Chazen Japan: 15 Moments That Sum Up the Trip

We’ve been back in New York after returning from Japan for a week now, and as the jet lag subsides it’s been hard to distill the whirlwind trip to Japan into a few memories. Here are 15 highlights from the trip that stand out, looking back on our week on Chazen:

1. Meeting a Maiko, a Geisha in training

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Our dinner entertainment during our first night was provided by a Maiko, a Geisha in training, who danced to traditional Japanese music and answered our questions about the rigorous training that goes into becoming a Geisha. I hadn’t realized that Geishas were an official position that required training before hearing from the Maiko. She is one of just 100 Maikos apprenticing to become a Geisha. Traditionally, Maikos are between 15 and 20, and study traditional Japanese arts such as music, dance, and flower arranging.

2. Learning to Meditate from a Zen priest 

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The first jam-packed day of our tour began by slowing down. We visited the Taizo-in Zen Buddhist Temple, built in the 15th century, to learn to meditate. The Zen Buddhist priest condensed a normal hour-long meditation session into just 15 minutes, because, he explained, we wouldn’t be able to last one hour during our first attempt at meditation. After the meditation session, we toured the temple and its gardens, learned about Zen Buddhism, and enjoyed a vegetarian meal.

3. Visiting our tour organizer’s employer, SCREEN

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Our first company visit, and sponsor company of our trip organizer Joji, provided us with a warm welcome to Japanese corporate culture. The Kyoto-based company was the perfect introduction to Japan’s business environment, where we learned that despite its 1868 establishment, SCREEN isn’t even considered to be an old company in Japan, home to some of the world’s oldest business. SCREEN has adapted over the years from its roots as Kyoto’s first printing shop to today being a leading producer of of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, flat-panel displays, and printing hardware and software.

4. Seeing robots create cars at the Toyota manufacturing plant

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After learning about Toyota’s lean manufacturing in the core, we were all very excited to see the famous supply chain in action. But I don’t think any of us expected to find the plant to be completely removed of people. The first stop on the Toyota assembly line featured robots stamping, welding, painting, assembling, and molding the cars. The supply chain was making a few different types of cars that traveled through the line in a random order, and the robots knew to adjust their process depending on the car type.

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5. Singing karaoke in yukatas at the Rayokan

Our night in the traditional Japanese Rayokan stood out from the rest of the week in modern business hotels: we slept on the floor, wore yukata robes (essentially a kimono to the untrained eye), and performed karaoke in Japanese, English, and Chinese. Our Rayokan was situated in a hilltop town beside a lake and above natural hot springs. Taking a dip in the natural spa provided a restful break from a hectic week.

6. Riding the bullet train and seeing Mt. Fuji

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It’s hard to say what was more exciting: waiting for the bullet train to arrive at the station as we watched other “express trains” skip our stop and whiz by in a matter of seconds, or squeezing by the windows to catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji emerge through the clouds as we road the bullet train south of the storied mountain. Definitely will take any remaining ounce of thrill out of riding the Amtrak in the states.

7. Asking our most pressing questions from Nobuhide Minorikawa

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Four days into our trip our group had come up with a decent list of difficult questions about Japanese culture, business, and politics. Visiting Nobuhide Minorikawa, a member of the House of Representitives and Columbia SIPA alum, provided us with a perfect outlet to ask some of our most difficult questions about Japan’s limited recognition of its wartime atrocities committed against the Chinese during World War II and why we’d met so few female business leaders.

8. Learning about robotic exo-skeletons from the CEO of Cyberdyne

At an alumni event hosted by the Columbia Business School Alumni Club of Japan we heard from Yoshiyuki Sankai, a University of Tsukuba professor who’s also the CEO of robotics company Cyberdyne. Cyberdyne’s main product is a robotic exo-skeleton that uses brain signals to control the movement of people with impaired movement. Watching videos of the product in action truly felt like a scene from a futuristic movie.

