Archive for June, 2014

June 27, 2004 – My family arrives in Japan

A mere 19 days after I dropped off my University friends at Narita airport, I was once again taking the cheap trains to pick up visitors. This time I would be picking up my parents and sister.

My parents would have never considered traveling to Japan if I wasn’t living here. In fact, they have never traveled outside of North America before. My parents are in their mid 50s and live in a small town west of Winnipeg. My father is an air traffic controller – he was in the Canadian Forces for 27 years, retired, and then started doing the same job as a civilian. He is one of the friendliest people I know and has no issues starting a conversation with complete strangers. My mother is a teacher’s assistant at an elementary school. She specializes in helping hearing impaired and deaf students. My sister  is a University student who lives in Winnipeg. She is in her early 20s, short, and very smart. However, she will believe almost everything I tell her, a fact that I occasionally abuse for comedic effect.

When I picked up my friends from the airport, I ended up having to wait a long time for them to clear customs and immigration after their flight landed. I had considered arriving about an hour after my family’s flight landed, but was worried that if they somehow got through early, they would be worried that they couldn’t find me. I got to the airport exactly when their flight arrived, and ended up having to wait about 90 minutes for them to show up.

At this point it had been 9 months since I had seen my family. My sister looked mostly the same, but my parents looked older. They all commented on how skinny I looked, since I had probably dropped about 5kg (12lbs) since moving to Japan.

We got tickets for the Narita Express and were on our way to Shinjuku from the airport. Just like my first train ride into Tokyo, and my friends after that, my family was amazed at the size and density of the city. Everyone always gets excited, and then they realize they are only in Chiba and things are only going to get busier.

We made a brief stop in Shinjuku to look at the skyline. The largest city my family had ever been to was Toronto. Tokyo is like stacking a few Torontos on top of each other. I taught them all how to use the train ticket gates, and we headed off for Noborito.

I couldn’t get the same guest room in Hello House East that my friends had, however I got a bigger, nicer room in Hello House West for my parents. They were impressed with the room (and the price), but were a little concerned about sleeping on futons on the floor. My sister was going to stay in my room on my futon, and I would sleep on my foldy floor couch. After giving them all of the key information on Hello House (where the bathrooms and coin operated showers were located), we decided to head out and get some food.

My dad can be pretty adventurous with food, but my mom and sister aren’t as much. To ease them into their Japan experience, we ate at a Spaghetti restaurant near Mukogaokayuen station. We walked from Hello House, and my family enjoyed looking at all of the different businesses along the way. Everyone ordered fairly non-threatening spaghetti (no squid ink sauce for anyone), and we had our first meal as a family in 9 months.

I really missed my family and was happy they came to visit me! It’s going to be a great few weeks!

(2014 update) My dad told me later that he had brought two apples to eat on the plane. He finished one, and kept the other in his carry on luggage. When the customs staff asked if he was carrying any fruits or vegetables, he pulled out the apple. The customs staff told him that he would have to dispose of the apple before he could enter the arrivals lounge. He considered arguing or eating the apple in front of the customs staff, but instead tossed the apple in a nearby garbage bin.

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June 13, 2004 – Music and movies with The Penpal

Today The Penpal came from Numazu to visit me in Kawasaki again. We hung out in my room at Hello House and listened to music. Afterwards we watched my Pixies DVD. I also practiced my Japanese by trying to retell the story about Green attempting to eat 20 Frosties at Wendy’s in Japanese. The Penpal understood my explanation of the story, but couldn’t understand why someone would try to eat 20 Frosties at one time. If I can’t explain it in English, I have no chance of explaining it in Japanese.

After she returned to Numazu, I went to the video store and rented American Beauty and Silence of the Lambs. I had seen both before, but they were both excellent.

(2014 Update) The ending of Silence of the Lambs continues to be terrifying even years later.

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June 12, 2004 – Kiosk!

After work I had some Kiosk beers with co-workers. Going for a beer or two at Kiosk at Kawasaki station is becoming a regular event for some of the teachers. It is a great way to unwind after a shift, and watching all of the people in the station is never boring.

I like Kiosk!

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June 11, 2004 – Avoid 50% off sashimi at all costs

After work last night I once again found myself at Daiei’s supermarket looking for some discount food. I decided on a delicious looking rice bowl covered in sashimi (raw fish). It had been marked down 50% because it had been sitting in the deli section unsold for the entire day. 50% is the maximum discount that Daiei gives, so I was pretty excited to dig into my giant fishy rice bowl.

I woke up this morning feeling terrible. My stomach was not happy with me, and after making three rapid trips to the bathroom I decided to call in sick and go back to bed.

After a day of sleeping and running to the bathroom, I finally felt well enough to get out and rent some movies. I spent my evening watching Terminator 3 (not nearly as good as 1 and 2) and Dreamcatcher (not as good as the book).

