Summary of September
Tuesday 27 September - Entering Japan
At the moment I am relaxing in my bed in a hotel room that makes the size of the compartments in the Danskebåten appear like ballrooms in comparison, after quite some travelling the past few hours. Lookat those cute little sandals - don't know whose feet they are ment for, but at least not mine. And the pyjamas on the bed remained in its package.
I “Ran into” three of my colleagues from work, Kari-Mette, Line and Kristin at Gardermoen on their way to a course in London, who accompanied me to Heathrow.
Who the H… said that to be early is a virtue? Having three hours to my transfer, I decided to locate the gate relative early. A huge queue was already formed and I naturally lined up. Turned out that it was boarding for an earlier flight. So I just had to be (a little more) patient. When it approached closing time, without any other tourists in sight except one other early dude as myself, it struck me – what if the next departure was on another gate? It was some distance back to the centerpoint with the overview of the flights. And, of course – the boarding personnel had left out this little detail about the gate, obviously considering it of minor importance. From 0 to 200 in 10 seconds sounds like a good target for a sportscar, except this time it was a rather accurate description of how my pulse developed. Running alongside with the other fellow, we managed to catch our flight with some margin.
An overwhelming range of movies did not completely redeem the fact that it was a looong eleven and a half hours flight. Forget confirmations, weddings, even Christmas mess. This beats them all. The blood in my legs really itched (fleas?), and even though I stretched and exercised them on three occasions, the flight was a rather sleepless, tiring experience altogether.
Arriving Narita 11:10 am (more or less as scheduled) I ran into a somewhat wannabe troublesome immigration officer (WTIO).
WTIO: “Do you really intend to leave Japan after 90 days?”
ME: “Yes” (staring at him with my not so blue or innocent eyes).
WTIO: “Why do you have 20000 Yen?” (money that I exchanged from Tor before I left home). I could see the mans brain working hard, he started off some more questions, but luckily for me he was restrained by his rather limited English.
WTIO:“What are you going to do here?”
ME: “I am here for vacation”. The man’s brain working somewhat harder. “…And I am going to practice Karate” I added.
WTIO: “Ah..Karate… huh,huh huh…Karate, yess” In a matter of few more seconds I was right through. I have never been a true believer of the old “Sesam Sesam” trick, but I’ll reconsider after this.
The trains did not turn out as such a horrific experience as anticipated. Okay, the vending machine is not straight forward the first time, but it is basically just to ask someone and everyone is really helpful, despite limited English. Most of the lines are described in both Japanese writing and Romajii (western alphabet) so it is quite easy to follow. The same goes for the Metro, they have in addition station codes, making it even easier. I navigated by Metro to my language school to get things sorted out, and feel quite confident using it now.
On my way back to the hotel, I got hungry so I stopped at a local fast food shop (yes, I have already observed numerous 7-Elevens and McDonalds but have sworn to stay clear as long as the FORCE is with me). The good thing is that in general the restaurants and fast food shops display mock-ups of most of their dishes in the window. The bad thing is that description is in Japanese writing only. So keeping in mind a trick used by a friend of Tor, I took a picture of the dish and showed the girl at the counter. She looked puzzled at first, but then she understood. 504 Yen (around 30NOK) for a surprisingly tasty dish consisting of Aubergine, sliced pork, haricots and onion in soy sauce accompanied with rice was a real treat. Despite being a fastfood shop, you could actually taste and feel the freshness of the ingredients.
Wednesday 28 September - The day with no daylight
Since I landed at almost midday local time, I decided to stay awake until “local” bedtime the day before. The strategy did not pay off well, as I didn’t fall asleep until 5 in the morning, being awake 39 hrs in total. Thus, I eventually managed to drag my rather dead body out of the bed around 5 this afternoon.
At half past eight I went to see Honbu Dojo and it was dark outside. I brought along all the gear in case they had a late practice.
The entrance of the Dojo was a bit smaller than I had expected, but it was a huge sign outside stating that this was it – the very thing. At the reception there was an Armenian guy, Arthuro. He could not help me out with my questions, so he phoned Andrej, a Polish guy that had been my only point of contact with Honbu so far. As they have practice at 10:00 am, 16:00pm and 19:00pm, the evening class was finished so I arranged for a meeting the day after.
I decided to go down to Roppongi afterwards just to have a look. It is supposedly one of the greatest areas for nightlife, but being in my casual suit, and with my backpack full of Karate-gear, I had no plans to go in anyplace. I stopped by a small restaurant, At.Café, and had some kind of a burger, and a Japanese beer – Asahi. I rounded up the bill, and threw in a couple of 100 yens ekstra. “No chip, no chip!” said the waitress sincerely concerned. “No tip?” I said a bit embarrassed as probably the entire restaurant heard the waitress. So I had to humbly take back the change. Lesson learned.
I walked down some blocks, and being surprised it was still open (at around 23:00) I went in to something that looked like a 6 floor “Nille”-shop with some huge fishes in an aquarium outside. It was an impressive selection of consumer goods, everything from gardening, golf, cutlery, clothes, music, films, electronics, jewels.. you name it. Despite the Nille-ish appearance, they had for instance jewelry priced as high as 300 000 Yen. Cameras comes a bit cheaper than in Norway – for instance, an IXY 700 (IXUS for us westerners) at 47000Yen, or a PSP at only 23000Yen. But I guess I will experience the great revelation at Akihabara, the electronic consumers Mecca one of these days…
On my way back I had to navigate through some doormen whose only business (at least this part of the night) seemed to be to throw you inside their establishment the very second they spotted you. Attempt to, mind you. This fish managed to get away.
