First week gallery

1st week down, 51 more to go!

I have already mentioned that I did not enjoy my flight from Venice to Narita, I blame the seats. The adjustable headrests in the economy class stick out at an uncomfortable height and they prevented me from finding any enjoyable position in which I’d manage to catch some sleep. Not even hefty glasses of Turkish wine (on an Italian flight) helped so I was forced to watch films and Top Gear until the captain declared descent. Since I was flying during the night there was also not much to see outside, despite the route taking me over the Balkans, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and almost North Korea.

Two 22.9kg suitcases, an overweight carry -on, and a completely full laptop backpack. Enough for a year, hopefully

Two 22.9kg suitcases, an overweight carry -on, and a completely full laptop backpack. Enough for a year, hopefully

It was around 9 in the morning locally when I got off the plane and despite the sun being hidden behind a thick layer of clouds I could sense the high humidity. I was safe inside the air-conditioned terminal before it started showing off and after my luggage arrived the feeling I first noticed somewhere above China returned – I really will be staying here for a year and I have enough stuff to prove it! To avoid dragging the suitcases around we were instructed to use a delivery company whose logo fills you with confidence that your luggage will be delivered safely. I had printed instructions on how to fill out the very Japanese forms so that my luggage would get delivered to the right address but the interaction with the delivery personnel was not easy. The big communication gap was even more apparent when I was getting a ticket for the train journey to Tokyo. I did manage to acquire and fill a train fare card and was not long after on my way too get introduced to the wonderful Japanese transportation system.

Navigation proved easier than I though and I managed to get to the hotel where the Vulcanus students were gathering for the first night. If I wasn’t quite sure whether I’ve really arrived in Japan it was very obvious when I opened the bathroom door. There it was, a high-tech, manual requiring toilet! This was (un)fortunately not a very advanced model (no heated seat, music, temperature control, drier, etc.) so operation wasn’t that difficult but it still did the job and left me with very mixed feelings.

The 21st century toilet

The 21st century toilet

After reuniting with the Vulcanus students we quickly took the show on the road and headed to Shibuya – if it’s your first night might as well go all out! The goal was Shibuya crossing, the supposedly busiest pedestrian crossing in the world where anywhere between 2500 and 10000 people cross every green light during rush hour [citation needed]. The mass of people along with the skyscrapers, neon lights, noise from commercials, and everything else overwhelmed me and left me in a daze. It’s now been almost two weeks and despite being in Shibuya daily (it’s where the language school is) crossing the crossing is still special. I’m slowly adjusting to the concept of a 3D city, the ground floor is only the first floor in Japan (quite literally, they start counting floors with a 1 at the ground level). Most high buildings offer a lot more shopping and entertainment on higher up.

A Shibuya crossing panorama

A Shibuya crossing panorama

The first evening ended up at an izakaya, something I’ll revisit at a different time, the next day we started off with a briefing by the EU-Japan center, followed by a trip to where we’ll live for the next four months or a year (some students are temporarily staying close to Tokyo and are then moving to company locations all over Japan). This is where I reveal I am in fact not living in Tokyo but in Kawasaki City, a small suburb located between Tokyo and Yokohama with just 1.5 million inhabitants. A Fujitsu representative greeted me and Natascha – the Fujitsu interns – and took us to the place we’ll call home for the next year. This experience along with some photos will get a separate entry.

Fujitsu Cross Culture Center, home for the next year

Fujitsu Cross Culture Center where I’ll be staying for a year

The rest of the week was marked by jet-lag (and/or an uncomfortable bed), administrative procedures, settling in, and of course the start of the Japanese course. We will be receiving 16 weeks of very intensive training that will hopefully enable us to bridge the communication chasm and allow us to function as close to normally as possible. We’re nowhere near that yet, which was evident when opening a bank account, registering residency, and just doing very common things like eating or shopping.

The next entry will show my room, my sleeping arrangements and explain why home is where the dorm manager is.

Slovenija do Tokija!

No Slovenian football team has recently qualified for anything in Tokyo (then ended up in Korea) nor does the title represent any Slovenian nationalistic tendencies. Some part of Slovenia is already in Tokyo but now another small part has joined it – I have after a not too pleasant twelve-hour flight landed at Narita, it was August 31st. Today is a week from then and I am finally able to catch a breath and write down some coherent paragraphs.

Landing at Narita

Landing at Narita

Let’s start with a few ‘whys’, the first being why am I here? At the end of 2013 I applied and was in April 2014 accepted into the Vulcanus in Japan programme. Vulcanus in Japan is an internship for EU students wishing to acquire some industrial experience at the top Japanese companies (Vulcanus in EU is the equivalent programme for Japanese students), funded by the EU, the Japanese government, and the host companies. It consists of an intensive 4 month course on the Japanese language and culture followed by an (intense) 8 month internship at the host company, mine is Fujitsu. This year we’re a group of 44 engineering and science students from various EU countries (and Scotland?) that get to experience the programme and Japan at 21 different companies.

Vulcanus participants at the Tokyo reception

Vulcanus participants at the Tokyo reception (by Michal Cermak)

There is another why that I guess I should answer – why apply? I’ve had a long-lived fascination with Japan and always wished to see it first-hand, for a few weeks, as a tourist. I also wanted to experience working for a large and complex company, one counting employees in the thousands. I’ve heard about the programme years before but got properly interested in it when I saw a presentation on it by Grega Kešpret, a Slovenian Vulcanus alumni. Because the application process is quite complex I way usually too lazy to do it until I at the end of 2013 realised it’s now or never! I didn’t count on getting in but I wanted to apply just to scratch an itch. Well, now I’m in. A year should give me enough time to also be a tourist and Fujitsu should qualify for a large company with 170 thousand employees. I guess I can say I got what I wished for.

The third why requiring an answer is why a blog. People who know me also know I’m not a big fan of social media and sharing your life through the world wide web. In fact I am/was quite against it. As I was leaving a lot of people have expressed their interest in reading about and seeing how Japan and work at a Japanese company might look through the eyes of a Slovenian student, someone they actually know. I also kind of agree – this time around I might actually have something to share. I could be dumping photos on Facebook but I think a blog has a bit more substance and hopefully anyone reading it will agree.

I envision this blog as a kind of a journal for strange/interesting things that have and will happen throughout the year as well as a place where I can share my thoughts (on everything Japanese). I also tend to take some photos and since I’m new to all of this I have yet to see how well including them will work, hopefully they’ll be a welcome visual aid to the text I’ll end up writing. The title? ‘Idiot abroad’ was taken and ‘Slovenian’ should cover that and much more.

I’ll write more about the first week soon, for now let me just say that the food is great, Lost in Translation is a documentary, toilets really do require manuals, and like the Slovenian football team in 2002 I also didn’t exactly end up in Tokyo…