Archive for the ‘Tokyo Metro’ Category

the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}   20 comments

Sunday, April 9:  After leaving Shinjuku Gyoen and taking the metro back to Shinjuku Station, I walk out the west side of the station to see the Skyscraper District.  Shinjuku is the world’s busiest train station, handling over 3.6 million passengers a day. With over 200 exits and numerous platforms spread out over a large area, it serves as an essential transit hub for the Tokyo rail and subway network as well as rail links throughout the greater Kanto region.  Department stores cover nearly all sides, according to the Shinjuku Station website.

I’m so confused, I’m not really sure where to exit, but I just see a random west exit and emerge from the depths.  This is my view when I first exit.

the view west of Shinjuku Station

Below is one exit, but not the one from which I came. It’s still raining like the devil.

One of Shinjuku’s 200 exits

Rainy day in Shinjuku

It’s such a drab day, I have to stop to take a picture of a colorful florist.

One of my colleagues had on a cute outfit at work the other day and she said she bought it at Uni Qlo.  I find one here in Shinjuku, so of course I have to go in to explore.  Sadly, I come out empty-handed.

Shopping street in Shinjuku

JUMBO

I have a hard time getting oriented.  There are roads going out into all directions and walkways over the roads.  I wander around and it’s raining so hard, I can’t even get my map out to find my bearings.  I wander around randomly for a while until I find someplace to eat.

Shinjuku Sompo building

streets of Shinjuku

Paloma

Skyscraper District of Shinjuku

There are several restaurants around the area, including one conveyor belt sushi restaurant that is packed with people.  I decide on 3rd Burger.

I’m not too happy with my lunch, as the hamburger “with vegetables” is rather chewy.  However, it is a pleasant place to find relief from the rain and to study my map, rather than continue to wander around haphazardly.

Road construction in Shinjuku

The most noteworthy skyscraper I see first is the Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Head Office Building, corporate headquarters for Sompo Japan Insurance.  At 200 metres (656 ft), the building is the 28th tallest building in Tokyo and the 33rd tallest in Japan.  Inside this building is the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art. It’s named for the Japanese artist who is known for his paintings of young women.  It sounds appealing, and I try to go in but sadly find it is closed today.  It would have been a great way to stay dry for an hour or two.

Sompo Japan Building

The 54-story Shinjuku Center Building has a free observation deck on its 53rd floor, but I don’t bother going up since I won’t be able to see anything anyway.  It serves as the headquarters of the Taisei Corporation and is the workplace for 10,000 people, with 25,000 visitors.  It was featured in the 1984 film, The Return of Godzilla.

Shinjuku Center Building

The most fabulous building in my eyes is the 50-story, 204-meter (669 feet), Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. The building is home to three educational institutions: Tokyo Mode Gakuen (fashion vocational school), HAL Tokyo (special technology and design college), and Shuto Ikō (medical college). Completed in October 2008, the tower is the second-tallest educational building in the world and is the 17th-tallest building in Tokyo.

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

Shinjuku Sompo building

Shinjuku Center Building

Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower

I’m surprised to find the LOVE sculpture that originates in Philadelphia.

LOVE at Shinjuku

While walking around in Shinjuku, a gust of wind catches my umbrella and turns it inside out, breaking one of the ribs.  One of the metal pieces is sticking out dangerously, and I can’t help but think it might poke my eye out. As I head to the Family Mart to buy a new one, it stops raining. I put my umbrella in the umbrella stand and go inside the Family Mart to check out what’s available.  Since I already spent an outrageous sum of 2,800 yen (~$26) to buy my umbrella at Tokyu Hands, I’m not keen to spend another 1,280 (~$12) today if I no longer need to.  I only brought a certain amount of money to hold me until pay-day on April 26, and I need to make my money last. I forego the new umbrella and leave my broken one in the rack.  I would have just trashed it, but as Tokyo has such strict rules about what you can put in the trash, I wasn’t sure of how to dispose of it.

