Final Presentation Week
The last day of our internship we had to give a presentation to members of JR offering suggestions, so the week leading up to that we had to prepare. I gave two customer service suggestions that I thought were simple and practical enough to be implemented realistically. One was just a pamphlet that gives foreigners all the info. they need to use the train system in Japan and the other was to have a QR Code store directory almost exactly likeeeee…..
THAT! If you can believe it, I gave a whole presentation a few days before finding out someone used my exact same idea in Hong Kong already. All of those codes can be scanned by a smart-phone and give you a map to where you want to go. So, I guess it wasn’t a half-bad concept.
The day after our internship we got kicked out of our apartment, so I had 3 days on my own to hang out in Japan before going to Hong Kong. I really wanted to get out of Tokyo so I stayed at this hostel in Yokohama!
I really thought that Yokohama was about 10x nicer than Tokyo. It felt a lot less crowded, cleaner, and just had an overall better atmosphere.
Yokohama has one of the best China Towns in the world (or so the tourist information says) and I personally thought it was pretty good too. I hear that the food is really good, but it was overpriced so I steered clear. Luckily it was close to my hostel so I got to drop by.
I spent most of my time in the Minato Mirai-21 area, which is right around Yokohama Harbor. Really beautiful scenery and nice places to sit down on the grass.
At the World Bazaar right on the harbor, which is basically just a big mall, I found our best pal from the US!
On the harbor there’s this historical warehouse area that was pretty cool, except they just maintained the exterior and transitioned the interior into yet another random shop area.
Right around there, there was also a big event going on that was like a Hawaii in Japan type theme. This was the stage behind where they had a big Ukelele show that I got to watch for free!
While I was on the “big harbor “, that is like a peninsula that sticks out into the bay, I took a picture of these three buildings nicknamed King, Jack, and Queen. There was this cool viewpoint where you can see the outlines of the buildings and then compare it to the actual landscape.
This is a nice picture of the harbor at night that I took while walking on that peninsula area.
The next day before going back to Tokyo I went back to that same area to check out some Museums. Yokohama is really interesting because it’s the first harbor that Japan opened up, so it has a very international history. Commodore Perry first sailed in here from the U.S. in the mid-19th century and that’s when Japan really started opening up to trade. After that point this was one of the few cities that had a district for international residents.
Last two days in Tokyo
In my last two days I really didn’t do anything all that eventful. It was pretty much just one day because I got into the hotel late from Yokohama, and didn’t really see much reason to stay out late since I was tired that first night. The second day I just went around getting some last souvenirs and met up with my friend Kai for dinner at night. The next morning I headed out at around 7:30 for Hong Kong! After my Hong Kong adventures wrap up I’ll be sure to make an epilogue, so watch out for that, but thanks to everyone who read my blog!!
I wrote this on Monday, but forgot to put it up, so here you go! It’s just going to be a short update for this week with only a few pictures! More were taken, but I have to wait to get them from the international department so I’m sorry I can’t show you guys most of the cool stuff I did this week!
This week was a short one because of a Japanese holiday last Monday so there is not as much to report. I visited the education center where they train all of their employees, regardless of career track, once they are admitted into the company.
After someone is hired, they are required to work as station staff, conductor, or driver; even if they graduated from the top university in Japan and are on the fastest track to upper management. There are a lot of merits to this and applying methods like this to some degree in more U.S. companies would solve a lot of problems. From what I’ve observed, it seems like there is a lot less class conflict here within companies, and I think that everyone starting in the same place helps management to understand who their managing, and helps to close that dangerous gap between the two groups.
But I also don’t think how they do it is perfect. I think that it takes way too long for highly capable individuals to get to a point where they can have an effect. Having to work for 2 years as a train conductor after 4 years of college, and being forced to do such basic things when you’re ready to finally put your education to use, would feel like the biggest waste of time in practice. I think that in the US they would have to reduce something like this to 1 year max, and get rid of some of the classes for highly capable students. One that I saw at the training center literally teaches basic physics to everyone the same whether you’re an engineering major or a high school grad.
We also received lectures and took tours about the advertising division within JR Central. It’s amazing how much their ad space is worth because so many people use the trains. I won’t go into details about ad space because I think I might put everyone to sleep. One thing I had pointed out that was pretty interesting though, was that companies actually spend a lot of money on big ad spaces to promote their products at stations nearby big company headquarters to increase morale among their employees. The idea is that if they see these big ads on the way to work everyday they’ll be encouraged to work hard and feel a lot of pride that their company is doing very well.
