Twenty-four students from Bauer College’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship recently spent seven days in Japan to learn about international culture and business on a trip sponsored by the Kakehashi Project. Following the photo gallery is text from entrepreneurship student Melissa Munoz’s presentation to Japan International Cooperation Center leaders, along with excerpts from WCE Director Dave Cook’s notes from the trip.
Photos by Amanda Moya
I sensed something was wrong when my cell phone rang at 7 am. I was in the car headed to the airport. We were to check in at IAH at 10:30 flight. We agreed to be at the airport at 8:30.
“So, where are you?” It was one of the students who had a history of being late to everything. She was concerned that I wasn’t there four hours before the flight. It was an early sign that this trip was something important.
Twenty-four students from the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship were about to embark on a 14 hour flight to Tokyo. The trip was part of the Kakehashi Project…”Japan’s Friendship Ties Program” and I was to be the group’s chaperone.
When Nancy dropped me off, I was met with a sigh of relief from the assembled students who were worried that my absence would blow-up the trip they were so eagerly awaiting.
The realization sunk in that single handedly, I was about to embark on a trip in which I would be responsible for 24 students. (What could possibly be wrong with that idea?)
In what I’d describe as the first of many miracles…all 24 students arrived and got through the boarding process and were safely aboard a United 767 about to take off for a 14 hour flight. It would be 6,900 miles from Houston to Tokyo. (On an earlier trip from IAH to Seoul, I had made the statement, “God intended me to lie flat at 30,000 feet! God was not with me as I settled into a small cramped seat.) This “spacious” space would be home for the next 14 hours.
As sobering as this thought was for me…I had two students who were facing the prospect of a 14 hour flight and it would be the first airplane trip of their lives.
Celerino Sanchez and “Big J” were about to leave the U.S. for the very first time.
WCE prides itself in putting students in “growth zones” (short of “panic zones” but clearly out of their “comfort zones.” ) This trip was clearly out of their “comfort” zones.
Two hours into the flight the adrenaline wore off and one by one they began to nod off. Galen remained awake and was the only one of the group without a neck cushion. (He had accompanied Big J and Alex in the airport on a search to buy a neck pillow. The store was having a sale, “2 for $20” but Galen was unsuccessful in getting the lady to go for his “3 for $30” offer. It appeared that he was now beginning to regret the decision.)
Fourteen hours is a long time to be on a plane. Ami went to sleep early and stayed down for the duration. R.J. brought more snacks than a 7-11 and was most generous in sharing. Before this trip I had not been aware that the average undergraduate cannot endure for more than 30 minutes without consuming major foodstuffs.
Really not bad food. Great service and just an hour into it we were flying at 500+ MPH at 33,000 feet.
Watched a couple of movies and would walk circles around the plane, checking on the students and usually chatting with Big J who seemed remarkably comfortable for his first flight. More often than not, he was standing in the aisle as if anything happened he would at least be standing and prepared. I used to be able to sleep effortlessly when traveling, but I’d either gotten used to the beds in first, or was not used to the responsibility of the students, but either way, I didn’t get much sleep.
The flight was as smooth as any I’ve ever taken and the hours crawled by without drama. It was a great flight and exactly what we as a group needed to get started.
As always seems to happen, when we arrived at NRT (Tokyo) we were cursed with a gate arrival that was around 3 miles from customs and baggage claim — but we were safe and we were there.
I had urged the students to pack lightly. We had met with Frank Kelley and Maggie Brock and implored the students to try to get everything into a carryon. Whatever our message was…it had fallen on deaf ears. As far as our students were concerned they were prepared, and packed, for any sort of social, cultural, athletic event and any conceivable weather event. Lauren, Jennifer, Stephanie and Caitlin traveled with trunks that could have sustained their fashion needs for months.
As we left the area with our luggage we were met by our guide — Takaaki Yomamoto and a young lady. We quickly exchanged dollars for yen and proceeded to a bus.
The traffic from the airport made us nostalgic for rush hour in Houston. It took 2 hours for what should have been an hour drive to reach our hotel. Coming into Tokyo we came across Rainbow Bridge and off to the right we witnessed the Tokyo Tower. We checked into the New City Hotel and then off to the Hokkoido Howkkoido Restaurant on the 44th floor of the Shinjuku Island Tower.
