Part of the gap intelligence team landed in Japan last week for the business printer and supplies analysts to give on-site presentations to current and prospective clients and it has been a whirlwind of business, food, fun, and adventure. This year’s trip was scheduled for 10 days, and by the time this blog is posted, the Japan Tour 2015 will be in the books. Typically this trip lasts five or six days, so it’s been a nice change to have the scheduled visits a little more spread out with some free time on the weekend for sightseeing. Keenan, Chris, and I are so thankful for our fearless leader, Yuki, without whom we would not have had the same experience.
I don’t think I can say a single bad thing about the food in Japan, or at least anything that we ate, though I still haven’t had the pleasure of trying natto, so I’ll get back to you after that. But in general, the food is flavorful, it’s fresh, and for the most part, it’s good for you (tempura vegetables are still vegetables, right?). In all seriousness though, the food is always a highlight of this trip. I have a pretty strong affinity for anything noodle-related, so the ramen, udon, and soba are particularly comforting to me. That said, it doesn’t get much better than the fresh fish in the form of sashimi and nigiri, or chirashi. We had a particularly great experience at a very small shop just outside of the Tsukiji fish market, where we went omakase-style and left our dining experience up to the chef, which was a great decision. The assortment we received ranged from blowtorched scallops with a squeeze of lime (a particular favorite of mine), to giant oyster, roe, or fish topped with uni and Japanese basil. Everything was so fresh and so delicious. During the trip, we also enjoyed local favorites in Izakaya, and another favorite of mine, shabu shabu. Bottom line, the food is incredible and a great place to be adventurous.
Speaking of Adventures…
About two hours of bus rides took us up into the “Japanese Alps” to a community of natural hot spring resorts. We took up residence at the Fukuchi Onsen in Okuhida Onsen Go, where we were able to experience the magic of the natural hot springs. After a feast that consisted of about 15 different small dishes and some local craft beer, we spent the night relaxing in the hot water, which was nice treat after all the hard work spent traveling and preparing and giving our presentation. The next morning we went for a couple mile run around the community, checking out the waterfalls and the market, admiring small shrines, and soaking our feet in another hot spring that was located in what used to be the house of a samurai, but is now cared for by the local community. One more breakfast feast and a foot soak later, we were back on the bus headed for Tokyo!
On Sunday, after a nearly 5 mile run to and around the Imperial Palace, we decided to do some sightseeing in the surrounding areas. We decided on the Meiji Shrine, a popular tourist spot in Shibuya, Tokyo. While surrounded by skyscrapers, the Meiji Shrine was located within a forest so tall and dense that you would never guess you were in the middle of a city. Within the forest we found the main Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the divine souls of Emperor Meiji and his wife. As a bonus, we were able to witness two wedding parties walking through the grounds. After investigating the courtyard, we found an area where people write down their aspirations or prayers and hang them on a special wall. Deciding that we wanted to participate, we purchased a small wooden tablet, wrote down our wishes for the gap intelligence team, and hung it alongside the others.
Next on the list, baseball game! Before leaving for Japan, Yuki found some tickets to see the Tokyo Yakult Swallows take on the Yokohama Bay Stars. Words won’t be able to describe how cool of an experience this was, but I’ll do my best. In a typical American baseball game, fans heckle the other team while they are up to bat to try and throw off their concentration. In Japan, it’s completely opposite. Fans pump up their batters with non-stop cheering, chants, and trumpets. And when I say non-stop cheering, I mean non. stop. cheering. Everyone is on their feet the entire time their team is at bat. One chant ends and another begins. As fun as it would have been to know the words in Japanese, that didn’t stop us from chanting the batter’s name (or other incoherent words) to be a part of the action – the excitement was infectious! There is even a chant where everyone starts waving around small umbrellas (something along the lines of this), though I haven’t really figured that one out yet. Everyone around made us feel so at home, high fiving when the Swallows scored a run and sharing their umbrellas. Keenan even almost snagged a home run ball! Four hours later at the bottom of the ninth inning, it was tied 8-8, and since it was a Sunday night and we had a presentation to give the next day, we called it a night. Come to find out, the game lasted five hours and twelve innings, with the Swallows capturing a 9-8 win. I enjoy attending baseball games back home, but if we could bring a little bit of the Tokyo experience to America, I might go to a lot more games.
Just so you don’t think that we took a vacation to Japan, by the time the books are closed on this trip we will have presented eight times in seven days. Taking into account the weeks of preparation, 12-hour flight, traveling each day to the client’s office, and giving a two-hour presentation at what would be 3 am back at home, these trips are exhausting. We get home at night with enough time to answer a few emails and wake up with a computer on our lap. But meeting clients in person, answering questions, and having meaningful discussions about the market that you are so invested in is incredibly rewarding, makes us better analysts, and totally worth the long days.
It’s also hard being away from home for so long and we all miss our families. But like our East Coast tour, this Japan trip was very special in that it brought together four gappers that work in different offices around the US and only see each other three or four times a year. We learn about each other, we learn from each other, we laugh together, and I feel lucky that I am able to work in an environment where we enjoy spending time together and are able to have this kind of experience. After setting the bar pretty high this year, I will be looking forward to what the print team’s next Japan tour has in store. Kampai!