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!
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
I thought the drive to Port Antonio was almost as cool as the city itself. We drove through all these little cities and you could clearly see their culture just though the windows of the car. There were street vendors, music playing everywhere, people hanging out on the streets, and school children walking around in their uniforms. A group of school girls saw our vans and pointed at us and starting screaming “While People! White People!” I was extremely impressed and drawn to how bring the colors of the building were. There were lime green, hot pink, purple, bright yellow and blue structures everywhere you looked, which not very common in the United States.
We stayed in a resort called “The Great Huts” which was on the edge of Boston Bay. This was by far the most beautiful place I have ever stayed in my entire life. We were all assigned to these beautiful huts, which were made to look like tree houses. We had roommates and our hut was located on the edge of a cliff and overlooked the ocean. We also had a private swimming pool that was literally built on the edge of a cliff, and there was even a bar and stools made out of stone where we could hangout. We would get up early every morning so we could see the sunrise over the ocean, which was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen, and is a sight that will remain in my most treasured memories for the rest of my life.
My favorite night at the Great Huts was the night we walk down the street with Dr. Egan to play dominos with the locals. As we walked down the street, we walked past all of these tiny little shacks and stands, that ended up to be tiny little restaurants and bars. We stopped at this particular bar, were there were a bunch of younger men sitting outside playing dominos. They welcomed us with open arms, and we played game after game of dominos with them until we were all too tired to keep our eyes open. This one man taught Lizzie, Kyle, Laura and I how to play a new version of Dominos, they called “French Dominos”. The other place on the same strip as the bar was this Jerked Chicken restaurant. If you saw a place like this in the United States, I don’t think a lot of people would be too drawn to the sight of it, but they had some of the best food I have ever had in my entire life. Their chicken was perfect and they also had Jamaica’s best Bambi ever.
One of the last nights we were there the employees at the great huts put on a show for us. They danced, played drums, and put on a spoken word play about their culture. I loved the way the people danced. They are able to move so much differently than people in the United States do, and rhythm seemed to be pumping through their blood stream. The great huts were my favorite place to stay, and I really hope I will have the opportunity to go back there at some point in my life.
Flying into Jamaica was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. I could not believe how blue the water looked from the plane. I was amazed to find that airport security was a lot more laid back than in the United States, and we got through customs no problem. We rented 2 big white vans that held 10 people each, which were with us all the way to Kingston. Driving on the left side of the road was extremely confusing at first, but we all eventually got used to it. I felt like I was on a different planet because of all the trees and vegetation I had never in my life seen before. The first place we stayed at was a very large and beautiful resort right on the ocean, that many newlyweds would probably kill to spend their honeymoon at. Everyday, there was an unlimited buffet, an open bar, and countless different activities such as karaoke, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, and of course, sun bathing. On top of the ocean, there were two different pools on the resort, where many of us spent time reading and relaxing by. The second day we were there we went to these caves, which were discovered hundreds of years ago and were used as escape routes for many. They now provide tours, so we had someone walk us through the darkness of the caves. The rest of our time at the resort was spent working on lessons plans for Kingston, eating good food, relaxing, and soaking in what the resort had to offer. Little did we know our surroundings were about to drastically change.
Journal #3: Alpha Boys School
The last week of our trip, we had the wonderful experience of working with the Alpha schools teachers and students. Thinking back on the entire trip, I have uncovered so many of my own assumptions and have definitely changed my ideas on what it means to teach and why I think music is important. I had the honor of working with the music program at the Alpha Boys School. I got the chance to teach music, conduct the band, instruct a piano class, and assist the trombones. Before arriving at the school, I was very nervous and unsure of how the week would turn out. I was unsure about how helpful I would be as my primary instrument is the violin and I do not have much experience with band. I was nervous because I did not know what to think of the boys who I would be teaching and working with. I was nervous because I was unsure what to expect in terms of behaviors and also what skills and playing levels I would be working with the students on.
It is crazy to think about all the things I was nervous about before going to the Alpha boys school. From the very first day we stepped foot in the music class, I immediately thought of my student teaching experience at Bettendorf High School with the orchestra. There are several significant distinctions between the boys from Bettendorf and the boys from Kingston. These might include race, instrument, skills in music literacy, aurul skills, background, etc. My greatest realization about these students is that the boys at the Alpha school in Jamaica were just like the boys from the Bettendorf orchestra. They all were high school boys, teenagers who liked to tell jokes, hang out with friends, listen to popular music, play instruments, achieve their goals, etc. After working with the Alpha boys, it seems so foolish that I would expect anything differently. It is to the point that I feel incredibly guilty over my assumptions. Of course people are people, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter what strengths or weaknesses you have.
Journal #2: the Great Huts
As soon as we began our journey to the Great Huts, I was taken aback by the beauty of Jamaica. We drove through the mountains and the trees, ocean, rocks, etc. were incredible. At the Great Huts, we really got to embrace the beauty of the nature, the ocean, sunrises, sunsets, etc. The huts we stayed in were pretty incredible, with wonderful views and they were like pieces of art. While at the great huts, we had some incredible experiences. We got the chance to take part in some amazing excursions like the markets at Port Antonio, the Blue Lagoon, the Reach Falls, and Long Bay.