What It’s Like Working in Tokyo

I recently saw something online about a blogging challenge: 21 posts in 21 days. I thought I might try it to inspire me to start blogging again. I can’t promise 21 posts in 21 days, but I will try to blog as much as possible this month.

For those who don’t know, I am currently working as a researcher at Hitachi Central Research Laboratory in Tokyo. In the video below, if you look closely, you can see me at 1:06.

To tell you what it’s like to work in Tokyo, I’ll take you through my day this past Friday.

I had a team meeting (Skype) at 9am but due to some unavoidable circumstances, I wasn’t going to make it to the office by then. Luckily, I had brought my laptop home the previous evening so I let my mentor know that I would attend the meeting from home and then go to the office after. When the meeting was over, I took a bus to the station (15 minutes’ ride), then took the train for 12 minutes, then walked for another 15 minutes to my desk.

At this time of the morning, the buses and trains had a number of empty seats. When the train/bus is almost full but not quite, choosing where to sit can be so mentally taxing, that a lot of Japanese people choose to stand instead. The goal is minimize any contact whatsoever because in Japanese culture, you don’t ever want to disturb other people. You have to “read the air” to know when it’s okay to sit or not. I have found myself doing the same, because living here for 5 years has changed me. Unless I am tired and then I don’t care. Even then, when I sit down, I have to gather and shrink myself and my belongings in order to occupy as least space as possible. I have to maintain as big as a distance as I can from other human beings. When that’s physically impossible, I still have to pretend to shift a bit or lean away.

I finally arrived in the office at around 11:30, picked up a coffee from the Cafe on the ground floor  and took the stairs to our office floor. I turned my nameplate around to announce my presence, and headed to my desk to check and respond to emails and other messages on our collaboration tools.  I planned my task list for the day and set about checking it off.

I am working on cloud research so of course I come across Microsoft’s Azure often, as well as Google Cloud Computing and Amazon Web Services. But let’s talk more about Azure. How do you pronounce it? I wondered. When I googled, this video came up:

I thought it was pretty funny so I shared it in our team’s random channel. Yes, we are mostly focused on work but we do have a channel for sharing random stuff like this.

I got engrossed in my tasks soon after until I heard the 12:15 bell. Because there are so many researchers, our cafeteria cannot accommodate us all at once so we go to the cafeteria in shifts starting from 11:30. This term, our shift is at 12:15. Of course you can eat whenever you want but out of consideration for everyone else, it is best to go at the allocated time.

The 12:15 bell coincided with a Skype ping from my lunch partner Vivi. She’s an Italian coworker with whom I have been having lunch with recently. Sometimes I eat lunch with my team members or other colleagues who joined at the same time (Doryo in Japanese 同僚). Rarely do I sit alone.

After lunch, we went for a walk around the pond in the beautiful forest surrounding our building. The trees are red and golden and wistful. Check our more photos on Instagram. Follow me there as well, yeah?

After lunch, I had a brief meeting to introduce our project to a new colleague from Egypt who is joining our team. We joked about how I am a sempai so soon after joining (I entered Hitachi in April this year).

I went back to my desk but my mind seemed to have entered Friday afternoon mode. I couldn’t focus so I went to the kitchen and fixed a cup of tea. I chatted briefly with a colleague in the same department before sitting down at my desk and soon after, I was able to get a bit work done until the 5 p.m. bell went off. Normally, when Jeremy (my son) was here, I left at exactly 5 p.m. to be home by 6 p.m. Nowadays, I leave at around 6 or 7 p.m., depending ….

Last Friday though, I had a dance practice session. On one of the days  this week, there will be a small event in the evening where they have invited some musician who’s a djembe drummer. Djembe drums are originally from West Africa. The organizers thought it would be nice if they had some people dance along to the rhythm of the drum and asked me if I wanted to lead that initiative. They knew I loved dancing, not because I’m black in case you are wondering, but because I had volunteered for a similar activity in the summer. I quickly mobilized a Rwandese colleague who is here on internship. Together, we have formed a small dancing team comprising of various nationalities including Indian, Italian, Japanese, Rwandese, Ghanaian and of course Kenyan. We’ve only had 2 practice sessions so far and we are far from ready but we’re going to have fun and that’s the most important thing.

After the practice session, I returned to my desk to clear everything and retire for the weekend.

Recently, I have been eating in the cafeteria before going home because I don’t have the desire to cook for just myself. This past Friday however, I was  joining some of my workmates for a dinner party at one of the Izakayas. We were having a set dinner and an all-you-can-drink course (nomihodai 飲み放題) for two hours.

However, how the dinner went and what happened after is a story for another day 🙂


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