In order to experience the Japanese work culture as well as getting to know an international company I spent a few days at Yanmar, a global Engineering company from Osaka. During interesting introduction events of the company, visits at factories and exciting discussions about topics relevant for the future I was able to learn a lot about Japanese work life. I figured out that actions are more valuable than words when it comes to establish relationships with the fellow workers. Well established relationships are the foundation of business relationships as well as a functional working environment. This is also visible when looking at the Japanese tradition of gifting. In Germany we always relate Asia to long working hours. This is also true for Japan, since „9-5“ is more of an exception. However, Japanese workers do have more holidays then you might think. Especially bank holidays expand the holidays to a similar level like in Germany. However, Japanese people tend not to go on vacation for a longer period continuously. I did not understand that behaviour which is why I informed myself about it. I figured out that this behaviour is based on Japan being a culture characterised by collectivism rather than individualism like in Germany (Hofstede). Therefore, taking long holidays will increase the workload of the fellow workers which is considered as negative. I am pretty sure that this consideration
happens rarely in Germany.
Suita Rotact Club offers a special opportunity for me to meet people from Japan which are aged the same as me. Within the first 8 weeks in Japan I recognised that European people are still rare in Japan which is why especially older people react defensive and cautious to foreign people. However, Mr Okamoto is totally different which most likely is because of his long stay abroad. His foundation has a big impact on young Japanese people who get the opportunity to get in touch with foreigners and increase their knowledge about different cultures. Especially the people from Rotact asked me a lot of questions, were open minded and showed a lot of interest in exchanging thoughts. One reason why older generation might act differently could be due to Japan being an island and not getting in touch with different cultures on a regular basis. This is different to Germany where other countries are close by. Additionally, flights have been more expensive in the past, and traveling was not as convenient as it is nowadays. Anyway, the members of Rotact are shaped by a global mindset and grew up in a globalised world. Nevertheless, the influence of their parents can be seen since none of their members is able to speak English.
Within the Kansai area there is only one Christmas market, which seams to be obvious because of the religious background of japan. This Christmas market used to be a German Christmas market which is why I arranged to go there with my German and Japanese friends. Expensive mulled wine, sweets and German sausages shaped our pre-Christmas evening in Osaka. Even though Christmas is not part of Buddhism I was told that Christmas is increasing in importance, mainly shaped by the companies to generate more revenue. This is also visible when walking through Osaka where you can see a lot of Christmas lights, shopping malls which got decorated for Christmas, ice skating areas and Christmas music. Spending time with their families, nice food and contemplativeness are parts of the Japanese New Year’s Eve ceremony, rather than having fireworks like in Europe. However, the Christmas market had a lot of visitors. Nice to see is the incorporation of European and Japanese culture on events like this. While in Germany people tend to by themselves a meal, Japanese people split up and get different things and share everything in the end. This attitude I would like to implement within my daily life in Germany as well since it offers the opportunity to try more different things as well as it is a sign of collectivism.
Even before arriving in Japan I was interested in Japanese ceramic. I like the different understanding of aesthetics. While in Europe it is about perfectionism and clear lines, in Japan its about being perfect while being irregular. Additionally, the shapes and colours different to European standards which I find very interesting. In order to get a better understanding of the products I visited a local pottery together with two students of the Kyoto University. Besides getting information about the understanding of their craftsmanship we were able to try ourselves by preparing two items. Thereby, I got told about the importance of the seasons in the Japanese culture which also have a significant influence on the choice of crockery within daily life. While the Japanese culture is closely linked to their environment, I do not understand why Japan is still using so much plastic. Out of all countries I visited so far, Japan is the most environmentally unfriendly country when it comes to the use of plastic. In supermarkets everything is covered in plastic, mostly more than once and sometimes just for visual purposes. It could also be that strawberries are individually surrounded by plastic. From a developed country like Japan I expect more engagement in saving the environment even though some of the traditions, like gifting or extra enrichment might suffer.
