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Jul 27, 2016

An 'Engineer in the East'


Joe's Blogs; The latest updates from our colleague in Japan. 

 Cherry Blssom time!

What would spring be in Japan with Sakura? That’s a rhetorical question, please don’t talk to your computer screen.  Yes, with a Spring nip in the air and more than a few cherry buds on the tree, Sakura is beginning to burst forth in to the greater Tokyo region.  This year we decided to take in the Sakura (viewing the Sakura in Japan is an event in of itself in Japan, it has a name and everything, 花見 Hanami) with Natsumis two best South Korean chums, Hyejun Shin and Zeyun, two recent arrivals to Japan.  Hanami festival is in essence a chance to get drunk in public with no one batting an eyelid… because they’re all at it! However we opted for a more sensible festival and grabbed a few coffees and all the festival food at hand to chow down on under the ghostly luminescent canopy of cherry blossoms that burst forth from all the parks and river banks through Tokyo.

 I couldn’t recommend this time of year more for potential travellers visiting Tokyo, the climate is perfect and Japan undergoes a dramatic transformation that is mind boggling, the calciferous bare bones of Japans stark winter erupt with a thick bloom of effervescent greens, and if you are here at just the right time, in a place that is just so, you will be rewarded by this wonderful celebration of spring and nature that sweeps the nation from south to north as the whole country warms collectively and blossoms.

    

 Spring has sprung!!

 Spring hath sprungeth on us again here in Tokyo, it crept up on us silently but with welcome arms outstretched, offering warmer/sunnier days daintily furnished with pretty spring flowers.  With the grand green return of Japans flora imminent, Natsumi and myself headed up to the lakes and mountains of Gora for a early spring Onsen weekend to soak away the winter blues. We didn’t just spend all weekend bobbing around like a couple of bathtub ducks, oh dear me no! We also tried our collective hands at a bit of pottery.  I actually and rather naively thought the poetry was going well until Natsumi informed me that my re-enactment of a now famous scene from the movie ‘Ghost’ (with Patrick Swayze) was not appreciated.  

 The following weekend we payed homage to the excellent Studio Ghibli museum (those of you who are familiar with Japanese cinema will know what Studio Ghibli is) with our good friend Saki.  I have always found Studio Ghibli movies to be rather beautiful and even if you come from a completely different cultural well spring of children’s stories, myths and fantasies there is still a wonderful sense of nostalgia to be found.  

 And the pots turned out not half bad too.

                                               

                                                  

 

 December 2015 - Noel!

 There are few traditions I respect so completely or observe so religiously as the annual homage to expanding my waistline, Christmas.  When else can you stuff one critter in to another and then force this resultant new species in to the gizzards of another beast and roast it I ask you? I’m having dangerously vegetarian thoughts recently, maybe I need to lay down.

  Me and Natsumi packed our bags and our santa sacks laden with Japanese Christmas goodies for the folks back home and got our boogie/plane on! I kept an eye out for Santa silhouetted against the moon, trying out his new snow brakes and road testing his favorite sleigh mix tape, Slayers – ‘Raining Blood’… because that’s how Santa rolls. Alas the flight passed in a Santa-less twinkle of an eye, with a brief stop in München.

  The next 11 days passed by in a flurry of activity, family, food, friends, food, food, food and food.  So a normal Christmas in the Williams household. 

  This was Natsumis first traditional Christmas so I was determined to show her all the sights, sounds, trimmings and carnage that comes with noel. We met up with all the friendly faces of my childhood (growing up in a small village community breeds familiarity) on Christmas morning for breakfast and bucks fizz.  We returned to my ancestral home of Coventry, where Natsumi had the pleasure (and other adjectives) of meeting my extended family, we even played pass the parcel! I know! We took tea at the Ritz and a show in the West End. Then finally finished our festivities with a new years knees up at my Brothers and his better half’s new house.  Well you wet the babies head, why not christen the new house?

Thank the almighty flying spaghetti monster that Christmas comes around but once a year.

      

 

December 2015 - episode 2 - SurfDev visit Tokyo.

It was with great excitement that we boarded the plane to Tokyo. Not only because of where we were going but also we going to see our son Joe, his partner Natsumi and of course catch up with all our friends and the team at IDS Studio.

We had carefully made plans, booked an apartment in the mad (but exciting) world that is Shibuya but nothing could have prepared us for the 12 days we spent in Tokyo.

The plane landed at Haneda and we found our way onto the correct coach (just) and meandered our way through the Yokohama suburbs on our way to the IDS offices in Eda. We met Joe at a railway station where he was swamped by hugs and kisses (mothers only), father and son had a manly handshake and subtle brief knowing nod???? We then carried onto to IDS. We were warmly welcomed by the whole team and had chance to put some more names to faces as well as see Koji and Eric again. As ever Koji-San always seems to out-do us on hospitality front, no matter how hard we try. Before getting down to an afternoon meeting we were treated to a ‘5’ star Sushi lunch, believe me this is nothing like UK Sushi.

The afternoon was spent with Koji-san and Eric chewing the cud while Joe took his mum on a whistle stop tour of Tokyo. We ended our first day in small restaurant with the IDS team who seem determined to get us try all and every Japanese delicacy known to man. Thus ended our first, enjoyable, exciting and weary day. Thank you to everyone.

