Toilets… Part 1

The Japanese have to have the most amazing toilet technology on the planet. Seriously. They have taken a rather mundane and sometimes disgusting everyday object and made it into something almost beautiful and most certainly amazing. They may choose to save electricity by not having a clothes dryer — and consequently hanging clothes to dry on balconies or in their bathrooms, but they will not skimp on the electricity for their toilets!

This is the toilet in our hotel room. Yes… it has a heated seat (kind of a nice feature, actually.) Yes…  it has an adjustable water spray AND a bidet. And this one has the added convenience — at least for us language-challenged foreigners — of having the controls written in English. Now, granted, no one NEEDS a toilet this fancy. In a pinch just about any old toilet will do the job, but these state-of-the-art-in-toilet-technology toilets are pretty nice…  and interesting. A pleasant way to take care of the necessary human moments of out daily lives.

Like I have said before, the Japanese people are all about efficiency and utility. Yet…  In this area, I would say they are almost over-the-top-extravagant. Certainly not all the toilets in this country are as posh as this one, and I will be talking about the “other options” I have experienced here, in later blog posts. There is a whole range of features available. At  Tamachi (subway) Station near the restaurant court, the stalls in the women’s restroom have an electronic sensor that turns on waterfall and bird sounds as soon as you get close to the toilet — presumably to drown out other less pleasing sounds that may be heard. Some offer disinfectant wipes, or release bursts of air freshener into the stall areas. Our hotel toilet starts circulating the water to make the water sounds as soon as you sit on the seat. My husband, though, said that the men’s restroom at Tamachi has no such sound features. So… does that mean we women have more delicate and more easily offended sensibilities? Lol…  The sociological discussion for the day.

Yes. This is an interesting place…

Lost in Translation, part 2

My 3-day trip to Korea was interesting and a bit exhausting. The purpose was to meet with members of a company that will play host to a big meeting we will hold in 2017. I found the group to be engaging and cordial. The first evening we were hosted to a Korean barbecue. All hopes of being vegetarian went by the wayside as there was a large quantity of pork served steaming at the tableside. Our hosts were fond of making “boilermakers” — a shot of Soju (a Korean liquor similar to vodka) mixed with beer. I lost track of how many “bottoms up” toasts we celebrated, but the quantity of alcohol was impressive. It was an evening of good food and camaraderie. We enjoyed several good meals together. Ok, I did eat octopus tentacles that were still wiggling on the plate. That pretty much pushed my level of acceptance for new foods to the limit of where I’ll go.

With the destination of our meeting to be Gyeongju, South Korea, we spent some time looking at the area and visiting some of the historic landmarks. Our group included 2 Japanese, 2 Korean, a now-Korean who was born and educated in the US, and me, the American. Conversations were often interesting. Everyone spoke English, and we defaulted to that most of the time. The Japanese and Koreans often compared expressions and word usage, finding a number of similarities as well as differences.

I often found myself struggling to understand all of what was being said. Despite their English proficiency – and all did speak English very well – the accents were sometimes challenging for me to deal with. Quite a few things just went by the wayside, and I was embarassed to have to ask people to repeat things so that I could understand. I think this will get better as my ears and brain begins to adjust to new sounds that flavor the English that I’m used to.

This was kind of a first taste of this extraordinary blend of cultures that I will experience in this job. I think it is going to be a fascinating experience.

 

Lost in Translation…

Lost_in_Translation_poster

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…

First days at work

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.

 

Miscellany…

2016-01-12(1)
Blurry nighttime photo of Tamachi  (metro) Station in Tokyo
2016-01-12(2)
Somewhat blurry photo of my Japanese breakfast at the hotel.

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…

First Day in Tokyo!

2016-01-10

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…

Almost there…

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!!