Fried Shrimp Sandwiches, Shaking and Jail Cells

Lets discuss a day. Not a particularly special day but one filled with Japanese adventure nonetheless. It all started with a harmless meeting in a coffee shop with my friend Natsumi.

Natsumi and I had made plans to hang out on this particular Sunday a few days previous. We first met up at a coffee shop to kill a little time and wait for her friend Saya. It was here that we discussed the intricacies of life, both Japanese and foreign. Work, paychecks, government, shopping bags and puppies. Pretty standard really.

After finding Sayaka we traveled around Omiya, which is where my home office is located and is very close both to my soon to be acquired apartment and the hotels I had been staying in. Made a visit to the Koban (Police Box) to ask the officers  if there was anything of interest in Omiya to do or see. There wasn't. So we made our way to First Kitchen to acquire some sustenance. There were a variety of choices and I chose something I had never induldged in. A fried shrimp sandwich and some BBQ flavor french fries. Sounded like a solid combination to me. Turns out that I was absolutely correct and I now have a new fast food favorite for my rare trips to such places.

We noticed on our bags of french fries that there was some English printed in big letters with a very happy looking exclamation mark. This is what we read: LETS SHAKE! I looked a bit puzzled at this, mentioned it to the girls and we came to a conclusion. Our conclusion was not that the bag had such words printed not for the purpose of shaking your bag of french fries to make sure the spices got all mixed up in your fries, but it was in fact that the restaurant wanted us to not only bust out with our best shimmies in the middle of the restaurant but also to try and inspire the other customers to do the same. It didn't work but we had a giggle nonetheless.

We then made our way off through the streets of Omiya to discover a bar called Lock Up which Natsumi had found on the internet and said it sounded cool. When we arrived we discovered a set of stairs leading down into the basement of fairly sizeable building that was decorated much like a cave. Oh and did I mention that the Pirates of the Carribean movie music was playing? As we entered we discovered this was not merely a restaurant/bar but a house of horrors that blasted heavy metal music. I felt instantly at home. As I made my way across the rickety bridge flooring, passed the very realistic scary Frankenstein monster that leapt out at us from behind a cage we came to the front door of the restaurant. Unfortunately, we could not open this door ourselves. On the door was a sign roughly translated that said "To gain entry stick your hand in the statue to the right." Naturally the girls refused to stick their hand into a giant skull statue's mouth so they made me do it. As I did the sliding door slammed open.

On the other side was a Japanese girl dressed like a very…provocative member of the law he lead us to our table. Oh forgot to mention that she handcuffed Natsumi's hands together first then lead us there via a long chain attached to said handcuffs. We hopped in our small little room, sat at our table and then the "cop" closed the door. And by door I mean jail cell bars. We were officially prisoners. We checked the beverage list and made our orders followed with some bits of food. Our drinks consisted of three interesting varieties:

A wooden holder that held roughly 5 test tubes filled with various mixers and a giant glass of alcohol in a measuring glass.

A giant glass of alcohol that came with a giant syringe filled with mixer.

A glass of mixed alcohol that had a giant eyeball on it. (Mine)

Then the food came. Nachos, mixed light veggies and snacks and fried Koroke. Koroke is some sort of fried potato mash and it is quite tasty and very popular here. There were roughly 6 of these Koroke balls and the waitress mentioned that one of them had an abnormal amount of spices in it that would be very painful to eat. So we rock, paper, scissored to see who had to eat more than the rest and Natsumi and I had to choose two where Saya only had to choose one. On my first pick I naturally managed to get the spicy one and it was brutal to say the least. I asked them to ring the bell to ask the waitress for water and she appeared one minute later with a glass in her hand filled with ice to which she said, "I knew one of you would need this. Enjoy!"

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Let us describe our day today. It was a fairly standard day. Made a visit to the Shinjuku office for LeoPalace to sign the paperwork for my apartment. Took about an hour and a half and the man helping spoke no less than 4 languages. 4. Possibly more than 4. When I asked him how many he spoke he changed topics quickly. Paperwork finished I made my way into Ikebukuro to meet up with a fellow ALT, and that is when I got a taste of the bizarre.

