Archive for December, 2013
Happy New Year!!
New Year’s Eve was a lot of fun. I was worried because most of my tentative New Year`s plans fell apart at the last minute. Fortunately I was able to join a group of Hello House people and friends on their way to O’Carolan’s Pub in Jiyugaoka. We got to the pub just in time for the big Bob Sapp vs. Akebono fight. I have written about Bob Sapp before, but Akebono was a retired sumo champion who had a little trouble with the transition to MMA. Sapp won quickly and then challenged Mike Tyson to a fight. We had beer and did the big New Year’s countdown, but it just wasn’t the same away from home.
After O’Carolan’s we went to a karaoke place in Musashi-Kosugi. Our group got a private karaoke room that rated your singing at the end of each song. My “Daydream Believer” got a whopping 78 points, which left me in first place until Katsuragi racked up just over 80 points on the last song of the night. Stupid Katsuragi!
Overall it was a fun New Year and I ended up getting home around 3:30am.
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Most of Japan shuts down round New Year, and for a change NOVA was no exception. The one downside is that bank machines are also shut down, so you need to plan ahead for spending cash. I still don’t understand the need to shut down bank machines at any time, especially in a mostly cash based economy.
The day off was great. I sat on my butt, played video games and watched a lot of TV in the common room at Hello House. Included in my viewing was British detective show “A Touch of Frost” and Robocop. Fortunately this time it was the excellent original Robocop, and not the shockingly bad Robocop 3 that I endured a few weeks earlier.
Today I spent a great day in Yokohama with the Penpal. We started the day off with a trip to the famous Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. Just like the name would indicate, this museum is dedicated to the history of Japan’s favourite noodle soup. Japan has some unique museum ideas.
The upper level has a history of ramen in Japan, including pictures, videos, old packages, and TV commercials through the years. They also have an impressive collection of ramen bowls from famous ramen shops across Japan. The basement is the truly interesting part. There is a recreation of a city block set up to look like 1958 Tokyo. Within the city block there are 8 different restaurants, each specializing in a different type of ramen. Also, there are long lines. We waited about 45 minutes (the shortest line) to eat some really delicious noodles. The Japan geek in me loved the experience, but the cynical Canadian in me pondered the wisdom of paying to get into a museum so I could wait in line and pay for ramen.
After the museum, we wandered around Yokohama’s Chinatown. Even though I had been to Chinatown recently, I still saw new things on my second visit. From Chinatown we moved on to Minato Mirai to see the port area. Since we had been walking all day we stopped for karaoke to get a break. I sang Barbie Girl, various Beatles songs, and some Radiohead. The Penpal sang a lot of Sheena Ringo
After karaoke, we headed to Cosmo Clock, the giant Ferris wheel together. About one month earlier I had gone on Cosmo Clock with Asako, misread signals, and ended up making an ass of myself. However, the Penpal and I had been talking to each other often and started to see a bit more than just a friendly connection. Today, I was finally able to interpret signals correctly and made a move that was well received. Redemption in Yokohama!
We walked back to the train station hand in hand, cautiously optimistic that this could be the start of something good. I love Yokohama!
Last day of work before holidays! Today was a good day, but I noticed that after work some of the teachers went out for drinks. They were very careful about who they invited and made a point of avoiding questions about where they were going after. The Japanese get a bad rap for being very cliquey and keeping their own little “in” groups, but it happens just as much or more with non-Japanese as well. I kind of felt like I was back in high school again.
There was a cliquey “cool” group at Kawasaki Nova, but looking back on things it is very likely that the teachers were going to hang out with students. Interacting with students outside of the classroom was officially not allowed, both because NOVA wanted to avoid teachers poaching students for private lessons and because NOVA wanted to avoid teachers doing anything that could affect repeat business. Failure to follow this rule could lead to anything from official warnings through termination.
I was definitely not part of the “cool” group, but I would prefer to think that my exclusion was due to interaction with students. It really doesn’t matter now, but I was feeling pretty excluded at the time, in addition to being homesick for Christmas.
I was woken up by two phone calls from Canada wishing me Merry Christmas very loudly into my hungover brain. It was nice to hear some familiar voices, but did they really need to shout?
At work I got to inform a student that she was ready for a level up. If a student’s ability is good enough, a teacher will fill out a level up slip and put it in to the student’s file. The next teacher will then agree with the level up, or give reasons for denying it. I was the second teacher, so I was happy to agree and then left the teacher’s room to find the student on her way out. I told her that I had a Christmas present for her and handed over the level up slip. She burst into a huge smile and looked like she was ready to give me a big hug. This would have been very un-Japanese, not to mention getting me in trouble with NOVA. I wished her a Merry Christmas on her way to schedule her level up test.
