two orientations in tokyo … and little kindnesses   11 comments

Friday, March 31:  We have a full day orientation in Tokyo today, so two of my colleagues and I leave our apartment building at 6 a.m. to negotiate the Yokohama and Tokyo metro system.  We walk 20 minutes to Fuchinobe, where we take the JR Yokohama line (local) and get off at Nagatsuta.  We then switch to the Tokyo Denentoshi Line (Semi-Express) for Minami Kurihashi, getting off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s busiest station.  However, we don’t leave the station, as we switch to the Tokyo Metro Hanzoumon (Express) line, getting off finally at Kudanshita.  All of this takes 2 hours, door-to-door. Much of the time, the trains are packed, with standing room only.  We figured this would be the case on a Friday morning, and we were right.

The Tokyo metro is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Below is a photo of the map.  We are on the outskirts, indicated by the circle around Fuchinobe on the lower left quadrant of the map.  Yokohama is further south and to the right on the lower left quadrant.

One thing I love so far about the Tokyo metro is that every station has a restroom!  I wish the Washington, D.C. metro had the same.  It is so civilized!  It’s always a relief to know I can stop if I need to.

We don’t see this on the Yokohama line, but on the Tokyo line, white-gloved uniformed conductors with hats stand evenly spaced on the platform edge; they whistle and wave yellow cloths or red plastic batons to signal the platform is clear and the doors can be closed. It’s a delight to watch.

The Tokyo Metro system

At Kudanshita’s Exit 5, we’re to turn left at the Starbucks on the left and go straight to Bellesalle Kudan, a large building, possibly a conference center.  Since we’re an hour early for orientation, which begins at 9:00, we get coffee at a McDonald’s near the metro instead.

The morning session is for new teachers to Westgate.  In the afternoon, the returning teachers join us.  All of us are teaching in the accredited program.  Westgate’s other university program is called the extra-curricular program.  I believe that starts later in the month.  There are nine teachers at our university in Westgate’s accredited program.

At lunchtime, I go with two of my colleagues to an Indian restaurant and have an impressive airplane-shaped naan, dal curry and a mango lassi.  Some of us wish it wasn’t lunchtime so we could enjoy a beer.

After orientation ends at 5:00, and we are back on metro, we’re on the lookout for the Nagatsuta stop. We think we are going in the right direction but we’re not certain. A tall thin Japanese man with gleaming brown Oxfords, longish straight black hair and glasses which give him a nerdy-smart look, overhears us discussing this conundrum.  I notice him inclining his ear toward us and then checking the metro map and counting stops on his fingers. I say to my colleagues “He’s helping us,” and he turns to us and tells us we have four more stops, saying Nagatsuta and putting up 4 fingers.  When we get to the station, he says, “Here.”  He is so kind to help us out without speaking any English and without us asking.  I say “arigato” and bow to him.

It is rainy and cold as we leave the station and the guys are walking so fast I am practically running to keep up with them.  Tobias doesn’t have an umbrella and wonders whether he should go out of his way to the big pink superstore to buy one.  He decides against it, and on one long stretch on the way home, a man suddenly appears and offers a bright green umbrella to him.  Two kindnesses in one day.  I say, “All we need is a little kindness in the world.”  I feel especially happy for these gifts, and relieved to be far away from the U.S.A., where kindness is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Joe and I go to the 7-11 for a few things.  Suddenly, Tobias, who had gone straight back to his apartment, comes to the 7-11 to warn us that the guy selling television subscriptions is hanging around the apartment building.  I don’t want to pay for using the television in my apartment as I never watch it.  Everything on it is in Japanese, except maybe a couple of stations, and I watch everything I need on my computer.  We have been advised not to answer the door to this guy.  Later, he returns, close to 8:30 p.m., knocking and ringing the doorbell, but I pretend I’m not home and don’t answer the door.

Today’s dictionary word of the day is Weltschmerz (Velt-shmerts), which is German.  It means: sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.  The word makes me think of the Japanese man on the train, who seemed a little sad and resigned, and Mary MacKenzie’s complicated and doomed love affair with a Japanese nobleman in The Ginger Tree, and the line from the novel: “There is nothing like living in a country as an enemy alien to really thin down the roster of your friends.”

I was happy to get home to my warm apartment (well, it took a while to warm it up after such a cold and rainy day), especially after the long walk in the rain in my flimsy clothes.  I enjoyed a prepared dinner from 7-11 of tiny mussels with veggies on rice, spicy cucumbers, and an Asahi beer.

