A Lunch with President Mizuno

Way back in 1903, Rihachi Mizuno witnessed a game of baseball and made it his mission to spread the game to all of Japan. The company was grown,  globalized,  and leadership was passed down through generations. Currently, Akito Mizuno, a fellow Titan, holds the title of President.

Mr. Mizuno,  wishing to improve his English skills, decided to go to university in the United States. He decided that the Midwest would be the best place to do so and thus ended up at Illinois Wesleyan University. He had never seen the campus before his first day at IWU and had a low level of English. It would take him hours to read just one page of his English textbooks. He admitted he did not sleep much since he had to work so much harder than all of the native English speakers.

Mr. Mizuno shared this and many other stories with Sean, me, and our supervisors last week over lunch in the Mizuno Headquarters. We shared stories of Illinois Wesleyan and compared our experiences across time. We talked about Wesleyan athletics and the various building that have been built and knocked down since his graduation. We talked about Bloomington-Normal and how it has grown and changed (did you known that Normal used to be a dry city? I didn’t either.) He still wears his Sigma Pi ring. The conversation went beyond just Wesleyan and the surrounding area. He told us stories from his adventures backpacking around Europe as a young adult and we even got the Japanese view on the current American political situation.

It was pretty amazing that the president of a global company even took the time to have lunch with two college students interning with his company, let alone have very genuine and interesting conversation with us. The nervousness I felt going into lunch quickly faded away as I realized that he was a very down to earth man that has some great stories to tell.

It is interesting to think about the string of events that had to happen for me to get the oppurtunity to live and intern in Japan for six weeks. I am very grateful that Rihachi Mizuno witnessed that baseball game, Akito Mizuno happened to attend Illinois Wesleyan, Professor Teddy Amaloza decided to be an amazing person and orchestrate the IWU Freeman Asia Internship program and convince Mr. Mizuno to allow two interns to come to his company.

17706 Lunch with Illinois Wesleyan Univ.

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Oh Deer

About an hour train ride from Osaka is Nara, a place renowned for a couple really cool things including its free roaming deer population and the Todaiji Temple. This was the destination Sean and I chose for a little day trip this past weekend. I was incredibly excited. Animals and huge statues of the Buddha, how could it not be awesome?


The temple and deer were amazing, but one of my favorite parts of the day was not something we had planned. While we were sitting eating shaved ice (I opted for the lemon flavor figuring it was a safe bet. Wrong. It was one of the first times I was truly disappointed in my food choice) Sean proposed that we go explore a well maintained grass hill. I didn’t see why exactly he was so intrigued by the hill, but I went along with it since I had my fun feeding deer and exploring the temple already.


We walked up the steep hill and upon turning around, realized that there was a magnificent view of all of Nara as well as the green foothills flanking the city. As I sat on a log at the top of the hill, I had one of those “Oh wow, I’m actually in a different country getting to experience things I never thought I would” moments. I sat in silence for a while, feeling that unique sense of peace that only comes around every so often, usually inspired by some sort of wondrous moment. AND I had some good cookies to eat, which made it an even better view.

Finally, we decided to take a path at random hoping it would give us an even better view and also because when has taking random paths ever not been a great idea? Well, we were right and even though the steep climb and humid weather was not kind to my inhaler-less asthmatic lungs, the view was totally worth it. At the viewpoint, there was a guy who managed to get a butterfly to land on him as his friend took pictures of the scene. Later, we started talking to them. They were college aged travelers from England with whom we went to go grab some food. They were good conversationalists who had interesting stories, but what I found even more interesting was their drinking. They were getting more rounds before I had more than an 3 sips of my drink. It was amazing. 

 In other news, Ive eaten a lot of weird stuff in Japan I thought I should let you all know about. The list includes: Octopus,  squid,  beef tongue, and chicken cartilage. Yay for trying new things! 


 

A Saturday in Kyoto

In Kyoto, there is a tiny little bar* on the third floor of commercial building packed with small businesses suffocatingly close to one another. The maximum capacity is probably about 30 people, shoulder to shoulder. It is dark and dingy, with a drum kit, guitars, and a beat up skateboard in one corner and shelves of well-loved books in the opposite corner (this was part of a donation effort to raise money for books in children in developing countries). In between these corners are scratched up old hardwood floors, walls plastered in various knick-knacks from countless cultures, and of course the patrons and the bar owner, a French man with a long beard who seamlessly transitions from speaking French to Japanese to English.
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I found myself in this random, amazing little bar on Saturday night. Over drinks, Sean and I laughed with two other Americans, Sam and Ian, about how funny it was that earlier that morning we happened to meet on a bus and went on to spend the entire rest of the day with people who used to be perfect strangers.

