Friday, July 31, 2009

People, people everywhere, and no directions to follow!

Today was a great day for us. We had three appointments with consultants here in Tokyo, and we were somehow able to wend our way to every one -- albeit a bit late! We are staying in the Shinjuku area of the city where one of the biggest metro convergences exists. Andy and I walked to the subway station this morning at about 8am, only to hit rush hour at its best (read, worst). I've never seen so many people -- even in Times Square! I tried to take a picture to share, but none of them came out as adequate representations of the incredible number of people walking to and from subway stations. After 40 minutes in the station trying to navigate the system (and not speaking the language!), we gave up and took a cab to our first appointment. What a ride! Tokyo is filled with fascinating, narrow streets, dotted with small neighborhood shops. I have no idea how anyone knows where any of the streets goes as they don't seem to be straight, and they end up in unexpected places. Quite a ride:

3600 Yen later (about $36), we emerged from our cab and located the New International School in the Toshima district of the city, just north of Shinjuku. We visited with the head, an American, of this 9-year-old school that houses grades K-9. He was delightful, and we learned a lot about Japanese families and the world economy. From his perspective, there are many families here in Tokyo who would need financial aid to send their children to an American boarding school; we were asked about whether we would consider this for our international students. We told him that there is some, but not much, aid available to worthy students.

Upon leaving him, we braved the subway system once again, thinking that perhaps we could figure it out from a smaller station. We were right! It worked! And, really, the system is relatively easy to manage once you get help from someone (thank you, nice subway worker who spoke no English). We went from Toshima to Shibuya, just south of Shinjuku, in no time for our next appointment. What we soon came to realize was that no one really knows how to give directions in this city; there are few street signs and seemingly no map with street names on it. It wasn't until late this afternoon that we found a street sign on a major thoroughfare that included an English translation (here's where I am feeling very inadequate for my lack of understanding Japanese; just one more ugly American...). At every stop today we struggled to find our exact destination. Even the people we were going to see didn't know how to give us good guidance to find them. This really perplexes me so I'm hoping to shed some insight on it before we leave!

When we finally found the EDIC offices (consulting firm), we were surprised to be greeted by someone other than the woman we thought we'd be meeting. Instead we met a young male colleague of hers who introduced us to another man we took to be his supervisor. We were wrong; he was the father of a young girl interested in Stoneleigh-Burnham! We spent some time with them and encouraged him to visit the school with his wife and daughter when they go to visit their older daughter at Brandeis in a few weeks. I have really enjoyed talking about the school today, sharing all the good things we've been doing this year and getting very positive feedback about our work. It is also so nice to see Andy enjoying her connection with these consultants she's talked to on the phone for years and never met; wonderful!

The woman we did expect to see connected with us at the end of our meeting, and she and another colleague took us out for lunch at a beautiful, small traditional Japanese restaurant. They were thoughtful enough to have ordered ahead, and so beautiful trays of assorted foods were put before us. It was a lovely meal, and we so enjoyed our company.

The Shibuya neighborhood was beautiful as well - small streets and cobbled walkways lined with upscale shops. Very nice. We had some time before our next appointment so from there we walked to the Mieji-jingu Shrine, a gorgeous oasis in the midst of the bustling city, where we got some solace from a busy day. Andy and I walked into the park-like environment and followed the path to the shrine which we found beautiful:

From there, we strolled down a beautiful tree-lined avenue with loads of internationally-known designer shops, lots of young people, and masses of bodies on the street. I'm not sure you can see it here, but if you look into the background of this picture, you may be able to discern the flow of humanity in which we were traveling. Look way up into the sidewalk...all those little dots are people. Very impressive!

Our last stop today was in the Minato neighborhood at another consultants' office. We struggled again to find the place once we had emerged from the subway stop. But it turned out that they had even given us the wrong subway to go to! Ugh. My feet hurt at this point, and we still had to find our way to our meeting; we did, and it was another delightful group of people. Again we shared the good news of Stoneleigh-Burnham and were well-received. I have to interject here that our new viewbook has been wonderful to bring along; it is clear that it's having the effect we had hoped for.

