The Global Business Association (GBA) and Japanese Business Club (JBC) joined efforts last October to send 34 students, Dean Jim Bradford and David Parsley, the E. Bronson Ingram Professor in Economics and Finance, on an excursion through Japan as part of the GBA’s third annual fall break trip. The purpose of these trips is to educate the Owen community about global business through internationally focused academic and cultural activities. In our case, we learned about Japan’s economy, primary industries, culture and business customs.
Taking 36 people through four cities over an eight-day period can be a daunting task, but my fellow organizers and I were up for the challenge. Amrita Dutta-Gupta, BA’03, Dwyla Beard and I helped coordinate the trip for the GBA. The JBC organizers were Toshinao Endo, Hiromasa Shimomoto and Hideaki Suga. All six of us are in the MBA Class of 2011.
“One of the most educational and fun aspects of organizing the Japan trip was working with the Japanese Business Club,” says Dutta-Gupta, who serves as President of the GBA. “Through the planning process, which included weekly meetings and innumerable emails over six months, we were able to form stronger friendships, which will endure beyond our experience at Owen.”
Prior to the trip, all participants were provided an overview of the business and cultural customs of Japan. Heiki Miki, MBA’96, Section Manager of Line Pipe Export at JFE Steel and a member of Owen’s Alumni Board, educated participants about common language terms and proper business etiquette.
Day 1: Tokyo
The first company we visited was Microsoft, where we learned about the customization and localization of its products for the Japanese market. In the afternoon we traveled to JFE Steel. Tadaaki Yamaguchi, MBA’02, provided us with direct exposure to the entire steel manufacturing process, including raw materials procurement, the creation of pig iron in a 2,192-degree blast furnace, and the final rolling of high-performance steel sheets.
Day 2: Tokyo
We toured several Tokyo sites, including the Meiji Jingu shrine, the Imperial Palace, the Asakusa Kannon temple and the Nakamise shopping arcade. That evening we participated in an izakaya party. An izakaya is a drinking establishment that offers a variety of small dishes, which are shared by all at the table.
Day 3: Kyoto
We traveled to Kyoto via bullet train (Shinkansen), which can go upwards of 187 mph. Upon arrival we visited the Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera temples. We also viewed a kimono fashion show at the Nishijin Textile Center, which had beautiful silk textiles on display. In the evening a few of us experienced traditional Japanese entertainment performed by geisha (called maiko in Kyoto), ate delicious local cuisine and played drinking games while in the maiko’s company.
Day 4: Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Hiroshima
While half the group stayed in Kyoto or ventured to nearby Osaka and Kobe, the other half took the bullet train to Hiroshima. I opted for the latter, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. We toured the city with two atomic bomb survivors who have learned English in their old age to tell their stories of what happened on Aug. 6, 1945, and in the months that followed. This spurred a thought-provoking discussion about World War II among our group.
Following Hiroshima, we ferried to an island called Miyajima to see the Itsukushima shrine and its famous torii, or gate. One of the unique things about the island is that its wild deer are accustomed to people and wander around the tourist sites. At one point we literally walked side by side with a baby fawn and its mother. The experience was quite serene—the perfect epilogue to Hiroshima.
Day 5: Kyoto, Kameyama and Hakone
This was the busiest day of the trip. Before departing Kyoto we visited Gekkeikan, the largest sake producer in the world, and learned about its manufacturing process. Elizabeth Childs, an MBA candidate for 2011, says, “The highlight for me was being able to stand on top of a silo holding 111,000 gallons of sake. That was incredible!”
In the afternoon we headed to the Sharp Electronics factory in Kameyama, where impressive LCD, 3-D and Quattron technology was on display. Sharp also impressed us with its CSR (corporate social responsibility), highlighting the use of solar panels to provide energy to both the factory and the adjacent town.
We finished the day in Hakone, where the highlights were participating in a traditional enkai (Japanese-style banquet), visiting an onsen (natural hot springs) and singing karaoke with Dean Bradford!
Day 6: Gotemba and Tokyo
Leaving Hakone, we visited Terumo, a prestigious medical device company in Gotemba. The company’s facilities serve not only as corporate headquarters but also as a research-and-development and training center, which includes a mock hospital. Shigeru Aono, MBA’05, who is Manager of the Oncology Business Unit at Novartis Pharma K.K., joined the group for a tour of this impressive facility.
After a long day of travel, most of the group spent the evening navigating the Tokyo subway system to find last-minute souvenirs or catch a glimpse of the night skyline from the Toyko Tower. I opted for a neon-filled stroll with my husband, Keith Whitman, BS’03, a fellow MBA candidate for 2011. We walked through the Akihabara neighborhood, popularly known as “Electric Town,” where most of Tokyo’s young go to play video games or shop for the newest electronics.
Day 7: Tokyo
Bright and early at 4:45 a.m., the group traveled via taxi to the Tsukiji Market, one of the largest fish markets in the world, where we witnessed a live tuna auction. Flash-frozen tuna from the prior day were sold for $5,000–$30,000 each and distributed to local restaurants and markets worldwide.
Smelling like fish, we then headed to Kirin Beverage Co., where Yuichi Yamada, MBA’07, and Tomoaki Asanuma, MBA’07, provided an in-depth presentation about the soft drink, bottled water, juice and tea market in Japan, where Kirin is the market leader. Their presentation would have made Owen’s marketing and strategy faculty quite proud.
We finished the day by traveling to Nissan’s headquarters, where we received an overview of its new electric car, the LEAF, and a private showing of all the vehicles on the floor. Later that evening, Dean Bradford hosted an alumni dinner with help from Kazuaki Osumi, MBA’05. All of the trip participants and alumni in the area were invited. The 15 alumni who attended said they longed to visit Nashville and Owen again. We hope they can make it back soon!
Day 8: Tokyo
On our final day, we visited SECOM, a pioneer in Japan’s security services market. Hideki Hirazawa, MBA’00, Director of the IT/Health Care Division at SECOM, and his team discussed what they are doing in the health care space and spoke about the various health care challenges in Japan. It was quite a relevant and fascinating presentation given the current debate over health care reform in the United States. After leaving SECOM, we then toured the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where we learned about its modernization, trading trends, main players and derivatives market.
We are extremely grateful for the insight, assistance, dedication and translating abilities of the three aforementioned JBC organizers (Endo, Shimomoto and Suga) who worked tirelessly throughout the eight days to ensure an educational, welcoming and never-to-be-forgotten experience.
Additionally, this trip would not have been possible without the efforts of our alumni. “They were extremely excited about our visit to Japan,” Dwyla Beard says, “and they supported us by opening the doors of their companies for our visits. Although Vanderbilt is located in the U.S., the Japanese alumni reminded me that Owen alumni are exhibiting leadership all over the world.”
Arigato gozaimasu, Japan!
Kelly Leo, BS’03, is an MBA candidate for 2011 and the Vice President of Owen Bridges within the Global Business Association. Owen Bridges helps international students acclimate to Owen and the Nashville community through one-on-one mentorships and group activities.