April 18th, 2018 | PEOPLE

【Global People of Yanmar: Italy Series, Volume 2】
Work-life balance in Italy

"Global People of Yanmar: The Italy Series, Volume 2" covers the life of a Yanmar employee assigned to a post abroad. This time's topic is work-life balance and we will report on how the Italians work and how they make use of their time. In this respect, there is a major difference in perception, which Mr. Hiramatsu himself experienced as well.

Toshifumi 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.

Table of Contents

  1. Private life comes before work! For the Italians, family is more important than anything else.
  2. Getting one's fill of small trips and events on weekends, including an olive picking experience!
  3. Speaking one's mind with Mr. Goto, the head of the European research center in Italy.

Private life comes before work! For the Italians, family is more important than anything else.

What I noticed after coming here is that the Italians enjoy their private lives very much.When talking to one another, people really often speak about topics concerning private life or outings on weekends. Japanese people don't talk about such things that often, so I'm still in the process of learning.
For the Italians, friends and family are their main priority.

Having left my family behind to take up this position and living alone, I have become acutely aware again of how important family and friends are. Back in Japan, I somehow always ended up prioritizing work.

In Italy, everyone goes home as soon as the fixed working hours are over. People have several reasons for this such as eating with the family, so I really feel that private life is very important for the people here.

The Italians love gelato, even in midwinter.
The Italians love gelato, even in midwinter.

What differences in work styles between Japan and Italy do you perceive?

A good-luck charm brought back by a Japanese expat is at reception.
A good-luck charm brought back by a Japanese expat is at reception.

I've been told by Italians that the work style of Japanese people is unbelievable. In fact, after having worked in Italy, I myself felt that work-life balance in Japan tends to gravitate towards work.
Of course, the Italians work overtime as well if they have much to do, but it doesn't amount to very long overtime hours.
When I was in Japan, work came first for me. However, after having experienced the values surrounding work of people abroad, my way of thinking started to change.
Now I strongly feel that family is very important.

Having come here alone, I leave the whole childcare up to my wife and I feel deeply indebted to her.
We have two girls aged 2 and 4 and we do a videocall every Saturday morning. The children always show me different things in the apartment in Japan with the camera, but they get bored at some point and put the device on the table, leaving me to enjoy their voices while only looking at the ceiling (laughs).

(left)The wide and open space in front of the reception.
(right) The break room is always full of sweets and souvenirs brought back by all the staff!

A full schedule of weekend outings, including olive picking!

Piazza della Repubblica
Piazza della Repubblica

Italy has more world heritage sites than any other country in the world.
I have always liked traveling, so since coming to Italy, it has become my weekend routine to visit world heritage towns by car or by train and to truly experience the culture of Europe.
I really enjoy not only visiting major sights found in guidebooks, but also going to nameless small villages and getting a glimpse of real life of the local people. In small villages, you can in general only get by in Italian, making communication quite difficult, but in such cases, I make use of body language. Having a friendly chat only by means of gestures is easier than you might think.

Apart from traveling, I participate in activities such as an olive picking experience with my local colleagues and try out things which I can't experience in the city.

Italy offers a wide variety of events! Does this make a festival-fan tingle with excitement?

"Calcio Storico Fiorentino" is a historic soccer game also referred to as the ancestor of soccer.
The matches take place on the Piazza die Santa Croce and the participants come from each of the four quarters of Florence. The sight of the players who fervently try to score a goal by using both their hands and feet and by attacking the opponents is quite impressive.
They are all like gladiators, really like the chosen warriors and what's more, punching is allowed, too… Among the Japanese expats, we call it violent soccer. I guess this game helps people to release stress.

I love participating in festivals, which is why I take part in festivals in Italy whenever I can, and I hope to experience all of them.

Clockwise from the top left: Craft Beer Festival, Christmas Market, Expo del Chianti, Chocolate Festival

Speaking one's mind with Mr. Goto, the head of the European research center in Italy.

(left) Toyohiro Goto, president of YANMAR R&D EUROPE S.R.L
(left) Toyohiro Goto, president of YANMAR R&D EUROPE S.R.L

From Mr. Goto's point of view, how has Mr. Hiramatsu changed since coming to Italy?

First of all, it's impressive how active he is.
I don't get out and about on my own so much, but Mr. Hiramatsu is fearless.
His superior at present is an Italian woman called Marta, so he is also learning about the "Ladies First" culture and is becoming a gentleman in a good sense.
However, his personality is a bit too nice, so I think the ideal would be if he could strengthen his kindness while at the same time fostering his strict side in Italy.
Because in terms of work, he is highly skilled.

When working in Italy, many things become a topic of discussion. As expected, when working abroad, it is important to state one's opinion clearly, otherwise you are not recognized, and you cannot even begin to get things done.
Japanese people tend to avoid discord by paying attention to the other's needs, but I would like to change this thanks to my experience abroad.

For the Italians, it is ok to clearly state their opinion, even if they are wrong.
And when they realize that they are wrong they immediately admit it and say "you are right".
Because for researchers it's important to really say what they think.
In Japan, one tends to be "one of them" and since the research advances on a project basis, I think that in some respect, people in a way get carried along by the flow of things. This might be because of difficult personal relations or because of the frustration at only being able to break through to a certain point. In Italy, the distance between people is smaller and people are closer precisely because the individuals clearly assert themselves by saying "This is what I think", "Let me do it!"
I think that working in Italy is a good experience for Mr. Hiramatsu.