Forest was not feeling great so I walked him home.
Bianca navigated the group (Amanda, Bryan, Celerino, Emmit, Itzel, Melissa, Sephanie, Ross, Nate, Jennifer, Big J, Medina, Larry and Lauren, who was especially excited about the bright lights and was able to use her special camera lens and thought it was like Vegas.) four blocks down the road they arrived at Shibuya.
I was delighted that we had all 24 students in the hotel by the 11pm curfew.
We were loaded onto a bus and driven to a meeting place where we were given an overview of the Kakehashi Project, Japan’s Friendship Ties Program that so far has involved 4,200 professionals. It is run by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has sent 1,200 Japanese professionals to the USA. In the briefing we were told that during the coming week we would be shown glimpses of Japan’s history, it’s culture, trade and security issues. We would also be touring growth companies, meeting with local dignitaries and would be spending a night and day with Japanese “host” families.
Our first lecturer was Keiko Namba, Deputy Director, Second N.A. Division, North American Affairs Bureau. His topic was, Relationships Between Japan and the United States.
- He talked about the very important LNG imports commencing in 2017.
- Importance of Japan/US Strategic Energy Dialogue
- High Speed Train (DC to NYC, LA to SF and Hou to Dallas)
- Technology: Science and Technology, Cyber Security and Space
- Global Issues, Climate Change and Global Health
- Strengthen Public Private Partnerships: US/Japan Business Conference; Expansion of Bilateral Investment; Tomodachi Initiative (Recovery from 2011 Earthquake as well as Education and Cultural Exchange; Japanese—Entrepreneurial Needs, Meeting with Silicon Valley and Japanese Diet Visit SF
2nd Lecture Daisuke Sato
MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)—for TPP (TPP 12 Countries—Korea, Canada, Mexico, China, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Singapore, Malasia, Vietnam and Brunei.
It sounded like the Japanese want TPP to make all other countries open for their autos, auto parts, Machines and chemicals. They want to protect their currency, agriculture products and autos.
3rd Lecture Tetsuya Ito (firstname.lastname@example.org) Subject: Agriculture & Agriculture Trade of Japan.
Comparison of Food Production vs. needs of population:
There are 125,704,000 Japanese
There are 284,000 farms in Japan
There are 1,402 Rice Farms
There are 72 Cattle Farms, 5 Pig Farms, 5 Chicken Farms
Their farms are small 2.3 Hectares vs. 170.0 Hectares in US. Hectare = 2.5 acres
They do not produce enough food to feed their population. For instance in the US we produce 130% of the food we need and thus export food.
39% Japan They need to import 61% of food to survive
Imports from US
83.4% Soy Bean
49% Pork imported (1/3 from US)
40% Beef imported (1/2 from US)
67% Sugar imported (60%)
Lots of graphs, flow charts and descriptions of status of negotiations with other countries.
Next Lecture was on Japanese Food by the same lecturer:
Washoku Wa = Harmony and Shoku = Food the two combined achieve “Balance”
They have an enormous respect for Nature
- Various Fresh ingredients
- Balance in Creating Healthy Diets
- Beauty of the Presentation
- Various Events that Connect Food to Themes/History/Culture
They have 150 kinds of vegetables.
They have over 4,200 varieties of fish.
Wagyu Beef is aged for 20 months and has heavy marbling.
Fourth Lecture Shihori Miyubara and Hiroaki Shindo
They gave a great presentation that was primarily centered around a “White Paper on International Economy and Trade 2016.” I asked for an e-copy of the paper but was never given one. I was able to find it on line and it can be viewed at:
Back on the bus to an electronics store and then to dinner on the 8th floor. It was a traditional Japanese dinner. Soup, rice and chicken and bussed back to the hotel.
The students went out in pairs and all were back by 11 p.m. having spent most of the night “trying to find one another.” One of the places they sought out was Shuburya (think shopping center with lots of restaurants, light shows, tech stores, 7-11, bars and clubs.)
We got off to a shaky start.
