University of Pennsylvania (Robert)

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    First Japan Blog

    By Hasselhoff
    Jun 3, '06 1:20 PM EST

    Ok, this is the pictureless blog version of my 'newsletter.' I know, maybe I'm lazy, but I want to include a lot of pictures and it's easier to make a PDF that automatically compresses the images than resize everything for Archinect. I don't want to spend even more time making two versions. Sorry. If you want the image-ized version, email me to be put on my list.

    I got in to Kansai airport around 6:15 PM last night (June 2). After 3 hours of train hopping, I made it to my town which is almost entirely residential and located between Kobe and Osaka. It should have only taken about 1.5 hours, but unfortunately the Kansai shuttle that I boarded didn't go all the way to Osaka, so I went all over the place on any train that said Osaka on it. Finally I made it to Konen-Yamate around 10. Then came the next challenge, the fact that the Japanese don't label their streets. Luckily I asked a family and understood the word for left, and eventually found the dorm. I was greeted by a nervous guy in a suit who is probably younger than me. They helped me carry my heavy suitcases to my room (I have no idea what weighs so much). I then met with them for a meeting at exactly 10:30. A group of about 3 guys joined together and explained all the rules of the dorm to me. The whole name thing is going to be a challange. I'm not really good with remembering easy names like Joe and Mike let alone Itotachi or Masahito (I made those names up...I think). I think someone needs to invest in some nametags, maybe me. They call me Roboto. I think the language thing may turn out to be harder than I thought. A few of the guys are fairly fluent, but many know very little and my Japanese is pretty much terrible. Mizu o kudasai. Toire wa doko desu ka? Anata no okaasan desu. [Water please. Where is the toilet? This is your mom.] Woo, real conversation there.

    The photos above is my room. Typically this room would be for two people, but I am alone. It's not a bad size for one person. My bed is a futon on a tatami platform. For those of you not familiar with tatami, it is basically as soft as a sheet of corrugated cardboard on a board. It's surprisingly comfortable though. Luckily my room is airconditioned because by the end of the month, Osaka begins to hit 90 degrees with extreme humidity. The next series of images shows the town in which I will be living. I guess it is considered Kobe. It will take about 40 minutes to get to work, which means I need to leave around 7:20. I'm sure the train will smell nice packed with sweaty commuters.

    Today I went to Osaka and walked around. First I got off the train in Kyodobashi. Someone told me about “Kyodobashi” so I thought I would start there. Well, when I got off the train I was greated by a ton of strip clubs. I had heard of “Kyodobashi” in the sense of electronics, so this was odd. I walked around and saw Pachinko parlors, bars, restaurants, and then residential and industrial areas. I basically got lost and wandered around for 2-3 hours . I finally found another train station and went to Umeda (I guess it's central Osaka). And went to YODOBASHI. That was not a plethora of strip clubs, but rather a large electronics store. It was a mad house. I don't get it. Everyone is constantly texting on their cell phones, while walking, eating, riding bikes, DRIVING! From what I understand, texting is cheaper than talking.

    Cell phone plans in Japan are really bad. They are literally $100/month for a max of say 1700 minutes (you have a monthly allowance of credit, that decreases when you call, sometimes cost more than others etc). No free nights, no free weekends. You can pay $3 so that you can call one person unlimited each month. WOO. Back in ”˜Merica, I pay $40 a month for 450 peak minutes, unlimited nights and weekends, and free calls to any Verizon member. I will probably get a prepaid phone next weekend when I visit with Tomoko in Kyoto. I think she wants me to get the $3 plan so I can call her all of the time, but I would have to get a real cell contract and that is way too much money. Pretty lame. You'd think it would be really cheap since the market is saturated.

    Back to the zoo that is Yodobashi. Think Best Buy in need of Ritalin. 5 floors of printers, computers, cameras, DVD players etc. I was actually there last year, but didn't remember the name until I saw it again. I was just sort of comparing prices of things I bought in the states. Note, all of the following products are from Japan. Epson R220 printer, $100 US, $150 JP, Nikon D50 DSLR, $550 US, $875 JP, 2 GB SD Flash card, $40 US, $225 JP, Tamron 18-200MM lens, $380 US, $650 JP. I couldn't believe it. Things like MP3 players, headphones etc were reasonably priced, but I couldn't believe those other things.

    One thing I noted this trip, is that since I'm not with a group, I notice a lot more things since I'm not talking to friends and paying more attention. This place is so foreign, but oddly the same. I will start to collect photos of strange things... like everyone else who's gone to Japan before me. Some of the advertising lets you think nothing but “What the hell?” Even if you understand the language, I don't think you could understand the ads. The so called “Engrish” is just hilarious. I saw this store that said all of this stuff about “scoring with your own top guitar sound master” or something. I went in, and they had band posters. I had thought of a plethora of strange things that I saw today, but by the time I got back to write this, I forgot them. I will write them down next time. I imagine the stuff that I say and do sounds ridiculous to the Japanese as well.

