When the notice came into my inbox about an opportunity to travel to Japan on a nine-day trip to promote a further understanding of Japan’s economy, society, history, culture, politics, and foreign policy, I immediately sent along my application for the program. I’ve been fascinated by Japan ever since I was a child and read about World War II. I was and remained fascinated by its rise to become the second largest economy in the world post-war (it’s now third, given the ascension of China to the number-two spot) in spite of its island nation status and lack of significant natural resources.
The trip was part of the Kakehashi Project, which roughly translates to “Japan’s Friendship Ties Programs,” and nothing I had read about the program prepared me for how exceptional it turned out to be.
The itinerary for the trip we received promised we would be exposed to a well-woven combination of economics, culture, history, and society spread across the cities of Tokyo and Hiroshima. Our trip began at JFK International Airport on January 9 with an introduction of the travel party—including 23 second-year Yale SOM students and program coordinators Sheri Scully and Dan Dwyer. From there, we departed for the long trip to Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport. Upon arrival in Tokyo the following night after a delay in New York due to snowy weather conditions, we were met by our trip chaperones, who escorted us to the hotel where we stayed for a few days prior to our transfer to Hiroshima.
The main program started on Tuesday morning in Tokyo with a trip to the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) building, which was located close to the impressive Imperial Palace in Tokyo. At this meeting we were briefed by high-ranking officials of both the MOFA and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries on key economic topics and areas including the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, Japan’s trade relationship with the U.S., and its agricultural import and export trade profile. Following this briefing, we had our first cultural outing, visiting the Akihabara region of Tokyo, which is famous for its electronics store.
On the second day of the trip we traveled by air (which treated us to views of Mount Fuji) to Hiroshima, where we stayed for the next five days of the trip. Upon landing in Hiroshima, we went to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), where we were briefed on activities of the Japanese government to promote mutual trade between Japan and the rest of the world.
A trip to Hiroshima would be incomplete without a nod to its history as the site of the first atomic bomb to be detonated in war. We not only visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, where we had a chance to reflect on the horrors of nuclear weapons, but we also had a chance to listen to a Hibakusha (survivor of the bombing). In a moving lecture, the horrors of that day was recanted to us. It was such a powerful moment to listen to a survivor provide his own firsthand account of that day in August 1945.
We also had a chance to visit other areas around Hiroshima, including the Miyajima Island, famous for the Great Torii and the Itsukushima Shrine (a World Heritage site). We received tours of the island shopping district by the local head of the Chamber of Commerce; the Saijo region, famous for its sake factories; the Kamoizumi Sake Brewery; Mazda headquarters’ manufacturing plant; and the Hiroshima Castle. Our trip to Hiroshima was capped by a homestay with locals. We were all paired with families to experience the day-to-day lives of Japanese families—what an experience.
We returned to Tokyo via the Shinkansen train (bullet train). Unfortunately, due to snowy conditions, we didn’t get a chance to enjoy the Shinkansen at its top speed—200 miles per hour, which would translate into a one-hour trip from New York City to Boston. Upon arrival in Tokyo we visited the “Senso-ji” temple at the Asakusa area. We also got an opportunity to explore Nakamise, a pedestrian street that was lined with colorful shops selling souvenirs and specialty sweets.
Monday, January 16 marked the end of the trip. It had been a trip filled with an unbelievable amount of experiences within such a short period. Before we left, many students woke up early specifically to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market. I didn’t make the trip (they were lined up by 4 a.m.!), but I was told it was worth the early rise, especially when paired with a visit to one of the many excellent sushi restaurants at the market.
We ended the trip by providing a brief summary of our experiences to our host organization in a formal ceremony, which was capped off by the receipt of a certificate marking our trip. Indeed, at the end of the trip, I was quite sure that the Kakehashi Project had met its mandate, as I left with an improved understanding of Japan’s economy, society, history, culture, politics, and foreign policy. What a way to spend the winter break.