Not even natural disasters seem to scare Wharton students away from a learning opportunity in Japan.
When the 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck Japan last March, about 150 Wharton MBA students were spending their spring break in the country on the annual Wharton Japan Trek.
Despite the significant damage the earthquake caused, the group plans to carry on with its annual trip as planned this March.
First-year MBA student Nao Iwamoto, who is a head organizer of this year’s trek, said the sign-up sheet was open during the first week of December and was filled “within a few minutes.”
Currently, there are more than 200 people on the waitlist for the trip. After signing up, Iwamoto added, some attendees asked about the possible impact of radiation caused by the quake’s aftermath.
Iwamoto said that while there was no concern about the possibility of another earthquake, the organizers received questions about whether the Japanese government could provide up-to-date information about radiation levels in the air, food and water.
“There were a few scares last year, but they’ve been able to handle it well,” she said. “The Japanese government is making all the information public and safe.”
“It’s still the most popular trek at Wharton,” Iwamoto added.
The annual Japan Trek includes sightseeing in different parts of Japan, such as Hiroshima and Miyajima, with a primary focus on introducing the MBA students to Japanese business practices.
Highlights of this year’s trip include visits to the Japanese headquarters of Toyota, as well as the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
While the trip presents an opportunity to look forward at the future of Japan, it also allows attendees to reflect on last year’s disaster.
When the earthquake struck in March, the 2011 trek was nearing its end. Because of this, the attendees had been given the bulk of the day to explore the country by themselves.
When the quake struck, this made it more difficult to reach everyone and ensure their safety, according to second-year Wharton MBA student Yushi Miyamoto, one of last year’s trek coordinators.
“It was really tough trying to coordinate and make sure everyone was safe,” he said.
None of the trip attendees were injured in the quake, however.
Second-year Wharton MBA student Erica Sugai, another one of the trip’s coordinators last year, also reflected on the experience of being in Tokyo last year during the earthquake.
“The 150 students were scattered around the city, and because of the way buildings are built there were a lot of people in our hotels getting knocked out,” she said.
Miyamoto added that some of the trip’s non-Japanese participants were particularly frightened when the quake struck.
“We freaked out because so many cars and houses were flying and being destroyed,” he said. “We as Japanese people were relatively accustomed [to that] but American [participants] didn’t understand what was happening.”
Since the disaster, Miyamoto has led fundraising efforts by the Wharton MBA Japan Club in support of Japanese citizens. Since last year, they have raised $44,000 for recovery and relief efforts.
Looking back, Miyamoto acknowledged that he has never experienced another earthquake similar to the one that occurred in March.
“We’ve been learning [about how to prepare for earthquakes] since elementary school,” he said. “It was huge, but we’re used to handling these kinds of things.”
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