Living the Dream in Hawaii

Aloha and welcome! I’m Tim Sullivan.

The Twilight Zone is a great metaphor for my line of work, because when two cultures collide strange things happen. My job is to sort through the confusion and make the twain meet.

What’s my gig? I run a cross-cultural consultancy focused on Japan-US business relations. As of this writing, I have over 30 years’ experience working with the Japanese, the past 20 helping Japanese and Americans bridge differences in the workplace. My wife Kurumi is Japanese, so she’s been dealing with the Japanese even longer. Most clients know us as “Tim and Kurumi“, and that’s how we like it because our business is built on personal, trusting relationships.

My areas of expertise include cross-cultural management, customer service, and executive team-building. I do a lot of public speaking here in Hawaii and on the mainland. Kurumi focuses more on expat and retiree relocation, and provides training and hands-on cultural interface services.

How did I get into this line of work? Dumb luck and taking opportunities when they presented themselves. After teaching English for almost 10 years in Japan, I got thoroughly burnt out on the gig and was looking for a new direction. My big break came in 1987 when I joined a factory start-up team in a Japanese company in Shizuoka prefecture, then was repatriated back to America for a temporary stint that was supposed to last two years. Long story short, my Japanese wife fell in love with America and we never made it back to Japan.

Other career experiences include a stint as assistant to a Japanese production control manager, customer support service manager, management consultant (with the illustrious “Japan Management Association Consultants”), and 4 years as plant manager in an American injection molding/assembly plant.

My academic credentials include a degree in Cross-Cultural Studies from International Christian University Tokyo. My senior thesis was on “Black Humor In Rakugo” (Japanese Classical Comic Storytelling). Never imagined in my wildest dreams that studying comedy would be useful in the real world. But Rakugo provided a great model to emulate in developing my presentation style in Japanese — not to mention an enlightening glimpse at the Japanese sense of humor.

One more point worth mentioning regarding humor: it can be an effective tool in facilitating communication when tensions are high between polarized groups. If you’ve attended one of our Reflection Workshops then you know they end in a borderline love-fest. Yeah, it’s creepy, but in a good way.

For the record, I speak, read and write Japanese–just don’t ask me to write it without a word processor.

The irony of the market I work in, is companies that need me the most don’t use my services while the really great companies that need me the least, use my services all the time. (See client list below.)

Why? I’m guessing that the best companies stay humble enough to keep getting better–and the mediocre companies don’t.

Clients include Halekulani, Hawaiian Airlines, Royal Hawaiian, Christian Dior, Nordstrom, Hilton Grand Vacations Club, Pacific Air Force Command and Hawaii Tourism Authority.

A few years back I co-authored with Rochelle Kopp, a book on “factory English”. It started out as an English book but morphed into a cross-cultural novel about a successful factory turnaround (with English lessons included). And when we finished the book, we decided it should have a long, awkward title that’s impossible to remember. We rose to the challenge and christened it: “Kore de Kaigai Kojo de Umaku Shigoto ga Dekiru (“Now You Can Work Successfully in Your Overseas Factory”). If you’re not Japanese, it’s definitely not for you. But if you’re an American working for the Japanese (particularly in the manufacturing industry), you’d do yourself a big favor by giving your Japanese boss a copy. Trust me on this, he’ll be totally indebted to you. It’s published by PHP New York and available here.

But enough of the manufacturing talk! Our most exciting product (and passion) is made possible by our relationship with a local educational institution: authentic educational experiences for Japanese “students of Hawaii”, with the option of home-stays. The mission of these programs is to deepen cross-cultural understanding between Japan and Hawaii, while promoting authentic Hawaiian culture to Japan. More on this in future posts.

Puna Sunrise

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we live near Hilo on the beautiful island of Hawai’i. The picture above is a typical sunrise in our little corner of paradise. You haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed this spectacular morning event while sipping a piping hot cup of Puna coffee. This is just one of many great reasons to visit the Big Island for your next vacation. Contrary to popular myth there are affordable ways to enjoy Hawaii, particularly in our special part of the islands

When I’m not writing, working or enjoying the beautiful Big Island with my family, I’m hunched over the only material possession I truly value: my Gibson Acoustic Jumbo Classic. I stick to 3-chord blues for the most part, but occasionally dabble in jazz and folk. It’s a hobby, all in good fun.

That’s more than enough about me. Just a final word about this blog: it’s a way to share with anyone who cares, my passion for promoting cooperation and goodwill between Japanese and Westerners. Hopefully you’ll feel the passion in ensuing posts–in the Intercultural Twilight Zone.

We welcome your feedback and insights.

Aloha nui from Hawaii 🙂

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2008


6 responses to “Living the Dream in Hawaii

  1. Nice introduction Tim.

    I used to be dating a lady named Harumi for a few years when I was in college.

    Look forward to reading your blog.

  2. WOW Tim…..very impressive blog

  3. Aw shucks…thanks for the kind words 🙂

  4. Aloha Tim! Really enjoyed yours and your son’s blog…we have a lot in common.

    I am developing businesses which Japanese can buy to secure an E2 visa here in East Hawaii.

    We have sold two in Q1’09 and I think this could be a win-win for a lot of people.

    If you could reach out to me at to start a correspondence much appreciated.

    My bio is at

    Married to Noriko from Mutsu, Aomori (we lived there for 13 years) for 31 years, four grown children all educated overseas, three chose to live and work in Hilo.

    Both 51…I know, kind of Japanese thang to let people know your age…

    We live near Nani Mau Gardens and would welcome the chance to sip a glass or two or three of premium chilled sake (I was kind of a sake guru for 10 years having started SakeOne Corporation which makes Momokawa and Moonstone sake in Forest Grove, Oregon.

    Moved to Hilo eight years ago….having fun working on creating a purple shochu distillery now using purple sweet potatoes…

  5. Sugeiiiiii naaaa… Darren’s brother here.

    Very interested to read– both you and Grif. I’m presently mid-life-crisis-chuu (sure, OK, fine, 43) and looking for a new career after quite a while running an internet marketing consultancy.

    Just coincidentally, we’re in Oregon after living for a brief stint in wifey’s hometown of Kobe. When we came back, it was Hawaii or Portland, and we found a Japanese immersion school here that tipped the scales.



  6. Aloha Rian! Send me an e-mail at and I will enjoy giving you any advice which may be helpful to you to achieve your goals.

    One of my LifePlan Goals is to help people who want to help themselves.

    So you are doing me a favor by helping me achieve one of my goals.

    PS: On Thursday I am hiking to the top of Mauna Kea (13,671 feet) with my younger brother Tom who lives in Buenos Aires and is visting the Big Island for the first time. Relevance? We live an LQ Business life here.

    LQ=Life Quality What is your LQ?

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