Learning Business and Culture in Japan
That's exactly what 14 Chiu students recently had an opportunity to do. They studied traditional Japanese culture and business practices during a short-term exchange with Otemon Gakuin University in Osaka, Japan. This adventure is part of the International Business and Culture course offered to Chiu students.
With a rail pass in hand, this year's group traveled to Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Nagoya. Students organized guided group tours in cities on their packed itinerary. Stops included the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Atsuta Shinto shrine, the Nagoya Castle, as well as the Sengakuji Temple, dedicated to the masterless samurai from Ako.
Interacting with local students brought Japanese culture and language lessons to life. Students were also treated to the formalities of conducting a tea ceremony and the complexities of dressing in a Kimono. The experience left a lasting impression on Matt Bultz.
"This is such a visceral experience that you cannot even imagine it by watching videos, reading, or looking at pictures,"
The exchange was eye-opening for everyone. Japanese students seemed surprised that Bow Valley College students came from such diverse multicultural backgrounds. Many Chiu students experienced a collectivist culture for the first time. In Japan, everyone participates in an intrinsic obligation of community responsibility.
"To some extent, they think about how their choices affect everyone," added Kalab Kahsay. For some students this conscious awareness of self and how you treat others brought about an unfamiliar mindfulness. "I was at odds with the capitalist-self and the social well-being of others," admitted Darrell DeLeon. "In the Japanese culture, they take pride in their work and have a sense of ownership to their employer. They would rather receive a compliment for their efforts than a tip for good service."
Visits to local businesses made the differences between Japanese and Western business culture even more apparent. Speaking with a local manager who had previously worked in the North American market, Max Jimenex Patran summarized the conversation stating,"the North American manager puts their focus on meeting goals and targets while the Japanese manager concentrates on the well-being of the employees. In Japan, they consider how the decision affects the employees while the North American manager makes a decision typically based on revenue generation."
The owner of a local establishment even gave the students an impromptu marketing case study — for a family owned company that has brewed Sake since the mid-19th century. They quickly brainstormed ideas before offering a global marketing strategy. The owner appreciated their input and agreed with the team. Language barriers, and managing an unknown brand in new markets with different expectations, will be challenging.
Beyond learning Japanese culture and business practices, being together in a group for two weeks was also a learning experience. It reinforced the team building skills taught at the Chiu School of Business. "I gained confidence. Working in the group helped me learn about myself, my leadership style, and the decision making process in a group," remarked Ricardo Castaneda Rosas.
What was the one highlight that stuck in their minds? The group agreed that Hiroshima was the most surreal and moving experience. Their eyes were opened to the atrocity of nuclear war and the resilience of the Japanese people who turned the devastation into a memorial site as a symbol of global peace.
For those considering this course next year, the students offered a few traveling tips:
- Be respectful of the host culture. You are a guest in their country.
- Learn to use chopsticks.
- Research as much as possible.
- Pack lightly! Be prepared to do lots of walking with your belongings.
Note: Once accepted into the course, students can apply for an International Mobility Scholarship available through Bow Valley College to help offset their costs.
Photos courtesy of Rick Alvarez and Yumi Obayashi