August 8-11, 2016: Missing the Olympics

So in our penultimate week, I was back in the Toshin building in Shinjuku. In a way, it was like returning home. It was a familiar venue. I knew where we to eat lunch. I knew how to get there. And most of all, it was easier (as a teacher) than Nishiyamato. It meant doing things in the evenings after work. And it meant sleeping on the floor in my shared house in Sanno.

But anyhow, going back to Shinjuku. I had lunch with Darin on Monday. Just me and Darin. It was really our only moment together alone. I thought that I would be spending a lot more time with Darin, since this was my last chance before going away for a year in Bologna. But in reality, I ended up hanging out with other people because I wanted to meet new people. There were some people who had no idea that we were even friends, let alone close friends. It’s not that I was neglecting him, nor him me. We were just expanding our friend circles. But it was nice to finally have him to myself. Our friendship has gotten to a point that we don’t have to spend every moment together. Because we know that the other will always be there. And we had a nice chat over lunch.

At work, I was working with Michaela from Harvard. We had four students: Daisuke, Miki, Arisa, and Chizuru.  Our four students were amazing. And we have Michaela to thank for that. I didn’t have to do much work because Michaela sort of took over the group. She is a tough teacher. She pushes them. She doesn’t accept non-answers. She will literally sit and wait in silence until someone says yes or no. She made sure that each of them asked questions. I always had trouble getting my students to ask questions when they were unsure of something. But she really opened them up. All of them were asking questions during presentations–to the point where we were running over time. It was amazing. Her technique works.

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And on top of that, Michaela is the game master. With her theater background, she led us in plenty of theater games, getting the students up and moving and laughing. Not too much speaking English, but they were fully engaged. And they need lots of breaks when speaking English all day. I especially see that now taking Italian everyday, 5 hours a day with minimal breaks. We played games like Little Sally Walker, and Boppity Bop Bop Bop, Zip Zap Zop. So as you can see, its a lot of nonsense words–not exactly ideal for English Camp, but good for camp in general.

On Monday after work, we went to our usual haunt: the hub pub in Shinjuku. I was hoping to watch some Olympics. I love the Olympics and I literally missed the whole thing. I didn’t get to see the opening ceremony. I saw none of the gymnastics or swimming events or athletics. And the worst part is when I’d go home in the evenings, I couldn’t even find clips online. I was looking for a daily video recap of the day, and the only ones I found were blocked in Japan. So I figured I’d be able to watch some Olympics at the British pub. I saw some soccer, not my favorite and quite boring. But we did see Brazil tie with Iraq, which was super embarrassing for Brazil but Iraq was thrilled.

After the pub, I spent some time by myself. I tried to find a Totoro Pasmo holder in Harajuku, but I couldn’t find it for less than 1800 yen, which was more than I was willing to pay. I know Amy bought one for 1000 yen in Harajuku, but I couldn’t find that store, I guess. I had dinner by myself at the Shake Shack in Ebisu. It felt like home. It was exactly like the ones in New York, except they have special concretes with matcha flavors, though I’m not really a fan of matcha. There was a foreign couple that was trying to ask if there was a set menu, cause they do that in Japan, but there obviously wasn’t. The cashier wasn’t understanding, but I helped by telling the couple that it was just a la carte. I know my Shake Shack.

 

Tuesday morning (7am), I finally made it to Tsukiji Fish Market before it moves to its new location. We didn’t get up early enough for the auction. We had no intention of going to the auction. But we had to at least see the market and get some breakfast. The inner market where the actual buying and selling goes on was closed off to us during the morning hours. We tried to sneak in, but we were caught and couldn’t get through. I was with Lucia, my partner in adventure. The only other person crazy enough to wake up at odd hours of the morning to be a tourist. The outer market was still kind of cool though. There are tons of sushi restaurants (expensive ones, though this is hypothetically the freshest sushi you’ll ever have). I had a selection of different types of tuna. It was very good. But the market overall was kind of underwhelming. It is a marketplace after all.

Next to Tsukiji though, was this bizarre temple called Honganji. It looked like a 19th century British hospital at first. But upon closer inspection, the architecture actually resembled colonial India. It’s the only temple like it in the country. The inside was also grand and beautiful, including an incredible ceiling. We also came across some random guy that was holding a mascot costume. Leave it to Japan to have mascots for everything. It was a little ridiculous. I’m kind of glad we didn’t see him in full garb. It might’ve been a little scary.

I fell asleep a lot at work since I was at Tsukiji so early. We got there on time, but I was exhausted. There is a lychee drink that I got that tastes a lot like aloe vera. Freddie was raving about this drink. So I tried it and it was very good, but basically aloe.

We got our bus tickets for Fuji in the afternoon. Admittedly, we didn’t do too much research. People were searching on their phones and found something that vaguely worked and so we bought them right away. We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to buy tickets otherwise, because the return was already selling out. We had to buy in two batches. But we had tickets nonetheless.

