uiuu .: October 2005

Thursday, October 27, 2005

14. October to 25. October

A month since I arrived here, and I am quite happy with my stay so far. Have gotten into kind of a routine with the language school and the karate training sessions, so the time really passes by quickly. Mainly weekends left to do other stuff.

Thursday 14.October - anata ni tanomanakereba yokatta!
Got up early to get my hair cut before lecture. Not a big deal you would say? Well for me it was, especially after looking up in the Lonely Planet's phrasebook on hairdressing: In total 4 sentences about the matter, one goes like the headline suggets, meaning something like " I should never have let you near me! However, I found a western style saloon, with an excellent service. The cut cost 5200 Yen, but I was so pleased that I payed gladly and did not even bother to claim student discount.

Friday 15. October – low bloodsugar
Went to a morning class (10:00AM) for a change (hardly get up by this time). It became lot tougher than expected, as I went there on an empty stomach and the practice itself was quite tough. Another lesson learned. I went to a Korean restaurant after the language course. I really love the food in this country! Korean tend to be a lot more spicy than the Japanese food however.

Saturday 16. October – e-l-e-c-t-r-o-c-u-t-i-o-n….
Did a bit of study, before I went to the first afternoon karate training session. After the practice, Fabrice (the French instructor) asked me to come along to a Furo (Japanese style bath). He told me that this one was for Japanese only, but people from the Karate was allowed to enter as well. Met Alexander (K-1 fighter and former Kyokushin) and his girlfriend who joined us. Men and women are separate. The Furo was really nice, part of it made with natural stone having running water over it. It had hot water tubs, massaging tubs for almost every parts of the body. Fabrice insisted that I tried one of the fairly calm, body tempered ones. It turned out that it had electricity in it. So now I know how it is to be electrocuted. Strange customs, or should I say pleasures in this country... Afterwards Fabrice and I went to a really good Indian restaurant that he knew about.

Sunday 17. October - earthquake
Went to a knitting conference in Roppongi hills (!) with Helena. Met some friends of hers - Cathy and Hans and Sasa.. During the conference I experienced an earthquake for the first time. It was supposedly around 4 on the Richters scale but was noticeable as if a train or subway passes near you. I don’t know where the epi-center was. It seemed as if I posses some talent in both knitting and crochér, maybe I have found a new way of living? Later we went walking to Hachiko (well known meeting place named after a dog who allegedly used to follow his master, a professor, to the train station everyday, and continued to so 10 more years after his master passed away until his death) and met Rob and Rune, and then the whole lot went to a karaoke place.

Friday 22. October – dining with my classmates
The class count has sort of stabilised now, and half of the class joined for some food. went out for a Out for dinner. Went out eating after class with some of the schoolmates; Bo from Thailand, Gerald from France, Edgar from Spain, Anna from Russia and Susanna from Peru

Saturday 23. October – Akihabara
I asked Helena if she would come along for a shopping spree in Akihabara, but as it turned out, she had already plans for the day. When I left the Akihabara JR platform, yellow signs indicating “Akihabara – the electronic town” started to appear. I spent most of the day wandering around in the shops. I wanted to get one of the electronic dictionaries where you can input Kanjis (quite useful to learn/practice Kanjis with) but it turned out that it was only Canons top model that had it. Containing lot of Chinese libraries, I dropped it for now.

I went into one of the gambling halls to have a look. This one was a proper hall, with 5 floors,
The most noisy games on the lower floors to the online PC-based gaming rooms in the top floor. Seems as some of these guys are really good, making them entertainers for groups of people. I saw this guy on a drumming machine who was really amazing.

My second scope was to get a mobile phone, as I picked up my Alien card on Friday. Not very successful here either, as the shops I went into only offers 1 or 2 years subscription contracts.
So as a comfort, I ended up buying myself a sleek, 5Mpix casio camera (half the thickness of my current one) along with a 1GB SD-ram card instead. The price? Turns out that the duty free shops were the most expensive ones, even with their Duty Free bargains. The shop I went into was not one of those. But it seems as if you mention duty free, they are willing to give discount (the competition seems quite high). I paid 40.000 Yen in total, around 7.000 for the card. And I have seen the camera alone advertised at 49.000, so it seemed to be a good buy.

Sunday 24 October – Tokyo EDO museum
Today we got a new flatmate – Zed from the USA. He has completed a law degree in the Netherlands, and decided to spend a couple of months in Japan.

Around noon Helena asked if I wanted to come along to the Tokyo EDO museum.We ended up being a group of 8 Japanese and 6 westerners. The museum was enormous, and it was quite interesting to watch all the Samurai related stuff. Amazing paintings. It is, for instance, hard to imagine the way they made books back the 16.th century – they actually carved the negatives out from wood down to an incredible level of detail, and then used this to imprint the books.