Ikebukuro used to be my "old stomping grounds" about 5 years ago when I studied at Sophia in Tokyo. My previous posts years ago about bowling at HyperLanes took place in Ikebukuro. So naturally one can deduce that I know the area well. It was nice to be back. After a brief visit to Matsuya, a type of Japanese food chain here that happens to be one of my favorites, I parted ways with my friend to head home to make some phone calls to help setup my new apartment for tomorrow. That is when I saw something very unexpected. Infront of me was a large group of Japanese people, all who I assumed were just making their way into the station en masse which is quite common. I was wrong. As I looked into the crowd I noticed a man walking backwards facing the crowd with a large video camera and another man speaking to someone with a microphone. I thought to myself, "is it a celebrity of some kind? A famous person come down from the rich people world to hang with us in one of the lower areas?" That is when I noticed the helmet.

It was Darth Vader. Walking around Ikebukuro. God I love this country.

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Preparations and Commercials

Hello again. Today's installment of the Beez blog will focus on a few job updates and miscellaneous discoveries during my journey here in the Land of the Rising Sun.

First the job updates. I received my cell phone yesterday which is absolutely fantastic. Not having a cell phone in this country makes just about anything and everything impossible to do so it really is a Godsend. Unfortunately I thought I was getting some sort of Japanese super phone that would make every conceivable US phone look stupid and 10 years outdated by comparison, unfortunately this is not the case. Its really a quite standard phone with little to no special features. Oh well. Who needs a fancy phone anyway?

As for apartments, the company is still searching for an appropriate one for me. The hangup on this issue is that I have yet to interview with the Board of Education for my schools in Kuki which would make housing a bit difficult. Unfortunately this means I will haveto continue to burn cash on the hotel front but such is life. The company told us to be very financiallly prepared before we came out here and I made sure I would be. Even so it would be nice to not be spending so much on hotels. Oh well. 

 Tuesday is my interview with the Board of Edcuation. I must do a self introduction in Japanese and English which is fairly standard practice here in Japan. There is a very big difference between what we would call a self introduction in the US and how they do it here. In the US one would probably just list their name, hometown, university they graduated from and what they majored in  and most likely stop there. In a Japanese self introduction you expected to go into far much detail. Things like your hobbies (in detail) how many trips to Japan you've made if any, what you did those previous times, what your university was like etc etc. This shouldn't be too much of a problem for me as my Japanese isn't as rusty as I expected it to be but I must be sure to make a good impression to the Board. To show how important the Board of Education is in relation to me think of it this way: The Board gives Borderlink (my company) the approval per applicant to teach at schools. They help to arrange placement at various schools around the country. If the school has any issues with you or your teaching they have two options, 1) Call my company to complain and ask that the behavior be fixed immediately or 2) They can contact the Board of Education who governs the entire system. If the Board decides they don't want you they can fire you on the spot even tho they are technically not the company I am working for. Its an interesting system to be sure. Lets hope it all works out.

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CEOs and Drinking Parties

Well kids, we finally made it. Training is over and the great 2 week
party begins until I join the Japanese workforce for an entire year.
You may be asking yourself, how does one celebrate such freedom at the
end of a three day training session? Answers I have and answers I
shall give.
It started with a simple gathering of all us ALTs (Assistant Language
Teachers) in the lobby of our training center aka dorm with a curfew.
It was here that we took several group photographs in the usual
Japanese style (making the peace sign) and off we went. Our destination
was an Izakaya, the rough equivalent of a Irish pub but much more
involved and close. Did I mention these places are all you can drink?

