Overdue for an Update

So I’m very overdue for an update! I haven’t posted in forever, even though I have done fun things like go to Kanamara Matsuri, go to DisneySea, and start work!

Kanamara Matsuri was the first Sunday in April. I happened to mention it to Sam and Lulu the night before, and they said “thank goodness you told us about it, we want to come too!” So the three of us took the train to Kawasaki the next day, and stepped off the train at Kawasaki-Daishi station and right into the middle of the festival! The parade was passing the station just as we got there, so we hurried over to see the three penises. I would say the crowd was at least 40% foreigners, which is an extremely high percentage of foreigners to see anywhere – I’m not sure it’s even that much at Tokyo’s hottest tourist sights, like Senso-ji Temple near where I live. Unfortunately, a lot of them were drinking and being boorish assholes, taunting the performing monkey, shouting obscenities…drinking is perfectly fine, but being a boorish asshole is not. I was kind of embarrassed, honestly – we decided I could be French for the day, rather than American. The festival was uncomfortably crowded, though, and I was unable to get any penis-shaped popsicles or anything like that – it was just too damn crowded. I did buy a couple of penis-shaped souvenirs, though, so I have something fun to remember the day by!

A couple of days after the Kanamara Matsuri, I started work. Since then I have been really busy! I did have time to go to DisneySea on Monday, though, again with Sam and Lulu. I had been before, but that was by myself, and honestly there’s no comparison – going alone is not only kind of pathetic, it’s not nearly as fun. You don’t scream on the rides, you don’t get to laugh with anyone…it’s much better with friends! We had a great time, and even though the weather was perfect, it wasn’t too crowded. We had good seats for Legend of Mythica and Fantasmic! (which isn’t quite the same as the California version), we went on fun rides, and we bought a few souvenirs. But the best part of the day was just enjoying the fun of a Disney park with really good friends. I am so lucky Sam and Lulu are right here in my building, they are truly one of the best things about Tokyo, and I will miss them greatly when they return to France!

I have decorated my “apartment” (room) a little more now – a poster from Etsy, some Sky Tree postcards, and cards from loved ones at home. It’s still small, but it looks better now. And I have seen them testing the Sky Tree lighting schemes from my window, so that’s totally awesome! I really like my apartment.

Nekobukuro Review

I have meant to make posts several times during the past 10 days, but I just kept doing other things instead! Here is one of the posts I’ve been meaning to write.

I went with Sam and Lulu to Ikebukuro last Tuesday, and we stopped in at Nekobukuro, a cat cafe on the top floor of Tokyu Hands. It was a holiday, Vernal Equinox Day (春分の日, しゅんぶんのひ), so Ikebukuro was quite crowded and the cat cafe was no different. This was troubling, though, because there were far too many people in there or the cats’ well-being. In fact, I noticed a number of things at Nekobukuro that differentiate it from every other cat cafe I’ve seen, usually in ways detrimental to the cats.

