MBA Study Tour: Spring Break in Japan!

Alum gathering in Japan Every year, Foster MBA students get to travel the world as part of long-term MBA exchange programs or on short-term study tours/projects, led by the Global Business Center. This is Peter Kazarian’s account of the March ’15 study tour in Japan. Super jealous.




“Okonomiyaki. It’s like a giant pancake with seafood and noodles in it that you cook in front of you. Regional Osaka specialty. How does that sound for dinner?”

“Uh…really good actually? Let’s do it.”

On our recent Foster School of Business study tour to Japan, this was a typical pre-meal conversation. If we weren’t getting fed a complete bento box kit after a company tour, we were turned loose, 18 hungry students from ‘Merica on the streets of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or Kobe. Trying to find food in a country referred to as the most Western AND most unique country in East Asia. We always found food, and it was (almost always) delicious and something new.

I knew early on that I wanted to go on a Study Tour while at Foster. The two most common ways to satisfy the International Perspective requirement for domestic students is with two single-unit classes, or to invest in the once in a lifetime experience of a Study Tour. When I heard that one of this year’s trips was going to Japan, I knew I couldn’t pass that up. I grew up in Cupertino, California (yes, near Apple), where my middle school classes ran at least 20% Japanese-American. The city had its own Cherry Blossom festival, and we’d regularly hang out at the Yaohan/Mitsuwa Japanese supermarket (in the ramen food court). All of this of course would be incredibly different from actually going to Japan – which is why I’ve always wanted to do it.

The Global Business Center at Foster put our trip together, along with the visiting professor and one of our classmates, a Tokyo native. Led by visiting Dartmouth Tuck School of Business Professor Joseph Massey (the former US Trade Rep to Japan for 8 years), we toured dozens of factories, skyscrapers and offices. And we heard firsthand from both native Japanese and Western expats about doing in business in Japan, the Japanese consumer and family life.

Imagine touring the Toyota factory and seeing a flurry of robot arms welding a slowly moving car in front of you, or going to a steel factory where hundred foot long slabs of red-hot steel scoot by on rollers, instantly warming you by 20° from hundreds of feet away. We heard firsthand about Panasonic battling it out in the big screen TV market, and walked the halls of Microsoft’s Japan office, seeing this Washington State company in a completely different, international context. We also visited the US Embassy (the day before Michelle Obama got there!) and were treated to an in-depth panel on the macroeconomics of US trade with Japan and the approaching international trade negotiations in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Definitely an intellectually stimulating trip with a huge business component.

Courtney Kim - Izakaya 1

And I appreciated that. But just as interesting was the free time, getting to roam the streets of some of the most beautiful cities in the world. And getting to know the Japanese people. We all visited Akihabara, a Tokyo neighborhood and cultural district central to the Japanese art and anime industry, as well as Shinjuku, another Tokyo ward known for its nightlife and Shibuya, nearby the busiest train station and crosswalk in the world. Led by our Tokyo native classmate, home visiting family, we went to a local izakaya (sake and appetizer place) where the only thing not in Japanese characters were the numbers on the menu. 4-5 days in Tokyo and we only scratched the surface.

Courtney Kim - Farewell dinner

In addition to the sights and sounds of Tokyo, our business visits took us further south in Japan, where we stopped along the way at the Temples of the Golden and Silver Pavilions, famous shrines and some of the most iconic buildings in Japan. We also saw the ancient Shogun’s palace at Nijo Castle, with its shoji rice paper screens and intentionally squeaking, legitimately ninja-proofed floors. We did karaoke after leaving Tokyo three separate times, and saw an actual geisha outside a 7-11 in the Gion arts district in Kyoto.

Every guide, every employee of every business we encountered, and anyone willing to humor our bad Japanese met us as peers, with true hospitality. Tipping isn’t done in Japan, because a high degree of service is an expected cultural value — nothing needed as incentive. And everyone we befriended wanted to share their favorite parts of the culture, the sights and the nightlife of their country with us. It was a fantastic trip, a first for me, and hopefully not just a once in a lifetime experience. Now I’ve got the travel bug, and I’ve been looking for fresh octopus pancakes in Fremont ever since.

peter kazarian Prior to Foster, Peter was a lifelong Californian and veteran of the LA/SF digital/ad agency scene. As a digital strategist, he focused on web strategy, e-commerce and database-driven marketing for major nonprofits like the American Red Cross and the City of Hope cancer treatment center. 

After winning a few industry-specific awards, he came to Foster to move fully into consumer marketing on behalf of for-profits. He really enjoys his UW education and bonding with classmates and alums, and he’s excited to be working at Starbucks HQ doing Brand and Channel marketing this summer. When not networking or studying , he spends his time cooking, hiking and deep in the blogosphere. And trying to adjust to the PNW’s weather and lack of Mexican food.

The Okonomiyaki was delicious.