November 23, 8:00 PM JST
Happy holiday! Today is Japan’s labor day! As such I enjoyed a long three day weekend! I accomplished much this weekend, including a night of drinking akin to a Husker home game!
Yesterday I made the trek to Shinjuku, more or less Tokyo. I walked the normal route to the station, lasting 20 minutes. Then I managed to catch the “rapid express” train out of town. I found myself in Shinjuku by 1pm, about 30 minutes later. All told, less than a 60 minute commute, not bad! The girls and I decided to meet up at the “East” exit of the Shinjuku station. Simple in theory. However I ended up coming out of the South exit. I found the first station map and was dismayed to find there were five East exits. It took me more than 15 minutes to circumvent the station and arrive at the primary East exit. I descended the stairs and found Lauren & Charlie waiting. I approached them and many hugs were exchanged. We chatted for a few before Lisa & Elisha arrived. Soon after the gang was back together and we set out for a day on the town!
Our first stop was lunch. We found a small Japanese restaurant and ordered some local cuisine. It was delicious. We sat in our seats long after our meal and shared our stories, good & bad, from our first week. Following our meal we frequented some of the many shops in the area. Sadly we only window shopped. No one has any spending cash just yet. Our first paycheck will come this week, but it is to be rather miniscule.
Before long we met up with one of Lauren’s friends, Chinatsu. We waited patiently while Lauren got her phone and joined the iPhone family. Next off we were to a local Izakaya. There was a happy hour special that we were sure to take advantage of. For 900 Yen you had access to an open bar for two hours. We ordered several appetizers but we were primarily there for drinking. And we al drank like we were in college still. Lauren made friends with a girl sitting next to us and she joined our party. After two hours we split the tab and left for the next scene.
Following the Izakaya, we found ourselves at a karaoke bar. Karaoke in Japan is HUGE. It was my first time so I let the girls make all the decisions. karaoke bars, like izakayas, are a very private matter. The bar is split into many small rooms. Each room had a center table and bench seating all around it. At the end of the table was a wall-mounted flat screen that displayed the song lyrics. On the table was a detachable pad for song control. If I remember correctly, the karaoke was 800 yen a person for a half hour! Not including drinks! We stayed for an hour and left before we could spend any more money. We all walked back to the station to see off Lauren’s friends and put Lisa & Charlie on their trains.
The trains in Japan stop running at midnight. Which everyone agrees is ridiculously early. Lauren, Elisha and myself found ourselves slightly inebriated in Shinjuku at 10pm. None of us wanted to call it a night just yet. We migrated to the closest bar we could find, in this case, an Irish pub. This is the second pub I’ve visited while in Japan. And already it’s apparent that white people flock to pubs. We did so unconsciously. We ordered our drinks and sat down. In no time at all we had made friends with a nice Japanese couple sitting right by us. Both girls speak Japanese, but this couple knew English so we could all converse. Shortly before midnight the bar shut down and kicked everyone out. We flocked back to the station and faced a dilemma. Now what?
We all decided to head back to Lauren’s apartment for the night. Lauren was merely 10 minutes down the line so we found ourselves in Mejiro in no time. We swung by McDonald’s for some quick greasy food, snagged a road beer, and made the trek to Lauren’s pad. It was a delight to see another company sponsored apartment so I could put mine in perspective. While her apartment wasn’t bad, it made me very grateful for the condition of my apartment. (Mine was professionally cleaned before I moved in). Our night quickly ended as all three of us passed out as soon as we laid down.
The next morning began with a familiar headache. We all drank several glasses of water and were on our way. Lauren showed us back to her local station, since our memories weren’t… extraordinary. Elisha and I rode back to Shinjuku where we split and I was again on my own. I navigated back to my terminal. I spent a long time examining the subway map. I did not want to get on the wrong train and make a fool of myself (again). I made the trip back on the “express” train, which was near 15 minutes slower than the “rapid express.” An important observation.
The remainder of the day was maximized. I picked up my dry cleaning, went grocery shopping for the first time, cleaned & cooked. I even went on a glorious run down the neighborhood bike path. I lost track of time and found myself back home 40 minutes after I left. A very healthy run. While running I noticed a mountain chain that runs parallel to my city. The weather has been so hazy recently that I had not noticed before! I estimate the mountains to be about 25 miles away, and are easily 7,000 feet high. I think they are the Ômaya mountains but am not yet sure. Details to come.
That about sums up my last two days. I’m looking forward to sitting down with a book and reading for a while before I make it to bed. Tomorrow is my first day teaching alone, a truth that is not particularly concerning. I look forward to sharing my day with you all tomorrow.
November 24, 11:35 PM
FIrst full day of teaching! And I was on my own to boot! The day progressed very smoothly considering how new I still am at teaching! My Wednesdays and Fridays are great days. I start an hour later at 1pm. So I’m only working 7 hours with a one hour break!
