Holiday in Japan

Teeth Not Required


December 21

Success! Today is the winter solstice, marking two important events. First, it is the first day of winter. Second, today is the darkest day of the year. So from now until the summer solstice, every day is getting longer! We’re over the hump, people, its downhill from here!

My day today started with a visit to the dentist. I chipped my tooth Sunday night and was getting the problem fixed first thing Tuesday morning. That’s what I call PDQ! I met Moto at the station and together we walked a very short distance to the dentist’s office. My manager called Monday evening on my behalf. The office was very busy and originally scheduled my visit for late in the week. However my connection to the dentist, through my student, a fellow dentist, greatly helped my situation. They rescheduled me for the next day!

Moto was very helpful in my visit to the office. He filled out the paperwork, all in Japanese, and told the doctor exactly what happened. Luckily the dentist and his assistant spoke basic English, which made the whole experience much better. I was taken back to the dentist’s chair, which was in an open room with ten other chairs. I’m glad there weren’t any root canals this morning. The dentist quickly examined my mouth. Luckily, he said, I had a clean break. He would be able to fix the chip immediately. The whole experience only took 30 minutes. And it only cost me 1,600 Yen! Wow, unbelievable!

From my understanding, the plastic replacement in my mouth will last three to four years. At which point I will need to visit my dentist again and have a replacement, and likely a more permanent instillation. In the meantime it appears my love affair with apples is over! I suppose that’s a fair price to pay considering my foolishness.

Today I met the emergency teacher, who is covering between Joanna’s absence and Emma’s arrival. His name is Mark and he seems like a swell guy! He appears to be very experienced and is wonderful with the students. He even has quite a talent, where he can cut snowflakes. He folds paper and makes small cuts much like I did in elementary school. Except these snowflakes are amazing, each one different. In less than an hour he had cut 15 different snowflakes that included angels, Winnie the Pooh, Pikachu and countless other characters. Pretty darned neat!

After work, Moto and I grabbed a beer at Angie’s. We shot the breeze and further put together our plans to go snowboarding over the New Year’s break. I’m getting very excited for this trip. And I really enjoyed spending some time with Moto outside of work. He’s a cool cat!

Overall, this was a great day. It was a good transition from my crazy weekend back into the normality of teaching classes. Just like a river, my daily life has its ebbs and flows.


December 22

This morning I reached into my first aid kit and pulled out a purple bandaid. I put it on my nose and reached in to my closet for a purple shirt and complimenting necktie. I might as well look stylish if I’m going to have a bandage on my face. Much to my pleasure, all of the students were tickled pink by my matching colors.

Everyone asked what had happened to my face. My first reaction was, “My face? I was born this way.” No one got my humor. So I would promptly tell them I got into a fight the previous weekend. Again, no one believed me. So I finally turned to the truth and told them I had fallen down, face first. No one seemed to bat an eyelash at this. Apparently it’s quiet common in this country!

I’ve come to the conclusion that much of my job is merely semantics. Often a student will ask me what a word or phrase means. I’ve found that giving a definition can often be more confusing than helpful. Instead I’ve begun to offer synonyms. I never prattle off more than two or three words before the students get that “Ohh!” look on their face, and they scribble it down in their books. I am very delighted to use my extensive vocabulary to help students connect the dots.


December 23

Today was the Emperor’s birthday! Long live the Emperor! To make the special occasion, it was a national holiday. I was fortunate enough to have the day off in the middle of the week. Most offices are closed for the holiday, but retail stores remain open. So I was still able to visit the grocery store and run a few errands. For the most part this is a very inconsequential holiday for the Japanese that I know. They appreciate having the day off, but don’t have any strong convictions of the Emperor. Still though, it’s pretty cool living in a country with a royal line!

I stayed busy throughout all the day doing adult things like errands. However during the evening I hopped a train to Machida to visit with Moto. We got dinner at a European style restaurant. Maybe it was Spanish food? Its hard to tell sometimes. After dinner we went back to Moto’s apartment to play his brand new Nintendo Wii. He had just purchased it today and picked up a famous soccer game. We drank a beer and played a few matches. After a 6-3 spanking, Japan over the US, I decided it was time to go. I walked back to the station and was home 30 minutes later.

