Friday, October 31, 2014

My Japan Experience (Part 3 of 5)

The days of lecture started quickly as if to remind us that we came to the land of the rising sun to learn and not just to tour around. Just like the autumn season, we counted the hours of lessons in our fingers as they fall in our eager ears. Let me give my top 5 early realizations from the lectures of Japanese officials, economists, bankers, and business people:

1. "Stakeholder Capitalism" vs. "Stockholder Capitalism" - Although this was highlighted by Odano-sensei of Shiga University. This became more evident in the lectures of economists of the province. Stakeholder capitalism promotes passion and dedication of work as one will be deeply immersed in an organization. The respect for seniority, and 'oneness' of goal, is only the basic element of such kind of economic structure, unlike the 'stockholder capitalism' of the west (which has been adopted by our country) which gives more value on the upper management and 'stockholders' or owners of organizations and companies. (I will dedicate another blog article for this to explain further).

2. Partnerships and Linkages are needed formula to success. - There is no hero in Japan because everyone is a hero in their own work and duties, they call this “Kiba”. In fact, their regard for calling cards, and the exchange thereof, are symbolic of their value towards partnerships, coordination, and participation.

My classmates with one of the lecturers
3. Discipline. - Because of their 'oneness', their thoughts are always for their country. "If I throw my garbage here, the place will look dirty and I don't want my country to look dirty", "If I disobey traffic laws, somebody might suffer because of my recklessness, I don't want a countryman to suffer because of my untoward actions." In the Philippines? Nahhh...

4. Honor – This is a typical Japanese way. In the lecture by the officers of Iyo bank, they explained the importance of rendering loans for business start-ups at zero-percent interest rate. When I asked them about what happens upon default when the borrower fails to return the loaned money? The officer, to my deep embarrassment said, “Japanese people will always return what they owe. If their business fails, they will find other ways to return it, even though it will take a lifetime to do so..” Perhaps that is why even in their business structure, one does not obtain a crucial position if he/she doesn’t have the skills to do the job - it means that ‘one only eats what he/she can swallow’. Because when that person fails in that job, the 100th floor window will openly welcome the ‘dishonored’.

The Sake Boys: (from left; Lucky, Mark,
Me, Jamz, Migz, Regin)
5. Passion - Their passion for their work were perhaps reinforced by their rebuilder generation (the generation after the war who vowed to rebuild Japan from its ruins). With such attitude, all of the people work, not primarily for money, but to become the best of what they do - regardless if one is a maintenance worker, bus driver, teacher, or government official, as long as they are the best. (Photo on the side is taken during our courtesy call to the Ehime Governor's office. Their government office is so passionate about their tourism identity and goods. I will have a separate article about their OTOP promotion and marketing).

We were relieved and excited that we will have at least a couple of days away from the 'classroom' to visit the coastal towns of Omishima Islands and Imabari. When Maro-san boarded the bus, he, just like any great tour guide would, presented a very good theme for our trip: 

 "Don't think...feel" (By Bruce Lee) :)

"Today's theme is, Don't think...Feel.. by Bruce Lee.." So, for this part...I'll stop my musings and perhaps, just relive the memorable moments I had on the Islands. (Below are some of our Pictures)

Great guys!

I'll miss these guys..
Story telling time to Iwanaga Shrine
Every space along the way were transformed to parks
Oyamazumi Shrine
Imabari Castle, Imabari City
Biking in the bridge

                                  "Don't think...feel"

Click link for Part 1 ---------> Japan experience (Part 1 of 5)
Click link for Part 2----------> Japan Experience (Part 2 of 5)
Click link for Part 3---------->Japan Experience (Part 4 of 5)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Japan Experience (Part 2 of 5)

We arrived at Tokyu Inn at Okaido, Matsuyama City about past dinner after many hours of passing by farms, forests, and coastal towns. The city is different from Kobe where we came from. Kobe City is a very new city which was actually rebuilt from the rubbles of disaster, while Matsuyama is an older one which had survived the rage of typhoons for many years because it was sheltered by mountains. Still, it has the cleanliness and order of Singapore, and the feel of a Baguio city night because of the autumn season.

We met a towering Japanese man in his 30s who introduced himself as Masuda (san). We later found out that he was the coordinator from JOCA (Japanese Overseas Coordinating  Agency) who will coordinate all our activities for the program. He guided us until we checked-in in our comfortable rooms. There was the bath tub, the bed, the TV….and of course, the wifi. Great! Not bad for a two week stay at the hotel.  

