Perhaps one of the largest challenges in working between countries is understanding and mastering the subtleties of communication when doing business.
For example, I need to talk with my American colleagues using a style that works with them, and then talk with my Japanese colleagues using a different, but equally effective style. If I use an American communication style in a Japanese business environment, it likely won’t be a productive use of time, and will leave many items open for interpretation. (Quite frankly, I could be speaking about using a German style in an Argentinian business meeting and the same situation would arise.) Extrapolate that theory across multiple geographies and it becomes clear that how you’re used to doing business in your home country is not how business gets done on a global scale.
If you’ve ever been in a multi-cultural meeting and it seems like everyone agrees with what’s being said, but then no action is taken afterwards, you know exactly what I mean.
One of the areas this really comes alive is when you see multi-lingual advertising or public service announcements. Here is one from the JR system, reminding everyone to be polite and respect the space of those around them.
The Japanese text is a lot softer than the English beneath. And the overall tone, including the graphic elements, is much more direct than you would expect in a public ad. Clearly the JR advertising board isn’t speaking to the Japanese population with this ad, but rather to everyone else.
If they used direct Japanese here, or soft English, the message would be lost.
So, naturally, that’s reason enough to make a trek to the summit! Here’s a short documentary about the journey from base to peak and the stunning visual reward at the top:
Check it out in HD for an even better viewing experience.
While I have written previously about the myriad food options in and around Tokyo, I don’t think I’ve captured well how integral food is to the culture here in Tokyo and across Japan.
Take, for example, the many, many mom-and-pop restaurants and small shops which cater to the nouveau riche and the salary men alike. Certain neighborhoods can have hundreds of these types of restaurants up and down the streets, and stacked on top of each other. Sometimes you need to start looking up in order to figure out where you need to be for a dinner reservation! And you will always find food as the focal point — if not the primary draw — at the many summer festivals across Japan.
Eating at a restaurant is a very common activity, especially for post-work socialization and for the ever-critical business meeting. More business can get done over a meal than in a conference room, and more friendships are built sharing a stick of yakitori than at a club.
But the thread of food winds even deeper than that.
Becoming a chef skilled in your particular cuisine can require many years of practice. A would-be sushi chef starts at a level 5 diploma and works for years up to level 1. For years. I’ve met restaurant owners in other countries who are barely out of high school, which puts the experience here in Tokyo in extreme contrast. Before ever serving a dish to restaurant patrons, a sous-chef must prove his skills through practice and review, living up to the standards for that particular eatery.
So, does the food actually taste better after all that hard work?
I’ve never had a bad meal in Tokyo, but then again I still have a lot of restaurants to try. From my experience, it’s less about how the food tastes on its own, and more about the full experience. A Japanese term, umami (うま味), really does describe that there is something extra when preparing food. There are the flavors as they are independently, and then the combined “n + alpha” flavor, which comes only if everything is well balanced.
And then there’s the presentation of the dishes. I can honestly say meals have never looked so good! That’s where the magic is, I believe. We eat with our eyes, and the chefs in Japan are skilled in making even small portions or unknown foods look amazing. After all, there must be a reason people immediately grab their cameras and start snapping photos of the food the second it appears on the table.
There are plenty of temples and shrines in Japan — more than 1,000, actually — and each has a story as rich as the next. However, seeing a few in succession, especially in an afternoon wandering around Kyoto (京都市) or Nikkō (日光市), can numb the uniqueness of each individual one.
Definition: The feeling after one sees a large number of temples and shrines, particularly in short succession. Often followed by the consumption of beer or nihonshu.
Usage: After seeing five Shinto shrines this afternoon, I’m definitely shrined out.
The cure for this condition is quite unpredictable, but effective. When coming upon the next shrine or temple (here’s the difference between the two), you enter a setting that’s truly unique or hard to describe. It re-centers you, and renews your interest in learning the history and folklore embedded within.
Here are a few of those re-centering moments for me (clicking on each photo brings up more information about the location):