I really enjoy spending time with Moto. He’s a great guy at work, and in our personal lives. I recently found out he was awarded “Teacher of the Month” by ETERNAL, meaning he was the best teacher in all of ETERNAL’s schools. That’s pretty impressive. I feel fortunate enough to have him as my head teacher, and I’m always sure to take any advice he gives me on the job.


December 24

Today was Friday, and a very slow day at work. During my seven-hour shift I had four classes and taught four students. However it was not at all a bad day. I was able to teach my first “CNN class”. This is an official CNN cd that is intended to be used by English language learners. It is filled with dozens of 60 second audio broadcasts. The point being for students to practice their listening skills from a formal source. The lesson includes listening, reading, translating and discussion. Lots of fun. However the lesson today was horribly embarrassing, as an American. The article was a brief spotlight on the literacy level of Americans. Apparently, the instructions for children’s car seats are written at a 10th grade level. This report suggested that level was too high as the majority of Americans read at a sixth grade level. Wow. Way to go USA.

In an attempt to better the US image, I again matched my outfit to my face bandage. Today I wore a green strip across my nose. Thusly a green shirt & necktie were in order. I strutted about the office knowing full well I was the best dressed buffoon around. And my students ate it up.

I was also able to get a lot of office work done. Today and tomorrow I am the only foreign teacher at work, so my responsibilities are more than usual. Between teaching different class and students, from what I normally teach, I still did some cleaning and organizing. Which if you know me, you know I enjoy.

Finally I want to give a shout out to John Gilliam! Thanks John for the well wishes on your radio show. I hope you had a wonderful birthday and Christmas with your beautiful family.


December 25

Merry Christmas! Today was different from any Christmas I’ve had before. Now, let me tell you why!

In the 11 years I’ve been a member of the proletariat, I’ve never worked a Christmas day before. But I worked Saturday night! Christmas is a very popular holiday in Japan, if only just for the consumerist side. As such, all businesses are open for business, and the English business is no different. As previously mentioned, I was the only foreign teacher working today, so I had a full schedule. Actually today was the busiest day I’ve had at work so far.

Today I arrived at 10:45 and put in a full day. I taught 6 classes, half of which were out of the norm and were first time classes for me. Very cool. I also did 7 check tests with students that are involved with our self study program. Good for them! I interviewed two prospective students and did my best to make ETERNAL Sagamiono the best school ever!

Nine hours later, the school emptied out and the halls were quiet. But there was still more work to be done! Over the holiday, our school is getting renovated. Hurray! However we had to empty all of our classrooms so the workers could have full access. I rolled up my sleeves and set to work. I moved desks and chairs, bookcases and coatracks. I took out the trash and cleaned up, all with a smile on my face. I was the only teacher present after work, laboring alongside the management. It took two hours of constant movement before we were finally done for the night. Two fast hours, I should say.

I got a real kick out of working late. There was a double standard being measured tonight. I won’t at all be paid for my extra work on this Christmas day. Coming from the king of capitalist nations, and coming from a hourly wage background, I’m inclined to feel like I should be paid for all my labor. Yet now I am a salary employee working in Japan. The Japanese work ethic is hardcore, to say the least. It is expected of all employees to toil until a job is done the best it can be. Now as long as I live in Japan, I’ll play by the Japanese rules. So tonight I had no quarrel with working so hard for so long. I was just satisfied to have helped the school however I could.

At the same time, I was the only teacher that stayed late to help. On top of that, I was the only Westerner working late. My supervisors were sure to express their gratitude that I volunteered my time, without being asked to. At times I was praised especially for doing this or doing that. I forced back my desire to laugh and merely bowed at their thanks. You’d think these people had never seen an industrious white boy before!

After work Moto and I returned to our favorite izakayu for dinner and a celebratory beer. For my first Japanese Christmas, I ate fish instead of turf animals! We ordered an assortment of dishes and had a few beers. We patted ourselves on the back for a year well done at work. We then looked forward to 2011 and shared some ideas for the coming year. We made many New Year’s resolutions, some individual, others we could share together. A brief taste of some on the things to come next year; attend a sumo tournament, climb Mt. Fuji, visit a Nihonshu (sake) distillery and attend a professional baseball game. I made the most of 2010, and I attend to do 2011 in an even better fashion.


