My short bio: I'm Rick Cogley. I have been in Japan for 30 years, since 1987. I run eSolia, a small IT consultancy that helps companies entering Japan with their projects and IT user support.

My Proof: and and and

Comments: 86 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

SqueakyPoP12 karma

What resources would you recommend for people in the UK who want to learn Japanese?

rickcogley2 karma

I think there are great links under this thread already, and I'd trust someone going through it now to know the best. I used Nihongo Journal, which appears to be defunct. Nowadays, it's easy to record your own voice and play it back for checking, and comparing to recordings I had. That worked well for me.

Also, get the Nelson Japanese Kanji dictionary.

tellin_it11 karma

wow long time! does the Rolling Stone bar still exist in Shinjuku? 2 or 3 chome?

rickcogley6 karma

it's closed, it appears.

tellin_it1 karma

Thanks for checking. So what’s it like to live and work in Japan for 30 years?

rickcogley2 karma

I like my life here. Sometimes I feel regret, especially talking to my relatives back in the US, but, at the same time love the family and business I have. Japan's relatively safe and relatively good; it suits me.

Rinexu5 karma

Wow that’s a long ass time. Have you had to learn different languages during these 30 years? How did you start the business up? I’m really curious as to how individuals can start up their own business because someday I may do the same.

rickcogley9 karma

Indeed, it is! On languages, I have my hands full with Japanese so, I have not learned more than a smattering of other languages.

eSolia is the second business I was with from the start. The first one was a PC training business called PTS, started in 1992, which was successful before training became a commodity. I was the CIO there and one of the owners. Then in 1999, I started eSolia with a couple others.

At the time, you needed at least 10MM JPY (about 100K USD) in the bank to be able to start a kabushiki-gaisha business (you can do it with less now). We paid a lawyer to draw up the incorporation papers, and basically just bootstrapped the whole thing. We did not even have desks at first, and were operating out of a super cheap place in north Tokyo, with our stuff on cardboard boxes. We got a lead on a company going out of business, and got to get some furniture to use, from them. We paid a dollar a desk or something plus shipping, because it needed to be some nominal fee to make it legit in the eyes of their auditors. Mind you, this furniture was stuff from the 70s. REALLY old. But, it worked for us for a while.

I remember I could not even get a phone line. NTT's (the local 800 lb telecom gorilla) argument was, the company was not established, so, there was no way to know if I could pay or not. I had to become a red-faced gaijin and yell a little (in Japanese), then they relented and let me get my phone lines.

Rinexu2 karma

Yeesh that sounds like a relatively rough start. Using all that money to make a business and not even covering office space. Was it easy for you to get space eventually? Were these guys you started the business with close friends? I’ve always thought of it support as a bit oversaturated because of all the other startups, how did you manage to make customers go to you instead of others?

rickcogley4 karma

Yeah, rough, but a good kind of rough. We got enough office space, super cheap rent in an inconvenient location, but no furniture. So we made do for the first couple of months on whatever boxes and etc we could set up as "desks" with chairs from wherever, and were trying to find a way to get furniture cheap, which eventually we did. 6,7 weeks in?

eSolia is not purely IT support, but helping companies enter Japan, helping with their big projects, and, doing deskside, remote, and phone support. We act as a kind of virtual IT dept, and can do various aspects of IT, outsourced.

People came to us because of my reputation, and stayed because we did a good job.

MakeLoveNotWarPls4 karma


I work in an European branch of a Japanese company. I wonder: what do Japanese office employees typically think of Europeans work-wise?

We see them as Inhumanly hard working people so I can imagine that works the other way around from the Japanese side.

rickcogley6 karma

Jealous of the "vacance" for sure! The teams we work with always include people in Europe, and, there's usually some tension when people take long vacations smack in the middle of a project. Not sure for every company but, it's happened enough that I think it's got to be a super important part of the culture there.

MakeLoveNotWarPls3 karma

Interesting! It's weird for me that our Japanese colleagues, after having a national holiday they have to work on Saturdays. I heard it happens at our company.

rickcogley3 karma

Ugh, that's evil. I imagine it happens though. My biz partner who is Japanese, and I, made sure to agree we wouldn't do stuff like that to our staff.

MaddingMumbaikar2 karma

That happens in Indian schools, lol.

rickcogley2 karma

Yeah, I heard Indian schools are uber-competitive.

DB00mimi4 karma

Just wondering, where in Japan are you located?

rickcogley7 karma

I live in Yokohama, and work in Tokyo. So, "Greater Tokyo".

