Welcome Post

*UPDATE [9/30/2013] This blog will now include the next chapter of my life in Tokyo, Japan where I will be working for the next year with Fast Retailing. Kanpai!*

Harro! Welcome to my blog of random organized chaos, capturing my adventures here in Hong Kong and Asia. I know many of you have asked how things are going as I embark on my MBA journey at HKUST so here is a glimpse of life on this side of the world. For those who haven’t heard of HKUST yet, here is a link to the university website: http://mba.ust.hk/ftmba/whyhkust/vision.htm

Also, if you haven’t notice yet, all of the touristy pictures I shamelessly take automatically upload on the right hand side for your viewing pleasure. Wilton’s pictures will also be intermixed so don’t get confused with the amazing food he is cooking compared to the very sad, sad meals I am attempting to cook in my dorm room. Enjoy!

Wilton will be posting every so often from the other side of the world to keep us all updated with his adventures in Los Angeles with Mochi.

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11/22-11/24: Kobe/Osaka/Mt. Koyasan

Wilton being my first visitor to Tokyo also brought with him 3 huge U-Haul boxes about 70 lbs. each, filled with snacks, household goods, cleaning items, more clothing from my wardrobe at home, snowboarding gear, pots/pans, electric blanket, thoughtful gifts from family, and even zhong (my all-time favorite filled with sticky rice, yellow bean, egg yolk, and meat).

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During the day while I worked, he ordered the furniture I chose from IKEA and built all of it for me (prior to his arrival I was only sleeping on the mattress, frame still in box). While he wasn’t being a good husband setting everything up for me, we went on weekend trips to explore other parts of Japan.

First weekend trip: Kobe > Mt. Koya > Osaka

Great way to start the trip. By far, one of my fav bowl of noodles, curry udon magically combined with cheese and two thick pieces of melty mochi cakes – my two fav things in the world found in a restaurant in Shin-Osaka JR station:

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Kobe: Kitano, cable ropeway to Nunobiki Herb Gardens with amazing views of the city from Mt. Maya, waterfalls, Mt. Rokko with night views of the city (chilly as hell), Kobe Port of Tower

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USC Flowers!!!

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Seriously…find your own mall to conquer! You can’t see it in the picture below but to the right of those 4 brand signs, was Zara and Old Navy. eek!

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Wilton enjoying a really cool, unusual wavey escalator:

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Delicious dinner of Kobe beef sirloin and tenderloin with garlic fried rice cooked in the beef fat. Meat just melted in mouth. A much more high-end, no crazy frills performance like the onion volcano seen in the American version of teppenyaki.

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Mt. Koya: located in an 800 m high valley amid the eight peaks of the mountain. 2 hours from Osaka by train and cable car. World headquarters of the Kōyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism with 120 temples and a very sacred graveyard amidst long avenues of tall Japanese cedar trees. Rock gardens.

Pressed fish specialty of the area:

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Really not sure what this rocket was doing in this sanctuary…

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Mochi snacktime with red bean inside:

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Osaka: First night at an amazing crab place that served primarily crab in all different formats including our first experience with raw king crab sashimi.

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Famous Glico Running Man sign. Lots of neon lights and shopping.

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Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (海遊館). Has 27 tanks with different marine life but the largest tank is 9 metres (30 ft) deep.

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Yeah, this dude…wasn’t doing a damn thing! just sitting there. boring.

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Penguin parents watching their newborn. So cute!

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Crazy big whale shark!

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Nice shot, Wilton. Fatty seal torpedoing towards me hahahaha

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My life in a nutshell — waiting in line behind kids to get my stamp for each exhibit!

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Uncomfortable as hell petting the manta rays but their skin feels really silky smooth.

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Love these Japanese warning animations:

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Boat ride to Universal City Walk:

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finally found boba…

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A picture in front of Universal Studios but definitely did not go in — too many people!

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Takoyaki museum! Takoyaki = a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter typically filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. Tried different kinds, some with black pepper and cheese melted on top.

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Osaka Castle:

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Umeda Sky Building, consists of two 40-story towers that connect at their two uppermost stories, with bridges and an escalator crossing the wide atrium-like space in the center. Features a rooftop Floating Garden Observatory to see great night views of Osaka.

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Donut snack!

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Waiting patiently for our Okonomiyaki dinner – Japanese savoury pancake containing a variety of ingredients including green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, yakisoba noodles, mochi or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or a pancake and may be referred to as a “Japanese pizza” or “Osaka soul food”. Topped with otafuku/okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter), aonori (seaweed flakes), katsuobushi (bonito flakes), Japanese mayonnaise.

