Tag Archives: training

BLOCK OUT THE SUN OVER ME

On Thursday I met my friend Yutaka after training. (I was so excited I forgot to punch out my timecard.) He’s a tour guide in Christchurch, but has been back in Japan until tomorrow, so he offered to show me some things in Shinjuku. First, some skyscrapers.

West Shinjuku is known in Tokyo as ‘the skyscraper district’. There must be somewhere between 10 and 20 buildings that are 35 stories or more. Pretty much all of them are about 80-90% offices, with supermarkets on the ground/basement floors and restaurants on the highest floors. Some of course, have observation areas, so we checked a couple out. The most impressive was the tallest building in the city, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, with its twin towers and modern interiors.

Generally I would say a view’s a view and there’s no point explaining it, but this was special enough to warrant more than just a photo or two. In every direction, buildings cover the land (apart from the parks, like Yoyogi), all the way out past your field of vision. This means there is an obscene amount of pollution, so you can’t really see that far – like, if it was NZ, you’d probably be able to see Mount Fuji, but here you can only see it about twenty days a year. The point, though, is that one has to marvel that a lot of this sprung up in the wake of World War Two. That’s 50 years to get from near-decimation to arguably the most impressive, advanced and certainly largest metropolitan area in the world.

From there we went to an alley crammed full of very traditional yakitori bars: tiny establishments serving mostly barbecued meat on sticks to salarymen. The ‘men’ there is key, because while we there, I would’ve only seen about four or five women out of the hundreds of people dining in the alley. Every time a pair or group of young girls walked past, Yutaka would say they were probably from out of town, because local women would always go somewhere else and leave the blokes here to drink, smoke and banter.

I quickly realised the art of choosing which establishment to enter. First, you want one that’s full (or nearly full) of people. If there’s nobody there, that’s usually for a good reason: the food’s inferior. Better to have to keep your elbows tucked in tight and enjoy incredible food than be able to spread out and not want to finish what’s been put in front of you. Second, the chef shouldn’t be too vocal. The vast majority will be calling out ‘Douzo’ (please), ‘Irrashaimase’ (formal welcome) and ‘Oishii desu yo’ (It’s delicious), loudly and almost desperately. The good chefs a) are too busy cooking to yell at potential patrons walking by; b) know their stuff is so good that people will come anyway.

Which brings me to the food. I… words fail me. Certainly one of the best meals I have ever had, and a dream experience. We had mung bean sprout/chicken liver salad, seasoned pork/spring onion skewers, macaroni/tuna/ham salad, tofu/pork/radish stew, seasoned chicken mince skewers (a house specialty), and seared bonito slices (just amazing), accompanied by several Asahi beers. I’ll post a photo soon, but seriously, every last thing was incredible. And we were sat right in front of the charcoal broiler, so we could watch the chef work. Everybody was friendly, too – obviously quite surprised to see a foreigner in a place like this, but keen to communicate.

We then met an Aussie guy and a couple of American girls, so we had a few drinks with them, which was cool. I found myself talking like a teacher: smoothly and very demonstratively. Perhaps not a good thing, but I’ve resigned myself to it, because these procedures and philosophies I’m being trained in won’t allow themselves to be put to one side. Actually, maybe it is a good thing. I’ve never been very good at verbal communication, so if if the only downside of changing that is sounding like I’m in an infomercial, I guess I should embrace the trade-off. Either way, it hasn’t been that difficult thus far. Kids training next week! Singing and dancing! Woohoo!

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HOLD YOUR HEAD UP HIGH ON THE OTHER SIDE

QUESTION from Marty: How long does the train ride from Chigasaki to Shinjuku take? – Well, if I take the Rapid service (which I usually do), it’s 52 minutes. Yes, train times are that exact. In physical measurement, it’s just over 60 kilometres. Including walking times, my daily commute is about 70 minutes each way. Bear in mind that the whole way, the conurbation never stops – it’s buildings from beginning to end with no parks, forests or hilly domains. Thanks for the question, Marty – keep ’em coming, people!