Bobzer1 karma

That's a pain in the ass commute.

rickcogley3 karma

The train system is good & reliable mostly, fortunately, so it is not that bad. House to station is 30 min, then another 35 min on the JR line, then a 10 min walk to the station. If I hurry, I can cut it down a little.

royalsiblings2 karma

Did you know Japanese before you moved to Japan? In 1987 Japan was looking very up and coming, and the 90s were a big bubble. Now that it's popped, technology seems to have stagnated somewhat badly in many areas. What sort of ups and downs have you experienced? What makes you pull your hair out the most? Is Japan your permanent home now or do you think you'll someday retire elsewhere in the world?

I'm in Japan teaching English, but I'm always so fascinated by the foreigners with the skills to do something else here. Wish I could. I hope it pays well.

rickcogley1 karma

I had a 5 month basics course before I came, and I could curse thanks to the Japanese students at my college! I think my vocab shocked my host family. "Mizu wo kudasai. Chikusho!"

My business is pretty recession resilient, because companies need IT and project assistance no matter what the economy is doing. There was a crash in 2000 (?) soon after eSolia started up, and that lost us a huge chunk of revenue, so that was a challenge. We've got a more diverse set of clients now, so, hopefully that's less of a problem.

Shadpw2 karma

How has the Japanese culture changed the way you do business? and have you bought yourself a Katana yet?

rickcogley2 karma

My business is all about handling the differences between cultures. Trying to get the "twain to meet" so to speak. So it wasn't changed, it was built around it.

A Katana! Wow, no, I haven't. I do have a nice kyo-hamono kitchen knife, from Kyoto, though!

igat3602 karma

Got any advice for a CS undergrad on being successful/more prepared for the job market?

rickcogley2 karma

In Japan?

igat3602 karma

In your bio you mentioned that your interest in Fortran helped you set up ur IT career, could you elaborate?

rickcogley2 karma

Simply, because I'd maintained the fortran programs we had for data analysis / modeling at grad school, I used the connections I had related to that to try to find something "related to computers" to do. I got a connection to a company wanting a network built and, charmed them into hiring me! At the time, so-called "DOS/V" computers had just come out, to compete against IBM. IBM systems that could process Japanese (via a hardware ROM chip) were really expensive, at about 2 million JPY at the time. DOS/V systems were about a tenth of that, because they were doing the Japanese processing in software.

rickcogley2 karma

By the way @igat360, by "in Japan?" I was asking if you're trying to get a job here? Or, did you mean being prepared generally. If generally, I'd say you ought to make a good contribution to a big open source project.

igat3601 karma

I meant in general

rickcogley1 karma

Ok, yeah, probably good contributions to open source, doing a project to make some product from start to finish, participating in something like "google summer of code" and so on. People hiring want to see you can work in a team, but also being able to show you could take a project from start to finish would be good.

Grevmivlos2 karma

How did you learn the kanji and how much would someone get buy with English? Also I've heard that the Japanese housing market is in a big bubble at the moment - is this true?

rickcogley2 karma

By practicing them a lot. Like sports, language is about repetition. My handwriting is terrible, and, having computers makes it even worse.

I guess there is a risk of a bubble now, yes:

The Olympics are driving a lot of construction I think.

ThePabloNeitor2 karma


1) How much time did pass until the japanese people get used to work with you? Did you build trust fast with them?

2) i'll be visiting Japan with some friends on New year eve, what advice could u give us about enjoy the most of our stay (of 20 days) there? (we'll stay in the Shibuya district)

rickcogley2 karma

Nowadays I can interact normally with Japanese people, so I think I establish trust pretty quickly. At first it was a challenge, but, I managed to do a decent job so, I think that meant something.

Cross post since someone just asked me that same thing about being in Japan at new year:

  • lights displays all over - like in Omotesando near Shibuya and Harajuku.
  • department store sales, especially either at year end, or, the big ones (extreme crowds) usually 1 thru 4 Jan, where you can buy "lucky bags" aka "fukubukuro". You pay a fixed amount for a bag of stuff you cannot see (they will list the size or generally the contents), and usually it's a pretty good value.
  • hatsu-hinode - first sunrise. People go here and there to see the first sunrise, staying up all night to watch it.
  • hatsu-moude - first shrine visit. Incredible crowds at places like Kamakura's Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine.
  • countdowns - there are various concerts going on, where they'll do a year end countdown.

Kyoto and Kamakura are great, with tons of old shrines and temples to see. Nara is near Kyoto, and you can see and get accosted by deer there.

ThePabloNeitor1 karma

Nice! thanks!

