I was on my way to Chiba, Japan to participate in a technology trade show promoting American businesses in the country. After some extensive travel I arrived at my hotel, which appeared small from the outside considering that they advertised several hundred rooms on their web site.
On entering my room, I then realized why they could pack so many people in the hotel. My room was barely large enough to swing a cat, and it would have had to been a small kitten in reality. I booked a single room, but didn’t expect a single bed. It had a bathroom, but no bath, just a shower with a footprint of about four square feet. My suitcase covered most of the remaining area of visible carpet. It all didn’t bother me that much until I climbed into bed, and my feet hung over the edge by quite a margin. This was to be my home for three nights, so I had to get used to it.
I awoke in the morning without incurring any frostbite on my feet, ready for the long day ahead. After a fulfilling American style Japanese breakfast, I made my way to the Exhibition Hall. It was within easy walking distance. I arrived early enough to setup.
The doors opened at ten o’clock, and it wasn’t long before the halls were filled. Most people flocked to the industry giants, who had the most flamboyant displays. Most businessmen hovered around the booths where young Asian ladies were dressed in the skimpiest outfits. As in most trade shows, sex sells. My exhibit was dour in comparison, so I doubted whether I would get any visitors at all. Personally, I was quite happy enjoying the whole occasion, and had no complaints, except maybe the hotel.
There was one abnormality that I noticed during the day. Although the bathrooms were plentiful, clean and spacious enough to accommodate the crowds, there was nowhere to dry your hands. That explained why some people were walking around shaking them.
The exhibit hours ended at five o’clock, so I was free to leave for the day.
Chiba struck me as a manufactured town created for the purpose of housing trade show attendees. With a high occupancy rate at hotels and restaurants, all within walking distance of the exhibit hall, it was a picture of efficiency that only the Japanese could muster.
At what I figured was a typical local restaurant, I settled for a Japanese shrimp and chicken delicacy including a Kirin, a Japanese beer, as I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t trying any of the local delicacies. I had to remember that tipping was not expected there, in fact it is deemed as insulting. As expensive as the food was, I had no problem abiding to their unwritten tipping rules.
The following day was long by trade show standards. From a business perspective, serious prospects were few and far between, and when someone of potential came by and showed genuine interest, the deal breaker was the fact that our product had no Japanese variant. After a while, that experience led me to explain our language shortcomings in the conversation upfront, in an effort to not waste anyone’s time and energy with an unnecessary lengthy sales pitch. There were at least two people who suggested that translating software into Japanese was just a typing exercise. My development engineers would have had heartburn at such a suggestion. Throughout the day, conversations were cordial, but I realized fairly quickly that any substantial business resulting from my attendance at the trade show would be minimal. I spent more time in the afternoon attending some of the exhibitors’ shows in the form of magicians and comedians that only companies with deep pockets could afford. It was all in the name of marketing.
Back in the hotel room when reading through a booklet explaining features on the premises, I learned that the hotel had a health club and could arrange massages. Working out seemed too much hard work after a long day at the trade show, so I decided a massage would be the best way to relax, plus I didn’t have to go anywhere, as the masseuse would come to the room.
I phoned the extension number at the health club, and an appointment was made thirty minutes later. Their last words were, “He will be there in thirty minutes” before hanging up. I called back immediately and asked “Do you have any females available”. The response was a stern “We don’t allow those things in this hotel!”
I really had no answer, except an apologetic, “Oh, okay, that’s fine”, and tried to understand why my request was taken out of context.
Right on the thirty minute mark, there was a bang on the door, and there stood a crusty looking old Japanese man, kitted up, ready to perform his business on me. If I had a mini-bar in the room, I would have gulped down one of those small bottles of scotch to help get me through the experience. Of course, he spoke no words of English, but rather pointed his instructions. I lay on the bed face down, and prepared myself for the punishment ahead. He obviously was a professional, as he addressed most of my aching muscles, and after about ten minutes, he had done enough to relax me into regretting my initial thoughts when he first walked through my door. After forty five minutes, I signed the charge off to my room, remembering not to leave any tip, and he was off to tame the next victim.
