Monday, 11th January 1988
Everything got back to normal again. The school resumed its normal timetable and I began teaching at 4pm or 5pm in the evenings again.
I missed the intensives on one hand, but I did see the advantage of teaching students for just one hour and then not seeing them again for a long time.
Friday, 15th January 1988
Friday was a holiday for Coming of Age Day.
I had told Aiko about my trip to Nikko with Andrew and how we had hitched around. She had told me that she really wanted to try hitching too. She had suggested a trip to Hakone for the long weekend.
We met at 10am at Shinjuku station and started the journey out towards Hakone on the Odakyu electric train to Odawara. We changed there for the little climbing train and rode it to Gora.
After a lunch of curry rice in a coffee shop next to the station, we walked up the hill through the little town towards the cable car station. We found the youth hostel we had booked nearby and left our bags there.
We tried hitching and we immediately got a lift with a young couple. It took us up to the hot spring resorts and we sat there for a while watching people eating thermal boiled eggs. I got my first ever glimpse of Mount Fuji there and it looked absolutely gorgeous. It was shrouded in mist but majestic all the same. We hitched back to the youth hostel with another young couple who had two delightful little babies in the back seat.
The youth hostel was the anti-climax of the whole trip. There was me with 18 young Japanese men in the male dormitory and Aiko on her own in a separate female dormitory. The warden had a limp and he was a strict task master. The rules were authoritarian. The food was awful. The rest of the residents were okay, but their conversation was limited to asking me my age about 25 times. Aiko just sat in the other dormitory and read her book.
Saturday, 16th January 1988
I was glad to leave the hostel.
We walked over to the cable car station and met a really nice old man. He took a real interest in us and what we were doing. We shook his hand and he wished us both well on our journey.
We then hitched over to the lake with two old ladies and a man in a car. We took some time to have a look around the lake and then grabbed a bit of breakfast at a coffee shop.
Then we began a long and beautiful trek along the old Tokaido path. Before the coming of the railways, the Tokaido path was the primary link between Edo (later Tokyo) and the old Japanese capital, Kyoto. Part of it actually had passed through the Hakone area and it had been restored as a modern walking path. We used it and had a lovely few hours walk through the woods.
We stopped at a cafe selling omiyazake (a mild form of hot sake) and had a few cups to warm us up. Then we had a look around the Tokaido museum; an interesting collection of antiques and tableaux that told the story of the path.
We left the path but carried on walking up into the mountains and eventually had a great view of the valley below. We stopped at another cafe and had a nice bowl of hot udon (Japanese noodles) with shredded mountain potato grated on the top.
As it began to get later in the afternoon we started to think about a place to stay. We decided to hitch down in the direction of Mishima. We were soon picked up by a guy in a red Porsche. It was an authentic German one with the steering wheel on the left. Aiko crouched in the back and I strapped myself into the front as the driver sped down faster and faster through the series of S bends as we descended towards Mishima.
The driver spoke English and so I asked him if he had ever had any speeding problems with the police. He told me he was actually a policeman himself. He was really a very nice guy. He told us that his hobby was collecting old sports cars and as well as the Porsche he had two old Lotus cars in the garage at home as well. He took us back to his house near Mishima to show us the other cars and then he introduced us to his wife and mother.
We spent about two hours at the house sat under his kotatsu (table with a heater) eating rice cakes with strawberries and drinking green tea. We chatted with them about all manner of things and they were all genuinely interested in what we were doing in Tokyo and our trip to Hakone. He also demonstrated his new laser disc player (the first one I had ever seen) to us by showing us part of a James Bond film. At the end he took us to Mishima station and dropped right outside the main entrance.
I assured Aiko that this was not a normal hitching experience and outside Japan this sort of thing would be unheard of. In fact it would be positively dangerous to go to somebody’s house even if they did tell you they were a policeman. I told her it was just another great feature of Japan and it showed the lack of crime in her country.
We asked at Mishima station about a ryokan or a hotel and they directed us onto a local train for a couple of stops down to Shuzenji to find one. The ryokan that we found was a bit posher than the one I had stayed at with Andrew in Nikko. We had saved money the night before in the Youth Hostel so we decided to splash out.
A lady in a kimono served us with a full Japanese-style meal and fussed around us. The only small downside of staying as a couple was that I had to bathe alone. I had a very relaxing hot bath in the hotel bath room, but the baths were, like everywhere in Japan, strictly segregated by sex so I had to sit there by myself.
Sunday, 17th January 1988
The next morning we were served another wonderful Japanese-style breakfast based on fish, rice and all the trimmings. We set off for a look around Shuzenji and all the temples they had there. Eventually, we walked out of town and passed masses of strawberry fields as we climbed a little hill on a path.
