Sunday, October 01, 2006

Destination: Tokyo

Before I start, I'll warn everybody that there are going to be a lot of flashback posts. I've been here for two months of wacky hilarity, and far be it for me to rob you of said madness just because I'm really, really lazy.

The trip to Japan, the Tokyo Orientation, and the trip to Saga get a post if for no other reason than that's how I got here... and because it has pictures, which mean I have to write less. Joy!

A lot of my Japan happenings have forced me into more of a "real" schedule, meaning I discover daily how many things can happen before noon. Well...things other than sleep, anyway. This disturbing trend started the day of my departure, which required me to wake up at 5:30am to make the 7:00am gathering time at DIA. We all got into the plane without any problems, had a slightly extended layover in LA, and finally hit Japan. Everybody was burnt out by the time we hit the ground, but an hour or so on a bus still separated us from the hotel. Although I was impressed at the time how many JETs had shown up to help us, it has become less amazing in retrospect - a week off of work to get paid to go to Tokyo sounds about right to me. Anyway, I checked in when I landed, and then immediately tried to find a way to call my friend Takashi.

Quick background on how I met Takashi - Almost exactly two years ago, I visited Japan on Cornell's dime and went to Hokkaido as part of the trip. On the ride up (a night train from Kyoto), I had a completely random meeting with Takashi. He was reading a magazine, and I began idle conversation, as we were the only two like-aged people in the car. I had been hanging with the drunken business men (which, I continue to insist, are some of the craziest/funnest/vulgar..est people in Japan), but they all clocked out. Anyway, we began having a conversation, filling in pieces with the English he knew and the Japanese I knew until we built a pretty good rapport. So good that he gave me his number, and we arranged a meeting a few days later. We met up on the specified day, and then we drove around Hokkaido for about three days. We even went to a pretty ritzy sushi place on his birthday, and after I spent the last night at his apartment, he saw me off.

I did get his email, but our correspondence has been pretty limited over the past two years. The occasional "how are you doing?" sprang up, but neither of us ventured too far beyond that. When I started to fill out the JET application, however, our banter renewed, and he was one of the first people I emailed when I was finally accepted. We arranged another meeting (that took some doing, as I had to ask a ton of different people about what night wouldn't be dominated by JET-related activities), which just about brings you up to speed.

Anyway, I was busy trying to find a way to call him, when I suddenly heard someone call out "...Brett?" behind me. I turned around, and sure enough, bam, there stood Takashi. We talked and walked to a semi-famous yakitori place he knew about, and there I had what remains one of the best meals I've had in Japan. I can't even tell you most of the things I ate, but I can tell you that it was a grand "welcome," and continues Takashi's trend of taking me to really awesome places to eat. He even paid the bill (which I had said I would do before I even came), a favor I have sworn to repay when I am next in Tokyo and flushed with the spoils of teaching English.

The next few days went by in a flicker. There were plenty of different workshops and a few memorable quotes.

At a workshop about eating in Japan : “*lengthy talk about a certain dish on the PowerPoint presentation before she switched to a slide that just has a picture of beer* Okay. Drink Beer. Next Slide.”

At a workshop about transportation in Japan:
Attending JET : “What’s a good way to get a bike?”
Male Presenter : “Okay, here’s what you do - go to the subway station, and look for one that’s unlocked. Wait a week or two and then check on it to see if it hasn’t been moved. If nobody touches it, just take it.”
Female Presenter : “What?! No! Don’t steal things in Japan!”
Male Presenter : “Well that’s what I did, and you can all probably do it, too - nooobody cares!”

Nice to know that our teacherly responsibilities are a bit overrated, eh?

We also learned that Saga-ken lets to get its ALTS very, very early. How early? One of the main speeches was interrupted with this blurb: "there is a change in the Tokyo Orientation guide - the Hana Room D will have breakfast starting at 6:30 am for some of the earlier departures. Oh, and, uh...Saga-ken people...apparently you’ll be gone before that, so special arrangements will be made.” I wasn't kidding when I said I was going to have to adjust to all the early rising...yikes.

At least that night we were awarded with unlimited beer/food. The food was excellent, and the beer was served in enormous bottles...or so I thought. When they said "get a drink for the toast," I just snagged one of the giant bottles, thinking Japanese REALLY love their beer. I only discovered a few minutes later that almost everybody else was using these bottles to pour beer into the smaller glasses you can see hiding between the beer and the coke. Oops. Oh well - Japan will have to learn how hard I party sooner or later.

I met more people from my prefecture that night and we all did karaoke and dancing, both of which were fun. I hit the sack around 3am, coming to my hotel room when both my roommates were asleep for the second time, and then hit the sack. The next day, I woke up late (yikes), but only missed a few workshops I really had no interest in anyhow. After living here for awhile, I've come to realize that I probably didn't have to go to ANY of those workshops, as ESID (Every Situation Is Different) really does apply. Oh well - I had a pretty awesome time.

We woke up way, way too damn early the next day to go to Saga. The regular deliciousness of breakfast was closed, so we had to chow down on the smorgasbord you see to the right. While the eggs had the consistency of something you squeeze out of a tube and most other things were unremarkable Village Inn-esque affairs, the french fries were a pleasant surprise. Now I normally don't indulge in french fries for breakfast, but come on - can you trust or even RESPECT somebody who would pass up an opportunity like these little french fry animals? I submit that you canNOT.

That does it for the Tokyo pictures. Stay tuned for the next thrilling edition of Gaijinx - Destination: Saga.


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