Archive for October, 2014

October 31, 2004 – Packing all night on Halloween

Zoe, me, and Okonomi at Halloween. My costume was "English teacher"

Zoe, me, and Okonomi at Halloween. My costume was “English teacher”

Today is Halloween! It was also my last day living and working in Kawasaki. After work I went out for a final beer at Kiosk with Anzac. I thanked him for all the good advice he gave me as a teacher and wished him the best. It was good to have one last Kiosk beer, but it only served to start my packing later.

Every time I move I realize just how much crap a person can accumulate. I spent a few hours packing by myself, then Okonomi joined me. We packed and worked on a bottle of shuchu. In retrospect, the shochu probably didn’t help productivity very much. The end result of packing was:

  • 2 large suitcases
  • 8 moving boxes
  • a computer
  • one futon mattress
  • a TV
  • my awesome floor couch

I also made some donations to the dozo table of things I just had no room or reason to bring with me. By the end I got two and a half hours of sleep. I hate packing!

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October 29, 2004 – Demo lessons

Today I had 3 demo lessons. A demo lesson is a free sample English lesson provided to prospective students. The lessons are half the usual length, and the idea is to show the students what a NOVA lesson would be like.

Since the demo lesson is a sales tool, the teacher has an important role in giving a fun, successful demonstration. This makes the sales staff’s job easier when they try to get the student to sign up for an expensive, long term lesson plan. Not all teachers are chosen to give demos. The fact that I got three in the same day is a bit of a compliment to my skills. In addition to the compliment, which is always appreciated, demo lessons have less preperation and paperwork which makes for an easier day for me. What’s not to like?

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October 28, 2004 – Farewell karaoke

Tonight was my final Thursday night karaoke before I move to Shizuoka. Since my work farewell party didn’t really happen due to poor planning (on my part) and the horrible cold that was going around, tonight was my official NOVA farewell party.

We met at Big Echo in Yokohama at 9:30 like usual and got a room for 9 people. More people started coming in, and at our peak we had 15 people jammed into a room built for 9. It was a lot of fun and a great final night to hang out with my Kawasaki NOVA coworkers.

I love karaoke!

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October 27, 2004 – One last night with the good kids

Most of the teachers at Kawasaki NOVA are sick, so the schedule keeps changing. I ended up getting one more lesson with my former Wednesday kids class. They were all surprised to see me. It was a nice surprise for everyone.

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Matty was in the same fraternity as I was. He always wanted to be treated like one of the guys, not as someone with a disease. Physically he was small, but his heart and sense of humour were larger than life. Rest in peace Matty – we are all going to miss you.


MATTYPhoto by: Chris Hearn

Public speaking is scary for some, painful for others, but for Matthew Rygiel(Matty), a little stage fright is nothing he can’t handle. Matty walks up to the Toastmasters podium to compete in the 2013 Club Humorous Speech Contest. For him, the rush that comes along with speaking in front of a crowd is the best painkiller he’s ever known.

“Fellow toastmasters, most welcome guests, judges, Madame contest chair: today I am going to share with you the short man’s three laws of attraction,” says Matty with a sparkle in his eyes. “And when I say short man, I use that as a term of ‘dis-endearment’: the short man is not sought after, okay? It is settled upon.”

The crowd breaks into a fit of giggles as Matty lists the rules in his personalized dating guide. Accept your flaws. Know what you like. Research and adapt. Smart…

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October 26, 2004 – Packing

With less than a week to go before my move, I finally started packing.

I hate packing.

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October 25, 2004 – My farewell party

Tonight was my Hello House farewell party. It was a lot more subdued than the previous evening’s activities, but was still a lot of fun. Yes, more beer and karaoke 🙂

(2014 Update) One of the residents of Hello House at the time was Dan Bailey, who was an English teacher at the time. Dan has now gone on to fame and success as one half of Tokyo Dandy, a pair of influential fashion party blogger guys. Dan was good friends with Lux, but I always got the impression that he didn’t like me. It turns out that I was wrong, and Dan did a lot make sure I had a well organized and fun farewell party. Thanks Dan!

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October 24, 2004 – Singing Tupac for free drinks

Somehow I had another special topic voice at Keikyu Kawasaki school. After work I was supposed to have my official office farewell party. Unfortunately due to lack of communication and the evil cold that is going around, only three people (including me) showed up. To make up for it, there will be an extra large crowd at karaoke on Thursday.

I went home, still in a party mood, so I Okonomi and I set out for food, drinks, and karaoke. Karaoke is better in larger groups, and can be awkward with just two people. However, after making liberal use of the all you can drink service, we didn’t seem to mind.

In the middle of one of Okonomi’s songs, a drunk Japanese guy walked into our room by accident. He looked around and realized that he was in the wrong place. He instantly started apologizing. We told him that it was no problem, and that he was our new tomodachi (friend). This made him happy, so he started dancing while we were singing. Suddenly, without any warning, he reached over, grabbed Okonomi’s chest with both hands and said “opai!” (boobs!). Normally getting groped by a drunk stranger would start a fight. Okonomi was surprised, but then started laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Our new friend and I started laughing too. He then apologized once more and left to find his original karaoke room.