After work all of the teachers and some of the Japanese staff went to a Christmas house party in Yokohama. We changed trains in Yokohama station and I was surprised to see a long line of nicely dressed young couples waiting to purchase KFC. In Japan, Christmas is more of a day for couples than for families. Young couples will dress up nicely, get some KFC special Christmas fried chicken, and in many cases go to a love hotel. It’s no Christmas turkey, but not a bad way to spend the day either.
The house party was a good opportunity to spend time with some of my coworkers outside of the office. Usually I spend most of my free time with the other people in Hello House. I even got a chance to practice some of my Japanese with the NOVA staff in attendance. I would have preferred to be spending time with my family, but it was still good to be around people.
On my way home, I noticed some well dressed young couples riding home on the train holding hands. Apparently it was a good night for all.
(complete rewrite of original post)
My first Christmas Eve away from home was a bit depressing. I went to work earlier than usual and had plans to go to an English language church for a Christmas service in the evening. However, by the time I got home and ate it was too late to get to the church service.
I ended up going with Marshall to a yakiniku restaurant in Shimokitazawa, not too far away from my famous solo double date. The restaurant featured all you can eat and drink for 2 hours. The restaurant was smart and only had two waiters working, which greatly slowed down the delivery of food and drink to each table. I was surprised at how loud drunk Japanese people can be when they want the waiter to come. Shouts of “summisen” got louder and more obnoxious as the time went on. The gaijins in the restaurant had to work hard to keep up.
I ate cow tongue for the first time. It was thinly sliced and delicious.
After drinking many beers and stuffing myself with grilled meat I returned home to open my Christmas presents alone. Afterwards I fell asleep in front of the TV. I miss family Christmas.
For the backstory on Asako, check out these posts:
After the awkward romance fail on my last outing with Asako, I didn’t expect to hear from her again. I was surprised to get a text letting me know that her band, Light Steel Blue, was going to be playing at the John Lennon Museum Cafe again. I told her I would be there.
I took the long trip to Saitama, not getting lost like the first time. When I got there, I met Asako and she told me that her band would be on 4th and I could watch from the cafe. I took a seat and nursed a pricey cappucino through the performance. Light Steel Blue played Beatles covers, a few originals and some Christmas songs. The show was great, and I wish I had learned a bit more about the musicians in the band. The singer in particular was fantastic and I hope he is still performing somewhere.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the day. Mostly I just tried to not feel awkward sitting at a table by myself through 4 bands. I was literally the only non Japanese person in the place, and the only person sitting solo at a table. After the show I got a brief chance to talk to Asako who thanked me for coming and said that she had to get going. It turned out to be a “hey friend, come see my band play as a friend, buddy” kind of situation. This pretty much erased all doubt on the state of affairs.
At least I got to hear some good live music, so the entire day wasn’t all bad.
(complete rewrite of original post)
Today I had Japanese practice in Yokohama. After that I went to a bookstore that sold English language books and bought Michael Moore`s “Stupid White Men” and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle`s “Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories Volume 1”. I swore I would only read them on the train, but I started and finished Stupid White Men in a few hours.
In the evening I watched Rumble in the Bronx on TV. The international version has extra footage not shown in North America (which is standard for Jackie Chan’s movies). The missing footage made the movie better. Also, the dubbing was a bit different and there were some extra bad words that weren’t in the North American theatrical version. Overall it was a much better movie than the North American version.
Interesting trivia: Director Stanley Tong (Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, Supercop 2, First Strike, Martial Law TV series, etc.) studied at the University of Manitoba. How cool is that?
This is exactly the kind of lazy day off that I would have experienced in Canada, the only difference was the time I spent on a crowded train surrounded by people speaking Japanese.
At about 1:15am, the half price sashimi rice bowl I ate last night decided that it didn’t want to stay eaten. That began a few very unpleasant hours that I will decide not to share the details about.
I woke up early, decided I still felt terrible, and proceeded to call in sick to NOVA. My reason for not being able to work was “I ate bad half price sashimi and was suffering all night”. Apparently having stomach issues due to sashimi was the most common reason for calling in sick at NOVA. I am not sure if they actually believed me or just thought that I drank too much the night before.
After the call, I spent my day sleeping, playing old video games in my room and then sleeping more. Whee!
In addition to my group kids class, I have to teach a man to man kids lesson. Normally when I ask how a student is, people will tell me that he or she is very smart, a good kid, no problems. The mention of this girl`s name brought comments of “oh no!” and “She`s really depressed! Something is really wrong with that kid!”. Needless to say this didn’t really build my confidence about class. However, my lesson turned out to be better than my regular group kids class, which was a nice surprise.