Travels with Lois and Jason

Japan February 6 - 17, 1993

This was our first experience in Asia and we were so excited about going. It really was super, but what an exhausting trip -- 5 hotels in 10 nights, 4 cities, 5 universities, one BIG conference-- all between Feb 6 - 17th. Apple Computer invited Jason to speak at the Higher Education Conference which was held as part of MacWorld in Tokyo (actually Chiba City which is about 30 miles from downtown Tokyo), and to then tour with them to visit some universities. Lois of course was  the accompaning spouse. We learned a LOT and it was a very different and exciting experience. All we can say is that we're sure glad Apple was paying the bill -- with coffee at $5 per cup, no way we could have afforded (or at least enjoyed) spending the money for this trip!

Jason's presentation was to approximately 360 university people, dominantly from Japan. The audience could wear ear phones and there was simultaneous translation from English to Japanese. He was told to speak very slowly and to not use my hands, but neither trait fits him very well.   At the start of his talk he stood at attention and was so focused on speaking slowly that he couldn't remember his lines. He had planned to open with the following: "I usually open my presentation with a joke, but I understand that here in Japan it's customary to begin with an apology. So, I'd like to begin by apologizing for not telling a joke." But, he was so nervous and focused on not using his hands and speaking slowly, he forgot to tell the joke! Lois said it was the best speech she ever heard him give!

First let us review our itenary and then some of our observation on Japan itself.  This narriative ends with some notes on our university visits.

Our daily adventures

Before leaving, we decided to try a "jet-lag diet idea," but skipped the part about omitting chocolate, and focused instead on changing our bio-clocks. We did this by changing our real-clocks to Tokyo time the night before leaving.  We went to bed Friday night right after dinner and got up at midnight, stayed awake about 8 hours and then slept, etc. It worked for us and it really minimized the problem with exhaustion. We did the same coming back and it worked that way too.

We departed Los Angeles Saturday morning, February 6th and arrived Narita airport (about 50 miles from Tokyo) Sunday evening the 7th. After about 1 1/2 hours at the airport, we left for Tokyo via bus, arriving at our hotel (New Otani) about 2 hours later.  When we woke the next morning, from our window we could see Mt. Fuji. We were told that you could only see Mt. Fuji three days a month. We saw it both mornings!

Monday we took a commercial tour of Tokyo and saw the sights. Monday night we had dinner with five Anderson alumni and one prospective student. It was a very enjoyable evening at a very formal French restaurant! A couple of the alumni graduate 15 and 20 years ago, the rest were within the past five years. They had questions about faculty changes and the new building. Tuesday we took the subway (or train) to the Big Budda of Karmarunda (30 miles from Tokyo station). Tuesday night we met our Apple hosts and they took us to a Japanese country style restaurant (almost along the line of Benihana's here in LA). We chose what we wanted to eat, and then they prepared the food on a BBQ in front of us. The cook used a long paddle, like a row from a row boat, to hand us our food.  We had interesting foods!

Wednesday morning we wandered the streets of Tokyo to observe and enjoy the local area.  After lunch we headed for the conference center in Chiba City.  We traveled by cab as we had a 50 pound box of printed Annual Survey reports plus our luggage.  The cab took two hours for the 30 mile drive since traffic was so bad, and the fare was over $100. Ouch!   Apple had booked us at the New Tsakamoto Hotel, three subway stops from the conference center.  There was no place to eat but at the hotel, and dinner for both of us ( 3 oz. steak and rice) was $140. Coffee at most places was $5 a cup, but we found we could get a filling meal at the plastic food places (see below) for under $20.

Jason spoke Thursday morning and Friday afternoon we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to spend the weekend in Kyoto (360 miles or 2 1/2 hours away). The Shinkansen was very smooth and quiet. Each train was 15 cars long and about 100 people (reserved seats) per car. The trains all seem to run about 90% full, and they ran every seven minutes most of the day! We arrived at the Kyoto International Hotel about 5:30 that afternoon. It was the cutest and smallest room of the trip. Our toilet was one of the new type with automatic tushi washer. Actually there were two extra buttons: one to spray you back side and one for the front. Great fun! (The best part of this story is that the textbook Jason was using for his class (2020 Vision, which refers to the year 2020) has as its first chapter "The Age of the Smart Toilet"!

Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan with dozen of temples and shrines. Saturday morning we got a bus pass and spent the day on-off busses going from place to place. It was fascinating. We found a local shopping area and ate their both Friday and Saturday nights (and bought pastry and took it back to our room to have with tea). Since our hotel was right across from the Nijo Castle, we started there Sunday morning and ended with the Golden Pagoda Temple before heading for the Shinkansen and Tokyo.

