Wednesday, February 17, 2010

List of Things That I Want to See In Japan Before I Leave in August

Here is the list of all of the things that I want to see and do before I leave Japan in August. There is a lot more things that I'd love to see (such as Osaka, Fukuoka, Sendai, Sapporo, and the memorial in Hiroshima), but I will most likely not be able to visit those places because of my relatively tight schedule (I'm here on an internship, and there is a paucity of three-day weekends here), so most of my trips will be relegated to the Tokyo area. I'll update this list and cross off the things that I've already done.
  1. Visit Mt. Fuji and possibly climb it. Now, before you get any ideas of me climbing a steep mountain with bungee cords and other tools and gear, climbing Mt. Fuji is not like climbing Mt. Whitney or other similar mountains; it's not very steep and is pretty easy to climb. See this page for more information. I probably won't climb the whole thing, but I'd love to at least visit and try it for a few hours.
  2. Visit Kyoto and stay for a weekend. Kyoto is a showcase of Japan's traditional architecture and provides a glimpse of what Japan looked like before the Meiji era and industrialization. I've always wanted to go.
  3. Ride the Shinkansen, the famed bullet train. Why wait until 2025 to ride a bullet train in California when I can ride one right now in Japan?
  4. Visit some of the universities in the Tokyo area, including the famous University of Tokyo.
  5. Visit Akihabara, Tokyo's famed spot for anime, manga, and computer geeks. While I'm in Akihabara, browsing the manga stores and checking out the computer stores, I hope to have lunch at this maid café. For those of you who don't know what a maid café is, you can read the Wikipedia article.
  6. Watch the sakura (cherry blossoms) at a beautiful park in the spring. Here is an example of cherry trees blooming in Tokyo.
  7. Visit the Pokémon Center in Tokyo, a store officially owned by The Pokémon Company that sells nothing but Pokémon merchandise. (There's also another one in Yokohama, which is closer to my dorm in Kawasaki, but I specifically want to visit the Tokyo one). If it weren't for Pokémon, I probably wouldn't have bought my little Japanese dictionary in 1999 and started learning the language, and I probably wouldn't be in Japan right now. Here is a clip of somebody in the Pokémon Center.
  8. View the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo, during the day and at night.
  9. Visit the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum in Yokohama. There are plenty of ramen shops there. And, for those of you whose only experience with ramen is the instant kind, this museum deals with the non-instant kind, which is very delicious! Instant ramen is to real ramen as a frozen burrito is to a burrito straight from the kitchen in a taqueria. If you haven't had real ramen before, find a ramen shop near you!
  10. Visit rural Japan if I get the opportunity. It would be nice to explore the countryside here; I hear the culture and pace of life is different there than in the city.
  11. Sing at a karaoke bar. Once.
  12. Buy music. There are certain jazz albums made by American musicians that were only sold in Japan; I'd like to track them down while I'm here.
I'll add more things on this list as I think of them. And if you have any suggestions, feel free to comment!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My First Month at Fujitsu Labs in Kawasaki

Hello, everybody! I apologize for not updating this blog in nearly four weeks; I lacked a regular Internet connection during my first two weeks in Japan, and I have been very busy with work and also getting used to my surroundings here.

With that being said, my time here has been nothing short of awesome! My job with Fujitsu Labs is going very well. Currently I am in the research phase of my project, which is to design a cache using a solid state drive for a iSCSI raid system that will be implemented in the Linux kernel. (If you did not understand that past sentence, feel free to skip this paragraph). I work in the Cloud Computing Center at Fujitsu Labs with a team of about six other researchers. I work directly with one researcher (in fact, he sits next to me at work, so he gets to see what I'm doing, and we get to talk all the time), and I meet the other researchers once per week during a weekly lab meeting. During my first three weeks on the job, I read a stack of over a dozen research papers related to cache management. Some papers were much easier to read than others. I've been currently studying the Linux kernel source code, which is a challenge; this is the largest code base that I ever had to read. Not only that, documentation is scarce, and when I find documentation, it is most likely obsolete, since the kernel API is a moving target. Luckily, tools such as cscope and ftrace have been very helpful with figuring out the kernel source code, and my coworker has experience with the Linux kernel. After about another month or so, I will be moving on to the implementation phase of my project, which I am pretty excited about.

