My first impression of Japan is that it takes a really LONG time to get there.
(Actually my first impression of Japan is that it's extremely difficult to get
your passport when the US government furloughs all it's employees, but that's
a whole different story which will probably never get written)
The flight took 10 hours to fly from San Francisco airport to New Tokyo Narita Airport. Fortunately, there is the in-flight shopping magazine to keep you occupied. (You'd be amazed at the advanced literary techniques you can identify in an ad for a "Shiatsu Massager" when you've read it 67,324 times)
Fortunately for me, our group's liaison came with us so that we could get to the hotel without getting lost. I can honestly say I don't think I would have found it. We had to take some kind of chartered bus to get from Narita airport to the hotel in Tokyo proper. My first impression of Tokyo is that it looks like Las Vegas with 5 stories of first floors. The hotel we stayed at was about 5 times more expensive, too.
Speaking of money, you have to carry a lot of cash around in Japan, (and for a country that considers a 500 yen ($5) coin 'loose change' you have to carry a LOT of cash. ) not too many places take credit cards. Cash only. Pretty weird carrying a month's rent around in cash, but the place is actually pretty safe. Hardly any crime or violence against people.
The hotels are really nice, and everybody bends over backwards to help you. Well, at $450 a night, I guess I would kind of expect that. It was only that expensive in Tokyo. In Hon Atsugi where I stayed, the rooms at the Royal Park Hotel were really nice and less than $100 per night to boot. And they still bent over backward to help you. Not that this is an advertisement or anything, mind you.
To be honest, if it weren't for our Japanese liaison I would never have made it to Hon
Atsugi at all. If you don't speak (or read) any Japanese, you have two ways to
deal with the train stations:
1. Take somebody with you who speaks Japanese.
2. Stand around looking pathetic until somebody who speaks Japanese comes by and helps you out.
I found both methods highly effective. Fortunately for me, I have been studying Chinese, so I could read some of the signs written in Kanji. This was not really a big help, but at least it made me feel good. Anyway, our liaison took us on a Limited Express, which you pay extra for and you get a reserved seat. That didn't take us all the way to our destination so we had to switch trains. We got on a regular commuter train and rode for one stop. Then, after a lengthy announcement from the conductor in Japanese, our liaison said to us, "we have to get off the train" which was too bad because we'd actually found some place to sit. Anyway, so we get off the train, and he walks up ONE car ahead and gets back on the train. We follow, and ask, "why in the world did we do that?" He tells us, "they are going to split the train." It was right at that moment I felt I was really going to be in serious trouble in Japan.
Also fortunately for me, I have several friends in Japan as well as friendly co-workers who kindly showed me lots of different places in Japan. Everything from malls to monks. Plus there are these really terrific areas with the latest in high technology gizmos and cute girls trying to get you to buy them. The high technology gizmos, I mean.
Anyway, one of our co-workers graciously offered to take us around to the Hakone region and look at the beautiful scenery (Thanks, Furuya-san). It really is beautiful there. And not nearly as crowded as you might think. (This is probably because everyone who was trying to get there got stuck on the 'freeway' (note: there's no such thing as a 'freeway' in Japan, they're all toll roads)). Anyway, there's a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi and you can head up to a nearby geothermal area and have yourself a nice sulfur hot spring boiled egg, which is reported to add seven years to your life for every one you eat. I had two, so I'm expecting to live at least long enough to pay my taxes this year.
So, the following weekend, I was invited to a year end party with the IC layout team
(thanks, Iizuka-san!) where I think they paid a lot of money so we could cook our own food
on giant hot-grill tables. Of course, as with all food in Japan, everything was
so artfully arranged, you almost feel guilty messing it up to cook it. (Note: yes,
even when I had pancakes and hash browns at the local McDonalds every morning, they would
always smile and take the time to neatly arrange all the foam packages and plasticware.)
(Gratuitous Party Picture)
So, the next day another coworker friend (thanks, Kadoyama-san!) took me to Asakusa which has a lot of nice little shops leading to the namesake temple. A couple words about the shrines, they all have water available to wash your hands and most have incense you can breathe deeply. This is so you'll live longer, apparently. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with the incredible amount of cigarettes the Japanese smoke. Strangely, they live a long time. Anyway, when you finally get up to the shrine, you get to clap your hands, toss a few yen in and make a little prayer.
So, the next day it was off to do more shopping. Sometimes, I got the feeling that all the railroads in Japan were merely built to connect the shopping centers and the shrines, but deep down I know they also connect to apartment complexes, too. But I also went to the Shinjuku Gyoen Park where they have a lovely traditional Japanese Garden. Well, back to the shopping. So, I have always wanted a ceramic kitchen knife. They're really sharp and never get dull, unless you chip them. I've had a very hard time finding them in the US. In Japan? They have them in the mall stores. They also have Flat Panel and Wide Screen TVs in all the mall stores, too. In fact, Japan is a funny mix of the latest technology money can buy for sale here but I could hardly find a dang touch tone phone to call home and check my messages. (Both the fancy hotel and Sony had only pulse dial phones) I to to find a public pay phone and those all had ISDN sockets on them to boot.
Oh, and the work environment is really interesting. One giant floor after another with rows of desks placed end to end in back to back rows. No cubicles. At 9:00 sharp, the music plays and most everybody does their calisthenics and they do that again at 3:00 sharp. At 11:30 sharp the lunch bell rings and everybody heads off to the cafeteria. And at 12:15 the resume work bell rings. :)
Well, that's about it. I had a good time in Japan, and I have some more little quips to talk about and photos to show, but nothing cohesive. For example, there was the time I was riding on the train to Hon Atsugi from Shinjuku with my boss, and the train was so crowded I couldn't find him on the train. Turns out he was standing in the crowd behind me. It was too crowded to even turn around to see. When the train pulled up to a stop, you could smell the brakes burning. That was the most crowded train I had been on. Anyway, I'll continue to add things as I have time.