Immersive summer business program in Japan generates foreign media coverage

Through "Keizai in Kansai: Business and Culture in Japan," a group of nine Elon students studied the Japanese economy up close for nearly a month. 

A group of nine Elon business students spent nearly a month in Japan this summer, getting an up-close look at the evolving Japanese economy. And while there, several local media outlets got an up-close look at the Elon students. 

<p>Elon students visiting a Japanese company this summer were featured in two Japanese-language&nbsp;newspapers.&nbsp;</p>
The summer program, titled “Keizai in Kansai: Business and Culture in Japan” and headed by professors Tina Das and Mark Kurt in the Department of Economics, generated coverage by the Nikkan Kogyo and Kinzoku Sangyo newspapers in the Kansai region of Japan when the Elon group toured a local plant for Yutaka, which makes customized testing equipment. 

“Many component samples, bolts and nuts used for car parts … were passed around to the students,” one article read, according to a translation. “The students asked many questions about what is checked during inspection, what happens after a company buys the machine and how well Yutaka does against competition.”

The trip to Yutaka in June, with the unexpected media coverage it generated, was one of many tours of Japanese companies that the students participated in while in the area around Osaka during the nearly four-week trip, said Kurt. Yutaka was very representative of many of the companies in the Kansai region – small or medium-sized companies with an emphasis on specialized or precision manufacturing.

The program in Japan, which was in its first year, offered an opportunity to look at Japan – an older economy with heavy debt – for clues to where the U.S. economy could be heading, Kurt said. “We used that as a lens to think about the possible future U.S. economy,” he said. 

Students kept a blog during the program, with one entry about the Yutaka visit noting that the company, with just 14 employees, spends three to four months making a single machine, with only one machine able to be made at a time. “The company faces no competition as all of its parts are patented,” business student Mary Ryan Hutson ’19 wrote for the blog

The program offered an immersive experience for the small cohort of students, who stayed with Japanese roommates during a week-long stay at Kansai-Gaidai University in Hirakata. Elon students took language and culture classes at the university, and participated in group discussions about the economics of Japan. 

“Over such a short amount of time that I have been in Japan and studying in KGU, I have not only learned so much, but also made such amazing connections with both Japanese students and Elon students that I didn’t even know before coming on this trip,” Vittoria Cipollone ’18 wrote for the blog

The experience of visiting a specialized, smaller company was contrasted during the program by visits to the Japanese headquarters of global business giants Coca-Cola, Google and YouTube during time spent in Tokyo. 

Kurt said he was fascinated by the business culture he was able to experience during the time in Japan, such as large, established firms such as Rakuten that are evolving and modernizing. He’d like to see the program grow in size, with 15 to 20 students participate in future years.

“We’re tentatively planning to do it again,” Kurt said.