Friday, April 11, 2008

Japan IV


Luckily, Tuesday wasn't as hectic changing cities, and we were scheduled to stay in Tokyo for the rest of the trip. We tried the Japanese/American breakfast buffet, since we had vouchers for breakfast every day. It just wasn't as astounding as the Hotel Granvia, but still good. I mean, I really dig miso soup every day.

The day started off with a government economist (who was actually an American expatriate). I'd like to tell you how interesting and fascinating his speech was, or what it was even about, but ... I'm just not in to economics. Weird for a business student, right?? OK, some of his lecture was about rising prices, and where he thought the Japanese economy was going, but that's it. Afterward, everyone raved about how wonderful he was. I'm suspicious no one really understood what he was talking about, but wanted to sound smart themselves.

Then, we walked down the block from the hotel to Pfizer. I can't say I was too enthused about this visit either. Fine, I wasn't real enthused about any of the company visits. I'm a terrible business school student! But, it was actually really interesting. Note: everyone else didn't like this visit; it was too long and boring. They taught us about the Japanese health care system, and that was fascinating. It seems like they have a good handle on the universal healthcare system, although they're recognizing that there's going to be some problems as their population ages, like in the US. What can I say? I was raised with it.

Lunch was at the hotel, and we were given $25 vouchers. $25 for lunch?? We went for shabu shabu, but it was more than $25, and really not any different than I've had in the US. I got a tuna bowl that was fabulous. Seriously, I've had tuna before, and sushi, but this was amazing!! There was some kind of scary jiggly spiny thing in it, and seaweed and rice, so I just ate around the jiggly thing. And honestly, I was probably the bravest eater at lunch. I guess at this point, some people were getting a little homesick.

After lunch, we met with an American who became an entrepreneur in Japan. He started a company called Newport, but I never fully got a handle on what they do. It sounded like wholesaling, but the talk was more about starting a company in Japan. We're used to people getting a business idea and starting up a company here. In fact, it's a pretty respectful career. But in Japan, it's very unusual. Lifetime employment isn't official, but they definitely have a different outlook on employment there. That, and if your company fails - they don't give you too many options to re-enter the workforce. He was unusually guarded about his private life, although nobody pried. I couldn't help but be curious what effect moving to a new country must have had, though.

Dinner was at Gonpachi, and everyone went. Gonpachi was in Kill Bill I (I like that movie a lot), where the bride fights off with Lucy Liu. It was much, much smaller than I expected, and our group took over the whole first floor. I feel really bad for the restaurant, because they obviously didn't know that unlimited drinks are just not a good idea with a big group of business students. There were constant pitchers of beer on the table, and a somehow neverending supply of plum wine. The food was based on a set menu, and I didn't get to try everything because I was too busy socializing. It was kind of hit or miss anyway. My favorites were the grilled tuna and lime ice for dessert. Dessert my favorite? Big surprise there!

We went back to the hotel with the faculty and professors. I'm bummed we didn't stay out later, but the professors were super cool. We got back to the hotel safe and sound, and that was kind of it for my night.


Soooo... we've been watching FMA, and so far I'd say I like it more than Andy. And, I'm taking the night off (so to speak), and thought ... hm, you know, sometimes people get totally obsessed and come up with these crazy videos.

Numa numa? I LOVE NUMA NUMA!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


April 3, 2008:

Oh yes, it did.

Almost there...

Happy birthday, car!

{OK, this is kind of to make up for sort of missing the 100,000 mark. That happened on the way home from Illinois to Missouri some time ago. I even got a video this time.}

Japan II

This was the post I lost ... boo ...


I spent a little extra money to sign up for a full, charter bused tour of Kyoto, mostly because I thought it would be the most efficient and easiest way to see as much as I could all at once (I was really, really excited!). Turns out the walking tour would have been good too, but the people who went on the bus tour were cool and it was really easy.

My roommate and I were up at 5:30 a.m. I had no intention of getting up that early, but jet lag works in mysterious ways. We were on the 12th floor, overlooking the adjacent train station (which was not loud at all), and we got to see the view in daylight. Modern buildings everywhere, with an odd pagoda sticking up. Since we were both up, we decided to try out the buffet breakfast.

