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Forget books, real culture is in travel

Forget books, real culture is in travel article image

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Embassy's 'Australia Day in Spring' party in Tokyo. Thousands of guests representing government and business, from Australia, Japan and several other countries, visited the Embassy that day to sample Australian cuisine as well as Australian produce prepared Japanese style. Among the tastes on offer were Tasmanian soba (buckwheat noodle), Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rosa and cumquats. It was an excellent example of showcasing Australian products in a relaxed but professional atmosphere. Of course it helped that the cherry blossoms had just begun to bloom and everyone was in good spirits. In addition to attending the party, I brought home something else from my trip to Japan: despite thoroughly reading the guidebook, talking to several friends and relatives who had visited and lived in Japan, and scouring the internet for information, being there was very different to research. How else would you know they have whizbang toilets but only one-ply toilet paper? How else would you know Hello Kitty takes domestic tourism very seriously? How else would you know this country of auto manufacturers and train commuters is actually full of bicycles? And how else would you know that despite borrowing lots of English words - and the Roman alphabet - that the Japanese do not subtitle everything in English? While you'd be silly to assume that they would, it's another experience altogether walking down the street or riding the metro catching the odd English word but then realising the rest of the text consists of kanji, hiragana and katakana script. Add to the mix a very cosmopolitan outlook: French boutiques, Chinese history, American coffee chains and it poses the question: If you are an Australian exporter to Japan, how do you position your brand there? As Australian? As Japanese with Australian roots? As global, with four or five languages in tow? You can't answer this unless you put yourself in the market. It brought me to realise that interactivity is a crucial part of doing business. But web conferencing daily with your international business partner just won't cut it: there has to be an element of interacting with your partner's culture, something you cannot get from reading. I think the only way for exporters to really get an understanding of a market is to walk around in the environment and get a feel for how your buyer would act, whether that's a consumer, another business or a foreign government. So I'd urge businesses to take a trip to any potential market, or at least hire someone who knows the market - and your business - well enough to get things moving there. If you could only choose one way to research your market, travel would be it.

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