It's approximately 9:30AM on the third day of our Japan /Korea Trek. And, yes it's my first blog entry. I'd like to say that I haven't procrastinated and that my tardiness can certainly be blamed on the many incredible activities of the trek thus far.
Let me introduce you to the 2012 Johnson Japan / Korea Trek: myself, seven incredible classmates, Yasuhiro, Janet, Eui Soo (our resourceful, thoughtful and humble TAs and classmates) and Professor Mark Milstein (the trip's Professor and expert on the Asia region).
I can speak for my classmates with saying that the trip has been and will be memorable because of our TAs and Professor Milstein. All have added priceless insight and effort towards the trip. Their objectives clearly were to immerse us in the way of life in both beautiful countries.
With that said, please stay tuned for other blog entries as we travel and learn about Japan and Korea during our two-week trek.
Company Visits (first three) -- May 17, 2011
The business portion of our Japan trip began with three company visits. The intent was to learn about three Japanese companies from different industries. By comparing the various challenges each face and by asking questions of the respective C-level executives that hosted us, we not only walked away with a better view of the Japanese business landscape, but also had a better perspective of the Japanese culture and respect for it.
Our first visit (bright and early at 9AM after our first full night in Tokyo, which was spent evaluating some of Tokyo's finest bars and restaurants) was spent with Dentsu. Dentsu is a Japanese-based advertising conglomerate and one of the largest advertising companies in the world. Instead of listening to a standard corporate briefing, our host decided to speak about Japan's business landscape before and after the recent disasters (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant issues) as well as the countries potential opportunities. Most importantly, we got to learn about the Japanese people's feelings towards their government as well as gauge their impressive attitudes towards moving on from the disaster.
Our visit to Shiseido was more standard in that we learned about Shiseido's industry and products. They manufacture and sell products ranging from cosmetics, to skincare, and to health foods. The particular insight that I walked away with is the concept of Omotenashi. The concept of Omotenashi is similar to what the word hospitality means, however it is at a much deeper and intimate level. The concept is imbedded in Shisedio's offerings and customer service, but I have come to learn that it’s also a large part of the Japanese foundation. Since arriving here, I have felt sincerely welcomed and connected to the wonderful Japanese people I have interacted with.
The last visit of the day was to Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper company whose newspaper circulation is the largest in the world. The deputy editor of the Lifestyle and Culture section hosted the visit. At first thought I wasn't sure how this session would add value to a group of MBAs, surprisingly, the session turned out to be my favorite one of the day. By way of conversation and pictures our host led us on a ride through Tokyo's impressive clothing styles and culture. We also got a sense Tokyo's young working professionals, which is relevant to us and helped to connect our similarities.
As expected, we spent another night in the bars and restaurants of Tokyo (the Roppongi area in particular).
Alumni Dinner and Company Visits (second set) – May 18, 2011
The second day of company visits had the same intent as the first day of visits. The intent was to learn about three Japanese companies from different industries by comparing the various challenges each face and by asking questions of the respective C-level executives that hosted us. Additionally, to foster our Japan alumni relationship and to further our understanding of Japanese culture we hosted an alumni dinner event later in the day.
Our first company visit of the day was with Kewpie (pronounced "quepee"), they manufacturer, sell, transport and warehouse food. The Far East is there predominant market and their main product has been Kewpie mayonnaise.
Our second visit was with UNIQLO, a clothing manufacturer and retailer. While there we learned about UNIQLO's SPA business strategy. What is unique about their strategy is how involved they are in the complete chain of the clothing industry. For example, they are involved in manufacturing, material procurement, design, production, distribution, inventory management and final sales of their clothing.
Lastly, we visited Rakuten, the eBay of Japan. Our host and a relatively recent Johnson graduate, was one of the early employees of the company (founded in 1997). Rakuten is a leading online merchant and in its little time has grown to: 50 million registered users, $4.3B in sales, listed on the JASDAQ, 7,100 employees and one of the ten largest internet companies in the world.