They had some American-style breakfast things - and I stayed away from every single one, except for the blueberry danish. Rice, salmon (uncooked), noodles, miso soup, pickled vegetables; I came to the sad realization that I wasn't going to lose weight on this trip at all. After breakfast, I met up with my group and we walked to the neighboring hotel to get picked up by the tour.

First stop was Nijo castle. When Kyoto was the capital of Japan, the shogun would stay at Nijo castle when he visited the emperor. The grounds are expansive, right in the middle of the city. Inside, there are no shoes allowed, and the tour guide warned us that the floors would be very squeaky. They were designed that way, so that ninjas (for real) couldn't sneak in at night and attack. It turns out that the "nightingale" floors make a really pretty tweeting noise, that isn't like the creaky old floorboards they kept telling us about. It was a cool morning, and inside was pretty chilly and drafty, especially with no shoes on! All of the walls were covered with beautiful silk-screened tapestries, and wood panels between rooms close to the ceiling were carved 3-d reliefs with different carvings on each side in each room, out of a block of wood 1' deep. Most of the rooms we saw had a step in the middle, and two levels - the shogun was always higher than whoever came to see him, except the emperor's messenger. Also, next to the shogun's raised platform, were very small doors where his bodyguards would hang out all the time. Not a cool job, if you ask me. After we picked up our shoes, we got to see the gardens a little. They weren't quite as green and pretty as I would expect gardens to be, but then again it's not like there were flowers everywhere. Then, back on the bus to Kitano Tenmugu shrine.

Kitano Tenmugu is a Shinto shrine that's popular with students, because the patron was said to be very smart. Exams were over when we went, but there were still plenty of wooden tiles with students' wishes hanging. We were also too early for cherry blossoms, but the plum blossoms at the shrine were just starting to bloom. On the walkway up to the shrine were tons of stone lanterns and street vendors selling food that smelled fantastic! I had a pancake in the shape of a fish that was filled with bean curd for about $1 - I wish they sold food like that in the US!

The last stop before lunch was the Golden Pavilion. Literally, a building made of gold that sits in a small pond. Unfortunately you can't go inside, but the grounds were much like Nijo castle. Our tour guide was sort of obsessed with a 400 year old banzai tree; not that it's not incredible, it was just a little odd. The tree is groomed into the shape of a sailboat, because the shogun wanted to sail to the promised land after death in a sailboat. The tree is groomed only once a year. I wish we didn't have to rush through, because there was so much to explore in the forest and the little shrines set up all over. There are a few shops on the way out from the shrine, and I bought good health and long life good luck charms for souvenirs. But we got back on the bus to head over to the Kyoto Handicraft Center for lunch and the rest of the tour to Nara.

The Kyoto Handicraft Center, apparently, is a Japanese-style, five story, tourist trap. Our tour included a buffet lunch (where once again the Japanese food was fantastic, and the American food... not so much). The other four floors are dedicated to independent vendor stalls where you can buy souvenirs. I ended up falling in to the mother of all tourist traps: I bought a cherry blossom printed "kimono." In actuality, real kimonos are made of silk and cost thousands of dollars. But, in most tourist places, they sell much cheaper polyester "happy coats." And, it really was pretty.

After lunch we got back on the bus for the hour drive to Nara. The drive was long not so much for the distance but the traffic, since it was Sunday and the weather was nice. Deer Park is just outside the Todaiji temple, and you can buy food and pet the deer in the park. Since it was mid-afternoon by the time we got there, the deer were pretty full and laying down, but very docile and sweet. Here, again, the walkway to the temple was lined with vendors (and deer!). There were huge gates to go through to get to the temple, which is the largest wooden structure in the world, housing the largest bronze Buddha statue. Inside, I expected a big statue. But I couldn't see it right away - I realized I was looking at only one petal on the lotus that the Buddha statue sits in. To its left and right are smaller statues, but by smaller, I mean smaller than the middle! Altogether, they were really beautiful. I've never been in a Buddhist temple before. I'm sure they're not all like that, but what a first impression.

The last stop on the tour was Kasuga shrine, only minutes away. It has hundreds upon hundreds of stone lanterns lining the walkways, and inside the shrine are tons of hanging lanterns, paid for by donations from patrons. The deer here were much friendlier and hungrier! I gave in and got my fortune read, although I was really worried it would come out badly. To read your fortune, you shake a wooden tube until a thin stick with a number comes out, and the number corresponds to your fortune (they offered fortunes written in English). If you get a bad fortune, you tie it to a tree at the shrine and pray for the gods to lift the bad fortune. Mine came out to be "good fortune in the end," and the details didn't seem like it was that bad of a fortune... so far, things have been OK!

