This is a great movie. I first saw this movie in 2006 before our first trip to Japan. I am not sure if I understood at the time what it was really about, though. I mostly watched it because it was about Japan, and an area of Tokyo where I was going to be visiting. I have watched the movie many times since, and it has become one of my go-to repeat favorites. Certainly not action-packed, but entertaining and funny. After the past 5 days here in Japan, I find myself thinking more and more about this movie — identifying with the characters — and maybe finding a deeper understanding of what the movie is about.
I was out with our relocation consultant yesterday doing an area tour to help get acclimated to the new neighborhood where we will live here in Tokyo. Ai and I on the surface don’t seem that much different. Certainly she is younger and has different features, but we dress in similar fashion, we converse in English… not her native tongue, but she is very good at speaking English. Much better than I ever hope to be at speaking Japanese! But despite surface appearances, and despite how “westernized” the Japanese appear to be/try to be/want to be (which is it?), I have started to realize that there is a very real cultural disconnect between us. Not that this is at all unexpected or bad… it is just not very apparent on the surface. It is just something bubbling under the surface that you begin to notice in subtle ways.
Don’t get me wrong, the people we have met here have been nothing but gracious and kind and welcoming. But sometimes I think we are puzzled by each other. I saw this yesterday when talking to Ai… Sometimes even though she would nod her head and say “yes, yes” — or “hai, hai”, she would get a quizzical look on her face like she didn’t understand what I was talking about. Or when I would ask about something I saw and she would have trouble explaining about it in English… something that she couldn’t quite put into words that I (a gaijin!) could understand. Our languages don’t translate directly, of course… and the meanings and the cultural context behind the languages don’t either. A bird is still a bird, and a tree is still a tree, but our feelings and experience of those objects just does not translate completely. It isn’t easy. But it is infinitely fascinating… and sublime.
Oh… And I did have my first “gaijin” moment yesterday. I was at Tamachi station… distracted and looking at my map… and I got on the escalator. But I automatically stood to the right. In Japan it is reversed… they drive on the left, they walk on the left, they stand on the escalator to the left. Big no-no… And, maybe it was my imagination, but I don’t think so… I heard a whispered “gaijin” and realized my faux pas, moved over to the left, and several people walked past me on the right. Oops! My bad! Gotta laugh… Yeah, I am a Gaijin. But I am learning…
This is the “he” writer of the blog. My first day at work in Japan was a lot like other first days…getting my access badge, talking to the IT guy about the new computer, getting instructions on office procedures. After lunch, we met the relocation person to look at apartments. Choose one on the 30th floor of a building about 10 minutes from the office. I think we will like it.
On my second day, I started a 3-day trip to Korea. Traveling with 2 Japanese colleagues. At the airport, I’m asked if going to exchange money to get Korean currency. Hadn’t thought of that – I seldom carry cash, and use credit cards in the U.S. One of the many things I need to consider as I get into a more “cash only” society.
I still feel awkward going through security. My customs card isn’t fully filled out and I have trouble understanding the security person. Fortunately it means only a small addition to the form, and the person is patient.
The flight to Korea is pleasant and even includes a light lunch. Processing through customs is easy and uneventful.
There is a meeting in the afternoon followed by an enjoyable dinner of Korean barbecue. I find that despite our cultural differences we have a lot in common. It will be an interesting experience working with these Korean colleagues in the coming days.
A bit unexpected is the weather – light snow in Seoul this afternoon.
Day 2 in Tokyo, Japan… And some miscellaneous notes…
Walking around Tokyo, we are surrounded by a sea of Asian people — we are the oddball westerners — and yet, no one gives us a second glance. Everyone has been so kind, friendly and polite. All the workers in the stores and restaurants smile and greet us politely. When was the last time in the US that a check-out person at a store actually smiled and thanked me for my business?
I do notice furtive glances from other westerners as we meet on the street… Kind of like we aren’t sure if we should greet each other or not. We do kind of “stick out” in our appearance. Yesterday at the Tokyo Tower, we came across two girls taking pictures… both tall and blond. It was automatic to just assume that they spoke English, and offer to take their picture for them. Otherwise… since I am still learning the language, I tend to walk around in my “bubble.” I am hoping that after a while I won’t feel so conspicuous.
Jet lag… The jet lag is awful. I feel groggy during the day, and wakeful at night. It affects my body and mind in so many ways! It affects my appetite, my digestion, and most of all my sleep. My days and nights are completely mixed up right now. From past experience, I know that after about 4 days, things start to improve. I can’t wait.
Cell phones. My cell phone works here in Japan (Thank you T-Mobile!!!) I get free texting and data here, and calls back to the US are only 20 cents per minute… and I have wifi calling. My husband’s phone is from another company, and he can only use his on wifi. He will be getting a company phone here. I probably will get a phone for in-country calls.
