San in Tokyo

At one time I was Director of Web Technology for one of the world’s largest staffing companies. In July of 1998, I was sent to Tokyo to research local Web-development methods and workflows, to eat fantastic sushi and noodles with the company’s Tokyo office staff, and to give a talk on Web development to Japanese developers.

San speaking on Web development in Tokyo

The company hired a professional English-to-Japanese translator for the talk (you can see him seated next to a microphone in the upper right). Interestingly, about a third of the audience laughed at my jokes even before he could translate them. Their English comprehension must have been quite good, because humor is one of the hardest things to understand in a foreign language. There was also a videographer (standing on the right), but I never saw the video and have no idea what, if anything, it was used for.

There were many interesting places in Tokyo to visit, including the Asakusa Buddhist temple. The Japanese are avid photographers, and were constantly volunteering to take my picture with the camera I was carrying. (Often they would compliment me on having a Japanese-made camera, which made me wonder: what kind of cameras did they think Americans used?) Below you can see me standing in front of a display case filled with religious lights of some kind. I was having a great time despite the killer heat wave — literally. Several local people died of the heat and humidity during the nine days I was there.

San at Buddhist Temple

Of course, some local people knew perfectly well how to beat the heat…

San with bathing beauties, Tokyo

…and I think you can see why I found the Japanese to be so utterly charming!

By the way, since my last name (which is really of European origin) happens to be the standard honorific in Japanese, I suggested to some of the people I met that they call me “San San,” which would translate to something like “Mister Mister.” (Do you remember the character Major Major from Catch-22, who was given that rank because the top brass thought it was funny?) However, none of the Japanese took my suggestion. I thought the idea amusing, but they’re much too formal and polite to “make fun” of someone’s name, even when invited to do so.

Here I am with some colleagues in the Shinjuku district at night:

San with colleagues in Shinjuku

This photo doesn’t really do justice to the amazing lights, which towered up all around us, blinking and animating at a furious pace. (I’m originally from New York, and I thought it put Times Square to shame.) Shinjuku at night was like being bathed in a psychedelic sea of iridescent colors. It just added to the sense of unreality I already felt from being in a very foreign — and delightful — country.

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© 2011, 2021 Lawrence San