Aki Shimura has studied and worked around the world. Just looking at her CV makes you think, “Wow!” It hasn’t always been easy, but she set goals and achieved them, step by step. A tax attorney who speaks three languages, Shimura recently moved back to Japan after 12 years abroad.
Like many Japanese children, Shimura took English language classes as an after-school activity. As her family lived near a U.S. military base, she sometimes attended events there, too. But at university, she became interested in another language: Chinese.
“I majored in law and chose English as my foreign language requirement. Then, in my third year I went to Beijing and studied law and Chinese there. The Chinese economy was booming, and I thought Chinese would be useful in my future career,” she explains.
After graduation, Shimura got a job at an international law office in Tokyo.
“I was the personal assistant to a Chinese lawyer. My duties included interpretion and translation. With my language skills and my interest in law, it was an ideal first job for me,” she says.
After three years, Shimura felt she had outgrown the job and thought about her next step.
“I wondered if I should take the Japanese bar exam and become a lawyer. But back then in 2002, the pass rate was only 2 percent! So I gave up that idea.”
Going back to China seemed a natural choice, and Shimura entered the Shanghai office of an international law firm.
“I was now using three languages on the job — Japanese, English and Chinese. I really enjoyed it but I could see my chances for advancing were limited. I needed to get a master’s degree in law to get to the next level.”
And so she went to study law in Boston. Shimura had been using English in her previous job, but things were not easy.
“There was a huge amount of reading for my law school. At first, I had problems understanding the technical terms,” she says. “Then, while working in New York, I decided to take the state bar exam. I didn’t pass the first time because I didn’t really study the right way. I was very angry with myself! Luckily, I passed on my second try.”
Shimura continued her career in the U.S., working for international law firms. Around this time, she became interested in becoming a certified public accountant after a friend sent her a book about the exam.
“Before, I had no interest at all in the business side of law. I had thought it would all be about number crunching, but the more I read about it, the more fascinating it was.”
After getting her CPA qualifications, she worked as a tax specialist in the U.S. before returning to Japan in May last year to work for PwC Tax Japan.
“I’d been away for 12 years — 10 in the U.S. and two in China. It isn’t like I suddenly grew tired of life overseas, but this seemed like a good opportunity. I missed my family and I wanted to experience life in Japan again,” she explains. “Who knows, maybe I’ll go oversees again in the future.”
Shimura is pleased to be back but some things about Japan’s corporate culture are hard to get used to.
“People’s working styles, for example!” she says, shaking her head. “Just because others are working late doesn’t mean you have to. The key is to be flexible and work smarter.”
After using English at work and in daily life for 10 years, Shimura also had to get used to Japanese again.
“For the first year back, I had some trouble remembering Japanese. Sometimes the right words wouldn’t come out. Now, it’s the other way round with English, unfortunately!” she laughs. (Louise George Kittaka)
志村亜希 （しむら あき）