As a tourist staying in Phnom Penh in 1996, the sound of gunfire would send a chill down my spine. Going for a walk after dark was something I tried to avoid because I feared for my life.
“But today, with a better leader governing the country, the capital has become a civilised and safe place to live in. The Prime Minister has taken Cambodia to a whole new level in terms of economic and infrastructure development. Back in 1996, there were hardly any high buildings apart from the old central market, so the skyline is much different today.
“I was drawn to live here by the cheap cost of living, the hassle-free visa system and the friendly Cambodians, who are among some of the most amiable people I’ve met. In a bustling city like Tokyo, people are too busy to talk to you.
“I work remotely majority of the time so I’ve yet to make any close friends, but I don’t get homesick. I used to miss Japanese food, but there is a thriving Japanese restaurant scene here now so that’s not a problem.
“My family was worried when I told them of my plan to move here, but their opinion about the country is outdated. It has morphed from a once terror-filled nation into a fully developing and law-abiding nation. With the help of foreign investment from countries such as China and Japan, the country is completely changing.
“But with the COVID-19 situation, I think the economic impact is going to be shocking for a while and many people will struggle as they lose their jobs. However, it’s important to remember that it’s a global situation and that it won’t be like this for the rest of our lives.”
Secretary-general of JBAC and Chief Representative of JETRO Miyao Masahiro, said: from “The fact that there is a vast choice of international schools in Phnom Penh where my children can study helped with the decision to move here. The diversity is important for their growth, although it did take us a little while to adjust because we knew very little about Cambodia. But hanging out at the Japanese-owned Aeon Mall helped us feel more at home.
“We’ve quickly adapted to the relaxed and peaceful environment here, as opposed to developed countries that are far more stressful. Much of the economic and infrastructure development is Chinese, so my mission is to find ways in which Japan can support the country.
“With my background in Asian economics, specifically the economies of Korea and Taiwan – now fully developed countries – I can see that Cambodia is following in their footsteps in terms of rapid growth. The country reminds me of a butterfly emerging out of a chrysalis in respect to its economic growth. It will be unstoppable.
“JBAC is in constant communication with the government of Cambodia to find a way to improve the business relationship between our countries, both in quality and quantity. There are already many Japanese SMEs investing in Cambodia, but it’s key to attract the big corporations here too.
“Another area which requires more focus is the manufacturing industry which, in my eyes, has much more potential. We’ve been in discussions with the Cambodian government about that and it is beginning to take steps to implement change so it can be considered by Japan’s big manufacturers as place to invest in besides Thailand and Vietnam who have had the monopoly up until now.
“While I love the laidback and calm attitude of Cambodians, I do think the government could afford to be a bit more pushy in their negotiating style. From a business point of view, Cambodia needs to adopt a more Western style and be freer with their opinions and be just a little more agressive to make the best deals.”
“I had done extensive research about the best country to set up my business and decided on Cambodia. My bakery is a way of introducing my culture to other nationalities. When I started, I would fulfil an order for just 27 loaves a day. Now, we make 50 different types. I did struggle with the heat in Phnom Penh for the first few days, but the locals were so kind that it helped me to adjust. I also discovered some pretty cool graphic designers to collaborate with and that helped fire up my passion and determination to push ahead with my dream. We currently employ 10 Cambodian staff, including the manager. Some have been with us since the beginning and I wouldn’t hesitate to hire more when the challenge of COVID-19 is behind us. Despite being a foreigner, most of the staff are very loyal to me.
I have learnt Khmer from them over the years and that is key in communicating with them and helping things to run smoothly. “But it has not all been plain sailing. My biggest adjustment has been when new Cambodian staff would quit after just one day. This just doesn’t happen in Japan so it’s definitely a cultural difference. On the other side of the coin, the level of service that Cambodians offer is generally much warmer than back in Japan. My staff are genuinely warm and smiley; it’s hard to find that type of friendly service back home. I admit I was homesick during the first year and missed speaking Japanese, but I’ve built good relationships with my staff and have found a circle of other Japanese people in the city to hang out with.
“The bakery is not big and I have no masterplan to turn it into something grander. For me, it’s not just about profit. As long as my staff and customers are happy, I’m satisfied. I’d say ‘just do it’ to any Japanese business people considering starting a company here.
Compared to Japan, the standardoflivingisverycheap here and Phnom Penh is an easy city to get around.”
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