Since the last four weeks have started it is already time to say goodbye to some people. Therefore, Family Ikawa organised another dinner with outstanding homemade food as well as traditional Sukiyaki, beer and sake. We had a lovely evening together and Mr and Ms Ikawa are great chefs. I am glad I could get some of the recipes. I liked Kobe very much from the beginning and I really appreciated the effort of Family Ikawa on giving me more insights about the surrounding highlights. I hope to return the favour next time they come to Germany.
Mr Okamoto, his wife, Ms Moriyama and I made a three-day trip to Toyama (To=many; Yama=mountains), the home of Ms Okamoto. This trip was the first time that I got out of the big cities and saw the rural part of Japan. I was impressed by the different sceneries Japan has to offer. High mountains, autumn leaves, sea and rivers which made their way through the landscape. The main difference to the crowded cities was the pace of living, the connectivity of the people to the environment and the public transport which was not present (even in cities with up to 600.000 people). The close relationship to the environment as well as the appreciation of the sea was also shown by the popular crabs (Kani) of this region. This delicacy is only available during a special season which is why a single crab could be worth up to 400.000 Yen (approximately 3000€). However, people spent the money in order to share this special meat with their family and friends. This behaviour of appreciation has a very high rank within the society and shows once more that Japan is a culture of collectivism rather than individualism. In Japan, I got another perspective to the German behaviour characterised by individualism and I want to critically evaluate my behaviour. During our three—day trip I was able to visit the traditional city Shirakawa, Kanazawa and its impressive castle, mountain peaks and a lot of
Like in Germany, beer seems to be one of the most popular drinks in Japan. When looking out of my window I can see one of Asahi’s breweries, one of the largest beer producers in Japan. Therefore, I was keen to get a guided tour through the facilities. Japan is a country of high
expectations which is why Asahi brought German experts to their facilities to check their possibilities and the quality of the ingredients. The facilities of Asahi are characterised by efficiency, cleanness and modern technology which are aspects that can be found in the
Japanese mentality as well. I got accompanied by Chinami and we went for sushi afterwards before heading towards the famous Expo park of the year 1970. The park is huge, well refined and especially the Japanese garden is worth a visit.
As part of the cooperation with the Goethe Institution Osaka I spent one day as an actor for the yearly produced advertisement videos. During the day I was able to get to know new people and friendships developed. While doing the clips I figured out that learning a foreign language is not common in Japan which is why a lot of political and cooperational Engagement is necessary to introduce the advantages of a new language to the people. Furthermore, I was able to learn a lot about the work environment in Japan as well as its influence on the travel and vacation habits of Japanese people. The established structures have a significant influence on how the locals address holidays and their setting towards foreign nationalities.
When asking locals about their favourite season, most of them mention fall even still ahead of the cherry blossom. In order to experience the colourful event, I spent the three days in Kyoto and visited several gardens and parks. Even though not all leaves have changed in colour, yet it is absolutely amazing how colourful and different spring is in Japan in comparison to Europe. This in mainly caused by the different temperatures here as well as different type of trees and plants in Japan. In my opinion, the local maple looks the best when lit by the sun.
The locations which I liked the most where Daiho-ji, Kodai-ji, the Imperial Palace, Heian-Shrine and the silver temple. I also recognised the increase number of tourists in comparison to earlier visits of Kyoto. I can understand why some Japanese people do not like all the tourists
since several sightseeing locations announced admission control and preregistration which primarily affects the locals who are used to have free access. It also seems like spring is a time where Japanese people take especially care of their culture and invite for evening activities and celebrate this time of the year.
Another special event was the invitation of Mr. Okamoto and his wife for dinner together with the current German general consul of Osaka, Dr. Köhler, and the former ambassador of Japan, Mr Shinyo. During this evening I picked up a lot on the current political environment in Japan,
the importance of Germany in Europe and the world economy as well as on topics which will influence daily life in the future. Additionally, I was pleased about the Interest of the guests on my path of life and my goals as well as I got interesting recommendations for the upcoming
application period to find a graduate job. After a multi course dinner we participated in a traditional tea ceremony which offered a lot of insights about the Japanese culture. I also recognised several aspects during the ceremony which can be found in daily life as well. For
example, the alternate use of very sweet Japanese sweets followed by bitter Japanese green matcha tea supported my opinion of Japan being the country of contrasts.