Shinjuku

karaoke at Shinjuku

Shinjuku

Busy crossing at Shinjuku

I return to Shinjuku Station to walk over to the east side of the station.  As soon as I exit the station on the east side, two nice Japanese ladies standing near an information area ask me where I’m going.  I tell them I’m in search of Hanazono Shrine. They kindly direct me, and as I make my way there, it starts to rain again.  It’s a light drizzle at first, so I think I might be okay.

eastern portion of Shinjuku

Shopping street east of Shinjuku Station

However, as soon as I get to the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, it starts to pour.  I’m going to get drenched without an umbrella.  I remember seeing another Family Mart near the shrine, so I backtrack and buy the 1,280 yen umbrella, which is much sturdier than my expensive Tokyu Hands one.  I walk back to the shrine, still brilliantly vermillion even in the rain.  It houses the guardian deity of Shinjuku.

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono-jinji Shrine dates back to before the founding of the city of Edo, the former name of Tokyo and seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate,which ruled Japan from 1603 to 1868.  The shrine sits on the site of a garden that belonged to the Hanazono branch of the Tokugawa clan, which is why the name of this Inari Shrine is also that of a daimyō family; these were powerful Japanese feudal lords who, until their decline in the early Meiji period, ruled most of Japan from their vast, hereditary land holdings.  Inari is responsible for many things, one of which is the welfare of merchants.  This leads many local shopkeepers to pray here for financial success.

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

vermillion torii at Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono Shrine

large torii gate at the entrance to Hanazono Shrine

It’s feeling pretty desolate here at Hanazono, as even the vendors from the Sunday flea market are almost packed up. It’s 3:00 p.m. now, and I am tired of the day and of the rain, so I head back to Shinjuku Station to make my way home.  Before I descend, I see this colorfully painted metal utility box.  It makes me smile before I weave through the crowds at Shinjuku to get back on the train.

a utilitarian metal box turned to art

This time, I take the Rapid Express Odakyu line for Machida, and then to Fuchinobe, where I ride my bicycle home in the rain. Upon returning home, I enjoy a glass of wine and actually cook myself a meal of salmon with some prepared asparagus and a vegetable rice patty.  I’ve been watching the newest season of Grace & Frankie; soon after I settle in to watch, I drift off to sleep, exhausted from the day.

Steps on this walk: 19,560 (8.29 miles).  I didn’t do the entire walk today as I wasn’t that interested in all the skyscrapers and was feeling defeated by the rain. 😦

 

hanami: shinobazu pond, house of taikan yokoyama, ameyoko shopping street {walking tour 9, part 1}   2 comments

Sunday, April 2:  I’ve still not adjusted to Japan time, so I am awake a couple of hours in the middle of the night.  Because of that, I sleep in till 8:00.  It feels so good once I go back to sleep, I don’t want to climb out from under my cozy futon.

When I finally get up, I make myself some fried eggs, a bit difficult without a spatula.  I use a fork, and it is a mess. I also have a carton of cold milk tea from 7-11 which I heat up, but I resolve not to drink tea again.  I’m a coffee person, through and through.

I have been undecided about doing a big outing today because the weather forecast is cloudy and cold. We also have off Monday, and the forecast is better for Monday.  However, the skies have hints of blue this morning, so I rethink my plans. Today is supposed to be the peak of cherry blossoms in Tokyo and I’ve been told THE place to see them is Ueno Park. Cherry-blossom viewing is called hanami in Japanese, and as it’s Sunday and peak time, I expect there will be huge crowds.  Still, I guess that’s what hanami is all about – the whole festive atmosphere and mingling with millions of Japanese all at once.  Walking Tour 9 in my book, Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, covers Ueno, so I figure I’ll do that. Ueno Park has a bunch of museums within it, and since they all seem to be closed on Mondays, I’ll be limited in my choices if I wait till Monday. Also, for my first solo outing negotiating the Tokyo metro, it won’t be too intimidating as it’s the exact route I took yesterday for our orientation.

All this figuring and rethinking leads me to a very late start, which I’ll come to regret later.

