My "Culture Shock" returning from Japan

A month ago, August 21st, I was scheduled to return to Boston.  The morning light started peaking through my window as I was finishing getting ready to leave.  I stayed up the night before to adjust to the difference in time zone between Japan and Boston (13 hours).  Once ready, I walked with my suitcase out of my apartment, closed the door behind me for the last time this summer, and before dropping my keys inside the mailbox, I thought twice about what I was about to do.  Leaving those keys inside that mailbox meant I would no longer have a room to sleep in in Japan.  I was, after all, leaving this place.

I finally left the keys in there, and attempted to open the door right after.  I was locked out, I no longer had an apartment in Japan.  I walked to the train station taking a last look at the house of the ‘grandma’ who greeted me every morning as I walked to the station, I walked past the convenience store I had visited almost every day for the past 3 months, and finally I walked past Mister Donuts and Juso Ramen, places I adored by then.  I bought my train ticket to go to the Osaka Airport, and with that I was on my way home.

I got to Osaka Airport early, over 2 hours early.  I just walked around and thought about what life was going to be like going back to America.  I could not really imagine it, it was too difficult to think about having a normal life after having spent such a long time in Japan.

I finally checked-in, and after hearing many times remarks from the airport employees such as “Please wait just a little bit” and then “I’m so sorry for the delay, here is your ticket,” I was finally on my way home.  I switched planes in Narita, and then finally landed in Chicago.

Once in Chicago I go through immigration, and I hear the immigration employee say “I need to see your passport.”  I smile shyly and give him my passport, and stand still while waiting for him to ask questions or give me back my passport.  Next thing I know, he half-throws my passport back at me while saying, “Welcome Home.”

That was when I first felt a culture shock… “why was he so careless with my passport?”  Having gotten used to people handling my documents, or whatever it was with much care, I couldn’t help it but feel upset at his rude behavior.  I kept walking, starting to feel the sadness of being back at a place where people can be so careless when treating others.  I walked, and walked, and I did my best to keep a smile on my face.  I go to do a check-in to my new flight, from Chicago to Boston, and first thing that happens when I get there is that I am notified that my flight was canceled.

Another culture shock… what do you mean my flight got canceled?  You mean, things here are not organized and the transportation system is not reliable?  What do you mean we are not following a schedule down to the minute, and we are not always on time?

Not only that, this was the explanation I got:

“Your flight got canceled, I don’t know why.  I’ll put you in a flight at 2pm (original flight was supposed to depart before 11am.)”
“2pm?”
“Yeah… don’t complain other people didn’t get flights.”

And there I was, trying to get used to this service again.  Instead of the employee apologizing to me profusely because of the company’s unreliability, I was sharply told to pretty much shut up and not complain.  At this point I started wondering how would a Japanese person feel in my position if they were here to visit… I, who had been living here for so long, was now upset and in disbelief after having only spent 3 months in Japan.  I felt less welcome in America than I had felt in Japan.

I look down to avoid expressing whatever combination of feelings I was feeling, and I kept going towards the security check.  There, standing on the line, someone walks past me and hits me with some luggage and I jump and say, “Sumimasen” which means excuse me in Japanese.  I said it by instinct and then felt a bit ashamed when I realized I had just spoken Japanese in Chicago to an American, but my shame quickly dissipated as I turned even more upset when I realize that the person who had just hit me with their luggage had just kept walking, not even looking back to say sorry.

I just stood there trying not to listen to the people around me complaining about things out loud, making faces and radiating their anger towards everyone else.  I was, at this point, extremely sad to be back.  I felt the urge to just go and buy a return flight to Japan, get on a plane, and not look back.  What was I doing back here?  Why would I chose to be back in a place in which being happy was so much more difficult?

I kept going with my life as normal, and once in the gate I went to eat lunch at Chilli’s.  I order an ‘American lunch’, a burger with fries.  I ate half of my meal and got nauseous because of the amounts of grease I had just ingested.  There was yet another shock for me… my body, after 3 months eating Japanese food, and lots of it, couldn’t tolerate the massive amounts of greasy food that regular portions in America have.

