Archive for November, 2013

November 30, 2003 – Christmas Tree!

(rewrite of original post)

Today was a day off, so The Penpal came for a visit from Numazu. Together we assembled and decorated the small Christmas tree that my parents sent from Canada. When I was young, our family always had a big Christmas tree in the living room at my parents house, and somewhere along the way we got a small tree that we would set up in the basement. The small tree had been sitting in a box for years collecting dust.

Growing up, Christmas was an important family holiday. When I think of Christmas I think of presents, snow, turkey dinner, family, watching the Grinch (animated, not live action), midnight mass, and my dad’s famous Christmas morning breakfast. Christmas 2003 will be the first time I will not get to experience any of these things. Having a small Christmas tree will hopefully help to offset a bit of the homesickness.

The Penpal had never decorated a Christmas tree before, so we had fun working on it together, even though it took about 15 minutes from start to finish. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out before she had to return to Numazu.

Christmas won’t be the same this year, but at least my room is feeling a bit more Christmassy.

(I didn’t take a picture at the time – the attached pic is an example of the size of my small tree)

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Roxanne “The Happy Warrior” Modafferi

Roxanne Modafferi is one of the least threatening people you could ever see. She is also one of the pioneers of women’s mixed martial arts. A former English teacher with 25 pro fights on her resume, she got widespread attention as one of the cast members of The Ultimate Fighter: Rousey vs. Tate. She also has a great blog detailing her experiences living, teaching and fighting in Japan.

My friends and I will be cheering for Roxanne when she makes her UFC debut on November 30, 2013 on the Ultimate Fighter finale.

Links for you:


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November 27, 2003 – Cosmo Clock


(2003 Original post)

I fought off the worst hangover of my time in Japan to go to Yokohama. I wandered around Chinatown and Minato Mirai which is on the waterfront. Minato Mirai has the world`s 3rd largest Ferris Wheel called the “Cosmo Clock” which takes a full 15 minutes for one revolution, and offers views of Mt. Fuji on a clear day. There were amazing Christmas decorations everywhere. Beautiful! I want to move to Yokohama.

(2013 Update)

This is another case where my original post was severely lacking detail at the time for a few different reasons, the main one being that I had a date with Asako from the band I met at the John Lennon museum.

The hangover was from my night out at a bar in Noborito which you can read about in yesterday’s post. After meeting a fairly epic night out with Marshall and some random Japanese guys I was feeling like death warmed over. I managed to get myself rehydrate, showered, and loaded up with ibuprofen so I could meet up with Asako in Yokohama.

Our first stop was Chukagai, Yokohama’s Chinatown. Chukagai is the largest Chinatown in Asia. We went to one of the many restaurants for lunch and had chahan (rice bowls). In Canada there are a lot of Chinese restaurants that serve fried rice, however they are all “Canadian Chinese” food that has been made more palatable for Canadians. Their fried rice is generally cheap and relatively flavourless. The fried rice we ate in Chukagai was simply amazing. It was bright and full of flavour, with chunks of meat and vegetables inside. When we were done eating, Asako literally sprinted to the cash register in order to pay for both of us, evening the score from our lunch in Shibuya a few weeks earlier.

After lunch we wandered around Chinatown and headed over to Minato Mirai 21, a shopping and tourist destination on the waterfront. Minato Mirai is home to Landmark Tower (Japan’s largest building), stores, movie theatres, an amusement park with ride and games, and Cosmo Clock. Standing at 112.5 meters, Cosmo Clock was at one time the largest Ferris Wheel in the world. It is also a very popular date spot. There is always a line of couples waiting to get into one of the 60 cars and make the 15 minute rotation with a great view of Yokohama.

Asako and I were having a fun day together, and she suggested that we go on Cosmo clock together. I took this as a positive sign, and about half way around the wheel I made a move.

For those who don’t know me, I am generally oblivious to signals that females give me. In fact, I am planning an upcoming article about my lack of skill when it comes to my romantic interactions with the opposite sex. The situation started with “awkward guy” as a baseline, added in hangover, homesickness, language barrier, lack of cultural knowledge, and mixed in being on the rebound from a 5 year relationship. This created a perfect recipe for poor timing. Perhaps after a few more dates things would have worked out differently, but the move was too soon.

Things were a little awkward for the rest of the time we spent together that day, and at the station Asako gave my hand a squeeze and walked away for her train. There was no discussion of the situation, but the message was fairly clear, she was not interested in turning our fairly new friendship into a relationship.

As I write this 10 years later I am cringing at the memory. It was a good day in Yokohama, but it could have ended better.

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November 26, 2003 – The universal language of beer


(rewrite of original post)

Marshall and I went out to a small local izakaya called Avenue. It was about a 5 minute walk from Hello House where the smelly alley meets the main street. Anyone who has ever lived in the area will know exactly what this means.