From the top of the hill we hitched with a young couple driving a minibus. They were dressed in motorcycle leathers and had a couple of Suzuki bikes in the back. They took us to Atami, a very popular hot spring resort about 60 miles west of Tokyo.
We caught Atami on a good day. They were having an ume (Japanese plum) blossom festival. The plum blossom was not as well know or as popular as the cherry blossom, but it was beautiful nonetheless.
We walked around the purple plum blossom trees in Atami’s main park and then had some grilled octopus from one of the yatai (stands) that they had set up there for the festival.
We went to Atami station at about 3pm and got a train on the Tokaido main line all the way back to Tokyo.
It was a great weekend and only the second time I had spent time staying overnight outside the city.
Tuesday, 19th January 1988
I started a new Japanese class at 9:00am on Tuesday. I was studying with New Zealand Richard and two American teachers from the Ginza school, Don and John. The class was scheduled for 3 times a week and would be on Wednesday and Friday mornings too.
Kobayashi San was still teaching us but sometimes he would substitute his assistant (and girlfriend) Noguchi San. I had also started two hours of weekly private lessons with Noguchi san. Andrew was also being taught by her too in a different class.
It was a struggle sometimes to get up at 8:00am and head out to Ikebukuro station. I would join the tail end of the rush hour and get on the Saikyo line at about 8:45am with all the salarymen. It was just a 4 minute ride to Shinjuku, the chuten (terminus).
Kobayashi had now opened a new school in an office building opposite the Alta building in Shinjuku. It was a short walk from the station and I was normally there well in time for the lesson. It started at 9am and ran for two hours.
The Japanese was coming on well, but I found I still needed to study hard to keep up.
After the lesson I would often go for something to eat with Richard, Don and John. We had found a lovely dry curry place near the school. We had first been intrigued by a bowl of rotting sweet potatoes they had in the window and had gone in for a look.
It was done up in a Singapore style inside and the curry was exceedingly tasty. The owner had no teeth but he would always do his best to smile as we sat there eating our curry and joking to ourselves about what would happen if the health inspectors ever found the place.
I would normally go home after lunch, study there in the afternoon and then change into my teaching suit at around 3pm to make the trip back on the Saikyo line to Shinjuku. I would begin working at 4pm or sometimes 5pm. The teaching was almost automatic now and always finished at 10pm.
I would always have a few pieces of the free sushi and then head off to Shinjuku station with Michael, an Australian guy, who always caught the same 10:18 train as me. Michael was great company and had a wonderfully cynical but highly amusing outlook on living in Japan in general and on the ACA school in particular. If something was bad or corrupt somewhere Michael would know all about it. I always looked forward to our train rides home, and in a funny way his negativity really cheered me up.
It was then a quick walk back from Ikebukuro station to Marui House and I would normally get a beer from the shop or the machine and then sit talking until about midnight with Andrew or anyone else who happened to be there.
Wednesday, 20th January 1988
I started meeting Aiko for lunch twice a week. We usually went to the Coffee Classic Cafe in Nakano and we became regulars there. It was quite a unique place. It had the appearance of a junk yard and you sat there amongst a mish mosh of antiques and old furniture and other items. No two tables were the same and there was even a variety of chairs at each table. The Japanese owner called himself Popeye and played old music hall standard tunes on an ancient wind up gramophone player. He served the milk for the coffee in upturned bottle tops. The whole set up was a great definition of the word “eccentric”. We loved it.
Saturday, 23rd January 1988
As usual, I taught Tomoko in the afternoon for 2 hours from 2pm. Her English was slowly improving. It was always difficult teaching her so early on a Saturday as I usually had a hangover from Friday night’s drinking.
In the afternoon I met Aiko at Ueno park and we had a long trip all the way round the park and the interesting neighbourhood that lay beyond it. We stopped at a place and had cook-it-yourself okonomiyaki.
Sunday, 24th January 1988
I met Aiko again and went to a very nice Korean restaurant in Nakano.
Wednesday, 27th January 1988
Bigi left Marui house to go to the Philippines. That left Susan, Efret and Cigeret still hostessing.
Robert the Swede left for the UK. I suspected he had actually gone home to Wales.
Elsie from Hong Kong moved to Australia and Walter the other Swede moved in with Chris. Napoleon went back to the USA on holiday.
We were joined by Bob, a middle aged Canadian who had split up with is wife and decided to come to Japan to teach English to get over it, and by two other Canadians, Paul and Shaun, fresh off the plane. They had the usual week of frantic looking for teaching jobs before finding something.
Andrew and I had now been there the longest, apart that is from April who we believed had been there forever. We talked about getting out and finding another place, but in the end we never did much about it. The house was too well located for work and we had grown used to touring the local pubs in the evenings.
Thursday, 28th January 1988
I met Aiko in Takadanobaba and we had great dim sum for lunch.