I go and sit in a corner, waiting for my flight while I see that over 40 people are waiting there hoping to even get assigned to a flight to Boston that day.  Their flight had been canceled and they now had no other option but just wait and see…

I finally made it to Boston, called my friends and started cheering up.  I was soon going to see my friends, that would make the transition back smoother.

I had dinner with nice friends, and with that finally got happier to be back.  Not everyone here is rude, of course, and being among my friends really got me excited about what was to come this year.  Senior year in college, job-hunting, all these things I was now looking forward to.

I, at last, made it home, and there, in the comfort of a house with no rude people around, I started embracing being back in America.  I got online, announced on Facebook my arrival, and soon after went to bed.  My life in Japan soon started to seem more like a long dream that I would think about and talk about, and up until now it just seems like a very surreal experience.  I am happy back in America, but not going back to Japan doesn’t seem like an option to me.  My days in Osaka, and my visit to Tokyo, are now among the most precious memories I have.  I can’t wait to go back and visit again the old friends I was able to see again, and the new friends I was lucky enough to make.  I am grateful for all the experiences I had, and I can definitely say that this was the best summer I have had.

Omar

My Japan Experience –

Having arrived to America exactly one week ago, I feel quite settled now, but there is definitely a lot I have to say about my summer experience in Japan.

My flight was scheduled to depart the Osaka Itami Airport at 8am Friday morning.  In preparation for this I started meeting with my friends to enjoy a last meal together for the summer.  The week before my departure I had dinner with Zhang-San, a pleasant dinner in which we discussed many great things about our lives, the future, entrepreneurship, etc.  I was very happy and excited, yet sad simultaneously.  As I listened to Zhang-San talking about his plans and experiences, and I responded positively, amazed by all the great things we talked about and planned, I had a feeling of helplessness.  I wanted to stay in this place, yet I had to return.  I also wanted to be back in America with my friends, I missed them terribly.

I did not say “Goodbye” at the end, but rather “Mata ne!”, “we’ll meet again!”  I returned home that Sunday night with a lot of mixed emotions about leaving Japan.  This would be something that would continue to intensify as the week approached an end.

That Friday I met with Meru-San for the last time this summer.  It was then that it started to hit me, there would not be another epic adventure to visit some random place in Japan anytime soon.  There would be no more jumping pictures in front of interesting buildings.  There would be no more waking up at 6am to meet with other yawning friends excited to go and run, jump, walk, eat all around Japan for the weekend and then try to recover during the week without falling asleep at work.  Those days were coming to an end for the summer, and I was to miss them.

Saturday I visited my friend Masato-San in Tokyo.  I can’t begin to describe how it felt to spend these two days with him.  I was able to experience a Japanese “riot”, or rather people yelling on the streets at each other because of a controversy over the Yasukuni Shrine.  As everything in Japan, it was shocking for me to see the way people behaved and the conflict developed.  It was the most peaceful encounter I could have imagined.

That weekend I was also able to meet a few great people in Tokyo, and I realized that yes, there are very nice people all around Japan.  Masato-San and I joined a few of his friends for dinner, and it was very comforting to talk to them.  They were all so nice and friendly; I still can’t get over it.  So much niceness!

Although we joined Masato-San’s friends during their dinner, we didn’t dine with them, but rather went to have sushi at a place nearby — real sushi.  And my god that was delicious.  I had many different kinds of sushi, and also tempura, and it was just fantastic.  After sushi we walked around Ebisu, which is where Masato-San lives — it’s a very nice area.

I stayed over at his place, and the next day we talked and stayed at his apartment until it was time for me to go meet Tamaki-San, with whom I spent a lovely afternoon.  After walking around and having a nice time with Tamaki-San, I returned to Osaka in the Shinkansen, and with this I finally got in the mindset of departing Japan… it was my last week in Osaka for the summer.