Surely, the day went fast to another dinner, and because we were in a foreign country, we decided to have it somewhere with a foreign touch – no convenient store, no mcdonalds…it must be a Japanese restaurant. We finally settled in a place with “300” on it because we assumed that the meals must be about 300 yen. After spending an average of about 800 yen for every meal, we figured that we can save our allowance with this 300 restaurant. Without any picture on their menu, and servers who can’t speak much English, we were doomed to just order ramen (haha).  Well, some were brave enough to just order anything to their delight/ surprise/ disappointment depending on who you ask. What surprised us most actually is when one of us attempted to offer a ‘tip’ to the server. The young server’s color drained as he immediately said: “no stealing!” We were quickly reminded that we are not in the Philippines anymore, and that the Japanese find giving ‘tips’ offensive or insulting.
The famous/'infamous' 300 resto/bar haha
It finally hit us that we were really in a ‘sake bar’ (surprise, surprise). My thoughts drifted to what I am doing with my life, while my batch mates are taking the Bar exams, I’m here in a bar..drinking my beer. It makes a funny story, but what’s funnier is the realization that there is so much in our Filipino culture/attitude that we have to change:

First is our culture of “entitlement”.  A friend said you would distinguish a filipino from a foreigner, not by how he looks but for how he acts. A Filipino will leave his plates on the table after he dines, he doesn’t have the initiative to help the servers by returning his tray to the wash area. In his mind, such is the waiters’ job and that he is entitled to that full service. In Japan, and in many developed countries, what they get they put it back. This applies to a lot of issues – we do not segregate our garbage because we think that it the basurero’s job, we do not clean our surroundings because we think that we are paying taxes, and that it is the government’s job: trabaho nila yan eh, ba’t pa natin gagawin? We felt entitled to a lot of things. This tendency can even explain the view that the Philippines has a ‘beggar culture’ (I’ll explain this in another blog article), or even our 'pa-sosyal culture'. Or even the reason why we don't promote bicycles as a common mode for transportation when many of our neighboring countries have already done so.

Second, is our money-centered attitude. The server’s reaction towards the ‘tip’ sprouted from their very old culture that those who hold the most money are the dirtiest. In fact in ancient Japan, the merchants (business people) are said to be the lowest in the social ranks (lower than the farmers). This is also evident in their economic practice of “stakeholder capitalism”. Such system doesn’t put the biggest regard on money-gaining, but on ‘efficiency’ in their work. Mostly, their dream is becoming the best of what they do, and not about getting the most money. In the Philippines, many people are worshiping money in a sad state of corrupt “garapalan” system. A friend told me that a japanese who visits the Philippines every year notices that the road is always re-blocked every time he visits our country. He whispered, “If this happens in my country, the engineer or contractor would have committed suicide…” In the Philippines? Nahhh…

Third, is our culture of mediocrity. “Tama na yan…Okay na yan..” Such is our mantra towards a sad state of backwardness. We do not have the initiative to do the best and become the best because we tend to easily box ourselves in a helpless case of excuse. I’m just being honest:  I also find this in my character.

Fourth, is ‘blaming’. We have the tendency to blame everyone and everything for something that we could’ve changed and we can change our selves. As of writing this, a so-called intellectual accused me of praising a colonial power which had abused our country in the war, (while he is working for a Spanish company). We must understand that we are living in different times in which we all have learned the scourge of war. But to blame them for our economic status, or for our personal problems? Besides, one cannot blame a whole race because of some political policies of a few people. But then, we are one of the most racist people in the world.

Perhaps we were raised that way. When we were kids we were conditioned to believe that Filipinos are the best people in the world, even though in many times, we are not. How does the story go again? There was the Filipino, American, Japanese, and 'Negro' (yup we were raised not to be politically correct from the start) having a contest in which the Filipino always wins somehow. So its no wonder that we regard ourselves so special to entitle us with many things, or to just 'blame others'. (Another blog article about Filipino monkey pride is coming).

Sorry for going on heavy again. But, I don't want to be that guy who was given the rare opportunity to travel and learn, but haven't learned anything, or haven't shared anything. So sorry again but, the truth will hurt most of the time. There is still hope though. There is still hope for change...:)

The next day, we attended the briefing for the activities in Ehime. We met with the JOCA heads and JICA representatives. Well, lectures can be boring sometimes, so I’ll just post our picture with our coordinators (below). (Maro-san (yup, just like the km.4 restaurant hehe), the one with the fan on the right, would guide us in our Omishima Islands adventure in the coming days).

Briefing at Matsuyama Community Center

Click link for Part 1 ---------> Japan experience (Part 1)
Click  link for Part 3--------->Japan Experience (part 3 of 5)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Japan Experience (Part 1 of 5)

For most late 90s kids like me who grew up watching Dragon Ball Z, SlamDunk, Yuyu Hakushu and other Japanese animations, an opportunity to travel to Japan is undeniably a dream. That is why when JICA confirmed that I will participate in a 3-week Training for Young Leaders under Economic Administration (industry promotion) in Japan, my excitement, and perhaps confusion, led me to a series of blunders which ultimately caused me my part-time teaching job  at Saint Louis University. Most of the time, juggling many things in the air is never a good idea. But as the 'eternal student' (cough cough :), I am a sucker for experiences. I just want to try it all.