  1. It has tile floor throughout, so visitors wear their street shoes; this would make it very painful if someone’s tail was stepped on. Every other cat cafe has had carpeting, and visitors wear soft slippers.
  2. Although the cats have “off space” where they rest when they’re not working, they cannot go there by choice, it is blocked off and they must wait for a human to let them in – I assume they are usually made to finish their “shift” first. When they are in the “off space” they are still on display, as this space is basically just giant glass-enclosed cages. They are well-appointed with beds, food, water, and a litterbox, but they are still just cages and the cats can’t ever really hide. While I was there, I noticed people knocking on the glass to wake up cats who were sleeping. Every other cat cafe has genuine hiding spots for the cats, who are free to mix with visitors or hide in the back, as they choose. I have seen staff bring cats out from the back, but the cats usually seem perfectly happy to mingle after this, and they don’t run back to the back – I assume the staff are just trying to make sure they aren’t sleeping the day away out of reach.
  3. The cats at Nekobukuro shrank from human contact, quite literally. Although every cat has times it doesn’t want to be petted, and will duck under your hand when you’re trying to pet it, this was the norm for the cats at Nekobukuro. Many of them preferred to stay well out of the reach of humans, and would pull back if someone tried to touch them when they wanted to be out of reach. This never happens at other cat cafes – sometimes they’re not in the mood for a pet, but they never seem afraid of humans.
  4. Although Nekobukuro has rules about not picking up cats, they are not enforced. The paper in English you receive when entering clearly says not to pick up the cats, and when you walk in there’s rules in Japanese on the wall with drawings, one of which is clearly about not picking up the cats. And yet I saw a guy pursue and pick up a beautiful cat, Azuki, and hold her as she squirmed and cried to be put down. A staff member was actually looking on, and I was so stunned that even without speaking much Japanese I had to say something. I gestured at the still-struggling Azuki and said 大丈夫ですか, is this okay?! She said something in Japanese and then tried English, “some cats…okay, some cats…no.” I sputtered, 本当ですか, are you serious?! When she said yes, I left on the spot. I just couldn’t take it anymore, and Sam and Lulu were right behind me. Even if other cat cafes had a policy that cats could be picked up – which they never do, it is always very specifically prohibited – I am sure that if a cat were crying and squirming like Azuki was, they would rescue her and then throw the person right out!
  5. There must have been 40 people in there, at certain times, while we were there. There were also children who couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old. Both of these are stressful to the cats, especially children who – through no fault of their own – don’t know how to pet them. Although given the behavior of some adults, these kids are never going to learn, either. I have been to other cat cafes where you have to wait for a slot, because they are full – they have a maximum capacity, and someone will leave soon, so you wait. They also don’t usually allow elementary age children or younger, even with adults; most require a parent to come with older children. Both of these policies make for a much more quiet, relaxed environment for the cats.
  6. Although I have no firm evidence of this, I suspect that some of the cats at Nekobukuro were given tranquilizers that day. Because it was a holiday, the staff knew many people would be coming. Many of the cats who were asleep at places they could be easily touched did not move a single muscle when petted. I even saw young children petting cats rather forcefully, and the cats still did not move. What cats don’t wake with a start when being mauled by a five-year-old? Drugged cats. We petted a sleeping cat, the almost-one-year-old Mikan, and you would have sworn he was a statue if he weren’t warm and breathing. Later, while we were sitting and watching the goings-on, somebody picked him up and carried him around – of course he woke up for that. He didn’t like it though, and he jumped down. We remained seated, and he climbed on Lulu’s and my laps – which is how you’re supposed to “hold” a cat, at cat cafes. I didn’t even pet him while he was on my lap, I just let him stand there and look around, and sure enough he stayed. The five-year-old boy came along and wanted to mess with him, but I actually said だめ, don’t do it, and he stopped. Mikan stayed on me until somebody opened a can of cat food they had bought, and of course then all bets were off. But prior to becoming a bright cheerful kitten, he had been a statue. No other cat cafe has ever made me think the cats were doped up to deal with the people.
  7. Nekobukuro is cheap, admission for adults is ¥600, while most places are about ¥1000 for the first hour. But Nekobukuro doesn’t have a time limit at all – pay once, stay all day if you like. Which is great for cat lovers like me, but not for ¥600…something about that just feels off to me, somehow. I mean, run your business however you like, yeah…but it does lead to the overcrowding and other issues I’ve noted above. I have seen multi-hour packages at other cat cafes, but they usually cost ¥2500 or more.

Pretty much the only nice thing I can say about Nekobukuro is that it has cool ramps and holes high in the walls for kitties to walk around on. It’s a lot like The Cats’ House, and indeed that is the nickname of Nekobukuro. But I will not be patronizing this place ever again. I had been there once before in 2010, and I do remember the cats were lethargic, but we didn’t stay long and we were practically the only ones there, so I didn’t really notice much else. After this visit, I’m not going back to Nekobukuro – I just can’t support that place when there are darling kitties at dozens of other cat cafes in Tokyo.

Sakura House Choices

Following up on my earlier post about housing for foreigners in Tokyo, I’ve been looking at where I could move if I were to go there. My friend Merritt, the current JASS teacher, had a terrible experience with Sakura House, but it honestly does seem to be the easiest place to get into and get situated with. Then, after settling into Tokyo life, it would be possible to find somewhere else. I think this is what happened to Merritt, too…Sakura house is expensive and apparently has some hassles, but when you’re moving to Japan and you need a place to live now, it’s a good place to start.

I’ve been looking through the Sakura House properties, and I think these are the four I’d like to consider:

These all have the essential combination of location, affordability, and privacy. I know from past experience that I must have privacy. I cannot share a bathroom or kitchen. Laundry facilities are the only thing I could share, but even that I would prefer to have privately. I am a very, very bad roommate with strangers. I can live with loved ones, but nobody else! So I will only be considering full apartments, not semi-apartments.

