Posts Tagged Shinjuku
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 I went to the immigration office in Shinyurigaoka to get my re-entry permit for my passport. I now feel pretty confident in my skills at navigating the immigration office, and can usually be in and out in about 10 minutes.
Like most people, my work visa expires after a certain period of time (one year for me), and will also expire if I leave the country. To prevent the visa from expiring when I go home, I needed to buy a re-entry permit. The permits are available as one time permits or unlimited times for the period of one year. Since I am only planning to leave Japan and return once in the next year, I bought the cheaper one time permit.
Immigration officers are not allowed to handle cash directly, which is a nice way to prevent anything shady from happening. I had to go to a small convenience store in the same building to buy a voucher for a re-entry stamp. I then returned to the immigration office, where they exchanged the voucher for a sticker in my passport.
After finishing up at the immigration office, I spent most of my day exploring some cool stores in Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku. I bought some books for my flight home at Kinokuniya, and a cool Weezer shirt in Harajuku.
In the evening, I met up with Okonomi in Noborito. We went out for Okonomiyaki for dinner and then went to karaoke. Since I was traveling back to Numazu, it was a much more reserved karaoke experience that the last time. After karaoke I gathered up all of the Christmas presents that I couldn’t bring home on my shopping trip to Asakusa, and then returned to Numazu. It was a fun day, but the highlight was explaining to a taxi driver at Numazu station where I lived in Japanese, and having him drive me to the right place!
If you have only ever spoken one language, this doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, but trust me, it felt great.
Today we went to Shinjuku for sightseeing and to activate my family’s JR rail passes.
The JR Rail pass is a must purchase for visitors to Japan that will be doing a lot of traveling. Passes are available in 7, 14, and 21 day versions. They allow free transportation on all JR trains, all local JR busses, the Narita Express, and all except the fastest shinkansen. You need to purchase the pass before you travel to Japan, and then activate it when you arrive. The time period starts as soon as you activate the pass. Unfortunately the JR Rail Pass is not available for foreign residents of Japan, only visitors.
The closest place to Noborito to activate the JR rail pass was in Shinjuku. We boarded the Odakyu line and took the 20 minute ride into Shinjuku station. The plan was to quickly activate the passes, get lunch, and then explore Shinjuku for the afternoon.
It took us a while to actually find the travel office where we could activate the rail passes, and when we arrived we found a huge line of people ahead of us. By this point I was already hungry and looking forward to lunch. After waiting for about half an hour, we were at the front of the line. I asked my parents if they could take care of the passes themselves while I got something to eat. They were worried about doing something wrong or needing to speak Japanese, so I had to stay.
By the time the rail passes had been exchanged, I was ravenous. The staff at the travel office spoke English very well, which was good because I am pretty useless when hungry, and the Japanese language part of my brain had shut down. I declined their offer of help to book a hotel in Kyoto so we could leave sooner. Just before 2:00pm my family walked out of the travel office with active rail passes and one grumpy translator. Eventually we found a nearby Becker’s Burgers in the underground mall and I proceeded to stuff myself.
Now that I was fed and feeling like a human again, we left the sprawling Shinjuku station and started to explore the area. I walked my family down the main streets, near all of the restaurants, stores and pachinko parlours. I took them through the NS building and showed them the world’s largest water clock, which was the first landmark that I had seen when I arrived in Japan in September. In addition, we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.
The government building, also known as Tokyo City Hall, has two large towers on each side of a central structure. Each tower has a free observation level on the 45th floor that provide breathtaking views of the Greater Tokyo Area. On a day with no clouds and minimal smog you can see Mt. Fuji. We had no such luck.
After completely overwhelming my family with tall building after tall building, we returned to Noborito to get packed for our 3 day excursion to Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Numazu. We all tried to watch a DVD in my room, but everyone was still jetlagged from the travel and we all had an early night.
(2014 Update) The JR travel offices that can be found in major train stations and airports are fantastic. They are happy to help you make your travel and hotel plans, and they can provide maps and recommendations for places to see. The best part is that they can do all of these things in English. Just make sure you get some lunch first – the lines can be long!