This weekend we interns were taken to a traditional Japanese hotel called a “ryokan” right on the ocean to do some traditional Japanese net fishing! The hotel itself was really cool, we slept on futons on bamboo mats and they made a traditional dinner for us that the international department members and ourselves all enjoyed together. There was also a real hot spring in the hotel that was really nice to relax in.
The next morning we had to wake up at about 6am to do the net fishing and have breakfast. The chairman of JR-Central Yoshiyuki Kasai (Wisconsin masters program grad) actually joined us as well, which was great! The way the fishing works is that you have this net out in the bay, and about 15-20 people on the beach pulling in these big ropes, around 10 on either one. It takes too much effort to pull standing in one place so everyone has to just hold on and walk it back a ways on the beach, and then run back to the front when you get to the end. Very awesome experience!
We ended up pulling in some octopus, blue crabs, yellow tail, puffer fish, sting-ray, and some other fish that I can’t remember. Of course we sent the puffer fish and sting-ray back out to see, but they made the rest of it for us for breakfast, which was delicious! They made sashimi out of some of the fish, cooked a couple, made crab soup, boiled the octopus, and there was probably even more that I can’t remember.
Drive around Tokyo
Yesterday the head of the international department Mr. Nakayama was nice enough to take us all around the Tokyo bay are in his car. You really get a completely different feel of the city when you’re driving around rather than just hopping from station to station on the train.
After seeing some of the sites around Tokyo bay he took us to this small specialty place for lunch where they had just awesome burgers! So delicious and fulfilling. They actually put a reasonable amount of meat in it, which is pretty rare here in Japan so we were all really pleased. It still wasn’t your typical American burger, but it was delicious in it’s own right.
Then we went to an aquarium right by Tokyo Disney that is partnered with Monterrey Bay Aquarium I was interested to learn. The highlight for me were these crazy Pingus that started going absolutely bonkers 15 minutes before their scheduled feeding time.
Then Mr. Nakayama took us over to his parents place for tea, and it was great meeting his parents, seeing pictures of him as a kid in the 70’s when they lived in LA, and learning about his family. He actually has a sister who is a professional pianist in Italy, so I was very interested to learn that.
On the way back we went over/under this half bridge half tunnel thing that I need pictures to explain.
So in this picture we are on this structure that is like an Oasis with restaurants, shops, parking lot, etc. right out in the middle of Tokyo Bay. The back-side of this structure is the bridge you can see in the picture that we crossed first.
Then on the other side of this structure it transforms into this tunnel that goes the rest of the way back to the Tokyo city area. The reason they do it like this is because there is so much ship traffic in and out of Tokyo bay that they needed a way for the ships to get across, so they just go over to the half where the tunnel is and cross over it.
I think that this was my first time going through an underwater tunnel anything like this so I was really excited about it. We ran into traffic, but Mr. Nakayama threw on some Doobie Brothers and we talked about his experience running the hotel subsidiary of JR-Central, so it was no problem, haha.
That’ll be all for this week, but now it’s officially my last week in Japan. WEIRD! About a week from now I’ll be in Hong Kong, and a week and a half after that I’ll be back in the states! This coming week I’m going to spend a little over a day in Yokohama, and then having a couple more days to spend in Tokyo, so expect an update about that and the end of my internship later next week!
Pretty quick after the last one, right?! I have a day off because of the national holiday in Japan so I actually can do a timely update!
Work Week 7/9-7/12
This past week we saw the Technical Research Institute, which is now a company that is funded by all of the JR companies to do general research into improving the train systems. The thing I thought was the coolest was that this is where they did a lot of the early Maglev research, from the 60’s to the 80’s, and they also have a rain test facility where they try to determine how stable different types of soil are in terms of landslides, since Japan is so prone to natural disaster.
We also visited Kaiyo Academy, which is a all boys boarding school for middle and high school students. It is funded by JR- Central and about 20 other big time Japanese companies, and was made to try and instill leadership qualities and confidence in their students. The chairman of JR Central was actually the one who thought of it, and thought it was necessary because in his opinion the younger generation have lost a lot of what the older generations had in these regards. They bring in a lot of people who are actually full-time employees of big companies like JR and Mitsubishi to come in and live with the students, being their RA’s and general advisors. They try to teach them effective strategies in leadership, group work, making presentations, etc. I was really impressed by all the faculty here and what they try to do. The students that we spoke with were smart as a whip, and were really good at speaking English and even giving complicated presentations.
It was also really interesting because I’ve never actually visited a boarding school before, haha. I was amazed that they don’t allow video games or comics in the school grounds at all. It would suck to have not been able to play video games, outside of a couple months a year, from age 12-18! They also have almost no contact with the opposite sex, which I think is something that is being overlooked at this school. There are no dances with partnered female boarding schools or anything! They pretty much go from age 12 through 18 just hanging out with other dudes.