Mrs. Wada, Alexander and Ulrich I went for a daytrip to Koyasan, a very traditional and historically important village in the mountains. Together we enjoyed impressive graveyards, temples and museums. Especially graves for employees, sponsored by companies were interesting since they reflect the traditional, lifelong loyalty of workers towards their company. Being accompanied by Mrs. Wada was significant since she had a lot of Background information which she shared with us. The following day I got the possibility to hike up Mount Rokko, lose to Kobe, with a group of seven locals. While hiking for several hours I gained interesting insights in the Japanese life as well as discuss interesting topics. Especially interesting was the fact that at traditional weddings people pay an “entrance fee” in order to support the couple financially. After the
hike we went to the close by Onsen town called Arima, which is one of the oldest of its kind. Onsen is a traditional and influential aspect of the Japanese culture since it is strongly connected to the development of the Japanese country as well as shapes the culture since
decades. In the evening I was invited to join dinner at Mrs. Ikawa’s house together with the fellow group members. We had a lot of fun and used the day to share each other’s culture and learn from each other.
As part of the cooperation with the university of Kyoto I had the pleasure to participate in a traditional tea ceremony again. The strict rules of this ceremony ask for several years of training and a lot of discipline. The mother of Dr. Aoji is doing so since many years and teaches
this traditional event to young people. Other than at Mr. Okamoto’s place we had to sit down in the traditional “Seiza” which is especially exhausting for European people since we are not used to this way of sitting down. However, it was a great pleasure to join this ritual once again
since it is a good opportunity to get to know the Japanese culture very well. The ritual reflects the characteristics of the Japanese society mentioned in earlier reports like accuracy, discipline and integration of traditions in daily life. Afterwards, we enjoyed a very delicious
dinner with typical food. I highly appreciate t be that close to the Japanese lifestyle to Gather as many impressions as possible by myself. In general, I got to know Japanese people as being very hospitably as well as are open minded to allow other nations to enjoy their cultural
In week five I joined a Symosium at Mr. Okamoto’s former University in Kyoto. Students, Professors and interested people discussed the German-Japanese relationships and how to improve exchange programs. This week’s trip with the students of KPU was to the famous city-festival “Jadai Matsuri” in Kyoto. The „Old Times“ festival represents historical events of Japan and presents the different governmental periods.
Together with some Japanese friends I used the nice weather to play tennis. We had great fun and invitations like this show the Japanese hospitality and the interest in foreign people. One-week later we met again, and I got accompanied by an Australian friend who I got t know during my language class. I also had the opportunity to accompany Mr Okamoto to the piano concert of Ms. Moriyama, who is a good friend of us. It was a great pleasure to listen to her piano skills together with her friend.
Having visited Kobe once already, I made the decision to go there again, since I really liked the city. Early in the morning I enjoyed the silence at the harbour followed by a nice view of the top floor of the city hall as well as the city centre. I regained some energy by eating „Gyudon“ with thin peace’s of Kobe beef before getting up the mountain close by. Up there I had a great view, visited an herb garden and enjoyed the sun lying in a hammock. On my way back to the city I visited Koji Matsuea, who I got to know during the German wine evening, at his wine store. Obviously, a wine tasting was scheduled. In the evening I used the opportunity to try Kobe beef in Kobe. A stunning taste and a truly unique experience.
As part of the planning process, Mr. Okamoto and I started to define my travel periods. Therefore, I studied some books to figure out where I want to go and double checked with Mr Okamoto. Even though I still must wait a few weeks I am already excited to see Japan beyond the Kansai area.
