Posts Tagged Noborito
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 Hostess bars and pachinko had been replaced by and supplemented with new stores, game centres, and movie theatres.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.
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.
Another schedule update at work. This month I will be working Sundays at Keikyu Kawasaki NOVA. Sunday is one of the busiest days, so it’s fantastic to be at Keikyu which is more relaxing than Kawasaki NOVA.
After work, Archie came back to the Noborito area with me. I showed off Hello House and we went for beer with Lux. A good time was had by all!
When the guys got back to Hello House, we organized the sleeping arrangements. Hippie would be staying on the foldy floor couch in my room, while Flounder, Code Red and Green would be sharing the extra room that I rented for their stay. Fortunately for them, the extra room had a bed. Flounder and Green agreed to alternate nights in the bed and on the floor, while Code Red set up a futon in the closet.
After unpacking, the travelers got their first experience with Hello House’s coin operated showers. After showers and a quick tour of Hello House, we set out in search of beer.
Since it was Friday night, all of the izakayas in the area were very busy. In my first three choices I was told that there would be a two hour wait, which didn’t work for us. As we walked from place to place looking for a beer, we attracted a lot of attention from the locals. It wasn’t often that they saw five enthusiastic gaijins walking around the Noborito area. One of the highlights came when I was not paying attention to where I was walking and managed to walk directly into a pole designed to separate the street from the sidewalk. The pole was just at the right height to hit me in my lower nether regions as I passed over it. The other highlight was a very drunk girl who started talking to us in English while her boyfriend held her up. When we told her we were Canadian she proudly replied “My friend is Canada!”.
We eventually ended up at an izakaya on the other side of Mukogaokayuen station that was full of hard drinking Japanese people. When I say hard drinking, I mean stumbling to the bathroom, puking, then coming back to finish their beer drinking. The frat guys approved. We ordered beer and izakaya food. Flounder and Green tried sashimi for the first (and probably last) time. After the bar we returned to Hello House to watch a bootleg copy of Wrestlemania while drinking some of the ample supplies of alcohol that the guys brought from Canada. It was a great first night!
(2014 update) It turns out that the izakaya staff were trying to tell me that there would be a 2 hour limit on our table, not a 2 hour wait. My Japanese was still pretty bad at the time.
The Penpal came to visit me in Noborito today. We watched movies, practiced languages, and enjoyed a romantic dinner at Wendy’s. Okay, it was actually lunch, and not terribly romantic. But we did it together and it was fun.
The Penpal had to leave in the late afternoon. From Noborito she would take the Odakyu line to Odawara and then change to Tokaido line to go to Numazu. I wanted to spend some more time with her, so I came up with a clever idea. At Noborito station I bought the cheapest ticket available, good for one stop on the Odakyu line. We then rode together to Odawara. We said goodbye at the Odakyu exit gate, and then I got on the next train going back towards Tokyo. I got off at Mukogaoka-yuen station, which is exactly one stop away from Noborito. In total I got to spend another hour with The Penpal and to travel a round trip of 134km for the low price of 130 yen.
Feeling pretty proud of myself, I stopped in at Daiei to get some discount food for dinner instead of cooking. I was pleasantly surprised to find an entire pizza with jalapenos, olives and pepperoni for half price. How can you beat 450 yen for a whole pizza?
Just a fantastic day all around.
Hello House was the name of two dormitory style residences near Noborito station in Kawasaki, Japan. The two mostly identical buildings were named Hello House West and Hello House East. Most of the residents were non-Japanese English teachers. I lived in Hello House East for just over one year.
Each Hello House building had two dormitory wings and a common kitchen, shower room, and living room. The dormitory wings had two floors with toilet and laundry facilities on each floor. The rooms were 5 tatami mat size with an individual heating / air conditioning unit. All of the rooms came with a futon, under mattress and some sheets. Some of the rooms came with furniture from previous residents. I was lucky enough to have a desk in my room, but many rooms did not have any furniture. Costs for a typical room were 50,000 yen per month (approximately $500 CAD) plus electricity.
The rooms were pretty quiet, except for the few located directly above the living room. You needed to be a heavy sleeper with a quiet sex life in those rooms.
