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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Travelogue Japan (3)

Written April 8, 2007

It's time for another installment describing my travels. I have to admit to being tired and forcing myself to write this. I went out with some students/teachers Friday night and then another group Saturday afternoon. The latter was especially difficult due to a lack of sleep from the previous night. I'll describe that outing since it includes pictures.

In Japan, there is a custom called 'Hanami.' Literally translated, it means 'cherry-blossom viewing.' In practice, it means going to a public place in the late morning/early afternoon, eating, drinking, and enjoying the blossoms. It's especially beautiful when the wind blows and blossoms fall like snow sometimes getting caught in your hair. 'Dream-like' might be how I would describe it.

So, the plan was to meet at Komaki station at 1030 and walk over to the park together. Upon arrival, we laid out some kind of tarp and sat down for food and drink. One of the students offered me a beer to which I replied with my dry sense of humor, "Sure, I haven't had one in at least three hours (having recently left the other party)." The joke went over his head and he handed me a beer. Anyway, having not had much sleep, I think the atmosphere had a more profound effect on me than usual and I really enjoyed myself.

http://picasaweb.google.com/mccoy4984/TravelogueJapan3

In picture #1, you can see me with one of the Japanese instructors. Actually, she was at DLI last fall for AELIC while I was in Slovakia. #2 shows us with some of the students. #3 is some of the food we ate. #4 is heading up the hill to the castle. Cherry blossoms next, and the top of the castle above the blossoms. I had to reduce the size of some of the pictures to fit them all in.

One thing, there was an older gentleman with us who's an officer at the base. I hadn't met him before, but spoke with him extensively while viewing the castle. He was one of the most interesting people I've ever met and it was really enjoyable speaking with him.

Okay, time for some more cultural observations:

(1) In the Japanese workplace, everything is very regimented. I'm given some leeway, but the others are not. Still, there are ways to cope with such restrictions and the Japanese employees exploit them. For example, I think I'm well liked here and the teachers like speaking to me whenever they have the chance. However, the workplace is for work and they don't have many chances to socialize (improve their conversational ability!). So, when they get the urge to chat, they just ask me a linguistic question. I can always gage if a conversation will follow by the difficulty of the question. If it's truly difficult, then it's probably legitimate and the teacher will promptly return to his/her desk. On the other hand, if it's a really easy question, then I know I'm having a conversation. Friday's was my favorite . . . Why do you say 'The boat is ON the water?' These instructors are the best of the best and probably know grammar better than I do. A long conversation followed . . .

(2) Continuing with this theme . . . I have a spacious office to myself. Connecting to my door is a really big office where all the Japanese employees work. I also have a desk in there. It's called the 'MTT desk' and I eat lunch there every day. The desks are arranged in blocks of six and there are three groups of desks. I'm in group one and sit across from Miyuki (insert 'san' after each name). Mayumi is to her right and Mariko and Ruri (the new employees) are to my left. They replaced Saiyaka and another Mariko who went to group three. I will probably never eat lunch with them again since they're in a different group on the other side of the office. Anyway, I had a small problem with one of the new employees. When I finished my box lunch one day, she tried to take my containers away for me. I quickly told her that I could do that to which she replied, "I'm the new employee, it's my duty." I put up a fight but lost in the end. That's 44 years of egalitarian training down the drain.

(3) And more, having been to a few dinners at restaurants, I've picked up on a pattern in how the conversations proceed. It seems like people will be talking to each other and then all switch over to new partners every 10 minutes or so as if on command. In another 10 minutes, they switch back. There seems to be no random conversation with other partners during this time period. At first, it was quite disconcerting. I'm used to being cut off mid-sentence but this was ridiculous! I finally figured it out the other day, but am still worried about the future. What if I decide to propose marriage to someone? I can see the conversation going something like this. My love, I have a very important question to ask you. Would you . . . SWITCH!!!

You know, I'm having a great time over here. Before I arrived, I thought I would take some leave at the end of my MTT and tour other countries in Asia. Now, I've decided to stay in Japan during my leave time. I figure this is paradise and why would anyone leave paradise before they have to? Until the next time, Russ

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