Memories of Japan - Night Time "tutoring"

Employed by Interac, I was one of 5-6 "ALTs" (Assistant Language Teacher) working in Narashino City. I will tell you more about this arrangement later.

I didn't actually work with the other ALTs, but we met each week at the Narashino City Board of Education. There was another (asian) Australian girl, from Brisbane. A few months into my stay in Japan, she told us about another company she was working for: IHC Way.

IHC Way is a kind of student/tutor matching service. Japanese people would go into the office and asked to be matched with a tutor. IHC Way was the middle man.

So the Australian girl gave me the contact details of the company, I called and made an appointment to go in and hopefully sign up as a tutor. The appointment was on a week-day night, I think around 8 or 8:30pm. The office was in an apartment block somewhere in the middle of Tokyo. I forget where. It was somewhere best accessed by subway. It must have taken me at least an hour and abit, plus several transfers to get there.

The instructions to find the office were pretty clear, I went up stairs, knocked, and was ushered into the apartment (that was being used as an office) by the sole occupant, an early 30's(?) Japanese woman in a bright yellow cardigan. I think her name was Kumiko. The bright yellow suited her perfectly and I told her so.

Hence followed a very easy and straightfoward "interview", which was more of just a "checking that I was a normal person" type clearance. You know the kind of interview you get when you have the job before you walk in, and the interview is just a matter of course, just explaining the job? She printed off a large A3 train map of Tokyo and surrounds for me, which was the BEST map I had seen so far of the area. I told her this, she said she was surprised that most of the foreigners she met had very poor train maps, so she always handed out the best one. I still have this map. It is bright, colourful and very clear, but by the end up my trip in Japan it was all soft and a bit dirty and scuffed from all the folds I had made in it.

She took all my details down, took a photocopy of my passport, and then she gave me directions to go and meet the company CEO in a nearby coffee shop. I went downstairs and around the corner and met a Japanese man in his late 40s. He kind of looked like this Japanese actor:

I didn't really know if this was a secondary interview? I think he just liked to meet all the new tutors. He bought me a cup of tea, asked me a few quick questions about myself, and then he said I was "charming". It didn't come across as creepy, just nice. Then he started to tell me the method that I should use when tutoring students. The method was totally laughable but I listened politely. He recommended that I buy lots of Disney children's books, and then get my students to memorise the books, and learn English that way. Hmm don't know about that! Anyway, I had a good time talking to him anyway because the whole situation was a bit alien and new... and interesting to talk to different Japanese people.

After that I caught the subway/train back home and that's all I remember from that night.

I didn't end up getting that many students all up. My regulars were: Yuka, Takako, Atsuko and Saki.

I met Yuka every wednesday night in a very casual "french" cafe in Funabashi Station. The staff wore these kind of "french" maid type outfits. I got the impression that Yuka didn't usually go to such cheap type places, I think it was just a convenient place for her to meet me on her way home from work. I would say she was upper middle class.... fairly well off family, good job (I think in finance/bank/insurance? I don't remember), active social life. She was definitely one of those Japanese "achiever" types. Her English was very good. She kept a diary every day, which I checked each week. Although ultimately we were quite different people, I really liked Yuka and her enthusiasm. After meeting her every week for months, as my stay in Japan was drawing to a close, she asked me if I would go to a "maid cafe" in Akihabara with her. She explained that she was really curious about going to one, but she was too embarrassed to ask any of her Japanese friends to go with her. This is probably because maid cafes are considered to be a kind of "fetish" venue. So I met her one Saturday in Akihabara. It must have been cold because we were wearing coats. Oh, actually I have a photo of us together in Akihabara:

In Akihabara with a student

The last I heard, she had moved into a high rise apartment in Shinagawa. Sometimes I worry about this because if a massive earthquake ever hits Tokyo then high rise apartments in busy centres like Shinagawa might not be the best place to be.

Yuka was one of those people I really liked, but didn't have much in common with and after I left Japan we fell out of contact. I also got the impression that our relationship was definitely one of convenience, well, she was paying me after all. Her life was very full, and she wanted to have the experience of meeting foreigners and practising English.

