Archive for December, 2015
I woke up on on uncomfortable futon, feeling like death. My mouth was dry, my head was pounding, and I was sweating. I looked over and saw Okonomi still sleeping like the dead. I sat up and waiting for the room to stop spinning, but it merely slowed down. This was the penance for an epic night out that had us returning to Okonomi’s apartment around 6:00am.
In addition to going out for drinks, Okonomi had wanted me to come and visit to teacher her how to use her new computer. I gulped down several glasses of water before starting up the PC and checking it out. My first step was to delete some unneeded software that seems to be installed on all new machines, and then to make sure that everything was updated.
After about an hour, Okonomi rolled out of bed like she was a zombie rising from a grave. We realized that we both needed some food and fluids. She got dressed and we walked outside into the blazing horrible daylight. Okonomi’s apartment was half way up a hill, with a small grocery store near the bottom. We walked carefully down the bright, loud, gently spinning hill, picked out some bread, onigiri, and sports drinks, and then lurched back up the hill to the comfortable, dark apartment.
We rode out the hangover exploring her new computer. I taught her how to burn CDs and how to use bittorrent software. It was a nice relaxing afternoon after a crazy night out.
I returned to Numazu in the early evening, fell asleep for a few hours, and woke up to watch New Year’s Eve TV shows with Azeroth and one of his friends. Since I had enjoyed myself too much the night before, this turned out to be one of my quietest New Year’s Eves ever.
Happy New Year!
My friend Okonomi and I started our night out in Noborito with dinner, drinks, drinks, karaoke, and drinks. It was now 3:00am, a few hours away from the first train, and all of the regular bars were full. Okonomi suggested we got to a hostess bar instead.
A hostess bar is a place where well dressed, attractive women pour your drinks, laugh at your jokes, compliment your karaoke, and generally make you feel important. Of course, this doesn’t come cheap: drinks are overpriced and you pay an hourly rate for companionship. Okonomi suggested the Filipino hostess bar near the station, because the rate was only 4000 yen per hour. Since I was drunk, on holidays, and not wanting to sit around a train station for a few hours until the first train came, I agreed and we were on our way.
While we were walking (stumbling) to the hostess bar, Okonomi had told me that she had considered trying to find a job at a hostess bar to supplement her teaching income. Being able to maintain a conversation with students is a useful skill that can be transferred to a hostess job, the money could be pretty good, and there would be lots of free drinks. It would also be a great way to improve her Japanese in a hurry.
Upon entering, we were shown to a table by two beautiful women in evening dresses, and we ordered some drinks for both us and our hostesses. We all talked in English, Japanese, Okonomi impressed with the little bit of Tagalog that she knew. We took turns doing yet more karaoke, and had a good time hanging out. Despite the late hour and the fact that we were obviously drunk and not Japanese, the hostesses worked hard to make sure we were having fun.
Okonomi started asking our hostesses about how they liked working at the bar, and mentioned that she had considered it before. Within minutes the mama-san (bar manager) was over at the table having a conversation with her in Japanese. The offhand comment had suddenly turned into a job interview on the spot! Mama-san asked Okonomi about her availability, and asked her to stand up and turn around. After a few minutes of talking, Mama-san said that Okonomi’s Japanese would need to improve a little, but then gave Okonomi her business card and told her to keep in touch.
When I left Canada to teach English in Japan I knew I was going to have some interesting experiences. I never imagined that I would be watching a friend get an impromptu job interview in a hostess club sometime after 4:00am on an epic night out.
We left close to 5:00am, tired and drunk, and with our wallets feeling lighter. The hostess bar was close to Noborito station, where we caught the first train to Shin-yurigaoka. I had switched to non-alcoholic drinks at the hostess bar, so I was a little more sober than Okonomi. This presented a problem because her apartment was about a 20 minute walk up hills, and I had no idea where it was. We decided to get a taxi instead.