Outside the kitchen was a wall of shelving for food storage. Each room was assigned one area for food storage. Inside the fridge was the same. The kitchen itself was stocked with plates, glasses, pots, pans, and basically everything else you could need to cook. Since most of the residents were working different hours, there were never usually big traffic jams in the kitchen. As with any communal living environment, dirty dishes were a problem. Just because you were mature enough to move around the world and live in another country doesn’t mean that you were mature enough to wash the dishes you used. The most annoying problem with the system was that occasionally food would “go missing”, usually when someone was drunk or broke. Fortunately missing food wasn’t a regular occurrence.
The kitchen was next to the common living room which came with plenty of seating, a TV, and a bookshelf full of abandoned books from previous residents. All residents could borrow books from the bookshelf and leave unwanted books with the shelf. One of the most interesting features of the living room was the dozo table. Dozo is Japanese for “here you go”. The idea was that if there is anything you don’t want or need anymore, you can leave it on the dozo table and it is up for grabs for other residents. This was really helpful for stocking up your room, and great for reducing the amount of junk that you needed to pack when moving out.
The shower room had a big, deep Japanese style bath tub (which nobody used) and a number of private shower stalls. When I lived at Hello House the showers were coin operated and cost 100 yen for 10 minutes. There was a digital display that showed how much time you had left, so you had no excuse for running out of time with a head full of shampoo. With short hair, I was able to wash myself, my hair and shave in 10 minutes. It wasn’t a relaxing shower, but it sure was efficient. If you were lucky, the previous user would have left some time on the clock which would be added to your 10 minutes. Near the end of my stay in Hello House I was gifted with a 18 minute shower for 100 yen. After a year of speed showering I really didn’t know what to do with the extra time and ended up leaving most of it for the next person.
Hello House was a great place to live for someone new to Japan. Since almost everyone was non-Japanese you automatically had something in common with the other residents. If you ever needed advice on where to go shopping, cheap places to eat, where to go for dry cleaning, where to get haircuts, or anything else about daily life in Japan, there would be someone around with some good advice. Like all communal living environments there were always some annoying things, but overall it was a very good experience and I probably ended up enjoying my time in Japan more because I started out in Hello House.
Well, that felt like the longest flight in the history of flying. I flew from Winnipeg to Vancouver, with a brief stop in Saskatoon. Then Vancouver to Tokyo which took 9 and a half hours. I only managed to sleep about 2 hours on the plane. When I landed, my brain thought it was 1:30am, but local time was 3:30pm. Immigration took about an hour and a half, and customs was pretty quick. All the Nova instructors met up, changed money, and sent our luggage for delivery. Then it was off to Shinjuku Station, one of the busiest stations in Japan.
En route to Shinjuku, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we could order and drink beer on the train. So all of the Canadians were introducing ourselves, drinking beer, and generally forgetting that we were in a foreign country.
When I finally arrived at Noborito it was raining hard. I was met by Minami who is one of the landlords. He walked me to Hello House and gave me my lease papers and key. By the time all is done it is 9:00pm. Not wanting to go to sleep yet, I ventured out to the Sunkus convenience store to get some food. All was well until I tried to pay and the clerk asked me a question. Well it seems my Japanese was not as good as I thought it was. Thankfully she clued in and pointed to the chopsticks that she had just offered to me. What a fun day!
Notes from 2013:
This was the longest I ever had to wait in the immigration line in all my trips to Japan. At the time the government was working on decreasing the wait times for incoming foreigners.
In my original post I should have spent more time describing the chaos at Shinjuku. Coming from a huge, underpopulated country to one of the most densely packed cities in the world is a HUGE shock to the system. The station was completely full of busy people all moving in every direction at the same time. Think of leaving the busiest sporting event or concert you have ever been to, and then multiply that by 10.
I learned another valuable cultural lesson on the train – Japanese people do not understand sarcasm. Nova was very good about having someone accompany our group to ensure that we all got off at the right stations. We were all met at the station by someone who would get us to our new homes. I was the only person getting off at Noborito station. I had blonde hair, a Canada flag backpack, a laptop bag and likely one of the largest noses that Japan has ever seen. I also was the only person not carrying an umbrella. I could not have looked more out of place.
My Japanese escort on the train said that I would be met by a man named Minami who would walk me to Hello House. I sarcastically said “gee, how will he ever recognize me”. My escort missed the sarcasm completely and called Minami to give him a description, just in case there were other blonde, jet lagged Canadian travelers getting off the train. Learning to curb my sarcasm was a very difficult adjustment, because Canadians are sarcastic bastards.