But… Just because you have roaming turned off, doesn’t mean your phone won’t receive calls. My husband got a call from back home at 1:40 this morning. It was 11:40AM back home. We actually happened to be asleep at that point, but not after that. *sigh*
Breakfast. Our hotel offers a very nice breakfast in the morning. Traditional western breakfast… along with traditional Japanese offerings. See above photo. I kind of like the Japanese breakfast… more savory choices than a western breakfast. They pretty much eat fish, rice, vegetables, and miso soup at every meal. I have even taken a liking to the various seaweeds that they eat. I think I like it here…
We are sitting in our hotel room in Tokyo. We arrived yesterday evening after a long flight from Atlanta. The hotel is located just a short distance from Tokyo Tower in Minato-ku, Tokyo. It is just a 15 minute walk from where my husband will be working in Shibaura. From our hotel window, I can see Tokyo Bay and the Rainbow Bridge crossing it. I can see airplanes leaving Haneda International Airport, and I can see high-rise buildings all around — for miles. As we rode the bus in from Narita International yesterday, I saw the silhouette of Mt. Fuji in the distance, back lit by the setting sun.
We have spent the day exploring this area of Tokyo… walking the route to my husband’s new office, walking the perimeter of Shiba Park and around the Tokyo Tower… just trying to get acclimated to our new surroundings. Map in hand, and GPS on the phone, we have meandered through the streets. Addresses here are difficult to understand… street names/building numbers are not often visible, and many signs are written only in Japanese characters. It is weird to be on this side of the language/culture barrier… to be the “foreigner.”
It all feels very surreal to me at this point. It is still hard to believe that this is happening. The past few weeks have been hectic and stressful with preparations, and leaving behind our home and our family and our pets. I am excited to finally get here and move on to learning about our new city and its culture. I am sure that there will be days when I regret the decision to come here… but I hope there will be many more days that I revel in this amazing experience.
Tomorrow afternoon, we are scheduled to go on an apartment hunting trip with the relocation company. They have eight apartments for us to see in the area close to the office. We are hoping to find something soon, so that we can start to feel more settled in this place. More tomorrow, and photos to follow…
When we were first offered this two year assignment to Japan, pretty much all we thought about was how interesting and exciting it would be to experience living in another place and another culture. We really didn’t consider just how complicated and exhausting the actual “moving” part of the experience would be. Not that I regret our decision in any way… I would still choose to do this even so… but since part of the reason I am doing this blog is to inform people about how this whole process works (the good and the bad), I have to be honest about how stressful it can be.
I am SO ready to be done with this part and on to the adventure part of it. And… in 4 days we will be. But those 4 days will be… and actually the past month or more has been… the most stressful experience of my life. Mostly just working out what to do with all of our “stuff” here for the two years that we will be there. We have to move out of our house here, and put everything that we aren’t taking to Japan into storage. We had to “re-home” our pets (to our children), including driving 500 miles to our daughter’s home with our 17+ year old kitty. Throw the Christmas holidays into the mix, and the past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride.
Today has been more laundry and cleaning, the horrible refrigerator and pantry “purge”… and more work with the landscape maintenance company. Tomorrow is last minute appointments with dentist and chiropractor, a haircut, and final packing of our luggage. Also, we have two showings of our home to potential renters. Thursday will be movers packing our allotted 1000 pound shipment of household goods — which will arrive in Tokyo in 2 to 3 weeks. Friday, more last minute appointments and packing. Then Saturday we leave.
The actual packing and storing of the rest of our stuff… and leasing of our home… won’t actually take place until February. My husband has a business trip from Tokyo to Germany, and we will return here for a few days on our way back to Tokyo and move out of the house. Did I mention that we are also selling off one of our cars? One will go into storage in February, and the other is being sold this week. Our mail will be collected at my husband’s company here, and will be sent to us in Tokyo.
Like I said… lots of details that we never considered at the outset… And there will be a lot more details once we get to Tokyo to set up our home there. It is all getting done, day by day. And… My next post will be from TOKYO!!
We picked up the visas last week, and now we are down to the waiting for time to go. Not like we still don’t have a lot of things to do before we go… In some ways we are anxious and ready to get on with this, and in other ways, it just seems to be coming up too fast.
We still have a lot of arrangements that need to be made, but much of it just can’t be done until right before we leave. We have chosen a property management company to take care of and lease our home while we are away. We have chosen a lawn service to maintain the landscape and lawn. We have yet to meet with the mover who will ship our Japan belongings to Tokyo, and will pack up and store the rest of our belongings here. We have researched storage for our vehicles, but haven’t arranged for that yet. We have made initial arrangements for pet care… we are dividing the pets between our children for the next two years. (Yeah… remember all those times we DIDN’T say “no” when you asked for a new pet hamster, rabbit, mouse, rat, cat, etc? Now it is your turn to take care of some pets for us. [Insert Smiley-face])
Right now we are headed into the Christmas holidays. It has been difficult for me to get into the holiday spirit this year, because I have so many other things on my mind. We finally did get the tree up and some decorations out, but I feel almost halfhearted about it because we have to get it all taken down and packed away immediately after Christmas so that the movers can come in. I feel halfhearted about the holiday cooking as well, because I am simultaneously trying to clean out and use up the stuff in my pantry, fridge, and freezer. I still want to do the holiday stuff… because, after all, we won’t be spending Christmas together in this house for a couple of years, and I will miss that. But… It is hard to get motivated.
