Japan/Taiwan Business Trip / Vacation

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on here, but I figure I will start up again since I just got back from a two week stint in Japan/Taiwan. Both places were for business this time, however I took a few extra days in Japan to visit with friends and explore some of my old stomping grounds from when I lived in Japan.

First, to keep track, this was my seventh time flying to Asia. Below is a list of times/reasons I went to Asia:

  • July 2008 (Japan) – 1 year – Asahi Kasei Internship
  • April 2012 (Taiwan) – 2 weeks – TI Customer Project
  • June 2012 (Taiwan/Japan) – 3 weeks – TI Customer Project/Vacation
  • September 2012 (Beijing) – 1 week – TI Customer Debug
  • June 2013 (Shanghai/Japan) – 2 weeks – TI Training/Vacation
  • August 2013 (Taiwan) – 1 week – Customer Training
  • March 2014 (Taiwan/Japan) – 2 weeks – Customer/TI Training

As many times as I have been to Asia, that trans-pacific flight never gets easier. I’d say the most comfortable way is to fly direct to Tokyo from DFW. This way you get to minimize your time in crappy American airports and instead get to hang out eating ramen in the Narita airport if you need to transfer.

Also a good recommendation is to load your phone/tablet with as many movies and TV shows as you can. Sure, the flight will have inflight entertainment, however the aspect ratio and whole movie experience is completely distorted. This past time on my way to Japan the plane had an inflight entertainment of 12 Years a Slave. This movie, which received an academy award for its amazing and very serious/somber story, is the type of movie that should never be watched on a 4:3 aspect ratio with washed out brightness and audio quality that of a bootleg CAM release. Ender’s Game was also being shown and I refused to watch it for the same reason. Also, and maybe this is just me speaking as an engineer, but American Airlines seriously needs to replace their 30 year old resistive touch panels as half of them are broken and the other halve’s picture quality have been severely segregated from years of abuse.

But enough with the flight over there. I left Dallas at about 12pm on Saturday and arrived in Tokyo at about 4pm the next day (you fly over the international date line). Getting through customs was pretty uneventful and relatively painless. This time in Japan I decided that I would try to rent a portable WiFi router. Softbank offers this service for roughly $10 a day. I was able to pick up the router with ease (I made a reservation). In hindsight, I should have not rented the router. I found out later that T-Mobile now gives you free international roaming. The speed is not blazing (they cap it at about 150kbps), however it is “good enough” to use web, LINE, messaging, etc. The Softbank router had about a 1GB over 3 day cap, so defaulting to only use the T-Mobile roaming would have been the best way to go.

Normally, if I am on my own dime, I will take the regular train into Tokyo from Narita (which roughly runs about $20). This time, since it was the company’s dime and traveling to Yokohama, I decided to spring the money for the high speed Narita Express to Yokohama. The train was definitely a welcome improvement over the regular train as it had cushy leather seats and copiously air conditioned cars. After a jet-lagged hour and a half on the train I arrived in Yokohama. I’ve been to Yokohama station more times that I can count so I was able to find the Yokohama Bay Sheraton without issue. After checking in, ordering some overpriced Udon room service, and taking a shower I passed out for the night.

The next morning I was greeted with the lovely view from my hotel room. In the corner I could see Yokohama Bay:

View from Yokohama Sheraton Room

Traveling for business, the hotels normally tend to come with breakfast. I have to say that Sheraton Yokohama really did well with their breakfast buffet. Pretty much every type of food imaginable and the staff was extremely friendly and service oriented. Since I was still a little bit jet lagged, it was to be a light day in the Yokohama office. Pretty uneventful (and I make it a point not to talk about work on the blog), so I am not going to go into much detail about the work. I will say that we visited one customer on this day in Minato-Mirai and I was instantly jealous about the view from their office:

View from Customer Office

In the evening, I went to a Japanese style izakaya that was near the Yokohama office for ample shares of beer and food. One food that I always make a point to eat in Japan is a sort of raw horse meat that is served with garlic and miso paste. In the States, you can’t order horse meat at a restaurant. In Europe/Asia however, while maybe a bit luxury it is actually fairly common. The texture is like very tender beef and it very deliciously melts in your mouth:

