Archive for April 30, 2017

an april cocktail hour at the yakatori grill   5 comments

Sunday, April 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my first cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local yakatori grill tonight because my apartment is either a rabbit hut or a dog kennel, depending on who is labeling it. You can just order what you like at the bar.  As for me, I’m having my favorite Japanese beverages: a sip of hot sake followed by a cold swig of Sapporo beer.  My sister in L.A. taught me that combination, and I’m sticking with it here in Japan.

I hope all is well with you.  I apologize that I haven’t been able to keep up with all my fellow bloggers and friends as I would like.  I work 9 hours a day, walk a half-hour to and from work each day, and then collapse in the evenings.  Every weekend day I go out, trying to see as much of Japan as I can in the short four months I have.  Then I edit my pictures and post blogs about my explorations.  I simply don’t have the time to keep up as I would like.  I figure there will be time for that when I return home, as I’ll have no job and nothing to occupy my time.  But here, now, I must take advantage of this opportunity to explore Japan.

Please do tell me about your spring. I hope yours hasn’t been as cold and rainy as mine has been here in Japan.  Have you planned any travels or taken any trips? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books?  Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?  Have you done any cooking?  Have you gone on any political rants?  (I have gone on a lot of those lately!)

As for me, this month has been all about getting acclimated to a new apartment, new job, new neighborhood, and new culture. This is just the kind of adventure I love, living and working in a place, getting immersed in the culture, digging beneath the surface.  It always gives me a boost of confidence when I am able to successfully negotiate challenges under these circumstances.  Here are a few tidbits about my month.

Friday, April 7:  Today was my first day of classes.  I teach G, H and I levels, a total of 56 students.  “A” is the lowest and “L” is the highest, so I teach the intermediate, or second from the top quarter, of the second year students. It went fairly well, except I realized right away that my “G” class was a very low-level.  A group of girls and two boys sat together at the back of the room and seemed totally disconnected from the classroom lesson. My “H” class was wonderful, but my “I” class, the last class of the day, from 4:50-6:20, had 8 boys who sat at the back of the class cutting up, and the girls were pretty chatty and noisy as well. Because of the “G” and “I” classes, I realized right away I needed to create seating charts. I created one immediately, separating all boys in the “I” class, and separating the group of low-level seemingly disinterested students in the “G” class.  This also helped me to learn the Japanese names; this was quite a learning curve as I knew nothing about Japanese names.  In China, all my Chinese students took English names, but that is not the case in Japan.  I didn’t know boys’ names from girls’ names; neither did I know how to pronounce any of them, so I was one confused teacher.  I’m sure my students found it quite amusing.

Our administrator met with us to talk about an urgent issue: the sponges in the “pantry,” which I would call the employee kitchen.  This kitchen is mostly for the Japanese staff, as we foreign teachers are pretty much relegated to our own office, caged off from the rest of the staff.  We’ve been told not to speak to the Japanese staff unless necessary.

In the meeting, we were informed that the two small pink sponges on the right of the sink are expressly for wiping the countertops. The large yellow one is for cleaning oily things like Bento boxes.  The large pink sponge next to the yellow one is for cleaning glasses and cups.

Our administrator said, “Sorry. You know — this is Japan,” and she laughed.  🙂

I have about a half-hour walk to work every day, and the first day my feet were killing me because I wore my work flats with the required knee-high stockings.  I decided I would need to wear walking shoes to work; it would be impossible to wear work shoes for a half-hour walk each way.

My first full week of work was stressful with planning and teaching; the students are a lower level than I expected, and they don’t seem motivated.  Planning time seemed in short supply, but my goal from the beginning was to never bring work home with me; after all, I am in the office 9 hours a day.  I was able to do this in Oman, and my goal is to confine my work to the office here too.

