Sunday, October 03, 2004

Book III - The Typhoon. Chapter 1.

Hey ya'll, sorry this took me so long to put up, this has been a CRAZY week. Also, this is only about 1/3 of the whole adventure, so look forward to more - this is the warm up. Have fun!

Book III – The Typhoon

September 30. 1923

Book III was going to be October, but that’s going to have to be book 4. The Typhoon and its surrounding adventures must get their own book, and that’s all there is to it. Plus, the typhoon adventure is not yet over, and tomorrow will be October. So no bitching.

Now, before I get into the meat of the story, I think the start of book 3 is a good place to change the pace a bit and introduce characters and setting a bit more concretely. Specifically, I need to tell you guys about work, the people and the office. Without some background knowledge, I fear the typhoon adventure would lose some of its depth.

First, the city of Niihama. Niihama has been around forever, like hundreds and hundreds of years, but before the 17th century it was kind of a good-for-nothing harborfarm. Then, some say around the year 16 double-ought 93, the Sumitomo family opened a copper mine in the mountains just north of the city. From that day on, Niihama has been famous for its copper, and extrapolating from that for its industrial capacity. It’s got a good location on the inland sea, not too far from Hiroshima and not too far from Osaka by ship. Moreover, there was an abundance of copper, a key industrial component. For this reason, the Sumitomo family made Niihama a sort of center for some of their business endeavors. Side note: the Sumitomo family (now the Sumitomo Zaibatsu, one of the three largest companies in Japan) is a business family. One of the crazy things about Japan is that big companies can trace their history back hundreds and hundreds of years – isn’t that weird? “Oh, yeah, Sumitomo ran this mine from 16whenever until 1963.” “Sumitomo? The family or the company?” “…” *strange look* “Erm, both?”

Anyway, Niihama had the hell bombed out of it during WWII. It was a major industrial center, and so the factories and also the homes of the factory workers were destroyed to put it out of commission. Now, about 60% of the population of Niihama at the time consisted of Sumitomo employees – that’s tens of thousands. So between the factories and the homes of its employees, Sumitomo had a lot of repairs to do after the war. The one thing it needed more than anything, however, was wood.

Cut now to Shirataki, a small village about 150 miles west of Niihama. There, a small lumber company was run by an unknown family. Knowing a great opportunity when it saw one, this family wasted no time in making a GIFT of an assload of wood and sending it to Sumitomo, with a cherry on top. Sumitomo was happy, and started sending contracts and referrals towards this company. Gradually, the lumber company became very prosperous, and branched out into several fields – not only did they need to chop the lumber, they also had to deliver it various places, and this of course created logistical issues that had to be worked out, and etc etc etc, right?

So this small lumber company (which was, of course, the Ichimiya family’s enterprise) suddenly had a lot of money and a lot of responsibility. Given its recent experience in the big leagues, though, the management knew what to do. They modeled their company on the Sumitomo model – essentially, they split the company into several “blocks”, or smaller companies within the main company. Thus, there was a lumber block, a transportation block, a construction block, etc. This proved highly efficient, and as they became more and more wealthy they branched out into many different fields. Eventually, Sumitomo invited them to build an office in Niihama, to ease relations between the companies and make things go even smoother. Ichimiya, of course, jumped at the chance to relocate to the biggest industrial port in Ehime prefecture, especially at the personal behest of one of the most important families in Japan. And so, Ichimiya came to Niihama, build an office, and continued to thrive and expand.

The time came when the copper mine had to be closed. More than a thousand feet below sea level, it was simply causing too many logistical problems to be profitable. Sumitomo closed up shop and made to leave Niihama, but had a significant problem on its hands in that it had accrued a significant amount of chemical waste from some project or another, and it had no idea what to do with it. In stepped the newly formed Ichimiya Chemical Block, and offered to take that waste off of Sumitomo’s hands. From there, a few technological breakthroughs later and Ichimiya was recycling the waste into all manner of various useful things, like bags and toothbrushes and whatnot. All the while, profits were going up.

