What a busy day! This is going to be a long one because my brain is still spinning.
Today we had the opportunity for the President & CEO of Mitsui & Co. Ltd (Canada), Mr. Tetsuo Komuro come speak to us on Japanese business culture or “soga shosha”. Mitsui is one of Japan’s largest international general trading companies, and many of the Japanese students were very excited for the presentation. After a lengthier than expected introduction of the types of products that Mitsui trades, we heard about the mission statement and company goals. While this was info that is accessible off the company’s website, it was interesting to learn that Mitsui is focused on it’s people as it’s main concern. The company’s structure, like most Japanese businesses are build on the premise of respect and harmony, but Mitsui takes this a step further with the RINGI process by consulting all employees before making decisions.
This information was all good and dandy, so when it came to Q&A it was amusingly interesting to see the number of hands shoot up. As university students who are about to complete their undergrad degrees or are in the midst of their graduate ones, don’t let our hoodies and young faces trick you into thinking that we are youthfully unaware of how to critically think and examine what’s presented to us! Questions arose about how much of consensus is required in the RINGI process- is it truly 100% of employees agreeing on a how to approach a problem or 51%? The information presented was certainly rose-tinted and carried a (false) sense of idealism that varies greatly in practice. Mr. Komuro explained that RINGI can take forever to get everyone on board with the same ideas, and sometimes it takes some asking the person why they disagree or how they can have their mind changed to follow the consensus. Interesting.
Another equally challenging question was about how Mitsui deals with issues of gender equality in the work place. Perhaps it was a language barrier that caused confusion about what gender is, but Komuro struggled to find an answer that was as deflective and optimistic like the rest of his responses. He answered by looking at his watch, then made a little joke to consult Japan’s Prime Minister Abe on his stance on gender… which of course was a subpar response from a CEO who had 20 minutes earlier based his entire presentation as a company that cares about people. Hm. Eventually, he admitted he had never considered gender, which was incredibly surprising to hear him actually admit instead of deflecting it with a generic response that acknowledge the issue of gender equality. Interesting. The Mitsui presentation has become a very lively conversation for everyone: some really enjoyed the presentation, but I think it’s clear where I stand / how I felt about it!
Our second lecture was presented by Guy- Francois, Lamy who discussed employer/ employee relations in the workplace. The conversation shifted to the uneven social value placed on technical work and academia. This seems to be a cross cultural concern, and in fact the topic which my group has been considering for our final presentation. How can Canadian society better support those who pursue technical schools, or a less ‘traditional’ path of education after high school. There’s a lot of negative stigma attached to those who commit to those kinds of ‘deviant’ life choices, as lesser and less capable. That’s an unfair assumption. So how do we change an ideology like this one that is so fundamentally rooted in society?
Our last lecture of the day was facilitated by Prof. James Thwaites from the University of Laval, who also acts as one of the heads of the forum. Tying together various scholars’ work on responses and solutions to crisis or problems. We discussed ideas about uncertainty, and our inability to control the future but the need to take into account unexpected situations when considering solutions.
This evening we had a chance to visit Wendake, the Huron reserve, or “Indian village” as I was told. I was extremely curious to see how the information about First Nations would be explained to tourists or those not as familiar with First Nations’ issues. Studying at UBC gives me a pretty decent frame of context when considering the history of First Nations in Canada, specifically BC. In the small conversations I’ve had with others so far that I’ve been here, it’s interesting to hear different takes on relationships between First Nations groups and non- Aboriginal groups that vary between different provinces.
Our first stop unfortunately was a tourist trap/ gift store that sold tons of wolf/ bear/ etc pelt as well, moccasins and dream catchers. Eventually we made it to the Wendake Hotel / Musée Premieres Nations and were greeted by the giant teepee structure that was built by Hurons in the area for this tourist attraction. In the background of course was juxtaposed a beautifully modern, high ceiling and oak/ cedar floor resort that was decorated with a fur pelts and calming candles with chanting playing in the background. We gathered around the space near the fireplace to hear the director of the resort explain to us that the resort employees at least 70% Huron workers, and that even though some of them don’t look “typically Indian” and “more normal”, rest assure they have Huron blood in them. Cool.
We head outside into the blustering cold to visit the long house, which visitors can actually sleep in. We got to see the tools that would have been used, the way the Hurons would have sustained their lifestyle.
A very long day jam-packed with a lot of thought going on and questions. Looking forward to tomorrow!