We met as Sean and I stared at Kyoto city bus map that was written in English, but was so confusing it might as well have been a different language. Eventually, conversation started and Sean and I decided to head to the same bamboo forest as Sam and Ian. It wasn’t a very hard decision since we had just hopped on a bus with no plans and no clue where that bus was actually headed.

The bamboo forest was amazing and, trusting that our new American allies knew much more than us, we creepily asked if we could tag along with them. Surprisingly, they weren’t too put off by two college kids following them around all day. It turned out to be an amazing decision and the day was filled with exploring bamboo forests, temples, zen rock gardens, and marveling at the five story Toji temple through a fence and trees (turns out Japanese temples have closing hours- would knew?)

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Throughout the day, we came to know Sam and Ian through stories of funny young antics, their engagement, wedding, and travels as a married couple. They introduced me to sushi for the first time and told me what I should eat as a first time sushi eater and what I might want to avoid at first (they suggested I let Sean eat the salt water Eel. I did not complain.)

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We had some things in common, but for the most part, Sam and Ian had lives very different from mine. We would have never crossed paths in America and if we did, our interaction would probably cease very quickly. But somehow, four random Americans grabbing a beer in a weird French/Japanese/American type bar after a long day of exploration has become a really cool memory that I will cherish.

*Don’t worry the drinking age in Japan is 20

 

 

 

 

Review of Week 1

07/01/2017 2:00 P.M. Osaka, Japan. Starbucks.

Right now, I am sitting in Starbucks watching Japanese passersby, a week into my experience in their home and culture. And I know, “I’m sitting in Starbucks” was probably not the best way to start a blog post about the cool foreign culture I’m experiencing, but an unfortunate part of Japanese culture is that free Wi-Fi is harder to come by than you would think, so yes, I am a cliché American right now. Deal with it.

As soon as I boarded the plane on Saturday night, I became an outsider, and was thrown into a culture so different from the only one I have ever known. Culture shock is a commonly referenced phenomenon that I never understood. A week ago, I would have said that it carries a strictly negative connotation. However,

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The Mizuno Headquarters building in Osaka, Japan

I have come to a much different understanding. While being thrown into a different culture is obviously difficult and overwhelming, it is a great kind of overwhelming. I have been exposed to so much and have learned and grown more in a week than I could have in an entire summer at home.

On Monday, upon arrival in Osaka, a Mizuno employee, Yuriko, picked us up from the airport and took us to the Mizuno dorms. She had an energy that I have come to recognize is a quality special to the Japanese. Every one I have come into contact with has been so purposeful. When at a store, the cashiers treat every interaction with attention and care I have rarely seen in America.

After taking the rest of Monday to get settled (staying awake until 8:30 P.M. was a struggle that Yuriko and Sean enjoyed laughing at), we went to the Mizuno headquarters office on Tuesday where we were introduced to another culture, the Mizuno business culture. While Mizuno is  more relaxed than other Japanese businesses, there are definitely certain formalities that wouldn’t be found in a Western work place. One of the first things we did upon our arrival was meet the supervisor of the HR department, who had everyone on the floor stand up as introductions were made and we bowed to everyone and everyone returned the bowing gesture very respectfully and clapped for us. It was nerve wracking. The day from there was filled with various orientation type meetings and tours of the building.

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During the rest of the week, we toured various Mizuno factories, retail stores, and gym facilities. Again, I felt a weird sort of guilt because everyone treated us with such kindness and care that, as a lowly intern for America, I did not deserve. There was a lot of really cool things, but one thing that stood out to me the most is how passionate Mizuno employees were about sports and the products they were selling. Rihachi Mizuno started the company because he wanted to spread baseball to all of Japan, and that sort of passion in sports and being active is still prevalent in the company today.

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On Thursday, one of our superiors treated us to ice cream on some mysterious warm, buttery bun. I have no idea what it was, but it was amazing. 

I could go on and on about the funny and amazing experiences I have had so far and all the amazing people I  have met, but I will leave you with one last anecdote. On Friday we were touring different athletic facilities Mizuno owns or runs and we stopped in at a table tennis facility. All of a sudden, they were having us put on table tennis shoes and a professional Japanese table tennis player was motioning to us how to stand and hit the ball. She didn’t speak any English and at one point was saying “knee” when she meant “elbow,” but somehow she succeeded in teaching me how you are actually supposed to hit a table tennis ball, spin and all, in about three minutes with no English. It was incredible.

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