Arigatou gozaimasu

Looking back on the last week in Japan, I’m most surprised by just how much we were able to do there. We visited –

  • 3 cities: Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo
  • 6 companies: Omron, Suntory, Toyota, Shiseido, Mitsubishi Estate Corporation, 500 Startups
  • 1 school: Hitotsubashi Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy
  • 5 temples and shrines: Shunko-in, Fushimi-inari, Kinkaku-ji, Senso-ji, Meiji Shrine

We sampled ramen, sushi, yakitori, donburi, syabu-syabu, izakaya, tempura, monjayaki, and takoyaki. And we got pretty close as a group through many nights of sake and karaoke—not to mention trying the ryokan together. We learned how to drink tea, meditate, say “thank you” and “excuse me” in Japanese, and navigate the Tokyo subway system.

We wouldn’t have been able to do so much if not for the extensive planning and thoughtfulness of our student organizers but also the amazing variety of Japan itself. So I leave Japan feeling very grateful. Fortunately, “thank you” is one of the few things I can now say in Japanese: arigatou gozaimasu.

Japan collage


A few other surprises we encountered along the way in Japan:

  1. Though you always drive on the left in Japan, pedestrians should keep to the left in Tokyo, but keep to the right in Osaka.
  2. There is no tipping in Japan, and offering a tip can be considered an insult.
  3. There are women-only cars on Japanese subways. The rule only applies during rush hour, but you will be escorted off the train if you attempt to violate it.
  4. Toto seems to have a monopoly on toilets in Japan, and Americans may be surprised by the running water sound effects, heated seats, and multitude of other buttons.
  5. Sleeping on a tatami mat is surprisingly comfortable. Sitting through dinner on a tatami mat, however, requires a bit of flexibility.
  6. Wear nice socks. You will take off your shoes a lot in Japan: before sitting down a for meal, before entering a fitting room, before entering a shrine.
  7. Smoking is allowed in most restaurants. (There are, however, non-smoking rooms or floors in hotels.)
  8. Trashcans are hard to find in Japan. Streets are not lined with trashcans, and you won’t find trashcans in most public places or in lobbies. (Hint: look for recycling bins near vending machines.)
  9. Most people do not speak English. Most restaurants, though, have an English version of their menu and/or use a lot of pictures—pointing came in handy on this trip.

 

– Lauren

Will the real Tokyo please stand up

Tokyo doesn’t just feel like a different world compared to New York, but within Tokyo it feels like there are as many different worlds as there are people.

Today, we visited Meiji shrine, situated directly between Tokyo’s busiest area, Shibuya, and the bustling neighborhood Shinjuku. But walking to Meiji shrine, you find yourself deep in a forest, with centuries-old trees to either side, no road noise, no skyscrapers in sight.

We immediately compared that peaceful and zen-like world to Takeshita Street, home of the Harajuku girls, where teenagers and tourists pack the narrow alley. The shops, hawkers, and sweets are all directly across from Meiji shrine but they feel a world away.

 

That experience of shifting from one version of Tokyo to another so quickly and so absolutely occurs again and again here. We’ve seen the “old Tokyo” neighborhood of Asakusa and the traditional Tsujike fish market but also the high fashion, modern Ginza area. We’ve crossed at Shibuya crossing, the busiest intersection in the world, and then found our inner zen at Happo-en gardens and tea ceremony.

Usually you travel in order to know a place better, but if you think you know Tokyo, I think you just haven’t seen enough of it yet.

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– Lauren

 

The fable of the three blind men, as applied to a factory

In a Buddhist temple, we talked about reality. We learned it’s etymology as we sat on round cushions on the floor with windows to our left looking out onto a garden of raked stones and wet leaves. We heard the fable of the three blind men touching the elephant: the one who touches its tail and believes an elephant is like a snake, the one who touches its leg and thinks it’s like a tree trunk, and the one who touches its ear and thinks it’s like a fan. We define our realities based on limited information, and as we practiced zen meditation we were told to seek out new information through different methods of perceiving, to listen to our bodies and to the ways our minds wander as we control our breathing. We were told to do this without judgment, without judgment for ourselves or based on preconceived notions, and to be flexible, open to the new realities we experience.

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Normally, I can slurp down ramen like the best of them

When school lets out for any break, you’ll find that every chat is filled with people asking about rides to the airport: “I’m leaving at x o’clock for JFK, if anyone wants to split an Uber.” It’s a mad dash to faraway lands, and with Chazen travel, it’s often not a question of what city you’ll fly into or when, but are you going to stop at any other countries first. I debated long and hard about adding a stop in Hong Kong or Seoul before coming to Japan for the upcoming Chazen Study Tour. Eventually, though, I decided against it. I decided that the worst of all worlds would be if I go all this way to Japan and decide the trip was too short, that my list of want-to-do’s in Japan is still too long and I can’t check Japan off on my want-to-visit list. So I decided to shake off the jetlag in Tokyo about 4 days early. So while I’m waiting for the official Chazen activities to begin, I’m writing to you from Japan already, from my small but adorable (and even luxurious feeling) hotel in Chiyoda.

I arrived yesterday afternoon, at about 2 pm local time, which is about 1 am in New York. I was excited to have arrived, so the feeling of tired hadn’t hit me yet (I am not good at sleeping on planes). I had flown into Haneda airport, where I also purchased a SIM card (tip from the Chazen student organizers) and took the easy train rides into Tokyo. And then I realized how nervous I was. This is my first time in Japan, and I wasn’t nervous about not being able to speak the language or get around (I had already experienced the genuine niceness of people helping me purchase the right SIM card and the right train ticket). I was nervous that in a country known for such respectfulness, I would inadvertently misstep. But in a new country, you will misstep, so better to do it fast and early. . . .

After checking in to my hotel, my plan was to try to stay up as late as I could, so I headed out to see the area and find some dinner despite feeling like it was 3 am. Chiyoda isn’t the hectic Shibuya crossing area of Tokyo, which we’ll be visiting later in the trip, but while it’s relatively quiet, there’s an exciting strip of shops, restaurants, and bars. While I’m usually one to try to get off the beaten path when traveling but given my current nervousness, I went into a ramen shop with a piece of paper taped to the door that said “English okay.”

Ramen shop

The server talked to me about all the different options, the spicy chili oil on the counter, the other toppings I could add, and that I should try mixing in sour cream to make it creamier (the ramen came with a piece of bread with a sour cream spread). Everything was delicious, but as soon as he set it down I knew I was never going to finish the steaming bowl (3 am not exactly being a big meal time for me usually). I tried my hardest, but I hit my limit, and eventually he said, “I guess you didn’t much care for it.” I was mortified, and I assured him I did, that it was delicious (it was!), and I told him how I had just landed. We ended up talking more about where I’m from, his prior visits to New York, and the years he lived in LA before moving back to Tokyo. He even offered, if I have any troubles, for me to stop back for help with anything. I hope that means I recovered somewhat from my misstep. But I got my mistake out of the way early, and if more come (especially before the Chazen student organizers arrive), I’ll try to recover just the same.

So today, I explored Tokyo a bit more and took a day trip to Nikko (if all else fails, repent at a shrine—see below). I’ll have one more day in Tokyo before meeting up with the group for a pre-Chazen exploration of Osaka (one of our organizers’ hometowns), and I’ll keep you updated as the official Chazen Study Tour starts Sunday in Kyoto. We have an exciting agenda that spans Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo, with 8 company visits, lots of sightseeing, and plenty of sushi, yakitori, and sake.

 

 

– Lauren

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

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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