Well the next 11 days is a bit of a blur. Everything was a highlight, but the things that really stick out for us was meeting Natsumi, Joe’s partner. We also had another social night out with the IDS team and a local tavern. Again this was a relaxed and enjoyable occasion with a bit more team bonding.

Now, Tokyo is an amazing, safe, clean city with fantastic sights and great food. We managed to fit in almost all the major sights and at the same time spend time getting to know the city better. These are all located at or near the train system. If you ever get chance to visit Tokyo, places you must visit are, Ueno Park and the museums, Shibuya, Tsukiji fish market, Hamarikyu gardens (try the tea ceremony), Yoyogi Park (and shrine) and Harajuku, Shinjinku, Senso-Ji shrine in Asakusa, Roppongi, The Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Sky tree. We saw and did so much more but the above are just a few.

Food wise we tried just about every speciality they have in Japan, whether it is raw, cooked or frozen (that’s frozen raw steak). However if anyone, no matter how much you trust them offers you Natto, just politely decline. Do not, whatever happens, let your more inquisitive side get the better of you!!!!

So after 12 days of having the senses assaulted (in a very good way) we bade farewell to Joe, Natsumi our friends at IDS and Tokyo.

We will be back!!!!!!!!

                                                                                                                            Shibuya by night. A tad busy!


 

   

 

 December 2015 - episode 1 - Joe's perspective

The cold and early winds of winter were threatening to sweep in early at the start of November, both ending a balmy and elongated Summer/Autumn period and also bringing my parents in to land at Tokyo’s Hanaeda airport.  You know, you move half way around the world, all the way to the exotic orient and they only bloody well follow you out here! Cue exasperated gesticulating and huffing.

For 11 or 12 days myself and Natsumi chaperoned my highly appreciative parents around the wider Tokyo area, it was like regressing to a tourist again, landing on virgin shores, I got to relive all the sites and try all the food again with them, only this time I had no jet lag, parasites and my eyes and ears were generally more attuned to the environ. 

We shuffled through Shibuya and Shinjuku, shopping paradises both, enjoyed the emperor's palace and scaled the sky tree (Japan’s Tallest structure) sampling local delicacies all the while.  It’s a testament to Japanese cuisine that whilst eating arguably more than their cumulative body weight everyday they both fit back in to their return flight seats without the aid of butter.

All complaining, chuntering and general teeth gnashing aside, it was lovely to see them both, I’ll invite them back again, in a few years.

 

                                                                                   A night out with family and freinds in Tokyo.                                                                                                                          

 

                                          



   

2nd November 2015

Hello all, I’ve got much to catch you up on so pull up a chair, bean-bag, toad-stool or muffin and have a seat.  I shall begin presently. 私たちを話した以来小球二を卒業しました。(But before, I just wanted to mention that I had graduated from my previous Japanese language class… in to an entirely new world of Kanji pain!)

 If I had the general were-with-all to collect air miles I would be sitting pretty right about now.  This last month I flew from Tokyo to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to London, from London to Amsterdam and finally from Amsterdam back to Tokyo.  And before any rightful rib-poking, I will mention that I was partially if not proportionately to blame by flying with KLM.  The peanuts were plentiful so, every cloud etc.

 I met my Tokyo-ite colleague in Frankfurt (he having chosen wiser flights) and we immediately proceeded to find our first German beer and by golly was it a site for sore eyes. 

 After a restive night of slumber we got in an early start at the Frankfurt motor show, or the IAA.  We were determined to see all the show had to offer in one day! With this jet-lagged riddled, bleary eyed plan agreed on we set of in search of automotive enterprise and expertise the likes of which, we had never seen.

 All the major OEM companies put in a great offering and there were a particularly large number of interesting concepts on display, especially in the newly emerging urban/coupe/SUV crossover sector.  Upon seeing a flashy new concept I often times find myself thinking “yeah, I’d buy that” but I also often times find myself thinking “I AM BATMAN”. Whether these thoughts have any correlation, I don’t know. But maybe that’s why, in the majority of concept cases, they never make a production run of it… Which is really a shame because I am on the lookout for a new batmobile.

 

                                                                                                                                                                             

After an exhausting day in Frankfurt, myself and my colleague did our best impression of ‘Nelly the Elephant’ and packed our trunks before heading off to England. 

My colleagues primary reason for this leg of the trip was to visit SurfDev Ltd and my primary reason for visitation was to be reunited with cheese.

After a brief but productive visit to SurfDev, my colleague took his brief window of opportunity to sample some of London’s delights. 

He is in fact a bit of an Anglophile and loves all things ‘tea-culture’.  In brief, Fortnum and Masons had an extremely profitable day,

the day my colleague came to London town. I, on the other hand, enjoyed some quality family time and a spot of well-earned rest/jet-lag-recovery.

 Alas, Japan is a mysterious beauty and her recent change in season with the arrival of cool autumnal air and the change in colour of all foliage to rich reds, warm oranges, earthy browns and sun-kissed yellows brought me back (the airplane had something to do with it as well).  With a sudden nose nipping chill in the air, my trusty partner in all endevours (including, but not exclusively, crime), Natsumi 夏美, decided to whisk me away to a mountain onsen (Japans glorious hot springs) retreat in Hakone.

