The worldwide Augustana College experience

Lost in Shinjuku

Yep I got lost. If it was going to be someone, it was going to be me. But before we get that, the Hitachi Research team decided to use their last free day doing a whole slough of things. The first thing we did was go to Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. This place was beyond amazing. When you first arrive, there are large, at least 3o feet tall, tori gates.IMG_0002 Once you walk past them all sounds of the outside world simply vanish. It isn’t as if the shrine is hidden away either. In fact, it’s right next to a busy road and shopping district. There was this sense of serenity as you kept walking. The real fun is when you get to the shrine itself. I have never seen anything like this. The architecture was breath taking. It was truly an amazing experience. Before you walk into the shrine, you must wash your hands to remove spiritual impurities. Once there, all of decided to make some prayers. First you throw a coin into a special wooden box. Then you bow twice, silently make your prayer, clap twice, then bow once more. I’m assuming Shinto prayers follow birthday candle rules where telling your wish prevents it from coming true, sorry about that.

Afterwards we went to Takeshita Street, a narrow, mile-long street filled with nothing but stores. Sadly most of the main street stores are aimed towards women so I couldn’t really buy anything, but I found a neat antique shop on of the side streets. There was this little old woman who helped me try on yakatas (Japanese summer kimonos).

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Tsuchiura~

Today the entire day was spent in Tsuchiura. After having breakfast at the hotel, we went to Tsuchiura works, Hitachi Construction Machinery’s main factory. The employees kindly prepared an introductory presentation as well as a presentation to answer the questions of our team members who are researching HCM’s eco products. We started off with an introductory presentation and brief Q&A. Then the employees took us on a tour of their factory. During the tour, we got to see a lot of the welding and assembly line processes in action, and we saw the shipping area. Our guide explained the details of the factory work to us carefully. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted during the tour. Once the tour was over, HCM’s factory kindly provided us with a delicious bento lunch. There was dumpling, rice, miso soup, tofu, and other things. My personal favorite was a delicious pork with a delicious sauce on top of it. Following the lunch there was a presentation of the interview questions as well as interviews. Three employees who work as engineers at the factory joined us in the interview too. Each of our groups was able to get a lot of information in the interviews.
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with Tsuchiura Works employees

There was free-time after our visit to the factory, so I took the opportunity to explore Tsuchiura a bit. It is definitely very different from Tokyo but not at all in a bad way. While walking around, I saw a lot of good sights; I also found a great store called Wonder GOO. The store had books, magazines, DVDs, CDs, video games, and card games. Some of these are used items, so they are more affordable. As for the CDs and DVDs, the selection was impressive as it included both new and old music and movies from Japan and other countries. Wonder GOO also had some of those gotcha machines which contain the capsules and claw machines. In addition, there is an area to play card games, and I saw many students gathered there. It reminded me of home, where Magic the Gathering is a popular card game. It seemed that Magic and Yu Gi Oh were popular there. I really liked that store, so I returned after our dinner to wander it some more. I got a used CD; it is Kanjani8, one of my favorite Jpop bands. During my walk, I also saw some people who were fishing, and I was able to meet a few kind people on the streets and see some students heading home after school.
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Hitachi Friends and Fun

I gotta say, this day was one of the bests so far in Japan. Wow, what a night!

We started off our day with a lovely visit to Hitachi LTD. They introduced their values and goals as well as some of their technologies. It felt like we are VIP there because they showed us some top secret information, and therefore, I could not take pictures. I can say that they have some absolutely cool technology, and their office has a breathtaking view of Tokyo.

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Japan Trip Day 2: Electric Boogaloo

So Day 2 of the Japan research trip. We started off going to a famous cafe called Paul Bassett in a shopping center near our hotel. We were all still recovering from jet lag so the food was well needed. Afterwards we went to a fair that Hitachi Construction Machinery was running. For those of you who don’t know , researching Hitachi is the entire reason we’re here in the first place. My partner, Stephi Drago, and I are looking into HCM’s clean energy initiatives and their environmentally friendly products. I’ll spare you the pictures of hybrid diggers because that really isn’t what your interested in.

After that we went the Edo Tokyo Museum, museum showing Japan progress from when Tokyo (also known as Edo) became the capital of Japan to the present. IMG_20150530_124714You knew this going to be interesting when right outside there was a decoration for a Buddhist temple with a demon head on the top. Inside it was amazing. There were full scale buildings built inside the museum. IMG_20150530_125755Behind me in the picture was a full scale recreation of Japanese store. Many of the exhibits were interactive as well. They were mostly strength tests seeing if you could lift 26 pounds of (fake) fish like Japanese villagers used to or life a box full of gold. I’m not one to purchase anything from gift shops but there was really neat things. One of  my favorites was a golden key with a fortune cat on it.

