Monday, November 20, 2006
Goodbye Tokyo, hello Singapore

I have now left Japan and am in Singapore for the CNN Future Summit on the future of travel, which you can see on CNNI later this week. (Show times: November 23, 24, 25, 26; Thursday, 05.00, 10.00, 17.00, 22.00; Friday, 05.00; Saturday, 08.00, 17.00; Sunday, 06.00, 17.00. All times ET).

I have been thinking a lot about my time in Japan and why I found it to be so challenging. It seems to me that the problem for western travellers is the difference between perception and reality. Please do not read this as some xenophobic view on doing business here. It is simply the experience of one person.

We know that Japan is a modern, thriving, technologically advanced country and therefore we expect the everyday essentials of business life to be similar to what we are used to. Which is why finding that the rest of the world’s mobile phones don’t work there comes as such a shock. Or indeed that the major banks don’t accept the Cirrus/Maestro ATM cards as a matter of course. It’s not that there is anything wrong in this; rather that it is just not what you expect. After all, you have used these essentials in every other country you visit, so you naturally assume, “Japan? Of course they work there!”

If you then factor in the language difficulty, it becomes clear why so many western business travellers find it easier to stay within the “international bubble” of their hotel and expensive restaurants with English on the menu!

And that is the paradox of coming to Japan. The country can be done on a relatively cheap budget. Doing business there doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. However, it invariably does because leaving the “comfort zone” of the “international bubble” is more challenging than in other places we may visit.

Japan is a country with a large population that can thrive on satisfying domestic demand. Hence the international traveller is desired but not as essential as elsewhere. Japan is one country you have to take on its own terms and be prepared to leave your own comfort zone. If you are on a multi-country trip, this of course becomes far more stressful because it is just one place amongst many to which we are having to adapt in a short period.

This is made even clearer now that I have arrived in Singapore. Plane landed. BlackBerry and phone switched on and humming nicely, cash card already been used and I am back in an environment that I can make work efficiently for me.

I have had a marvellous trip to Japan. Next time I will be better prepared, and certainly far more adventurous to go and enjoy the country. Lessons learned.
CNN International anchor Richard Quest shares his thoughts and opinions on the world of business travel.
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