Archive for July, 2006

Orient thyself

Monday, July 31st, 2006 by Steph

I am loving Tokyo. Maybe it’s all the English signs, or the familiarity of a big city, but I feel very comfortable here. Or maybe it’s that I’m still on vacation. ;) It’s all fun and games until you’ve got a classroom of surly kids on your hands. I took the subway back to the hotel, and I was expecting a logistical nightmare, since I was traveling in Tokyo at rush hour. However, we didn’t experience any insane crowds; I guess the hotel is in a nightlife district, which means that there’s no big influx there in the morning.

There are lots of familiar establishments around town, some more expected, like Starbucks or Mcdonalds (“ma-ku-do-no-ru-do-su”), some more of a surprise, like AM/PM and Sizzler (!). We went and broke our fast at Tully’s, where Chris had the cutest little 6-oz-$5 shake ever. As a couple who’s used to sharing their gianormous American portions between themselves, the delicate Japanese portion will take a little getting used to.

Tokyo weather has been a dream so far, balmy and cool at night, sunny and warm in the morning. Perhaps the famous humid stickiness happens during the day when I am in my shmancy hotel? Andrew assures us that the weather is kind of freakish right now and to enjoy it while it lasts.

Orientation consists of lots of speeches from the head of this ministry or that, and most of the speakers are surprisingly funny! We are a grateful audience. They have lots of great resources for us, including a national JET association, books with ideas for teaching, and a career-fair room where you can learn about how to sign up for broadband, how to teach elementary school kids, or when you can travel to Southeast Asia for any number of social work/ responsible tourism trips.

I love the JET population… people are chosen for their friendliness and ability to make social ties with others. We are supposed to be a room full of diplomats, after all. Which means that everyone for the most part is approachable and interesting. There are delegations from Ireland, Canada, France, Russia, and Jamaica. But the socializing is killing me, because I can’t stop myself and I dearly need a rest. At this point, what I need most is a sensory deprivation tank, because you basically have the same conversation over and over and over… where are you from where are you going what did you major in what kind of teaching experience do you have how is your Japanese. Ug. I am puking these pleasant conversation starters all over the place.

For lunch, they fed us the very Japanese meal of curry and rice. In the afternoon, there were some optional break out sessions. I will be going to elementary schools between my visits to junior highs and high schools, so I attended the elementary school workshop, as well as one on financial advice for JETs. After that I crashed hard and barely woke up for the 6:30 banquet. It was a madhouse, with a crazy spread of food. I was about to faint (no joke) for want of food, so it was really hard to socialize. I ditched the JET activities and instead went out for some super tasty Indian food with my Mudd peeps.

Quick Pics

Monday, July 31st, 2006 by Chris

We have been in Tokyo for a day now, and I’ve posted my first few pictures. If you want to see them all sequentially, start here. There are a few more than shown below.

Apparently, sumo wrestlers aren’t allowed to wear western clothes.

I’ll have a more detailed post in the next couple of days!

Sensory Feast Only in Japan #1 Universal

Take flight

Sunday, July 30th, 2006 by Steph

The flight over here was relatively easy. Chris and I got to sit together, which made the flight much more bearable. Nik and Vivien drove us to the airport, and gave us our final sendoff.

The flight was only about 10 or 11 hours from LAX, and we had absolutely no problems with baggage or customs. There were a billion second and third year JETs throughout the airport pointing and waving and welcoming us to Japan, and so it was relatively easy to find our way through it all.

Here is where Chris and I temporarily parted ways, as I got on the JETbus, and he found his way to Tokyo via subway. Either way, the trip from Narita airport takes a good two hours, which was a huge surprise to me coming from San Diego, where the planes practically land on top of my house.

The scenery along the way was extremely green, but other than that I saw nothing particularly out of the ordinary. The freeway has tall blinders put up for much of the road, probably to discourage drivers from daydreaming and getting distracted while driving. I also thought it was interesting to note that it’s illegal to walk with a cigarette on the sidewalk here, not for health reasons, but for safety reasons (!). There is a little glass smoking booth open from 8-6 where people can partake, and smoking in clubs is acceptable as well.

I arrived at the Keio hotel in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo around 6:30 pm local time, or 2:30 am PST. The jet lag that night was brutal. But again, the check-in process was seamless. For this orientation, there are something like 1500 JETs beginning a new life in Japan, as well as 5500 JETs working nationwide in Japan.

Chris lucked out; He’s not allowed to say with me at the hotel, so instead he’s staying with our friend Andrew from Harvey Mudd in the nearby Roppongi district. Andrew did a stint in the Peace Corps (Samoa), then 3 years with JET (Kyoto), then became a lawyer. He’s now got a job here and is living permanently in Tokyo. He’s been taking us out nights (after which he goes back to work) and lets us sleep on his futon.

So after getting settled, I arranged for Chris and Andrew to meet me at the hotel. While I waited for them to show up, I sated my ravenous hunger by going to the convenience store on the bottom level of the hotel. I (tried) to ask the clerk in Japanese: Which of your ramen is the tastiest? He got this big smile on his face and came out from behind his desk to identify the best seller: cup o’ noodles. There is no way I am eating cup of noodles for my first meal in Japan… so I took the ni-ban oishi (“second tastiest”) option, which was a dish of noodles with a sponge-like item floating in the middle. It actually was pretty decent, though the texture threw me off a little.

Joyously, Chris and Andrew arrived about 2 hours later, and Andrew took us out on the town. He is such a good-natured guy, and his conversational Japanese is pretty good, so it was fun for us to listen to him banter with the taxi driver, the waiters.

I told Andrew that i needed to eat something tasty that didn’t include soy sauce or noodles and to just pick something. We dove into a little traditional Japanese place, where he ordered for us fish paste squares, long tubes of shrimp spring roll, and a “sour melon” appetizer. All of which was pretty delicious. The sour melon was pretty crazy…. it’s as if you took slices of cucumber, and then grafted a broccoli head onto the surface. Also pretty tasty.

Chris and I finally crashed around midnight, which is like an all nighter ending at 8 am if you’re from California. I couldn’t believe how long we had lasted and were socially functional w/o sleep. We took awhile to figure out how to assemble the futon, which looked suspiciously thin and flat, but was amazingly comfortable.

Chris and Steph have left the building

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006 by Chris

Just a little update for those of you who are tuned in. Yesterday, we moved out of our house in San Diego after five insane days of packing, cleaning, selling, shipping, and saying goodbyes. Tuesday culminated in the selling of our beloved green VW Beetle less than an hour after driving away in a rental car.

We’re now in Los Angeles, where I am staying with my good friend Nik while Steph is visiting her dad. We fly to Tokyo on Saturday. Wow!