Friday, 29th January 1988
It was Yvone and Garth’s leaving do at work and we ended up drinking all night in Shinjuku.
We had started to go across to Shinjuku 3-chome regularly on Friday evenings and had discovered come cool bars and clubs in that area. It was also the gay area of Tokyo and we had often ventured into a few gay clubs and bars as well. The atmosphere of the whole district was decidedly cool.
Saturday, 30th January 1988
Andrew and I went out drinking with Shige in Ikebukuro, introducing him to some of the latest Japanese pubs we had found.
Andrew and I had generally got into the habit of doing a pub crawl at least one night of the week. We had a network of Japanese-style akachochin hostelries in the Ikebukuro area that fanned out in all directions from Marui House. Sometimes we would visit the western-style “One Lucky” as well, but that was usually when we were with other people.
On our own, we normally kept to the Japanese-style places. We would generally visit about 3 or 4 pubs in one evening. Some of them we were regulars at, but others we only ever visited once or twice.
All the little pubs, marked by a red lantern on the outside, had a bar and a few tables inside. Most would not seat more than twenty clients. There was always food of one sort or another on offer. The food ranged from the basic cold stuff like potato salad (potato sarada) to boiled items (oden) or tofu in hot water (yudorf) all the way up to grilled bits of chicken on skewers (yakitori).
The pubs may well have had real names, but if they did we couldn’t read them, so we made up names of our own. Among them there were: the “Cat and Lounge” because it had a cat and was quite comfortable, the” daruma and lantern” because it had a daruma (good luck symbol) and “the White Stick Inn” because the proprietor’s friendly mother was blind. Our big favourite, though, was “Grandma’s Arms”. It was located near “Once Lucky” and it was run by a little old lady who had a glass eye and always made a big fuss of the two of us.
It was always a magic feeling to open the sliding wooden door of one of these places for the first time and to see the surprised looks on the faces of the owners at the sight of two foreigners wanting to enter their little pub. Whatever they thought though, they always welcomed us in. Then when we ordered in our rudimentary Japanese (which was by now getting better), they always seemed quite relieved that they wouldn’t need to try to speak English.
If there were other clients, and there often weren’t, we would often get into conversations with them. Whether in their English or in our Japanese, they were always good natured, if a little drunken, encounters. We were obviously a novelty to them and we were treated to our beer and food on more than one occasion. Once we were taken on to and paid for at another more expensive bar where the dreaded Karaoke was also on offer.
Shige loved it as we took him around the places where we had been drinking by ourselves. It was a little bit weird going into places where we had only managed limited communication before and then suddenly finding we could communicate fluently via Shige.
Thursday, 11th February 1988 “Foundation Day”
The day was yet another public holiday. It marked the “creation” of Japan in the 7th century BC by the emperor Jimmu.
Apart from the city buses which all had the Hi no Maru (red sun) Japanese flags on the front, there was very little patriotism ever on display in Tokyo.
The only real obvious patriotism we ever saw were the “sound trucks” which were operated by a far right wing party and toured Tokyo most days playing out right wing slogans mostly about retrieval of the northern islands from the USSR.
Aiko and I went up on the Tobu Tojo line from Ikebukuro to Kawagoe, a lovely little town just to the north of Tokyo. They had lots of old style wooden buildings, a watch tower, some very cool temples and a bridge called robber’s bridge.
On the way back we caught the JR train on the Saikyo line. We did what the Japanese called kisseru. It involved buying the cheapest 120 yen at the originating station, travelling a fair distance on the train and then exiting the system at the destination using a season ticket. The name came from an old Japanese pipe that had a long thin bit in the middle. I had actually learnt about the technique from one of my students.
Aiko and I had season tickets to exit at Ikebukuro so we could, in theory, buy a 120 yen ticket from anywhere in Japan to enter the system and still get out. Kisseru worked because there were not usually ticket checks on the local trains and even then the rules meant you could easily pay extra on the basis you had decided to travel further than you had first thought.
Saturday, 13th February
Aiko and I walked around Asakusa visiting temples and shrines.
Sunday, 14th February 1988
A Valentine ’s Day date.
We went to see Woody Allen’s new film Radio Days at the cinema in Takadanobaba. We went to a shabu shabu (boiled beef) restaurant nearby afterwards.
Saturday, 20th February 1988
I went to a party at Ann’s place in Nakano with Andrew in tow. We ended up in a jazz bar in Takadanobaba.
We got totally drunk as usual and Andrew ended up leaving with a Canadian girl who was one of his teacher colleagues.
Sunday, 21st February 1988
Nursing a terrible hangover I met Aiko in the morning and we went for a walk around the beautiful gardens bordering Tokyo bay. The clean air of Hamarikyu park did nothing for the way I was feeling. I bought a tonkatsu (pork cutlet) sandwich but almost threw up in Hamamatsucho station.
