10 Unforgettable Memories from the 2016 Wharton Japan Trek

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Vighnesh Subramanyam (WG 17, participant) – “Unforgettable Moments”

Japan is a land of contrasts, where magnificent and ancient monuments stand alongside the latest in cutting-edge technology, and where women in stately kimonos share the streets with trend-setting punks and hipsters.  The Wharton Japan Trek, organized by the Japan Club, allowed more than 100 Wharton students a glimpse into this fascinating, complex, and globally influential country.

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1. Exploring the Temples of Kyoto

The picturesque streets of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, are dotted with ancient temples and palaces.  We witnessed some of this dazzling and historic architecture in organized trips around this storied city.

2. Trying to Find Inner Peace in the Zen Gardens

We meditated and looked for inspiration in the geometric patterns of the tranquil Zen rock gardens of Kyoto.  We may not have reached enlightenment, but the gardens offered a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city.

3. Seeing Cutting-Edge Japanese Engineering at the Toyota Factory

Remember the world-famous Toyota Production System we’d learned in OPIM 611? A small group of lucky students had the opportunity to see this live at the Toyota Factory near Nagoya.  The group also went on a tour through the Toyota Museum, which showcased the next wave of cutting-edge automobile innovation coming out of Japan, from hydrogen fuel cell cars to advanced safety systems.

4. Reflecting on the Tragedy of Hiroshima

The experience of visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, learning about the horror of the nuclear blast there, was profoundly moving.  The somber experience gave all trek participants pause for thought.

5. Being Uplifted by Miyajima

Miyajima, the Isle of the Gods, near Hiroshima, inspired us with its natural beauty.  The highlight was definitely the floating, waterside temple.

6. Admiring the Tokyo Skyline

Tokyo is the largest city in the world, and its skyline is undoubtedly one of the most impressive.  By day and by night, its skyscrapers stand testament to the Japanese spirit.

7. Overwhelmed by the Shibuya Scramble

The sheer density of humanity that inhabits Tokyo is brought home at the Shibuya Scramble, the busiest pedestrian intersection in Tokyo, made famous by the movie, Lost in Translation.

8. Enjoying the Delights of Japanese Cuisine

From ramen to bento boxes, from sushi to desserts, the variety of Japanese cuisine kept offering up new and tasty surprises through our trip.

9. Appreciating Japan’s Advanced Infrastructure

Whether riding the intercity bullet trains at 180 miles per hour or admiring Japanese highways that cut through mountains and river valleys, Japan impressed us with its futuristic and efficient transport infrastructure.

10. Loving Japan’s Famed Nightlife with 100+ New Best Friends

Singing karaoke until 5 am, attending a traditional Enkai party, or experiencing the clubs of Tokyo and Kyoto… Japan’s nightlife kept us wishing that the nights were longer.  And the days too.

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Naoko Saburi (WG 17, organizer) – “Japan Trek as an Organizer”

Some of my friends have asked me, “What made you want to lead the Japan Trek, especially during the busiest part of your first year at Wharton?” I answered that I wanted to show my country to my fellow Whartonites and continue the great legacy of the Wharton Japan Trek. Though these reasons are both true, the real reason was that I wanted to try something completely new and out of my comfort zone. I felt that nothing would be better than organizing 113 energized Wharton students and bringing them half-way around the world!

Six of us started planning shortly after Pre-Term, not knowing much about each other. The only instruction was to ‘travel to Japan during Spring Break’. As you might imagine, there are many ways to design the trek – from what cities to visit and to what to eat for breakfast! With different backgrounds and personalities, we constantly discussed each aspect of the Trek: cost vs. opportunity, operational risk vs. flexibility, expectation vs. reality, and so on. The occasionally contentious conversations helped us to understand each other, assess our strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately plan a meaningful and memorable trip. Our team’s planning experience turned out to be a great playfield to cultivate our leadership skills and an opportunity to lead a program with such high participation from the bottom up.

I flew to Japan a little nervous but very excited. I loved seeing trekkers enjoy great Japanese food, become more interested in the culture and history, and have fun with some quirky, only-in-Japan stuff! I still cannot stop smiling reminiscently, as I recall some students being chased by mischievous deer, experiencing a Japanese TOTO bidet toilet, or taking amusing selfies in Yukata (a casual type of Kimono.) While having wonderful parties and karaoke nights in each city, awesome foodies hit 3-Michelin-starred restaurants, cool cat lovers explored Cat Cafes, and amazingly diligent visitors learned a lot about Japanese temples and shrines! Their thoughtful questions and meaningful conversation in Hiroshima will also be remembered.

Now that the trek is over, I am happy that I have taken this opportunity to lead the trek – my experience was more than worth it! At the end of the day, it was all about meeting great people and forming a better friendship. I appreciated the trekkers’ curiosity, tolerance, and respect for the country, the people, and the trek itself. Since my experience at Wharton is the first time for me living outside of Japan, I have been supported by many people. The Japan Trek was my opportunity to give back to the Wharton community, but I think I received a lot more from them. 2016 Japan Trekkers – thank you again for making the trek so amazing!

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