Sunday, April 15, 2007

Polite Societies

I'm in Osaka, Japan. I just boarded the Crystal Symphony for the second half of the 11th Forbes Cruise for Investors. I arrived Saturday evening, which of course, was Saturday morning in New York. I'm still jet-lagged.

I haven't been in Asia long, but I have made a number of observations. Let me start with the flight. I took Korean Airlines from New York to Seoul then changed planes for Osaka. The service was outstanding. The stewards and stewardesses were wonderful. The food was as good as anything you would expect to find in a fine restaurant. I had steak for lunch and an arrangement of seafood wrapped in phyllo dough for dinner. I had a second codfish dinner on the flight from Seoul to Osaka. Both planes were Boeing 747s. Since I flew business class, there was plenty of leg room. The seats reclined to an almost horizontal position, making it much easier to get some sleep.

Getting from Kansai International Airport in Osaka to the Westin Hotel was easier than I expected. The airport is not near the city and I heard cab fare runs around $200. So I took a bus to the New Hankyu Hotel and a taxi from there to the Westin. That cost about $25 in total. The Westin was very nice, but there was no wireless Internet access and no wired access in the rooms. The next morning I had a delicious traditional Japanese breakfast. I'm not exactly sure what I ate, but I do know there was a lot of seafood involved. In any case, I really liked it. I've had plenty of sushi back home, but this was the first time I ate a real Japanese breakfast. By the way, the tea was excellent. It was much better than what I've had in typical Japanese restaurants in American.

After breakfast, I returned to my room and read The Daily Yomiuri, an English-language newspaper. One story really caught my attention. It turns out that "more than 400 Osaka municipal government workers lied about their academic backgrounds when they applied for posts designed for workers who had only graduated from high school or middle school." That’s right; these people actually denied having graduated from college! I've heard plenty of cases of people embellishing their resumes in order to secure better jobs than they were qualified for, but these workers had done exactly the opposite. They had purposely downplayed their qualifications. Either finding a job in Osaka is very difficult, or this is a society that suffers from an extreme case of humility.

Perhaps the one thing that strikes me most about the Koreans and Japanese is how incredibly polite they are. I realize my perception may be skewed. After all, I was primarily exposed to people working in service industries. They are required to treat customers nicely. But the workers here seem to be in a league of their own. Of course, we are all aware of what happened to all those manufacturing jobs that used to be found in the U.S. If customer service jobs could be outsourced as easily, I'm not sure what kind of work would be left in America.