Archive for October, 2013

October 31, 2003 – Team Canada

Original Post

There is a new Canadian in Hello House! Now we are not so outnumbered by the Aussies. Go Team Canada!

2013 Update

Hello House is largely fully of Aussies and Americans. The new Canadian (let’s call him Marshall) brought the Canuck total up to 3. Hello House had roughly the same proportions of teachers as NOVA did. At NOVA, most of the English teachers were Australian or American. Next in line would be British and Canadian. Pulling up the rear for numbers are Irish, Scottish and New Zealanders. There was no restriction on country of origin, as long as English was your first language and you could get a working visa.

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October 30, 2003 – Kill Bill is NOT a good date movie

Kill Bill!

(full rewrite from my original post to tell the story better)

During my first month in Japan I tried to find some people to practice Japanese with. At one of my many post work trips to the internet cafe, I signed up for a local language exchange website. After some back and forth conversation, I had both a meeting with a language exchange partner and a movie date for the same day in Yokohama. Conveniently I was working at Yokohama Nova, which reduced the amount of travel needed.

In the morning I met my language exchange partner. She was a housewife looking to improve her English as a hobby. We hung out at Starbucks and talked for a while. Things went well and we set up a future meeting.

Next stop was working at Yokohama Nova. One of my lessons had two giggly teenage girls. In the lesson they asked me what kind of girls I liked. Since Nova has some very strict rules about interacting with students and there were supervisors teaching in the next cubicle, I tried to avoid the question. I like to think that I was able to avoid the question casually and look professional while doing it. In reality I probably blushed and stammered.

After work I met up with my date at Yokohama station. She was a university student who was both very outgoing and very good at English. We started out by getting conveyor sushi in the station. We ate really good sushi and I even spoke Japanese a few times. Things were going well! When we finished dinner, my date took me to a discount movie ticket store that was a few minutes away from the theater. I didn’t know such a thing existed, and am not exactly sure the economics behind it, but any chance to avoid paying 1800 yen for a movie is a good thing.

A few days earlier I was in the Voice open conversation room at Kawasaki Nova. We were talking about movies and I mentioned that I was going to take a new female friend to see Kill Bill. At that point, my students explicitly warned me not to do that because Kill Bill was a terrible date movie. They said it was violent and cruel and we would have nothing to talk about after the movie. I explained that when I was talking about Kill Bill, my date said she was excited to see it because Lucy Liu was in the movie.

Apparently the date thought since Lucy Liu was in Charlie’s Angels that Kill Bill would be similar to Charlie’s Angels. I think it was during the first knife fight in the movie where she started to feel uncomfortable. By the end of the movie when The Bride was hacking her way through The Crazy 88s like a human blender, my date had resorted to covering her eyes and peeking from time to time. On the way back to the station we really didn’t have a lot to talk about and the walk back was awkward and mostly silent. I sent her a text later apologizing for the bloody movie and asking if she would like to hang out again sometime. I never heard from her again.
5 years of being off the market does not help someone who has little to no skill with the opposite sex at all. Also, when someone tells you strongly that a movie is NOT a good date movie you should really take the time to listen. They just might be right.

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October 27, 2003 – Izakaya

Original Post

Went to an izakaya for the first time. An izakaya is a Japanese style pub. Not a lot of loud music, great drinks and food. It is located conveniently close to Hello House. I will be returning when I get paid.

2013 Update

When I was getting ready to post this again I was wondering why I had put so little detail originally. Surely my first trip to an izakaya would warrant more detail or a better blog entry. Then I remembered the reason why I didn’t provide more detail – Yumi.

Yumi was one of the people I met online in Japan looking for a language partner. She lived in Tokyo, reasonably close to Noborito and was looking to practice her English. We exchanged some emails and found that we both liked beer. Since I had never been to an izakaya before, Yumi met me one evening at Noborito station and we went to a nearby izakaya located along the Tama river.

Yumi and I had a fun evening of drinks and conversation, learning about each other and drinking culture in each country. After a few hours I walked her back to the station and said goodnight, promising that we would stay in touch and hang out again.

At the time of the post, I was only one month into my year in Japan. Before I left Canada, The Ex and I had many long, difficult discussions about the state of our relationship and how things would work when I was away for a year. We ended up deciding to take a break on the relationship and re-evaluate when I returned to Canada. We had an understanding that seeing other people was okay, but neither one of us really wanted to think about it. I decided that blogging about going out for drinks with a nice young lady that I had met online was probably not the best idea at the time.

Since it is now 10 years later and I am now happily married (not to Yumi or The Ex), there is no harm in blogging about this now.

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October 26, 2003 – John Lennon Museum

(rewritten from original post to add much more detail)

Today I went to the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, which is a city just north of Tokyo that belongs to the Greater Tokyo Area. I met up with some of the teachers that I went to orientation with. We had exchanged contact information at orientation night, and shortly afterwards made plans on a mutual day off to meet up and visit the museum.

