Japan – conclusion

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 DSCF9433.JPGDSCF9504.JPG

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Experience Japan – Tokyo!

Our arrival to the magnificent Tokyo signaled a shift in the nature of the tour from the private sector to the governmental one, and from moral traditional Kyoto to the more modern and hectic Tokyo.

The Tokyo experience began with an alumni reception, where we had a privileged insider’s look at some of the challenges Japanese corporations are facing and the restructuring efforts many companies are currently undergoing. The lecture identified both economic and cultural root-causes, which served as the perfect segue for the following discussion. During an engaged Q&A session we discussed with the active alumni members about the balance between the Japanese style of management and its differences from the western/American one, and how the strength in the 1970’s became the weakness of today. One of the alumni concluded that “Japanese companies need to infuse American style, while American companies need to adopt some Japanese elements”. The reception that followed was as lovely as the setting – a beautiful space with Tokyo views where group members had the opportunity for more intimate conversations and networking. Although not always in full accordance with the proper etiquette unique to Japan (there is a little ritual behind this seemingly simple interaction), multiple business cards were exchanged.

The next morning, we visited the prime minister’s office where we were awestruck by the beauty of architecture and Zen in the design. It was impossible to resist the opportunity to take a group photo on the stairs where the famous Japanese cabinet photo is taken. Rather appropriately, in the cabinet offices we had a lecture by prof. Takeuchi Seiichi, a renowned author and expert on Japanese Zen and its relation to government and business.

The next day we suited up for the last time to visit the Bank of Japan where we had an opportunity to hear about BOJ’s views on monetary policy and the burden of being a trailblazer in fiscal behavior of central banks. At the beautiful BOJ complex we not only peered into the future, but also into the past, visiting the old building, the vault, and riding the oldest elevator in Japan.

It would be impossible to write about Tokyo and not touch briefly on the culinary heaven that this megalopolis symbolizes. From street stands to decorated Michelin star restaurants (of which there are many – 227, by far the most in any city in the world), team members tasted it all.

Many group members further dove into the local culture by attending the famous (and very early) Tuna auction, taking a sushi class and participating in a traditional tea ceremony (Chadō).

The tour was concluded with a cruise around Tokyo bay during which we enjoyed our last Japanese dinner and, of course, a healthy portion of Karaoke. The intense singing further amplified the lifelong friendships created during the trip.

Although it’s only been a week we had an astounding opportunity to immerse ourselves into Japan’s business, government and unique culture, and for this we will be forever grateful.

Michael, D17

Uniqueness of Japan

3 days into our amazing tour of Japan one thing is clear – Japan is different.

The tour commenced with a traditional dinner, followed by a wonderful Geisha show. Thanks to the great sake and ambience, it wasn’t hard to get the team into Japan mood.

Very appropriately our first visit was to the 600 year old Taizo-In temple, where the group had the privilege to try mediation and experience Zen with the guidance, inspiration and “motivation” (in a form of a large wooden stick) from the lead priest. Strolling through the amazing gardens, observing Catching catfish with a gourd, Japan’s oldest ink painting and indulging in a traditional temple lunch concluded our experience. In the following days, we will see how the themes taught in the temple will resurface in both business and government.

Aside from learning about cutting edge equipment designed and manufactured by Screen, we also learned about sustainability in business from the CEO. Over two thirds of companies over 200 years old worldwide are Japanese. There are a staggering 33 thousand companies older than 100 years in Japan. Per Screen’s CEO, the primary drivers of this unique phenomenon are the seriousness in the approach to make a business sustainable, the deep care for the brand, and the desire to preserve family, company and community respect.

The next day we started with a visit to a beautiful shrine, followed by the drive to Toyota city to visit one of the oldest Toyota production facilities. Our amazing guide took us through Toyota’s mind-blowing figures – all within one plant the size of 16 baseball fields, making over 370K cars annually from parts supplies by local suppliers. The parts inventory is as large as one shift and as short as 2 hours. This is possible thanks to the fact that 75% of the suppliers are within an hour drive from the factory. Walking through the production facility we saw the harmony in which employees work along robots, each complementing the ability of the other.

We spent the night in a traditional Japanese hotel, enjoying traditional baths (in natural hot springs –called onsen), local cuisine and, of course, plenty of sake and karaoke.

The next morning, thanks to the amazing Shinkansen (“bullet train”), we got into Tokyo in just over one hour. Traveling in comfort and silence at speeds of over 180 MPH is a unique experience and a very appropriate one before our next visit – All Nippon Airways. At ANA, we toured the hangar, learned about maintenance of the largest Dreamliner (787) fleet in the world and observed the maintenance process up-close. Later we had the opportunity to discuss ANA’s competitive advantage and even participate in a brainstorming session tackling ANA’s challenges.

Tired, but in awe of Japan’s culture, business, and scenery, we are humbly looking forward to the experiences ahead.

 

 

See you in Japan!

Hi, I’m Michael Cherkassky (D17) and I will be the resident reporter for Chazen Japan, group A.

First, a confession – Japan was one of the reasons I organized the Chazen Israel tour last year. One of the perks of organizing a tour is the extra bid credit, assuring your spot on the tour. Since Japan is one of the most popular destinations at CBS, I couldn’t leave it to chance. Now, exactly a year since, I’m 40,000 feet above Alaska, en route to Tokyo.

It’s not hard to understand why Japan is the top destination for so many CBS students. Japan has such a prominent presence in global economics, history, technology and the culinary world. It’s hard to imagine a single aspect of our lives not affected by Japan in one way or another, and yet – we know nothing about Japan’s culture.

Even the “dry” facts about Japan are exciting. Tokyo is, easily, the largest metropolis in the world, with over 37 million people residing in greater Tokyo. Japan’s population is the 10th largest (127 million) and its economy size is 3rd in the world, having GDP which, at $6 trillion, is higher than UK and France combined.

Japan’s mostly urban population is shrinking. Which might seem odd given Japan enjoys both the lowest child mortality rate and the third highest life expectancy. Main drivers for that unique phenomenon is extremely low birth rate at 1.4 per woman, which prevents organic growth and virtually non-existent immigration. 98.5% of the people living in Japan are native Japanese. That’s the most homogenous population among the developed nations.

These and other factors make the upcoming week so exciting. As a former organizer, I know what to expect – it will be an amazing mix of business meetings and cultural experiences, history overview and culinary exploration. If Japan is anything like the ANA flight I’m on right now – it will be an unforgettable experience.

Stay tuned for more in the upcoming few weeks!

Michael Cherkassky, D17