My last week went by real fast.  Tuesday I met with Koji-San, a very special and smart kid whom I’m looking forward to meeting with again and working with in the future.  He really treated me and Meru-San as friends and made us feel very welcome in Japan.  We met on multiple occasions to get lunch and dinner; traveled together a few times during the weekends, and always had a great time.  And by god we ate so many parfaits, which probably kept me from losing more weight than I did.  Koji-San really made my Japan experience unforgettable and unique.  His humble and energetic spirit struck me, and I definitely learned a lot just by spending time with him and Meru-San.  Oh we did make a very nice & dynamic trio.

After my Tuesday meeting with Koji-San, Wednesday was my last day in lab.  My labmates organized a farewell party for me and the PI (Principal Investigator) came over for a while and talked to me.  I had a chance to talk to my labmates and say goodbye to many people, and they gave me yet another gift.  Just a week before, my birthday, my labmates had given me multiple gifts and had organized for me a small party.  I was surprised that they took the time and energy to organize yet another one of these just for me.  I was also invited to go out and drink, which was a very nice gesture from them.  About 10 people joined in for drinking that night, and I was very grateful for everything…

I went back home, finished packing, and the next day simply returned a few things, cleaned up my apartment, and then finally departed Japan… On my way to the airport I was thrilled and saddened.  I was looking forward to meeting my old-friends, but I couldn’t help feeling sad leaving such a magnificent place, full of wonderful people.

As I heard the train announcement in Japanese… “Next is Osaka Airport…” all the images about my summer experiences were flashing through my mind.  I relived the moment when I first landed in Japan, going through immigration and trying to put my 2 years of Japanese education into good use.  Arriving at Osaka for the first time, seeing my apartment, my first experience in an internet café, the ramen shop near my apartment in which I would have many bowls of ramen throughout the summer.  I remembered meeting with Meru-San, Kim-San, Green-San, Nix-San, Lee-San, etc, for the first time.  Also making new friends, Koji-San and Naoki-San, Zhang-San and Tamaki-San, my labmates, and many more.

I stumbled as I got off the train, and with a tear in my eye I turned around and said to Japan, mata ne~  Okay, I may be exaggerating, I did not have a tear in my eye, but I sure felt like I did.

(There is another post coming soon, cause this doesn’t even start to express how I felt coming back to America, and this is already long enough for now…)

The Transiency of Life — Why you should enjoy your life, now!

As I walked my way to the fireworks show at Osaka, Japan yesterday, I was impressed by the amount of people congregating to see the show.  I was with my friends over an hour before the fireworks were scheduled to start, and even then it was very crowded.  I though about just going to my room and resting instead of dealing with massive amounts of people, but instead I ignored how tired I was and spent the night with my friends.

The fireworks started, and they were beautiful.  I have seen fireworks many times before, but for some reason this time it just felt very special.  I was struck by the beauty of each one of them, and how they would soon dissipate, just to be replaced by a different one, and yet another one.  Seeing how the fireworks would change so much one after the other, yet no matter what they would soon dissipate, made me think about life and how beautiful and transient it is.

Each day comes with new opportunities, opportunities for learning, enjoyment, and growth, etc.  It is up to us to appreciate the beauty of each day and make the most out of it.  Just like I chose to stay to see the fireworks despite having to deal with massive amounts of people when leaving the show, it is up to us to decide on a daily basis if we are going to enjoy our day and make the most out of it, or choose the ‘safe’ alternative of doing the same thing as the day before all over again.

It is hard to accept this, but what happens to us is a direct effect of what we do.  Focus on improving your life, take on new risks and challenges for self-development, and soon you will see yourself leading a more rewarding life.  Just like the fireworks, our life is transient, and so are the opportunities presented.  Only when we decide to stop ‘resting’ and instead open our eyes  will we be able to get out of the vicious cycle of repetition and truly appreciate the beauty that has been there all along.

Just like the fireworks show, our life will end.  Maybe we have another 80 years to live, but we could just as well be gone from this Earth within the next hour.  That is the reason we have to open our eyes and start living our lives NOW.  Every hour we waste pondering on the issues of the past, or the things that we can achieve in the future, is an hour we stop living and enjoying the PRESENT.  And in the end, what do we have other than the present?