 Hidden in a densely forested valley, littered with waterfalls and rivers was our hotel.  Being sat on top of natural geothermal hot springs there were naturally several large bathing areas in the hotel overlooking the valley.  But before grabbing my rubber ducky (steady now!) and heading for a soak we decided to catch a steep train up the side of the valley.  The reason being, the sprawling and placid Lake Ashinoko lay just beyond the mountain peak.  The lakes banks, whilst encrusted with ancient Shinto shrines also offer a refreshing view of Mt. Fuji to boot.

 After all the hiking, climbing, trekking and general exploration it was time for a much needed soak in the mineral rich onsen at our ryokan hotel.  So relaxed was I in my post-onsen soaking/ mid-yukata wearing/ post-Japanese banquet eating state that I believe I briefly experienced what it is like to be a jellied eel.

Sorry if that puts you off your pie ‘n’ mash.  G’night everyone.   

 

22nd September 2015

めんそれ (men-so-re) or ‘hi’ in native Okinawan, a dialect of Japanese spoken solely in the sub-tropical Japanese islands of Okinawa.  Don’t look at me that way, well fine if you really want to know, yes I did spend my summer sunning (baking) myself in a part of the world far closer to the equator than I have ever been before.  The Southern Okinawan island of Ishigaki, 石垣自慢 (Ishigaki – Jima).

Well… It was summer and it seemed rude not to.

Summer, 夏 (Nat-su), has been and gone here in Japan, and my-oh-my what an absolute scorcher it was! At work, shirtsleeves became noticeably shorter (or more rolled up in my case) but soldier on through the blistering near 40 degrees centigrade we did.  I had the daunting task of creating a very original and organic 3D shape/part on Catia and have recently finished a rear bumper part on Icem Surf.  Both challenging in different ways, but lessons were learnt and I feel more confident in my surfacing skills now in retrospect.

Myself and Natsumi decided to up sticks this summer, we couldn't handle the heat and humidity here in Tokyo.  So we logically headed to the densely vegetated, warm water locked, coral reef buoyed island of Ishigaki.  To escape the heat you see…

http://www.ishigaki-japan.com/

The way of life on these islands is somewhat more laid back than on the mainland, who wants to work-up a sweat anyway?! But don’t confuse the islanders relaxed lifestyle with lethargy and sloth.  They are hard working folks who’s island for the long summer season triples in population and, well, you know the old adage about making hay while the sun shines.

Whilst on our tropical trope we took in all the beauteous sights our eyes could boggle at.  We swam with (giant) Manta Rays as they swam through the warm shallows.  We thoroughly investigated every nook and cranny of the islands wide spread and thriving coral reefs, catching sight of schools of luminous squid, bright blue coral and a rather put-out puffer fish.  We even climbed one of the islands several mountains, through rainforest, long grass and, what I'm sure was a rather lovely picnic.  Just call me Yogi.

But, alas, I am now back to reality with a bump.  Back to work, back to school, back to normality.  Except I do all of those things in Japan so we can forget about the “normality” part.  Who wants normal anyway? I'm sure I’d get bored with it fairly quickly. 

 Speaking of normal, after returning to work I was very promptly informed that I shall be going to the Frankfurt motor show (which is actually just a few days away now, hmmm, I should probably pack) and after perusing all that is good, great and gregarious (to put an anthropomorphic spin on things) in the world of auto I am to return to England for a week of rest, recuperation and, and, and, cheese, gosh I miss cheese.

 I’m going to do something rather risky now, but if you never take a chance in life, life won’t take a chance on you (there’s a secret ABBA fan in me yet, my Grandma will be pleased).  I want any and all suggestions for a first time visitor to Frankfurt motor show, also any suggestions of things to do in Frankfurt City would be greatly appreciated as well.  If you do want to contact me with any tips or if you think you have the secret recipe for success in Frankfurt please contact me at:

 

To keep Joe honest in Frankfurt, please pass on your suggestions for stands to visit at the motor show.    jwilliams@surfdev.co.uk

 

 3rd August 2015

As was advised by the British egg industry during the 1950’s, but in my case it’s “oh and don’t forget your coffee”.  I have taken to the bitter bean like a duck to water as of late, this has nothing to do with living a life of excess, Mr. Gatsby style (I wish).  No it is because my career requires a mind as sharp as any lemon soaked katana.  The greatest challenge I find with mastering Icem surf if learning to not get too wrapped up in small details and see the part or project as a whole, interacting, holistic part.  Each part effects every other part, moving one control point by 0.001mm changes the whole styling/flow of the part, I am sometimes reminded of the (originally church song but now popularly a) children’s song ‘Dem Bones’ whereupon if one bone is missing, changed, altered or tweaked in any way then the whole thing may as well be built on a foundation of sand.  Or in my case, it may vary too far from the original design concept.

 

This all creates for a challenging yet rewarding work dynamic that more often than not calls for a reinterpretation of the artists intentions, head scratching, back and forth (banter/French) dialogue with my learned colleagues and then finally applying my new perspective to the piece/project. It is challenging, frustrating, rewarding, mentally draining work, but I love it and I am now starting to see the world through the clear spectacles of an engineer’s logic that can only be distilled over time.

Work is only one side of my ceaselessly spinning coin however.  Every morning I awake, pack my school bag (packed lunch with all the gubbins/trimmings) and don my school cap.  Yes my second school term is well and truly underway, how I passed my exams at the end of my first term in still unbeknownst to me, but I believe studying under the influence of caffeine helped immeasurably, especially during the wee hours.

