Our second week in Japan took us out of Tokyo to Tsubame, Niigata prefecture, a city of roughly 80,000 people North-northwest of Tokyo. Our chosen mode of transportation was the Shinkansen bullet train,
which took us through the snowy mountains in roughly two hours, covering 200 clicks in the process. The trains are neat and clean, with attendants selling everything from snacks to beer.
A fine way to travel in my opinion. Upon arrival, we were shuttled to a shop selling the products of local industries. Mostly items made of metal, although I can’t be sure if that was the
defining factor. The shop had an exhibition of the local’s finest work in front, giving us a quick sneak peek at what was to come.
For the duration of our visit to Tsubame, we were housed in the local industries’ associations brand new dorm for visiting interns. The fridge was stocked and remained so
for the whole week.
During the week, we visited a wide variety of local metal industries, ranging from precision-cut sheet metal to hand-crafted teapots made by hammering
a single copper plate until it became a teapot, snout and all. Local industries’ products have had quite a bit of success with international design awards,
red dot for example.
All of the factories gave interesting tours with some taking us through the actual factory grounds, mere meters from the giant machines churning out metalware, while others had
purpose-built touring facilities showcasing the manufacturing process of their particular industry. The concentration of the workers to their task, whether it be grinding a certain angle to a blade or polishing spoons
ten at a time, made a lsting impression. I felt I could also detect a modest, and deserved, pride in their work in many of the people we met.
I had often thought about traveling to Japan, and seeing the Japan outside of Tokyo was always part of the plan. In that sense, the week in Tsubame delivered. I was struck, for example, by how it seemed that no patch of land was left unused.
Rice was cultivated between roads and houses, which were already wall to wall. As only 11.5% of Japan’s land is arable, using it seems only prudent.
Japan has 339 people per square mile, compared to Finland’s 17, so I was expecting to be in a crowd where ever we went, but Japan outside of Tokyo was not as packed as I expected.
The trip culminated in the unveiling of our workshop projects in the ballroom of a local hotel. After our presentations to local industrialists, there was a party. After the party we headed to
a local bar for the second time this week. After me and Linda entered, we were shown a console of some sorts. Thinking that this was just a novel way to choose the playlist, we chose Journey’s don’t stop believin’.
To our shock, a couple of mics were shoved in our hands. KARAOKE TIME!
We did some shopping for souvenirs the next day before heading to Tokyo and eventually home.