One day, another of the biggest businesses in Japan needed some help. Honda was looking for something they could put into their cars that was lightweight and durable, a plastic they could use to line the insides of their car doors etc. Well, who do you suppose steps up with the miraculous alchemical ability to turn Sumitomo’s waste into absolutely unique and high-tech plastic? No, not Captain Planet, Ichimiya. And so the cycle starts over, where Ichimiya kind of caters to the various needs of a large patron company and gets into Honda’s good graces just as it got into Sumitomo’s.

Now, as well all know, Honda is huge. Like, really big, right? And one of the things they did was build factories all over the world, including Columbus, Ohio. So one day in the 1980’s, Honda invites Ichimiya Group’s Chemical Block’s Nissen Chemical company (did you follow that?) to, yep, build a factor in Columbus. This is London Industries, which I believe is somewhere really close to OSU.

Never one to waste an opportunity, Nissen (and Ichimiya, by extension) established ties with the local HUGE research institution and one element of that was the OSU Japanese Department/Ichimiya Group cultural exchange program, which was essentially a system where every year an Ichimiya employee goes to OSU to study English and an OSU student goes to Ichimiya headquarters, in Niihama, Japan, to be an intern.

And that brings us to my favorite subject, me. I am the 13th OSU/Ichimiya intern, continuing a proud tradition, yadda yadda yadda. I really really like this company, I think. When asked, “What kind of internship is it?” I always give a vague answer…”I’ll be, uh, doing business stuff…it’s complicated…” Well, here’s the breakdown, now that I’ve explained the history. For four months, I am in a different “block” every month. September I am in the main, super-structural logistical group. Basically, the handful of 5 people that manage ALL the blocks, take care of finances and appointments and general logistical stuff. I am technically interning for them. But, starting tomorrow (ostensibly, but we’ll get to that) I begin a month in the Construction block. Within the construction block are 6 companies, and I’ll spend 2 weeks with the main one and then, due to a fluke in God’s plan, drink heavily and carry big drums around for a week during the Saijo and Niihama festivals (which are back-to-back). After that I will write a month report. So much for the construction Block, I’ll just be with the main company for 2 weeks, which is fine. It’s all based in the same building (well, not ALL, but the main company is).

Oh, and speaking of the building, this is important. It’s 7 stories tall, and each floor is more or less devoted to a different company or block or whatever. I work on the 6th floor now, but I’ll be moving to the third floor for my misadventures in construction. In November, when I do the Chemical block, I believe that’s the 5th floor. Etc, you get the idea. Anyway, part of the Transportation and Logistics block (December) is the travel agency which takes up the first floor of our building. Now, this is the public face of Ichimiya – this is where customers come in, where they talk to people, etc. I dunno square footage, but it’s about the size of a quarter of a city block, has about 50 people that work in it, and contains tons of displays and such for the customers. Real busy, happening, bustling place. Oh, and they can get me discounts on travel. :-D

Anyway, that’s the office. After December is January. In January, I basically have a month to more fully explore any company or operation I’ve seen, or, if I want to, some that I have not seen. At the end of January, I pick a job in any of these companies, and that becomes my career for the rest of my life until August 1, when I return to where I started to write my final report etc. So THAT is my internship. I was gonna write about the various people in my main group, but I think I’ll do that tomorrow – I think my bath is about done boiling, and after that I am going to have a drink. This is all you get today.

Okay I lied. Just showered and got about 40 mins to kill until Karaoke, apparently. Which is of course just what I need before tomorrow’s misadventures. But anyway, let me relate the tale of the Typhoon.

Just because I am feeling creative, I am going to do this in third person.

Our hero awoke Wednesday morning, noting only that it was a morning much like any other – he was tired, the shower needed an hour to heat up, it was going to be a long day at work, and he was tired. Also, it was raining outside – he could hear it through his windows, which he had left open that night to allow in some air. It was raining pretty hard, but his apartment was still pretty dry, and he thought nothing of it.

