In mid-April, just after the last MBA classes finished, a big group of over 100 second-year IESE students and partners made their way to Far East Asia for the Japan Trek. This trek is organized by the Japan Business Club (i.e. Japanese IESE students) every year to bring their country closer to the rest of the IESE community. During the 8-11 days, we were exposed to a steep learning curve on Japanese culture and to a bonding experience that created memories that will last forever. The Japan Trek was certainly one of the highlights of the MBA; it gave our class the opportunity for international and intercultural learnings in a country far away from most of our homes.
Chapeau, dear Japanese classmates plus our Korean Ji, for making this happen. I don’t think that anyone else could have organized this trip better, taking into account the huge group with different preferences, food limitations, time perceptions, etc. We were all incredibly impressed by the organizational talents and hospitality of our Japanese and Korean friends!
We started off in Tokyo, with options such as Disney Sea visit, Bay Night Cruise or Roppongi Night Walk. The next morning, most of us went on a sightseeing tour through Tokyo. Then, we were exposed to the travel convenience in Japan: we took the fast, comfortable and absolutely punctual Shinkansen train to Kyoto, while our luggage was shipped by courier service door-to-door from our Tokyo to Kyoto hotels.
Kyoto offered several highlights, the most memorable probably being the Kimono walk through the old part of the city (Gion). Wearing this colorful traditional Japanese clothing was a very special moment for all of us and we took many pictures at Maruyama Park. Somehow, given the number of photo requests, it seemed that we had also become an attraction to non-IESE related visitors of the park…
We stayed three nights in Kyoto and experienced more cultural encounters, such as a dinner with maikos, zen meditation, Golden Temple, Endless Shrines, a sake museum, a giant Buddha statue… And we realized early on, that we were travelling Japanese style to be able to maximize our experience in the days we had. Sightseeing activities were intense and we spent MANY hours travelling. Are we complaining? No way, this was part of the cultural experience and we managed to increase out bus/train sleep time. Our day trip to Hiroshima was very touching. Visiting the Peace Memorial Museum and gathering in-depth learning about the atomic bomb made us further think about how, as future leaders, we can all foster peace and avoid such catastrophes. This trip was followed by a visit to the island Miyajima, its famous shrine, desperate tries for a selfie with deer and the baking of traditional cookies.
On our way back to Tokyo, we visited the Toyota Factory to learn on-site about best-practices in automotive operations, such as Kaizen and Just in Time. After having talked so often about these strategies in class, it was great to see them in practice. Our journey would not have been completed without staying at an Onsen Ryokan, a traditional Japanese Inn with attached hot springs. A ryokan is an accommodation with tatami-mat rooms and futon instead of beds. Staying there is very different from usual hotels; upon arrival, we left our shoes in the entry area and in our rooms we found no bed. We learned that the futon is in the closet and will be prepared for the night during dinner. We then change into yukatas (lightweight Japanese robe) for dinner, drinks and bath. In such, an “Enkai” Dinner Party, the etiquette considers it acceptable to become drunk – things said and done under such circumstances are not taken seriously, but are forgiven or ignored upon return to the workplace. To all IESEiens: Seiko, Seiko, Heishimoto Seiko!
We finished the regular Trek in Tokyo by exploring, different neighborhoods, the fish market, companies and shopping centers. Karaoke on the final night was a must! Some of us went on three day long after treks to the south (Kyushu for nature and lots of hot springs) or north (Tohoku for cherry blossom and to witness the resilience in the area recovering from the tsunami of 2011) of Japan or Korea.
We all could not have imagined a better end to the MBA! After the trek, the Graduation Ceremony was waiting for us before we would all be scattered around to globe, conquering our new roles… Japan has gained over 100 new friends and we will all certainly come back one day!