Tag Archive | trains

New Year’s 2012

So thing’s been pretty heavy around here recently. Back to our regular programing!

So I went out to Yokohama for New Year’s to see some fireworks. Now, I was expecting some fireworks on the same level as the last time I went to Yokohama. These were nothing quite the same but still pretty. Anyway here’s what I got.

Kinda lame wasn’t it? Yeah. I saw a video of the show down at the countdown party and to be fair it was pretty cool. A lot of the fireworks were small bursts in time with the music. It looked much cooler up close. Also, if you watched it all you might have heard me narf to myself about if a certain song was Nine Inch Nails or Led Zeppelin. Apparently it was the new cover version of a Led Zeppelin song done by Trent Reznor, frontman of NIN.

So my confusion was justified and I felt compelled to clear that up for some reason. Moving on.

After that we went from Yokohama to Tokyo to visit a shrine. For the uninitiated it is a Japanese custom for people to visit a Shinto shrine sometime in the first few days of the new year. You chuck some money into a bin, usually one of the lucky though near worthless 5 yen coins, clap your hands twice and make your wish/prayer for the new year. (I bet you can guess what mine was)

You can go anytime in the first three days or so, however, since most people are out and about that night, or just awake when they usually aren’t, many people go to shrines shortly after midnight. We went to Meiji Jingu, which is the shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor who ruled during the Meiji Reformation during the Meiji period. So pretty important dude. (Even though I misspelled his name throughout the entire video I made (>_<) )

Isn’t iMovie neat? So this shrine happens to be one of the most popular shrines to visit in the largest city in the country so…it’s crowded. We had to wait at least an hour and a half just for our one minute prayer ritual. But like climbing Mt. Fuji, a wise person does it once and only a fool does it twice. (Unless you’re into the exercise when it comes to Fuji, I know some people like that.) It was an experience let’s just say.

You can also buy all kinds of charms, knick knacks, fortunes, etc. after you make your prayer. I bought a Hamaya which literally means “demon-breaking arrow”. Which sounds pretty cool when you think about it.

Pretty wicked no? Apparently I’m supposed to return it to the shrine for burning next year or all it’s luck protection powers will be for nothing. I’d like to think that it stores up the bad luck and if you don’t burn that shit it’ll all come back to you at once. A whole year’s worth of bad luck? No thank you.

Anyway it was a fun time and certainly something I’m glad I got to experience. As far as starts to a new year, this one wasn’t so bad. Questions, comments? Leave them after the pictures and debut of my terrible movie. (^_^)

Warning: some NSFW language.


Tokyo Music Showcase: Taoyame Orquesta

Taoyame Orquesta [sic] is a big band. Seventeen people big. (Maybe more, I had trouble counting from the crowd, more on that later.) Also Big Band in the music sense. An all female troupe, I went to see them because one of my students is a member. Personally, I thought the show was great. Powerful energy and soulful singing with even a bit of comedy thrown in to the mix. I wish I had more footage of the band but the venue doesn’t allow cameras or photos or fun.

Well maybe not the last one, but the dude running the swag table was a little more gruff telling me to stop than he needed to be. Kind of killed the mood.

Which leads me into the worst part, the venue. In a word, sucked. In a few more words, to be fair it only was terrible because of massive overcrowding. See, my student’s band was part of a two band set. The other being Gentle Forest Jazz Band. It would seem the leader of this band is also a bit of a TV star so lots of people came out to see them. The club is a small place called “Loop” in Daikanyama. The set up is one large empty space in front of the stage and two narrow staircases along the sides leading to the bar and bathroom area. Problem is the walls along these hallways are low. So people can stand next to them and watch the show. They are only about a person-width wide to begin with. Cue subway level congestion when trying to get anywhere in the place.

It didn’t help that pretty much half the fan base that showed up were tall hipster dudes in hats. So seeing the stage from my place in the back was tough. Next to the swag table taking up a tenth of the available space.

Long story short, venue fail. I left after my student’s band finished their set, which was excellent. Some of the songs felt straight out of a Bond movie or a 60s gangster hot spot. Very cool and I will certainly try and catch another show. Just hopefully in a place that doesn’t make me want to chew my foot off to escape.

I really need a better camera.


How to Freelance Teach English in Tokyo

I’ve managed to cobble together a living wage teaching mostly private lessons for 6 months now. Some weeks have been good with my wallet bursting with cash, some weeks I’ve thought about selling blood to make rent. Ups and downs is what I’m trying to say. It’s certainly not as secure as having a steady paycheck, but back when I did that I had to wear a suit and put up with a lot of boring paperwork. I also had to teach completely outdated lessons about topics that made me want to burn those textbooks into cinders. Anyway here are some tips if you want to try this roller-coaster for yourself. Just be prepared to live constantly on the edge of poverty because it’s, more relaxing?

