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Not Just Handshakes and Hugs: Lessons on Japan

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“Not only did I learn about the growth process of the tuna, but I also learned a little bit about Japanese customs and how business is done. I now realize that when dealing with other countries in the business world, it is most important to first learn of their business customs.”

Michael White, Moorestown, N.J. High School senior, assessing a project, Doing Business in Japan, undertaken in Global Issues, a Social Studies elective course, in March 1998.

The Japanese have a saying that half of teaching is learning, and certainly Tora no Maki (1996) and Tora no Maki II, (1997) published by NCSS Publications, provide a wealth of teaching materials that will inspire learning on the part of teachers as well as their students. The volumes are the result of the Keizai Koho Fellowship program which, since 1980, has annually sponsored teachers from the United States, Canada, and Australia to visit Japan for a two week immersion into the culture of that nation.

The lessons are written on a multitude of topics ranging from classroom rules to a safer society; from housing to trade; from agriculture to the automobile; from fishing to tips for the traveler to Japan. They are intended for elementary, middle, or high schools, and in some cases adapted to be taught at two or more levels.

My brief was to evaluate the lessons at a practical level. Thus, a group of twenty-eight bemused seniors found themselves pretending to be Canadians hoping to establish trading relations with Japan. The objectives of the lesson were as follows: to compare household consumer items on the basis of where they were manufactured; to identify cultural differences between the way business is done in North America and Japan; to identify potential problems North Americans may have in negotiating business transactions in Japan; to identify the elements required to put together a coherent business proposal.

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