Last October, 23 fellow students and I got the opportunity to go with the International Business Tour (IBT) to Tokyo. We had a busy schedule and did a lot of formal and informal activities. To make our trip to Japan even more complete, we also visited Osaka and Kyoto. It absolutely was a trip to never forget and I am happy to tell you about my experiences there.
Text by: Amy Kieboom
Our trip started on October 24, when we gathered at 9.30 hours at the central station in Tilburg. We travelled by train to Schiphol, where we had our flight to Tokyo. It was my first long flight, which took eleven hours. However, with the in-flight entertainment system all participants have probably enjoyed themselves while watching movies or playing games. I also tried to get some sleep (which unfortunately failed), since we flew in the evening and arrived in Tokyo in the morning, due to the 8 hour time difference.
After we had landed, we had to wait a while for our public transport cards. When there was enough money on our cards we could travel to our hostel and get the first impressions of Tokyo. In the subways and trains we got a first impression of the Japanese people, who are very good at sleeping while standing in the subway and playing short games on their telephones. Also they stand neatly in line when waiting for the train. Arrived at our hostel we again had to wait a while, since our stay had to be paid in cash. When we finally could go inside, we were confronted with the first Japanese habit: taking off your shoes when entering the hostel. When everyone had put their stuff in their rooms, we could go for our first Japanese lunch where we could practice eating with chopsticks. After the lunch we travelled to the Senso-Ji temple and the Tokyo Skytree, which has a height of 634 meters. We went up in this building where we had a beautiful view over Tokyo. We ended the day with a quick dinner and went back to the hostel to get a well-deserved night’s rest.
While still recovering from our jetlag, we started the third day at the Dutch embassy. This was a nice first formal activity to get to know Japan better. Afterwards, we travelled to the Tokyo Tower where we had some free time to look around and get some lunch. The second formal activity of this day was the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where we got a guided tour, a presentation (which was not that interesting, causing some of us to take a little nap, but luckily the presenter understood that they were having a jetlag) and we played an interactive game where we could buy and sell stocks. We ended the day at Odaiba, which is a manmade island in Tokyo Bay. From Odaiba there is a stunning view over the skyline of Tokyo. After everyone took his pictures, we had free time for the rest of the evening. Together with Lieke, Steffi and Charlotte, I first went for a dinner. In front of the restaurants in Tokyo you find a lot of plastic dishes, such that you can easily see what they have in the restaurant if you could not read Japanese. Afterwards we went to another restaurant where we ate a delicious Dutch Baby (some kind of pancake with ice, strawberries, banana and chocolate) while having a beautiful view over Tokyo. When our stomachs were filled, we further explored Odaiba. We first went to Venus Fort, a shopping mall in Venice style. Afterwards, we tried to find Leisure Land, a large entertainment hall. We walked in a remote area and thought we were never going to find it, until we entered another remote parking garage. We saw a billboard with happy things on it, which said we should go to the second floor of the parking garage. Since Japan is very safe we tried it and went to the second floor, where we entered the large game hall. Very happy music and lots of pink overwhelmed us. It was a really nice place, so we went in a photo boot. We made the pictures and could adjust our photos in hundreds of ways with a lot of filters and backgrounds. There was already a big filter over our photo such that everyone looked perfect, so we didn’t make use of the extra opportunities, because we only had two minutes to do so, and we couldn’t read Japanese.
On Thursday we first visited Deloitte, where we got a presentation about what it is like to work at Deloitte as a foreigner. Afterwards, we went to the Shinjuku Gyoen Park where we had some lunch. It was nice to see that there was lots of greenery in this park with high buildings in the background. We ended the day with a visit to the Meiji Jingu temple and Harajuku, a district that is known for the extreme culture and fashion of the Japanese youth.
The next day, we started at ING. At the in-house day in the Netherlands we were already told that the office in Tokyo is really small. Luckily, everyone could sit and the office turned out to be even bigger than Deloitte’s. Furthermore, the lunch and the view made it even better! At ING, they told us that there is a big difference between the Japanese and Dutch people, since the Dutch people are very direct and say what they think, while the Japanese are more introvert. The second activity of this day was the Waseda University where we got a lecture about game theory (the prisoner’s dilemma) and experimental economics. The presenter (I unfortunately do not know his name anymore) also attended Tilburg University earlier and wants to say hello to Jan Potter, Peter Borm and many others! Furthermore, there were two students who are going to study in Tilburg next year. After the lecture we did a quiz where we had to predict what number is equal to 0.7 times the mean of all numbers written down (ranging from 1 to 100). The prize, which was won by Denise, was a self-made cherry blossom origami. We ended the visit with a campus tour. Personally, I think the campus looked very nice and we also saw some cute young students walking in their uniforms.
