November 4, 2006 – Goodbye Tokyo

As part of my farewell tour, I went to Kawasaki today to meet up with my old housemate Kim. We went out for okonomiyaki in Noborito before meeting up with her fiancee Kame.

Kim was one of the most fun people I had met during my time at Hello House, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that Kame was a pretty cool guy as well. We all went to Yoyogi park to join up with a Hello House leaving party for someone who had moved in after my time there. Living in a dorm filled with English teachers means lots of people coming and going. You never really get to know everyone well, but you do get to attend a lot of farewell parties. Almost every farewell party I have attended in Japan was at an izakaya, so an outdoor party was a nice change of pace. I’m really going to miss the ability to drink legally in public when I return to Canada!

Eventually, like with every other party, we ended up at karaoke. I introduced Kame and Kim to Sad Cows Song which they instantly loved. We got back to their apartment late and I spent the night on the couch. It was a very fun day but the morning is going to hurt.

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November 3, 2006 – Dinner with my private student

Earlier in the year, I picked up a private student on Saturday mornings. Tonight my student took me out for a farewell dinner. For the sake of the story, let’s call him Hiro.

Several teachers try to supplement their income by picking up private English students. When private lessons work out, they can be a pretty good deal for both parties: the teacher gets paid cash under the table and the student gets more flexibility on their lessons at a lower price. Many cynical English teachers believe that the main reason for NOVA’s “don’t interact with students outside of the classroom” policy is to reduce the chances of teachers stealing customers and turning them into private students.

Hiro worked for an automobile parts manufacturer and occasionally needed to interact with Americans in English. He knew enough to talk about his work in English, but wanted some practice in the kind of small talk and everyday conversation that he would encounter in overseas trips. He was keen to learn and fun to teach.

When I started making plans to leave Japan, I worked on setting up Super Dave as a replacement teacher. During our last lesson, Hiro invited me out to a farewell dinner. I’m not one to turn down good food, so I agreed.

Hiro picked me up in his car and drove us to a small yakiniku restaurant in Mishima. There are a ton of good restaurants in Mishima, but most of them are not easily accessible by train so this was a nice treat for me. Like most yakiniku restaurants, we had a grill right in the middle of our table. I’m a pretty adventurous eater so I let Hiro order for us. Over the course of a few hours we had plate after plate of different cuts of meat show up at table; I ate everything except for the salted squid guts with raw egg – there simply wasn’t enough beer to make that look and smell appealing.

After eating and drinking so much that we could barely move, I started worrying about how we were going to get home. Hiro called a very convenient taxi service that sent one cab with two drivers. We rode in the cab while the second driver followed behind in Hiro’s car. The cost was just slightly more than a regular taxi. This service should be available everywhere!!

I arrived home drunk, sleepy, and with a case of the meat sweats. Thanks again to Hiro for treating me to an amazing dinner! My experience goes to show that if you really want to experience life in Japan, you need to get out and spend time with people other than just English teachers. I’m a lucky man that I got to meet so many cool people during my time in the country.

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November 2, 2006 – Facial Hair

Business attire in Japan is very conservative, so it makes sense that English schools have strict rules regarding teachers’ appearance. NOVA has the typical rules for dress code, but they also have an interesting set of rules regarding facial hair: if you have it you can keep it as long as it’s properly trimmed and groomed. If you don’t have facial hair you aren’t allowed to grow it on the job.

Ever since my last lesson I decided to stop shaving and see if I could grow anything. So far I have learned two important things:

  1. There are spots on my face where nothing grows. This is going to make a beard impossible and a goatee challenging
  2. Growing facial hair on a usually clean shaven face is super itchy

Some people like my roommate Azeroth can grow a full beard in a matter of hours. With my uncooperative face and blond hair it’s going to take me weeks and may look ridiculous the entire time. I can now understand the reason for NOVA’s “can’t grow it on the job” rules.

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November 1, 2006 – Preparing to leave

Now that I am done work and have a few weeks left in the country, I finally started my preparations for leaving.

During the day I started going through my room to decide what I would bring home to Canada and what would stay in Japan. I had brought quite a bit of stuff from Canada when I had moved to Japan, and over the past 3 years I had accumulated books, clothes, games, electronics, and other miscellaneous things. There was no way that everything would be leaving the country with me.

After some painful decisions, I followed the lead of many teachers before me and made a sign for my leaving sale to be hung up at the office. I also paid my city taxes and did some research on how much it would cost to ship boxes to Canada.

My reward for a productive day was an evening of pizza and video games with Azeroth. Good times!

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October 31, 2006 – 90% of the time it makes me sick every time

Last night at my official farewell party I drank sake. I generally try to avoid sake, because in the eloquent phrasing of the great reporter Brian Fantana, “90% of the time it makes me sick every time”. This time did not disappoint.

Today I had a very low key day at home, doing my best to re-hydrate and sleep off a nasty hangover. Eventually when I felt less fragile, I spent the remainder of the day binge watching The Shield and playing Grand Theft Auto.

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October 30, 2006 – Official Farewell Party

When English teachers leave NOVA, there are usually 2 major farewell parties: the “official” party with teachers and staff, and the “unofficial” party with teachers and students.

Tonight was my official farewell party. Most of the teachers from the area showed up, and a few staff joined as well. We enjoyed beer and sushi at Ryoba, the most popular izakaya for teachers. I was happy that The Penpal was able to attend for a few hours. Her parents are extremely strict and didn’t like her out late, especially to hang out at an izakaya with a bunch of rowdy English teachers. I’m happy they were flexible for my farewell party.

After closing out Ryoba, the second party included karaoke and pool (billiards) at one of the new karaoke places near Numazu station. It was a lot of fun and I didn’t have to worry about being in rough shape for work the next day: there is no more work!

It was a fun night, although I could have done without having all of the oshiboris piled on my head

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October 29, 2006 – Ikebana and Murder

The Penpal and I spent the day in Tokyo attending two very different cultural events: ikebana and live theatre.

In the morning we took the shinkansen to Shinagawa and then transferred to Meguro to see an ikebana show. Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging, something that neither the Penpal or I knew anything about. The invitation came from one of the Penpal’s friends, who was a student of Shogo Kariyazaki, one of Japan’s most famous flower arrangers.

Shogo Kariyazaki, picture from nippon.com (click to link article)

We walked through a beautiful old building looking at the intricate displays of flowers and branches set up along the way. I didn’t really understand what we were looking at, but they looked nice. Near the exit there was a table set up where Mr. Kariyazaki himself was signing copies of his new book. He looked like someone right out of Rivendell in Middle Earth! Waiting to see him was a long line filled with middle aged women who were as excited as teenagers meeting a pop idol. It was a truly interesting look into a culture that was totally unfamiliar to both of us.

In the afternoon we went to see The Tokyo International Players perform Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit “And Then There were None”. The TIP is an English language amateur theatre group which was founded in 1896. We came to see my former coworker and Saturday night late shift companion Vivian in her Japanese stage debut as Ethel Rogers, the housekeeper and second victim. The performance was fantastic, and it was a great English challenge for The Penpal to interpret a variety of different British accents from the characters. We had a short visit with Vivian after the show – with only a few weeks left until I moved back to Canada this was my opportunity to say goodbye.

After our cultural day of ikebana and murder, we spent our evening wandering around Shibuya before returning home. It was a very fun day!

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