By Guest Blogger, Todd Moore – rising senior in Paper Science Engineering
This summer I worked in Japan at Nippon Paper Industries, and I wanted to share a bit about my experiences with y’all! First, here’s a little background. When I found out about this internship freshman year through an email from Dr. Byrd, I always made sure to keep it in the back of my mind because it was something that I was really interested in. Come junior year, I was recommended to go and was ecstatic after hearing the news! I had already been taking Japanese since my freshman year, so I was excited to put it into practical use.
Once school ended, I was home for a week, which allowed me just enough time to unpack my things after moving home from college and repack for living in Japan. I packed about two suitcases worth of stuff, so with plenty of clothes, electronics, and an open mind, I felt like I was prepared to handle living in a foreign country for three months! And let me tell you that these were some of the best three months in my entire life! Not only did I get to visit a country that I have always wanted to see, but I was also able to learn about everything I had been studying!
Arrival and Typical Work Day
Upon landing, I was greeted by my work partner, Shuhei Inada.
He is the one that I worked closely with during my stay in Japan and helped me whenever I needed it with translating, answering questions about the area, etc. He was very shocked to learn that I spoke some Japanese. He helped me get back to the company dormitory via train. I lived in a place called Musashi Urawa prefecture of Saitama City in Tokyo (it’s more than just a city; it’s also a larger area, similar to several counties). I fell asleep really soon after starting to unpack. Not a day after arriving, I was thrust into starting work. I didn’t mind it, but I was still battling jet lag, which took about a week for me to overcome. The commute to the office was one of the most unexpected and physical commutes I’d have ever thought of. It was a twenty minute walk to the Musashi Urawa Station. From there, it was a 20 minute train ride (including a transfer to a different line) to Higashi Jujo Station. Finally, it was another 20 minute walk from there to the office. I did this every day, twice a day, 5 times a week, so I found the perfect way to fit in some exercise as part of my daily routine (it helps when it’s required haha). Every day I would walk past several shops, from food to small items. I’d also stop at a convenience store and pick up breakfast, so it was nice to be considered a regular.
At Nippon Paper, I worked with the coating department, which was something I had never dealt with in previous job (i.e. summer and co-op). I also worked with other interns from Finland, so I got a taste of another new culture too! One of the biggest things that was new to me was that I would be performing research as opposed to work done by a process engineering intern, so it was certainly eye opening. All of the people I worked with were absolutely wonderful, despite speaking very limited English. But I was glad that I was able to even hold some conversations with them in Japanese, albeit usually very simplistic. Without going into too much detail, I was also able to work with coating color that goes on the outside of paper as well as an experimental use of cellulose nano fibers, which is an emerging innovative application of cellulose. Doing this type of work, I was able to branch out from what I was comfortable with and explore a whole new side of the paper industry.
From the work experience, I learned that research is not really my forte, but it’s always a good idea to explore new parts of study and working to learn just what is a perfect fit for you. I was going nonstop from 7:30am to 6:30pm, so I would be exhausted by the time I got home. After getting back, I’d wait till about 7 o’clock and get some dinner from the cafeteria on the 2nd floor. I had to order in the morning and I wasn’t skilled enough to read the entire menu, so I let the food be a surprise to me each evening, which turned out to be a good thing so I wouldn’t be too picky – haha. I left the exploring for the weekends, so I usually returned to my room and just chilled on the computer for a bit to ease through the rest of the night. Occasionally I would go out or get dinner before coming home, but that was usually only one night a week.
Even though I worked from practically dawn to dusk, I still had plenty of time to visit places on the weekend. I travelled all over the country, from Hiroshima and Miyajima in the west to Oshima Island in the south. Because I loved games, I visited the famous Akihabara and learned just why it earned the nickname “Electric Town” due to its sales of various electronics. I recorded people walking around Shibuya Crossing, one of the busiest intersections in the world! I went to Ueno and visited a wide variety of museums, taking in not only Japanese history and culture, but also other Asian history. I visited Tokyo Bay one day, seeing things from a giant Gundam fighter suit to advancing technology in the Future Museum to a view of the bay from atop a giant Ferris wheel! I shopped all over the place, including areas such as Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, and all around Tokyo itself! I visited the Ghibli Museum (showcasing video animation work done by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli) with other coworkers during my last full weekend there, which was as fanciful as the movies by the studio themselves. All over the country I visited several shrines, which included Asakusa Temple and Meiji Jingu; these were some of the larger ones and absolutely breathtaking! Asakusa Temple was also near Skytree Tower, which is one of the largest towers in the world!
