A typical day in Tokyo started with a buffet breakfast at the hotel that included both western foods like French toast and eggs as well as traditional Japanese foods like curry, salmon, tofu and natto (fermented soy beans…takes some getting used to if you have never tried it before). With approximately fifty people on the Asia Trip we needed two buses to get everywhere. We would either be at a lecture with a guest speaker in the hotel conference room or on the road by approximately 8am, give or take. It seemed that every business site visit took approximately one to two hours by bus. MIMers killed transportation time by listening to iPods, journaling on laptops (as part of the Asia Trip assignment worth 50 percent of our grades), catching up with classmates, or catching up on sleep.
Our very first day in Tokyo started with three-hours worth of back-to-back lectures by Mr. Shigeo Yamada, former board member and Vice President of House-Hold Products for the KAO Corporation who is now retired and Mr. Eichii Tanabe, Senior Vice President and Treasurer for Mitsubishi Corporation. The lecture by Mr. Tanabe was done in English while the lecture by Mr. Yamada was done in Japanese with Japanese-English translators. Having a business lecture in a foreign language with translators is an interesting experience if you have never experienced something like it before…it requires patience on all participants and the lecture moves along much slower as there are essentially two people lecturing in two different languages. One can only imagine what it is like to do business on a daily basis with international counterparts and translators in meetings.
Mr. Yamada shared with us how the KAO Corporation would brainstorm, develop, and improve on a product. He stressed the importance of knowing your company’s customer base and how to market to that base. The KAO Corporation relied heavily on focus groups and field research for product feedback. In addition, Mr. Yamada discussed the issues surrounding the company’s need to adapt to the changing customer base as Japan’s population ages.
Mr. Tanabe gave a broad overview of the wide variety of business that the Mitsubishi Corporation is engaged, everything from mining, to auto industries, to wind turbines. In particular Mr. Tanabe spoke about finance issues due to his position as Senior Vice President and Treasurer for the company. He stressed the importance of portfolio diversification for a company the size of Mitsubishi Corporation.
After the lectures MIMers were free to explore Tokyo. A handful of us chose to take the subway to the Harajuku district, which is known for its fashion and shopping. We enjoyed a yakiniku lunch in Harajuku then walked from Harajuku to Shibuya in light rain. Found a Starbucks to get our coffee fix that overlooked one of the busiest intersections in the world, checked out the Shibuya 109 shopping experience of eight floors of theme shops and clubbing music, then took the subway to Ikebukuro to try some famous ramen at Ichiran. This ramen was absolutely delicious but there were some slight complications as ordering is all in Japanese…such a fun experience, though.
Check this previous blog post for more photos of the MIM Japan experience: Hitting the Ground Running in Japan