9. Walking up close to the planes on the ANA maintenance floor

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On Thursday morning we visited ANA, one of Japan’s two premiere airlines, at Haneda Airport. After putting on hard hats, we toured the maintenance floor and were all impressed by how large commercial airplanes seem while standing next to them. Following the floor, we spoke with company reps about the airlines future plans, including its goal to be the main connector between the U.S. and destinations further into East and Southeast Asia.

10. Eating Standing Sushi … and lots of other sushi

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From ramen to sushi to tempura, sampling Japanese cuisine was one of the most anticipated parts of the trip. For me, eating at Tokyo’s Standing Sushi was the highlight of the week’s food. At the chain of sushi bars located around Tokyo, you order each piece of fish one by one and watch as the chefs prepare it in front of the standing counter. There was certainly other sushi consumed this week – including for breakfast after the early morning tuna auction and at upscale restaurants – but for me, the casual standing bars were the highlight.

11. Learning about Englishnization at Rakuten

Our final company visit of the trip was to Japan’s largest e-commerce platform, Rakuten. After a week of meetings in business formal environments, Rakuten stood out for its Silicon Valley startup-esque vibe. We met with Kyle Lee, the head of human resources, who discussed the company’s Englishnization program, began four years ago, which mandated all employees achieve fluency in English and that all business is conducted in English.

12. Enjoying the view from the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar from Lost in Translation

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As a New Yorker, I don’t often get excited about visiting locations featured in movies. For that reason, I was skeptical of the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar, featured in the movie Lost in Translation. But boy was I wrong about this place. Located on the 52nd floor of a hotel on a hill, New York Bar at night provided an almost other-worldly view of Tokyo’s urban sprawl from above. Though the Tokyo Tower that we visited the following morning has a higher observatory, it really couldn’t compete with New York Bar’s floor to ceiling views of the city lit up at night.

13. Exploring the narrow allies of Golden Gai

Tokyo’s Golden Gai neighborhood boasts then highest density of bars in the world. In the space of a few city block are narrow pedestrian allies packed with closet-sized bars. Each of the tiny drinking spots is distinctly decorated, each with just a half-dozen seats. During our visit to Golden Gai, our group pushed the seating limits at one of the small spots, where we sat in a bar under a stairwell, resembling the fictional bedroom of Harry Potter.

14. Taking in a bizarre show at the Robot Restaurant

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Tokyo is renowned around the globe for its wacky-weird entertainment sensibility. Experiencing one of the city’s themed restaurants and cafes makes anyone’s list of must-do activities when visiting. For much of our group, the Robot Restaurant was the café of choice. I’d been looking forward to the café for years, after Anthony Bourdain visited on Parts Unknown, yet I couldn’t have anticipated just how unusual the two-hour variety show filled with unrelated characters and neon lights truly was.

15. Singing karaoke on a dinner cruise in the Tokyo Bay

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The trip officially concluded with a dinner boat cruise in the Tokyo Bay. We ate tempura and  sashimi, sang karaoke, and enjoyed views of the city’s illuminated skyline from the water. We toasted our organizers, the group of students that the Chazen study tour lottery brought together, and the country we’ve enjoyed getting to know over the past week.

-Zoe Fox

Japan, Spring 2016

Chazen Japan: Meet Our Fearless Leaders

It’s T-one week until Chazen Japan 2016 will begin in Kyoto, and after our kick-off session this week, when we reviewed our itinerary over sushi and Sapporo, the excitement is mounting. During the trip we’ll make our way from Kyoto to Tokyo, visiting companies including Screen, Toyota, Cyberdyne, ANA, and Rakuten. We’ll also visit the Taizo-in zen temple, participate in a traditional Tea Ceremony, and meet with a politician, Minorikawa.

Before we depart, I thought it would be a great time to learn more about the team of students organizing the trip, who’ve been working for months to put together our itinerary. I asked the four trip organizers to share a bit about what they’re most looking forward to about the trip.

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Hometown: Beijing, China

Favorite destination on the Chazen Japan itinerary: Kyoto

Favorite destination not on the Chazen Japan itinerary (anywhere else in the world): Heiligenblut

Favorite Japanese food/drink: Sashimi

What you’re most excited for about the trip: Food!!

