Heidi Anthoni joined Daiichi Sankyo Europe in 2016, working in several Medical Affairs roles at the European headquarters in Munich over the following four years. In early 2021, Heidi and her family moved to Tokyo, so she could take on a role at the headquarters in Japan. She continues to live and work in Tokyo, where she is currently Senior Director of Oncology Medical Affairs, Asia Pacific and South America.
In this first blog of an occasional series where Daiichi Sankyo Europe employees share experiences of working for our company, we ask Heidi about her adventure moving from Germany to live and work in Japan.
When the possibility arose to relocate to Japan on an international assignment, I knew it represented a unique opportunity for my personal and professional growth, as well as a chance to contribute to the overall globalisation of Daiichi Sankyo. But I also knew that moving my family to a country with a very different culture, where none of us spoke the language – not to mention the challenges associated with working in a very traditional Japanese organisation as one of the first western employees – would require a huge leap into the unknown. We discussed the pros and cons as a family and decided it was a challenge that we all wanted to take on.
In Tokyo specifically, I enjoy the busy metropolitan vibe, exploring the different areas of the city, and above all, enjoying the fantastic food and the infinite number of good restaurants. Most of all though, I love to travel out of the city and explore as much of Japan as possible – in particular, discovering the beautiful scenery and nature of some of the more remote areas.
For quite a long time, I was the only western expat at Daiichi Sankyo, but I am really happy to see the Daiichi Sankyo Europe community growing here in Tokyo – it’s such a positive sign that we are now leveraging the diversity within our company.
Outside of Daiichi Sankyo, the international community is very close and active. We have met a lot of people through the international school – it’s great to have kids to connect us! We have made many friends during our two years in Japan.
The food! There are so many amazing local foods. I highly recommend making time to explore all the different areas and atmospheres of the city on foot, walking as far as you can and trying as many local foods as you can along the way.
I have learned so many things. The experience of living and working in a completely different culture has really helped me to grow as a person!
I think that one of the most important things I’ve learnt is patience. I am not a very patient person by nature, but in Japan you must adapt and stand in line, respecting that this is the accepted way of doing things. People often wait patiently for hours just to get into a favourite restaurant.
The other thing I’d highlight is developing a true growth mindset. When things don’t go the way that I had planned, or how I would expect them to, I see it as an opportunity to learn and grow – a helpful attitude for adapting into a completely different culture.
Overall, I found it quite easy as I am generally an open minded and adventurous person. I enjoy anything new and exciting and feel that I am at my best when I am pushed a bit out of my comfort zone.
Being open minded and respectful is very important. But my most important practical advice for thriving at work would be to invest in a good cross-cultural coach. The culture and particularly the working environment are so different, with so many hidden clues, that it really takes time to understand and navigate in depth.
In Japan everything – including houses – is smaller, so our house in Tokyo is quite a bit smaller than our house in Germany. But we were very lucky to find a lovely place that is close to our kids’ school, and it quickly felt like home.
The main thing that surprised me when we first arrived was how clean, organised, and quiet everything is. There are so many people, but everyone knows their place. Everything has a time and place – and it is all in perfect harmony, which is a highly valued property in Japan.
Living and working in Japan is quite different in so many ways that I could write an article about it – in fact, I have been thinking about writing a book (stay tuned…). Japan has a very strong collectivist culture, firmly based on relationships, trust and respect. There is also a devotion to serve, help and support each other, which means that society works very well.
Oh, they loved it! I think it only took about a week for my children to say, that Japan is so great. They love sushi, ramen, and the rest of the Japanese cuisine, and they are used to traveling. They really settled in surprisingly quickly and now don’t want to leave. My husband feels the same way.
Make sure you build a strong social network around you and ensure that your family thrives as well. Enjoy every aspect of your move and see it as the greatest gift!
We hope you have enjoyed reading about Heidi’s experience of moving from Germany to Japan, as well as her insights on the challenges and opportunities of living and working in a country with a completely different culture.
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