All 40 of us assembled at our long tables, raised our glasses in
celebration and off we went. It was at this time, after a few tall
glasses of beer, that I absolutely had to ask the boss to have a drink
with us. Now, when I say boss, I mean the CEO of the entire
company. Yes, he was there. Before a few glasses of beer I could not
have been more nervous being around the man who A) signs my paychecks
and B) Is the boss of a company whose parent company pulls $10 Billion
dollars a year. Needless to say this man was kind of a big deal. After
some liquid courage I asked him in my best polite Japanese if he would
drink with us to which he responded "Yes, one moment please" and he ran
off into a different part of the restaurant. 5 minutes later he
returned with an entire bottle of Shochu which is real potent Korean
liquor that is very popular in Japan. He poured 4 giant classes full,
handed them to us, raised his glass and off we went.

It was certainly a highlight of the evening getting to have an informal
drinking and chatting session with my fellow ALTs and especially
awesome because I got to have a drink with the big bad boss himself.
After that the CEO noticed one of us drinking his beer straight from
the pitcher so of course he pointed and said "Do you know what Iki is?
(aka chugging)" to which our ALT friend responded somewhat sheepishly,
"yes, yes I do." Before he could even finish the boss was
screaming "iki iki iki!" and the poor man had to finish half the
pitcher right there on the spot.

God I love this country.

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What a long strange trip it will be.

I am here safe and sound. Day 2 of training is over. The
facility were at is just like a dorm with even less privacy. None of us
expected it but so be it, I dont really mind it too much. Its funny
having a curfew again tho, gotta be back by 9pm and in bed lights out
at 11pm. Its really quite hilarious. Probably a good thing we have the
lights out policy tho because we have breakfast at 730 and then right
into training until 5.I am here safe and sound. Day 2 of training is over (thank God). The
facility were at is just like a dorm with even less privacy. None of us
expected it but so be it, I dont really mind it too much. Its funny
having a curfew again tho, gotta be back by 9pm and in bed lights out
at 11pm. Its really quite hilarious. Probably a good thing we have the
lights out policy tho because we have breakfast at 730 and then right
into training until 5.

I am incredibly excited because my teaching location is in a place
called Kuuki. Yes it is pronounced almost the same as cookie. They even
have a store here called Cookie, right next to Kuuki station. Its going
to be great because my station is roughly 45 minutes away from
Shinjuku, which means it will be very easy to see all of my friends in
the Tokyo area. Nami is also lives very close to me since we will be in
the same prefecture which is called Saitama, think of it like a
mini-state. I really couldnt have asked for better. There are 3 of us
from my company in this location which is going to make life really
convenient and comfortable. I really cant describe how excited I am
about being placed here. Out of all us recruits the 3 of us were placed
the closest to the heart of Tokyo which is exactly what I had hoped for.

Training has been interesting. Training really doesnt feel like the
right word because the majority of it has been about logistical things
such as health insurance, paying taxes, getting a bank account, alien
registration etc etc. All very very very important things to be sure.
Today we studied lesson planning and self introductions. I hadnt done a
self introduction in Japanese for a looooooooong time but I still got
it. Japanese ability here. Its kind of a satisfying feeling seeing as
how I havent done hardly anything with my Japanese for so many years.
Its all come back to me so fast and honestly I feel like I never even
left. Its really great to be back here again and I am really excited
for this new life I am about to start here.

Really a fascinating experience and so far everyone is getting along
very well. Its refreshing to be around such an immensely diverse range
of people from all walks of life.

As far as more job details go I dont have a boatload of info to give.
They have yet to place us in our specific schools yet. When I asked the head recruiter about schools he said that if they didnt have
a specific school for me yet that it is most likely I will be teaching
both Elementary and Junior High. Imagine me of all people, singing Head
Shoulders Knees and Toes to 6-12 graders while wearing a big fancy
suit. I personally cant picture it but it would be a hilarious thing to
watch to be sure. We had some practice today in training for this kind
of stuff and all 40 of us had a great time laughing at how ridiculous
we all looked doing it.

Im also really excited to participate in the clubs at the Junior High
schools. If Im able to participate in a Judo club I can think of
nothing more awesome. Chances are small due to my huge size and age but
maybe the coach will let me play anyway. They told us that even if you
didnt participate, watching and just being a fly on the wall for the
clubs would go a long way in creating a better bond and relationship
with our students so I will be spending a lot of time doing that. Im
really excited to be a part of it.

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