Wednesday, 18 February 2015

My First Trip to Tokyo

Earlier this month, it was my first time in Tokyo, Japan, though I did transited twice in Tokyo airport before. I am not unfamiliar with Japan since I had been to Hokkaido before and had former Japanese colleagues and business associates. Still, it is a business trip I looked forward to.

Brief Facts of Tokyo

Japan has 47 prefectures. It consist of 43 prefectures ( ken), two urban prefectures ( fu, Osaka, and Kyoto), one "territory" ( dō, Hokkaido) and one "metropolis" ( to, Tokyo). Therefore Tokyo is not really a city but a metropolis. Tokyo is the capital of Japan which comprise of 23 special wards (~9 million people), 39 municipalities in the western part of the prefecture and the two outlying island chains. The total population of Tokyo exceeds 13 million.


As per Wikipedia, the city hosts 51 of the Fortune Global 500 companies, the highest number of any city. Tokyo was ranked first in the "Best overall experience" category of TripAdvisor's World City Survey.

View from hotel

Narita International Airport 

There are two international airports serving Tokyo – Haneda and Narita. The hotel I am heading to is Prince Shinagawa Hotel. Haneda is actually nearer to Shinagawa while Narita is located in Chiba Prefecture, about 50-60km from Shinagawa. I landed in Narita Airport because we never do homework on the distance and leave it to the office lady to do the air tickets booking. 


It was after 9 pm when my colleague and me landed Narita from Shanghai. I was expecting a busy arrival terminal. On the contrary, it was quiet and merely few airport staffs helping with custom clearance.

Expensive, Expensive, Expensive

With temperature displaying 2 degC, we were spotting for taxis. There were no queues and no taxis in sight. We approached the lone usher on the pathway and he gave his wrinkled old smiles and said “Hai!...it will cost JPY30k from Narita to Prince Shinagawa Hotel. 

Wait a minute…how much is JPY30k for a 50-60km (70-80 mins) ride? OMG, ~S$350!  

While waiting, we took deep breaths of the sparkling air, replacing the polluted ones in China earlier on. 5 minutes later, the Taxi arrived. After traveling for more than an hour of neat and tidy roads of Tokyo, we reached our hotel. Indeed, the taxi meter read JPY29.5K. For the next day, a 20 min taxi ride of ~10km cost us 3kJPY (S$34).

Taxi picture – check out the side mirror of the taxi?

Even after the huge depreciation of the yen, nothing comes cheap in Tokyo. In 2013, Tokyo was named the third most expensive city for expatriates, according to the Mercer consulting firm, and the world's most expensive city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's cost-of-living survey.

For meal, we chosen teppanyaki. A check on the menu, "Woo...Not so cheap!". So we selected one of the cheapest set lunch menu. 

Damage was close to JPY16.5k for two pax (S$190). Food served were, amuse-bouche, sashimi appetizer, 130g steak, mushroom & broccoli, garlic rice, desert, coffee and juice. 


 

Actually it seems reasonable for the excellent quality of food and service. After all, we probably deserve a good meal, after a very tiring work week. 

Hotel - Where is the Flexibility?  

I stayed for one night, while my colleague two nights. So after checked out, I left my luggage in his room.

To make it easier for both of us to travel independently, we requested for another room key from the front desk. We were rejected and were told to pay for 2 pax in a single room. We then asked if I can leave the room key at the front desk so that my colleague who come back later can collect it from front desk.

Seems like a simple request. The front desk girl, always so polite told us to wait. She walked to a room to consult her manager. 5 minutes later she was back. No is the answer. I explained I just want to freshen up before going to airport. 

She said she totally understand but “she cannot say yes because she was instructed!” She was apologetic and I totally understand her position and said never mind.  

Meeting

This meeting in Tokyo was subsequent to the meeting we had in Singapore. 

Well-Dressed
Unlike in Singapore, this time all our clients were dressed in Suits and Ties. One of them was with a face mask, not coughing but seems like it has become a trend in Japan to be on face masks. We had seen many on the streets!. 

Always Polite
Handing of business cards is always 2-handed. We did likewise. I requested to go toilet and my Japanese client will walk me all the way there. When the meeting ends, they bowed and see us through to the lift. 

Stiff in meeting, over-conscious in business
Before the meeting, our client did prepare a list of questions for us in advance. During meeting, we responded them all.  

We then asked many questions, but answers from the Japanese were very general. No extra information, and most answers were always pending top management decision. No one is sticking out the neck to commit anything. 

