On the morning of 12th December 2016, I arrived at Hakodate (Hokkaido, Japan) with the delegation from the Singapore Tourism Board comprising STB’s senior management staff and the other winners of the 2016 STB Customer Service Awards. I am honoured to be a member of this delegation in my capacity as the recipient of the Customer Service Award representing National Gallery Singapore.
We were welcomed at the airport by the committee members of the HSS (Hakodate Singapore Society) and HITCA (Hakodate International Tourism and Convention Association). It was a great honour as the committee members are business leaders of Hakodate and most of them are multi-millionaires in their own right.
Picture above : Night view of Hakodate Bay
Over the last 35 years, I have made many trips to Japan. Each time, the courtesy and discipline of the people, the quality of the products and services, the efficiency of the system and the cleanliness of the place have never failed to impress me. It was no exception this time.
Little known to most of us, Singapore has a close relationship with the city of Hakodate in tourism. The Hakodate Singapore Society was founded by the late Mr Masaru Yanagisawa in 1992. He was instrumental in developing the close ties between Hakodate and Singapore. One of the significant contributions of HSS is that it has been hosting winners of the STB Awards since 1999. Members of HSS had also participated in our Chingay processions in the past.
The late Mr Yanagisawa was so impressed with Singapore’s success that he had requested and was granted permission to erect a merlion (actually it is one big merlion and two small ones) at the Nanae Hama Beach in Hakodate. Of course, a visit to Hakodate is not complete without a visit to our merlions. However, it was a pitiful sight to see the merlions rather unkempt sitting on a desolated beach. HSS should perhaps relocate the Merlions to the Hakodate Bay Area, an area somewhat like our Clarke Quay.
Picture above : Our merlion at Nanae Hama Beach
There were official and informal events in our itinerary. One of the highlights was the official light up of the Hakodate Christmas Fantasy at the Bay Area by the Singapore delegation. It was awesome when we pressed the button the huge Christmas tree behind us lighted up and fireworks shot up over the Bay. Then there was a courtesy call to the Mayor’s office. I had goose bumps as I entered the Hakodate City Hall with the Singapore flag flying high next to the Japanese flag outside.
Picture above* : The Singapore flag flying outside the Hakodate City Hall
As part of cultural exchange, we visited the Hakodate Shirayuri Senior High School. This was the first time I visited a school in Japan and an elite girl school at that. It was evident that the girls had spent a lot of efforts in preparing various items to introduce Japanese culture and traditions to us. I wish we had more time in the school.
We had sightseeing too. It was a pity that we did not get to the top of Mt Hakodate to view the famous night scene of Hakodate as the mountain was closed due to an accident the day prior to our arrival. Nevertheless, we did visit several places of interest including the Goryokaku Fort and Tower, the Old Hakodate Public Hall, the Nanae Snow Park and Lake Onuma.
Picture above : Goryukaku Fort seen from Goryukaku Tower
Picture above : Mt Komagadake seen from Nanae Snow Park
Picture above : A frozen Lake Onuma
We left Hakodate on the 16th morning. It had been snowing since the night. However, our Japanese hosts had once again demonstrated their warmth and hospitality. They were at the airport to send us off and did not leave until we boarded the plane. This is the kind of exemplary courtesy and hospitality that has impressed me for 35 years. I have never bowed so much and so deeply. But our hosts rightfully deserve all that.
There is no better place to appreciate and learn the finer points of service excellence than Japan. The Japanese has perfected their ‘service excellence and courtesy’ practices into an art form. The whole customer service industry in Singapore has a lot to learn from them. When it comes to the finer points, it is all about discipline and mindset. If I may draw an analogy, it has become an art form somewhat akin to the display grace and elegance in the exquisite art of Sado and Ikebana.