I taught six classes today. The only class that I felt mildly uncomfortable teaching was my kids class. Even so, I was only concerned at the beginning of class as I was evaluating today’s lesson plan. Once I was teaching I felt very natural.
Learning names is still proving to be difficult for me. I might say I’m really good at learning western names. But these Japanese names… very difficult. I can do okay with a students name if they’re the only one in my class, like three of my classes today. However in a larger class, such as eight. I’m completely hopeless! I stutter, mispronounce and down right forget some names!
The only hiccup at work today came in my last class. Normally we teach classes from the top of the hour until 10 till. However the last class of the day starts at 8:10 and runs until 9:00. Forgetting this I dismissed class at 8:50. The branch manager brought all of my students back to the classroom and reminded me that classes run until 9. I was humiliated! However I didn’t show this to my students and jumped right back into the class. In America I would find it odd that no one mentioned to me that I dismissed class early. However that is completely normal in Japan. Despite everyone in the last class being twice my senior, they all left the class when I told them to. This culture so reveres authority that they dare not challenge someone. In this case, I wish they had.
That concludes today’s entry. I am excited to write more tomorrow. Cheers.
November 25, 11:59 PM
Another GREAT and FAST day at work! I’m really getting the hang of things now.
At several points throughout the day I was reminded that I am now in Japan. Immediately after I was made glad that I’m here.
A good day indeed!
November 26, 11:30 PM
What a fast eight hours! After work I had dinner and drinks with the two other foreign teachers at my school. Joanna, is a young woman from southern Florida. She was the first person I befriended after Jon. I was informed shortly after my arrival at Sagamiono that Joanna is leaving! How do you like that? The first two people I make friends with, are both leaving the country faster than we can build a good friendship. Bollocks!
The other foreign teacher is Hamish, from Australia. Hamish is a great guy. He has been living in Japan and working for ETERNAL for over five years. Hamish has a great way with words, and is very funny. Additionally, his value to the school, and to me, is exaggerated by his longterm relationship with the company. Already Hamish has been able to give me invaluable tips that only a veteran teacher can know!
Dinner and drinks with my two friends was at a mom & pop Japanese restaurant. We talked about work and ourselves and I was able to get to know the two better. I am very sad that Joanna will be leaving so soon. However her replacement will arrive late January. I believe the new teacher’s name is Emma, and she hails from New Zealand. Joanna will be dearly missed. But I’m so excited to make my first friend from the land of kiwis!
November 27, 10:30 PM
The end of my workweek! I finished the week much more comfortable than where I started. I am no longer planning out my lessons the night before, or even the day of class. I am no longer carrying a lesson structure into my classes. Now I walk in with the lesson material. I pick up a whiteboard marker, and I teach. I’m led to believe that it takes most teachers weeks if not months to reach this level of comfort and familiarity. I guess I’m ahead of the game.
I am not saying that my lessons are perfect. Nor am I saying that every class runs smoothly. However I do feel more comfortable teaching class without knowing that I could cheat, and sneak a peak at my lesson skeleton. And I am now familiar enough with the teaching method that I can plug in each individual lesson to teach how my company wants.
After work I grabbed a bento and a beer from the local 7/11 and headed home. A bento is a Japanese meal-to-go. They are very popular here. I ate my dinner, drank a beer and am now preparing for bed. There was a time, not long ago, that I wouldn’t have dreamt of being asleep by 11pm on a Friday night. Yet now that I’m a working man, I have no quarrel with such a night. I worked a long week and have big plans for the coming weekend!
November 28, 11:29 PM
Today I had my first Skype call with many of you! It was a real treat to wake up and see so many of your faces. It looked like everyone was doing good. I look forward to speaking again with all of you!
Sunday, after skyping, I ran many of my weekly errands, like visiting the dry cleaners. I also got a quick haircut. A buzz cut to be exact. Just thought I’d try something new. I then laced up my shoes and went for a run. My intention of running a quick 20 minutes quickly turned into an hour! Typically, when running, I stick to the main streets. However today I decided to explore a bit. There is a women’s university not far from my apartment. I decided to scope it out and search for a nearby park that Jon mentioned. I was surprised to find the university grounds to be much larger than I had anticipated. After running near full circle I found myself in a residential neighborhood. Now neighborhoods in Japan, and streets in general, are nothing like their American counterparts. American civil planning is based on the Jeffersonian model, where streets are spaced evenly and run on a parallel/perpendicular grid. In Japan the streets meander however they please. I was well aware of this when I decided to venture forth and find my way back. However I was not aware just how much they meander! It took me nearly 60 minutes to find my way to my apartment. What an exercise!
Once home I cleaned up and walked down to the train station. I caught the express to Shinjuku to meet up with Moto. Moto and another teacher had orchestrated a dinner for their friends and coworkers. Once in Shinjuku I met up with Moto and the rest of the party. All told there were 18 of us! We found our way to the local restaurant and settled in. We sat at a Traditional table with our rears resting on pads at ground level. Conveniently there was a recession below the table to our legs to rest comfortably.