When I left Winnipeg there was a big push to cut down on over-serving. For those who don’t know, over-serving is continuing to sell alcohol to customers who are already (seriously) intoxicated. Coming from that environment, it was a bit of a shock for me to have to step over a customer who was passed out on the floor. He was on his side clinging on to a plastic bag to puke into. At that point we also realized that we had just walked into a place with character.

Marshall and I ended up having several beers at our own table, which was separated from a large group table by wooden slats that you could easily see through. We caught the attention of the large group of Japanese guys at the next table who were celebrating a birthday. They started talking to us, and thanks to the universal language of beer (and some basic Japanese), we were invited to join them at their table. We ended up having a little too much fun with our new friends. I snapped the attached picture of one of them as he was encouraging us to drink something out of a mysterious green bottle. The 120 x 120 pixel picture was the most my 2003 phone camera could handle, and it adequately represents what my vision was like at the end of the evening.

I love this country!

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Life in Noborito – Daiei Department Store

Daiei near Mukogaokayuen station in Kawasaki Japan

Daiei near Mukogaokayuen station in Kawasaki Japan

One of the most important places in the Noborito area was the Daiei Department store. The Daiei building contained a department store, 99 yen shop and grocery store, all of which were important for daily life in Hello House. The closest Daiei was about a 5 minute walk from Hello House, directly across from Mukogaokayuen station.

During my first week in Noborito I stocked up on stuff for my room at the 99 yen store. Over the next year I ended up buying a small floor couch that folds down into a matress, a small stereo, a Playstation 2 and other items to decorate my room. There was a small photo studio outside the main entrance that I used regularly. For those too young to remember, cameras used to require film. Once the film was used up, you needed to take it somewhere to get developed and turned into prints. I paid extra for digital copies of my pictures on CD.

The grocery store was the most common place that I visited at Daiei. It was a well stocked regular grocery store with a large deli section filled with ready to eat bentos and other food. The food was prepared daily, so it needed to be sold before the end of the day. Starting around 8:00pm, one of the employees would walk around with discount stickers for the food. Discounts would start at 10% and increase regularly after that to a maximum of 50%. It was not uncommon to see a crowd of hungry salarymen (and a few English teachers) following the discount sticker guy around the store.

The only downside of the Daiei store was the annoying music. Certain areas of the grocery store would have their own music that would play over and over until it was firmly stuck in your head. To this day I remember the songs for the meat and fish sections. The worst was the Daiei Hawks victory song. Deiei used to own the Daiei Hawks baseball team, who are now known as the SoftBank Hawks. In 2003 The Hawks won the Japan Series title and the store did nothing but play the stupid Hawks song on repeat. I feel bad for the employees who had to endure the song day after day.

Having a department store nearby was one of the great things about living in Noborito, and went a long way in making my time in Kawasaki enjoyable.

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November 22, 2003 – The University Educated tissue guy

Japanese promotional tissues

(rewrite of original post)

I was working at Keikyu Kawasaki NOVA today with Smiling Mo and managed to get three no show lessons. As I had learned previously, when you don’t have students you are expected to find something useful to do in the office. There is usually enough busy work to cover one or two open lessons. However, Smiling Mo and I both had several no shows and completely ran out of office work to do.

We asked the staff if they had anything that we could do to help. They asked if we really meant anything. We answered yes, we really would do anything to help. Minutes later we were at Keikyu Kawasaki station handing out NOVA tissues.

Free promotional tissues are commonly found near all train stations. They are simply a package of tissues with information on a business in the wrapper. The tissues are usually handed out by part time workers or junior employees. On this day I got to join the illustrious ranks of the tissue givers.

While handing out tissues I was approached by one of my regular students. He was a fun guy from Peru who was in Japan for construction work. When he saw me handing out tissues he laughed and then asked me if I was being punished for doing something wrong. At this point I started to question the value of my Bachelor of Commerce Degree (with honours) and the choices that brought me to that situation. I was a smart, educated guy. How did I possibly end up handing out free tissues at a train station?

Then I looked over at Smiling Mo, who was absolutely having a great time. He was a charismatic, outgoing person and was using the tissues as an excuse to talk to strangers, especially groups of attractive female students. Smiling Mo’s enjoyment helped me to realize that I wasn’t just doing a menial task, I was getting paid good money to do a menial task in JAPAN, far away from the frozen tundra of Winnipeg. With this realization, I started to actually have a bit of fun handing out NOVA tissues.

If you are half way around the world for a limited time, you might as well enjoy everything that the experience has to offer.

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November 20, 2003 – Crappy day

(rewrite of original post)

After a busy day at work I went out for some beer with coworkers. I had a few more than I should, and on the train home I inadvertently acted like an ass to my American coworkers. My supervisor was also on the train, and suggested that I work on my tact. Not one of my finest moments, but also one that I didn’t repeat.