December 26

Today was my first day of vacation on a 10-day long holiday! I made some Christmas day phone calls and spoke with many of my friends and family, although it was not enough! After 3 hours on the phone I was forced to hang up for the day. That’s a lot of talking for one boy! Those of you that I was able to speak with, it was  lovely! Those of you who I was not able to chat with, I apologize! Drop me a line and we can schedule a phone date sometime soon!

Next in the day I hopped a train from my local station on a line I’ve never taken, in a direction I’ve never gone. A quick 20 minutes later I was in the city of Fujisawa. I was to meet up with a complete stranger for an afternoon. Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, I came into contact with a person who is interested in rock climbing. Rock climbing is a passion of mine that spawned out of my boyhood love to climb trees. However I don’t think its appropriate for young white men to climb up trees in the middle of Tokyo. I figured a climbing wall is a much more acceptable venue to get vertical.

I was to meet up with this person, Miho, and visit a local rock climbing club. Miho and I made contact at the station and we began our walk to the club, known as the J-Wall. The building was 20 minutes from our station so we walked for a good 25 minutes before we realized we were lost. I broke out my phone and turned on the gps. 15 minutes later we arrived at a very sketchy looking building. The name “J-Wall” was displayed on the side of an old, decrepit looking warehouse.  Along the walk, Miho had called ahead and got a price, which was a lot! We were about ready to reconsider our decision to climb when we poked our heads inside. It turns out, the J-Wall is amazing. There were six massive climbing walls. We changed our minds and paid the fee.

After two hours of light climbing, both of our bodies were completely useless. I hadn’t climbed in over two months and my muscles are now nonexistent. I was unable to even shake a hand by the end. So we left the J-Wall and went our separate ways at the station. I was both satisfied with my time climbing and with making a new friend. Because of the high price to climb, we decided it would be best to make some more money before we climb again. As such, we’ve decided to get together and climb once a month. I can handle that!

From Fujisawa I took two trains to Shinjuku. I met up with the girls at the station and we set out for dinner. Since we all worked Christmas day, and are relatively alone in this country, we met up today to have our Christmas dinner. Take was able to join, as was Elisha’s boyfriend, Sam. Sam was nice and Take is always amazing. I am always amazed at how Take and I can transcend the language barrier and get along so well. I am very grateful I have been able to have an experience like this. What really floored me was eating dinner with 3 women and 3 men. Wow! That was almost like an average dinner in Lincoln!

Dinner tonight was something new and special. We visited a monjayaki restaurant. This is a Japanese food, very similar to okonomiyaki, for those of who you know what that is. Our personal table had a large skillet built into the middle where we cooked our own dinner. We were served several bowls of monjayaki and we cooked up our dinner. Per-usual, Take took control of the cooking and did not disappoint!

Dinner was followed by karaoke. We sang our songs and laughed at each other’s silliness. Before long we all boarded our different trains to return from whence we came. It was another successful night in Japan! It was made even better because no one broke a tooth!


December 27

First and foremost, I need to give two shout outs:

Happy birthday Jessica Wheeler!

Happy Birthday Max Wheeler!

I’m sorry I can’t be present to share your birthdays with you. However I’m sure you’l both have a great time. Welcome to the wonderful world of your 20’s.

Today consisted of more errands. I paid my utility bills today, which is a different experience than in the States. Back home, you send the money direct to the utility provider, using whichever means you prefer. Here however, it is different. Today I took all my bills down to my local 7/11, I grabbed an orange juice and paid for everything at once right there. There is no surcharge for using the convenience store. Pretty neat, huh?

Otherwise today has been very tame. I am resting up for my big snowboarding adventure, on which I embark tomorrow. This past week has been fun and busy. I’m continuing to combat any effects of homesickness/culture shock by keeping a busy schedule. So far, so good. 🙂


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About japanesealex

Alexander lived in Japan from 2010 to 2013. He is now pursuing a career in public service in Honolulu, Hawaii.

3 responses to “Holiday in Japan”

  1. Max says :

    You would list Jess first. By the way we discussed this at dinner. I’m older than Jess, and that’s a matter of fact. So you and she need to get used to it.

  2. kellee says :

    working late and not getting paid? Teachers don’t do that!

    P.S. Is Moto basically Nghia’s replacement while you’re in Japan?

  3. Claudia says :

    Did the dentist offer gas or saki?

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