    I start work Monday. I still have no clue what I will be doing. I have to wear a suit though.

    More proof that this world is small. I was talking to some guys in the dorm and this girl walked by. I thought she looked very familiar. So I got my laptop and asked a coworker if a girl in a picture worked with us. Turns out, a Waseda student (also named Tomoko) who was on my design build team last summer in Tokyo works for Takenaka. When she came back to the dorm, a guy called out to her and she screamed and ran over to me because she was so surprised. It was pretty funny.

    Ok, this is going to go on forever if I don't stop now.


    • sounds fun dude.

      i was told once that japanese companies are able to underprice (ie, DUMP) their products in other countries cuz they overcharge for them here in idea if true, but sometimes can believe it....

      enjoy first day on the job. will be interesting to read about the experience in a corporate japanese office (am dieing to find out if corprorate architects do company-wide morning calaesthenics too)...

      let me know if you make it to tokyo.

      Jun 3, 06 7:31 pm  · 

      Oh man, I remember having to do calisthenics in the morning at school. I always thought it was kinda totalitarian. Good luck Robert.

      Jun 3, 06 8:35 pm  · 
      liberty bell

      Thanks for the pdf, Hasselhoff, I enjoyed it. Sorry you have to wear a suit - I thought there was a law passed about that?

      Your struggles with Japanese remind me of something David Sedaris said in one of his books - that at some point when he lived in France and was just beginning to know a few phrases in French he was afraid he sounded like an evil man-baby saying things like "Want TWO eggs of the chicken!" and "Need hammer! Need go bang-bang!"

      Good luck with it.

      Jun 3, 06 9:55 pm  · 

      The suit is just tomorrow and the last day. Sorry for some of the awkwardness of that last blog. I'm very mildly jet lagged and I think speaking semi broken English in simple sentences is getting to me already. It seriously took me a few days to speak normally when I got back last year after spending a week in a 90% Japanese household.

      The jet lag coming to Japan is pretty mild because when you get here, it's almost time to go to sleep anyway, so you just go to sleep, wake up and it's a new day. Going back is harder because it's only an hour later than when you left.

      So the one thing that I left out was that, I didn't understand why the cell phone section of Yodobashi was like a Russian bread line. Everyone already has a phone, so what the hell?

      Jun 3, 06 10:42 pm  · 

      I've heard that akihabara is the place to go for electronics, especially computer parts.

      I need a few seagate 750GB hard drives if you have time.


      Jun 3, 06 11:11 pm  · 

      Akihabara is in Tokyo. I was there last year. It's cool, but again, same stuff we have in the states, just a few months earlier, and a lot more expensive. And then they have a few brands that we don't. Or some brands may have a larger market in Japan than in the US. There were some SICK flat panel TVs though. A lot of Toshiba and Sharp products. I talked to some dudes today and they said that Yodobashi is cheap! My 1GB SD card came FREE with my camera from Newegg, and was about $130 here in Japan. Sick!

      Jun 4, 06 12:51 am  · 

      try HARD-OFF or the used section of SOFMAP for good used stuff (much almost new). better bargains there than in the chain stores.

      Jun 4, 06 1:58 am  · 

      I don't really want anything haha. I was just commenting. I got some pretty sweet deals back home on the things I wanted. Jet lag is now catching up and I am sleepy!

      Jun 4, 06 7:00 am  · 
      Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

      just watch out for this guy ...

      and do not, repeat do not let him take off his hat.

      Jun 4, 06 10:15 am  · 

      what were you doing the previous summer with the design /build project?

      i did a language program in japan that sounded a little similar, in that it was supposed to be in nagoya but in fact i was in a special dorm for foriegn students some 30 minutes from the city in a highly controlled environment! lots of rules, curfews, etc. - yikes. but i'm sure you don't have curfews?

      really curious to see how the job goes. hope to see some pictures... i forget, is there a travel stipend as part of it? where will you be going?

      best of luck.

      Jun 4, 06 5:14 pm  · 
      sporadic supernova

      sounds good mate ..
      eat sushi and collect manga !!! ...

      btw .. why are those electronics so freaking expensive .. i figured that it should be cheaper in japan !!

      Jun 5, 06 9:12 am  · 

      more things to do...

      something i found on the web:
      there's a music festival/concert happening in osaka on august 12 and 13...tool's playing osaka on the 12th and metallica is playing osaka on the 13th...from the website it looks like the festival is happening in tokyo and osaka...might be something to check out just to see concert crowds...

      Jun 5, 06 8:18 pm  · 

      id like to receive your pdf album

      thank you and good luck!

      Jun 6, 06 4:12 am  · 

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