Tuesday, March 20
Tuesday was a national holiday; the spring equinox. That’s right, the start of spring is a government holiday here. I love this country.
Our first visit was to Kamakura (鎌倉.) Kamakura was a once a city of great politics. And was perhaps a de facto capital of the country for 200 years. It’s a popular destination for Tokyoites and foreigners alike. I’ve taken to calling it “Little Kyoto” because it’s a good representation of Japanese history. I’ve visited there, and blogged about it many times before, so I’ll skip specifics.
We arrived in Kamakura and found Mari. We spent the morning and afternoon doing a walking tour. Looking at temples and shrines. We even managed to get in a light hike to a hilltop where we could see the mountains and the bay. Oh, and we took some good pictures too.
Late in the afternoon we had seen most of Kamakura that there is to see. We boarded a train and returned north. This time to Yokohama (横浜.) We did some more walking and sightseeing. Max was able to achieve his childhood fantasy of shopping at a Pokemon store, in Japan. He ran around the store squealing with delight. Kelsey, Mari and myself rolled our eyes and waited patiently for him to buy out the store.
Dinner was at a Japanese/Chinese/American restaurant. I thought this was a unique idea and had never been to such a shop. Everyone ordered something different. Everyone ate until they were full. Next stop: Cosmo world at Minato Mirai (みなとみらい.) We visited the heavily developed area near the waterfront. We rode Japan’s tallest ferris wheel. Luckily for us it was a quiet night and there wasn’t too much of a wait. The view from the top was excellent. I’ll definitely return.
We took a train home and I quickly watched everyone fall asleep. Mari and Max on my shoulders. Kelsey on Max’s. The last one awake, I forced myself to stay up so we wouldn’t miss our stop. Soon enough that stop came and we said goodbye to Mari. The three Nebraska kids finally made it home where we promptly fell asleep. Good night!
Wednesday, March 21
I took off Wednesday from work to host my guests. We woke up early, packed a lunch and slipped on our hiking boots. Today we would hike!
Max & Kelsey (M&K) had been in Japan for four days and ridden dozens of trains already. The following day M&K would take a series of trains across Tokyo to visit Tokyo Disneyland. Today would a test run to see if Max could handle navigating the trains. I handed my brother the phone. I told him where we were and where we wanted to go. The rest was up to him. He input the information and we were off. I forced, and I mean FORCED myself to walk behind Max and let him figure out where we going. To my delight he figured it out quickly. We caught all of our trains and arrived at the final destination with no problem. Good job, Max!
Our destination was in fact Mt. Takao (高尾山.) This is a mountain in western Tokyo that I’ve climbed (and blogged about) twice before. Max really wanted to climb a mountain while visiting. There aren’t any mountains anywhere near Lincoln, Nebraska. I myself love hiking and so was happy to oblige. We arrived at the mountain base and started the hike.
One of my favorite moments from M&K’s stay came five minutes into the hike. We found our trailhead and hiked a kilometer in. There in the clearing was a stone pedestal with rain water resting in its basin. The tree of us approached and inspected it.
“Now, it’s a Japanese tradition to drink this water and say a prayer before hiking.” I told them.
I had just finished my sentence when Max bent over and slurped up some water. I was shocked then amused.
“Hahahahaha,” I laughed out loud. “Max, I wasn’t actually serious! You should never drink standing water!”
He spit and took the water bottle I offered him. He looked embarrassed. It didn’t help that I was still laughing. Once I caught my breath I apologized. Luckily his sense of humor returned quickly and he reenacted the scene for a great picture.
We resumed our hike and made summit 90 minutes later. M&K’s lungs were adapted for the Nebraska prairie, not mountains. They sucked air a little harder than I did, but were otherwise in great shape. We reached the top in great spirits and were met with a beautiful sight, Mt. Fuji (富士山.) It was one of the clearest images I’ve ever seen of the famous mountain. M&K were very lucky to have seen such a view. Pictures. Picnic.
We enjoyed some snacks at the top of mountain and walked around the top looking out over Japan. Time to descend. We had taken a dirt trail up the hill but elected to take the paved path back down. It was faster and we could see more sights along a different path. In no time at all we were back at the mountain base and on a train home. Nap time.
The highlight of the evening came at dinner time. We visited my local ramen shop (ラメン). Big bowls of piping hot ramen were served to us and we devoured them. Or maybe I was just hungry and remember it fondly. Either way bed quickly followed and we were done for the night.