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The secret to making friends: baby carrots

The biggest discovery I made at work was the key method of attracting attention and starting up much needed conversation in a very serious, focused work environment. The trick: having a ziplock bag of baby carrots on my desk. As a part of my trip to Costco a few weeks ago, I got a big bag of baby carrots, bulk size, to make up for the sadness of not finding what I was looking for. Each day before going to work, I would pack a half bag of baby carrots to snack on during my dead tired time around 10AM and 2PM. With the extreme early mornings of waking up at 5:20AM each day, I get hungry very early even after having eaten breakfast. Since we don’t have refrigerators at work, I need to keep any of my snacks on the desk. I started noticing that many of the girls in the office who I did not even know the names of, would suddenly stop at my desk and stare at the carrots. They made a funny face and then pointed at the odd shaped orange things in the bag. I would immediately open the bag and have them try it. The shock, reaction, and response from these people are completely priceless. The unexpected crunch noise threw these people into an extreme reaction of giggling, laughing, with elevated voices of excitement. This is how much Japan lacks vegetables and fruits – the fact that people could not figure out what baby carrots are was quite amusing to me. I tried to teach them that it was a healthy “snack”, a word not commonly known in their English vocabulary. The best part of this was that I started getting random stuff in return like grape flavored gum. This past week I had Trader Joe’s honey pretzel sticks and boy did I get equally awesome reactions.

Translation/communication FAIL examples:

  • A roadmap diagram was passed out to my division containing the upcoming items that would be featured for the 2014 Fall Winter season. My teammate was trying to explain what this document was. I still could not understand what he was trying to say so he attempted to use his translation website and wrote down “all bodily sensation”. My reaction was probably not the most controlled one but in the end, the word that he was trying to convey was “outline”.
  • Another reason translation sites like Google Translate cannot always be trusted. I emailed the System Service Desk to change the language on my Microsoft Excel. The response was all in Japanese so I proceeded to check my dear friend, Google Translate. I immediately chuckled upon seeing the translation at the end of the email, presumably the signature of the sender, “Raccoon Butterflyfish”. I am pretty sure that wasn’t the name signing off for Service Desk.
  • I really appreciate the effort that some co-workers attempt at speaking English. It’s even more entertaining over dinner time and a few drinks. One person wanted to sit next to me to practice English. He was late to the dinner so upon securing a seat near mine, he quickly says “I’m toilet.” Okay, we definitely need to make some corrections here on how to excuse oneself to the washroom…

Continuation of learnings of Japan and its culture:

  • At meals or parties with coworkers, least experienced (also usually the youngest) always serves and orders for the group. He/she must always keep an eye when glasses are near empty to fill them up immediately.
  • PowerPoint is called “Power Po” at work
  • People in general have a hard time giving feedback of any sort, whether positive or negative. I learned that saying nothing means it’s okay – there is no need to give any praise at any point because you are just following the process and doing your job.
  • Email writing style: Japanese emails are known for their countless line breaks in email – easy to digest, concise, short sentences separated by a line break to understand quicker. I don’t think recipients of my emails have been thrilled with my detailed verboseness with large paragraphs like the first one in this entry. It most likely intimidated the Japanese readers and they couldn’t understand it or didn’t want to read such a big chunk of text. I have been trying to use more bullet points and short paragraphs in my emails now.
  • Phone carriers in Japan
    • Au actually stands for “access to you”
    • NTT Docomo = dual communication modes. Also an abbreviation of the phrase, “do communications over the mobile network” In Japanese it is a compound word meaning “everywhere”.
  • At work and most other places, there is a certain elevator etiquette that boggles my mind. Someone will always stay back and hold the open button until everyone gets off. It’s unbelievable, I have never seen that before. Also, people in the front will automatically walk outside of the elevator to let those behind walk out without having to squeeze through. In other countries, everyone just crams to get out as fast as they can and could care less if someone gets crushed by heavy elevator doors. Or worse off, they will quickly push the close button even if someone is rushing towards the elevator. I haven’t seen that in Japan yet – they are quite courteous and aware of people entering/exiting the elevator.
  • There are bumpy yellow lines on the street and along the underground subway path. I always thought they were just to separate opposite directions of walking or maybe to separate walkers on one side and bikers on the other. I finally found out that these yellow lines are actually for the blind so that they can use the bumps along the yellow line to guide them.

Okay, that’s enough text for this blog, let’s get some pictures in! More than a month has passed since my last post so I will have to break up the entries by event, otherwise there will be way too many photos!

NOVEMBER 17: Showa Memorial Park (Showa Kinen Koen), a huge park in the western suburbs of Tokyo, 30 minute train ride from Shinjuku. Rows of Ginkgo Trees with bright yellow leaves, Maple trees, a brilliant array of different leaf colors boasting the best of autumn, reflective ponds, Japanese gardens, and a random disc golf course.

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11/10 Weekend Activities: Koishikawa Korakuen Garden, Tokyo Dome City

Koishikawa Korakuen 小石川後楽園 is one of the oldest and most beautiful Japanese landscaped gardens in Tokyo. Mitsukuni Mito constructed this garden to be a beautiful mix of traditional Chinese and Japanese landscapes with a pond, bridges, a man-made hill, stones, and a variety of plants. 300 Yen for entry. Very close to Iidabashi station.