 

Evermore onwards and upwards, I find myself dealing with more complex grammar and abstract subject/content whilst trying to keep a tight rein on the 10 – 20 new Kanji 漢字 I am tasked with mastering everyday (and you better believe, they do test me everyday). Relief comes in the form of the sole lesson I have with my friend/teacher Eric on Friday afternoons, whereupon I can put more complex grammatical questions to him in English.  It’s a reassuringly steady bridge that helps me get from one side of the quagmire of befuddlement to the calm plains of understanding.

 

But never fear, at the weekends I pursue more base and enjoyable activities, such as food, more food and then a side order of food.  Well, you’ve got to go to work next week on something don’t you, some say egg, I say sushi.

 

29th June 2015

Hi folks, I’ll try to keep this entry short and sweet… try.

Between all the intensive studying and working I do still try to doll myself up, every now and again, and see where my feet take me.  One such adventure recently found me in the picturesque town of Kamakura, sandwiched nicely between the sea and history.

 

 The journey to Kamakura took me along the wonderfully scenic tram line that hugs the local hills adjacent to Sagami Bay.  This particular tram route passes through multitudinous sites of historical interest, the area around Kamakura is dotted with ancient temples of both Buddhist/Shinto origin and a number of giant Buddha statues.  Yes, bellies were rubbed and if there is any truth to the myth then I am probably the luckiest man to not encounter a leprechaun.

Alighting at Kamakura Station, myself and my astute guide Natsumi boarded a rickety old bus for a short trip up in to the encircling hills.  We quickly left the town behind and discovered a scenery far more akin to a studio Ghibli creation than that of the Tokyo/Blade Runner backdrops I’m used to.

 

Our destination was the lush Jomyoji and Hokokuji temples, shrouded in verdant vegetation and ancient cedar trees.  Both temples are perched somewhat perilously on a hillside surrounded on all sides by ever encroaching nature.  Tackling Jomyoji first we found the peaceful temple grounds to be very popular with the local feline population who seem to have made it their honorary home away from home.  With tummy tickles on tap from the numerous visitors I’d say it’s a smart move on their behalf.

 

The second temple, Hokokuji, was your run of the mill temple fare, you know the sort, a sprawling forest of ginormous ancient bamboo within the grounds and a traditional Macha house (tea house) a hidden jewel in the midst of the thick bamboo.  Not to mention several waterfalls, a zen garden, cliff recessed cave burial sites, yada yada and so-on.

 

As I said, usual fare, in fact it was so dull (sarcasm alert) that we decided to leave early and walk part of the journey back on the now somewhat more balmy beach.  An ordinary, unassuming, volcanic beach.  A beach that was also home to several gaggles (if not more) of black rooks that filled the sky with their predatory might.

 

The more I learn about Japan the less I understand, but the less I understand the more I know.  Although I keep my eyes open, ears pricked and feet moving Japan continues to surprise and baffle me, in the very best of ways.

 

 

1st June 2015

 

It’s been one hell of a ride these last few weeks, 12,000 miles and 24 hours in the air. Tokyo to London then, back again.  That’s right, you guessed it, I dropped to ol’ blighty for a short holiday.  Whilst a thoroughly good time was had all round I could’ve done with out the jet lag, but then again who needs an excuse to laze around in bed all day and slowly atrophy?! (after further deliberation it turns out that in fact I do need a reason to lay about for a day or two because, and my primary school teachers will attest to this, I suffer with a serious case of formicae-in-braccae, that’s ant’s in my pants to us lay-folk)

 

It was of course wonderful to catch up with my family, eat my way through several full English breakfasts, take a German beehaus tour of London on the aptly coined Boris bikes with my younger brother, eat my way through several more full English breakfasts, catch up with an old chum over a Ruby Murray (that’s a curry to the uninitiated), introduce my mother to the joy-o ramen first hand and wrap it all up with another full English breakfast at the airport on my return flight.  All in all, I think I did rather well, not taking in to account my now engorged arteries.

 

Still, a rolling stone gathers no moss, said a balding stone that passed by me one day, and before you could say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious through a mouthful of toffee I was back at work again.  Reflecting back on my brief sojourn to England I realize that I now feel just as settled in Japan as in the country of my forefathers, my new adopted home has grown on me more so in its absence.

 

Very little has changed in Kanagawa in my brief respite, the washing up that I had forgotten had not become animate and cleaned itself (dang!), my postbox was still burgeoned and bogged down by junk mail and I’m still attending a Japanese language school, five days a week, 08:30 to 13:00… Hang on a jiffy, that’s new!  I have recently (very recently) started attending a Japanese language school in Shinjuku and call me a self-flagellating masochist but I am relishing this new challenge.  There are some days I walk out of the now all too familiar halls of academia with a smile of accomplishment on my face… there are others where; my brain is to complex Japanese grammar as a circular peg is to a square hole.  I digress and as I said earlier, this is but the trifling relish on my hamburger of hardship with a side of challenging chips, just the way I like it!