Ms. Moriyama and I had the chance to join the local Rotary Club for a daytrip to the countryside of west Osaka. Early in the morning we visited a Sake brewery and had a tasting. Afterwards, we enjoyed a traditional and stunning lunch in a classic Japanese house. Sitting on the ground we grilled meat, fish, vegetables and much more on the open fireground. After that we went to a pottery where we could paint our personal cup. Before heading back to Osaka, we stopped by an Onsen and enjoyed japans hot springs. Directly afterwards I spent the evening with some friends from Rotaract and we had a fun night with Japanese barbecue. A successfull Sunday!
In preparation for the upcoming advertisement movie shoot I have in cooperation with the local Goethe Institute, I spent a morning to practice the different spots. We had a good time and I am looking forward to the actual shooting day. Furthermore, Mr Okamoto and I made a trip to Himeji castle, which is worth a visit. From there I took the Shinkansen to Kyoto in order to present my work with the students of the KPU as part of a Symposium.
The third week started with a daytrip to Nara. Within Germany the city is known for wild deer which can be fed and touched. Sometimes you can see a deer which is actively looking for food in handbags which are close by. Additional, Nara offers a lot of culture. For example, the famous Asura statue and the Todai-ji Temple which is known for the biggest buddha statue within Japan. The 08.10.2018 is the national health and sports day in Japan and a bank holiday. Therefore, Nara was packed, and a lot of locals spent their day off there.
The next morning, I met Mr. Okamoto and he taught me how to write Japanese letters with a fountain pen. Even though it was difficult in the beginning I got used to it quite quickly. In the evening we went to a round table, which was especially organised for a delegation coming from Luneburg. The provided Bavarian food and the Bavarian music showed me once more that Bavaria shapes the „German Culture“ abroad. Furthermore, a local high-school provided a high-level chorus for a relaxed atmosphere.
Within the second week I was able to visit Mrs. Ikawa at her High-school in Kobe. The visit ended up in a special and remarkable German language class for her students. Afterwards, I got a city tour guided by Mrs. Ikawa and her daughter including a lunch break at the local Chinatown. The first impression of Kobe is positive throughout and I am already looking forward to spending another day there. In the evening Mr. Okamoto and I visited the Economic Round Table at the Swiss Hotel where several interesting people participated. The invited guest speaker was talking about Corporate Social Responsibility and its development. However, the following discussion showed the differences between political engagement and the truth within the business environment.
As part of the scholarship I go to a language class in Suita, twice a week. The lectures are in Japanese only and the pace is high when considering it is a beginner class. Especially, learning Hiragana and Katakana by heard is a challenge, since it is the basis for reading and pronunciation. However, I greatly enjoy having those language classes and I invest even more time and effort in learning Japanese.
Especially valuable are the nice people I met. I meet most of them on a regular basis which allows for friendship, close contact and trips. Therefore, I was able to play Badminton at a court close by the other day. Further trips, sports and evening events are already planned. Part of that is the German wine evening which takes places on a regular basis, serving a four-course meal accompanied by well-chosen wine from Germany. Additionally, the location provides a great view on the prominent, red ferries wheel in the city centre of Osaka. Afterwards, a small group and I went for the traditional „second round“ to a nearby bar.
As every sunday I spent the day with students of the Kyoto Prefecture University. This time we got accompanied by Prof. Aoji heading towards the south of Kyoto which is known for its Sake breweries. Therefore, the Sake museum as well as several sake tastings took place. Additionally, we went for a boat cruise on the river and had a look to the surrounding.
The Japanese-German Society publishes a magazine called „Der Bote von Osaka“ on a regular basis. For the upcoming edition, Mr. Okamoto and I were responsible for an interview with the General Manager of the Swiss Hotel in Osaka. While having lunch in the 35th floor we asked questions about his assessment on the development of tourism in Japan and Osaka as well as his career and personal desires.
At the end of the fourth week I was able to do two daytrips to Kyoto which I used to check some of the “Must See” places in Kyoto. Part of that was the bamboo forest at Arashiyama, Tenru-ji temple, Ryouan-ji temple and the Golden temple.