My biggest travels were during my only holiday over there. In one three-day weekend, I left work on Friday and headed straight for the train station to travel cross country on the bullet train (which was so awesome to ride!). I started west In Hiroshima, working my way back east, crossing through Osaka and Kyoto before heading back to Tokyo. In Hiroshima, I saw the very memorable A-bomb dome as well as its accompanying museum. I also went to Hiroshima castle and learned how the area started after being founded on just a sand bar! I visited the nearby island of Miyajima to take pictures and visit the ever popular Itsukushima Shrine (this is the red arch gate many see when people talk about Japan). One of the coolest things was that there were wild semi-domesticated deer that were comfortable with people just wandering the island. After seeing all that I wanted to see, I headed to Osaka by way of bullet train to spend time there on Sunday. In Osaka, I visited Osaka Castle, which is one of the main highlights there. I also tried takoyaki, which are fried octopus dumplings. Essentially it’s a batter ball with a piece of octopus inside, covered in sauce and mayonnaise. It was very delicious! I also went to the Osaka Aquarium, which was HUGE!!! I found another Ferris wheel here, so I road that and took some spectacular pics of the river during sunset. Lastly, I travelled to Kyoto, which is the rustic and historic counterpart to bustling Tokyo (even the syllables are backwards haha). It was filled with all sorts of shrines, such as the Golden and Silver Temples, the zen rock garden, and the 1000 shrine gates.
I also embraced the nerdy side and visited the International Manga Museum and Nintendo video game headquarters. There was so much stuff packed into those three days that I wore myself out! But it was an absolutely spectacular weekend!
The last major trip I took was to the island of Oshima. It’s known for its popular beaches, camellia oil, and hot springs! The beaches were absolutely beautiful, with water that was crystal clear and several feet deep. We visited a dormant volcano, but we couldn’t see anything because it was so foggy. It was so foggy that the water just condensed right on us after walking for a short bit. That evening, we went to a hot spring, which was one of the most relaxing things I did in Japan. Lastly, we went to a Bon dance festival. In each area, they hold this festival at different times, and each area has its own special dance; for example, on Oshima, the dance was called the Flying Fish Dance. All in all, a fun time was had! I saw so many wonderful places and there were still some that I didn’t get to see, so I still have a desire to go back and see what I missed!
I had all sorts of unique experiences while I was over in Japan. I tried so many different kinds of food! One of my favorites was my welcome party, where I had to fish for my own dinner in a pond full of various fish.
I tried shabu shabu, which is where you swish raw meat through a pot of boiling flavored liquid to cook and then eat; this could also be done with vegetables, frozen cheese, and mochi, which is a type of chewy flour based dessert. Near the station by my dorm, I was able to eat an actual prepared bowl of ramen, compared with the cup of noodle stuff you can buy in the store and it was absolutely world changing ! Another drastic difference was authentic sushi, which just melted in your mouth when eaten. For my leaving party, I was able to eat yakiniku, which is grilled meat, and try different varieties including beef tongue and stomach; they were different tasting but not half bad! My favorite foods were Japanese style dumplings (based off those from China) and Japanese style fried chicken and stir fry dishes. One of the odder things to adjust to was actually being considered legal to buy and drink alcohol. In Japan, the legal age for both drinking and smoking is 20, which was very significant because whenever people went out to eat, there was lots of beer drunk by whoever partook in dinner. I usually drank a little for custom’s sake (so as not to be rude), but I usually had soda or water with my meals.
I also played a bunch of sports too! The company had a lot of events during the summer months, so I was always invited to play some type of sport. As soon as I got there, I played a couple games in a tennis tournament held throughout the first couple weeks of June. In July, we all went to a nearby field and played baseball, as well as soccer on a different weekend. My personal favorite was playing badminton with several coworkers every Thursday. Some of the people that worked for the company were professionals, so it was amazing to watch them play each other as well as get the honor to practice with them. I even went to a Giants baseball game over there, watching the home team of Tokyo bring in a win for the season!
One of my favorite things was visiting the various Pokémon centers across Japan. This was very nostalgic because I was able to enjoy seeing and buying things from my childhood. I even went to watch the new movie in theaters! Even though it was in Japanese only with no subtitles, I’m proud to say that I understood it enough to follow the plot. So many different things were at my fingertips and I tried to grab at ever one at each opportunity I had.
Overall this was one of the milestones of my life accomplishments. I was able to mark so many things off of my bucket list with this trip! I’m probably leaving some things out, but that’s to be expected when summarizing living in a foreign country for three months in only a couple of pages. This trip has been such a broadening experience because I got to meet new people, try new things, and experience an entirely new culture. I feel that I made an even better impression because I spoke the language, which helped me connect to this trip and the people I worked with on such an even deeper level. Without that speaking skill, I couldn’t have been anywhere near as independent and confident as I was throughout my stay. It has shown me that I truly have a passion for this new language as well as traveling around to see new things and interact with other companies rather than being completely stationary. I do hope to one day return and see all of the friends that I made. Several thousand pictures, four suitcases (one more than I originally started with), and one summer later, I have done something truly spectacular for a person my age and I’m proud to say that I succeeded. Hope you enjoyed reading about my trip!! See more photos on our facebook page,