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
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
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.