The commute to work was, as could be expected when riding a moped through three miles of heavy traffic during a torrential downpour, somewhat tricky. Fortunately for us, our hero was as intrepid as he was clever and handsome, and won the day with his stylish rain suit thrown on stylishly over his rather stylish work clothes. By the time he arrived at work, 30 minutes later and about 3 years older, he was still more or less dry. And that was when he remembered the scheduled typhoon. It was to hit that evening, but if the rain in the morning failed to give any indication of rough sailing between now and then, the clouds making threatening faces just over the mountains did not.

He remembered several other things at that particular moment. For no particular reason he remembered that he rather liked sushi, and that it was cheap in his newly adopted home. He also remembered that he had a great deal to do before his return trip that evening – he had to write page upon page of personal report, covering the entire past month. And it had to be in Japanese, a foreign tongue captured on paper with writhing demons known as kanji. And it needed pictures. He sighed. And then he remembered distinctly that he had left his windows open, and saw, like Merlin, the exact nature of his impending doom. His would be a death by water. Or at least, a death at the hands of his furious boss when she learned that his apartment had been killed by water.

However, never one to worry about anything worth worrying about, our hero shrugged and bought some coffee. It was time for the report.

That day, it was rather difficult to concentrate on writing. As he sat at his desk, he needed only look beyond the contours of his (rather old) monitor at the window beyond it to see that the clouds had commenced their first barrage. It seemed to grow darker by the minute, until around 10:37 it was actually so dark and threatening that it seemed bright and cheerful. For a moment his spirits lifted. Then, like a ship tossed around in a child’s bathtub, they plummeted back into reality, seized as it were by the testicles by a writhing mass of kanji.

Eventually it got so bright and happy outside that it looked dark and stormy, which of course it had been the whole time. Around lunchtime, he began to regret mocking his neighbor Noah for building that ship. And calling it an “ark.” I mean, a ship is a ship, right? What the fuck is an ark? Japanese can’t even say “ark”, so the whole experience was really rather surreal, but he regretted it nonetheless.

By three, large sections of his building were actually being torn away by the rain and tossed around by the clouds, who seemed to be having a grand old time. The other people in the office seemed not to notice, so he didn’t pay much attention to it. When one of the secretaries was actually torn limb from limb by a particularly rambunctious cumulonimbus, though, he began to worry that perhaps it would have been worth braving the storm again to shut his windows.

At any rate, by 4 o’clock his boss seized him by the throat and dragged him out to a waiting car which took him straight home. He was rather relieved that he did not have to ride the moped in the rain, which had at that point actually become fire. What he was not relieved by, however, was the ocean which had formed around his apartment building. His ride could not get within 50 yards of it due to the 15 foot swells and small crowd of particularly dedicated surfers. So, work clothes and all, he waded over to the dock from which a ferry to the apartment building was just about to depart. Since he was in Japan, the ferry ride cost him about 4000 yen.

Slowly, dreadfully, he climbed to the fourth floor. When he got to his landing, he was vaguely perturbed by the puddle that had formed just outside his door. He unlocked his room and, to his great surprise, found that a longboat full of Vikings had shipwrecked in his kitchen.

No, that’s a lie. They were in the living room.

That’s also a lie. There was no living room.

That’s not a lie. But the implication that the first lie was false only in regards to the layout of his apartment was, to say the least, vaguely dishonest. There were no Vikings. And there was also no grand ocean, at least not in the foyer. He took off his shoes and rain gear, and sloooowly entered the apartment. The kitchen? The door was wide open, but the wind was blowing from the opposite direction and so there was absolutely no problem. The tome over which he had been pouring the night before was still open to the same page on the same table – which was good, as had the table been different he would have been quite confused.

He opened the sliding door from the kitchen and held his breath as he turned on the light. That window, too, was open, but as it faced the same side as the kitchen the tatami floor covering was perfectly dry.