A positive cultural difference I discovered during my four weeks in Japan is the presence of appreciation, which is deeply integrated within the Japanese culture. In basically every life situation appreciation is visual by gestures or words. For example, before and after a meal there is a ritual of thanks as well as you do not refill you drink by yourself which asks for high attention during a meal. When getting a refill, you provide your glass with both hands which automatically shows respect and gratitude. This is similar to handing over business card. Overall this behaviour reflects a society with a distinct sense of respect and appreciation.
As 16th scholarship holder of the Grünwald Foundation, founded by Mr Okamoto, and the cooperation with the Rotary Club Grünwald, I have the outstanding opportunity to experience multiple aspects of Japan. First, I would like to thank everyone who got involved and made this adventure possible for me by providing planning, trust and engagement.
I arrived September 23rd, 2018 and since then I have a busy schedule to get to know and understand the Japanese culture. Part of this program is participating in language class twice a week, trips within the Kansai region, individual lectures by Mr. Okamoto as well as a close contact to local people by joining round tables, events and making use of cooperation’s.
The first authentic impression of the Japanese culture I experienced when having a layover at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, one of the wold’s largest airports. At the airport silence, no rush, efficient operations, automatic processes and excellent customer service is present.
One hour later I got picked up in Osaka and received a warm welcome by Mr Okamoto.
After setting up my apartment I was invited for a welcome dinner at the day of arrival. The dinner allowed me to try different small, local dishes as well as traditional food like Okonomiyaki. On the first day, the Japanese meat has already set a new benchmark when it comes to texture and flavour.
Besides several organisational tasks, like signing in for the language class, the first week was primarily used to get to know the surrounding and get in contact with Japanese people. As part of that I met the local city council, Goto Keiji, as well as the German General Consul Mr. Dr. Köhler. During our meetings we had extensive and interesting discussions about politics, economics and topics which are relevant for the future. Those appointments also reflected the distinct relationships between Japan and Germany.
I realised quickly that the Grünwald Foundation of Mr. Okamoto is highly regarded in Osaka and its surrounding. Within the eight years of existence, the foundation developed into a brand which is shaped by the engagement of Mr Okamoto. Furthermore, the experience gathered during the last years affects my journey since I benefit from organised cooperation’s, regular’s tables and a well-established network of friends.
During the first week I had the opportunity to accompany Mr. Okamoto to the 15th anniversary party of the Swiss Hotel in Osaka as well as I made a trip to Osaka and Kyoto by my own to discover the cities. Even though Osaka and Kyoto are massive cities it is very convenient to get along the public transport since they are well structured and efficient. Both cities are very different. While Osaka is the biggest business metropole, apart from Tokyo, it is characterised by tall buildings and business people. Kyoto on the other hand, has a lot of sightseeing spots and historical influence since it was the former capital.
Traditionally, the first week ends with a welcome party. Mr. Okamoto and his wife invited for a 12-course dinner at a Michelin star restaurant. This evening allowed me to try several Japanese dishes while having interesting conversations.
One of the previous mentioned cooperation’s is a partnership with the Kyoto Prefecture University which I work with twice a week. On Monday’s, we work on academic topics and every Sunday the students take me for a trip to the surrounding. The first trip went to the traditionel Otsu festival close to Kyoto and next to japans largest lake. Overall, the students are very motivated and interested in learning Germany and have different reasons why to learn the language.
Another highlight of the second week was the tour to Japans oldest and highest quality whiskey distillery in Yamazaki. This tour also showed the high expectations for service, efficiency and cleanliness within the Japanese culture. In general, I experienced several aspects that are not present within the German culture, however we share many values and cultural settings. This also reflects on the positive political and economic relationship between Germany and Japan.
One of my personal highlights is the diversified evening program due to invitations to events, traditional dinners, or round tables. Those activities allow me to get direct contact with locals and experience the Japanese culture first hand. Another benefit is that most of those people speak German, which helps to get around the present language barriers caused by me not speaking that much Japanese yet. My target is to improve my Japanese knowledge as soon as possible to be able to start small conversations.
I am looking forward to the interesting experiences of the upcoming weeks, especially to get to know more of the culture, the language, the history and the local people. The first impressions were positive and exciting throughout. Once again, I want to thank Mr. And Mrs. Okamoto for spending so much time and energy to make my stay unique.