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The middle island is in the shape of a turtle, symbolizing longevity, the stone placard at the front is the turtle’s head and has the garden creator’s name on it.

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Right next to the garden…a huge change of pace at Tokyo Dome City, an amusement park, sports, spa complex. There was some concert or something going on that attracted a gazillion Japanese girls to cluster in one area. I felt really out of place. They look and dress very…different.

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Hiking/Outdoor: Mt. Takao san

Mt. Takao san 高尾山 599 meters (1,965 ft) tall, located within 1 hour of downtown Tokyo. I went with my co-workers Sonam and Geoff. Our projected half day hiking turned into a full day adventure. Lots of hiking routes up and back down as you can see in the picture below. We ended up hiking up trail 6 (uphill almost the whole way) and coming down a combo of trail 4 and 2. There were a bazillion people, most likely because we forgot it was a holiday weekend and the changing of leaf color season was kicking in. I love seeing the red, maroon, yellow, golden leaves – reminds me of USC all the time 😛

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Tons of people swarming all over. There was a random band playing disney-like music before we started our hike.

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Location marker in Japanese, thank goodness they use the same number characters as Chinese!

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And the uphill stair climb from hell continues…

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On a clear day, Mt. Fuji is suppose to be visible. I am going to pretend one of those mountains in the background could be it.

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Overpriced but needed sustenance soba noodles at the top of the mountain (the white stuff is slimy yam on top of the dipping sauce):

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Suspension bridge on trail 4:

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I’ve never stood in such a long line for a hike.

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We somehow did not end in the right place but popped out into the rural part of the city which was interesting to walk through.

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Victory snack. Love this chewy mochi stuff.

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Running sights: Odaiba & Edogawabashi

My last running meetup followed this path (7.3 miles) : Shimbashi station > Rainbow Bridge > Odaiba Marine Park > Odaiba aqua city > Daiba station. It was a bit muggy but it was nice to see the south side of the city. Thank goodness it didn’t rain – I seem to never have an umbrella handy every time it rains.

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The jogging meetup set for yesterday was cancelled but I decided to run on my own and explore the so-called shitamachi areas in Edogawabashi. Very smooth, beautiful route, one big hill, then some downhill on way back. 6.2 miles total.

Prior to the start of the run I passed by a cozy temple in Kagurazaka called Zenkokuji Temple (better known as Bishamonten Temple).

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I ran along the Kandagawa River into Toyama area towards Shinjuku on Meiji Dori, down Shinmejiro Dori, back along the river. Through Toshima city and stopped by Shinedogawa park. Definitely starting to see the leaves change into lovely autumn colors.

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Shinedogawa park was a real gem in a very hidden location most likely meant for locals only. Cleanliness and maintenance of garden: A++ Super peaceful, serene and quiet to the point of being slightly eerie. There is something to be said about the impact and silent feeling from seeing still water reflecting the nature upon it. If I ever wanted to write a book, I would do so here, on a Sunday morning.

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One of the cute alleyways next to where I live:

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Good Eats in Tokyo

You may have been wondering…where are all those crazy, useless food pictures that Jenn usually wastes blog space to post?! Fear not, I have so many photos of the different types of food that I have tried, that I need a separate entry dedicated to food and only food.

Upon our arrival to Tokyo, our good friend, Iwao, and his son (Sean) picked us up in his rad Hummer and we went to a restaurant that serves Sean’s all-time favorite food, fried chicken.

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Fried garlic….you better not go on a hot date after eating these.

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The special in Kamakura (small fishies on top):

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Trying out Chinese food in the huge chinatown in Yokohama. Definitely a gimmicky tourist trap.

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Different types of noodles in small test try bowls from other countries at the Cup Noodle Museum:

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Daring some exquisite sashimi of various animals (don’t worry Dad, it was at a very safe and tried before place that our friend went to!)

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Steaming hot sweet potato with sweet potato ice cream on top

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Chicken cutlet with egg on top in rice bowl

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Really expensive unagi (eel) but one damn satisfied customer

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OK, break from Japanese food…must find ketchup. Mos Burger:

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Another Iwao special in his neighborhood, Ikebukuro. Raw organs (certified safe by our friend who has had this before!) and other cooked items

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Another break from raw anything and onto PIZZA!

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Snacks from a department store (Isetan) basement:

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Some udon noodle bowl with pork, bamboo shoots, raw egg, and other stuff. HUGE serving.

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Must buy from machine first, then give ticket to chef:

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Sashimi night with Iwao and family! Home cooked sushi rice, uni from different areas including Canada, mackerel, fish egg, squid, tuna, scallop, raw shrimp, some white fish

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And another break back to pasta in the traditionally cooked Japanese style of ketchup sauce.