 

Life in Japan does have a lighter, more sociable and dare I say cheeky side to it though.  I returned back to the open arms of Japan and she swiftly ushered me in to Tokyo with all my colleagues for a cultured day of exploration and an evening of being, well, not-quite-so-cultured.  A crisp and clear morning greeted me and so did my friend Richard at Chuo-Rinkan train station.  We proceeded in to the belly of the beast to rendezvous with our other chums who were busy waiting at Tsukiji fish market ordering up some of the world’s finest/freshest sushi for us.  Tsukiji is not just home to the largest fresh fish market in the world it is also one of the worlds largest wholesale markets.  No sooner than arriving did we chow down on some breakfast, followed swiftly by seconds – when in Rome.  Having thoroughly explored, with not only my eyes but through other more voracious means, we left the decimated market in our wake.

 

With hunger sated/abated for the moment we took a stroll through the beautiful and historic Hamarikyu Gardens.  Sandwiched in a corner of Tokyo-ite architecture that leans towards the clean, lean and modern, these gardens create a beautiful contrast and offer an island of calm in an otherwise turbulent city.  As once was the case that all roads led to Rome, in a Japanese park generally all paths lead to a central lake, the waterways, pools, tributaries of water in Hamarikyu are all salt water and as such are teeming with a bevy of oceanic marine life that happily swim up stream from Tokyo bay.  

 

After luncheon-ing (I am the Dr. Frankenstein of the English language) in an carefully preserved teahouse on Hamarikyu’s central lake we took to the Tokyo waterways by boat, which gave me a more Venitian view of the city.  If you perchance find yourself in Tokyo during the spring/summer I thoroughly recommend you take a water taxi for a spin, the air is balmy and the briny breeze felt invigorating!  Having not long been in the water long we felt that our sea-legs scout badge (there’s a joke in there somewhere) was well earned and so alighted from the boat to rejoin our fellow land-lubbers (YARRRGH!).

 

The stop was fortuitous in its location as it was right outside Tokyo Asahi (beer) HQ.  This is the point at which the day became less refined, so look away now if you don’t wish to break your fine new monocles in an eyebrow raising-aghast accident.  With much merriment yet to come we decided to sensibly procure dinner, but wait, this isn’t real food! In joyful happenstance after briefly strolling through the incense enshrouded temple complex of Senso-ji we stumbled upon one of Tokyo’s fine fake food shops.  Said shops specialize in creating (tantalizingly tortuous) fake food for restaurant window displays.  Whilst strolling the aisles I stumbled upon such things as sushi fridge magnets, a hamburger ring (for the unsuspecting ‘lucky’ lady of a gourmand) and a tower of tempura.  I refrained from purchase.

 

We wearily stumbled in to a restaurant touting the local delicacy monjayaki, at this point a comparison could be drawn between monjayaki and pancakes, but that boot does not quite fit.  Monjayaki is a very gooey/runny pancake, with more filling than batter, that you cook yourself on a hotplate, conveniently located on your table and within scolding reach.  After all our respective bellies were full and we’d had our fill of skin broiling burns… we decided it was time to cap off the day with a night cap (plurality is implied here) of electric brandy, whisky from the oldest whiskey bar in Tokyo and several more besides at the ground floor bar in Asahi HQ.  So just a snifter really, nothing that will get me kicked out of the country club.

 

In finishing I want to make note of the fact that whilst some people get drunk (I’m not endorsing excessive drinking here) off the intoxicating combination of friends, food and alcohol, I in fact only become more charming and witty (foot poised ready to insert in to my mouth).  So why not loosen that tie, take off those high heels and go and have your self a jolly-good knees up!  Just umm… maybe don’t put your keys in that bowl over there.

 

 

15th April 2015

There be mountains!

Now don’t ask me where I get it from, most likely 私のお父さんとお母さん (my ma’ ‘n’ pa’), they were avid climbers in their youth, but I seem to have mountains on the mind. So last weekend I set out on a new adventure, this venture first started by purchasing a fine new pair of hiking boots.  Some of you may know, but for the rest of you, I’m going to let you in on a secret, the Japanese are hiking mad! They love a good climb and can be frequently found bouldering, clambering, scrambling and ambling on and around some of the countries magnificent array of mountains.  In so much, when it came time to choose some appropriate footwear I was spoilt for choice.

 

With new boots in hand, or on foot as the case may be, I set off in to the Tanazawa mountain range, a collection of mountains that squats over Kanagawa like a geological behemoth.  As my train trundled and trawled it’s merry way across the delta plains of coastal Kanagawa the Mountain range rose up to meet me.  Like a ginormous ‘naughty step’ (for those of you that don’t know of the ‘naughty step’ don’t worry, you’re not missing out) they gazed impassive and threateningly down at me.  However, not one to suffer with colly-wobbles, I started the ascent of my first Japanese mountain, Mt. Oyama. Mt. Oyama is long revered within the native Shinto religion of Japan, to which effect it has two large and numerous smaller shrines adorning it.  It is also said to be the home of a Shinto god who presides over land and rain, which simultaneously explains the shrines and the numerous farmers that have historically surmounted this mount in the name of a bountiful harvest.  Fortunately the benevolent rain spirit/djinn/god must have been taking a day off, as the sun was high in the sky with me for my climb.

