Going West by Mark Powers

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Touchdown Tokyo

Mark in the Ginza, TokyoI always get nervous a few minutes before the plane touches down. Its not that I fear a crash, rather, its the nervousness of arriving in a different place, preparing your mind for what you have to do, the challenges ahead, and the unknown. I think that is especially true before arriving in a new country, like Japan!

I arrived in Tokyo for business a couple of days ago. Narita airport is very modern and clean, it was easy to get through and out. Japan is more of a cash-based society, so I had to convert currency into Yen. I took the bus rise into downtown Tokyo is really interesting. Narita airport is outside the city, surrounded by manicured rice patties and lush green vegitation. As the bus nears Tokyo buildings multiply, shipyards and factories, then office buildings, multi-storied apartments to giant modern skyscapers.

In Tokyo I had alot of business to do and meetings with lots of people. Almost everyone I meet doesn`t speak much English or just doesn`t want to try. I usually have to rely on my Japanese.

I meet with people in offices, high-rise conference rooms, coffee shops, and in restaurants. I focus on work, I try to the keep what I say brief and to the point, but am open to all kinds of questions about a variety of topics. Its not usual for many Japanese to have chances to speak with foreigners who speak some Japanese and they are curious.

The food is terrific. I could say that again and again. I love Japanese food. Japanese restaurants typically use fresh and healthy ingredients as well as a healthy / not overdone approach to cooking. However, the proportions are almost never enough for me. I feel like I should get 2 or 3 bowls or dishes of whatever I order.

The humidity was crushing the first day I arrived. After stepping out of the hotel in my suit and tie, I felt soaked in minutes. I decided that despite the location I had to go to was within a few blocks walking distance, that I would take the taxi to avoid looking like a sweaty mess at the meeting.

In the morning, I walked over to the building where I worked years ago in Tokyo. The stroll down Eitai-dori was line a stroll down memory lane. The tightly bound rows of office buildings that house countlesss Japanese finance companies, a kind of Japanese Wall Street. On one corner was the building I used to work in. The name on the outside had changed, but the conservative office building exterior remained the same. Memories of me running top speed out of Kayabacho station, with my tie flying over my shoulder to make it on time to the office. The cold nights coming out of the building after work. That may seem very trivial, but at the time I felt a huge sense of pride to do what I was doing in Japan.

On the way back to Narita, I was so impressed by another thing so Japanese. Before the bus left to the terminal, all the baggage handlers and ticket agents lined up on the sidewalk, and as the bus drove away, they all gave a slow and deep bow of respect to the passengers. Truly a memorable sight to behold and lasting memory of Japan.


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