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Wilton’s hamburger steak near his phone for size comparison

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A delightful home-cooked meal by Iwao

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Ok, so I caved in and did the McDonald’s thing because I really wanted the toy and they wouldn’t let me just buy it. At least I substituted for corn and veggie juice!

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Mexican food and cheese craving, check!

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Turkish food, plate full of chicken. Sauce was a nice spicy type of salsa.

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Thick, chewy udon noodle with soup to dip on the side. I added lots of vinegar, per usual.

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Tuna sashimi bowl

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Chicken Yakitori bowl, with a view! Unlimited appetizers and drinks too. Glazed sweet potato was yummy.

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Another amazing home-cooked, hot pot dinner with Iwao and family. Light, healthy, and cooked.

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Downgrade to PB&J since I don’t have a microwave, toaster oven, pots or pans in my new apartment yet. BUT I do have a fish grill that I decided to toast my bread in.

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Udon cod roe in cream sauce at the Cafeteria at work. Food is quite subsidized and affordable, ranging from $2 to $5 per meal.

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Another cafeteria item. Mainly selected because of all the salsa sauce it had on the top!

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Doraemon takiyaki from Iwao. So cute! 3 different flavors. Tasted like chocolate, vanilla, and maybe red bean

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My fav snack of chewy mochi-like balls and this time, there is a black sesame spread over it!

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Modern Indian food in Roppongi, Midtown Plaza

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This is random but saw this at a bar. There’s usually the drinks menu and maybe a non-alcoholic section. But for those of us who want to sort of be cool but can’t physically stomach it, you always have the LOW-alcoholic section:

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Summary of food in Tokyo thus far: very noodle or rice based. Almost every Japanese meal has some sort of carb heavy ingredient or side. My team looks at me funny when I just get the main dish of fish or hamburger steak but without a bowl of rice or onigiri (rice ball) on the side. I’m sure I’ve lost some potential friends for not having met the rice requirement during a meal. Also, food in Roppongi is way over-priced and bad quality even with the high price. And it’s mostly food geared towards foreigners and not as authentic Japanese. I’m glad I moved out of there.

 

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Weeks 3 & 4: Oh glorious boxes, how I have missed you

The last week has been marked in history of Jenn finally receiving her long awaited boxes held hostage at the Tokyo port for 1+ month after landing in Tokyo. I no longer need to desperately mix and match UNIQLO clothes and wear the same limited pairs of shoes I had. I hugged each box upon receipt as they have gone through a lot ever since being packed in Hong Kong mid-August, waiting in the most humid months in both the Hong Kong port and Tokyo port. I officially moved out of Roppongi October 23 and moved into my new apartment in Kagurazaka. Although my commute has increased by 30 minutes which means I now have to wake up at 5:20am every work day, I absolutely love this new neighborhood. It’s definitely more old fashioned Japan with a lovely traditional, cultured, relaxing atmosphere with many good restaurants, alleys, stone steps, random festivals, and snacks from vendors. Now that I have my boxes, I can also upload the pictures from my camera. Yay! Here are some pics of my apartment and the neighborhood:

Building on the right

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The essential ingredient to a winning lobby: fish tank

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Views from room aren’t jaw-dropping but it was most likely the abundant amount of windows and light coming into the apartment that sold me:

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This is the same room I have now but this is when there was show furniture there. Apartment is empty now.

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AFTER:

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Sliding doors separate bedding room from living room:

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Now with newly installed curtains and a Bed frame awaiting to be made when Wilton visits :)

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Best part of this property aside from the bilingual services: lounge with fully equipped kitchen, entertainment system and great views from the rooftop on the 23rd floor

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More photos of my office. Midtown tower in the  middle, I work on the 29th floor

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View from cafeteria, 34th floor:

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Window near my desk, dark dreary typhoon weather outside:

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Nice park right next to office:

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More Differences in Culture and Cultural Lessons Learned:

  • It’s common for bathrooms in Japan to have those weird multi-function toilets with tons of buttons I have no idea what to do with. One thing is for sure though, people at work really make use of that button to emulate the flushing sound of a toilet (there is a music symbol on this button). Every time I go to the restroom at work, there’s always someone using that button. I almost feel rude not having ever pushed that button in my stall. It’s funny that the purpose of the fake flushing noise is to somehow mask any farts or pooping. Who are you kidding. I can still hear all of the farting in other stalls even with the music.
  • In Japanese culture, it is considered rude to put your hands behind your back. Especially if you are waiting in front of a customer, your hands need to be in front with the left hand over the right hand. If putting right hand over left, you break the tale old samurai indication that you are enemies and prepared to fight with the other since your right hand is in the optimal position to draw your samurai sword.
  • While standing and talking to others, don’t cross your leg and definitely don’t lean on anything. But crossing your arms (equivalent to “I’m pissed off at you for being late again” in America) which indicates you are in deep thought is all good. It means nothing in Japanese culture.
  • So I was helping the  Research & Design team at work clean up the samples and other clothes for next season that needed to be stored in boxes or thrown away. The ladies directing us were trying very hard to use English to tell us which box the sample clothing needed to go into. As we were labeling the boxes, there was one box that apparently had very high profile samples that we don’t want anyone to sift through the trash and see. They had such a difficult time trying to explain to me how to label the box and proposed “Secret Garbage.” In my mind, I thought “well, that definitely will attract anyone’s attention. Wouldn’t Confidential work a bit better…” I tried so hard to not laugh and not in a bad way, it was awfully cute how they came up with that. I truly commend them for trying to speak English.

