/Japan Visit Report by Abdullo Kurbanov

Japan Visit Report by Abdullo Kurbanov

What I learned from the JVP:

  • From the very start, I learned that the Japanese are very meticulous with regards to the accuracy of all the details, which is quite good. For example, at the visa application process, I had asked for visa for “more than 10 days”, but the flight schedule was for exactly 10 days, so the people at the embassy deleted “more than” phrase from the application and granted me the visa for exactly 10 days.
  • International tourism is rising fast in Japan, and it seems that there is shortage of English speaking staff at the airports, hotels and restaurants. I think this will be getting solved over time.
  • The infrastructure in Japan is very highly developed and automated. The machines can do almost anything – the machines that sell metro tickets or the machines that sell the tickets at the boat racing arena, for example, are a state-of-the-art. They accept and calculate cash and coins, give change, receipts, tickets, etc – and all of that is done quite quickly. Also, there are so many metro and rail lines, but overall, it is not too confusing, since there are good metro maps and notifications at each station. The trains are very punctual, and arrive on a minute by minute (maybe even second by second) accuracy. Like in everything else, it is another evidence, that Japanese people pay high attention to accuracy.
  • Japanese people are friendly and helpful. When I was travelling alone, for example over my journey from the airport to the hotel, I had to ask for help a few times, and every time people politely and kindly helped me.
  • During the Miyajima trip, we had some discussions of the Shinto philosophy, and I learned that in Shinto philosophy everything in nature has spirits – trees, mountains, stones, etc. Therefore, there is high respect and harmony with nature.
  • During the Hiroshima visit, we discussed the events in WW2, and seeing the Genbaku Dome made us realize the horrors of war.
  • We also had a first-hand experience of a Japanese earthquake. Earthquakes are common in Japan, and buildings are built in an innovative way, which makes them shake more during the earthquake, but actually not fall down. This is certainly a useful technology in Central Asia, where earthquakes are also common.
  • In meetings with Dr. Taniguchi and Dr. Yamauchi, we discussed and learned a lot of new things with respect to the facets and nuances of Japan’s relations with other countries, including USA, Russia, Central Asia, etc. We also discussed domestic issues at Japan, from economy to social pressures due to aging population, migration questions, and much more.
  • We saw first-hand how the Prime Minister’s office works, the daily press-releases, and the relationship with journalists, who have a special place at the Prime Minister’s office.
  • I was also very impressed with the Tsukuba University. The university has about 10 thousand students, but plays a central role in the economy of a city with 200 thousand residents. That’s both very impressive and inspiring. I firmly believe, an academic city model is a model Tajikistan’s cities should pursue. Tajikistan is landlocked and cannot be competitive globally/regionally in terms of exports of goods. But we could become competitive in terms of export of knowledge – as we were, in the enlightenment age of Central Asia, where Bukhara, Samarkand, and other Central Asian cities were the centers of knowledge and learning. We also learned a lot about the education system in Japan from Mr. Kashihara during our dinner.
  • We learned a lot more about the Nippon Foundation, such as peace-building work and commitments in Myanmar, Paralympics support, disaster relief teams (which are put together very quickly and start helping immediately after a disaster). We saw where the funding comes from, and even experienced the boat racing ourselves. We had numerous discussions with the Nippon Foundation staff, helping us get  much more complete picture of the organization. 
  • Meeting with Chairman Sasakawa was very much appreciated.  He supported us when we were studying in Turkey by scholarship from JATCAFA, and now supporting us through such wonderful alumni activities by JACAFA.  Any words of appreciation are not enough for such great support and generosity.

Noted organizational positives:

  • Early preparation: We started preparing for the JVP about three months in advance, thus giving us enough time to prepare, discuss logistics, that resulted in a flawlessly organized visit. We were given a chance to discussed in advance about which meetings would be preferred, where to go and so on. We discussed in advance the schedule, the logistics, the dress code, and other minute details of the trip, that helped us avoid any problems during the trip. Tickets were bought much in advance, which was cost-efficient.
  • Cultural elements: The program involves a lot of cultural elements, which is helpful – from Hiroshima and Miyajima visit, to cultural dinners and boat racing, all give an authentic experience, that can only be experienced in Japan.
  • Tours of facilities: All meetings that had a “tour” element were great and useful – like the boat racing arena tour, the newspaper tour, the Nippon Foundation offices tour, the Prime Minister’s office tour, the Paralympics Support Center tour, etc. I think we learned a lot from these – somehow seeing the workflow and people in action is more unforgettable and a lot of insights are received

Suggestions for organization improvements for next time:

