Our two week adventure exploring two different countries is over and it is very weird being back home. I was very excited to go home yet incredibly sad to end the study abroad and say goodbye to all of the people I had met and shared so many experiences with. I realized I was headed home when I was standing in line waiting to get on the plane in Tokyo and I accidentally bumped the guy in front of me with my bag and he turned around and said, "watch where you move your bag." The Japanese and Taiwanese politeness was gone. After our 11.5 hour plane ride to Chicago we stepped back on American soil and it was weird being able to understand everything that was going on around me. I got through the immigration line super fast, the perks of being a citizen of a country, got my luggage and got through customs quickly. Our cell phones finally worked after 1 week of no reception in Japan and I was able to call my parents and tell them that I would be in Detroit in a while. We ate our last meal together as a group in the Chicago airport, got on the plane and took the 45 minute plane ride to Detroit. A the luggage claims we all said our goodbyes and headed to our rides home after 1 last group picture.
I cannot believe I was able to experience something so amazing at the age of 20. Every moment of this trip will forever be with me. I am so glad I was able to meet all of the participates on this study abroad. This was the greatest experience of my life and I am so happy I had the opportunity!
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
On our last day in Japan we visited the Hikone Castle and the museum. The architecture and the planning of the castle was absolutely amazing and extremely smart. From the top floor of the castle you could see all of Hikone. The steps leading up to the castle were uneven and of different heights to help stop intruders from making it all the way up to the castle. And if intruders actually made it there they were surrounded by walls, the castle and a bridge where they were attacked.
After the castle tour we had our farewell lunch and each person went around and told their "the moment" of the trip. It was nice to reminisce about all of the moments we shared over the past two weeks. After lunch we made our way back to JCMU to pack our belongings so we could take the train to Osaka to stay at a hotel the night before our flight. It was very fitting that Fatima and I got lost the last day of our trip just like we did the very first day in the Shilin Night Market. We could not find our way back to JCMU because we had been so many places in Hikone and a lot of stores looked familar and what should have been a 15 minute bike ride back took about an hour. Three very nice Japanese women, who spoke no english, were able to point us in the right direction and somehow we made it back. I was really nervous the whole time that we were lost! I didn't think we would ever make it back and that everyone would be waiting for us so we could leave.
We spent our last night in Osaka at a hotel right across from the airport. The rooms were so small that I could stretch out and put my hand and foot on both sides of the room. I stole Leslie's idea and took a picture of myself stretched out. I went to bed early that night in order to prepare for the 5:00 wake up call and our long trip home the next day.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Today we visited the Toyota Motomachi plant. We talked about Toyota a little bit in my operations management class but to actually see the process in person and the efficiency they strive for was very cool. In the plant they have these colorful happy pictures hanging from the ceiling, I can only assume to keep the workers moods up. They also had strange musical tunes playing over the speakers like itsy bitsy spider and other songs like that. I noticed how the cars in the assembly line were all different types of cars, not just one model, probably to keep the workers on their toes and to help prevent boredom. I don't know if they do that at GM or not. Toyota uses a Just-In-Time production techiques, which I am sure many people know. The card system they use I heard about in class but it makes more sense when I actually saw it in action. When a bin is emptied the worker puts a card in the front and someone else fills it and takes the card out. It seemed like a very efficient way to do things. Another thing I found interesting was how they kept stressing the importance of harmony with the machines and workers. Harmony seemed like a very big deal to Toyota; I'm not sure if that has to do with the Japanese culture or not but they definitely put that into the business. I liked the fact that every worker had a part in the inspection process and if they noticed something wrong they had a rope right next to their work station that they pulled to call someone over to help fix the problem. If they can't fix the problem within an allotted amount of time the assembly line shuts down in order to fix the problem. This greatly helps reduce the waste and defects in the Toyota company and it is probably why they are so successful because every worker feels like they are a part of the success of the company and they strive to be the best.
I really liked the visted to the Toyota factory. After the factory visit we went to the Toyota museum and I think I may have seen the car of the future:) It was pretty cool looking!
During the past two weeks in Japan and Taiwan I have noticed some cultural aspects that are different from the United States. The first difference I noticed and it's kind of a small difference, is how they referred to last names as family names. On all of the forms I had to fill out in the airport all of them said family name on it and I was talking to a student from Shiga University today and she said so and so's family name is whatever. I don't know if I just never paid attention in the United States to forms but I don't recall last names referred to as family names. Another difference I noticed in Taiwan was the lack of sweet foods. I rarely saw candy bars or cookies in the store and when I did buy a pastry thinking it would be sweet it wasn't. These past two weeks I have been going through a chocolate deficiency and I finally found some in Japan this week so scarfed up:)
I heard that Japan has the most vending machines per capita and when I got here I definitely saw that. I saw things sold in vending machines that I would have never have guessed. Apparently vending machines aren't limited to food and drinks because I saw a vending machine with cigarettes, alcohol and even men's ties (If you don't believe me look at the pictures!).
