When Narumichi Aoyama goes out of Japan, his friends and work acquaintances abroad know him as “Naru.” The nickname attests to an open, outgoing personality that has enabled Aoyama to befriend people all over the world.
“It took me a while to get to this point,” laughs Aoyama. “I can’t say the ride has been easy.”
Naru Aoyama is now a manager at Konica Minolta, Inc., an electronics manufacturer with branch offices worldwide. He regularly communicates with the Western subsidiaries in English.
“I was with a Japanese IT company for 16 years. While I enjoyed my time there, I wanted to work in a multinational company, make friends and hone my English communications skills. Thankfully, my current position at Konica Minolta allows me to do that.”
Aoyama has always had a desire to travel and work overseas, ever since his days at Aoyama Gakuin University.
“ ‘Aogaku’ was full of returnees,” he says. “I always did great in school — my English grades were always top of the class. But in university, I was pulled down to earth. My English was nothing compared to those who had lived overseas and attended international schools. I felt it was so unfair — the returnees were reaping the benefits of their upbringing and sailing into Aogaku, while the rest of us had to study hard and slog through exams to get there.”
Aoyama decided that he too, would acquire some of the benefits of being abroad, if only briefly.
“During my freshman year I went to London. It was just an incredibly stimulating experience,” he recalls. “I revisited London the following year. This time, I stayed at a B&B and attended language school. During my junior year, I went to summer school in Oregon University. I couldn’t make out the American accents at first. Then in my senior year, I applied for an internship at a tech company in Silicon Valley and got it. Internships were still very rare in Japan back then.”
Returning to Japan, his dream of being hired by an offshore company didn’t quite work out. Still, four years ago, he took the leap to become a Konica Minolta employee.
“There were detours along the way but now I feel that I’ve gotten to a place I want to be,” smiles Aoyama. “I don’t resent the returnees anymore. Twenty years on, I’m still good friends with my returnee buddies from Aogaku. I can see now that they showed me how to have a broader perspective and think beyond the box. I’m grateful for their friendship and their life experiences.”
Aoyama is a man of many friends, and it seems he has a knack for finding himself among English speakers.
“When I moved to Konica Minolta, I knew I wanted to work at the headquarters, the hub of international tech projects. When I got here, I realized that I was surrounded by returnees again. Everyone spoke English with a dazzling fluency. It was just like the Aogaku days!”
He knew he had better get cracking, or he would lag behind.
“My returnee colleagues inspired me to study English again, and this time, I concentrated on learning the real thing. Every morning I listened to the BBC — something I still do. I also listened to Basic English on NHK. It’s the go-to venue for learning English in my mind. I even exhorted my son to listen to it! Through it all, I learned to speak simply and logically.”
Aoyama’s big break came in 2016 when he went to the U.S. for six months to coordinate with the staff in various branch offices.
“I went to 15 cities over the course of six months. The longest I stayed was in Minnesota, where there were no Japanese and the Midwestern accent troubled me at first. I was forced to speak up, speak out and make friends. I gradually found myself speaking and behaving like a local. I was far more relaxed and flexible about things. Those six months gave me some of the fondest memories of my life.” (Kaori Shoji)
青山成道 (あおやま なるみち）