In early afternoon we met up at Akabane station and switched to a train heading towards the Saitama Super Arena. Since we were all pretty new to Japan, we took the local train instead of the express and got off at the wrong station. We left the station area and started looking around for a large arena. With a name like “Saitama Super Arena” we figured it would likely be a prominent part of the scenery. After a few minutes of wandering on both sides of the station, we decided to walk into the nearest Koban and ask for directions.

A Koban is also called a “police box”. It is a small office usually staffed by a few officers who patrol the local area and provide directions. Not knowing whether or not the officers would speak English, I decided that it would be a good time to put my University Japanese education and phrase book to use. I looked up the word for museum – hakubutsukan. This was combined with “wa doko desu ka” (where is it) from my Japanese course. After a few practice runs I walked into the Koban and politely said “すみません、(ジョン・レノンの博物館はどこですか?” (excuse me, where is the John Lennon museum). The officer took one look at me and answered in perfect English “oh, the John Lennon museum? This is the wrong station. You need to get back on the train and go one more stop. Get off at Saitama Shintoshin station and follow the signs”. This was a recurring theme in my Japanese adventures – when you don’t expect someone to speak English, they end up speaking it very well.

We followed the nice officer’s instructions and entered the John Lennon Museum. The museum chronicled John’s life from childhood to death, with different rooms for different stages in his life and career. There was an extensive collection of John’s personal effects (thanks to Yoko Ono) that included John’s elementary school report card, a guitar with a Beatles set list still taped to the neck, Sgt. Pepper stage costumes and song lyrics written on various scraps of paper or napkins. I am more of a Beatles fan than a John Lennon fan, but it was still a great way to learn more about John before, during and after the Beatles. All of the displays were in English and Japanese. The museum was fantastic!

After the museum we went to the attached John Lennon museum cafe. The cafe featured live music by a band called Light Steel Blue who played Beatles songs. The female keyboard player kept looking at me during the show. Afterwards my teaching friends and I were standing around talking when the keyboard player walked up to hand out information about her band. I told her in Japanese that her music was great. She thanked me and we had a bit of a conversation in broken English and Japanese and exchanged phone numbers. She also took my friend’s numbers as well, but I think she did that as an afterthought to be polite.

I got to see all of John Lennon’s personal stuff and got a phone number. What a great day!

2013 Update

The museum closed a few years ago, but you can get some good details here:

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Life in Noborito – Hello House

A view of my room in Hello House

A view of my room in Hello House

Hello House was the name of two dormitory style residences near Noborito station in Kawasaki, Japan. The two mostly identical buildings were named Hello House West and Hello House East. Most of the residents were non-Japanese English teachers. I lived in Hello House East for just over one year.

Each Hello House building had two dormitory wings and a common kitchen, shower room, and living room. The dormitory wings had two floors with toilet and laundry facilities on each floor. The rooms were 5 tatami mat size with an individual heating / air conditioning unit. All of the rooms came with a futon, under mattress and some sheets. Some of the rooms came with furniture from previous residents. I was lucky enough to have a desk in my room, but many rooms did not have any furniture. Costs for a typical room were 50,000 yen per month (approximately $500 CAD) plus electricity.

The rooms were pretty quiet, except for the few located directly above the living room. You needed to be a heavy sleeper with a quiet sex life in those rooms.

Outside the kitchen was a wall of shelving for food storage. Each room was assigned one area for food storage. Inside the fridge was the same. The kitchen itself was stocked with plates, glasses, pots, pans, and basically everything else you could need to cook. Since most of the residents were working different hours, there were never usually big traffic jams in the kitchen. As with any communal living environment, dirty dishes were a problem. Just because you were mature enough to move around the world and live in another country doesn’t mean that you were mature enough to wash the dishes you used. The most annoying problem with the system was that occasionally food would “go missing”, usually when someone was drunk or broke. Fortunately missing food wasn’t a regular occurrence.

The kitchen was next to the common living room which came with plenty of seating, a TV, and a bookshelf full of abandoned books from previous residents. All residents could borrow books from the bookshelf and leave unwanted books with the shelf. One of the most interesting features of the living room was the dozo table. Dozo is Japanese for “here you go”. The idea was that if there is anything you don’t want or need anymore, you can leave it on the dozo table and it is up for grabs for other residents. This was really helpful for stocking up your room, and great for reducing the amount of junk that you needed to pack when moving out.

The shower room had a big, deep Japanese style bath tub (which nobody used) and a number of private shower stalls. When I lived at Hello House the showers were coin operated and cost 100 yen for 10 minutes. There was a digital display that showed how much time you had left, so you had no excuse for running out of time with a head full of shampoo. With short hair, I was able to wash myself, my hair and shave in 10 minutes. It wasn’t a relaxing shower, but it sure was efficient. If you were lucky, the previous user would have left some time on the clock which would be added to your 10 minutes. Near the end of my stay in Hello House I was gifted with a 18 minute shower for 100 yen. After a year of speed showering I really didn’t know what to do with the extra time and ended up leaving most of it for the next person.

