Tokyo


Thanks for the memories, Japan.

There are probably going to be things that I don’t need to do anymore but will want to do, like not crossing at a red traffic light even when there are no cars in either direction. There will probably also be things that I will have to stop doing, like bowing my head when acknowledging people at grocery stores or restaurants. I am sure soon enough, people will get tired of me sharing stories that start with “In Japan… ” but I don’t know when I will get there.

I write this as I am on my flight back home after finishing an 11 month assignment in Japan and I can’t imagine what my life would have been had I chose not to come here.

It’s never easy moving to a new workplace, new city, and new country but the general public here was probably the friendliest and most helpful I have ever met. The easiest example I know is when I first moved to Japan and was on the search for some laundry detergent. The first shop I went to didn’t have any so the guy working at the store literally walked me over to the next store (probably a competitor) and told me in his broken English that I could buy it there. That right there best captured the culture I was now living in.
I have countless number of stories like these as I got visit many parts throughout the country — Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Hakone, Nikko, Sapporo — all provided their personal touch that would break through any language barriers we might have been encountering. Having visited six other countries in the region this past year, I can’t say I had a similar experience any where else.

Infrastructure wise I couldn’t get enough of how the trains pretty much always ran on time. It’s amazing how easy and little stress it requires traveling around the country. Having a unified IC cards that lets you use your card all across the country on most buses and trains really makes traveling across Japan very easy. That said, I don’t think I could ever get used to the ‘pushers’ whose sole job is to push people into trains to make room for those still standing on the platform. Can you imagine having something like that back in America? There’s no way that would fly but that’s a common occurrence here and no one minds.

From an eating perspective, I was surprised to see how many different types of cuisines were easily available here. There were Pakistani, Indian, Italian, and American cuisines available but I’ll focus more on the local food. The sushi and seafood that I have eaten here were so fresh and so good that I’m not sure I can go back to eating sushi in America. There were times we walked around and randomly walked into a

On a more personal note, as I worked here and went about my business, I did what I thought I was supposed to do and didn’t think it was anything particularly out of the ordinary. Approaching the end of my stay here, I would have been more than satisfied with a simple acknowledgment of my time here and just spending the final day with those I had considered my closest friends to share our memories of the past year. But as I quickly learned, that wasn’t how it was going to be.

My final week to 10 days turned into a tightly packed calendar of lunches, dinners, and events after work. There were so many people who reached out to me before I left. So many people who offered sincere and kind words in private. Then the formal farewell at work where my entire section stood and listened as a few people shared some kind words about me and then had to listen to fumble words as I tried to convey my thanks. None of them were obligated to but simply making the effort they all took to reach out to me, will stay with me forever.

I am not terribly good with sharing emotions and as many of you know, I’m terrible at smiling too. So I am perfectly content with not appearing too high or too low and having to explain myself. There were times during the year where I am sure I cracked a bit and my apologies to those who became a convenient sounding board.

I am struggling to wrap this but so I will say what many of Japanese friends have already said to me — this is such a small world now that is definitely not a ‘goodbye’ but instead a “see you later”.

Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Takusan no omoide ga dekimashita. Arigato Gozaimasu.


What Is That ‘5pm Chime’?

Note: Update at the bottom.

One thing that has been extremely clear since we got here is that Japan and its people take rules and procedures very seriously. Whether it is on the simple things like not crossing the road at a red light (even when the road are empty) to lining up in a single file when boarding the subway.

One of the first things I noticed since moving here was a chime that would go off day, around mid-afternoon/early evening time. As I began to pay more attention to the timing of the chime, it turns out that it was being played every day at exactly 5PM and hence it is known as the goji no chaimu (the 5PM chime) but the proper term is more of a mouthful: shichoson bosai gyosei musen hoso (local government disaster administration wireless broadcast).

The chime does serve multiple purposes. Primarily, it is the local government’s daily check of the emergency broadcast system to alert its citizens of dangers such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and any other major accidents. The secondary purpose, according to The Japan Times, is “that as long as there’s going to be a daily test, it may as well be timed so it serves some other purpose, and reminding kids to head home before dark is a popular one. In many localities the evening broadcast is timed to 5 p.m. in the winter months and 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. as the days get longer.”

