Monday, March 21, 2005

So you should all go rent Amadeus

It's really good.

Here is the first draft of my second-quarter report, hot off the presses, just written, I haven't so much as glanced over it so forgive any glaring errors in typing or judgment.

Mykola Bilokonsky
Ichimiya Group Intern Report
Winter Quarter

The past few months have been magnificent. January turned out to be rather slow in the beginning, as the whole company was just coming back from winter break and everyone was too busy to deal much with the intern. As a result, I had a lot of downtime which I spent studying Japanese and writing reports and frankly trying desperately to spend in some meaningful way. By contrast, the latter half of the month was quite busy – I spent a day at Ichimiya Kosan, went to Toyo Kibou no Ie with Yasui-senmu, and went with Nakamoto-san to city hall where I received a tour of Niihama with introductions to various facilities like the school cafeteria food center, the garbage processing center and Hirose Park. The result was that in my last week or so before transferring to Nissen Kagaku I was so busy I didn’t have time to breathe, and my report and “News I” came out about a week late despite my plans to have it all over and done with before leaving Kaihatsu Group.
But, in February, leave Kaihatsu Group I did. I began work at Nissen Kagaku with a few distinct projects and a strong sense of purpose, elements that had been hard to find during my time at Kaihatsu Group because of the constantly fluctuating schedule. My tasks, to be specific, are as follows.
1. Nissen Website. The current homepage of Nissen Kagaku was designed in 2000 by a previous intern. It has not been updated since, and neither the content nor the design has aged gracefully. My task here has several parts. First I updated old information on the current page, and then I translated it into English. The third step in the process is to create an entirely new page, a task I am greatly looking forward to.
2. Cultural Exchange. In March, May and July I will host American-Japanese Cultural Exchange Events. In truth the very notion scares me, simply because the idea is so vague. Basically I will meet with anyone interested for about an hour and a half after work once every other month, and we will talk about some theme in culture (this month we will speak about Sports). There is to be some element of English-language instruction, but nothing too difficult. This is an exchange by definition and not a lecture or a lesson from me, and therein can be found the source of my nervousness because I am not sure to what degree I can count on the attendees to interact with me. One thing I have learned from my very occasional attempts to teach English while here is that if someone is too embarrassed to answer a question there is no stigma against sitting in silence with eyes on the ground until the questioner moves on, so I am having a terrifying vision of a room full of employees who don’t really want to be there and aren’t really sure what to do and how to interact with me and so sit in silence as we stare at each other awkwardly. I am preparing as best I can and will be sure to include a description of how things went in my next report.
3. Internship Website. To date, there is no place to get information about this internship. For the sake of future students interested in coming to study at Ichimiya, I want to consolidate various information and create an internet headquarters for this program. The creation of this site is contingent on how quickly I can finish the Nissen site.
4. Miscellaneous. I serve in my capacity as English Speaking Japanese Student, so I have typed up a few documents in English and help translate letters and that sort of thing.

Also in January, I took a trip to Naoshima with a few friends who have a more artistic bent. Naoshima is an island off the coast of Takamatsu with a strong artistic presence – there is a museum designed by Tadao Ando, various galleries, some interestingly decorated shrines and a few buildings in the city designed as works of art in themselves. My favorite involved an enormous structure which was entirely hollow and pitch black – I don’t know that I have ever been in such complete unrelenting darkness. Mounted in the far corner was a light so faint as to be almost invisible, and I guess the idea was that the unearthly dimness of the light made you feel as though you were seeing things. It was creepy and exciting.

