Saturday, 10th October 1987
Early in the morning Andrew and I walked to Ikebukuro station to get on the Yamanote line. It was before 7am and on the way to the station we both laughed at the fact that although we had been living in Ikebukuro for several weeks, neither of us had really experienced the place so early before. Late evenings were very much our speciality as far as Ikebukuro was concerned.
We took the green train on the Yamanote around to Ueno and then took an orange train on the Ginza subway line to Asakusa. When we entered the Asakusa terminal station of the Tobu Electric Railway we encountered something that would come to dominate our whole weekend; a hell of a lot of people.
Although this was just a Saturday, it was actually a public holiday. They called it “Sport’s Day” and it was to commemorate the opening day of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. It was testament to the amount of people that still worked on regular Saturdays that this particular Saturday would be treated as such a big thing.
The station was overflowing with Japanese tourists. Many of them were clad in expensive looking hiking clothes and carried expensive looking rucksacks.
We bought a couple of bento lunch boxes for breakfast from the station kiosk and took them onto the 8:10am train to Nikko.
The train was full and people were already standing. We stood for the whole 2-hour journey to Nikko and we had to crouch on the floor to eat our breakfasts.
It took a full hour to clear the concrete of Tokyo but as Nikko approached the scenery got more and more beautiful.
We waited until most of the passengers from the train had left Nikko station and then walked slowly out the station, through the town and to the famous red bridge.
From there we started hitching. We got a lift straight away with 3 Japanese yuppies driving a Honda Prelude. They didn’t talk to us much and seemed content to listen to their tapes of Madonna and Michael Jackson as we climbed a series of S-bends through beautiful scenery towards Chuenzi Lake. We made an effort to praise the scenery shouting out “suberashii” (beautiful / wonderful) at the appropriate moments.
Lake Chunezi was nice but we decided that the little pleasure boats, shaped like ducks, detracted a little bit from the sereneness.
We quickly found a noodle stand and bought a couple of bowls of overpriced soba (buckwheat noodles). After lunch we walked for quite a while along a beautiful glen and along a lakeside path passing, we both agreed, lots of beautiful women.
From there we decided to hitch again and we spent a happy half hour trying to get a ride. The problem was that we were not entirely sure that the Japanese drivers actually understood the meaning of the outstretched thumb. We would shout “Konichi-wa” and the drivers would just wave back smiling at us.
Eventually a Nissan Bluebird with a middle-aged couple in it stopped. It was pretty clear that the woman in the passenger seat hadn’t wanted to stop, but she had been overruled by her husband who was driving. We drove for a while but then hit heavy traffic. We crawled through the traffic and eventually the couple decided to turn off and leave us. Maybe she had finally won the argument.
We had decided to head to the nearby industrial town of Numata in order to get a bed. It was the safest bet as we knew it would be hopeless trying to find accommodation in any tourist area.
We waited 15 minutes next to a toll booth and then got a lift with a chemical engineer and his wife who took us all the way on the long drive down towards Numata. They stopped at a roadside shop and bought us corn on the cob and other small snacks. When they dropped us in Numata we tried to tell then that we wished we had gifts to give them, we bowed low several times and thanked them over and over again.
The next problem was finding a minshuku (Japanese style guest house) or a ryokan (Japanese style hotel) in an industrial town on the main Tokyo-Niigata expressway. After an encounter with some drunken salarymen at the station, we got help from the stationmaster. He phoned and then personally led us to a nearby ryokan.
The middle-aged lady who owned the hotel provided us with slippers and then led us up some steep wooden stairs to a large tatami matted room with sliding screens made out of wood and paper.
The room was virtually empty. Apart from a TV in the corner there was just a table in the centre and two cushions, one either side. We took our slippers off and entered the room. As we sat cross legged facing each other our landlady fussed around bringing us first tea and little cakes and then later beer and tomatoes.
There would be no food that evening at the ryokan so we went next door to a Chinese restaurant. It was a fairly bland chicken and fried rice dish but it hit the spot.
Back in the ryokan we changed into yukata (Japanese dressing gowns) and thinking we looked like samurais spent a few minutes bowing to each other and posing in what we thought were Japanese-style poses. We realised that we were probably not the first foreigners to do that the first time they ever dressed in yukata.
The bath was great, much the same sensation as the sento, and quite wonderfully hot and relaxing. When we returned to the room we found that it had been enlarged by moving some of the wood/paper screens and that two futons had been laid out on the floor.
A long relaxing sleep followed.
