James and the Giant Peach — But with a Pineapple | #1

I guess I have put off writing this for long enough. This may be a long one, as there a lot to catch up on.

I have been in Japan for a fortnight now, but I swear it feels longer. When someone tells me that it has only been two weeks, it takes me a moment to be drawn back to reality, thinking, “Wait, I have only been here for two weeks.” I suppose this feeling stems from the whirlwind of a first week that I had: the first day comprised landing in Tokyo; taking the train from the airport to Tokyo station – one would be hard-pressed to find a more overwhelming train station anywhere on the planet; taking the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hamamatsu; going to dinner with the Roland company representatives Mimuro-san and Hirao-san (Yuki); and then finally being taken to the apartment. Keep in mind, all that was jammed into a few hours on day one.

After a rest period on Sunday, in which my fellow intern, Anika, and I visited a park inhabited by a group of feral cats, work began on Monday morning. Hirao-san met us at our apartment, showing us how to ride the bus to headquarters. The morning was mostly going over rules, policies – the obligatory, perfunctory stuff. I was introduced to Shimojima-san (Kenta), whom I am working closely with for the duration of this internship. For lunch we went to a small restaurant nearby where we ate okonomiyaki, which is comparable to an omelette, I suppose. Things picked up in the afternoon, as we visited the Roland DG factory. (I do not want to say too much about that, lest I accidentally reveal company secrets or something.)

Over the next two days much of my time was spent in meetings, as I met with all the members of the IT department. There were usually four people in the meeting: me; two team members; and Yamazaki-san, who is technically the secretary for the department but also works as the office translator. (Yamazaki-san definitely deserves a raise, in my opinion.) I owe her a great deal of gratitude, as her invaluable help during those meetings as a translator filled in the gaps where my Japanese or the other members’ English fell short.

Wednesday was a company get-together, as everyone assembled for an evening of fun at the bowling alley. I was rather nervous, having not bowled in years; however, in order to do much of anything in Japan, one must set aside self-consciousness, for the Japanese are exceptionally generous, forgiving, and favor enjoyment over competitiveness – especially at something as laid-back as a company bowling night. In short, it was a judgment-free event. I had an excellent time playing with Kenta, Yamazaki-san, and fellow IT department member Nakagaki-san.

Friday was probably the busiest day of the week, as Hirao-san, HR department manager Endo-san, Kenta, Anika, and I took the train to Tokyo, spending the day there on a business trip. We visited Corning Japan, had lunch in a cozy little restaurant, toured the Roland DG Tokyo office, and visited a ridiculously crowded technology exposition before making our way back to Tokyo station to head home.

But that was not the end to the first week: my dad and I spent Saturday and Sunday in Nagoya visiting his old friend, Mr. Asai. He had come to Hamamatsu the previous weekend to see us, and he took us to an excellent burger place, famous in Hamamatsu, as well as Hamamatsu castle. In Nagoya he took us to see the Meiji-mura on Saturday – a park, similar to Greenfield Village, mostly featuring buildings from the Meiji period. That evening we were treated to a delicious meal whose main attraction was grilled unagi (eel). Later that night the experience was made even more authentic with matcha green tea, which we had when Mr. Asai’s daughter and grandkids came over to visit; and the day was concluded with my dad and I lying down for bed on traditional futon in Mr. Asai’s tatami room.

On Sunday my dad caught his flight back to the US out of Nagoya airport, and Mr. Asai kindly saw me off at the train station. Arriving back in Hamamatsu that evening, the week was finally over. This is why it feels like I have been in Japan much longer than a mere two weeks.

The most noteworthy event of the second week was probably the HR department barbecue on Saturday. Though I am not an HR department intern, I was invited to attend, along with Kenta. The gathering was held at a fruit part, located near the company headquarters and nested in a valley to the north of Hamamatsu city proper. One of the added benefits to this is that I can now say I have been inside a giant pineapple, as well as having ridden down a slide attached to it. I doubt many people can say the same. The barbecue consisted of pork, beef, chicken, vegetables, as well as some more exotic stuff like squid. Not quite what I am used to when it comes to barbecuing, but delicious nonetheless. The park also contained an animatronic dinosaur section – an odd fit, given that it is a fruit park, but still very neat. *sigh* I feel it is necessary to make note of this part: after the barbecue ended around 1:30, Yuki and Kenta took me and Anika to karaoke. What they sang and what I sang will go unmentioned. Just know that the experience was not as embarrassing as I had imagined.

I think I am caught up with the basic summarization (at the beginning I warned that it is a lot), so now a few impressions and other thoughts.

This goes without saying, but Japanese corporate culture has its differences from the US. For instance, there is a proper order, based on seniority, that businesspeople use when standing in an elevator or riding in a taxi! Something else that I noticed is the frequent events held outside of working hours that are designed to foster teamwork and friendship with coworkers – things like the bowling event and barbecue, for instance. This is not to say that these things are nonexistent in American companies: I know company picnics are popular outings; and progressive companies, particularly those in Silicon Valley, hold these sorts of events a lot. But there was a certain distinctiveness to these ones at Roland DG that struck me, and for that reason I think they will be some of my fondest memories from this journey.

Roland DG also has a myriad of clubs that employees can join. Mimuro-san mentioned that he is part of a club that gathers once a month to watch movies together; there is also a model-making club that builds miniatures; and Endo-san and several other members from HR play tennis together every Sunday. I think these non-business activities add a unique dimension to Japanese corporate culture that really focuses on building relationships with one’s coworkers to promote cohesion and cooperation during working hours.

Lastly, I want to mention an idea that I had when visiting the factory and the response to it that I received. Again, I will not go into too much detail about the goings-on within the factory; however, my idea has to do with sorting small parts. I first brought up the idea with Yuki and Mimuro-san; they were impressed, and encouraged me to continue developing the idea and present it to some people in the IT department. I ended up doing just that, and people were very receptive – I even presented my idea in a slideshow, explaining the process and describing the various steps. I got a lot of quality feedback, and was again encouraged to continue pursuing this idea. Throughout these first two weeks when I was working on this, as well as other tasks, I got the feeling that people were truly paying attention to what I had to say and valuing my input. Being treated so respectfully has probably impacted me the most these past two weeks.

Well, I think that about wraps it up. I will try not to put off the next entry for so long like I did with this one

One thought on “James and the Giant Peach — But with a Pineapple | #1

  • July 3, 2017 at 3:49 pm
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    What a packed first week! It really does sound like the Japanese work culture focuses a lot on building relationships and cooperation. Does this impact the environment during work hours? Also, well done taking great initiative in your first couple weeks at your internship! That takes a lot of guts and I’m glad it worked out so well.

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