On Tuesday morning we reached Toyota’s head office in Toyota City. We started the visit in their museum, an interesting space showcasing the company’s history and showing off what they think could be the vehicles of the future. Best of all, to welcome us at the entrance to the museum, was Toyota’s violin playing robot! Video link: https://youtu.be/wNdDkktDERE
After a traditional Japanese meal we moved to the boardroom to hear from some of the executives about their views on autonomous cars and electric vs fuel cell vehicles. The visit concluded with a fascinating visit of Toyota’s Motomachi factory. We got to see first hand what JIT and Jidoka looks like. We couldn’t take any pictures but watching robots and humans working together to produce a car every 52 seconds was incredible!
We retreated to Nagoya to spend the night at a Ryokan hotel to enjoy some more Japanese food, hot baths and karaoke. Best performances of the evening go to Sean O’Mealia for his Rasperry Beret rendition and to our organizers for their awesome AKB48 performance with choreographed dance moves:
Wednesday morning we hopped on the Shinkansen and arrived in a flash in the capital, Tokyo. We met with popular fast fashion retailer, Uniqlo, to hear about their plans of becoming the worlds no. 1 retailer of its kind (watch out Zara!).
Best Question: Inigo: So, I went to Uniqlo and couldn’t find any shoes, what’s up with that? Uniqlo: We don’t sell shoes.
Next up was Rakuten. Our host had asked us to read an HBS case about the company’s ‘Englishnization’ strategy. Rakuten’s goal is to be the world no. 1 internet services company, and to do this they believe that converting their corporate language to English is critical. They did a raffle at the end of the meeting and lucky Azeem ended up winning a Kobo (Rakuten’s version of a Kindle).
That night we had an amazing Chinese dinner with a view from the top:
Thursday morning we headed to All Nippon Airways (ANA). We got a chance to tour the enormous maintenance hangar. It was really cool to get up close and personal with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner!
In the afternoon we visited DeNA, a mobile gaming company founded by a female (rare in Japan’s gender unequal society). A few days before we arrived they announced a deal with Nintendo that would see Nintendo’s games available on DeNA’s mobile platform. Their share price jumped 20% on the day! DeNA’s goal is to become the worlds no. 1 mobile internet company (sensing a trend here). Our host demonstrated the addictiveness of their games when he started playing one in front of us (projected on the screen from his phone) and got a little carried away killing Storm Troopers!
That evening the CBS Alumni in Tokyo hosted us for a networking reception. Shiseido CEO, Masahiko Uotani (’83) spoke to us about the importance of the role of marketing in Japanese business. According to him, Japan has very strong craftsmanship but lacks showmanship.
We ended the night with a surprise birthday party for Inigo! In return he wowed us with a few magic tricks!:
Friday was an interesting day. Many of us got up at 3:30am to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market to watch the famous Tuna auction (apparently the worlds biggest auction). Unfortunately only 120 tickets are available everyday and they had been sold out by the time we arrived. We consoled ourselves with an early morning breakfast of fresh-off-the-boat sushi.
For our final meeting of the trip we met with Japan’s State Minister of Finance, Mr Nobuhide Minorikawa (a SIPA graduate). Our discussion focused around some of the country’s key challenges, including Japan’s debt burden, ageing population and poor English education. It was a great way to the end the formal part of the trip as it put into perspective many of the discussions we had during the company meetings.
Best Comment: Yuko to Minister Minorikawa: We love Sakie, we drink a lot of Sakie!
We spent the rest of the day visiting sights around Asakusa and Akihabara (the center of the weird Otaku subculture; think anime, manga and maid cafés). We ended the day with some karaoke and clubbing in Rappongi.