Leadership & People
Impactful stories
April 15, 2021

Mirai, a future of mutual understanding

On December 14th, alongside thirty-nine other European participants, I was entering the bus that would take us from our hotel, in Tokyo, to Narita Airport, when one of the coordinators of the MIRAI Program came to say goodbye. Ten days before, I would not imagine that I was going to listen to a member of the Japan International Cooperation Center singing to us. While listening to that beautiful Japanese music, I remembered some of the most interesting moments of those ten days. Although these memories were somehow fragmented and disconnected, they reflected well the different domains of the program: to interact with Japanese citizens; to experience the traditional Japanese culture; to visit Japanese companies and to receive more insights about the national economy.

For two days and one night, alongside another participant from Ireland, I spent a lovely time with a Japanese host family in Toyohashi. It was a very meaningful moment, as it allowed us to really experience the Japanese culture. From a typical homemade dinner to a traditional bath, we could see how hospitable Japanese people are. More than being friendly, I was quite impressed by how genuinely happy they were for receiving and sharing stories with us (something I had also noticed when visiting Sophia University, one day before).

Another remarkable experience was trying the shibori technique in the small town of Arimatsu, famous for traditional handmade shibori textiles. During that afternoon, forty economics and business students used to live in a modern world full of technology had the help of skilled artisans to decorate small pieces of cloth using the shibori technique.

Regarding the activities about the Japanese economy and businesses, one of the companies we visited was Toyota Motor Corporation. At Tsutsumi Plant, we had not only the opportunity of better understanding the vision and positioning of the world’s market leader in hybrid electric vehicles, during a discussion with one of its directors, but we could also watch first-hand an assembly line. I would highlight that, despite the process being mostly automated, there are several steps (in the assembling itself and not just for quality control) that involve human work, reflecting that humans (still) have the edge for some kind of tasks. In the last day, we also had a very enlightening session about the Japanese workforce competition and productivity by the Head of OECD Tokyo Centre.

One of Japan’s biggest problems is its “super-aging society,” with a ratio of citizens over 65 years old over the working population of almost 45 % (against approximately 32 % for Portugal, for instance). Nonetheless, with an allusion to the “half full/half empty glass,” the speaker showed her optimism about Japan’s potential. In a moment where technology is taking jobs away, usually implying some controversy from the workers’ point of view, Japan has the opportunity of implementing a faster and less contested change in the economy, since technology would fill “empty places” instead of replacing jobs.

While listening to Japanese music and recovering these memories, I felt that my participation in the MIRAI program, while representing Nova SBE, was very rewarding. MIRAI stands for Mutual-understanding, Intellectual Relations, and Academic exchange Initiative, being also the Japanese word for future. I think both meanings appropriately reflect the impact of this program launched and sponsored by the Government of Japan. On the one hand, it really allows us to have a full and holistic perspective of Japan, thanks to the diversity and quality of the activities. On the other, it provides the opportunity to interact and share experiences with young leaders of the future. I believe that the importance these initiatives have in fostering understanding and cooperation between countries should not be diminished.

Luís Rebelo dos Santos

Luís Rebelo dos Santos

Nova SBE BSc and MSc Alumnus. Advisor to the Minister of State and Finance

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