I still wake up in the night to ruminate and worry about everything. Sometimes I am so sure about it all and so excited to get there. Other times, I wake in a panic and wonder “What have I done?” I find that it always seems worse in the dark… when I am the only one awake… Once daylight returns, I usually feel better about it. Just feeling scared and alone in the dark, I guess. Three more weeks, and we get this show on the road… Three more weeks.
I’m the husband part of this blog team, and the culprit behind all this, given that I accepted the job assignment in Japan. My wife established the blog and has been the author for the posts to date, but I will be sharing the blog writing tasks as we move ahead.
Day before yesterday we submitted our visa applications. Given all the other complications we have had in this process, submitting the applications was amazingly easy. We drove to the office of the Consulate-General of Japan in Atlanta, located in Phipps Tower in Buckhead. After a quick elevator ride and an equally brief scan through security, we were at the Visa Application window. A friendly lady took our applications, Certificates of Eligibility, and passports. My wife signed a form allowing me to pick up her passport for her when finished. We received a receipt saying our visas should be ready on Dec. 10. With that, we were done…probably about 5 minutes in all, including the time to go through the security screening.
Unless there are any complications, we should have our visas tomorrow. Looking forward to checking that major item off the list.
No one has asked, but I want to explain about the picture at the top of the blog… You know, the guy with the scary eyes. That is a picture of a statue of Nio — one of the guardians of the Buddha. This statue stands at the entrance to the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. We have been to Senso-ji on both of our previous trips to Tokyo. It is a fascinating place. We stayed in a ryokan — a traditional Japanese inn — in Asakusa, just about a 100 meters or so from this statue.
Inside the outer gates to the temple grounds, is an open air market called Nakamisi-dori. There have been shops on this site for hundreds of years. It is a really fun and interesting place to walk around where vendors sell food and mostly tourist-related items and souvenirs. Busy from early morning to late at night after the lights of Senso-ji come on. Beyond the market area, is another gate called the Hozomon — or treasure house gate — which leads to the inner temple complex. This particular statue of Nio stands in the Hozomon as a fierce reminder to the visitors of Senso-ji.
We received the Certificate of Eligibility this past week, and now we are almost ready to submit our applications for the visas. This must be done in person to the Japanese Consulate Visa Office. Here in the ATL, that is in Buckhead. The webpage says 3-5 days to receive the visas, except in some special cases. Hopefully, we will have the visas within the next week.
This is becoming something of a time crunch. My husband’s Japanese company is eager for him to get there and get started, but here in the USA, we are heading into Christmas and New Years. They are willing to wait until after the holidays are over, but not much more. They have already planned his January schedule — including a couple of international business trips. We are trying to get arrangements worked out amid family holiday commitments. Working out packing and storage for our belongings here, and shipment of the belongings we are taking to Japan… where to farm out our pets for two years… signing our home over to a leasing and management company… and,where to store our vehicles for two years. So many things to work out in such a short time!
I know that we will get all of this figured out, but right now, I am feeling a bit stressed over this. I wake up in the night and my brain just starts churning over and over and over… I am excited about this opportunity to experience a different culture and country. I just wish I could fast forward a month or so through all of these complicated arrangements.
While we are waiting to get our visas so that we can move to Japan, my husband and I are trying to learn some Japanese. We have a very limited time in which to learn it, so I am sure to begin with, we will only be hitting the high points of the language, and learning some important and useful phrases. Once we get to Tokyo, I hope to continue our study of the language. I don’t want to always be hindered by my lack of Japanese language skills. Maybe expecting to become fluent is too much to ask, but at least I would like to feel comfortable conversing at some simple level.
One really difficult aspect of learning Japanese is that it uses different characters — or Kana. Plus… they also use an adapted form of Chinese characters called Kanji. That string of characters you see above is, in fact, my name… written in Japanese. The Kana are phonetic symbols while the Kanji are iconographic symbols. And, in written language, the Kana and Kanji are frequently mixed. Confusing!
I started out my Japanese instruction with an audio program called Earworms. It seems rather ingenious to me… the premise is that the sounds of the language are set to music, and it is easier for your brain to remember. I have used this program before when I was trying to learn Spanish. I like it, and after listening for a few weeks, I feel like I am at least getting used to the sounds of the language.
Yesterday, we also started some individual instruction with a Japanese instructor. Our son has been taking Japanese classes since he was in college, and also spent a summer term in Japan studying the language. He gifted us 3 hours of individual instruction with his teacher. We had one class last night, and will follow up with another in a couple of weeks… hopefully after some time to study all the information that she gave us.
It is going to take some time, but I am hoping that I will begin to be able to speak the language, and recognize some of the language that I hear. Reading and writing it, I feel, is going to take much longer. Just learning the phonetic characters seems almost an overwhelming task. The Kanji? Yikes!