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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Random Thourghts: Adventure in Japan -- Part 1

Hello everyone! Today is March 1st, 2010 (again, I am still living in this parallel universe), and this is Lanny blogging live from Osaka, Japan! :)

For those of you who already know, I'll be spending the next five days here with my adviser, Dr. Mike Goodrich, attending the Human-Robot Interaction Conference. This is the fist time I visit Japan. Thought I'd share with you some of the fun adventures and "culture shocks" during my trip, so you'll be prepared when you decide to visit Japan someday in the future.


Left home at exactly 4:00am on Sunday morning (February 28, 2010) and checked in at the City Plaza Osaka hotel downtown Osaka at approximately 8:00pm Monday evening (March 1, 2010). Does it really take this long? The truth is: yes, it does take a long time, but not this long. Osaka time is 14 hours ahead of Utah time (MST), so the trip "only" took 24 hours. What a long day!

The flight out of Salt Lake City to San Francisco was at 6:00am local time. Probably because our itinerary included international flights, we could not check in using the easy terminal, and had to stand in a long line to check in at the desk even though we only had carry on luggage. This only gave us 30 minutes to go through security check and rush to our gate, during which, I forgot to collect the little plastic bag containing my hand lotion and hair spray (probably because it didn't work well with the conveyor belt system and did not come out in time. Well, guess I'll just have dry hands and bad hair during the trip then! The good news was, we made the flight!!

The lay over at San Francisco was 4.5 hours. One waiting passenger at the International Terminal got so bored that he started exercising Tai-Chi, which successfully helped us kill about 20 minutes.

Tai-Chi in SFO International Terminal

The plane we flew in is a Boeing 777, big enough to have 2 seats on each side and 5 seats in the middle (where we sat at). The flight duration was 12 hours, and the distance between SF and Osaka is about 5800 miles.

Boeing 777 at SFO International Terminal

One thing nice about going to Japan from the US is that you don't need a visa. Going through the customs was quick and easy, but soon I had my first "culture shock" at the Osaka Airport restroom. While I was washing hands, a woman janitor just decided to walk in the men's restroom and began cleaning while others were still, you know, doing their business at the urinals. According to Mike, who lived in Japan before, this is a very common thing. Totally weird!

To get to the hotel downtown, we had to take a train first, and then transfer to a subway. We successfully bought our train tickets at at the station by showing the name of our destination in writing to the ticket agent. He gave us a warm reception and kept talking to us in Japanese as if we actually understood what he was saying. The ticket was a bit pricey: 1390 Yen, which is approximately $14 USD. Th exchange rate is 90 some Yen to 1 USD, so I simply calculate as if 1 USD is 100 Yen. The picture below shows a normal train at the station. We actually took a different one with a bullet-shape head.

Normal train at the underground train station.

Inside the Rapit Bullet Train

Looking out from the Rapit Bullet Train

The Rapit Bullet Train was quite empty, however, we did have to seat at our designated seats. Quite to my pleasant surprise, it had English anouncements for stations. Between stations, a train attendent lady would walk the entire six cabins to check tickets. The attendent lay was extremely polite -- she would bow every single time when she entered or left a cabin. Since she walked back and forth, I saw her bowing probably at least 10 times.

At a transfer station, we had to transfer from the train system to the city subway system. It took us a long time because we weren't sure what tickets to buy and which subway to get on -- there was no human agent to help us this time. Eventually we just boldly jumped on a subway and luckily, it was the right now. The subway fare is much cheaper: 230 Yen, which is about $2.5 USD. Another interesting thing I noticed was that the train and the subways would always play nice short melodies to indicate the arrival or leaving a station. Unlike the train, the subway didn't have English announcement, so we had to count number of stops.

When we exited the subway station in downtown, there was a slight shower. Immediately I saw a Starbucks Coffee shop, a 7-Eleven, and a McDonald (shown below, sorry, a bit blurry) around us. Man, it feels just like home! However, we didn't have any instructions to follow from the station to the hotel, and we didn't even know which direction we were going (really started to miss the nice grid street system in Utah). We had hoped to be able to just spot the hotel (since it is a big unique-looking building), but there are many big buildings downtown, and we failed. The shower also began to get worse.

McDonald at downtown Osaka

Desperate, we stopped a girl on the street and showed her a picture of the hotel without even attempt to talk to her. The girl then replied and gave us instructions with perfect English -- What a miracle! Turned out the hotel was only a few minutes walk from the subway station exit, we just didn't know which direction to go.

People in Japan drive on the left side of the street. I don't really know why. They weren't a British colony as far as I know. They also walk on the left side of the street. I kept forgetting about it and kept bump into people. How rude of me!

City Plaza Osaka hotel right at downtown Osaka

We were sure glad to finally found our hotel and checked in. It is a very nice hotel, and the twin-bed room was much more spacious than I had expected (given the fact that this is in Japan). Soon I found more differences between the American culture and the Japanese culture.

In Japanese bathrooms, shower and bath are two different things and therefore use different parts of the room. Toilet is actually in a different room on the other side, and man, what a FANCY toilet!! I won't go into more details about it, but you can see the picture below and judge yourself.

Japnese style bath room with seperate shower area

Fancy Toilet System

Well, that's enough for today. Look out for more updates directly from Osaka Japan in my blog soon!

You don't need to know Japanese to survive Osaka, and I am the living proof!