I'll tell you more about my other night time students later.

Memories from Japan

What did I eat for breakfast while I lived in Japan?

I remember buying these loaves of white bread that had huge and thick slices. The slices were around an inch thick. I also bought these little tubs of "peanut butter". Actually I don't think there was any peanut in this "peanut butter". It was more like "peanut butter flavoured spread". It was very sweet and yummy though probably it was just made of chemicals.

I bought these from the 99yen store. 99yen is about AU$1 depending on the exchange rate. Everything in the store cost 99yen. It was like a convenience store / 2 dollar store / supermarket. They had everything from fresh vegetables to alcohol to stationery etc. The food was of course, of low quality, but still edible! I bought a lot of food from the 99 yen store.

I didn't have much space in my kitchen, and the washing machine was in my kitchen. I remember spreading the "peanut butter" on the bread, resting it all on the washing machine and then eating it standing up next to the washing machine.

If talking about the 99yen store, actually you say "kyu kyu" cos that's how you say 99 in Japanese. The kyu-kyu store had this really annoying shop-song that just went: "
kyu, kyu-kyu, kyu, kyu-kyu, kyu, kyu-kyu kyu... tabemono oishii blah kyu kyu-kyu-kyu". It just mean: 9, 99, 9, 99, 9, 99, 9, delicious food... something something,... 9, 99, 9, 99, 9 ,99, 9. It played non stop in the store, and I'm pretty sure would've driven many of the shop staff mad.

random memories

I am going to start writing the random memories that pop up from my time in Japan five years ago. I realise that if I don't write them down I will forget them.

There was one time when I was travelling from Okayama(?) Sorry not sure where from,,... but from somewhere in the middle of Japan, to Fukuoka by bus. It was an overnight bus that cost around 100 australian dollars. The bus was to take about 8 hours to get from wherever I was, to Fukuoka. The equivalent ride by Shinkansen would have taken 3 or 4 hours and cost about $170-$200 I guess. At the time I had never tried a night bus so I didn't know how bad it would be.

Anyway, so I was at this station and I had a few hours to go until the night bus. I exited the station to see what was around the area, looking for a place I could kill time. There were lots of people out on the street, sitting around on concrete ledges of small gardens, a busker or two, the usual neon signs around the place. Then I spotted a manga kissa (cafe) nearby. I hadn't spent much time in manga cafe's up until that point, but then I decided to use it for the purposes that many people used them - to kill time. So I went in and paid my 200 yen ($2 or something) for the exclusive use of a computer and internet, plus free hot and cold drinks. I checked my hotmail, browsed the net, looked at some manga. After a couple of hours, I realised that there was about 20 minutes to go until my bus was scheduled to leave, so I left the manga cafe for the train station to go and find the right platform. I could not find any platform that seemed to match my ticket. I showed some random japanese people my ticket and then gestured like "do you know where my platform is?". They seemed concerned, I managed to figure out eventually that they were telling me that I was not at the right station for ths particular bus. Then I entered a minor panic because: a) I had a pre-paid ticket for which I don't think I could get a refund b) I didn't want to be stuck overnight in this random place that I couldn't even remember the name of and c) I was supposed to be meeting a friend the next morning in fukuoka and then catch a train onward to kumamoto (which I had also already booked and didn't want to forfeit the ticket for). I had no idea where this other station was, but hell, I ran over to the taxi rank hoping for a taxi... luckily one came. I think I only took a taxi twice my whole 8 months in Japan.

(not my photo... in fact none of the photos in this blog entry are mine.. just from the internet).