Monday, April 10: My Monday lesson was a “shock lecture,” the purpose being to shock the students into realizing how difficult this Academic (Applied Skills) course will be.  The students were to practice note-taking while listening to a high-level lecture about genetics and Mendel and pea plants.  If they managed to take any notes, it was just random words; they certainly had no understanding of the lecture.  It was long and boring as hell.  The biggest problems with the lecture for them were: 1) vocabulary; 2) the topic; 3) speed of delivery; 4) their inability to concentrate; and 5) the length of the lecture, according to a survey I did in class. In effect, everything.

Tuesday, April 11: It rained all day today. It was cold everywhere, classrooms included. In the evening, walking home, I ran into my colleague Tobi and we decided to stop for dinner at a Japanese yakatori grill on our way home.  The husband and wife owners were kind and jovial and the place was warm and cozy.  The menu was only in Japanese and the owners spoke no English, so it was a challenge to communicate what we wanted to eat.  We didn’t even know what kind of restaurant it was at the time!  We had sake and beer, peppers, mushrooms, eggplant, shishito peppers, and yakatori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The preparation of yakitori involves skewering the meat with kushi, a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials. Afterwards, the skewers are grilled over a charcoal fire. The bill was quite high however, and I wasn’t sure of the prices of each item we got.

a mom-and-pop yakitori grill in fuchinobe

The bar had a bunch of Hello Kitty things lined up on it.  On the wall over our table were unopened packages of weird things from about 40 years ago, such as stamped postcards and old miniature toys.

hello, kitty!

After leaving the restaurant in the wind and rain, I broke my second umbrella when the wind kept blowing it inside out.

Thursday, April 13: Less than one week after classes started, my “I” class was out of control.  The boys kept laughing it up, speaking Japanese, and being generally disruptive. One student kept putting his jacket on upside down and then passing it to his friends, who also put it on upside down. I could see the class was spinning out of control, so I had to figure out what I would do to solve the problem.  One of the reasons I don’t like teaching any students below university age is because of discipline problems, and this behavior was like that of middle-school students. I knew this semester would be a disaster if I didn’t get that class under control.

Friday, April 14:  I had a talk with my “I” class about their behavior.  I told them their disruptive behavior yesterday was a big problem for me.  I said, “They’re paying me a lot of money to come all the way from the USA (not really true!) to help you improve your English so your Study Abroad will be successful.  Yesterday, I felt like I was teaching middle school.  That’s exactly why I teach university students and I refuse to teach middle school because I don’t need those kinds of problems in my life. If you are interested in studying  with me, I’m interested in helping, but if you’re not, I’m not interested.”  At that point, I rolled out a new seating chart, separating all the boys.  They weren’t happy about that, but they finally settled down and worked well together. Near the end of class, I thanked them for being so respectful and cooperative and I allowed them to leave 5 minutes early.

The school cafeteria is pretty good and the food is reasonably priced; there, we can get hot udon or soba noodles, or a white sesame ramen.  My colleague Graham, a Brit, told me he tells the cafeteria servers to give him “squashy soup,” which means a lot of noodles but only a little broth. Later, I was informed by a Japanese friend, it should be “skoshi” soup.  When I went to lunch with my Irish colleague Dee one day, she forgot what she was supposed to say and she said “squishy soup, please.”  I got a big laugh out of that.

Dee told a story of hanging her laundry out to dry on her balcony.  One of her shirts fell off the balcony behind a wall.  A young Japanese man brought it back to her on a hanger all washed and ironed; he had found it and cleaned it because it had gotten dirty when it fell.  This is typical of kindnesses offered by the Japanese.

Friday, April 21: Today’s class was on counterarguments and rebuttals.  I nominated a student to do a role play with me at the front of the class.  The student was to play a teenager who asks his mother to borrow her car to drive to Nagano with 3 friends.  The teen just got his driver’s license 6 months ago and has driven 10 times with no problems.

In class “I,” what I call my rambunctious class, one boy student, Daigo, got up to play the teenager.  Here is the role play we had.

