Posts Tagged koban
Disclaimer: UPS is the nickname of one of my friends visiting Japan. This post has nothing to do with United Parcel Service.
After an eventful evening in Roppongi where we drank at 5 different bars, UPS and I were looking for a place to sleep for the night. I was happy to find a nearby hotel, but UPS insisted that on his last night in Japan he wanted to stay in a capsule hotel.
A capsule hotel is a cheap option for a place to sleep if you don’t have a problem with small spaces. Instead of a room, you rent a small capsule to sleep in for the night. I had heard of capsule hotels before I moved to Japan, but had never stayed in one. In the interests of being a good host and trying new things, I agreed and decided to use my Japanese language skills to find us a capsule hotel.
We walked towards the big Koban across from Roppongi station. The police officer at the front appeared a bit nervous as we approached, probably because he had interacted with more than his share of drunk foreigners in English before. He appeared to relax when I greeted him politely in and managed to ask him where the nearest capsule hotel was in decent Japanese. This was particularly impressive considering the amount of beer I had consumed over the evening. The officer told me that there were no capsule hotels in Roppongi and that I would have better luck in Shibuya. Since the trains had already stopped, he pointed out where the nearest taxi stand was. I thanked him and we were on our way.
The taxi driver did not seem too pleased about transporting two obviously drunk gaijins somewhere after 2:00am. We were fascinated by the street level view of one of the world’s biggest cities. The cab ride didn’t take long and cost about 1200 yen ($12).
We got out at the Hachiko exit at Shibuya station, and I asked directions from a nearby Koban while UPS hung out at the famous dog statue. Hachiko is a well known meeting place, and after explaining the story I got a picture of a very tired looking UPS next to Japan’s most loyal dog. We set out for a large capsule hotel building called “Capsule Land” which was just up the street.
On the way we had another interesting encounter; UPS managed to get propositioned by a street prostitute. For real.
I didn’t even think there were any street prostitutes in Japan, so this was all the more surprising. As we slowly walked up the hill, she said “hi”, put her head on his shoulder, and said in an adorable voice “Sex? Sex??”. UPS said no thank you. She nodded her head yes while saying, slightly more confidently, “Sex! Sex.” this time as a statement, not a question. We somehow politely removed ourselves from her rather pleasant company and laughed about the ridiculous situations we had experienced during the evening while we continued walking to Capsule Land.
There aren’t too many other situations where talking to two police officers and a hooker would constitute a good evening. I love having visitors!
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!
(rewritten from original post to add much more detail)
Today I went to the John Lennon Museum in Saitama, which is a city just north of Tokyo that belongs to the Greater Tokyo Area. I met up with some of the teachers that I went to orientation with. We had exchanged contact information at orientation night, and shortly afterwards made plans on a mutual day off to meet up and visit the museum.
In early afternoon we met up at Akabane station and switched to a train heading towards the Saitama Super Arena. Since we were all pretty new to Japan, we took the local train instead of the express and got off at the wrong station. We left the station area and started looking around for a large arena. With a name like “Saitama Super Arena” we figured it would likely be a prominent part of the scenery. After a few minutes of wandering on both sides of the station, we decided to walk into the nearest Koban and ask for directions.
A Koban is also called a “police box”. It is a small office usually staffed by a few officers who patrol the local area and provide directions. Not knowing whether or not the officers would speak English, I decided that it would be a good time to put my University Japanese education and phrase book to use. I looked up the word for museum – hakubutsukan. This was combined with “wa doko desu ka” (where is it) from my Japanese course. After a few practice runs I walked into the Koban and politely said “すみません、(ジョン・レノンの博物館はどこですか？” (excuse me, where is the John Lennon museum). The officer took one look at me and answered in perfect English “oh, the John Lennon museum? This is the wrong station. You need to get back on the train and go one more stop. Get off at Saitama Shintoshin station and follow the signs”. This was a recurring theme in my Japanese adventures – when you don’t expect someone to speak English, they end up speaking it very well.
We followed the nice officer’s instructions and entered the John Lennon Museum. The museum chronicled John’s life from childhood to death, with different rooms for different stages in his life and career. There was an extensive collection of John’s personal effects (thanks to Yoko Ono) that included John’s elementary school report card, a guitar with a Beatles set list still taped to the neck, Sgt. Pepper stage costumes and song lyrics written on various scraps of paper or napkins. I am more of a Beatles fan than a John Lennon fan, but it was still a great way to learn more about John before, during and after the Beatles. All of the displays were in English and Japanese. The museum was fantastic!
After the museum we went to the attached John Lennon museum cafe. The cafe featured live music by a band called Light Steel Blue who played Beatles songs. The female keyboard player kept looking at me during the show. Afterwards my teaching friends and I were standing around talking when the keyboard player walked up to hand out information about her band. I told her in Japanese that her music was great. She thanked me and we had a bit of a conversation in broken English and Japanese and exchanged phone numbers. She also took my friend’s numbers as well, but I think she did that as an afterthought to be polite.
I got to see all of John Lennon’s personal stuff and got a phone number. What a great day!
The museum closed a few years ago, but you can get some good details here: http://amoderngirl.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/goodbye-lennon/