 

Name/year: Rebecca Xu (2017)

Hometown: Hangzhou, China

Favorite destination on the Chazen Japan itinerary: Kyoto

Favorite destination not on the Chazen Japan itinerary (anywhere else in the world):  Turkey

Favorite Japanese food/drink: Japanese soft ice cream and matcha

What you’re most excited for about the trip: Giving everyone a “wow” experience in Japan and Asia!

 

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Name/year: Joji Takamoto (2017)

Hometown: Kyoto, Japan

Favorite destination on the Chazen Japan itinerary: Taizo-in

Favorite destination not on the Chazen Japan itinerary (anywhere else in the world):  Belgium – I traveled there often for business

Favorite Japanese food/drink: Kiaseki and sho-chu

What you’re most excited for about the trip: Introducing my home country to everyone!

 

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Name/year: Ryan You (2017)

Hometown: Wuhan, China

Favorite destination on the Chazen Japan itinerary: Tokyo

Favorite destination not on the Chazen Japan itinerary (anywhere else in the world): Africa

Favorite Japanese food/drink: Sushi, Sake/Sake Cocktail

What you’re most excited for about the trip: opportunity to bring crazy fun to the people I like and enjoy to hang out with

-Zoe Fox ’17

Toyota City and Tokyo!

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

The Toyota Mirai, the company's first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
The Toyota Mirai, the company’s first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

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:

"I want you! I need you! I love you! kimi ni ae te dondon chikazuku sono kyori ni MAX high tension"
“I want you!
I need you!
I love you!
kimi ni ae te
dondon chikazuku sono kyori ni
MAX high tension”

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:

Awesome view of Tokyo at Yebisu Garden Place!
Awesome view of Tokyo at Yebisu Garden Place!

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!

Teamwork at ANA
Teamwork at ANA

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!:

Inigo's  Birthday Surprise!
Inigo’s Birthday Surprise!

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.

Gasolina!
Gasolina!

The Exploration Has Only Just Begun. Thoughts on Japan from Over the Pacific.

Sadly, this will be my last blog post from this trip to Japan. I’ve greatly enjoyed writing these posts, which have helped me take stock of this 10 day extravaganza. Hopefully they’ll also serve as a collective memory for all the trip participants and as entertainment for those that stumble across it on the web. Amusingly, I’m also writing it from an ANA flight bound for NYC—something that is much more meaningful after meeting with the company’s head of strategy in Tokyo.

I think I speak for all of my fellow travelers when I say that we have only barely scratched the surface of what Japan has to offer. In a whirlwind 10 days we met with 5 companies, visited 4 cities (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo), spent 1 night in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), and sang karaoke more times than I can count. We couldn’t have done any of this without our fantastic trip organizers Ryota-san, Yoshi-san, Mari-san and Ken-san. For those that aren’t familiar with how CBS Chazen trips work, 1st and 2nd year students from Japan (and other countries, respectively) actually organize and lead each of the trips for the benefit of their classmates. The effort our peers spent on this is a labor of love that all of us will remember for years to come.

Learning about Japanese business was one of the principle goals of this trip, and I think we got a great view of Japan, Inc.—from storied companies like Toyota to rapidly growing global behemoths like Fast Retailing. The message I took away from this is that Japanese companies are adapting to the aging of Japan by looking abroad for new markets and, on occasion, ideas. Going “global” is a process that many Western companies started a while ago, and some Japanese companies have done with great success (Toyota, Sony, etc.). But every company we spoke with wanted to aggressively ramp up its efforts on this front (including Toyota). Further, I think our visits with Rakuten and Fast Retailing demonstrated a profound desire to change the “norm” of how business is done in Japan by moving quickly and focusing on being a global—rather than strictly a Japanese—company.
The cultural insights were important as well. We saw old Japan in Kyoto and modern Japan in Tokyo, although the distinctions aren’t so clear cut—the traditional and modern often co-exist right next to each other, with modern buildings located adjacent to Shinto Shrines. Beyond the historical monuments, however, it was the little things that stuck out. In most countries nowadays, many people speak English (or at least a derivation of English) as it is the basis for much of global commerce and culture. This is simply not the case in Japan; many people spoke a few words here and there, but it is not widespread. Despite this language gap, our large group saw nothing but friendly faces and a profound willingness to help us make the most of our trip. This ranged from help as we stared, befuddled, at maps written entirely in Japanese or at restaurants where we resorted to pointing and body language to order.