  • Daigo: Can I borrow the car to drive to Nagano?
  • Me: Who are you going with?
  • Daigo: My friend’s mother.
  • Me: Just you and her, alone?
  • Daigo: Yes.
  • Me: It’s not appropriate for you to go alone with your friend’s mother. She’s twice your age!
  • Daigo: But I’m in love with her.
  • Me:  She’s married!  You cannot borrow the car and you cannot go with her.
  • Daigo: But I want to go.  Her husband works and she’s lonely.  I love her!

The class was cracking up laughing at this ridiculous role play, and I was laughing right along with them. It was quite funny, but I’m not sure they got the whole idea that this was a counter argument and rebuttal, because later, when they had to write a thesis statement with a counter argument and rebuttal, their rebuttals were actually more counterarguments against the original thesis!

Another student in class “I” fell asleep in class.  I stood over him and said, “Wake up.  If you don’t wake up, I’m going to count you absent. If you’re going to sleep, then you need to leave the class.”  Then Lisa behind him fell asleep!  Ugh.  I hate these kinds of problems!

Saturday, April 22:  Today I went shopping in Machida, a busy commercial area two stops away from Fuchinobe. When I arrived, I bought a cinnamon waffle, which I’ve seen every time I’ve gone to Machida to change to the Odakyu Line. But there was nowhere to sit and eat it, and I remembered I learned that the Japanese think it rude to eat while walking.  I went to Starbucks and ordered a half a club sandwich just so I could sit down and eat my waffle!

I learned a few things while shopping in Japan.

  1. You have to take your shoes off before entering a dressing room, especially when there is carpet in there.
  2. You have to wear a hood over your head to protect tops from makeup or hair dirt or oil. The hood is made of a material similar to dryer sheets like Bounce. It’s a pain because the hood gets all caught up in the neck of the blouse when you pull it over your head, and it comes off anyway!

Monday, April 24: When I got home at around 7:30, after stopping at Gourmet City for some groceries, I realized that my company phone wasn’t in my purse.  I’ve heard we will be charged an exorbitant sum if we lose that phone, so, in a panic, after gobbling down some sushi and a few sips of beer, I hopped on my bicycle and rode at top speed to the university.  I knew I’d never be able to sleep at night without knowing if I’d simply left the phone in the office or permanently lost it.  Luckily, I found the phone sitting right on top of my desk.  Whew!

In April, I kept busy watching Frankie and Grace and Love on Netflix in my down time. I’ve also been plodding through The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi.

I hope you’ll tell me about your spring!  Since I’m so far behind on my cocktail hours, a May cocktail hour will follow shortly. 🙂


from tokyo station to the imperial palace outer gardens, topped off by a beer garden in hibiya {walking tour 1}   11 comments

Sunday, April 30:  We had to work six days this past week, Monday-Saturday; the Saturday was to make up for one of the Golden Week holidays we’ll miss in the coming week.  Actually, Saturday was one of the official holidays, as April 29 is Showa Day, which honors the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, the reigning Emperor before, during, and after World War II (from 1926 – 1989).  Also part of Golden Week are three other holidays: Constitution Memorial Day, on May 3, to commemorate the country’s constitution, which came into effect on May 3, 1947; Arbor Day, also known as Greenery Day or Midori no Hi, on May 4, which became a holiday simply because it falls between two other holidays (Japanese holiday law states that a day that falls between two holidays will also be a holiday); and finally Children’s Day on May 5, a day set aside to respect children’s personalities and to celebrate their happiness. It was formerly known as Boys’ Day; families prayed for the health and future success of their sons by hanging up carp streamers and displaying samurai dolls, both symbolizing strength, power and success in life.  Now the celebration is for all children.

When I lived in China, I also had to work a couple of Saturdays to make up for holidays.  I don’t really understand this Asian mentality: how is something considered a holiday if you don’t truly get it off? 🙂

So after 6 days of work, with only Sunday off before having to return to work on Monday, I debate whether I should rest or venture out.  Because I’m me, of course I venture out, to follow Walking Tour 1 from Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Mostly Exciting City: Marunouchi, The Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park.