As far as work goes, February was spent brushing up on HTML, learning CSS and other web-design skills, and typing up a 50 page document for Jinno Buchou. When I was younger, web design was a hobby of mine and so I am not entirely clueless about how to put a website together – but I haven’t done it in 10 years and the few weeks I spent brushing up proved invaluable. Basically every day I would start from scratch and create a website, each time a little more complicated than the time before. I’d learn a new technique just about every day (for instance, suckerfish drop-menus or java-enabled popup-windows) and by the next day would be able to write the whole thing in using hard code and start from there. I am confident in my ability to provide Nissen with a professional page by the time I am done here, something more akin to the current Ichimiya Transportation page than what they now.
The 50 page document was a long set of bylaws and contracts for use at London Industries – dress codes and patent registration and computer rules and so on. Apparently there was no computerized version, as all the files were hard-copy only. So I took a week and entered 10 pages a day. When I was done I was asked to translate the lot of it into Japanese, but after some consideration I had to tell Jinno Bucho that it was simply too difficult for me. My Japanese is improving by leaps and bounds, but to translate 50 pages of tightly-written American legal jargon into readable Japanese is a task that would take me all day every day from now until the time I left Nissen, and even then I would be bothering my boss every other word.
As a sort of alternative, I am copy-and-pasting it line by line into Babelfish, the online automatic translator, and creating a document that way, which I will then pass on to Jinno Bucho for editing. I have my doubts as to the efficacy of this procedure as such internet translations are notorious for spewing out gibberish, but it is as per his request and I have no problem complying. It beats me pouring over it and tearing my hair out in frustration.
On a more personal note, February saw me taking a second trip to Honshu. I took a weekend with my girlfriend at the time to Kyoto, where I did a lot of sight-seeing and eating of delicious food. We did all the main sites, Nijojo and Kiyomizudera and Kinkakuji and the like, but I have a confession to make. For all of my interest in Japanese history, my favorite site in Kyoto was the train station. Never in my life have I seen a building so magnificent, at-odds though it may be with Kyoto’s old-world reputation. The enormous outdoor staircase spanning ten floors to the top of the building, the panoramic view of the city, the restaurants – it was all incredibly impressive.
We also spent some time in Osaka during the trip and I shudder to confess that frankly I think I like Osaka more than I like Kyoto. What such an opinion is worth after only two days in each city is certainly up for debate, but the atmosphere in Osaka feels much more vibrant to me.
Having gone to Osaka for New Years, Naoshima in January and then Kyoto in February, I felt financial constrictions tightening. By the end of January I had torn through the money I put away in October when the Guide Club had paid me rather generously to proofread some literature. It is very generous of Ichimiya Group to not only provide airfare and a place to stay for interns, but also a monthly stipend. 100,000 is certainly enough to get by in Niihama, and with careful use is enough to either go out every weekend or go on a trip every month, but on that income any sort of extended travel becomes very difficult, which is unfortunate. I would imagine that most interns come because they are interested in Japan as a whole – so spending all but the occasional weekend in Niihama and environs can be quite frankly stifling at times. I would recommend, then, that future interns save a few hundred dollars so that they can take 3 or 4 days in Honshu now and again without worrying about making ends meet. In my opinion it is a good idea to see the stipend as “Niihama money”, and anything earned on the side as fit for spending on travel and the like.
Also in February I got really sick. I am not sure what caused it, but for four days I could barely leave my futon. Eating was more or less beyond me as I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach, and I had a fever dancing around 40 degrees. A few days of rest and two trips to the hospital finally set things right, but the I.V. I had to get was agonizing – I have a needle thing.

