Kakehashi Project 3: Operations, Onsens, and Aesthetics

The Kakehashi Project group moves on to their second day in Japan! This time in Oita, south west of Japan. There they were impressed by an automotive company, immersed in the culture through a tea ceremony and performance, and devoured the wonderful food the country offeres. At the end of the day, they learned the Japanese spirit of “ichi-go, ichi-e”, cherishing every encounter in our lives.

Day two after arriving in Tokyo, Japan, we were already in a new city on a new island. We flew to the southern island of Kyushu. Known for its hot springs and mountains, it was a whole new world compared to busy Tokyo. We got the chance to tour the facilities of a domestic car manufacturer, Daihatsu, and see what their processes were like.

Daihatsu takes great pride in making small, comfortable cars for Japan, a country where space and the ability to drive come at a premium. Additionally, they have some of the most eco-friendly automobile production plants in the country, which is a major point of pride for them. It offered a lot of perspective in regards to how to responsibly manufacturer goods.

The tour consisted of a presentation on the history of the company and their different business lines. Daihatsu is a 100% subsidiary of Toyota, and competes in three main automobile markets: small passenger cars, compact pickup trucks, and special purpose vehicles. We saw very few Toyotas on the road during our time in Japan, but we saw a considerable amount of Dsihatsu cars, so we concluded that Diahatsu was Toyota’s method of capturing the Japanese car market, which would be considered niche given the tastes and preferences towards compact vehicles.

After the presentation, we walked through one of their plants and observed work being done at various points on the assembly line. What we found to be very unique is that they produced several types of vehicles on the same assembly line; we watched as a seemingly random order of vehicles came through, with cars, trucks, and other vehicles mixed in with each other. Another thing that stood out to us was the positive energy or ‘vibe’ in the factory. The workers all seemed to be enthusiastic as they performed their jobs, and the factory was very well lit on the inside, which we thought to be completely different from typical US factories. Dr. Prud’homme was thoroughly impressed with the process efficiency (very candidly, it was the most excited any of us have ever seen her).

Taking in the Daihatsu presentation with graduate and PhD students from University of Kentucky. In this photo, a vending machine is visible in the back of the room, which sold toy model versions of their automobiles

At the conclusion of the tour, we boarded our bus, and our contact from Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) told us that it is common practice in Japanese culture to wave at your guests as they depart until they can no longer see you. Sure enough, we watched our tour guides wave at our bus until we were well down the road and out of view.

In the afternoon, we visited a Japanese hot spring. Kozue, our program coordinator, had talked extensively in her orientation sessions about sentos (public baths) and onsens (hot springs); the general concept is to bathe publicly with other members of the same sex. Being college students, the vast majority of us are extremely body conscious, so the thought of public bathing prompted us to work furiously in the RPAC before the trip to shed some unwanted weight. Luckily, the hot spring we visited was just for dipping your feet in. Before taking the dip into the steaming water, we walked around the grounds at the facility, which was absolutely stunning. This was our first real chance to take in the scenery in Oita, so we were blown away by the beauty within the landscape.

Beppu onsen in Oita

The spring did have a strong smell of sulfur, which Judson found tough but bearable. We then all took a seat and put our feet in the water. It was very refreshing, and very hot. The onsen had a very calming effect, which provided us a nice break after a few days of hectic travel. Kozue had told us ahead of time that within the Japanese culture, bathing is used as a time of tranquility and reflection. Whether using a bath in a home, a sento, or an onsen, a large part of the experience involved sitting in water and being still. From our experience in the onsen, we were definitely able to get a glimpse into the soothing effects of this practice.

From left to right: Judson, Ahmed, Austin, Joe, Ethan, Kevin, Kelly, Chandler

We headed back into the city for a tea ceremony and cultural presentation. The tea ceremony consisted of drinking tea in a traditional tatami room in a ceremony conducted by a tea master and her assistants. Miho translated for the tea master as she talked about the spiritual aspect of tea in Japanese culture. She taught us the phrase Ichi-go Ichi-e, which means “once-in-a-lifetime” (literally, “one time, one meeting”) The meaning of this phrase is to enjoy your time spent with others and to really embrace the moment you share, and that in life, we must cherish every encounter, and that even one meeting with someone is priceless.

The Tea Master (center) with our group

After we finished drinking the tea, we were allowed to ask the tea master questions about the ceremony and her profession. Someone asked her what made her become a tea master and how long she had been a tea master for. As she responded in Japanese, Dennis and Kevin (both Japanese language learners) gasped and tried to hide wide smiles, so the rest of the group knew something good was coming; she had started training to become a tea master in her twenties, and she was now 84 years old. She didn’t look older than 60, so we were all shocked. Lewis, who is speculated to be over 6’3”, was determined to get a picture with the tea master, who was well under 4’0”.

The Tea Master and Lewis

We moved down the hall of the building we were to a small presentation room, where we enjoyed a traditional Japanese music and dance presentation. Before each song or dance, Miho would explain the cultural significance. We had a ‘laugh out loud’ moment when Miho explained what one of the dances was about and followed it up by saying “the dance doesn’t make much sense.”

From there, we split into two groups, with one group going to a seafood and vegetable buffet, and the other going to shabu shabu. Shabu shabu is a style of eating where pots of oil and soy sauce boil in the middle of the table and beef, pork, chicken, tofu, and vegetables are dropped in, cooked, and eaten. All of the Ohio State members sat together except for Ahmed, who squeezed in with some Kentucky PhD students and learned about their journeys through life. The buffet group reported it as being enjoyable, but the shabu shabu group had a great time being able to cook together and try new foods.

We returned back to the hotel at around 6:45 pm, so we had a good amount of time to ourselves that night. The majority of the group walked down the street to go shopping in a store called Trial, which is roughly comparable to a Walmart. While shopping, we found Miho, who had the same idea as us; she showed the group what the best items were to buy. From there, one group led by Erica went out looking for something to do, but returned unsuccessful. Another group gathered in one of the hotel rooms to talk and watch TV; a program about Canada was on, and even though we had only been in Japan for a couple days, it seemed extremely odd when the screen showed cars driving on the right side of the road.

The theme for Tuesday afternoon was definitely “Ichi-go, ichi-e”, as this opportunity has already been once in a lifetime and this phrase captures that. It is true that in life we never know what truly lies in the next day. That’s certainly true on this trip, but in living out ichi-go, ichi-e,the importance of cherishing every encounter in our lives is something that we carry with us from now on (certainly for the rest of our time in Japan).

As we close out another day in Japan, we wish you a good night, oyasuminasai.

Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 4: Try it and See

Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day

Joseph Latkovich

Joseph Latkovich is a senior at The Ohio State University majoring in business with a specialization in finance and a minor in economics.