I think my experience the last day of the trip epitomized the Japan I came to know over the past week. A few of stayed an extra day in Tokyo to wander around the city a bit more. Separately, we spent the day exploring exquisitely sculpted public gardens and the hustle and bustle of Shibuya and Shinjuku neighborhoods. It is a bit cliché, but in the evening we started with a drink at the New York Bar in the Park Hyatt Hotel. Sound familiar? It should; this was where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson met in Lost in Translation. Regardless of it being a tried and true tourist spot, it was magical. Fabulous views of Tokyo’s sprawl in a swanky setting as we sipped on Japanese whiskey and listened to a jazz band play in the background. From there, it was off to the Golden Gai area. This tiny area, only a few blocks wide, is indicative of what Tokyo was like before the boom of the 50s and 60s—narrow alleyways housing dozens and dozens of bars in an incredibly compact space. Each of these bars only holds 4-5 people, an intimate setting for conversation. We chose one strictly on a whim (they had a good oldies playlist) and sat in front of our server, Mai. She spoke a bit of English, and we chatted for a few hours over drinks as she cooked gnocchi and told us her life story. Before parting ways, we took a series of photos together and received an impeccably hand-drawn map of where to eat. It was a small restaurant, buried in the back of a nearby building that clearly had not seen many tourists. The food was great, and when we told them Mai had send us the staff lit up. We had to leave fairly quickly at the end of the meal to catch the last train home, and were shocked to discover we had left too early—the staff had brought dessert (green tea ice cream and green tea Kit Kats) on the house. As we parted ways for the last time before heading back to New York, I looked up to see the bright lights of Tokyo (think Times Square, but for many blocks) and realized that I’d be back again. After this trip, I think the vast majority of Chazen Japan 2014 participants feel the same.

Thanks again to our fantastic trip organizers and my fellow students for making this trip a blast. It simply would not have been the same, or as great of an experience, without each and every one of you. And thanks to all of you in cyberspace who have followed along.

Sayonara, for now.

Jonathan Robins
Class of 2015

 

 

 

Tokyo: CBS Alumni, Karaoke and Sushi. And Some More Sushi. And Some More Karaoke. Sense a Pattern?

There has been a whirlwind of activity since I last posted, including nearly all of our company visits for the trip (Toyota, Rakuten, ANA and Uniqlo).  I’ll be writing a separate blog post about those after the trip—in the interim I’ll give you a snapshot of the other activities we’ve partaken in.

A Very Impressive Group of CBS Alumni

 The evening of our first day in Tokyo began with a reception at the Tokyo-American Club with CBS alumni in the city.  The Club was a swanky venue, certainly much nicer than many of the university clubs I’ve been to in NYC.  It was also very American in style; the staff was American and the format/etiquette of the networking reception would be familiar to anyone who engaged in on-campus recruiting.  The Tokyo alumni were an impressive group, with senior folks from a wide variety of industries (including one Toyota executive who spoke with us when we visited the company).  The best part of the event was actually the presentation—a young entrepreneur, Ken Isono, who just graduated from the Global EMBA program in 2013 talked about his new solar energy venture, Shizen Energy.  Japan started late on renewable energy (it had focused on nuclear), with significant policies to support its development entering force only after the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011.  This was particularly relevant to me, as I am currently enrolled in a class on the economics of the energy industry.