On the bus ride back a couple of people suggested we to go a geisha show, but most of us were too pooped to venture out into the city. We got back to the hotel almost an hour and a half later than expected, so a small group of us ventured to the sushi restaurant next to the hotel. Although you could order off the menu, each table was seated around a covered conveyor belt. When you saw a plate that you liked, usually with just a couple of rolls on it, you could lift the cover and pull it off. The plates had different patters, and the price of each plate corresponded to the patterns. Probably the best

Japan III


Monday, we were overly warned, was going to be a busy day. Everyone had a 5:30 wake up call, enough time to get breakfast from the hotel restaurant that opened extra early just for us, and to catch the shinkansen. The train ride was great! The first trip was only about an hour, but it was so smooth and fast. Plus, the assigned seating was a lot like flying first class (not that I know anything about that). Then it was a bus ride to Toyota City for our first company tour.

Since we were all in two buses, we had two tour groups. The guides were very sweet, and I guess tours are pretty common - they had speaker systems at a lot of different points along the way. The factory we saw was making Corollas, tCs, and a Japanese car, Wish. It made me think of Sesame Street, but on a whole new level, with all of the doors riding around on huge conveyor belts over the chassis on belts on the ground. When there was a problem on the line (which otherwise never stopped), the warning system would play a little song like an ice cream truck, instead of a regular warning sound. The funny thing was, they were songs like "Happy Birthday," "It's a Small World," and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." We also saw huge automated welding machines, that all run so precisely they never got in each others' way. The last stop was through the final inspection line, which was lit up brighter than daylight to check the cars for any tiny, itty bitty, possible defect.

Afterward, the bus dropped us at the museum and visitor's center - a 15 minute ride, because the plant is so huge! I wasn't too interested, because when the videos and signs weren't in Japanese, I'm just flat out not really interested in cars (hello, Honda!). I did hit the Starbucks in the basement, where they mythical "short" is sold for the same price as tall in the US, and the other sizes are priced accordingly. They didn't speak English but had a menu where you could just point. Also, before the presentation, we saw a couple of concerts by a robot that was able to play a real trumpet. It was really good, and I wish we could have seen the whole band. The presentation was good ... I just wasn't really in to it. Then it was back on the bus to Hamamatsu.

We had a boxed lunch on the bus with four sandwiches, and that killed some time from the hour drive. It was fun to see the countryside a little. Some buildings looked straight out of a movie, with Japanese architecture, and some looked very much like a midwestern town. And, apparently, pink cars are perfectly acceptable!

In Hamamatsu, we toured the Yamaha grand piano facility. Even though it was pretty modern, there were still so many steps that were done by hand, or by professional tuners. And they also had the ice cream truck song warning system! I don't think I've seen so many pianos in my life, much less knew how they all worked inside. Instead of a presentation, we had some time in their showroom, with both very traditional instruments (think marching band) to very advanced ones. But, after this, the "work" day was basically over.

The "worst" part of the day was supposed to be navigating the train system from Hamamatsu to the Keio Plaza Hotel. This time, we got a longer ride on the train - super relaxing and cushy. They even handed out hot towels, although I never really could get in to that custom. At our stop, we had to stick together as a group as best we could to get the normal metro train to the hotel, all through rush hour. Altogether it wasn't too bad, and everyone made it. But why did they make us learn all those Japanese phrases and then worry so much? I'm sure I could have gotten there on my own, in an emergency.

Our luggage was trucked separately to the hotel, and we were able to check in at a side table set aside especially for "USC Grobe" (oops!). Most of the restaurants had plastic models of food and prices in the fronts, and on the way to the hotel we passed a noodle shop that had udon with the biggest tempura prawn I have ever seen! We went back there for dinner, and it was fantastic, but a little pricey maybe at about $11. On the way back, we stopped at a convenience store called Natural Lawson's for some St. Patrick's day beer, which we ended up not drinking. Too tired, and full of good food! Oh well. That being said, Asahi Super Dry in Japan is really good. Not so much in the US.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Things are always crazy at the end of the semester. I kind of thought this one would be different, but it's not.

