Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Japan Trip May 20 - June 3

It's been a month since I got back, but I finally got caught up enough to tell you about my trip to Japan.

I went to train at The Mother Company (disclaimer: that's not really what "TMC" stands for) for two weeks at two different locations. Luckily I didn't go alone - I had Bradley from the SoCal office for company and as a preventative to getting lost. It was amazing! The things the company is doing are unbelievable, but I'm not allowed to talk about that. So here is a little bit about Japan...

Toyota-shi (Toyota City)
Let's not mince words, folks - Toyota-shi, home of TMC headquarters, is not a beautiful city. Everything in central Honshu, although being spotless with absolutely no litter or street grime, seemed dingy or run-down - this was not helped by the fact that Toyota-shi is an industrial town and many of the headquarters buildings were corrugated steel. Unfortunately Bradley and I were staying in a hotel close to TMC but far from downtown, so didn't get to appreciate it fully.

This is the view from the hotel. As I mentioned, not much to look at.
We did get to go downtown once, and it was cute. There are two train stations and a big mall there - even a Japanese KFC!

This is the hotel room. Disclaimer: there is nothing in this room that is not in the photograph (except the bathroom). This is the entire thing. I had to cuddle with my suitcase in bed at night because there was no room on the floor for it. I found out after I came back that Hattori-san was trying to teach me about Japanese business culture instead of putting me in the nicer, Toyota-approved hotel downtown. Okay, okay, I learned my lesson!

We had one precious day for sightseeing, and we spent it in Kyoto. Definitely the place to go if you only have one day and are looking for the authentic Japan experience! Here's a factoid for you: Kyoto (Kyo city) was formerly the capital of Japan, and the cultural center. That is why Tokyo is so named - it means "East Kyo".

Here is a picture of Bradley and me at the Golden Temple with our Toyota-shi host Bono-san and his wife, Yuko. They were absolute champs - they had to escort us practically everywhere because we didn't speak more than 15 words of Japanese and couldn't read more than 2 or 3.

Here is a photo of the temple itself. I never quite figured out why they bothered to cover a building entirely with gold leaf. It's not really a temple per se, but the Shogun's summer home. I guess when you're the Shogun, you can do whatever you want.

Here is a picnicking couple on the banks of the river. I took this photo on our way to a restaurant where every single dish was made from fu, which is wheat protein that can be prepared with many different flavors and textures (even like meat) - it's an ancient Kyoto form of cooking that came from the Buddhists. I certainly didn't have to worry about eating meatless there! They even had tofu made from fu. Some of it was really good, and some of it not so much. As for the rest of the trip (in case you were wondering how my vegetarianism held up), I survived mostly on pizza and salad bar, as well as junk food. To my relief I didn't starve, as many people predicted. I told you Bono-san looked out for me! And in Higashifuji I got the same level of consideration from Kato-san and Fujimoto-san. Actually, everyone over there was really nice to us (probably nicer than usual, because I'm female).

Here is a photo of Kyomizu-dera overlooking new Kyoto. Kyomizu-dera is another of the many Buddhist temples built in Kyoto over the last twelve hundred years. To paraphrase Mal from Firefly: "I understand the how, I'm just fuzzy as to why." In my understanding, Buddhism is a rather ascetic and humble religion - did they really believe in a god that would be impressed by all that? Maybe like the Catholic clergy, they wanted to practice self-denial in an impressive setting.

A real live geisha sighting! Maybe not of authentic geisha, we weren't sure. It's possible they were apprentices. Or posers.

The second week of our training. Here is the omnipresent soda/tea/coffee machine, even in the middle of nowhere! At least it seemed like nowhere on Sunday afternoon when Bradley and I were trying to find something to eat and having no luck.

They don't call it "East of Fuji" for nothing. Here was our evening view of Mt. Fuji from the hotel parking lot. During the daytime it was more like a faint ghost, and usually not visible at all. Of course, it wouldn't be Japan without the enormous power lines everywhere.

So there you have it, folks. I can't wait to go back, but I don't know when that will be. Some people in the company go as much as four times a year, but my department is averaging the exact opposite: one visit every four years. Next time hopefully I'll have the opportunity to take some vacation there before returning.

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