There are 6,800 islands that make up the country of Japan. Everyday somewhere in Japan has an earthquake. At 7 am on Monday morning we got our official welcome to Japan…
A 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck off Japan’s Honshu island on Tuesday, triggering tsunami waves and bringing back traumatic memories for locals of the devastating 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Residents in Fukushima Prefecture braced for the worst after a tsunami warning was issued early Tuesday morning — along the same stretch of coast devastated by enormous waves five years ago. In 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake — one of the worst ever to hit Japan — killed more than 20,000 people and caused tsunamis of up to 12 meters (40 feet) which swamped the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, triggering a nuclear meltdown.
I’m not sure what the families of WCE do normally when their loved ones are half way around the world, but I do know that on this particular morning they were watching the news and when the word of an earthquake hit they were testing their electronic networks and checking in.
We had a wake up call for 5 a.m. and were to board the bus at 7:30. The quake hit around 7 and was not noticed by most of the students.
We boarded the bus and made our way back to the airport and took a flight to Komatsu. As good fortune would have it we were flying to the West Coast of Japan. The East Coast was the site of the earthquake, a sure sign the God was smiling on the Cougars.
While in the airport I observed that there are two distinct levels of consciousness with college students. One level when they have Wifi and the other when they become disconnected. When the word spread that the airport had WiFi there was a palpable sense of relief spread through the students. It was like oxygen filling the lungs of the desperate. It ignited a flurry of texting, video conferencing, emoji building, e-mail, snapchatting, The electronic connection swept through our group and all social interaction shifted from each other to the small glass screens drawing them into the virtual world.
The fact that a major earthquake had just hit Japan created a wave of concern from the families that hadn’t connected with their students. Suddenly the cold realm of electronic messaging melded with images of moms and sisters eager to see the face of their family 7,000 miles away. At this point I was ready to acknowledge that the Information Age really had the possibility of making the world a better place.
We left Tokyo and landed at Ishikawa Prefecture and were whisked off to the City of Komatsu and its amazing fish market. Galen was intent on trying sushi and along with Jennifer, Alex and Big J we found ourselves in a small shop pointing and gesticulating our way to a really good sampling of sushi. I will say that Galen was particularly courageous in stuffing one unknown piece after another into his mouth.
Jennifer was equally adventuresome in pointing at things as we walked through the fish market and when she got it she would share it with us. At one point I shared a stick of what we thought was black mushrooms only to be informed that in fact it was pieces of fish liver.
Jacob was nursing a bad back and was starting to look a little green but committed and fully engaged with the experience.
Back on the bus we drove to Kenrokuen and some of the most beautiful gardens in Japan. It was over 340 years old. On the grounds there was a restaurant where we removed our shoes and walked down three flights of stairs to have a traditional Japanese meal of raw fish, raw shrimp, crab, soup and other delicacies — each item served in a separate bowl. After it was over I bought a bunch of students ice cream cones…a Western end to an Eastern meal.
After touring the gardens we were driven to a Government Building where we listened to a number of speeches. When displaying the trade number, the rep from Ishikawa Prefect showed:
Export to USA 623.1 m Yen
Import from USA 23.9 m Yen
One of the students asked about their universities and asked about internships and how it might be possible to get more students to work with Japanese companies. The answer was shocking. “We offer 50 students the opportunity to take a 2 month cultural education experience and from that group of possible interns, two are selected for internships.”
Kamatsu sits on the West Coast of Japan and it seems its focus is more on Korea, China and Taiwan.
Two things seemed to emerge from our visit. First as we got farther away from Tokyo, the familiarity with English faded. All of the lectures this day were delivered in Japanese with a translator converting to English.
Second, there don’t seem to be many women in positions of power. I can remember on a trip to visit Warren Buffett he said that the amazing thing about America was that we built the world’s greatest economy and we only used half of our natural talent. Buffett strongly urges a more robust place for women in business and I think his message would be an important one for Japan.
In Japan, Culture dominates. It is incredibly kind and polite. You feel safe. You feel welcome. But it also feels restrictive and unfair.
There seems to be little enthusiasm or even interest in change. Yet declining populations and inflexibility seem to be a deadly forecast for Japan.
And if change is considered, the feeling is that a quick fix is what is being sought. They are trying to set up meetings with Silicon Valley in hopes of creating entrepreneurs, but the reality is that the country seems to be mired in and a culture that seems to nurture and value the past more than the future.
