(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!
The museum closed a few years ago, but you can get some good details here: http://amoderngirl.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/goodbye-lennon/