High-speed internship features lessons in Japanese transportation and work culture

A summer internship with the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) is giving students incredible insights into one of the world’s leading high-speed-rail operators as well as the professional culture of Japan. The internship, developed by University of Wisconsin–Madison alumnus and JR Central Chairman Emeritus Yoshiyuki Kasai, allows two to three students to spend eight weeks in various roles with the company.

During the program, which is coordinated through UW–Madison’s International Internship Program, students rotate throughout the company, learning about vital units such as JR Central’s Marketing Division, Personnel Department, Business Promotion Division, and JRC Subsidiaries. In addition, they also get the rare opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at facilities such as the general control center, a rolling stock workshop, and a Shinkansen driver cabin.

Yoshiyuki Kasai
Mr. Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman emeritus of JR Central, has created a one-of-a-kind experience for UW-Madison students.

Providing the students with a well-rounded experience is a way to help them understand the overall operation of the company.

“JR Central’s integrated operations system allows people to experience a safe, reliable and comfortable ride,” said Kasai, who earned a master’s degree in economics from the university in 1969. “It is important to understand the integration aspect to get an idea of how the trains run the way they do.”

Alongside an in-depth look at operational aspects of the company, students have the opportunity to observe the professional culture in Japan—a culture that boasts key differences from U.S. work culture. JR Central continues to recruit Japanese college graduates who work for the company until they retire.

“The career life Japanese employees live is quite different from the United States,” Kasai said. “Seeing this during the internship gives the students a point of comparison.”

Adhering to this more traditional hiring and career life offers advantages to JR Central and its employees. Kasai noted that students are able to observe some of the effects that a secure, long-term employment system creates, such as loyalty and a greater sense of the contributions employees are making to public interests.

“Gaining a fresh perspective”

Kasai established the internship in 2000 after receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999. At that time, he decided he wanted to do something for the university, which he attended through his employer, Japanese National Railways, from 1967–1969. He chose to create an internship so that students could learn about Japan and its culture.

Even with his prominent position at JR Central, Kasai makes a point to meet with each cohort of students to hear about their experience and their impressions of the company and Japan. He explains the management of the rail and how it evolved, also giving the students an opportunity to ask questions.

“Gaining a fresh perspective from people visiting on the services and the mechanism by which we provide those services is also something we are able to learn from,” Kasai said.

Kasai’s own experiences with Japan’s railways can be described as well-rounded. He joined Japanese National Railways in 1963, where he held positions in corporate planning and labor management, interacting with a variety of departments throughout the company.

He continued to play an integral role in the organization through the privatization of Japan National Railways in 1987. He was selected as president in 1995 and chairman in 2004 of JR Central. Today, as chairman emeritus, he continues to provide a guiding hand for the company, which is a model for rail travel throughout the world.

Kasai commented that building the tools for effective leadership can come from many sources. He noted that lessons can be learned from the history of politics and the history of war, which can be applied to personal experience and additional learning. However, one of the key skills he works to teach future leaders is the importance of people.

Kasai and Shinkansen
Mr. Yoshiyuki Kasai stands next to a model of a JR Central Shinkansen. JR Central is recognized as a world leader in rail travel.

“There are two aspects of work that are important,” Kasai said. “One is practical knowledge and experience to be effective at work. The other is to know about relationships with people—the ability to understand how people feel and the ability to predict what people do under certain circumstances, as well as the ability to work amicably with others. While we are young in our careers, building the practical knowledge is important. As we gain more experience, our relationships with people become more important. This is something I try to share with the young people.”

Maintaining continuity

Kasai acknowledges that developing the internship program with UW–Madison might carry benefits for JR Central, however, that is not the driving force behind his efforts. Rather, he sees the internship as an opportunity for students to understand the value of high-speed rail and build a stronger, positive image for JR Central.

“Maintaining a connection to the university is not something I do because I feel it will be useful for something or be helpful in JR Central’s work,” Kasai said. “I value the opportunity that has been created for me to get to create connections with people and share knowledge and culture. The continuation of making and building connections with others is what is important.”

Kasai hopes to see the relationship between JR Central and UW–Madison continue to expand in the future. With exciting new projects on the horizon for JR Central such as the launch of its maglev train, which will greatly reduce the travel time between Tokyo and Nagoya through high-speed services, a high-speed rail system connecting Dallas and Houston, and the potential for a new line between New York and Washington, D.C., there are many possibilities. In the meantime, UW–Madison students will continue to gain key career-building experiences through the internship program with JR Central.