After I almost bought a stuffed monkey in the gift shop at the top of the Tokyo Municipal Government building, I took the elevator back down and wandered around the well planned and finely manicured streets of the “skyscraper district” in Shinjuku. The crosswalk signals make an electronic chirping noise when it’s time to cross the street.
As I was wandering I heard a commotion. I’ve always been a big fan of commotions, so I decided to go see what this Japanese commotion was all about. I came across about fifty people or so, all dressed up in some sort of traditional-looking costume, standing together in a tight group and holding a small shrine up in the air. They were semi-marching very slowly, chanting very loudly, and rhythmically shaking the shrine as they did so — I had no idea what this was about, but it was interesting, perhaps made moreso because of my confusion. I watched them for a while, took some pictures, looked around for someone to explain it all to me, and noticed that some of the men weren’t wearing underwear under their white miniskirtish things.
I found out later that they were probably practicing for a Mikoshi festival, which is a Shintoist tradition. I ended up in the middle of a huge Mikoshi festival on Sunday, so I’ll write on this again when I get there.
I have a new email address — MeatballDay@gmail.com. I am no longer using my AOL address for email.
There is a Meatball Day story, but it is very dark.
If anyone wants a Gmail account, let me know — I have invitations.
I’m having this strange thought again tonight, a thought of perhaps returning to Korea for three months early next year. I realize how unusual this sounds, considering how eager I seem to be to leave here in December, but this is an idea that has occurred to me a few times in the past month and has gained strength with each occurrence. Perhaps with my departure becoming more imminent, the future is quickly coming into focus and I’m starting to realistically assess my options.
I am planning on returning to school next fall, and am currently in the process of contacting graduate schools and putting together application materials. I plan to take the GRE when I get home, but after that I’m probably going to have seven or eight months before I start school. I could look for a job in the States, but the job market there is shit right now, and I’d probably end up either at a restaurant or in a cubicle. I’ve thought about substitute teaching, which I understand is good money, but I doubt the money is as good or as easy as it is here. If I come back here and work for three more months I could pay down more of my debt, and perhaps do some more travelling as well… it seems like the most ideal option at this point.
Just a thought.
The photos from my trip to Tokyo are up and labeled — go look, see, enjoy! Click here, on the photo below, or down and to the right… oop! Har har! I fooled you! You looked down and to the right, but the photo albums are actually down and to the left! To the left! To the left! Oh, that was funny, the way you looked at the wrong side of the page. I thought you would have learned, after having written that they were down and to the left so many times before, but you didn’t learn a thing! Har har har!
Jenn had to work on Saturday, so I was on my own for much of the day. She left me wonderfully detailed directions on how to get to the city from her apartment, which ended up coming in handy as the Tokyo Subway is quite a bit more complicated than the Seoul Subway. Despite her directions and the detailed video screens in the trains, I still found myself wondering if I was on the right train.
I ended up back in Shibuya, so I decided to go to the Starbucks that overlooks the crossing for some coffee and breakfast. I managed to score one of the prime window seats, so I sat and drank my coffee of the day and ate my pastrami sandwich (they sell pastrami sandwiches at Starbucks in Tokyo) while I watched thousands of people cross the intersection below. I took some pictures, too, which I later found out is prohibited in Starbucks.
After I had sufficiently fed my hunger and caffeine addiction, I took the subway up to the central Tokyo “skyscraper district” in Shinjuku. Shinjuku is the land of futuristic looking office buildings and precisely planned out streets, walking around the area feels like walking around in some strange version of “Tomorrowland” except without the Goofies and the Mickey Mice.
I looked for and found the Park Hyatt, the hotel where Lost in Translation was filmed. I wanted to go up into the bar that was featured in the film and have a drink, but when I got up to the floor it was on I was told that it was closed, and was promptly seated in another (different) bar that was open in the early afternoon. It was a nice bar with an amazing view of the city, but the menu indicated that drinks were about 2,000 Yen each (about $20), so I snuck out all secret-like.