(2014 Update) Calling in sick at NOVA was fairly easy and painless. An English speaking operator answers and asks for your name, your branch, and the reason for missing work. If you sound particularly sick they also ask if you need any further assistance. As long as you call before certain times (8:30 for early shift, 10:00 for afternoon shifts) there is no penalty for missing your shift, other than not getting paid.

When I told them that I wouldn’t be showing up due to discount sashimi, they didn’t sound impressed. I found out later that sushi and sashimi were by far the most common reasons that teachers would give for missing work. Japan has fairly high food safety standards, so it is likely that some of the sushi and sashimi calls were actually booze related.

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June 10, 2004 – Setting up the month of pain

I used up all of my vacation time and did some shift swaps to get the time off for my friends recent visit to Japan. To get time off for my family’s visit I did all shift swaps. I have basically destroyed my June and July work schedules, and have a stretch of 20 work days in a row. July is NOT going to be a fun month.

(2014 Update) In case you are looking at the dates of my posts and wondering why there are large gaps, it is entirely due to the non stop work required to get time off for my visitors. Nothing really interesting happened on most of those days other than work.

 

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June 8, 2004 – Back to work

Today was my first day back to work after my friends returned to Canada. Kawasaki NOVA is just the same as when I started my vacation. To cover the shift swaps needed to accommodate two sets of visitors, I will be spending a lot of time at work in the near future.

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Team Awesome Sauce: Epilogue

Hippie, Green, Code Red and I enjoying some beer

Hippie, Green, Code Red and I enjoying some beer

It was a lot of fun rewriting the posts about my friends’ visit to Japan. My original blog posts ranged from two sentences to a paragraph each, which was not nearly long enough to properly describe the events. Using a combination of my original blog posts, pictures from the time, and recent conversations with some of the guys, I was able to flesh out some of the details.

There are a few small things that got missed in the daily updates:

Flounder stands out: Flounder was stared at almost everywhere we went because he was gigantic compared to most people. He actually started counting the number of people staring at him on each day. He was in the double digits but stopped counting when we walked by a few hundred elementary school kids.

So much Playstation: We played a lot of Playstation while working off our hangovers. The most popular game was WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain. I only had two PS2 controllers, so two players had to use PS1 controllers that we borrowed from Lux. Since taunts were only usable on the PS2 controllers, we had to impose a house rule banning them.

Hippies like gyoza: Hippie took a serious liking to gyoza from Shop 99 – the awesome 99 yen store near Hello House. I have never seen someone so enthusiastically demolish an entire package. “I like dumplings” because his catch phrase for the trip.

Laryngitis: I had a bit of a sore throat when the guys arrived. They bombarded me with so many questions about everything around us that I actually lost my voice completely a few times in the first days of their visit.

Are we there yet: On our many train rides, the guys would annoy me by asking which station we needed to get off at. Then they would ask how many stops were left. Then they would ask me which station again. Then they asked how many stops now. It was a variation on the classic “are we there yet”. I told them to just get off the train when I did and to stop asking questions.

To stop this game, I got off the train unexpectedly at a station on Odakyu line with no explanation. All of the guys followed me off the train and then I jumped back on suddenly. They all scrambled to get back on the train before the doors closed. I though this was hilarious. They didn’t appreciate the humour.

Representing Canada: Like most Canadians, we proudly displayed the Canadian flag in our travels. However, all the flags got put away when we were drinking and acting like idiots. This was something we learned in our fraternity days – don’t act stupid while wearing fraternity letters.

Not everyone can read Japanese: On one of our Tokyo adventures, I needed to hit a bank machine. I told the guys to meet me at the coffee shop across the street. They asked which coffee shop. I told them it was the only coffee shop on the street. They still didn’t see it. At this point I realized the problem: the coffee shop sign was in Japanese and I was the only person who could read it.

ThailandIf you are standing on a train holding on to the handle and someone asks you what the capital of Thailand is, you are about to get punched in the junk.

 


 

The final word:

It has been ten years since my friends came to visit me in Japan. We don’t always see each other very often, but when we do we always have fond memories of our 17 day adventure in Japan. We have all grown up since that time and now all have real jobs. The crazy guys who had a non stop karaoke, video game and booze filled vacation are now a professional accountant, an elementary school teacher, a train conductor, a corporate account manager and something to do with military intelligence. Hippie and I were in each other’s wedding parties and I look forward to setting up play dates with my newborn son and Flounder’s soon to arrive baby.

If I hadn’t joined a fraternity in University I likely would never have met Code Red, Green, Hippie, or Flounder. There are some people who say that joining a fraternity is just a way to buy some friends. If that’s the case, I didn’t pay nearly enough.

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