Different choices by Levko Ivanchuk


In the middle of the road on Zamami it hit me. It was a thought, a very simple one. At that moment, I saw some kids playing on a steet. Some time ago I was a kid playing on a street in my neighbourhood in Lviv, just like these kids. Despite all the odds, God knows how I made it to this secluded island in Japan. Kids I was playing with didn't make it here - I am not sure what they are doing, but I am confident they stayed put, still walking the streets of Lviv. They might have families, even kids like these those I was seeing. My friends didn't wander off the beaten path. They never saw this. 


I had not idea I will ever go to Japan at all. Of couse, it was even harder to imagine I would ever be on this island. But there I was, thinking about people that made a different choise. Honestly, I don't think their choise was a bad one - I am jealous, even. Whatever their choices were, whatever they ended up doing, my choice led me to Zamami.


A small island with almost no people. The atmosphere of pure peace - separation leaves no chance for external anger to come through. There is no war. Nor is there anything to speak of. It is just nature. These Japanese kids who are playing on that island have no idea what world around them has to offer to them. I am sure they want to leave the island and live a big life somewhere - but me, I would stay of that island. I would work by writing code or something like this, run on the beach, listen to music and read. I would live by the sea and worry only about storm and earthquake - nothing else. That would be mine, very different and difficult, choise. 


Sumo by Levko Ivanchuk

Japan has its many surprises. Whereas it is the food that astonishes you, or the way they package things, or the way they do regular, human stuff - I am sure that at any point a person visiting or even living in Japan, but not born here, would have a moment that just opened their mouth and only sounds of amazement came out. 

Sumo is quintessentially Japanese. It is a sport of tradition and respect - those two things are definitive. Competitiveness is present, but it must give way to the aforementioned rules - respect the tradition and respect your opponent. In virtually any competitive sport you will see a celebrating sportsman at the end of the performed activity. Celebration is natural, but it does not happen in sumo. Fighters just show no emotion - either they are not allowed to, or they are not willing to, but it does make sense, after all. Before, during and especially after the fight, the face of a sumo fighter is concentrated, emotionless and serious. This is what impressed me the most - the amount of self-control that was in the hall. 

This sport is also unique because of its ties to religion. The ring - dohyō (土俵) - is considered to be a sacred place and is made only from sand. It is truly amazing how they manage to support a lot of heavy-body movement of, what looks like, a cracked and fragile sand structure. See the picture below. 

Before each fight, sumo wrestlers perform a specific ritual. It is undoubtedly very interesting, but what I found the most interesting is the 'sand-throwing'. Essentially, it is a tradition that takes its roots in religion and is meant to fear away the ghosts from the sacred ring. Fascinating. 

Overall, a day spent watching some very heavy men fight turned out to be a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Despite the high price, this is a thing to do in Japan - more than anything else. You can not get anything more Japanese than Sumo. 

Tokyo by Levko Ivanchuk

People gather to TOKYO from here and there with memories of their home. And then, TOKYO gets everyone’s home town.
— Tokyo Banana Box

This quote is annoying if you are a grammar nazi, nor is it particularly important. It is printed on every box full of small, banana flavoured cakes that one should bring from Tokyo as a souvenir (or, correctly, お土産). Japanese turn English language slogans into an amusement for tourists, however, even if this quote is very much 'lost in translation', it still conveys a meaning - Tokyo is a great place to live. 

Of course, it is an exaggeration and yes, I must say that it is solely my personal opinion. But, I would not be saying this if I had any doubts or secondary thoughts. It would be a mistake to call myself an adventurous person - I know people who have travelled far more than I did - but I must point out that I've seen places, or at least I think so. There are many places I can compare Tokyo with. Even if my lack of travel to Asian countries does not make me a good 'reviewer', I do have a couple of things to say that, hopefully, prove the quote we started with.

It is impossible to understand Tokyo, since there is no such thing as Tokyo. It might sound weird to someone who has not been here. 'Tokyo' or, more correctly, 'Edo', is a concept, no more than just a word people use when they want to describe the geographical area that is like a big lightbulb on Earth (if seen from space, at night). In some cities, there is a clearly defined area that people call 'downtown' or 'city centre'. Usually, that area contains all the good stuff (although, in Winnipeg, the term 'good stuff' will take a completely different meaning). Downtown is where people go, meet up, enjoy their free time and just relax. Tokyo has no single, centralized area like that. Instead, it has a lot of them. 

In reality, when you look at the map of Tokyo, you will immediately notice a huge green blob right in the middle and you will tell yourself "Aha! That is the Imperial Place! That is the city centre!". Technically, you will be right. In really, that would be a very ridiculous assumption. In fact, Tokyo is not about the place - it is about the people that you meet. 

Weirdly, every place you go to is ... good. Sometimes, very good. In a month, I haven't visited a 'bad' place. Every restaurant has decent food, cheaply priced even at high-end and touristy places. Every bar sells cheap & good alcohol. The service is exceptional, even if you don't speak much Japanese. We are talking every single place I visited in a month - and that is quite a few of them. Of course, inevitably, I will find something revolting and this theory will break down, but, just the fact that it takes me so long to find a shitty place is, simply, astonishing. 