Japan Housing Ideas for Foreigners

I’m so exhausted today, I can’t think. I want to write but instead I’m just going to drop some links. Normally I would do this as quicklinks, of course, but I wanted to put them all in one place. Or something. Did I mention I can’t think?

These links are possibilities for housing in Tokyo. In Japan, it’s complicated to rent an apartment – you have to have a guarantor, pay key money, etc. These places are designed to make that process easier.

And one more link:

Additions, 8/19/11:

Massive Update

Wow, it has been a very long time since I updated, and I have done so much. The reason I haven’t been updating is because I am so tired all the time. I am constantly on the go and I often spend free time catching up on email and sleeping! I am going to try to catch up.

I went to two schools for the deaf after I got back. One is in Chiba prefecture, and my boss and several of the students here went there as children. The school covers from infancy (mommy-and-me programs) through vocational school, but I found it strange because sign language is only used at the high school level and above. Junior high students and below use aural/oral schooling. I asked how the students eventually learn sign language, and the answer was that they learn it the same way deaf kids did in the US during the days when sign wasn’t permitted – from each other. There is a dorm on campus, because the school draws from all over Japan, and students learn from each other there; they use it in the lunchrooms; they learn from Deaf of Deaf children – whatever they need to do. But this explains why so many of the students here at NTUT speak – many of them likely have an oral background, even if they went to a school for deaf children. I do wonder how non-speaking deaf people got through those classes. Sometimes a deaf child doesn’t develop understandable speech (what used to be called an “oral failure”)…what do you do if you can’t speak in an oral classroom? The vocational program was interesting. There are two tracks for high school seniors – college prep, and vocational prep. The college prep students usually come to either NTUT or a hearing college, but the vocational students go into one of two tracks: art, or dentistry. I’m not sure what the exact term is for what they do – the students create dentures, caps, retainers, and other equipment that goes into the mouth. It was interesting (and stinky) but I was again puzzled to see that students are forced into a particular field. If you’re not good at art, you do the dental work. But what if you don’t like dental work? As a funny aside, I kept thinking that there was going to be a glass-blowing program. Even though I had been told the vocational program involved making false teeth, people just kept saying “tooth program” in JSL. The sign for tooth in JSL and the sign for glass in ASL are identical, and my brain kept thinking “glass” and waiting to be taken to the glass workshop – it wasn’t until I actually saw the work being done that I realized there was no glass program, there was only the dental program!

The second school I visited was in Tokyo. It served only junior high and high school students, and all communication was either sim-com or signed. Go read this for the rest, because this entry has been languishing while I fail to write more about the schools.

I went to Hiroshima. What can I say about Hiroshima…basically, if you don’t feel the need to go, then don’t bother. It was sad for me. As soon as you step off the streetcar at Genbaku-Dome-Mae, you’re face-to-face with the A-Bomb Dome. It has been left exactly as it was on August 6, 1945. The reason it survived at all is because it was steel reinforced – the hypocenter was just a couple hundred meters away, and everything around it was destroyed. The dome itself was made of copper, and melted. It was really hard for me because “we” did it. All the horrible things that happened in Hiroshima, the Americans did to them. The innocent civilians…yes, you can say “well every Japanese wanted to kill Americans too” but my god…just the sheer scale of what we did…it’s horrifying. I’ve been reading the Manhattan Engineer District report and we did all this without even knowing what the effects would be. And when they happened, we didn’t believe them: the report contains many comments along the lines of “the Japanese say (insert atrocity here) but we believe this is false.” Just horrible. And I feel we can still be culpable in this situation. I would place no blame on German youth today for the Holocaust: that was one man’s dream, and those who followed him in it are long gone. But the American government works differently, and I still feel there is guilt to be felt about the atomic bombings. What I really don’t get – and there is a section in the Peace Museum about this – is how, after seeing the effects of an atomic bomb, they STILL exist. How can non-proliferation be failing? How can disarmament be at a standstill? If anyone who supports atomic bomb development went to Hiroshima, they’d change their tune. It was just totally striking. To ease myself back into the real world, I walked down Hondori Street, a shopping district, after I was done in the Peace Memorial Park.