Sunday, 11th October 1987
We woke up to a real Japanese-style breakfast of ham, eggs, seaweed, rice and miso soup and many other little tit bits as well. We bade farewell to our landlady and walked out to the edge of Numata to begin the journey back towards Nikko.
Almost immediately we got a lift with a young couple driving a red jeep or whatever the Japanese equivalent of a jeep was. They spoke good English and they agreed to take us all the way back to Chuenzi. The scenery was the same as the previous day but it was beautiful nonetheless.
We paused at a small lake and ate apples together and then headed on further. Unfortunately the traffic was getting worse and we spent a full two hours almost stationery in the queue trying to get to the actual lake area of Chuenzi itself. We finally made it back to the big lake and we said goodbye and thank you to the young couple, but not before we had all posed to take each other’s photographs.
We hiked back into the village and then up to Kegon Falls, which were quite stunning. We went off in search of ice cream and encountered one of Andrew’s students on the way, a girl he somewhat cruelly referred to as a spotted stewardess.
At dusk we hitched back down to Nikko itself with three old guys in an old car. An old car was quite a rarity in Japan. They were from Yokohama, Kyushu and Hokkaido which was quite a mix for one car. They spoke no English at all, but we passed the time by teaching each other to count in each other’s languages. The five of us whistled at some of the women walking along the pavement and Andrew and I assured them that the scenery in those parts was some of the most “suberashii” we had ever seen.
Learning from the night before, we headed straight to Nikko station to ask them to find us a minshuku. We knew now that it would be a lot easier on a Sunday night as the next day was a regular work day and the crowds would have mostly gone. The station people quickly found us one on the main street. It was a little more expensive than we had budgeted, but we decided to stay anyway.
We donned our yukata again and sat once more eating small fruit cakes and drinking green tea. We had a meal of chicken rice and omelette in a nearby restaurant and came back to get into the bath again. Another warm relaxing bath, another sound night of sleep on the futons followed.
Monday, 12th October 1987
The hotel owner was a youngish woman and she told us that she was married to an Australian who was an English teacher. At least this is what we understood from her limited English and our limited Japanese. There was no sign of her husband as she served us a delicious breakfast.
We checked out and went off to do a bit of temple bagging in the morning misty rain.
The rain, which was more wet mist than rain, added to the atmosphere as we trudged around the Toshogu shrines and other sites. At 9am we had the place to ourselves and it felt great to be wandering around when everyone else was working.
The tranquillity didn’t last long though and by 10:00 the car parks were full of tour buses. Hoards of school children and gaijin tourists began to take the place over. We headed back to the station and got the 11:40 train back to Tokyo. A couple hours later, with some sadness, we arrived back in Tokyo.
By 5pm I was back again teaching at the school.
Thursday, 15th October 1987
The week passed quite quickly.
I had my first Japanese haircut in a little shop near Marui House. It was fantastic. It was full of the extra little touches that the Japanese seem to add to things to make them just a little bit better. I got a full head massage once the cutting was over and hot towels before and after.
At work I had my first observation (someone observing me) and it went okay.
Sunday, 18th October 1987
I went to a bazaar near Ochanamizu and spent the afternoon walking around the area around Kanda again.
Wednesday, 21st October 1987
I had my first Japanese lesson with Kobayashi-San. We met in the Shinjuku NS building. There was Gill, Caroline, Ann and Una from work. The lesson was a challenge but it was interesting. Koboyashi-San refused to speak to us in English, even though he was fluent. His method was strict Japanese-only. Ann struggled a bit and kept asking him again and again to translate what he was saying in English.
Saturday, 24th October 1987
I spent the afternoon at Marui House with Dave, Sachiko and her sister who was visiting her from Hiroshima. It was chucking it down outside so we all just sat in and watched the TV.
In the evening Andrew took Dave, Sachiko, her sister and myself to a party of hosted by one of his students in Hiroo. It was a good laugh but I had to leave early to be up for the company function the next day.
On the train home a couple from Nova Scotia, Tony and Pascale, invited me to another party the following week in Nakano.
Sunday 25th October 1987
The ACA school had a strict non-fraternisation policy. Meeting any of the students socially out of school hours was strictly forbidden. The main concern was that the teachers would try to undercut the school and offer private lessons directly.
Teachers were threatened with being sacked and losing their visa sponsorship if they were found to have met students for even a quick coffee outside the school. The rule was heavily policed and students were encouraged to tell the school if they heard that any of their friends had met teachers. We had heard that several teachers had lost their jobs as a result of being “grassed up” in this way.
