Mitsubishi… Yasunari Kawabata… Akira Kurosawa… Hayao Miyazaki… Hachiko… Those are all what I planned to talk about in case they would ask me the “What do you know about Japan?” question during the final interview of JATCAFA scholarship. Not because I memorized them to impress the scholarship committee but because my knowledge about the land of the rising sun was limited to only those. That was back on October of 2013.
On June 16, 2018, while slowly landing in Tokyo and looking down at the coastline view, I could not help but think how much I have learned about Japan in the past couple of years and how much I am going to learn during the JVP 2018.
After checking in the hotel at the city center, walking around Akasaka-
On the morning of June 16, I woke up in my small but cozy room at APA Villa Hotel Akasaka Mitsuke to welcome the Sun before all the other people around the world and look at the majestic skyscrapers of modern Tokyo. I organized my backpack for the upcoming trip to Hirsohima and Kyoto with a huge enthusiasm as these were destinations that nobody from my friends or relatives visited.
The morning was not only pleasant because of my stay in Japan but also because of that nice breakfast we had with our group where we sipped our miso soups while bonding with each other by sharing our expectations regarding the Japan Visit Program of 2018. That first morning has promised us all a great trip as we were able to establish a solid relationship among our group members.
To arrive at Hiroshima, we took a four hours trip on the trip. While reading it may sound very boring but in reality, it turned out to be a real blast since we were able to enjoy the jaw-dropping views outside. I was specifically amazed by paddy fields which I associate with serenity, a perfect combination of four elements out of five mentioned in Greek mythology (earth, water, air and spirit, the fifth one is if fire).
Our trip was also interesting because we did not stop socializing with our group members, and we literally questioned Kyoko Vrboski about social and professional life in Japan. Once checking in our hotel at the city center of Hiroshima, we decided not to be late with sightseeing and immediately moved in the direction of Miyajima. During the commute to the site, we discussed the importance of Miyajima and Shinto religion which is directly related to the shrine we were going to visit on Itsukushima island.
Once we arrived on the island, we were greeted with amazing group of deer who acted as the sole owners of the island.
At first, these beautiful creatures were very friendly but only until I bought my first snack to eat while walking around. I was chased by one of them and had to unwillingly share half of my food. We were lucky to visit the place during the fall of sea level, as we were easily moving around the famous torii in Japan and Itsukushima Shrine.
After walking around the island we decided to sit for a rest and taste Japanese ice cream with
After Miyajima we quickly returned to city center to pay a visit to the famous Genbaku Dome which still reminds horrors of the World War II. We could not do more than photographing the memorial and condemning the war that put many people in a desperate situation.
Later that evening we had a nice dinner by a teppan and went back to our hotel for having a good night rest for our further adventures in Kyoto.
In the morning of June 17, I had a grin from ear to ear when leaving my hotel room. However, it disappeared once I saw our group members on the first floor of the hotel over discussing something emotionally. Regretfully, an earthquake happening in Kyoto the night before changed our plans as all the public transports were paralyzed. We were unhappy not only about cancellation of the trip to Kyoto but also for the losses and damages that the disaster caused to the city. At that moment however, we could not focus on the situation a lot as we had to leave the city for the program of the day after.
That day became a very hectic one for us since we had to abandon our planned program and improvise. However, we also experienced something all citizens of Japan experience during their lifetime.
Though we had a rough day in the beginning as we were almost lost without a destination, we were glad to know that we are not alone during the destination. Not only Nippon Foundation organized this trip but also the organization took full responsibility
Before departure, we had a lunch at Hiroshima Airport where I had the most positive experience during the day in the background of the above-mentioned events. A woman sitting at the table next to us came to our table and said something in Japanese. Kyoko-san was kind enough to translate it and it turns out woman complimented me by mentioning that I am beautiful. I guess what I have felt at that moment, was the best feeling a tourist can feel in Japan.
Safely landing in rainy Tokyo, we decided to stop by Shibuya Station and see the statue of Hachiko whose story we have heard so many times and watched the movie sobbing without a stop. We had to fight our ways to the statue to be photographed with it as many tourists were around it and apparently, there was no proper queue to follow.
During that time, I was able to walk around and shoot a few photos of Shibuya crossing under rain with
I was specifically excited for the third day of our trip because we were going to visit Marubeni Corporation. Marubeni is one of the major sogo shoshas in the country and when applying for JVP 2018, I specifically mentioned about my interest to visit such a company because of an article I have read about a few years back.
I knew that sogo shoshas have a unique organization structures that is not experienced by any company in the world. Moreover, being unique in its own way, these companies have solid relations with the government and key element in its economic strength. Considering that these sort of companies are modern successors of zaibatsus makes them a part of Japanese business culture.
Knowing all of that, I was determined to pay a visit to one of the biggest sogo shoshasin Japan. Thanks to Mori-san, who generously used his network for organizing the meeting, we were given a chance to visit Marubeni Corporation. Greeted by Takagi-san and Eckstein-san from Corporate Communication department, we were offered yuzu tea, which we did not taste anywhere else in Japan. Listening to a presentation about the history of the corporation and giving questions that interested us, we were able to understand how those large corporations form and survive. The secret ingredient is usual one for every Japanese company, dedicating yourself to a bigger value than making profit and sticking to that dedication.