After that I stopped by the NS Building, which had a cool enclosed courtyard covered by a glass atrium, and also featured the largest clock of some sort as well as the world’s largest stairwell. Then some aimless wandering took me to the Tokyo Municipal Government buildings, which look kinda like giant computers turned inside out and shadow an equally post-post-post-modernish courtyard. I took the (free) elevator up to the 45th floor observatory, where I took some pictures and almost bought a stuffed monkey to add to my collection.
This weekend is the beginning of the Chusok holiday here in Korea, which means that millions of Koreans are leaving Seoul and travelling to their hometowns to be with their families. Chusok is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, except with an emphasis on honoring dead ancestors that is largely absent from the western version. You can read more about it here and here.
The two students I have been teaching the longest — Chris & Steve — moved to Vancouver, Canada with their mother today. They are going to live and attend school there for three or four years while their father stays in Seoul to work. This is surprisingly common here — mothers moving to America or Canada with their children while the father stays behind to work. English ability is one of the most important factors in getting a good job here, many parents are willing to sacrifice their lives and relationships in Korea in order for their children to have a jump on the competition.
I’ve grown quite attached to Chris & Steve, so I am sorry to see them go. We spent three hours a week together for the past six months, and I’d begun to feel strangely paternal towards them. I’d never really spent much time with children before coming to Korea, so it’s a constant suprise to me that not only do they seem to enjoy being with me, but that I usually enjoy being with them. I really didn’t think I would like kids.
Stay tuned for more on my trip to Tokyo, and please don’t vote for Bush.
I’m not a bad flier, but when I’m in a plane I find myself still partially unconvinced of the physics of flight. I realize the chances of plummeting out of the sky are highly remote, but this doesn’t keep me from clutching the armrests and sweating profusely during turbulence.
It follows, then, that my flight to Tokyo was particularly bumpy. It started off bumpy, and it continued to be bumpy long after the captain had (inexplicably) turned off the “fasten seatbelt” sign. It wasn’t until both the captain and the flight crew came on the PA system to warn us of “severe turbulence” ahead that the flight smoothed out, and remained smooth until we were on the ground at Narita Airport. Sometimes I get the overwhelming feeling that I’m being fucked with.
Immigration at Narita Airport was so backed up that there were signs indicating how long the wait would be from that point, just like in an amusement park. I waited in line for almost forty-five minutes.
I stayed with my friend Jenn, who I know from my days with the (now defunct) Second City Cleveland. She gave me detailed directions on how to get from the airport to Shibuya, where we planned to meet. The directions involved one long subway ride followed by one shorter subway ride, which all told took about two hours. By the time I finally arrived at Shibuya at about midnight I was fairly exausted from five hours of travel.
Shibuya, though, is a place that wakes one up. One of the most crowded pedestrian crossings in the world, this is the place they film when they want to show how crowded Japan is. As soon as the crosswalk sign goes from red to green, a flood of pedestrians from almost every direction swarms into the intersection — it’s pretty cool, really. Also cool are the signs and video screens and flashing lights that surround you, reflecting off the cars and the buildings and the glasses-wearing-people. It was almost exactly what I’d imagined when I’d imagined Tokyo, and there I was standing right in the middle of it. (The picture from yesterday’s post is of the Shibuya intersection.)
Jenn had brought two friends with her to meet me, a big American guy from Idaho and a skinny Japanese woman from Tokyo — both teachers who she works with. After wandering around looking for places to eat or considering ways to get to places to eat, we finally decided to stay in Shibuya and ended up spending the next few hours eating and drinking in a restaurant down the street from Shibuya Crossing. I was very hungry and thirsty, so this worked out well.
A taxi-driving friend of the Japanese woman offered to drive us back to Jenn’s apartment for some reason, so at two in the morning I found myself in the backseat of a taxi riding through the outskirts of Tokyo. They drive on the wrong side of the road in Japan, and the steering wheel is equally misplaced.