When we asked if they have any questions for us aside from those they prepare? They looked at each other among themselves and said “No” in a shy manner.  

Quite different from the Japanese in Singapore office who were so inquisitive. Those in Tokyo are "stiff". During the meeting, we tried to joke and make the meeting less tense, but we were not successful. 

Rolf’s Thoughts

Undeniably, Japan is one of the most organized, systematic and gracious country in the world. The people are also considered to be one of the most diligent and meticulous. It seems like Japanese believe that the most perfect system, together with total employee conformance and extreme manners will yield the best results. 

Can creativity locked within a system be REALLY creative? 

Work during working hour is absolutely no-nonsense. Atmosphere in meeting is so formal, always serious. After working hours, leisure mixed with alcohol can be crazy or disastrously messy. I was told by my previous Japanese colleagues and a friend who worked in Japan before. The two extremes trying to find a balance seem arduous task. 


Kudos for being the most courteous country I ever visited. But…personal touch in Japan for foreigners? 

Ginza shopping street



7 comments:

  1. Very nice picture you have there. The food looks really tasty man. Happy CNY!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Secretinvestors,

      Indeed food is tasty. I wish I could stay longer, but I do miss home then. It has been a busy last two months.

      Anyway wish you a very Happy Chinese New Year 2015.

      Delete
  2. Rolf,

    I like Tokyo.

    My most expensive taxi ride was also around SGD $300 in Milan. After that experience, I never complain Singapore taxis expensive!

    Japan is a very interesting place. There are many cultural aspects I admire in them; but I also know it would be difficult for me to fit in there...

    It's what I call "ritualised" politeness. Conformity is not exactly my strongest suit... LOL!

    Although this top down seniority crap (like in Korea) has its roots in Confucius, I prefer our meritocratic system - I can empathise and understand the angst many 50 plus Singaporeans feel at the "threat" of being replaced by a younger, more energetic Singaporean...

    In Japan, the seniors are "screwing" with their young by offering them temp contracts or part-time work to keep costs down. That's why if they want full time employment with benefits, must LISTEN to their senpai!!!

    Creative flexibility is not exactly rewarded ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi SMOL,
      I like Tokyo as well, but I will definitely prefer to have holiday there rather than work.
      Taxi S$300, that is cheap for you! Haha. :P
      What a phrase “ritualised” politeness! Neither do I like conformity. Same species!
      Yeah….indeed it is top down crap, which is not my cup of tea. I remember my Japanese colleague told me that even if you know your superior is wrong, Example drive the car in the wrong route, you also cannot tell him he drove the wrong way! It is consider insubordinate!
      Oh…the temp contract thingy, something new for me...definitely not the most efficient or ethical way to treat the younger generation. Actually in Norway, it is opposite. The older generation is most willing to hand over the baton to the younger generation, while they take steps backwards.
      By the way, you used the phrase “seniors is screwing their young”, sounds like xxx rated! LOL.
      Creativity in Japan can only be rewarded if it is still conformity. Hmm….then it is creative destruction!

      Delete
  3. "有禮 沒體"

    But i like their cleanliness. i think ICHIBAN. Most countries of Europe can't compare.

    ReplyDelete
  4. i like their music & songs too. Many of their famous songs are translated in Mandarin by the Taiwanese.
    And:-
    i remembered one afternoon incident in Tokyo, i was desperately looking for a toilet to piss and i happened to pass by a police post that had a toilet. Needless to say the police just refused me using the toilet with a stern looking face. It was not funny to ask him , i supposed so.
    So especially during the night after heavy KARA O. K. drinking session with Japanese technical associates, once out of the pub, we pissed in the backlane lol.
    i wonder is there any difference now?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi temperament,

      Yes, the songs & music are nice. I remember one of my favorite Songs Emil Chua song "让我欢喜让我忧" is also Japanese songs and the famous "say yes" song.

      Tokyo is amazingly clean and also funny thing is I can hardly find rubbish bins on the street. Wonder if they bring their own bins bags and put in their pocket.

      Europe touristic areas are dirty. In Amsterdam, I remember people just drink, drugs and pee... same in Frankfurt which I witness peeing on the shopping streets.

      No time for Karaoke so never pee on back lane. haha. must be lots of fun. :-)

      I definitely have no guts to go to the police station and ask for toilet. You guys are just gutsy! Must be so fun when you look back!



      Delete