In Japan, cars ride on the left side of the road. I still can't wrap my head around that one, I mean it's very weird driving on the opposite of side of the road when you have driven on the right side your entire life. When I cross the street I automatically look one way to make sure cars are coming and when I think it is clear it actually isn't. Driving on the left side affects the whole mentality of life. When we were at the train station, people go up and down the escalators on the left side and they walk towards the left side of a building. I find it very interesting.
In Taiwan there was no sense of traffic rules! I seriously almost saw 5 accidents the first day we were there. Scooters weave in and out of traffic so easily, cars pull out of parking spaces without looking behind them, I mean it was absolutely crazy! I was warned about the driving but you actually have to be there to expeirence it. And all of the lights in Taiwan had the seconds count down until the light changed which gave people a better reason to speed up and try to beat the light!
Being a tall person I have found it very difficult to sit at a table here in Japan! Most of the tables I sit at I have to stretch my legs out all the way in order for them to fit underneath the table! Not very comfortable! See picture!
Well I think this blog posting may be getting a little long so I'm going to stop right now:)
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Today we visited all of Hikone. First we went to the Hikone Chamber where we were able to here all about the industries in the Shiga prefecture. Hikone developed a marketing campaign with this little warrior cartoonish guy (see picture to the left) who is a big deal in Hikone. Every shop sells things that have this guys picture on it. It is very interesting. Afterwards we went to Castle Road and ate lunch at a resturant that, I didn't realize this until afterwards, was a Korean restuarant. I ordered a bowl of food that said was beef and vegetables; I thought it would be safe and also would taste good. I got the food and everything was in a bowl and the waitress told me to stir it up so I started stirring and uncovered numerous vegetables I had never seen before and also an uncooked egg. I figured the egg would cook after I stirred it up so that didn't bother me but I tried the food and there were just wayyyyyy to many different flavors in there, my mouth had no idea what was going on. On a brighter side the beef tasted very good. After lunch we went to the local shopping street called Hana-Shobu Shotengai. There we were able to visit a traditional Japanese hotel, a fish and vegetable store, a cake shop and many others. Next we went to Toshiro Odagaki's, a painter in Hikone, art studio. He and his wife gave us some Japanese sweets and cakes and then he painted ink drawings for us. He drew bamboo, a frog and a flower. He was very fast and talented. So I am pretty sure we saw all of Hikone today!
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
This morning we attended a Japanese cultural class where I was able to attempt to write calligraphy, arrange flowers and play the kotu. If I would have had ten more minutes at the calligraphy table I would have become a master :). The lines in calligraphy all have a 45 degree angle on one side. When it is explained and done by a professional it looks very simple but when I tried it, it was more difficult then it looks. I learned how to write my name and the word friend. Flower arranging was fun and very technical; certain flowers had to be taller than others, the first three flowers had to be in a triangle and another type of flowers went around the outside of the main flowers. It turned out very pretty. The people who flower arrange are very patient and very precise. Next I tried playing the kotu. It is a large string instrument that is plucked to make music. I found this difficult because: 1. I have no rythym and 2. you have to play with your right hand an dI am left handed. The fourth class we had an opportunity to partake in was a tea ceramony but the room was packed and I don't really like tea.
During my past week and a half in Taiwan and Japan I have realized two things: 1. I do not like tea. No matter how many times I try it and how many different kinds I try I still do not like it. 2. I don't like sushi. Raw fish is not right. It has a weird texture and it is cold and I'm just not a big fan. I'll try in one more time in Japan if the opportunity arises but I can't make any promises that I'll like it :)
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Today we spent the day in Kyoto, Japan. We took the train to Kyoto and took a city bus around to view the cultural sites. First we ate lunch and I have to say it was one of the best meals during this trip so far. The resturant was quite an experience seeing as no one speaks Japanese. Luckily all of the restuarants so far I have seen all have plastic models of their food sitting in a window outside of the door. This helps in more ways than one: first you know what you are getting and two, if you do not know the language you can take the waitress outside and point to what you want. The only problem with the food in Japan is that it is very expense! I mean everything is expense! I seriously spent 320 yen on a half a glass of coke! That was not even worth the relieving of thirst. Afterwards we visited two temples, the first begining the Nijo temple. The architecture was pretty amazing. The floors were built to squeek like birds when someone walk on them so everyone was aware if someone tried to get in. The next temple was absolutely beautiful! It was colored gold and the grounds and gardens around it were also beautiful. At around 7:15 we caught another bus and went to a traditional Japanese performance. All of the performers were dresssed in beautiful traditional clothing. The first part of the performance consisted of a tea ceramony, which Fatima was able to participate in, flower arrangements and a musical piece. Next there was a comedy sketch, which probably would have been funnier if I could understand the language. Then there was a dance and lastly there was a puppet performance. The puppet performance was impressive but creepy at the same time. Three men, all were wearing black and two of them were wearing black hoods, controlled the puppet. this puppet was doing things no puppet should be able to do. I am kind of afriad the stuffed panda bear i bought is going to come alive tonight :) Walking back to the train station we saw geishas in the street, it was a pretty cool thing to see.