Due to a few hectic days before leaving Japan and after returning to the US, our story became a little delayed. Here is the final leg of our trip, JAPAN!
Day 1 in Japan – We arrived in Nagoya very late and went straight to the hotel. Early the next morning we went to Gifu University. Here we were able to sit in on an English class and watch 4 presentations in English and give the students feedback. They were all very impressive – not only was their English very good, but their presentations were humorous and they had great visual aids which they made and/or drew themselves. When class ended, each of the Japanese students matched themselves with one of us and hosted us through lunch in the school cafeteria. Some of those students continued on with us to Gifu City Hall where the Vice Mayor came and talked to us about the city (with a translator – making this the only translated presentation of our trip) and answered some of our questions. On we went.
Next Stop: Gifu Museum where we learned about the history of the city and the Samurai who made Gifu his capital in 1567, with hopes of unifying the nation. From there we went to the Cormorant Museum to learn about the ancient style of cormorant fishing. To fish in this manner, cormorants are captured and tamed and trained to be on a rope, which is tied around their necks leaving them enough room to swallow small fish, but not big fish. The cormorant handler might have control of 10 birds at a time and when he sees they have caught a big fish, he reels it in and squeezes it out of its throat and into a bucket. This style of fishing is only done certain times of the year and is now a protected fishing style. It also draws tourism to Gifu city and there are tour boats that go out with the cormorant fishing boats just to watch them fish. It was a beautiful museum and a truly unique experience.
Day two in Japan started with a trip to Mazak Corporation. This is a very impressive facility, and a company with much Japanese history. We had all heard of Mazak because a member of our cohort works there (Zack, who was unable to go to Asia), but there were many comments later regarding how surprised many of us were to learn more about the machines they build and how many different types they build for so many different industries.
The machines they build make parts for any number of things- ranging from toy robots to engines, to bicycles, to Aircraft engines! We even saw a machine being built for GE Aviation in Evendale, Ohio!
Mazak was truly generous with our class- we spent 5 hours there and they even made us a fantastic 4-course lunch with western style sandwiches (much appreciated at this stage of our trip!)
From Mazak we went to the bullet train and headed to Tokyo. For two years I looked forward to comparing the Chinese and Japanese bullet train experiences. In the end I think the two were too similar to differentiate. The train attendants were no more or less friendly and the cars were very similar in comfort and amenities. The main difference was the view – from Nagoya to Tokyo we passed through a great number of tunnels, so the views were not as enjoyable as they were on the Chinese train.
When we arrived in Tokyo we were able to walk from the station to our hotel which was a very nice change compared to the 1 -2 hour bus ride we’ve had to endure between each point in our journey. We were excited to be in our final location and able to enjoy this city while still looking forward to returning to our families. Our hotel was in a great area of the city although not in the center.
Day 4 in Japan started with a visit to All Nippon Airways, which we learned means “All Japan Airways.” Apparently since Japan Airlines already existed, they had to use the Japanese word for Japan, “Nippon.” We heard a brief presentation about the airline history and their current status and fleet size, and then we were able to walk into the hangar and see a number of aircraft including the 787 Dreamliner that was being prepared for flight.
After leaving All Nippon, we headed to our FINAL company visit: DHL, for a company overview and facilities tour. We were very impressed with our host for this visit for a number of reasons, but most importantly because he spoke to a great number of things we have learned in class regarding employee development, retention, culture change, process change, etc. He had also spent time in the states working for Coca-Cola and in the Healthcare industry.
Day 5 in Japan (FINAL DAY) was a free day and most of us went off to explore in small groups with varying agendas.
I can only really speak to what my group did, which was to head to Hamarikyu Gardens. This is a beautiful garden with a large pond – in the middle of which rests a beautiful tea house.
I will tell a funny, although quite embarrassing story about our arrival to this garden.
When we walked into the gate, there was an attractive Japanese lady dressed in a beautiful silken, floral robe, standing with a man in a black and white robe, right next to a sign about the gardens. We asked if we could take a photo with them, and the woman who seemed to be their handler (much like Mickey Mouse has a handler at Disney who guides him around and talks for him) obliged and took all of our cameras and shot photos of us with each. Afterward when I was talking to the woman setting up our audio tours, I asked about the woman dressed in the geisha-style robe, taking photos with tourists. The woman quickly corrected me and said, “No, No!!! She is not a geisha…she is a bride!!” She explained that many couples request to use the gardens for wedding pictures and they often allow it. The woman with them was not so much a ‘handler’ as a photographer’s assistant. We were so embarrassed!!! We spent a good hour or two walking around the park and taking in the beautiful scenery, while learning all about the garden’s history on our audio tour contraptions (complete with videos on an iTouch type of device).
From there we took a boat ride to Asakusa to shop and see the Buddhist temple (Senso-Ji). It was a beautiful boat ride. The architecture of all the buildings as well as the bridges was FANTASTIC! I am so in love with the architecture and urban planning in Tokyo.
Upon arrival to Asakusa, we found a place to eat and were surprised to find Tsvety sitting in one of the two tables upstairs at the restaurant we chose. She was there with her Japanese friends who had studied at NKU. We couldn’t believe that as big as Tokyo is and having no idea about each other’s plans, we could end up in the same place.
We explored the market, checked out the temple (still used as a religious temple for many practicing Buddhists), and did a great deal of shopping. Carman bought the Samurai sword she’d been searching for and had it shipped home, I bought a ring designed by a local artist, and most of us bought t-shirts and/or robes. It was a very successful shopping day, and a perfect sightseeing day. From there we got back on the subway and headed to the hotel.
This concludes our 15 days in Asia, and after about 15 hours of travel back (much better than the 25 hours of travel on Day 1), we were SO Excited to see our loved ones (and our beds!).
As one student commented, “this trip was definitely the best trip of my life and an experience I’ll be talking about throughout all of my remaining days. If I had to summarize my overall learning about Asian culture in one sentence, I would say that I learned that there is no such thing as “Asian culture!” We are so quick to lump all Asians into one category and assume they have the same values, traditions and cultural nuances, but that is absolutely not the case. Each of these three countries has a very unique history and culture, and each is moving forward at their own pace, in their own way. All three countries are rich with traditions and history, but each are growing at such a rapid pace, they are finding unique ways to adjust and move forward. I’ve learned a much better appreciation for all three countries.
Thank you, Dr. Rhee! Thank you ELOC!! I will volunteer to be a ‘chaperone’ on any future trip!! “