After many further adventures with the Shinkansen, a number of new friendships, and more culinary highlights, I am puzzled to realize that my three years in Japan are already approaching the end. Soon, I unfortunately need to leave this beautiful Japanese home in Osaka.
During the past few weeks, I was again able to travel throughout the country and explore Japan from many new and different angles. Starting in the south-west, I visited places such as Hiroshima, Itsukishima, Matsuyama, Takamatsu, Kurashiki, Koyasan, Ise, Kyoto, towards northern areas such as Tokyo, Kamakura, Nikko and Hakone. This allowed me to see a huge variety of traditional, historic places, spiritual monasteries and temples, mystical and fascinating ceder forests, versatile museum exhibitions (ranging from traditional Japanese to modern Western and contemporary digital art), and experience the busy crowds rushing through the streets of Tokyo.
Besides all exciting trave experiences, the last months also showed me again how hospitable, caring and kind the Japanese mentality is. The many invitations to dinners, day trips, and bars have been a great pleasure to me and allowed me to feel at home in Japan despite the short time being here. Thank you very much!
Last week, once again I realized thecloseness and sincere friendship to Japanese friends during the afterhours of the earthquake on June 18th. I was not only impressed by the professional and level-headed, almost routinized way of how the Japanese were dealing with the earthquake, but also touched by the many personal helpful messages I received from Japanese friends, asking about my well-being only seconds after the shock.
Without any doubt, Japan is a country full of curiosities and pecularities. After three unique and versatile months, I was was able to gain insights into the country’s history, language, culture and get to know the country and its people better. At the same time, I could realize that many stereotypes are not entirely true and that in fact, there are many similarities between Japan and Germany. I also learned about many Japanese customs and pecularities that should serve as example for Germany and the Western world too.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Mr. and Ms. Okamoto for their outstanding hospitality and their inspiring motivation and committment and time to give young students like me the chance to gain these unique insights through the Grünwald scholarship. Their motivation and drive to foster intercultural exchange and bilateral understanding between Japan and Germany is one of a kind and will certainly be a guiding priciple for me for my entire life.
Fresh fish, large piles of snow, and wide rise fields – these three terms can summarize the last few weeks in Japan. So far, I have been able to exlore the urban and well-populated areas of Japan, such as Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, and Tokyo. As a matter of fact, the majority of Japan’s population lives in these well-known areas, simply because one third of the country is unhabitable due to geographic conditions (forests, mountains). Yet, what many visitors miss out is the rural Japan and its incredibly beautiful areas outside the big cities. During a short trip with Mr. and Ms. Okamoto and Ms. Moriyama, I was given the chance to get to know some of these parts throughout the last weeks. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. and Ms. Okamoto for these unique insights and days!
On our journey to Toyama, we drove along the coast though Ishikawa prefecture, where we made a lunch break at a little fishing village and also bought some crayfish for dinner. A variety of fresh sea shells and fantastic sashimi – I have rarely before had such a delicious seafood lunch. I also learned that Japan people, on average, consume 40 kg of fish every year, more than national fishing industry is able to satisfy. In fact, 10% of global fishing is consumed by the Japanese population.
In the historic traditional house of Ms. Okamoto’s parents, we enjoyed the crayfish for dinner. I was also able to experience the special peaceful, harmoneous atmosphere of a traditional Japanese home. Untreated, natural wood, filigree sliding doors that are covered with transparent paper create a plain and simple architecture and an impressive pleasurable feeling.
Besides aesthetic aspects, the movable walls also appear to be very practical.
On the next day, we went 3,000 metres up to Tateyama Kurobe, where we enjoyed a breathtaking view over the Japanese alps and crossed the famous alpine street, that winded its way from pretty chestnut forests up to the snow. Furthermore, we hiked to a number of impressive water falls and saw how beautful rural Japan is, with its forests, rise fields, and mountains. In the middle of Gifu Prefecture, we also visited the village Shirakawa, were we saw traditional vernacular houses. On the way back to Osaka, we stopped at Inuyama close to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture to visit the city’y historic castle.
