In Tokyo, swarms of bikes join rush-hour traffic. Street vendors serve grilled squid. Bows, not handshakes, are shared in greeting.
But while customs differ, Japan and the United States share concerns on income inequality, small business growth and trade.
These are among insights gained on a trip to Japan last semester by a group from the University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business. Seven students and an associate dean took in expert presentations on the Japanese economy. They also were immersed in Japanese culture.
The trip marks the latest chapter in UM-Dearborn’s commitment to expanding its global reach and providing international study opportunities to students.
“I hope students came away from this trip and project with a new appreciation for unique aspects of Japanese culture while realizing how much we have in common,” said Claudia Kocher, associate dean and associate professor of finance, who led the group.
Kocher hopes the students can apply their creativity to lessons learned about the Japanese economy and industries to create future connections.
Mike Berent, who in December earned a bachelor’s degree in finance, said the trip was priceless. “We were all looking to learn each other’s ways while making new friends. Some of these connections could possibly result in business partnerships.”
DaShan Shamoon, a Detroit senior and business major in supply chain management, said we could learn from the Japanese work ethic and their development of technology, adding, “They could learn from us too, in terms of efficiency, innovation and entrepreneurship.” She plans to research trade growth with Japan.
Leonardo Cedeno, an MBA student from St. Clair Shores, said following the trip, “I’m looking at the Japanese embassy in Detroit website for information about studying in Japan.”
The Japanese government’s Kakehashi Project sponsored the visit. The project is headed by the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) to promote Japan abroad. The UM-Dearborn group was joined by 17 UM-Flint students and trip organizer Greg Laurence, associate professor of management and chair of the Department of Management & Marketing, UM-Flint School of Management.
The focus was business and economics. But the group also saw surprisingly clean downtown streets. Riders leave bikes unlocked outside shops.
Cedeno recalls ordering at a restaurant with another student. Locals helped patiently, as the Americans—who knew no Japanese—pointed to menu photos on a wall. Shamoon recalls the merchants who carefully wrapped items for shoppers. “They are so very attentive to everything,” she said.
After presentations in Tokyo, the group flew to Ishikawa Prefecture to hear more on economics and trade. “Yuki-san”—JICE Guide Yukiko Chiba—accompanied the group throughout Japan. She shared her experiences during the Japan tsunami and earthquake of 2011.
The university group had its own earthquake experience Nov. 22.
“We were there for a smaller earthquake, the epicenter was not in Tokyo,” Kocher said, adding that group members, prepared about earthquakes by hotel staff, were not injured. “Some in our group in the hotel could see the chandeliers swaying, and the walls swaying in a hallway.”
UM-Dearborn’s student group was drawn from an applicant pool of 45. Participants wrote term papers on the experience for independent study credits. JICE asked students to share their experience with classmates, colleagues, family and friends, and over social media.
Additional photos from the trip are at the College of Business Facebook page.