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journals>>The First Four Months (Japan 2001)


Getting There | March | 1st Month Overview | April | May/June


Well, the flight over was all went good at first, left on time from Detroit, went to Chicago. Had some food at Chili's to take up some of our six-hour layover time and eventually got on our plane to Seoul, Korea. So we're in our plane for bout 14 hours and we fly over Seoul...but we can't land because it is too foggy. So we land on the southernmost island of Korea and sit on the runway in the plane for more than four hours, fly back to Seoul and barely catch our connecting flight. Most of us thought we were going to miss our flight to Osaka, Japan, but somehow we didn't, dunno how.

So we finally get to Japan, grab our luggage and go by charter bus for a two-hour bus ride to where we're living--Otsu. Total traveling time...something like 32 hours. We get here, have a quick briefing about our apartments, then eat dinner at the Biwako hotel shopping center right across the street from us...I had a 'Burger Steak', a roll and scrambled eggs. Yummy. We were all pretty much starving, and very tired. So after dinner, most of us go back to our apartments and unpack/sleep.

(Sorry I'm posting this kind of late, our internet connection wasn't up until like 10 days after we got here.



March 3 - First Full Day
Got up, had a hour orientation downstairs, and a uniform fitting. The rest of the day we looked around the city a bit, had dinner (gyudon and miso ramen) at a local restaurant. We also went shopping and got a few things...that cost us $80! Now we have to exchange money quick or we're gonna be broke...

March 4 - Games...
We started the day by going to the Otsu Friendship Association; we played traditional Japanese games, practiced Japanese painting and had a big welcoming party with food and meeting the local residents. After the welcoming party we had the rest of the day to do what we wanted, so me and two other guys went into what we thought was Kyoto, and in short, ended up wandering the streets for hours and trying to find out how to get home by train. It was fun.

March 5 - Keihan Railways
We got all dressed up-nice shirt, shoes, jacket and tie and took a train ride over to Osaka for a meeting with the board of directors and the president of Keihan Railway Co. They have 14,000 employees, something like 40 subsidiaries, have been around for 100 years and own Universal Studios Japan (along with a lot of other stuff). So we had a bunch of formal speeches, we introduced ourselves, then had one of the really expensive $100+ lunches with a bunch of little courses that looked really nice but didn't fill you up. We talked with some of the subsidiary presidents--we were all sat at tables with 3 students and 3 directors. The guys were pretty cool. After the dinner we had free time, so we went home, changed, and went to the cell phone store so we could hook everyone else up with cell phone details. We succeeded...we think...after 3 hours of questioning; they couldn't speak English =). After that fun trip we had dinner at a German bar, I had 4 ham cold cuts for 6 bucks and a potato for 2.

March 6 - Governor
A very long day, we had to get dressed up again to visit the governor of our prefecture and all of the other dignitaries. Very fun...well, not really, heh. After that, I finally pick up my cell phone after two more hours of talking to the people there, we think everything is worked out. It is very cool, I'll post pics of the phone (costs me 55 bucks for the phone and about 45 each month for service with 85 minutes free) -- you wouldn't believe how cool they are, color screens, mp3 players, cameras and stuff on their phones. AT LEAST two years ahead of our coolest phones, if not four. So in the evening, we get dressed up again and go to the official welcoming party, another one of the super-fancy events with the $100+ meals. Didn't even like most of the food, they all had French names and looked very pretty though. So we eat, talk and make fools out of ourselves by having to sing YMCA in front of everyone, complete with choreography. After that we went out to celebrate it all being over with.

March 7- Otsu Mayor
We started the day off by going to check out the Michigan boat that we'll be working on, took a tour of it and were introduced to what we are going to have to do for the next nine months. After that, get dressed up yet again, go to the mayor's office/city building, have a meeting with him and city officials, then go home and rest because we are all very tired.

March 8 & 9 - Training
Nothing special happened these days, all we did was receive instructions on what we will be responsible for on the ship that we work on. We trained on the boat from 9am to 3pm and didn't really do much after that.

March 10 - Paati! Paati!
Biwako Lake opening day festival was today, we dressed up in our work uniforms, went to the lake and heard some speeches. Then we had about an hour long ride on the Michigan Boat where we served drinks--it was all very unorganized as far as what and how we were supposed to do things, but hey, the program has only been around for twenty years, eh? (^^) I'm sure we'll learn what to do in the next few days when we work more. Then we have a big parade around Otsu, another ceremony, free time for lunch, and then we get our pictures taken in our uniforms. After that is all done, we get the rest of the day from from about 3pm on, so we head into Kyoto again. We just walk around, check out the super-cool electronics stores that are SO much better than the ones in the US (sorry Best Buy =), of course, it's mostly because they have so many cool gadgets here. It is all VERY expensive. We go to dinner at an all you can eat pizza place-Shakeys-and stuff ourselves with bad tasting pizza and rubbery noodles. We were happy to be stuffed full with American-like food though! Mmmm...egg, sausage and squid pizza....yummy...