I recovered enough to enjoy a little trip out on the Tokyo Monorail to the domestic airport at Haneda. We went up to the observation deck and watched the planes taking off for a while. It was incredible to think that the density of population meant that they used 747s to transport people to Osaka just 300 miles away.
Friday, 26th February 1988
I got out of work an hour early and headed down to Ebisu to meet Andrew. We had long harboured a plan to visit the Tokyo British club and this was the day we had picked to finally go there. The club was always advertised in the Tokyo Journal and, as we were always talking about how we missed British beer, we thought it was worth trying.
The club was located on the second floor of a new office building opposite the Zambian Embassy. There was a large hotel-style British bar at its heart and surrounding the bar were a sitting room, a TV lounge and a small library.
There were not many people in the bar, probably about 10 Japanese and 3 British. We paid the minimum 3,000 Yen to the Egyptian barman and he gave us a bunch of vouchers for drinks and snacks. Then almost immediately he took most of the vouchers back in exchange for two small bottles of beer. It was a beer I didn’t recognise the name of but it tasted nice. After almost two years of Budweiser, then Fosters, then Asahi, it was nice to have a bottle of real English ale in my hand.
We sat down and before not too long started to talk to a Scottish guy who was sitting by himself. Peter, 31, turned out to be an economist who had been posted to Tokyo by a large British company. We had a few more beers together and then he suggested going on to another place he knew. It turned out to be a Cuban bar near Ebisu station and we had a few more beers with him there.
We met some NTT (Japan Telecom) workers in the Cuban place and they invited us all to a Karaoke bar. The three of us tried to sing together on the stage, but Andrew had to sit down because my singing was so out of tune.
As the NTT guys drunkenly joked with us about their wives and girlfriends, Peter told us about some of the British executives of his own company who had been upset by this kind of behaviour when drinking with a Japanese supplier a few weeks before.
There was an obvious cultural difference he told us. Peter had been left to explain to the Japanese hosts that you however drunk you got just didn’t ask the chief executive of a large British company how good his wife was in bed.
We enjoyed the evening a lot and lost track of the time. When we finally emerged onto the street in Ebisu it was almost 1am and we realised that we had missed the last train back to Ikebukuro.
Peter had a suggestion; we could stay at his place. We got there by taking first a taxi to where Peter had left his car, and then by Peter driving, quite drunk, through the streets of Tokyo.
His flat was in Hiroo and it was huge. It was huge by western standards let alone Japanese. The living room alone was bigger than the total floor space at Marui House. Peter put us in one of the twin bedrooms and we lay there thinking about how we could persuade him to let us move in. It seemed a perfect arrangement, he needed our company and we needed more space.
Saturday, 27th February 1988
We both woke up with hangovers from hell and even Peter’s tasty porridge and strong coffee didn’t do much to treat them. There was a copy of the previous week’s Sunday Times on the sofa, normally I would have killed to get a copy, but I couldn’t focus enough to read it.
In the cold light of day, we decided we would probably not approach Peter about moving in. We stayed around the flat until noon though and then said goodbye to Peter and returned to Marui House having learned a lesson in how the other half live.
The lesson with Tomoko that afternoon did not go well at all. 2 hours of trying to teach basic English was never a good cure for a hangover.
I spent the rest of the day in bed.
Monday, 29th February 1988
Andrew’s folks visited.
Things at Marui house were a bit quieter for me than normal.
Monday, 7th March 1988
Andrew went off to Hong Kong and Bangkok with his folks for a few days.
I finally had a single room to myself.
Saturday, 12th March 1988
Andrew came back and Marui house got noisier and busier again.
We had 4 Israelis in the house. They were all lovely people but they were really noisy in the late evenings. They spent their time selling paintings on the streets of Ikebukuro. I think the paintings were supplied to them by the mafia and it seemed the police were in on the deal as they never had any problems with the law. They would come back late and celebrate loudly especially if they had just sold a painting
Paul and Shaun were still there and Shaun had stated to date Tomoko. I wasn’t sure exactly how they communicated with one another because her English had not really improved and he spoke no Japanese.
A Chinese girl who was studying Japanese moved in but we couldn’t really communicate with her very well. We were also joined by Lesley, a girl from Leeds, who cheered us up a bit with her broad Yorkshire accent. There was also a new German girl studying Karate and a French girl, Valerie.
Sunday, 13th March 1988
Monday 21st March was going to be another public holiday. Andrew and I decided to try and head out of the city for a few days again.
He came up with an interesting plan to go off to one or two of the islands that lay just to the south of Tokyo in the Pacific. Technically, or administratively, they were actually part of Tokyo city but we hoped they would be far enough away to provide us with a much- needed change of scenery.