Taxis are extremely expensive, you ride for like 10 minutes and it'll cost you $40, its ridiculous. But I had no choice. I showed the driver my bus ticket and hoped that he'd know where I needed to be. He seemed to understand, and then drove me to this other train station. Being in a car, in japan, in a foreign little town/city that I don't remember, was quite a nice novelty now that I remember it. Anyhow, we made it to the station, I paid him the fare of maybe what, $15? jumped out, and ran for it. I made the bus with a few minutes to spare, phew! The bus was only maybe 1/6th full, barely anyone. I had an inflatable neck pillow that I had bought from a 100 yen store (about 1 dollar). I blew it up. The lights on the bus went off around 11pm. I did not sleep at all. It was impossible. Have you ever tried to sleep on a bus overnight? It's frankly impossible. There were a few 50ish year old ladies on the bus who just kept TALKING AND TALKING AND TALKING. They obviously had zero intention of sleeping at all on that bus. At some point the bus pulled over at a kind of mid-way highway road-stopping shop. There were about 10 other buses there filled with similarly dozy people on their way to somewhere else. The shop was like a very large petrol station store, but with a cafeteria, toilets, souvenir stands etc. It was fluorescent and mostly not so pleasant. Then we all got back on the bus... after that the old ladies quietened down... I think I dozed a bit but I wouldn't say that I slept. I remember going over the huge bridge between honshu and kyushu. Anyway, the whole night bus experience, at the time I think I thought, NEVER AGAIN, but I just remembered that I also took an overnight bus from Kyoto to Tokyo on which I didn't sleep either. I remember arriving at shinjuku (equivalent of northbridge) at 5-6am and it was the strangest thing ever. It was a mix of cold, dirty and empty... but with many gleaming surfaces of closed shop windows through which I peered. Most of the people on the street were uniformed workers of some sort... street cleaners, shop-people, traffic police... I wanted to spend more time wandering around there that morning but nothing was open and there didn't seem much point. I caught the yellow sobu line back through akihabara, got off the train at akihabara and put my bags in a big locker so I could wander around a bit there as well at that time of morning. But I was tired and there wasn't much going on at that time of morning, so I got my bags out and took the yellow sobu back to funabashi then transferred by keisei back to okubo,.. shortly after which I found myself alone in my untidy apartment, I laid down on my bed clammy and unwashed and took a nap.

So anyway, I arrived at Kyushu station at 6:30 or 7am. The station was smaller, older and a bit dirtier than the stations of other cities I had been in, in Japan. I was supposed to be meeting a friend sometime that morning, but obviously not so early. I looked at the map in the station which was quite a good map, and decided to go and spend some time in Ohori Koen which had a large lake in the middle of it. I took a subway there (which was very easy), walked around the lake and then lay down on a bench in a japanese garden next to the lake.

My friend Kaoru called me around 9am and laughed when I told her I was in Ohori Koen. "What are you doing in Ohori Koen?". I guess it's like arriving at Perth airport at 7am and heading straight for kings park. Not so unusual? Anyway, she said, let's meet at Kyushu castle (which apparently still had cherry blossoms), so I took a subway there I suppose (no memory of the transport there, it must have been easy). I met Kaoru there easily. There were almost no other people there (usually when you go see cherry blossoms the park is packed with people), but this was a week day morning. The blossoms were starting to fall... kind of like light pink snow against a soft blue sky, blurring light green spring leaves... light grey stone path... very soft air ... ahhh. We climbed up a stone path and spent some time looking over kyushu city from the look-out.

We had a bowl of champon noodles at one of those "order from the machine, put money in machine, machine gives you ticket, give ticket to kitchen-hand, kitchen makes you noodles" places.

Then Kaoru took me to Fukuoka Canal City, which is an extremely pleasant shopping mall.

They had a Moomin Cafe... which is where, well, there are lots of Moomins.

Then Kaoru took me to "Ramen Stadium" on the top level. Ramen stores from all over Japan compete to get into Ramen Stadium. Then they spend the next few months trying to make the best ramen they can. The public try all the ramen in the stadium (maybe 15 ramen shops?) and vote on slips. The winners get to stay on, the losers have to go back to their home town. I didn't try the ramen there cos we were still full from champon... but what an awesome idea.

After all this I said bye bye to Kaoru and then went back to the train station to take a train down to Kumamoto.

