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 plunged 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,
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.
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.
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.