Dinner was wonderful. We had onabe, roughly translated as hot pot. Onabe is a large pot that sits on your table. A pilot flame underneath the pot heats the water to a boil. Once the water is rolling you deposit your fresh-cut vegetables so they may cook. Promptly you place in a cut of raw meat and let the water cook it. Each strip cooks very quickly so you must pay attention! Before long you may pull out the vegetables and eat them too. The onabe was supplemented with sashimi (sushi), oyster and other local delicacies. I loved everything!
The meal was very expensive. $55 a plate! The three course meal was worth the hefty price tag, but the drinks made it a wonderful deal. For two hours we enjoyed an open bar! The server brought out an untold number of large beer bottles, different brands of sake, and many choice bottles of red wine. All of which I consumed, much to my chagrin the next morning! It is very common for bars & restaurants to offer similar two-hour all you can drink specials. The selections are typically limited, but often quantity makes up for quality! Several times already I have been tempted into these open-bar specials. And several times I have paid the price the next morning. Thank goodness I brought so much ibuprofen!
After dinner the bulk of our dinner party migrated to the street where we deliberated what we should do next. The decision was unanimous! We set out for a particular joint. While in route we passed through Tokyo’s red light district. It didn’t seem like much to the untrained eye. However I did take note of many unscrupulous looking people. I was even approached by a pimp as he tried to lure me away from my crowd into his local business. “No thank you,” I told him. “Not now, and not ever.”
What seemed like an eternity later we arrived at a hole-in-the-wall bar some distance away. The bar was empty before us, and packed afterwards! For sometime we conversed and had a good time. For some reason unknown to me, I decided that tequila shots would be a good idea. Tequila shots after 4 hours of drinking. I convinced my peers to knock back some liquid gold with me and the bar got even louder. Not long after midnight Moto and I decided to leave. We walked back to the station, rode to our respective cities and made the walk home. All told I commuted for nearly two hours today! Not the most pleasurably activity at such an hour after such an evening!
However I did make it home and got some much needed rest!
November 29, 11:00 PM
Monday morning came early! I put myself together and headed down to the translation. Before long I had met up with Elisha, Lauren and Lisa at Shinjuku. We boarded a train and departed for the outskirts of Tokyo. Slightly more than an hour later we had reach our destination; Mount Takao. The girls and I set out with ambition to climb the mountain and take in the view. Hangover or not, I was going to hike it to the top!
Mount Takao is a very popular destination for Tokyoites when they want to escape the city. It is the closest mountain to Tokyo and is free to the public. Most people take the tram up to the top of the mountain and then walk down. However that isn’t our style! We’re all young and in shape so we decided to hike the paths to the top. 30 minutes into our hike we realized why people chose to ride up and walk down! The paths were very, very steep. Some portions of the paths had steps. These steps were not at all standardized and were in various states of condition. Sometimes the steps were very treacherous!
Approximately two hours later we had reached the summit! We climbed an observation tower that overlooked all of Tokyo. This was quiet a breathtaking sight. I knew Tokyo was big, but i didn’t know it was THAT big! We climbed back down the tower and sat at a table. Lauren & Elisha had brought rice snacks for our day! For some time we sat in a circle, long beyond eating our snack. The air was clean and crisp. The conversation was cheerful.
It is a Japanese tradition to observe seasonal foliage. Both in the spring and the autumn. Mount Takao is a very popular choice for people to see the leaves turning. I can now personally vouch for the validity of this location. It was completely magical to walk along a quiet path and look at the bright red leaves. Soon my gaze would be stirred by a gentle breeze. As the wind swept across the mountainside hundreds of leaves would fly off their limbs. Many times this effect was akin to a gentle snow falling before my eyes.
On our hike back down the mountain I had a chance encounter. I passed by three fellow teachers that had attended the party the night before. They two were in fabulous spirits, especially concerning our wild night not 12 hours earlier. It seemed the sunshine and exercise had helped us all to sweat out the alcohol! We chatted for sometime and I introduced them to the girls. Amazing how in a city the size of Tokyo you can bump into someone like that. What a delight.
Soon after we had reached the mountain base and had boarded our train back for Shinjuku. We had dinner reservations at a local restaurant that we had to make! Thanksgiving was technically four days before, but we had all come together to celebrate with each other. We all sat down at the table and began to order food and drinks. Yet again we bought into the 2-hour open bar and the drinks started flowing. This time I was careful not to mix alcohols, and not to over consume! I may not be the brightest guy, but I will eventually learn something if its beaten over my head enough!
Midway through dinner, two of Elisha’s cousins, Japanese men, joined us for food and drinks. We laughed and had a great time until our open bar time expired. We collected our bags and bid goodbye. I hopped on the Odakyu line and was bound for Sagamiono. I made it home in time to complete some chores before bed.
Today was another great day in Japan. I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences with some of you when you come visit!