This was a big weekend! Because of the holiday we took a trip to the Ise Shrine (which is like the holiest Shinto shrine, or so I’ve been told) and Kyoto (the former capital of Japan, completely littered with ancient shrines and castles).
This was along the path to the shrine and I’m just trying to show what the nature around there is like. It was a really beautiful walk! Also I couldn’t take pictures of the shrine itself because that’s where people pray, so sorry! Nearby is also this tree that is about 1 thousand years old that they call the “power tree” and people touch it and even hug it to try to absorb some of it’s good energy. I gave it a hug and I think I am about 30% of the way to making a spirit bomb =D!
After that we took the train to Kyoto and were put up in a hotel there for one night. The day after I met up with my friend Tsubasa to go check out the city!
We went to Kinkakuji, or the golden pavilion, first. It was really beautiful! The space around it wasn’t as big as I thought it would be, but the water all around the shrine is so calm that you really get a different feeling being around it.
Next we went to Kyoumizu Temple. This is the shrine where throughout history all the Japanese leaders would come and pray before going off to battle. That elevated platform is a couple hundred feet from the ground and is also a famous place where those same leaders would come to commit suicide if they ended up losing.
Down below the temple are these three springs (that I’m not sure the name of). You are supposed to go up and drink from one of them and it’s supposed to bring you a healthy long life. They say that because the streams have never dried up. Some people also think that there are different qualities associated with each stream that give you like love, health, success or something like that, but you can only pick one to drink from. At the temple they had signs saying that wasn’t true, so I think it’s just an interesting story. I drank from one of them so hopefully I got some long life power from it!
This is at Gion Temple, and I think that at some point during the Gion festival they walk around with these, but I’m not sure. This actually isn’t where the main Gion festival was but there was some stuff going on here and it was interesting to visit.
This is an interesting walkway that I thought was cool at the gion temple.
As you can see on the street it was absolutely packed, but here is where they had people on this raised platform ringing bells and playing traditional Japanese drums, very cool!
Kind of like a state fair on steroids there were tons and tons of these stands around the streets with all sorts of food and games. That is grilled squid, which I had for dinner that night. It was delicious!! Kind of like rubbery chicken in a way, if I had to try and define it.
That night we stayed at spa world in Osaka. It’s this huge building with big floors dedicated to all these themed spas. It was really awesome but obviously I couldn’t take pictures anywhere where it was worth taking pictures, haha.
The next day I was on my own and spent a ton of time walking around the old imperial palace area. This place is huge and there is a ton there! They have all of these old residences and shrines on the ground because it was such a social and political center for so long.
This is one of the shrines on the grounds, and that is a cat chilling in one of those stone shrine, temple, thingys, haha.
As I said before there were historically a lot of very wealthy and powerful people living on these grounds, so this is a recreated Mansion on the imperial grounds where some really powerful family lived at some point in time. Now they just have a nature museum in there, but being able to walk through the traditional Japanese house was very cool.
Now I’m just back in Tokyo having a relaxing work day in Excelsior coffee shop! I’ll give probably 2 or 3 more updates before I head back. Traditional Japanese fishing in Nagoya is on the schedule for this coming weekend!
Two weeks ago we got to go to Nagoya again and see more of the JR Central towers. We were shown this gigantic department store that JR owns there that is now one of the main places to shop in Nagoya. The size of department stores here is just unbelievable, and there are so many of them! Consumer culture in Japan is just a whole new level, there are so many products to buy, so many stores, and everything is so expensive. It’s insane that all of these places actually stay in business, but it seems to be proof of the rampant consumerism here.
The room they gave us this time was like 1.5 times the size of the last one. It seems like JR is trying to put us up in places that are bigger and bigger.
Takayama Hot Spring
Takayama is in Gifu prefecture that is in the mountains west of Nagoya. We took this really scenic 2 hour train ride there and the view was like this pretty much the whole way.
JR kept the trend of continuously increasing the size of our hotel rooms and gave us each a room with two beds, haha. I think it may just have been coincidence though, since they own these places they may have just put us in the rooms that were most available and these were it.
The hot spring here was super relaxing. Of course I couldn’t take pictures but there were like 6 different pools and a sauna. 1 was inside, but the rest were outside with just amazing views of the mountains. I spent a few hours there just sitting in the hot spring and taking in the views.
Weekend with Lillian
Lillian came from Hong Kong with her family on vacation to Tokyo, so I came back early in the day Friday and met up with her that night! We hung out with our friend Kai and went to some coffee shops and looked around Shibuya before calling it a night.
