Tokyo Trip

2 01 2011

Preparation

The 26th to the 27th of December were three very exciting and exhausting days. I had lived in Japan for about four months before, but I never went to Tokyo. This was my first time to Japan’s capital, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The idea for the trip came to me a month prior. I wanted something to do during my winter break. I had recently read about the Seishun Juhachi Kippu in an online newsletter. For about 11,500 yen (140 dollars), I would receive a ticket that can be stamped five times. Each stamp represents one day (12:00am to 11:59pm.) I could travel anywhere in that period of time as long as it was by local train. The best feature of the ticket was that it could be shared. Instead of 5 days for one person, you could have two days for two people and one left over.

It was the Seishun Juhachi Kippu that made my idea into reality. I probably would not have gone if I didn’t buy this ticket. I saved over 100 dollars using this option and I still have one more day left.

In mid November I made a reservation at the Sakura Hostel. The second of December I bought the ticket. I knew the trip would absorb a large amount of my funds. The trip’s expense worried me a lot. I knew it would be worth it though.

First day

I woke up at 6 am and finish the last preparations for the trip. I had packed all my clothes and necessities the night before but I wanted to wash dishes, eat breakfast and run an errand before I left. I got on the first train at 7:40. It would be the first of 3 trains on a 5 hour train trip. From Toyohashi to Hamamatsu, Hamamatsu to Atami, and Atami to Tokyo, I played on my PSP, listened to music, looked out of the window, took videos of towns and mountains, slept, and talked.

Midway through the trip, I saw Mount Fuji. It was beautiful, majestic, impossible to describe in mere words. It’s very small compared to other grand mountains, but still breathtaking. When I finally entered Tokyo, I was drifting in and out sleep.

The last train arrived in Tokyo station around 1 o’ clock. Tokyo station wasn’t very memorable. There were slightly expensive restaurant and a bathroom you had to pay for. Less than a half an hour later I was trying to figure Tokyo’s metro and train stations. Nothing made sense and I had to pay for a new ticket at each transfer. I eventually bought the all day pass for the metro.

Asukusa, the location of my hostel, is outside the central tourist area of Tokyo. It’s famous for its temples, shrines, and historical shopping arcades. From this area, you can see the newest and most famous addition to this part of Tokyo: the Tokyo sky tree. Around 635 meters tall (2080 feet), it will be Tokyo’s new broadcasting tower possibly replacing some of the original Tokyo tower’s function. It is scheduled to be completed in December 2011.

If only the hostel was as easy to find as the Tokyo sky tree! I looked all over Asakusa for it until I finally pulled out my cell phone to search for directions. However, it was not my day. I walked around to try to get signal from the useless phone. I would get a signal, and then it would disappear just as quickly. This continued for a couple of minutes till I looked up and noticed I reached my destination.

The building to the hostel was pink, hence the name, and it had a nice friendly atmosphere. Sakura hostel had all the essentials for a pleasant trip as long as you were not expecting too much. My only complaint was the separation of the rooms and the bathrooms. I had to walk on an outdoor walkway to reach the other part of the building for the communal bathrooms. Only a metal fence prevented me from a 6 story drop. I am afraid of heights.

I was at that hostel for about 30 minutes before I set out for Ikebukuro with a friend. Together we somewhat survive the Tokyo metro system again, and made it to Ikebukuro safe and sound.

Ikebukuro is such a wonderful place! This part of Tokyo is lively, loud and crowded. Tons of people fill the streets to go shopping, eat or visit the countless karaoke bars and games centers in the area. I am a little ashamed to admit that I spent my first night in Tokyo at a game center, but I enjoyed it. The other people there were very nice. Some even complimented me. I promised myself that that night would be the only time I spend in a game center in Tokyo. I kept most of my promise.

Maybe the most memorable part of the first day wasn’t the game center, the train rides, or getting lost, it was going to TGI Fridays. When I was in the US, I always went to this restaurant. It was my favorite one. To go to this restaurant while I was in Japan made me feel as if I was home again. The food tasting exactly the same as its American counterpart, maybe even better, was an additional plus. It was a little expensive, but well worth it. This TGI Friday was in Ikebukuro, but I know they have at least one more in another part of Tokyo.

Second Day

The second day would be the best and busiest day. I visited many different areas within Tokyo. Roppongi, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Omotesando have features that easily differentiate them from each other. They also attract different types of people because of these features.

