In January, Senior Policy Manager, Carla Hoorweg travelled to Japan as part of the JENESYS program. The JENESYS Programme (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths) is advanced by the Japanese government and aims to provide a sound foundation for strong solidarity within Asia through large-scale youth exchange. In this article Carla reflects on her trip.
By Carla Hoorweg, Senior Policy Manager (Invest, Technology & Innovation)
I was initially unsure of what to expect from a mid-winter trip to Japan. As a non-skier, travelling to Japan in the bitterness of January with a group of complete strangers was not something I would normally contemplate. The fresh 1°C arrival into Narita airport however was a welcome change from Sydney’s particularly oppressive summer heat.
Preliminary details showed the JENESYS 2016 Economics delegation comprised 10 Aussies, five Kiwis and an objective – experience and learn about the culture, economics and business environment in Japan. This was not much to go on but in hindsight no amount of additional information could have prepared us for what was in store. We met the objective but what we came away with so much more – a group of life-long friends, a suitcase full of mementos, a strong desire to return … and a few extra centimetres around the waist.
The bus ride from Narita airport to central Tokyo is always long but after a 10 hour flight it can seem exceptionally long. For our group it didn’t seem to matter though and we quickly fell into good-humoured banter, mainly focussed around funny accents, the state of Australian rugby and favourite Japanese foodstuffs and whether we were going to get to eat them.
Our business meetings canvassed a wide range of Japanese exporters – from the resources trading powerhouse Mitsui & Co, which first traded commodities with us back in 1901, to the innovation laboratories of technologists, Seven Dreamers.
Representatives from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo briefed us on the export opportunities our countries are exploring, alerting us that Japan is Australia’s third largest trading partner and second largest foreign direct investor, with Tokyo itself generating GDP equivalent to that of the entire United Kingdom – the biggest concentration of population and wealth on the planet.
It is little wonder; Japan’s technology is phenomenally impressive.
I certainly did not envisage being introduced to a robot, let alone one that could fold and sort laundry the way the Seven Dreamers ‘Laundroid’ could, nor one that would play the violin, like Toyota’s Partner Robot.
On the Toyota assembly line at the Motomachi plant, located in Toyota City of Aichi Prefecture, we also saw robots working seamlessly with humans to deliver daily manufacturing targets and ensure that quality and safety requirements are met. Robots undertake the metal pressing and painting stages of car panel manufacture and then move car engines and other heavy parts around the factory floor unattended.
At Panasonic’s showroom in Odaiba, Tokyo, the household ‘partner’ robot helps ‘Wonder Life-Box’ occupants with everything from ordering groceries to choosing an outfit. Panasonic’s vision is that people’s lives will be enriched by linking advanced consumer electronics and household equipment at home. Alongside providing protection from natural disasters – such as the air filter which blows away excess pollen prior to entering the house – the partner can identify when you might be coming down with a fever and can even make diet and exercise recommendations based on the information it gathers.
A common thread was evident in each new idea we were presented and throughout each meeting we had – there is passion in Japan. A passion to strive for perfection, a passion for achieving outcomes, a passion to be part of a community.
We saw this intrinsic drive in each person we encountered. At our visit to the Ise Grand Shinto Shrine (Jingu) in Mie Prefecture it began to make sense why.
Shintoism is often described by non-Japanese as a religion but our guides described it more as a way of life – a set of ideals to strive for, rather than a dogmatic belief system. Shinto is Japan’s native faith, with rituals and principles promoting harmony and purity of heart permeating everyday life for much of the population. Ise, the largest and most important Shinto shrine in Japan, is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu and continually rebuilt on a 20-year cycle to ensure traditional knowledge and craftsmanship is not lost over the generations.
From the continuous improvement (kaizen) practices on the Toyota production line to the continual regeneration of Ise Shrine, I found the level of mindfulness and dedication applied to every aspect of life in Japan to be truly inspiring.
My key takeaway? The culture, economics, and business environment of Japan are inextricably linked – an understanding of the culture informs a deeper understanding of both the economic and business environments. This has consequences for financial services providers looking to access the Japanese market under the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, or the upcoming Asia Region Funds Passport.
For Australian businesses looking to partner, strategies employed by Japanese businesses will be well thought out, delivered with pride, and, once implemented, continually reviewed and improved to ensure they are as optimal as possible. On the investor side it will be essential to understand how culture will influence the expectations of Japanese clients around product performance and service levels. The standards will be high – a passion for perfection is expected from everyone.
The FSC will be leading a delegation of fund managers to Japan in October 2017 to explore opportunities arising from the Asia Region Funds Passport and the recent Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement. Interested members should contact Carla on firstname.lastname@example.org
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