After the lecture the students were taken to the hotel where they left the majority of their belongings (taking only what they needed for their overnight visit with the host families.) We were taken to yet another Govt. building where the students sat on the right hand side of the room and the host families on the other. The students were given the names of the host family and they came to the front of the room and announced the names of their host families. The Japanese family would cheer, come to the front, bow and then hug their new American house guests.
Yamamato and I walked about a mile and ½ in the raid back to the hotel. It was sort of a blessing in that I really had a meaningful discussion with him about Japan and their culture.
The next day we visited some of the sponsoring families. In one case they had invited another set of students and their families over to make Mochi which was created by taking rice and smashing it with an enormous wooden hammer that smashed the rice in a huge wooden pestle. The end product, a ball of rice was rolled around in various stuff and was an extremely good snack.
Lots of pictures and lots of families, kids, dogs and warm experiences. Each group of two students went to a different family. Some went to the ocean shore, some to local Temples, some shopping some to famous local gardens. All had a really positive experience. Whatever the shortcomings of Japanese culture in business, these families could not have been more generous, kind and gracious to our students even though in many cases neither spoke the other’s language.
At the end of the day we were asked to have two of our students perform on stage for the assembly of all the students and parents. Corey danced brilliantly to music that was composed by Ross. Lauren sang beautifully to thunderous applause. Emmit and Brian’s family had their faces painted like Samurai Warriors and were warmly received.
Gift giving is important in the Japanese Culture and our students had different kinds of gifts. Thanks to Latha, Frank and Britney we were armed with Bauer Booklets and pens. Also, each group of students had brought a one pound package of beef jerky that had been produced by Thao (WCE student, Class of 2018) and her start-up company.
Our Farewell Dinner was held at the Hotel Sunroue and was first class. They had a ceremony where traditional drums were pounded. It was really a wonderful night filled with good will and laughter.
Splendid day filled with memories that will never be forgotten.
After breakfast we boarded the bus headed to The Komatsu Seiren Mfg. Plant. To me this facility and their people exemplified the best in creative innovation. They started off by showing us their antiseismic reinforcement product that essentially created a net around buildings that protected, reinforced and actually beautified structures. Our students were envisioning the links to their bridge stress sensing technologies. They hope to use this new technology and application of the technology in architectural structures with the Olympics in 2020. Ross was thinking of how the different fabrics could be tied into the fabric of his battery technology. It was amazing how many ideas seemed to connect with our U of H IP.
This plant was an example of a company that was passionate about how to use textiles in every stage of life:
Lunch at Hotel Sunroute. At lunch we were seated with various business leaders and local politicians. Each was introduced in Japanese and then in English.
One gentleman was sporting a bolo tie with a roadrunner from a trip he had made to Texas. I’m not sure if he wore it to impress us or it was his standard wear. In any even we became friends.
What most impressed me with this session was that the WCE Students were fully engaged with the business people at the lunch. Despite not having the ability to speak the same language, our students found ways to connect. One of the highlights was what happened with Forest. Forest has a passion for distilled spirits. Not just drinking them but trying to find a business around them. During this luncheon he found and connected with the owner of Higashi Sake Brewing Company. With this new connection he has entered into discussion with the intent of distributing this premier sake in Texas. (Our first possible business formation of the trip.)
We were back on the bus and off to a meeting with Shinji Wada, the Mayor of Komatsu City. The Mayor seated me to his left and then had various people make speeches or present their gifts in a procession on his right. He also spoke briefly through a translator about his intent to help children in Cambodia and that he hoped that globalization would not only benefit Japan and the US but places like Cambodia.
Corey was the spokesperson for the group of students and he gave his gift and formed an instant connection when he said he was in the US Navy and had been in the Mayor’s port at an earlier stage in his life.
After dinner we bussed to Kanazawa City and visited a shop that specialized in the application of gold leaf. Each student was given a box and design tools, cutting instruments and a sheet of gold to apply to their box.
After dinner we then traveled to a really bad hotel. Econo Higashi Kanazawa. The rooms smelled of cigarettes and in some cases sewage but that wasn’t the main focus for the student’s concerns. The real problem with the hotel from their perspective was that there was no Internet.
After some discussion and some direct involvement by one of the directors of the travel agency, we were loaded back onto the bus and drove to a good hotel and got a good night’s sleep.