Roppongi is famous for its clubs. It has many foreign visitors because the embassies are in Roppongi or nearby. The purpose of my visit to this area was for something a little different: a store. It’s the only store in the world that has the merchandise I have been desperately searching for. I planned way in advance to visit the shop and buy as much as I can. It is called Konamistyle and it is located in Tokyo Midtown. It sells merchandise from different Konami franchises. The only other way to buy these items is through the site, but you must have to have a Japanese credit card to do so. I honestly wanted to buy the whole store. I settled for some key chains, two pins, and two pens.

The Tokyo Midtown area is only three years old. The architecture, sculpture and lighting gives a serene atmosphere. I believe Konami’s headquarters is there as well. As much as I wanted to take a tour around their building, I don’t think the security guard would approve, so I continued to Akihabara.

A place that is not sure what it wants to be, Akihabara can be the nicest or creepiest place in the world, depending on your taste and where in Akiba you are. When we left the station, we were greeted to quiet surroundings. Everyone was wearing business suits and walking to and from work. It seemed similar to the outskirts of Georgetown. I thought to myself, I wouldn’t mind living here. It’s really nice. This part was closer to Asakusa and east of the Showa Dori Bridge.

The west side of the Showa Dori is the livelier and crazier side of Akihabara. At the JR station there are huge signs feature different anime style characters. Many stores cater to anime fans. This area seems more of an amusement park than the city. I explored the area with my friend as we walked in and out of different shops. I went inside Don Quixote. The currently famous jpop group AKB48, was plaster over most of the walls, pillars and stairs. They have a concert every day on the top most floor of the building.

Maybe years ago, I would have loved this side of Akihabara. Most of my interest in anime has shifted to gaming and even that is just a hobby. The technology shops in this area are attractive for hard to find items. I found switches for a game controller that I needed. One of the stores had really nice cameras. It will be interesting to see how Akihabara evolves in the next ten or so years.

I returned to Ikebukuro the second day for a different purpose. This time I would be going to Sunshine city, a complex that included a planetarium, aquarium, a mall, a burger king and a few other notable things. We went to the planetarium. The show was beautiful and relaxing, too relaxing. I fell asleep. Before I left Ikebukuro, I ate at Sukiya and had a wonderful beef bowl for about 400 yen.

The last stop for the day was Omotesando. Exiting the subway and feeling the cold air tickle my face, I was greeted to a row of trees decorated with Christmas lights. Both of our wallets were shuddering as we glanced at Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Prada, Armani and an oddly placed Subway. Maybe Omotesando is the last place for a boyfriend to bring a girl with high taste to. It is lovely. As a treat to myself, I bought one souvenir from the area, an edible souvenir. It was a delicious slice of cake for about 4 dollars for one slice.

Four places in one day and it was barely 9pm. We were exhausted. A lot of people at the hostel were on their computers or talking to one another when we returned. I was awake for a little while longer. I played the game Earthbound for a little while then finally went to bed.

Third Day

The final day was not as hectic as the two before it. My friend and I packed our luggage, left the hostel, and went to Daimon and the Tokyo Tower. I am terrified of heights, always been. However, I have wanted to see Tokyo Tower since I was a teenager. I gathered all my courage and entered the tower.

Compared to the new Tokyo Sky tree, it is not very tall. It is 333 meters tall and about 10 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower. The tower has two observatories. The first one is included in regular admission and the other is a little more expensive but higher. My biggest complaint with my Tokyo trip the first two days was that I was missing so much of Tokyo traveling under the city in the subway. Tokyo Tower finally gave me the opportunity to see the whole city. I have lived between Baltimore and Washington D.C. all of my life but neither city is as gigantic as this metropolis. It was a sea of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. I was in awe. I am happy to have experienced such a wonderful end to my Tokyo trip.

The rest of the day was spent at Mos Burger (Japanese restaurant chain), a 5 hour train ride with my PSP, dinner at McDonalds and watching Top Gear. I am still running on the high of the trip. Tokyo is a nice place. I don’t want to live there, but I wouldn’t mind going there again. Someday…maybe.

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Life so far

19 11 2010

At first I was going to provide a chronological account of everything thus far, but so much has happened. I can’t tell you all. I have procrastinated too much to do that. So, instead I will split this update in several subjects. Be prepared! This will be long.