Hello House was a great place to live for someone new to Japan. Since almost everyone was non-Japanese you automatically had something in common with the other residents. If you ever needed advice on where to go shopping, cheap places to eat, where to go for dry cleaning, where to get haircuts, or anything else about daily life in Japan, there would be someone around with some good advice. Like all communal living environments there were always some annoying things, but overall it was a very good experience and I probably ended up enjoying my time in Japan more because I started out in Hello House.

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October 23, 2003 – When you’re this bad, they call you Mister?

The cold from hell is almost gone, but I lost my voice today, so no teaching for me. I ended up going shopping at Daiei with TimTam during the day because I didn`t need my voice for shopping. In the evening I went with TimTam and Lux to Mister Donut for 100 yen donuts. You really get what you pay for here. (i.e. the donuts sucked)

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October 20, 2003 – Hockey finally

Still fighting the cold, but I needed to get out of the Hello House.

There was some good viewing on the Hello House TV today. The highlight was an NHL hockey game: Kings vs. Senators in LA. Unfortunately the Sens lost, but man it was great to see hockey! I also got to watch Tiny Toons and Japanese women`s wrestling. Satellite TV rules!

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October 19, 2003 – Bob Sapp Time


Original Post

Nothing sucks more than a bad cold on your day off. I stayed home and watched a whole bunch of TV and finally saw Bob Sapp in a fight. Man that guy is huge!!! He lost by DQ when he slugged a guy who was on the mat under kickboxing rules. For those who don`t know, Bob Sapp is a former NFL player who came to Japan and became famous in K-1 and Pride.

In the evening I went out grocery shopping with Lux, the other Canadian in Hello House East. Lux refuses to speak any Japanese, but somehow gets away with it. She also loves smiling and waving at unsuspecting Japanese men making them blush. Shopping with Lux is never dull.

2013 Update

For a few years, Bob Sapp was one of the biggest gaijin talents in Japan. He was literally everywhere – train ads, commercials, fights, variety shows, everywhere. Part of the appeal is that Bob Sapp is like a human cartoon character. He is happy to switch from “the beast” to a big smiling, dancing goofball. As a fighter he was not great if you could avoid his giant flailing punches. As a moneymaking entertainer he ruled Japan for a few years and was well aware that he had a limited shelf life. It was fun to live in Japan during Bob Sapp time.

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October 18, 2003 – The blind leading the blind


(complete rewrite from the original post)

Work was insane today. Overall there were 4 schedule changes. Since I am still pretty new, it takes me a long time to plan my lessons. A schedule change may involve a new student added into a lesson. That new student might have recently done the lesson you were planning to teach, which will involve finding a new lesson that works for everyone. It is also possible to have your entire lesson switched with another teacher to avoid the same student having two lessons in a row with the same teacher. Again, this will involve coming up with something new on short notice.

Due to continuous changes, I ended up with a business class student for a short time. The business class involved a set curriculum which I knew nothing about. Fortunately one of the senior teachers saw the problem and got this fixed before I failed spectacularly. My other big challenge was being scheduled with a low level student who was nearly completely blind. Nova was supposed to be heavily focused on speaking and listening, but there was still a big textbook component to the lessons. Some of the more experienced teachers had been given special instruction on how to work with blind students, but I am still a novice teacher about 3 weeks into the job. I ended up getting switched to the Voice room 5 minutes before the class started.

Kawasaki Nova is too busy!

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October 15, 2003 – Beware Roppongi

After an eventful training class where I experienced my first earthquake I was just looking forward to getting back to Kawasaki for a quick beer at Kiosk before heading home. Mississippi Mark and I were on the train together – I was sitting and he was standing holding the train handle. Suddenly, a Japanese girl walks up to him and starts talking to him in English. I could only see the girl from the right side and she looked pretty cute.

The girl introduced herself as Momoko and started asking Mississippi Mark how long he had been in Japan, where he works, and where he has been in Japan so far (the standard questions).

When you are not from Japan, it is difficult to guess the age of the Japanese people you are talking to. Momoko was young looking and fashionably dressed. This meant she could have been anywhere from 15 to 35. Trying to help narrow down the age range, I asked her if she was a student. She answered that she was studying graphic design at a local art school. This meant that she was at least out of high school, which was a relief.

During the conversation, Mark mentioned that he wanted to go to Roppongi sometime. Roppongi is a well known foreigner friendly nightlife area in Tokyo. Momoko says “Don’t go to Roppongi! That’s where this happened”, pointing out the MASSIVE BLACK EYE she had on her left side. Mississippi had seen this the whole time, but it was not visible from my angle. She also pointed out her busted up lip and then told us “Don’t worry – the other girl looks much worse!”.

Well that’s a relief.

She insisted on getting Mark’s email address and told him she would invite him to Roppongi sometime and promised not to fight if they went out together. After she left, Mark told me that he would be bringing backup if he ever went out with Momoko because he was afraid of her. Man, I love this country!

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