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Alumni Spotlight: Isshin Teshima (’07)

July 24, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

As an eighth grader, Isshin Teshima (’07) had his high school options narrowed down to Midlo IB, Clover Hill Math/Sci, and MLWGS. During his Shadow Day at Maggie Walker, he was paired with Turner Payne (’04). “I’ll never forget how nice everyone was that day from the students all the way to the teachers in each of her classes,” he recalls. “Everywhere I went, I was cheerfully greeted, and I still remember how surprised I was at how MLWGS wasn’t like the middle school I came from at all. There was a bright, open student commons and an even more rare senior commons, an off-campus lunch, and chessboards (yes, chessboards!) just sitting in the cafeteria for anyone to play. In my mind, choosing MLWGS was a no-brainer.”

At Maggie Walker, Isshin particularly remembers Ms. Stinnett’s Photography class, which introduced him to film photography, a hobby he has continued to this day. Mr. Sorrentino’s legendary We The People class (along with Model Congress) helped to inspire him to study government in college and international relations in grad school. “The knowledge I learned through that class, I still use actively today in my current job,” he says. He credits his four years of service on the Honor Council with helping to “define and solidify my idea of honesty and integrity.” Ms. Losen’s Journalism class, “taught me the importance of using the knowledge one currently possesses to teach and mentor a younger generation, a skill that really isn’t focused upon in the US, but is a fundamentally important part of Japanese corporate culture.”

At the College of William & Mary, Isshin majored in Government and Chinese Language and Literatures. After a stressful job search in a tough job market, he arrived at the conclusion that rather than continuing to search for his dream job straight out of undergrad, his time would be best spent furthering his education.

“When taking into account that I wanted to research East Asia and political science, I couldn’t fathom why I would want to go to an American school when I could be in Asia (Tokyo no less!) in the middle of all of the action,” he says. “Add to that fact that Japanese grad schools give ample scholarships, have incredibly low tuition rates (my two year MA was roughly the same price as one semester at W&M), don’t require GREs, and have English-language programs…and my decision to apply was pretty much set.” He started at Waseda University in 2012 and has lived in Japan ever since.

Isshin now works as a project analyst and joint venture coordinator in the Asia, Oceania and Offshore Japan Project Division of INPEX Corporation, Japan’s largest upstream oil and gas explorer. “My job is very simply to ‘manage’ our company’s various assets in southeast Asia,” he says. “Sounds simple, but is actually very hard to explain. On the one hand, as a project analyst, I handle project finances and project economics; making sure that the project stays on budget and on-schedule. But on the other hand, as a joint venture coordinator, one of my key roles is also to act as a liaison of sorts for our overseas partners. Therefore, I am often interacting with our counterparts in other oil and gas companies, strengthening our relationship and partnership.”

Isshin is currently looking forward to traveling more in Asia and Europe from his home base in Tokyo. He answered our questions about life in Japan below and gives out some great advice to current Maggie Walker students below:

What is the thing you love most about living in Japan?

Oh my gosh…where to start?

The FOOD: I love Japanese food…what can I say, it’s in my blood. J

Japanese people, especially Tokyoites, are huge foodies and it shows! At 227 restaurants in Tokyo with one or more Michelin Stars, not only is there variety in the types of food available in Tokyo, it also comes with a level of quality you only see in huge cities like Paris or New York.

Also, Japanese people are sticklers for freshness. In a country the size of California, it doesn’t take much to “buy local”/”eat local”. In fact, one of my favorite eateries is a sushi place that switches out the fish they get on a daily basis depending on which part of Japan they just happened to get their fish from that morning.

And there’s something about the fact that I can get fresh sushi on the same day that it’s caught that’s just mind-blowing to me.

The CONVENIENCE: I am of the opinion that Japan’s transportation system is without a doubt, the most developed in the world, and Tokyo takes that to a whole another level. If you live near a train station (ANY train station), you can go anywhere in Japan.

You may think this is an over-exaggeration, but I kid you not. I have friends in Tokyo, who have lived their whole lives without a driver’s license or car, because it’s simply not necessary. Everywhere you possibly need to go, you can go via public transportation.

And even more amazing, the transportation is on time. You may have heard stories of the Shinkansen (bullet train) running accurately to the second. Those stories are absolutely true. (I may or may not have missed a shinkansen once because I was late by 2 minutes…but I digress)

Believe it not, I actually have an App on my phone, which if you enter a start-end station name, it will give you the train schedule to the minute, and you can rest assured that the train will get you to your destination by that time.

Of course, all this convenience does come with a downside. You can’t use “stuck in traffic” as an excuse to be late anymore…instead, you’ll have to use “my train was late”, which is significantly harder to prove…

The CULTURE: Last but not least, Japanese culture. To this day, I am absolutely intrigued by the concept of “omotenashi,” the idea that one must always think about others in all actions, and how it has found its way into everyday life.

You may have heard stories about how Japanese people are kind and polite. This is partly to do with the fact that Japanese are culturally taught to always think about how others would feel towards a particular action and to not cause trouble towards them.

And it’s always the little things. Like how if someone bumps you on the train, they will usually apologize. Or how the train conductor will bow when traveling to and from cars to check your ticket. Or how people are taught to clean up after themselves after a public event like a ball game or concert.

Of course, there are some things that I’ve sometimes become frustrated with, especially the Japanese work culture or outlook towards foreigners in general. But compared to other places in the world, Japan is a very fun and convenient place to live.

What are the things you would tell visitors to Japan not to miss?

Oh this is a bit of a hard question. It would depend on what you would like to see in Japan.

My advice (not just for Japan but for any foreign country in general) is to stay away from what the tour book or guide says to visit, and to make friends with the locals and have them show you around.

For first time visitors to Japan, in addition to the hotspots of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, I am of the opinion that if you are American, then Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a must-see, just for the sake of witnessing the aftereffects of the atomic bomb firsthand. (As an added bonus, Hiroshima is home to Itsukushima Shrine with the famous Torii Gates on the water, and also famous for delicious oysters)

If you are into shrines and temples, then I am of the opinion that Nara (30 minutes from Kyoto and the first capital of Japan) is a much better choice than Kyoto itself. If you can survive the aggressive wild deer roaming around the temple grounds, that is.

For return visitors, Kanazawa on the Sea of Japan side, and Sapporo in Hokkaido are great spots that are slowly gaining popularity as domestic tourist areas. Also, climbing Mt. Fuji to see the sunrise on the following day is also highly recommended. (Though please be warned that it is only open to climb during the summer, and specialized hiking gear is highly recommended)

Finally, I would say, if you want to come to Tokyo, give it a good 5-6 days to tour around, because there is simply so much to see and do in this city. And give me a call! I’d be happy to show you around. J

What advice would you give to current Maggie Walker students?

Studying is important, and keeping a good GPA is important. But don’t forget to take a moment to enjoy your high school life. You only get to enjoy your high school life once. Maggie Walker does a great job of introducing various specializations and subjects. Use this opportunity to explore a bit and find what interests you and motivates you with a passion.

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