Of course, the area I explored most is Shibuya. I love Shibuya. I don't mind tons of people moving around and I don't care about a statue of a dog either. But I do like the concept of it - a huge place where you can find anything, where millions of people pass by every day, where it is always crowded. Yet, no single trash bin - and no litter. Only in Japan, my friend. Police are diving directions and helping people out. Everywhere is super clean, if you take into account the number of people. You are rarely invited to a restaurant by some man on the street, and no one can stop you from admiring the huge buildings and enormous screens with ridiculous Japanese advertising. It just ... works. A society where discipline is key just works. Shibuya is a great example of that. 

Yet, as it is with many cities, you don't find a great night in popular places. You have to explore, wander around the back streets - where locals go. So we did. 

Truth to be told, at first I had a temptation to share the exact location of this place, but then, there is no need for that. If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, and if you only stick to the guide book or someone else's advice, you won't find a great evening.


Massive, multi-million people city, where space is limited and therefore it is generally crowded might seem like a terrible place to be. At first glance, who wants to be crowded up in a line up for an escalator, stepped on ones feet a couple of times, only to find out later that ones train is delayed by an hour. In truth, such things seem to be impossible in Tokyo. In fact, compactness somehow brings people together. In a bar, you won't have a waiter, but your bartender will inevitably become a part of your party. It might sound like an 'intrusion to ones privacy' at first, but then, if one cares about such things, perhaps something should be reconsidered.  


Our bartender, みちさん, was skillful, relaxed, busy and enjoyable companion. If anything, I would go as far as calling him 'the shepherd into the valley of darkness'. His sake was dangerously strong and dangerously easy to drink. 


みちさん was excellent with his English, drinks and 

rubik's cube. He was able to solve it in a a decent time while drinking with us. Truly incredible skills as for a bartender. 

Other guests featured two unnamed Japanese men, probably in their late 20s, well dressed and well mannered. Next to me sat a typical, average couple. They both looked Asian, sounded like they were from Jersey (which turned out to be true) and neither of them was Japanese. Our English gave headaches to two unnamed Japanese men as they tried to understand American, Japanese, Australian and Canadian accents. 


First week in Japan by Levko Ivanchuk

Japan is ... 

em ...

Okay, there is no single word that can describe Japan, or, at least, the part of it where I am fortunate enough to be at the moment. I know that Japan is a big and very diverse, and I am still in the 'euphoria' phase of my journey here, however, you never get tired of good things, of which, in Japan, there are many. 

Listing them all is simply impossible here. If you are reading this and the interest of finding out what these good things are does not leave you - well, put it mildly, you have to go here. Just to see them, feel them and breath them. 

Please, do throw your cliches about Japan away, of which, I am sure, there are many. Everything that you have heard about Japan or its people, its food, etc. will be slightly different to what you have imagined when you come here. Your sushi will taste differently, even thought sometimes it would look the same to what you are used to. Your service will be polite and fast and friendly everywhere you go and you do not have to include a tip. The streets that you will walk will always be clean and puddle-free. You will always be in less that 1,000 meters of a vending machine, which might sell simple drinks or something more elaborative... 

If you have heard about crazy Japanese productivity and how they are only focused on work - forget about it. Yes, of course, there are people that work overtime all the time and stay until the middle of the night just to come back at 08 AM - but if you enjoy your work, why not? However, your co-workers are much friendlier that you used to. Everything is more relaxed, yet, somehow, people do not slack off and do stuff. In this short time, I was able to narrow it down to two reasons: discipline and trust. 

These two words acquire a different meaning in Japan. Discipline is uniform, it is everywhere, in every detail. That is why everything is just a little different in Japan. Discipline, like water, fills all the tiny gaps and smoothes things out - it brings order to a huge crowd of people, it eliminates chaos - it works in Japan. However, surprisingly, that does not turn everyone into machines and robots, simply obeying rules. In the end, the most important part is that, despite the discipline and the rules and the hierarchy in their society, Japanese people are still ... people. They are not machines, as many people see them - each one of them works hard, yet also lives a bright and full live. They go out, they play games, they dance, they drink, they do ... everything. However, they have their ways. Coming here, you don't just appreciate what they do and, more importantly, how they do it - you start doing things the same way. However, you can never assimilate - instantly recognizable, you will always be a foreigner, no matter how well you speak Japanese and how well you know the culture. Yet, that doesn't mean that you will be excluded from the society - on contrary, they simply have a special place for you, like they do for all the things - everything has its place in Japan. 

This weekend is a long weekend, so the destination is Kyoto. The next post will see you there. 


タイムホライズン:東京まで1時間 / Time Horizon: 1 hour to Tokyo by Levko Ivanchuk

This truly seems unreal. In a mere hour I shall be on a plane that will take me to Haneda, Tokyo. Whichever way you put it - that is the destination of my dreams. Inspired by many movies, where scenes took place in Tokyo, I am finally going there for some relatively long time, to work for a quintessentially Japanese company - Honda. Moreover, I will be doing research, something I never thought I will be doing, yet, once I discovered that, I fell in love with science even more. 