The climb and descent were a terrific success.  So much so was I buoyed by this experience that the following weekend I set out for larger bounty.  I had my eye on the prize and that prize was the feet blistering, mist enshrouding, densely forested, deer infested, waterfall bejeweled Mt. Azagamaru.  Located deep within the Tanazawa mountain range it is a remote and beautiful place, accessible only by car or failing that (and I do fail that) an hour-long train ride and an equally long bus ride deep in to the valleys and tea farming villages of Tanazawa.  This may sound like a chore for some but the bus ride was stunning, rolling over, under and through the natural vistas and passing over a remote and eerily deep dam.  I arrived at my destination in one piece.

 

Although a very different sort of climb, Mt. Azagamaru was a refreshingly thrilling (there were a few hairy moments) and secluded climb, I passed two other hikers on the whole expedition.  En-route to the summit I encountered numerous Sika deer (a species of deer native to Kanagawa) and a plethora of other wildlife that were a wonder to behold, emboldened by their lack of exposure to humans most of the local fauna were remarkably at ease with my presence.  Upon reaching the summit the weather took a turn for the inclement, however fortuitously I happened upon a hikers log cabin to ride out the rain and take on some much needed calories.  These cabins are somewhat commonplace among the Japanese peaks and often contain all the necessary furnishings to house several hikers for several nights, many also posses a dog-eared comments book.  My particular cabin happened to have a hefty brazier, with which I wasted no time in drying my socks and bones.

 

The rain eventually abated and feeling refreshed/renewed and reinvigorated I started my journey back down through the fog and clouds.  This particular route happened to finish at the Nishi-Tanazawa Nature center, a fine place to stop on a summers drive and take in the view, and an even finer place to change in to clean(-er) clothes so you don’t bring that sweaty mountain fragrance back on the bus/train with you.  No one on the train thanked me, but I took my fellow passengers indifference as a hearty slap on the back in appreciation.

 

My friends come colleagues in their continued benevolence and good-natured ways recently took me out for a night to make homage at the altar of beer and whiskey.  For those of you who are a fan of the fire-water, I suggest you try some of the Japanese tipple, or even Japanese native plum whiskey, the stuff has strong ju-ju and it’ll cure what ails ya’. Meanwhile work very much continues de rigueur, if it could ever be thought of as that, only there has been a slight shift in my work paradigm as of late. What with all this larking about on mountains, the stairs in the office have become a far more challenging prospect, my knees will personally attest to that.

 

Whatever adventures you’re undertaking please do so with caution and safety at the forefront of your mind…

Just kidding folks, go gung-ho, it’s more fun that way.

 

27th March 2015

Spring has finally raised her pretty head above the perma-frost here in Japan.  We are now in trapped in this floral purgatory known as 梅 (Ume – Plum blossom) season which teeters on the edge of Sakura or Cherry blossom time here in Kanagawa.  Maybe purgatory is the wrong word as I’m sure Florida is far-fetched comparison to draw.

With the wintery nip in the air truly behind me I have been venturing out more to enjoy the great outdoors (and boy is ‘great’ an understatement here in Japan).  It would be unfair to say the Japanese liked baseball, when in fact, they are truly mad for it.  In the spirit of all things convivial and jovial I decided to get in the swing of things (please excuse the terrible pun) and headed down to my local batting cage/centre for a hundred or so balls.  I knew I was going to learn a valuable lesson the moment I stepped up to the plate to swing and the robotic voiced pitcher yelled “play-ball!”.  What I did not know at the time was that my lesson would be in the shape of a pie called humility.  The first ten (-ish) balls whizzed by at a cool 80Kmph whilst I nary caught a glance of them.  I did however improve and to my incredulity and general stupor I managed to strike all the last 50.

For those of you that (unfortunately) know me, you will be aware of my fondness for American Football.  A fondness for a sport can drive a man to all sorts of mishaps and shenanigans, none such tom-foolery befell me though as I managed to navigate my way to the Tokyo NFL store.  A personal pilgrimage of sports… ahem… I mean sorts.  The in-store football museum was a joy to behold and I gleefully left my hand and nose prints on all the glass encased memorabilia.  I even purchased something! Well, it has been known to happen in shops.

All play and no work makes Joseph a poor boy and so on to the business at hand.  I have been seeing an (albeit slow and steady) improvement in my Icem work, most notably in the speed at which I conduct myself around the software.  I do in fact think that my colleagues have got my number, they’ve seen through me to the gooey centre and know how to press my buttons, pull my levers and generally get my gumption up and going.  Being somewhat competitive by nature I cannot shy away from a challenge, let’s say that if I were to put Icem surf and timed trials into the same sentence, you’d be just about where I was last week.  As the sweat beaded on my otherwise un-furrowed brow I slowly fettered down the time it took to surface a piece (imagine away) from 4 hours on my first try to a simperingly svelte 1 hour in my third attempt.  I believe my colleagues/friends at IDS have got me sussed here.  But I pshaw, there is a lighter side to office life, one such recent ray of brilliance being White day.  For those of you that do not know or remember (delete as applicable) White day is the turn for men to return gifts to girls/women as by way of a thank you for valentines day so we dig deep in to the pit of our soul, wrack our minds and reach for that all important utensil of friendship/love, the wallet.  Fortunately, I know a few universal truths, one such truism being the love of chocolate.  I don’t know where my inspiration came from but seeing as it was white day I decided to make a few dozen white chocolate rocky road boxes, using only a few ingredients, namely the aforementioned white chocolate, dried cranberries, desiccated coconut, flaked almonds and more marshmallows than you’d warrant necessary.  They went down a treat and were by all accounts rather lovely, I wouldn’t know of course personally as I was not allowed to sample my own work… hmmm.

