Japan Set 1, Fitting In

Inescapable…

Travel and work often go hand in hand.  My body, for all intents and purposes, had not stopped moving for the past 84 hours as I stepped into the conference room with full winter gear on.  I was about to take part in the 1st day of another regional Sales Conference and over 8 hours of non stop presentations.  My colleagues and I were the last to enter the room.  Catching my breath, while surveying the room, the sight of over 300 suits packed in perfect tight formation with no room to spare made me take a few extra breaths.  There were over 25 rows of people sitting shoulder to shoulder with the next row of people just a few feet in front of them.  Not much room to move around and take notes.  I couldn’t even think about stretching my fingers, much less my legs.  The conference room was long and narrow.  Only a single thin walkway was unoccupied.  In the US, building code would have allowed no more than 100 people maximum in this room.  Not here.

Sensor: Canon 6D
Location: Asakusa, Japan – Looking over Tokyo, never ending in all directions

Japan-2013-7

“Back in Tokyo again,” I thought.

I wedged myself into a seat near the back of the room, touching elbows with two other people.  About an hour later, my head began to get to dizzy. I checked my watch, “Only 10AM?  But I had 2 cups of coffee this morning.”  Putting my head down to relax, I began blanking out periodically.  Looking back, I think it was the rising temperature created by 300 bodies.  Or was it the fact that all the oxygen was getting sucked out of the room?  Looking around, I thought, “Was anyone else feeling the same effects?” I didn’t see anyone crash in their seat. Come on… I can’t be the only one!  “Someone help! Please!”   Wait…did someone hear me?  (Despite the fact that I didn’t actually say anything) The local secretary looks to be adjusting the thermostat near her.  I think it was the thermostat.  I can’t read Japanese.  I wait for a few moments, minutes… or was it an hour, just waiting for cool air to kick in.  Nothing.  Even if I wanted to adjust the thermostat myself, I wouldn’t know which way to turn the knob.  For the next hour, I tried raising my head, hoping I could somehow gasp some untouched layer of oxygen in the room that no one was using.  Futility.

At this point you are probably thinking,  “Why doesn’t this idiot just get up and take a bathroom break? You’re an adult aren’t you?”  Well remember, I’m not getting much oxygen to my brain at this point, so I have the mental power of a 10-year-old.  All I can say is that I told myself that – In Japan, the culture is about conformity and one puts the group first.   I remember once reading a Japanese saying a few years back that said, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered!”  No one else was leaving, or getting up from their chair.  NO WAY was I going to be the first one!  I aim to be a WELL-traveled man of the world right?  I RESPECT country cultures!  NO WAY am I the ignorant foreigner!  I AM NOT “The Office” Corporate HQ buffoon who thinks he’s above everyone!

Okay… maybe at this point … I was thinking more like a mid-thirties idiot.

I don’t know how two hours passed, maybe I did pass out.  But I thought “I only need to make it to lunch time.” I could finally get out of this room and stretch my legs.  Five, four, three, two…  The second-hand finally meets the minute and hour hand at 12.  Yes!!! I made it!  In the distance, way in front of the conference room, the front doors swing open.   I can make out  that personnel are filing in with bento boxes stacked floor to ceiling.  They come rolling in on carts one after another.  Juice box carriers with flavored tea come in soon after.  The small team of people begin handing out these boxed lunches to each row of people.  I nudge my colleague next to me giving him a questioning expression.   Making a gesture pointing down to the bottom of his seat, he whispers to me, “I think we’re eating here.”  I look around, no one is moving besides the busy food handlers.  My jaw would have dropped to the floor if it wasn’t already wide open trying to suck down oxygen.

I looked down at the schedule.  Ahhhh!  4 more hours!  Maybe if I could keep myself busy, time will pass a lot faster.  I wasn’t worried about paying attention to the material. I was presenting later in the evening and had already seen most of the material more than once.  I couldn’t take out my phone.  I didn’t have cell service in Japan and had yet to pick up a local office cell phone.  I noticed one of my colleagues typing away on Outlook email. Could it be?? WiFi!!??  I turn on my computer, and begin searching for open networks.   Nothing… Turns out he was able to sync his Outlook before he left the hotel and was banging away on existing emails.  I look at the clock.  3 hours, 55 minutes to go….

Okay, okay, the least I can do is spare you the agony of the remainder of the afternoon.  Spoiler alert!!!  I, the hero of this piece, eventually over come the odds and survive to tell the story.  It really wasn’t that hard.  The doors behind me finally swung open and let in tidal wave of fresh air, and I finally took a chance at darting out during a change over of presenters to the bathroom.

Even though I hope to never experience that again, the close quarter Tokyo culture is one of the things that make it unique, and one of  the reasons why I think it’s awesome.  For example, the after work get-togethers in small eateries that would never be allowed where I live allows an intimate nibbling and dining experience that I actively seek out every time I go Japan.  Sushi, Tempura, Smoked skewers of meat, Miso Ramen… my tongue hanging out, my jaw again is on the floor.

While a picture of my suffering might have been more fun for all of you, I do not have one unfortunately.  But I will include a picture of a small smoked meat skewer hole in the wall.

Sensor: Canon 6D
Location: Shinjuku, Japan

Japan-2013-1

Here is one place where crowds, cramped spaces, and rising temperatures are something to be sought after.  Smoked meat and beer must help!

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