After this tour we went back to the hostel to dress up to go to Shibuya in the evening. This is the place to go out in Tokyo. We started the evening with eating sushi from the assembly line with half of the group and after that went to a British pub. After some drinks some of us went back to the hostel and others went to a big club, only arriving home at around 6am. I did not go to the club that evening, so with a small group I got up earlier the next morning to go to the Imperial Palace, which was skipped from the program. After the others had had some sleep, we went to the Ueno Park where we visited a zoo with pandas! We continued the day in Akihabara, an area known as the electronic town and ended the day with something typically Japanese, namely karaoke! We were put in a very small room, so I did not know exactly what to expect from this evening. There was no space to let a group come forward and just sing a song, so we started to sing together. Unlimited drinks were included and had to be ordered by telephone, which was quite difficult since you could not hear anything due to our loud voices. Although I do not know whether the employees were very happy with us, since we were standing on the benches with our shoes on (normally it is common to put your shoes off), and we completely finished all of the gin, rum and vodka that was available, but it certainly was a memorable evening!
A change of scenery
The next day was marked by our trip to Osaka. We travelled with the Shinkansen, a train which reaches speeds up to 300 kilometers per hour. When we arrived in Osaka and were settled in the hostel, we continued and ended the day in Dotonbori; a neighborhood with many lights and shops along a canal. We directly noted that people from Osaka are somewhat different from the people in Tokyo, since they are more open and dressed differently.
On Monday we visited the sights of Osaka. We first went to the Shitennoji temple where we got some free time to look around. There was one four-floor building, which looked very nice from the outside. We told each other in jest that it is definitely worth it to go in and look inside. However, when we climbed all the stairs it turned out to be very disappointing and it was not looking nice from the inside at all. After we were done in the Shitennoji temple we went to the Osaka castle, which has a museum on the inside and a beautiful view over Osaka at the top of the building. Afterwards, we went to the Kaiyukan aquarium, which has a series of aquaria built around a huge water tank. Here we could (among others) find Dory and see a whale shark.
The next day, we made a trip to Kyoto, a city with a lot of temples and Japan’s former imperial capital. We started the day at the Kinkaku-ji temple, also known as the golden pavilion due to the top two floors covered in gold leaf. The sun was shining on the building and the reflection of the building in the water made it a very beautiful place. Our visit to Kyoto also included the Fushimi-Inari Taisha temple. It is famous for its thousands of red wooden Torii gates. You can follow a network of trails underneath the gates up to the mountain which results in a beautiful view over Kyoto. The network of trails is very large, so we only climbed halfway up the mountain. When we were back downstairs and had rested from the climb we went to the Gion District, a well-known geisha district with typical Japanese streets. There we attended a Geisha Show with a tea ceremony, flower arrangement, geisha dances and classical Japanese music. Although it was not really what I expected it to be (since I expected a lot more Geishas and dances), I am happy that I have seen this show. Realizing that this was already our last cultural activity of our IBT, we travelled back to Osaka.
The next and unfortunately last day of our trip was marked by formal activities. We first went to the Osaka University. They have three educational programs (minor programs), namely finance and insurance, mathematical modeling, and data science. We first got a lecture and afterwards got a very nice and tasty lunch! The buildings of the university however did not look very nice compared to the Waseda university we had seen before, since it looked very abandoned and we did not see any students in the building. After this visit we went to KPMG, where we got a guided tour and could talk with some employees who were very kind and open people. There was a very informal atmosphere which made it really nice. In the end they organized a quiz and because there was a tie between two teams, a role-playing on how to exchange business cards in Japan would reveal the winning team. As long as you bow a lot, it is quite okay. To end our trip all together, we would have dinner together. We knew that it is hard to find a restaurant where we fit with 24 people. Luckily, someone from KPMG knew a nice restaurant and he made the arrangements for us!
On Thursday we left our hostel early in the morning and flew back to the Netherlands. Back in Holland we immediately had some delays and problems with the trains. I immediately missed Japan, since the trains there are always on time!