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The Visit to HCM Headquarter and Last Night in Shinjuku

Although I have stayed in Japan for 3 days, today is the first day my group actually started conducting our research! 10am, we arrived at Hitachi Construction Machinery Headquarter after meeting Mr. Suzuki at the metro station. The headquarter is divided into 2 floors in the big building located in Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo. I could feel a very cozy welcome right when I walked in the VIP meeting room where four managers of HCM were waiting to greet us! They were so friendly and approachable, which is opposite from what I often imagine about managers and leaders in the company. We tried our best to introduce ourselves in Japanese, and I was happy to see their amazed reaction to our greetings. Most of the managers here can speak and understand English very well so it was comfortable for us to communicate and listen to them during their presentations, as well as during interview sessions! We also got the chance to look around each of HCM’s departments such as human resource, IT, and strategy planning department. Since I bought a camera with me, I was able to take a lot of pictures from their office. I was really impressed at how the workplace is set up. Employees sit next to each other in a row, while all the managers sit near to them at the end of the row. Under each employee’s seat, there was a box of kits and medical aids so that they can protect themselves in case of earthquake. I love to see how HCM value and treasure their people!

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Last Day in Shinjuku, First Day of Work

Today was quite the full day. It was the very first day we began our research at Hitachi Construction Machinery Headquarters. Although I did not take any photos, there was definitely important things to say. I felt a little nervous because I was not quite sure what to expect, but it was totally different from my expectations, in a good way! The employees who greeted us and whom we interviewed were very friendly, funny, and honest. The atmosphere was quite relaxed, so it was very comfortable. They gave us a lot of information and tried their best to provide us with the information we wanted to know. I learned a lot about the company and also the personal stories of the employees through the introduction, Q&A, lunch, and interview. By the way, lunch was a bento box. I’ve seen them all over in anime, movies, and online, but I have never had bento until today. We also got to tour the Hitachi offices. I was very surprised at the layout of the workers. Their desks are not separated from one another; rather, they sit next to each other in rows. This collectivist style also includes the manager whose desk is seated near the workers, at the end of the row. It is not closed off like in many offices I have seen before. I thought this design was quite fascinating, and it must certainly allow for better teamwork and communication. Even though the work day was tiring, I left looking forward to tomorrow’s day.

On another note, it is the last day in Shinjuku. I was really starting to get to know the area, and I love the hotel; however, I am looking forward to see more parts of Japan too. I spent some time wandering around Shinjuku a bit after the meeting at HCM Headquarters. The really cool thing I’ve seen in Japan are those small shops just packed with goods from ceiling to floor. I was able to get some nice souvenirs for friends.
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Diverse Tokyo!

Wow! What a packed day full of adventures! We started off the day at Meiji Shrine. It is an absolutely beautiful place hidden behind many lush green trees in Harajuku. Although it is in the city, the trees block out the noise, so it was very quiet and peaceful. The serene scenery was great, and the shrine had a good atmosphere. There was a wedding procession going on, so we got to see that too. The bride was absolutely beautiful in her red traditional dress. We prayed at the shrine, and it felt like a very moving experience. While at Meiji Shrine, I got a fortune. This fortune contained a short verse:
“Ever downward water flows,
But mirrors lofty mountains;
How fitting that our heart also
Be humble but reflect high aims.”-Empress Shoken
I really enjoyed the shrine and all of its calmness and greenery.
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Our next destination was Harajuku. Since I have been interested in Japanese street fashions in Tokyo even as a kid, I was extremely excited to see it. We went down Takeshita Street, a street completely lined with shop after shop. It was so crowded, colorful, and fun. Many shops had adorable Lolita clothing or cool and edgy punk styles. I went down some side streets to see some smaller vendors and shops, and I even found a second hand shop with many different vintage clothing.
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No Place Like Nihon

Alright so Day  1 of my Japanese adventure. This is actually my first time outside the U.S. so it’s all very exciting. I hope to upload some of the better and more relevant photos but the majority will be posted on Facebook. I hope to make the next twenty daily posts as unabridged as possible.

