Tuesday, 4 December 2007

PostHeaderIcon November in Tokyo

A long period of good weather came to an end this morning and it’s now looking a bit rainy and bleak. It never fails to surprise me how nice my prefecture looks with sunshine and blue skies but when it rains everything turns to gray. Ah well, the weather has been great this autumn and especially on the two weekend trips I took.

I was about to type that I was going to take an opportunity of free time at junior high to write up my blog but I’ve just returned from marking about 100 books. At first I used to think “Hey, look at me marking away like I’m a real teacher” but after reading about 400 pages of the same paragraph it has made me go insane. I must have read this one passage about a bike falling on a little girl about 2000 times. It’s nothing to be taken lightly of course. The havoc this caused in the proposal of a bicycle parking lot to be built over an existing children’s park is intense. It’s had me on the edge of my seat for 3 months.

Tokyo – Friday 14th to Monday 17th November

Two weeks ago there was the CIR (Coordinator of International Relations) mid-year conference in Tokyo. As Noah was going to be heading up there anyway Andrew and I tagged along for the weekend to get the hell out of the countryside and taste the big city life. Noah studied at Waseda University for about a year so he knows the city quite well and has friends there. We crashed at one of his Japanese friend’s place just a train ride outside the main city centre. He was a really cool guy called Yohei who let Andrew and I crash for a few nights just because we knew him through Noah. His name is quite fitting to his personality I think. A very American English pronunciation could be “YO! HEY!” which is preciously the kind of English he speaks himself. He studied abroad in America for a year and stayed at a frat house so he says things in that particular manner.

We left Kochi in the early afternoon and after a brief flight we arrived in Tokyo only an hour or two later. We dumped our bags in a train station locker and then went out exploring around all the busy places you see on television like Shibuya (busy crossing) and Shinjuku but spent most of that night (and weekend) in the student section of the city called Takadanobaba. We met up with some more of Noah’s friends that night (and weekend) and they were good fun too.

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling pretty hungover but I forced myself up as Rage Against the Machine tickets were going on sale at 9am. Noah and I trekked through the biggest city in the world searching for a (very popular) branch of convenient store that has machines you buy them on. Eventually we tracked one down and guarded it like the dirty foreigners we are. I’ll be off to see them in Osaka in February woohoo.

I forget the exact details of Saturday but it mainly consisted of doing a massive tourist trip around most of Tokyo. We went to the main shrine in the centre of the city in Harajuku called the Meiji Shrine which has something to do with the emperor. Harajuku is one of a few areas in Tokyo where all the weird/alternative/crazy nutjobs hang out. I can’t remember the exact structure of the social groups of Tokyo’s youth but each one dresses up weird. Let’s see, you have:

Anime = They literally dress up as Japanese cartoon characters.

Slutty = Self-explanatory but in such an over-the-top way it’s unique.

Angsty = Sulk about wearing black and white.

Failed Western = Either hideous looking girls in fake tan or skinny Japanese boys trying to look like American rappers.

Kawaiiiii = Is the Japanese word for cute that teenage girls scream. Imagine someone trying to dress up in extreme cuteness. It’s like Hello Kitty threw up on them.

That’s probably not very accurate. I know some have specific names but I don’t have Wikipedia to check it out I’m afraid. I prefer my labels anyway. In spite of this I reckon Tokyo as a whole is full of young, attractive, healthy, thin and fashionable people of both sexes. Although a small majority of them seemed far too materialistic and pretentious for my liking.

Yes, so the shrine in Harajuku. We walked about doing the usual shenanigans but were treated to seeing young families walking about in the traditional dress for some special day. Furthermore, we saw an old fashioned wedding taking place. I’ve been given the impression that these are fairly rare these days as more couples opt for the western style ones, as sad as that is. That was pretty nice but I can’t help but imagine how expensive that must have been. The biggest shrine in the centre of Tokyo on a lovely autumn Saturday afternoon… deary me.

After that we headed towards the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. It’s in memory of every Japanese person who fought and died on behalf for the Emperor of Japan. It includes all those who killed/raped their way across China and Korea. I get the impression that a few old nationalists visit it for certain reasons.

I just deleted a massive paragraph on Japan in WW2/reluctance of accepting war crimes/editing school history books but I think it’s for the best if I leave it out. I am a historian after all (haha that makes me laugh) so some things do irritate me about the government’s approach to it sometimes. In saying that I think it is almost primarily a minority in government that drive these things forward. After all, I’m a government paid employee on a scheme that wishes to promote cultural exchange and understanding. I still really admire the reasons behind the JET Programme and I can’t see it happening anywhere else in the world nevermind Britain. I’ve been made to feel welcome by everyone here and I don’t think a discussion on such historical things would do anyone any good (not that I really want to either).

