Kakehashi Project 4: Try it and See
We didn’t have to board the bus until 9:30 a.m. on the fifth day, so we had a very long breakfast, complete with friendly gossip.
We took a short bus ride to hear a speaker from the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO). JETRO is a non-profit organization that helps non-Japanese companies with foreign direct investment opportunities in Japan. This work includes assistance with visas, immigration, human resources, navigating the local markets, and other key functions. JETRO has provided assistance to companies in a diverse array of industries such as automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and technology. In the past, JETRO has provided assistance to major companies including Amazon, Tesla, and Johnson & Johnson. Our speaker, Mr. Yusuke Okano, talked about his time working for JETRO both in Japan and in their Chicago, Illinois office (one of six in the United States). The presentation wrapped up and we appointed Dennis to give Mr. Okano a gift from us. We then left and headed off to lunch.
Continuing on the ‘cook your own meal at a restaurant’ theme, lunch was a combination of cabbage, egg, and pork that we mixed together and cooked on a grill in the middle of our table. We were given glasses and told to fill up our glasses at a soft drink dispenser. The labels on the dispenser were written nearly exclusively in Japanese, so it quickly became a game of sampling each option to figure out what everything was, which exemplified most of our meals on the trip - we took on a 'try it and see' mentality as some of the foods we were eating had never entered our consciousness before arriving in Japan. Because every table had a hot grill going, the restaurant was steaming inside, so we ate as quickly as possible, so that we could go outside in the breeze. There was a pet store on the other side of the plaza that some of us went to see; in addition to the pets we were expecting such as dogs, rabbits, and fish, they had some other types of animals such as owls and mice. All of the dogs were behind glass, which made it quite tough to boop them on the nose.
After lunch, we were off to OMRON, a company that we didn’t know much about prior to our visit. Coming off of a big meal and crowding into a small, warm room for the presentation, we were initially concerned about our ability to listen (read: stay awake). This is why it took several seconds for us to really grasp the overall uniqueness of the OMRON mission; while several companies in the U.S. employed primarily people with disabilities, they were rarely considered successful from a purely business standpoint. Companies like Goodwill thrived mostly as a combination of altruism, donations and separate regulations for non-profits and charities.
OMRON, however, was different. They are a fully-functional, successful business that employees people with disabilities and, rather than work around the particular disabilities their employees were presented with, they worked with them. On the line, everyone had the same production requirements. OMRON was willing to go above and beyond in terms of finding ways to make that possible, but otherwise the employees were all considered equal in terms of both benefits and responsibilities.
The tour emphasized what the presentation told us, with windows allowing a look onto the line where numbers tallied each employee’s count for the day. Specially-built tables allowed for both wheelchairs and static chairs to fit under the same way, allowing for an interchangeability between employees with and without disabilities that other companies don’t even try for. Mirrors at the bottom of staircases give full visibility of the hallway that a limited range of movement can sometimes prevent. Even the crosswalk between the office building and plant was unusual, playing a distinctive tune (unlike an ice cream truck) when it was safe to stand out from the general hubbub of the day. All of this played into our big takeaway from OMRON that a company can develop itself to fit the strengths and mitigate the struggles of its employees as opposed to the typical inverse structure of making employees fit a pre-existing job description and work environment. This idea isn't just limited to employees with physical disabilities either; allowing employees to focus on their strengths and interests will ultimately lead to a more positive work experience. We hope to take this idea with us in the future and implement it in our current group work in the classroom as well as in our future careers.
After departing OMRON, we went to meet our host families for our home stay. We were split up into six groups with three or four people in each group. We grouped up, and each home stay family’s name was called out, so they could join their group, unlike a sorority big/little reveal. Dr. Prud’homme and Lorraine got a break from us for a night, and it got dusty parting from Miho. Ironically enough, some of the host families drove Daihatsu cars (read the blog post on the visit to Daihatsu), so we got to see what their automobiles were like on the inside (very roomy for a compact car, in our opinion). Experiences varied by group, so we’ll cut the blog for day three here and dive into our home stay experiences in separate blog posts. Arigatogozaimasu! Thank you!
Read the next post! Kakehashi Project 5: Ittekimasu or Sayonara?
Or read from the start! Kakehashi Project 1: Pre-departure and Travel Day