Start Spreading the News by Steve Walsh
After reading Bill Reed’s account of his travels to China I was reminded of my business trips to Japan in the early 90’s. At the time I was working for Mazda in what would later become a Ford/Mazda joint venture. As part of the JV we conducted semi-annual business meetings (1 in the US and 1 in Japan) where we negotiated roles and responsibilities, as well as procedures, practices and production volumes. It was on one such trip that this story occurred.
Accompanying me on this trip was my friend and colleague, Larry Cugini. Larry and I had worked together for several years and for the most part enjoyed each other’s company – especially away from the office. One thing you should know about our Mazda compatriots is that they loved it when we came to town. While I’m sure part of it was that Larry and I were just fun to be around the bigger reason is that each night after work a different department would host a dinner for the American guests. Dinner and drinks on the company dime! What’s not to like?
After dinner ended and the managers went home the party would usually continue. Some of the Japanese guys we had gotten to know well from their “dispatchee” assignments in the states would take us to their local hangouts. Most of the time their hangouts were karaoke bars. On this night Endo-san and Matsumoto-san took us to one of their favorite places. One thing to know is that most Karaoke bars we visited were small, typically seating less than 10 people. It is also worth noting that failure to get up and sing would be considered poor form. This was usually not a problem since we were thousands of miles from home and the chances of seeing anyone we knew was unlikely. That and by this point of the evening we were well fortified with liquid courage usually meant there was no issue getting us up to sing when it was deemed to be our turn.
When my turn came I sang Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. I must have really belted it out because when I came off the stage an elderly Japanese man who was not part of our group approached me. He began vigorously shaking my hand and bowing while repeating “Arigato” – thank you. He quickly realized that I did not understand him and called the mama-san over to translate. The mama-san said that the gentleman had heard that song many many times but this was the first time he understood the spirit of the song. He wants to thank you for showing him that spirit. Not knowing what to do I thanked him and returned to my group who for the rest of the trip kiddingly called me Frank-san.
That’s Larry taking his turn at the mike while I provide moral support in the background.