Lifestyle | WHY DID YOU LEAVE JAPAN?

Miho Beck connects cultures with travel

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

Miho Beck’s encounter with some heavy metal fans in an English pub in Manchester provided the lightbulb moment that redefined the way she thought about travel, eventually leading to the start of her travel experience platform, TripJunction, some 25 years later.

Along with co-founder Taejin Kim, Beck’s mission is to help international visitors to Japan connect with locals who can provide an authentic, tailormade experience.

“I was a big fan of heavy metal music and I wanted to see the local (English) scene but it wasn’t easy to find that kind of information as there was no internet at the time,” she recalls with a smile. “So, I placed a small ad in a heavy metal magazine: ‘I’m a 20-year-old Japanese Metallica fan and I’m looking for some friends.'”

After her subsequent arrival in the U.K., Beck, then a university student, was able to meet newfound friends in person and spend time with them.

“One of them was the owner of a pub in Manchester and it was a hangout for the bikies. They took me to shows and it was such fun because I could experience the local culture in a way that I related to. Since then, whenever I travel I’ve connected with people who’ll share their culture in this way,” Beck says.

Miho Beck | JANA MACHATOVA
Miho Beck | JANA MACHATOVA

Following her first taste of life abroad during a homestay in the U.S. at the age of 13, Beck was inspired to work hard at mastering English. She went on to major in linguistics at university in Japan and then studied for a further year in the United Kingdom. Upon her return to Tokyo, she taught in an English language school for several years. However, having caught the international travel bug while backpacking around as a university student, it was only a matter of time before Beck handed in her notice and headed back overseas on a one-way ticket.

Along the way she met her future husband in Koh Phangan, an island in southeast Thailand. Following him to his homeland of Israel for the first time in 1999, Beck says she soon found herself “falling in love” with the country.

“You hear things about Israel — the conflict, the terror attacks — but the things you are exposed to in the media are not always the real story. Even now, when people in Japan hear that I live in Israel, they sometimes are surprised and ask if it isn’t dangerous,” she says. “Of course, there are some scary situations, but everyday life is pretty normal, and the weather and the food are great!”

Beck’s arrival in Israel in 1999 coincided with the middle of the first dot-com boom, and within two weeks she found herself a new job.

“Many (Israeli) companies were expanding their business into Asia, the U.S. and Europe,” she says. “I worked for several startups wanting to move into the Japanese market, helping with product development and marketing.”

After a period of crisscrossing the globe, including stints in India and then back in Japan, the Becks returned to Israel in 2005 and have been based there ever since. Along the way, the couple welcomed two children, now aged 12 and 15. The family currently live in Raanana, near Tel Aviv.

After returning to Israel, Beck started her own consultancy business, juggling her work projects with motherhood. When she saw the inbound travel market in Japan taking off, she realized there was great potential for combining her professional experience and personal passion for travel.

“What things do visitors want to do in Japan, and how can they find people with shared interests?,” she asked herself. “I wanted to offer something like my U.K. experience 25 years ago, but more easily and safely.”

She knew she had an ideal business partner in her friend Kim, a Korean national also married to an Israeli and with a similar professional background to Beck. Having collaborated on some previous work projects, Beck and Kim felt they had a good synergy and that the time was right to launch their own business together. In 2018, they founded TripJunction.

“Koreans are a large part of international tourism in Japan, and we have economic and cultural ties with Korea, too,” Beck points out.

While acknowledging that relations between the two nations may be rather frosty (trade disputes at the time of interview had led to tension between the two countries), she believes that meaningful communication on a personal level is an excellent way to break down barriers and enhance intercultural understanding.

International visitors currently choose from the existing experiences offered by Japanese hosts on TripJunction, but Beck hopes to branch out into providing bespoke service by also fulfilling specific requests from visitors for one-of-a-kind encounters.

Another of Beck’s goals with TripJunction is to empower Japanese women, particularly those raising children.

“Taejin and I are both mothers, and we know how hard it can be to strike a balance between work and family. We want to encourage women to start something for themselves, pursue their passions and develop their own workstyle,” she says enthusiastically. “Using TripJunction as a platform (and being a host), they can promote their language skills, hobbies, or local knowledge and take control of what they do.”

She adds that Japan could learn something about work life balance from Israel, where there are many women in positions of power and having three children is common. According to Beck, companies and husbands fully support working mothers in balancing their busy lives.

While it has been more than 25 years since she enjoyed hanging out at that pub in Manchester, some things have not changed for the entrepreneur: Beck has never lost her wanderlust, and is keen to continue showing her children more of the world. South America and Africa are two regions she would like to explore in the future.

And, while Beck says her musical tastes have broadened since her student days, she still loves to listen to heavy metal.

Profile

Name: Miho Beck

Profession: Entrepreneur, travel marketplace platform developer, co-founder of TripJunction

Hometown: Shiki, Saitama Prefecture

Age: 47

Key moments in life and career:

1992 — Has life-changing encounters while traveling in the U.K. as a student

1994 — Graduates from Hosei University with a degree in English linguistics

1999 — Moves to Israel and begins a new career in tech startups and internet marketing

2001 — Returns to Japan with her Israeli husband

2005 — Moves back to Israel with her family and starts a consulting business

2018 — Founds TripJunction with business partner Taejin Kim

2019 — Is chosen by Forbes Japan as one of Japan’s “Self-made Women 100”

What I miss most about Japan: “The convenience and efficiency in everyday life; public transport.”

What I like best about Israel: “It’s all about the people—their energy and warmth, and how they feel free to express their opinions.”

Favorite travel destination: “Everywhere I’ve been holds special memories. What matters are the things you experience there, but if I had to choose one, it would be India.”

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