Archive for category Greater Tokyo Area
Last night I went to a farewell party with Kim and Kame before crashing on their couch. In the morning we all woke up hungover, and lurched our way out for breakfast like 3 zombies. Fortunately the restaurant we went to sold coffee in one liter pitchers.
After feeding and caffeinating ourselves, we took a nostalgia tour of Noborito so I could take some pictures of Hello House and the new and improved Noborito station. I lived in the area for a year, and the station was under construction almost the entire time. The completed station looked great! Around the station area there were also a lot of changes. Nothing ever stays the same in the Greater Tokyo Area.
Kim and Kame accompanied me to Asakusa for souvenir shopping. The shopping area in front of Sensoji temple is a fantastic place to get souvenirs: I had been there so many times that I already knew which stores I wanted to hit. This was possibly my last chance to do souvenir shopping in Tokyo, so I made it count. I ended up leaving with a fully loaded backpack and several shopping bags, looking like a pale pack mule.
After parting ways with my friends, I decided to take the Tokaido Line home, stopping at Kawasaki station. My first English school was near the station, so I was very familiar with the area. Like Noborito I was shocked at all the changes around the station area that happened over the past 2 years. Hostess bars and pachinko had been replaced by and supplemented with new stores, game centres, and movie theatres. As I enjoyed a delicious burger at Becker’s I realized that Kawasaki would likely be unrecognizable to me when I returned the next time. Kawasaki is usually not near the top of anyone’s Japan sightseeing list, but I’m really going to miss it.
I was confused when my friend UPS woke me up. I was not on my comfortable futon in my room. I was also not on my slightly less comfortable floor couch. I was sleeping on the hard floor in my coworker Vivian’s room, still wearing the same clothes from the day before. UPS wanted to get going before having to engage in any awkward conversations with Chrissy, Vivian’s roommate that he became “acquainted with” the night before.
We walked back towards my apartment, and I was unfortunately not able to get a straight answer on how his night went. We ate, got cleaned up, packed, and took returned to the train station, bound for Kamakura.
At this point in my 2 plus years in Japan, I have been to Kamakura several times, however it never stops being an impressive and interesting place to visit. UPS and I went to see Daibutsu, the giant bronze Buddha statue, and Hase temple. I was able to pass along a lot of the information I had learned from previous visits, and also got an impressive picture with giant Buddha’s sandals!
From Kamakura we went to Yokohama, then took Minatomirai line towards the Minatomirai area. We spent a long time wandering around both the port area and Yokohama Chinatown, stopping for some great food. The Chinatown area is very energetic at night, and despite being in Japan, feels like you have wandered into a different country.
After exploring for some time, we decided to continue on to our evening destination: Roppongi.
(cue ominous music)
In the continuing adventures of my week off, I met up with The Penpal today and we went to Odaiba in Tokyo. It was a rainy day, which is unusual because for the first year or so that we knew each other, it never EVER rained when we were together. We walked around some of the same places that I went with my crazy friends when they came to visit last summer.
In the evening we had dinner in Yokohama. It was fun to get to spend a whole day out of the city with my wonderful girlfriend.
There is currently a shortage of teachers in the Numazu / Mishima / Fuji / Fujinomiya area. I made myself available to do some overtime shifts to make a little extra money, however schools in my area were cutting costs and were told not to allow any overtime.
Since I had nothing else going on, I decided to go to the Tokyo area to find something fun to do. My first stop was my old neighbourhood. I got a haircut from the really good barber near Shinyurigaoka station, and then stopped by a bank to send some money home. Thanks to advice from other teachers, I got a Lloyd’s account which allows me to transfer money from my SMBC Japanese bank account to my Canadian bank account with a flat transaction fee. The best part is that I can do this transfer from any SMBC bank machine. I need to send money home periodically to make sure that my student loans are being paid, and it also prevents me from overspending. Like other teachers, I try to watch the exchange rates and do my transfers when the forex is favourable.
After sending money home, I treated myself to Wendy’s for lunch. I then headed off to Shinjuku to buy some books at Kinokuniya. I love Kinokuniya – it is probably the best book store in the country. I was going to be productive and do some clothes shopping, but decided that since I had already been somewhat productive (getting up early, haircut, money transfer), that I should do something fun. I ended up heading to Yokohama to see a movie.
This was my first time going to a movie theater by myself. It felt strange to go solo, which is a bit funny when you consider that you really aren’t supposed to talk to people in the theater anyway. I bought a ticket for Million Dollar Baby and then killed some time playing video games at a nearby game center while I waited for the movie to start.
Million Dollar Baby is simply a fantastic movie, although it probably caught a lot of people off guard because it is marketed as one kind of movie and then half way through becomes something completely and totally different. No, I am not going to give any spoilers. I really enjoyed the experience, but would have liked someone to talk about the movie with after it ended.
After the movie I got a quick bite to eat, and then proceeded to drag my giant, heavy bag of new books through a few train stations on my way home. It’s great living so close to the Greater Tokyo area!
