A Neophyte in Tokyo

Just arrived in Tokyo – my first visit to Asia ever.  I’m here at the invitation of Paul Werbaneth, of Tegal Corp. to attend a one-day seminar on TSV etch on Tuesday. ( I mentioned this in last week’s 3D InCites InBrief, but the agenda has slightly changed.  Presenting companies now include Tegal, SPTS, Panasonic, Hitachi and a professor from the University of Tokyo.) I’m sure many (maybe even most) of you have made it to Tokyo on semiconductor business (SEMICON Japan, perhaps?) but I still felt compelled to share some of my first impressions.

Standing in the ‘foreign passport” line at Nerita Airport customs, I’m dying to take a photo of the people checking email on their cell phones while standing right under the sign that says “No Cell Phone Use Allowed” but  I don’t, because right next to that sign is one that says “No Camera Use Allowed.”  (Ok, I admit it, if the camera battery had been charged, I would have risked it, because it would have made a great photo.)

Paul was waiting to escort me to my hotel, The Royal Shiodome. Along the way he gives helpful tips about what I can expect, how to use the trains, what sorts of crowds we will experience tomorrow on our way to meet with Canon Marketing Japan, Tegal’s distributor here. I’m looking forward to learning more about how business is conducted.

One thing I’ve noticed. Everything has ceremony in Japan.  There is a certain way to exchange business cards, present hotel room keys, a form requiring a signature etc: two hands – faced out so the recipient can read it – with a bow.  Whoever is considered of higher ranking bows lower. Visitors are regarded with high esteem, but as women are ranked below men, being a female guest poses a bit of a conundrum. I’m not sure how to handle this.

The first evening we drank Japanese draft beer, and ate cucumber  and tomato salads, edemame, and  Yakitori (meats and veg. grilled over charcoal) sitting at the bar in one of Paul’s favorite local Japanese restaurants.( Nothing to funky – I think Paul is breaking me in slowly, although he promised not to make me eat raw horse or seabugs.) The server brought a white cloth shopping bag to hold any personal items we were setting nearby – jackets, purses, briefcases. My coat was draped over the back of my chair. She covered it with a cloth to keep it clean. Do you see this happening in the US? Unlikely! I should add that there is no tipping in Japan. Good service is a matter of common courtesy and honor.

Public transportation is state of the art. Train and subway systems are all interconnected.  Covered walkways and skyways make foot travel a breeze. There is no need for a car. No wonder people are healthier.

It was good that Paul and I ate together the first night without anyone else. It gave me time to master chopsticks.  I’d always thought I’d been pretty adept, but ever try picking up a tomato wedge, dipping it in salt and mayonnaise?  I dropped it in the salt and destroyed the presentation.  I was glad there was no one else to embarrass myself in front of.  We shared a good laugh. I was glad for the etiquette lesson before being turned loose on the Japanese business society.

Putting together this first impression of Tokyo, and comparing that to my travels in Europe, it’s occurring to me that of all the places I’ve traveled for business, the US is turning out to be the LEAST civilized of all of them.  Go figure.  – F.v.T.