This is one of my longest blogs, it will take you max. 7 minutes to read, please give feedback if you can because Ken is very reluctant to do a guest blog, so your enthusiasm will give him “heart”.
Ken has just returned from his regular winter visit to Japan spending just over a week with our distributor and representative company. I always find his feedback & anecdotes really interesting, so much so that I always ask him to write a guest blog about some of his experiences. He keeps refusing, so yesterday afternoon I pinned him down with a few easy questions, here are his virtually verbatim responses:
- When did you first visit Japan? 18 years ago June 2000
- How has Japan changed/you changed in the past 18 years’ worth of visits ? Tokyo hasn’t changed at all, although I do think Japanese people are more travelled and are obviously more aware of European culture/and popular culture. Personally, I have certainly become more comfortable with the culture differences and Tokyo city generally, now I find it easy to traverse the city, even the suburbs and the non-mainstream areas.
- What do you think are the most interesting aspects of Japan
Lifestyle: well there are differences everywhere, from the architecture, advertising billboards, food – everything, is much more refined, sophisticated, the shops are a pleasure to behold, their offering is far more focussed on design and styling – not just the products on sale, but the store, the staff – everything is done to an exacting standard and follows thru into everything you encounter.
Culture: It is different to anywhere else in the world, the people are the most courteous, helpful efficient, thoughtful and friendly.
Even everyday things, i.e. close to my hotel there was a demolition/building site, all day and everyday there was “personalised” traffic & pedestrian control, this “service” was done by two men in blue uniforms brandishing red light sabres with efficiency and attention to detail.
In the UK we would sarcastically dismiss it as overkill, in Japan, customer service and safety is paramount – it’s like a breath of fresh air, everybody feels “responsible for their neighbour”, and this reflects in the day to day interactions of total strangers.
Business: They are so efficient and their attention to detail is painstaking. This is sometimes frustrating to western eyes, they are prepared to take time to think, consider, plan, make sure everything is correct, I think “seat of your pants” is a totally alien concept there.
I find that even now, every time I visit, I must remind myself, patience is a virtue, silence is a part of the business conversation, they are inscrutable, they would prefer silence to being impolite.
- What don’t you like about Japan: Not much really, certainly nothing that I can blame on the Japanese, I am always frustrated that I don’t have enough time to travel outside the capital, explore more and enjoy it. Also, the long days, they are such hard workers, that every business day can easily last 12 hours, and cover 7 or 8 appointments, followed by office work. My Japanese is VERY limited so sometimes, it is frustrating to sit in meetings and rely on interpretation when the conversation gets going full on.
- Favourite Japanese Meal, describe: Shabu Shabu, is a communal boiling stock pot in the middle of the table, you select from paper thin meat, mostly wagyu beef and vegetables (all raw) and with chop sticks dip your desired piece in the pot to cook, swaying the ingredient from side to side, whilst saying “Shabu Shabu” once, then lift out, so barely 10 seconds and the ingredient is lightly cooked and very flavoursome -then into a variety of dips/sauces and straight in the mouth. Although in 18 years my chop stick prowess has improved considerably, sometimes I still need help to retrieve an escapee ingredient, fortunately, unlike fondue, there are no forfeits to pay! If you are still hungry, towards the end of the meal soba noodles are added to the pot, they soak up all the stock which is now infused with the cooking flavour – yummy, I could eat it now.
- Least favourite Japanese meal? Describe: Raw fish, I can manage a little bit of sushi, but chunks of raw fish are not something I enjoy. But, my worst ever meal, by some distance was raw sea urchin, the taste and the texture are horrific and virtually indescribable but here goes: Raw sea urchin is a floppy slimy fishy goop the colour of yellow baby poo, a cross between very strong fishy snot and raw egg yoke, that is impossible to swallow without gagging.
- Most memorable place: Kyoto with its multiple shrines and temples, is very spiritual and peaceful. The juxtaposition of getting to it on the bullet train, travelling at speed with Mount Fuji on the horizon, you arrive and walk up into the hills, with pagoda and quiet places of contemplation at every turn. It was like stepping back in time – I have only been once but would very much like to return and one day I certainly will.
- Most memorable event: At the other end of the spectrum was my first earthquake, travelling out of central Tokyo on a monorail when it happened, shaking the train, the structure with quite “shocking” force. But in true Japanese fashion, despite being obviously anxious all my fellow passengers remained silent and calm until the shock stopped and then carried on about their business, with NO mention of it. They are a most stoic nation.
- Why do they like you? Because I am nice, patient and accommodating to their needs and ways. After 18 years, I think we have become more like a family in some way’s and I am touched that they know they can trust me empathically on both a personal and a business level.,
- Why do they like Owen Barry? - Our service, quality and designs (with their guidance & Japanese spec’s). A high quality British tailored product carries more kudos than any other European resourced product. The Owen Barry brand has, with massive help from our distributor, become a much sought after and recognised sheepskin & leather brand throughout Japan (I would go so far as to say the number one brand in our space).
- What else would you suggest as a must do/see/experience thing for a Japan virgin? Experience Tokyo for a few days, the Meiji-Jingu Shrine is a large beautiful oasis right in the centre of I love it there, it is busy but still a peaceful place of religious worship. Hot Sake very strong (although it doesn’t taste it) – very moreish Shopping – providing you are a size 0 – no seriously just window shopping is a delight
Anything else you would like to share ?
It is a most wonderful place, different to anywhere else I have been – 100% safe, the people would always do you a good turn and NEVER a bad one, it is still in some ways very untouched and has not sold out to western culture, morals and get rich quick attitudes.
Everybody should go, I am hopeful of taking Kaz when I return in June 2018, when we will also visit Okinawa, the south islands where the beach resorts are found.
Japan, everybody should go at least once!!