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This article was published 18-04-2019

Konnichiwa. I am currently delivering presentation skills workshops for Schouten Global in Japan. I am 7 hours ahead of everyone in the Netherlands. Therefore time travel is possible and I am in the future. And let me tell you Japan feels like the future. Taxi doors open automatically, robots talk to you in the streets and every toilet seat is heated. A bit of a shock the first time you sit down!

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Yet even though this is the future everything in Japan is underpinned with what I regard as old fashioned, long forgotten etiquette and values. Communication is polite, bowing a universal show of respect and done as naturally and normally between people in Japan as we might say “hi” or “see you later” in the Netherlands.

In fact the only awkward moment so far has been losing a minute (yes 60 seconds is a long time in Japan) getting out of a lift. Imagine the scene…an Englishman gets into a lift with a Japanese business man. The doors open at the ground level. Who leaves first? There then ensues 60 seconds of, “after you”, “no please after you”, no seriously you first”, “no, no I insist after you”. Eventually the Japanese business man gave up and went first. I allowed myself a rye smile and an imaginary punch in the air. England 1 Japan 0, I had just “out-polited” the Japanese business man.

I have not seen one piece of litter on the ground in Toyko. I asked about litter and the rule is that if you cannot find a bin you take your trash home with you and dispose of it there. Absolutely no smoking is allowed on the streets either. It is almost as if magic cleaning fairies come out in the dead of night and sweep, hoover then polish the streets. Maybe they do? After all this is the future.

The first workshop in Tokyo went well. The highlights were a voice exercise I do where the Japanese participants have to read the nursery rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. They must read it in an excited, sad or convincing way. Wonderful to hear a thick Japanese accent deliver this rhyme. I also did the RET exercise where you think you will have to stand on a chair and sing a song. We were discussing dealing with the emotion of stage fright when presenting. If I do this in the Netherlands and ask people how they feel when standing in the emotion “afraid”, the answers are almost always:

“I am afraid of forgetting the words”

“I am afraid people might laugh”

“I am afraid I will look like an idiot”

The Japanese participants gave me a wonderful cultural insight as their answer on what they were afraid about when singing was only one thing. All of them said;

“I am afraid I might disturb the meeting and people in the next room”.

What a wonderful answer. Nothing about themselves, only concern about how their actions might affect others.

Maybe it is too clichéd to mention, but things run on time. My bullet train (320 km per hour) to Osaka was due to leave at 10am this morning. It arrived at 7 minutes to 10. A team of cleaners raced through the compartments making everything spotless and at 5 minutes to 10 I could board. We left at 10 exactly. The next train departed at 10.03am. It is a military style operation!

And now, as I sit in the futuristic bullet train speeding past Mount Fuji, I am already wondering what awaits me for the second workshop in Osaka.   I hope the shower is bigger in the Osaka hotel room. I had to shower on my Japan knees in Tokyo (sorry).

After Osaka I will attend a networking event in Kobe before getting back in the KLM time machine to to go back from the future to The Netherlands.

Domo arigato, yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

 Jim.

Time traveler and Schouten Global trainer

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