He knew what he’d find in the third room even before the door refused to open because it was wet and stuck to the other door on the side. Enlisting the aid of the Vikings in his kitchen (who, okay, I admit, were not shipwrecked), he managed to break through the storm’s fortifications and into his bedroom.

“I am Mykola of the White Horse, herald of the West, cloud slayer, and abuser of epic forms,” he announced boldly. Even the Vikings around him cowered as he bellowed his cry and strapped on his armor. His breastplate, forged in the far away citadel of Sanfu Ranshisuko, was made from the shimmering, unearthly white teeth of dentists, and blinded his foes with irony. His helmet was actually the hollowed out head of the gorgon Bill O’Reilly, fearsome in its blank stare – it protected him from any argument or persuasion, no matter how reasonable. His gauntlets, say the chroniclers, he got for a buck fifty at the Salvation Army street on Sprague and 130th. And his greaves, blacker than the blackest storm (which we have already established is pretty damn black), were borrowed from Dan Jones, and gave him the power of never writing emails (you bastard!). Weaponless, for his bravery was such that to arm himself against any foe was to dishonor himself, he went into the room and shut the window.

Then it was time to clean up. Seriously, it sucked – his room looked, as it were, as though a typhoon had swept through it. His television and computer were soaking wet, his futon and pillow had small colonies of life floating around in them (he was unaware, but on the south side of his futon one of the creatures had just evolved legs and a vague innate understanding of the stock market – a trait that natural selection would have eliminated with extreme prejudice had our hero not done as much in an attempt to clean the futon), his floor was a sponge, and his dog had hung himself. According to the note, he had a thing about the smell of wet tatami.

The Vikings, however, had a thing about the smell of wet dead dog – they picked it up and put into their longboat, which they lit on fire and threw out the window into the ocean. Then they left.

Anyway, our hero cleaned up as best he could and set the fan up to try really hard to dry things. Then he spread out a blanket in the dry room and, as the most reasonable thing to do at 5pm during the biggest storm his part of the world had seen in 30 years, he went to bed.

He was awakened four hours later by the absence of the sound of rain falling. And by his cellular phone ringing. It was his friend Pat, calling to say that he had just stepped out for some smokes and was walking past our hero’s place of employment. Apparently, there were no problems in that part of the city for any buildings that were on ridges. Other buildings, however, like for instance the Ichimiya Group building which was built in a little valley between two ridges, were looking at about 4 feet of flooding. Our hero’s friend reported that a taxi was floating past the building, which perturbed our hero very much. Also, when asked about the condition of the moped in the building parking lot, Pat responded “What moped?”

So, given that the storm was over and that he was feeling stressed, our hero decided to go for a walk. Now, our hero’s favorite walking course was simply a little trail that stretched off into the distance. His favorite part of this trail, however, was a little bridge over a little creek bed, very close to his building. The bridge had little carvings of animals, with their names (in Japanese), and provided a straight view to the mountain when one stood in the center and looked south.

To our hero’s delight, the little creek bed had become a raging river. Our hero loved rivers, and was eagerly headed out to the middle of the bridge when he noticed, like the beloved but oft-befuddled Wile. E. Coyote, that the bridge was no longer there. He ran in place in the air for a second, and then held up a sign that said something fatalistic as he plummeted to his death.

…to be continued. Despite the fact that the author has vague fears of having written himself into a corner.

i dont know what the sociology of blogspots is like and if youre supposed to wait longer before posting another "comment," but i could not help but "commenting" on the last entry that left my understanding of Japan and the company more profound, and my sense of humor fully entertained by the narrative so poignantly performed, 3-D as it were.
The efforts of the author were well worth what must have been a lot of time.
PS - I liked the Bill O'Reilley reference, I laughed outloud - Kate
dearest bucket-son (sp?),

hello. glad you're quasi-enjoying your time in japan! i'm surprised how much you've been writing, though it is vaguely interesting. :) i enjoyed reading your "oaf" entry; now you can see yourself as others do.

and it's been confirmed- you're officially insane.

have a great day/night/whatever the hell time it is over there,

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