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Published: August 8th 2007
Japanese garden, Tokyo
This garden is outside a very classy Japanese restaurant. My english language student wears a traditional kimono to mark the occasion.
Shinjuku station is in the heart of downtown Tokyo, and the busiest train station in the world. Up until my arrival there I thought I was doing OK, having farewelled my friends in San Francisco and boarded a flight to Japan before arriving at Tokyo's Narita airport. From there I caught the airport train to Shinjuku and was nervous alright, but arriving at the station really freaked me out. There are several floors, train lines in every direction and more people rushing around than I'd ever seen in my life. For a time I just stood at the station paralysed with inaction and feeling completely overwhelmed. But things tend to work out and with some assistance I eventually found the correct line to get to my gaijin (foreigner) house. I arrived safely, and this journal tells the story of the next three months spent living and working in the land of the rising sun.
The gaijin house was occupied, dear reader, by an eclectic group of travellers, and because most of us were long term and working in Tokyo we quickly became like a family. Things don't get more foreign for an Australian than living in Japan, and the networks
Standing in the exquisite garden
The amount of time and effort put into a Japanese garden is awe inspiring.
I needed to get on my feet were made through the other foreigners in the house. I came prepared to commence work as an English teacher, having a copy of my university degree tucked in my backpack. Before too long I took over some of the classes from other teachers living at the house and quickly settled into a routine. There were around thirty of us living at the house long term, and because Japan is a very expensive country to visit there were very few backpackers amongst the guests. Most of us were english teachers or hostesses with a few musicians thrown into the mix. I received a high hourly rate of pay working as an english teacher in Tokyo, so I didn't have to work many hours in order to make a living. On most days I'd take a class or two in the afternoon or evening so it wasn't exactly a demanding lifestyle.
So then ... if you are young, overseas for the first time and not terribly busy during the day, well I guess that still leaves the night! My friends took me under their wing and pretty soon life in Tokyo became party central.
Clubbing in Roppongi with my friend who shares the same birthday.
The clubs in Roppongi are superb, and the young Japanese folks out on the town have immaculate dress sense and love to party. Before long I was going to clubs with friends almost every night and really letting my hair down. We started off with a few beers at home after visiting a nearby vending machine, and then it was off to a Roppongi karaoke bar owned by a friend of the gaijin house manager. We sang karaoke and had a laugh till around 2:00am, and then hit our favourite nightclub just as the dancing was starting to hot up. Then it was dancing the night away before catching the train back to the house in the morning. I tell you it was so much fun!
I've always prided myself on being a sensible person who prefers to have a sense of balance in life. As such I realised that I couldn't continue living my life in this fashion, but I was only planning to be in Japan for three months and was having a great time. My house mates would laugh as I staggered into the kitchen some days in mid afternoon, looking dishevelled and somewhat the worse
At a Roppongi bar with my spanish rose. It's nearly time to break into some Karaoke!
for wear, but I managed to clear my head enough to get on the train and teach my english conversation classes. As an *ego no sensei* I taught a variety of students including private lessons that paid very well, then it was on to children's classes, to university groups and even salary men in their office. Text books were provided for the lessons, but basically my method was to talk to the students and encourage them to come out of their shell. I enjoyed stirring up the university girls, and told them koalas are oishii (delicious) ... they were mortified! Oh yes, I assured them, when we see a koala in Oz we shake the tree violently until he falls out, then we quickly grab him and chomp into a leg. Oishii!! The girls screamed and covered their mouths because they love koalas in Japan!
One of my private students is the sweetest lady, and took a real shine to me. She even wrote to my mum in Sydney and said she wanted to be my Japanese mum. She spoilt me silly and a private lesson with her often involved a scrumptuous meal at a top class restaurant. I
Hanging at the bar
Roppongi nightlife totally goes off!
think she probably wanted the company as much as the conversation, because her daughter was studying at a university outside of Tokyo. We had fun lessons even though her English was still open to improvement, she enjoyed spoiling me but was starting to worry about my partying ways. In fact at my farewell lunch she cried because she didn't want me to leave, and she was also worried I looked so tired.
The Japanese are superb hosts, and make guests feel very welcome when visiting the country for a short period. From what I gathered though, it can be more challenging for a gaijin to live permanently in the country. Japan also features a superb culture based on ancient traditions, including truly fabulous food. Realistically I knew I couldn't live in Japan permanently because Tokyo is just too hectic and crowded, but living on Japanese food would not cause me the slightest problem. The ramen ya (noodle shops), sushi bars and other dishes on offer at Japanese restaurants are simply delicious! Human beings are remarkably adaptable creatures, and as the months rolled on I didn't even think twice about living in Tokyo as this had become my new life.
I adjusted quickly to shunting my way on to a ridiculously crowded train, with a man in white gloves pushing more and more people on board before the doors can close. I learnt that as soon as you get on board, the best thing is to turn left or right straight away and it's amazing how many times that little spot in the corner can minimise the effects of the big squeeze. Japanese men love to read their risque manga (Japanese comics) on the train, and I got in the habit of wearing my sunglasses in public to minimise the effect of the stares directed at the crazy gaijin with the bleached blonde hair!
I spent three months living in Tokyo and had a wonderful time. The experience proved to be completely different to my life in Australia, and I believe that learning about a different culture helped me to grow as a person. I met so many wonderful travellers and had a great time experiencing the famed nightlife in the clubs of Roppongi. Everyone tends to look out for new arrivals in Tokyo, because the capital of Japan is not an easy city to live in. However the foreigners from the house and the Japanese I met helped me to have a very enjoyable time in this booming country, that powers along as the world's second largest economy. The crowds can wear you down at times in Japan, but that's to be expected in a country with a population of 120 million people that is only the size of Tasmania. Space is certainly at a premium and people live their lives accordingly. I also had the opportunity to go on a few sojourns with friends outside the capital including a visit to Yokohama south of Tokyo. My introduction to Japan demonstrated there is plenty to see and do in this mysterious land where, basically all of you should be here now!
Who travels for love finds a thousand miles not longer than one." Japanese proverb
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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