Asako Osaki can best be described as a genuine global citizen. She exudes the kind of confidence that comes with long years spent working abroad. Her perspective on life, the world and her career as a women’s empowerment specialist speaks of a strong sense of justice and equality.
“I didn’t really plan for any of it,” said Osaki in the offices of Plan International Japan, where she is a board member. The international NGO supports child rights and development in troubled regions all over the world.
“I got married at 22, went to New York and discovered that I was pregnant, just as I was starting my graduate degree at Columbia University. After that, it’s been one long, bumpy ride, trying to balance life and work while learning the ropes of international development and human rights.”
Born in 1971, Osaki had her first taste of life outside Japan as an exchange student in high school.
“I went to Central California, in a little town near Fresno,” she said. “It was a small, cozy place and the family I stayed with were kindly, hardworking people. I was just a shy Japanese teenager but the mother was always asking me what I wanted or what I was thinking. I was really floored by this because no one ever asked me such questions back in Japan. That was one of the first things I learned — to be aware of my desires and thoughts, and to voice them out loud. If I didn’t speak up, I wouldn’t be able to communicate. Expressing your thoughts and desires is a prerequisite in the U.S.”
Osaki later learned this didn’t just apply to the U.S. — it was pretty much the norm everywhere she went.
At Columbia, she studied international human rights and humanitarian issues while raising a baby. Her studies led to a job at the United Nations in New York, where she lived for over a decade while managing projects in over 40 countries.
“After all my years of experience abroad or maybe because of it, I find it easier to read and write in English, rather than speak it,” Osaki said.
She thinks the ability to read and write is more crucial than having impeccable pronunciation if you want to work in an international environment.
“Good, comprehensive written English is an invaluable skill, along with being open and direct. Just think: You’ll be able to get firsthand information on whatever is happening in the world, instead of having it filtered through the Japanese media. It also teaches you to think about the needs of a person who doesn’t share your language or culture. That’s an asset in any situation.”
How do you write an effective business email in English? Osaki says that it’s always a good idea to express your thanks and appreciation before launching into the subject at hand.
“Even when you’re writing to the person for the first time, it’s good to thank them for their time and attention,” she said, adding that just because a person is a native speaker doesn’t mean they are great at written communication.
“Start by stringing a few sentences together and work from there. Keep in mind that precision and brevity is always important. Before long, you may be surprised at your newly acquired skills.”
Osaki added that in terms of speaking, the Japanese are perhaps too hung up on being able to converse with the correct pronunciation.
“The U.N. has taught me that speaking English with an accent is quite right and normal. In the U.N. and almost everywhere else in the world, there is no such thing as ‘correct English.’ Everyone has their own unique style of speaking it, and they’re all connected by a wish to talk and know each other. And in the end, that wish is all you need.” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to remember
神奈川県鎌倉市出身。上智大学卒。米コロンビア大学で国際関係修士号を取得後、国連開発計画NY本部開発政策局でジェンダーと女性のエンパワーメントを担当。2004年退職・帰国。現在はフリーの国際協力・ジェンダー専門家。関西学院大学総合政策学部客員教授、聖心女子大学非常勤講師、公益財団法人プラン・インターナショナル・ジャパン理事、NPO法人Gender Action Platform理事。