In the spirit of the Do Good, Read More Summer Reading Challenge (the brainchild of the Do Gooder Mama), I decided to search for some blogs that reminded me of my own 3-month stint in Japan over TEN years ago!
My Time as an Intern in Tokyo
I was a college student in my 20’s interested in going to Japan, since I had studied it all four years in high school. When I arrived at college, I THOUGHT I could major in business, German and fit in some Japanese, but when they suggested placing me in a 6-credit Japanese class, I balked, thinking about how long my college career would take if I tried to be such an overachiever.
When I learned about an internship program with a railway company, I jumped at the offer to submit a proposal, and I WAS CHOSEN! Through my three month stay, I would create a marketing plan and assess the ease of riding the train for English speaking passengers. One other intern also participated in the program (mostly motivated by his ability to live in Japan and see his Japanese girlfriend). Still, it was an incredible experience – full of A LOT of self-discovery and culture shock!
Clean & Efficient
One thing that I really noticed was how clean & efficient Tokyo was. The train system was among the finest in the world, providing high-speed travel on well-maintained, state of the art, and clean trains. All staff really takes pride in their work and their appearance.
I had the opportunity to “work” at Tokyo station for one week during my internship – complete with a uniform that was a cross between McDonald’s and a flight attendant that included a pencil skirt, hat, AND tie. One female station employee noticed that I was trying to re-use the tie from the previous day (since I didn’t know how to tie it myself), so she quickly came to my rescue, re-tying it to look immaculate. I enjoyed teaching the employees English, and actually had to help an English speaking passenger find his way!
I LOVE Engrish!
As mentioned in the blog post above, you frequently see English words that don’t make a lot of sense printed on shirts, signs, billboards – EVERYWHERE! This phenomenon is known as ENGRISH! Check out these hilarious examples from Everything Anna:
Georgiana in Real Life – also has some Engrish examples and beautiful photography. My time there was SO LONG AGO, that digital photography really wasn’t around.
Life in Tokyo
As described in Daily (w)rite – Writing about Tokyo, it IS a little intimidating to navigate Tokyo. On my first day coming home from work, I ended up getting lost. Fortunately I knew enough Japanese to ask for directions back to my tiny apartment. Many people will say they don’t speak English, and while this MAY sometimes be true, I found that many more work colleagues spoke English – they were just too shy and modest to say it outright. During my time there, I was approached a few times by random business men (or salaryman), who asked to practice their English with me. I politely declined!
The subway and train systems CAN be difficult to navigate. When my dear mom visited me, she had to take the train by herself from the airport to Tokyo Station. She didn’t really know how to use the system (being from small town Wisconsin), so for two agonizing hours we waited for each other on opposite sides of the train’s exit turnstile. In comparison, my older sister and her boyfriend visited, and were champs navigating the system without ANY knowledge of Japanese. I remember being very visual – remembering the look of a street or building, and matching up the kanji (Chinese characters) and hiragana (Japanese alphabet) when I couldn’t read something outright.
My commute to my internship was a 15 minute subway ride, but my fellow intern had a 45 minute commute on the train. At his station, they have workers who PUSH people onto trains to help make room for more passengers. It is ironic for the Japanese culture: for people who keep a lot of personal space and bow vs. shaking hands, they tolerate being crammed onto trains. It is disgusting to be so close to someone else that his sweat drips on you. YUCK!
I came across this beautifully written post: Venus in Japan by Nina Nakamura.
I can relate to feelings of insecurity in public baths. I went to some with a family that I befriended through my best friend’s cousin’s friend (got that connection?), and I felt a little awkward squatting by a faucet and washing myself before submerging into the heavenly waters of different types of pools. On another occasion, I went with my colleague’s girlfriend in Kyoto, who picked up on my discomfort, and left me alone.
More to Come!
I have enjoyed reflecting on my summer in Japan, and finding other bloggers who have ventured there as well. I’ll be sharing more on this topic – and hopefully sharing some priceless pictures (maybe scanning?) or my stay. Sayonara for now!
Have you ever been to Japan? What do you remember most from your time there?