My ambition was to become good enough in my Japanese so I at least would convince other tourists into believing that I am a true local hero. These past few days I have come to realise that as long as I manage to keep my mouth shut, foreigners AND Japanese mistake me for being a true native. So pretending to be a mute seems to be the easy way out.
Thursday 29.September – Burning some Sushi fat.
Yippee, managed to crawl out of bed early enough (around 10) to try the hotelbreakfast for the first time. Some breakfast I must say – 1 inch slice of white bread that you throw into a toaster after waiting your turn, and a blueberry-ish jam. The receptionist asked me “Do you want Tea or Coffee?” Since the breakfast was included I asked him if I could have an orangejuice instead. ”Yes, but only one” he replied, showing one finger. Then he ran away without ever returning. I eventually got hold of him again and asked him if I could BUY a glass, and that was obviously the magic trick.
The weather was really nice, so I decided to get some sun on my, by now, rather vampirish skin. I went for a stroll down to the eastern side of the Imperial Palace and brought along my Karate-gear (again), prepared to join the 16:00 practice. On my way, I passed an incredibly stylish, futuristic watercreation. Ever played Pac-Man? It sure gives associations, doen't it? Luckily the thing didn't move.
The palace itself is surrounded by water with really poor visibility. Still there where quite a few inhabitants in the water. At one stop, lots of giant goldfishes came swimming with their mouth wide open, and some swans too, obviously used to being fed. At another stop, a huge turtles-San (!) came swimming as well, who seemed to be in the same errand. Further down, a huge park appeared, its name so secret that it did not seem to appear on any maps. But it is next to the Hibuya park, so it is probably a part of the imperial outer garden. One thing in common for these parks, they have fingernail-cut grass and people use them as sleeping couches (!). I passed it around 14:30 and people were lying everywhere.
I took the Metro up to Honbu Dojo again, and it looked even more bombed now than the day before. Lots of people helping to move stuff out. I got hold of a Japanese that phoned Andrzej, and I suggested to come back the next week instead, but he told me to contact some of the staff. I got hold of another Japanese that was not informed at all, so he was a bit reluctant at first. But after showing the IKO membership card and the letter of recommendation, we eventually got things sorted out. I’ll start on firstcoming Monday, and the fee was less than I expected – half a membership rate at 5250 Yen and fee pr month at 10500 Yen.
I went back to the hotel, got direction to some huge sports warehouses and went there to buy running shoes. The pathway around the imperial palace is acknowledged as a path for joggers, totalling 5km. I started running when it was dark outside, the trip around went fine, but at the final I had to ask for directions. I found a huge map and waited for a potential victim to harass with my rather non-existing Japanese. I knew exactly where I wanted to go, but I did not have idea of the direction, as I came back another street some blocks away from the one I ran out from and only the major streets are written in Western alphabet. To make the complete chaos, the maps are rarely (if ever) oriented towards north. Finally my victim appeared. “Sumimasen – Hakusan-dori?” (Excuse me – Hakusan street?) Pointing energetically at the map. A stream of words poured out of his mouth, and he indicated that I should follow him. As we walked he continued to pour out Japanese, so I decided to play out my trumph card: “Eego ga hanase-mas-ka?” (Do you speak English). “Some extent” he replied. On our way we passed a restaurant. “Expensive” he said, pointing at the menu. Most dishes priced around 1500Yen, and the top one at 3200Yen. It was some kind of fish course according to him. I don’t know his point of reference, a young male who did not look particular poor. But I have realised that at noodle shops and fastfood shops you can get a meal for around 500-600Yen. But then again, I ate a huge delicious Avocado-salmon-onion sandwich downtown for 1000 Yen after the overwhelming hotelbreakfast.
Friday 30.September 2005 - new flatmates
Checked out from the hotel at 11:00. Yesterdays breakfast fresh in mind, I decided to skip it today and go directly to Sakura House at Shinjuku – the office that was leasing out my apartment to get the papers sorted out.
The staff had a proficient level of English, so the lease was settled without any hassle. Except that I had to sign every paragraph in the lease contract, totalling around 20 signatures. Luckily I only had to sign one copy.
Arriving Gokokuji station, I tried to locate my new home. This was not that straight forward, as the MS-Word mock-up of a map seemed to be holding back some essential information. So I approached a lady asking for the direction pointing at the map. After strolling back and forth a couple of times, she managed to guide me there after consulting another local person. At this time, she had started speaking a few words in English, probably as a result of me delivering yes, no and uh-hu at the wrong places. The apartment was located in a back alley that was not even indicated on the map.
On my arrival, I met one of the tenants, Sebastian from Germany. He was working for a German lawer as part of his law degree. Later in the afternoon, I met Jessica, a half Canadian-French English teacher from London (!). And then later in the evening - Martina from Venice who had done a 3 month kind of internship. They seemed to be really nice, so it is a pity that they are all moving out in a short time. There are six rooms all together, so there are two persons that I still haven’t met.
The flat seems okay, and I’ve got the biggest room – “whopping” 12 sqm.with two windows. Washing machine, electricity and broadband is included in the price. Speaking of that – I got all the details for the wireless network, but still struggling to get it working. I guess I’ll get it sorted out by tomorrow.