Saturday we went to Odaiba in the afternoon, which is a big man-made island in Tokyo. It’s kind of an amusement park type area with a lot of touristy type things to do. A lot more shopping than I expected, but as I said before, rampant consumer culture.
In one arcade that had a lot of retro games I found the original Street Fighter, that is pretty rare to see anywhere! I tried playing one time and got my butt whooped.
Also in Odaiba was the gigantic Gundam! It was so cool. Just monstrous, I think like 60 feet tall. There was an older one that was in this same place like 4 years ago, but it ended up getting damaged and taken down, and then luckily this year they decided to build a new one just for me!
I was even able to get a picture with me in it before someone hopped in the cockpit and flew it to Tokyo Tower before going on a rampage throughout the city. I’m not sure if there was much news-coverage of this in the states because I think the Japanese are trying to keep their anime-inspired weapon somewhat of a secret. As the old Japanese saying goes “it’s all fun and games until a beam rifle toting robot wreaks havoc on your capital city”. That’s the closest translation I could find.
There’s also this giant ferris wheel that was the biggest one in the world when it was built in ’98 or ’99. Pretty nice view!
Later that night we went to Akihabara where I got my butt-kicked in some more video games before giving up.
On Sunday Lillian and I did some shopping in Shibuya at UNIQLO which is like a big discount department store where the prices are actually really reasonable. I was able to find some clothes that would be medium size slim-fit in the US, but are regular Larges here that fit perfectly!
That afternoon we went with Lillian’s family to the Studio Ghibli Museum. Studio Ghibli is the company that produces all of Hiyao Miyazaki’s anime like Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro. I’m a huge fan of all his stuff so it was awesome to see! I think the most unique thing about the place though are the specific rules you have to follow. First off there are absolutely no pictures allowed when you enter the park and they are really strict on this policy (this is the place for you Mom!). You also have to get tickets ahead of time and when you get them you have to not only get them for a specific day, but for the specific 2 hour period that you’ll go through the park. This might sound like kind of a crappy deal, but it really prevents overcrowding and made it a really pleasant experience. There were all these exhibits that show you how they make the animation in really creative ways, and then you get to see a 16 minute short that they don’t show anywhere else. I was surprised because it is actually movie quality and was a really interesting film.
Okay, Monday’s not the weekend, sure, but Lillian was still here so after work it was still kind of the weekend.
Since tickets are half price after 6 during the week we decided to throw on our cheesy matching t-shirts and make a trip to Tokyo Disney! It’s a lot more different from Florida or California than I thought. Everything is a lot smaller, but more detailed and intricate. Everything is also kept up a lot better, and the park as a whole is much much cleaner. Space Mountain was closed, which was a bummer, but we were able to go on Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain, plus a lot of rides that are only in Tokyo. One of the downsides of the park though is that even though the small rides are better the big rides are smaller and less exciting.
At the end of the night Mickey and Minnie had us over for drinks and they just kept pouring sake bomb after sake bomb. Long story short, I wasn’t able to make it home so I had to stay at their place.
Station Staff Duty
This past week we spent most of it working as station staff in Shinagawa station. We got all dressed up in the uniforms and first observed people selling tickets from behind the scenes, then watched some training videos, and spent time working as greeters saying thank you to the customers thousands and thousands of times.
I’ll say the good parts first. I got to speak a lot of Japanese, which was really nice, since most of the time there is a member of the International Department with us doing all the translating, so my Japanese skills were more useful this week. It was also pretty cool just seeing Japanese workers from behind the scenes, and seeing how everything is a lot more regimented and formulaic than the American counterparts. The feeling I get in any job here is that unless you’re a white collar worker doing planning and things like that, you pretty much just learn all the protocol and formulas that you try to get as good as possible at and repeat over and over and over and over. They have these morning meetings every morning with everyone working that day where they go over a lot of things and do stretches and things like that, which I think would be a good addition to the US workplace actually.
And now the bad parts. That all sounds really great, but we did this for four days and were pretty much incapable of doing anything useful. We probably spent the biggest part of the time in the break-room actually. The typical protocol for the day was to first get there at 815 and change to be ready by 845. Go to the morning meeting. Break for 45 minutes. Meet with station staff and have conversation for like 45 minutes. Break for 45 minutes. Watch a video for like 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. Lunch for over an hour. Break for 30 minutes. Greet for 45 minutes. Break for 20 minutes. Greet for 45 minutes. Done.
Maybe the times in there were a little mixed up but that was the general feeling of things, and it was absolutely painful. One of the videos was the worst part of the whole week. It was this customer service competition and was literally the exact same 3 skits over and over and over and over, for an hour and 15 minutes. All in formal Japanese that I could barely pick up ¼ of, no subtitles, no translation. All of us interns were going bonkers by the end of it.