Know your English.

Seriously. If you’re going to try and make a living off of private one-on-one lessons then you’ll have to know just about everything there is to know. Can’t explain the difference between the Past Perfect Subjunctive and the Future Conditional? Tough shit because it’s bound to come up. You might be able to get away with the occasional spelling mistake but be sure to have a dictionary handy.

Know their English.

By that I mean, know how to teach English to Japanese speakers. There are a lot of little peculiarities of how Japanese speakers communicate in English that will speed up and help you understand the student. Since most of these types of lessons will take place in a noisy cafe (unless you’re willing to cut even more into your earnings to go somewhere small and expensive) understanding is key.

Don’t waste the student’s time.

You don’t have to quite be as much of a dancing monkey as you do in a large chain school environment but that doesn’t mean you can be as boring as a wet paper bag. The students I teach pay in cash, 3000 yen (~$39USD) a per hour. If they are not getting enough value for that money they will quit quite easily. I recently lost a twice a week student because I had a bad day, bad lesson, and then I charged her twice. (Cancelation fees which leads me to…)

Don’t let them waste your time either.

Unless you work mostly nights some students can be pretty flakey about making it to lessons. The problem is, unlike a regular eikaiwa, you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Simple as that. When a student commits to a certain time that space is theirs. If they weren’t there I would probably try to fit in another student so I can get paid. This is where a firm cancelation policy can be a good thing. It’s cost me a couple of students but I’m better off with students that are just as willing and able to show up as I am.

Pick an area and cram in as many students as you can.

I work along the Yamanote line from Shinjuku to Gotanda. (It’s mine! Stay out!) It’s still pretty huge and I’ll have some days where I’m bouncing around from station to station with only 30 minutes in between each lesson. That sounds like a lot but it really isn’t when you have to take the train. The best times are when I can see two students in a row at the same cafe. Since you have to buy something to sit down two students in the same place can be very good for your bottom line. I suspect that most of the staff at my frequent coffee shops know and hate me for such tactics. A co-worker once was told to GTFO by a manager when he taught three students off one coffee.

Have steady income.

Yeah you didn’t think I survived only on private students, did you? Good lord no that would be suicide. I work about 10 hours a week at steady, classroom style lessons that covers my rent and recently a little extra. That money goes direct to my bank account. My goal is to not touch my account until I need the rent and day to day expenses plus entertainment come out of my private lessons. Last month was the first time I managed it. Other months I went to the well once or twice, mostly due to poor decisions while intoxicated. “Entertainment”. The security of the basics makes it easier to suck up that bad week or month at the cafe.

Find students.

You’re on your own for this one! I don’t need the competition.

It’s not easy doing what I do now and have it be a primary source of income. I enjoy the free time, the fact that how well I’m doing is a direct reflection of how well I teach, no kids. I learned the hard way over the last year that I hate teaching children. That’s neither here nor there. I hope I’ll be able to pick up some more students soon but I work for a great company that really cares about their teachers and students so I’m sure I’ll do all right.

The main point is, this career style is not for the weak of heart or skill. If you’re not an old hand then chances are good you’ll crash and burn if you try to rely on it as your entire income. If you’ve got a steady job here, picking up one or two students on the side can be pretty good scratch.

Any tips or students you want to offer, leave them in the comments. V(^_^)

How to improve travel in Tokyo pt. 2

Ticket gates

First, stop buying paper tickets. They are hold overs from when they actually needed someone to stand at the gate and hole-punch each ticket. I’ve seen video of it. It’s been 20 years at least. Buy a damn train pass.

If you have a train pass and you screw up and it beeps at you, you have failed. Your turn is forfeit, please don’t stand there until it resets so you can screw it up again. These are highly efficient magnetically controlled machines. If something went wrong it’s a 99.9% chance that it’s your fault.

If you are they type of person that follows someone closely so you can skip through and avoid paying the fair, sand blasting your colon is too good a punishment for you.

Seat Rules

First, pick a seat if you’re going to sit down. If you switch destination seats, block me, and cost me the other seat I thought you were going for originally, I will want to stab you with an umbrella made of fire ants.

If the train is fairly crowded the rule is, if someone directly in front of you gets off the train, then that seat is yours. If you don’t take it, everyone feels awkward unless it’s one of those reserved for the olds or the injured/pregnant. If it’s a regular seat some jerkwad will push through the crowd and claim it, leaving you looking stupid and me pissed off for a wasted seat.

Personal space

Look, I get it when the train is way above capacity. You gotta get close. Be quicker on making the room in that case or I’ll push your kidneys into your stomach with my elbows.