Breakfast and long bus ride to PFU (a division of Fujitsu) in Kahoku City.
PFU has the world’s largest market share for scanners and was able to show us a variety of business and consumer products. (Everyone was impressed.)
At PFU was the first time we saw a person from another country (French) although I don’t think the students found much entrepreneurial opportunities. (PFU already had international sales operations.)
Lunch and then bussed to Yamato Soy Sauce & Miso Co. The President and CEO is Seiichi Yamamoto and he conducted a presentation of two parts. The first the history and production of Soy Sauce and the second was his efforts to market his products.
Afternoon was spent in a workshop which was designed to make a presentation to the Leadership of JICE (Japan International Cooperation Center) as well as the 80 + students and chaperones who had participated.
It was a long session and at last the students had pounded out an outline.
After dinner we arranged to meet in the hotel room to polish the script and to develop a PowerPoint. As I dropped by at 10 the group had 3 minutes of the expected 10-minute presentation completed. Pounding away at it were Melissa, Amanda, Corey and Jennifer. I dropped by at midnight and everyone was getting burned out. We worked on it and finally had the script done around 2 a.m. We were using my computer and I saved the document on a thumb drive that I had purchased from China. I went to bed and expected to polish the script in the morning, get it printed and give the copy of the script to Amanda so that she could build the PowerPoint.
At 6 am I inserted the thumb drive and tried to open the Word file. Nothing. Zilch. None of the 10 minutes was coming up.
I immediately went to the lobby and tried to find RJ. to see if he could help. I was informed that he was still in his room. Jacob opened the door and together we got RJ out of the shower and began the process of having him try to retrieve the data on the drive.
Noting was working. Periodically there would come the unhelpful questions, “So, did you save it to your computer?” Or, “Did you shut down the computer?” I won’t go into great detail, but the next six hours were a painful quest to retrieve a script from a thumb drive. Here were some of the problems’:
- We were traveling back to Tokyo and had only sporadic Internet access
- My computer has a weak battery and could only operate for 20 minutes without being hard wired to power
- The thumb drive was corrupted but because it was coded in Chinese it was next to impossible to read it.
- The programs RJ was trying to download to unscramble the text were hard to access
- RJ had a team of folks in Houston and in India all trying to access and figure out how to access the data.
It became sufficiently concerning that I decided that we should start from scratch. So Melissa and I sat and collectively we put together a new script as best we could remember from the first one. Turns out it was a good thing we did, in that despite RJ’s considerable efforts, we never were able to revive the data from the thumb drive.
We finished the script during a lunch that we didn’t eat and with just enough time for Amanda to put together a PowerPoint.
Melissa delivered a flawless presentation of a message that I believe was most constructive and comprehensive of any that were delivered. Before I share Melissa’s speech with you I should say that I had a conversation with Yamamoto in which I asked, “So, do you want us to be honest and tell you the truth or should we be politically correct and just tell you folks how wonderful things are?” Yamamoto emphatically encouraged us to, “Please tell the truth, the whole purpose of the visit is to get a fresh perspective of opportunities and look for ways to make things better.”
Here’s Melissa’s Message:
Presentation to Japan International Cooperation Center
Konichiwa, my name is Melissa Munoz from the University of Houston Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. Thank you all for your generosity and willingness to share your businesses, your culture, and your homes with us this week. It has been an incredible experience that we will cherish forever. On behalf of the University of Houston, this report will share with you our findings and our plans to share this experience with our communities when we return to the United States. Also, as entrepreneurs, we will offer some thoughts as to how some of our findings might be turned into actions that would benefit Japanese businesses and the people we have grown to respect and admire.
All 24 students from Houston had seen pictures of Japan, but we did not realize the beauty of the country until we set foot onto the various places and had the opportunity to stand in ancient gardens or stand atop buildings suspended by carbon fiber cables. The opportunity to interact with your political and business leaders has been humbling and transformative. At every turn, we were able to see amazing innovations and creative people shaping development and productive growth. We saw inspired leaders who are confident of their nation but seeking improvement in a continual quest for excellence.
