Archive for category Greater Tokyo Area

November 23, 2004 – Visiting Hello House

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.

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October 11, 2004 – Hiking in Enoshima

Refug

Not very reassuring

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.

Enoshima - cliff

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.

enoshima-treefall1

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.

kamakura-church2

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.

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September 14, 2004 – The Blue Parrot

A picture of The Blue Parrot from tokyosurvival.com

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.

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September 1, 2004 – Too many cameras

Today was my first day back to work after four days off. Urgh! The good news was that I am finally back at Kawasaki NOVA on Wednesdays and have my good kids class back. They were all really great today!

After work I went to buy a digital camera from Yodobashi Camera, which is conveniently located next to Kawasaki NOVA. When I walked into the camera section I realized that I was in completely over my head. There were at least 100 different models in prices ranging from cheap to crazy expensive. I don’t know anything about digital cameras, and my Japanese ability is too limited to have a meaningful conversation with the sales staff. I gave up for the day and went to the internet cafe to do some research. After spending some time online, I think I will be buying a 4 megapixel Sony camera.

Who knew that a camera store in Japan would have so many choices?

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A day in the life of an English teacher

I am writing this post in August 2014, 10 years after I moved to Japan to teach English. As I am rewriting and reposting my original blog entries, I realized that I didn’t write a lot about a typical day as an English teacher. In July and August 2004, I was working 6 and 7 day weeks at Kawasaki NOVA to pay back the shift swaps required for my visitors. This post is about a typical day at that time.

Kawasaki NOVA, like most NOVA schools, offers English lessons from 10:00am to 9:00pm Monday through Saturday, and 10:00am to 6:00pm on Sunday. Lessons are 40 minutes long, except for some of the daytime slots which run 45 minutes. Since NOVA is a conversational English school, most of the students take lessons in the evenings. This means that most teachers are scheduled for evenings. After switching to full time, my typical shift was 1:00pm to 9:00pm. This shift included 8 lessons and one food break.

Since I am not a morning person, I would typically start my day by sleeping until 9:30 or 10:00. I would get up, walk downstairs, and have some breakfast. I usually had cereal and toast for breakfast, eating in Hello House’s common room while chatting with the other residents or watching TV. After breakfast I would return to my room and get my bathrobe and a towel and head to the shower room.

The shower room in Hello House had about 8 shower stalls, and a big bathtub that nobody used. Each shower stall was big enough to hang your bathrobe and towel so they would stay dry while you were showering. The shower was coin operated and cost 100 yen for 10 minutes. Ending a shower early would give the minutes to the next person. In my 10 minutes, I would shower, wash my hair, and shave. No, it wasn’t exactly a relaxing shower experience.

After the shower, I would return to my room and get dressed for work. Usually this would involve realizing that I had no clean shirts in my room, going to the outdoor clothes drying area to get something, then returning to the common room to use the common iron. Many of my work socks had small holes in them. I was too cheap to replace them, so I just made sure to wear the socks with holes on days with no kids classes. That way I could keep my shoes on and nobody would know.

Before I left Hello House, I made sure that I had my cell phone, my book for the train, and my collection of lesson plans. NOVA switched to a proper textbook with standard lesson plans in late 2004. Before that we used a horrible textbook created for Spanish speakers to learn American English in the 80’s. Teachers were responsible for creating their own lesson plans, using the horrible textbook as a tool. I had a big binder full of my handmade lesson plans that I always carried with me.

Walking from Hello House to Noborito station takes about 5 minutes. On the way I always saw mothers riding bicycles around the neighbourhood with their young children, usually carrying groceries as well. I am still impressed by the balance required to do that successfully. At Noborito station I scanned my Suica commuter train pass and waited at the JR platform for Nanbu line.

In 2004, Nanbu line had no express trains. The train would stop at each of the 13 stations between Noborito and Kawasaki. The total train ride was 27 minutes. If I was lucky, I could get a seat. Otherwise, I would try to stand near the door so I could lean on the wall and read a book. If the door spots were taken, I would hold the book with one hand and the passenger handle with the other hand. This is not easy to do, and impossible with large books.

