【Global People of Yanmar: Italy Series, Volume 1】
From Okayama’s countryside to Italy! Life of an expat during his first overseas assignment

Apr 6, 2018

Reading Time : 5mins

“Global People of Yanmar: Italy Series, Volume 1” covers the life of a Yanmar employee assigned to a post abroad. We spoke to Toshifumi Hiramatsu, who, following a real transfer drama, is now devoting himself to robotics research in Italy. What kind of changes were there in terms of mentality, language and fashion? We are curious to hear about the approaches to different aspects of life.

Mr.HiramatsuToshifumi Hiramatsu
Affiliated to YANMAR R&D EUROPE S.R.L

Appointed as of April 2017. Before his appointment, he was in charge of developing agricultural robots at the Fundamental Technology Research Division of the Research & Development Center at the Yanmar’s Research & Development Unit. At YANMAR R&D EUROPE, he is also engaged in the research of robots for small-size machines.

A young man raised in the countryside of Okayama becomes a researcher in Italy

Being from the prefecture of Okayama, I have always lived in a place surrounded by mountains. I grew up in the remote countryside, where the neighbors’ house is 100 m away. If you think about it, it’s really a miracle that I’m working in the Italian city of Florence now.

I took on my post in Italy in April 2017, so I’m in my tenth month (as of January 2018). Since my wife works and looks after our children in Japan, I came to Italy alone.

What are your tasks in Italy?

At present, the robotics research team consists of 5 members. During meetings, there is an active exchange of opinions.

At YANMAR R&D EUROPE, where I work now, we are engaged in research and development of next generation technologies in the field of energy and industrial machinery.
Within this field, I’m primarily engaged in researching labor-saving technologies which make use of robotics.
In the markets for construction or agricultural machinery, the decline in the number of skilled laborers due to a decreasing birthrate and an aging population is expected to become an enormous challenge in developed economies in the future.
My mission consists of developing technologies which allow operations to be carried out by fewer workers with beginners and skilled workers working on the same level. To achieve this, we aim to advance the automation of operations.
Since Yanmar’s products are often used in harsh outside environments such as construction sites or farms, we have to develop technologies which can be used without problems in such an environment.

Employees on-site at the workplace. The atmosphere seems very agreeable and somewhat like in a personal space which employees can decorate as they like.
The building located at the top of a small hill near Piazzale Michelangelo is YANMAR R&D EUROPE. The path from the entrance gate to the building is lined with olive trees.

Are you used to life in Italy now?

I found that people in Italy sometimes have a more relaxed approach to things.

After having lived here for 9 months, I’m getting used to it little by little. But there are some things I find quite hard.
Generally speaking, in Japan people are used to excess service and punctuality. I found that people in Italy sometimes have a more relaxed approach to things.
In addition, there is no bathtub where I can relax after coming home from work. Also, people leave their outside shoes on all the time; I think it’s only normal that as a person who is used to life in Japan, I feel stressed by small details like these.
I try to accept the culture and mentality of Italy little by little and to become more tolerant.

Florence, the city of flowers: The city and people of the arts seen from the point of view of a male engineer

The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, an outstandingly beautiful sight in the historic townscape.

One element which makes working abroad attractive is the fact that you can get to know people from different walks of life whom you have never met before.
It’s very interesting to get to know different ways of thinking by speaking not only to the Italian people living here, but also to other Japanese people working for other companies who like me decided to work abroad.

Back in Japan, people around me like the colleagues at the research center where I worked and my friends from student days were all people with a background in engineering. But since I have come to Florence, I have had the opportunity to speak to people who are active in artistic fields such as fashion or the arts. It was the first time for me to get in contact with people working in this industry and speaking to them provides a refreshing outlook! I couldn’t have done that if I had stayed in the research institute in Japan.

I was told that in Italy, a man’s beard is considered attractive.

I don’t know anything about fashion, but I was told that in Italy, a man’s beard is considered attractive.
When I came to Italy, my female superior told me to grow a beard, so I tried hard and grew a beard… But no matter how you look at it, I still felt like a hillbilly (laughs).
Today I shaved because I had pictures taken of me, but I plan to let it grow again after that.
We Japanese with our child-like faces look very young, but if you have a beard, people tell you that it gives you an air of importance. My children, who are in Japan, tell me that while I’m more good-looking with a beard, I also look good without it. But it’s only the children who praise me like that (laughs).

This is Mr. Hiramatsu the way he usually looks. The pictures were taken at the Oktoberfest, a beer festival (picture taken by Mr. Hiramatsu).
Ponte Vecchio, Italy’s oldest bridge. The atmosphere feels a bit like along the Kamo River in Kyoto. This is not surprising, since Florence and Kyoto are sister cities.

Becoming acutely aware of the importance of language study thanks to the Italian people, who continue speaking even if they are not understood!

I have dreaded English since my student days and would have never imagined that I would be working with people from abroad. I remember that during my early days at Yanmar, I struggled a lot just to exchange emails with research institutions abroad. Of course, I’m still not perfectly fluent at English.
When it comes to work, I can follow the conversations because I can tell from the technical terms what people are talking about, but everyday conversations are still hard… (bitter smile)

Recently, I think I have gradually become able to joke around with my colleagues while eating lunch or to speak naturally about my family or my future while having a coffee.
Italy kind of fits well with the Kansai temperament, people in Italy place great importance on jokes. There are even colleagues who high-five or fist-bump me if they find one of my jokes funny! Lately, the number of fist bumps I receive per day has been increasing, so I kind of feel that I’m improving (laughs).

I always have the chicken head I bought at the Oktoberfest on my desk because I thought it would serve as a good start of a conversation with the Italian employees.
“Mr. Hiramatsu is a brave man. Not many people have the courage to buy such a thing and make other people laugh!”

Have you become able to speak Italian?

Drinking espresso standing at a bar is the classic style in Italy.

At work, all my colleagues can speak English, so it’s not a problem, but out on the streets, there are many people who only speak Italian, so I struggle a little in my private life. I was taking some lessons in Italian before I took on my appointment here, but it’s difficult.
When I go somewhere or when I go shopping or to a restaurant, people only speak Italian and it is such situations which make me sweat the most.
By the way, the first Italian phrase I memorized was “Dov’è il bagno?” (where is the bathroom?).
This phrase can also be found in travel guides, but even after arriving in Italy, I was told that I should at least remember this phrase.

I’m not sure whether this is true for Europeans in general, but the Italians go on speaking even if they realize that the other one doesn’t understand, so that’s interesting. All I can do is to nod and signal that I’m listening, so maybe I should study some more Italian (laughs).
In fact, Italian is said to be a language which is easy to understand for Japanese people. So all I have to do is study now.

New encounters, changes in attitudes and style, improving language skills – these are all things which only became possible thanks to leaving Japan! It seems that Mr. Hiramatsu will continue to grow by leaving fixed concepts in the spirit of “in Japan, we do it like this” aside and by accepting differences.

The topic of【Global People of Yanmar: Italy Series, Volume 2】 will be “Work-life balance in Italy”

Look forward to hearing about the working style and approaches typical of Italy!