On October 4, even with a heavy heart because I will miss my little angel, I joined the Pre-departure seminar at Holiday Inn and Suites. As I checked in, the luxurious atmosphere of 4 and 5 stars hotels reminded me again of the vast disconnect between the rich and poor - between the wealthy guests and the street kids scattered on the 'gates of hell' (which is Manila according to D. Brown). In a world that celebrates the 'excess', meeting the other 'Young Leaders' to, perhaps, discuss how to make this world bearable is exciting and challenging at the same time. After all, the participants are young and competitive agency directors, lawyers, bankers, politicians, heads of offices, and what have you, each having the vision  to contribute to the development of the country, and maybe to the world. As for me, the endorsement of Mayor Edna Tabanda, may have done the magic. Truth to be told, it was she who lobbied for JICA's assistance for the Benguet General Hospital during her time. But maybe I also do have the credentials (cough! cough!), come to think of it,  I was also accepted in an India grant which I turned down. Still, how I got in the program is amusing if not a mystery.:)

My Economic Administration classmates at the PDOS (Photo by Vidz)
Meeting the participants from Economic Development, Rural Development, and Small-Medium Enterprise Administration courses, I was able to squeeze in that rare circle of JICA trainees. Through my own years of countless Leadership Seminars, Kapihans, and Trainings, I have lost the instinct to become intimidated. I've seen it all I guess; the 29 year-old municipal mayor and 25-year old board member in our Luzon Successor generation forum, the 21-year old bank owner in the Ateneo-YKLD and so on. When you start thinking that you are good, there will always be someone who is better than you. That, I have proven in many times. Fortunately, the other 44 participants are mostly friendly and accommodating. From the general orientation, cultural presentation, up to the language training, the participants were kind and supporting. Maybe because we came from different parts of the country (I represent the Cordillera region!), and that  idealist bond of nationhood has found its way to the expected success of the group's training outside the country. Maybe.

We boarded the plane without any hassle on October 6, probably because we hold the red (official) passport.  This will be my 3rd foreign country to visit (after Singapore and Malaysia), but still I find the flight experience so awesome (especially because of the free lunch and drinks haha). When we landed at Narita airport, I quickly searched for their toilet. I wanted to check this myself----->
Yup. That's the japanese 'washlet', a bidet with automatic features like anus and genitalia washing, seat warming, and deodorization. Some even have music players or some other added features. For me, this wonder is already the ultimate epitome of the easy and comfortable life. :)

We transferred from the a connecting domestic flight to Osaka and boarded a bus to a Daiwa Roynet Hotel at Kobe.  We were tired and hungry by the six-hour journey, but still energized by the excitement. The view from the bus windows alone will surely make one understand the difference between a developed country and a developing one. We were extremely amazed. We realized that we are now really in Japan.

We decided to roam around their streets after we checked in to look for somewhere to dine in. Because it is past 11, only a few food shops are open. We decided to try the one near our hotel and tested our language skills to give our orders. Thankfully, we remembered "Sumemasen" (Excuse me), "Kore" (This), and "Arigato Guzaimasu" (Thank you). Who would know that my father's Karate kata exercises also taught me to count in Japanese (Ichi, ni, san...). When we successfully ordered our food, we became overconfident that the language barrier will not really be a challenge to us. We were dead wrong (haha).

The next day, we went to the JICA-Kanzai center to a 2-day briefing about our finances, the Japanese economy (a separate article for this will be uploaded soon including the effect of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to their 'rebuilder generation') and to review our basic Japanese language skills for the last time. The photo below shows my 14 classmates in the Economic Administration Course (the other courses are Rural Development and SME Dev.). We were reminded that most of our training will be held at Matsuyama city, Ehime Province under the Shikoku region. Hence we would have to prepare for a six hour bus ride the following day.

Roaming the streets of Kobe for the last day reminds me of a January-Baguio City when I was younger. The feel of a chilly Burnham park minus the crowd and the noise of heavy traffic plus bicycles, clean streets, and the view of the coastal parks made me understand why basketball star Kobe Bryant was named after this city. (Picture below shows a view of Kobe City.)

We departed from the JICA center by bus to the Shikoku region. As usual, I took the window seat to have the perfect view of the places which we will pass by. The travel gave me a glimpse of the difference of big cities (like those in the Kanzai region), and rural areas (like most of Shikoku region). The images below are among the views from my bus window:

Japan's Efficient Highway Systems
Coastal Towns
Farm towns
Another farm area. Yes, their zoning ordinances are followed well.
I thought that Japan is only about technology, but from the many farms that we saw, my contemplation shifted to our country's current acceptance that Services and Industry had already taken over our Agriculture-based sector in our economy.To understand what I mean, take a look at the current share of sectors in our GDP (data from DTI and BOI ):

I wondered how Japan managed to excel in both Agriculture and Industry sectors, even after 1950s when they lost the war and the US predicted that it will take them more than a hundred years to get back on their feet.  I will give my conclusions in the other parts of this article.

For now, let me reminisce. :)

                               .............................................End of Part 1....................................................

Click this link for Part 2-----> Japan Experience (Part 2 of 5)
Click this link for Part 3----->Japan Experience (part 3 of 5)