what they want to contribute to the community. It’s the wrong decision.

Kimchi: I think the Japanese government or Japanese corporation have good intention to give office work to lighten the load, to reduce the stress to a new mom, but they did nothing that will impact our confidence as a woman. Why not give us a choice? If we want to take it easy after we have a baby, maybe we choose some other work to do. Give us a choice that we can decide what we want to do rather than decide for us. That’s more powerful to give us a choice. I would say that not every woman likes to stay home and take care of babies. I tried twice in my career. I was like, “This is doing well,” and then I got pregnant. After I had a baby, I felt guilty to come back to work. So I thought, “I’ll retire.” I stayed home for one year, then I thought, “I’m going crazy.” In my mind, it’s like baby talk and I surrounded myself with all the moms. The conversation was not intelligent enough for me. It’s not challenging enough for me. I thought, “I’d rather go back to work. Give me something to do to get out of the house. I cannot be a housewife.” I went back to work and then I have a second baby. 

At that time, I said, “It’s my second baby so I need to stay home and take care of my baby.” I tried and said, “I don’t fit the role of a housewife. I need to work to stimulate my mind. It gave me more confidence to make the decision, to have my own money, generate money to contribute to my family.” The concept of people think that all women would rather stay home and take care of their children is false. Not every woman who becomes a mom wants to stay home to take care of the family. Each of us is different. We have different aspirations to do in our lives. It does not mean that if we go back to work, we are bad moms. 

Thao: I want to add more to what you said, Kimchi. Not many women want to be stay-at-home moms to take care of the children. I believe that a lot of women after having babies want to work responsibly. You cannot just give them office works like answering phones or doing copies, those kinds of things. My corporation was big. They have a lot of people to work. Their work is difficult for them to do because it’s a difficult task. No matter which country you work in, women tend to struggle in a male-centric environment. My company was a very male-centric environment.

It is a beer company. Maybe that’s the reason why, but I believe not many women want to be back to get their office work. I am happy because I work for my small company, but I have a big role. I believe that I will have a big impact. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. If you work for a big company, they give you those kinds of jobs and you lose confidence. You lose your determination after 5 to 10 years. It brainwashes you and it makes you obedient to follow all of the rules in the company, in the corporation and it’s not me.

Kimchi: I have two powerful women here that’s why you are in this interview. I interview powerful women. We might have different voices, soft, loud, assertive, and things like that, but you are all-powerful women in my eyes.

Sharon: Your vision and all the readers, you’re generating the power and helping to bring that voice out. Every powerful voice inside every woman can come out through people like you that hold that example, courage, and gift and lead the way. You’re creating more powerful women and bringing it out in every woman.

Kimchi: This is a space that I want to hold for women like you two, and for other women who have been quiet and silent before to step up and speak out. Sharon, you were born in America, but people look at you and you still relate to Japanese. Do you feel like America is your home now? 

Sharon: I feel that America is my home for now, but I do feel like I am a global child though. I have the sense that I have a home. For me, that’s Hawaii in the mixing part of it. However, I feel both American and Japanese and I don’t feel holy either. I’m spiritual. I’m not religious but it’s almost as if there was teaching on Jesus and God and how can he be a 100% man and 100% God. It’s because, in the space of time, which he doesn’t hold the realm, he’s both. I think like a human, our humanity means that we don’t always feel 100%. I don’t feel a 100% woman and 100% career. It’s the difference between balancing and integration and how well we weave the tapestry that integrates all the aspects. It’s such a complex question, yet it’s simple. My home is Hawaii is the way that I balance it and I go to Japan and my Japanese relatives call me gaikokujin or foreigner. I’m in America and they’re like, “You’re a Japanese or Hawaiian.” I’m like, “I’m Sharon, I’m from Hawaii but I’m Japanese-American.” I hope that answers your question. I’m from Hawaii and I’m a world child.

Kimchi: It is a trick question. What about you, Thao? Is Japan your home now? 

Thao: It is when you have a family, when you have a child, who is mixed Japanese-Vietnamese, you will feel it is your home. I feel like it’s a simple question, but at the same time, it’s hard to answer because originally I’m from Vietnam. I still do not change my nationality to Japanese. If I change, it will be easier for me to work and to travel because a Japanese passport is one of the most powerful passports in the whole world. I am proud of being Vietnamese. It’s nice to be here and to have a family that does support you and loves you for your whole life, but sometimes I feel like I do not belong to the place, to be honest, although I can call it home.