All this was in contrast to most other schools in Tokyo. At the majority of schools going out for a beer with the students privately was encouraged. This kind of socialising was seen by many of the students as a perk of studying at the particular school. Andrew was always being taken out to pubs after lessons by his students for example.
In order to compensate for the lack of this kind of socialising, ACA organised and managed several social events where the students and teachers could meet in a heavily supervised atmosphere. There were outings to see the cherry blossoms in Spring or to theme parks in Summer and a big Christmas party in Winter, but by far the biggest event was the Halloween disco held at the end of October each year. Attendance by teachers was compulsory. The word “compulsory” was actually underlined twice on the staff noticeboard.
It all started out at 1pm on Sunday. I had to dress up in fancy dress, I was actually dressed as a woman, and then with the other teachers I had to march in a big group through the back streets of Shinjuku for about 30 minutes with all the students standing around watching us clapping. Some of the newer teachers started to whistle the Colonel Bogey march from the film Bridge of the River Kwai as we paraded, but the older hands advised them against doing that.
The disco, in a large Shinjuku venue, started at 2pm and was attended by many of the students of the school dressed up in their best clothes. It was the only time in my life I ever attended a disco in an afternoon and it felt completely weird. There was free food and drink for all, but most of the teachers, including me, declined to drink too much alcohol. We danced as little as we could although it was impossible to escape dancing completely.
It all ended around 6pm and the students had to leave first with the teachers staying behind to make sure there would be no spontaneous fraternisation.
It was pretty dire but I suppose it was an experience.
I was home by 7pm.
Monday, 26th October 1987
I began a week of teaching at the Ginza school. It was a nice break from teaching at the Shinjuku one and I was mostly engaged in teaching the lower intermediate classes – white 2 and white 3 in ACA parlance.
Saturday, 31st October 1987
After another fairly routine week at work, I went out to Nakano to the party hosted by Tony and Pascale. Ann from work attended as well. It was great fun and I ended up on the last train home with a Japanese lady who had just returned from a long time studying in London. Her English was great and she even had a British accent.
Sunday, 1st November 1987
With Dave, Sachiko and Akira, who was back visiting us, I went to a “conversation party” in a flat near Shin Okubo. It was hosted by a Canadian woman called Fran. She let the gaijin in for free but charged 500 yen for the Japanese. This was a little tough on Sachiko and Akira who were not really in need of conversation.
It actually wasn’t such a bad party, even if it was a little bit like overtime at work. Afterwards some of us headed to the Lotteria hamburger restaurant together.
Monday, 2nd November 1987
The stock markets fell and the dollar dived.
Tokyo seemed to carry on as normal.
Tuesday, 3rd November 1987
It was yet another public holiday and we went to the Kabuki theatre with Alexia and Kate. The plays were interesting and the English translation was quite well done.
Wednesday, 11th November 1987
The Japanese lessons were getting more interesting. We had moved from meeting at the NS building to meeting at Kobayahi-San’s flat near Shibuya.
His cat was vicious and bit my hand a lot.
The original quintet had dwindled to three as both Anne and Una had dropped out.
Friday, 13th November 1987
At work I had the first of my five official observations when I was observed teaching the “purples”. It went well and I felt confident that I would pass the probationary period with flying colours (purple, yellow and pink colours anyway!)
Saturday, 14th November 1987
Akira brought one of the girls, Tomoko, from the conversation lounge around and we talked most of the afternoon. She didn’t have any English at all but Akira helped to translate and I tried some of my new Japanese out on her.
She was a nice girl in her mid 20’s and she worked as a kindergarten teacher. I agreed to take her on as my first private student. We agreed on a two hour lesson every Saturday starting later in the month.
Eric and Susan moved out. They headed first to Kamakura for a brief stay and then went off to Hong Kong on a ticket that a friend of mine from work, Jason, got for them on Swissair. It was a sad loss as Eric and Susan had the best Japanese of any of the gaijins in the house and they were good to practice on.
I did well from their leaving sale. For the modest outlay of just 3,000 Yen I trebled the size of my wardrobe.
Andrew and I moved upstairs at Marui house into Eric and Susan’s old room. This was our first tatami room and I celebrated by throwing a sock at Alexa who had come round to visit, puncturing the shoji paper in the process. Chieko was happy to charge me a hefty fee for the replacement.
Napoleon and Steve were still in the “shed”. Steve had broken his jaw after someone missed a kick during his karate sparring.
Bob, a guy from Ontario, had moved into our old downstairs room.