Okonomi and I kept singing and drinking until our time expired, and then went to settle the bill. Before we left, one of us got the idea that we should see if our breast grabbing friends was still around. We peeked in the windows of the other rooms until we found him and his friends. We opened the door to say hi, and he quickly welcomed us in and gave us drinks.

Somehow we were part of their group now. The group picked songs for each of us. I can’t remember what Okonomi sang, but she did a great job at it. For my turn I had to sing “Changes” by Tupac Shakur. I had never heard the song before, but managed to follow along and got a standing ovation at the end.

On the way home we stopped at Family Mart for some food to absorb some of the excess alcohol in our systems. There is nothing quite like convenience store pastries after way too much fun at karaoke. Okonomi was in worse shape than I was, so I had to walk back with her arm around my neck to keep her stable. When we returned to Hello House I tried to take her to her room, but she declined and said that her room was too lonely. Uh-oh. We returned to my room, where I graciously offered her my futon while I crashed out on my foldy floor couch.

At some point during the night I woke up sweating with a large weight on me. No, it’s not what you think! Okonomi had woken up and decided to return to her room to sleep. In her intoxicated state, she mistook my futon for a blanket and put it on top of me before she left. Judging by how hot I was, I must have been sleeping under my heavy, warm futon for a while.

It was another fun and crazy night drinking in Japan, and one that I was going to pay for the next day.

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October 23, 2004 – Massive earthquake

What started off as a regular Saturday late shift turned a little more exciting. During one of my voice classes in the evening, the building started shaking. At first I was playing it off like a joke, standing and wobbling back and forth. My students asked me to sit down, which I did.

Then the shaking got stronger.

Most of the earthquakes I have experienced in my 13 months in Japan were over quickly. This one kept building in intensity and the shaking didn’t stop. One of my students, seeing that I was no longer enjoying myself, tried to reassure me.

“Don’t worry Andrew” he said. “This earthquake is… how do you say…” and then he moved his hands left and right.

“Side to side?” I responded.

“Yes, this earthquake is shaking side to side. Don’t worry.” he replied. “If it’s shaking…. how do you say…” and then he moved his hands up and down.

“Up and down?” I answered.

“Yes, if the earthquake is shaking up and down then we will all die” he explained in a very matter of fact manner. The other students sitting around nodded their agreement. It didn’t do much to make me feel better at all.

The building where Kawasaki NOVA is located is a tall, modern building near Kawasaki station. Like most modern buildings, it is built to flex during an earthquake. This helps keep the building from falling apart, but it provides a very unsettling feeling. The worst part for me was the sound of the window frames and door frames creaking as the building gently flexed back and forth.

During the rest of my shift, I felt no fewer than 5 aftershocks. Some of the aftershocks were the size of the normal earthquakes that I had previously experienced. I kept mentally reassuring myself that the aftershocks were side to side, so everything was fine.

After work I had several beers at Kiosk to calm my nerves. I took the train back to Noborito, and began a slow, slightly stumbly walk back to Hello House. About half way home my phone rang – it was my mom calling from Canada.

“Are you okay? I heard there was a big earthquake in Japan!” my mother exclaimed. Trying my best to sound sober and calm, I explained that the earthquake was in Niigata, which is about 300km north of where I was. I told her that I felt the earthquake, but was fine and there was nothing to worry about. After several reassurances, I managed to convince her that everything was okay and I didn’t need to move back to Canada immediately.

I learned later that the earthquake was actually much bigger and scarier than I had originally thought. 40 people died, and over 3000 were injured. One of the shinkansen trains derailed due to the shaking, fortunately with no injuries. When you are traveling over 200km/h, a derailment is not a pleasant thought.

Earthquakes are a part of life in Japan, but I don’t think I will ever get used to the ground moving. By the way – I am moving to one of the most earthquake prone areas of Japan. At least they will be the most prepared, right?

(2014 Update) The exchange with the student about side to side vs. up and down is still one of my favourite teaching stories in Japan. The conversation was so absurd compared to the terrifying earthquake that was happening. My original post had a lot less detail, mainly because I didn’t want anyone back home to worry.

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October 21, 2004 – Halloween Voice

Today I had yet another special topic voice session, this time at Keikyu Kawasaki school. The topic was Halloween. Japan doesn’t really “celebrate” Halloween (I don’t know if celebrate is the right word), but they know what it is. My personal highlight was getting the students to play pin the tail on the donkey.

(2014 Update) The NOVA Kids curriculum during October is usually Halloween related. One of the American teachers at Kawasaki NOVA went above and beyond with one of his kids lessons. He took the student (a 5 or 6 year old girl) to all of the other classrooms to go trick or treating. We all gave her flashcards with pictures of candy and other treats on them.

When both students and teachers are having fun in the classroom, it really helps a lot with learning English and job satisfaction.


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