Thursday, August 23, 2012

My First Business Trip To Sasayama

"Ookini Sasayama"
which means "arigatou Sasayama"


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Took off from Tokyo station, on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line.

Unlike most of other Japanese companies, there's no summer holiday or Obon-yasumi (several days of holiday in conjunction of the Bon festival) for me. To make up that, I was assigned to a one-week business trip-cum-holiday (self-declare one lol!) in the Kansai region a fortnight ago. The destination was in the city of Sasayama (篠山) in Hyogo prefecture. I don't think anyone had heard of this city before this; so do I haha!

The trip to this city from the heart of Tokyo took us about half a day. We boarded the bullet train from Tokyo station which was bound for Shin-Osaka, and after a two-and-a-half hour journey, we arrived in Shin-Osaka. To reach Sasayama, we then took a local train on the Fukuchiyama Line (福知山線), which I later found out was where the massive rail crash happened in 2005.

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Our train was the Nozomi 363, which took off at 14:20 hours, stopping at four stations - Shinagawa, Shin-Yokohama, Nagoya and Kyoto.

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The classic bullet-nose of the bullet train, or more commonly known as the "shinkansen" in Japan.

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N700 series on Nozomi, that reaches the top speed of 300km/h. The trip between Tokyo and Osaka, a distance of 515 kilometres, 
takes 2 hours 26 minutes on the fastest Nozomi.

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Got reserved seats this time, but unfortunately, not the green car like what we had during the trip to Fukuoka last year haha!

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Tickets from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka and from Shin-Osaka to Sasayamaguchi.

Just a couple of interesting facts about the bullet train which I picked up from its Wikipedia page. First is about its punctuality. In 2003, JR Central reported that the Shinkansen's average arrival time was within six seconds of the scheduled time. This includes all natural and human accidents and errors and was calculated over roughly 160,000 Shinkansen trips completed. The previous record, from 1997, was 18 seconds.

Secondly, its magnificent safety record. During the Shinkansen's 45-year, nearly 7 billion-passenger history, there have been no passenger fatalities due to derailments or collisions, despite frequent earthquakes and typhoons in Japan.

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 The journey in the bullet train was never boring when you get to see these kind of breathtaking views through the window.

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Scenery like this is definitely a perfect getaway from the packed city life.

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Upon arriving in Shin-Osaka, we transferred into a local train and the train has a retro-looking interior, including the cute little pocket to place your tickets 
on the top section of the seat.

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After traveling for more than 600 kilometers, we finally arrived at our last stop - Sasayamaguchi station!

Finally, after more than four hours of train ride, we finally arrived at our destination - Sasayamaguchi station. As what we have been told earlier, there's almost nothing in this city. With all due respect to the people of Sasayama, actually that is the truth. Upon arriving at the station, we realised that we were surrounded with mountains, as what I have seen from the Google map when I checked it out before we went there lol!

We took a short walk from the station to the one and only hotel in the city - Holompia Hotel. Kinda weird name, isn't it? At first, we thought it was called Colombia Hotel haha!

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This is roughly how the town looks like. At least I spotted some well-known restaurants like McDonalds and Sukiya.

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When my senior came here three years ago, he stayed at this same hotel as well.

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Holompia Hotel. As if they don't have other better name for their hotel lol!

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Anyway, for a hotel in the middle of a kampung, the room turned out not bad. Cannot complain too much haha!

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I spent my first night watching the Olympic badminton men's singles final between Chong Wei and Lin Dan.

Unfortunately for me, I left my laptop's power cable behind and I only managed to catch part of the match. Probably it was already planned for me, because my laptop died on me the moment Lin Dan clinched the gold-medal point. Whatever it is, we all know Chong Wei has given his best in the Olympics. Another great news is that a few days later, our golden girl, Pandelela Rinong Pamg became the first woman to win a medal in the Olympics - a bronze medal in the 10m platform.

The next morning, it was time to head to the factory, about ten kilometers away from the hotel. It was the first time that we got to see more of the town during the 15-minute taxi ride to the factory. Most of the area is covered with paddy fields, surrounded by hills and mountains. There were hardly any big shops or restaurants. In fact, the convenience stores were kinda limited. I spotted only Lawson and Family Mart there.

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After breakfast and before we head to work, I took some time to catch some fresh air at the paddy field.


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Time to work, but not at the paddy field though lol!