If you are thinking about the past, don’t let it stop you from living the present.
If you don’t enjoy your present thinking about a better tomorrow, what makes you think the future will be so much better than the present?

Tomorrow the sun will rise, just as it did today, and despite all you achieve or fail to achieve, the day will go by and at the end night will come.  When night comes, take out your pen and a piece of paper and write down the things about that day you enjoyed and the things you are grateful about.  Think about what you want to achieve the next day, and what you will do to enjoy the day.  Repeat this exercise every day, or at least once a week.  When you find yourself not knowing what you enjoyed from your day, you might need to reassess the path you are taking and your outlook in life.

EDIT:  Just after posting this I read the following:

“The death rate for human beings hovers right around 100 percent, and is expected to remain there for … well, forever. Consider this: if the average life span is 77 years, then that means we only have 77 summers … 77 winters … 77 Christmas mornings … 77 New Years, and that’s it. The Marriage Masters know this all too well. It’s easy to get caught in the day-to-day craziness of life and, in the process, take our spouses for granted. A widow named Betty, married 54 years, says, “Now that he’s gone I wish I hadn’t had so many headaches.””  (Source)

Life is short, enjoy it.  🙂

Share your thoughts — What are you happy about, right now?  What are you grateful about?  What did you do or will you do today to enjoy the moment and remind you that all you have is the present?

If you found this post useful and things others might enjoy it, I would appreciate it if you submit it to StumbleUpon, Digg, Retweet it, or share it in any way! ~

Apologize & Thank Profusely – Lesson I’ve learned in Japan

In the book, “How to Win Friends & Influence People“,  Dale Carnegie teaches a few concepts that we should keep in mind in order to have more fulfilling relationships.  I loved reading this book because it spells out all the things we already know that people don’t like, but it also goes a step further to tell us exactly how to behave if we want to improve our relationships.  If you readThe Snowball about Warren Buffett you might have heard about the book as one of the most influential books in Buffett’s life as a young adult.

I learned two things from this book that I have seen the Japanese do naturally.  It seems to me that in Japan it’s just part of their culture.  These are:

  • Quickly apologize for anything that has gone wrong, even if they were not directly involved.
  • Thank profusely for anything good you receive, no matter how small.

The Japanese have a word, “sumimasen”, that means “thank you” and “I’m sorry” simultaneously!  As one of the safest countries in the world, there is definitely something for us to learn from the Japanese behavior.

Thanking someone genuinely has a more lasting effect than most people would imagine.  Try it out yourself, as you walk through your day make it a point to thank anyone you can find a reason to thank for.  While thanking that person, make smile genuinely and really enjoy the process.  Being grateful, and expressing it out loud, has great rewards you may now have realize at first!

Also, always apologize even when in doubt!  I have never seen someone angry because they received an apology from someone they didn’t expect one.  On the other hand, many people don’t think something was ‘bad enough’ to require an apology, while the other person is burning up inside withholding a lot of anger against you.  If you apologize genuinely, chances are you will save a few key friendships/relationships throughout the years.  Definitely worth a try.

Maid’s Café, Yaoi, Hanabi, & Prostitutes – Japan is lovely

This is a continuation to my previous blog entry.

Having spent a bit of money on clothes, Meru-San and I decided to wear our new outfits in the afternoon.  We walked back to my apartment and that’s when I opened my bags and changed.  This was a whole experience on its own.

The Japanese employees at clothing stores pack things similarly to the Apple way, which makes opening a product almost as exciting as using it for the first time.  I admired the bag where my purchase was. It had a plastic rain wrap that they put on so that the paper bag wouldn’t get wet. Let that sink in. In Japan, they put a poncho on your paper shopping bag if it’s raining outside.

I removed the poncho on my shopping bag, cut the tape preventing the bag from opening undesirably, and finally got to my clothes. But not quite. My clothes were carefully folded and wrapped with yet another plastic wrap. My clothes also had a poncho of their own. Coming from the US, where we have been emphasizing the use of less plastic, this stroke me as not very green. Yet, it was very thoughtful.

