Bulletin

An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Intern embraces the unexpected in Japan

Jade Phibbs describes travelling the length of Japan, visiting clients and company branches while on a Foundation internship at pulp and paper company Oji Holding's.

She says the experience not only gave her invaluable insight into Japanese business culture but also helped her learn more about herself.

(Contine reading below)

Jade Phibbs standing with two colleagues at a snowy work site with a truck in the background

During my two months interning in Oji Holdings, I surprised myself by how much I was learning and experiencing.

The business culture differences I observed were career-changing. The colleagues I met inspiring. And my new friends made me fall further in love with Japanese culture.

I interned in two businesses within Oji: Oji Forest & Products Co. Ltd. and Oji Green Resources. While I interned at the former, I had the opportunity to spend time in different branches that took me from one end of Japan to the other.

I spent my first week at Oji's Tokyo headquarters learning about the workings of the overall business. Then I spent one week in the Tokyo branch, observing how lumber and wood chip orders were made.

Afterwards I travelled to Hokkaido, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka. I visited not only Oji-owned factories and mills, but also their clients. This gave me the chance to observe how a Japanese companies interact with each other.

In my final three weeks, I was back in Tokyo learning about the operations of Oji Green Resources. In each area, I created and presented presentations that summarised their operations and other interesting observations.

I could list off and describe all the valuable skills I learned during my exchange – for example, how export/import between a Japanese company and a New Zealand company occurs – however, I am sure a reader would be more intrigued to hear about my more personal experiences. So I will share with you the three greatest lessons I took away from my time in Japan.

Building and sustaining loyal relationships 

Relationship building is invaluable. While shadowing employees of Oji, as they met with clients/suppliers, I gradually realised how important strong business relations are.

I learned that strong business relations are built over time with mutual trust. And once that bond is established, it can be depended on through tough times, from both sides.

I was impressed by how long-standing Oji’s business relations are - some counting as much as 60 years. I enjoyed meeting and hearing stories from these longer-term clients and Oji staff members.

The hierarchy system is still important

The image of Japanese companies is that they promote based on seniority and that more respect is shown to those who are older or who have worked longer in the company.

I was expecting this preconception to be proven false. However, I was surprised to find myself feeling as if I had stepped on a steel ladder, and I was most definitely on the bottom rung.

I was disappointed to see that some talented individuals would need to wait many years to have the opportunity to have their innovative ideas taken seriously, simply because they were too low on the ladder. However, in saying that, there were senior-level individuals who were aware of and trying to change this status quo. I found their efforts inspiring and learned another important lesson: never settle for the norm, there is always room for change if you are willing to keep at it.

Jade Phibbs with two colleagues in a forest

Embrace the unexpected

Oji gave me many opportunities to step out of my comfort zone. Some of these wonderful opportunities? Driving a snow mobile for the first time, talking with staff on the phone in Japanese, trekking through metres of snow in the forest to watch forest harvesting, observing a hard wood auction and much, much more.

Interning at a Japanese company means being prepared to try everything that is asked of you and to have an abundance of energy while doing so. This could be tiring, but I realised early on that if I pushed myself more I could not only learn more about the company but also about myself. The expectations the company had of me to keep up with their schedule was high, but I feel lucky and grateful that they pushed my limits.

I ended my internship feeling a mixture of feelings: relieved that I had been given this wonderful internship opportunity; humbled that I had been able to make meaningful connections with so many inspiring individuals; and motivated to use my new skills, knowledge and experiences to improve myself for my future career.

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18 August 2017