Even whilst waiting, in my business suit at Canberra Airport, I had still not grasped the life
changing trip on which I was about to embark. After a number of weeks of intensity leading up to and including my final examinations I had the chance to once again consider the schedule provided to us. The sheer number of items in the itinerary, many of which I would never have been able to experience as a tourist, was overwhelming. I am glad to say that I made it through the tour tired but very enriched. I have made many valuable friends and connections and developed personally in many ways.
Personal impressions before and after
a. Mitsui & Co.
I began the tour as someone whose interests did not include business. This, combined with the lack of public presence Mitsui has in Australia, meant I had never heard the name “Mitsui & Co.” before I read the application for the MEF tour. As all the members of my immediate and extended family work in the public service in some form I was clueless as to how companies in general function, let alone Mitsui specifically. I immediately consulted the internet for information on Mitsui, and was shocked by just how large a company it is. I suppose up to that point in time my view of corporations as a whole had been constructed by different forms of media, primarily film media. Due to this originating from a somewhat inaccurate source, I was keen to experience a large company for myself in the hopes that I could construct an accurate view grounded in reality.
Through my interactions with members of the Mitsui & Co. community, from the prospective employees up to senior staff, my view of Mitsui developed. I realised that every employee cared a great deal about their individual area of responsibility, demonstrated clearly in the lectures at Tokyo head office. I learnt a great deal about the many facets of Mitsui & Co., and was particularly interested in the work of the Food Resources Business Unit and the work done in the Medical/Healthcare strategic area. I am very glad to see that Mitsui cares about the products and services they provide, as I saw ‘Best Practice’ being applied to all facets of this strategic area including pharmaceutical provision and hospitals in emerging markets.
I have always been someone with a keen interest in Japan and Japanese culture, this interest having been kindled by the many Kurosawa and Miyazaki films my father introduced me to as a child. I have also visited once before, and so had some knowledge of Japan before the MEF trip. This knowledge, however, was purely obtained from a tourist’s perspective, or from the removed perspective of a reader. The tour offered insight into a number of areas that cannot be accessed when visiting as a tourist, and I also experienced other aspects of Japan that I did not see on my previous visit. Before the MEF tour I had the impression that the homogenous nature of Japanese society meant foreigners found it difficult to be accepted. Seeing Mikhail (one of the Mitsui Prospective Employees) who is ethnically Russian being treated as an outsider, despite having lived in Japan since he was very young, showed me that this can definitely still be true. However, the experience with my family at the Chigasaki homestay made me realise that this may not always be the case. Takashi, Naomi and Kento immediately included me in their family life once I arrived. I got to attend Kento’s football training, take Belle (their pet dog) for walks and had some fantastic conversations with Takashisan and Naomisan after I finished playing Uno with Kento at night. I also really enjoyed the visit to Keio University and the chance it gave me to experience a Japanese classroom at the tertiary level. I had previously attended a summer study program at Yonsei University in South Korea, an institution as well regarded as Keio, and found their content and teaching quality to be lagging behind that of my home university. I was very interested to see whether this would be apparent in Japan as well, as I heard that, due to the intensity of school, university is a time for the Japanese to relax before getting a job. In our class at Keio we discussed the views citizens of our respective countries held with regard to China, and the root causes of those views. The nature and quality of the discussion reminded me more of my home university than of my experience at Yonsei. Professor Soeya was very engaging and the students were all individuals, just like in an Australian university some willing to vocalise their opinions
and others quite shy. This changed my understanding of Japanese university life and helped me appreciate the diversity in the student and teacher bodies. Apart from these specific aspects I feel that the tour solidified my existing view of Japan. Being able to experience many of the things I have read about in the past, or had exposure to on my
previous visit, has consolidated my understanding.
