“Walk in U.S., Talk on Japan” program aims to foster better relationships between two countries
A four-member delegation from Japan visited UC Davis last week as part of the “Walk in U.S., Talk on Japan” program which discusses recent positive developments in Japan in the hopes of fostering a better relationship between the two countries.
The panel was moderated by Professor of Japanese Chia-ning Chang, who introduced Tomoaki Ishigaki, the deputy cabinet secretary for public affairs and director of global communications of the Japanese prime minister’s office.
After a weeklong trip traveling to six cities throughout the U.S. and Canada, Ishigaki said that the delegation “saved the best for last.”
Ishigaki explained that the Prime Minister’s Office is the equivalent of the White House, and so it might seem a bit strange that they had organized this program. “The main reason why we do this is to show the different aspects and diverse nature of the Japanese society,” he said.
Common images of Japan include “gray haired, middle-aged Japanese white collar workers” and there is a misconception that Japanese society is “monolithic.” The delegation’s presence and work aims to “defy and debunk” these myths, Ishigaki said.
Ishigaki hoped that after viewing the prepared presentation, students in the audience will visit Japan one day and not be disappointed that it is “not really like Pokemon.”
The first speaker, Yuko Chujo, talked about her banking experience in Tokyo at an American financial institution and provided important insight into Japan’s corporate culture. Chujo began by describing several differences between the U.S. and Japan — companies here typically allow young people to speak up, have more diverse employees and are more free-flowing in general while Japanese companies tend to have a more rigid structures, with senior employees teaching junior ones.
Additionally, when employees start a new job with a company, they are generally hired right out of graduation and might stay at the same job until retirement. Japanese businesses have operated under these structures for quite some time — in fact, the longest running company in the world is Kongo Gumi, a Japanese construction company that first began its operation in 578 A.D.
Chujo said a company that is described as “old” is any that has operated for over 200 years. She also surprised the audience when she revealed that 55 percent of the 5,500 “old” companies in operation are Japanese. Chujo believes these statistics are a perfect example of how Japan has developed its own business style.
Although there has been much success in the past, Chujo noted that Japanese companies “have yet to adapt to the changing world situations.” She showed a graph displaying the top 50 companies in market value in 1992 with 10 Japanese companies compared to just two in 2018. Efforts have been made to adapt — including “work style reforms and trying to improve labor productivity,” Chujo said.
There have also been movements to include more women in the workforce, as “the number of women newly entered into the workforce in the past five years is two million and the Japanese government is setting a clear goal to have 30 percent of the leadership positions by women in large companies as well as governmental officials by 2020,” Chujo said. There is a lot to look forward to in regards to business opportunities, including the Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics, Chujo said.
The next speaker was Aya Sakai, a student from the Department of Child Education at Japan Women’s University. Sakai got chuckles from the crowd when she revealed she would be presenting on school lunches and that she “enjoys every single day because I love eating.”
Sakai described Japanese school lunches as “quite well balanced,” comprised of a staple, main dish, side dish, dairy product and dessert. Nutrition is taken into great consideration, as “one third” of children’s nourishment comes from this single meal. Sakai emphasized the benefits of these types of meals, as it teaches them “what an ideal meal is.”
Nutritionists and chefs often visit classrooms to demonstrate how a student’s meal was prepared along with what ingredients were used. Some students serve others their school lunches and are tasked with cleaning their rooms after lunch. Sakai said school lunches are not simply just meals in Japan, but a way in which students are taught “how to collaborate with others” and “an important part of education.”
Sakai ended her presentation by recounting her hesitation to try a Japanese plum when she was a child. When she finally ate it, she loved it. This led her to be adventurous with eating.
“Something similar happened when I came to the United States with something I had never seen before — raisins” Sakai said, earning another laugh from the audience. She then asked for any recommendations for foods she should try before returning to Japan. The sole recommendation offered was In-N-Out.
Sakai was not the only university student part of the delegation. Yoshiki Hatta is a Ph.D. student specializing in asteroseismology at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
“Of course, I like Japan — I like Pikachu, I love sushi and I like astronomy,” Hatta said, beginning his presentation with a brief history on space exploration. Over time, as space technology and exploration became more advanced, more funding was needed and “countries started to collaborate,” leading to the eventual development of the international space station of which both Japan and the U.S. are a part of. And the two countries recently collaborated on building the world’s largest telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which Hatta says “is one of the best telescopes in the world.”
Hatta then moved on to highlight both country’s recent achievements in the field of astronomy — the U.S. recently detected gravitational waves caused by black holes. He acknowledged that Japan’s astronomical community is not as large as it is here, but the country has made great strides with delicate technologies, such as probes and telescopes.
Hatta said he hopes there will be additional collaborations between the U.S. and Japan in the future.
The last presenter, Tokuro Miyake the 10th, was the most interactive with the audience. Miyake shared parts of her performances in Kyogen, a traditional comic theater with a 580 year history. Born into an acting family and inheriting her grandfather’s stage name, Miyake is only the second woman to perform Kyogen professionally in Japan.
“I would be very happy if Kyogen’s laughter, sense of humor and sense of beauty will contribute to a friendship between us, the people of Japan and the U.S.,” Miyake said, encouraging audience members to make traditional Kyogen style noises alongside her.
Once all members of the delegation delivered their presentations, audience members were allowed to ask a few questions. Question topics ranging from whether Kyogen had any influence on anime to the strategies Japan has implemented for ocean conservation. The panel ended with Chang and professor of Japanese Michael Dylan Foster receiving medals as a thank-you from the delegation for organizing the event.
Written by: Deana Medina — email@example.com