Japan 2017 – An Epilogue

It’s now been over two weeks since our trip to Japan as part of the Spring Chazen Tour. It seems as if it were a whirlwind of a dream. Yet I am surrounded by reminders of the awesome experience as I sip the macha tea that I had purchased from Kyoto, looking at the cute light up miniature car from the Toyota factory, and treating myself to a sake face mask from Tokyo.

As a second year, my time at CBS is sadly coming to an end. I reflect not only on my time in Japan but my time in general in this crazy thing call business school. I’ve been fortunate enough to have gotten to do a lot of things that I would never dream of during my time here. But at the very top of my list of business school experiences would be Chazen (both participating as well as planning a study tour) as well as orientation week as a Peer Advisor. For the first years out there, I highly recommending doing both at least once during their time here. Though completely different, doing a Chazen Study Tour as well as being a PA are similar in that both are completely immersive, at times intense, dynamic, and extremely rewarding experiences. You not only get to know a lot of your classmates on a deeper level, but you also learn a lot about yourself. Being in a totally new country and culture on a Chazen study tour can reveal a lot about who you are; your preferences, tastebuds, lifestyle, and friendship dynamics in a foreign setting. Being a PA puts your leadership style to the test and helps you discover what kind of group dynamics and culture to build from scratch. And if you’re lucky enough to plan a Chazen study tour, it’s like being a PA in a totally different country for a whole week. I highly recommend it!

Thus I conclude my blog series with a big smile on this great adventure that I was able to book end with my experience at CBS. Big thanks for the organizers of Japan Section B, Shohei, Yu, Asumi, Yohei, Tomo, and Masu for making us feel so welcome in their country. As a lifelong member of the CBS community, this is the practice of inclusion and the global network applied. Personally, I know I will be back in Japan soon, and I will never forget this amazing trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

– Katherine Li F’17

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




Closing Time: Japan

And just like that, our Japan Chazen Spring Tour comes to an end!

We finished the final days, visiting a couple of more traditional Japanese food and tea makers as well Mitsubishi Real Estate, visiting their wonderful We Work-esque spaces in a part of town called Marunouchi. The group had extra time on the last two days to explore the city. Some folks went to the Tsujiki Fish Market to eat its famous omakase sushi, others went to Tokyo Disney to relive childhood dreams, and some like myself simply wandered the streets of Tokyo from one neighborhood to the next.

I personally walked around 8-9 miles each on Friday and Saturday, taking the train as far as I could and walking back to the hotel in pure exhaustion in time to catch the group dinners. Tokyo is similar to New York in that its neighborhoods are very distinct yet compact. For example, Roppongi (the area where we stayed) is known for their bars and nightlife; Akihabara is know for its anime, electronics, and gaming filled streets; Marunouchi is highly comparable to the midtown of NYC serving as the financial and business hub of Tokyo; and Ginza is known for its premium shopping and dining experiences.

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Spending two weeks in Japan is the perfect amount of time to really get to know the country even though there is so much more. The food, people, culture, and innovation makes this country an incredible place to visit. I would put it on the top of my list to return to in the future!

So with that, arigato (thank you) Japan, our wonderful hosts, and amazing classmates on this trip. Sayonara (goodbye) until next time 🙂

#CBSChazen #ChazenJapanB #WhyCBS

-Katherine Li F’17

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.



Happy in Happis – Days and Nights in Japan

Golden ShrineIt is day 3 of our Japan Chazen Trip, and both section A and B are currently on the Shinkasen train to Tokyo. The past couple of days have been an amazing whirlwind. We have already visited three of the six companies on our list: Omron, Suntory, and Toyota.

Omron is a leading technology manufacturing company in Japan specializing in pharmaceutical products. They train and employ people with disabilities to work in the company, and we were able to see them in action at one of their production facilities. The support and training of their disabled employees are an incredible part of their corporate social responsibility motto of making innovative products while building a stronger community.

Later that afternoon, we went on a tour to Suntory distillery, where they make their award-winning Yamazaki whiskey. We learned about the process of making fine whiskey from the highest quality spring water custom-tailored for the Japanese, and now global, palate. Our group even sat for a tasting of their whiskeys and learned about the different flavors and ways to drink Japanese whiskey.

