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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

US Navy Patches in Japan

US Navy Patches in Japan-  Clockwise: 1) USS Independence ship emblem; 2) Westpac 93-94 Rocker; 3) Southern Watch 93 Eagle; 4) Crossing The Equator Australian Cruise May 1993; 5) I-5 Interstate patch; 6) Pacific Rim Exercise, Hawaiian Cruise, June 1994; 7) Foreign Legion USS Indy; 8) Operation Southern Watch-  It Flies; It Dies; MIDDLE 9) Dobuita Dori Yokosuka (Japanese) patch 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Japanese Culture- The Art of Not Making “Meiwaku” When Dealing with The Japanese

My time in Japan has been very good to me and has allowed hands-on experience with the Japanese which has contributed to my relationship with my spouse, the foundation needed to become an instructor at the university level, director of an international student program that rivaled the crosstown competitor and one of the largest universities in the US, and owner of a tutoring dispatching company in Columbus, Ohio that provides services to the Japanese expats and their families in the area that work for Honda and their suppliers. With this being the case, one’s success and failure when dealing with the Japanese will be only as good as how they connect with their Japanese counterparts. As a non-Japanese person, the last thing that you ought to be is an inconvenience, or burden known as “Meiwaku” in Japanese. In approaching your relationship with the Japanese, the three things to strongly consider are 1) not over-committing yourself in other areas forcing less than your best, 2) arriving to functions 15-minutes early, and 3) devoting yourself for the entire time that the functions are to last. 
First, every situation is different. In my situation, I was an honorably discharged Navy veteran and had a “swing for the fences” approach when I returned to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) to team teach English as a foreign language to junior high school and elementary age students. Prior to this, I initially went to Japan as a junior enlisted member onboard the aircraft carrier, Independence, forward deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. Furthermore, when I returned to Japan on JET, I was doing so as a married man and we were returning to Saitama, a stone's throw from my wife's hometown, Tokyo. Before I was accepted onto the teaching program in Japan, the issue of “Meiwaku” was reinforced several times over by my wife. Showing up late to pick her up on a date despite heavy Los Angeles traffic was not acceptable. Since my first time to Japan wasn’t on a study abroad program, but on a forward-deployed aircraft carrier that was always in battle condition mode due to the ship’s unique situation of being forward-deployed to Japan, I wasn’t able to get the full Japanese experience the first time around. 
Aside from the obvious obligations as a new teacher such as doing the very best that I could for the schools that I would be working at, I was poised on finding a Japanese language program that could provide structure and consistency. In my mind, the better that my Japanese became, the less of a burden I would be for those around me. Furthermore, I would understand more, have more independence, and have greater quality of life while in Japan. I found a Japanese language program at an area university and for the three years that I taught English in Saitama, I studied there and developed my Japanese skills and learned many things about myself along the way. 
Point #1- Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
One of the things that I learned about myself the second time to Japan was the importance of time management and it was something that I felt that I did better than many of my peers. I credit four years in the Navy to help in this area. For example, through my quest to get the most out of Japan the second time around, I met the Japanese owner of an English conversation lounge in nearby Omiya. She would have native English speakers like me volunteer and facilitate English conversation on Sunday mornings. I would limit this to one Sunday a month since time is the only resource that we cannot replace and I had family obligations such as spending time with my in-laws in Tokyo. Easily, I could have volunteered every Sunday at the English conversation lounge due to the positive relationship that I had established with the school’s owner.  
Unfortunately, the owner of the English conversation lounge would frantically call me on some Sunday mornings asking me if it were possible to come to her school since one of the other native English speakers cancelled at the last minute or was a no-show. Causing this “Meiwaku” did not sit well with the Japanese paying customers that she was serving. But, they did not hold this against the owner since it was the lack of the native English speaker’s planning that was causing the emergency on the Japanese owner’s part. People universally know that there are things that are out of one’s control and then there are those that are clumsy and absent minded which do not sit well in Japanese culture. Bear in mind that these busy Japanese adults that were eager to improve their English were hectically working 50-60 hours a week and Sunday was their fun day and they were taking their precious free time to improve their English which wasn’t getting done since the native English speaker that the Japanese owner was relying on was nowhere to be found. 
One particular time, it was my time to volunteer at the school. I woke up and felt awful. It was the beginning stages of the flu or flu-like symptoms. I realized the timing and told myself that if I didn’t make the appointment, even though I had a legitimate reason, I would be causing all sorts of problems. I made the 20-minute commute, arrived on time, and did my very best. I purposely chose to sit at a table with the smallest number of students to prevent any sort of spreading of the illness. Of course, everyone was pleased that I arrived, but I spent most of the time reassuring them that I was OK and not hungover. The bad behavior of the other native English speakers had preceded the earnest efforts that I was attempting to make. In the end, the Japanese owner of the school was appreciative. After the obligation was completed, I was able to return home, take medication, sleep the rest of the day, and was ready for work at the junior high school the following day.   
Point #2- 15-Minutes Early Means “On Time” in Japan
Nearly every Tuesday and Friday while living in Saitama, I would make the commute to Japanese language class at the nearby university. This required two train station transfers and a short walk to another station and a slightly longer walk from the last station of this trek to the university. Saitama is one of those places in Japan that having a car wasn’t needed unless you started to go further and further from the Metro Tokyo area. Going to the outskirts of Koshigaya City was the trade-off for my Japanese classes at the university. On most days, I was able to arrive to class on time. There were other language learners that lived in the area who would on many cases arrive late to class. Our teachers were upperclassmen at the university and were learning how to manage a classroom and presenting Japanese to language learners. Sometimes the instruction was uneven, but those like me were appreciative for the opportunity to learn Japanese in a structured setting. However, there were those student teachers who would be thrown off when a student came to class late. Some student teachers were very strict and ridged when it came to punctuality and it was evident that they were bothered by the “Meiwaku” that the tardy student was causing. By and far, Japanese people tend to budget a 15-minute window when arriving to an appointment and as a result, they are not causing “Meiwaku” to the others that they are meeting with.
Point #3- Does your devotion meet your host's expectations?
With social media, it is so easy these days to indicate that you will be going to an event that will take place weeks from now. The event’s organizers will perceive that you will be there, pays the fee to rent the room, places the order for the food and beverages, hire the keynote speaker, and so on. In many cases in Japan, such as day-long seminars or “lunch and learn” meetings, the organizers of the event will ensure the best use of one’s time and will have a lunch box provided. 
Imagine that you are the newcomer that consistently arrives late to functions, that is, when you are not cancelling at the last minute, and today, you want to skip out early for some reason or another.  As the old saying goes, “Perception is Reality”. 
Furthermore, “being there” doesn’t always mean that you are “present”. For example, a few years after returning to the US, I had a business trip to New Jersey for a company-wide conference. As the new director of a new language center hosted by a fledgling university in Ohio, I felt due to my newness and unique status that it was imperative that I was engaged and focused at these important meetings that my employer was paying for.  To my surprise, attendees ranging from those like me up to senior management would sit in on training sessions and instead of paying attention to the presenter, would peck away on their laptops as if to say that what was being presented wasn't important. As you can imagine, this sent the wrong message to the host and facilitators at this conference. 

