It was hot and humid when we departed for our trip to Japan unlike the slightly cool weather when we returned back just after 10 Days on 06th June’17. Same was the condition of our curiosity which was red hot when we were preparing for the trip and now there is calmness inside after our thirst has been satiated by the immense pleasure and learnings we obtained during the trip.
As usual, it all started with booking of tickets by our company and further our applications for Visa formalities to Japan. As we were planning to do a layover at Hong Kong during our return journey, it was required to find out Visa requirements for Hong Kong as well. In the process we learnt that there is a facility of on-arrival Visa at Hong-Kong but since last few months Pre-arrival registration has been made mandatory. We completed these formalities and started our journey with lot of enthusiasm.
Our first destination was Land of Rising Sun, Japan. Being a Manager by profession and an avid reader, I heard a lot about the Management philosophies being originated from Japan like 5S, Total Quality Management, Total Productivity Management, Just-in-Time and many more. I was eager to know that do they really walk their talk. You must have heard about Japanese automotive manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, Daihatsu, Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Isuzu, Kawasaki and Yamaha. Excellence is the hallmark of all these organisations. I was eager to know the reason for the spectacular rise of Japanese industries after World War –II. Japan was last to surrender in World-War-II (that was after bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and that indomitable will can be still seen in the legacies it has created in terms of quality. Same can be said for quality of life also and that’s the reason that Japan has highest life expectancy in the world to the tune of 83.7 years (whereas for India it is 68.3 years).
With these curiosities in mind we travelled first to Raipur Airport with a cab to catch the flight for Kolkata. Reaching Kolkata we had the entire day as our Flight for Hong-Kong was in evening. Our idea was not to get tired before our actual visit at Japan begins and also because it was quite hot and humid outside, we booked a hotel where we had our dinner and took some rest there. Downstairs we found a Tea vendor sitting in basement of a small shop. He was serving tea in Kullad (small earthen pots) we gave it a try and relished the taste very much. In the evening we boarded a bus and went to visit Victoria Palace which was a few minutes journey. Till we reached there, the Palace was closed and it was getting dark outside. But then the colourful lighting started to wash the pristine white walls of the palace and it became entirely different piece of art, so colourful and lively that we stayed for another few minutes before leaving the place.
Again we reached the hotel, booked taxi and rushed to the airport. After boarding and immigration formalities, we boarded our flight ‘Cathay dragon’ and reached Hong-Kong. The time difference was 2 and a half Hours and our pilot on reaching Hong-Kong communicated this so that we can adjust our clocks. Immediately we had to catch our next flight which was waiting just for our group to arrive. The crew members ran with us through Metro train and bus (inside the airport itself) to reach the connecting flight ‘Cathay Pacific’. This flight was having superb interiors and was very lavish and spacious. Crew members again served us some food and drinks and by the time we could complete our small nap, beautiful morning sunlight entered the air-bus through the small windows and we could no longer bask inside our recliners. We had a night which was short by three and a half hours due to difference in time zones.
At Japan, representative from Kobelco Group, Mr Hikaru, was waiting for us with a signboard and as we were in continuous talks with this person for some days, we recognised him. We greeted each other and sat in the two beautiful black vans arranged for us. The driver was well suited, wearing a tie even. But to our surprise he arranged all our luggage in the Car by himself welcomed us in the car. The greeting Japanese offer is also very special. The bend two three times by their waist and exchange greetings. Later I learnt that ‘Kanichua’ is a synonym of Nameste in Japanese and ‘Arigato’ for Thankyou. Also, the word ‘Sayonara’ which is known to all of us is synonym of Bye-bye or alvida in Japanese. On the pedestals of the van they laid a white towel and near the seat anti-bacterial hand wipes and packaged drinking water was arranged.
When we checked-in at our hotel, few things caught our attention. Although it was a three star Hotel but rooms were not so big. The aesthetics was superb with beautiful lamps, wallpapers and fibre panelling inside Bathrooms. Security guard was not there at the entrance and also if you need to use laundry service, you need to bring it to reception and collect it yourself. At restaurant, you will get a good service but you will not see a supervisor monitoring the workers. They were managing everything with minimum manpower. During breakfast, vegetarian food becomes a challenge and even for non-vegetarians, the options available pose a scarcity of choices due to usage of beef and pork in most of the dishes.
On the first day itself we got the glimpse of the discipline which Japanese are famous for. We were expected to assemble sharp at 8:50 AM at the hotel lobby which we respected and also our vehicles reported in time. During our travel we observed that the traffic rules were being followed rigorously. zebra crossings can be taken as a litmus test and everywhere we found that the pedestrians and cars were following the traffic signals religiously. Respect for pedestrians and priority to them can be seen everywhere.
Nearly everywhere, on both sides we saw cycle tracks being maintained and many people utilising this mode of transport. The moderate temperature also favours them to use cycles even during summer afternoons. The maximum temperature being observed here is only 31 degree centigrade that is around August. Cycles were equipped with baskets or baby-sitters etc suiting to specific needs.