After work, Lucia and I went to Ikebukuro. That’s right, spent the whole day with Lucia No one else crazy enough but the two of us. I wanted to go to the Pokemon Mega Store to get some souvenirs. And I’d never been to Ikebukuro. There is a big mall there called Sunshine City. And the malls in Japan are just incredible. The stores are enormous. There was a giant fountain with an hourly water show, backed by a 3-story LED screen. The Pokemon store was also awesome. There was a videogame called Pokken, which was basically Tekken with Pokemon. Isn’t that amazing? They have so much Pokemon memorabilia. Lots of shirts. Lots of plushes. And lots of Pikachu. They have a Pikachu of the month and a Pikachu pair of the month, like Pikachus dressed in a luau outfit. They were super expensive though. And plenty of only-available-in-Japan Pokemon souvenirs. The mall also has what looked like their equivalent of a Dave and Busters, but it was anime themed. We also had access to the roof, which overlooks Ikebukuro. And like in department stores, the top floor was full of reasonably-priced restaurants.

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After the mall, we went to Uniqlo to buy some gear for Mt. Fuji. They are everywhere in Tokyo. If you spend more than 5000 yen, you don’t have to pay tax as a foreigner. So I had my passport and got the tax exemption. Together, we easily spent 5000 yen. I got a nice pair of joggers–they’re warm for Mt. Fuji and stretchy for climbing. I also got an orange shirt on sale and a souvenir shirt that just screams Japan.

I’m also having a problem with my phone. The battery dies so quickly and it isn’t charging properly. I’m not sure if it’s the wire that’s the problem or the phone jack or possibly a combination of both…because nothing seems to be working right. But my phone ran out of battery and we weren’t sure how to get back from Uniqlo. So we wandered around Ikebukuro for a while until we found the train station.

 

In my final week in Tokyo, I wanted to get in all the sightseeing I could, so I woke up early again to go to Meiji Jingu on Wednesday morning. The Meiji Shrine is very close to work and yet I’d never been. To be honest, after going to Kyoto, it was quite underwhelming. Especially, because the shrine is under rennovation. I didn’t see it in all its grandeur. And some of the grounds were closed off.

I had Indian curry two days in a row for lunch. I think that unlimited naan restaurant is legitimately my favorite place in Tokyo. The naan is just so soft and delicious and the curry isn’t too spicy but very flavorful. It’s definitely worth two visits in a row.

We went to a little bakery that was Studio Ghibli themed after work to get Totoro shaped cream puffs. The cream puffs were very good; I’d say almost Beard Papa quality. And they’re cute, which is uniquely Japanese.

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Afterwards, we went to the last cooking night in Soshigaya, where Nyema, David, Jasmin and Mickey live by themselves. This is apparently the last hurrah for the Soshigaya shared house before they sell it. It isn’t very well kept. but it is kind of nice just having people from the program. It is a hell of a walk from the train station though you walk through a busy street. It’s nice that they have things. The Come on Up staff were over an hour late to cooking night, apparently as usual. We were doing takoyaki, which was slow. I don’t think there was really enough food for everyone, but there was plenty of booze. That’s what cooking night is really about. Even Kamaya-san showed up! He brought a watermelon and a lightsaber app that makes sounds when you pretend to battle someone else. They also have a piano in their house, and me and Paige played around a bit. I tried to watch the Olympics, but only found shooting and field hockey of all things. Japan wasn’t even playing, I’m not sure why they were showing field hockey. It was a fun night though. I wish I’d gone to more cooking nights.

 

I also recently discovered that the top of the toilet is for washing your hands. So when you flush the toilet, there is a spigot above the toilet where water comes out and its there to wash your hands since the toilet is usually in its own round. I thought it was for flushing, but I realize it can’t actually be flushing since it doesn’t go into the bowl. Stupid me. I usually just go to the real sink to wash my hands.

After work on Thursday, we went to an art exhibit for magic/art/lights. It’s kind of difficult to describe, but there are lots of cool interactive light works. For example, there was a projector that projected onto nothing. But you hold up blank books so the story can unfold on its pages. And if lots of people hold up books connected, you can see the whole story. Or this other one that records you doing some action and then plays it forward and backwards sped up and simultaneously so you have this cool flip book effect. There were lots of neat things to see at this small exhibit. I’m glad Lucia found it, because it was only a couple of blocks away from work in Shinjuku.

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We went to have dinner at the omelette rice restaurant at the top of My Lord department store. We tried to go there once before but the wait was too long. The department stores have lots of good food, not like American department stores. And they’re all enormous too. This one had 8 big floors above Shinjuku station. It is basically an omelette over rice with some kind of sauce. There’s nothing to not like about this classic Japanese dish.

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We went to Hub Pub after to try to catch some Olympics, and this time we caught a badminton match and the end of a rugby match. Two more sports that I don’t really care much to watch. Where’s the gymnastics? Blaire is also really into the Olympics and she was equally disappointed.

To finish off the night, David, Lucia and Monica and I went bowling in Kabukicho. There are a lot of bowling alleys in Tokyo, above arcades/pachinko parlors. The shoe dispenser is such that you press your size and then a level of a shelf rotates to give you a shoe in your size. I got a lot worse not having practiced in a long time. I was ok, but David beat me. I can’t really back up the whole varsity bowling team thing. We had a good group though. We imitated each other and had fun together. We basically played until we had to catch the last train. Bowling is a night activity here. Apparently, there was also a student discount that we didn’t know to ask for. Whoops.

After heading home, I didn’t actually get to sleep until around 3 because I was busy packing my bags and figuring out what to wear for Mt. Fuji. This was a bad idea because I wasn’t going to get any sleep the next night, but I really had to pack to be properly prepared to climb a mountain overnight…

 

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