March 11 - First Day
Today we had our first 9-5 was supposed to be un-busy. But it was not. The day WAS relatively calm overall, but the second of the four cruises had a party of 120 people in it, which were on our floor of the boat--it was very hectic. And they said it is only worse in the summer with the heat and MORE people. Woohoo! I'm sure we will get faster and more competent soon, which will make it all a lot easier. Time did seem to go very quickly though, which is a plus. After that we go to a Korean food place and have dinner with one of our boat band member friends who is leaving for a couple months to go back to the US. The food was very good and very spicy for the most part.

March 13 - First Day...Classes
I got the pleasure of waking up at 7:20 this morning for school, which is every Tuesday and Thursday for us, starting today. We had a two hour government class, then a two hour Japanese language class, then an hour lunch, then another two-hour language class (followed by another hour and a half of culture class on Thursdays). We already have homework in every class, and we even had a quiz in Japanese class. Most of us in the upper-level Japanese class have no idea what we're doing, but hey, that's cool. Japanese instructors seem to go very fast with material. Oh, and yesterday didn't do much because it was my day off. I woke up late, had a bath for the first time (bath, not shower, I have had showers =), and laid around the apartment while my roommate was at work. I went to dinner at a Japanese 'pizza' place (okonomiyake), which tasted very good; you make it yourself. Then we went to a karaoke place for a few hours.

March 14 & 15 - Getting into The Routine
Neither of these days is very exciting, I went to work, came back to the house at 5:30, then hung around with most of the other people in the house lobby watching the Green Mile (good movie) until 10:30, then I went upstairs and did homework. Next day, wake up, go to school, eat, hang around, etc. etc. This is what I'll be doing a lot of from now on, since you don't have too much time to do stuff when you get off school/work around 5:00pm. It is getting warmer, which started yesterday; a definite plus, it has been freezing cold here with the wind (like Chicago in winter)



My First Month in Japan
(Sorry if this sounds a little corny but...) My first month in Japan will always be remembered, just for the experience of immersing myself in another culture for the first real time. Day to day, it isn't much different than being at home as far as my schedule goes, with work and school. But just being in Japan makes work, which I've never been a fan of, a point of course, it is work (^^). Just walking down the street, eating at restaurants, hanging out, talking to people (or attempting to) and trying to read all of the signs I see is fun. Here's some stuff I've observed or thought was worthy of posting here:

I'm going to go crazy - the songs played on the Michigan Boat, which I work on, are going to kill me before anything else here. The songs themselves are not bad by themselves...for the most part, but they are played four times a day (one for each cruise we work), by a husband and wife "band" from Michigan. They play this show on the upper deck of the boat and ham it all up, much to the delight of the Japanese. And I am going to have to listen to 8 1/2 more months of it... The songs in the order they are played are:

1. Surfin' USA 2. Gotta Get You Into My Life 3. Sherry Baby 4. What the World Needs Now (is Love) 5. Danny Boy 6. (I never promised you a) Rose Garden 7. Livin' La Vida Loca 8. Somewhere Over the Rainbow 9. Wipeout 10. YMCA

Everyone is very nice - either people don't talk to you here or they are amazingly nice to you. Just the small amount of people I have met so far have been exceedingly nice to all of us, always buying meals and gifts for us and whatever. Of course, I seem to hear this a lot about foreign was the same for me in China as I remember, and Africa, other parts of Asia I hear...this courtesy just isn't common enough in the Western countries it seems. And I may also add that Otsu city is a very beautiful city, and what I've seen of Japan has for the most part also been very beautiful.

Karaoke is actually pretty fun - I, believe it or not, had never karaoke'd before this trip, but it's fun, I'll admit it. It is almost a national pastime here, so I'm sure I'll do it a lot during the nine months I'm here.

Waaaaa... - For anyone that has watched Southpark, you remember the episode with the dying giraffe sound, "waaaa". Well, our mission in Japan is to show that to everyone we meet and make it popular in Japan...see picture. We have showed the "Waa" sign to everyone we have met; employees we work with, Japanese people we don't know, we even had a whole class trip of high school students from Tokyo doing it, we must have taken 40 pictures of different groups of kids along with us going "waaaa". Every person in Japan will be doing it by the time we're done, hehe.

The Plague? - OK, since we have been here, every single person has gotten sick at least one time (with me last), some people have gone to the hospital, one girl has a broken rib (doesn't know why), another has a tumor-thing in her wrist, another girl almost passed out twice, and that's only the stuff I remember that happened in the first three weeks. It's like Japan is a magnet for bad health or something, I dunno. One year they had something like five appendectomies....but there's still time I guess.