In the evening we decided to head out for some adventure. We started in a small game center (arcade) in Noborito. It was fun, but the selection of games was lacking. Seeking bigger and better things we got on the Odakyu line for Shinjuku.
Shinjuku at night is amazing. All of the tall buildings are lit up brightly, and the streets are full of people looking for restaurants, bars, and other good times. We spent some time in a big game center, with the main attraction being the awesome Taiko drumming game “Taiko no Tatsujin” which is pictured above. The game was a huge hit, and anyone from a complete beginner to a taiko master could enjoy it. We also enjoyed a fun version of “House of the Dead” called “Typing of the Dead”. Instead of using a gun to shoot zombies, you used a keyboard to type in the names that appeared in front of them. After spending time and money on video games, the guys requested to see something else. I told them that there was a red light district nearby, which naturally caught their attention.
I had never been to Kabukicho before, but I knew generally where it was. Combined with some street signs and maps we wandered through the congested, bright, bustling streets of Shinjuku. Before we went into the area, I told the guys that we were under no circumstances going to be going into any of the businesses in the area. I also warned them that there were likely to be aggressive touts vying for our attention. As soon as we passed through the famous gates onto one of the sketchier looking streets, we were approached by various men advertising different establishments and the services they offered. We were told in English about hostess bars with school girl themes, places where we could watch women showering, and one place where we could meet the attractive women on the sign and do “whatever we want”. One of the touts grabbed onto Hippie’s arm and tried to lead him into a place promising “titties that would change his life”. The only person in our group that received no attention at all was Flounder, who stood head and shoulders above everyone in the area. He was not approached by a single tout.
One quick loop of the area was enough, and we wandered around different parts of Shinjuku before calling it a night.
(2014 update 1) Starting in around 2006 there was a massive cleanup effort in Kabukicho that apparently cleaned up the area. I am sure that it is still an interesting place to walk through, but it likely won’t be the same experience we had in 2004.
(2014 update 2) Typing of the Dead is now available on Steam!!
My friends finally arrived today! I woke up early to tidy and vacuum my room. Before I left I pulled out my bright yellow Delta Upsilon Manitoba shirt and headed off to Narita airport on the slow trains. This involved taking the Odakyu line from Noborito to Shinjuku, the Yamanote line to Nippori, and the Keisei line to the airport.
After 2 hours in transit I arrived at Narita Terminal 2 about 20 minutes before the guys flight arrived. I left the train station in the basement of the airport, went through a security check, and then wandered around the terminal. The guys were flying a terrible flight from Winnipeg through Chicago to Narita Airport on United. In the arrivals area I couldn’t find their flight listed at all. After looking around at the signs I realized that United lands at Narita Terminal 1, so I was in the wrong terminal.
There were signs for a bus to terminal 1, but since I was more familiar with trains in Japan I bought a ticket and went back to the train platform. On the platform I learned that the next train between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1 was in 30 minutes. I tried to go back into the airport, but the train gate closed on me. I then attempted to use all of my Japanese skills to explain my situation to the train staff. Fortunately they understood and took pity on me. I walked away with a refund and directions to the bus which leaves every few minutes between the terminals.
Thanks to the incredibly slow lines in immigrations and customs I had to wait about an hour before my friends actually came into the arrival area. The entire time I had people staring at my bright yellow DU shirt. The shirt was very bright, but it did make me extremely easy to find in the crowd. After exchanging greetings and manly hugs, the guys showed me the souvenirs they brought from Canada; a case of Kraft Dinner and a 12 of Moosehead beer. I am so Canadian.
While the guys took turns exchanging money and cashing in travelers cheques, I was approached by an unlicensed taxi driver who offered to drive us to Kawasaki. I know he was unlicensed because no taxi drivers are allowed to solicit business in the airport terminal. I expect that our cab ride from Narita to Hello House would have been extremely expensive. I finally got him to leave and we bought tickets for the Narita Express.