As entrepreneurs, we are taught to value innovation, but more importantly we are taught to value the ability to make connections and find paths for innovations to get to market. As students in the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, we are put in teams to develop a piece of intellectual property entrusted to us by our University. Our teams are given the option to take these technologies and find customers and markets to take innovation from the laboratory to the market. With this intellectual property in mind, at every turn, our team could see opportunities for collaboration with the Japanese business people. One of our teams is working on a coating for solar panels that increases their efficiency. Another team is working on a technology to strengthen bridges and concrete structures which seemed to fit with the carbon fiber reinforcement rods being developed at the Komatsu Seiren Textile Company. Yet another one of our team is working on creating garments and uniforms in which the fabric becomes the battery for powering electronic devices for use by athletes and military personnel. On a more personal level, one of our students has a passion for distilled spirits and through the networking dinner he was able to connect with the owner of Higashi Sake Brewing Company. With this new connection, he hopes to be able to distribute this premiere sake in Texas.
As amazing and exciting as these findings of innovation and technology were, nothing compared to the experience of spending time with the families of Japan. Through the homestay program, more than any other aspect of this experience, we will take away a sense of friendship and connection with the Japanese culture through the families that welcomed us into their homes.
Some of us went to the Shirayama Hime Temple and others were able to experience the beauty and serenity of the Kenrokuen Gardens where water and vegetation created a memorable vision. Others went to the shore and watched waves pound on pristine beaches and some went to rice pounding mochi events where family and laughter overcame the barrier of language. In every home and with every student there was a sense of affection for people who set aside their own lives to make this experience something warm and personal that each of us will remember for the rest of our lives. We are grateful for all of the events and experiences that we have encountered during this visit, but nothing more than the time we were able to spend with our host families.
So, how will we share these experiences and how will we create awareness and interest with our stakeholders and our communities back in the United States? Before we left Houston we had a series of meetings with the Japanese Consulate and our leadership at the University. We have planned a presentation where the five team leaders will make a presentation of this trip. We have already collaborated with the Asia Society Texas Center. This center is the leading educational institution promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the people’s leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States.
Again before we left Houston, we held a series of meetings in which we developed a plan to share the Kakehashi Project and our experiences with the students in our university. Specifically we will be making 10 minute presentations to the 2,500 students who are taking the General Business Courses and another 800 who are taking our International Business Courses.
This trip and our experiences will be shared with 80 mentors and stakeholders who support the Wolff Center and who will allow us to use their connections to spread our experiences on a larger scale. Many of these business owners are already doing business with people from Japanese companies and we plan on recognizing the teamwork that is growing.
Before leaving, our Director had already been interviewed by the lead business writer from the Houston Chronicle. The Chronicle has a circulation of 2.5 million readers and is the leading paper in Texas. The article is scheduled to be published on December 25th.
Already we have had over 15,000 posts on Snapchat and have over 1,500 posts on Instagram. This is only the beginning. Our plans are to develop videos that will be posted to Facebook and YouTube and will be shared on multiple social media platforms. We hope to leverage this work by gaining the participation of other Universities involved in this trip.
Now that we have a plan to share the good will and experiences generated by the Kakehashi Project we also hope to leave you with some entrepreneurial opportunities that we feel might be developed and bring value to your nation.
Earlier we spoke of the strong and positive values that are imbedded in the Japanese Culture. The level of respect we received was extremely rewarding. At all times we were received with warmth and good will. The Japanese Culture is a great pillar in the structure of your country. While there are enormous benefits in creating a society that feels warm, supportive and safe…one thing that we would encourage you to consider is the role of women in business. Our belief is that part of the Japanese tradition and culture prohibits women from obtaining equal opportunities in the Japanese work force. In this culture it is common for women to quit their jobs after having a child. This affects the future of individual women, as well as the likelihood that companies will invest in developing women for leadership roles. One of the contributing factors is the lack of day care in local areas. This lack of support for women’s options to continue their careers creates an opportunity for entrepreneurs to open child care service businesses. We would also encourage the Japanese Government to provide incentives for Japanese women to become the moving force in creating these services. It seems like a good fit to extend the opportunities for women to continue their employment and to continue the culture and support of Japanese children and families.