I went to Miyajima the next day, and I wish I could have had more time. I slept in a bit, so I only had a few hours. I knew I wasn’t going to make it there in time to touch the O-Torii gate, because low tide was at 7:30am, so I figured I’d just get there when I got there. But the streetcar ride from Hiroshima is about an hour, so I actually had very little time on Miyajima. It was fun though! There are signs warning you not to pet the deer because “they are not always gentle,” but they were utterly tame and people pet them all the time. I saw one eat somebody’s map, it was cute! Nobody was really feeding them, but I’m sure they must get fed or they wouldn’t be so friendly. I didn’t get to see the shrine in Miyajima because there was a long line and it cost money to enter, so I just looked through the shops and took lots of pictures of the famous O-Torii gate.

On Monday I met up with some NTUT students and also an American student who is studying at Meiji University and who knows ASL. We went to Yokohama for the day, and ended up spending a lot more time there than I had expected! Yokohama seems nice, but I would have liked to see it from a more historical perspective. We mostly stuck to the Minato Mirai 21 area, including shopping at the Queen’s East and World Porters malls, riding the roller coaster at CosmoWorld (where I am pretty sure I busted my left eardrum, thanks to too-tight restraints and the ride being so headbangy), and going up the Landmark Tower – which is actually the only time I got to see Mt. Fuji. Apparently you can also see Fuji-san from the trains along the corridor to Kyoto, but nobody ever told me that and I didn’t know where to look, so I missed those opportunities. We had dinner in Chinatown, which was interesting. The American girl with us, Lauren, spoke Japanese and tried to order vegetables with tofu for me…I ended up with a plate of ma po tofu (no pork) and a plate of vegetables! Not what I had in mind, but apparently just like Chinese food is tailored to American tastes in the US, it is also tailored to Japanese tastes in Japan, and they had no idea what I wanted. Oh well!

The following weekend I went to Disneyland! It was pretty spectacular. People thought I was crazy for going alone, but I had fun. On Saturday I went to DisneySea, the unique park for Tokyo – it’s not replicated anywhere else in the world. It was SO HOT that day! I bought a $30 parasol to keep the sun off, but it was still brutally hot. I ate at the Italian table service restaurant, the only place that had vegetarian food, and I got spaghetti sauce all over myself. I got to enjoy a couple of rides the easy way – there is a “single rider” line on three major attractions, so I just walked up and got right on for Raging Spirits, the Indiana Jones ride, and one other thing (forget what). I almost didn’t get to go on Journey to the Center of the Earth because the line was SO LONG that I was going to just leave, but I stuck it out and was rewarded with a really cool ride. I didn’t make it to Test Track when I went to Epcot for one day last year, so it was good to experience the same technology on Journey to the Center of the Earth.

I spent the night at a hotel in Soga, and then went to Disneyland the next day. My first stop was Tomorrowland, where I grabbed a FastPass for Space Mountain and got in line for Captain EO. I love Michael Jackson, so getting to see Captain EO in its original form was really awesome – it was the first movie to incorporate “4-D” effects of smoke, lights, and other things in the theater. The line was pretty long, and I hadn’t gotten any water, so I was so thirsty while I waited…that’s the peril of being alone at such a park! If I were fluent in Japanese, I would have bribed somebody to hold my spot while I got something, but of course I had no way to ask for that. So I just waited, and then the ride let out right before my FastPass time was almost up for Space Mountain! So I quickly bought some water and then ran into the line at 12:24 – my ticket expired at 12:25 so I was lucky! Space Mountain was great as usual, I love that ride. I’m pretty sure it was the same as at other parks, which was nice because most other “thrill” rides in Japan really aren’t that thrilling – Japanese people don’t like to be spun upside down a million times like Americans do. I wandered around for a while, including a stop at the Enchanted Tiki Room. I know the original lyrics from the Disneyland attraction, but not only was this one in Japanese, it had been modified to a Stitch “Aloha E Komo Mai” theme, so I didn’t get to join in at all! I still love the Tiki Room though…my favorite part is how the birds are already moving by the time you are filing into the room. Of course, I had no idea what the plot was, but I could make out that the four main birds were talking about the “Biggu Kahuna” – who turned out to be Stitch, or in Japanese terms, “Sutichi.” That was a little disappointing, to have a classic attraction taken over by something modern, but I guess they have to keep the kiddies entertained. The other ones have probably been updated, too.