I just realised why I hadn't written all this down before, it's painful to write it down. Painful because I had so many great times... and also there were many moments where I felt so cold and lonely too. I was very lucky .. circumstances lined up so perfectly... I had taught english to Japanese people in Perth for a few years prior to going to Japan, so I had friends to meet in many cities throughout Japan. They showed me around to so many places and things that would have been hard for just one lone foreigner to know about and get to. I am a bit sad because I lost contact with many of these people and only caught up with a handful of them on our trip to Japan last July?August?.

When you are away from the routine of home-life in your home-country, and surrounded by things that are constantly new and surprising (as happens in japan), it's almost like the experiences are clearer and sharper to remember.. many memories have continued to shine on in my mind though 5 years have passed.. I remember many small episodes (for instance, going to the local 7/11 to pay my phone bill) more than I remember some of my own birthdays.

It's painful to think back at the many smiling faces, and the view of the country-side through the window as I rode train connecting with train connecting with subway...

I will continue to write as many memories down as I can before I forget too many details.


Here is my problem: I have too many ideas all the time, so many that I can't decide on what to spend time on and I end up doing nothing.

How about I start writing them down, and then I'll sit on them and see how credible they are and if I'm still interested in doing them after a few months have past?:

Idea 1:
Making hiragana\katakana\kanji t-shirt designs in illustrator and uploading to redbubble.

Idea 2:
Making film clips for local bands out of random archival footage found from all over the internet.

Idea 3:
Having a kind of "object" exhibition featuring only items that were bought at a (Japanese) 100 yen store.

I love looking at nice pictures and things on Flickr, pictures of people's art and artistic lives. It makes me want to do things like that, but I think I have some sort of block. I remember when I was 7 or so I did this painting that was just all finger smudges together in a kind of brown lattice. I was so absorbed in making this painting and I thought it was really good at the time. I had a photo taken with the picture and when I looked at the photo I realised the art was really crap but I looked really happy then. It's been a long time since I felt like that while making art. Over time I think I got too self-conscious about it. I am also a little pissed off (and so is my sister), that we were led to believe that art was a waste of time, wouldn't get us anywhere, and was not a viable occupation. Now I'm an adult I'm surprised to see how many people really love art, how much human-kind really needs it, and how far it reaches throughout so many human activities (advertising, architecture, urban design, furniture design, animation, film, photography, fashion, literature, theatre and so forth). Many years ago I didn't know the true extent to which humankind really does treasure creativity, and was unfortunately led to believe that it was a waste of time.

I guess I am a bit upset now as I see other people around me really enjoy artistic things and I wish I could be like that again, so purely. I think for me that the initial neural network supporting the submersive enjoyment of creation broke down with early external discouragement of its value. The frustrating thing is that I have the ideas and I kind of long to realise them but something is broken in the process and I can't lose myself in the activity. My mind chimes in and asks what is the value of what I am doing, and if it's not just sheer indulgence?

My advice to any parent is to always encourage any interest of a child...I think to have a pure interest and enjoyment of an activity or subject is the best thing you can have in life.. There are all sorts of niche occupations in strange and specific areas, and even if they can't get employment in that area at least the interest can become an absorbing and fulfilling hobby. So if the kid says he/she want's to go to the moon, then sure, let's go along with it. Maybe one day it could be an aeronautical engineer or an astrophysicist or a sci-fi set designer or at the very least, own and lose themselves in the enjoyment of a telescope. If you would like to know more about what I am talking about...the pleasure of absorption, have a read here: here.

Now I am a 27 year old admin worker with actually not much interest in administration. The lack of interest and my wandering mind means that I am not good at my job and kind of feel like a fail. I fail to do what I love, and I fail at the simple tasks I am supposed to do.

The thing I enjoy most at the moment is watching Japanese dramas online, but this activity produces nothing and develops nothing. This is fine for a leisure activity.... but as I said, I keep having ideas and want to see a result but find it hard to commit to actually doing something because I can't get immersed in the activity and then get distracted.

Overall I am aware that this is a high class problem that I'm sure millions would prefer over their own more critical problems. But I am still allowed to have my middle class concern.

I am also heartened by the science of brain plasticity; to some degree I can re-programme my brain. Although it's possible, it seems somewhat mechanical... to reprogramme to sublimate? Does that not taint the pure element of creativity? I know I ask too many questions. Other people would just shut up and draw.