Vending machines can be seen everywhere and anyone can take beverages from it by inserting cash into the machines. As per estimate, Japan has nearly 2 and a half lakh vending machines. Automation is the second important feature of Japan after discipline. The gates at hotel and other important premises were opening automatically without fail whenever we crossed them. Toilets were with advanced smart toilet Seat, having features like temperature controlled seat and temperature controlled wash, warm air dryer. The water jet was coming through a guided nozzle which was pre-positioned electrically and pressure of water jet can be adjusted through electronic pushbuttons. Having the facility is just one thing but maintaining it creates the difference. We found all features to be working everywhere. At public toilets we observed that when a urinal was out-of-service due to some leakage may be, they indicated it with proper sign-board, else there is a chance that your shoes or pants may get dirty.
Second day we visited the head-office of Kobelco group at Tokyo where we met Chairman, President and CEO of Kobelco group, Mr. Hiroya Kawasaki. In his brief address he insisted on bringing innovations by allowing new ideas to challenge the legacies. Important things to note about Kobelco is that they are not only in steel business but into diverse business domains. They are unrivaled integrated Titanium manufacturer in Japan. Apart from this, Kobelco is into Aluminium and Copper business where they produce aluminium cans for beverages and foils for heat-exchangers, copper foils for semi-conductor industry etc to name a few. A wide range of construction machinery is also in the product range which they produce through joint ventures. In terms of Iron and steel also more than 50 % of the product range is Value added which includes high strength steel wire rods used in bridges, wire rods for engine valve springs, precoated steel sheets and plates with applications in the automobile, electronics, construction, and shipbuilding industries, and high tensile strength steel plates for ship components. In addition, they employ advanced production techniques at Takasago Works to produce high-quality atomized steel powders. Every one out of two cars in the world have an engine valve spring manufactured at Kobelco. These springs have to sustain thousands of expansions and compressions every minute. It’s not at all surprising as excellence in such a product (Spring) was expected from a country which resurrected even after facing nuclear attacks, the country which face 1500 earthquakes every year. ‘Resilience’ is a word which best defines Japan.
Second half was planned for City tour of Tokyo and it so happened that our guide didn’t knew English. So Google (with translator) was our only rescue. Here we visited Tokyo Imperial Palace, the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan; Senso-Ji temple and Tokyo Tower. At Senso-ji temple, you will find many tourists wearing Kimono, a
traditional dress of Japan which is a colourful full length robe. Senso-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple and adjacent to it is a Shinto shrine. Shinto and Buddhist are two dominant religious traditions of Japan and are so intermingled that people say 80% Japanese are Buddhist and 80% are Shinto. During World War-II, the temple was destroyed in the fire bombing of Tokyo. Like the tree in the courtyard that was grew from the stump of a bombed tree, the rebuilding of Sensoji Temple after the war became a symbol of the rebirth of Japan. From here, we moved to Tokyo tower. The panoramic view of Japan we can take from Tokyo tower is also unforgettable. Evening dinner was arranged by Kobelco at an Indian restaurant ‘Ahilya’ which met all our expectations in terms of taste and service.
Third day we boarded Bullet train ‘Nozomi’ from Shinagawa station. This was a 3 Hour journey and we covered 500 KM. Mount Fuji can be viewed from this train which is a picturesque mountain and plays a role in the spiritual, national and cultural life of Japan. Fuji is in fact a dormant volcano and highest mountain in Japan reaching a height of 3,776 meters. During our journey we observed that all the houses are built in perfect architecture with slanted roofs and earthquake resistant designs. Japanese are so particular about beauty and there perfection in engineering design might be coming from the fact that even for writing they have to learn drawing as Japanese script is so complex. We could only learn to read the word ‘EXIT’ in Japanese in our short stint.
The ride of Bullet train was smooth and we observed that the body of bullet train was not completely steel unlike our wagons at Indian Railways. Fibre was used for windows and for many other things. This helped in improving pick-up. The Rails were similar to us but laying technologies were utilised and the tracks were straight which helped in achieving high speeds. As India is soon planning to have a Bullet train, this was an insightful experience.
After reaching Himaji station, we took chartered bus to visit Takasago works, the factory of Kobe steel. Before plant visit we took lunch at an Indian restaurant ‘Shankar’. It seems quite tough for Indians to use chop-sticks for eating noodles. But this was an Indian restaurant and we had our two hosts with us who were Japanese. So I challenged them to eat Chapatti using only one hand which is common for Indians. They tried it a lot of times but failed however we both enjoyed it a lot. For dinner we went to an Italian Restaurant ‘Osteria Gaudente’. This Italian restaurant was near the sea and beautiful location inspired us to click some pictures with our entire group.