These days, offside the popular urban areas, have allowed me to get to know a wholly new perspective on Japan. I would recommend every tourist to visit these rather untypical rural areas too.
„Karoshi“ (過労死) literally translates to “death by overwork” and is an expression, that probably only exists in the Japanese language. Having known this term already for longer, I probably arrived in Japan with a slightly biased opinion. How does a typical Japanse working day look like, what standing does an employer have in one’s life, and are foreign stereotypes true? Throughout the past few weeks, I was able to delve into these questions, as I was given the great honor to spend one week at Yanmar, a diesel engine manufacturer headquartered in Osaka. Their core products include a wide range of applications such as seagoing vessels, construction equipment, agricultural equipment, and generator sets. I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Yanmar, particularly to Mr. Yamaguchi, Mr. Yukino, Mr. Matsumoto, and Ms. Kano for the impressive days inside your company, the great organization, and especially your time and commitment to answer my questions and thereby allowing me to learn more about Japanese working culture. Thank you very much!
During my stay at Yanmar, I was given the chance to not only get to know the group’s organizational structure, its core business areas, firm history, and culture, but also to learn about the current trends and challenges Japanese companies are facing today. Changing employee requirements, equal career opportunities and diversity at the workplace, a better work-life balance – all these topics are of growing significance in Germany too. Besides insights into the fields of human resources, I was also introduced to the brand management and the manufacturing divisions, being guided through the production and assembly sites in Nagahama, Kurashiki, Okayama, and Kurume.
What particularly impressed me are the kind and welcoming employees, the sustainable and employee-oriented layout and architecture of the Yanmar headquarter, and the highly automated, clean and innovative production plants. At the manufacturing sites, I could delve into the philosophy of Japanese operations management and experience concepts such as Kaizen in real life.
These experiences let me overcome and adapt my previous stereotypes about Japanese working culture. It appeared to me that extreme overtime work at the expense of one’s health, contrary to my previous stereotypes, are an exception rather than the rule. Instead, there is a growing demand for a better work-life balance and a stricter separation of private and professional matters. Certainly, there are still cases of workers that die from working too much. Yet, statistics prove that today only every fifth Japanese employee works more than 49 hours a week, including breaks. Therefore, the term “Karoshi” appears to be not representative anymore.
What proved to be right is the assumption that Japanese workers have an increased level of loyalty towards their employer. This is reflected in a number of aspects. First, Japanese people tend to work much longer for the same company, if not even stay there there for entire life. Even though this tradition is currently subject to change, life-long working vacancies still seem quite popular. The close relation and the high commitment to one’s employer can also be seen in the regular evening events among colleagues. Another exemplifying observation showed me that workers always try their best to maintain a positive appearance of their employer to the outside. When wearing the company badge, workers would for example not cross at a red traffic light.
For all these exciting and inspiring insights: どうもありがとうございました!
Lots of hours in the train, impressive temples and gardens, and getting lost within the crowd in urban Tokyo – this is how my last two weeks can be briefly summarized. After having settled in Osaka, I was now able to travel and explore further regions of Japan. Together with my visiting family, we had the pleasure to visit different cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Himeji. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Okamoto for his time and committment at all time and his hospitality!
Throughout the past few weeks, there were two particular Japanese pecularities that attracted my attention: (1) The punctual and perfectly running railway system and (2) the extreme cleanliness everywhere. This second report shall be written along these two aspects.
Japan – the country of absolute punctuality. This was one of the stereotypes I already learned back home in Europe, and indeed I was not disappointed. Quite contrary, the train journeys across the country were more punctual, smooth and trouble-free than I could even imagine. I could almost not believe my eyes when trains approached the stations to the minute, when it stopped right at the designated entrance spots, when staff politely assisted the passengers (wearing white gloves), and when it eventually silently left the station again perfectly on time.