By the time we actually found a cab, Okonomi’s impressive language skills had deteriorated quite a bit. Since street addresses mean nothing in Japan, we had to give the driver landmarks and turn by turn instructinos. Okonomi kept slurring and switching languages, leaving me to translate for the driver. The taxi driver did not seem very sad to be rid of us.
We finally got to sleep around 6:00, knowing that we were in for a painful day.
I hadn’t been back to Noborito for a while, and was looking forward to catching up with Okonomi and the rest of the Hello House people who were still around. Okonomi had recently moved to an apartment near Shin-Yurigaoka station, and had promised me a place to crash for the night. I packed up my Canada flag backpack and was on my way.
Okonomi and I met at Shin-Yuri station, where I stashed my bag in a coin locker. I have become a huge fan of station lockers in my time in Japan. It was great not to have to carry my stuff around for the evening. After that, we took the Odakyu line to Noborito, paid a quick visit to Hello House, and then went for dinner. Naturally we had Okonomiyaki and a few beers.
(Author’s note: If you are going to Japan, eat Okonomiyaki – it’s amazing)
While living in the area Okonomi had made some Japanese friends in the neighbourhood, including the owners of an “antique shop and bar”. I had walked by this interesting combination of businesses regularly, but had never thought to go in. The two of us hung out for a bit and had a few drinks with the owner and his wife. Our next stop was a small bar with karaoke. After a few drinks we were surprised to see the owners of the antique shop come in after closing for the evening. We took this as a sign that we were going to be best friends, and proceeded to karaoke our lungs out.
I had been out for beer and karaoke many, MANY times during the year I lived in Kawasaki. Like most English teachers, I had stayed to the safe, welcoming environments of the big chain izakayas and karaoke rooms. The Noborito area is full of small character bars which I had walked by many times, but I had never thought to try any of them. Okonomi was one of those intrepid explorers who decided to jump into life in Japan with both feet, and had done her best to improve her language and hang out with locals instead of exclusively with teachers.
We left karaoke sometime around 3:00am and started looking for our next venue. I followed along to about 3 different bars that I had never heard of before, but due to the busy pre-new year season, everything was still full. At this point, Okonomi asked me if I had ever been to a hostess bar before. That’s when the evening took an interesting turn.
New Year is the most important family holiday in Japan; it’s similar to a Christmas in Canada or Thanksgiving in the US. Many businesses shut down for the last few days of the year to give their employees time to spend with family. Conversational English schools like NOVA are usually open for every other holiday (because students are available for lessons), but thankfully they give teachers and staff a break and shut down for about a week at the end of the year.
The Penpal had to work today, but her father had the day off and wanted a chance to spend some time with me. The only other time we have spent time together alone was in a very awkward car ride from Numazu station to The Penpal’s piano recital. The Penpal’s father’s English is limited to the basics; yes, no, hello, goodbye. The thought of spending an entire day with him was pretty terrifying. Fortunately my Japanese has improved a lot in the past year or so, but even with that I spent the evening last night studying new words and preparing some emergency conversation topics. This only seems neurotic if you have never faced the thought of spending a day with your girlfriend’s father who can’t speak your language.
The Penpal’s father arranged our day through the Penpal. He was going to pick me up at my apartment and take me to Numazu Port to see a structure called View-O. Like most port areas in Japan, Numazu is susceptible to serious damage in the event of a tsunami. View-O is a man made gate over the entrance to the Numazu port area that automatically closes in the event of an earthquake of a certain strength. The idea is that it will block some or all of a tsunami wave to reduce damage to the port and the boats.
The gate looks like an arch over the port entrance that has a viewing area open to the public. From the top you can get a great view of Senbonhama beach, the Numazu port, Numazu city, and the green mountains of Izu peninsula.
I tried my best not to think about how nervous I was spending time with The Penpal’s father, and to just do my best to be relaxed and enjoy spending some time with him. Fortunately the combination of my improved Japanese abilities, last minute study, and his patience made the time move fairly smoothly. I only had to look in my dictionary twice!