Working at Fujitsu is a little different from working at an American company. When I interned at Lockheed Martin, there were no specific shifts. Yes, I was expected to come in at work at a specific time (i.e., before the boss showed up), but as long as I came in at the normal time and worked eight hours that day, I was fine. Theoretically, it didn't matter if I started work at 6:00am or 7:30am (I usually arrived at 6:45am); as long as I came at a time where I was accessible to other coworkers and to my boss (and as long as I showed up before my boss did), I was fine. Fujitsu, however, has actual shifts that everybody has. My shift is from 8:50am to 5:40pm, with a lunch break between 12:20pm and 1:20pm. There are different shifts; there is a shift that starts at 8:10am, has a lunch break between 11:40am and 12:40pm, and leaves work at 5:00pm. There is a melody (which is actually soothing, by the way) that plays throughout the campus at these times. While we are still discussing the work schedule, I notice (and I expected this; I read about this a lot before coming to Japan) that very few people leave immediately after their scheduled work day ends. In America, you'd be shutting down your computer and putting things away in your disk when it's three minutes or so before you're done with work. Not in Japan. Nobody seems to be watching the clock as if they were waiting for an escape. And when the melody plays, people are still working hard at their desks as if they never heard it. It seems to me that the melody doesn't signal, "it's time to go"; instead, it signals, "it's time to finish whatever tasks are remaining for the day." However, I haven't heard of anybody staying until 8:00pm or 9:00pm like I've read online when researching the Japanese workplace. I usually leave work sometime between 6:00pm and 6:30pm, and the latest I left work was at 7:15pm. My coworker does the same; in fact, most days I don't leave until my coworker is finished, although on certain days where I'm really exhausted and can't read any more papers or source code, I leave just a few minutes after the melody plays, and there are no problems with that.

Another difference is the work environment. Now, because my lab (which has cubicles) is currently being renovated, some of my coworkers and I work in the main building on the Kawasaki campus, which is 20 stories high. (As an aside, on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji from the higher floors of the office). On the floor that we work on, there are no cubicles. Instead, there are long tables with computers and office chairs. Managers sit at individual desks that are at the end of a set of rows; there seems to be one manager for every two or three rows of connected desks that resemble long tables. Secretaries sit at the ends of a row (my work area has three secretaries and span four or five rows); they pass out fliers and other information to the other employees, communicate with HR representatives, and manage the office supplies; in order to request supplies such as paperclips or PostIt notes, I have to ask a secretary for it. One nice thing about this work environment is that I have immediate access to my coworkers; it's like working in a computer lab, except with a desk and cabinets. This makes collaboration very easy; there is no concept of separation in this environment. This also makes the manager's job a bit easier, since he is in clear sight of his subordinates.

I haven't had to use much Japanese on the job, since all of the academic papers that I've read are in English, and the Linux source code is written in C (programming languages are the same no matter where you are). My computer runs the Japanese version of Windows XP, but the Linux virtual machine that I do my work in has an English-language configuration. My main coworker, who is also my boss in some respects, speaks English fluently and has lived in America for two years. However, most other employees' English skills vary from functional to non-existent, and so I attempt to speak to them in Japanese. My weekly lab meetings are conducted entirely in Japanese, which is an interesting experience; there's something about attending a meeting and not understanding a lot from it. However, by being exposed to the language more and more, I get to learn more about how the language sounds (I personally think the language sounds beautiful and it flows very well), and I'm picking up more words each week. I converse (as best as I can) in Japanese with the secretaries, the staff at the conbini, and with other people at work. My coworkers and I hope that I will give my final presentation in late July or early August in Japanese. We'll see....

Fujitsu is very close to food. One perk that Fujitsu has is that it has a conbini (コンビニ, convenience store) located on one of the floors of the main building. It has many of the same items that off-campus convenience stores have, and it's easy to access. I go there during my lunch break to purchase snacks for the afternoon stretch of work. Fujitsu also has a cafeteria located on the same floor. The cafeteria's food prices are low, and the food tastes really good; it's not fancy restaurant quality (unlike Google's cafeteria in Mountain View, California; I had the pleasure of dining there back in July 2006 on a field trip and it's been my best cafeteria experience in my entire life; those employees are quite privileged! And it was free!), but it's still really good food. Across the street from Fujitsu is the Musashi-Nakahara train station. The train station has a shopping center called the "arukaado" (アルカード; I don't know what it means, since I never heard of an "alcade" before, and there is a different word for arcade), which is home to McDonalds, Japanese restaurants, two Chinese restaurants, plenty of food courts, a French-inspired bakery, dessert shops, a grocery store, and a drug store. I buy cheap and somewhat cold bento lunch boxes from the grocery store there, which cost ¥298. When I'm in the mood for something warm and something made-to-order, I have many choices available, all for less than ¥700.

Overall, my first month with Fujitsu Labs has been great. I'm making progress with the research part of my project, and I'm learning more about the Japanese workplace and about Fujitsu's work culture. Hopefully I will be speaking more Japanese as time goes by here.