 

Running activity of the day, total of 8.4 miles or 13.5 km:
Takadanobaba JR station to Waseda to Nezu (nice shrine) to Ueno (pass the zoo and park) to Yanaka to Nishi-Nippori station

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?????

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Passing by museums

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And galleries

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Love this old fashioned style and architecture that probably came from another period long time ago

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Please don’t ask me about that random guy with a tight red dress and crazy high heels…again, just running by…

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Running through the largest cemetery in tokyo in Yanaka

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View of a subway station and Skytree, the tallest building in Tokyo

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Finally arrived to destination in Yanaka with an alleyway filled with snacks and cute shops. Love it there!

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Grapefruit juice and a fried snack with tasty meat inside to reward the end of the run

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When I got back to Kagurazaka, there was this random festival/parade going on. It was very amusing and quite lively with the dancing and chanting. The kids in the front were a bit lost but super cute. My co-workers make fun of the fact that I live so “far” and call it the “countryside” but at least I get to see random stuff like this:

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Perfect formation just like when playing billiards before first hitting that triangle of balls

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I then went into a market on the same street. It’s insane how much ready to eat food they have in regular supermarkets. It’s a very on-the-go society.

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Most people drink coffee beverages like this or ones in cans/bottles…there’s no time to enjoy a cup of Starbucks at work!

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I have been taking Japanese lessons for about 3 hours a week not including time needed to review and do homework. I have also been watching the Mad Men series with my friends. We are on season 2 and season 6 has already been pre-ordered! Love the series so far. The script is so sarcastic but slick and witty. What an interesting decade to have lived in (1960s).

 

 

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Week 2 Edition of Only in Japan…

After the second week of work and being in Tokyo, there are some random things that I’ve learned about this country and had to share:

  • That annoying iPhone shutter sound you hear when trying to take a secret photo of a funny sign or moment at work…well, it’s restricted from disabling in Japan. Why you might ask? I found out that the Japanese society has a very strong sense of protecting privacy issues. This rule was implemented as a result of a problem of voyeurism, which was a rapid rise social issue so-called up-skirt photography, snapping pictures while aiming up a woman’s skirt.
  • Last name only, please! It’s all about addressing others by their last name here. Whether in email or person, you must address co-workers, bosses, and even people in the community that one would interact with by last name. The address book at work, email addresses, badges, put the last name first and in all CAPS so people know how to address you. They will always add -san at the end for formality (equivalent to ms. or mr.) With the foreigners, they try to adjust by calling us by our first names but they still add -san at the end (e.g. Jennifer-san). My full name in Japanese katakana: ジェニファー アゥ
  • They don’t waste any space and make good use of any surface area that can be used, whether in store or in the layout of an apartment.
  • Serious Lack of trash cans. You may wonder why. I heard that there was a case of poisonous gas bombs being left in trash cans in the subway platform where there was high traffic. After those incidents, they removed trash cans almost everywhere. Yet the city still remains decently clean – do people here just hoard their trash in their pockets!?
  • Even when trash cans are found, the city is really strict about sorting out your garbage correctly. At work, there are different containers for us to place cups, combustibles (napkins, paper, etc.), plastic bottles, knives, forks, chopsticks, and spoons.
  • Calling locally is super expensive unless calling same carrier
  • They’re tight on energy here. There is actually a limit on how cold a/c can get and times where it will be shut off completely. At work, they try to control the A/C to around 25C, shuts off by 6pm everyday, and requires a special request to turn on during weekends.
  • There are women only train cars until 9:30am on weekdays. Apparently this is because of all the shady passes guys were taking advantage of when trains were so packed with people.
  • Suicide rates are quite high in Japan, so much that there are actually famous sites of where this happens. The metro is another common area to “jump into” – as a result, they have put in blue lights around the platform which is meant to calm one down and ease stress. There are also mirrors put up so that people can see themselves before they make the decision to jump.
  • The young crowd preferred mode of communication is called LINE, similar to whats app, for instant messaging on the phone. With a slew of real fobby cute stickers and themes like this, it’s no wonder LINE is used here:

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Second edition of Only in Japan…

This doesn’t make any sense to me…I like sauce and everything but, maple sauce and cheese?!?

