Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thank You Japan

Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday were filled with a lot of work, another dinner and more things learned. As the end of the trip came to a close I had mixed emotions about it. I was very homesick and ready to be home with all of my boys...but at the same time I was feeling sad about leaving the Japan people and office.

I don't feel I can do a very good job at describing the culture that I experienced there and the people I met. In the corporate environments I have been in over the past decade there are a lot of "office politics", a lot of competition and a lot of "show".

This is not at all what I experienced during this business trip.

I have never seen so much respect and appreciation in the workforce, and among people as a whole. People are not "loud". People are not all about making sure they get credit for something or about being right. In the same breath, there is a huge effort to get everything done possible, a lot of hours put in and a lot of hard work. There is a sense of organization, confidence in culture and foundation.

I am humbled by this.

I wish I was more like so many positive examples seen from the team - in my career and personal life both.

Thank you Japan for your hospitality, and the country will always be in my heart!

Sunday with Kanae

The original plan on Sunday was to take an English speaking city tour of Tokyo…alone. As time inched closer and my confidence in navigating the public transpiration system got lower I decided to pass up the tour.

But in doing that something even better came out of it and it was the best day I spent during my 10 days in Japan!

Kanae offered to meet me in the morning and spend the day showing me around! All I had to do was take the subway over to Yokohama and meet her. I made it over there fine and without any hiccups and we hopped back on the train to Eno-shima Island.

The day was SO much fun and I saw so many things: Eno-shima Island, Mt. Fuji, a traditional Japanese Wedding, The Great Buddha of Kamakura and a lot of places to shop. The views were beautiful and the company was even better. Lots of getting to Kanae more and a lot of great insight into the Japanese culture from a woman.

We ended up heading back at about 4 that afternoon, and it was nice to get settled back into the room and get ready for the week.

I am SO thankful for Kanae and the great Sunday we had!

A Day of Rest


The work week in Japan was a busy, hard-working and wonderful week, but I was looking forward to Saturday to take a break and catch up on some shut eye.

And that's exactly what I did.

I fell asleep without even getting ready for bed and didn't wake up until noon on Saturday. It felt like the entire day was gone. By about 2pm I figured I should get out and try and find some food, and headed over to the train station where there is a whole floor of different food to choose from.

When I got over there I ended up finding a place with pastries and sandwiches where you can grab a tray, pick your own choices and then pay at the register.

That works for me!!

I ate pastries the rest of the day while working, watching Japanese T.V. and playing words with friends.

Great day!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Remember how I said there was a peacefulness and quiet aura about the city streets of Japan?

That does not apply to Tokyo.

Friday we worked until about 3:30 and then Inabe-san, Takashi, Takeo and myself headed out to visit Tokyo. This was quite the adventure. I lost count of how many trains we took the get over to the area, which was in the "town" of Shibuya. Large shopping district broken out into many areas ranging from a "teen" street to high end shopping malls with the typical brand names you would see in a luxe area. We spent about 3 hours walking around, and they were even nice enough to take me into Kiddyland (famous toy store in Japan) and I found some gifts for the boys that are like legos but smaller. When built they create Tokyo Tower and Kaminarimon.

After shopping we found a Japanese pizza place. Very good! Had good conversation as always and was once again thankful to be sitting, enjoying food and talking about Japanese culture in comparison to American culture and getting to know my dinner dates as not just co-workers but also "friends".

After dinner Takashi and I rode back from the area to Shin Yokohama and I was very happy to be going back with someone. There is about a 4% chance I would have made it back to my hotel with the way the JR system runs.

Random Rememberings

• When I lost my phone I told a few people I was "crossing my fingers" that it was found (and made the gesture). I was asked later what that meant (crossing fingers). When I explained several people responded my clasping their hands together as if in prayer.
• I noticed a lot of the trains, buildings and restaurants were not running air. They said that ever since the earthquake they need to save energy, especially with the summer coming up. A lot of buildings and areas turn off their lights after a certain time at night to conserve as well.
• Rainy season starts next month and runs into July. It becomes very humid.
• Clipping nails in the evening is a big superstition. If you do this you will not be with your parents when they die. I needed to file my nails last night but I waited until this morning…yes it was just filing but I didn't want to take the risk.
• Tissue paper seems softer.
• Toilet paper is thinner.
• You always receive you a warm towel before eating.
• A majority of the restaurants have a button you push when you're ready to order (think Studio Movie Grill), and the waiter/waitress shows up immediately. If there is no button you call to them. Very different than in America. In America you sit and wait…and wait...sometimes for a very long time.
• Many gather to temple or shrine for New Years to watch the sun rise, then toss coin in temple water, make wish and pray.
• Kimonos are not worn as often, more by older generation or while drinking tea/tea lesson.
• The people who were effected by the earthquake and tsunami and who lost their houses and cars are still required to make payments on those debts, even though they were destroyed.

