Saturday, June 18, 2011

Culture Shock vol.2 - Kanagawa


Since I usually tend to write about my trips around the country, I decided it would be nice to mention something about my everyday life for a change. Believe it or not, normal job and other prosaic problems fill most of my time here in Japan. At least that's been the case since the internship started in January. Now all the parties and sightseeing moved to weekends or other holidays (which are rather sparse) with little time to do anything other than job on weekdays. I work at NTT Communication Science Laboratories in the city of Atsugi, the hilly heart of Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo and west of Yokohama. NTT, although maybe not as well-known in Europe, is the dominant telecommunications company in Japan and Asia, as well as the second-largest in the world. It's currently ranked 31st in the Fortune Global 500 ranking of the world's top 500 companies in terms of revenue. Pretty impressive, huh? As a leader in its market, NTT can afford to maintain specialised research laboratories, therefore investing in the development of new technologies in the vast fields of engineering, physics, communication science, human perception analysis, etc. My internship belongs to the Communication Environment Research Group in in the Media Information Laboratory. If that doesn't tell you anything, that's probably good because the subject of my work is secret and I'm not supposed to reveal it, even though it's quite interesting. I can tell you, however, that the main office of NTT CS is located in the outskirts of Kyoto and lately I've been lucky enough to get invited to the Open House event held over there.

Going back to the theme of my new home, I live in a NTT workers dorm in the city of Isehara, quite close to my office. The town's not that bad, but it's mainly a bedroom community for the nearby Yokohama and greater Tokyo areas. With it's population of around 100.000 (and Atsugi has twice as much), Isehara could be a medium-sized Polish town with some attractions, whereas in this case it's just a residential area with few stores or restaurants. It basically plays the role of some distant Tokyo suburbs. Fortunately, I can always get on the train and reach some bigger cities with ease if I want to do some serious shopping, meet with my friends or go to the cinema. Of course, living in the calm "country side" also has its advantages, the biggest of them being the captivating surrounding nature. Some of Isehara's outskirts belong to the Tanzawa-Oyama Quasi-National Park established to preserve the beautiful landscape of mountains, forests and lakes. The vast Park is great for hiking or late-spring bike trips, which can be as exciting as any other excursion around Japan. I've added some pictures taken during the trips to the Hakusan mountain and Miyagase Dam. Thanks Bartek for talking me into them!

The main shock, apart from quite different work culture in the company and interpersonal relations, comes from all those Japanese traditions and customs that appear in everyday situations. It feels a bit different when you're just a tourist. They show you the most representative tip of the iceberg and then off you go. But living here for a while makes you immerse in this lifestyle deeper and appreciate it more for what it is, understand it. Although I will probably never truly get it and they will always treat me as a layman outsider, I'm slowly starting to grasp the language and the culture behind it, at the same time learning a lot about myself and my own heritage. I'm happy to see that happening because it was one of the predefined goals of the whole Vulcanus experience.

Luckily enough, there's a unique lady in our NTT office, called Narumi, who's fascinated with Japanese tradition and keen on passing the knowledge to eager foreign interns. She's overflowing with positive energy and organises all kinds of activities for us, including cutting out cups and chopsticks from bamboo, rolling sushi for Setsubun (the beginning of spring holiday) or playing taiko (big Japanese drums) with a local club in preparations for the summer gig. All of this is really fun and proves how much Japanese care for their customs. Another big event was the world-famous cherry blossom (Sakura) period which comes down to cheerful family picnics under the phenomenal white trees. The sight of a snow-like shower of cherry flower petals is truly a one of its kind experience and one of the symbols of Japanese culture. The culture I now bask in.

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