Meeting New Japanese Friends!

Hey there, it’s me again – live from Tokyo! The past week has been an absolute blast at our internship; all six QUT students are absolutely loving our time in Japan (for some context about our trip, feel free to read more here).

The company we’re on our program with (Mitsui & Co., one of the largest general trading organisations globally) has organised many awesome events and sessions for us, students, to participate in. We’ve had some incredible visits so far to museums, traditional Japanese restaurants, and a lot more.

However, a few days ago, we had a very special visit. On Thursday 29 of June, we had twelve students from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies come along to our building and chat with us about life and education here. They were all studying a degree based on Oceanic relations (think trade, but specifically in the Indo-Pacific region), which I thought was super cool.

We started off our morning with some very simple icebreakers, such as playing ‘human bingo’ (long story short – you write down things like your favourite food or favourite movie, and have to find other people in the room that have written the same thing to ‘bingo’) and making marshmallow towers out of spaghetti pasta.

However, we then transitioned to what’s called a ‘World Café’ set up. Three round table discussions were had based on three different themes:

  • What will the world look like in 2047?
  • How can Japan and Australia jointly contribute to this vision?
  • How will you personally develop in your career to help achieve such a future?

It sounds pretty serious, but we had some fun too. We all drew out our ideas on some butchers paper – from commercialized space travel to hybrid fruit crops developed for third world nations. It was awesome to think ‘big picture’ and discuss the future with our new Japanese friends, and built a tangible bridge between the two cultures and how we could work together to realise our own futures. 

But business aside, we’ve now all added each other on Facebook, followed each other on Instagram, and even went out for ramen a couple nights ago (if you don’t know what ramen is, do yourself a favour whip out Google stat). It’s been lovely to make such friendships with students like us – just in another part of the world! I’m sure we’ll all be able to see each other in the future, on Earth, or anywhere else conceivable in the galaxy! (Okay, that’s probably a little far fetched for 2047. A girl can dream).

 

Welcome to Japan

Konnichiwa from Tokyo! It’s great to be here. My name is Izzie, and I’m one of six QUT students currently in Japan interning with one of the world’s most historical trading companies – Mitsui & Co. Headquartered in Tokyo, the company likes to joke that they trade in everything from ramen to steel; and it’s completely true. In terms of Western corporations, we simply have nothing like it.

    < < check out our office!

Part of our internship has included a lot of intercultural talks and discussions – what were our expectations of Japan? What were our preconceived thoughts about Japanese businesspeople?

Unsurprisingly, the answers from all six of us (and the other six students we’re travelling with from Deakin University in Melbourne) were fairly similar. We all expected Japan to be clean, neat, and orderly – with the Japanese being very polite and respectful.

However, there’s an interesting dichotomy at play here (watch out – I’m about to go full Marketing student nerd on you). In a place that is so organised in layout, where people are almost overwhelmingly considerate, the overall aspect and design of inner city aesthetics are crazy.

Take, for example, Shibuya crossing. An iconic part of Tokyo, the crossing sees hundreds of thousands pass through its streets every single day. On our first visit one night after work, we all scrambled up on some benches at the crossing and simply ‘people watched’ for about 20 minutes. For a place that’s so systematic, it’s intriguing to see the tidy streets flood with a beautiful mess of people, all headed for completely different destinations, deeds, and dreams.

 

Another example is the advertising here. Blasted over speakerphones and displayed on electronic screens, ads are bright, colourful, and incredibly animated. The overall look and feel here takes a swift departure from Western realism and enters the Japanese realm of caricature (anime, or manga, anyone?) It’s not uncommon to see characters from Nintendo’s ‘Animal Crossing’ plastered on train advertisements, or Ghibli’s ‘Totoro’ used in a street poster. At first, it can be a lot to take in – but it’s incredibly interesting to reflect on when thinking about the perceived Japanese tidiness and collective introversion.

Personally, I’m trying to welcome it all with open arms. So far, Tokyo is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – so I’ll be sure to keep you posted on any other musings or experiences. Stay tuned!