You know that feeling and that unknown smell you get when you go into a stranger's house for the first time and everything seems so different? The colour of their furniture, the layout, the paraphernalia on the kitchen bench.... How the level of clean is compared to your house? (I think we are well adapted to and acclimatised to our own level of dirt, but other people's dirt is always a bit mysterious). The air - is it slightly damp? slightly cool? Are there indoor plants?

I have had this feeling most in houses that are older, and the feeling is stronger the less I know the person (ie, if I am friends with them and I visit their house, nothing really seems to surprise me, but if I have never met them then I don't know what to expect at all). The feeling also seems stronger in houses that have been inhabited by the same people for a long time, maybe a family, or an older couple. Sharehouses all have a similar assortment of goods and if you dug down into the refuse to carbon date, you'd wind up with the same finding of perhaps 1-4 years history at best.

The best examples I can give you are: My mum's relatives houses that we visited in Budapest. These houses were so old and there were lots of surprising things. A stove that looked 700 years old. Enormous dogs in the yard. Black unmoving cat. Very cool, slightly damp air feeling in toilet, cool wooden-ness and a pot over a fire in the backyard. Also another good example is a house that me and Ai-ling visited, that Leonie was house-sitting. Home-gym, strange candelabra, television, carpets, felt bowl. It's interesting touring a person's house that you've never met. I suppose that's one good thing about being a house-cleaner.

I think I've been coming to an equilibrium about house-tidiness. I try and keep my areas tidy just for the reason that I really hate it when I can't find something. And I like my nice spaces to enjoy. Sit down in front of my computer with a bowl of food and watch Japanese drama etc. I was very bothered last night to find a very tiny baby cockroach half squashed in front of my keyboard as I sat down with my dinner. Where did it come from? What did it get squashed on? I didn't like this situation much but I coped. I think I also need the kitchen to be clean enough to cook in - there's nothing worse than going to cook dinner and all the dishes/pans are dirty in the sink. I think one area where I hardly care about is the bathroom. I think the bathroom can get a bit bad before I am disturbed by it. Outside area, is all about maintaining the visual of tidin-ess and normality, in case the lawn-mower man or other repair men reports back to the property management, which he has done re: the lawns, or lack thereof. Why am I writing about this?

(no subject)

Sometimes like now, I wish I could walk calmly to the elevator, go down, walk out of the building without telling anyone, and instantaneously ride on a boat or a train to some-place in the middle of nowhere and never have to come back.

Patience but for what?

Hello I am writing to you from my desk. I am clearing all the things I need to do. I have about 20 things to do all the time but as long as I just keep doing them it's okay.

I am waking up earlier nowadays of course, around 7:30-40am. My alarm clock wakes me up in the middle of REM sleep so these days I'm actually remembering my dreams a bit. During my unemployment time I woke up around 9am and I didn't remember my dreams at all. My dreams have been nice and weird lately, like dreams should, so I'm happy that I can know a little more about them.

I was almost going to try riding a bike to work today but I chickened out. That seems so silly to chicken out from that. I am a bit afraid that the tyres won't stay inflated the whole trip. Then I'd have to lock the bike up somewhere random and hope for a bus. I also don't really like riding a bike alongside lots of traffic (even though I would definitely ride on the footpath and not on the road), I don't like being the sole person riding along the footpath with all those people in cars looking out at you. You can't look back in at them cos of the glare on their windscreens. It's like being observed by cyborgs. Also I am afraid of dirt from the bike getting onto my work clothes. I am trying to be ultra clean at work (it's part of pretending to be professional). Lastly, I really don't want to wear a helmet. I hate helmets. They are ugly and they look stupid. It's stupid that this is a reason why I'm put off riding but there you have it.

What do I need to do?

- Clean the bike so grease/dirt doesn't get on my clothes.
- Prepare a cover story about lack of helmet if stopped by police.
- Leave really early, like at 8am so I won't be too late if my tyres lose air and I have to abandon ship.

Sorry this is a boring post.
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