Monday was spent visiting the universities in Tokyo, and then flying to Osaka (about 1 hour away). We took a 747 which had only one class of seats, and was packed sardine style. We stayed at the Terminal Hotel. When we arrived at the Osaka airport, there was a limousine (one of two Lincoln Town car in all of Japan) which we took to the hotel. Tuesday Jason went with his Apple hosts to the Himeji and Kyoto universities, followed by a banquette in Kyoto with real Japanese splendor. We sat on the floor and the food included raw egg for us to dip the cooked food into. (He's still here to tell about it, so it must have been OK.)  Actually, between all the saki and beer, Jason wasn't really sure what he was eating (and nor did he care!).  (The sitting on the floor part was real interesting:  the head table had a sunken floor below the table so you could extend your legs down and be real comfortable;  for the tables around the room you had to fold your feet below you.)

Lois stayed in Osaka and went walking and sitting in a small park reading.  That evening she had the best meal, food wise, of the trip at the hotel dining room.  But she was alone, creating quite a stir amoungst the dining staff as we'll describe below.

Wednesday was spent flying from Osaka to Narita on a 9 AM flight, taking a train to the town of Narita (a couple miles from the airport), walking and eating there, and then back to the airport. We had changed our clocks, so we napped in the afternoon. We left Narita at 7:00 PM on 2/17 and arrived in LA at 7:00 PM on the 17th

Our observations

Just before we left for Japan a friend gave us the Michael Crichton novel Rising Sun to read. It presented a very a view of Japan that made us weary.  Fortunately, the book and reality were somewhat different:  individual people were always extremely pleasant, but there were lots of very different things from a cultural perspective.

First, we still have trouble with the idea that Japan has 50% of the population of the US in a land area smaller than California, and with 80% of the land uninhabitable. Coming from LA, one of the most diverse cities in the history of the world, we found the homogeneity of everything (people, places, things) very uncomfortable. Getting along, fitting in, not being different, following rules, all suddenly made perfect sense. The people were orderly, the streets spotless (no graffiti, no litter -- really clean). But, the people were also very rigid, and we had a few experiences which were so shocking to me.

The first really extraordinary experience was at Waseda University. We were all to meet our Japanese hosts at the faculty dinning room at 2:00. The five in our party arrived a few minutes early and we used the toilets (another story, see below). Four of us were ready to be seated so the dining room hostess put us at a table for four. Even though our Apple host explained there were five we were not allowed to change tables, and we were not allowed to add a fifth chair to our table. We were told that this behavior was quite normal. The fifth person sat at a second table (for eight), alone, until the Waseda folks arrived.

Lois had a similar dining expereince at the Terminal Hotel in Osaka.  As we said, she spent the day alone.  For dinner  she went to the restaurant on the 30th floor which has a spectacular view of the city.  She asked to sit by a window, but she was not allowed to because she was not with a man.  She was put at a table by the back wall, away from any direct lines of vision. 

Another striking experience with rigidity was on the bullet train from Himeji to Kyoto. Our Japanese host had purchased bentos (box lunches) at the train station. The bento came in a manila envelop which contained a square wooden box about 8 inches on a side and an inch deep. The bottom was like foil lined cardboard glued to the wood, and the top was similar, but held on by two rubber bands which went around the entire box. Inside were a pair of wooden chop sticks inside a paper sleeve and the food. When Jason finished his lunch (of interesting things which he finished fast) he simply put the entire set of things into the large plastic bag which they all came in. However, when the Japanese hosts finished eating, the chop sticks when back into the sleeves, the sleeve back into the box, the rubber bands back around the box, the box back into the manila envelop, and that was properly disposed of in the trash. As we said earlier, the streets, trains, buses, etc., were spotless.

Our cabbies all wore white gloves and ties and all cabs had nice white (recently washed and ironed) seat covers. When people were not feeling well, they wore a mouth cover like a surgical mask. This is taught in elementary school, and we saw children and old people wearing these. No one wore a hat. The temperature was below freezing most of the time we were there, but no one wore a hat.  We don't know what that means.

We saw a hand full of street people in one subway station. We were told that family ties are still extremely strong and they take in relatives rather than suffer the humiliation of having one of their own on the street.

Even though the people are orderly, the cities and country-side seem chaotic. Someone explained that during the war, much had been destroyed. There were (are) no zoning laws so people build were and what and how they wanted. High rise apartment complexes (called "mansions") where one on-top-of-another. No yards, minimal space. Mansions next to farms next to factories next to single family homes. Building materials also seem to be whatever was at hand -- tin, wood, plaster, concrete. We saw only one or two play grounds, no parks, no place for privacy. Maybe 1% of the buildings were with the "oriental" architecture or pagoda roofs. Almost all were western style, like what we have here. The "country-side" along the train tracks was the same eclectic mix of factories, mansions, farms, whatever.