The other bad thing was that it was like when we were greeting we were just thrown out on display, and we stick out like a sore thumb. Honestly, a lot of Japanese people are pretty racist, whether they would call it that or not. Countless numbers of people would look at our faces and laugh, smirk, or even shake their head in disgust while walking by. Some people would take pictures from several feet away or ask people to get pictures with us just because we were white. Other people wouldn’t realize we weren’t normal station staff until getting up close, and would start asking a question, and then they would see my face and just start backing away shaking their head. One instance that this happened even when I was explaining that I could speak Japanese but didn’t know the answer to their question and was trying to guide them over to a Japanese Station Staff they just turned around and walked away. Other times in a similar situation I was luckily able to get the people to at least take my advice to go to a person who knew the answer. Pretty humiliating and frustrating if you ask me.
I started missing home and decent sized and priced food so I made this whopping burger in my apartment. I only have one small pan so it took forever, but it was so worth it.
The name of the Shinkansen that collects maintenance data at high-speed for JR is Dr. Yellow, and you can see us next to it in the picture above! It was really awesome to see, and I was really lucky to see it, much less ride in it. For Japanese people it’s really rare if a person has even seen it, and within JR Central even the people who have the chance to ride it are really limited so it was a neat experience.
At Ueno Park there is a famous zoo so here are some pictures! By the way, the penguins here are really jerks!
Also in the park there was an ice sculpture contest! The first picture is from before we entered the zoo and the second is from after we left.
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I posted last! Time is just flying by here and I’m busy every day, but in a good way. I’ll give you guys the best cliff notes I can on the last couple weeks!
The week before last we made a business trip to Nagoya, which is about 1.5 hours away from Tokyo by bullet train! Those towers are where we stayed in the Marriot hotel owned by JR-Central, more pictures to come.
Train Crew Depot
We came here to visit the train crew depot to see where the drivers and conductors check in, sleep, and start their job. We also got to ride in the drivers cabin and the conductors cabin on the Shinkansen while it was running, which was totally awesome, 155 mph looks a lot faster from the drivers seat! At the end of our visit there we got to have some general discussion with some conductors and drivers that were in their 20’s and ended up just talking about a lot more general things which was really cool in my opinion. Just kind of got the feeling that they were 20 something year old people, and we are 20 something year old people and outside of a few differences we’re both just people around the same point in our lives. It’s really refreshing having those experiences when there’s a constant in-group out-group mentality going on.
So JR-Central put us up in this really nice hotel they own and that was my room! The view was awesome, the bathroom was awesome, the bed was awesome
free breakfast on the 52nd floor was awesome. In general, it was pretty awesome!
For JR-Central between Tokyo and Osaka they are in the most competition with airlines. Because of that one of our projects the Friday before last was to ride the Shinkansen to Osaka and fly back on the airplane.
While we were there I met my friend from my fraternity Tsubasa and he took us to this place where we got “Shabu Shabu” which is Japanese style hot pot.
After that we went to Osaka castle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osaka_Castle) that was really cool! There were tons of relics in there that I couldn’t take a picture of. A lot of cool armor, cool swords, the cool golden tea-room, and cool.
The flight back just made it so obvious how much better the Shinkansen trip is. 1 million times more comfortable. Numero uno, you don’t fly up and down with obnoxiously loud engines buzzing for 2 hours, thus you are not completely exhausted when you get from point A to point B. Zweitens, way more leg room! If you have the window seat just be like, “hey dude I’m going to the bathroom” and scoot by your seat partner in comfort without them even having to get up, best of both worlds. 第三に want to take a drink onto the plane? Be my guest if you want to get felt up by the TSA. Want to take like 3 drinks, a variety of exotic soaps, and as much luggage as you can carry onto the Shinkansen? Just walk right on. Fourth…ly, you have to take like 3-4 different train lines to get from city center wherever you are to the airport. You end up taking more trains to fly than take the Shinkansen. End rant.
The weekend was fun. I definitely did a lot of studying, and quite a bit of wandering around.
There was this free live concert I walked in on near the base of Tokyo Tower for your viewing pleasure!
All last week I was in a town called Hamamatsu that is ½ way between Tokyo and Nagoya. There are a ton of factories here and this is where the main plant for Nippon Shyario (Japan Rolling Stock) is. We got to see Shinkansen as well as several other train sets (one is a new double-decker headed off to Chicago). Nippon Shyario used to be it’s own company but JR Central bought it out. They produce train’s that go all around the world, as well as to the other 4 Japan Railway companies.
Here’s me studying Japanese in Japan while watching Japanese TV drinking Japanese tea in a Japanese hotel.