Marunouchi means “Within the Moats;” at one time it housed the mansions of the daimyo most favored by the Tokugawa shoguns. For 260 years, the most powerful military leaders of Japan occupied this area.

It takes me nearly an hour and a half to get to Tokyo Station, where the walk begins. The red-brick Renaissance-style station was opened in 1914, and was meant as a memorial for Japan’s victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.  It was used only by royalty (Tokyo: 29 Walks).

Tokyo Station

From the western side of Tokyo Station, I head west, with the Marunouchi Building to the left and the Sin-Marunouchi Building to the right; both boast chic restaurants, fashionable shops and high-end offices.  I keep heading west until I reach Hibiya-dori, which runs along Babasaki-bari (Moat in Front of the Horse Grounds) and the beginning of the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens.

The moat’s unusual name come from a 1635 display of horsemanship presented by a delegation from the then dependent kingdom of Korea to the shogun. On the other side of the moat are the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens.

first view of the moat

Before entering the Imperial Palace Outer Garden, I walk south down Hibiya-dori until I come to the corner of the moat; at this point I turn around and head north, noting the important buildings along the moat, but not quite knowing which building is which because of the Japanese signs.

the corner of palace grounds

Below is the Imperial Theater, which opened in 1911 and was the first major Western-style theater in Tokyo.

Imperial Theater (Teikoku Gekijo)

DN Tower 21, formerly the Dai Ichi Insurance Building, was built in 1938 in what was the style favored by authoritarian governments of that period.  In the original building, from September 15, 1945 until April 11, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur, called the “Blue-eyed Shogun” by the Japanese, had his headquarters as the military and civilian representative of the Allied forces at the end of World War II.  I don’t take a picture of this building.

The Meiji Mutual Life Insurance Building sits where the shogun’s fire department was once located.  They had a thankless and often unsuccessful job putting out the numerous fires that broke out in Tokyo. In the Long Sleeves Fire of 1657, even the shogun’s castle was consumed and destroyed by fire.

Meiji Mutual Life Insurance Co. Building

Looking lengthwise along the moat

looking to the northeast along the moat

I follow the bridge leading into the Outer Gardens; these lie in front of the walls of the palace grounds.  I’m greeted by the 1897 bronze equestrian statue of Kusunoki Masashige, created by order of the Meiji government to promote the government’s new creed of loyalty to the Imperial House and the emperor.  The government emphasized the need to be ready to sacrifice oneself for emperor and nation.  Kusunoki had these virtues: he defended Emperor Go-Daigo and his imperial prerogatives in the 1300s and then committed seppuku, or ceremonial suicide, after he failed defending the emperor against Ashikaga Takauji’s usurpation of power in 1336.

Kusunoki Masashige Statue

Kusunoki Masashige Statue

I continue my walk north past some unusual pine trees at the northeast end of the Outer Garden.

Strange trees in the Imperial Palace Outer Garden

tree shadows

In the 1960s, the Wadakura Fountain Park was added to the Outer Gardens to celebrate the wedding of the then crown prince (now Akihito, reigning emperor of Japan, who will be renamed Emperor Heisei upon his death).

Wadakura Fountain Park

At the end of the Outer Garden near Wadakura Fountain Park, another moat separates the palace walls from the public park; Tatsumi-Yagura and the Visitor’s Center sit on one corner. Today’s Imperial Palace is located on raised ground with walls of huge stones brought by boat in the 1600s from the Izu Peninsula some 60 miles southwest of Tokyo.  In 1873 the last of the Tokugawa buildings burned down, and the emperor and empress were forced to move to the Akasaka Palace Grounds.