My new clothes felt quite nice once I was wearing them. They were expensive for my standards, but the quality was great.  They felt quite comfortable! You can ask Ashley-San, she was definitely feeling my clothes during our ride to Nipponbashi.

This brings me to my next point, prostitutes and Maid’s Cafés! Hold up, that’s two points. Let me start with prostitutes.

Juso, where I live, is this place in Osaka that is known for having a lot of gambling/pachinko places. It is also a big male entertainment area.  I learned this after having move there, I promise. This explained why I was asked by women by the train station whether I wanted a massage, at 2 a.m.

Meru-San was waiting for me in front of the train station on Friday afternoon. She saw a few people walk by and look at her a bit strangely. An older man took notice of her and after walking by came back and asked her where she was from. Right after she responded he asked her “Ikura?” (いくら) which means “how much?” Having seen a young, attractive filipino woman by the train station he assumed that he could pay her for ‘services’. That was a very awkward and “はずかしい” (embarrassing) moment.

Not unrelated, two women were arrested at a massage parlor in the same area for touching inappropriately two policemen getting a massage there while working undercover.  You draw your own conclusions.

Next point, Maid’s Café.

Meru-san and I changed into our newly purchased clothes and then met with Ashley-San, Ben-San, and two of Ben-San co-workers. We went to Nipponbashi to check out a maid’s café, something uniquely Japanese.

The concept of Maid Cafes is that you are served by waitresses dressed up in fun ways, such as anime characters.  Waitresses in costumes come around and serve you food. You will also often find yourself being entertained by them, sometimes for an extra charge. Some maid cafe’s seem to also have massage rooms, which seemed odd to me, but perfectly normal for Japan?

Ashley-san ordered a dish from the menu with a heart icon next to it. We soon found out what this meant. At first, it looked like a plain omelette on top of rice. However, the maid grabbed a bottle of ketchup and spent a few minutes drawing a dog, using ketchup, over the omelette rice. She then signed the dish with her ketchup signature.

A heart next to the dish = extra love and attention from the maid.

I was thoroughly entertained and puzzled by such a place.

After this late lunch experience, we walked around Nipponbashi and randomly entered a store that was FULL of yaoi. Yaoi is fictional manga about romance between boys. Yaoi, however, is targeted at women, not gay men.  It seems popular, there were many women looking through piles and piles of it.

Finally, we took the train back to see the Hanabi (Fireworks) in Osaka.  It was quite a show! Except for the part in which we were expecting fireworks (and so did a million other people) just to not get the memo that we were in the wrong place.  Luckily, we walked around and saw random fireworks all over the place, which was relaxing as people weren’t crowded in one place.

After the Hanabi we had dinner around the area, and it was quite tasty.

Japanese Customer Service

Having been two months now in Japan, there is one thing I’m sure I will miss more than anything else when I fly back to the United States, the excellence in customer service.

Every morning as I walk to the train station, I stop at the convenience store (conbini) a block down from my apartment to buy my morning snack or breakfast. As I walk into the store I soon hear several employees yell out “Irassyamase” (Welcome!) simply to acknowledge my presence in the store. Even if the employees are busy arranging products or hauling boxes, they won’t fail to welcome you into the store.

They welcome me happily and with enthusiasm, not lazily. Are they faking their happiness? I don’t know, but my moods are lifted immediately as I reply “Ohayou Gozaimasu” (Good morning!) to everyone and no one in particular.

I go to the stand and grab a rice ball (onigiri) and a bottle of cold tea. As I approach the registers I’m smiled at and welcomed again. If the open register is busy with another customer an employee rushes to an available register and greets me to pay there. It doesn’t matter if the other register will free up in 10 seconds, they don’t want to inconvenience me.

The employee always smiles to me and asks me if it is okay to put both items in the same bag. They also offer to warm up any microwaveable item for me at the moment! They pack a pair of chopsticks and a toothpick in the bag so that I can eat my food without worrying about such details. I walk out of the convenience store with my breakfast already warmed up, my chopsticks and a toothpick to spare in less than 5 minutes.

Such convenience stores are open 24/7 in most instances and located all around Japan. In fact, there are 3 within a 5 minutes walk from my apartment.