Unfortunately, this experience in New Jersey was seen far too often when I was in Saitama.  Engaged with what is taking place on your Smartphone, taking extended restroom breaks, and “not being yourself” due to recovering from a hangover are some examples I witnessed by my peers checking out early of meetings, training sessions, and functions while in Saitama. 
In closing, it is in the Western mindset where one’s youth and/or newness combined with the use of the crutch that enables the line of thinking of “I’m a foreigner and don’t know any better” may give you a “pass” and be the justification needed to continue conducting yourself in this manner. However, your Japanese host and locals will have made all sorts of special arrangements for your participation in the event most assuredly will not see things in the same light. On the lighter side, your “Japanese friends” may not make themselves readily available to you like they did before. On the heavier side, your Japanese organization that has you under contract may eventually be unable to see the need to have a relationship with those that cause so much inconvenience and will seek other ways to fill the void that you are currently filling. In short, execute proper time management with your commitments while in Japan, arrive 15-minutes early, and keep your actions and words consistent with each other by staying committed till the very end and you will be doing your best when interacting with your Japanese counterparts.
Daniel J. Stone is the principal consultant and trainer of Two Birds One Stone Learning, ( a tutor dispatching firm based in Columbus, Ohio that caters to the expat community of the area. For five years, Daniel has lived and worked in Japan. Two of those years were at Fleet Activities-Yokosuka, onboard the aircraft carrier, USS Independence (CV-62) and three additional years were gained with the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET) Program in Saitama Prefecture, due north of Tokyo. Daniel has written for the Japanese Consulate, the Saitama MemoRandom, and other publications focusing on Japan and Japanese culture. His published works can be found at  
The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-17

