On the Ground Running in Tokyo

by Chris Kenton on March 11, 2008

I had my first full day of business in Tokyo on Monday–a day full of SocialRep meetings and presentations in Minato, and dinner with a future partner in Shibuya. It was a fabulously successful day by any measure. Our pilot was well received and we’re now negotiating a second round pilot to incorporate new capabilities and potentially new markets. Having a strong business partner with experience in Japan makes a huge difference. Japan is an important global market, and highly influential in the business sectors we serve.

My day started out at Tama, a small station on a local line that feeds into the Chuo line at Musashi-Sakai. I left early to beat the morning rush, and on the local line the train was pretty empty. But the crush at Musashi-Sakai was my first experience of life as a commuter in Tokyo. It’s hard to fathom. You merge with a long stream of commuters at the ticket gates, and stumble along to the platform en masse, where the entire platform is already full of commuters queued in packs for the next train. There are numerous guards with bullhorns keeping order at the edge of the platform. When the next train arrives, it’s already full, with faces and bodies jammed against the doors and windows. The doors open, and nobody gets out. There’s a half-second of hesitation as the people in the open doorway of the train and the masses on the platform size up the situation, and then the whole body of humanity on the platform steamrolls towards the doorway. They look like linebackers, tucking their shoulders and plowing into the crowd already packed on the train. When the bodies inside the train stop giving way, the guards on the platform put their backs to the people in the doorway, and start heaving and pushing more people into the train to the sound of grunting and groaning. As the doors start to close, the pushers focus on shoving loose bags and limbs into the car before the train takes off again.

I literally stood on the platform staring in disbelief. I had gotten up to the edge of the platform and was so dumbfounded by the spectacle of it all, I hesitated and missed my opportunity to be shoe-horned into the train. The train left without me. I had a fleeting sense of relief that now I could catch the next train in a little more peace, but that was put to rest when I realized the entire platform had already filled up with more people behind me. There was no time to figure out an alternative–I was already running late for our key client presentation. The next train arrived a few minutes later, already stuffed with passengers. This time, I was in the front of the line and got swept up in the crush of commuters smashing their way into the train. Once inside, it became so tight that there wasn’t any need to hold on–everyone is so packed, it’s literally impossible to fall over. The entire mass of passengers just sways and leans with the movement of the train, with a few groans and whimpers, but most people just seem to close their eyes and accept it.

I made it to Tamachi station where I met up with my partner, and we walked the few blocks to the headquarters of our client. In an odd twist, the endless concrete corridors of Tokyo felt like an open plateau compared to the claustrophic ride on the train. I guess it’s all relative.

There’s not a lot I can talk about yet with regard to what we’re in Tokyo to do, accept to say that our meetings went very well, and were, in and of themselves, a cultural experience. We met with a couple of the top board membersand a few senior executives of our client, one of the largest businesses of its kind in Japan and well known around the world. They had a very strong grasp of our value proposition and the impact on their business, but what struck me most was their lack of arrogance and hubris compared to their American counterparts. We’re talking about an industry that in the US is famous as much for its historical delusions of grandeur as for its current flirtations with failure. But there was no attittude here, even among the top executives in the firm. There was genuine concern, interest, and an expectation for everyone in the room to accelerate production and deliver real value. It made a lasting impression on me, and I’ll be holding that up against my experience with clients back in the US to see if it holds true, and what it might say about our client’s prospects for success.

There’s a lot more to talk about, but this already a long post and the jet-lag is kicking in. I’ll have to pick up again in the morning with some more impressions. For those of you tracking our progress at SocialRep, we’re coming back to the US with a huge vote of validation by way of new opportunities with a continuing client. We’ve proven the viability of our product from the first trials, which should give us a boost as we ramp up development on Pilot 2–not to mention an extra shot of confidence leading into some of our investor presentations next week.   

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

patricia March 11, 2008 at 10:41 am

this puts the morning crush on the N-Judah into perspective, thanks.

Chris March 11, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Hi Patricia!

It’s funny. The Japanese pride themselves on their civility, and look at Americans as quite barbaric in many ways. And it’s true, the Japanese are amazingly respectful of people around them in ways that Americas aren’t. We yammer away on cell phones in public, get impatient waiting our turn in line, and find every loophole we can to avoid following social rules–all things anathema to the Japanese. But then you watch the contact sport of commuting–where even old ladies and children are flattened to the walls like sardines–and you realize we just have different meanings of what constitutes social civility.

Leave a Comment