Friday, March 23
Max and Kelsey visited Tokyo Disneyland and dealt with the insanity that is Tokyo commuter traffic. They successfully returned.
Additionally Emma made a return visit to Sagamiono (相模大野 ). She had only been gone for a month and that’s all it felt like. We quickly jumped back into the swing of things. And at our favorite local joint too, Angie Cafe. Her Kiwi accent had intensified since returning home. I loved it. I was happy my brother and good friend could meet each other. Everyone was friendly. Everyone wanted to stay out later but there were trains to worry about and we went separate directions near midnight. Next it will be my turn to visit Emma once she’s settled in down south. Or, as the Japanese call southern Japan, “west.”
Saturday, March 24
The last day for my guests! I again took the day off to spend more time with them. And of course to escort them back to the airport. The day would serve as a chance to do some of the things we hadn’t gotten to. First stop: Shibuya (渋谷).
Shibuya is home to Shibuya crossing. You know the place. The famous intersection in Tokyo where the cars stop and thousands of pedestrians scramble through the intersection. We made a visit to watch everyone scurry about. And of course eat lunch. We visited an izakaya (居酒屋) a Japanese-style bar. I ordered an assortment of fish foods for M&K. Max could also try his first glass of sake (日本酒). He took a sip and I watched the hairs on his neck stand up. Yeah, that’s the good stuff.
We finished the day back in Yokohama. We mulled around the station watching the sun set and drinking coffee. It was one of those situations when we didn’t have enough time to go anywhere, but we had enough time to be bored. We did some final souvenir shopping & had dinner. We made our way back to the station just in time to find Mari. She wanted to join us to the airport so she could say goodbye. So we hopped two trains and went back to where it all started; the airport.
We made our way to the check in counter. Using their passports M&K digitally checked in. Unfortunately they couldn’t sit together. We proceeded to check bags. Overweight. Max unzipped to repack & switch around items. He was occupied. Time to be the big brother. I approached the counter and the English-speaking Japanese representative. I gave her my best smile and spoke in simple but polite English.
“Excuse me. My brother and his girlfriend had a problem checking in. Their seats are separate. Is there anything you can do?”
She smiled and checked her computer. Pound the keyboard.
“I’m sorry, there doesn’t seem to be a pair of coach seats available. However I can change their seats to mid-premium.”
“Great!” I exclaimed. “What’s mid-premium?”
“It is the small space between coach and first class. There is a divider between the three sections and more leg room. Is this acceptable?”
Without consulting Max, Kelsey or Mari, I replied with an immediate, “Yes. That would be wonderful. Thank you so much!”
Max zipped his suitcase shut. We weighed the bag again. Again it was overweight, just barely.
“Don’t worry, sir. That’s good enough.” The clerk took his bags and attached tickets. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
“No, mam. That’s all. Thank you so much for your help this evening!” I turned to M&K and spoke intentionally so the representative could hear me. “Now THAT is the kind of service that makes Japan world-famous. I turned to face the woman again, gave a bow and said “thank you (ありがとうごあじました.)”
Bags checked and time to kill we went to the restaurants and found a nice place to sit down. Green tea for everyone, Alex’s treat. We sat in a circle and exchanged change. Mari and I made sure M&K both had one of every Japanese coin. I took a lot of one yen coins from them, similar to pennies. I’m like a banker when comes to give exact change at the register. Great gift.
We finished our tea. The time had come. We walked together to the security check. Final pictures and goodbye-hugs. I watched my baby brother and his girlfriend walk through the gates. I made sure they passed security and were fully out of sight before I turned my back. I’m not one to cry often. But I definitely had a few tears come out after they were gone. I felt sad to see them go. But it felt good to feel strong emotions. Mari wiped the tears from my cheek. At least I still had her. We grabbed hands and a made a dash for the train. One more thing to do today.
Miss. Sari (さりさん) is the assistant manager at our school. She’s awesome. She and I have become good friends in the 17 months we’ve worked together. We’re like siblings. She was finishing her contract with the company and moving south to Kobe to be with her fiance. Saturday night was her going away party. Mari and I made haste going back to the Ono (大野).
We arrived just as the party was ending. I stood at the exit and greeted 30 students as they exited. I had missed the two-hour, open bar, party but had appeared for the exiting ceremonies. Most students were drunk and shocked to see me standing at the exit. They were surprised and happy to see me. It felt good to be liked. I helped everyone with their coats and shoes. Finally the room had emptied and I assumed my work party responsibilities.