Is YANMAR R&D EUROPE a company with a very friendly work environment?

The atmosphere is very homely and informal and there are many good people. This is something to be proud of. It might apply to the whole of Yanmar, because whenever new employees join us from other companies, they say that there are many good people here.

The fact that there are many good people might have to do with company culture. Everybody is relaxed and not too serious.
At YANMAR R&D EUROPE, we have Italian wine which we use as presents for our customers among other things and the wine we have right now we chose ourselves.
All the Italian and Japanese employees came together for a big tasting session and after everybody had allocated points for the color, aroma, etc., the total was calculated. The result was that the wine chosen by the Italians was completely different from the one chosen by the Japanese (laughs).
In the end we went for the wine chosen by the Italians because we thought it was a good opportunity. Last December, we also had a tasting like this. Interacting in a fun way with the colleagues outside of work provides a good opportunity to further deepen communication.

I don't notice the differences in taste at all, so I think the world of wines is a very complex one. I was told that it's impossible to live in Italy without learning about wine, so I'm studying every day. I now understand that red wine from the Tuscany region, where YANMAR R&D EUROPE is located, is delicious!

The following words by Mr. Yamamoto, member of the Yanmar board, left a deep impression on me: "Customer satisfaction is a matter of course for us at Yanmar. Since the basis for this is employee satisfaction, the latter must be on a high level."
I really think this is true. If the people who are supposed to increase customer satisfaction are not happy themselves, they will not be able to put this desire into practice.
At present, there are 16 employees at YANMAR R&D EUROPE (as of the time of coverage in January 2018) and it’s important to raise the level of satisfaction of all of them. To achieve this, we have the above-mentioned wine tastings and various other things.
Either way, if the individual employees are not happy, they won't really dedicate themselves to solving the problems of the customer.This is why I make an effort to improve Mr. Hiramatsu's degree of satisfaction (laughs).

Haha, thank you very much (laughs)

Are there any episodes which left an impression on you since you came to Italy?

At the beginning of my appointment, my Italian neighbor was waiting in front of the entrance on the day I moved in after he had heard that a Japanese person was coming (laughs).
He invited me to eat with him and I'm still invited for dinner or for parties now.
Everyone is friendly and is making you feel at home; this might be thanks to the fact that Japanese Yanmar employees have been coming here for a long time. I think there is a sense of trust between the Italians and the Japanese.
Another thing is that Italy is a very child-friendly country.
A girl is called "bambina" while the term for boy is "bambino" and people around me often ask whether my bambine are fine.

Something I have heard at a cultural party organized by my landlord is that for Italian people, Japanese people are a bit of a mystery.
They wonder how, even though the Japanese have hit rock bottom twice in history, they managed to recover quickly, and it seems that they are very interested in knowing why this is the case.
I think I have to learn about history, culture and religion again.

Living abroad makes you start thinking about different things.

This might only apply to field of research, but I thought it's interesting that the Japanese do things by counting backwards from a certain target, don't they?
The Italians have a goal, too, but they try to reach it by means of infinite ways. They don't think "If I don't finish this by a certain day, there is only one thing I can do" like the Japanese. This is also a reason why the Italians do not provide interim progress reports. On the contrary, if you ask, they can even get angry. "There are still countless possible approaches left at this point. I try to make it sure it will be fine, but I don't know whether it will work out fine". And sometimes, they exceed a goal. This can't be done with the Japanese way of doing things.
Precisely because they are not too obsessed about goals, they sometimes exceed them. This is amazing I think.

At ZAZA, one of Mr. Hiramatsu's favorite restaurants, one can taste traditional Tuscan cuisine.
(Clockwise from the top left)
1) Assortment of raw ham from Parma, Burrata cheese and artichokes together with black truffle
2) Artichoke carpaccio sprinkled with parmesan cheese and black truffle
3) T-bone steak Bistecca alla Fiorentina, a specialty of the Tuscany region
4) Home-made tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms
(left) The interior of the ZAZA Restaurant
(right) Mr. Goto's everyday food consists of Japanese food, after all.

"In fact, since coming to Italy, my values of the physical examination were all good for the first time. It's because I put olive oil in everything from miso soup to the nabe hotpot. I was surprised to see that I became very healthy. That's the traditional Italian way of preserving one's health" (laughs).

(left) Grappa and Limoncello are digestifs stimulating digestion
(right) Rich tiramisu

This is the restaurant where you can enjoy traditional Tuscan cuisine.

Trattoria Zà Zà

Mon - Sun: 11 am - 11 pm
Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale 26, 50123, Florence, Italy
TEL: +39-055-215411

The working style in Italy, where family comes first, people are open about their private lives and where different kinds of communication are fostered.
We learnt that to have a fulfilling work-life balance, it is important to pile up new experiences.

The topic of the next volume,【Global People of Yanmar: Italy Series, Volume 3】 will be "A visit at the home of an Italian Yanmar employee!"

Don't miss authentic home cooking and the gorgeous lifestyle!
Ciao!