Excerpt- Independence Day on the USS Independence- Thick As Thieves

An excerpt from the forthcoming part memoir and part transitional-advice book, intended for the civilian employer as a way to better understand the transitioning veteran

From the middle of May to the first part of July, I partook in my first underway period to Perth, Western Australia.  Upon returning to Japan, I started my new position, divisional yeoman.  While keyboarding or typing is pretty much a given in the 21st Century’s military, in the early 1990s, having a junior enlisted sailor with this skill set was rare.  One lunch period on the Australian deployment, my division officer and LPO walked by the galley.  My Div-O called for me with a folder in one hand and waving at me with the other.  “Stone, come here for a second.  I met with my Div-O, Mr. Jerome.  “Little Joey”, we called Mr. Jerome affectionately and behind his back, was a graduate from Vanderbilt University’s ROTC program and the Navy Supply Corp School in Athens, GA.  Mr. Jerome was a newly promoted LTJG that came onto the ship about 18 months before me.  He had been a division officer at the Disbursing office, S-4 division.  In his new role, he had become accustom to the support of the veteran enlisted personnel, like my LPO and others in key positions in S-5.  The Navy, being cyclical in nature was seeing some of these key people rotating off the Indy.  This was the case with the division’s current yeoman, Petty Officer Third Class Pelzer. 
“Stone, I have been reviewing your personnel file and noticed that you took typing in the 10th grade.  “Yes sir, that is correct.”, I replied with proper military bearing.  “Very good.”, Mr. Jerome replied with a relieved look on his face.  My LPO chimed in, “The day after tomorrow, the Indy will be back in Yokosuka and at that time, I want you and Petty Officer Pelzer to do a turnover.  Pelzer will be transferring off the Indy before we deploy to the Persian Gulf later this year.” 
Just like that, I was the division’s new yeoman.  The thought of not having to get up at 0500 and working in the hot galley was a relief and I was thanking my stars for Mrs. Olsen’s typing class at Riverside High School.  In Yokosuka, I celebrated Independence Day on the Indy with inport 24-hour duty.  This was a Sunday, and with my first weekend back in Japan, the new bond that happens with sailors when they serve together on an underway period such as the Australian deployment created a pack of guys that were thick as thieves.  The Saturday before, I decided to burn the midnight oil as we hit the Keikyu Line north to Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station transferring to the Yamamote Line, getting off at the Ebisu Station and taking the subway to the unofficial junior enlisted man’s headquarters, Roppongi.  Of course, before leaving the base in Yokosuka, there was a stop by the package store where cheap bottles of “Mad Dog 20-20” were purchased and consumed on the train.   
The night out was like the previous times before the Australian deployment.  Get to Roppongi by 8pm, hit all of the bars and night clubs that start to charge a cover later in the night to get their stamps allowing free access later that night, and justify our presence in these places by adhering to the facilities’ rule, “Having a drink in hand at all times”.  I must have done this two or three times a month from July to September.  At one of these excursions to Roppongi, I met a Japanese woman, who was from Saitama.         