  • Visa application process: one thing none of us knew before applying, is that the Japanese embassy asks information about the inviting company in written form – it could be a brochure about the Nippon Foundation, for example. Zamirbek and I had this problem, so we had to go to the embassy twice. They may have introduced this process recently, since last years’ participants of JVP also didn’t know about this requirement. It is also possible to download the brochure on the Nippon Foundation website, so it is easily fixable next time.
  • Weather: Next time I should also check the weather in advance. June is a rainy season in Tokyo, and if I had checked that, I would have taken a few more warm clothes with me.
  • Schedule: I heard that previous JVP participants visited the Nissan factory, and I think that’s a great idea. I wish we could have done that too. Also, in the overall schedule, which was very well planned, I would only suggest two small changes, if possible:
    • I was sad we didn’t have enough time to see the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Seeing the Genbuku Dome was very impressive, and I am sure we would have gotten a lot of historic perspective, if we had come a bit earlier to make it on time before the museum closing hours
    • The visit to Marubeni was very insightful, but most of the time was spent with a presentation – but this information is also available on the Marubeni website. So, probably, it can be even more productive, if next time, the meeting would include a tour of the facilities, showing the process of work, and having more time for Q&A.

Arrival to Japan:

I arrived to Japan on time, without any issues. We were given two customs documents to fill out. The border control took more time than I expected. I was surprised, that the border control officers didn’t speak fluent English, so for the passengers which had any issues with their documents, the process took 20-30 minutes to resolve, because of communication difficulty. In this case too, I noticed, that the border control officers took special care about accuracy of all details written in the documents and the forms. For example, one person flying with me (whom I met in the plane) wrote in the form under the duration of stay “10 days” but his tickets were for 14 days, so they kept him at the border control for a long time and asked a lot of other questions.

Kyoko san had given us detailed instructions about what to do after arriving. At the exit, I first went to the exchange office, and exchanged some USD into Yen. The rate was good, so I recommend for future JVP participants to also use the exchange office at the airport. Also if there is a long queue, one can use a different exchange office, since there were several of them at the airport.

Afterwards, I approached the Limousine Bus desk, and I was glad that the girl spoke good English. She explained that the next Limousine Bus leaves the airport in about 90 minutes, so I decided to take the train instead. Also, I was glad that the airport had free wifi (in fact, there is free wifi in many parts of Tokyo, which is very useful). I look again at the location of the hotel, and decided to take the train, and then find my route to the hotel with the Google maps navigation.

Taking the train was easier than I thought, and there were friendly ticket officers that helped me purchase the ticket. I took Narita express to Ueno station, and from Ueno station I took the Ginza line to Akasaka-Mitsuke station.

When I exited the Akasaka-Mitsuke station – and I think there is only one exit, which also makes life easier, I could quickly navigate myself to the hotel, which is gladly about 5-10min walk from the station, very conveniently located.

At the hotel, I was again surprised that the hotel clerks didn’t speak fluent English, but then I realized, that the hotels are still not fully adapted for international travelers, but rather more to the domestic travelers.

Since I arrived a bit earlier than others, I took a little tour of the nearby area, and found that there are at least 3 currency exchange places nearby – with the best rate provided by the exchange office which is right next to the metro exit. The rates are close to that of the airport, so in any case, it is better just to exchange at the airport.

Day 1 of the program:

We had a quick and light breakfast at the hotel, which is one of the best breakfasts I have had in the hotels – it is both healthy and tasty and just enough, not too much.

Then we took the Shinkansen train to Hiroshima. During the 4 hour train-ride, we talked with the other participants and got to know each other even better. It is a good practice, that the participants come from various countries, and while we learn a lot about Japan, we also learn some new things about our own region as well.

After arriving to Hiroshima and checking into the Kawashima hotel – which, was also a very nice hotel – we took another train and then a boat to Miyajima. At Miyajima we visited the Itsukushima Shrine and the temple, and in between we discussed various aspects of the Shinto philosophy.

Afterwards we went to Hiroshima city and visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, with the unforgettable scene of the lonely Genbaku Dome, that stood right at the place where the atomic bomb had fallen in WW2, and which received less damage only by the mere fact that it was right at the place, to which the bomb was falling, and therefore the force of the bomb was less. Everything else in the vicinity was utterly destroyed.

We stood there for some time alone with the building, contemplating the horrors of war.

Day 2 of the program:

Day 2 started with a bit of a shake – barely sensible. I almost wasn’t sure whether it was an earthquake or whether I was just imagining it. It was around 8am in the morning.