So, there was that Typhoon that rolled through last week. Hamamatsu being a city near the ocean made it a pretty interesting experience. It rained like hell and the wind was pretty scary at times. I don’t think it was a super intense Typhoon, but it still freaked me out quite a bit. It was very very cool…..that I survived. Haha, just kidding, there was just some minor damage, and I’m glad I was able to experience it without having to worry too much.
On the last day we had the afternoon to do whatever we wanted and go back to Tokyo at our leisure, so I decided to go to this music museum! Yamaha is based here so this is where our piano came from, and I think that Yamaha donated a considerable amount to this museum so it had a really cool piano section which I was just freaking out over.
This was one of my favorites. Couldn’t read much of the bio because it was in kind of detailed Japanese but it’s from 1765 in case the little card on the picture is too small to read. You’ll also notice to the right of the piano there’s this little display. That has a hammer inside it that shows how the inter-workings of pianos evolved over the years.
I met a conversation partner in Asakusa on Saturday and he was nice enough to show me around and get a picture with me in it! That’s me with a like fishing spirit/god type thing that I don’t understand all that well, but was pretty cool.
In the same area is this Sensouji temple, which was amazing to see. Some of the gates are from like 950 AD so it’s a little old-fashioned, but I enjoyed it all the same.
I don’t know if this would be legal or humane in the states to have all of these puppies in little cages in a tiny shop. But I saw these little guys in Shibuya and I’ll be damned if I didn’t “aww” my pants off.
P.S.- I also was able to see Spiderman here yesterday because it came out in Japan first. Jealous? Wasn’t keeping track of the date anyways? Don’t know what I’m talking about? Regardless, it beat the face off of any Toby McGuire Spiderman so I would recommended it. Spoiler alert!: Uncle Ben still dies.
On Friday night we went out to Roppongi and that place sucks. Just at the beginning I was able to talk to one interesting person, but I personally would never suggest to anyone to go there unless you are looking to be corralled into a titty bar by a lot of shady looking people. There were practically no Japanese people there and just seems to be the place that foreigners or “gaijin hunters” (look this up yourself) go to for a good time. Really did not enjoy it.
Saturday I went to Shibuya to hang out with a friend that was back home for the summer and had a great time! He showed me all around Shibuya and we got coffee and grabbed dinner at an Izakaya with some really good “yakitori”.
After that we went to a building that’s a total of 7 stories, 3 that were just floors full of pool tables, 3 that were like full-sized bowling alleys, and 1 that was a ping-pong floor. We pretty much just hung out playing pool for awhile which was really fun, and nice to just un-wind. We had a lot of good conversation about things I’ve been experiencing since coming to Japan and his opinion on a lot of different stuff so it was a lot of fun!
I went to Shinjuku Sunday to pick up an electronic dictionary from an American guy teaching English I found on Craigslist, that I think will be coming in handy throughout the next couple months and next spring. I made the mistake of deciding to stay in Shinjuku though and it is completely NUTS on the weekend. I went to one department store type building that was like 10 floors and had coffee places on 4 of them. I was just looking for a place to sit and do some work for a little while and all of the coffee places had a 30-minute wait if you wanted to sit down. Talk about crazy!
The only cool thing was that on the top of that building there was a really pretty garden across the roof with some nice views of the area as well. If you can get high up the things you see on the tops of buildings here are nuts.
Tokyo Station and Emperors House
After working today we got to see Tokyo station which is the biggest station in Tokyo (maybe Japan?, not sure on that one) and it is gigantic with tons and tons of shops throughout.
We also went to check out the grounds around the Imperial Palace, but could only see things from outside the walls because everything’s closed off Monday and Friday. The grounds are absolutely beautiful though and I’m always surprised to see such green and traditional looking places in the middle of Tokyo. I’ll be going back there later so I’ll update more then!
Parade out front of my place
This was just out front of our place when we were about to go out Sunday morning! I still have no idea what it was, but it was pretty surprising and a lot of people went on celebrating at a place nearby until later in the evening.
Akihabara is the electronics district in Tokyo and is famous for used and old games, toys, electronics, models, etc. There are a ton of shops that are just packed with all sorts of stuff, new and old, depending on what they sell, and there are also a bunch of arcades. The arcades are typically at least 6 floors in this district and up to 8 floors, packed with all sorts of games. There were 4 arcades that size that I checked out while I was there and there are definitely more just in that area alone.
In Japanese arcades there’s usually 1 if not 2 floors completely dedicated to these drop games that have the craziest stuff in them. Anything from candy, to stuffed animals, to models and trading cards.
This is a drumming game that’s one of my favorites that I’ve seen so far. I got to play with a Japanese boy who was pretty nice. I won my first game I played, but he won the next one.
