Friday, June 5, 2009

Day 4-5: Hikone city tour; Hikone Castle

On our last day we visited the most famous historical site in Hikone- Hikone Castle. Hikone Castle is an original castle, meaning that it survived the post feudal era without undergoing destruction and reconstruction. Most of the castle's inner moats, walls, guard houses and gates also remain intact, giving visitors a good impression of a relatively complete castle. Hikone Castle's three storied castle tower was uniquely constructed, using various architecture styles. This is one reason why Hikone Castle has been designated a national treasure. Out tour guide told us that the steps leading up to the castle were uneven and of different heights to help stop the enemy from making it all the way up to the castle; and if the enemy actually made it there, they were surrounded by walls from which they were attacked. After our visit to the castle we went to downtown Hikone for lunch where we received the certificate about completing the program at JCMU. We also shared our most memorable moments from the trip. Of course, I had to share my water rafting experience…beautiful sites and painful, ugly sunburn…I will remember that for the rest of my life…

In the evening Monzer, Mee, Suyash, Bob, and I were taken to the sushi place by 2 current JCMU students (our new friends). I totally forgot to mention that Mee and I spent a lot of money for taxi because of my inability to ride a bike and her “inwantability” to ride a bike :) That sushi place was amazing! I eat sushi every week in the US, but this was different. It was a Conveyor belt sushi and the fish was very fresh despite the fact that the place is far from the ocean. Then we went bowling and it was soooo much fun!

Going home is always upsetting, but for some reason I was glad that we were going back. It was sad to say good bye to your new friends, but everything else in Japan seemed very boring to me. I really wanted to go back to Taipei or to a big city in Japan. Unfortunately, due to H1Na virus outbreak, we couldn’t go to Osaka. Instead, we went to the Hikone Chamber where we were able to learn more about the industries in the Shiga Prefecture. Hikone developed a marketing campaign with this little Hello kitty Samurai. Every shop sells things that have this Kitty picture on it and even stuffed toys. That was funny to me because I’m not a big fan of these characters and it didn’t seem very attractive to me. I’m glad it worked for the marketing purpose though.

I will always remember every moment of this wonderful trip. I am glad I had an opportunity to meet all of the participants on this study abroad course. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Day 4: Toyota plant

We took a bus to Nagoya to visit a Toyota vehicle assembly plant. It took an hour to get there and we stopped at the rest area on the way there. For some reason we had 2 hours to waste around truck drivers who were eating and resting there. The food wasn’t great, but the whole idea of ordering using the vending machine was pretty exciting. You put the money inside the vending machine and then select the meal number and get a ticket which you give to the lady over the counter so they can make your food. I think it’s a smart idea that saves everyone’s time. If that machine could accept credit cards that would be even better for some people. But I guess people in Japan still prefer carrying cash.

The tour to the Toyota plant itself was interesting. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn anything new because we’ve discussed most of it in my Operations Management class with Dr. Taghabony. The presentation was quite short and it was just the basics that most business students are already familiar with. However, I was still very interesting because now we could actually to see it all. What I didn’t like was that you guide could not properly answer my question that has been bothering me ever since we came to Japan. One of their Toyota models (Toyota Harrier) looks exactly like Lexus RX in the US. The only difference is that it has a Toyota badge. The answer I got was that some people can buy a different badge and replace the original one. Why would anyone in the world would want to replace Lexus sign with the Toyota one??? She also said that Lexus is very popular in Japan…So it didn’t make any sense which greatly disappointed me. I think she just didn’t have enough knowledge about the difference between two, even though I showed her exactly what I was talking about. That evening I had to do my own research.

In Japan, the SLV concept appeared in first-generation Toyota Harrier form. The first-generation Harrier was a sales success, and many went to other right hand drive markets in Asia as grey imports. The Harrier continued largely unchanged until November 2000, when the 2.2 L 5S-FE engine was replaced by the 2.4 L 2AZ-FE 4-cylinder engine, producing 159 hp (119 kW) JIS (117 kW) and 221 Nm (163 ft·lbf). As before, the engine was offered with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The change in engine also meant a change in model code, which was now ACU10 for the front-wheel drive version and ACU15 for the all-wheel drive version. A small facelift was also performed on the Harrier.

In February 2003, the second generation Toyota Harrier (codename ACU30 and MCU30 for the front-wheel drive models, and ACU35 and MCU35 for the all-wheel drive models) was launched in Japan. Mechanical specification was largely similar to the first-generation Harrier, with the same engine and drive train combinations (2.4 L and 3.0 L V6 with or without all-wheel drive). The main difference was a new 5-speed automatic transmission with +/- shift replacing the 4-speed item in the 3.0 L V6, and the availability of "AIRS" air-suspension on the 3.0 L V6 models. Toyota added a new optional safety feature known as the Pre-Collision System (PCS)[

The second generation Lexus RX was launched for European and Asian markets in early 2003 (including Singapore, where it succeeded the previously sold Harrier, South Korea, and Taiwan), it continued to be called the RX 300 and was made in Japan. Mechanical specifications were more or less identical to the 3.0 L V6 Harrier, with only the all-wheel drive version available, once again the air-suspension could be specified.