Alas, poor rocky road, I knew them well. 

As spring is sprung I want to wish you all a spectacular one.  Get out there.

 

13th March 2015

Where to start, ah yes, two weeks have passed me by in the blink of an eye here in Yokohama.  I now have a new apartment, a place to call my own, a place to practice my filing/organisational techniques, or lack there-of.  Of course not all the courtesy goes to myself in this endeavor, I had the helpful hands of Richard Misoe, Eric Misoe and ever trusty Ikea on my side to accomplish this feat.  I can now happily blog to my heart’s content in a cozy living room instead of a variety of hotel rooms and sundry (very nice hotel rooms may I add, but it’s not quite the same).

Since we last spoke I have been progressing further with my Icem Surf training, time constraints are now being placed on my work, which unsurprisingly, is increasing my work speed.  I have also taken up the challenge of mastering Catia.  Whilst sharing numerous key features with Icem Surf, there are just enough (MAJOR) differences to be irksome, but nothing easy is worth the doing and so the training in both Icem Surf and Catia progresses.

 

There must be something wrong with me, medically I mean.  I find myself studying Japanese, for 2-3 hours daily… voluntarily.  That’s right, I’ve caught the bug, and Japanese is a marvelously rich language, which in my humble opinion seems more word heavy than the English language.  Fortunately I have the expert tutelage of Mr Eric Misoe and am myself a rather motivated self-learner.

 

Outside of work hours I have recently attended the Japan Camping Car Show 2015 with a work-friend Yuki.  I do feel in retrospect that the naming of the show was slightly off point, the Japan Dog Appreciation and Camping Car Show 2015 would have been more apt perhaps.  Maybe I was missing something, however many of the vehicles were in fact tailored for families with canine members.  Altogether a good day was had by both myself and Yuki, we took in the interesting sights of many camper vans, off road/all-terrain vehicles and mini-vans all whilst coolly avoiding dog defecate.

 

I have been, of late, teaching my co-workers the mastery of the four letter words.  To which effect I purchased a couple of choice English/Japanese Swearing manuals for my colleagues as a present and I am as proud as punch to say that the air has been bluer than a bottle of blue nun for the last few weeks.  I have been so impressed by their speedy mastery of the gutter dialect I am teaching them I have recommended that a couple of my top pupils watch Shaft - Pulp Fiction - Lock, Stock and two smoking barrels - Scarface.  I shall keep you up to date with their exciting progress.

 

Having recently experienced Valentine’s Day here in Japan I noticed a key difference in the marking of the day here.  St. Valentine’s Day is a day for couples, however in Japan, on Valentine’s Day, girls/ women buy presents for their boys/men, but the opposite is not true.  They do in fact have a separate day, a whole month later, in Japan for boys/men to return gifts to their better halves, called White day.  Finding my desk littered with an assortment of chocolates and confectionary on Valentine’s Day now means I am honour bound to doll out the flowers on White day.  More on this intriguing custom as and when I learn the word/phrase for “a dozen red roses please, not those ones! The good ones at the back”.

I hope you and your loved ones had a great Valentine’s Day and if you forgot (I’m looking in your direction) there’s always the dog house… or failing that, the Japan camping car show 2015.

 

6th March 2015

みなさんこんにちは! And hello everyone, my time in Japan continues to be dogged by the adjective ‘busy’ as another hum-drum week sails by.  Having finished another part for the IDS Studios team using Icem Surf I have begun my training in (earnest) Catia.  An altogether different design software beastie.

 The office seems to be a hive of activity this week, it’s akin to a mad hatters tea party, if only I knew the phrase “all change!” I might be able to keep up.  Spring is also threatening to rear its welcome head here in Japan… Maybe that has something to do with it.

 

This weekend I decided to give Tokyo a spot of well-earned R’n’R, I’ve plodded her mean streets for the last month and felt like I needed a bit of space. Which is exactly what I found in Yokohama, Tokyo’s peaceful/spacious conjoined twin sister. Minato Mirai 21 (Port Future 21) district is (to some, debate rages on) a futuristic cityscape marvel, set in the heart of downtown Yokohama, where Kanagawa meets the sea.  This was my first destination of choice in Yokohama. I took a route down to the briny seafront through the Nissan global headquarters and its internal museum. 

 Yokohama bay area albeit both architecturally and naturally gifted did put a bit of a chill in to my bones, so, like any sane and sensible human being would, I rationalised it was for the best to head to my nearest theme park immediately.  Fortunately there was one not more than 200 yards from myself.  This particular theme park also happened to be home to the Cosmo clock 21, a giant of a ferris wheel and also the world’s largest clock.  I hastily boarded, camera at the ready, for the excellent view I was to be gifted of Yokohama at the peak of my ride.  Whilst the view did not disappoint (rather spectacular actually), the candy floss did. 

 

Having filled my lungs with the salty sea air and walked most of the pedestrian accessible areas of Yokohama I decided to do lunch.  There was no question as to where I was to eat lunch, for you see when in Yokohama you don’t just eat, you learn too, I went to THE food museum, THE FIRST food museum in Japan; The ramen museum of Shin-Yokohama.

