Nippon Express – 80 Days in Tokyo

happenings and experiences during my stay at RICOH Software R&D, Tokyo

So It Has Come To This – My First Few Days In Japan January 14, 2008

Wow. Only four days and yet so much to tell already. First of all, my excuses for being a little late with my first post, I didn’t have internet access in my apartment for the first couple of days and I spent the first weekend on a trip (more on that in a minute) and of course I also didn’t want to blog while being at work, so, this will be rather lengthy.

I have much to cover already, so I’ll get right on topic. I’ll keep things short on my arrival and all that and like to focus more on my first tour to the west coast of Japan. Both Martin (a fellow student) and me arrived on Wednesday morning at Narita Airport (that’s the big one, right), after traveling for almost 22 hours (including hours of waiting for continuation flights and buses at Helsinki airport and Narita airport). We left at 10:45 AM in Frankfurt, Germany and arrived at 10:00 AM in Narita, which means we sort of skipped one day ahead. Talk about having the worst jet lag you can imagine. The airport was amazingly empty, but still, my first impression was: Wow, we’re in another world. We took a shuttle from Terminal 2 which ran fully automated – no driver. It sort of felt like the introductory sequence of the Half-Life computer game where a similar shuttle takes you to Black Mesa. After claiming our baggage we had to wait 3 or 4 more hours for a bus which took us to the RICOH R&D office building. We were heartily welcomed by Ms. Hirano who works for RICOH and were introduced to the rest of the staff. After that, Ms. Hirano took us to our apartments in Soka (that’s a city north of Tokyo which belongs to the Saitama prefecture). I will dedicate an own blog post to the Leopalace apartments, because I think they are amazing, so at this point let me just say that they are really, really, good. The first two actual work days at RICOH were just fine, the people are great, but I was still suffering from severe jet lag and had problems keeping attention when I was being explained something. Luckily, there wasn’t really that much work to do (yet). Okay, I will just skip ahead to Friday now and talk about our first trip we took from Friday to Sunday!

The first trip we already planned when we were still in Germany. Actually, I have to give all the credits to Volker Hudlet here, because he did all the planning and organization, mostly because he is really good at it and because he has already been in Japan for two months. The idea was to first visit Kanazawa, which (according to has one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens of all Japan, the Kenrokuen. Without needing to see other gardens, I can agree on that.

Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa, Japan

We took a night bus on Friday evening, which was a 7-8 hours ride over night from Tokyo Station to Kanazawa. The ride was — literally — a pain in the back. The bus was not very comfortable so I didn’t get any sleep, but actually I didn’t mind much. I sort of got used to sleep much less here than in Germany. There is simply too much to see and too few time to sleep much… Anyway, we arrived at Kanazawa station in the morning and immediately took off to see the city and the Kenrokuen. Kanazawa StationUnfortunately, the weather played bad on us, it was cold and rainy. No problem though, the Japanese convenience stores (which you find almost at every corner) also sell umbrellas. On our way to the gardens, we came by the market area where all sorts of sea food was being advertised. Trust me, looking at that sea food, the word ‘fresh’ really deserves a new definition here, as some of the “food” was still alive and breathing… For all pictures of Kanazawa, go here.

In the afternoon, we were already heading back for the station and took a train to our next destination: The beautiful mountain city of Takayama. Because we arrived in the evening and were pretty tired from the Kanazawa tour (and the bus ride without much sleep), we only took a short trip through the town to get some of the best Chinese food we had ever experienced. At this point I have to say how well you can eat in Japan. For only 700 YEN (that’s roughly 4,20 Euro) we got a cup of rice plus some dish you could choose (I took the meat balls), a cup of soup and as much White Tea (I think it was Jasmin flavored) as we would want. After dinner we headed back to get some sleep at Zenkoji Temple Inn. Zenkoji Temple Inn, Takayama, JapanYes, you heard me, we booked a room at a real Buddhist temple! Some temples do that for a small “donation” (that’s what they call their fees) in order to collect money for maintaining the old buildings. It was really, really great. We got to know some other people stopping by from Australia, a family with their kids and a woman who seemingly was on a trip through a couple of countries.

The next day, that’s Sunday, we took off to visit the city of Takayama in more detail (the evening before we were too tired and didn’t see much because it was dark already). We decided to take a Sake (that’s Japanese rice wine) brewery tour first, and we weren’t disappointed. I have to say, Sake is a really tasty beverage. The tour guide didn’t speak English (actually, you won’t find many people in Japan who do) but did a pretty good job at reading the English descriptions of the tour spots from her cheat sheet. At this point I have to mention how great the people in Japan are. Everyone is so helpful and gentle. If you stop somewhere to check your map, someone will finally come over and try to help you without you even asking him or her! I also have the impression that most Japanese people like Germany (and Germans) a lot. After the Sake tour, we went on a walking course to get some really beautiful impressions of the landsight. Takayama is located in the Japanese Alps and can get pretty snowy (and cold!) though. We left for Tokyo again in the afternoon.

Takayama Old House District

The next night, back in my apartment in Soka, I slept like a stone.

View Kanazawa picture gallery

View Takayama picture gallery