During the remainder of the evening, I enjoyed a quiet dinner, and made the decision to leave the trade show on the final day at about noon and travel into the center of Tokyo. Even though I had a suitcase and various trade show luggage, including a computer bag, I thought the inconvenience of carrying it all would be worth it.
I rose early in the morning of my final day in Chiba to pack my suitcase, and arranged hotel accommodation in Tokyo. As I was going to attend the trade show for another two hours, I checked out but left my suitcase with the hotel so I could pick it up on the way to the train station.
It was another couple of hours before I had packed everything securely, returned to the hotel for my luggage, and took the short taxi ride to the train station.
After three days of trade show exhibiting, it was off to Tokyo with personal luggage, computer, and other exhibit material. To make things challenging, I was traveling at a time that would get me into Tokyo during rush hour, although my immediate problem was in understanding the signs at the station to make sure I boarded the train headed in the right direction. After overcoming the first obstacle by finding someone who understood my desire to get to Tokyo, I was on the train.
The architect who designed my hotel room and the bed I slept in must have had something to do with the seating arrangements on the train, as there was no conceivable way I would have been able position myself comfortably without being a contortionist. I settled for tucking myself into the end of the carriage, out of harm’s way at least for the moment. At that moment there were few other passengers, but as the train stopped along the way on its journey into Tokyo, things started to change and the crowds came. I became unpopular as I figured the square footage on the train my luggage and I occupied displaced four maybe five Japanese travelers as we neared Tokyo stopping for more pickups on the way.
As downtown Tokyo became visible, I asked the person next to me, who was about six inches was away, if it was the stop for my hotel. Several people nodded and waved hands in a “yes, it is” kind of way. Half the carriage had to empty to let me out.
I was in the bustling city of Tokyo, ready to taste the nightlife once I found the hotel.
From a borrowed map, I located the hotel, which was several streets away and closer to another train station from which I should have disembarked. I should have realized the Japanese wanted me off the train. The density of people on the streets was slightly less than the train. After about forty-five minutes of dodging people and apologizing for my presence as my personal belongings crashed into everyone, I was able to check in relatively unfazed.
The upscale hotel was a great improvement from the one in Chiba, and I was looking forward to having a comfortable night’s sleep.
I already knew that Tokyo was an expensive city, so it was no surprise that one of the best hotels in town would cost a limb or two. After cleaning up, I decided to go to the hotel bar for a Kirin. It was the first time I had to pay an entrance fee to enter a hotel bar where I was staying. Admittedly, the cover charge may have been to subsidize the piano player, but in the whole scheme of things, a ten dollar charge at that stage of my trip was an insignificant amount compared to what I had spent already.
I took time to relax in the bar before taking a walk around one of the more bustling areas of the city. The young adults seemed to have this obsession with some of the American culture, as I noticed Disneyworld attire on many of the Japanese girls. Some had Mickey Mouse purses, and Donald Duck tee shirts. It was strange seeing adults wearing clothes that only people under fourteen would wear back home.
I selected one of the many choices of modern bars to dine that night and enjoyed some Americanized Japanese food. It was a quiet night personally, as I didn’t sustain conversation with any of the locals. It seemed as though they wanted to keep to themselves, and not engage in conversation with strangers. This really did not concern me, as I was just playing tourist, and sampling the atmosphere of the city at night. There were restaurants, bars, discos, and shops, all alive with activity. It was buzzing with excitement, and I was happy to be part of it, if only for a small amount of time.
It was late when I returned to the hotel, and I was only able to enjoy about four hours sleep before the early morning call arrived.
Rather than subject myself to the agony of the train and the irritation of other passengers, I paid a small fortune for a taxi ride to the airport.
Finally, if only for less than a day, I was able to free myself from my luggage, as I checked in at the airline counter.
In summarizing, from a business perspective, opportunities were few, and revenue potential was mediocre at best. From a cultural standpoint, I gained respect for the super efficient Japanese way of life, with only two small items of note for them to address; make the beds longer and provide a means to dry your hands in public bathrooms (a.k.a. restrooms, toilets).