On the second day, we made a very cool trip to Toyota’s manufacturing plan where we got to see how they make 3 of SUVs and hatchback vehicles. This was an especially cool experience because as first years, we had studied a case on Toyota’s six sigma operations process in our core class, and now we get to see it in action. The efficiency, intricacy, and accuracy of each part of their production process is flawless. It takes around 18 hours to make one vehicle from start to finish, and the plant that we were in makes around 300,000 vehicles a year to supply the Japanese market. We also learned from the company presentation about Toyota’s investment and production in North America. This was personally my favorite company visit so far since we were able to get a hands-on in depth looks at the production capabilities and corporate strategy of one of the most well-known brands in the world.

At night is where the fun begins. We spent the past few evenings eating conveyor belt sushi and izakaya (Japanese tapas), tasting sake, traditional Japanese cuisine, and even live abalone that was still moving in its shell! So far we’ve only had two evenings together, and both of them ended in karaoke. We also received these awesome red robes called a happi with CBS engraved on it, which we have worn probably more often than we should. The two sections also combined to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese housing where you sleep on tatami mats) and had fun trying out the spring baths.

It’s been an unforgettable trip so far and there’s more to come!

– Katherine Li F’17

Land of the Rising Sun: A Prologue

I am currently sitting on the Japan Rail (JR) Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Hikari train from Odawara to Kyoto, excited to embark on another wonderful Chazen adventure. This time as a participant instead of organizer.

Japan has been on my bucket list for far too long, I am so excited it’s finally happening as part of my business school experience! As an added bonus, my parents decided to join me for a few days before the official trip so we were able to tour part of Japan as a family.

I always thought Tokyo was cool, but it’s even more incredible in person. It is the intersection of ancient traditions and modern technology that makes it one of the most unique cities in the world. In the past few days, we stayed in the Shinjuku area where there are lots of shops as well as the super hip and local Yokocho area. We visited Senso-ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan. We also checked out the famous Tsukiji Fish Market where we had the renowned Daiwa sushi at 7am because you have to get there really early; needless to say the sushi was absolutely amazing. Other places that we visited include Ueno Park, Ginza, and the Meiji Jingu Shrine. And yesterday, we went outside of the city to visit Hakone, where we can take a gondola to see the awesome views of Mt. Fuji, ate black sulfur eggs, and spent the night in traditional Japanese hot spring bath after an incredible home-cooked meal. Speaking of meals, the food in Japan has been absolutely spectacular. There are so many varieties, and everything from the cheap quick meals of soba and sushi to the high-end kobe beef dinners, every detail of aesthetics and flavor has been carefully and masterfully executed from centuries of practice. I just know that the food is what I am going to miss the most when I go back to the States. Thank goodness our Chazen trip is only beginning tomorrow night!

Cheers (Kanpai) to the start of a new Chazen trip! I hope you’ll follow us on this blog and social media (Instagram @ColumbiaChazen and #CBSChazen and #ChazenJapanB2017) to see what’s happening on the Japan Chazen Section B adventures.

In the meantime, here are some fun facts about Japan:

  1. Japan is the last country in the world that can be called an empire. The Japanese imperial dynasty was never interrupted. Akihito, the reigning Emperor of Japan, is a direct descendant of the first Emperor Jimmu, who founded the empire in 711 BC.
  2. The Japanese language uses three different systems for writing: hiragana (syllabic system for writing Japanese words), katakana (an alphabet used to write non-Japanese borrowed words), and kanji (hieroglyphic writing).
  3. There are no foreign workers in Japan. According to Japanese law, the minimum wage for foreign workers is higher than the average salary of a Japanese citizen. That’s why companies in this country are more likely to hire a Japanese citizen than an immigrant.
  4. Almost all railways in Japan are private. The only exceptions are the shinkansen: high-speed trains connecting the big cities of Japan.
  5. Tokyo is the safest city in the world. Six-year-olds can travel on public transport on their own.
  6. There are no landfills in Japan because all garbage is recycled. Garbage is classified into four types: combustible trash, incombustible trash, glass containers, and recyclable waste.
  7. Property rights in Japan are highly respected. There are dozens of companies with more than a thousand-year history. For example, Houshi Ryokan hotel has been in business since 718, and the same family has run it for 46 generations.
  8. In Japanese, the notions of “being wrong“ and ”being different“ are expressed by the same word: “chigau.”
  9. Fish and meat are very cheap in this country. However, fruit is very expensive. An apple usually costs $2, while a bunch of bananas can be purchased for about $5. The most expensive fruit is melon: in Tokyo, it will cost around $200.
  10. In Japan, everyone knows that Hello Kitty was created in England.

-Katherine Li F’17

Japan Spring Study Tour Section B