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They love their sweet potato so much that there is a special container made for it that is the same exact look:

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And there’s also a special setting for that sweet sweet potato:

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I didn’t dare eat this carbo load but I saw this at a market and was confused by the combination:

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Most Costcos sell bulk lunch meat in the form of ham, turkey, salami, etc. but in Tokyo, you get…tongue!

Speaking of Costco, there are a few in the surrounding areas of Tokyo (took me one hour to get there!) so naturally, there’s tons of people packed in there. Long lines for the cashier, understandable, but even longer lines for the freebies, what!?

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I know they’re all about the cute little shaped rice balls/triangles, but a perfectly shaped tupperware AND lunchbox?! Can we say overkill…

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Using Hello Kitty and cute animation to lighten the fear of going to a dentist…I think I would be more scared by the blood smeared on the tooth with a painfully terrified look next to Hello Kitty

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In America, we get pizza, Subway sandwiches, or some other fast food take out during training or lunch meetings. In Tokyo, you get a fully equipped bento box with who-the-heck-knows-what-half-of-those-items are!

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The newer apartments in Tokyo are well-equipped with a security system where anyone trying to get in from the lobby of the building or even outside of the apartment door, can be seen from a video screen from inside the apartment. It also saves the video clips of each visitor entering your apartment. We found this so cool, we had to take a picture of ourselves from the video panel. hahaha

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So I have found that one great way of exploring the many different neighborhoods in Tokyo is to jog through the different areas.

Here are a few pictures I took running from Roppongi to Tokyo Tower:

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Tokyo Tower at night from a co-worker’s apartment. Sweet view!

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I also joined a meetup group for people who want to discover the Tokyo shitamachi area while jogging as a way of meeting new people outside of work. This past weekend’s run was originally a 5K but a few of us pushed on to run through several more neighborhoods for a total of 14KM (8.89 miles). The path we ran: Sumiyoshi to Sumida to Asakusa to Yanaka to Ueno Park to Kita to Komagome station. Please excuse the poor quality photos – I literally took these on an iPhone 4S while running.

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Among other things, I’ve had to go to several furniture/appliance stores to attempt furnishing my apartment:

Nitori (the Japanese version of IKEA, slightly more expensive):

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Thank goodness Costco in Japan sells Churros as well, phew. And somehow Chicken bake got replaced by Bulgogi bake. Pizza and hot dog remain the same here.

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Shibuya had several more contemporary but expensive stores like Franc Franc, Loft, and LABI (appliances):

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A visit to the famous Hachiko statue. Hachikō was an Akita dog (bigger version of the Shiba breed that Mochi is) remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner, while waiting at the same train station, even many years after his owner’s death.

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Konnichi wa! Next stop: Tokyo, Japan

There is a bit of a gap from my last blog entry in Hong Kong but to recap:

Which brings me to now, 2 weeks after settling into Tokyo and starting work on October 1st.

Upon our arrival to Tokyo on September 21, a series of things had to get done right at the airport. At customs, I received a landing permit and also needed my residence card processed. Thankfully Wilton has status so that we could bring 3 extra luggage with us, for a total of 6 including carry on filled with snacks, cereal, siracha, medicine, chinese herbal teas, my pillow, and of course, ketchup. The rest of my stuff contained in 11 large boxes is still waiting in the Tokyo port (shipped from HK) until my permanent residence is finalized.

Wilton and I started off the weekend with a few short day trips outside of Tokyo.

Kamakura is located in the Kanagawa Prefecture, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) south-west of Tokyo. We visited the iconic Daibutsu which is much smaller than the Big Buddha on Lantau island in HK, hiked to Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine (where visitors go to wash their coins), and ended in the famous Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shinto shrine.

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A special thank you to my husband who had to take time off from work before an important go-live to help me settle in. He will be coming again in a month to make my new place feel like home…and maybe help build the furniture :)

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Mo-chi!

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Only in Japan…would they use ridiculous photo ads like this to attract customers…

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The next city we explored was Yokohama which lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu. We went to the Nissin Cup of Noodle museum, the biggest Chinatown in Japan,  an outdoor shopping area called Motomachi, Minato Mirai 21 harbourside redevelopment, and saw the “the world’s biggest clock” on a ferris wheel.

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I so wish I lived in this decade that sold this:

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Customizing our own Cup Noodles including contents inside (left one by Wilton, right one drawn by me for my sis and andrew!)

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I chose eggplant, kimchi, cheese, some chicken character imitation thingie for mine.

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booooo to the lady holding a GAP bag!!!

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We were also fortunate enough to catch the Uniqlo Fashion Fes that happened over the weekend of 9/21-9/23. They overtook the Omotesando Hills area with runway shows, pop-up shops, cafes and exclusive goods, partnering with ten Japanese fashion magazines to prove that basics don’t have to be boring.