I debate whether to ride my bicycle to metro (a 20-minute walk) because I hadn’t seen a bicycle parking area.  If I rode my bike all the way there and couldn’t find a place to park, I’d have to ride back home and then walk.  I ask a couple of Japanese people along the way, including the bicycle shop man and his mother, but no one understands me.  Finally, a young Japanese woman points me to the left of the station, a couple of blocks down.  I see people disappearing into a garage opening pushing their bikes, so, voila, I follow them.  There are steps bordered by ramps leading to a second level and I’ve found the bicycle parking lot. I find a less crowded area toward the back, so I park there, but when I ask a man in business attire if I need to pay, he tells me in his limited English that the back area is for yearly pass holders.  He says because it’s Sunday, I don’t have to pay, but I would have to pay Monday-Friday.  At first he tells me 1,000 yen, and when I look shocked, he corrects himself and says 100 yen.  He motions that I should park near the front of the parking lot.

After the long metro ride, which I won’t cover in detail as it’s the same one I took yesterday, I arrive at Yushima Station and walk toward Ueno Park, right past our ramen shop where we had lunch yesterday.  A long line of about 10 people stands outside.  I follow the path to the left of Shinobazu Pond, using my Walk 9 as my guide.

First view of cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The cherry blossoms seem a little past their prime, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people who have come for hanami.  Every inch of grass is covered by groups of Japanese picnicking and laughing and talking.  The path is packed with people as well.

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The second portion of the pond is full of people skittering about in swan-shaped pink paddle boats and row boats. At this point, I’m to cross Shinobazu-dori and visit the House of Taikan Yokoyama.

paddle boats on Shinobazu Pond

sculpture at Shinobazu Pond

I debate whether to enter the House of Taikan Yokoyama as no photos are allowed inside and it cost 800 yen. After walking away once, I decide to go in anyway, and I’m glad I do.  The artist’s traditional wooden house is in the sukiya style found often in Kyoto. I’m allowed to take pictures in the entry area, shown below.

Stone lantern at House of Taikan Yokoyama

Entryway to House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

After removing my shoes, I go inside the house to see the tea room, with 15 windows looking out upon the artist’s garden, and a brazier in the middle of the floor with a teapot hanging over it.  The adjacent studio workroom contains the artist’s working tools.  I go into the upstairs bedroom, which also has a view of the garden.

Since I can’t take pictures of the house, I buy a postcard showing a view of the house from the back of the garden, shown below.  The garden is lovely, with its little stream, rocks, carp in the pond, and stone lanterns.

Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) spent much of his life in this house, painting in the traditional Japanese Nihonga style, but adding Western approaches to painting later.

postcard of house of Taikan Yokoyama

I also buy some postcards of the artist’s work.  I pick out three, plus the one above picturing the house, and the clerk holds up five fingers, but I’m not sure what she means.  Finally, she gets her co-worker to explain to me in English that I should buy 5 for 500 yen.  Once the woman finds out I am a teacher in a university, she loads me up with 4 booklets about the museum to hand out to fellow teachers, which I now have to carry around the rest of the day!

postcard of Taikan Yokoyama’s art

Below are more postcards of Taikan Yokoyama’s art.  Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.

I follow the walk back down Shinobazu-dori to the metro stop where I started, and take a left at Kasuga-dori, and go down a ways until I make another left onto Ameyoko Shopping Street.  More than 500 shops crowd this quarter-mile bazaar under the elevated rail line for the Ueno rail station.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The name Ameyoko combines two words, Ameya Yokocho, or “Confectioner’s Alley.”  After the Korean War, a pun evolved from the contraction of American Market, since the area sold black market goods from American military Post Exchanges during those years.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The small shops here now continue the tradition of the Shitamachi, in which small-scale vendors have always operated, selling a wide variety of goods.

Food sign on Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

After this, I continue back into the main part of Ueno Park, where the real fun begins!

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. 🙂

from bwi to sagamihara: settling in on the other side of the world (& moving into the future)   12 comments

Monday, March 27, 2017:  It’s an odd thing to consider how time marches on, whether you’re ready for what’s to come or not.  Preparing to live and work abroad for the fourth time, this time to Japan, I knew the things I had to do.  I made lists.  I did the things on the list and checked them off.  Each day passed, bringing me one day closer to when I had to leave.  Sometimes, during the preparation time, it seemed the day would never come.  And then it did.