There were two key takeaways from this: (1) Japan’s solar market is now booming as a result of generous feed-in tariffs (i.e. long-term contracts with utilities at a good rate); and (2) Starting a company in Japan is much more difficult than many of us had imagined.  With regard to the latter, our speaker described how venture capital funding was prohibitively difficult to obtain in the country—and that he is personally liable on the loan he was able to get.  This is very different from the U.S., where financing is more widely available due to a dynamic venture capital industry.

Overall, I came away from the event truly impressed by the global scope of the CBS brand.  I’m not usually one to drink the kool-aid on these sorts of things, but I’m sold.

And, the Karaoke Session that Followed

When one comes to Tokyo, it is inevitable that karaoke will happen.  We all remember the scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray has a singing session of his own, and our friends/tour guides booked a room in an impressive establishment, Karaoke-Kan.  Located in the Roppongi district, a famed nightlife area popular with foreigners, the building has well over five floors of karaoke rooms—with different themes.  From the second we stepped out of the cab, all of us were excited; the vibe in the area is simply electric, with tons of flashing lights and packed streets.  We were not disappointed.  We were given a gigantic room with over 5 TV monitors, multiple lighting settings, and a stage with two microphones.  For the next two hours, we sang song after song—from Oasis to the Backstreet Boys—as a series of dedicated waiters and waitresses made sure we were taken care of appropriately.  Highlight of the karaoke session: when the guys on the trip serenaded one of our organizers, Mari, to K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life”.

Sushi, So Much Sushi

For those of you that have been following this blog, you probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned sushi since I landed in Japan.  This is because, for all intents and purposes, sushi is more ubiquitous and consumed on a more regular basis in the United States (or at least NYC).  As many of you know, basically every super market (and now even Duane Reade) has some sort of sushi available—and people eat it very frequently.  In Japan sushi consumption is a bit different; it is a type of restaurant you go to much more rarely.  So, upon arriving to Tokyo, we simply hadn’t had it as a group yet.  This all changed on Friday night, as one of our friends/trip organizers led us to one of her favorite spots for sushi that comes around on a conveyor belt.  Needless to say, it was fantastic.  Everything from succulent fatty tuna to sea urchin was delicious and the bill wasn’t too bad either.   I should mention that one additional difference between U.S. and Japanese sushi is that at Japanese places there really aren’t rolls—those are an American thing.

We also went to the famous fish market the next morning for sushi breakfast.  We bought raw hunks of freshly caught tuna and devoured them while strolling around the market.  Unfortunately I have to run; we’re off to our farewell dinner and boat cruise!  Time flies when you’re having fun.  And signing lots of karaoke.

JR

P.S. — I didn’t write about this, but I also included a video clip of the geisha dinner we had in Kyoto.

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There are Egyptian Sumo Wrestlers and Non-Fogging Mirrors in Japan.

Before departing NYC, I was excited about a lot of experiences I was about to have in Japan.  While I think Chazen would like me to say that I was most ecstatic about our company visit to Toyota, I have to be honest:  I wanted to see sumo wrestling more than anything.  That sentence doesn’t actually convey my enthusiasm—SUMO WRESTLING!!!!!!!!—is more appropriate.  After all, how many sports are there with gigantic, well-fed men slamming their gelatinous bodies against each other while wearing something that looks nearly identical to a man thong?

I was not disappointed.  The matches are actually quite short, rarely lasting more than a minute each, but they are incredibly exciting.  Our group of approximately 10 CBS students rarely knew who to root for, or for that matter who was fighting, but we quickly determined a system for our cheering:  go with the largest guy.  We were saved from our ignorance of the sumo ways by a friendly expatriate that was sitting behind us at the arena.  He had moved to Japan over 30 years ago from Syracuse, NY to pursue a career in martial arts and ended up staying.  He and his Japanese wife are sumo fanatics, and gave us all sorts of relevant info on the sport.

Surprisingly, the best sumo wrestlers today are actually Mongolian.  There are also a few Bulgarians who fight (apparently they’re not very good), but more interestingly, there is an Egyptian.  All of these fighters take Japanese names and wear the same outfits as their native counterparts, but the Bulgarians and the Egyptian were very noticeable due to their extensive chest and neck hair.  Our expat friend also gave us some good advice—to sneak up and sit in the press box right next to the ring.  We did, and it was awesome.