Dave and Sachiko were making a lot of noise in the other downstairs room. Dave continued to be the house pessimist. He was down on everything Japanese and gloomy about the prospects for the world economy.
Another Dave, another American, and his girl friend Carol moved into the other room downstairs. For some reason the first Dave took an instant dislike to the second Dave and christened him the “shit weasel.”
Wednesday, 18th November 1987
Alexia finally left Japan. She left with Kate and they both headed for time in Asia before going their separate ways and home to Australia and Europe.
Friday, 20th November 1987
I had my last 3 observations at work with Roberta, Mark S and Tony. They went okay and they announced that I could have a full time contract and sponsorship for a visa.
Sunday, 22nd November 1987
I visited Keio university with Tomoko, my new private student. I wasn’t due to start teacher her until the week after, but she had invited me to some kind of open day at the university.
The university was interesting and almost like an English university. We wandered around stalls selling corn, octopus and other foods. We watched a comedy monologue which I understood nothing of.
Tuesday, 24th November 1987
The Japanese lessons were continuing. Everyone except myself and Gill had dropped out now. This had had a positive effect on me as Gill was highly intelligent and did her homework. I put in the extra hours not only to keep up with her but if possible to try to beat her.
The rate at which my Japanese began to improve began to impress me, Kobayashi-san and even Gill. We remained friends but we were very competitive. She pushed herself to keep up with me and I pushed equally to keep up with her.
All the time the cat was getting fatter though, possibly from a diet of my fingers, socks and trousers.
Wednesday, 25th November 1987
Alison and Volker left Marui House. Their Australian citizenship had come through and they left quite unexpectedly and very quickly.
Dave and Sachiko moved up into their big room next to us.
We were joined by a French art salesman, a couple from Scotland, a couple of expatriate Brits from Vancouver and Liz, a 28 year old Californian lady. Within a week they were all gone too.
Saturday, 28th November 1987
I began teaching Tomoko at 2pm.
She had no English knowledge at all and, unlike most Japanese, she didn’t even have any latent knowledge.
An Italian, Antonio, joined us at Marui House. He moved in with April.
Sunday, 29th November 1987
Andrew began dating one of his students, Chieko, and he remained cheerful as ever. I was happy for him but I knew that the non-fraternization policy at my own school meant I would never be able to do the same. I would have to search elsewhere for romance.
With this in mind, I arranged to go to Yokohama with Fran and some of her Japanese friends. We toured the Sankeien Garden and went for a long walk along the waterfront. There were 3 or 4 French people and 4 Japanese middle aged women. It was okay and we had a decent meal in Chinatown on the way back. It wasn’t really what I had expected though.
Thursday, 3rd December 1987
The economy seemed to be all over the place.
The stock market rallied a bit but the dollar continued to fall.
Friday, 4th December
Dave and Carol left Marui House.
We were joined by 2 Swiss guys and 2 Israeli girls. The girls had been hostessing for a few weeks already.
Saturday, 5th December 1987
It snowed for the first time in Tokyo and we all tramped out to play in the snow.
It was a great winter feeling.
Sunday, 6th December 1987
Andrew and I went to a party with Shige, one of his students. He was a young Japanese container salesman with a great genki outlook on life. We headed to Kawaguchi, a big dormitory town in Saitama prefecture, and walked what seemed like miles from the station with two girls. I chatted to the girls in Japanese as Shige and Andrew walked on ahead.
We hit a supermarket and got some groceries and eventually stumbled on the party. It was being held in a kind of apartment block. The party was strange if not fun. The two girls we had arrived with left within 20 minutes.
I noticed the toilet had run out of toilet paper.
We sat around the kotatsu munching food and chatting to Shige’s friends. They were mainly his school friends and an assortment of nice people including a chef at a big hotel and a lady who worked as a secretary at Disneyland.
And then there was Ken-San.
Ken was, to put it mildly, a touch drunk and this made him a touch silly and a touch right wing. He tried to prove his strength against Andrew by challenging him to arm wrestling contests. He kept asking Andrew and I if we thought he was strong. We said we did think he was strong.We said he was very strong.
He then accused me of falling in love with his girlfriend Keiko and just as the whole thing looked as if it would turn into a disaster, Shige put a tape on and suggested everyone should get up and dance.
We left a little later on and had a chuckle about the whole thing on the train on the way back.
A guy approached me on the train and asked me if he could speak English with me. I decided to get business cards made and see if I could get more private students.
Friday, 18th December 1987
After two more pretty uneventful weeks, the winter term at ACA finished.
The Christmas holidays were about to begin, or in fact they weren’t.