The day exam block finished for 2019, I was off to Melbourne for pre-departure briefings at the Mitsui & Co Australia headquarters before departing on a three-week fully-funded study tour of Japan. As the triennial QUT student, I shared the experience with seven other students from across Australia studying degrees from nursing to Islamic studies to engineering. Of course, we became close over three weeks, but at that early stage it was awkward hellos and handshakes while we sat through a day of presentations, itching to get on the plane to Japan.
As part of the tour we visited numerous factories, and as a business student I found these fascinating. With every factory came a new safety costume which Kaoru, our group leader, was sure to capture photos of. At Nippon Steel we felt sheets of steel rushing past at 1000°C. At Toyota, we watched robotic arms operating without a human in sight and automatic trolleys delivering parts from one end of the factory to the other. At Ozeki we sampled polished Sake rice fresh from the production line. Still, Hanamaru Udon was my favourite visit as our friendly guide, the factory manager, criss-crossed us through the factory to see every step of the process from the flour delivery to tasting the udon in a bowl. While we met plenty of local people including university students, school children and businesspeople, the homestay was my favourite experience. I was nervous that knowing no Japanese, I had been matched with a 74 year old woman, yet retrospectively I don’t think there could have been a better match. Kohara was wonderful and did everything she could to make my stay the best it could be. She took me to every cultural site there was to see in the province and pointed to English signs or tried to explain in broken English. As she didn’t have a car we cycled everywhere which was a really memorable experience – particularly cycling the length of Chigasaki beach at night.I remember one night in particular, my final night, where she took me out for dinner at her favourite ramen restaurant and afterwards wanted to take me for dessert. We walked down the road until she found a restaurant that was happy to serve us waffles from their breakfast menu. When the waffles came she looked at me, patted her full stomach, and said; “in Japan second stomach for dessert”. There were many times when we communicated through smiles and so many occasions where her kindness touched me. I felt so welcome – it was like visiting my own grandma.Among two days of presentations in the Mitsui & Co Tokyo office, we had an incredible talk from Dr Yuki Fukuoka of the Mitsui & Co Global Strategic Studies Institute. Dr Fukuoka gave a detailed presentation on US-China relations that was far beyond what I have been able to read myself. Further, he talked about the effects of Trump’s trade war in smaller Southeast Asian countries and, of course, Japan. Having an expert synthesise this challenging period of trade relations was amazing and the whole group was captivated for the full 90 minutes.The Mistui Educational Foundation Study Tour 2019 provided me with a phenomenal experience allowing me to get to know the real Japan. The opportunities to visit factories, hear from experts, and learn about Japanese culture and history are unparalleled. We met so many wonderful people along the way who showed us true Japanese hospitality and taught us about their beautiful country. In return for funding the trip, Mistui simply asked us to fall in love with Japan and I truly did. I will cherish the relationships that I developed through this trip for years to come and look forward to visiting my friends soon.