So, at 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning, my alarm went off and I got up and got ready.  Mike drove me an hour to Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport.  Although Dulles Airport is only 20 minutes from my home, it was a lot cheaper to fly from BWI.  Westgate only reimburses $1,200 for a round trip ticket, so I opted to fly for $1,328 from BWI rather than for $1,800 from Dulles. At least I’m only out-of-pocket by a little over $100.

At the airport, I checked my two bags, one large and one medium.  I packed only warm weather clothes, with a few light layers.  After all, I’ll be in Japan for spring and summer.  I didn’t want to bring a heavy winter coat and then have to deal with bringing it home later. I brought a carry-on bag and my personal item. Mike took a picture of me and said goodbye.  I was on my way.

Me at BWI on Monday morning – the journey begins

My American Airlines flight took off at 7:59 a.m. for Chicago O’Hare.  On that 2-hour flight, I talked nonstop with a woman from Iowa.  We shared stories of our children.  She told me her son is doing well, married with children; he has a decent job and a strong work ethic as a pool painter.  However, as an early teen, he had many emotional struggles, including two suicide attempts that luckily failed (once he drank lighter fluid and another time he took an overdose of Tylenol). She teaches at a Christian school and is delighted with the elementary age children. She wonders if both her son and husband are bipolar, but they’ve never been diagnosed or medicated.  Her husband is a homebody and loves nothing better than to sit in front of the TV with a drink in his hand, while she says she’s adventurous and loves to travel to visit her grandchildren.  Of course, I shared some of the struggles with my children as well; my followers know something about these.

A 32-year-old young man in the row ahead overheard me talking about going to teach in Japan and he turned around and asked if I would be teaching with Westgate.  I said yes, and he said he would be too; this would be his first time in Asia.  He has taught in Central and South America.  He said his parents want him to get a permanent job so he doesn’t keep ending up back at home between gigs.  Ah, the life of the vagabond EFL teacher.

I had a two-hour layover at Chicago O’Hare, at which time I bought the book Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It has been made into a movie which I have yet to see — about two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan, a country hostile to their religion.

We boarded on time and took off at 12:55 p.m. for the long flight (13 hours) from Chicago to Narita.  On the plane, I alternatively ate, slept, and watched movies. One was a Japanese movie with subtitles called After the Storm, about a former prize-winning novelist, Ryota Shinoda, who now works as a private detective; he wastes all his money gambling such that he can’t pay child support to his ex-wife.  He tries to sponge off his aging mother and her pension. He still loves his ex-wife, who he finds, during “off-duty” private detective work, is dating a wealthy Telecom executive.  He still sees himself as a great novelist, although the only writing he seems to do is jotting one liners from his friends on post-it notes, which he places on a bulletin board in his shabby apartment.  Some of those lines are: “Don’t envy the future.” “It’s not so easy being the man you wanted to be.”  When he tries to bond with his young son, Shingo, during a typhoon, shored up in a pink playground cave, his son asks Shinoda if he is now what he wanted to be when he was young.  Shinoda replies, “What matters is to live my life trying to become what I want to be.”  I love that line. 🙂

I also watched Jackie, about Jackie Kennedy’s attempts to preserve her dignity and her husband’s legacy after his assassination.  The movie wasn’t that compelling to me.  Toward the end of the flight, I began Bridget Jones’s Baby, which I was actually enjoying, but I didn’t get to finish it because we landed. 🙂

Tuesday, March 28: I arrive at Narita Airport at nearly 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday.  Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost a half a day.  I check my two large bags at GPA, a baggage delivery service, in Terminal 2, then take a bus to Terminal 1.  At the counter, GPA has a stack of forms provided by Westgate with our names and addresses.  I tell them who I am, hand over my bags, and take off for Terminal 1, where I’m to meet with the Westgate staff.  The baggage is to be delivered Wednesday, March 29, between 6:00-8:00 p.m. at my apartment. What a great service!

