So in between classes and in the evenings, I`ve been writing out what happened during the rest of August. In an effort to finally catch up to the present, I`ve compiled the events of the remaining 10 days or so of August into one super post.
Aug 19 – PAYDAY!
August 19 was my first payday! Usually JETs get paid on the 21st of the month, but this month we got paid a couple days early since the 21st fell on a weekend. What made this quite memorable, was that up to this point in time, I had gone to work (at the school) a grand total of 0 times. This isn`t really typical at most JET placements, and I was just really lucky my school was amazingly generous and gave me the time to settle into my new place and get used to living in Japan. So basically, I got paid for being on vacation the entire month, although officially all the orientations were work.
After I pulled some money out of my bank account, the first stop of the day was the big Yamada Denki in Takasaki to buy my Macbookpro. I almost had my heart broken because the model I had set my eye on was sold out. After a couple minutes of deliberation, I decided to spring for the slightly more expensive model and shell out another ¥9000 or so.
I picked up the midrange model with a 2.53ghz core i5 processor, 4gb of ram, 500gb hd and Nvidia 330m graphics card. Not super high end specs, but enough to edit HD video and run Starcraft 2 so I`m happy. The awesome thing about buying electronics at Yamada Denki is that you accumulate points which can be used towards the purchase of something else. From the purchase of my Macbookpro, I received almost $300 worth of points. Unfortunately I would have to wait at least a day to use them.
After picking up the Macbookpro, Ken and I stopped by an amazing multilevel store in Takasaki that sold all manner of random things. The first floor was full of coin-operated catch machines. The second floor was the most amazingly stocked second hand clothing store I`ve ever seen. It was like salvation army for hipsters and rich people. There were really high end clothing, LV and Gucci bags, and super expensive looking leather shoes and such on sale for maybe 20% of their original price. The third floor was all manner of videogames, DVDs, and CDs. The 4th floor was an – ENTIRE – floor dedicated to model kits, action figures, and figurines.
Being the closet nerd that I am, I bought a Gundam model that had already been assembled for about $15. They originally go for around $80 so I was quite pleased with this purchase. Ken also finally found a Gundam model that he had been looking for over the past year.
What are Gundams? Well Gundam is a franchise of “giant robot” media. They appear in anime, manga, toys, and model kits. The franchise has been popular since the 80`s and continues to be to this day in its various iterations and current incarnations. Giant robots as a whole are sort of a cultural icon in Japan and are firmly woven into the cultural fabric. In Japan, and in the rest of the world, building Gundam model kits is a very popular hobby. When I was in highschool, I got involved in this scene a little bit, although I was never quite manually dexterous enough to detail the models to look like how they did on the box. This was a constant source of disappointment during my childhood. Fortunately, the one that I purchased was fully painted and mounted. It would make a good desktop accessory.
Anyways, after we had finished buying Macbookpros and model kits, we went back to my place and had a couple beers while assembling the Gundams and booting up my new mac.Unboxing a Mac is like undressing a hot girl – you`re never sure if you want to rip off all the packaging as quickly as possible or unwrap it carefully. In this case, I opted to do it slowly and take pictures along the way. Hehehe.
And so concluded the nerdiest friday night in Japan I`ve had so far.
Aug 20 – Buying a Monitor
The next day, it was back to Takasaki to purchase my monitor. Using the points I accumulated from buying the MBP, I picked up a 23-inch 1080p monitor which is perfect for connecting to the MBP and my PS3. Unfortunately, what should have been a simply process took a ridiculously long time at Yamada Denki because of the multiple levels of redundancy that people who work in service industries in Japan are required to do.
For example, after I had decided on a monitor, the first Yamada Denki employee I talked to ran to get an actual salesman for me to deal with. Then when the salesman got there, he ran off to a terminal on the other end of the floor to see if the monitor was in stock. Then he ran back, DOUBLECHECKED the model, and ran back again. As expected, the model I was looking at was not in stock so I had to choose a different one. After I finally decided on another one I liked, the salesman ran back to the terminal to do the exact same thing. Twice. This same cycle continued several more times as I asked if there were speakers, if I could use my accumulated points, and one more time to MAKE SURE IT WAS IN STOCK AGAIN. It was pretty ridiculous, but in the hilarious in retrospect sort of way. Then again, everything in Japan seems to happen in this manner. Everything has multiple levels of redundancy.
