Wednesday our regional trainer called the school. He asked to speak with Emma-sensei. The day before there had been a catastrophic earthquake in New Zealand, her home country. He was calling to see if Emma’s family and friends were okay. He also asked if there was anything that he or the company could do for her. He then told her that the company was calling all of their New Zealand employees to check up on them. Fortunately by Wednesday afternoon Emma had been in touch with all of her family and friends. Everyone was okay.
I was completely floored by our trainer’s call. Such personal attention and care is a rare and noble quality. My heart swelled with compassion and delight. I think that such employee care is very uncommon these days. That short phone call made me very proud of my company.
Thursday I visited Shinjuku in central Tokyo. I attended a professional workshop at the regional office for half the day. Four hours were spent studying & practicing prospective students interviews. I had a wonderful time training. I was able to hone my skills as an educator and persuasive speaker. This was the first workshop I’ve attended that was not mandatory. I requested to attend the seminar and my supervisors at school gave me permission. I highly appreciate workshop opportunities. I believe that I can always learn something new and improve the quality of my work. I am delighted that my business offers chances like this. And for two days in a row, I was very proud to be an work at my company
After work Friday I visited the gym with Hamish. Following a solid workout we returned to town and visited Tsutaya, like Blockbuster video. Hamish helped me sign up for a rental card so I can stay up to date with my movies. I was very thankful for his help and offered to buy a round of beers in gratitude. We walked further down the strip, away from the station. The prospects were grim.
Finally we found a bar just before we split ways. The sign outside was in English and claimed to be a pub. Pubs, in the western sense, are bars meant for socializing with strangers, unlike izakayas which are very private. Hamish seemed hesitant but followed along. We stood outside listening to some terrible karaoke singing, “sounds like our kind of place,” I told Hamish. I opened the door and stepped in. What followed could have been right out of a movie. The music was cut off and four middle-aged Japanese business men turned around to look at us. I returned a dumb grin and held up two fingers. The female bartender look apprehensive but pointed us to a booth.
We took a seat and I began to assess the “pub.” It was very small. That’s normal. There was more cigarette smoke than oxygen. That too was normal. There was a 2:1 ratio of women to men. Unusual. All of the women were behind the counter or serving drinks. Very unusual. I looked over at Hamish who was visibly uncomfortable. “This man needs a beer,” I thought to myself. Again I hoisted up two fingers. Universal sign language for “two beers.” Just then one of the employees sat down at our table with a fresh pack of smokes. Now it was my turn to become uncomfortable. Typically I enjoy the company of a female, but usually I invite her to join me.
“Konbanwa,” the woman said. She looked like she slept in a tanning bed. Her long pressed nails were stained yellow from smoke. She wore a not-so-flattering dress fresh from the 1960’s. A second, larger woman, with tighter clothes approached us. “Bottle or glass,” she asked in broken English. Before I could ask which was cheaper Hamish had leaned across the table. He spoke in gentle Japanese, much of which was lost on me. Except for one phrase, “hostess bar-u.” My ears perked up and I looked at the lumbering woman next to me. She nodded her head and replied with a deep “hai.” I looked over to Hamish and could see my wide opened eyes reflected in his own.
The woman slowly explained that one beer would cost ¥4,000, roughly 40 dollars. That was all we needed to hear. We hopped up and backed to the door. “Sumimasen, sumimasen…” (I’m sorry, excuse me…) we repeated over and over again. The patrons at the bar and the staff all laughed at us as we slipped through the door. When we were back outside I broke into a hysterical laugh. “THAT was a hostess bar? Wow, these Japanese fellas must be pretty darn lonely to frequent such a place!” Hamish rolled his eyes disapprovingly.
Hostess bars are a Japanese novelty. Men will visit the bar to spend time with women. The women will sit and listen to you talk all night. And they will very slowly pour you refills. This innocent sounding practice is the majority of the reason men visit such bars. Anything besides conversation must be negotiated off the record. Typically their services run $100 an hour. The huge disparity between the average price and our price should indicate the status of the bar we found.
The rest of the night I replayed the whole event over and over in my mind. Each time I found it more absurd and more funny. I’m sure there was fine print outside of the bar that warned the curious of the true nature inside. If there was, we completely missed it. But now I can say that I have visited a hostess club. That’s one more activity to scratch off my to-do list.
Saturday was spent with Eiko. We ate at a sushi restaurant, this time more upscale than our first date. Then we rented a movie from Tsutaya and stayed in for the night. I am very much enjoying spending time with Eiko. However I am not sure if we’re dating now. As if the language barrier wasn’t difficult enough, we also have to contend with cultural understandings. Fortunately each week we are able to communicate far more effectively. Even my coworkers are noticing my increased Japanese proficiency.
This week Eiko taught me a very useful word. だいじょうぶ (daijoubu) meaning “okay”? With a few simple suffixes I can now have a wide assortments of expressions. Daijoubu (okay), daijoubu desu (I’m okay), daijoubu desu ka (are you okay?). Depending on the intonation in だいじょうぶ, I can alter my interpretation of the word. Very versatile. Very fun.
Sunday I worked a half day. I only taught one class and was otherwise free to do office work. I accomplished an insane amount of work. In fact I did so much that I didn’t mind spending part of my weekend in the office. Wow, did I just say that?
Monday I ate Thai food for the first time ever. Delicious, just the right amount of spicy. For dinner I ate at an Italian restaurant. Or rather, the Japanese interpretation of Italian food. I was left wanting. The rest of my day was spent window shopping with Lauren and later Eiko.
-Focus on the Road-
Tokyo; population: 35.7 million.
Now let me start with saying; I am a people person. I enjoy socializing and being with others. That having been said, sometimes Tokyo can be a little overwhelming. No matter the place or time of day, there is always a swarm of people. Sometimes such activity can be frustrating. It isn’t so much the amount of people that is unsettling, it’s the complete idiocy and obliviousness.
I should say that this phenomenon is not unique to Japan. Whenever you have a large number of humans in one area problems will arise. My sensitivity to this issue is most certainty heightened by my background. I grew up in a city of 250,000. In Lincoln, space is never an issue. It is apparent that there are many people in one city, but the urban sprawl makes some forced interactions avoidable. In Tokyo, this is not the case.
Obviously there is the issue of sheer volume. Train stations and street crossings are too small for such an amount of people. This often causes some rather personal situations. I have been crammed into elevators and trains. I have moved against my will with human traffic. I have fought like a salmon upstream. This really isn’t that bad.
What bothers me is the obliviousness so many people display. Spacial awareness in particular is troublesome. People walk on both sides of the sidewalk. The sidewalks are also shared with cyclists that pay no heed to other pedestrians. I have seen dozens of bikers flying down the pavement and lock their breaks at the last moment behind a little old lady. In turn they create a stupid traffic jam. Some people walk four wide blocking the whole path. Still others will stand and talk in the middle of the path creating a major obstacle for everyone else.
I usually greet such encounters with a chuckle and side step. Still it can be frustrating. However it only takes 1,000 space cadets to rustle my feathers in a given day. That leaves 35.69 million other people who can intelligently operate a flat surface. I can manage that ratio just fine.