Raw Horse

The next day I went to the Shinjuku office to give some training to a few FAEs. The training/work went pretty well, however that night was definitely the high point of the culinary adventures on this trip. I went with a few FAEs (some of which I had known from my first trip to Asia for TI) to a Okinawa Restaurant in Shinjuku. The food was awesome and it was all-you-can-drink for a good couple of hours. My favorite included this one seaweed dish that is really indescribable. It is like a cluster of balled up seaweed that is very juicy and exploded in your mouth when you eat it:

Weird Seaweed at Okinawa Izakaya

I also had a “high ball” drink which consists of soda water and Suntory scotch:

Japanese High Ball

Other favorites included a seaweed tempura, a very fatty pork dish, and a very strong Okinawa alcohol called Awamori. Overall the entire night was that of a typical company outing in Japan- one that involved copious amounts of alcohol, leisurely work talk, delicious food, and a ride on the last train back to the hotel. It really made me reminiscent about my own time working at a Japanese company. After the Okinawa restaurant, we went to a smaller Shinjuku restaurant for yet more drinks and delicious food. After that, it was close to 1am and we decided to call it a night.

The next day was strictly business and was overall very productive. I went to a couple of different sushi restaurants with coworkers, however the day was pretty uneventful. At night I wanted to take a break from drinking so I went to a combini and bought some nostalgic snacks/food. I bought some Asian pear Fanta and some chilled ramen that I always used to eat when I lived in Japan. I am pretty sure it is considered a cheap meal in Japan, however it was very nostalgic and I am glad I ate it:

Nostalgic Combini Food

I did manage to give some of the Texas souvenirs that I had bought to all of the coworkers in the Yokohama and Shinjuku office (over that past few days). If you ever go to Japan, be sure to bring copious amounts of souvenirs to give to friends/coworkers (this is tradition). I bought a bunch of Texas pecan sweets for all of my coworkers:

Texas Souvenirs

The next day marked the end of my business in Japan and the start of my few day vacation. I switched hotels to the Shinjuku based Century Southern Tower. I definitely recommend this hotel as it is a short walk from Shinjuku station and is very clean/comfortable. The view is great too and you can see the Tokyo Sky Tree from the lobby. It’s a bit pricey, however I had used my miles to get a subsidized price.

Sky Tree in Distance from Shinjuku Hotel

That day, after switching hotels, I met up with a Japanese friend that I knew from Texas Tech. She had been in Lubbock for a three month rotation for her company and we had kept in touch over the years. After a quick sushi lunch in Shinjuku station, we went to the Ebisu beer garden. This is definitely a great place to go to while in Tokyo. The tour costs about 500 yen and gets you two beers along with a tour of the museum. Ebisu is my favorite Japanese beer (and unfortunately you cannot get it outside of Japan), so the entire experience was great!

Ebisu Beer Museum

Ebisu Stout

After a great couple of drinks in the beer museum coupled with some gourmet cheeses, we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a great night view. This is one of the few free night views that you can get in Tokyo.We decided to have dinner up there (it is overpriced, but you are paying for the view). I recommend just going up to the top and going to the bar for a drink or two. The view is pretty awesome and you don’t even need to go to the bar.

View from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The following day I decided that since the weather was so gorgeous that I wanted to go for a hike. I was originally going to go to Yoyogi Park, however I decided to go to Enoshima Island instead and enjoy the beach view. It is about an hour away from Shinjuku Station by means of the Odakyu Line. Enoshima Island is really awesome. After getting out of the station, you are surrounded by a bustling seaside town. You walk across a big bridge and get to a traditional Japanese island that is fully equipped with a Japanese temple. It is a great day trip and the views of the ocean are unmatched. I remember going up to one of the Pacific Ocean views and thinking, “on the other side is California.” I also decided to opt for going up in the Enoshima tower and was not disappointing by the stunning views. Overall a worthy day outing.

Enoshima Island

Great View!

Temple on Enoshima Island

After a great hike/walk, I returned to my Shinjuku hotel to prepare for the night. I had planned to go to the city I used to live in to visit a frequented restaurant with coworkers from my old company. I can’t count the number of times that I have been to GINAS at Hon-Atsugi, but it is always a blast. The night was full of nostalgic talk with coworkers and also huge (even by American standards) hamburgers. The owner (Shinobu) is always very friendly and I definitely will be back.

