By Angela Solomon
TOKYO–Public relations is all about having a unique message or selling point that makes you stand out.
So, while my friends are spending spring break in typical warm-weather destinations, I’ve been in Tokyo meeting with local communications professionals, experiencing Japanese culture firsthand, and learning about international public relations in one of the most fascinating cities in the world.
I’m a senior at Indiana University and I was selected to be a student in the IU School of Journalism’s International Public Relations course. Taught by Professor Jim Bright, the course focuses on the challenges and opportunities that PR professionals face in East Asia. While International PR courses at other universities often focus on Western European countries such as England, France, or Germany, IU’s course focuses on Asian countries that are gaining world power.
I believe Asia is where the excitement, growth and potential lie in the 21st century. We are living in “The Asian Century,” and this course will help us navigate the rapidly changing global landscape. For the last eight weeks, my fellow classmates and I have been learning about the Japanese media, business practices, government and society to prepare for our weeklong trip to Tokyo. However, there’s only so much research you can do. Sometimes, you just need to experience something before you can truly understand it. Thus – we travel to Japan to begin to understand the Japanese.
I arrived in Tokyo last Saturday, and ever since, it’s been a whirlwind. The city seems to define the term “sensory overload” as neon lights, bright colors and flashing screens fill the streets, buildings and subways. The city is vast, the skyline is endless, and the people – all 8 million of them – fill the streets.
Tokyo is both overwhelming and exhilarating, and I already love it. From touring the temples of Asakusa, to getting lost in the department stores in the Akihabara electronics district and the Ginza shopping area, to eating the best sushi in the world in the Tsukiji fish market, my week has been filled with Japanese cultural experiences.
I took a bus tour around the Imperial Palace, the Prime Minister’s home, the Diet building and the Japanese Supreme Court. I stood below the neon-lit spectacle of Shibuya Crossing (the Tokyo equivalent of Times Square in New York) and below the peaceful Buddhist shrines in the mountain town of Nikko. I learned about the local history at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and made my own okonomiyaki (a popular pancake delight) at a restaurant on Tsukishima’s Monja Street. I witnessed the parade of Japanese youth culture and fashion in Harajuku, and successfully navigated through Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest train station.
I’ve been experiencing Tokyo as a young professional and not just a tourist.
I visited the offices of Bloomberg and met with Managing Editor Brian Fowler who talked about Bloomberg News and Japanese media. I ate dinner at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan alongside AP Bureau Chief Malcolm Foster, Nikkei Shimbun Business Editor Akihiro Tanaka, Hiromi Hemuki of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and others.
Later, I had dinner with local public relations professionals and with Ian Rowley of Business Week and Press Attaché David Marks of the U.S. Embassy. I saw David Marks again when I visited the U.S. Embassy to talk with Margaret Conley from ABC News and with U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos.
Talking with these professionals, we discussed the similarities and differences between U.S. and Japanese media, and the role of public relations in each country.
The Japanese don’t embrace public relations as we do; however, because of the current Toyota crisis (a huge topic of conversation), many believe the Japanese will come to recognize the importance of public relations as a business function, and will place more importance on crisis communication.
Furthermore, as the U.S. and Japan increase their interdependence, clear global communications will become vital, and that means more opportunities for public relations professionals abroad.
Our professor often says the most important part of public relations is “relationships,” and his philosophy has proven true here in Tokyo. Despite any language barrier, cultural contrasts, or differing world perspectives, I’ve been able to connect with the people I’ve met. Their overwhelming graciousness and friendliness is refreshing, and I will always remember how well they’ve treated my classmates and me.
As I say “sayonara” to Japan, I know I’ll be back, and I know I’ll draw from this experience forever.
This trip broadened my worldview, exposed me to a different way of life, and showed me that I can successfully work internationally, alongside people from around the world, or in the U.S. with international clients and colleagues.
In life and in public relations, it is important to be able to create messages that other people understand. As globalization continues, we must learn to communicate with people from all over the world. Seven days in Tokyo taught me this, but I will now spend my professional and personal life working to find a common ground and mutual understanding with people different from myself.
A life-altering week in Japan? Not too bad for Spring Break.
(Angela Solomon is a senior journalism major at Indiana University. In above picture, she’s in last row, third from left. Professor Jim Bright, last row/far right, organizes the annual spring break trip to Japan. Class photo was taken in Asakusa at The Kaminarimon. For more information about the trip and course–including itinerary and more student blogs, hit this link).