Business Update #6

What's up in Kyoto LogoIn order to avoid a rush job like last month, this time I have started way ahead of the game for the March highlight. I got a first draft of the text ready last week already, my friend translated it, and yesterday we had an appointment with the PR representative of the shrine, so we went there early in the morning.

This was the best experience with any of the shrines we had so far. We were invited inside into a wonderfully furnished (though slightly cool) meeting room. A miko shrine maiden served us green tea and senbei crackers. A few minutes later Mr. PR entered and it turned out to be one of the priests of the shrine! The meeting was great. First we talked about our mission in general and what we wanted from the shrine. And then, the conversation turned towards the shrine and towards shinto. I had so many questions, and he seemed very eager to answer them. My poor friend, she had to translate it all – and that’s not easy terminology…

I’ll just share one thing that the priest told us: He said that shinto wasn’t really hierarchical. Although Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is often seen at the top of all the other gods, she is more at the center of them all. And if you think about it, that makes sense: Nothing on earth would work without the sun… That means, that there is not really rivalry between the gods – which is why in many shinto shrines there is a main kami, but many lesser shrines as well, where you can pray to other gods. He also said that many people believed that you shouldn’t have too many omamori charms from different shrines, because the gods would fight with each other. He said that was not true – you can buy as many omamori as you like, he is obviously a great salesman too.

I could have spent all day there having my questions answered, but after some 90 minutes, my friend looked drained, so we left, not without leaving another pack of our Mannerschnitten, of course. This morning already we have received a thorough correction of our draft (in red, like in school. Very much red, actually…), and our request for photos was also granted: We got 18 lovely photos, taken by a professional photographer. One of them especially encapsulates the spirit of shinto, and I would love to post it here, were it not a bit unethical to assume permission when I don’t have any to do this. You’ll have to wait until March I’m afraid.

Little Gifts

It seems to me that in Japan, giving gifts is extremely important and thus more common than in Europe. The gifts are never very expensive and most often are just some local food speciality or sweets, but people do make a point of giving you something, even if they just went on a quick business trip to Tokyo. I did not grow up like this, so I never have anything for anyone (to be fair, I don’t go on business trips or vacation either), and I’m greatly embarrassed when people give me something out of the blue.

As I said, those gifts don’t have to be expensive at all, and it’s not a problem either to buy a large box of Tokyo Bananas for example, and then hand them out piecemeal. Probably for this reason, most of the sweets you can buy as souvenirs are individually packed, even if you get a supersized box.

Giving gifts in business is similar. Of course, there are the oseibo year-end presents that can cost ten thousands of yen if it is a long-standing, well established, and for both sides prosperous, relationship. But then there are other gifts given merely as a token of appreciation, at the first meeting for example. Not every meeting needs such gifts, but if you are trying to get off on the right foot and start a long-term relationship, it’s not a bad idea to do that.

As you know, I am now actively approaching shrines in Kyoto for the What’s Up In Kyoto monthly highlights for information and photos. A Japanese friend of mine helps me doing that and she suggested to bring a little something to the PR person of the shrine when we meet. She insisted that it would be best if I could bring something from Austria, something very typical; and because I received a few of them as a Christmas present, we’ve settled upon: Mannerschnitten.

MannerschnittenFor you foreigners: You really don’t have to understand that. Let’s just say they are very famous in Austria, we all grow up with them, and many of us crave them desperately. For you fellow Austrians: Yes. I know. But: We’ve already given one pack away at Yoshida Shrine last month, and the PR person was very surprised to receive a gift from us and appeared very pleased with the fact that it was a foreign gift to boot.

Of course, that leads to another set of problems: Where in Japan can I buy Mannerschnitten? I have tried the usual shops in Kyoto that are selling imported goods, but nothing. And shipping from Austria is expensive, and even if it were not, I cannot rely on my friends to keep me stocked. However, we have found a solution, and it’s called: Rakuten This is a Japanese online store that sells, apparently, everything. Just go to the bottom of the page I linked to, hover over the links and you will find: cars, fashion goods, liquor, sports, flowers, garden… and Mannerschnitten. I’m so pleased – let’s hope the other PR people I’ll meet will like them as much as the one from Yoshida shrine.

Business Update #5

What's up in Kyoto LogoTime for another business update! As you now know, this year the What’s up in Kyoto monthly highlights will be in-depth articles about shrines in Kyoto. One reason for this choice was that I thoughts shrines would be more friendly to requests than temples, essentially because they have less money. And when I got the quick and friendly answer from Yasaka shrine for January, I was very happy and felt on a good track.

But now… I had planned another one of the bigger shrines in Kyoto for the February highlight, because they have a very interesting Kigen-sai ceremony celebrating the founding of Japan as a nation. We have actually approached them back in December already, at about the same time as Yasaka Jinja, but we received only an evasive reply. So we tried again this month, now with a link to the new highlight so they have a better picture what I’m up to. Again: no reply other than “our PR representative is not here at the moment, but he’ll call you back.” Which of course, didn’t happen at all.

So, at this point I have decided to try another shrine for the February highlight, which means we’ll have to start all over again, researching and writing the article, scoring pictures, making phone calls and sending faxes… This time we spoke to the PR representative in person on the phone, but no reaction to the fax we sent yesterday.

I hope the nice reaction of Yasaka shrine is not an exception. If yes, then… what the hell did I get myself into?