The public is allowed on to the palace grounds only twice a year: on the emperor’s December 23rd birthday and at the start of the New Year on January 2. On December 23, the emperor greets the public from the balcony of the Kyuden (Hall of State); on the New Year holiday, the imperial family greets the public from the same balcony.


More interesting trees

When the public is allowed into the palace grounds, they enter over the 1888 Nijubashi Bridge.  The most photogenic place in the Outer Gardens is the spot shown in the photo below, with the bridge in front and Fushimi Yagura, one of the three remaining fortified towers of the Tokugawa castle, in the background. They both seem to rise from the imperial moat.

Nijubashi Bridge & Fushimi Yagura

During the militaristic period of the 1930s and 1940s, the bridge, the Fushimi Tower, and the palace grounds became a symbol of patriotism for the Japanese, so much so that when Japan capitulated at the end of World War II, the more fanatical of the imperial army officers committed ceremonial suicide to atone for Japan’s loss of honor.

Nijubashi Bridge & Fushimi Yagura

another corner of the wall

Finally, I’ve come almost full circle.  I leave the Imperial Palace Outer Gardens, and head east on Harumi-dori toward Hibiya Park.  A large glossy crow stands on the bank of the Sakurada-bari.

a crow on the bank of Sakurada-bari

I pass the Ministry of Justice Building on the right before getting to Hibiya Park.  Two German architects wanted to combine the best of Western and Japanese architecture, but the government, in the push for modernization in the 1890s, insisted on the more Western design.  What I love today are the Koinobori, or “carp streamers” in Japanese; these are carp-shaped windsocks flown to celebrate Children’s Day on May 5.

Ministry of Finance with carp flags

Ministry of Finance

At the north end of Hibiya Park, I find an inviting atmosphere at the Hibiya Saroh Beer Terrace 1949.  The outdoor cafe is pleasantly situated amongst trees blowing gently in a cool breeze. Japanese families are drinking beer and eating from a limited menu.  I would love to have a beer, but instead I opt for a glass of white wine and a tortilla pizza with coriander.  I’m expecting to find coriander sprinkled over the pizza, but when it comes out, it’s covered with a heap of fresh cilantro.  The whole experience — the wine, the pleasant atmosphere, the perfect weather, the delicious cilantro-covered pizza — makes me feel serene and joyous.  It’s moments like these I live for when exploring in foreign lands.

Hibiya Saroh Beer Terrace 1949

After lunch, I’m feeling a bit sleepy from the wine, so I take a leisurely walk through Hibiya Park, which is quite pleasant.

Hibiya Park

Wedding venue at Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

flowers at Hibiya Park

delicates at Hibiya Park

pond at Hibiya Park

Hibiya Park

I continue following the walk after leaving the park, passing the Imperial Hotel; the original portion was completed in 1890, but when it proved too small for the growing Tokyo, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to add more to the old hotel in 1915.  After a 7-year construction period, with many cost overruns, it opened in 1922, just as the original Imperial Hotel in front of it burned down, and one year before the Kanto earthquake of 1923.

Imperial Hotel

Finally, I walk through the theater district, passing the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater; this theater served as the Ernie Pyle Theater for American troops during the military occupation of Japan after 1945.

Takarazuka Theater

I’m not sure of the significance of the sculpture in front of Takarazuka Theater.

sculpture in front of Takarazuka Theater

Next door, and across from the Imperial Hotel, is the Nissei Theater, offering ballet and opera in season and concerts and movies at other times.

Nissei Theater

now playing at Nissei Theater

As I make my way back to the metro, I pass a little shrine stuck in the middle of the theater area of central Tokyo.  It’s a strange place to find a little shrine, but it’s a delightful surprise in the midst of today’s ultra-modern concrete city.

small shrine on a Tokyo city street

Here is my route to Tokyo Station this morning: Fuchinobe > Higashi-Kanagawa > Tokyo Station (1 hour 19 minutes).

Total steps today: 18,911 (8.01 miles).

Back to work tomorrow. 😦




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