When Anthony Griffin decided to make the move to Japan, he took a few things along with him: a lifelong fascination with the country, one year of studying the language, and the textbook from his business communications course at UC Riverside, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2002 and an MBA in 2006.
It was not an easy start for the self-described risk-averse Griffin. But after more than a decade building trusted relationships and launching his own marketing and communications business in Japan, he remains grateful to the friends, family, and faculty who encouraged the move.
His advice to anyone considering a similar move: Give it a try.
“When I went to Japan, my original plan was just one year, and even with that I was hesitant,” Griffin says. “If that idea is in your head, and it’s safe for you to do so financially or otherwise, just go. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back. Or you might end up like me and be there for 12 years or more.”
After earning his undergraduate degree and taking a job in the video game industry, he kept thinking about launching his own business. Deciding he first needed more education, Griffin returned to UCR to pursue his MBA.
“It felt like returning home, actually,” he says. “What I loved about it is that I could really focus on business and the connection to real-world local businesses. So, we weren’t just doing classroom projects, we were helping businesses in the community, and job offers came from that.”
One of those connections led to his next career move: working for the city of Riverside in the economic development department, where he learned the discipline of producing effective, error-free communication for an audience of 300,000 residents.
The job also provided the means to explore his lifelong interest in Japan.
“I went there twice,” he says. “I fell in love with the country.”
This interest was amplified by his work at Riverside, which has a sister city relationship with Sendai, Japan, dating back to 1957. Griffin took a refresher course to reinforce the year of Japanese he took as an undergraduate and, with the encouragement of friends and family, made the move in January 2009.
His first job was teaching English to business leaders, including top executives and CEOs. He then pivoted to business coaching and working with the American Chamber of Commerce, which involved more managerial roles and experience in digital marketing.
Finally, he decided he had acquired enough experience to fulfill his long ambition and strike out on his own. He launched Saga Consulting in 2017.
“It was always a dream and a possibility and a curiosity,” he says. “Once I got to Japan and started working for these companies, I could see business ideas and opportunities come up. … The only thing missing was a network. And so, after making connections over the course of eight years, there were clients waiting for me.”
In fact, because of the positive relationships Griffin maintained with former employers, they became his clients. Today, he helps Japanese companies with marketing and communications, specifically digital content. He also conducts communications coaching for Japanese managers and executives.
“I’m really passionate about keeping customers happy,” he says, adding that the approach to business in Japan is a good fit for him.
“We’re building lifelong relationships. And if each person in the relationship takes care of each other, the businesses are going to survive threats from new entrants or people playing the price game. Building those relationships really resonates with me.”
Although he maintains strong ties to the United States, he expects to remain in Japan and has embraced his new home. This includes constant study of the language—devoting an hour a day—and exploring Japan by bicycle.
“I’ve always enjoyed riding bikes, including a lot of mountain biking in the foothills near Riverside,” he says. Although most of his biking during his first years in Japan was limited to the urban environment around Tokyo, he has expanded his range and has written about his experience on the Kokoro Media website. One recent excursion took him more than 80 miles, from Tokyo to Lake Yamanaka at the base of Mount Fuji.
That willingness to try something—in the same way he decided to move to Japan and start his own business—is what he hopes new generations of UCR students get a chance to experience.
“If you have an idea, just try it. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do something,” he says. “If you’re good, if you’re skilled, you can make a movie, write a book, write a blog. … I mean, all you have to do is develop your skill and try, and so many things are possible. Build up your skills, learn—and see what happens.”