The First Few Days

I still don’t understand why I can’t get a wireless signal in Narita. It is a major airport in Japan so I should get something. I have tried using my laptop, skype phone, PSP and everything else under the sun. No luck.

You can easily forget you are in Japan when you are in Narita. While I was waiting for my flight to Nagoya, I was in a room full of foreigners. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many people until everyone left the room to board a flight to Okinawa. This is when I realized I was really in Japan and I was on my own.

Taking a 14 hour flight is not bad when you have already done it twice. I was prepared for the boredom this time. I brought my psp, ipod and 3 books. The movies provided during the flight could have been better but I had them too. Most of the time on the flight was spent observing the people around me. There was a father gently holding his baby while smiling. Sometimes he would slowly rock him/her back and forth. A few seats in front of me, was a mother waiting anxiously to see her daughter in Tokyo. I had talked to her before the flight. It was her first flight to Japan. She couldn’t speak Japanese either.  I definitely sympathized with her wanting to see her daughter. Sometimes I wish I could show my mom this country.

My company was kind enough to let me spend a night at one of Nagoya’s Centrair Hotels for free. I scurried around the airport looking for it. I met two girls (they looked as if they were in college) who offered to help me. My hotel room was very small. I thought I turned into Harry Potter and I was living under the stairs. My meal was a rice ball, melon pan and “American” tea. The bottle even had a picture of a cluster of taxi cars to prove its validity. A few other ALTs were staying there as well. There was one thing I really loved about the hotel. It had a bed. If I only knew it would be the last time I would sleep in one for a while, I would have gone to bed earlier.

Training

After I explored Toyohashi , my new home,  and Nagoya for three days. I was off to training. I learned a lot from two previous ALTs and I met many new faces. I still had not adjusted to being in such an urban area.  It was a little overwhelming.  Training really did benefit me. It gave me a lot of ideas I would use later on and it gave me the confidence to teach alone in a high school classroom.  The best benefit of all was being paid for going.

Apartment

I got my apartment the day after I spent the night at the airport hotel. The apartment complex is a little old, but you can’t tell. It is close to a super market and a convenience store. I can also reach an electronic store and clothes shop after a 5 minute walk. The landlords are the kindest people you could ever meet. I want to repay them for their hospitality. Some Japanese affectionately (I hope) call this place the gaijin house.

My apartment consists of two rooms, a kitchen and a wash/bathroom area. It was barely furnished, but it had all the necessities except chairs. It didn’t take long for me to buy them. I am happy I can sit down now. I sleep in the tatami room on a futon. It was a present from my landlords. It is really beautiful. I just couldn’t sleep on it in the beginning. My back would complain every morning. When I bought some really soft pillows and an extra blanket to put under myself while sleeping, I finally got used to it. I have been sleeping well ever since. That reminds me, I need to air the futon out.

Toyohashi

Toyohashi is located in Aichi prefecture in central Japan. It is very close to Nagoya, the third largest city in Japan. Toyohashi’s charm lies in its diversity. Japan is not very diverse, but Toyohashi is one of the exceptions. I often see Brazilians, and Peruvian Japanese walking about.  There are a lot of citizens from European countries as well.

I live near the main part of Toyohashi, but the city includes urban and non urban areas that stretch miles and miles away in every direction. This massive area has a lot to offer. There are countless yakiniku, sushi, curry and ethnic restaurants. Arcades and pachinko parlors are abundant as well. Toyohashi’s train station provides access to the rest of Japan. The station is only a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I have found two movie theatres too. Harry Potter is out now. Maybe I can save up and go see it.

Other features of the city are the park, the castle, a beautiful art gallery and the tram system. For the more adventurous (not me) there is a maid care and several clubs. I am a little curious to see what Japanese clubs are like.

Fire Festival

Over a month ago, I went to the Toyohashi Fire Festival in the city’s park. It was packed with hundreds of people. Food stalls sprung up everywhere, selling everything to takoyaki (cooked octopus in a ball) to face mask and free massages. The fireworks were so beautiful. Unlike the U.S. the fireworks were not continuous. There were short breaks here and there. Everyone would wait patiently for the next round. I tried to too.