And that brings us to March. Work has gotten a bit busier as several of my projects have begun to demand attention at once. Japanese study has gotten more intensive as I have moved on to yet another book. My teacher tells me that as far as grammar and speaking/listening are concerned I am far beyond other people at my level but that when it comes to vocabulary I am pathetic. For this I simultaneously thank and blame the JSL program, which does an excellent job instilling grammar but which, admittedly, works with relatively small vocabulary.
As a sort of stopgap, I began in January to memorize four words (noun, verb, adjective, adverb/misc.) and a yojijukugo every day. I have compiled quite a list now, and while I can’t quite claim to remember all of them I can certainly say that my vocabulary has increased tremendously.
Another project that has come to the forefront is preparation for the New Employee Induction Ceremony in Kyoto on April 1st. I have been asked to prepare an English lesson, and so I have put together something about parts of the body and related expressions (te = hand, te wo kashite = give me a hand, etc). Still, the idea of standing in front of 70 new employees and trying to get them to participate for any extended period leaves me feeling somewhat nervous.
A sort of practice-run through of the various presentations was held at an overnight seminar on Friday, March 18th. When my turn came I opened up my Power Point presentation and was irritated to find that the timing on my slides was completely wrong – instead of things coming in point by point so that I could discuss each item individually, everything came on screen in large jumbles and my presentation became more of an explanation of how my presentation was going to go. It was terribly embarrassing and I am sure I looked like I had failed to prepare properly; everyone smiled and applauded when I was finished but it upset me. I don’t understand why it changed all of the settings, it might have had something to do with the fact that I was running it on a different computer – but nobody else seemed to have that problem. So that is something else I have to iron out. I did enjoy the tabe- and nomihodai at the Asahi beer factory afterwards. Tanaka-kyokuchou and I set the pace with beer and the food was delicious. I do enjoy the work-hard play-hard ethic that seems to run through the Japanese business world.
Also, the first of my aforementioned Cultural Exchange Nights is looming on the ever-approaching horizon. As I am talking about sports, the body-part English lesson is a good fit, but that leaves me with about an hour to somehow make interesting. I am worried but am not entirely unprepared. I’m planning on discussing what sports are most popular in America (both to watch and to do) and to ask about Japan; to give a history of my personal involvement in Athletics, things I have liked and things I haven’t liked, etc, and hopefully from there start a discussion about who does what sports and yeah let’s get together for a game of Frisbee some time; I want to do a bit about how to cheer in America as opposed to Japan – “Yeah! Come on! Go go go!” etc. I realize, though, that as embarrassed as I will be shouting at an imaginary athletic competition in front of 20-50 tired salarymen it will be very difficult to get anyone to show me just how people cheer in Japan. The whole thing feels like it might be a mistake, so I still have to work on it. I don’t think it will be bad but it has been the largest source of stress I have had hanging over me.
I finished the translation of the current Nissen site into English. Fukushima-san and myself presented it to management, and basically put it up page by page so that they could compare with the original site. The result was unfortunate – management seemed to realize for the first time that the current web page is 5 years out of date, so the plan now is for me to completely update the current page, and then translate the update, and THEN create a new page. To me it doesn’t make a lot of sense to fix the old page when the plan is to replace it so soon, especially when it will take a month to get the relevant information and updated photographs together. I am wondering if maybe they don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to replace it.
Finally, I am still working with the London Industry documents, feeding them into babelfish a little every day. It sounds simple but the formatting means I have to go about one line at a time and then make sure it doesn’t screw everything up when I paste it, so it is slow going.
In short, I have been very busy with a handful of specific challenges to work out. I greatly enjoy this element of my internship – at Kaihatsu Group I had long periods of time when I simply didn’t know what I should be doing, and on the whole prefer to be in a situation when I have 5 tasks arrayed in front of me – especially since they are all incredibly challenging and are all very frustrating to some degree. It makes me feel like I am using my time to grow, and while right now I find myself stressing about this or that I know that when I am finished with all of this I will be relieved and feel a sense of accomplishment.
My personal life, my “Japan Experience,” has been slow in March. As mentioned before my money situation is tight, and travel has been more or less out of the question; I had a girlfriend in Saijo, but we broke up this month; I have spent a lot of time just biking or walking around Niihama, now that the weather is nicer. Also, I have given up on Kendo. After stumbling around trying half-heartedly to find some way to make it work, I have decided that my time could be better spent in other pursuits. Specifically, pursuits that didn’t involve a lack of armor and an awkward practice schedule. So, for the time being, I have joined a Karate class with a friend of mine out here. I’ve been doing it for a little over a month now, attending twice a week, and I greatly enjoy it so far. I regret the kendo situation, and various coworkers enjoy teasing me about it once in a while as I made the mistake upon my arrival to talk about how I did kendo at university and how I want to do it here. I consider that my only real failure here, but at this point there’s nothing I can do about it. The karate allows me my fix of violence and screaming and I enjoy having a friend to do it with, so March has been relaxing, steady and peaceful – a welcome change from the hectic pace of the last few months.

So that’s where I stand at the moment. I have several projects arrayed before me, a work environment that I greatly enjoy (I forgot to mention above how much I like my co-workers at Nissen. They are great!), a lifestyle I am settling into, and the recently emerged promise of warm sunny days ahead. A Japanese friend of mine (my conversation partner the summer prior to this trip) will be returning to Japan for a bit in the near future and we are planning a trip out to Matsuyama and Dogo Onsen, which I have not yet visited. The warm weather means that weekend-long beach barbeques are on the horizon. My web-design skills improve every day, and there is some talk of a fact-finding mission across Japan to the various factories and offices so that I can get photographs and updated information for the website, which would be great.
In short, I am having a great time out here, but not the sort of great time I feel guilty for having. It is a lot of work and a lot of play, the whole experience right now is like the seminar followed by the enkai at the Asahi beer plant. In the end I am left with vague feelings of frustration at the challenges in front of me, vague feelings of anticipation for as-yet-unknown warm-weather fun to be had, and a general sense of appreciation for being here.


Nifty, ne? And all true.

I eat like a pig and it has never bothered me but maybe I shouldn't let me get fat. I am okay sexy now though. It's just always funny when I eat with the girls because I just have so much it is almost obscene, but at least its usually more or less healthy. Though that cake I bought last night was maybe a bit much.

Which one of you fucks was it recommended About Schmidt to me? That bad. I am not even going to talk about that contrived chunk of rubbish, there was almost nothing in it worth seeing. How do you make a movie like that and then convince the world it is somehow stimulating? Every joke was fucking ordered from Acme Generic Jokes, Inc. Every plot twist was inevitable, and all the gimmicks? The 2 minutes floundering in a water bed? The "oh-look-its-funny-cuz-he-has-a-kink-in-his-neck-and-cant-keep-his-head-straight?" Followed by its sister, then "oh-look-he-took-too-much-medication-and-now-its-like-hes-high" coupled with their bastard lovechild "hes-at-a-formal-ocassion-acting-like-an-ass". The naked old lady? I mean its like American Pie for old retards. And if you dare tell me I just didnt understand it I will come back and hit you. Jack Nicholson is dead to me.

Okay, now I have Japanese Homework to do. Sigh.
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