Aspects of special interest
a. To myself
I would first like to highlight some experiences which were of special interest to me. These
include the visit to Hakone and the onsen, the Kabuki performance and the Tea Ceremony. These three experiences are key pieces of Japanese culture, and are present in numerous depictions of Japan. Being given the opportunity to experience them firsthand was extremely exciting for me. I have had previous experience with communal bathing at a Jjimjilbang in South Korea and so had no qualms getting my kit off and having a soak in the fantastic outdoor and indoor baths. I was finally beaten by the sauna, I really couldn’t handle the heat. The Kabuki performance was one of the most unique performances I have ever been to. I often attend musicals and plays, but Kabuki was new in a lot of ways, slow paced and full of tropes I didn’t really understand. I would like to learn more about it so I am more able to appreciate the intricacies next time I attend a show. The experience I was most looking forward to, however, was the Tea Ceremony. Being able to dress up in a genuine Japanese Kimono and drink green tea in such a tranquil setting was an absolute treat. I was still recovering from an injury to my ankle at that point, and while placing my bodyweight on it was painful the ceremony as a whole was very enjoyable. The Kimono magically made me look good in photos too, which is rare for my eternally unphotogenic
self. My second highlight was being able to interact with all the Japanese and ‘gaijin’ living in Japan over the course of the tour. Interacting with Amanda’s students, the attendees of Consul General Catherine Taylor’s dinner function, the embassy workers including the Ambassador, and the students in Professor Soeya’s seminar allowed us to understand the variety of people who come to or from Japan. I learnt a lot about what it is like to be a foreigner working in Japan, and also developed a sense of what young Japanese people are like (they all love to crack jokes).
However, I would have to say the most special experience was meeting and spending time with the Mitsui Prospective Employees. Being able to spend an extended period of time with them all really allowed us to connect with them. I asked so many questions about their lives I’m surprised they didn’t get annoyed! We were treated so well by them all, and when they gave us a big card each with photos and handwritten messages everyone got very emotional. I know I will remember the time spent with the MPEs for the rest of my life. My final area of interest for the trip was meeting and spending the three weeks with the other members of the group. The selection process for the tour was strict, and so I knew that each of the participants would be extremely interesting to spend time with and get to know. I could never have guessed how different each of the group members would be, or how well we would operate as a whole. I don’t generally get the chance to meet students from other universities, so being able to learn about the differences and similarities of each of our lives, from the cities we live in to our degrees, was fantastic. The ANU community as a whole can be elitist, and so being able to meet students who academically excel but are down to earth was refreshing. It has developed my appreciation for the Australian tertiary education system as a whole, as it has shown that weaker international rankings or regard do not imply inferior undergraduate education within Australia.
b. For my area of study
As the majority of my areas of study are very theoretical in nature, it is often difficult to connect them to my real world experiences. While I may not have been exposed to much in the way of mathematics and physics on the tour, the philosophical base upon which Japanese society operates was very interesting to see in practice. Their regard for the law is much higher than our own back in Australia, as is their emphasis on operating politely and respectfully. I quickly developed the habit of bowing to everyone, and appreciated the universal application of this gesture. In Japan I noticed that all customers would bow to workers in cafes and at 7Eleven stores after being served, respecting the work they do. There seems to exist a base level of respect for all workers, acknowledging their contribution to a well functioning society. This philosophy seems to enhance social cohesion for the Japanese, preventing many issues before they occur and helping all to contribute to society. My second highlight in relation to my studies was the perspective I gained from the factory tours and time spent at the Mitsui & Co. head office. Before those visits I had never thought of my areas of study as existing outside of research and academia. Seeing the application of physics in the works of engineering within the factories, and the application of philosophy and mathematics behind the scenes of business operations of Mitsui really broadened my view of the practical application of my studies. This breadth has really expanded my possibilities for the future, which I will cover in a later section of the report.