Me with Shinobu/Jenny from GINAS

Coworker with the “big” hamburger

After getting back to the hotel room at about 2am, I fell quickly asleep. The next day I had a few things planned. An old coworker from my previous company in Japan had invited me out to a Sakura flower viewing in Japan (hanami). There are only a few weeks during the year when you can see the Sakura trees blossom so I was very lucky to be in Japan during this time. I was even more lucky to be invited to an actual party considering I was a migrant. While I was a little bit early for the full bloom, I went to Shinjuku-gyoen. There were plenty of trees in bloom and it was overall a really good time. It was interesting talking to my coworker’s wife and her friend who were both Chinese. I try to practice Chinese as much as possible, however this was the first time I felt like I could have a conversation (even if it was drastically simple) in Chinese. Overall a great time!

Sakura Trees in Shinjuku Gyoen

Thanks to my friend for the invitation!

That night I met up with a friend (the same from the Ebisu day) and we went to another Japanese restaurant. At this restaurant we had enough sashimi to feed a family for a week along with a huge grilled onigiri. After that, we went to Harajuku for a short walk and also so that I could buy a few souvenirs for friends.

Tons of Sashimi

Big Onigiri

This night marked my last night in Japan for this trip. It was a very humbling trip and made me genuinely reminiscent of the year that I spent in Japan working for a Japanese company. Both inside and outside of work I was able to speak in Japanese quite frequently. This was really humbling to me as it was good to know that my Japanese is still sharp after all these years. I really hope to be back soon and like to thank everyone for hanging out with me.

The next day I had a flight to catch to Taipei early in the afternoon. After checking out of the hotel, taking an express skyliner from Nippori, and checking in at Narita, I was off to Taipei. Heading west, the flight from Tokyo to Taipei takes about four hours. I’ve done this flight multiple times, however this was the first time that I was not jetlagged (I don’t normally stop in Japan first). I flew JAL, which is an amazing airline and 100x better than any American airlines. I really can’t stress this enough- American based Airlines really suck as far as service goes. I can’t complain too much because at the end of the day I am getting into a small metal tube and flying across the world- but the common theme on this whole trip was that American Airlines treated you like prisoners while Japanese Airlines treated you like customers.

After arriving in Taipei, I quickly went through customs and got my luggage. I took a taxi to the Shangri La Far Eastern hotel. This is by far my favorite hotel in the world. The view of Taipei 101 is simply amazing and the service/quality of the hotel is unparalleled. The pool on the 42nd floor is also quite amazing! The breakfast buffet at the Shangri-La always makes my mornings great and has food from all over the world.

Pool at Shangri-La Taipei

View from roof of Shangri-La

Shangri-La Breakfast – with Ooolong Tea

Also, as it turns out, since I had stayed at this hotel so frequently in the past I had accrued about $650 USD worth of food/drink vouchers. Granted you could only spend $200 at one sitting, it definitely made it worthwhile to go eat and have a great meal with friends. On the last night I went out with a coworker/friend to the bar on the 6th floor and ordered a $60 glass of scotch.

Expensive Scotch!

Not going to talk about work here- other than it was productive and the customer visits seemed to go very well. The employees at the Taipei office are really nice and are very sharp when it comes to their work. During the nights, I went out with friends that I used to know from Taipei. I went to karaoke with them (and sang Chinese songs) and also went to the night market to buy a case for my new iPhone:

iPhone Wood Case

I was very happy that I could hang out with my friends from Taipei and hope that I can hang out again with them very soon. On the last day, I randomly met someone working at the Taipei office that went to the same university as me (Texas Tech). We went out with another coworker (and another friend of mine) to a traditional Taiwanese restaurant that included tons of delicious food and cold beer. After spending another $200 of vouchers at the Shangri-La bar, we called it a night.

The next day was the day that I flew back to America. After waking up early and meeting a friend for breakfast, I took a taxi to the airport. The flight going back is actually shorter (because of jet streams) and I transferred in Tokyo. Overall the trip was very productive and very fun. It was one of the more memorable trips as it wasn’t overly stressful and full of customer debug/support situations. I had a lot of very fond memories and am very happy I had the chance to practice my Japanese/Chinese. I hope I can go back soon (maybe even for an extended period of time) and visit and hang out with all of my friends!

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