Standing outside of the restaurant I found a piece of concrete to stand on. I took a deep breath to fill my belly and shouted out across everyone.
“Thank you for coming tonight! Let’s go to second party. Follow me!”
The English was short and simple on purpose. I was dealing with a great mixture of English levels. Mari and I began walking to the next bar. Slowly the students stumbled behind after us. Second party was at our usual joint, the Manchester Pub. It was getting late and I was tired. I had a bourbon on the rocks and was out of there.
Back home I undressed and washed my face. It felt strange to have an empty and quiet apartment. I had just shared my place with two other people for a week. It felt strange to be quiet. But also good. I laid down, closed my eyes and was out like a light.
Wednesday, March 28
After work I went out with Miss. Sari (さりさん), Moto (元先生) and our two new co-workers, Miss. Masayo (まさよさん), and Miss. Amina (あみな先生). What was supposed to be one quick beer quickly turned into two and a half hours of drinking and eating. It was a sort-of goodbye to Sari, and a welcome to Masayo and Amina. The two newest additions to our staff. Really though it was Moto and I listening to girls’ talk for two hours. No matter the language, I know girl talk when I hear it. And this was no exception. Boys. Relationships. Romance. I focused on eating and kept to my own business. Still though, it was a good time.
Saturday, March 31
Saturday was my monthly student party. For the past few months I’ve hosted a monthly party where I invite a select group of students out for dinner and drinks. Every month I’ve invited out the students from a single day. This month I invited all of Saturday students out. 11 people came out and we had a good time.
We ate. We drank. We laughed. I created these parties to give students the chance to know me, know each other, speak English and just have fun! I think it’s safe to say that all of these happened. After two hours and more I ordered the check and we were out of there. I was able to keep myself together and definitely left the most sober. As I should have. Outside I thanked everyone for coming and we went our separate ways. Another successful party.
Monday, April 2
I sent some things back to Nebraska with Max. Among those items were three suits. The suits had been fitted two weeks before I left the States. 17 months later, they were too big. Wearing my own suits, I looked like a boy wearing his father’s clothes. Ridiculous. I figured sending them home would force me to splash out and buy some new clothes. Monday would be that day.
I met Moto in Machida (町田). We visited a chain business and were quickly assisted by an employee. Moto played interpreter and together the three of us found some good suits. There was a “weekend special” where two suits could be bought for ¥30,000 ($360). Not too shabby. In a span of thirty minutes I had selected two suits, had them fitted and paid for. That’s efficient shopping. I selected two styles, a regular cut and slim cut. Both being very slim by American standards. I can’t wait to ride the trains of Tokyo looking so good!
-Convenience is King-
If I can surmise Tokyo in one word it is this: convenience. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is time so important. Living in such an environment is wonderful and terrible at the same time. This is a place where you can set your watch by the train times. But if that train is more than one minute late you can bet I’ll be irritated!
Let’s begin with the obvious: trains. The trains and subways of Tokyo are everywhere. There is seldom a place in the city where a train station is more than a 30 minute walk from any point. You’ll never need to walk far to find a train to transport you somewhere fabulous. Once you find the train you don’t need to wait long either. The trains here run on a very precise schedule. Any delay is considered a tremendous inconvenience.
Another example: the convenience store. Convenience stores, or more commonly, conbini (コンビニ) are everywhere. If you thought Starbucks was the most common business, think again. Come to Tokyo. You can literally find four convenience stores on the same block. Food, drinks and entertainment, these places have everything you could possibly need. Very convenient.
Generally speaking in Tokyo there is an expectation that everything should be quick and easy. If it is something that cannot be accessed or finished in a short period of time it is met with a great aversion. As a consumer, and a product of the internet-generation I can definitely appreciate this. If I want something, I want it now. So appease me, darn it!
Of course such an expectation is also a terrible thing. It lowers appreciation and people forget the virtues of patience. Everyone is so plugged in and expecting of immediate satisfaction that we often overlook simple pleasures. It can be incredibly frustrating dealing with people who cannot alter their own timeline for anything, or anyone else.
Luckily I consider myself a patient person, as patient as a 25-year-old in Tokyo can be. And I think my girlfriend has an old soul. She’s as patient as a saint. Together we can wait out almost any storm. Surrounding yourself with such people is important in this city. It’s nice to enjoy quick things. But it’s also important to remember that waiting has seldom been a terrible thing.
So Tokyo: slow down and smell the roses.