Another one: did you met someone "famous" ? did u know that person was famous at first?

rickcogley2 karma

Yes and yes. I was walking in Jiyugaoka and noticed a big commotion. People were queueing so I asked what was going on. Someone said if you queue you can get into Seiko Matsuda's store and she is coming. I got a ticket to get in, and got to meet her. Totally random but fun. She was really small.

thisismypomaccount2 karma

What advice do you have for an undergrad Japanese/Linguistics major looking for substantive work post University. Language shouldn't be an issue but what issues arose on your path to fluency in Japan?

rickcogley1 karma

What do you want to do, for work? What are you interested in?

As for issues, I found that I met plateaus in my knowledge and had to work hard to shake off the funk I was in. Suddenly it would start clicking again so, I'd say, if you stagnate, just switch it up and do different things in your learning process.

Sweetragnarok2 karma

  1. Where in Japan are you from ?
  2. Are Taxi's expensive in Japan, do you have uber?
  3. Favortite Izakaya place?

rickcogley1 karma

I'm from western PA, USA. About 90 min from Pittsburgh airport.

I live in Yokohama and work in Tokyo.

Taxis are pretty expensive yes. Currently Tokyo's min fee is 410 JPY for 1km, but it goes up steeply after that first 1km.

We have uber but, it's just acting as an outsourced service for the established major taxi companies. Just in the paper this AM:

Izakaya, hmm, maybe Torimaru?

lilgly2 karma

what was your hardest adjustment when you first moved there? and what problems still persist 30 years later?

rickcogley2 karma

The food I think. It was a challenge to get used to washoku but that's what I got for the first year during the homestay! I thought wheat tea tasted like dirt but now, that's all I drink.

I still get asked the same questions again and again which is a little irritating. I try to have fun with it, but, it's a bit tiring to answer the same ones, like "can you use chopsticks" and etc. People are just trying to be nice though, so, it's better to grin and bear it!

Fengolin2 karma

When natives see you, are they surprised by your fluency?

rickcogley10 karma

Yes, I think they are. I use the name Kogure since it sounds like Cogley well enough, and because when I got my first bank account in 1987 (still have it), they insisted I get a hanko stamp for it. I could not afford a custom one, so I got one that was "close enough" and had the kanji 木暮. My wife hated those so we never use them any longer. Anyway, I introduce myself like "Kogure desu" etc on the phone, and when I meet people, sometimes they are surprised, having thought I am a Japanese.

There's so many advantages to being able to speak the language, for sure.

SimplyHuman2 karma

What's the most memorable surprise of a Japanese person?

rickcogley2 karma

Just, people helping me or offering to help me. I try to repay it by helping foreign visitors here. This was a while back, but I have two anecdotes -

One: a drunk guy on the train started talking to me, telling me my life must be hard in Japan, and, "don't hate Japan" etc. I assured him no, I liked it, otherwise I would not be here. He tried giving me money, which I refused. He stuffed a 10000 yen note in my shirt pocket as he was exiting, so I stuffed it in his back pocket! He would have got scolded by his wife, for sure!

Two: a (non-drunk) guy on the train started talking to me, saying it's customary to give a visitor a gift, so, he gave me his folding sensu. It says his name on it. Kimura san, a firefighter. I still have it.

CajunTurkey2 karma

How did you learn the Japanese language?

rickcogley1 karma

I had the luxury of time when I first came, so, lots of practice.

Repetition, repetition, repetition of spoken phrases. Written drills.

Recording myself (two tape decks, what a pain!) saying what the language tape had said, playing back, checking.

I would go out in the town and use a new phrase, even if it was a bit unnatural. Like if you're an English learner, and you learn "uber-". You then go out and use it a few times to try it on, get the feel of it. "Those oranges look uber-delicious!" "I'm uber-excited".

I had an idea you need to use a phrase at least three times to make it stick. Mostly it worked.

batmob1232 karma

Damn that's so cool! I've always wanted to be fluent in Japanese as it's the best. It is very badass being fluent in English and Japanese.

rickcogley2 karma

Kind of you to say so. :-)

gamerguy472 karma

How does someone get into that line of work? Also a funny story of a cultural difference would be fun to hear.

rickcogley3 karma

I studied books related to culture differences and that sort of thing, but mostly, I just started doing it based on my experiences so far.

Ok, not sure if they are funny, but, let me see:

  • an American exec came here and would eat only PB&J. By himself, in his hotel room. It was rather awkward and the Japanese were like "wtf?!".

  • different American exec came here and his super casual clothing raised some eyebrows. It's contextual. There's businesses where casual is totally fine or expected, but, this client was a typical office.