                While I had a great time painting the town with my newfound brothers on the ship in the big city of Tokyo, I made good on my commitment to the job by reporting to duty the following morning on time, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed despite not leaving Tokyo till 5am.  This was by virtue of the trains resuming service at that time after being stopped from 11am the previous morning.  To this day, 99% of your everyday veteran in the civilian workforce will find a way to get to work on time despite the obstacles that they may have faced.  I guess a bad thing to point out about this was feeling the need to blow off steam on an all-night excursion knowing that I had to be on duty the next day.  This discrepancy is something that is commonly done after long periods of hard work on the high seas and a good thing about this is this sort of indulgence is out of the transitioning veteran’s system by the time they reach the civilian workforce.  Lastly, another good thing about veterans is that most can pick up and go with a new assignment and can make changes to their routine on the fly despite the misconception that veterans struggle in the civilian world due to the military world being overly structured.      
Are you a fan of coming-of-age stories of about everyday guys from small town USA discovering themselves on war machines such as aircraft carriers in far off places and the like?  If so, I would love to hear from you:

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-17

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Home by the Sea- My First Home in Japan (Yokosuka Navy Base, USS Independence CV-62)

December 20th, Columbus, OH-

The Indy, my first home in Japan, was the Navy's only forward deployed carrier group from the early 1990s until its decommissioning in the late 1990s.

This sweatshirt was one of the last things that I bought at the ship's store when I transferred to a ship in CA and started the process of getting ready for college.  So many life lessons were learned during those two years on the Indy-- both on the ship and on Liberty in Japan.  One lesson in particular was looking at the glass being half full.  Sadly, many of my junior enlisted contemporaries did the opposite and missed out on what Japan had to offer.

After graduating from college, I was fortunate to return to Japan on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program where I took my curiosity and interest of Japan to the next level.  I am better off because of my time spent in Japan-- both in Yokosuka and in Saitama and have Freedom's Flagship to thank for making that possible.  

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-16

Monday, April 25, 2016

My Favorite Experience with the JET Program

Going to Japan was a life changing experience, yet this occurred before my acceptance on the JET Program.  From 20-22, younger than the typical JET, I was a junior enlisted service member as part of ship's company on the American aircraft carrier, Independence forward deployed to Yokosuka, Kanagawa, Japan.

From 22-24, I finished up my Navy enlistment in California and from 24-29, all efforts were made towards my undergraduate degree.  Why?  It was the prerequisite for the JET Program.  In California, people that knew me found it interesting that I would spend most of my time in the Japanese American communities of the South Bay of Los Angeles such as Torrance and Gardena.  Members of these communities would often tell me, "You know Daniel, there's this JET Program that you ought to look into.  Since I felt comfortable with this community, I took to heart their advice.

My favorite experience with JET occurred on my second year.  It was a cool, clear day in October in Saitama at one of the biggest elementary schools in our school district.  All of the stars had aligned as I worked really hard my first year to improve my Japanese since at the elementary schools, there weren't many, if any teacher that knew English which was different at the junior high schools with the Japanese Teacher of English.  I also worked really hard developing a "bag of tricks" and improving my conditioning since lessons at the elementary schools required a lot of energy and non-textbook material and games.

On this particular day in October, I was really connecting with a group of 2nd graders.  Unfortunately, it was my last day, but I was going to return the following January.  I bid farewell and told the students, "See you next January!"  Tsugi no ichi gatsu.  With that, the students all smiled and cheered and began to chant over and over, Tsugi no ichi gatsu!!

I remember walking back to the nearby train station and saying to myself, "How many people are getting this chance?  I remembered my days of working long and hard hours a few prefectures away on the Indy and I remembered my days stuck in the "rat race" in LA.  I could be stuck in those bad situations but I was blessed to have the good fortune of being able to be back in Japan putting a smile of children's faces.

The JET Program means many things to many people, but it means to me that things taste a little sweeter the second time around and are cherished even more.  I went on JET at 31 because I wasn't ready for JET at 22 or 23.  It took nearly a decade for me to get to that point.  Why?  Because I was meant to have a connection with Japan and the JET Program was the best vehicle to see this reality to come to pass.

Everything happens for a reason.  Trust yourself, keep yourself focused, and always try to meet your full potential.  I the end you will.  If a guy like me can, then I can't see why the same won't happen to you!!

The Divine Wind Vault (C)2006-16