Long-standing connections tie Battle Creek to Japan, including our annual Sister City student exchange with Takasaki, and the 19 Japanese manufacturers operating in Battle Creek.
These connections helped prompt an invitation to city leaders, from the Consul General of Japan in Detroit, to participate in the Grassroots Exchange Network-Japan (GEN-J) Invitation Program in Tokyo. The Japan Foundation – dedicated to cultivating friendship and cultural exchange programs between Japan and the rest of the world – sponsored the week-long, business networking trip in late October.
For Battle Creek, Mayor Mark Behnke, City Manager Rebecca Fleury, and Battle Creek Unlimited President and CEO Joe Sobieralski participated.
Following are Fleury’s reflections on the trip:
What an honor to receive an invitation to be a part of the GEN-J Program. The Japan Foundation certainly met their mission with the invitation and itinerary on this trip.
This was my first trip to Japan, so I was nervous, and eager to prepare. A huge thank you to Robert Corder of Battle Creek Unlimited, and Sumako Neble, who has a long history with the International Relations Committee and Japan Club, and has served as a wonderful cultural resource for the city. These two shared with me their knowledge of Japanese business and culture.
I took business cards translated into Japanese, learned some key phrases to help me communicate, and learned some chopsticks and tea lessons ahead of our trip.
Immediately, I was in awe of the beauty and cleanliness in the world’s largest city, after arriving in Tokyo. According to 2018 United Nations data, the Tokyo metropolitan area is home to over 37 million people.
Our group was comprised of 27 officials from six states – Michigan, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
I learned a great deal about the formal aspects of Japanese government, and how it functions with a new emperor, a parliamentary system, and a prime minister. Our visit with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs demonstrated their desire to build strong relations with Japan’s international partners. This also was clear in all of our government and business meetings; we participated in intentional interactions to build these relationships.
We also visited with staff from the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation), and the Kariya Chamber of Commerce.
The highlight of my trip was our visit to DENSO headquarters in Nagoya. DENSO is Battle Creek’s largest employer, and Battle Creek’s facility was DENSO’s first American operation. I was honored to see the Japanese headquarters, history museum and factory. We even met a Battle Creek employee at the plant; he is there with his family on a two-year assignment.
This tour gave me a deeper understanding of DENSO’s mission, passion, and use of technology, helping them provide quality automotive products in the most efficient and effective manner.
Our group experienced many aspects of Japan’s deep cultural traditions, and the country’s many delicacies and landmarks – including Senso-ji (Asakusa Temple), Tokyo Skytree, Ginza market and entertainment district, a tea ceremony, Inuyama Castle, and the Meiji-Mura museum.
I am proud to report that I have a deeper understanding of Japan – their people, culture, government, and business practices – than ever before. I will use this new understanding to support our Japanese companies, employees, and neighbors who live, work, and play in Battle Creek.
Click here to see the news release from the trip.