After a long day of learning about and traveling to the locations (all in Tokyo) of the aforementioned companies, we attended our Japan alumni dinner. In what appeared to be a very nice classic Japanese restaurant (no shoes and sat on the floor) we spent the next the few hours in a private room eating, drinking and speaking with our alumni.
In particular, it was interesting to hear interesting to hear about their experiences while students in Ithaca, especially since the majority of them were from graduating class ranging from 1977 to ~1985. Our similar experiences in Ithaca were the butt of many jokes. For example, they also have spent many Fridays at the Chapter House as well as locked in the business school during the core curriculum (Johnson was located in a different building back when they were students).
Red Carpet on Sado Island – May 19, 2011
Every day of the trek has been more amazing than the previous day, and today proved it once again.
After literally staying up through the night and enjoying our last night in Tokyo, our departure to Sado Island began at 5 AM. We were literally like zombies as we made our way to the Shinkansen train. Being the first time most of us have ridden a Japanese bullet train, we fought hard to stay awake to catch the countryside views, but the previous night's festivities prevailed and we slept the rest of the two hour ride en route to the Niigata Pier.
Many laughs later (my classmates and I are never short of jokes nor short on creative ways of picking on each other) we arrived at Sado Island (an island off the west coast of Japan). By the description of our agenda and the hospitality of the awesome local representatives that were hosting us I wasn't sure if we were now part of a rock-and-roll band on a red carpet tour of the island.
Sado Island is essentially a self-sustained community of approximately 70 thousand people. Picture heaven on a remote beach island with mouth-watering seafood, views that make you pinch yourself, and people that treat you like family.
While on the island we visited (all in one day): Crested Ibis conservation center (to learn about Japan's national bird), Seisui-ji temple (we were ushered by a gracious monk to view temples built in 808 and to learn more about the island), Sado Island Taiko Center (a Japanese drumming experience), Ogi-no-yu Onsen Hot Springs and traditional Japanese housing.
Our visit to the Taiko Center was amazing and was certainly the topic of conversation later that night. The Kodo Foundation hosted us at the center, educated us about their mission and let us participate in the Japanese drumming experience. The Center is the training site for the renowned Japanese drum-performing group, KODO. It was certainly nice to spend an afternoon beating away on drums in a very animated and lively way (our pictures show very focused, committed and exhausted Johnson students). One of my classmates said it best: "when I heard the Taiko master demonstrate the drums, and felt the vibrations of the beat, it felt like I got a glimpse into the richness of Japan's culture in the span of a few seconds, it was indescribable".
The dinner at the Hananoki Inn (a 150 year old classic Japanese style home) capped off the rock star treatment and most certainly added inches to our already bulging belt lines (we have ate like kings since landing in Japan). The President of the KODO foundation treated us to a magnificent 5-course seafood meal accompanied by some of his favorite Saki and plum wine.
I must admit I had a very selfish moment during our stay. I somehow managed to wake up at 4AM the next morning. I woke up without the usual alarm clock and feeling of working on my To-Do list. I woke up to a feeling of complete peace, tranquility and as if I had slept for days. Imagine sitting up in a Japanese style bed, seeing acres of rice fields, the sun rising behind a beautiful ocean line and the freshest air. My morning was better than that. So what did I decide to do? I got up to take a walk around the area of the Inn. As much as I love my classmates and the stronger bond we have all forged since arriving, this moment was mine.
Overnight boat ride to Busan – May 23, 2011
After departing by boat from Shimonoseki on Sunday afternoon we arrived in Busan, Korea around 8AM. The uneventful boat ride was a disappointment at first; however, this was a good thing because it forced us all to rest before beginning our new journey in Korea.
As explained to me, Korean traffic is sometimes unbearable. After sitting on a bus in attempt to cross Busan, I don't disagree, it very unbearable.
First on today's agenda is a company visit to Hanjin Shipping (also a past employer of one of our classmates on the trip).