What are the reasons for this? After a bit of research, I came up with two assumptions: (1) Japanese employees show a much higher level of loyalty and sense of duty, which motivates them to do the very best job possible. (2) Moreover, there simply may be an increased sensitivity of punctuality in Japan, that does not tolerate for the German “akademische viertel Stunde” (indicating that it is accepted to be 15 minute late). For completeness and honesty reasons however, one needs to defend the “Deutsche Bahn” (German railway company) that the Japanese infrastructure differs significantly from the German system. Opposed to German high-speed trains (ICE), the Japanese Shinkanzen trains have their own railway network, often built on viaducts that are less often subject to disturbances. Besides the impressive Shinkanzen trains, the Japanese local-bound public transport system appeared to be equally impressive too. To manage the huge crowds of people during rush hours, some stations have employees that press passenges inside the trains, a truly pragmatic Japanese way to solve it. Another difference to Germany are the “women only”-carriages, that protect women in packed trains from awkward contact to strangers.
After flying for more than 12 hours, our plane finally approached Osaka Kansai airport, which is build on a remarkable artificial island in the bay of Osaka and 5 kilometers away from the coast. The airport impressed me right away not only through its extraordinary undulating design (by Renzo Piano) but also through its efficient operations management. A sophisticated automated immigration and border control system allows for shorter throughput times – very much to the delight of the passengers, as I was soon welcomed and greeted by Mr. Okamoto. Since then, I have had the great pleasure of being part of a unique Japanese-German culture exchange program as Grünwald foundation’s 15th scholarship fellow and of having the chance to get to know the Japanese culture, language and history from 1 April to 28 June 2018.
Throughout the first weeks, Mr. Okamoto has not only helped me to develop a basic understanding of Japanese habits and customs, but also introduced me to a number of Japanese associations and societies. Furthermore, I started to explore Osaka and Kyoto, was lucky enough to enjoy the annual cherry blossom season, started Japanese classes and regularly give English language classes to Japanese middle school students. Last but not least, I was given the honor to meet several inspiring Japanese and German personalities, such as the Mayor of Osaka, Mr. Keiji Goto, and the German Consul General Dr. Köhler.
Participating in discussions and events like these allowed me to acquire insights in various Japanese-German similarities, such as the demographic change. As Germany, Japan is currently facing a firm trend towards an aging population through decreasing birth rates (recently 1.3 children per family). It is unclear yet which political responses could be most effective in tackling this issue, examples include encouraging women to work and replacing vacant jobs through robots. Besides the aging population, there are other issues that are discussed in a similar manner in both Japan and Germany. Among these topics, I engaged in insightful debates about Japan’s high national deficit (with a deficit-GDP ratio of more than 100%), emerging alternative engine technologies within the automotive industry (conventional vs. electric vs. hydrogen), the increasing trend of urbanization, nuclear energy, or the role of women in society and the business world. It took me by surprise to learn that the Japanese law system has adapted the German law system, which has led to many similarities until today.
Despite these similarities, I also encountered a number of differences and even curiosities. One of my personal highlights is certainly the amazing Japanese cuisine, which is characterized by very fresh, low-fat and very tasteful ingredients. Sushi, Sashimi, Okonomiyaki, hot Ramen-soups and the superb 12-course menu during my welcome dinner have made my heart beat faster and encouraged me to turn the grocery shopping routine into an adventurous experiment. What I found quite curious is Japan’s high-end, carefully-cultivated fruit available in the supermarkets. Even a single strawberry can be wrapped independently and a perfectly shaped watermelon can easily cost a fortune of more than €100. Apart from these culinary differences, I also identified variances in people’s mentality, as I experienced Japanese people to have a very high level of hospitality, courtesy and openness. At this point, I would like to express my gratefulness to Mr. Okamoto for his outstanding hospitality, his time and strong commitment, which allowed me to easily settle in Osaka and which provided me with so many opportunities to understand Japan better. I would also like to thank Ms. Moriyama for her time and very friendly help in my everyday life.
I very much look forward to the upcoming months in Japan and aspire to further advance my understanding of this country while gaining many more inspiring experiences.