During evening, while strolling in market I saw a Karaoke parlour however we didn’t stop there as Japanese songs are out of our repertory. Worth to note here that Karaoke was invented by Japan which is music without voice and anybody can try singing along with it in good quality microphones with soothing voice effects like reverb, delay and echo. Next to it were some ‘Pachinko parlors’. This word may be new to nearly all of us. It was a huge cacophonous noise of this shop which caught our attention and we peeped to see what many people are doing completely engrossed into small cubicles similar to internet cafes in India. It was some sort of game involving dropping of little steel balls into a machine and gambling was involved in it which was the reason that everybody there was so engrossed in the activity. On winning you can get gifts or cash in return. This place was filled with diverse age-groups. Moving a little further we noticed similar Internet café kind of shops but without the cacophonous noise. The cubicles were provided with curtains and we later discovered that these were video parlours and people from all age group utilise it for their specific needs like children for Games and others for movies.
Fourth day was for visiting the main steel production unit of Kobelco which is at Kakogawa works. With three blast furnaces (one under maintenance always) they produce 5.5 MT steel. Total area available to them is only 2.5X3.5 SQ KM which they have developed themselves inside the sea by landfilling. Japan is a resource poor nation and hence the Iron ore and Coke requirements for Steel making are met through imports via sea route by Kobelco. Relying only on continuous casting and other advance technology they run their plant with a manpower of 3000. Rest 3000 are working in subsidiaries working on value added products. Nearly all EOT cranes are operated with remotes. Multitasking is being utilised to fullest. 5S + S (additional S for ‘Show’) is being implemented rigorously. Thanks to Kobelco group, they arranged our dinner at Indian restaurant ‘Gaylord’ at Kobe.
Fifth day was to say sayonara to Japan as we had our flight to Hong-Kong from Kansai International airport. Reaching the airport we observed that security personnel are not present on Gates of Airport (unlike in India) and anyone can reach the respective flight counters. Security check is only before boarding the plane where they make a complete body scan may be because Japanese avoid over-employment and rely on efficiency and technology instead.
Again a beautiful flight experience with Cathay-pacific airlines and we reached Hong-Kong. As per our request, they were ready with Hindu-Veg meal for us. Our plan was to stay for two days at Hong-Kong and one day at Macau which is 90 minutes ferry journey from Honk-Kong airport. The Airport is integrated with Ferry (ship) and Metro-trains which is a unique feature and reflects the integrated planning undergone for traffic management. In India, this can be replicated at Kochi where we have recently inaugurated metro train.
This is a land of sky-scrappers and the territory boasts the second largest number of high-rises of any city in the world. Till 1997, Hong-kong was a British colony and after wards its under control of China however Hong Kong maintains its independent executive, legislative and judiciary powers. It is world’s most significant financial centre. At Hong-Kong we found that Indians and Pakistanis to the tune of two & a half lakh stay here.
The tunnels they have created below sea are worth noticing as they succeed in maintaining them dry at all times. We can take an inspiration and can try to keep our Railway under-bridges dry. Through one such tunnel we went to Ocean park which is a beautiful location to visit apart from Disney Land at Hong-Kong. At Ocean Park they have developed a wide range of underwater life and many slides to enjoy the day. Dolphin show is yet another attraction here. Famous quote of Mahatma Gandhi was also found inscribed on a wall at Ocean Park which read, ‘There is enough on this planet for Everyone’s need but not for Everyone’s Greed’ spreading a message to preserve mother earth.
From Hong-Kong we moved ahead for Macau, which is also an Autonomous territory just like Hong-Kong and presently under control of China since 1999. Previously is was a Portuguese colony. Macau is a resort city known for Casinos and luxury hotels. Macau is the most densely populated region in the world. The Hotels here are clubbed with Shopping complexes and Casinos and are so beautiful in terms of architect and interiors that one can keep visiting only hotels for days together.
We stayed at Hotel Venetian which is the seventh largest building in the world by floor area. It draws it’s design inspiration from Venice, Italy. The Venetian Macao is also the largest casino in the world, and the largest single structure hotel building in Asia. Such grandiose interiors wherever your eyes can see can make you think for a while heaven would be somewhat like this only. In front of Hotel Venetian, we had another hotel named ‘City of dreams’ where we watched a show titled ‘Water Theatre’. This was a show one can never forget throughout their life. It was a 90 minutes show and in a space equal to badminton court they were equipped to show many water diving acts, dance and music acts, musical fountain, bike stunts, drama with romantic love story, aerobics, acrobats and flying trapeze. This was the climax of our journey as it was an act of superb coordination clubbed with technology.
From Macau, heart engulfed with beautiful memories, we took ferry to Hong-kong Airport and took flight to Raipur via Kolkata. Here ended my first foreign visit. It is said that you remain most receptive when you are doing it for the first time. I learnt a lot of things and could reproduce only a penny of it due to my own limitations and may be because the task of putting into words what has been felt is tough.