Saturday, April 1:  Luckily we don’t have to go into Tokyo for our campus-specific orientation until 10:00, so I have a bit of a leisurely morning.  I prepare my first breakfast in my tiny frying pan: scrambled eggs with grape tomatoes – except without a spatula. Another thing to add to my list. Now that I’ve bought a few things and my suitcases have been unpacked, my apartment is starting to look a little cozier.

I meet my colleagues by the vending machine at 10:00 a.m. and we’re on our way to a different location in Tokyo, the Westgate Corporation office.  This time we walk 20 minutes, take the Yokohama Line to Machida (7 min), then get on the Odakyu Line Rapid Express for Shinjuku (26 min), which is standing room only.  At Yoyogi-Uehara we transfer to the Tokyo-Metro Chiyoda Line (23 minutes).  We get off this line at Yushima.  All told it’s about an hour and 20 minutes.

As soon as we exit the Yushima Station, we go in search of a ramen restaurant.  One of my colleagues has lived off and on in Japan for eight years, so he knows exactly what to look for.  We find a cozy little spot where we order from a machine covered in pictures.  I have no idea what I am going to get, but the picture looks enticing and a young man informs me that it has baby shrimp in it (always a selling point!), as well as some minced pork.  We sit at the bar and soon the waitress brings three steaming bowls.  I have ordered #2 spicy (out of 5), and it is perfect.  I could have eaten a bottomless bowl of this soup.  This is the best meal I’ve eaten in Japan so far.  I guess since most of my meals have come from 7-11, that’s not surprising!

ramen noodles with pork and shrimp and #2 spicy broth

During lunch, I talk with a young Japanese man who works in quality control at a machine parts factory.  He is heading to work after lunch. He’s very friendly and I really appreciate him for making an effort to speak English with us despite it being a struggle for him.

It turns out the Westgate office looks somewhat like an apartment made into office space.  It’s a warm and inviting place for a small group meeting.  Reiko, CDT (Curriculum Development and Training), is very organized and has a laid-back demeanor. We get our schedule and it looks like I’ll be teaching three classes a day on M, Th, and F, 90 minutes each, around 20 students in each class.  Each of the three classes will be the same lesson, much like what I had in China, except I had four of the same class in China. That means one prepared lesson plan per day.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll also be teaching the three classes, but spread over two days.  It’s good, because it looks like we have planning time built into the schedule.  I will also have an English Camp class to lead, which is conversation where students can just drop in.  It seems I’ll be teaching until 6:30 three nights at week on M, Th and F.  As a morning person, that isn’t ideal.

After our orientation, we backtrack to Fuchinobe by metro, and I peel off to visit the pink superstore, where I buy a bedside lamp (it’s really a desk lamp, but it works), a 3-drawer plastic container for my jewelry, and more hangers.  When I return home, I hang up the rest of my clothes and store my suitcases in the loft.  I’m feeling pretty organized. 🙂

For dinner, since I had a big lunch and am tired from our day and from lugging stuff home, I eat half of a shrimp and pasta dish I got, again from my trusty 7-11, accompanied by a slice of bread and an Asahi beer.

We have the next two days off, so I plan tomorrow to take the same metro route I took today, and visit Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms; the peak is supposed to be this weekend. I’m using Walk #9 from my Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City book.  The main problem with this book is that it doesn’t tell you the distance or the time.  The walk looks pretty exhaustive.  We’ll see how that goes. 🙂

11 responses to “two orientations in tokyo … and little kindnesses

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  1. And the adventure begins. Your little apartment looks gorgeous.

  2. The metro map looks very complicated but you seem to be doing fine. And it is lovely that people are so friendly and helpful towards you. Your flat is bijou but looks very clean and perfect for one person. Not sure how you will manage a cocktail hour in there though, it might be a tight squeeze 🙂 I look forward to seeing the cherry blossom with you, hope it is as wonderful as I have heard and seen (in pictures), but I do recall a post by you of the cherry blossom in Washington I think, which was pretty impressive too. Take care Cathy and have fun!!

