The three things we can learn from the Japanese approach to business and life

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On a recent business trip to Tokyo, the McNulty Performance team were struck by unique aspects of Japanese culture and business that we can all learn from.
Here, Enda McNulty recounts some of their experiences, some of the principles he learned and how we can all try and introduce some of the Japanese mindset into our own personal and business lives.

1. Customer Service Excellence
“During our trip to Tokyo we were dumbfounded by the efforts of individuals continually striving for customer service excellence. This was by far one of our key learnings as the amazing service did not cease for the duration of our trip.

The hotel we stayed in was a prime example of this. Whether it was receptionists, who would race over asking what we needed when they thought we looked lost or needed guidance, or those responsible for the laundry, they always wore a beaming smile.

Then there was the attention to detail. Buying a gift for my fiancée was an experience in itself. The lady wrapped the gift so meticulously, as though it was a Christmas present for her own mother. Attention to detail and customer service were married together as she tied a bow on the gift and came out from behind the counter to give me the bag (in two hands), supporting a warm smile throughout.

Throughout the various journeys made in our time in Japan, there was a clear focus placed on the customer at every point of their journey. The trains and buses were silent, spotless and ran like clockwork. The conductors were dressed immaculately and each one bowed when you entered the carriage.

Each taxi we took the driver made us feel like it was an honour to have us in their cab.  The pride they take in their work was obvious by the spotless cabs and despite the cars being almost thirty years old, they were in impeccable condition. Like other locals we had encountered, the taxi men were always courteous, friendly and good humoured. They exhibited patience despite not speaking English and laughed, joked and smiled.

Everywhere you looked there was attention to detail. The shops are meticulously laid out and each thing has its place and is in place. In one of the restaurants we could see that the knives and forks were stacked as if there was only a square mm to spare the way they were all lined up exactly.

While as we walked through the historic Japanese gardens there was a little old lady who was down on her hands and knees tidying up the pebbles on the path. She was literally hand-picking each pebble individually to take away from the shrubs. She was meticulous.

2. Mindful Eating

During our entire trip in Japan, we could count on one hand those we had seen who were overweight. There was a wide array of fresh fruit, veg and fish options to eat everywhere we went and the people we met and saw were lean, had immaculate skin, strong posture and strong and healthy hair.

The McDonalds franchises seem to be less in number than other international cities and their stores are smaller with clearly less footfall in them. Interestingly, when I visited a butcher’s shop, I noticed that the portions of meat were much smaller than in Ireland – probably half the size in fact and without a trace of fat on them.

Less is more perhaps? And of course, eating with chopsticks as the locals do means you have to eat slower and be more mindful with every morsel in your mouth.

The food options available to us was something else. At breakfast, there were no carbohydrates, no croissants, bread or sweet treats. Instead we were welcomed with the freshest fruit and vegetables and fish (all in very small portions).  The main feature of the breakfast however, was a seventy-eight-year-old chef who prepared the omelettes each morning. Shadowed by three apprentices, he was meticulous with his work.

Once again, he had a friendly, loving smile and was both humble and helpful. It was unanimous across the team that the omelettes he prepared were by far the nicest we have ever had. His consistency was certainly something to be admired as he did this five mornings a week and each morning they looked and tasted as good as the last.

3. Holistic Fitness

I then spent some time in a karate class watching a karate master of thirty years teaching experience. The culture of discipline he instilled in the children was clear from the time anyone walked in. Everyone had to take off their shoes and then each child waited patiently for instruction from the master.

A young German karate enthusiast who was spending a year learning his craft with the master said that the big difference between the German kids and the Japanese kids was not that Japanese kids are more talented, ‘The Japanese kids are more disciplined. They turn up seven days a week whereas the German kids might go turn up once or twice a week instead.’

On one of our final days in Tokyo, I was lucky enough to be able to play table tennis with a 68-year-old librarian who could have passed for 48. He was also playing with an 82-year-old and 78-year-old woman and they were all agile, had very sharp mental reactions, loved playing and yet were still very, very competitive.

They were coaching each other throughout (or was it sledging?!) and they had a little timer they used to time the games; they would then rotate and play a different player. Needless to say, I didn’t come out on top in the games I played against them!

The Japanese appear to be very happy. They laugh a lot. They smile a lot. They have a lot of fun with each other. They seem to be very connected with the present moment. There is so much we can learn from them in business and life.”

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Want to hear more insights and inspiring stories to maximise your life?  Subscribe to Enda’s Commit podcast on Apple podcasts and get new shows each week.

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