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The breathtaking scenery we see every day we travel to work. I wish I can see this in Tokyo.

Our job here basically is similar to the ones we did back in Roppongi, which is to do upgrades on the operating system (OS) of the users' computers, and on some cases, exchange their old computers for new ones. There is however, one big difference we gotta endure here in Sasayama factory. It was the changing clothes process. 

Anyone who enters the factory is required to put on a special set of uniform, as part of their security and industry policy. We had to strip everything away, yes, I'm not kidding you, it was basically e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g!!! And then, put on their uniform. As there are several zones inside the factory, there are also different sets of uniforms for each zones. So, for example you are going to Zone 3 and then Zone 2, you gotta strip twice lol!

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The working room which is kinda like our HQ, where we carried out all the technical tasks.

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All of us were pretty excited to put on the uniform that made us look like egg man lol!

Another difference is that the users in Sasayama are generally much friendlier than those in Tokyo. Well, I guess it is common to find people living in smaller towns and villages to be more kind and loving. They talked to you as if you have known them for some time. They tell jokes and laughed together, which made the job less stressful.

At the same time, I also managed to pick up a few Kansai dialect along the way. I actually find it funny when I heard the way they speak Japanese, in the Kansai dialect. However, it would be rude and they might feel offended if I laugh at their dialect. So, I just tahan myself from laughing lol! But guess what, after a couple of days, I find myself speaking a little like them haha! 

My Japanese senior told me that it's better for us outsiders (i.e. coming from other regions in Japan) not to imitate their dialect because it is something like making a fool out of them. Imagine going to Kota Bharu in Kelantan and telling the locals, "Ambo suko kote baru" haha wtf! Just speak standard Japanese with them and there will be no problem.

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Usually people watch the sunset at the sea. Not often you get to see such a magnificent sunset in a small town.

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Para Para Restaurant, located just in front of our hotel.

There is only three restaurants within walking distance from our hotel. One of them is a family restaurant - Para Para, in which we took our dinner for five straight evenings there lol! As there aren't any source of entertainment after work, we usually spend an hour or two at the restaurant, talking about the day's work, who got the most misscalls from Mr M, and of course, lame jokes.

One of them is about ushigaeru. We were talking about a pet shop in Ameyoko at Ueno, where one of us saw some huge creatures which is commonly known as ushigaeru. In Japanese, ushi means "cow", while kaeru translates to "frog". So, we casually asked another one of our Japanese colleague, Yoshida-san what ushigaeru is called in English. He thought about it for ten seconds, and after he looked at us and with full of confidence, he said, "COWFROG!!!" haha wtf!

That was the best joke of the whole trip that now his new nickname is "cowfrog".

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The crazy team that went to Sasayama for one week. Guess which one is the "cowfrog" haha!

During one of the taxi ride back to hotel after work, the driver lamented about how boring his hometown is, which has nothing at all. Sometimes by the time he returns home, his wife and kids will be sleeping, and he will grab a can of beer from the fridge and drink by himself, alone. We felt for him, really. During the whole ride, all of us but Sato-san talked to him as the driver uses deep Kansai dialect which Kulatunga and I don't understand much lol!

On another taxi ride, the driver told us how the factory we went used to be a paddy field. Now we understand why there's so many frogs around the factory. These frogs are like magnets you stick on the fridge, they would stick everywhere - walls, windows, and sometimes your body lol! And since their home has been conquered and turned into a factory, the frogs must be very angry and that is why they are everywhere around the factory lol!

On our final day, during the taxi ride we were discussing about who is returning to Tokyo on the same night, and who will wanna stay a night and return the next day. The three of them wanted to return immediately (maybe they just wanna escape from Sasayama as soon as possible lol!), but I decided to stay another night. Rushing back to Tokyo on the same day, after a tiring day of working, just isn't my thing.

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My first up-close contact with Japanese paddy. 

However, they started creating story, asking me if I dare to stay alone in the hotel. Besides, it is a Friday evening and most people would be leaving the hotel. They started making stories that there's ghosts at the hotel. Although I'm kinda afraid of these kind of stuff, I just brushed them away and say nothing will happen. Then, the taxi driver interrupted our conversation. 

"You guys are staying in Holompia Hotel isn't it? Yeah, that hotel is famous for its ghosts stories and everyone knows that those ghosts usually come out on Friday nights!"

The moment I heard that, I told everyone in the taxi, "OK! I'm going back with you guys, tonight!"

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