By Neil Li
I, together with 11 other aspiring UTS students were fortunate enough to be selected as the first group of students to visit Mitsui & Co. Ltd. in Japan on a 2 week immersion internship under the Federal Government’s New Colombo Plan. The aim of the plan is to further Australian students’ understanding of and links with the Indo Pacific region.
Mitsui is one of the largest companies in Japan; the 10th largest Japanese company on the Forbes 2000 list. Known as a sogo shosha (general trading company), its business areas covers Energy, Metals/Minerals, Machinery & Infrastructure, Chemicals, Lifestyle, and Innovation & Corporate Development, with a sizable global reach of offices in 65 countries
As a trading (import/export) company, and with a strong presence and long history (since 1901, Federation) in Australia, Mitsui is keen to deepen relationships and enhance knowledge between Japan and Australia. This is one of the reasons why Mitsui has been so generous, together with the Federal Government and UTS, in supporting this study tour of Japan.
1 – First Day of Program
For the 2 week program, we learned about Mitsui’s history and values, overall business structure, and its main Australian operations in the first week. The roots of the business stretch back to 1673 when Takatoshi Mitsui opened a textile (kimino) store called Echigoya in Edo (present day Tokyo). Through innovative business practices, Echigoya became the largest textile store in the Edo period, and thanks to sound business decisions over many generations, eventually developed into the modern day Mitsui Group. The modern Mitsui company is composed of trading activities in each of its main business areas, which are also complimented by investments in each business area.
Mitsui has four main project areas in Australia – salt, wood chip, LNG and iron ore.
Mitsui’s salt farms in Shark Bay and Onslow WA, is noteworthy for its 100% ownership by Mitsui, which also means that Mitsui is responsible for the management of its operations.
Mitsui’s treefarms and woodchip production facilities in WA and Victoria facilitate the eventual production of paper, satisfying our everyday need for this commodity.
Mitsui is an investor in the North West Shelf project in WA, which is responsible for more than 40% of Australia’s oil & gas production. The oil and gas is mainly exported to major Japanese utility companies.
Mitsui has joint venture partnerships with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto iron ore mines in the Pilbara region of WA. The iron ore is then exported to Chinese and Japanese steel mills, for processing into steel products.
I had not known about most of Mitsui’s Australian operations until the briefing sessions. It really showed me how much Mitsui’s operations were contributing to the stable supply of raw materials that are eventually used for the production of everyday goods that we all enjoy.
In addition to learning about Mitsui in their Tokyo offices, we were fortunate to learn about Japan in general during our planned field trips. These included the TEPIA museum visit, the Toyota factory and museum visit, the QVCJ TV shopping factory and TV studio visit, and the Kimitsu steel mill visit. We were also invited to the Australian Embassy in Tokyo for a networking lunch. The highlight of these visits for me was the Toyota car assembly factory tour. I was amazed at the sheer speed and synchronised flow of the robotic arms used on the car body frame; with around 8 arms operating on one car in such a tight and constricting area of space. It was very special to have visited the production facilities of a world class company such Toyota.
2- Kimitsu Steel Mill Visit
But in addition to the briefing sessions and site visits, we were tasked with 2 groupwork projects to process what we had learned into presentations. The 1st presentation of graphically portraying Mitsui’s history and Australian operations was good training for the 2nd larger presentation we had to present on the final day of the internship. That involved identifying a business opportunity that Mitsui could take part in, which would best support Australia into the future. We felt even more relaxed when we were told Mr. Takahashi, CEO of Mitsui Australia, senior Mitsui, Australian Embassy and Japanese government representatives would all be witnessing our presentation. Despite the other team gaining an edge for the 1st task, we came up with an impressive 2nd presentation which recommended Mitsui to invest in a solar powered electricity generation farm in Australia, which would also see Mitsui playing a leadership role in dealing with climate change.
3 – Final Presentation
Fittingly, the finale to the 2 week program, the closing reception dinner, immediately followed the final presentation, where we could all celebrate the two weeks that we spent together and what we had achieved with our groupwork collaboration in this short space of time. I believe it was a successful 2 weeks for the pilot New Colombo Plan undertaken by UTS and Mitsui, and has helped establish many new and meaningful relationships between members from each country.
4 – Getting our Certificates
Apart from the schedule organised by Mitsui, we also had free time ourselves during the public holiday and weekends to explore Tokyo. What I came away mostly was just how courteous and civil the general population was in all aspects of life. From lining up, to walking on the street, to waiting for the pedestrian lights, everything was done in such an orderly and responsible manner, with the impact of one’s action on others always on the mind of each Japanese citizen.
5 – Final Group Photo
Lastly I would just like to thank Mitsui, the Australian Government, UTS and all other stakeholders in supporting this amazing program. I would also like to thank Ippei and Chie, our Mitsui internship staff who was with us all the time in these 2 weeks and who were so helpful and supportive all the way through. I got to learn and experience so much of Japan that I could not have done just by reading and watching articles and media about it. What I had expected Japan to be beforehand were many times, different to what I had witnessed. It was such a wonderful experience that I will remember for a very long time.