Living among the Japanese: An entrepreneur's tale

Entrepreneur Tiby Kuruvila, a Kothamangalam native, talks about his life as an entrepreneur in Tokyo.

Published: 19th February 2018 02:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th February 2018 12:11 PM   |  A+A-

(From left): Gijo Sivan, Tiby Kuruvila and Jayaraj T G

Express News Service

KOCHI: Whenever the Tokyo-based Tiby Kuruvila introduced himself, the Japanese would say, “You Indians are so bright and intelligent.”One of the reasons for this attitude is that all the Indians in Japan are either in the IT industry, or working as engineers or scientists. “There is nobody from the worker class,” says Tiby. “They usually come from Philippines or Vietnam.”

Tiby Kuruvila with his family

The Japanese have a huge respect for India. “Since most Japanese are Buddhists, they revere India as the land of Lord Buddha,” he says. “They know about Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose.”

The youngsters have a different attitude. “They feel India is growing so fast, at 7 per cent, compared to Japan’s 2 per cent, so they are thinking about how they can invest in India, and make money,” says Tiby.

But some misconceptions do exist. Since there are many North Indian restaurants in Tokyo, they feel that all Indians eat naan every day. “For them the curry we have is either vegetable or chicken,” says Tiby. “They are surprised to know that we eat with our hand. After watching movies, they feel that there are a lot of animals on the streets.”

Tiby, who is originally from Kothamangalam, has been living in Japan for the past 19 years. He is the CEO of a company called Pinmicro, which provides indoor GPS platforms. His partners are two Malayalees, Jayaraj T G and Gijo Sivan. They provide digital solutions to improve efficiency in the workplace, be it offices, factories, warehouses or hospitals.

He gives an example. “In a confectionery factory, the management wanted to ensure that every employee who enters the factory should have an air shower (this is usually done at entrances to remove particles on the clothes), followed by a hand-wash with alcohol to get rid of germs,” says Tiby. The company had placed cameras all over the factory. But then they realised that nobody can look at the cameras all the time. But through Tiby’s GPS platform, if a person forgets to do a hand wash, an alert is immediately initiated. “Hence, he or she cannot enter the factory premises,” says Tiby. “This will ensure employees who enter the work place are always clean.”Asked whether this constituted an invasion of privacy, Tiby says, “We are not recording anything.”

Meanwhile, when asked the advantages of working in Japan, Tiby says, “The technology is at an advanced stage. The transportation is very efficient. It is a clean and safe country.”And the people have a social attitude. During the devastating earthquake which hit Tokyo in 2011, there was a water shortage. The government instructed that everybody would receive two bottles of drinking water every day. “They would only take the amount specified by the government and not more,” he says. “When there were widespread power shutdowns, there were no reports on any thefts in the numerous shopping areas, which would have happened in other countries. The Japanese are a very self-disciplined people.”
But there are negatives too. “It is difficult to work in Japan since people only speak Japanese,” says Tiby. “It took me a few years to learn the language.”

The business model is still the old industrial style. “So everybody follows what the boss says,” says Tiby. “But that time is over. You have to work fast, make decisions quickly, and be innovative.”
And Tiby can notice the ‘falling behind’ effect when he goes to the malls. Ten years ago, when he went to buy a mobile phone, there were Japanese products from Sharp, Casio and Fujitsu. “Now, it is only Samsung and Apple, and a few Japanese brands,” he says. “Many American, Korean and Chinese companies have gone past the Japanese.”

Another problem for the Japanese is the declining birth rates. “The number of children per couple in Japan is very low,” says Tiby. “A small work force will have to feed a lot of elderly people. This will become critical in the next five years. So, the government is doing a lot to attract Indian talent to Japan. There are a lot of Indo-Japanese events taking place in India as well as Japan.”

However, Tiby says that even though they live in Japan, the Malayalis are preserving their culture. “For Onam, last year, 500 people gathered and we had sadya and other celebrations,” says Tiby who is married to Nigi and has two children, son, Johaan, nine-and-a-half and daughter Jewel, 7. Asked his future plans, Tiby says, “I plan to work for the next ten years in Japan till my children reach university. Then I will return to Kerala and help young people who have plans to set up start-ups.”

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