Week 1

Yesterday marked one week since I arrived in Tokyo. In many ways, it’s been a whirlwind of a time so far with introductions, adjustments, planning, etc., but with a few odd bits of stillness here and there. To give a brief snapshot of the week, after I arrived at Haneda airport last Saturday, Professor Hamada and a General Affairs employee Ms. N, kindly came to greet me, take me to the company apartment where I’m staying, and make sure I had the basic supplies to survive in Tokyo. The rest of that weekend I spent figuring out how to grocery shop, find my way around my neighborhood, and ride the trains, all of which took some getting used to but weren’t as daunting as I had feared, thankfully.

 

On Monday, the first day at the office, the other W&M intern Michael and I spent much of the morning introducing ourselves to the members of the company- a bit of a nerve-wracking time since it involved meeting the Toyo Suisan Chairman, President, many department heads, and hundreds of other employees! Despite our nerves, though, everyone we met then and through the rest of the week has treated us kindly and been very open to talking with us. Most days this week have followed a similar schedule where we meet with our three main supervisors from the General Affairs Department – Ms. N, Mr. K, and Mr. S – then have a free discussion with several members from one of the other departments, have lunch, work on our own research projects, and finally have another meeting with our supervisors to conclude the workday. I’ve enjoyed having so many opportunities to get to know new people and learn how they make all the different operations of this business happen. Overall, the workweek was busy but very interesting, and a nice transition into working at the company.

 

In terms of adjusting to life in Japan, things have been both easier and harder than I expected. Before this week I had felt anxious about a lot of things, like whether my language abilities would be up to par, how to navigate the complex train system, and if the workplace environment would be intensely strict like I’ve heard about some Japanese companies. My experiences this week have eased those worries significantly. While I’m certainly not fluent in Japanese, I can understand and converse with people decently, which feels exciting to see that my years of language classes have gone somewhere. The trains are incredibly coordinated and simple to navigate, and I actually appreciate having the free time during my commute to catch up on messages or just stare out the window. As mentioned previously, the people at the company have treated us wonderfully, and it’s exciting to see our research projects start to take off.

 

On the other hand, some of the cultural differences have taken some work to get used to. The biggest challenge so far for me has been figuring out what to eat as a vegan in Japan. Fish has an important, widespread role in the island nation’s food, and it also seems that vegetarianism and veganism have a smaller presence here than in the United States. Partly because of these reasons and partly because I don’t know many of the kanji characters on nutrition labels, I’ve had to put a lot more research, time, and effort into eating vegan here. This week I’ve resorted to more than a few hodgepodge meals of convenience store snacks, but things have gradually gotten easier as I’ve found more online/app resources and grown more used to grocery shopping and cooking. At the start of the week, to be honest I felt very worried that I would either have a very sad dining experience or end up being forced to stop eating vegan while in Japan, but now I feel a lot more optimistic about the situation. Just like when I first went vegan in America or like with any lifestyle or cultural shift, it takes some struggling to adjust at first, but I think that with patience things will continue to get easier.

 

There’s so much else that I’d like to write about, but for brevity’s sake I’ll stop here for now. A coworker that Michael and I met and went to dinner with the other day asked me if I had felt any moments when I wanted to go home to America yet, and I can honestly answer that so far, no. Despite the occasional difficulties and fatigue, being here has filled me with excitement and gratitude at every step, and I’m nowhere close to feeling done in Japan.

Shinagawa Station during the morning rush hour

Shinagawa Station during the morning rush hour

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A rainy day view from Shinagawa Station – if you look very closely at the building in the distant center, you’ll see a tiny Maruchan logo on the Toyo Suisan building right down the street!

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Walking through Kashimada back to my apartment

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