In addition, they had miniature models, also these incredibly detailed. The models on the pictures are less than 5cm in height.

Afterwards we went to a proper Japanese restaurant (the ones where you park the footwear outside the eating area, and you sort of sit on the floor, with the legs in a boxed space below) with some of the Japanese who accompagnied us in the museum - and ate, guess what - proper Japanese
food. Most of it was really good, but some of it a bit strange as well.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Past week

Ingenious title, if I may say so. In this manner I can carry on with "Past week 2...3...aso" And when I become really lazy, I can change it into "Past month..2..3.." Tap on my shoulder for that one. Anyway, here are at least some of the past few days described to a certain level of detail:

Tuesday 6. October - [MUSIC] Its no fun bein an illegal Alien... [/MUSIC]

Everyone who is staying more than 90 days in Japan is expected to get an alien card.
So I went down to our city ward office – Bunkyõ-ku ( Tokyo is divided into 23 ku's i.e., wards or
city districts, each having their own office). I walked down roughly 3km, and finally this massive skyscraper building next to Tokyo dome appeared. I was told by one of the flatmates, Jessica that the office was in the second floor, and I eventually found it. The staff explained where I had to go in order to get passphotos, the office was about to close, so after running a round a bit, I returned with the photos and started filling out the alien registration form. One post said current address. Ups…don’t know (..walk I may, talk I may... in my sleep I still am...may the FORCE be with me...) I asked if they could call Sakura house for the address, and they seemed a bit reluctant. “Do you know their phone number?” they asked. "Nope, but can’t you just look it up in the internet?" Still reluctant. “Does this mean that I have to come back once more with the address in order to complete this registration” I asked. “Look, it’s a flat in Gokokuji” I continued. “Which one, Sakura house has many flats in Gokokuji” the female office attendent asked. “No, there is only two I replied” knowing this from their webpage. Eventually they came up with a huge map book. "…Shinobazu dori … Mejiro dori…Toyota building…here it is!" I said. Then they came up with another map, where the same building was encircled and obviously Sakura house was written in kanjis next to it. "Hai, do you know any of your flatmates, their nationalities?" "Well…there is one German guy which has moved out, one French-Canadian – he has also moved out… (A couple of the staff had now gathered around the screen, nodding for each of my listings). After completing this exercise, I was asked if I knew any names. And finally, after listing their names as well, they seemed to be satisfied. Big brother is really watching you in this city... They obviously had the names of all the inhabitants, most likely me as well. So why they bothered to put me under this test I don’t know, unless it was their way of getting a thrill of the day by pretending they were the Supreme Court having the chance of interrogating the suspect (that’ll be me this very day). Well, I showed them, didn’t I! And it gave me a huge satisfaction along the way. I got a temporary certificate, and was instructed to come back in two weeks time to pick up the card.

Sunday 9. October – So much for emergency numbers

While we were having conversations throughout the evening, Jessica got some pain in her stomach and withdrew to her room. Her Australian boyfriend Greg who is also working as a English teacher in Tokyo, had paid a visit. It became evident later that she had turned really ill. Trying to call the local emergency number for help around 01:00pm was not of much use, as this appeared not to be a 24 hour operated service. So Helena and me did the five minutes walk to a police booth next to the metro to get some help. She explained the situation, and guess what…a new map book. My only contribution as an apparently mute person, was to point out where we lived. One of the policemen stared quite intensively at me, while he spoke. As if he expected really ingeniously composed Japanese sentences to burst out of my mouth anytime. Which forced me to resign my rather pleasant, mute state with "Nihongo wakarimasen". "Ah", he nodded. After some discussions, one of the policemen came along with us back to the flat. He borrowed Jessicas phone, and asked if she wanted to go to hospital. I think she was a bit scared of the fact that she didn’t have the insurance number at hand and thus had to pay alot. Reasoning that it could not cost that much for an examination at first, and that they could deal with the bureacracy of getting the money back later, I urged her to go in anyway. The policeman contacted an ambulance which arrived shortly afterwards, and since it was only space to two more persons, I suggested that Helena, being the most Japanese literate of us should go along with Greg. We asked where they would take her, so we could follow in a taxi, but they couldn’t tell. So me and Martina remained in the flat, and since she was going to return back to Italy the next day she had to pack as well.

We initially thought it was Appendicitis, but the day after I got to know that they had taken Jessica to a hospital near Shinjuku and that the doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong with her after doing quite a few tests, so they put her on a heavy “diet” of different pills three times a day (!) for some days. At least she was better the day after. They ended up paying 30000 Yen, which didn’t seem much, taking into account all the tests she had undertaken, staying half the night for observation at the hospital and receiving a supply of pills.