CD Rental Shops+CD Burner=Fun Time - Yes, they have music CD rental shops over here. Yes, they sell blank CDs at the shop. Yes, I was the one student to bring a portable CD burner. Add all of that, and that fact that CDs over here cost around $30 a pop, and you can see why I have already copied 30 CDs or so for a net cost of $3 a piece for me and the other students. We should have these places in the US... (note: I do not condone the copying of copyrighted materials unless one owns the originals... :)



April 1 & 2 - Nagoya
My friend and her family picked me up early Sunday morning, we drove about an hour and a half to Nagoya city, north-east of Otsu. After eating some lunch of famous Nagoya flat udon noodles, her dad dropped us off at Nagoya-jo (Castle) which was very cool; the first castle I had been to, it looked even better with the cherry blossoms everywhere-check the pics. Then we left and went to Sakae and looked around the big shopping district-from there it was a half-hour walk to the Nagoya JR station where we looked around a huge department store then went up to the 51st level of a huge tower and had an awesome view of Nagoya. Went to their house at the end of the day, had a delicious dinner, went to sleep, woke up and we went to a waterfall park, about a half-hour from Kuwana (where they live-the next closest city to Nagoya). That was also very beautiful, had a fun hike up the mountain; then I was driven back to Otsu.

April 4 - Hanami
A Japanese coworker of ours threw a Hanami (flower-viewing) party at a local park, and everyone ended up coming. We spent five hours just hanging out, meeting new people, eating and drinking; very fun. We're going to have two more of these parties for different occasions next week-the sakura blossoms only last for about two weeks here, so this is a big thing in Japan to have Hanami parties. Check out the pictures and you can see that we're having fun.

And the rest of April...
OK, so I fell a little bit behind in my journal so here's a synopsis of what I did in April. I went to a lot of restaurants and parties, spent a lot of money, had a few more Hanami parties, did well on my school mid-term exams, stayed for a night at a Japanese family's home as a planned home stay, had a group meeting with a local girl's high school, visited a Japanese courthouse, went to Osaka and did an all-nighter; was invited to a billiard hall and we played pool for a while, the owner showed us some tricks, went to a few birthday parties, visited Nipponbashi (the big electronics district in Osaka) twice, visited Osaka-jo castle and ate for the first time at a conveyor-belt sushi bar which was tasted pretty good. I also visited Shigaraki; a huge pottery place that is famous around here and I made a clay bowl, and.....well, that's all the important stuff I can remember, check out the pictures. Oooohh and my friend Kevin climbed up a 3,000ft mountain near Otsu city named Hiei-zan. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and has a huge complex of temples at the top founded in the 9th century. We explored the whole place, had lunch at the top of the mountain, then climbed down it to Kyoto, tried to find the train station for an hour then came home. It took us about eight hours in all, very cool.



May - First Update [05.08.2001]
So far, as of the 8th of May, I have gone to Nipponbashi (Osaka electronics district) and bought a mixer because I am learning how to DJ...just have to buy the turntables now....and the records....when I actually have money that is. I am still looking for somewhere around Otsu where I can learn Aikido (Japanese martial art), no luck yet. A few days ago I went to see my friend's band play in Kyoto, he's the drummer in a Japanese rock/punk-ish band, they're very good and coming out with a CD this month, I'll post some MP3's soon. This week I have been studying (gahhhh.....) and doing homework and papers for finals. Two days ago I went to see my friends soccer game in Kyoto and yesterday me and my friend went for an all day exploring trip in Kyoto with my Japanese friend from Nagoya and her friend. We visited a few temples and had lunch and dinner in Kyoto, very fun, had a good time.

May - Second Update [06.14.2001]
So what did I end up doing in May and early June...well, first of all, as an update to the above paragraph, I'm not gonna have the money to buy turntables, so......oh well. And I don't have the time or money to learn a martial art this trip to Japan. I've gone to Nagoya a few times and hung out with my friends there, climbed another mountain-Mt. Hira [3,700ft.] which took me about 4 hours to reach the top. Visited a bunch of temples, went to a huge flea market in Kyoto, had a sukiyaki party which tasted very good, went to Shigaraki again and made more pottery, watched my friend's band in Kyoto, went to some clubs and hung out, went bowling and karaoke a few times, and attended two huge parties for the 20th anniversary of the Japan Adventure Program, there were alumni from all the way back in 1982 that attended, it was very fun, I met a lot of interesting people. So in a nutshell, that's what I've been doing in addition to 30+ hours of work a week, soon to be more hours with more customers because of summer; and going to school full time (16 credit hours). So most of us are at a consensus that we are the busiest we have even been in our lives. Check out the pix of all the above stuff.