Very thankful for this day!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What Did I Just Eat?

Thursday was a tough morning. The night before I was up late working and was done about 2am but unable to sleep. I guess the time difference was doing a number on me and I fell asleep about 4…woke up at 8am.

Another productive day in the office. Worked through lunch and was able to head out for dinner again with some of the team…this time Kentaro was able to meet us!

Kentaro is the person I had been in a lot of contact with for the past year, but he left the company a couple of months ago. I am SO thankful I was able to see him Thursday night!!

We had dinner at UEMON near Shin Yokohama Station. Bar, food, loud, lovely. This was the most experimental dinner yet. Salad that appeared to have pepper on it was actually the eyes of little fish. Crunchy I might add. There were kabobs with meat…but not just any kind…pieces of the heart and liver of I believe they said…a horse.

Am I correct?

Does it make a difference if I'm wrong? It was heart and liver and that's all that matters.

The whole meal was delicious but I have to say the "liver" was not my most favorite thing I've ever put in my mouth.

Drinks this week have been quite the pleasure as well. After being asked what I drink in America and answering Dr. Pepper and cosmopolitans they have been ordering me "fruity" Japanese wine with very good flavor. One night my drink had a bit of an apricot taste and I could have had a handful of those, but the business rule for me is stick to one.

Kentaro was quite entertaining and Takeo, Takashi and Inabe-san were there as well so it was a perfect way to end the day.

Many thanks for another amazing day!


Wednesday morning I woke up very rested and ready to go. I got more than 8 hours of sleep which is more than I typically get at home with 3 kids.

Went into the office without grabbing breakfast. Definitely didn't feel hungry enough to have a meal. Had a call in with the US in the morning and a lot of work and organizing. Takashi brought me lunch from the convenience store (egg sandwich and dessert). It was very good.

Hiroki san and Takeo were gracious enough to take me to Chinatown for dinner that evening. It was about a 20 minute taxi ride over to the area. It was raining and had been ever since I arrived. We enjoyed a meal at Manchinrou in China town. The front of the restaurant was decorative and beautiful. Inside the colors were just as vibrant and I felt very under dressed. When I travel for business I still typically dress for comfort as there is a lot of walking, but it's time like these I wish I had changed.

I counted 12 columns on the menu…and it was a course for each column. The food was amazing, and it was filling! The company was great as usual and I've been learning a lot of Japanese viewpoints, culture and way of life.

Random Learnings

• When I asked what was the first things they thought of when mentioning the US the answers were: Coke, The Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge and Hollywood movies.
• There are 3 forms of written Japanese.
• The men (that I have been around) don't cook.
• "Hot Springs" seem to very popular here. (Like a spa)
• They are not allowed to work in the office on Friday nights after 5:45 (but some people sneak back in).
• The way birthdays are written is confusing to me. So if your birthday was April 8th, 1965, you would see 22 04 08. The 22 stands for how long it's been since the last Emperor passed away. The last one died in 1989 and when the next one dies it will start over at 0.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tuesday in Yokohama

What day is it again? Everyone warned me about the jet lag, but it is really catching up to me. I'm writing this on Thursday and thinking back to Tuesday.

Tuesday was the first day in the office. Noriko met me at the hotel again to walk me over to Lands' End. It is a very short walk, about 5 minutes total time. The weather was humid and cloudy. Arrived at the office. It looks a bit like a bank building in a strip of offices…tall, gray, glass. LE has the 3rd and 4th floors. These are not large floors. Tomoko gave me a very nice tour of both floors and introduced me to a lot of people, yet it was very quiet. The desk I am sitting at has a nice view outside and privacy.

A few meetings and lots of prep work the first day. 7 of us walked over to Modern Grill for a welcome lunch. The food was incredible and the restaurant was very nice. Getting to know the team has been a very positive experience.

I was lucky enough to be taken out to dinner as well by two team members and we enjoyed a meal at Kurobuta-an. Very traditional Japanese off. I've been eating and drinking anything ordered for me and of course loving the new food. I can't say everything I've tried has been great, but MOST of it has!! I think the most important thing is…don't always ask what you are eating!!