It’s interesting because the multiple levels of redundancy extends to jobs – I have noticed that at least at Yamada Denki and the other electronic retail stores, some people will have jobs where they do nothing at all but stand there and greet you or refer you to another worker at Yamada Denki. To me this seems like the most inane waste of money and corporate resources ever. I still haven`t completely figured out why they do this, but I suspect it`s the same reason why there are so many traffic police to be found on quiet one way streets – in Japan they seem to give people jobs so that they can maintain the dignity of having work. This would explain why when I`m at a restaurant, sometimes a server will come around and absolutely insist on pouring me water or tea, even after I let them know I can do it myself. I suspect its considered insulting to do someone`s job for them.
Theres not much more to this story except that I eventually DID finally manage to get my monitor which made me quite happy. Too bad I didn`t have the money to buy this one; the biggest and most expensive commercially available plasma TV in the world:
It`s 103 inches and costs about $60,000
Aug 21 – Go-Karting in Isesaki
The following day, to finish off our last day of break before school “officially ” started, Ken, JY, a couple other friends and I went go karting in a small city called Isesaki near Maebashi. I`ve only ever gone Go-Karting once before so this was a lot of fun, albeit quite expensive; about ¥2000 for 8 laps!
En route to Isesaki, I ran into my favourite Texan JET, Ashley. She has an awesome blog, and if you like mine, you should check hers out as well at: http://gunmagogo.blogspot.com/
I always forget how small go-karts are. They are extremely zippy and speedy for their size though, and these particular ones reached speeds of up to and over 60 km/h!
You can call me the Asian Stig.
Aug 23 – First Day of Work
August 23 was my first official day of work. I got up early, had a good breakfast, got dressed in a nice shirt and tie, and took the 5 minute bike ride to my school. I went inside, met the vice principal, some of the teachers, and sat around for a couple hours to wait for the principal. Eventually I got restless, so rather than just sitting in place with nothing to do, I walked around the school greeting students and waiving at them. Since Japan is an alternate reality land, I was a complete and utter celebrity as soon as the kids saw me. It was hilarious, and I`ll talk about it more at a later post.
This is what the classrooms I`ll be teaching look like. It`s an ichi-nensei (first year) classroom, but they all look the same. It really looks straight out of an anime or manga.
After a bit of wandering around, I went back into the teacher`s office and just waited. When the principal finally arrived at the school, I was introduced to him and after a few formalities, told i could go home for the rest of the week. What?!… And so ended my first day at work!
Aug 24 – Recycle Shops and Iphones
The next day, one of my unofficial predecessors Jessica, and her boyfriend Kenji took me out to lunch. We went to Saitama and ate at a delicious indian restaurant.
I had curry that was so spicy I wanted to die to make it stop. As I sat there in misery, munching on my delicious butter chicken, naan bread and “Indian-level spicy” curry, I marveled at the fact that this was my first time actually ever eating at an Indian place. Japan really is the land of firsts.
This is Jess and Kenji. They are pretty cool.
After lunch, we checked out several `recycle shops` in the area (we were in Saitama, the neighbouring prefecture to the south, about 5 minutes from my house). Recycle shops are sort of unique to Japan. They`re kind of like second hand shops or pawn shops, but much more common and the quality of goods is very good for the price. Here are some of the things that we found at some of the recycle shops:
That`s right, you can sometimes find such ridiculous things as unopened, ultra limited edition PS3s and Louis Vuitton bags for outrageously low prices. Aside from selling second hand goods, if another store has excess inventory, it will sometimes get rid of it by selling it to the recycle shops, who then turn around and sell it for really low prices.
When we got back from lunch and recycle shopping, Ken informed me about some great news – our Iphones finally came in. Excitedly, we drove to Softbank and waited 3 whole hours to finally get them. Remember what I said about multiple levels of redundancy? It was present here too. Instead of doing the paperwork and booting the phones at the same time, the lady at Softbank did both completely separately, twice. I`m not sure if its a lack of common sense or an unreasonable adherence to procedure. I`m really not sure. In the meanwhile, I took pictures of the various phones at Softbank, and a weird looking moth while we waited for our Iphones.
