A while ago I had the chance to interview an amazing Russian woman, Viktoriya, who lives in Japan. She told me about a part of her work she shares with Ed, a Croatian colleague also living in Japan. I was intrigued by this mix of nationalities and destinations, so I asked Viktoriya to put me in touch with Ed to find out more about him and his experience in Japan. I reached Ed via zoom a few days ago, and we had a lovely conversation. He shared lots of interesting facts on Japan and his own experience in his host country. A very interesting life!
Edvard Vondra was born and grew up in Rijeka, Croatia. It was there he met his Japanese wife, whose story would merit another interview☺. She had moved from Japan at age 17 to finish her training as a classical piano player. She spent eight years to complete her musical training, and then moved on to work for a music school in Rijeka.
When in March 2011 Japan was hit by the disastrous earthquake, she became very homesick. Sendai, her city, was strongly hit by the Tsunami, and she felt she wanted to go back home in such a delicate moment.
It was now Ed’s turn to pack his suitcases and follow his wife in an unknown country.
“I was 34 at that time, and it was challenging. I had my network and job, my friends, family, security… But I decided to try. Tokyo looked like an exciting place to live, and we would do this together. I sold my house, quit my job, and started my journey in Japan in January 2014”.
Ed’s wife advised him to take an MBA to start a career in Japan on the right foot, which is what Ed did. He spent the first year in Tokyo as a student.
When he graduated, one year after moving to Japan, Ed first joined a start-up company as a marketing guy, then a media company, and eventually set up his own business of helping women entrepreneurs.
“I was busy in building my career and space in Japan. I honestly did not realize how painful the process for a trailing husband can be”.
I ask Ed what prompted him to choose the kind of business he created:
“In Croatia I had became quite the expert in corporate training and in training people in developing their communication skills and career”, he tells me. “Branding was also a passion of mine, which I used when I was area sales director in a big retail company”.
With all this baggage Ed turned to one of the untouched potentials in Japan and many other Asian countries: women. He explained that while it is very common in Europe to have a routine that includes a family, a career, and a home, things are quite different in Japan.
Working mom in Japan are under a lot of pressure because of the cultural mind set towards work (very long hours, total devotion to the job) and many of them decide to stay at home. It is very difficult to work and have a family at the same time because of no working life balance, and serious shortage of daycare spaces. If women in Japan want to do something for themselves, they are hampered by taxation, which is very high. The overall situation is very tough: in Japan there is only 7% of working moms. The remaining 93% does freelancing or doesn’t work at all.
With all this in mind, Ed’s wife decided to open her own music school, and he gave her a lot of advice to develop a sound business. She quickly became the nr. 1 piano school in their town on Google and the business flourished. This motivated Ed in the direction of helping women entrepreneurs in what they are able and want to do.
He created his first personal branding programme for female entrepreneurs to brand themselves for a targeted audience. I ask him to explain in detail what he does, and how he does it:
“I was very much inspired by my wife. Like her, many women in Japan want to develop something on their own. I love helping women entrepreneur who already have a business but want to take it to the next level (hiring people, finding partners, etc.). I also assist women who want to start a business but don’t know exactly how to evaluate what step to take. Thirdly, I guide women who have careers in the corporate world but feel they want to start something new. I help them in this transition”.
I was worried that being a foreigner would put Ed in a complex position, but he assures me that this is not a problem. People appreciate that being from Europe, he brings something new to the table. Moreover, the fact that his wife is Japanese makes it easy for his clients to trust him.
So far Ed has helped 450 women between Osaka and Tokyo, and is presently building communities in Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
He has both online and offline offers and programmes, organizes workshops, partners with women entrepreneurs in different fields (art, real estate, tech).
Ed is genuinely keen in helping ambitious Asian female entrepreneurs to unleash their potential and give them opportunities to get exposure in the media, thus also showing other women that this is possible.
When Viktoriya told me she was working with a Croatian man helping women entrepreneurs, I thought it quite extraordinary that a foreigner sets up this kind of job in a country like Japan. When I talked to Ed, however, I understood how that is possible. With his experience, enthusiastic and optimistic attitude, and deep respect for his hosting culture, Ed must be a joy to work with. This is his website, https://www.edvardvondra.com, and this is his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/personalbrandingprogram: follow him to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity to meet him if you are in Japan, or – why not – online!
Good luck Ed!
Claudia Landini (Claudiaexpat)