But when there’s lots of room and I’m chilling by the door, get the hell away from me. Since I quit smoking I’ve discovered just how terrible everyone on the train smells during summer so get the fuck back please.

Not everyone is on your schedule

This is huge. Just because your train isn’t pulling into the station right this second doesn’t mean you can hog the stairway/escalator. Someone behind you (me) trapped by your douchbaggery apathy will not appreciate having the doors to the other train (usually there’s two directions per platform, didn’t you notice?) shut in their face because you don’t feel like walking up an escalator that’s only wide enough for one person. Especially if it’s a fairly local line where catching one train and having to wait for the other can be the difference between making it to work on time and being late! I’LL KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ummm, sorry about that. Just stop being so shit about moving around the city, Tokyo.


How to improve travel in Tokyo

Trying to get anywhere in Tokyo can range from extremely convenient to hot needles in the eyes level of frustration. These are some thoughts of mine that if everyone did, I would at least be happier for it.

Walk like you have a purpose.

This is a big thing. In my mind the only people allowed to stumble around the city without a care are drunks, children, and hobos. Everyone else, I don’t care if you’re on your way to a Directionless Adults Anonymous meeting, walk like you mean to go somewhere.

Don’t block traffic.

If you stop in the middle of the flow of pedestrian traffic, everyone hates you. You are that person. If you’re lost, need to make a sudden phone call, or scratch your butt then do us all a favor and take it to the side. This also applies to groups that take up the whole sidewalk moving slowly while laughing a dentist drill pitch. Whole offices of drunk people standing around taking an hour to say good night after your company mandated all you can drink night is over. Also people that get on trains as the doors are about to close and don’t clear the area. I will bump into you in a passive-agressive manner if I’m trying to catch that train.

Let the trains go where you think they will.

Many times I’ve gotten on a train only to have it suddenly stop service only a few stops later. Often this means shifting over to a more crowded car. Just the other day I took a train way out of my regular stomping grounds. It stopped three stations from where I wanted to be. In my confusion I switched to a train in the other direction. I changed again only to have that train stop at the same station as the previous one. Nearly an hour wasted to what should have been only 20 minutes.

Just be aware of your surroundings.

I will admit, I am not perfect. Sometimes I try to walk and text at the same time. Sometimes I need to turn around and catch my bearings etc. However, most people just don’t seem to give half a microshit about the space they occupy. Take a moment to notice when you’re aggravating a fast walker like me and you might avoid a few more umbrella stabbings than usual.

A few things I’ve learned

I think I’m going to keep it simple for my first real post on this blog. Some things I have learned during my time in Tokyo, in no particular chronological order.

It’s easy to forget how much money you’re spending.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been out eating with friends and when the bill comes it’s something on the order of 5000 yen. Worth it, usually, if it was a nomihodai (all you can drink) at least. But even after all this time I’m just now starting to pay closer attention to the cash that flees my wallet as if it were on fire. Americans just aren’t equipped to deal with monetary transactions involving this many zeros on a daily basis.

The trains are, at the same time, the best and the worst part of the city.

There is nothing greater for a drunk than to have a safe, cheap, and convenient way to return home after a night’s libations. Problem is you only have two choices as to departure time. Sometime around midnight or well after 5am. Trains don’t run in the wee hours so if you miss your “last train” then you’re stuck sleeping in a gutter (or manga cafe) or punishing your liver for another five hours.

You don’t have to own a car or even learn how to drive period. The train system is so complex and extensive that you can get pretty much anywhere in under an hour if you know what you’re doing. Of course, so does most of the population. The jokes and horror stories of crowded trains are all too true. I’ve been there…I know…

I’ve once said that I love every area of Tokyo but hate every train station. The reason is the crowds.

Roppongi is a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

In reality it’s just the one street. Everyone that’s been there knows which one. If you haven’t, go there. It’ll be obvious what I’m talking about.

Earthquakes are actually not something you can get used to.

I’m tearing down a lot of my own false bravado by saying this but every earthquake still freaks me out. There was a noticeable tremor on the East Coast not too long ago and folks reacted like they should have. Being freaked out. Sorry California, there’s nothing yawn inducing about the very ground beneath your feet moving around of its own free will in my humble, quivering with fear, opinion. Come back to me when you imagine earthquakes even when there are none, like I have for the past 6 months. Earthquake sickness I think it’s called.

The weather pretty much sucks all of the time.

Except for about two or three weeks in late spring and early autumn (like it’s been recently), the weather in Tokyo blows isn’t that great. It’s either way, way too hot. Raining. Way too hot and raining. Or it’s cold. And raining. Good luck trying to plan an outdoor event by the way. Just might get a typhoon up your backside.

Anyway, that’s good enough for now. Need to take the trash out.

Oh yeah!

Wacky as hell trash regulations!