Well, this is a little embarrassing. One, two, skip a few (ninety-nine, one hundred), am I right?
My six weeks in Japan has come to an end; and, needless to say, there are some things to catch up on. The weeks in the middle of the internship were rather uneventful, but the last two were full of activity.
On 14 July fellow intern, Anika, and I went to dinner with Yuki-san and some of her friends from work. We ate some delicious shabu-shabu – meat and other foods quickly cooked in boiling stock or water – at a nice, sort of family-style restaurant; and we had a wonderful time talking, for we must have been there at least four hours. We talked a lot about English and various words and phrases, with Yuki-san bragging to everyone that, with me and Anika, she has not one but two English teachers. The night concluded with Yuki’s friend, Nami-san, driving me and Anika back to our apartment because she and her husband live close by.
The following weekend was extremely busy. On Saturday Yuki-san, Nami-san, her husband Mukunoki-san, Anika and I traveled to Ise shrine. Mukunoki-san did the driving as we headed west to the Bay of Ise, where we took a ferry across the water. The view was absolutely incredible, and the breeze from the ocean was very refreshing – especially since, on land, it was about 90ºF that day. After the leisurely, albeit slightly bumpy ferry ride, though I did not mind the waves, we got back in the car for the rest of the journey to the shrine itself. After finding a parking spot, we joined the other tourists and pilgrims paying respects to the gods. Trekking along in sweltering heat and high humidity, we passed through the torii gate of the shrine, after making our bows, to find ourselves in a picturesque forest with many important religious buildings. At the main shrine we tossed our coins in the collection box and offered our prayers, bowing and clapping as prescribed. After that we headed back to the touristy village outside the shrine proper for some green tea-flavored shaved ice before making the return trip to Hamamatsu.
Sunday was no less active, as I went kayaking with Kenta-san and some other members from the IS department. I was forced to wake up and be ready by 7:00, something I am most certainly not fond of. Kenta-san picked me up and drove me to Roland DG headquarters to rendezvous with Kikuchi-san, Chudo-san, Toyoda-san and his son. From there we left for the mountain valley where we would kayak. I had been told that we would arrive at the destination around nine, but, as someone that hates being forced to wake up early, I was skeptical as to why we needed to allot two hours for driving. We did end up needing the time, though, but the drive was well worth it – the scenery alone was quite stunning. After preparing our kayaks, we hopped in and began paddling upstream. The river was absolutely gorgeous, with placid blue water and steep hills on both sides blanketed with lush greenery. We went a ways up stream before beaching the kayaks and making camp for a bit. We remained there for a while, exploring a shallow branch of the river and eating some lunch. Reaching our original launching point, we packed up the kayaks and began the longer drive back to Hamamatsu. Needless to say, my arms were pretty sore for the next few days.
Returning to work the following day, Anika and I began our final week at the company. I had figured that it would be a fairly easy week, just tying up loose ends and such; instead it turned out to be quite the opposite.
Anika was hard at work creating her final presentation, which she would present to the HR department, and she had known about this since the beginning of the internship. Oddly enough, the IS department had not given me a similar task. Well, the last week they decided that they did in fact want me to make a final presentation and that I would present it in conjunction with Anika – the meeting would now comprise both IS and HR department members, in addition to several high-ranking company leaders. I was unworried, though, and set I about making a slideshow that I thought would be a brief overview of the internship and allow me to verbally communicate the finer details. As I soon learned, however, the Japanese and American ways of creating slideshow presentations are polar opposites: I was always taught to avoid long sentences and lots of words, and that the speaker should not simply read off his slides; the Japanese, in contrast, seem to prefer the details explicitly spelled out in the presentation. Tuesday and Wednesday saw repeated reviews of and modifications to my slideshow, as its page count continued to grow, ultimately culminating in the, shall I say, extremely challenging sequence of events on Thursday. (That is trying to put it as cleanly and diplomatically as possible – I was quite frustrated by that point.) The day began with me fixing some issues in my presentation, followed by a practice session with Anika; then we each did a run-through with Kenta-san in the afternoon. He said that he liked both our slideshows, and he only recommended that I fix two tiny little things. Relieved that my work was done and with my confidence boosted, I prepared for what I hoped would be a smooth last review with IS department chief, Fujiwara-san, at 4:00.
Four o’clock rolled around and I joined Kenta-san and Fujiwara-san in a conference room to give my presentation. It lasted about fifteen minutes, and everything appeared to be going well: both Fujiwara-san and Kenta-san paid attention, and I took Fujiwara-san’s frequent nodding to be a sign of approval. (For whatever reason I guess I just forgot in that moment that this is common in Japan, as it is a way for one to show that he is actively listening, instead taking it as a sign that I was in the clear.) Instead, Fujiwara-san had politely waited until the end of the presentation before giving his feedback – and he had a lot of it. Much to my surprise Kenta-san jumped on board as well and backed up Fujiwara-san, even after he told me that it looked ready; it felt like a duo of wrestlers tag-teaming my defenseless slideshow. I was mercifully granted a reprieve around a quarter to five when Yuki-san came in to invite me to the factory, where a competition between engineers was underway to test different part sorting systems. Fujiwara-san allowed me to tap out, so I left my things in the conference room and gladly took my leave.
By the time we arrived at the factory the competition had already ended, but the machines were still out so the engineers kindly got them running for us to see. My mind was elsewhere, though, due to the review session that I had been pulled out of, so I was not able to fully enjoy the engineers’ demonstration. It was a much need break, though, and I was able to vent a little bit to Yuki-san by briefly explaining what I had been going through the past few days. Her sympathy was greatly appreciated, and as we headed back to headquarters I felt much better.