Another opportunity we felt could be exploited is the opportunity to bring greater diversity of talent and best practices to your business organizations. The culture of civility and respect for authority has served your country well, however it is not the most conducive for entrepreneurship and gaining diverse points of view or trying various “best practices” from other countries and cultures. There seemed to be very few people in your businesses representing different perspectives from other lands and other economies. We believe that it would be healthy and productive for Japan to open their companies to these diverse perspectives. Our recommendation would be to create a Staffing Company that would be responsible for the language training, cultural exposure and the handling of all the personnel matters. An outside staffing company could screen and locate candidates that could be placed with a wide array of companies in Japan.
Another aspect of this problem is the difficulty that the world has in finding and accessing Japanese Technologies. In every lecture and in every meeting with the companies we visited there was a common issue….the inability to identify and locate partners, customers, brokers, wholesalers and people that could be trusted. As a result, most companies were forced to attend an occasional trade show, or try to get referrals from a variety of sources.
Our recommendation is for an independent entity to establish a web listing of the innovations and patented products that are languishing in the companies and development labs of Japan and to make them available on-line. This would necessitate two important ingredients. First, it should be available in all major languages. Second, it should be live. There should be someone that a prospective customer or partner could speak with and arrange the next step in the collaboration. This site could be funded by either “click” revenue, a subscription model or a percentage of sales generated.
We have helped various entities develop these web sites and would welcome you and your representatives to come to the University to discuss and plan this project.
Finally, we would like to thank all of those responsible for making this Kakehashi Project a reality. Thanks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, JICE, the various political dignitaries and especially the Mayor of Komatsu. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the families of Japan who welcomed us with love and laughter and created a bond of friendship that we will treasure for a lifetime. On behalf of the University of Houston, ARRIGATO.
I am so very proud of Melissa and our students who ended up making a strong presentation despite have all sorts of electronic and technological challenges.
Each school leader was asked to give short remark and I expressed my thanks and appreciation as well as the passion we have for our students and for creating businesses.
Between Melissa’s presentation and my praise of our students and our passion for our methods, we were delighted to be mentioned in the closing remarks by the JICE folks and welcome the opportunity to continue our collaboration as we seek, “next steps.”
That night we went out to a steak house and enjoyed a richly deserved celebration of a wonderful trip and really quality work.
The students were healthy (Forest was in charge of our morning reporting of our temperature that had to be checked to ensure that we weren’t sick and risking infecting the general populace.)
We spent a leisurely day looking around the Sensoji Temple, walked to a final lunch of Sushi and noodles and shopped in the market in front of the Temple.
Then on a bus to the airport and a farewell to our friend Takaaki Yamamoto.
The flight home was a little choppy and apparently Stephanie and Itzel were fervently praying for a safe landing.
Their prayers were answered and except for Nate losing his passport somewhere between leaving the plane and going through customs, it had all gone smoothly.
Coincidentally, when I settled into my seat on the plane a flight attendant asked if I wanted a newspaper. It was The Japan Times and on the front page was an article that gave a dismal picture of the Japanese economy.
“Consumer Prices Extend String of Declines.”
The article painted a bleak picture for the Japanese economy. “Consumer prices fell, extending the longest string of declines in five years and underscoring its struggles to conquer deflation. The weak inflation data came several weeks after Japan’s central bank pushed back the timeline for hitting its 2 percent inflation target.
The BOJ’s target is a key part of Prime Minister Shino Abe’s faltering bid to pump up the world’s third biggest economy. The country has been struggling to reverse a deflationary spiral of falling prices and lackluster growth but October’s data mark eight straight months of declines. BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda pointed a finger at weak crude prices as the chief culprit.
The prime minister hand picked Kuroda to help drive his Abenomics growth blitz of big spending, easy money and structural reforms, unveiled in early 2013.
The program sharply weakened the yen—fattening corporate profits—and set off a stock market rally that spurred hopes for the once soaring economy. But growth remains fragile while inflation is far below the BOJ’s target.
Earlier this month, the central bank said it expected to hit 2 percent inflation by March 2019—four years later than its original target and the latest in a string of delays.
The BOJ hoped that consumers would spend more if prices were rising, persuading firms to expand operations and getting the economy humming.
But wage growth has fallen below expectations, meaning workers have less money to spend. Abe’s promises to cut through red tape—the key third plank of Abenomics—have also been slow to come.
