First Four Months (Japan 2001)
| March | 1st Month
Overview | April | May/June
Well, the flight over was interesting...it
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
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 workday...it 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,
special...to 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.
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
countries...it 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
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 yah...me 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.