Tuesday 11, October – Ni-hon-go

I left a bit late for the introduction at Kai language school, making me take the taxi the last bit. I did not have the address of the school, but I knew which streets it was enclosed by and that it was in the Miyuki building. This was apparently not enough for the taxi driver, so guess what...another mapbook. I have become really good at communicating with these people through maps the past few days. Maybe I don’t need to bother to learn Japanese at all..mapbooks works out as well... I pointed out the location, and arrived just in time.

At first we were greeted by the director of the school, Ms YAMAMOTO Hiroko (yes, they kind of prefer to put their last name first). Then we where introduced to the Senseis (teachers) and the rest of the staff at the school. We where supposedly 42 persons assigned for the courses, but only around 24 turned up for the orientation. We were divided into groups according to our speaking capabilities, and each group had their own interpreter. Ours was Anders from Sweden who had done major in Japanese there. Nothing that was of particular interest, really. Apparently this was for people just arriving Tokyo as well, so they mentioned anything from recycling garbage, alien card, to the very fact that if you where stopped by the police on a borrowed bike, and where unable to give up the name and the address of the owner, you could end up spending 3 days in jail (!).

Then there was one of the teachers speaking warmly about the Ipod. They claimed to be one of the very few schools having studymaterial that you could download to the Ipod. It was not like we’d failed the class without one, but we should really consider to get an …Ipod…if we didn’t have one already. The progress would be so much faster with an …Ipod… Ipod..bla-bla-bla…Ipod bla-bla-bla..(Careful lady, if you brag more now, you will for sure put yourself out of the business). That’s right, if they were not already sponsored by Apple, they sure would have deserved it after this performance. Then there was another round with ...don't share it with your friends...don't copy the program...got the feeling that you shouldn't even mention or show it to your friends.

Later in the evening, actually around 01:00, our latest flatmate, Gåtam, an Indian guy doing some limited period theater work here in Tokyo, was making food, bashing with cutlery and having the kitchen fan running. He had been cooking this late ever since he moved in for around a week ago. I tried to approach him politely, and eventually got into the fact that cooking food this late could pose problems for the other tenants (that’ll be me and Helena, as Jessica moved out earlier today in order to stay together with her boyfriend, and there are currently no other persons replacing the once that have left). Helena eventually came out and joined me in what was initially a plain request that had turned into a really stupid discussion. I am not going into great details about this, only that this was the most annoying experience I have had so far 2 1/2 weeks after my arrival here in Tokyo.

Wednesday 13. October – Back to the "waitu-bordu"

The day started late, as I was kind of geared up by last night’s discussion, and didn’t fall asleep until around four in the morning. I have still not been able to get into a “normal” rhythm, but at least I get some sleep (on the behalf of half the day after) as opposed to Martina, who had been rather insomniac throughout her entire (!) 3 months stay.

I thought I had good time to get to my class (starting at 13:20) having to change metro lines only once, and walk a 1.5 km at the end to get there but I misjudged, and managed to arrive 10mins late. The others where already right into it, so I just had to try to catch up.

Our afternoon class was rather small (only 8 persons, while a full class is supposed to be 15).
Quite a few nationalities were represented – Poland, China, Peru, France, Spain…and tiny Norway (whose population barely exceeds twice the amount of people rushing through Shinjuku station everyday) were represented. The teacher is a bit funny looking Japanese guy who kind of reminds me of John Cleese. Not as they could be twins or anything, but the fact that he is quite tall and slender, and there is something with the coordination of his body movements....

We actually drilled the entire Hiragana table that day (around 50 symbols). Symbols with magnets attached to them, so they would stick to the waitu-bordu. We where drilled, each one of us at a time, and as a whole group. I am not sure if I am too happy with the situation; I realised that that Helena’s (seemed-at-the-time-so-hard hiragana tests) was nothing compared to todays drill-torture. Hello…anybody out there…I am here for my vacation, and not to be enslaved amongst these competition-breeded students. Don’t you have a class for retired (no, not retarded, you dumb arse) people or something…?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Last bit of the backlog - Sunday 2. and Monday 3

Sunday 2. October - Kamakura

Since Sebastian was about to leave back home soon, he had to join an inspection of his room 9 o'clock in the morning before we could leave. He suggested that we could go down to Kamakura, a suburban place southwest of Tokyo with some scenic nature and temples and a beach.

We went via Shinjuku, as Sebastian had some stuff he needed to ship, and the post office there stays open even on Sundays. Quite a lot of train and metros and their respective lines to keep track of in the station area. Luckily Sebastian is quite proficient in Japanese, as he had been here on several occasions, starting with High School. Thus it went rather straight forward to get ourselves daypasses to Kamakura, meaning that we could do unlimited numbers of stops at the stations around Kamakura. On our way we had to change at Fujisawa towards Enoshima.