We then wait around in a lounge area until 5:55, when a Westgate employee escorts three of us teachers to the Narita Express to Yokohama at 6:15, arriving in Yokohama at 7:47 (1 hour and 32 minutes).  This train has bathrooms on it, much to my delight.  I was a little worried about the long commute to our apartment with no bathroom breaks!  At Yokohama, we get on the JR Kehin Tohoku line at 8:13, switching to the JR Yokohama Line at Higashi Kanagawa, arriving at our station, Fuchinobe, at 8:54 p.m. There, Satoko, our Program Coordinator (PC) at the university, meets us and takes us by taxi to our Leopalace GUILIANO apartment building in Samagihara City.  I’m so glad she gets a taxi because the walk is 20 minutes from the station and I would have been super exhausted (and freezing in my light layers) if we’d had to walk after that long day(s) of travel.

Below is my apartment, #201, as seen upon my arrival at around 9:30 p.m. I discover there are no towels in my apartment, and I didn’t bring any.  There are no cups from which to drink water, and of course, I have no water and no food.  I have a tiny desk with a TV, a small table, two very uncomfortable chairs, a closet, a ladder to a sleeping loft (where I don’t intend to sleep), and a tiny bathroom and kitchen area.  We also have a fancy heating/fan system to dry our clothes in the bathroom. I’m provided with a futon, sheets and a cover quilt, and a tiny pillow filled with some kind of seeds.

Our PC has set up our wi-fi, and I catch up on emails briefly, and then suddenly my wi-fi network disappears.  I try to send a text message to Satoko about it, but I can’t figure out how on earth to send a message on the Westgate-provided phone, so I end up calling her about it.  In the end, I have to wait until tomorrow.  In the meantime, I get on with Verizon and set up international data for $40 a month for 100 messages and 100 MG of data (that doesn’t go far). This is just so I can keep connected until I get the wi-fi properly set up.  I text back and forth with Mike and then try to got to sleep, but as it’s essentially 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard time, I have a hard time falling asleep, despite being exhausted.

I try to read, but with only one overhead bulbous light, it’s hard to see the pages properly.  Also, just as I get sleepy, I have to get up to turn off the light.  Getting a bedside lamp of some kind is one of my first priorities.

Wednesday, March 29:  Luckily there is a Seven & i Holdings (7-11) on the corner a block from our apartment and I walk down in the morning to get coffee, breakfast (some egg-filled sushi rolls), paper towels and toilet paper.  As I didn’t pack a towel and there isn’t one in my apartment, I have to dry off with paper towels.  I mistakenly use a converter with my hair dryer, and the electricity burns out the converter.  It now seems I need to go in search of a hair dryer.

At 10:00 a.m.,  I meet three other teachers from our building, and we walk 20 minutes to City Hall to meet Yukari to register our address with the municipal authorities and get our national health insurance card.  It’s funny, this is the first place I’ve lived abroad where I actually have an address!  We’re told to return at 3:00 to complete the registration.  We have a lot of time to kill, so Yukari walks back with us to our apartments (another 20 minutes) because apparently everyone’s wi-fi networks have disappeared. One of my fellow teachers, Tobias, and Yukari and I grab lunch (steamed dumplings and spicy cucumbers for me) at the 7-11 and eat on the floor of my apartment, while Yukari helps us sort our wi-fi out.  Finally, I’m connected. Hallelujah!

I take off back toward the train station, another 20 minute walk, and cross over train tracks to the 100-yen store.  In the middle of my shopping spree, Yukari phones me to return to City Hall, where we get our residence cards and national health insurance cards.  Then we head to the post office to open our bank accounts, which takes some time.  Cool stamps beckon, so I’ll have to return to buy some.

I return to the 100-yen store to do my shopping, buying towels, sponges, a trash can, clothes hangers and miscellaneous stuff. Before crossing the tracks again, I buy a prepared package of sushi, along with several cartons of juice, which I take home for dinner.