I experienced this great Japanese customer service on several occasions this past Saturday morning, when I went with Meru-San to get a haircut and do some shopping. It was my first haircut in Japan, after I had been here for two months, so my hair was out and wild. I was a bit hesitant to get a haircut in Japan due to the curliness in my hair, which is not typical in Japan. Meru-San and I wend to Umeda, a nice area with two big shopping malls, and we just walked around the stores for a while.

The feeling of walking around the shops in Japan was great, things were so neatly arranged that you just felt happy and comfortable walking around.

After a while we finally went down to the street level and found a salon for my haircut. We saw there was a price list on front, so we went to look at it. A woman quickly came out of the store to help us.

There were several options. I quickly chose the first ‘package’ which included everything, pretty much. The lady helping us told me that it would be another 40 minutes before my turn. That is fine, we replied, as we walked in to look at haircut catalogs. Meru-San and I looked at the “Very Short” cuts section because anything longer than that would be considered long hair in the US. It also wouldn’t work well with my curly hair.

As we waited, Meru-San noticed the guy working in front of us. She said “I’m sure the guy with the flaming hair will be the one to cut your hair, you’ll see.” Flaming hair alluded to the guy’s hairstyle. If you saw it, you’d agree that flaming was the right term.

Sure enough, after a while the guy with the flaming hair finished his work with the other guest and called out “Oma? Omar?”. I looked at Meru-San and laughed in amusement at her predictive abilities.

Flaming hair guy approached me with a smile and called out “Omar-san!” while pointing to a super nice and comfortable chair where I was going to be sitting for the haircut. He asked a few questions, tried to explain in English what I didn’t understand, and then gave me a nice cold towel to clean my hands while he got ready for my haircut. Since Meru-San wanted to watch while I got my haircut, they hauled a chair over to be next to me so that she could sit and watch! Crazy.

The stylist shampooed my hair, and then proceeded to cut. Before he did this, however, he held a little box in front of me so I could place my glasses there during the haircut. I have never, ever, seen a hairstylist hold out a specific box for eyeglasses before. It is great what this Japanese pay attention to, I thought.

He cut, cut, cut hair. I had enough to make a carpet out of it, Meru-san pointed out. After he cut all that hair and styled it he looked at me a bit nervous while I put my glasses on so I could judge. It was great! Meru-San nodded in approval. He looked very happy and relieved, and then proceeded to shampoo my hair thoroughly to remove the loose, cut hair.

He then proceeded to the shave, and that was fantastic, honestly. He placed some nice, warm towels on my face and allowed them to soothe my skin. He then put nice, warm shaving cream on my face, all over the place, and then proceeded to shape my eyebrows, shave, and, to my big shock and surprise, trim the hair in my nostrils! I almost started laughing when I realized that he was trimming my nostrils hair. Meru-San was amused.

After he finished all this he put a hydrating mask on my face while he massaged my arms and shoulders. Then he told me to lean forward and he massaged my back too! Now this, my friends, is quality service. Once he was done I was feeling great, and I was so happy I couldn’t really stop smiling.

While we were there, a random guy approached Meru-san to tell her that he graduated from MIT in 2002, and to tell us to enjoy our time in Osaka! The world is a tiny, tiny place.

After my haircut, shampoo, shave, eyebrow and nostril trimming session, and my massage, I paid a grand total of less than $50. I paid more than that just for a haircut in Boston. When we were about to leave, the stylist that cut my hair gave us his business card, which indicated he was actually the “salon manager”.

Before walking out of the store, we asked the lady in front for directions to the shopping area. To our continued surprise, she walked us to the shopping mall next to the salon. This was at least a 5 minutes walk each way. Yet another way in which the Japanese show their attention to detail and customer service.

Meru-San and I then went shopping. We were both going for nice looking Japanese outfits, so we walked around and bought an outfit each. It was a bit pricey for my standards, but definitely worth it. The service in those stores was magnificent, but I’ll just summarize it by saying that they package things magnificently before they give them to you. They carry your bags until the store’s exit/edge at which time they bowed as they gave us our bags and said goodbye. Oh, and they put a plastic wrap over my bag because it was raining out. ❤

After this Meru-San and I went to my apartment and we changed into our newly purchased clothes before the afternoon.

