Following our weekend in Nagano, Soeng and I continued on to Yokohama to take part in the After JET Conference. The purpose of the three day conference is to help participants of the JET Programme transition into the next chapter of their lives. My participation in such an event does in fact mean that *GASP* my time in Japan will be coming to an end. My contract is good until August 1st though, so I’m still left with a decent chunk of time with which to enjoy myself and tie up any loose ends before I go and continue my adventures someplace else.
Pacifico Yokohama Conference Center
In the meantime though, I’m here in Yokohama with plans to meet a couple of friends for dinner and drinks. After getting settled at the hotel, the two of us went down to the station to meet up with Kei. We were fraternity brothers back at Hope but our living on opposite sides of Japan had kept our paths uncrossed for at least a year. Being able to meet with friends during days off work, was a great side effect of our participation in this conference.
We also joined up with mutual friend John and then walked over to a nearby American BBQ restaurant and microbrew. While the size of the city was certainly reflected in the menu prices, the luxury of a good craft beer and proper food dismissed those issues. The place was packed when we arrived but they were able to offer us the top floor, which was intended for larger events. They had a couple of couches up there which made kicking back and relaxing pretty nice. Despite my self-confessed bogarting of the conversation, it was nice to catch up.
The next morning the two of us walked to Mister Doughnut and then down a trendy pedestrian street where we grabbed a rather bad lunch before heading over to the conference. We arrived, registered, met with the others from Kagawa and then took a seat towards the back of the room. A delightfully British guy took the podium to deliver an eloquently orated keynote address. The other speakers talked about re-entry preparation & reverse culture shock, resumes & interview techniques, and there was also a panel of professionals that talked about how to go about finding that next job. A lot of the information was very good and will hopefully be something that I can incorporate into my search.
Following the first day of seminars, we all decided to go to Chinatown for dinner. We ended up at some generic buffet but were sure to make the most of it. The food was basically the same as a Chinese buffet in America, but since I actually prefer that to authentic Chinese food I was very pleased. We ordered and ordered and eventually had our fill, but also a lot of entertaining conversation along the way. Once Soeng arrived the troupe was complete and things carried on a bit longer. From there they kept the good times rolling by hitting karaoke, while Kei and I returned to his domicile for the night.
Not a good shot by any means.
I had never met his parents before, but because of our travel and school filled pasts. they knew plenty about me. We talked about our time at Hope, our trips together, and whatever else before they called it a night. Eventually I took a bath and the two of us retired to the den to eat mikans and watch Japanese TV. We had arrived to his house quite late so there wasn’t a whole lot of time before bed, but it was nice to catch up. The next morning we got ready, I for day two of my conference and he for his work trip to Kenya. After a quick breakfast and some final words of appreciation, we were whisked away to the station to begin the day.
Day two offered a number of presentations on myriad topics amd people were free to check out whichever piqued their interests. I opted for Finding your Path, Careers with Japanese Firms, NGO/NPOs, Finance, and Cross-Cultural Consulting. I found about half of them to be quite informative and they even gave me some confidence moving forward. That said, it also became clear that getting to that next step of my professional life was going to take a bit of effort. The song sung throughout the conference by almost every speaker was the importance of networking, and also the potential of Linkedin. I’ve since tidied up my profile and reached out to some people, but it feels like it’ll take a whole lot more than just that to get my foot in the door. I did also learn a few things about some new and potential careers paths.
The only plan that evening was for Soeng and I to join a number of other people at some Hawaiian restaurant. There were about 40 people in total, mostly friends of NAJET members, and especially those of our treasurer Ami who planned it all. There were a lot of really genuine people present, but because we were all situated around a long table we had a hard time fraternizing with more than those in our immediate vicinity. Watching a guy order tons of mango juice and another conquer a Man v. Food worthy burger were highlights of the evening.
I’ll be damned if he didn’t finish it right there in front of me.