Arcades

Japan is one of the few places left in the world where arcades still thrive. It’s a wonderful experience to be in one. It can be hard on the ears. The closest arcade to my apartment is Dunk Shot. It is open till midnight and has games such as Pop’n Music, Beatmania, Guitar Freaks, Dance Dance Revolution, Taiko no Tatsujin, King of Fighters, Quiz Magical Academy, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, slot machines, claw machines, shooters, purikura and much more. It is a small piece of heaven. If that isn’t enough for the game lover, there are many game stores that sell American and Japanese games. Most games at the arcade are 100 yen. Fighting games and shooters tend to be 50 yen. It can be easy to get carried away. Although some young adults are there, most people who attend arcades are junior high and high school students. I will really miss arcades when I leave Japan. It is an experience impossible to experience outside of Japan.

Lost in translation?

I never had a sense of direction. The only way I am able to find anything is by wandering around till it finds me. This paired with barely speaking Japanese, is a recipe for disaster. This is why I did a test run for all my schools and I got lost 4 times.

The first school I went to is the second farthest. It is in a mostly rural area. I asked the bus driver if this bus would take me to the school. When he said yes, I thought that was the end of my worries. I was taken to the right direction, but I went too far. I had to double back. I asked about six different people for directions. I basically made gigantic circles around the school. I walked for about five to six hours. Looking back, this was extremely idiotic but I am one stubborn person. When I finally found it, I headed back home. I couldn’t even stand the rest of the day. I just laid on my futon in pain. One school down.

The next one was the farthest. I had to leave Toyohashi to get to it. I brought a map that time. I didn’t want to repeat the previous incident.  What I didn’t discover until much later, was most of the map was not labeled. When I asked a man for directions, he directed me to the complete opposite direction. I walked a fairly far distance before questioning someone else. I was going the wrong way. My feet were still aching from the last time. I refused to walk aimlessly again. So, I called a taxi. Who would have thought it was only a 3 minute walk from the bus stop I started from.

Lesson plans

I would first like to say that I believe all my students are incredibly smart. Some struggle with English more than others, but they excel at other things. I often change the difficulty of my lesson plans depending on the school I visit and the level of English I am teaching. During my first month of teaching, I did several self introductions.  The students would also introduce themselves with mixed results. Some would tell me their real names. I had a few introduce themselves as Obama, an actor, or an anime character. Some would stare at me and chant that they don’t understand. I guess the most memorable one was a student who comically plopped on the floor asking for forgiveness for introducing himself. I was caught off guard, but the rest of the students thought it was hilarious.

It is tough learning a new language. I can barely speak Spanish and I still struggle with Japanese. Asking for directions or asking questions is easy but having a conversation with someone is nearly impossible. I really want to make my lessons as memorable as possible for them. I want them to want to learn a new language even if it is not English. If I can make this possible, I would be happy.

Top 5 questions asked by students

1.    Do you like me/him /our teacher?  Answer:  You/he/the teacher seem/seems like a very nice person.
2.    Do you have a boyfriend?  Answer: It’s a secret.
3.    Who is your favorite in Arashi?  Answer: I like them all.
4.    If girls can wear pants as their uniforms in America, does that mean boys can wear skirts?  Answer: Not that I know of (I guess in theory they can.)
5.    Do you like bananas?  Answer: No, I hate them.

The first 3 were asked all the time. The other two were memorable, the last for not a very good reason.

Honorable mention-Which Final Fantasy do you like the most?  Answer:  4, 6 and 9. The student said 9 was his favorite.

Top 3 mistakes I made in Japanese

1)Kirai ni narimasu and kurai ni narimasu.
The former means it is becoming hate and the latter means it is becoming dark. I meant the latter.
2)Kekkon and kekko
The first means marriage and the second means, “It’s Ok.”
3)Koko ni mata kimasu (I will come here again)        Koko ni mata ikimasu (I will go here again)
Honorable mention: I accidently mixed shita and shimatta. Shimitta is an expletive in Japanese.

Language class

One of my biggest goals before leaving this country, is to learn its language. I know I won’t be fluent. This takes many years to do, but I want to at least have many conversations in Japanese. A while ago I enrolled in a free Japanese language course. It has people of all nationalities: Peruvian, Fillipino, Brazilian and me, the American. After all my studying, I was a little depressed to only be placed in level two. Sometimes I learn new things in the class but it is mostly review of things I learned on my own. I am not sure how complete beginners can take the course. The class, textbook and lessons are all in Japanese. Foreigners talk to other foreigners in Japanese because it is the only common language. Taking lessons in this class helps me to better understand my students learning English. They do not understand how lucky they are. Their textbook is in Japanese!