Aug 29 – Tokyo Day Trip
Several days passed before anything really too interesting happened again, but the last day of my unofficial vacation would end off on a high note. Ken and I woke up early in the morning and got ready to take the train to Tokyo for a day trip. It was my first time back to Tokyo in almost a month so I was quite excited. From the Takasaki station, Tokyo is only about 1:45 minutes away, so the whole trip takes about 2 hours or so, which is not too bad. I picked up a new lens; a Canon EF 50mm F 1.8 II prime at BIC Camera in Shinjuku. This is an awesome lens for the price – I got if for about 9000 yen. There is just so much cool stuff at Japanese electronics stores. For example, check out this collection of multicoloured DSLR cameras:
After walking around Shinjuku, I visited a famous park in Tokyo called Ueno park which is home to the holiest temple in the Kanto region and the second holiest temple in all of Japan. There were lots of events running throughout the day. Near the entrance to the park, there was a big archery club meet.
As we walked down the gravel pathway, it was like stepping into another world. There were students dressed in traditional archery garb and students dressed in their school uniforms. The juxtaposition against the old forest was striking.
A little further down the path, we came across a great big wall of jugs. They were filled with a very special and very famous sake.
Finally we approached the massive wooden gate of the holy temple.
But before entering, one must cleanse themselves. We washed our hands and mouths with the special water and apparatus.
The atmosphere was very reverent and respectful. The Japanese people who were there took the ritual very seriously.
Inside the temple, there was a place to throw some change into a receptacle and to make a wish. At first I found it difficult to think of anything to ask because I already felt so blessed. Upon further consideration, I decided to wish for the continued well-being and success of my friend and family.
You could also write down a wish on a plaque and hang it onto a small peg, protruding out of a wooden wall. Lots of people did this, and there were some pretty funny and interesting ones.
Some were even in a different language. This one was written in Korean. Aja aja, fighting! Aja aja fighting means the same thing as Gambatte/Gambarimasu in Japanese.
There was some sort of traditional fusion dance competition going on outside of the quiet temple area, so afterwards I took pictures with various groups of dancers and performers.
There were lots of really amazing and intricately designed costumes.
After visiting the temple, it was off to Odaiba to eat a delicious hamburger. Yes, I travelled all the way to Odaiba, one of the trendiest shopping districts in the WORLD just for a hamburger – that`s how much I`ve been craving a real hamburger with real beef in it.
On the train to Odaiba I sat next to a pretty girl in a Kimono. The juxtaposition was interesting so I asked if I could take a picture of her. She said yes, so while taking pictures I asked if she spoke English. To my great surprise, she said yes, and it turned out she went to school in NYC and California. She now works for the production company that handles Pokemon. You meet some really interesting people in Tokyo! I wonder if I will ever run into her again?
The place I went to for dinner was called Kua Aina burger; a hawaiian burger chain. I got a burger with a slice of pineapple inside it. It was oishii (delicious)! How I miss REAL MEAT.
The view outside the restaurant was stunning. The Tokyo skyline, Rainbow Bridge, the harbour, and the Japanese liberty statue were all prominently on display. I stood there for about half an hour playing with the different settings on my camera, trying to get a good shot. This is the best I could come up with, although my meager photography skills don`t really do the incredible view enough justice. It really was a sight to behold.
Once dinner was finished, it was a rush to get back to the train station to make the last train that would get to the Takasaki station in time for the last train back home. I made it onto the train in time, but the train was delayed by 20 minutes due to something called a “human incident”. I`ll leave you to piece together what that means, pun intended.
Sadly that meant I could`t take the Takasaki train back to Fujioka. I had to get off at one stop before, at a stop called Shimachi station and walk an hour back home. It wasn`t that bad though and I eventually managed to find my way home where my futon lay in wait and sleep beckoned. And so ended my super long vacation. Work would finally actually start for real the following morning. What sorts of crazy adventures would I find myself in at school? As I would soon find out, everything I had experienced up until this point was just the beginning.