Puzzled in TokyoTuesday, June 1, 2004
This short photo-article summarizes my business trip to Tokyo during April, 2004. This was my first trip to Japan, and I was traveling together with Dave Green, president of Conceptis Puzzles, who was there many times before. There were three purposes for this trip - presenting Conceptis’ new Maze-a-Pix puzzles to our Japanese publishers, exploring opportunities with new business partners, and of course having lots of fun.
The first two goals were accomplished, and we now have more business with more partners in Japan. However, only after returning home and looking at all the photos did I realize that the last goal, the one with the fun, has been squeezed to the last drop.
Mixing Business and Pleasure
Business and pleasure are mixed in Japan in a way that is truly unbelievable for Westerners. Since many Japanese don’t speak very good English, we went to the meetings together with Miss. Chie Fujisaki or Miss Kayo Kubota, Conceptis’ coordinators in Japan.
Some of the business meetings seemed similar to those in the West - office, table, suits and ties, coffee etc. But there were several other afternoon meetings which began formally at the office, and then somehow “relocated” to a 5 hour session at the local sushi bar, followed by a karaoke bar tour in Ueno and Ropongi.
Occasionally, Dave and I found ourselves saying goodnight to our business associates at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, totally drunk, laughing and wondering how all this is connected to our puzzle business in Japan. But it always did. It was the Japanese way of saying “we are developing the relationship with you” or “we are interested, but we need more time”.
The largest puzzle of all
They say on week days there are about 20 million people in Tokyo and 15 million during the nights. To me it seemed as if all of them were on the same trains with Dave and me.
Many Japanese spend two or three hours each day commuting from their suburb homes to the Tokyo office and back, and thus have developed a set of very common “subway behaviors”: they doze off, sometimes leaving their personal belongings unattended on a shelf close to the ceiling. They play with their mobile phones as if there is no tomorrow, and they read books and magazines, especially of the Manga style. Sometimes the subway gets so crowded it looks as if the people were poured by a huge machine, and the trains can get so full that you don’t need to hold the hand rails – the mass of bodies around you prevents you from falling down.
Tokyo's most prominent train system is the JR Yamanote Line, running every 2 minutes in a circular ring around Tokyo and connecting to a mesh of subway stations. There are also a dozen subway lines in this vast megalopolis, operated by several companies. To make things even more complicated, an elevated monorail system is also available in some parts of the city, offering spectacular views as you’re cruising at the 8th floor level of the buildings around you. I kept telling Dave that this must be the largest puzzle ever created by mankind, and that if we ever loose contact then Conceptis will need to find new Marketing Communications manager.
Mysteriously beautiful ladies with Carrie Bradshaw sandals
Both Japanese women and men are usually dressed in a very elegant and fashionable manner. Appearance has obviously a very important roll in this society and a lot of money is being spent in this direction. It was amazing to see so many well dressed people walking in the streets; it almost felt like being inside a movie. There where those millions of mysteriously beautiful ladies walking around me on the streets of Tokyo, and each one of them were using a different set of Carrie Bradshaw sandals.
It was only when I returned home that my wife pointed my attention to the fact that many of the women in the photos were wearing white - not a very popular color for women in the West. Why? The reason is simple (if you are a woman) and educative (if you are a man): white clothes make you look fatter. You can only wear them if you are a heroin chic model… or a normal Japanese lady.
In Harajuku area, Tokyo's trendy teenager town, we had the privilege to observe some of the most eccentric fashion clothing that this world has to offer. It was absolutely inspiring.
Our dream has become reality
Japanese are avid readers. They read books and magazines wherever and whenever they can, and they don’t mind doing this while standing. Countless bookstores are always packed with interested customers who read while standing near colorful and over-advertised book shelves. We could find Conceptis puzzles published in many of them. It was so exciting to see our dream come true, and a real privilege to witness it, as it was happening in front of our own eyes.
Lighting incense and dinging the gong
Chie Fujisaki joined Conceptis Japan in 2002 as a sales manager and has been supporting new publisher relationships ever since. The last day of the trip was a wonderful opportunity to see other sides of Chie’s life and to meet her family.
We were invited to the home of the Fujisaki family, located in the country side about one and a half hours by train from Tokyo. This was the first day I saw the traditional side of Japan, like a different country far away from the asphalt jungles of Tokyo.
Chie-san lives with her grandmother, father, mother and younger sister. Knowing her before as a hyperactive jet-speed business woman, I was surprised to discover that the Fujisaki family lives in a real traditional Japanese house, built by Chie’s great grandfather around 150 years ago. The house had everything I expected, after watching some movies by Akira Kurosawa’s – from a blue ceramic roof, through the wooden structure and paper walls to an overwhelming garden and a private bamboo hill.
The Fujisaki hospitality was so warm and welcoming that saying goodbye and departing to Narita airport was ever harder than it would have been anyway. We exchanged presents and toured the house, and then lit incense and dinged the gong to honor Chie’s grandfather who had recently passed away. Lunch was delightful, made from traditional Japanese food and included a special bamboo shoots dish made by Chie’s mother.
After a walk in the garden and to the bamboo hill it was time to go. We went to Narita in two cars, accompanied by the entire Fujisaki family. Amazingly, although only being there for three or four hours, it felt almost as if I was saying goodbye to my own family, but time was up. We had a 747 waiting at Narita to take us back home.
About Gil Galanti
Gil Galanti is Marketing Manager of Conceptis Ltd. Gil is also runs a blog with his wife Nitsan at cultcase.com