    • That metro is very complicated! It always helps when you come to a new place to meet other teachers who have been here for a while; one teacher in particular has taught 8 semesters with Westgate in different places, so he knew a lot about the metro. The flat seems brand new and is very clean, and you’re right, it’s cozy and perfect for one person. What more do I need? It’s funny how little you can learn to live with when you have to. Haha, the cocktail hour will be very difficult to do in here, but we could have one with standing room only, like the Tokyo metro! Actually, Ueno Park was so packed (as packed as Shanghai was when I went there on Labor Day), so I thought the Washington cherry blossoms were more enjoyable and they are in a prettier setting. But it was fun for people-watching, and fun just to be on an adventure! Tokyo is definitely sensory overload! I really hope to visit Yokohama this weekend, if the weather is good (sadly, it looks iffy now). Thanks for the good luck wishes, Jude! 🙂

  3. Thank you for including such details in your post. This really gives the clear sense of time and space for your subway adventures. Is there a supermarket to stock up on groceries? Maybe you can get a basket for your new bike! Looking forward to photos of the cherry blossoms!

    • Thanks so much, Vivian. There are several supermarkets nearby, but to be honest, I have so little counter space and so few cooking utensils, it’s almost better and cheaper to eat prepared meals. My new bike has a basket, which is very handy for shopping. I’ll be posting the cherry blossoms soon, but I must warn you, they were slightly past their prime. 🙂

  4. Ohayo!! Genki, desu!!??

    FINALLY!! What a terrific post and thank you for the one about your departure!! You look AMAZING in that photo!!!

    I am so glad you are able to go to Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms!! I really loved that park, and when I got married my husband and I went there every Sunday to drink wine and have a picnic! All the station names sound familiar as do the subway lines! I am so looking forward to more of your stories of unexpected random acts of kindness as that will happen a lot in Tokyo! I am so glad that has not changed since I left in 1994.

    I LOVED Tokyu Hands!! It is a fantasy land but yes, expensive, though your 6000 yen purchases seemed a bit too pricey for what you bought!! Thank God for 100 yen shops!!!

    I laughed about the TV man! I had a battle with him, too and that was well before there were any English channels! I had to scream at him to make him go away as if I was going to pay for Japanese TV! Perhaps you were dealing with the son of the man who harrassed me! Hahaha!

    I think you are off to a great start, and lucky you done at 6.30!! I used to have my last class Mon-Thurs at 6.45-8.45 pm. I had that schedule for years, and only morning classes no afternoon classes, meaning I was at work from 8 am to 9 pm every day, with only a few hours off in the afternoon. It was awful, and then working private students all weekend once my marriage started to fall apart.

    I look so forward to your next post! And how nice was it to have the kind of organization upon arrival you had!! Oman was not like that, not for me anyway, arriving at 1.00 am with no one waiting for me for over an hour, then the long drive to Nizwa! At least I did have a bottle of water in my room and two bottles of wine in my bag from the airport.

    I hope you do find a nice izakaya pub near your flat, the 7-11 is getting far too much of your business!

    Until next time, ja neh!!!!


    • Konban wa! Ogenki desu ka? (Good evening! How are you?) Haha, I really haven’t learned much Japanese at all. Thanks for your kind words about the blog post. As you know, it’s quite time consuming and with all the pictures I took at Ueno, it might be slow getting my next post written, especially now that school is starting. Drinking wine and having a picnic with your husband must have been fun, but if you went at hanami, you must have had to stake out your real estate. It was as packed as Shanghai was when I went there on Labor Day! Every inch of grass was occupied by picnickers. Sadly, the cherry blossoms were slightly past prime, but it was an adventure nonetheless. The random acts of kindness warm my heart, and Japan in general seems like such a polite place all around. I don’t think I’ll be returning to Tokyu Hands any time soon; the things I bought there were way too expensive! You’re right, the 100 yen store is my friend!

      I plan to continue to ignore the TV man, and hopefully he will stop bothering me. Luckily I have a camera where I can see who is at my door. He may be the son of the man who visited you. 🙂

      I got my schedule today when I went to campus: 9:30-18:30 M, W, F and 8:40-17:40 T, Th. I’ll have to post pics of the campus soon. I have so many things already backed up to write about.

      I would hate a schedule where I work both morning and night (split schedule).

      The organization here is fantastic so far. It is quite different from every other place I’ve been. Korea wasn’t bad in that way either. But both China and Oman were fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants in comparison. I’m very organized, so I really appreciate it.

      I’m not sure what an izakaya pub is. Please do enlighten me. I’m sure there must be one around; I just need to find it!

      Ok, on to start working on my next blog. Tomorrow is a prep day, and then classes start on Friday!

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