If you’ve heard me mention the Gundam café at all, I FOUND IT! I haven’t eaten there yet because I just wasn’t hungry at all when I was there but I’m planning to before I leave.
Another interesting thing about the things they sell in this district is they have these shops that are completely packed with these tiny used models, and model pieces. Each one that is stacked up in a row even in different so there’s literally thousands of different kinds of tiny models and action figures on this one floor.
Internship 1st day
Monday was my first day in the internship and was really good! The morning was just an introduction to what we’ll be doing and some more administrative stuff, and we watched an informational video and in the afternoon we had a lecture from the financial department. It was really good because it was pretty much an overview of all JR operations from a revenue and expense standpoint. This guy was also very good at English and is apparently going to be the most skilled at English we’ll have for the whole two months.
The real fun of the day was at the end when we had our welcome party. In Japanese culture it’s typical, and almost necessary to go out with your coworkers after work and have dinner, drink, and hang out. This is at a traditional Japanese bar/restaurant called an Izakaya, which is typical for where Japanese workers go out for good food and drinks.
It was probably one of the most fun nights I can remember, and we just talked with the members of the international department the whole time, and were there for about 4 hours. We really didn’t talk about work all that much but had a lot of good conversations about Japanese culture, everyone’s background, and joked around a lot. From the few days I’ve experienced so far Japan is the epitome of a “work hard play hard” mentality, and these social constructs I’m noticing are a really big reason why they have such a cohesive culture.
Meeting with the Chariman
Yesterday we were able to meet the Chairman of JR Central. Most of the lower level management employees have not even had as good of a personalized opportunity to meet the chairman as we did, so this was really a great honor. I don’t expect to meet the chairman of another company this size for awhile.
To meet him we were first led into this meeting area that was super formal, but extremely comfortable, sat down and waited for like 5 or 10 minutes. By that time everyone seemed pretty on edge. Then Chairman Kasai (graduate of UW Madison Economics program) walks in and I have to say that he is one of the most polite and refined people I’ve ever met. He went through each of us and asked us personal questioned, and went on for about 30 minutes talking about high speed rail throughout the world and give us an idea of the scope and scale of the planning. It was a really great experience.
Trip to Nagoya
Today I had my first opportunity to ride the bullet train! As I’m writing this I’m actually on the Shinkansen (bullet train) ride back from Nagoya to Tokyo. Riding the Shinkansen is like riding a really smooth plane that flies across the ground, with 1/10th the noise, no waiting in lines, and twice as much leg room. Also there are outlets for every set of seats and no restrictions for carry-on food, drinks, etc.
The trip to Nagoya was to visit the JR museum where we were able to be first have a personal meeting with the Director of the Museum before being given a tour by the Assistant Director. At every stop we made the lines were held and spots were reserved at each attraction so we could move quickly through everything. They really pulled a lot of strings and rolled out the red carpet for us!
In addition to a lot of old train cars that show the evolution of Japan’s rail system, there were two different train simulators for both conventional rail and Shinkansen cockpits. The one above is for conventional rail. There was also a really detailed scale model of the area between Tokyo and Nagoya that was really cool to see. Another cool experience, but I have to stop writing because we’re done with the 1.5 hour trip back to Tokyo and I have to hop off! I’ll be sure to update again by the end of this weekend!
My first day before I got to my apartment I spent wandering around Shinagawa which is a pretty businessy district, but compared to the US there are still tons of restaurants and shops. I got to explore some grocery stores which are really different! Everything seems to be a lot more individually packaged in smaller amounts, and the seafood selection is insanely bigger! They even put out slices of fish on ice that you can choose and bag yourself which is totally weird the first time you see it! My first meal here was Gyuudon which is a really typical Japanese dish that’s beef and vegetables with sauce over rice and I ate it with some pickled radishes, which was all super good!
Later that afternoon we got shown to our apartment in Tamachi, which is one stop away from Shinagawa where we’ll be working. Here are some pictures of my place!
This place is a single and would be super expensive if I were paying for it myself so I’m pretty lucky! It’s small compared to what I’m used to but really comfortable. A few things that are different here that you’ll notice is that there’s a sink right on top of the toilet that automatically runs when you flush so you can wash your hands. An interesting thing about the shower area is that you can actually hang up your clothes use a control to steam or dry them! I also have my own laundry machine in here which is going to be awesome!