It wasn't until 5:30 that we left that office and headed back to Shinjuku -- at rush hour again. But this time we knew more about what we were doing. Our only challenge was to figure out where our hotel was when we emerged on the street. Even that wasn't too bad, thanks to some street maps designed for tourists that we found. Our hotel, it turned out, was a mere 3 blocks from the station. I took off my shoes immediately. We had a short rest and ate in the hotel; no more walking today!

Tomorrow we have a slow day getting ready for the alumnae and current family event in the evening. Andy is so excited to see all the girls she's been in contact with for so long, and I am very anxious to talk about the school and encourage everyone to join in our fun.

A few cultural notes:
--Andy and I have agreed that we really enjoy Japanese hospitality and have found everyone here to be wonderfully accepting.
--That said, the homogeneity of this population is also noticeable. It is unusual to see another Caucasian on the streets, and we have seen virtually no African, African-American or Middle Eastern faces. That could probably also be said in any number of places around the U.S., but the fact that this is a world-reknown city makes it all the more interesting to note in this day and age.
--We are still struck by the sheer numbers of people here in the city. We are anxious to get out and about tomorrow, Saturday, to see if we still sense the masses.
--The money has been fairly easy to deal with, though this is a VERY expensive city. Even in the small restaurants it seems you cannot get much for a bargain.
--We feel the importance of this trip more and more, and I imagine that our feelings will be affirmed once we have our event tomorrow night. Certainly, the consultants we saw today (one of whom will be attending the event) all underscored the meaning of this trip, both for building a profile in this part of the world and for networking with alumnae and families. We're excited!

More tomorrow.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

We're here - in Tokyo!

After 14 hours, we arrived in Tokyo mid-afternoon of the 30th. The airport is about 1 1/2 hours from the area of the city where we are staying, Shinjuku. Our travels went very well, an easy time of it given the length of the trip, and here we are as we arrived at Newark Airport:

Andy and I checked into the hotel and promptly met with a group of men who will be overseeing our reception on Saturday night. We had three to start with, one of whom is an American married to a Japanese woman. Two more joined us and were introduced as the guys who will be helping us on Saturday as all the others will be off duty. We were handed everyone's cards except the guys who will be there when the reception happens! At any rate, we got the configuration of the room all squared away, and we are on the 47th floor with an incredible skyline view of Tokyo! It will be a wonderful reception, I think (except that we will not be using the power point projection because it would cost us an additional $300). We are very excited to see everyone - a good combination of current students and alumnae.

We took a walk around the block from our hotel, Keio Plaza Intercontinental Hotel, which was fascinating. Lots of people, lots of small shops and restaurants, and lots of noise (we think from some kind of locust insects?!!?!? we'll find out tomorrow!). All buzzing with excitement and LOADS of people, cars and bicycles.

When we returned from our walk, we found a restaurant in the hotel where we had a buffet - nice combination of Japanese and western cuisine. We did okay! We have noted the incredible etiquette of the Japanese, at least in the service arenas. Every time we have pressed the button to use the elevators, a hotel employee suddenly emerges, holds the door for us and bows until the door closes. We're trying to figure out where they come from!

More tomorrow; we are both ready to keel over and SLEEP for awhile! Tomorrow we have 3 meetings with consultants whom Andy has known only over the phone for many years. Very exciting!

Will post more pics of the city tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Well, after months of neglecting this blog, I am back to document our trip to Asia. Andy Patt, Director of International Programs, and I are leaving in the morning to head first to Tokyo, then to Seoul, followed by Taipei and then Shenzhen, China by way of Hong Kong. We're excited to be able to visit current students and alumnae and all their parents! And we look forward to learning more about the cultures of all our destinations. We will also finally know how many of our international students feel when they make the long trip from home to Greenfield!

We'll try hard to make a daily entry during our two week visit. Of course, there is so much more to report on the way our year has gone, but that will have to wait for another day. Stay tuned!