“PB&J” – Personal Branding & Japan, Not the Sandwich


When I was a kid I loved PB&J sandwiches.  I probably ate them at least 4 times a week.  My preference was creamy peanut butter, not the chunky type, and strawberry jam.  The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is part and parcel of childhood in the United States, but certainly not in Japan where I live now.  Actually, it is almost impossible to find actual peanut butter here unless you pay through the nose at an import food shop.  So as my daughter grows up in Japan it is difficult to share with her a piece of my own childhood.

Personal Branding & Japan

If you ask a Japanese person if they have heard of “PB&J,” I guarantee that 99% of the time they will have no idea.  If you take it one step further and describe what it is, you would probably get a look of confusion.  The same thing happens if you ask people if they have heard of “personal branding”.  Like PB&J, personal branding is not part of Japanese culture and so naturally people are not aware of it.  The PB&J sandwich may not be needed in Japanese culture,  but personal branding certainly is needed now more then ever.

Japanese are educated from childhood to be self-effacing and to put the group ahead of one’s own interest.  The idea of putting your own ideas forward, marketing yourself, or standing out are foreign concepts.  In the August 2011 edition of The American Chamber of Commerce in Japan Journal. Vol. 48. Issue 08, William H. Saito compares Japan’s national dream to a “predictable escalator” – get into a good university and ride up to graduation. Then get into a safe company, stand obediently to one side, and ride patiently up the escalator to retirement.

The world of work has changed forever, and even in Japan job security and lifetime employment are no longer guaranteed. “Out of order” signs are gradually appearing on the predictable escalators and lines are getting longer as people patiently wait for them to be repaired. However, success in the new working world in Japan will be characterized by jumping on an express elevator with an elevator pitch in hand that communicates a personal brand.  Those who have worked to uncover, communicate, and manage their personal brand with be able to take this express elevator to the top.

The Future of PB&J

As much as I would love to bring the peanut butter & jelly sandwich into mainstream Japanese culture, PB&J from now will stand for “Personal Branding & Japan.” While I may not be able to share the sandwich of my childhood,  I can certainly prepare people for that express elevator ride.


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About the author

Peter Sterlacci Peter Sterlacci is known as “Japan’s personal branding pioneer.” In a country where fitting-in is the norm, Peter’s mission is to pioneer a ‘cultural shift’ by helping Japanese to stand out in a global environment. An avid cyclist, he combines cycling imagery with personal branding strategy to empower his clients to shift gears and sprint to career success. Follow Peter on Google+