After approximately an hour and a half, we arrived Hase, being a natural tourist spot, as it has a Buddist temple, a beach and a walking trail to Kamakura. We went to have lunch, and then visited the temple which had an enormous (13.35m) Bronze statue of Daibutsu – the great Buddah. There were lots of tourist, most of them Japanese. After seeing the temple, we started on a 3km walking trail that lead us to Kamakura. In Kamakura there was another Temple. There were also opportunities for people to launder their money (by doing this, you allow wealth and prosper to come). Unfortunately, there is a small catch - in order to carry out the ritual you have to pay a small sum of money. Do I need to mention that we already have our non-religious counterpart - Norsk Tipping. On the train back from Kamakura, we made a new stop at Hase, to have a look at the beach. It was quite windy, so there where plentiful of windsurfers and boardsurfers. The sand was somewhat dark, but really fine grained. Here I saw for my first time ever a group of sun-tanned Japanese people, barbequing and obviously having a good time together.

Later in the evening we went out dining in Ikebukero with some of the other flatmates, Martina, Helena and a German girl, Cathrine from a neighbouring apartment. She also does a law degree, and was here for the same purpose as Sebastian. The restaurant was quite cool, in the middle of the tables there were a propane grill, and you ordered various raw meet and vegetables, which you could “barbeque”.

Before arriving back to the apartment, we met Laurent – the sixth of the inhabitants at Gokokuji 2. A French-Canadian that had been studying Japanese for almost a year here in Tokyo, and about to leave in a few days as well. It’s a pity that at least three of my flatmates are quite Japanese literate, whom two are about to leave shortly. But at least Helena is going to stay, so I have adopted her as my Japanese teacher.

Monday 3 – Kiai! - Chopping some wood

Today I finally managed to get started with my Karate practice. I met up at four, just to be informed that since they had moved the Honbu Office to Ichigeki, they had rescheduled classes as well, starting at five instead.

The etiquette is in general a bit more formal than what I am used to back home. Upon entering and leaving the dojo (practise area), you should leave your stuff on the floor, and bow with an Osu, first to Shinden (kind of an altar in the front of the dojo), and then to the other practicioners. These should in turn reply with an “Osu” (used to greet or confirm) and a bow. If it is a senior person, they should stand up as well before bowing. The training was quite OK, and kind of a calm start, as it was a general class, open for everyone. Despite this, it was seemed somewhat harder due to the pace, and the fact that they did not open the windows until the end of the training, turning the place into a Finnish Sauna. The instructor was French – Fabrice. He had been around for only a month, and could hardly speak any Japanese at all. Every time the instructor commands, the students should reply with an "osu", making quite a few osu’es during the practice.

At the end of the practise after assuming the "seiza" or sitting meditation position, the 7 verse long Koyokushin dojo oath is commanded by the instructor and repeated by the students. In this case, since the instructor could not speak Japanese, it should have been the highest ranking in the class, (me that day), giving the task to the guy next to me who shouted out the verses, with everyone else repeating (gave me a sensation of singing along on a song you really don't know the text of - at least I know the content) . Then a brief meditation is commanded, and a bow to Shinden. After the practise, everybody greet everybody else with a “domo arigato gozaimashta”. Finally the lowest grades gets towels which they offer to the others, and everybody contributes in cleaning the floor.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


The day started rather late, as I eventually managed to bring the computer on the net (one of these japanese speedtests indicates a close to 2MB line), resulting in me spending most of the night the making layout of my blog page. I had noticed a discrepancy in the inventory list in my room the day before, so I decided to walk down to Sakura House office to report it, partly to have a look around as well. The weather was really nice, and I believe it must have been the warmest since day I arrived, close to 30 degrees.

On the way I passed one of the enormous number of Ma-ka-do-na-ru-do in the City. Some words have been invented in modern times for obvious reasons, while for others have been imported even though they have their Japanese counterparts. It may seem strange for foreigners, but rather normal and cool amongst the Japanese to throw in some imported words now and then, written out in Katakana (one of their scripts), and also English words written normally. You can especially see this in most of their webpages - the few words in English sure does not help the foreigner read the page and is of little use for the Japanese readers.

I stopped at a mobile shop on my way down. There is a jungle of phones tied up their respective operators. I found a cool phone, Mitsubishi Foma M1000 (two displaymodels on the picture) . It really has a impressive screen for its rather compact size. I haven't been able to find much more else, as it runs the Japanese 3G variant I-mode, and thus for the Japanese market and hence all info in Japanese as well. Foreigner will in most cases need an "Alien Card" in order to subscribe to one of the operators.

Later in the afternoon when I returned, I got the opportunity to meet Helena, the 5th person in the flat. She is Japan doing parts of her Joint degree in Arts and Japanese, and is going to stay for one year. I spoke to Sebastian later in the evening, and we agreed to take trip outside Tokyo the day after.