I think I’ll be doing a lot of walking here in Japan as our apartment is in a neighborhood far away from everything except the 7-11.  It takes 20 minutes to walk to the train station and it may be a 30-minute walk to the university every day.  We’re not allowed to ride a bicycle to work; the walk will be nice until it gets hot and humid. 🙂

All in all, I walk 21,510 steps today (9.12 miles)!

Between 6:00-8:00 p.m. this evening, I have two deliveries. One includes my two suitcases, which I start unpacking immediately.  The other is a “living essentials” box from Westgate.  It has in it a small frying pan, a saucepan, 2 plastic bowls, a fork and a spoon, a cutting knife and a package of toilet paper.

Slowly, slowly, my apartment is becoming a home. 🙂

Thursday, March 30:  I have a leisurely morning, as we have no obligations until Friday.  I buy a can of cold coffee (I am confused as to which cans are hot and which are cold), and then a hot one, from the vending machine in our parking lot (110 yen).  I drink the hot one and put the cold one in the refrigerator to heat in the microwave tomorrow morning.  I eat a breadstick and pomelo yogurt from the 7-11 for breakfast.  I have a long talk with Mike on Skype where he fills me in on what’s going on with the kids and I tell him about the settling in process here.

I take a shower but don’t wash my hair because I still haven’t found a hair dryer.  After my shower, I decide to try my hair dryer without the converter, and find that, alas, it works without it.  So I take another shower, this time washing my hair and drying it.

I walk to the Fuchinobe Station and buy a Suica card for 500 yen, adding 3,500 yen for transport.  I take the metro two stops to Machida.  Here, I find a lot of big department stores.  I go into one, which is 8 stories, and head to the basement where I grab some small tempura shrimp and vegetable items for lunch.  They’re too heavy, so I only eat half and carry the other half home.  I also go to the floor with Tokyu Hands, where I buy a nice towel, an insulated coffee mug, an umbrella and a nice hot pink laundry basket.  These were expensive, 6,156 yen (~$55!).  Heading back on metro, I see the university out the window, with its mustard-colored buildings and small chapel.

Since I’m near the station, I drop into the 100-yen store to buy some clothes hangers so I can hang up the rest of my clothes.

Lugging my heavy bags back to the apartment, I pass the bicycle shop and I can’t resist buying a bicycle for 11,015 yen (~$99).  Even though I won’t be allowed to ride it to work, I can still ride it just to run errands as we live so far from everything. I figure that gives me transportation for $25 a month, even if I have to dispose of it for nothing at the end.

The owner of the bicycle shop is a 40-something Japanese man with a shiny blue jacket and curly longish hair.  His mother, wearing a brown plaid jacket and pink rubber slippers, is better able to communicate with me despite not knowing any English and me not knowing any Japanese.  She understands my intentions.  They tell me they’ll have the bike ready for me in a half-hour, as they must strip off the cardboard and styrofoam packing and adjust the seat and handlebars, so I walk back to my apartment to drop my purchases, hang up my clothes, relax a bit and then walk back to get the bicycle.  I love it!

buying a bicycle

On my new bicycle, I ride around town randomly, and then go in search of the university. I find it, and try to zip right through the gate, but two uniformed guards stop me.  I guess I’m either not allowed to take my bicycle on campus, or maybe I’m not allowed to go on at all since it’s out of session. In an attempt to explain the situation to me, one of the guards speaks into an app on his phone, which translates (awkwardly) what the problem is.  It’s something about going to the East gate to drop my bicycle.  It all sounds too complex and I’m not sure I am really allowed to go in, so I say never mind, I’ll return another time.  The guard speaking into his phone seems to find communicating with a foreigner quite humorous, and is lighthearted about it all.

After all this running around, and walking 15,157 steps (6.42 miles), I am exhausted. I return to my apartment, eat the leftovers I bought from the department store, accompanied by a Sapporo beer, and write in my journal.  I’m asleep before 8:00 p.m.! Tomorrow we have an early day; we will leave by 6 a.m. to head to an all-day orientation near Kudanshita Station in Tokyo.

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