Friday, July 3, 2009

Airport Limousine Bus

I flew into the main airport in Tokyo - Narita - but we were working in the southwestern part of Tokyo in Kawasaki. Rather than blow a lot of money on a taxi to the hotel, I caught the Friendly Airport Limousine bus to the nearest airport - Haneda. For 3000 Yen ($30) and anywhere from 60-75 minutes, it's a pleasant trip.

I did the same thing when returning to Narita today. I thought it was pretty cool that the ticket taker bows to the bus as it leaves. I felt honored to be on the bus! Similarly, the security guard at work salutes the employee bus when it arrives every day. What signs of respect!

The bus only took 60 minutes to get to Narita. Of course it departed promptly for a 11:55 am departure. Every bus and train we've taken departs as scheduled. Such reliability!

Arrival into the Narita Airport we had to stop and show our passports. Obviously they take security really seriously here. It only took a few minutes for security to board and also look in the luggage hold area of the bus. I felt just a bit more secure.

Thanks Japan for a great 2.5 weeks. I will miss the great food and shopping (the first time the exchange rate was decent enough for me to buy anything). I look forward to returning again, hopefully with Mom to serve as translator!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Vending machines

What's with Japan's obsession with vending machines? They're everywhere selling iced coffee in little cans, water, bottled green tea, soda (usually regular Coke or Pepsi, no diet), juice and beer outside of a liquor store. This is next to the train station near work. The store isn't open when we arrive in the morning (I took this after work), but there are always some guys standing around and drinking. They look like they just got off work. I guess if the bars and liquor stores are closed, a mechanical liquor shop is a good alternative.
The other popular use of vending machines is by noodle shops. They're usually positioned outside the entrance. No cashier needed. Just buy your ticket and hand it to the waitstaff. This one is similar to the first food ticket machine I encountered the last time I was in Japan. As you can see, nothing is in English.
Noodle shops are everywhere and always in train stations where everyone stands at counters and eats. It's a quick and satisfying meal.

Working in Japan

OK...two and a half weeks of working in Japan doesn't make me an expert by any means, but here are some observations from the conference room I've been cooped up in at the facility.

1) Company bus - Love this idea. The bus is in sync with the train schedule, thus we leave at 8:26 am in the morning after the 8:11 am train arrives from the Kawasaki station. You miss your train, you miss the bus. There are earlier departures in the morning, but we seem to be on the schedule to catch the 8:26 one. In the evening the last bus leaves at 6:25, which we usually take. But this last week of work, we're leaving at 6....barely.

2) Uniforms - This is a plant facility and I expected to see uniforms, but I didn't expect to see them on the office employees. The men wear shirts and suits on the bus in the morning, then change into a uniform of a light blue zippered jacket and slacks. The women wear a navy blue vest and matching skirt with white blouses and a flouncy bow tie with navy knee-high socks and loafers. They all look the same. Cute, but the same.

3) Exercise - Every morning at 8:40 am the sound of a grandfather clock chimes and a woman's voice says good morning and something else in Japanese. Then the piano begins playing and a booming male voice starts the exercise program. Ichi, ni, san, shi.....counting in Japanese. It's the same recording every day. It plays again at 3 pm. Today was the first day I happened to be in the hallway and saw people exercising. They're simple stretches - touch your toes, touch your shoulders and raise your arms, twist back and forth, etc. - but it was amusing to watch. It runs for about 8 minutes or so. Maybe I'll join them before I leave!

4) Cafeteria - The plant canteen offers 3 choices each day - a brown curry (Japanese love curry) with rice, noodles (usually cold soba or udon noodles...sometimes ramen), and the daily special with rice. Cost is 210 yen or about $2.10 US. A bowl of soup is included. Milk or coffee-flavored milk (yum!) is 60 yen. Total cost of my lunch is about $2.70. There is no cashier. We pay a vending machine and deposit tickets in a basket. We're usually in and out in 20 minutes. The food is decent. Some days better than others. I've had much worse at other locations - the food in our Germany operations suck (sorry Martine, but it's no better than airplane food) and Italy has the BEST food hands down.

What's great about eating at a canteen is that it's true local food. Some of this stuff I wouldn't have eaten if my Mom made it when I was growing up. For example, I dislike the slimy texture of yama imo (mountain potato). It's white and has the consistency of okra and I've avoided it as a child. But there it was on my plate of udon noodles and I ate it. I still don't like it, but I did eat it.

5) Employees - They're all kind and willing to endure my questioning and requests for documentation. It's been difficult communicating at times. Yesterday the gentleman I've been working with since I arrived told me that Accounts Payable (APAY) was sent the invoice. This was the first I had heard about the existence of an APAY department and I asked him where APAY was located. "Here," he replied. Then later in the afternoon when I asked again, he looked at me dumbfounded and said there was no APAY. Sigh! The joys of working in a different country where you don't speak the native language!