My first night with my fellow interns we went out to a traditional Japanese bar/restaurant called an izakaya. No one in there spoke any English though! So I had to be a translator and do most of the ordering. The only one besides me who can speak any Japanese at all is the guy in the blue shirt sitting diagonal from me! We started out sitting on the floor on a raised platform opposite from where we were sitting in the picture, but I think they moved us once some other people left because we looked so uncomfortable sitting on the floor, haha. The customer service anywhere you go here is completely different than in the US. The easiest way to explain it is that if you’re a typical American there’s no way to feel comfortable with the formality and politeness at first. At the izakaya we ate sashimi and shellfish and washed it down with some Sake!
Yesterday we also went to Shinjuku which is a gigantic shopping district several stops away from where we live. The streets are just packed with people and advertisements are on every inch of the buildings. Whereas in the US and your going shopping on the street you’re used to shops and restaurants all being on the ground floor, in Japan when you’re in a shopping or entertainment district they use every floor to pack with shops and restaurants! I went to Yodobashi Kamera there as well which is a huuuugggeeee department store just packed with the most amount of stuff I’ve seen in one place. It takes up three buildings, 5 floors in two of them and 8 floors in the main one, and they’re all connected by the basement level of the place. After that I went to my first arcade here and I was able to find this gundam game I was super excited to try! It’s all in that capsule you see in the picture and has screens completely surrounding you with foot pedals, joysticks, and all sorts of crazy controls you just have to see for yourself!
The temple is in Harajuku in the middle of this huge forest right in the middle of the city. At the beginning of the 20th century to honor the deaths of the Meiji Emperor and Empress they made this forest and temple in Tokyo. It was awesome! They had 150 year old artifacts and pictures of all the past emperors dating back to the time of Christ in a museum here!
Warrior Bar at Ueno
After that we met up with some past interns that are currently studying abroad in Tokyo at the tiny Warrior Bar nearby Ueno station. It’s a pretty typical foreigner hangout which is on the 5th floor of a building, but we were able to get some cheap (ish) beers, fish and chips, and have a good time there.
I just got in to Tokyo last night at around 4:30pm!! It’s crazy being here and every little thing is totally different!
After a bus ride from Madison to Chicago my flight left from O’Hare at 1:30pm Wednesday and I got into Tokyo at 4:30pm Thursday. The weird thing was that since we were flying west the whole time I experienced about 24 hours straight of sunlight! The flight went by surprisingly quickly though. Since it was about 3:30am in Japan when we left as soon as I got on the plane I tried sleeping for the first 4 hours or so, so I think that’s helped me be on track here relatively quickly!
Luckily I had a nice girl around my same age going to Korea to visit her family for the summer sitting next to me instead of some big sweaty dude. The benefits were 2-fold, we got to chit-chat, and she took up very little space which was great for me.
Thank goodness there were no problems with the bus or flight and everything went according to plan!
As soon as I got in and through customs I was able to go to a cell phone stand and get a pre-paid phone for Japan. It’s pretty cool, I get unlimited e-mail on it which pretty much replaces texting here but I can send messages to computer emails as well, and the only thing I have to pay for per minute is if I make a call to someone.
After I got set up with my phone I took a bus all the way from the airport to my hotel which was about a 40 minutes ride. There was a lot more rural area between the airport and Tokyo than I expected. A lot of rice paddies!
Everyone drives on the road here which is really alarming to see! I expected it, but still having left turns be like right turns and seeing drivers on the opposite side of the car was totally weird!
As soon as we got into the city there are a bunch of huge buildings and everything is packed! I got checked into my hotel no problem and as you can see my room is pretty tiny! The room is surprisingly comfortable though and after the initial shock having a nice bed to sleep in was awesome.
After being checked in I was between starving and completely exhausted so trying to find something to eat was an adventure. I went down to the lobby and all the buildings between my hotel and Shinagawa station are connected with a bunch of shops in between, so I didn’t have a problem finding places where there was food, but that’s just half the battle, you have to know how to order it too! The only food court area I found instead of ordering your food at the counter you have to first buy tickets from a vending machine, then give them to the cooks behind the counter and wait for your meal. All the vending machine buttons are in Japanese though and I had no idea how it worked! So I decided I didn’t quite have the energy to tackle that last night and ended up feasting on some potato chips I bought back in O’Hare, haha. I won’t let the vending machine beat me today!
Now I’m pretty well rested and I feel like I’ve beaten the jet-lag, since I was able to sleep from 10pm to 6:30am here and only woke up twice throughout the night feeling like it was the middle of the day. I’m all cleaned up and ready to go explore! I’ll be sure to take some pictures and give a quick update soon!
Last week to relax!
Here’s my first post! Just got the blog up and running so check here to see some pictures and updates about what I’ve been up to. This past week I’ve just been taking some time to relax and get ready to head out to Japan. I’ve been lucky to have Logan’s help getting ready and he’s been doing a lot of…well…pooping. Check back here towards the end of the week!