After a few hours of this, we headed back from Osaka to Kyoto for our welcome Chazen dinner!  It was very fun, and it was a good start to the next day’s festivities where we visited the headquarters of Gekkeikan, a leading Japanese sake distillery.  The head of the international department walked us through the company’s operations and the state of the industry.  Apparently domestic sake consumption has declined drastically over the past decade, while international sales have been growing—but not by nearly enough to offset the overall decline.  That glum news did not prevent us from having a lovely sake tasting.

We then saw a series of historical sites that are central to Japanese culture, and rather than describe in words I have included a few photos below to give you a sense of what we saw.

I wrote this post on the shinkansen (bullet train), as we are traveling from Kyoto to Nagoya in order to go see the Toyota factory and their world-famous just-in-time production system.  Needless to say the group is excited—especially as the visit is followed by a night in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), including a karaoke session in traditional Japanese garb.

That’s it for now.  Until next time—Sayonara.

JR

P.S.—While I’ve chosen not to focus my blog posts on the state of Japanese bathroom technology, it is truly impressive.  Nearly all toilets have heated seats and built-in bidets, and some even have a sink on top!  Effectively a whole bathroom in one device; it is a sight to behold.  Further, our hotel bathroom had a portion of the mirror that simply didn’t steam up right in front of the sink.  This was fantastically helpful and my roommate and I are mystified by the technology.

 

shinkansen sumo

Bleary Eyed Travelers Find Serenity and Impeccable Cleanliness in Kyoto

After 24 hours of travel, I arrived in Kyoto with three other CBS friends who decided to get an early start on our Japan extravaganza.  After a bleary eyed initial dinner, where we sat on the ground with our shoes off in true Japanese style, we woke up the next morning to a full day of site seeing.  Kyoto is the cultural hub of Japan, and is home to hundreds of temples and shrines.  What is the difference between a temple and shrine, you ask?  We didn’t know at first either—but a temple is Buddhist and a shrine is Shinto.  Interestingly, many of these are co-located as a significant portion of the population identifies as both.  I’ve included a photo below, but they don’t convey the serenity of being in a Japanese garden.  Everything is meticulously constructed and groomed; workers at the sites can be seen sweeping away single fallen leaf.

Before actually seeing our first shrine, however, we navigated the subway system.   Coming from New York City, one expects stations to be fairly dirty with a subtle, but persistent, unpleasant smell.  Not so in Kyoto.  Subway stations are as spotless as a hospital.  This extends to the individual subway cars, where comfy padded seats look as if they were installed yesterday.  I’m fascinated by public transportation, but I think this is more than you, the reader, care to hear about a subway.

The first shrine we went to was called Fushimi, which is known for its extensive series of gates.  Interestingly, many of these are actually the result of corporate sponsorship—Japanese businesses buy them in order to have good luck and success in their business endeavors.  While we weren’t allowed to take photos, we did see a group of businessmen at the shrine praying.

After many photos and a lot of stairs (the shrine is built into the side of a mountain), we decided to rest our weary feet and grab some lunch in the Gion district.  The Gion is one of the major neighborhoods in Kyoto, known for its nightlife and beautiful old houses.  We ate in one of these along a small canal, a meal of okonomiyaki and fried udon noodles.  The former is a specialty of this area, and sort of resembles a pancake with toppings.

We had heavy jet lag at this point, and decided to check out one more site after lunch—a castle.  This doesn’t look like a Disneyland castle.  The site was beautiful, but the most amusing part was running into a bunch of CBS students who were on a separate trip to Japan!  Needless to say, our seasoned brethren gave us a number of helpful tips.

After an early dinner we called it a day—sumo wrestling awaited.