After seeing View-O and taking a lot of pictures, The Penpal’s father told me we were going to pick up his wife from her mother’s house, and then meet The Penpal for dinner. I had successfully made it through the afternoon and I was now in the home stretch and close to having my translator back!
We drove to a part of town I had never been to before and parked in front of a small, older looking house. After a few minutes, a tiny older woman came out of the house and walked up to the car. She looked at me through the window and smiled. I thought this was just another case of an older person seeing their first foreigner, until The Penpal’s father told me I was looking at The Penpal’s 91 year old grandmother. I jumped out of the car, greeted her in Japanese, and gave my best attempt at a polite bow. I really want The Penpal’s family to like me, so I did my best to make a good impression. She kept smiling, which I took as a good sign.
The Penpal’s mother got in the car, and we returned to their house where The Penpal was waiting for me. Even though the day went well, I was very VERY relieved to have my translator available. We went out for dinner and talked about our adventures during the day. I am thankful that her father took the time to get to know me better, and very thankful that things seemed to go well.
(2015 Update) It turns out that I did make a good impression on Grandma, and it ended up helping me out A LOT, which I would find out in a few months.
Earlier in the evening I spent a few hours at my coworkers Christmas party, enjoying a few festive beverages. I excused myself early to walk home in order to have a video chat with my family. I may have consumed slightly more festive beverages than I imagined, because the walk home was longer and more challenging than usual. As I weaved my way through the streets of Numazu with a big smile on my face, I sent an email to my family to let them know I was going to be a few minutes late.
At the start of December I mailed Christmas presents back to Canada, and had just received some presents from Canada. Since I couldn’t be home for Christmas, my family and I decided that we would use the magic of technology to open presents together on a video call. Japan is in a very different time zone than Winnipeg, so I was enjoying the last few hours of Christmas Day while my family had just finished their breakfast on Christmas morning.
I warned my family that I had just returned from a Christmas party, and did my best to appear sober on the camera. If you have ever seen a drunk person intentionally trying to appear sober you will have some idea of how well that worked (not very). I don’t think I did anything too embarrassing, and I was wearing pants the entire time.
Being home for Christmas to open presents with my family would have been great, but being able to spend some time with them and open presents together on camera was a reasonable substitute. Merry Christmas to all!
MERRY CHRISTMAS! In the evening The Penpal and I went to a Christmas party hosted in one of the NOVA apartments.
Most of the teachers who taught in Numazu, Mishima, and Fuji all lived in one apartment building just north of Numazu station. My apartment was the only company apartment in a different location – it is about a 15 minute walk away from the rest of the teachers.
The Penpal and I had been together for over a year and a half now, but it wasn’t very often that she got to spend time with my coworkers. The party was a great chance for her to meet everyone, and for my coworkers to realize that I hadn’t simply invented the girlfriend I keep talking about.
The Penpal picked me up in her car and we drove together and parked near the apartment building where my coworkers lived. When we got to the apartment, the first thing we noticed was a narrow entrance way completely full of shoes. Japanese people don’t often entertain at home, and its really uncommon to have 20 people in a small 3 bedroom apartment. I introduced The Penpal to my coworkers and the Japanese branch staff. She wasn’t able to stay long, but it was a fun visit for both of us.
When The Penpal had to leave, I walked her to the car, and then returned to enjoy some Christmas cheer with everyone else. Christmas at home with family is great, however, an international pot luck Christmas dinner with way too many people jammed into a small apartment is not a bad substitute.
Everyone finished work early because it was Christmas Eve, so we all went out to the izakaya across the street from NOVA to celebrate. Despite being located directly across from the NOVA branch, teachers rarely went to this particular izakaya, opting instead for the cheaper options. English teachers are notoriously frugal with their beer money.
We all had lots of food and possibly a few too many drinks, prompting a very boisterous round of Christmas songs as we approached midnight. We got so loud that the staff asked us nicely to keep the volume down. We took this as a cue to move to karaoke.
Being away from home for Christmas is hard. Being around a bunch of other people who are trying to forget they are also away from home for Christmas does make things easier.
Merry Christmas from Japan!