Good bye, patchy gigantic Shanghai! Hallo, ordered and secret Kyoto, our first stop in Japan!
Upon our arrival, our kind and marvellous hosts from the Institute for Strategic Leadership led us to the Buddhist temple, where the Temple Master spoke about Japanese history and Buddhism development. Discussion about some of the universal values brought me into a reflective mood, that lasted throughout the whole stay here; for instance, if life is full of suffering, one can be happy in taking care of others… Later that evening, we met a member of the parliament, who elaborated on the history of Japan from the viewpoint of traditions, values and people’s behaviors. We’ve heard that Japanese people are very friendly, hospitable and approachable, but, at the same time, quite independent and loyal to their country.
Our schedule in Kyoto was very packed. The following morning, we paid a visit to a 220-year old tea company, Fukujuen. The president of the company shed some light on the business strategy and innovation: imagine a beautiful picture of a nicely served table with a gracious wine glass, filled in with… some green tea! Of course, green tea here is a staple: it’s not just tea, cold or hot in a great variety of sorts and blends, but also an ingredient in bread, cakes, ice cream, traditional deserts and what not. After the official part we had a privilege to participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Every single movement and word of a host and a guest have their meaning, and we could only touch the surface of this beautiful tradition.
Later during the day, the president of Hosoo, a textile company, hosted us in his office, in a traditional Kyoto house. The history of his business goes back to more than 300 years, from a supplier of precious and luxurious silk for imperial needs to an exclusive producer of unique and splendid fabric for the selective players in the Haute Couture industry, who might willingly wait for their orders to be produces, sometimes for even longer, that one would wait for a Ferrari. We were stunned by the stories, mindset, vision, beauty, hard work, patience…
In both cases, the business leaders were very humble, paying a lot of attention to our comfort, questions and requests. Amazingly, they didn’t consider their businesses to compete in the related industries; later I realized, that it was due to innovations, that they brought, be it technological uniqueness of products, distribution models, relationships with key stakeholders etc., and cultural specifics, implying that rather than compete, they collaborate. Another interesting finding for me is, that despite the fact that these are family businesses, where steering wheel is passed from generation to generation over the centuries, it takes sons ages to get their education, learn the business and gain the fathers’ confidence, and I believe they care for the business longevity at least as much as, if not more than, for the bottom line.
The three days in Kyoto were full of colorful impressions, among those fantastic food, meeting people, sightseeing, Zen meditation and even a chance to meet Geishas. Japanese culture is amazing and, I guess, through our IMD experience we were honored just to scratch its surface. What I know is I will have a lot of food for thought after this trip, for the upcoming weeks and even months, and I definitely want to come here once more to explore this country and its people.