Today was a day off. Instead of sitting around the house, I managed to get out of bed in the morning and went to Yokohama.
I took the Tokaido line to Yokohama, which takes about 90 minutes from Numazu. When I looked up my train schedule, I found that I could have also taken the Shinkansen from Mishima to Shin Yokohama and finished with a subway connection to Yokohama station. This would have only saved me about 20 minutes overall, and would have cost twice as much.
I did some shopping around Minato Mirai, and ended up buying a figurative ton of books. I also saw a really cool street performer who was busking in front of Landmark Tower. He had a 10 minute show where he was juggling increasingly more dangerous items. I have seen street performers before, but this guy was really good. When it came time to pass the hat at the end of the performance, he must have easily made 30,000-50,000 yen (about $300-$500)
After spending a bunch of time in Numazu and Mishima, I had forgotten how big and exciting Yokohama was. It am happy that I still live so close.
Today I made a quick trip to Kawasaki City to do some shopping at Yodobashi Camera. I know that there are some electronics stores in Numazu, and probably a closer Yodobashi Camera in the area, but it’s nice to get out of town and check out some of my old familiar places on a day off. Plus the train ride allows me some time to read.
Yodobashi is a huge store, so it’s easy to spend a few hours simply exploring. There were so many cool things that I wanted to buy, but I stuck with the things that I needed: a new keyboard, USB memory card reader, and a DVD burner. I have limited hard drive space on my used desktop, so the burner will help me backup my data, as well as make copies of things that I am legally allowed to. Remember kids: don’t illegally copy DVDs. And definitely don’t use software to remove Macrovision or region codes from things. That’s super bad.
After I returned home, I opened up my desktop computer and started the upgrade process. Like most computer upgrades, what should have been an easy exercise of “open the case, put in the parts, install drivers” turned into several hours of troubleshooting by trial and error, creative cursing, and promises to buy a new computer in the future. Eventually I got everything working and rewarded myself with a beer or two.
Today’s column is a few months overdue. I had the best intentions to write about my Japaniversary when it happened, but life got in the way. Anyway, here goes.
I have officially been in Japan for 1 year (and 2 months). The last year has gone by entirely too quickly. I have managed to meet about a zillion people, work in a completely new job, see many interesting things, and do things I never imagined before. It has been a great year, and I am looking forward to (possibly) another year in this great country. Of course, with the good comes some bad as well. So without further delay, here is the official “Drinking in Japan first year in Japan Highlights and Lowlights List”, presented in alphabetical order.
- Australians – I have never seen so many Australians in my life. They are generally really cool people. They are like the Canadians of the Southern hemisphere, if Canadians lived in a warm country. Maybe Canadians are the Aussies of the Northern hemisphere, who knows.
- Drink Bar – Many “family” style restaurants have self serve drink bar with free refills. Great for hot days!
- Food – The selection and quality of food here is unbelievable. Everything tastes good!
- Japanese people – Japanese people are great! Overall, they are very friendly and helpful to visitors, and are really fun to party with.
- Kamakura – There is a GIANT Buddha here. What more do you need?
- Karaoke – I LOVE karaoke! I love that most karaoke is in a private room with friends, and that you can get food and drinks delivered.
- Koban – A Japanese police box. Instead of having a few centrally located police stations, there are many small police boxes scattered throughout the cities. The police are able to patrol a familiar area, and are great for giving directions to lost travelers. The Koban system works really well for densely populated areas.
- Kyoto – You can experience Japan’s history in a city where you can’t walk down the street without tripping over a temple or shrine.
- Mt. Fuji – Impossible not to like. A snow covered Mt. Fuji is beautiful.
- Nikko – Probably the most breathtaking place in the country for sightseeing. Allegedly there are monkeys there too.
- Niku man – (niku = meat, man = steamed bun) Chinese steamed meat buns are sold for 100 yen each in convenience stores and are a great snack. You can also get pizza man, curry man, and bean paste man.
- Shinkansen – A.K.A. the bullet train. Cruising across the country at 250km/h rules!
- Tokyo Nightlife – Wow. There are so many places catering to everyone’s liking, it is really impossible to see it all. I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the options.
- Skirts – Skirts are popular here, and they are great. Seriously great.
- Skylark Express – What can you say about a restaurant that serves you hamburger steak, rice, soup and a vegetable in 60 seconds for five dollars?
- Students – One of the best things about being a teacher is actually seeing someone improve over time. Giving a level up recommendation to a student is one of the highlights of my job.
- Visitors – I had two sets of visitors this summer which both provided incredibly fun times and great memories.
- Winter – A winter without snow and with temperatures that stay on the happy side of freezing are okay by me.
- Yen – Japanese money is worth a lot in other places.
- Yokohama – It’s big, fun and has everything Tokyo does, but a completely different feel.
