Impressions —A Human Resources Journey Through Japan
by David Miles
In last week's Part 1 of Impressions —A Human Resources Journey Through Japan I discussed thecourteous Japanese people and extremely clean enviroment, their culture of compliance and structure, and the great farm to table life stlye the Japanese have adpoted. In the second part of my impreesions of Japan I'd like to discuss the Japanese transportation systems, language, and traditions.
Impression 5 - Trains, Planes, Automobiles and other
With so many people in a smaller geography, transportation is a key focus area. It is amazing to view the highways (what we would call interstate roads) from a macro perspective. As you fly into Nartita airport (90 minutes from downtown Tokyo) you are immediately focused on the number of waterways throughout the entire coastal area. In con junction with staying in harmony with the land, the major roads are created as elevated roadways along the “river” waterways therefore allowing the land for buildings. Fortunately, snow is not common in Tokyo but the temperatures do drop below freezing. These elevated roads connect with a series of bridges and tunnels that rival no other location I have visited. The underground main tunnels through certain segments of the city make the Boston “big dig” look small. As expected the tunnels were clean, did not leak or have pot holes, and appeared as accident free as you would hope. A polite society also carries over to polite drivers. Impressive!
The cars were mostly those that are produced by Japan. Yes, a few luxury imports but mostly Japanese cars. Also, the government supports hybrid and other alternative fuel vehicles which are abundant. Since Japan has very limited natural energy sources, pure electric cars are at this time not very common. With a population of approximately half of the United States and people clustered in key areas, public transportation is the lifeblood of most workers. We rode a bullet train, which some utilize on a daily basis, at speeds of 140 plus miles per hour. These trains then connect with other more local train s and rail options. While buses are available they are not a primary source of transportation as many streets are narrow. A surprising number of bicycles and moped supplement public transportation.
Impression 6 -Traditions
Everywhere you go in Japan has a long history and values tradition. From the appropriate and respectful “nod” or “bow” to the presenting of your business card, is all done with respect for others. What is more important is that the people do care about the meaning of these traditions and learn them from both the family and the education system. The joy of greeting and saying goodbye is equally important. Taking time for these little gestures builds a feeling of respect amongst all. We also had to opportunity to visit a couple of Temples and Shrines and observe 6 or more weddings. Again, these sacred places are open for Weddings, Religious services, tourists and locals to enjoy all. Most are free of charge to everyone except for Wedding Ceremonies. Families come together from the youngest to the oldest.
Having formal Tea is also a tradition with strong religious overtones. Many of the pottery cups and tea pots have significant design implications. For example, we were served in special reserved cups that were made for the 1964 Olympics. Note 2020 will bring the Olympics back to Tokyo. The brewing processes, the Tea leaves, and the small treat candy is all important to the gathering for Tea. Respecting the past-celebrating the present-and hope for the future is all embedded in the ceremonies.
Impression 7 - Language-Kimonos-Calligraphy
As expected, language barriers are always difficult to navigate. While living with our “farm family” the 4 of us and our hosts utilized simple body gestures and hand movements to attempt to communicate. This proved both interesting and somewhat amusing. In the end it all worked well. For all business meetings an interpreter was provided by our host. While many government and professionals understand other languages, all speak Japanese on a daily basis. Fortunately, with a little effort we were able to navigate.
One of our opportunities was to learn calligraphy, an art form in Japan. This was to say the least, difficult for me. But I did gain an appreciation of Japanese letters (3 styles over the centuries). In addition, we also made decorative paper notes and were fitted with a Kimono for a Tea Ceremony by the Buddhist Priest. My thought -t hank goodness for word processes that make perfect Japanese letters!
Like prior journeys this will always be remembered. A smaller group of 14 allowed for more time to share and process our experiences. I will continue to mentally draw parallels and differences between prior trips. What stands out most is the genuine “care” embedded in day to day life and relationships. Yes, they really do care about you and your needs as a person. The sincerity of how they inertract, learn from you and share their knowledge is encouraging. A highly successful culture that has endured for centuries looks forward to the future. Yes, they too have issues: a declining birth rate of less than 1.4 / couple. An aging population putting social programs under stress. A shortage of talent in the work force and of course the ongoing global disruptors that we face also. But in summary the people of Japan are up for and open to the challenge. It was a personal honor to have this experience which they made possible.
Kimonos and calligraphy ceremony Cruise on Lake Ashi
Hakone Komagatske Ropeway Visiting the JSHRM Administration Offices
Happo-en Japanese garden and tea ceremony