Kawasaki station is the southern end of Nanbu line. The station is always busy. On any day I was sure to see two things: recruiters from local hostess clubs trying to harass women into becoming hostesses, and a giant billboard playing the same horrible animated chihuahua music video. I don’t know what the purpose of the chihuahua video was, but it was HORRIBLE.

I will cover the actual work part of work in another post, since that is a big topic by itself. Half way through my shift, I would be scheduled for a dinner break. Fortunately there were a lot of good options in and around Kawasaki station. The station itself has a food court with lots of options, a small supermarket, and a Becker’s Burgers. The underground mall near the station had a number of restaurants as well. My favourite choices were Bibimbap from the food court or a burger from Becker’s.

My post work activities varied depending on the day of the week. Thursday was group karaoke night in Yokohama. On other nights, I would either go to the internet cafe nearby and catch up on my email and blogging, have a few beers at the train station with coworkers, or return to Hello House right after work.

The train ride back to Noborito was usually more interesting than the ride to Kawasaki. After 9:00pm there are a lot of drunk people on the train, and I was occasionally one of them. When I got back to Noborito, I would either go home and cook some food, or head to Daiei to catch the end of day discounted deli food. If I got home at a reasonable time, I would usually hang out with Lux on the stoop and chat about the day.

This sounds like a fairly typical workday for a shift worker, but every day I was surrounded by Japanese signs, crowds of people with black hair, and lots of interesting things to look at. Even the most typical work is a bit of an adventure when you are living in a foreign country, especially one with a different culture. I miss a lot of things about living in Japan, but the enjoyment of experiencing something new every day is one of the things I miss the most.

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July 10, 2004 – Pachinko shopping cart

Inside JR Kawasaki station

Inside JR Kawasaki station

Today was my second day back to work after my parents left. Naturally, I needed a few beers after work with some of the other teachers.

We were in drinking beer near the Kiosk in Kawasaki station, when we saw a guy with a shopping cart full of junk trying to get down the stairs to the train platform. Included in the impressive pile of junk in the cart was a full sized classic pachinko machine.

Unsurprisingly, half way down the stairs the cart tipped over and his stuff went everywhere. It’s worth noting that there was a fully operational elevator nearby, but for some reason this man decided to navigate his fully loaded cart down the stairs by himself.

Beer at the station is never boring!

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July 7, 2004 pt2 – Gyukaku!

For my family’s last dinner in Japan before returning to Canada, we decided to try a yakiniku chain called Gyu-Kaku. This post is going to read a lot like an advertisement, but I don’t care. Gyu-Kaku is AWESOME.

The closest Gyu-Kaku to Hello House is just north of Mukogaokayuen station, a convenient 5-10 minute walk from Hello House. When we got inside, we instantly smelled delicious meat. The staff literally screamed “irrashaimase” at us. Gyu-Kaku is a yakiniku restaurant, which literally translates to “grilled meat”. All of the tables have a small grill in the middle. The menu, which is also available in English, showed all of the different types and cuts of meat that were available, along with salads and some other uninteresting non meat items.

We placed our first order and received small plates of sliced meat. We all took turns cooking the meat at the table using the tongs, and then dipping the cooked meat into small bowls of sauce at the table. I had eaten yakiniku once before, but this was the first time for my parents and sister. We all loved it! We ordered different types of beef, chicken, pork, and even scallops, and they were all delicious. The only thing that other people were afraid to try was the beef tongue (which was also delicious).

If you have never eaten yakiniku before – do it! It’s amazing! Gyu-Kaku is fairly easy to find and with the English menus it is foreigner friendly.

Yakiniku was a fun choice for my family’s last night in Japan. We all got to try something new, and we talked about our favourite memories of the past week and a half. Since I was trying to extend my time in Japan, this would likely be my last family meal until Christmas. I am happy it was a good one!

(2014 Update) I still try to go to Gyu-Kaku every time I return to Japan. Yum!

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