Overall just meeting some fresh faces was nice. There wasn’t so much inclination to make conversation at the conference itself because most of us have gotten over collecting empty friendships by that point. We all settled up an impressive 1500 dollar tab and returned home.
For that last day there was talk from various embassies and foreign dignitaries about joining the state department as a foreign service officer. This was also really interesting, and certainly a path that I may take a hard look at. I do worry that some of my travels might stand to hinder my background check and security clearance. Things wrapped up around noon and before long I had met up with the rest of the Kagawa folks to plot how we would spend the remainder of our day.
Because we were returning home by overnight bus, we had about 10 hours to kill before the departure. We first walked over to the Red Brick Warehouse just to see it but along the way we came across the Yokohama Port Customs Museum. We couldn’t deprive ourselves of that treasure trove of knowledge and excitement. The exhibit mostly showcased their efforts to curb the imports of drugs and illegal goods. We were soon back on our way to our intended destination. The structure looked exactly as its name would suggest, but the inside of it has been converted into a number shops and restaurants. It was satisfying enough to say we saw the landmark, but our excitement only went that far.
We took the party over to what we assumed to be the shining star of Yokohama, the Cup Noodle Museum. We weren’t really sure what to expect at all from it, but boy did this place deliver. We arrived to a cavernous room filled with nothing but a lone novelty sized cup of noodles.
After some obligatory pictures, we bought our tickets and proceeded on into the exhibit. The first hall had everything you would expect from a museum such as this: history of Cup Noodles from conception to modern day, an exhibit that included every variety produced to date, and a larger than life statue of the man behind it all. It was interesting to walk around everything, though we couldn’t really be bothered to read it all. There was another exhibit that seemed to be more of a novelty and was used to demonstrate the effects of angles and perspective. After we had had our fun, we continued on upstairs to create our very own cup of noodles.
The Man. The Myth. The Legend. Momofuku Ando:
Creator God of Cup Noodles
We got up there, bought our Cup Noodle blank from a vending machine and then got going on decorating the cup. For us, this sort of thing was great but we were all legitimately amazed at the number of Japanese people our age also engrossed in this activity. We got right to it and after about 20 minutes had them all looking how we wanted them. From there, they added the noodles and four of whichever flavors we wanted. Beyond the standard offerings were a number of museum exclusives such as heart shapes. When everything was completed, they shrink wrapped it and returned it to us. Lastly, we placed them inside an inflatable plastic pillow and pumped it up to ensconce our treasure for safe keeping. The whole experience was a bit bizarre but far more than we could have hoped for.
Yes, I realize that this is upside down…
By now it was getting a little bit late, so we made it over to the station to eat at the nearby Shakeys Pizza. These are only found in Japan’s larger cities, so I try to take advantage of the cheap pizza buffet every chance I get. We had plenty of time, so we spent about 3 hours here just eating and talking. I managed to glut 24 pieces, easily surpassing my goal of 20, but that was largely on account of the ample time we spent there. One of the highlights of mealtime entertainment was watching a lady sitting next to us devour absolutely everything. The petite woman was alone and went though about 20 pieces of pizza, which she then followed with at least 3 heaping plates of pasta. She was still eating when we left, but her two trips to the bathroom all but confirmed our suspicions. We were in awe.
Nothing like a little squid ink pizza
With the time of our departure drawing near, we waddled on down to the bus terminal. We decided to stock up on snacks and such for the ride home and rewarded John for guarding our bags with a Soy Joy and can of Beer Taste. He was elated at our generosity. The ride home was fine and after arriving in the early morning, it was life as usual. The pain of going directly to work after 10 hours on a bus was mitigated by us starting the week on a Thursday.
The long weekend as a whole was fantastic. In addition to crossing some longstanding Nagano items off my bucket list, and also visiting with friends in Yokohama, this conference really served as the starting point for my transition out of Japan. By embracing the closing of this chapter, I can focus on leaving with no regrets and heading into the next stage of life, wherever that may be. Hopefully come August I can pare it all down down and paint a clearer picture of what everything will actually look like.