I had two more rides I definitely wanted to go on before leaving – rides that I had missed when I went to Disneyland a few years ago. I picked up a FastPass for one of them, Haunted Mansion, and then went directly to Splash Mountain, the other ride I had never been on. It has a single-rider line (the only ride with one at Tokyo Disneyland), so I waltzed right up to the front and got on right away. Once again, everything was in Japanese, but I knew it was themed to the Song of the South movie. This surprises me, actually, because in the US Disney barely acknowledges that it made that movie, because of its racist overtones. That’s all left out of Splash Mountain, of course. It was cute, and the final song ended with “Zip-a-dee-do-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay, something in Japanese, wonderful day!” Yeah…not sure how they came up with that! Anyway, I went to Haunted Mansion next, and I loved it! I have to say it’s one of the best rides in the park. Very well done. Parts of it were even in English, which surprised me. That was pretty much the last important thing I did in the park…I went on Small World, which had ZERO line, and I wandered around a little more, but that was it! It was fun. :)

My work for the rest of the week included giving a presentation on American Deaf culture, giving a test to two ASL classes, and signing every single word in their ASL curriculum onto video so they could have a native signer do it. On Friday, my boss took me and his assistant out to a lovely Italian restaurant called Faro, I had no idea that such a quaint place was hiding in the middle of Tsukuba’s rice fields! They gave me gifts – I had given them gifts the day before, and gift-giving is reciprocal in Japan – and we had a very nice time.

I moved into the NTUT guest house on Friday night, only to discover that my room had no air-conditioning (at least I couldn’t figure it out) and the LAN wasn’t working (and I couldn’t hit the campus wifi networks), not to mention the lack of elevator (had to haul up my bags). So I spent a very hot and sweaty night with my Kindle. For the weekend, though, I got to hang out with my Japanese-Italian friend, who was back from her trip to Italy. We spent Saturday at a love hotel in Shinjuku, where we sang karaoke for the entire three hours we had booked! (It’s called a “rest” time – because that’s totally what you’re doing at a love hotel, right?) I had never done real karaoke before in my life; fortunately they had a very large selection of English-language songs, including popular hits like Lady Gaga (my friend sang Poker Face) as well as classics like Petula Clark (I sang Downtown). We had gotten snacks and drinks and we had a fine time in the love hotel…it was amusing to see their amenities, like windows behind a thick door, free mouthwash, hair bands, hairbrush, condoms, lotion, etc. The bathtub was huuuuuge and it had a light so you could make the water look colored, but I didn’t want to waste water by filling up the tub. After our three hours were up, we went over to Asakusa and the Sumida River fireworks. It was insanely crowded…about a million people gather at two sites to watch a total of 20,000 fireworks go up. Japan has far more advanced fireworks than we do, and I was treated to smiley faces, an apple, and kitty cats! We moved around a few times, trying to find the best view, and ended up next to a goofy-but-sweet drunk guy. When it was over, we hailed a cab back to my friend’s place, and the drunk guy and his friends joined us in it. (When it’s that crowded, cabs are very hard to find, so we let them join us.) We ended up talking about American movies, and they seemed to especially like Kevin Costner! They eventually got out, and we got out and had dinner at a Chinese place where I stuck to the vegetarian dim sum. (We had fried rice too, and got them to leave out the meat, but some shrimp bits fell in so I had to be careful.) I crashed in her guest room and slept until almost noon! On Sunday we took it easy, just went to Akihabara and looked around, then I went back to Tsukuba for one last (sweaty, internet-less) night. I ate dinner at Coco’s and that was it.

On Monday, I had one final meeting with my boss, and then he had the office call a cab to take me and my giant bags to the train station. I managed to navigate my way to Shinagawa without much incident, but when I checked into my hotel they informed me they didn’t have an elevator. Oh, really? “Well that’s going to be a problem…” but they carried my bags up for me. I took it easy on Monday night, just looked around Shinagawa a little bit, and ate dinner at TGI Friday’s. I felt funny there, but the American food was nice, and I had gotten a free drink coupon on the street, so that’s where I went! On Tuesday I went to Shinjuku and did some shopping and ate at Siam, a great Thai restaurant where they understood only enough English for “no shrimp! tofu! TOFU. NO SHRIMP.” The food was really good though! In the evening, I went to Shibuya and had dinner with my friend Merritt, who is teaching ASL in Japan for a couple of years.