Just like when I arrived months earlier, we changed trains in Shinjuku during rush hour. I took the group outside to get their first look at the Shinjuku skyline and mobs of people. If you ever bring people to Japan I recommend doing this. We changed to the Odakyu line and traveled the rest of the way to Hello House incident free. The Team Awesome Sauce adventure was about to begin!
Today was a day off, and man, did I ever sleep a lot. Today is the first day of the month, so it is cheap movie day. On cheap day the price is 1000 yen instead of the typical 1800 yen. Marshall and I took advantage of cheap day to see Mystic River in Shinjuku.
Interesting notes from our movie night:
a) You can buy and drink beer at movies in Japan
b) Marshall and I found the movie theatre in Shinjuku WITHOUT getting lost. This is truly unprecedented.
Today I went shopping in Shinjuku. From Noborito, Shinjuku is about 20 minutes on the Odakyu line. Outside the south exit of Shinjuku station is a massive shopping complex called Takashimaya Times Square which has several different stores.
My first stop was Kinokuniya bookstore, which has 7 huge floors full of books. The 6th floor was entirely foreign books and magazines, most of them in English. I bought two books to learn Japanese and Michael Moore’s “Dude, Where’s My Country”.
After Kinokuniya, I went to Tokyu Hands. It is a department store that carries the most and least useful things known to mankind, and everything in between. Their motto is “when you visit, you find what you want”. The most memorable item of the day was a pair of glasses with a flexible camera so you can look into your own ears. Tokyu Hands is definitely worth a visit if you are in Japan.
(partial rewrite of original post due to spelling errors and to add some detail)
Today was orientation in Shinjuku (downtown Tokyo). Shinjuku station is the busiest train station in the world. We were oriented for 6 hours, with a break for some disgusting cold coffee. After, we went to Subway for dinner and the bar at the bottom of our building for a few drinks. The drinks were very expensive so we got a group of about 40 and wandered Shinjuku looking for a bar. About an hour later we found and English pub and the 20 that were left happily went in for a few drinks. Drinkng with English people is fun, I recommend everyone do it one in your lifetime.
Also, I got to see Fuji-san for the first time today!!! Simply awesome, even through the Tokyo smog.
There isn’t really a traditional “downtown” area in Tokyo. There are a lot of built up areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Shinagawa or Ueno that have their own attractions and shopping.
At orientation we signed up for cell phones and bank accounts. If you decided to sign up for a cell phone at the start of orientation you could walk away with a functioning phone at the end. Most people opted for this. My phone was an awesome flip phone with a camera and web browsing features. It is primitive by today’s standards, but was far ahead of anything available in Canada at the time.
Other than learning about the company and the job, one of the topics that was focused on was drugs. We were informed that in Japan there is no difference between “soft” drugs like marijuana and “hard” drugs like heroin or cocaine. Drugs were drugs, and they were all illegal. The police have the power to detain you while investigating, and we were told in no uncertain terms that the company would not help us at all if we ran into trouble with Japanese drug laws.
After the orientation we ended up at the Rose & Crown pub on the first floor of the NS building. I feel bad for the Rose & Crown and their periodic invasions of new English teachers. Our group was loud and enthusiastic, but fairly well behaved. A few months after I started, one of the new teachers got extremely drunk and puked all over the restaurant. The senior instructors spent a lot of time apologizing on behalf of the teachers and the company.
After the masses left the Rose & Crown we were all keen on getting another drink somewhere. Nobody really had any ideas on where to go or how to get there. After about 5-10 minutes of everyone standing around I announced “follow me!” and randomly chose a direction. To my surprise, everyone actually did follow me. We slowly started losing groups of people who either found a bar to go to, or realized that the crazy Canadian guy at the front of the line had no idea where he was going. My group of followers ended up in Hub British Pub, which is a fantastic place to have a beer or watch some footy.
Lesson of the night – everyone will follow you as long as you look confident that you know where you are going.
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.