One of our Apple hosts was an American now living in Japan. He indicated his first mansion was two bedroom shared by two couples. The kitchen and bath were also shared. This apparently is quite common. We were told there are "love hotels" available on hourly basis, which are visited by all sorts, including married couples who are looking for a bit of privacy.

The trains and subways were mobbed, but always orderly. People lined up to get on the subways and there was minimal pushing and shoving. The subways went everywhere, moving massive numbers of people. Directions were in kanji and usually with the romaji directions in small print, and a real challenge to find. We did learn one kanji character, for exit (a box). At one station, we couldn't even find that and kept asking people to help us get out. With our trusted subway map, we did OK.

Language wasn't too big of a problem, we just didn't talk to anyone. When at the hotel desk our first morning, some other Americans came and asked the clerk to write directions somewhere for them. We were fast learners and never left the hotel without a name card for the hotel written in kanji, and later on we had the clerks write other directions for us so we could show people what we needed. It worked very well. We also found we could ask people (youngish) if they spoke English, and always found someone who could help us. We were told that every college graduate had six years of English training, but very few could speak, or actually had heard, American standard English spoken. We were introduced to an English teacher in one situation and the lady could not speak English at all.

The Japanese use plastic food (a big business there) as their menus. Outside most shops were displays of what they made. When we walked into a shop, almost immediately the owner (or someone) would usher us outside to the display, we'd point, and they'd go away and make the stuff. We had lots of pot-stickers and noodle dishes. We drank the water and ate everywhere without hesitation or problems.

The Japanese are discouraged from using credit cards when they travel. When we went to purchase our ticket for Kyoto at the central Tokyo train station (a venerable city to itself), to use or credit card we had to go to a special window. There were probably 25 ticket windows, but only one accepted credit cards. It had a line of maybe 15 people, and the clerk was especially slow. There were people ahead of us who changed lines and paid cash rather than stay put.

Notes on our university visits

The American speakers, accompanied by local Apple personnel, visited Waseda and Tokyo International Universities in Tokyo, Kyoto and Reimuske Universities, both in Kyoto, and Himeji Dokkyo University on the outskirts of Osaka. Waseda and Kyoto were selected as two of the top universities in Japan, while the other three were selected as Apple felt they were among the most innovative in Japan. Unfortunately we spent literally more hours traveling to each school than in our visits, which lasted about an hour and half each. Basically we met as a large group with people responsible for planning and implementing computer technology at the various schools. At Waseda Jason met individually with a 1978 grad of AGSM in accounting, and currently a professor of accounting and information systems at Waseda.

Overall, from an IT perspective, from what we saw, both Waseda and Kyoto Universities are currently about where UCLA was in the early '80s. The entire focus is around supporting centralized mainframe computing. The "labs" we were shown were terminal based timesharing environments with Pascal, C, FORTRAN, SAS, and Lisp as the available software. Decentralized facilities with application oriented software were not available, and we did not get the sense that these were even being considered. Microcomputers cost about double what they do in the States, so individual ownership was minimal. Many faculty had computers in their offices, networked to the mainframe to be used in a timesharing fashion. However, it wasn't clear if these were just terminals or actually micros. Neither of the major schools asked us questions about the introduction or use of microcomputers, nor asked about specific application software.

In contrast, the three "second tier" schools saw the introduction and use of microcomputers as a means of differentiating themselves. They were keen to introduce micro labs similar to those we have here in the States. They asked extensive questions about what we had, how it was managed, arranged, and used. Their single most important application area, and for which most of the questions were asked, was software to assist with teaching English to their students.

The use of software applications like word processing and spreadsheets did not seem in wide spread use. Part of this is the difficulty of using kanji characters (symbols which represent words and ideas) and the need to use a phonetic alphabet (romaji, i.e., roman characters used to type hiragana or Japanese symbols for the various sounds of a word which the computer uses to translate to the proper kanji characters). Typing in romaji requires two key strokes for each hiragana symbol to be produced. The "computer literate" people we spoke with typed their Japanese in romaji (Roman characters) rather than having it translated to kanji. (As an aside, when in Sweden two years ago, one of the professors we met with indicated he selected his children's names using only Roman characters so that they could type them on a computer -- we guess similar phenomena are occurring in Asia.)

Well, we hope this is enough for a while. We barely finish writing this thesis and we've got to get ready for our next set of trips. We go to NY for the second week of April and then on to England for ten days (Jason speaks in Manchester, but then we're taking a week for ourselves.) And then we have China in June (Lois is going with a set of doctors and nurses, and Jason will be the accompanying spouse), so its will be a pretty full year (Asia twice, so we guess when it rains it pours!). 

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Jason Frand
February 22, 1993