Walking out from a modern business building where the office of Marubeni Corporation situated, we walked around the magnificent skyscrapers of central Tokyo and had a lunch preparing ourselves for another interesting attraction that was waiting for us.
Next in the program was Motorboat Racing sponsored by Nippon Foundation. This experience has put a lot of impressions on me for many reasons and one of them was not losing like the rest of our group. Betting $1 for a race I was able to multiply my bet by 17.
During the visit, we received explanations how bets are made and in a special room spared for our group, we were able to fill our betting forms.
However, not only we were watching the races from a room with live broadcasting but also from the nearby of the riverbank where clouds on the sky looked amazingly near to the ground.
Not every tourist can brag about visiting Kantei, the official residence of
While being inside the Kantei, we were greeted and guided by Dr. Taniguchi, a special advisor to Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
Dr. Taniguchi was patient with us answering our questions and walking us around the building explaining its architecture. He even was kind enough to compliment Azerbaijan’s bid and presentation for Expo 2025.
After Kantei, we were sure that nothing is going to beat our impressions regarding the first meeting of the day but we acknowledged our mistake as soon as we were making tour of Tsukuba University campus.
Welcomed by the staff of International Support Department and teaching staff, we felt the warmness of Japanese hospitality. Listening to various presentations and introductions made at the university, we were able to understand how Tsukuba University is growing the future leaders and pioneers of various fields.
Later we were able to test a volleyball simulation program established and developed by one of the students of the university. At the end of the visit to Tsukuba University we were able to meet with students from various departments and countries who were interested in Central Asian area. I was specifically glad to meet an Azerbaijani student from Moscow, Russia.
At the end of the day, we joined Mori-san at a superb restaurant. But this meeting became more than a dining at a fancy place. We had an opportunity to meet Human Resources experts who were eager to exchange knowledge on human capital.
During the dinner, I noted down one important thing for myself. Japanese people do not believe in motivation, they believe in dedication. Therefore, they are not looking for little things that can drive them toward their goals. They choose a goal to dedicate themselves to.
Among all the buildings we have visited, one has the best view I have ever seen. A visit to Fuji Television was an amusement for our eyes.
Dr. Yamauchi of Fuji Television turned out to be a well-read man who knew about countries probably more than we knew about. He enjoyed showing us his rich library, which contains books in many languages.
During our talk, Dr. Yamauchi mentioned
Seeing James-san and Mori-san to work among other employees in an open office space, made me realize how Japanese executives can be professional but at the same time humble.
We experienced the comfort and efficiency of all spots by ourselves by walking around and sitting on each free space.
Afterward, we were invited to a conference room where we enjoyed our green tea while waiting for the Nippon Foundation chairman, Chairman Sasakawa. Chairman Sasakawa was kindly asking questions about our trip to Japan and meetings we had during the trip. We expressed our gratitude for their efforts for making that trip happen and solving all the problems emerging during the process.
Later we had the opportunity to visit Paralympic Support Centre to meet with professionals who work hard for supporting Paralympic team of Japan. I had the pleasure to enjoy two most memorable moments.
First, I had a chance of touching real fire torches of the latest to Olympic Games: one is Rio 2016 and the other is Pyeongchang 2018.
Second, we had the pleasure to meet with a gold medalist of
In the evening of that day, Mori-san took us to another restaurant that astonished us with its amazing menu.
We started our program for the day with a visit to HQ of Yomiuri newspaper. For the first time in my life, I had the privilege to see how the newspapers work from the inside. I had the opportunity to see the journalists running from one side of the hall to another and coming back to finish what they just started writing. Everything was like in the movies.
The second part of our day was fully booked for a Japan Central Asia Exchange Forum organized for students, researchers and teaching staff from Tsukuba University.
That was the most exciting part for me since I had to make a presentation about human capital of my country. No matter how much I prepared for the event. I could not handle being nervous because I was going to represent my country in front of the people who had a limited information about it and any mistake could have led to a wrong impression about it. Fortunately, the presentation went well and I could not be more satisfied with the outcome.
After the forum, many students were eager to know more about my country and its potential. Although by that time I was tired, I had the pleasure to answer the questions and brief all of them about Azerbaijan.
If someone asks me what did Japan Visit Program give me, I will proudly say: “More than just a trip to another country.”
There is a reason for that. Because during a week of the stay in Japan, not only I was able to walk around and fight with a deer over a bite of food but also I was able to experience much talked Japanese punctuality. Not only I was able to visit the premier offices of large corporations, but also I was able to see what Japanese value most. Those are dedication and loyalty. I have met with amazing people, professionals in various fields who I had no chance to meet on my own and a lady who was not shy to come up to me and say that I am beautiful. Moreover, I experienced Japanese hospitality, culture and food. I have collected valuable memories that I can share with anyone and cherish my whole life.
Apart from all, I have had an amazing week, with an amazing group and an amazing group leader, Kyoko-san.
And the people to thank for this extraordinary experience are: Chairman Sasakawa, Mori-san, James-san and everyone else who had worked on this project and supported it. Finally yet importantly, I would like to thank Kyoko-san for her efforts, patience and understanding before, during and after the project.