This morning I slept through my alarm. That’s to say, it went off, I grabbed it and pressed ‘Stop’, then settled back into bed – all without actually waking up. I opened my eyes to find the sun higher in the sky than it should be and my phone/alarm clock nowhere in sight. Panicking, I threw my bedsheets around trying to find it. What if I only had 5 minutes to get to the train station? What if training had already started? Very soon I found my phone, and it said 8 o’clock. Training started at 10:30. Not the nightmare I was preparing for, but still quite pressing.

I made it, though. No problem. And I remembered my pen today, which I’m sure you’ll agree was sensible.

After training I found myself in Shibuya, so I met up with the gentleman who writes (or used to write) this website. He’s a Kiwi who’s been over here for a year now. Pretty crazy, hanging out with someone I’ve only previously talked to on the internet. I must say, it was very nice to hear a familiar accent again, even though I’ve been here less than a week. We had a good yarn over a couple of beers; he introduced me to some new terms, like ‘friendsick’ and ‘familysick’ in place of ‘homesick’, as they are very much distinct from each other.

Generally, talking to this guy was massively reassuring – like, now I feel like I’m really here and it’s exciting and my horizons can be expanded, because until now I’ve been wary of exploring too far, or challenging myself too much. His words made me think about why I’m here, and how I’m here, which made me eager to get into things a bit more instead of sitting back, saying as little as possible and keeping to the streets I need. The easing-in period can finish; the grabbing life anew period can begin (as ridiculous as that sounds).

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PEOPLE WON’T BE PEOPLE

I made my way to Shinjuku this morning for the first day of training. As is customary, I missed the turnoff and walked about three times as far as I should have, before realising my mistake and turning back. I found the building, sweaty and harried, with 5 minutes to spare. Wahey.

(By the way, the weather is different between Chigasaki and Shinjuku. In Shinjuku, it is sticky and energy-sapping. I think it’s all the tall buildings reflecting heat into the street, or something. Down here in Chigasaki, it is comfortable – warm but not too hot, not humid, occasionally with a pleasant breeze. But you didn’t come here to talk about the weather, and anyway, it’s all going to change very soon – the Rainy Season is almost upon us…)

Once inside the training room, with four fellow trainees (all Australians), I realised I hadn’t brought a pen. Good start. Our trainer looked and spoke a bit like Simon Amstell, so when he noticed me looking around uncomfortably at form-filling-in time, he graciously offered me his pen for the session… and took the piss out of me at the same time. What he couldn’t possibly have expected was that I would BREAK HIS PEN just five minutes later! What a ridiculous thing to do! I felt like a prize idiot, but he didn’t mind too much… he just took the piss out of me again.

The second trainer who took over at about 4 was a Yorkshireman who was into, among other things, avant garde hardcore and noisescapes such as the music of John Zorn. So far, not too challenging.

After the training finished, I went for a wander around Shinjuku, just to look at all the blinking lights and swiftly moving people. It was illuminating, to say the least. So many shops, bars, restaurants… all with staff outside shoving menus in your face and loudly chorusing for you to come inside. I didn’t buy anything – somehow. I also counted about four noisy buses circling the neighbourhood, obnoxiously but delightfully advertising various wares. Then I caught the train home, and the mass of people on the train network illustrated again how vast Japan’s (and especially Tokyo’s) population. People just don’t stop coming.

Now I’m back here, writing this, and thanks to Google I know that there’s a guy who did exactly the same. Here‘s his webpage, which I discovered some time ago, but only read through in the past couple of days. A lot of it is rather familiar. That’s my house! That’s my room! That’s my local bar! His writing is (I think) a lot more earnest than mine, but it’s pretty good, and worth a look. It makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t lighten up once in a while and just be stunned by my life at the moment, similar to how he was… but that wouldn’t be me, would it? I come at everything – even a completely new environment, with the hundreds of challenges that poses – with ruthless pragmatism and even a healthy dose of cynicism. It’s just the way it is. How would you react in my situation? Or how did you react? Am I doing it wrong?

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