About 1000 JETs have passed through Tokyo in the past week before heading out to their various outposts around the land. When I first decided to come to Japan, the first avenue I explored was JET, and by all accounts it’s the most attractive option for people arriving in this country. The pay is better, the work is more enjoyable, the lifestyle more interesting. Still, I’m really happy with the decision I made. My transition from New Zealand to Japan was near seamless, and that’s almost entirely down to the hard of work of people at the company I work for. Plus a healthy dose of optimism and self-assuredness on my part, of course.

I knew a couple of people from Christchurch in this JET intake, so I headed into Shibuya on Tuesday to have a few drinks with them. A few drinks turned into pitcher after pitcher at nomihoudai karaoke, and various drunken introductions. Here’s the crazy thing: two of the other guys in the group we were with came from Christchurch, and it turned out that they knew some good friends of mine who are now scattered about the globe. Then there was another guy who was taught maths by my friend Marty’s dad. And the other week I met a guy whose brother used to live in my last flat.

That’s the thing about New Zealand. You talk about there being a maximum six degrees of separation between any two people in the world, but in NZ I reckon it’s more like two or three, and often the connection is even more direct than that. It’s a small country, and people move around a lot – around the nation and around the world – so it ends up being pretty easy to find a link with another person, and that tends to be first on the order of business when you meet another NZer. I’ve lived in the Waikato, in Auckland and in Christchurch, plus I have friends from all over the country – and some from overseas – so it really isn’t hard. Still, it surprises me every time.

Last night I headed back into my favourite part of Japan so far: Ginza/Nihonbashi. Shibuya’s cool and all, but you won’t see ganguro girls or hordes of hosts dirtying the streets around here (although I was offered a massage on my way to the station – which I declined). I visited the Tokyo International Forum, which has an extremely impressive glass atrium, and took lots of arty photos. Then we went to 100 Dining, where drinks and food are very cheap (usually ¥100 or ¥200) and pretty nice, and after that to an izakaya called Gohan. Gohan means ‘food’. I love that. Where shall we go for dinner? I don’t know, shall we go to Food? We haven’t been there for a while. They had some really great stuff there…


I have Fridays off, so usually that’s my day for exploration – sometimes with a companion, sometimes not. This week, I went into Ginza to meet someone for yakitori. I arrived there with two and a half hours to spare, so through thick humidity and heat, I wandered down to Hama-rikyu, known in English as the Detached Palace Gardens. That’s a reference, I believe, to the Imperial Palace twenty minutes to the north; Hama-rikyu was the emperor’s duck-hunting and tea-sipping retreat.

Begun in 1654 by the Tokugawa family and finished over a time period encompassing about 6 Shogun, then sequestered by the Emperor after the Meiji Restoration, the whole thing was destroyed last century: first by the Great Kanto Earthquake, second (and most completely) by bombing during World War II. The City of Tokyo was then given the garden by the Emperor (that strikes me as rather hollow: “Okay, everybody, we’ve enjoyed this beautiful park for hundreds of years and kept you out of it, but now that it’s decimated… here you go!”), which restored it – within about a year – to its former glory.

So, as I ambled through grassy meadows, sat contemplatively in rest houses, and admired the view from the Nakajima tea-house, the historical significance of it all was more a product of my imagination than actual, tangible evidence. However, the Japanese are exceptionally good at rebuilding things to look exactly as they would have. Some shrines were built to symbolize regeneration, so they are torn down and rebuilt brick-for-brick, board-for-board every 20 or 50 years or something. And of course, the war left a trail of destruction right across the country, so a good number of the country’s important sites are in fact copies of the real, vaporized thing. This garden, then, looked authentic enough, but the knowledge that it basically wasn’t couldn’t be pushed from my mind.

While the noise of the city and the shadows cast by its buildings cannot be completely escaped, its filthy air can. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to inhale a lungful of fresh air, so entering this tree and grass-filled delight was like stepping out of my new life and back into my old one. I breathed deeply and felt… well, regenerated and energized afterwards. Plus there were resident cats, which always delights me (though the enormous flying insects don’t). Tokyo needs more places like this.

I also cannot escape New Zealand. I had a bit of free time at Yokohama the other day, so I was chilling out in the teachers’ room reading my handy guidebook (thanks again, Nic and Mami). Suddenly, I was forced to look up from the book and listen intently to the music coming from the lobby PA. Normally I would avoid doing this at all costs, as it is invariably pumping out swill like The Black Eyed Talentless Pricks or Destiny’s Satan-Child, but not this time. No, it was the dulcet tones of Bic Runga. Turns out it belonged to one of the staff members, who spent three years at high school in New Zealand, and actually lived just down the road from me in Riccarton. We probably saw each other at some point or another. This, combined with seeing my old flatmate’s picture on hundreds of Fujifilm photo-printing machines in Shinjuku, makes me think I know everyone in the known universe. Even if they don’t know me. Or prefer not to know me, since the spaghetti incident. Look, I said I was sorry and I meant it, okay?