I've noticed in almost all the restaurants they have buttons you can press when you are ready to order. Very convenient.

Tuesday night after dinner was quiet and I went to sleep right away. Got a lot of rest and was ready to start the next day feeling refreshed and productive! If only I could say the same for this Thursday jetlag!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Goal Complete: Visit Another Country

The plane touched down at the Narita airport at about 4:15 on Monday afternoon. From there it was through customs, to the bag claim, and then what seemed like a second customs (2 forms too) and to the bus ticketing counter. I got a ticket to Shin Yokahama Station with 10 minutes to spare. I was warned to make sure and catch the bus at the exact time, and that was a good tip. The buses came and went down to the minute and even pulled away from the curb at the same time…it was like watching synchronized swimming…but with transportation!

The bus was about a 2-hour ride, and as soon as I stepped off Takashi and Noriko were there to meet me. We walked over to the hotel and they got me checked in. I'm VERY thankful they were there to handle that. Got up to the room and they also helped me figure out the water system (turning on hot water). Thanked them and got my things settled in for the evening. Reach into my back pocket for my phone...and…phone…gone.


I even remember thinking to myself on the bus that this is too easy…easier than I anticipated…it's too good to be true and something needs to go wrong.

This was it.

I search everything and everywhere in the room and no luck. There's no phone in the room to call Noriko. I go downstairs to try and use the pay phone and could not figure it out. I don't attempt to ask the gentleman at the front desk because it didn't seem to speak much Engligh. I decide to walk back over to the station hoping the bus is still there. The bus is gone. Go to the ticket office in hopes of a lost and found. They don't understand me. I spend about 20 minutes trying anyways, pointing to my ticket, motioning the use of the phone. No luck. They send me upstairs to the hotel lobby in the building and the front desk clerk calls the bus line to ask and they were closed. They give me a number to call in the morning. I find this all very strange since I was just down in the actual bus station, but I take the number and cross my fingers anyways that there is hope in the morning.

Long story short: my phone is found and they had a courier bring it back to me a day later. This could not have happened without Noriko's help, that's for sure.

First impression observations:

• Everything seems very structured and organized.
• It's more quiet than I expected it to be.
• Everyone drives and walks on the left hand side.
• I see a lot of bright colors in signs, but not in what people are wearing.
• The cars seem small.
• People walk everywhere.
• The toilets are very high-tech. There are buttons just to lift and lower the seat in addition to other buttons that I can only imagine what they do.
• The food is very different, particularly the breakfast I had the first day..the eggs tasted like fish.
• TV is very entertaining and everyone seems very happy and energetic, on TV.
• This is the most hospitable place I've ever been too. Everyone makes sure I am taken care of, food, questions, transpiration, sight seeing, work supplies, etc.
• Everyone is very polite.
• I've only been in meetings with men.

I keep forgetting I am here on business as I am enjoying myself so much. Friday will be the first excursion to Tokyo so I will be curious to see how that compares to Yokahama.

Thankful to be here!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


So here I am, sitting in the Chicago International airport on my 6th Mother's Day, waiting to board a plane for the first time to Tokyo, Japan. Can't say I ever planned on realistically heading to Asia, especially on my own, and it's never been at the top of my list for places to go.

The morning has been a smooth one so far. I was up before 6, in the shower and still packing. The boys trickled up/down into the living room all before 6:30. We were out the door a little after 7. They dropped me off at the Madison airport (so glad I didn't have to drive to Milwaukee) and it was an easy check-in. AA surprisingly didn't charge to check my bag, but I suppose if you're paying that much for a flight maybe it's a perk? It was a 30 minutes flight over to Chicago where I now sit for the next 3 hours before boarding the Narita plane. It's always quite the walk from terminal to terminal here, and today was no exception. I took my time doing it this go around, and also stopped to exchange currency. $150 got me 10,000 Yen. I'm a little worried at how far that will get me. But all I really need for the next few days or so is a few meals and a bus ticket from Narita to Shin Yokohama Station. This flight leaves at 1:30 pm and I will arrive in Tokyo at 4:15 pm on Monday afternoon, then a 2-hour bus ride to the station. Thankfully someone from the office is supposed to meet me there to get me to the hotel.

The feeling I have right now takes me back to a few other travel "firsts". My first flight by myself to California, my first international flight to Italy and my first culture shock in Paris with Keith. All "life-changing" events, and I'm sure this one will be no less.

Off to grab my last American meal for 10 days, and soak in the comfort of "home".