Even if I can speak Japanese, I don’t understand 100% of the Japanese mindset. Sometimes, I also ask myself if I need to understand 100% of their mindset because the culture gap was there. I cannot change that. I tried to adapt to the environment and the corporate when I was working, but I feel like I couldn’t. It’s a home, but sometimes I say, “Is this a real home or not?” It is home in terms of I have a family here in Japan, but in terms of culture and everything, I don’t know if I can call it home or not. Sometimes they feel I am a foreigner in Japan.

Kimchi: What is the cultural expectation of a Japanese husband and father, Sharon? Do you want to take the lead? 

Sharon: I wouldn’t marry a Japanese man. That’s what I always told them myself. This was where I think I was brainwashed by American media. I thought that the leading male was always the Caucasian, 6-foot tall, blue eyes, and blonde hair. I had two major relationships. I dated one for seven years and found that the cultural differences were big and fraught with good and bad. I ended up marrying a Japanese male. My parents had told me it’s easier. I’m the type of person who was too American. I’m like, “I don’t need it to be easy. I needed it to be my passion, my soulmate, my perfect person.” The blend that I found was that my husband is 100% Japanese Okinawan. He also was raised in Hawaii, so we have similar layers of cultural values. Most importantly, he also had lived internationally in Germany for ten years.

He had a global perspective. I don’t have the traditional Japanese male as a partner, while having been raised by one, having worked for many, to what Thao said, the world is changing. Our men are getting a little bit more educated about gender equality. At the same time, it’s empowering to have a Japanese male that believes in protecting the female and the family. When my husband stands for that power, it allows me to release some of my type-A and I incorporate it in all of that. Having American values and the global picture, he allows me to have a successful career.

He would follow me in my work. Both from the nurturing aspects of who my husband is and therefore our balance, but because he stands for the Japanese values of family, respect, and protection, it’s a good balance. I have a blended viewpoint, but that’s what he expects of me is that in the home, he’s the leader. He allows me to go out but allows me to have success in my career. It’s a balance. I think a successful marriage is all about balance, but we respect some of the values and then we celebrate the other aspects of who we are. Thao, what about you?

Thao: I am lucky to have my husband. I also have never thought about dating Japanese when I was in Japan, especially my parents, they want me to marry a Vietnamese, but when it comes to love, it’s hard to explain. My husband told me that he could not think about dating a Vietnamese female in his whole life. It’s the first time he made his passport to visit Vietnam.  We were dating when we were 24 or 25. It is fate or destiny. Talking about the cultural expectation of a husband or father in Japanese culture, it is different. It is a matter of choices as well. I witnessed my mother-in-law and father-in-law. They follow a traditional Japanese family lifestyle. My mother-in-law is a stay-at-home mom and she gives all of her life for her husband, sons, and daughters. I respect that, to be honest, because I want to talk to her how it feels wrong. She always encouraged me to do my work. I think in all of the marriage, it’s important. You need a family and you need a husband who understands, has sympathy and respect. Respect is one of the most important keys.

I’m lucky because I have that family in Japan that I can call home. Although sometimes, outside in society, I feel like I’m a stranger on the road. I still feel like I’m a foreigner but when I am at home, I feel like there’s so much Vietnamese environment for me. I respect that. My husband told me that in Japanese culture, sometimes you don’t need to speak, but they can understand what you talk about and think. I told him, “If you don’t speak out, if you don’t speak to me, how can I understand?” Sometimes, even until now, we misunderstand what we think and we have to put solutions for each problem. When I talk to him, he will say, “I see,” but sometimes he doesn’t talk to me. I told him that we have different cultures. We already know that we are from different backgrounds and cultures so we have to talk and speak out so that we can understand each other. I always remind him that. That’s the way that we can keep our marriage. I hope that we can make it for many years later.

Sharon: That’s about the Japanese male. They don’t talk. I negotiated before I married my husband. I negotiated for two conversations a year where he could not ignore me. I said, “If I tell you that this is one of the two conversations we have, you have to sit there and listen, otherwise, you can ignore me and I won’t push.” It’s a balance.

Kimchi: What are you working on now, Sharon?

Women In Japanese Culture: The world is changing, and our men are getting a little bit more educated about gender equality.

Sharon: Coming from a background of luxury spa operations, I have evolved into an identity and success coach. It’s primarily in the wellness space, but for women who have the feeling of overwork and overwhelm who cannot balance work and life. I teach them how to integrate their work and life. I use corporate tools of success so that they can optimize their work and free themselves up and feel the power within so that they have a perfect life that is work and life balanced so that their careers thrive and their joy and happiness thrive.

Kimchi: How did you come up with that idea?