Ramen, for the unwittingly unknowing, is a blissful broth of multitudinous ingredients that many ’a good ramen chef, worth his salt, would take to his grave rather than spill the beans or ingredients.  In said broth there is a mixture of noodles, vegetables, meat and/or seafood and various garnish.  If you are a ramen virgin or even ramen-curious then the ramen museum is the place for you.  Set in the mould of a 1950’s (the year the first ramen restaurant opened its doors) bustling back street, somewhere in Japan, the museum houses nine different ramen restaurants.  They all specialise in regional variations on the dish and all dabble in the black art of umami - うま味 - pleasant savory taste. 

 

After having devoured a bowl, approximately the size of my head, of what I have come to regard as one of the great soul foods of Japan, I wended my weary way home and toasted another fine week in a continually fascinating country かんぱい! Kanpai! Cheers!

 

 

6th February 2015

 こにちは!Hello! The last week has been as busy as the first two here in Yokohama.  Whilst feverishly studying the Japanese language I have been making good progress with my Icem training.  I seem to have fallen in to a more stable work/life regime now and expect to do so further as time progresses.

 Monday morning heralded another team meeting at IDS Studios Ltd, it’s a good opportunity to catch up with everyone and practice my (incredibly moderate) Japanese listening skills.  The meetings often take a serious tack, including the business of the week ahead, but it’s hard to remain entirely straight faced when the conference room is, complete with steering wheel, gear stick and foot pedals, also Gran Tourismo central!

 The journey to my Japanese language lessons every morning, whilst on the slightly long side, are thoroughly enjoyable.  The vistas of 富士山 (Mt. Fuji) and various smaller mountains grace my train journey every morning.

 I decided it was high time to take in some culture over the weekend and hit Tokyo with gusto.I strolled through the enormous graveyard/shrine/temple neighborhood of Yanaka and, without realising,my feet bore me to Ueno park, the home of the Tokyo National Museum. The museum is a grand building, or collection of buildings, which house numerous historical artworks of varying Asian civilisations,but the prize of the museum had to be the special exhibition of giant Buddhist statues from northern Japan, they were indeed something to behold!

 

 

We have just celebrated the annual Setsubun festival here in Japan, 3rd February, which (according to the lunar calendar) marks the first day of spring.  It is a day for warding off evil ogres with cries of 鬼は外! 福は内! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! In with Fortune! Out with Evil! And the ceremonial throwing of dried beans.  As with all good holidays/festivals there is accompanying foodstuffs, so your stomach can celebrate in style too, 恵方巻/ehō-maki/lucky direction roll (fat - long sushi roll) is the dish of choice.  It seems only fitting to wish you all an evil free year and a happy-bean throwing February 3rd! Make of it what you will… May I suggest a small bean casserole?

 

More to follow shortly.

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3rd February 2015.

Touchdown in Tokyo

I landed in Tokyo Haneda airport on Thursday 8th of January 2015 after 11 hours, two meals of fish and feeling rather bleary eyed.  The bus from the airport took me past the energetic bay front that is Tokyo, Kawasaki and Yokohama.  This is to be my home for the next two years.

 After a few decent meals, a hot shower or two and a full night’s sleep I was ready for work! I reported to the Yokohama based offices of IDS Studio Limited on Friday the 9th of January.  The design team of 9 immediately wanted to know all about me and a warmer welcome would be hard to find.

 My feet hard barely touched the ground in the office when I was sent off to explore the Tokyo auto salon show 2015, I was Tokyo bound and it was still my first day.  At three times the size of Birmingham’s revered NEC arena the show was quite a sight to behold.  Present were most of the major automotive OEM’s of the world and some wholly surreal concept cars that were clearly not, one such car was made of cake…

 Life has been fast paced since then with regular day trips, taking in such sights as Akhibara (electric city), Shinjuku, Harajuku, the Imperial Palace and more besides.  I have now settled in to a routine of Japanese language lessons in the morning and surfacing work in the afternoon at IDS.  In my first two weeks I have been working on a range of interior trim parts and learning the Japanese way. 

 I have become firm friends with my Japanese colleagues, bonding over a meal of sashimi and sake I have found them to be a warm and hardworking bunch with a passion for Pink Floyd, David Bowie and the Sex Pistols, which is fine in my book.

More to follow shortly.

 

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SurfDev - Bon voyage Joe

7th January 2015

We are constantly developing as a company and want all our team to be as fully skilled and trained as possible. To this end our valued employee Joe has embarked on a challenging and rewarding program of design training.

On January 7th he flew out to Japan on a two year secondment to join our friends at IDS Studio. They specialise in automotive design and technical ‘A’ class surfacing.

This fantastic opportunity means Joe will undertake a rigorous two year training program using Icem Surf and at the same time undergo Japanese lessons.

SurfDev and IDS already work together and have a strong relationship. Upon completion of his initial training Joe will return to IDS Studio and SurfDev in the UK to enhance both our company’s.

For those that know Joe we will be doing a regular blog / update on his activities in Japan, this will cover every aspect of his life over there. Please keep an eye out for news titled ‘An Engineer in the East’.

For more information about this and other services, contact us to see how we can help.

E:-  enquiries@surfdev.co.uk  

T:-  +44 (0)1621744900

 

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