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Since I am coming to Tokyo on an expat package, the company hired relocation consultants to help us settle in. After a weekend of fun, it was time to get down to business with settling in. We started off with registering an address with the ward office of my temporary living which I will have to change again since I plan on living in a different ward. Then we set up a Citibank account which took A LOT longer than doing this in other countries. There are so many steps and checks that need to be done for a foreigner trying to open a bank account. Just attempting to put my English name in Japanese phonetic Katakana characters was a convoluted mess in itself. There really is no pronunciation sound for “yee” or “au” in Japanese so they were utterly puzzled by my middle and last name. What was even more ridiculous was looking for a phone plan for my iPhone. Local calls, no matter what phone plan, DO NOT come cheap in Tokyo. Even paying a hefty per month price for data plan does not get you free texts or local calls ($0.43 / min.).

Next we did property viewing for several different areas in Tokyo to look for my long term accommodation that the company will be paying for. There were places that looked like a bachelor pad made for single people near bars/party places, older but bigger units with 100sqm space, brand new properties smaller in size but with spa/golf range/gym amenities, but I ended up going with one that is a little bit farther from work but is located in an area with more local culture know for its great lifestyle, outdoor areas near a river for running, stores/shops/restaurants on a long pedestrian street, easy access to markets/convenience stores with affordable produce, and amenities on site with a lounge on 24th floor, gym, and 24 hour bilingual concierge service. Welcome to Kagurazaka:

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While visiting several different properties, I kept a log of what I call “foreign fails” that clearly show how uncultured I am having lived in Los Angeles almost my whole life.

  • Foreign fail #1: While looking at the view from one of the properties, I exclaim while pointing to an orange and white looking tower “Look, it’s the Tokyo tower!?” Agent politely replies: No it’s a self defense communication tower.
  • Foreign fail #2: I had to desperately go to the restroom and thankfully one of the property’s had a restroom at the lobby. I ran there and kept pushing and pulling the door to the toilet. When in fact, you are suppose to slide open the door.
  • Foreign fail #3: (After running into the bathroom) “It’s dark in here!!!” Light switches in Tokyo are on the outside of rooms.
  • Foreign fail #4: Almost all of the properties were characterized with lots of doors in the entrance leading to closets, storage rooms, the toilet, or separated shower. I officially attempted to exit the apartment through the storage closet door.
  • Foreign fail #5: Apartments here usually have a “fish grill” that replaces the ubiquity of the microwave in the USA. So we attempted to cook some left over Doraemon taiyaki in the fish grill and it ends up over heating. I start frantically waving my underwear to fan out the smoke. Wilton then points out that I could have just turned on the vent above the stove.
Weekend activities:
Yesterday I went to the National Art Center for the American Pop Art exhibit which had collections from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann, Mel Ramos and others. I saw a can of Campbell’s soup called Hot Dog Bean. I really liked its description on the label “tender beans and little frankfurter slices.” It really made my day. I get amused by the most random things.
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Today I decided that I needed to get out and do some running. There is a popular 5KM circuit circling the Imperial Palace that I ran (about 6 miles total including the run from the short term accommodation in Roppongi. It was a delight getting to see a bit of culture on the left with the city on the right.

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I was also able to check out the one year anniversary of the Bicqlo store in Shinjuku. ‘BICQLO’ was born out of a collaboration between UNIQLO and Japanese home appliances/electronics retailer BIC CAMERA. The collaborative effort between the two companies aims to combine the know-how in each area of expertise for a one-of-a-kind experience with special events and products.

As a foreigner, I was able to finally grasp the special promotion going on with the BICQLO capsule game after observing the storm of Japanese people and asking the store staff with their broken English. Basically, customers with a purchase of over 5,000 yen between a certain timeframe will receive a BICQLO coin. Customers have a chance to win big prizes and special BICQLO items by inserting this medal in the UNIQLO Capsule Game as shown below. Because the store gamefied this entire process with capsule machines (SUPER popular in Tokyo), people were more driven to spend the minimum Yen required for the coin that would exchange whatever it is that popped out of the machine even if it was just a 100 Yen off 1000 Yen purchase. Genius.

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Shinjuku at night filled with shops, restaurants, karaoke/dart bars, huge malls

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Another edition of “Only in Japan”…

…would they use cute characters like Rilakkuma to promote glasses

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…would they have rows and rows of capsules that serve like easter egg surprises

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…is the space so tight that they need automatic bike parking that accepts your bike from a mysterious opening and parks it in an intricate underground parking

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Week 1 of Work at Fast Retailing: Let the Circus Show Begin

My first day of work was October 1st, Tuesday. Boy, did I have a lot of surprises awaiting me.

1) Orientation which lasted two days was completely in Japanese. Since I started with a few other MBA graduates who were also hired as a part of the Global Next Generation Leaders program, we each had an audio handset so that interpreters could help translate everything communicated, following us around even during the office tour. Phew.

