Which Japan is the real Japan? Is it the pristine shrine, with centuries-long tradition? Is it the modern factory, producing some of the most popular vehicles in the world? Is it the crazy-paced, never-sleeping hectic heart of Tokyo? Or perhaps it is the combination of everything? One thing is certain – one week is not enough to understand Japan. Some would argue that a decade isn’t enough either.
In my previous notes, I discussed impressions from companies or governmental offices. Now, I will try and tie it all together and even attempt to infuse some modest pieces of wisdom.
Japan is different. In a time when everybody is looking for happiness, career progress and self-fulfillment, it seems as if the Japanese had found theirs long time ago. A Japanese wedding announcement would be “It has turned out that we will get married”, indicating that no distinction is made between what one does intentionally and what simply happens. At the same time, failure is not acceptable and almost disgraceful. How are the two settled? Only the Japanese know.
In my mind, this is tied to the exceptional levels of professionalism in Japan. Per the alumni and the Toyota executives, career progress in Japan is very slow. Some professionals are very happy to be considered ‘craftsmen’ in their respective fields and spend their entire lives in the same function.
Perhaps the most facile observation one can make while in Japan is that almost all aspects of life there seem to be crafted to near perfection. The transportation, the streets, the people, the food – in a nutshell everything. Even the taxi will automatically open its door before you reach for the handle. Most of us, new and native New Yorkers alike, forgot how it feels to be surrounded by politeness, kindness, and warmth and how easy it is to pay it forward; indeed, some of us never really knew much about that to begin with.
Personally, I’m not sure I will be able to practice meditation techniques and surround myself with Zen in my daily life, but I would be happy to learn how to accept outcomes with a ‘Japanese’ manner of acceptance and, above all, dignity. In our daily business lives we make hundreds of decisions, large and small, and it’s tempting to agonize over each and every one. Furthermore, there is a tendency to jump at the next promotion and, in general, at what seems to be the next thing; however, I’d like to try and be better at what I am doing right now, and strive to master it.
Having said that, perhaps the Japanese would sometimes benefit from a little compromise. The current attitude in front of potential failure stifles innovation, as failure is an inherent part of trying new things, either as a startup or within a company.
Overall, our Chazen experience was rewarding beyond any expectation. Touring Japan is a great experience on its own but to have the privilege to go being that, and be exposed to business executives, government leaders and having candid conversations with company management, is an experience like no other. Meeting alumni living and working in Japan, and having the ability to get their perspectives on the myriad nuances of doing business in this unique country is just another example of distinctive perks only available through a Chazen tour.
Considering our experiences there it should not come as a surprise that all our group members are eager to return to Japan; what should surprise, however, and in equal part delight, is that for neither of us will Japan ever be the same again without our 40-member strong family.
Michael Cherkassky, D17