I am loaded with books about Japan and some other, less serious books about Soviet military madness... it is weird, I know, yet fun stuff is what entertains me - and somehow the author finds funny things in serving 2 years in the military. 

Also, Munich airport has USB outlets for charging mobile devices directly. I bet my Computer Security prof, Michael Zapp, would have a thing or two to say about them - whatever security vulnerabilities that might cause and whatnot ... therefore, I am charging my iPod through my laptop. Yet, I am still connected to airport network, so ... whatever, they already have my data. Besides, this post is public anyways, so what the heck ... 

Lonely Planet guide (yes, I am that American in my travel habits) suggests that I should relax and enjoy Japan. Forget about worrying too much about being polite and whatnot ... just enjoy it. Well, so far I've got nothing to enjoy, Germany is Germany, nothing to enjoy here :-) Although I do like their lounge at the airport, much better than that monstrosity thing they did in Toronto and, well, Winnipeg... you are way, way behind. Perhaps, Haneda will surprise me even more? Who knows ... 

Another funny thing - smoking lounge. The styling is contemporary, it looks all nice and cozy, but, when passing by, I, as a non-smoker, just can't avoid the thought that there poor guys are there in the cage, indulging themselves, behind glass walls for all of passing by people to ... observe to, to watch how they catch final breaths of air in that isolated space. Perhaps, not because they want to - but because they have to.

People ARE traveling these days. They go. Like ... go anywhere, anytime, just to go and not stay still. People move around. Glad to be one of them. Really am. 

So, Tokyo then. でも、いきましょう。

Genesis by Levko Ivanchuk

Short manual: how to get into Japan

So, let me tell you a story about how it all actually happened that I managed to begin a trip to Japan. In fact, as many things do now, it all started with an email, that simply said - "Canada Japan Co-op Program". Simply put, it is a possibility to work in Japan as a student. At that time I already was on my Co-op work term at University of Manitoba Human Computer Interaction lab. Canada Japan Co-op Program is not hosted by my University, although we do have one of the best Co-op Programs in all of Canada. Yet, it seems that people are reluctant to go as far as Japan for their internships. Anyway, Canada Japan Co-op Program is hosted at UBC, however, I do have to thank Gerri Acorn, Linda Latour and Lisa Wise for getting the information about the program to me and helping along the way. Their support has been truly excellent, even at hardest of times.  

At first, I had a short interview with a program itself, in October, 2013. That was only an interview to get access to the job postings, never mind job interviews themselves. Anyhow, after a very short Japanese test and a couple of other questions, I had 10 days to prepare packages for 8 potential jobs. 

Interviews started in January 2013. At the time I was in Ukraine, and since all of the interviews started at 9 AM Japanese time, for me it was 2 AM at night. Factor into that what was going on in Ukraine in January, I was literary having interviews while watching people die on TV. Not a lot of people have that experience, mind you. 

In total, I had 3 interviews, but 3 companies hired from paper applications, without any interviews. So after interviews, I knew I only had 6 positions that could potentially hire me. Two of my interviews were with NTT (Japanese version of AT&T) and one with Honda Research Institute. About the work "Honda" - yes, exactly that Honda that just drove past your window. The one that makes cars, motorcycles, engines, whatever. Even having an interview with them was an honour for me. 

In fact, I did get that position with Honda. Nothing else to say, really. Their option for a seven month work term, commencing in September 2014 I have accepted gratefully. 

I don't really know much about the work I will be doing, however, I do know this. I haven't signed anything yet, however, I am confident I will so everything will stay secret from now on. 

My trip to Japan started, paradoxically, from a trip to Kiev, Ukraine. Early in the morning, after arriving to the city I never liked, I got the same feeling I had back in 2010, when I was moving to Canada. That feeling as if your should is being taken away from you. In fact, it is you who submits your own soul with a pack of documents through a bullet proof window, hoping to get out from the world that surrounds you, expecting to see something better on the other side. 

This time I got lucky again, because I was not alone. Emotional support is always important, and this time it was just like in 2010 - nothing has changed. Just Kiev got more dirty, Maidan is now a bum camp, and people leave Ukraine just like they used to 4 years ago. Surreal and sad landscape, however, somehow, it is not touching me in any way. Maybe because I don't care anymore ... 

Kiev as seem from postcards

Kiev people don't see until they get there - undeveloped sites and abandoned buildings. 

It was a wise decision to stay out of public transport and simply walk around. Somewhat good knowledge on Kiev helped, and after visiting the Japanese embassy to submit my papers, toughest about what to do next came spontaneously.

I won't mention the trip back to Lviv, as it was a horrible old train car that was taking us in sauna conditions back to USSR, as it seemed. We were also thrown away from it at 3 AM, since that was when the train stopped in Lviv. Next stop will be Japan...