Sheeesh that was a stream of consciousness and a half. Back to Tokyo we go. Yes, so after touring the city all day we met up with some more of Noah’s friends and some Korean students that Yohei knew. There was an Icelandic guy too who I talked to about Sigur Ros (one of my favourite bands from there) and being north-western European woo. We went to an area that could be called ‘Little Korea’ I guess and went to a rather authentic Korean restaurant. There was some outstanding barbeque food and I ate until my stomach started to creek with delicious despair. I was down at one end of the table with loads of people I didn’t know but I had a good time talking away to them. They all spoke excellent English of course whilst I just acted like the ignorant foreigner. There was one guy I was talking too and I had no idea what nationality he was. He was Asian but his English was so good that I first assumed he was an American student studying at the University. Then he started talking Japanese really well and mentioned a lot about Japan. I was stuck in two minds as to whether he was Japanese or American. Then I noticed he started to talk loads about Korea and how his mother used to make the best Korean food he’s had. Then after a few minutes it suddenly clicked that he was indeed Korean. I like Korean people. They have excellent food and can trick you by speaking lots of languages really well. I quite like being Scottish whenever I have these initial interactions with people. Most people are quite surprised and it strikes up an interesting conversation about how I’m awesome, my accent is weird and why Britain isn’t just England. (Igirisu in Japanese means Britain AND England…)

That Sunday we took it fairly easy in the morning as we were a bit rough and all coming down with the cold. In the afternoon we went and had a really excellent burger in a pretty nice spot on the roof of a building. Andrew went to meet a friend so Noah, Yohei and I headed to the massive park in the centre of the city. It was really nice and large enough that you can forget you’re in the middle of a bustling metropolis. We played frisbee until sunset and then met up with everyone for some more lovely meat and beer. That night a few of us hit the karaoke. This one had flashing lights and a variety of videos, which makes a nice change from the one in Aki which always has a woman standing frozen on a bridge.

By Sunday I was feeling pretty tired but still had a bit more exploring left in me. Noah had to head off to his conference so Andrew and I went looking around by ourselves. As both of us are a bit geeky we headed to the big electronics stores to admire all the new shiny goods. We generally walked about talking about how great the big city is, got some lunch and then went in search of clothes and the like. I got a nice coat out of GAP just because I felt like it. I think it’s the first time I’ve managed to break out of “poor student mode” in a number of years. “That looks quite nice. Meh I’ll just buy it. Cheers”. Then we went to Mr.Donut and watched a busy crossing in front of us. Usually pointing out all the other foreigner people.

It’s strange how being “the only foreigner in the village” can play on your perceptions of seeing others you don’t know. I’ve read before that after people who live here for a time develop a “MY JAPAN” personality. I’ve not really got that but I was able to pick out a) Obvious tourists b) Western people here on business and c) Depressing ‘Japanophile’ Americans who are only here because they like anime/manga (Japanese cartoons/comics) and want to marry a Japanese girl. Of course, I’m part of the cool, sexy and respectable d) Here to teach English.

I managed to get myself onto a plane that evening after fearing I would get lost. I had to head back earlier than the other guys as I was packed full of classes on the Tuesday. I was tired and cold when I got home but it was an excellent weekend. It was pretty cool that I could tag along with Noah and Andrew as we always have a good laugh. Also, it was sweet that Noah knew the city and loads of people in it. If I went to Tokyo on my own then it would cost about double, be half the fun and I wouldn’t have known anywhere to go. It was a good break away from the countryside life too which I needed a little bit. There were times when I was walking in all of the clichéd postcard areas of Tokyo and thinking to myself “Bloody hell… I’m in Japan”.

Right, thus concludes my massive update for today. I hope you appreciate this has taken all my free time up at junior high today. I’ve had to pick it up again after marking, teaching, cleaning and eating. Also, I’ve not been learning Japanese. I hope you’re happy with yourself internet.


The sun is out now. I wore my Scotland top but we still got beat 2-1 by Italy. It's now past midnight. Goodnight


1st Lady said...

I'm always explaining to highly educated Americans how Britain isn't actually just England. Very interesting blog to read!

(I'm also from the Hunter clan).

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About Me

I am a 24 year old Scotsman currently teaching English to Japanese schoolchildren. I live in a small town on the east coast of Kochi prefecture.