Fortunately, they are using a relatively friendly tune that we get to hear every day instead of some ominous, impending colossal doom.

You can listen to a sample of one the broadcast chime/test below:

Update: Twitter follower @sjplep sent me a link which states that it is a poem written in 1919 by Nakamura Ukou, and later song-ified in 1923 by Kusakawa Shin. Now it’s played as a signal that its time for schoolchildren to head home.

A loose English translation:
When the sun sets and it gets dark
And the bell from the mountain temple rings
Let’s hold hands and go home
Let’s go home together with the crows

After the children have returned home
Shines the big round moon
When the little birds are dreaming
Golden stars twinkle in the sky


Earthquakes

Naturally Japan has a long history of earthquakes and seismic activity because it is located near major tectonic plate boundary and is also on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

As of about an hour ago, here are the latest statistics from the United States Geological Survey regarding earthquakes (greater than magnitude 1.5) that have occurred relatively near Tokyo, Japan:

1 earthquake today
3 earthquakes in the past 7 days
8 earthquakes in the past month
66 earthquakes in the past year

Since we landed 7 days ago, there have been three of magnitudes 4.5, 4.9, and 4.7, although I have not felt any of them personally. Given the fact that the first one this week happened on my first day of work here (it was a magnitude 4.9), it is probably a good thing. Using the statistics above of the previous year, that comes about to an earthquake every 5 or 6 days… which pretty much means that we have already had more than our fair share of the week so hopefully some quieter weeks to come.

Japan has definitely taken extraordinary measures over the years and requires most households to keep a survival kit (ours included) which consists of essentials like a radio, a flashlight, a first aid kit and enough food and water to last for a couple of days. Our introductory packet included a notice about an early earthquake detection program that notifies if an earthquake is imminent and cautions the residents to take cover.

By no means does this mean I am walking around waiting for the next earthquake to happen but it also doesn’t mean I am oblivious to the fact.


Welcome to Japan: A Peek Inside My Stay In Tokyo 3

As promised, here is an update from my first 72 hours since leaving New York on Friday morning. I will add some pictures in this post to highlight some key things I am writing about but visit this page for my entire photo album from my stay here in Tokyo.

2015-01-23 02.34.23

A ‘Welcome to Japan’ sign is one of the first things you see at the airport after getting off the plane

 

Saturday morning, we were guided through a short tour throughout our community in Tokyo and were shown local supermarkets for our everyday needs, some places to eat/shop and how convenient it is to take the Tokyo Metro to move about the city.

2015-01-23 19.27.59

This is a view of what a typical living room looks like in our building.

2015-01-25 08.52.00

There was a nice welcome Starbucks package containing coffee, popcorn and pretzels when we first arrived into our rooms.

Prior to even considering a role that would move me half way around the world, one of the first things I did was do a little research on the availability of halal restaurants here. I found that there were specific restaurants that only served halal food but I was not prepared to see halal items on menus at your regular, local restaurants and supermarkets here. This welcomed surprise will certainly make it easier to have a more balance diet here.

2015-01-24 11.56.34

I have been more than surprised at how conveniently halal items have been available whether at the supermarket or at a restaurant.

Since we have been taking the metro during off-peak hours, it has been relatively easy to figure out our way around the various lines and where to transfer/exit. Based off of a mere two days of experience riding the metro, I think it has been a relatively easy process to figure out way around the various lines and there are probably two main things that our subway system can learn from the process here:

1) They have very clear signs indicating which train cars are ideal for you depending on your destination or transfer point and

2) There are glass walls/doors on the newer platforms that restrict passengers from accidentally falling onto the tracks while they wait for the trains to arrive. Once the train has ‘docked’ into the station, only then will the doors open allowing you to enter the train with no access to fall onto the train tracks. I can only imagine the number of lives that could be saved and injuries that could be reduced if the MTA and the Port Authority were to implement this back home.

2015-01-24 08.05.00

A nice, calm view looking out from my apartment.

 

As a preview/teaser for my next post, we were greeted with this welcome present on our first day of work. Something to get accustomed to in Tokyo, I suppose.