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November 19, 2003 – Easy day

Original 2003 Post:

What a great day! Three lessons, voice and an observation! Whee!

2013 Update:

An observation at NOVA was when an experienced teacher got to watch a training teacher’s lesson and offer feedback. Apparently my 6 weeks on the job qualified me to do this. Watching other teachers, even the training teachers, was a great way to get some new ideas for lessons. It also required no planning at all, which made things much more relaxed.

The biggest mistake that training teachers would make is on lesson timing. NOVA lessons were 40 minutes each and had a few different stages including a warm up, language introduction, drills, and then usually an activity to practice the new language. New teachers would rush through everything and be done in 20 minutes, leaving a 20 minutes of “WTF do I do now?”. During one memorable observation, the teacher actually opened the door and asked me for ideas on how to fill the remaining lesson time. I got him to get the students talking for a minute, and then frantically wrote down a list of ideas on a piece of paper.

If you are an English teacher and are getting to observe training teachers, make good comments and offer good advice. That way you will get picked for observations again and get a nice break from lesson planning and teaching!

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November 17, 2003 – Kids Training

Original 2003 post:

Kids training in Totsuka (south of Yokohama). The provided map is a joke. We sing the alphabet song many times with the NOVA approved ending “sing sing sing sing sing with me” instead of the preferred “next time won`t you sing with me”. After training we hit the izakaya and are locked away in a private room with a karaoke machine. I successfully ruin music for everyone, and Mississippi Mike manages to sing Sugar Ray with a gangsta twist, followed by some freestyle Snoop Dogg. I sing Barbie Girl, and manage to barely catch the last train.

2013 Update:

NOVA Kids was a reliable money making machine for the company, and the bane of my existence in as an English teacher. Regular adult classes would have 1-4 students who generally were paying good money to learn English. The kids classes were groups of 1-8 kids that were only there because their parents forced them to go.

When I took my training there were 3 groups for kids classes: 3-6 year olds, 6-9 year olds, and 9-12 year olds. NOVA later added a class for kids under 3, which I firmly refused to be trained on.

All of the kids classes had a set curriculum, which made lesson planning relatively easy. Classroom management was the tough part. There is a large difference in maturity and abilities between a 3 year old and a 6 year old. 12 year old girls are not interested in singing the alphabet song, while 9 year old boys just want to push each other.

I did learn 2 valuable things in the kids training. The first was the Japanese words for pee and poop. When a young kid tells you that they need to go in the middle of the class, you get them to a bathroom. The second valuable thing was that what you say isn’t as important as how you say it. The instructor told us that the classroom was an English only environment. Teachers were not allowed to use Japanese at all. I asked how could we tell a kid to stop doing something if they don’t understand English. The instructor stood over me (while I was sitting on the floor), crossed his arms, put on an angry face and said “NO!” sharply and loudly. It is something that any kid (or adult) would understand, regardless of language.

Training was interesting, and even a little useful, but the best part of the day was still karaoke.

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November 16, 2003 – Double date

(complete rewrite of original post)

In my continuing quest to find language partners, I set up a meeting with another Japanese girl to go for food and beer in Shimokitazawa. For the life of me I can’t remember her name, so let’s call her Natsuko. A few days before our meeting, Natsuko texted me to say that she was bringing a female friend, and she asked me to bring a male friend as well. A double date with two 20 something Japanese girls! How hard can it be to find someone to go with me?

Very hard apparently.

Due to the short amount of lead time, a lot of the single guys already had plans on Sunday evening. With hours to go, I got a confirmation from Marshall that he would come along. After work I returned home, got cleaned up and ready to go out, only to find that Marshall had decided to stay home and watch TV because the girls couldn’t speak much English and he couldn’t speak much Japanese. No amount of convincing worked, so I ended up leaving for my double date by myself looking like a guy with no friends.

After a few minutes of trying to remember the Japanese word for “north”, I was able to leave through the North exit and meet Natsuko and her friend at Shimokitazawa station. We exchanged greetings and I immediately started apologizing for showing up solo, trying to explain that something came up at the last minute. The three of us wandered off towards the bustling streets of Shimokitazawa (a cool place to check out). After some looking around, we decided on a fun looking Vietnamese restaurant.

The restaurant was crowded and fun, featuring cheap drinks and small food orders for 380 yen each. The highlight was Russian Roulette Gyoza, a plate of 4 dumplings. One of the gyoza was loaded full of chili peppers. One of the girls got this, and started shooting fire out of her mouth after one bite. Being a gentleman, I finished the rest of the pepper loaded gyoza. This was the least I could do for not bringing a friend along.

Natsuko and her friend had very limited English. We did manage to communicate and have a good time, but I realized that I was going to seriously work on my Japanese. It was a still a fun evening, and I can honestly say that I have been out on a date with two women before.

In case “Marshall” or any of the other guys I asked to come with me are reading this – the girls were both really hot and the food was great. You missed out!

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