Turns out it was an earthquake, and a major one indeed, with the center in Osaka. The earthquake had forced stoppage of the Shinkansen line, and we were unfortunately deprived of the opportunity to go to Kyoto. There was a bit of uncertainty on how we would get back to Tokyo. But thankfully, Kyoko-san and James-san quickly booked plane tickets and we knew we would get back to Tokyo that day.

Over the day, we also discussed how Japanese buildings are built to withstand earthquakes.

Day 3 of the program:

On Day 3 we first visited the Marubeni Corporation. We were given a presentation of Marubeni Corporation’s history, philosophy and current activities. We had yuju-cha, which was also very tasty and unique for Japanese culture.

Afterwards, we went to the Edogawa Boat Racing Arena, and were given a very interesting tour of the facility and we were taught how to experience boat racing. I was impressed by the ticketing machines, that were so automated and did so many things at once. We also learned a lot about how the revenues from boat-racing are distributed, and how the boat-racing works. One thing I noticed, is that a lot of the people at the boat-racing arena were above average age, which maybe a sign that boat-racing is less popular with the younger generation of Japanese. The administration of the boat-racing arena are trying to attract the younger generation with various on-site events and attractions, but so far the overall trend is continuing.

We also experienced being participants, and Leyla san even won 17000 yen – it was fun.

Day 4 of the program:

On the fourth day, we started by a visit to the Diet to see Dr Taniguchi. As we entered the diet, we had a lot of people surround us and started asking us questions. We were a bit surprised. But turns out it was journalists, who apparently spend all day here, and make a record of every person who comes to see the Prime Minister and the Chief of the staff. Then we met with Dr Taniguchi, who very usefully, gave us the tour of the premises, showing us the place where daily press-conferences are given, and then the stairways on which the cabinet members take a group photo after winning the elections and being confirmed for the job by the emperor. Then we sat down with Dr Taniguchi and discussed various events, including Japan Central Asia relations, Japan USA relations, the economy of Japan and so on.

Afterwards, we visited the Tsukuba University, where we had a campus tour, meeting with the Computer Science department, experiencing a 3D animation and volleyball,  and finally a round table on career development in Eurasian Region. The visit was very interesting indeed, and I think next time a whole day should be allocated for this visit.

Finally, we had an amazing dinner with Mr. Mori, Mr. Huffman and Mr. Kashihara in a very exquisite restaurant.

Day 5 of the program:

On day 5, we first visited the Fuji Television offices to meet with Dr. Yamauchi, with whom we had a brief and friendly discussion about Japan, Russia, Turkey, and their relations with Central Asia. The discussion was very nice.

We then visited the Nippon Foundation offices in the afternoon. We had a meeting with Mr. Sasakawa and Mr. Mori. Mr. Sasakawa personally greeted us, and we also took photos.

Mr. James Huffman showed us around the Nippon Foundation’s office, and I took a lot of pictures and ideas for how to structure effectively our own offices in Dushanbe, where we had just been completing Alif Academy office.

We had a tour of the Paralympics Support Center, stopped almost by each table, each representing a particular type of sport, and we also had a small chat with a Japanese Paralympics medalist, and discussed how the Nippon Foundation is promoting and helping the Paralympics through awareness raising campaigns and other kind of support.

Finally, we had a lovely dinner with Mr. Mori, who decided to join the dinner despite being very tired after many weeks of restless work. Our dinner was in an authentic restaurant, which was very interesting indeed, fashioned as if it is inside a home.

Day 6 of the program:

We started the day with a trip to the Yomiuri Newspaper, seeing how the newspapers are made today, and how they were made in the past. The Yomiuri newspaper has the largest circulation, but it has been declining recently – an issue faced by all newspapers globally. But the decline of the Yomiuri Newspaper is less rapid compared to its competitors. We saw the newsrooms, the editorial table, where most of the staff gathers at the end for final review of the newspaper before publishing, the cycles of the printing, with tight and strict deadlines for submitting reports and the hard work and career routes of the journalists from the newspapers branch offices slowly to the head office.

In the afternoon we had presentations at the Nippon Foundation lobby. All four of us, the JVP participants, presented, and that was followed by presentations from the Tsukuba university professors and students. The presentations were predominantly focused on education. It is a testament to the importance of this subject, that all four of us spoke about education and brain-drain as some of the most pressing challenges of our region. Our region – Central Asia and Caucasus – still lags behind the rest of the world, and we all believe the key to unlocking the economic growth is held in education – the right kind of education.

After the forum, we had networking and discussions with the participants, who had mainly come from the Tsukuba University and the Nippon Foundation. I made numerous useful contacts, and have already kept in touch after the forum.