Impressions —A Human Resources Journey Through Japan
by David Miles
A stream of consciousness expose
As many of you may be aware I recently travelled to Japan for a continuing education exerience this Novemeber. This is a random collection of thoughts and opinions seeing Tokyo and the surrounding areas with a group of loosely related HR executives. Most of the group have travelled together on prior HR journeys with Nanda/People to People programs, to such areas as Cuba, India, China and other locations. The focus was to experience the people, culture, education, business and labor environment in real time as well as to participate in the “farm to table” agricultural life. This journey, like the ones before, provided an unforgettable experience. Learning about world cultures and people is an awesome privilege. A special thanks to all that made this possible from the team at Miles LeHane for their support; our clients; Nanda Journeys; the participants and of course all of the people in Japan who made sure that we had an educational, safe environment and an enjoyable learning 9-day experience.
Impression 1 - The People
Day to day life is played out in a very small geographical area with 13 million people in and around Tokyo. Think lots of people in a total space about half the size we would be used to in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Yes, physically they are smaller in stature and size (I should be that slender!) but are amongst the most courteous and helpful when engaged. Some are shy, but culturally it is not appropriate to stand out and or make excessive noise or talk loudly. While this may seem unnaturally quiet it is a norm you soon learn to appreciate. In fact, you start adopting this approach when in a group setting, always mindful about others in a crowded space.
Impression 2 - The Environment
We may talk about common problems such as trash and litter. The people in Japan live a life that is in my opinion very respectful of the environment. For example, trash and litter are basically nonexistent. There are no public trash cans except in food locations. You are expected to carry your trash until you locate a receptacle. It is the cleanest city, roads, highways and public areas I have ever witnessed. While they do clean the public areas, they do this during the middle of the night to be efficient. We even witnessed the cleaning of a bullet train of 9 cars to include “reversing each seats direction” in under 10 minutes by a crew of just a few workers. Homes, public spaces and businesses all follow a very strict level of cleanliness.
Impression 3 - Structure and Procedures
Much of Japan follows a culture of compliance and structure as compared to the US. While on the surface this may seem negative to some, it certainly has advantages when integrated across all areas. For example, education is very structured and provides a solid foundation that has universal meaning. Employment is also structured in that ALL college graduates are offered equal starting salaries when graduating. Literally all hiring is done over a few weeks. For example, it is expected that when a family decides to have children that the mother will take years off to raise their children. In addition, the adult children will care for aging parents.
Impression 4 - Life on the privately held farm
Food and dietary are much simpler in Japan. Fresh food and an emphasis on fish from the surrounding waters of the country with a staple of a few starches such as sweet potatoes, other root vegetables, a variety of greens and of course rice; provide the basics at all meals. Japan prides itself on a high level of self-sufficiency in feeding the population. Given the environment-mountainous from volcanoes-think Mount Fuji- and being surrounded by ocean water, most items when served in balance provide an extremely nutritious diet. Preparation, natural flavors and using some seasonings, provides a variety but healthful food culture. Yes, there are fast food restaurants and other processed food items, but from a cost and diet perspective the people prefer to “eat healthy” and more natural.
Our journey included 2 nights and 3 days living with a “farm” family in their home and practicing traditional life style. This was quite an eye opener experience. First, sleeping on a floor with the traditional mats is a concept I do not plan to adopt (I enjoy my Marriott plush foam 10” matters too much). Eating at a low table on a cushion –no shoes of course- is something that I also will not adopt. The simple life of minimal creature comforts along with the work of running a farm, is something I am pleased to have experienced but am glad to be back into my normal routine. Believe me, they work hard and steady from sun up until the end of daylight. I must admit that the meals were some of the freshest I have ever eaten.
Read more next week about my HR Journey through Japan especially in regards to transportation, language, and traditions!
Asakusa Temple Asakusa Temple Entrance
The Imperial Palace Bridge Traditional Japanese Tea Service
Hitotsubashi University Hitotsubashi University Tour
Meiji Jingu Shrine Wedding Mt. Fuji
Nada Journeys HR Delegation Tour Group 2017 at Recruit Headquarters