Another entry about that coming soon, with stories including our experience at a maids café (you get served by cute little women), our random stop at a place full of yaoi (female oriented homo stories), chasing the hanabi around osaka, amazing dinner, and Meru-San’s cost in the Japanese market.

I know that you’re intrigued.

Lab Trip~

Last week flew by, I barely had a chance to realize what day of the week it was when, suddenly, it was Saturday! Monday I was resting up from the weekend before (Himeji Trip and Osaka Visit with Meru-san et al.) I was so tired in lab that at some point I had to run a gel to check my DNA product, and I completely forgot about it until it was too late, which means that my DNA product was there for too long and as a result it left the Gel and was swimming around somewhere in the vast pool of solution. This, if you don’t know, it’s not a good thing because I pretty much wasted my DNA product.

Anyway, I had enough DNA product to run another gel and save it, so it wasn’t too bad. After that I came home and took a long nap. 🙂
Tuesday and Wednesday flew by, particularly Wednesday since I had nothing to do and left lab promptly at 5pm. The reason I didn’t have anything to do is because all the things I have to do require me to come in to lab the following day, and Thursday and Friday was the lab trip!

Our lab has an annual trip in which people take a day-ish off work and just relax together, play sports, stay at some hotel/villages and simply enjoy each others company. Here is how things happened this year.

Thursday morning we met at 10:30am at the bus station in Kobe, which is 30 minutes away from where I live by train. From there we took a bus for ~1:30 hours to Awaji Island (淡路島) which means that we crossed over the longest suspension bridge in the world (The one I saw with Meru-san last weekend)! We arrived at this nice resort complex in which we all had lunch, and after that changed into our ‘sportswear’ and went down to play tennis, volleyball and badminton. This was a lot of fun, and for some reason I had this surge of energy that allowed me to play non-stop for hours. One advantage of being a foreigner in Japan is that chances are there aren’t many people taller than you when playing volleyball. ^_^

After playing for hours, we went up and moved our luggage (which was being stored in a room) to the villages we would spend the night at. The villages were really nice, and I regret not having taken pictures of them. You can, however, enjoy the professionally taken and quite representative pictures of the resort at their slideshow here.

Each village had a common room with a TV, two tatami rooms, and a nice bathroom. They were quite spacious, and since we were assigned to be around 5 people per village, it was great. The tatami rooms were equipped with a couple of futon mattresses stored in the closet, pillows, nice comforters, etc. I looked around the village, and after that got ready to go bath. And yes, we did bath in an onzen again.

I don’t know if you remember when I mentioned the onzen experience, but an onzen is pretty much a public bathing place. Since I bathed in one of those during the Kyoto trip, this time it felt a lot more normal/natural. The onzen at this resort was much nicer, and when I went in I actually enjoyed the experience a lot. There was the ‘showering’ places where you go sit on a plastic sit about one foot tall and use all the shampoo you want and soap to get extra clean. After that there were several places to go. Once we were clean and showered, we went into a minty bath room. The water was blue, and when you opened the door to that room it felt like you were trying to get high on listerine. The water also looked like listerine, THAT shade of blue.

I got in there, and it was actually quite pleasant. It was very refreshing, and I felt very clean. After getting out of there I went to the sauna and sat there for a few minutes. Then I got into a cold bath, which was ~15 degrees celcius, and after that a warm bath which was 30-something degrees celcius. After this I went back to dry myself with a towel, and then there was an area to style your hair. They had hair dryers and hair product, and there were big mirrors so you could be narcissistic and make yourself look beautiful. It was quite an experience.