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2) I learned that I was assigned to the Uniqlo brand which was a very pleasant surprise for me. I absolutely love the brand, what it stands for, its philosophy and the values it exchanges with customers in the store. I will be joining Division 22, Women’s bottoms (I chuckle every time I tell people that but I guess the locals don’t really understand the humor in that).

3) I open up my email on the new laptop and this is what I see (emails, meeting invites, etc.) all in Japanese. Sweet. Google Translate immediately installed.

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4) Work starts at 7AM sharp everyday. WHOA. Big slap in the face. However, they are also very strict about not working overtime so that the day should end at a hard stop by 5PM from Tues-Friday. They are pretty serious about it – everyday at 4PM a loud alarm noise rings from the clock and you better be packed up and ready to leave by 5PM. If you are there by 6PM, the lights and a/c turn off. If you end up working overtime, there is a special submission request and then the big boss has to write an apology letter to the officer. Just to clarify, the enforcement to leave earlier is not for a more balanced life, it is for time to self-improve or personally develop skills such as learning English. Also, they believe that if you can’t finish work within a certain time, you are not efficient and focused enough with your work.

5) I don’t have a designated cubicle or separate office. It’s like a huge call center, but no partition and in groups. If you can imagine two long desks put together facing each other, two workers on each side. So there would be pods of 4-5 people in each cluster of large desks. Being a part of the Merchandising team means that it’s a big open space with several groups of desks next to each other. The women’s, men’s, kid’s, accessories, domestic, and global teams are all next to each other, actively working with each other. It’s very characteristic of the collective attitude of this culture.

6) This is a very, very flat organization. At first I was slightly bummed that I did not get my own desk and privacy, but then I realized that even the Directors and above including Officers just sit out in the open too. They do not get a special room with a door and the culture allows for anyone to speak with the big cheese rather than go through several levels of hierarchy.

7) Some random funny rules / guidelines in the orientation booklet:

  • Do not eat breakfast or lunch at your desk. If you eat a snack, it cannot be overly smelly, else it will disturb other employees.
  • Dress code: Women can wear skirts, but not so short. Do not wear “too much” perfume that it will be distracting. Not sure what constitutes “too much”…Company prefers that you wear clothing from any of the brands under Fast Retailing. Mondays are company “uniform” only! Better dispose of all the H&M, Zara, and Banana Republic stuff I own. Thankfully this also means we can be casual with the Uniqlo basics look – one can never get enough of plaid patterns!

8) The company does not believe in spending excess money on employees if that means more profits for the business. That’s cool and all but geez, I can’t even find a water cooler or coffee machine on the floor! Thankfully, the cafeteria on the 34th floor with amazing views has subsidized food (ranging from $2.50 to $5 for lunch) and free hot/cold green tea or water. I’m scared to even ask for a pen or notebook although I was told that I can pick those up somewhere. To monitor our printing, we have a special printing card tied to our ID so don’t even think of printing 250 personal colored wedding invitations.

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There is a relaxation room to take naps in, beds to sleep on if you feel sick, and a gym near the cafeteria. A very nice peaceful park is also right next to our building which is good for releasing stress. On Fridays, they have something called Rock n’ Roll nights where the entire company is invited to the 34th floor and the cafeteria is transformed to a hangout with pool table, a variety of all you can eat food for $3, and beer/alcohol for just $1 USD each.

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In general, I have been very excited with the millions of things I am learning each day and the people across departments have all been very supportive. Sometimes I feel like my own island, with everyone around me buzzing in Japanese as if they come from another planet. But there has been direction from the top, pushing all employees to speak English to be a truly global company and they have English learning sessions each week. In the meantime,  I also have been self-learning Japanese on the side and the company will provide me 100 hours of private tutoring to learn Japanese, and multiple sessions on “working in Japan” and ‘cross-cultural interaction.” This will definitely be a much more different challenge than I’ve ever had in my life.

The path laid out by my team and HR is also very clear and detailed with ample amount of thought put in on how to develop and train me to my full potential. There is also a plan in place to eventually get a mentor from the US side and transition me to the right position somewhere in my home country. The MBAs will have a week long in-store experience in a few weeks to really see how much detail and process goes into maintaining a store so that it creates the best experience for the customer. Whether I end up folding clothes, unpacking the boxes in the back, or dusting the shelves, I am sure it will be an eye-opening experience. Just reading the manuals on how to be a store manager and business manager, written by our very own CEO, Tadashi Yanai, is such an inspiration. At some point it felt like a cult or ritual with all of the details that go into the store layout and the rules that must be followed. But to think how much consideration was given to, as an example, the optimal height for the wall shelves that can be best viewed by customers, the exact aisle width that allows a customer to step back and see all options, the ideal layout of the store to let the customer see the entirety of the products offered at one glance upon entering the store, etc. I have never seen such a push for efficient processes and they definitely believe in not having useless space. There is a purpose for everything in the store.

More to come after week 2 and the process of settling into my permanent residence…

 

 

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