Interest in further study of Japan
This trip has added a great deal of fuel to my interest in Japan. The exposure it offered to areas of Japanese industry has made me want to learn a great deal more about other sectors in Japan, most notably startup firms. I will continue to read up about Japanese current affairs, history and novels while in Australia, with the aim to one day return to Japan (potentially as a graduate student) and involve myself in these startup firms. I was recently looking at the work of ‘food hackers’ in Japan which looks extremely interesting, but similar works of science and technology are rampant in Japan in general, so there wuld be plenty of opportunity to immerse myself in this culture. time
a. About Australia
Something that I discovered (or I guess rediscovered) is the diversity that Australia holds in terms of its population. I come from small town in country NSW which is very ethnically homogenous, with the vast majority of the population descended from the British or Irish. Moving to Canberra, and to the ANU in particular, was a formative experience for me because it is such a global university, where over 40% of the student body is international. Being in Japan, especially when in the less business orientated or tourist cities such as Chigasaki, I was very aware of the fact that I was one of the only nonethnically Japanese around. In both cases I have realised that Australia is relatively unique in the world as an ethnically diverse population. Another point I discovered about Australia is that Australia is quite culturally poor in its own right. What I don’t mean by this is that Australia lacks culture itself, as the number of different cultural groups present (especially in our cities) makes this difficult. What I mean is that Australia lacks a strong culture of its own with which people can identify. In Japan you can see the rich cultural history that the country holds by visiting museums, shrines and temples. The strong differences in regional food, despite the relatively small geographical distances, is also something that Australia lacks. This seems to be caused by the fact that current Japanese people are descended from the historical Japanese, whereas indigenous Australians only make up a very small part of the current population of Australia. Combined with the relatively short period of tim that nonAboriginal Australians have been living in Australia and you can start to develop an
understanding of why our culture is so lacking
b. About myself
As a student of philosophy and a generally introverted person I have spend a lot of time
introspecting, so it is not often that I discover new things about myself. However, the new
experiences and intensity of the tour revealed new elements of my character that I had not
identified previously. I am quite an intellectually minded individual, I love knowing facts and figures, and being able to use them to discover new things. This knowledge, however, comes with an element of overconfidence which can lead me to listen less and just think instead. Over the course of the tour I realised that listening and observing could lead to me learning things much faster than overthinking things could.I also learnt that I am not nearly as energetic as I sometimes think I am. Often at the end of each big day I would just get back to my hotel room and fall asleep in my clothes.
Increased breadth in future possibilities
The MEF tour of Japan has greatly expanded the ideas I hold for my future, both immediate and long term. During the tour I was exposed to industries which are very scientific in nature, such as sake brewing or the making of steel. I had never really thought about pursuing a career in areas such as these, but they immediately struck me as appealing. This is due to their potential for making a positive impact on the lives of others, something I feel is important for a career to be fulfilling. Having this aspect of direct utility as well as including the science and mathematics which I love would be a perfect way to spend my working days. I will reflect upon these possibilities for my future, and will consider a Masters in Engineering or similar postgraduate qualification. Another thought that did not occur to me before the tour was considering the private sector as an employer. Almost all members of my immediate and extended family, and most of their friends, work in the public sector, mostly as teachers or in law. I had previously considered climbing the corporate ladder and other such business activity to be uninteresting compared to the other possibilities such as a career in research at a university or governmental research group.However, seeing Mitsui and meeting employees of Mitsui has really opened my eyes to the interesting points about business. It has the ability to enact much more immediate changes than government, and I feel that the processes used by business to make decisions can often be more efficient than governmental ones. I am now greatly interested in the private sector, and will potentially apply for a graduate position in a firm upon finishing my bachelors degrees.
Feedback on the Program
Overall I felt that the tour was one of the most well organised programmes I have ever taken part in. It was difficult for me to come up with constructive criticism. So there are a few small points I have considered.Firstly, if at all possible I would suggest that we be given more of an opportunity to get a good photo taken of ourselves. We did not realise how prevalent these photos would be throughout the tour, and would always feel a little embarrassed when we saw them pinned on a wall or in the hands of people we were meeting for the first time. However, I can’t think of any practical ways this could be implemented.
Another point I would like to make is about the timing of the interviews. As a student at a
relatively small university I have compulsory laboratories which are only run on a single day each week. It was unfortunate that the interview occurred in the afternoon on the day of the week my labs are scheduled, but it meant that I had to leave all the work up to my partner for an almost 2 hour period, as these laboratories cannot be skipped. He was happy to help me out, but if the interviews were scheduled before 2pm they would avoid any potential lab clashes for students at the ANU. My final request is for a MEF tour tshirt for each of us. It would provide a physical memento which we can wear with pride back in Australia, and could also be worn on certain days of the tour to make Kaoru’s job easier.
I would like to finish by thanking Mitsui & Co., Mitsui & Co. (Australia) and the Mitsui
Educational Foundation for creating this tour and making it the life changing experience that it was for me. I left Sydney airport with fantastic new memories, thoughts for the future, knowledge and strong friendships (maybe a few tears as well). I would also like to give Ms Kaoru Curmi a special mention, as without her efforts the tour would not have run nearly as well as it did, and definitely wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable. I will continue to remember and be influenced by this tour for the rest of my life.