Here's a quick life progress update:

Work: I'm over a week into my new job. And, honestly, still don't have the hang of things. Not that I expected to walk in the super-genius and know everything. My new group is quite small, but they're all such nice people, and very, very smart about the business. Best of all, they have such big plans for me! It's impossible to not want to work hard in such a supportive environment. I thought I'd be sad that my nice little work group was going to be split up, but with instant messenger, some still close by, and a communal cafeteria, I don't feel too lonely.

School: Ah yes, the end of the semester. Homework due tomorrow, presentation due Thursday, and final project deadline coming up quick. I don't feel too stressed about it, but it's hard not to let it get to you every now and then. Luckily I have some very hard workers in my groups!

Summer semester starts only a week or so after spring finals, so I don't get much of a break. And, sadly, the one final exam I have is smack in the middle of May, and very, very hard. I'm scheduled for two classes in the summer term, but I'm hoping to switch to a data warehousing class. The downside is, it's likely very hard, two nights a week for three hours a night, starts at 4 in LA, and requires a near-complete rearrangement of my work schedule. Yikes. I discovered I can't qualify for the official IOM concentration, despite having taken four classes to date with two more scheduled (really??? come on!!). But I still want to take the class. I might be a little crazy.

Next week I register for my last semester. Somehow, all of the classes seem entirely less appealing than they did last fall, when my class was finally allowed to choose their electives. I started a second countdown on my igoogle page: 254 days until the end of Fall 2008 semester!

Home: Oh, my. Last Friday was, what Andy calls, our -1 anniversary. That's right - less than a year to go! And there's so much left to be done. I still don't have a dress, or a wedding party, or hardly anything else, and a load of family drama that I can only hope will work out. We had a nice night out before I got back to work the rest of the weekend.

Lately, when there's a little time, we've been catching up on past episodes of the Office (new season starts Thursday!), and watching an anime called Full Metal Alchemist. It's a pretty simple story with a lot of heavy themes, but definitely a good escape from the usual.

By the end of the year I'll likely have a new car and a permanent home, but the thought of that is simply overwhelming. Honestly, crushing. Those, on top of everything else I need to do?? Eek! All I want is a little time this weekend to clean up my desk, file the wedding paperwork that's accumulated in a pile, finish my blog on my Japan trip, and do some spring cleaning around the apartment. Such a simple thing, but I don't see it happening this month. Ugh.

Well - enough of a break. Tonight, I need to finish off a homework assignment, start writing a 2 page paper with my group's input so far, and finish filling out a worksheet comparing institutional voids between Brazil, Japan, US, and EU (doesn't an MBA sound like fun??).


Well, despite my best efforts, it's time to re-think the wardrobe a little. When I was in Japan, I took my wool pea coat so I'd look professional when it was cold, but also warm. It worked out well, but upon further inspection ... I could see nearly every thread in the fabric. Even sadder, there were spots on my gray Express suit (my first suit ever!) that were looking thin. Japanese women (at least in Tokyo) dress so immaculately, but I don't know how they can afford it! In my mind, at least, I think I dress fairly well - am I wrong?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. My suit is at least eight years old; the jacket is around five. What? Clothes don't last forever?

I have closets full of clothes I don't wear any more, and I've been trying to weed them out. My wardrobe just doesn't quite reflect my style; most of the clothes are from college and even high school, and I think I've grown (in more ways than one, sadly) since then. I had intentions of taking some to Buffalo Exchange in December, and now it's April. Maybe I can put together a nice collection of spring/summer wear for them?

Anyway, Overstock is always sending me emails with tempting offers. Cute dresses, shoes, pretty jewelry, even music they think I'd like (and are usually right). So, now that winter's over, it's time for a big jacket sale. And they had me at "free shipping."

I lusted over this for a few days before my stress-induced, hazy-brained order. The smallest left was a medium, but hey - my mom always says to buy jackets a little big. One reviewer said it ran large, and another said it ran small. Oh, I hope hope hope the second reviewer is right!

Of course, once you let the genie out of the bottle ... this had been on the top sellers for a while, but the price tag put me off. My justification was that it's going to be better quality, and I wear my clothes into embarassment anyway. That, and did I mention the stress?

Oooh, they're on their way! I can't wait!