When I started working for Ryobi Ltd. in Japan back in 1990 I was assigned to a project where the goal was to develop a little 4-stroke engine for line trimmers. The manufacturing facilities were located in Arizona, U.S.A., so it was very natural that I eventually would have to make a trip to Arizona. This happened in January of 1992, after the first proto type of the engine had been made and tested.
My japanese colleague, Imagawa-san, and I were to go to Arizona in the beginning of January. I was going to go there to use the 3D CAD system that they had, to design the cylinder head of the engine. In Japan we still only had 2D CAD. Imagawa-san was to go there to discuss the over all design of the engine. We were planning on staying for 10 days, and if our american colleagues requested us to stay longer, only Imagawa-san would be allowed to do so. I was supposed to return to Japan after the 10 days to continue the design of the cylinder head using our 2D CAD.
After having spend the christmas holiday in Denmark with my family, I set off for Arizona on the 7th of January 1992. I had a stop over in Seattle, and finally arrived in Arizona in the evening. I was picked up in the airport by one of my american colleagues, Bob Everts, who had visited us in Japan earlier to review the first test results. Bob was the original founder of the company in Arizona, a very creative person who had come up with a lot of original ideas for engine design. He had finally sold the company to Ryobi Ltd., but had stayed around as a part time consultant. He picked me up in his new Mercedes Coupe, and we left the parking lot of the airport. As we did so, he stopped to pay the parking fee, and the lady in the booth said "Hello. How are you doing tonight?". Bob answered "Fine. And yourself?". He paid the fee and we left. I couldn't wait to find out, so I asked "Do you know everyone around here?".
He answered "What do you mean, do I know everyone around here?".
"Well, that lady in the booth. Wasn't that your friend?".
"No I have never seen her before."
"So how come she said hello, how are you doing?"
"Oh that's just a very common greeting around here", Bob explained.
"How interesting" I thought. In Denmark people would just say "That'll be $1", and they would look suspicious at you if you would happen to say "Here you go" when you gave them the money.
Imagawa-san had arrived earlier that day and had been picked up and taken to the motel by the company's only japanese employee. When I arrived, he was already asleep, so I made an appointment with Bob that he would come and have breakfast with us, and take us to the company. And so he did. The following morning Imagawa-san and I got up, got dressed in japanese business man style in suit and tie, and had breakfast with Bob before he took us to the company. At the company we were first introduced to the director of manufacturing, Dave Asher. After having shaken our hands, he grabbed our ties and said "What is this? You don't need this around here."So that was the last day I wore a tie in that company.
At the end of the day we were given a pair of car keys and a map, and was asked to show up at the company the following day around 9:00. Neither Imagawa-san nor I had an international drivers license, but we thought we would be ok. Since they drive in the wrong side of the road in Japan, Imagawa-san didn't want to drive, so I go to. We managed to get back to the motel without driving around looking for it too much, but the following morning it didn't go too smooth. We were driving down the road with me behind the steering wheel, when I suddenly saw a sign in the middle of the road saying "School zone. 20 MPH". I thought "20 MPH, they've got to be kidding, it's like pushing the car", so before I managed to slow down, we had passed through the school zone at 40-50 MPH. The police man waiting in the side of the road didn't like that. He immediately got on his motorcycle, turned on the siren and followed us. "Oh sh.." I thought "Just what I need on my second day in the U.S.". I stopped and go out. The police man had already gotten off his bike and said "Now don't tell me that your speedometer isn't working".
"Oh it's working fine" I said. "I was just to slow slowing down".
I guess that surprised him, because next he just said "Show me your drivers license".
Oops. Now I was really in trouble. I only had a danish and a japanese drivers license. Now he was really going to be mad. I showed him my danish drivers license first, which was 7 years old at that time and had a photo of me looking like a little kid. He looked at the drivers license and looked as if he didn't really knew what to do. So I handed him my japanese drivers license full of chinese characters, which he of course could not read. I guess I might as well have handed him a video rental members club card. I don't think he would have know any difference. The police man stared at these drivers licenses and finally said. "Ok you go today, but I don't want to see the same thing again tomorrow".
The 10 days finally came to an end without any further incidents with the police, and it was time to go back to Japan. However. During our meetings in Arizona it had become clear to the people over there that Ryobi Ltd. did not have the skill to complete the engine development successfully, so they wanted to move the development to Arizona, and they wanted me to stay. My bosses in Japan didn't like that idea. They wanted me to come back to Japan, and Imagawa-san to stay. I later found out that one of the reasons were that they were concerned that I would not want to go back to Japan after having been in the U.S. But the americans got their way. Imagawa-san went back with a big smile on his face, and I got to stay. I can't say I was too happy about that. I had gone to Japan to study ninjutsu, and now I had ended up in Arizona, where no one knew anything about ninjutsu. But what. I wasn't going to stay there for ever, so why not enjoy it.
I ended up staying 3 months, and went finally back to Japan again after having completed the conceptual design of the little engine. Imagawa-san was then supposed to go to Arizona one month later and stay there for 3 months helping out with the testing. I was supposed to go back to Arizona again in August and stay until April the following year, but I ended up staying until December 1993, and my initial 10 days had by then turned into one and a half year.