JR

P.S.—The castle picture in this post is actually of Osaka Castle, but it gives you a flavor for what a Japanese castle looks like.

shrineosaka castle

Anxious for Japan– from Sumo to Sushi and Everything in Between

Fellow Classmates:

Blogging was not one of the experiences I expected to have at CBS, but alas, there is a first time for everything.  I’ve always liked writing; prior to enrolling at school I served as a speechwriter for former Clinton Administration officials and the CEO of Alcoa.  Now it is time to try it out on the web.

Spring break is rapidly approaching, and the conversation in Uris Hall has inevitably turned to travel destinations.  There are a healthy mix of options, from a staycation in New York to renting a villa on the coast of Nicaragua, but there were a few CBS students who were lucky enough to be chosen for Chazen trips.  I applied for and won a spot on the Japan trip, which, needless to say, is rather exciting.

When I think of Japan, I think about Sumo, Sushi and Shinkansen (bullet train).  While experiencing all of those things are still high on my priority list for this trip, our agenda is much more expansive.  The organizers, four Japanese students who have graciously agreed to shepherd us around their country, have come up with a tremendous itinerary.  Besides visiting a number of awesome companies– including Toyota and Uniqlo– we are going to experience an onsen (spa) and take a cruise around Tokyo Bay.

Besides arranging the trip, including every logistical detail for those of us arriving early, our organizers have also hosted dinners in NYC to facilitate friendships amongst the Chazen Japan participants and give us a taste (pun intended) of what Japan has to offer.  The meal at Sun-Chan restaurant near Columbia stands out in my mind. It was a feast.  Upon arriving, there were plates of delectable sashimi and edamame placed on the table.  While we all initially thought this was the meal, we were in for a decadent surprise.  Endless rounds of Japanese delicacies began to stream out of the kitchen, from chicken meatballs to rice with eel.  Two hours later, the entire group had eaten far too much.  But, we did learn something critical for our trip.  To say cheers in Japanese, you simply clink glasses and shout: KANPAI!

My flight to Osaka leaves in a little over 10 days and I couldn’t be more excited.  I know that the other trip participants feel the same way.

Signing off for now, you’ll hear more from me once I’ve arrived in Japan and seen a Sumo match.

–JR (Jonathan Robins ’15)

P.S.– Group photo pre-trip Chazen Japan Dinner

First Day in Kyoto

We kicked off our first day in Japan playing tourists in Kyoto.  For me it was a great way to be introduced to Japanese culture, and also a great opportunity to get to know 39 of my fellow classmates.

Entirely jet-lagged, I was in for a full day.  On the agenda:  4 temple visits, a traditional tea ceremony w/lunch, a tour around Kyoto’s Geisha district, and a shabu-shabu dinner (complete with Geisha entertainment).

First stop, the Golden Pavilion.  This temple is incredible.  It is entirely gilded with a gold paper, and the building itself incorporates three styles of Japanese architecture that eventually melted into a style of its own.  After taking a few pictures we had the opportunity to walk around the gardens.  Let me tell you, after being cooped up in NYC this winter, it was an absolute treat to walk around.  The garden at the Golden Pavilion is in the traditional Muromachi style garden.  Clearly gorgeous.

Golden Pavilion - Kyoto

Apparently this is one of two of the traditional types of gardens seen in Japan, the other being the kare-sansui or Japanese rock garden.  We were able to see a great example of the rock garden at the Ryoan Temple.

Ryoan Temple Rock Garden - Kyoto

Our guide (who was just amazing) was able to explain that the garden plays a central role in meditation.  When you meditate you face the garden, so simplicity of design is key so as to not cause distractions.  Both styles are designed with this in mind.

For a break between temple sightings, we headed to Tondaya for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.  We were told that the tea ceremony also played an important role in meditation, because the tea was used to keep you awake (as a student, I totally understand). This was really an entirely new experience for me.  Prior to drinking the tea they give you a few sweets.  The tea is made of matcha powder (which is powdered green tea), and you eat the sweets first to make it less bitter.  When the tea is presented to you they present the best face of the bowl.  To be polite you need to turn the bowl first to drink out of it.   I don’t think I have all the rules down yet…but I’ll keep practicing.