Sharon: Having gone through overwhelmed, overworked, burnout twice and the physical impact of not focusing on family first and seeing around me powerful leaders, powerful women burning out and becoming volunteers in their own work. They gave everything to their employees. They had nothing left to give at home. They thought through Asian values that the harder they work, the more they would reap rewards. At the end of the day, many of them have lost their jobs and power or have lost their families because they couldn’t identify what mattered and separate that and make work easier through systems, training, tools, but activating and empowering their teams to be successful. Therefore, as a leader, they were able to live their dreams successfully at work and have the life they wanted at home.

Kimchi: I think most of us, coaches, what we share is from our own experience that we have solved. What about you, Thao? 

Thao: I started a startup company. My company is called Eldoraku. I started it years ago and we are a B2B2C platform that connected to mobile. We develop application and we focused on Japanese beauty care and handmade gifts, but at this moment, we focused on Japanese beauty care. We introduced cosmetics to Vietnamese living in the whole world. We are trying to do it in three different languages in Japanese, English, and Vietnamese. I want to create a platform because I have a passion for beauty care. When I was working in a previous company, I don’t fit into the organization because I don’t feel the love for the products anymore. I know that the Japanese create a lot of beauty products, so I want to introduce, help, and also to distribute some of the good products in spas and at hair salons at this moment.

Kimchi: You have beautiful skin, which is a great way to model for your product. 

Thao: The Japanese skincare market is big compared to makeup. It’s different from America because, in America, the makeup market, cosmetics, and makeup category are big, but in Japan, it is skincare. We try to focus on skincare and interview a lot of Japanese skincare products that nobody knows from Japan because I’m staying in Japan. We know all the good and the newest trends so we tried to introduce it to our audience.

Kimchi: You market other people’s products on your platform. You did not manufacture or invent any product, correct?

Thao: We are trying to do it. We are preparing it because, at the end of the day, you need to have your own product. At this moment, we focus on introducing and doing marketing for other corporations, other companies, but we are planning to do it. Years from now, I want to have our own brands.

Kimchi: We are looking forward to that. Where do you want people to reach you if they got inspired by what you share so far?

Thao: You can reach me via the internet, Eldoraku is the corporation name. You can also reach me via FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram. We are all active because we are a mobile company. We are an IT company, so you can reach me everywhere.

Sharon: My best way is going to be through email and that is [email protected]. Kimchi, I’ve been sharing the gift of seven tips for rooting into the power of identity and creating identity immunity in this tough time. If anybody would like that tool, let me know and email me and I will send that tip out. It’s important that we are sure of our identities at this time. If we are not as women, as leaders, as Asian-Americans and Japanese everywhere, if we’re not rooted in who we are, then what’s happening outside of us is going to shake us even more. As women that are at the center of our families, we have such a deep, important impact that we make in our families, communities, and the world. If we have that immunity that nothing shakes us, we know exactly who we are, then what impact we’re meant to make in the world becomes that much stronger. If I could share that I would love to do so.

Kimchi: Thank you for being here, Sharon and Thao. It’s insightful and powerful conversations that I have with you. I hope that our readers take advantage to check out Thao’s website as well as Sharon’s gifts. Until next time, live life loud. 

Links Mentioned:

Episode Quotes

"Men are the leaders of a family."
"Tiger Mom is an Eastern philosophy."
"In Japan, women always serve, not lead."
"A successful marriage is about balance."
"Respect is one of the important keys in marriage."
"Women are the center of the family."

About David Tran

Thao Le (aka Koyama Thao) is a Vietnamese entrepreneur, and founder of Eldoraku, and a host of ThaochanNEL.

In 2010, she worked for one of the biggest companies in the Japanese Food and Drinks Industry in Tokyo.

In 2018, she left the corporation to follow her passion for cosmetics and beauty care, and established Eldoraku.

With her previous experience as MC and singer in Vietnam, Thao is currently partnering with WEI (Women Empowered Institute) to promote “Beauty with Brain” and “Women Empowerment” in Tokyo.

Thao was awarded “Young leaders creating a better world for all” at Women Economic Forum 2020 in Cairo Egypt.

Contact her at [email protected]

About Sharon Otaguro

Sharon brings 15+ years of luxury spa operations and international spa project management. She combines her corporate experience with her conscious leadership philosophy to support entrepreneurs in the wellness industry in achieving their full potential, as a success and identity coach. With a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, life coach certification training and through the use of such tools as Love Languages, DISC & CMA she is able to provide a powerful platform for self-awareness and transformation for her clients. She specializes in personal and professional optimization, financial and marketing support, work/life integration for success and workplace engagement training.

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