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The Tokyo Whirlwind


The flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo was looooong. About 12 hours. It was bearable though. They showed three movies, all of which really sucked. It was daylight outside the entire time, because we followed the sun, but the windows were closed most of the time because of the movies and people sleeping. I did look out the window and see a LOT of lakes all across the land below. I was told that this was western Canada. The route we took from Minneapolis to Tokyo was north over western Canada, across Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands, then down towards Japan. I never really got to see the Pacific while we were flying over because either the windows were closed or the cloud cover was too heavy.

The airplane was a 747. It was huge, with three seats along each side and four in the middle, with maybe 75 rows, and it was full. There were no empty seats on the plane. Our Kansas City group merged with a group of new JETs from the New Orleans consulate in Minneapolis and all 100 or so of us boarded the plane to Tokyo.

So after 12 hours we landed at Narita airport. Then we had to go through immigration, showing our passports and visas, then we had to pick up our luggage and go through customs. Then we followed the breadcrumb trail of veteran JET volunteers in red t-shirts who led up to where we shipped off some of our baggage to our individual offices. Then we were herded onto buses to the trip to downtown Tokyo. It was a two hour bus ride. We couldn’t see much of the trip, because the freeway has a lot of high walls. The bus ride didn’t seem that long though, because I was in a daze from exhaustion. I hadn’t slept for like 30 hours. But everybody else was a zombie too.




My first impression of Tokyo was this sprawling urban maze of buildings and freeways. In many areas, the edge of the elevated freeway was in fact the edge. The white line was the edge of the road, and there was no concrete guardrail, just a chainlink fence. So it seemed in some places that there was a thirty foot drop two feet from my window to a street below with cars and shops and people.


When we finally reached the Keio Plaza Hotel, I was amazed. This was definitely the swankiest, biggest hotel I have ever seen. It is two towers, one with 47 floors, one with 30 floors. So we get herded inside, herded through the initial arrival procedure where we got packets of information and room keys. My room was 1454, on the 14th floor of the south tower.

After I surveyed the room, which was not very big at all, I decided to venture out and explore Tokyo. This was at like 8 pm local time. The Keio Plaza is in the heart of the West Shinjuku district. Pictures tell it better than words.

It was like I had imagined. I managed to buy a bowl of rice and a beer in a small shop about two blocks from the hotel. The beer really wiped me out. I was so dehydrated from sweating and the beer was half a liter, that I was kind of hungover the next morning. Finding a place that sold aspirin was kind of a challenge, but finally a convenience store in the hotel opened up and I got some there.


I was up at like 4 am, despite being exhausted.


I met soooo many cool people, Brits and Scots and Aussies and Kiwis and Canadians and South Africans. It seems like I met a lot of Canadians, especially from Toronto. It’s only been a few days, but already the names are starting to fade. Everybody is very intelligent, highly motivated, and excited to be where they are. I was pretty proud to be a part of this.
The Orientation officially began with all 1300 of us in one big room listening to speeches from various government officials about the purpose of the JET Program and how Japan needs us to help open up their country to the world. Then they showed us a video of a typical day for an ALT (assistant language teacher). It was interesting, and I think being in the class room will be a lot of fun. That evening, I ventured out into Shinjuku again. A person could spend two months in that district alone and only scratch the surface.



I went into a drugstore to buy some mouthwash, and had my first negative experience with Japanese people. I was standing in line with my mouthwash, waiting to pay, about three people back, and this middle-aged woman stepped into line ahead of me, then so did the younger woman with her. I stood there for a moment wondering what to think. Then I moved over to the other line which was shorter now, and this woman moved over and stood in front of me again. I didn’t say anything, nor did it bother me; I was just puzzled and let it slide. I asked a couple of people about this later, and they both said that I was in fact being dissed.


I was trying to get myself adjusted to local time, so I stayed out until like 11 pm, going into various little shops, I bought a ¥300 fan, wandered over into East Shinjuku, where things were a little seedier, but still very bright and lively. A black guy came up and tried to get me to come to his hostess bar. I talked to him a little bit, and he told me he was from Nigeria. He had a Lakers cap on, but when I mentioned Shaq, I don’t think he knew what I was talking about. I also talked some with a waitress who was from India.



The next day was broken up into individual workshops. I was getting to know people more, making some friends of yesterday’s acquaintances, meeting more people. The workshops were interesting. We had a couple of workshops about team teaching and working in junior high schools, one about teaching in elementary schools (wherein we were advised to leave our pride at the door and be as ridiculous and over the top as possible), how to get hooked up to internet and cellphones. There were lots of different ones, but these were what I chose.


Then there was the last night in Tokyo, and it was raining. So I had to buy an umbrella if I wanted to go out, so I did. The newest thing about this night out was that as I was walking down the street, my neck swiveling like a lawn sprinkler, this older lady came out of nowhere, hooked me by the arm and literally dragged me into her shop. She was very insistent that I needed a massage. I was a little curious so I thought what the hell. And it WAS very relaxing, so much so that I caught myself falling asleep twice during the hour that she worked on me. She was like walking on my back, everything. My ribs were popping, and I think my hip popped once. When I got back to the hotel, Eric told me that he had had someone from the hotel come and give him a massage and that he had fallen asleep completely during his. I thought about buying lots of souvenirs, but I didn’t want to spend all my money before I got to where I was going.


I took some pictures from the top floor of the main tower, where we had some of our meetings.





They say that on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji, but it was so hazy, wet, and rainy that I never did.
When we left Tokyo, I felt like every moment had been busy, and I was so tired that a lot of it is just a blur, like being in the middle of a barely controlled whirlwind.