We left O’Hare airport around 12:30 for Japan via Japan Airline (JAL). JAL is one of the best airplanes I have ever been on. Each seat has a personal television in front with a variety of new and classic films, not to mention a wide selection of music genres. For the most part, the flight was pretty relaxing. I got some lovely pictures of the Canadian mountains and I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. Additionally, the food they served was actually really good. They gave us the option of either teriyaki chicken or pork. They even provided miso soup, ginger, and fruits and veggies.IMG_20150529_153339 I spent most of my time watching movies like Big Eyes, Big Hero 6, and The Mask. I unfortunately began suffering from a terrible migraine, but that’s not really worth fretting over.  However, after about 13 hours, I was more than happy to finally walk on solid, stable (until the earthquake) land. 
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こんにちは日本~~

Hello Japan! I don’t even know what I should say when I’m feeling so excited. It is unbelievable to be here in Tokyo right now. Japan’s giving me a lot of first experiences. It is the first foreign country I have ever been to. On the plane ride here, it was my first time on an airplane! An almost 13 hour flight! Go big or go home, I guess.

Now I’m here and have just finished my first full day in Japan. Today was busy and amazing.

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Kingston, Jamaica The Alpha Boys’ School

My first impressions of Kingston were similar to the impression I get from any large city. Just like Chicago, New York or San Francisco, there was a lot of traffic and a lot of cars and people biking on the side of the roads. Although this was all the same, it seemed that the drivers took a lot more risks than people in Chicago seem to take. There were people on motorcycles zipping between cars and swerving through traffic like it was no problem. I never saw anyone stop this behavior or seemed to get angry about it at all, and I especially did not see law enforcement intervene.
The experience I had at the Alpha Boys’ School is one that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Many parts of my teaching experience made me sad, and many aspects of it made me somewhat angry. The first time I stepped foot on the School grounds I was a little nervous about what to expect. We were given extremely detailed descriptions about what we were to wear: No short skirts, hair tied back, and no cleavage. We were also told we could not bring our cell phones or any kind of valuable electronic device, and we instructed not to take pictures. All this intimidated me because it gave me the impression that I was going to be harasses or my cell phone was going to be stolen. As soon as I met my first group of guys my outlook changed drastically. The first class I ever taught was the guitar students, whom only 3 of about 15 boys on my list showed up. These three boys where the only ones I taught in the guitar class because they were the only ones to ever show up for school. The first thing I noticed about these three boys was how respectful they were to me. They were always polite to me and referred to me as “Miss” always. I should tell by how respectful and disciplined they were that these boys actually wanted to be at school and actually really took and honest interest in the guitar. After just my first day I already had a new outlook on these boys. I would still get things shouted at me and some of them would hiss and us when we walked by, but the majority of them were respectable boys who actually wanted to make a difference in their lives. After I thought about the way they behaved and they way 15-18 year old boys acted when I was in High School I started noticing dozen and dozen of similarities, and at the end I really could find any differences. I remember boys in my high school yelling things to particular girls or even some female teachers, and although they may have not been as vocal about it, they still did it to make their friends laugh or to get some kind of attention for a female, even if it was negative. No matter where you go in the world, boys will be boys, and that’s just how it works.
When we first had a tour of the school, I was immediately overwhelmed with sadness and even a little bit of guilt. They showed us where the boys had classes and where the band practiced. There were holes in the windows, the rooms were dusty and dirty, and almost every single door and window either had bars, huge metal and bared doors, or an enormous pad lock. I felt the padlocks not only showed my the lack of trust the administration had for the students, but also told me that maybe a majority of the students could not be trusted. Mr. Sparrow told us that they have had many incidences where people have stolen things from the School. There were two stands for the entire music department, not enough instruments for everybody, broken keyboards, trombones, trumpets, guitars, along with stands just thrown into a pile in the storage closet. They had no sheet music to write a tune, chord or rhythm down, some didn’t have pencils to use, and the tiny notebooks they had where falling apart. They didn’t have tuners to make sure all the instruments were in tune. Before this experience I took the small things I am so lucky to have for granted. I feel so lucky to have pencils and notebooks, and learn music in a room where I could have 2 stands if I really wanted. I am so lucky that I am able to buy textbooks, and be able to afford a quick run to Walgreens when I need notecards, markers, poster board and paper. After this experience I realized that a lot of people in the world aren’t able to have school supplies so accessible to them. I am so grateful because I am lucky enough to have things like that, and I will never again buy a notebook or another set of notecards until I have used as much out of the pervious one. I want to try to make a conscious effort in my life to stop being wasteful and to appreciate everything I have, even the little things.