A QUEST to Japan

Over winter break, QUEST students and faculty learned about quality in a slightly different context. A group of about 25, myself included, embarked on a journey to Japan – a land of tradition, culture, history, and well of course, quality. We were able to visit Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Nara. Although no summary could possibly do the experience justice, here is a brief recap of the trip.

We first arrived in Tokyo shortly after New Years, which is an even more so colorfully celebrated holiday in Japan than here. Even a few days after, many people were still walking around in celebratory kimonos, and we learned that based on the Japanese calendar, they are celebrating the year of the wild boar.

Tokyo itself was unlike anything I had ever imagined – the city is like New York City on steroids, yet is still able to maintain perfect organization and order. Subway systems are easier to get around on than our own UMD buses. Everything was clear, even to us foreigners. I was astonished at the fact that we had virtually zero issue getting around. For this reason, we were able to go all over the city to explore. Some of the parts we roamed around were Harajuku, Toyosu, Odaiba, Akihabara, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ginza, just to name a few. From the world-famous Tsukiji Fish Market to Tokyo Disney, students were able to immerse themselves in as much of Tokyo as they wanted to.

More importantly, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn about various Japanese businesses in Tokyo, including Kabuku, a 3D printing startup, JETRO, an organization that promotes and facilitates foreign investment in Japan, and Kawasaki Robostage, a robot/AI company.

After Tokyo and on our way to Kyoto, we stopped in Nagoya to visit a Toyota car manufacturing facility a little outside of Nagoya city, where we got to see lean manufacturing firsthand. We then arrived in Kyoto and experienced a much more traditional side of Japan, as we attended a tea ceremony, visited temples, and learned more about the history and symbolism of Japanese culture. Kyoto, as the former capital of Japan, represents all that Japan used to be and is a visible contrast to cutting-edge Tokyo. In addition to being exposed to the more conservative side of Japanese culture, we also were able to try more traditional food styles, view the varying architectural styles, and closed out with a karaoke night. We visited other Japanese businesses in Kyoto like Flosfia, a semiconductor startup, the Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto, and ATR robotics, where I actually got to hold a conversation with an autonomous robot.

Lastly, we visited Nara, an old Japanese city that is home to an ancient Buddha and filled with deer roaming around. There were definitely more deer than people, and overall it was a great last-day treat before we had to pack up and head back to Tokyo to the airport.

I must say that this trip was by far one of the most influential and enjoyable experiences of my life. I could talk about it for hours. If you ever have the opportunity to go with QUEST to Japan or just to Japan in general, do it. No regrets!

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