After the onzen’s bonding experience, we all headed to dinner which was BBQ! It was delicious, delicious, delicious, and there was so much food that my table had to make a sacrifice and eat massive amounts of food so there were no leftovers. I’m not even kidding you, each table had two trays, one with meat and the other with vegetables, and my table inherited the leftovers of 3 other tables, which was half of each of their trays! I was there thinking about what my grandma would say if this food was wasted, and since I knew that would not be nice I convinced everyone in my table to keep eating. We successfully ate 2.5 trays of meat, and then could barely walk to the fireworks.

Did I say fireworks? Yes, it’s summer, which means that everyone in Japan likes to play with fireworks. And it’s not illegal here to just buy fireworks and go to an open space and light them up! Well, to be honest I’m not sure what the regulations are, but I’m sure they are not very strict. Our lab got a bunch of fireworks, and they were so many that by the end everyone was lighting up a whole bunch of them at the same time so we could actually use them up ~ 😀

After the fireworks was the “after party” in one of the villages, in this case the one I was staying at, and this means that everyone in the trip got together to drink and socialize all night. How long this lasted, I’m not sure, because at around 12:45am my energy source for the day shut down, and I was starting to fall asleep while talking to people. A few people noticed, and one of them, who was also really tired (his eyes were red) told me that it was fine to go upstairs and sleep. I looked around, and the stairs were right in front of me, so I crawled upstairs, yes, I did crawl, and the tired guy (whom I call “King-Kun”) followed me, and right after him “Masaya-san” followed. Withing 10 minutes I was sound asleep on a great futon mattress, quite comfortable. What happened from there, I don’t know, until the morning when Boot-san woke us up to go to breakfast.

During breakfast I found out that apparently our room the night before was really cold. “Did you sleep well?”, Boot-san asked, and I quickly said: “of course!”. Masaya-san then pointed out that I “could go to sleep really fast, huh? EVEN WHEN IT IS COLD!” I found this quite amusing, and so did the people around me, and I proceeded to explain that I did not think it was all that cold. We at home did like to set the A/C at night at 18 degrees Celsius and turn on the fan at the same time, cause we were wasteful kids like that! So don’t come tell me that an A/C set to 19 degrees Celsius stopped your from sleeping well, cause if that’s the case you obviously need to learn some lessons by living with my siblings. ~

Breakfast was delicious, there was rice, a few vegetables that I don’t even know what they were, two pieces of what seemed to be an egg-thing, a clam soup, and I don’t know what else. Also really good tea.

After breakfast we went back to the village and took naps, and right after that went to make Udon from scratch! That was fun, especially the part in which I was jumping on a bag with our floury-thing to make it all stick together and get this pizza like shape. The whole thing was quite awesome, and after finishing that we got to actually eat the Udon we made for lunch, and it was really good! I must say, eating noodles/Udon/etc. in Japan is so much more fun than in America, cause here it’s expected that you will make slurpy noises while eating them, while in America (and many other places) that is considered to be rude. I was so happy slurping down my noodles, and in the back of my head I was replaying with satisfaction all those times my mom told me to “stop making those noises while you eat!” and these beautiful memories allowed me to fully enjoy the moment. I love Japan.

After the Udon lunch we all headed back to the bus to Sannomiya and then took the train back home. I was home by 4pm Friday, and guess what, America, Monday is a holiday! That means that I don’t go back to work until Tuesday, after having been in a lab trip Thursday and Friday. This is good.

Oh, when I got back home Friday I couldn’t help but take a nap cause I was really tired. Also, all that energy I had the day before while playing sports, my body started complaining about all that physical activity and even now, two days later, every time I move in one way or the other I can feel my muscles screaming “let me rest, go to sleep!” So I’ve been pretty much a vegetable today, stayed at home all day, but soon I’ll be heading out to dinner with friends.

Oh, for lunch today I had eel over rice. Did I mention that I love eel? It’s so good that I’m willing to pay 3 times as much for two pieces of eel sushi than I would have to pay for most other ‘2-pieces’ of sushi when I go to that rotating sushi place. Well today I went to the conbini to see what they were offering for lunch, and there they were, sets of eel over white rice! I got a lunch set and it was quite delicious. I do think that next time I might instead go to the sushi place, cause price/quality seems to be better there.

This entry has gotten quite long, pictures to come up soon through facebook.