We returned to the office right at the end of the workday, 5:15, so I assumed that I would be spared from any further presentation review until the following morning. I was mistaken. When I entered the conference room to gather my things and take my computer back to my desk, I found Kenta-san and Fujiwara-san hard at work marking up my slideshow to better illustrate exactly what they wanted me to do. I sat down in despair, and strapped in to let the pummeling recommence. At this point I knew I would miss the 5:26 bus, which Anika and I took back to the apartment every day, and that I would have to settle for the 5:45 one. About this, too, I was mistaken.
I was finally released just before a quarter to six, so I scrambled to pack up and hurry to the bus stop. Walking as quickly as I could, I reached the corner across from the stop just in time to see Anika getting on, looking at me from across the street with a frantic look in her eyes as if to say, What do I do? I looked back, merely shrugging; the next bus would not arrive at that stop for another hour. At that point I resolved to walk the entire way back to the apartment if I had to, as I felt the need take my time, cool off, and regain a level head. (“Cool off” is sort of a misnomer, considering it was hot and humid so I was sweating considerably.) I walked for about a mile, finally electing to catch a different bus the rest of the way.
When I got back I managed to catch Anika at our favorite restaurant, Bikkuri Donkey, and join her for dinner. She and I had a long conversation about the trials of the week – she was having a rough go of it as well that week, with lots of review and tweaking done to her presentation, too. I was able to get a lot off my chest, and talking with her and getting to vent really did a lot to preserve my sanity.
The icing on the burnt cake that was that Thursday came around 7:00 and was unrelated to work. While walking up the street from the apartment to buy some cookies as a gift to the IS department, something white darted across the sidewalk to the edge of the road. Traffic was at a stop, and I looked under the car next to me: sitting anxiously in front of a tire was a kitten with dirty white fur. Fearing it would be crushed as soon as the light turned green I snapped into action, getting the attention of the driver and frantically waving my arms to prevent her from moving. She looked frightened – hard to blame her – and almost appeared as if she were about to pull over. Just then the cat saw me approaching, and ran out and back across the sidewalk to the safety of the bushes. Crisis was averted, but I was significantly shaken for the rest of the walk to the patisserie.
I was not looking forward to what awaited me Friday morning, but I knew I would have to put my head down and slog through it. I spent the morning and early afternoon meeting the demands of Kenta-san and Fujiwara-san, as I hurried to ready my slideshow for the meeting at 2:00. Anika gave hers first: it was very smooth and I think her many rehearsals paid off. During my presentation I made it all the way to the penultimate slide before I really tripped. Fujiwara-san had asked me to add a slide detailing my personal impressions and accomplishments, separating it from those of the internship; and after the hardships of the previous day I decided that I would be brutally honest with both positive and negative feedback. But, all through Anika’s presentation and the beginning of mine, I began to worry that my negative bullet points were too harsh; so when my personal impression slide finally came around, I had to catch myself. Two things saved me, though: I think I was able to adequately soften things verbally; and I purposely used rather verbose language when I wrote the slide, so most people in the meeting probably did not fully understand my criticism. After taking questions and unplugging my computer, I let out a sigh of relief and was able to finally relax.
That night, Yuki-san threw me and Anika a going-away party and invited some people from the IS and HR departments. The party was wonderful, and was a good way to end such a trying week. Several people gave speeches, including Yuki-san. Her heartfelt speech, in addition to the scrapbooks that she and the others presented to me and Anika, documenting our internships, was extremely kind and made the moment all the more emotional. The night ended with us all exchanging goodbyes and parting ways, before Yuki-san drove me and Anika back to the apartment.
The following morning I was up early again to finish packing before heading off to the train station. Yuki-san, Mimuro-san, and Kenta-san picked us up at 7:45 – another early start on a Saturday, one of my least favorite things. Then came the hard part of saying goodbye. It was about 8:25 and my train arrived soon after, so it was a bit rushed for me. I gave Yuki-san a hug, and shook Mimuro-san and Kenta-san’s hands. And, just like that, I was off. It was not until later that day that the significance of leaving really sank in and my emotions caught up with me.
As for my personal impressions and the lasting impacts of this internship experience, a few things readily jump to mind: I have become more interested in language; new thoughts on the Japanese business mindset and process; and my love of Japan has not faded.
With regard to the first point, this was something that I could not have predicted going into this internship. Since I began taking Japanese in high school, I wondered how non-native speakers of English view and think about the language. My time in Japan not only offered me a new perspective to better understand that question, but also influenced my own perception of English. I have become increasingly conscious of my grammar and word choice, particularly in writing, and passive voice is now the bane of my existence – though its use is a hard habit to break.
Looking at the second point, I was of course afforded a look at the Japanese business mindset from day one. With business especially, the Japanese have a very particular way of doing everything. This became abundantly and frustratingly clear the last week while working on my final presentation, and it really undermined my theretofore positive notion of Japanese business culture. It would taste a lie to say that any negative takeaways from that week have faded away in my mind, so that is something that still requires some reconciliation and reflection on my part.
As for the last point, which is probably the most important to me, before the internship I had a fear in the back of my mind that so much time spent in Japan would in some way demystify the country and culture for me. Japan has long held my fascination, so I was worried that six weeks there would dull my view. To my relief that was not the case, and my interest in Japan has in no way decreased – save for business culture, I suppose; but, as I said, I need to mull that over some more. Six weeks there proved that it is not some fleeting infatuation or passing fancy, but a long-term pursuit that serves as a waypoint to which I am heading.