From what I can tell, Lexus brand only came to Japan in 2005. Toyota brand is well established in Asia. Most of the Toyota-badged Lexus cars in Japan don't even have a Toyota badge in the front 9just on the back), they have their own badge - Soarer, Windom, Aristo, Celsior, Harrier, Altezza. Toyota does not really need Lexus to help out high end image. That’s why we have Lexus in the US, just because it’s considered luxurious and Toyota can sell it for a lot more. However, I was very mad that the Toyota tour guide didn’t even know the answer to this simple question.

Day 3: JCMU 20th Anniversary Celebration

In the morning we all gathered in the main hall where we could participate in Japanese traditional activities. The first thing I decided to try was tea ceremony. The tea ceremony is a very special event in Japanese culture. The host spends days going over every detail to make sure that the ceremony will be perfect. There are various styles of tea ceremonies and it is recognized that every human encounter is a singular occasion that will never recur again in exactly the same way, and so every aspect of the tea ceremony is savored. The ceremony takes place in a room called the chashitsu. This room is designed and designated only for this ceremony. The steps to the ceremony seemed quite simple: clean the serving bowls, boil a pot of water, serve a sweet treat to guests before the tea, mix powdered bitter green tea (Matcha) and water to make a frothy tea, serve the tea to guests. However, those steps are not easy to perform when I decided to gave it a try. Some of the things to keep in mind as a guest are:

-Bow when you receive the cup of tea which is called a chawan

-Take the chawan with your right hand and place it in the palm of your left hand

- Turn the chawan clockwise three times before you take a drink

- When the tea is gone, make a loud slurp to tell the host that the tea was truly enjoyed

- Wipe the part of the chawan your lips touched with your right hand

-Turn the chawan counterclockwise and return to the host.

Then I practiced flower arrangement and I didn’t like the fact that we had to imitate the sample on the main table. What if I want to create my own piece? But it was still very interesting and a good cultural representation where we could actually participate.

After the culture classes we had a sushi box lunch provided by the program, which was pretty tasty. We were told that it’s hard to find a good sushi place in Hikone because it’s far from the ocean and the fish is not that fresh. Then there was presentation in honor of JCMU followed by a reception with great Japanese cuisine.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 2: Kyoto field trip - Nijojo (Nijo Castle), Kinkaguji (Golden Pavillion), Kyoto JR station, Gion Corner

On the second day we took a train to Kyoto to visit some sights. We had a pretty rough schedule in terms of places we had to visit and time. We had to get a lunch at the Kyoto station. Mee had to get a sweater because she lost her jacket, so instead of going to eat, we went to the mall. Then we had 30 minutes to eat and surprisingly we found a place and made it back on time. After lunch we took a bus and headed to the Kyoto castle. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures inside the museums because they try to keep the painting on the walls safe from the light (or flash). The next temple was Kinkakuji, which was built in 1393 as a retirement villa for Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. He intended to cover the exterior with gold, but only managed to coat the ceiling of the third floor with gold leaf before his death. After seeing these beautiful sights, we went back to the train station for dinner. We had an hour before our bus, so we decided to take a walk. Most of us were pretty upset with the place we were staying at (Hikone). It’s a very small town where you can’t really go anywhere and it felt like we were in Michigan… However, it’s good for people who learn the language there because the majority of locals do not speak English. It’s a good opportunity to practice and try to communicate in Japanese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for us…Anyways, after we took a walk we had to eat… It was absolutely hilarious how we tried to eat at a restaurant in 15 minutes and still being able to make it on the bus. But we did it!

We attended a performance at the theatre in Gion Corner that brings the essence of Japanese traditional arts and entertainment. There was a demonstration of tea ceremony, Japanese Hart, Traditional comic play, court music, Kyoto style dance, and Puppet play. It was all very entertaining. Then we headed back to Hikone where Mee and I had to take a cab, because of my sunburns that made it impossible for me to ride a bike, while everyone else was riding a bike back to JCMU.

Day 1 in Japan: Welcome ceremony at JCMU (Japan Center for Michigan Universities), welcome concert, and welcome reception

I hate to say this, but this day was very boring. Everyone was getting ready for the Anniversary of JCMU and there were many guests for whom the ceremony and welcoming concert were made. My favorite part of all of this was “Surviving Japanese Class”. We leaned a few common phrases of everyday Japanese language. During the reception I’ve also met a sculptor who wanted to make a sculpture of me hehe Unfortunately, it usually takes a year to make it and we were there just for one week, so I had to disappoint him a bit… He’s got my picture though :)