As I turned the page there was an equally dismal view of the future from the perspective of young workers. “Future Looks Bleak, say Japan’s Unhappy Millenials.” (Henry Hoening and Keiko Ujikane)
Graying nation, dead-end jobs contribute to negative outlook. Youthful optimism can be hard to find in Japan where millenials rank as the gloomiest of those in the world’s biggest economies.
While a majority of young adults in its trading partners see bright futures and successful careers ahead, fewer than 40 percent of Japanese do, making the most pessimistic in 18 countries surveyed by Manpower Group.. They are even more downbeat than young Greeks.
So much for efforts to eradicate Japan’s deflationary mindset. As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tries to engineer an economic revival, young Japanese are far from bullish. It’s weighing on the economy already and posses challenge for the future.
Japanese millennials face a future of paying to care for one of the world’s most rapidly growing elderly populations, with more than a third of them likely headed for a series of lower-paying-dead-end jobs on the less desirable side of the nation’s dual labor market. Then there’s public debt burden that ranks among the world’s biggest.
Low and stagnant pay is forcing many to delay or even forgo marriage, home buying and child rearing. About 37 percent expect to work until they die.
Preferring security, young Japanese show little of the “animal spirits” needed to help realize Abe’s vision of a “great entrepreneurial nation.”
Younger workers are the least inclined to strike out on their own in more than a decade. Millennials, if they can, want to join a major company..it’s more stable. “Young Japanese have a fixation on working for large companies or the government.” Changing such attitudes is a key challenge for Japan. Which ranks low in entrepreneurship globally, and doing so is necessary to drive the innovation an productivity needed to sustain rising living standards as the population shrinks.
The country has abundant patents of idle corporate cash, but it lacks enough entrepreneurs to make full use of them. Many young Japanese have cast off the values that drove their parents and grandparents to toil away much of their lives in factories an offices during the nation’s post war boom years. They say they prize experiences over possessions and at work seek self-fullillment and achievement over career advancement.
The percentage of men and women in their 20s who want to get married has fallen sharply over the past three years to 39 percent of men and 59 percent of women, with many citing low pay as the reason.
But public debt may prove the biggest economic burden for Japan’s millenials. The share of the debt for each Japanese child under 15 stood at $794,000 each as of 2011—more than 2 ½ times that of children in Italy and Greece, the two worst cases. Because of that, and a disproportionately large share of social spending getting to the elderly, Japan ranks as the second most “intergenerationally unjust” county.
The shrinks explain that the Japanese culture is unique in which young people are pressured by society to conform and succeed. Overarching this is the Japanese tendency to mask their feeling. There are “honmae” or true feelings and “tatamae” one’s public face.
After returning from this trip I come away with a genuine affection for the Japanese people and a sympathy for their nation which seems to be locked into a declining spiral and blocked by pride, language, and customs. More than a new business model, or some quick fix, I believe the most value we could bring to our new friends in Japan would be a different mindset.
We have learned how to fan the flame of passion and to link entrepreneurship with purpose in a way that creates a new culture of possibility and performance. Throughout our trip it was clear that the WCE Mindset was disruptive (but admired.)
Just as W. Edwards Deming, at the end of the WWII, helped Japan transform it’s industry with his 14 point plan that essentially had goals of:
- Better design of products to improve service
- Higher level of uniform product quality
- Improvement of product testing in the workplace and research centers
- Greater sales through global markets
His message and the adoption of the idea transformed Japanese industry to the pinnacle of quality and manufacturing excellence. It also created a generation of innovation and creativity that developed markets in electronics and cars that were the envy of the world. I would argue that this didn’t happen because of a plan but because the business leaders were willing to adapt and embrace change that flowed through the vision of their leaders, the meticulous work of their engineers and the discipline of their assembly lines. This approach worked for a generation that valued monetary and status rewards.
For Japan to reverse their current trends, I believe it will take fundamental and aggressive change. That change will have to come from a new brand of leader who can nurture a sense of purpose in work, whet the appetite of a generation for the thrill of creation and the courage to embrace risk. But more than changing the leadership, entrepreneurship will have to be linked with purpose. The next generation of Japanese business people will have to understand their values that are not linked to a corporate slogan but the lives of their employees.
This is what we know how to do at WCE.
Could it be transplanted into young people that grew up in the Japanese culture? I don’t know but I think it is worth talking about.