Japan Trip -Discover Authentic Japan

Takao Makijima

P3/P4 break is one of my best experiences in INSEAD so far –  My teammates and I organised a one-week trip to Japan, bringing 40 other students to our beloved country. Though Tokyo and Kyoto are by far the most popular cities, my mission in this trip was to take INSEADers from all over the world to Iida – a city in the countryside to provide a homestay experience with local farmers. I was really happy to see my friends smiling with their host families. The following is the story from the beginning motivation, the challenges and the discoveries. 

Since my first days as a university student, I have been passionate about revitalising the countryside of Japan. There remains our authentic lifestyle, tight relationship with local people, and beautiful nature. But many of the rural areas are facing serious social problems such as ageing society and declining industry. Those problems were ever more severe in the Tohoku area damaged by the big Tsunami and Earthquake in 2011 (you may know the name “Fukushima”, the region where the melt-down nuclear power plant is located). Before pursuing the INSEAD MBA, I worked in that area to provide financial support to the companies damaged by the disaster. I frequently visited many devastated areas, talked with management teams of local companies and connected with dozens of young social entrepreneurs who moved to the area for the revitalisation. Through my job, I realised that Japanese rural areas are resources of business and offer large potential such as exporting premium food or expanding inbound tourism.

Soon after joining INSEAD, I noticed that many people are interested in Japanese culture and traveling to Japan. Their interests are diverse; premium food, Japanese sake (rice wine), technology, subcultures (comics and animation), the nature across four seasons, and unique history.

The interest and enthusiasm shown by my classmates was always beyond my expectation. As I really loved the countryside of Japan and wanted to explore the business opportunity of inbound tourism in the countryside, I decided to organise a Japan trip with another '18J, Narune, who is also passionate about regional development.

During the one-week trip, we went to four distinctive cities: Kyoto, Tokyo, Arima (hot spring resort), and Iida (farm stay). Among them, Narune and I put the greatest effort on farm stay in Iida, taking about a half year for preparation, collaborating with the local government and having discussion over conference calls (As a part of it, I even visited there last winter).

Here is one of the outcomes: In Iida, 40 students broke up to groups of four people and stayed at the local farmer’s house, diving into a “family experience”. They shared some work at the farm, cooked dinner with the family, and enjoyed talking with the family over dinner. Many of the farmers could not speak English, but the family and students seemed to have fun trying to communicate to solve these issues through Google Translate or music as a communication tool. Although there were still some challenges due to the language, the farm stay was a great success. I was really moved when many of the participants remembered the name of their host family even several weeks after the Japan Trip.

Through the trip, I have surely discovered the potential of the countryside to attract people from abroad. However, what is more memorable is that many of my friends at INSEAD cheered me up during the process of making the tour. I started to prepare for the tour in October, five months before the trip.

It was not an easy process, but my friends often talked to me about the trip and they encouraged me to realise my passion about the countryside development.

I just remember that similar things happened when I did an internship in the Grameen Bank, a micro finance institution in Bangladesh, in P2/P3 break. Before going to Bangladesh, some classmates talked to me about it and introduced their friends to me, which was really helpful. I really respect the positive and collaborative mindset of INSEAD people encouraging their friends to pursue unique things which they love.