Landlords

It is an undeniable fact that I have the kindest landlords known to man. It would have been enough for them to first great me with a cheerful hello but when we first met, they treated me to dinner. Not only that, but they furnished my empty apartment for only a small fee. They helped me find a great discount for a bike, drove me to places out of reach and treated me to dinner three more times. I have been given KFC food, grapes and sweets out of the blue. When I offered them a present to repay them, they came back later to give me one. I don’t know what else to do but accept these gifts and constantly be in debt to their kindness. I have never seen them mad, but I rather stay on their good side.

Mr. Stalker

Never forget that Japan has good and bad people in it. Sometimes, you meet so many kind people you tend to forget the bad exist. Avoid this false security. In my first few weeks in Japan, I often walked around Toyohashi to find the locations of different places. I mentioned earlier about my test runs. Well, I was on another one. Since this was my closest school, I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to find but I wondered around aimlessly till I decided to return home. It was already getting really dark. Then for some reason, I changed my mind again and decided to try one more street. It was completely dark by then. Suddenly, a medium size car approached me and stopped.

At first I thought it was a person asking me for directions. This has happened before.

“Wakarimasen,” I replied. It means ‘I don’t understand.’ I really wasn’t listening to what he was asking anyway.

The car started to move pass me, but then it stopped again. This time the driver came out. Let me advise you the following sequence of events are partially disturbing and a perfect example of what absolutely NOT to do when a stranger approaches you. Especially if his first question is, “Are you alone?”

“I am look for (insert school name here),”I answered. Somehow are roles switched and now I was asking for directions. I guess I wanted to find the school so badly it clouded my judgment.

He continued to question me further in Japanese. Did I have a cell phone? Where am I from? Am I meeting anyone? How old am I? Am I married? Do I have a boyfriend? Is he Japanese? Does he currently live in America?

Each question I answered honestly but with each answer I was starting to get scared. As he asked his questions, he kept getting closer to me. When he grabbed my hand, I snatched it away and told him no. I thought by telling him I had a boyfriend would make him stop pursuing me.

He then told me he would take me where I wanted to go. I didn’t understand the verb he was using till I looked it up much later. I tried to walk away but he kept following me every direction I went. I resorted to continuously repeating “no.” Unfortunately, I had to get pass his car to make my escape. He started to become bolder. He began to stroke my hair and tried to kiss me. I thought I had no other choice but to pass the car and go into the main street. He followed me into the narrow space between the wall of a building and the car and grabbed my chest.

“No! No! No!” I yelled and ran into the light, my sanctuary.

It was as if he was allergic to the light. He started to slowly retreat into the darkness while I quickly rushed home.

Another event took place a couple of months later. I was riding my bike through the park to find a peaceful place to read. I spotted a bench near the lake and tried to park my bike but I couldn’t because the kick stand was stuck. An elderly man came to my rescued and fixed the bike. He then decided to start a conversation with me. I thought it was a great way to practice my Japanese. We talked about simple things such as the weather, Toyohashi and where I came from. Then out of the blue he told me that my breasts were really big. I did not want a repeat of the earlier incident so I politely excused myself and left.

Maybe I should have been more assertive with these two men, but I was worried about causing a scene in a country that is not my home.

Conclusion for now:

Japan is not perfect. It has its ups and downs like any other country. There are a lot of things I like about Japan and I will definitely enjoy these things while I am here. I wish I could have all my friends see this place and my family too. For now I guess I will have to rely on this blog and pictures.

Next update: Who knows…





The Beginning

27 08 2010

It has been over a week  since I have returned to Japan. It was like returning to my home away from home. However, my current location, Toyohashi, is much different from the beautiful rice fields of Akita. First of all, Aichi Prefecture has a much higher population than Akita. The vast majority of Aichi’s population lives in cities like Toyohashi. It is the third biggest city in the prefecture (Nagoya being the first.)   I like the convenience of a city, but it brings so much temptation to spend.

My apartment is located 15 minutes by foot from the center of the city. I live next door to a grocery store, and near 2 convenience stores, a discount shop, a clothes store and an arcade. I feel so lucky to live in such a great city. On top of that, I have really nice landlords.

School starts in a few days. Once I start my job things will be a lot more hectic. I will really try my hardest to be an awesome teacher.

Well, that’s it is for now. I’ll explain more at a later time.