martes, abril 10, 2007

lost in translation: crosscultural impressions from an MBA student after visiting Japan

So this is me in a Japanese hotel room, wearing a Yukata (Japanese pajamas) and looking completely lost. In fact, this was the case almost every night for the past 2 weeks. Japan is a great country, full of interesting places and people, but some things just look a bit different.

Hereby, my impressions about what's worth seeing and what has impressed me the most. Of course, these are my personal opinions, so take them with a grain of salt....:P

- Japanese food: it's amazing, tasty, fresh, healthy...however, there are many things apart from sushi that Japanese eat. And to be honest, some tastes (or lack thereof) require a certain "training". This is why, for instance, I wasn't able to appreciate all the different varieties of tofu that Japanese people eat. On the other hand, I haven't eaten fresher sushi anywhere in the world...yummy!

- Japanese onsen or hot springs: like most cultures (Scandinavian/Slawic/Russian with sauna and baths, Roman Baths, Turkish hammam, etc), the Japanese also had their own baths. They started out of necessity (for hygiene) and opportunity (there are many natural hot springs in the volcanic islands of Japan). In fact, the baths have a certain interesting etiquette, where males and females are kept separated, and enjoy fantastic settings: imagine an outdoor jacuzzi with hot water in the middle of a forest. I must admit that I got addicted!!

- Service: maybe it's due to an incipient only tourism industry, maybe to the traditional Eastern hospitality, but we've always felt very welcome in Japan. And in bars, hotels and restaurants, people have treated us great!! Some people even stopped us on the streets, when they heard us talk Spanish, to ask where we were from. On top of it, it struck me that there are few incentives for waiters: Japan is a tip-free country, and the service is still outstanding. On one occasion, after buying a soda on a takeaway, the waiter came running after us to give us the 10 yen (ca. €0.07) change back.

- Urban planning (or lack thereof). Japan cities have nice skylines, however, some places are a bit claustrophobic. It just looks like an immense agglomeration of people, houses, offices and factories. Of course it might be due to the lack of soil, and it is partially made up for with the beauty of Japan's natural landscapes (like the ones around Mt Fuji in the Hakone area). But it is still impressive...

- Karaoke: much more fun than in the West, in Japan karaoke is done in a private room, with drinks. Shame is out of the equation: everybody has to sing. And, to be honest, our Japanese friends could sing, and quite well. Not sure it's genetic or just much more practice than the rest of us...

- the Japanese fan phenomenon: nearby big shopping malls, amateur singers and performers try to imitate their idols, usually some manga characters. Hordes of people surround them. Amazing show...

In conclusion: a fantastic trip, and a well spent spring break. I indeed recommend all MBA students around to take advantage of the fantastic travel opportunities they will probably have. In our case, the Japanese MBAs organizers of the trip had taken care of everything to the smallest details. I doubt I would have gone to Japan and had the same experience on my own, much less on a traditional touristic package.

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