In January nineteen of our Cambridge MBA cohort, from eight different countries, started off 2020 with the annual Japan Trek, which has established itself as a highlight at CJBS. Amid high expectations, the organisers were anxious but excited about setting the programme for the seven day trek, and had spent a few hectic months preparing so that the allure of the Far East would be fully experienced. More importantly, this journey was also expected to foster lifetime friendships among the participants by sharing memorable moments together.

We began our journey in Kyoto, the former eighth century capital city, which is still uniquely and historically preserved. On the first day we formed connections with a traditional multi-course meal in a long-established local restaurant. Participants were welcomed with the cultural tradition of taking off their shoes and shown elaborately decorated Japanese traditional ornaments such as Ikebana, a Japanese flower arrangement.

On the following day, we visited various beautiful historical places, ranging from the Kinkakuji Temple and Byo-do-in Temple to the Fushimi-Inari shrine, highlighting some of the rich history of Kyoto. At Fushimi-Inari shrine, we made new year wishes together in a traditional ritual so that the trek and the rest of our Cambridge MBA would be successful for us all. 

Kyoto is also known for its unique food culture. We visited Nishiki Market, a narrow and long shopping street, and Uji, the birthplace of Japanese tea. Some of us courageously tried a “strangely” arranged small octopus with quail eggs at a stall, as well as various kinds of matcha sweets, enjoying the depth of Japanese food culture.

Two different options were prepared for the third day. One group headed to Nara, the ancient capital of Japan full of traditional buildings. The highlight was the visit to Todaiji temple, the biggest wooden building in the world. The other group tried on Kimonos and explored an aesthetic area of Kyoto. Although we had unfortunate weather, one of the participants was impressed with how the beautifully coloured Japanese umbrella stands out clearly in Kyoto’s scenery.

After three full days of cultural experiences, we travelled to Tokyo, Japan’s vibrant, young capital that is the country’s economic centre and home of today’s modern culture. Our time in Tokyo began with a dinner cruise around Tokyo Bay on a traditional boat; “Yakatabune”. We enjoyed authentic Japanese cuisine and a beautiful view from Tokyo Bay with Karaoke sung by our class. The last song we sung together was “Let it be” sung by the legendary UK band, The Beatles, which, needless to say, felt quite appropriate.

The next day was dedicated to visiting local companies, including SoftBank Group, Shiseido and Rakuten.

Our first company visit was to SoftBank Group, Japan’s leading investment company. We had the unique opportunity of having the company’s CFO, Mr. Yoshimitsu Goto, as the speaker for the session who shared the company’s history and current strategy. He highlighted the financial challenges they had faced during crucial investment decisions, such as taking over Vodafone’s Japanese business and going through the acquisition of Cambridge-based ARM Holdings. He also discussed his experience investing in Alibaba Group, at a time when the sales of the Chinese venture were almost zero.

At Shiseido, the Japan-based global cosmetics company, we learned about the company’s serious commitment to further growth in the global market. The structural reforms, including English-nisation (i.e. using English as the official language in its Tokyo-based headquarters) have boosted the business for the last five years and attracted talent from across the world, to further expand its global reach. The global HR team supports the business by providing various leadership development programmes and also offering promising opportunities for MBA students around the world.

Rakuten, known as Japan’s largest e-commerce platform and for sponsoring various sport teams such as FC Barcelona, has developed a diverse business portfolio including a sports business, various fintech products, and a streaming service. The business has expanded across the world, which has led to an open-minded and international corporate culture. We were fortunate to have a Cambridge MBA alumnus present their own experience, giving us invaluable insights into the company and their own career path.  We were also given a tour around the impressive office, highlighting that Rakuten prides itself on how well it treats its employees.

The last day was spent sightseeing around the rest of Tokyo. We experienced a traditional tea ceremony, visited Team Labo’s digital art museum, and walked around Tokyo’s landmarks such as Shibuya, one of the busiest districts full of young people, and Marunouchi, the business and financial centre. Our brilliant trip was finally closed by a farewell dinner, where some Japanese CJBS alumni joined us and further shared their career experiences.

The week’s trek was a bit too short for some, but overall offered participants and MBA classmates a great opportunity to experience the rich culture of Japan, and for some, to consider Japan as a potential place of employment post-MBA.