Far East meets Middle East

Introducing Japan becomes an Israeli family affair.

TAEJIN KIM (left) and Miho Beck: In Trip Junction, we want to be known as the place people come when they want to experience something local in Japan.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
TAEJIN KIM (left) and Miho Beck: In Trip Junction, we want to be known as the place people come when they want to experience something local in Japan.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Miho Beck and Taejin Kim are more than best friends. They’re married to Israeli men who’ve been friends since high school, and their teenage daughters, whose homes are just blocks away from each other in Ra’anana, call themselves sisters.
Beck who is from Japan, and Kim who is from Korea, have forged a partnership that’s leading to the greatest challenge of their lives – to establish an Asia-based travel platform together from Israel.
“It’s not easy to be a mother in a start-up, especially when our start-up is in Japan. But I think we are able to do it because our husbands took 50% of the work running the households. If we followed typically what Japanese and Korean housewives are doing, we’d never be able to do it,” Beck said.
TripJunction.com – their new baby – is a site where travelers can book things to do in Japan with locals who offer their homes and their friendship in the languages of their guests. The surge in tourism in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and direct flights between Tel Aviv and Tokyo set to begin next March, are guiding the co-founders vision well into the future.
“When I saw the recent tourism boom, I saw how little chance tourists have to really experience real-life, authentic and non-touristy Japan. I decided to create a service where people can get connected with like-minded locals who share the same interests by offering unique activities.
On TripJunction’s site, you can sign up to enter the kitchen of a ramen soup restaurant, roll up your sleeves, watch the secret ingredients of a broth being made, and ladle it out before slurping your own bowlful.
If relaxation is the goal, then TripJunction offers door-to-door service outside of Tokyo to experience a night view of Mount Fuji while soaking in an onsen, a mountain hot spring.
“When you meet someone local who shares your interests and can show you around and teach you something new, it makes a completely different experience,” Beck said.
The August edition of Forbes Japan, recognizing TripJunction, put Beck on their list of top 100 self-made businesswomen.
THIS PAST spring, Beck and Kim traveled to Japan, leaving their husbands to care for the children for close to a month. Each woman has two children, and all four are in their teens or younger. “I came back and our house was still standing. The kids were alive,” Kim joked.
“I always wanted to do something related to travel and hospitality, which is rooted in my experiences from 25-plus years back,” explained Beck.
When she was 20, Beck decided to travel to the UK. At that time she was a “huge” heavy metal fan and really wanted to experience the local scene. However, there was no way to get any information about it in early ‘90s, when there was no Internet.
“So I bought a heavy metal magazine called Kerrang! imported from the UK, and placed an ad in the classified section. A few weeks later, I started to receive letters from heavy metal fans, and when I went to the UK, one of them was an owner of a traditional English pub. It was a hangout place for the local rock fans and bikers! I can still vividly remember the fun time I had.
“In Trip Junction we want to be known as the place people come when they want to experience something local in Japan.”
Kim’s ties to Israel came initially from her father, a fighter pilot in the Korean Air Force who worked in the Korean Embassy in Israel as a military attaché. The close connection led Kim to choosing Israel for her university studies, and she now holds two degrees from Tel Aviv University.
“We’re not kids any longer,” Kim adds. When the Korean Economic Daily wrote about us, they noted with surprise that we ended our successful independent businesses in middle age to start TripJunction.
Beck has run her own business as an Internet marketing consultant, helping Israeli and international companies enter and grow in the Japanese market. She has led numerous projects to take products into the new Japanese market, and gained experienced in managing remote teams.
 Kim’s previous business, Bridge2Asia, provided translation services, business development, and localization services to Israelis in the Asian market and Koreans doing business in Israel.
“Koreans simply didn’t understand Israeli society,” Kim said. “The work environment in Korea doesn’t allow for women to leave from the office before 8 p.m.
“I could see when I used to come to pick up my children from kindergarten, half of the parents were fathers. They had their turn and mothers had theirs.
“I love that in Israel children can be children. In Korea, children are studying so hard from a very young age. I remember that when I was a middle school student, I came back home at 10 p.m. and in high school at one or 2 a.m. It was crazy! When I see here children play in the playground, it makes me happy. I really didn’t want to raise my children with stress.”
NOT THAT start-up life in Israel is free of stresses.
“TripJunction has changed us drastically,” Beck added. “Like a baby, it changes your life.
“What I admire about Israeli working women is that they have very important positions in companies, and they have typically three kids. They leave work at four o’clock and go to pick up their children from kindergarten.
“Why? Because women in society demand it. It’s what we call chutzpah – but good-meaning chutzpah – that a talented women says take me or leave me and the company agrees because she demands it.
“I don’t think in Japan or Korea, a woman will stand up to her boss and say it. She won’t even get married if her career depends on it.
“I think what we have in Israel, how mothers work, is something we in Asia can learn from,” said Beck. “You know the Japanese and Korean populations are decreasing, so the workforce is becoming smaller and the government is encouraging women to go to work.
As Kim points, however, there are some universal challenges women face that transcend nationality. “I am trying my best to allocate time for my family, and when I am with them to put my mobile phone aside... to be with them 100%. When I feel guilty that I am not present enough as other mothers, I’m telling myself that my children will see how I am trying hard to achieve the dream. They will learn not to give up easily. They will learn that unless they make great effort they won’t achieve the things they want in life. I want to be a mother who will show them that she is happy woman because she is following her dream.”
Beck added, “The world has become a village and yet we can either have it be a superficial village or a meaningful one.”  

The author is a Jerusalem-based writer who recently made aliyah after spending 30 years teaching travel-writing, memoir-writing and intuitive painting in Japan. genesiscards.com TripJunction.com