  • an Australian exec came, and flicked his business cards at people across the table, like dealing cards. Haha, this was facepalm time for sure.

  • Japanese project teams often have "meetings after the meeting" and, change decisions. One project was particularly bad, and the consultants we had hired were instigating it. I was the PM on an ERP project, and we'd hired a consulting co that knew the software. They were not satisfied that the decisions were coming out of the US, so they started colluding with the Japan team, telling them what they wanted to hear, and contradicting us at the meetings after the meeting. We finally found out what was going on because they charged us a ton of overtime (which we did not pay) for those meetings. It caused so much trouble, and we were finally able to fire them. That's so hard to do though, in an expensive capital project.

gamerguy473 karma

Thank you for the fun and interesting read. I find it so odd someone would go to Japan and not try foods or something, besides PB&J. Australian exec made me laugh as it is probably one of the things I think even I know how to do properly to present a business card.

I am just a little guy who builds PCs and small networks for people hoping one day to get paid for it, fingers crossed.

rickcogley1 karma

My pleasure. It really is weird. Kind of sad to close up like that regarding food since it’s so basic and, since there is so much good food here.

Good luck with your building!

Lord_of_the_swamp2 karma

What made you decide to move to Japan and start a business there back in 1987? Was it hard to get settled in such a foreign environment?

rickcogley3 karma

I was at grad school / homestay for a year first, then I worked normal jobs for a while. I helped start and run a company in 1992 but, I owned only a small bit of that, then, I started my company eSolia in 1999.

I decided to try going here after talking with my undergrad adviser about not wanting to do Med School any longer. He suggested I could get an MD-PhD, so I looked into options. Tokyo was one of them. Luckily I got a homestay, and that was the lynchpin.

That ended after a year, and I had the choice of going home, tail between legs, or toughing it out. I chose to stay. I made friends with the shops in the area where I lived, and got them to give me the stuff they could not sell, like damaged fruit, meat scraps, bread heels and so on. Lived on that and cheap cup ramen for a while. People really helped me out.

I managed to get a job doing what I wanted to do, which was "computer related", and built a company a network so they could print their designs to a post script printer. But once it was built, I got asked to do many other things (typical for a young kid in a Japanese co; they want to see what you can do).

After that I worked as a network sysadmin and project manager, with English teaching on the side. That helped me get the connections to the first company I helped build in 92.

Facu4742 karma

Do you think that the level of English in Japan, especially with people who have to deal with tourists/foreigners/international companies, will ever improve? I know they are trying to push that way for the 2020 Tokyo Games, but it seems like a touch job.

Also, why do you think it is that a country that is so advanced has such a low level of English? It is extremely difficult to learn from Japanese, but so it is from Chinese too, and they have a large amount of speakers.


rickcogley2 karma

I doubt it, because of the way the ministry of education approaches language teaching. They make the kids memorize word lists, which is not so useful. You need to be trying to speak. But they've heard this before from people more qualified than me, so it's likely just their arrogance that keeps them from implementing a better system.

Plus, a lack of English is why my company works, in the first place.

Ilovealltheslothes1 karma

I want to ask have you always been in the Tokyo area for the whole 30 years, or have you been in different prefectures like Osaka or other Kansai areas?

rickcogley1 karma

I've lived in Zushi, Kitasenju Tokyo and Totsuka Yokohama and have always worked in Tokyo.

Ilovealltheslothes1 karma

Thanks for responding. I wanted to ask because at the moment Im in the Kansai area, and want to open my own business one day. So its good to know that you can stay in the same area and make it work.

rickcogley1 karma

In my case, my clients' Japan HQs are in Greater Tokyo, so, it's not really necessary to move elsewhere. I think it depends upon the business you want to start.

funkseoulbrotha1 karma

The wife and I fell in love with Japan last September when we visited Kyoto and Osaka. We are considering moving to Japan but it seems like 3/4 of the time it's teaching English or I need to be fluent in Japanese for the ones I'd like (project management). Is that the case? Or are there multinational companies that would consider hiring non native professionals?

rickcogley1 karma

I'd say it is the case. Very hard to run a project if you can't fluently tell people what's what. But people who work for multinationals do get sent here as expats, if their skill warrants it. I've met a few people who have been sent over to manage a branch or whatever, but they are in a unique bubble with a lot of amenities that shield them from having to learn japanese.

callmejeikob1 karma


rickcogley1 karma

Always looking for true J/E bilinguals with the right IT skills.

rickcogley1 karma

It’s western style but small as is typical here. Biggest gripe: only one bath.

rickcogley1 karma

I was going to say to check out the Nihongo Journal but, apparently it no longer exists!