- Being illiterate – It is a shock to go from being an intelligent, functional person to being almost completely illiterate. It is frustrating to have trouble doing basic everyday things. I am improving, but it is still difficult.
- Crowded trains – There is not much more uncomfortable than being wedged into a train that is 200% over capacity while trying to carry a bunch of bags.
- Garbage collection – The rules for garbage collection are annoying and difficult to understand. Garbage must be separated into about 500 categories, each with their own collection day. And there is always one cranky neighbour making sure you are doing it right.
- Getting lost – Only the largest streets have names, and most seem to have been designed completely at random. Someone’s mailing address is no help at all when it comes to finding anything. With my meager Japanese skills I can ask for directions, but understanding the answer is still challenging.
- Hangovers – Cheap alcohol, all you can drink, the Japanese party spirit, and my rubber arm make for some serious overindulgence. I have had 2 of the worst hangovers in my life here.
- Japanese style toilets – I am still scared to death of these things, and have managed to avoid them for any “serious” business.
- Kids classes – I still don’t feel completely comfortable in a classroom full of children.
- Loneliness – Being far away from home can be incredibly lonely. It sucks knowing that your friends and family are enjoying life as usual while you are stuck in a small room on the other side of the planet. No matter how much you fit in and how many friends you make, it’s jut not home sometimes.
- Missing Last Train – Last train comes way too early, and if you miss it you are committed to an expensive taxi ride or staying out till first train.
- Movies – I like Japanese movies, but without subtitles I am lost. Watching Jackie Chan movies is nearly impossible because only Japanese subtitles are available.
- NOVA Usagi – Man, I really hate that thing!
- Size – Streets are narrow, rooms are smaller, clothes are smaller, cars are smaller, everything is smaller. It’s a big adjustment for me, and I am not even a particularly large person.
- Summer – Too hot, way too humid.
It’s been a good year, and thanks for reading!
Today I got a late start and then went to Kawasaki to hang out with Lux and Zoe.
Not much had changed in Hello House in the month I have been away. I updated them on stories of my new city, and Lux filled us in on stories about her friend Fritz. She was always talking about Fritz – Fritz this and Fritz that. Other than tales of Fritz, Lux was getting ready to move back to Canada. Her recent trip home reminded her that she liked living in Canada better. This caused a bit of tension with her boss, who had just promoted her.
We went out to Gyukaku and watched horror movies in the evening. I ended up crashing on Lux’s floor in Hello House instead of returning home. I don’t think anyone ever completely cuts ties with Hello House.
Today I went hiking with one of my language exchange friends that I met shortly after I moved to Japan. Let’s call her Aki. We had met up a few times in the past, but hadn’t seen each other recently.
Aki is a big fan of hiking. I am not a big fan, but I do like a nice long walk at times. Despite my lack of regular exercise, my unhealthy eating habits, and my larger than sensible beer consumption, I do have an amazing ability to walk long distances.
We met near Enoshima, a small island near Kamakura. The island has a great mix of beach, rocks, hills, trees and great views of the ocean and the mainland. There is also a large shrine. Unfortunately due to the recent typhoon, there was a lot of damage to the trees. Workers were cleaning up branches and fallen trees all over the island.
From Enoshima, we walked to Kamakura. The other times I have been to Kamakura, I mainly went to the popular tourist places. Our walk took us through the city itself. We saw a rare Catholic church, and a traditional Japanese wedding in a shrine.
Aki and I hadn’t kept in touch lately, so she seemed a bit surprised at my news that I had a girlfriend and that I was moving to Shizuoka.
In total we walked for about 5 hours, stopping only to stuff ourselves at a soba restaurant. If you are near Tokyo and like hiking, Enoshima is definitely worth the trip. As with any outing in Japan, you will walk a lot more than you expect, so wear comfortable shoes.
Today I actually woke up at a decent hour and headed to Tokyo for a day of shopping.
Since I am doing a lot of reading on the train to and from work, I was looking to buy some new books. Terry from Hello House recommended a used English book store in Tokyo called Blue Parrot. I took the Odakyu line from Noborito to Shinjuku, then switched to the Yamanote line bound for Takadanobaba.
Blue Parrot was well hidden near the station. The store was tiny, but filled floor to ceiling with used English books, CDs, and movies. Shopping for used books is always an adventure, because there are no guarantees on what you will find. I ended up walking out with some new books, a set of English – Japanese / Japanese – English dictionaries, and some CDs.
From Takadanobaba I took the Yamanote line towards Akihabara. The goal was to look for a new camera, but there were way too many stores and too many choices in each store. It was fun exploring Akihabara, but I didn’t end up buying anything.
After striking out on camera shopping, I took the Keihin Tokoku line to Yokohama. I bought a few souvenirs for my family, and a few more books for me at a new book store. My messenger bag was loaded with heavy books for my two trains back to Noborito. It was a fun day with a whole lot of walking. I was very happy to get home and unload all of the books.
(2014 Update) The Blue Parrot closed in the past few years, which is sad news.