Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Home Leave (Part 1)

The last few weeks have been jam packed with incredibly mundane things in anticipation of my home leave for the year.  In true big law style, the night before I was to get on the plane back to the US, as I was putting my key in the apartment door after returning from work at about 9:45pm, I got an email telling me to come  back to the office.

I started to get nervous that I would be asked to change my flight around midnight, but it worked out.  I got home around 2am, packed for an hour before receiving comments and proofing a document around 3am and then killing time before leaving for the airport a few hours later.  On the bright side, this helped nip any potential jet lag in the bud.

My connection was at SFO, where I cleared customs, but my suitcase got hung up and didn't make my connecting flight.  Besides being overwhelmed by the ability to eavesdrop again (hello, English, I have missed you!) and how big everyone seemed to be, the thing I noticed the most was that people were looking at me.  I kept thinking that I must have spilled some food on my clothes or something, but that wasn't it.  There is just a lot more eye contact in the States and I'd forgotten about that at some point in the last seven months.

I made it home in time for brunch with a childhood friend and a family wedding that took place in the part of California where I grew up:

Spoiled to have grown up in this place!
The morning after the wedding there was another brunch and, after that wrapped up, I headed to a shopping area near the ocean to remote in and respond to some time-sensitive work emails.

When I first arrived in Tokyo, I worried that I would have a hard time getting back on the plane after my home leave.  I'm happy to report that while I've certainly enjoyed a reunion with my family and little C and B (my dogs who have stayed behind in California), I don't feel any anxiety or sadness over the idea of heading back to Japan just yet.  Instead, I am much more concerned about what will happen after my Tokyo assignment ends and it's time for me to come back to the States on a permanent basis.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hiragana Check!

One of the goals of my Japanese tutoring sessions was to learn the hiragana alphabet.  I've been working through the characters by reading through Remembering the Kana (by James W. Heisig of the more famous Remembering the Kanji) and then reinforcing with repetition:

It started getting fun when I could piece words together.  In the morning, when I'm on the train I look for hiragana characters among the kanji on signs and advertisements.  During the workday, when I see a romaji word (there are lots of these in the emails I receive and even the documents I'm working on), I practice spelling it out in hiragana.

Now that I know the hiragana, it's gotten easier for me to learn new vocabulary because I better understand how words should be pronounced.  You guys, I had forgotten what a joy it is to study a subject that allows for quick progress, immediate application and many small victories.  What a joy!

While I'll need to keep practicing the hiragana to pick up speed, my tutor has said it's time to move forward to the next alphabet: katakana.  Only 46 kana (make that 38 kana after tonight's study session) stand between me and the kanji....

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Golden Week

At the beginning of May, Japan celebrates Golden Week, a string of public holidays: Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children's Day. Similar to New Year's, these holidays were taken seriously by our Japanese clients. This meant there was a big push to get work out before the holidays started (I worked on one of the holidays as a result) and a particularly brutal stretch returning to work after the holidays.

I was elated to have some time off. Most weekends I catch up on sleep and chores, but given the extra holidays I had time to do some exploring. First, I went to the Meiji Shrine. This is torii gate on the path leading to the shrine:

These are barrels of sake that have been donated to the shrine:

Then, I went to nearby Yoyogi koen. This is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. It's located right next to Meiji Shrine and is accessible by Harajuku station. It was really nice to be in a huge, green space with so many mature trees. I stood for a long time just listening to the sound of the wind in the leaves. The people watching was pretty epic--I saw a man walking a cat on a leash!

The next day I decided to check out Tokyo Disneyland on a whim. Since I grew up near California's Disneyland, all things Disney tend to remind me of home. I've been to Disneyland in California, Florida, Hong Kong and now Tokyo. I love comparing how the parks are run, the crowds they attract and the way food and merchandising is localized.  See, for example, the corn potage, soy sauce and curry popcorn options:

The popcorn carts sell ~18USD plastic buckets with cross body straps that you can wear as you walk around the park and refill as needed. This means there is a lot of snacking as people walk around the park and wait in line. (That doesn't sound strange from an American point of view, but in Tokyo it is considered rude to eat or drink on the go.)

Check out these light saber chopsticks:

In general, the merchandising is character focused. Some park visitors come dressed as characters and many couples were wearing matching character gear. (There were also lots of little girls in princess gear that had gotten dolled up at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.)  Looking at the merchandising, you might not even know you were in Tokyo--I was hoping to find Minnie Mouse in a kimono, but no such luck.  This snack pouch is the closest thing I found:

Thinking about the demographics of the park visitors, this makes sense. (The only other white women I saw in the park were Snow White and Princess Aurora.) While an outsider would be interested in something silly like Minnie Mouse in a kimono, the Japanese audience wants to feel like they are having an authentic Disney experience.

And they are getting an authentic experience. The park is very similar to Anaheim Disneyland. Sure, Tokyo doesn't have the Matterhorn of Main Street. Instead, they have Pooh's Honey Hunt and the World Bazaar.  But on the whole it's a much closer match to the US parks than Hong Kong Disney.

I didn't visit Disney Sea, which I understand to be Tokyo's answer to California Adventure, but I hope to check it out before the end of my assignment.  (While my day at Disneyland is fun, I wouldn't consider it a must-do when planning a short trip to Japan.)