Tea Ceremony at Tondaya

Fueled and now fully caffeinated from our green tea we headed out to the Sangendo Temple.  Words cannot describe how amazing this temple was.  But unfortunately, no pictures.  Just know that the main hall of the temple is filled with 1001 Buddha statues.  Each were meticulously hand carved hundreds of years ago, and gilded.  Each Buddha has a dozen or so hands to help all of the people, and several faces to see all of the people.  Each hand and face a different detail.  Hard to explain, but truly a sight to see.

Next on the agenda was a trip to Kiyomizu Temple, which is a really popular temple to visit.  After taking the trip, I can definitely see why.  It is built on a hillside overlooking Kyoto.  Leading up to the temple are dozens of cute little shops carrying souvenirs, pastries, tea houses…and luckily umbrellas, because it was pouring.  Undeterred by the rain I had the opportunity to walk all around the temple.  Behind the main temple building there is a Shinto Shrine dedicated to the God of Love (at least I think that was it…or maybe Good Marriage).  Anyway, there were tons of ladies lined up at the steps of the shrine.  Apparently there are two rocks, and if you touch one of them and then turn around and find the other one with your eyes closed you will find your love.  Well, I am married and the line was too long to see it, so I just headed down to the waterfall.  The water of Kiyomizu is said to be completely pure.  Here people line up to take a drink from the fountain.

Kiyomizu Temple Kyoto

After touring Kiyomizu we headed back into the city.  We had a few hours to kill before dinner, so our guide graciously offered to show us a few areas that might be of interest.  The tour included a covered shopping center, complete with food market and a walking tour of some of the preserved Geisha districts of Kyoto.  By this point I was tired.  I was soaked head to toe from all the rain, and the last thing I wanted to do was trek around the city…so of course that is what I did.  It was fascinating to see the districts and to hear about the training and apprenticeship process of becoming a Geisha.  Even better was the opportunity to talk to a few Geisha performers at dinner to ask further questions about why they became Geisha, how long it took to move from apprentice to full-blown Geisha, and what the work is like throughout the different stages.

Shabu Shabu Dinner at Ganko in Kyoto

All in all a great day.  Kyoto is beautiful, and I learned a lot about Buddhism, Shinto, Geisha and a few old traditions.  I think the day raised as many questions as it answered.  I am now hooked on Japan.  I want to continue to research and learn about the culture I have now witnessed.  And this is just day one!  I can’t wait to see the rest of what Japan has to offer!

Chazen Japan: The Adventure Begins

After two weeks of doing nothing but prepping for exams, I am finally prepping for my Chazen Japan trip!  And there is a lot to prep for.  To kick things off my fellow classmates and I will have the opportunity to take in the sights of Kyoto (our friendly guides/classmates are keeping our exact destinations a secret so that we don’t ruin it with pre-trip googling), and experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

From Kyoto we head to Toyota for a complete factory tour.  I think I speak for everyone who had Professor Hall for Operations Management when I say that I cannot wait to see their just-in-time inventory in action (#epic)!

Then it is on to Tokyo for a few days.  On the agenda: Uniqlo, DeNA, Citi, and Mori.  It’s going to be pretty jam packed with company visits, group dinners, karaoke, and all of the many ramen shops that that are circulating around the group Facebook page (I am planning on visiting at least two…at least…).

Yuzu (Japanese citron) Salt Ramen is good. Light taste Ramen shop

Now you may be wondering, how on earth I am going to be able to keep up with such a crazy schedule.  And I don’t blame you.  I was wondering that myself…But as it turns out that isn’t going to be a problem.

Introducing the Chazen Japan 2013 Yapp Ap:

Chazen Japan Yapp Cover                       Chazen Japan Yapp Schedule

One of my awesome trip-mates put this together so that we not only know where to be when, but it is also packed with useful tips such as what to wear, Japanese phrases, phone numbers for our hotels, and more.

So as you can see, this trip is going to be amazing.  Companies, culture, and new friends.  Get excited.  The adventure kicks off tomorrow.

-Lacy Pierce, ’14 (Follow my travels: https://twitter.com/lacypierce)