Friday, March 28, 2008

New beginnings

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end
These Lyrics for the some Closing time by the band Semisonic (yes from the best of the 90's CD) best describe my current situation. My job contract ended this month. As a result I have been thinking of allot about what this job has meant to me during the past 1.5 years. I got to the conclusion that it has affected me in a positive way personally and professionally.

Personally most of my first memories of Japan are forever linked with this job. When I began working I did not know much about Japan but many people in the office took the time to teach me about its language and culture. Some of them invited me to participate in various sporting events (volleyball, softball and golf tournaments) and work related activities (Hanami party, end of the year party etc.). In general everyone in the office was patient, understanding and accepted me the way I am (kind of laud and very straight forward). Even though sometimes we could not fully communicate or had a difference of opinion we always found a way to get our points across due to our mutual respect.

Professionally it was the first time I was able to work in the development of a vehicle from a design concept to a a working prototype in a very short period of time. This experience is truly unique in the fact that the various teams where all geographically separated. Two years ago I would have never imagined that I would be working on a vehicle that is designed in Australia, engineered in Japan and built in Thailand. Each team had a different working style which made this interaction very challenging but in the end everyone came together to complete the job. I believe that I gained allot of knowledge, in a very short period of time, that will be incredibly valuable in the future.

The last day of work I was surprised to be asked to stand up and give a speech just as I was about to leave. I was caught completely off guard by this request. Later my husband told me that this was a custom in Japan and it was pretty common around his office. A little heads up would have been nice but hey no hard feelings. So I stood up told everyone (the office translator expressed everything I said in Japanese) that it was a pleasure to have worked with them. I also stated that it was my most sincere hope that they had learned a little about me and about Puerto Rico. I think I did accomplish this because at the begging of my job one of the first things people ask you is where you from are. Every time I answered Puerto Rico they just looked at me with a blank stare. Then I would tell them that it is a little island in the Caribbean. The most common response was like the pirates? That is what happens when you let Johnny Depp represent a complete region of the world in a Disney movie. Go figure. I guess my co-workers realized that Puerto Rico was a real country when the National team played the Japan national Volleyball team. The next day everyone came over to my desk to ask if I had seen the volleyball match my response was mochiron (off course in Japanese). I did receive a few gifts that day as you can see below:

Side note: These chopsticks where the simplest but most significant gift of them all. I received these from one girl in the office who I had little interaction with due to the language barrier. She gave me these in a little bag and said "good luck". The most amazing part of it is that I could tell she was very sincere, this is coming from someone I could not even communicate with!!! Amazing!!! I guess I left a good impression.

I grabbed my gifts in one hand and waved good bye to everyone with the other as I walked out. All I was missing was a sash and a crown (which would be technically impossible to find in an office full of engineers). The next week everyone in the office organized a going away party for me. Here I am giving my thank you for everything speech in Japanese!!! I wrote the speech down so I would not forget it but I think my main points came across well.
After my speech I received more gifts!!!

As you can see from my face I was not very amused at the time but then I realized that I needed an apron and an Eco bag anyways.

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work while living in Japan - "some other beginning's end". Now I will concentrate on finding my "new beginning" here in Japan, whatever that may be.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What are you wearing?

This week I started to see a bunch of girls walking around the main shopping street (The Hondori) with the following attire:

Check out the view from the back (I apologize for my bad paparazzi skills):
What is it? I have never seen this before. First I thought they where some type of kimono, which look something like this:
Then I thought well maybe they are some type of yukata (summer kimono) as seen below:
Obviously I was wrong in both of my assumptions so I asked the source of all my Japanese language and culture, my good old Japanese teacher. To my surprise it's a whole different type of Japanese wardrobe!!! Lucky me, more things to learn!!! This new attire (for me) is called a Hakama.
The Hakamas are traditionally worn by men to formal occasions or martial arts events. Recently it is considered fashionable for young women to wear them. These Hakamas are worn specifically for university gradations. Since the Japanese school year ends this week it is common to see them walking around town (always in a group off course). My teacher said that since the hakamas are typically only worn once in a girl's life that most of them are rented just for the graduation ceremony. I love this girl's hair!!! Niceeeeee
These are allot more colorful and interesting than togas, don't you think? Here is an interesting video I found on you tube taken last year at a gradation ceremony:

Side note: I asked what do people normally wear for high school graduation in Japan. The answer is that they wear their school uniforms in a small ceremony at their respective schools. There is no senior prom or anything like or any big celebrations. I asked why to my almighty sensei and she said the graduates are too busy cramming for their University entrance exams and don't have time for any of that stuff. So basically if my family lived in Japan my parents would have not spend all that time and money in 3 high school graduations!!! Shhh don't tell them..

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Skiing in Japan

Last week one of my friends said "Japan is great because it is the only place I can think of where you could go golfing on one weekend and skiing the next". So I tried the last one on for size with a group of "experts". Everyone seamed to be very good at it or at least decent so I had a lot of catching up to do. In my defense, I grew up in a tropical island so in the winter we would go hit the Baseball stadium instead of the slopes. The first time I went it was absolutely horrible!!! I spent more time on the floor than on the skiing!!! Really no joke!!!! I barley made it down the beginners course in about 2 excruciating hours. The next day I was dead, every step was like being punished for all my sins at once!!! I don't even think I went outside. It hurts just to type about it!!!
The next weekend came around and I had a choice to make either stay home or try again. Fighting against my memories of extreme pain (It hurts just to type about it!!!) I decided on B. To my (and everyone else's) surprise I was actually on my feet (step 1 - the ground is not your friend - check) , going side to side (step 2 - control speed - check) and actually stoping when I wanted to (step 3 - reamain alive - check). I could not believe that I was actually skiing, It is a complete and absolute miracle!!! I'm truly proud of myself because I made it!!! (insert tears of joy here)
The most impressive part of the trip was one of our friends brought his little 9 year old daughter who had never stepped into skies in her life on the trip. She was skiing better than her dad in 2 hours!!! Wow kids really do learn fast, as in instantly. Check out the slope in the picture below:
Japan really has allot to offer. Now that spring is approaching I plan on continuing my search for those experiences.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Maiko (Geisha apprentice) Presentation

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a Maiko presentation at a local department store. I went to this activity last year but I only had my cell phone camera this time I was armed with my trusty mini canon. I was able to take some "real" pictures and video. Here are the Maikos performing:

According to wikipedia:
"Maiko are apprentice geisha, and this stage can last for years. Maiko learn from their senior geisha mentor and follow them around to all their engagements. The onee-san/imouto-san (junior) relationship is extremely important. Since the onee-san teaches her maiko everything about working in the hanamachi, her teaching is vital. She will teach her proper ways of serving tea, playing shamisen, and dancing, the casual talk of conversation, which is also important for a maiko to learn for future invitations to more tea houses and gatherings. The onee-san will even help pick the maiko's new professional name with kanji or symbols related to her own name."

I actually saw their onee-san during their performance. She caught my attention because she put a tape (remember those?) in the Sony player (off course) in order for the show to begin. She was basically the old school DJ of the presentation. Here is a picture of her that I took in my best paparazzi style:
The Maiko's exposed skin in the back of their neck is supposed to be "hot". You be the judge:
Unfortunately I was not able to get really close to the Maiko because there was a mob of people there to see them. The 2 ladies behind me moved because according to them I was too tall (I'm understanding allot more Japanese now). I'm only 5 foot 6 inches by the way, which translate to giant in Japan. The moral of the story don't assume the people next to you don't understand your comments just because they look different.