Thursday, February 05, 2009

A day in the life of Tokyo

Today I learned a few things:

1. I am culturally inept. I feel impossibly self conscious trying to utter any non-English words, and pretty much the same attempting straight forward aspects of the Japanese culture (bowing, exchanging business cards (I'll come back to that) and so on). It's not that I don't like doing it, it's that I feel like I'm doing it wrong, and thereby causing even more offense.

2. Sushi is GOOD. Ok, I already knew that, but eating sushi that is laid out without explanation is a fantastic experience. One of them was particularly unusual and divine: a dense fish outer layer (possibly eel?) around a thin layer of sushi rice and then nori surrounding smoked salmon. Mmmmmm.....

3. It is apparently impossible to have a conversation in a bar without a pick-up attempt. Surely I can't be the only business traveller in the world who would like a chat in the hotel bar without jumping in the sack! And no, I didn't see a single lone female who might have reduced my odds of being made a pass at.

About that business card thing - I find the Japanese (and to a lesser extent, rest-of-Asian) business card exhange protocol both enchanting and hilarious. The passing of the business card, right side up to the recipient, with both hands as a sign of respect, and then the pause to actually read it, is kind of nice. It gives you a better chance of taking in the information on it, and can be very helpful. Sadly, my utter self consciousness gets in the way, and I always seem to run out of hands to get the card out of its holder and pass it appropriately to the recipient. But at the same time, I can't help contrasting with the traditional Australian method of tossing the card across the table. The Japanese approach seems so ludicrously pompous in comparison. The Australian attitude is one of "If you want to get hold of me later, this is how", whereas the Japanese treat the business card as a formal introduction. Amazing that such a silly little piece of cardboard could hold all that nuance.

On the plus side, the work itself went well, and as a result I have tomorrow off (pending a lunch/drinks invitation to client). So I might actually get to see some of Tokyo that isn't inside a hotel or office. Thank the lord for Google maps, even if I can't get it to give me anything in English.


  1. Yes business in Asia is weird. I have never been to Japan but in all of Asia two places that felt very alien where Korea and Vietnam. In a business context the Koreans I interacted with seemed very reserved just like I imagine the Japanese, I found them quite rude they all spoke great english, they just chose not to. It was very jarring being in a meeting when everybody launches into Korean, without the slightest attempt to translate, like verbal texting in a meeting. Vietnam was just plain odd, however the people were lovely very few spoke English but all were engaging, that i got to go to a wedding :-)

    Personally i blame the American military, the Koreans endure them and the Vietnamese got sick of them and kicked them out..

  2. Isn't Tokyo just so amazing, like visiting another planet. We had such a ball there, but we admitedly we weren't trying to conduct business.