Having completely missed all earthquakes, I decided to start Wednesday by going to the Kita Disaster Prevention Center which has a simulator. There was no English anywhere, but the operator held up fingers to let me know what magnitude he was going to do. It was just me and a mother with two young girls, and we went through 4, 5, 6, and 7 magnitude shocks…I can’t believe Californians scoff at 4s, I thought it was really strong! Next he simulated the Kobe earthquake of 1995, which was quite strong but very short. Then he gave us the big one, the 1923 Kanto earthquake. Holy. Crap. Aside from being huge – 7.9 on the Richter scale – it was also really long. It actually made me nauseous, and I don’t usually get nauseous from simulators or thrill rides. I am disappointed that I never got to experience a real earthquake – the simulator looked out onto normal space, so you could tell that YOU were moving, not the world – but if that’s what they’re like, I guess I’m not so eager to after all! I went shopping in Asakusa for last-minute gifts, and then came back to the hotel for the rest of the day. Tomorrow I get on the plane…

Google Translate is Funny

I would say at least one-third of the websites I’ve been visiting while I’m here are in Japanese. Obviously, I need Google Translate for this. Their ability to translate Japanese is not so great; I’ve noticed that other languages translate much more fluidly. Japanese translations are usually good enough to get the idea, but sometimes parts will make no sense. (For really cool information on how Google Translate works, read this article.)

So tonight, I’m looking for a place to stay this weekend. I have two lectures to attend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, so I will definitely spend the night in Tokyo. I want to find a place in advance; my luck with wandering around to find a place has been not-so-great. While using Google Translate, I found this:

Q. I containing the tattoo, can I stay?
A. No. Visit your tattoo containing the body, we have strictly prohibited. Also, since we are also permitted those who visit us are drunk gang members, please understand.

Because sober gang members are totally safer, right?!

It’s still on my list of possible places to stay, because you don’t see my tattoos when I’m clothed, and I will shower on Friday before I leave and on Sunday after I get back. But I thought that was funny anyway!

Weekend in Shinjuku

I spent the majority of my weekend in Shinjuku. After school on Friday, I got on the Tsukuba Express and rode to Minami-Naregayama, where I transferred to the JR for Kita-Fuchu. I was planning to stay with a woman from CouchSurfing, but I got lost from some bad directions, and I had to be in Shinjuku by about 7 anyway, so I just gave up and said thanks, but I’ll stay with a friend. (I didn’t actually have one to stay with, but I worked it out.) I got back on the JR and rode over to Shinjuku.

I’m trying to describe Shinjuku properly, here. It is…a maze. It is busy, crowded, and tall; you have to read very tall signboards to find out what businesses are in any given building. Shinjuku is up all night, Shinjuku is easy to get lost in, Shinjuku is confusing. I grew to enjoy it, but on Friday evening I was not a happy camper, because I was lost. I got there at 5 and didn’t need to get to the bar for DPHH until 7, so I was wandering around…and around…trying to find it. I went into an internet cafe and paid ¥100 for 30 minutes; I took pictures of Google Maps pages with my camera so I could have that with me. No luck – I was horribly, horribly lost. From 5-6 I was walking around, 6-6:30 in the net cafe, 6:30-7:25 walking around lost, and finally at 7:30 I arrived at the bar. That interim five minutes was actually when I finally found a police box and asked the cops how to get there…turned out it was just a few minutes away.

DPHH was pretty cool. There was only one Japanese woman who knew ASL, so she and I chatted for a while until Merritt showed up. Merritt and I have a mutual friend, so we thought it would be fun to meet, and I was so hungry to talk in ASL. We chatted with each other and a few more native signers, it was wonderful. The Japan/Ivory Coast game was on the TVs, so it was noisy and there was a lot of smoke, but it was fine.

I finally left around 10:30 and went back to the internet cafe. I bought a 5-hour block for ¥1200, intending to go to another internet cafe after my time was up. I didn’t try to sleep or anything, I just goofed around online. At 2:30am I remembered that the 5-hour blocks are only available until 3:00am, so even though I had about an hour left, I departed for the other net cafe. Unfortunately, it was closed, and I found myself walking around Shinjuku at 3:00am. I knew I had seen more net cafes, it was just a matter of finding them again in the maze of pedestrian avenues that is Shinjuku.

I finally got to another place and it was really nice. All their full-flat cubicles were full, so I got five hours in a reclining chair with footrest for something like ¥1300. They had a vending machine with hot food like chicken fingers and such; I got French fries for ¥350 which was expensive, but they were tasty, and it was fun to get nice hot fries out of a vending machine! I surfed the web for a couple of hours, and finally managed to sleep for about 90 minutes. At around 7:00am, people started to leave, so all the slamming doors meant I was unable to sleep until it was time to go. I goofed around on the net for an hour before departing.

I knew there were two places I wanted to go: the Sanrio store in the basement of the same building as the net cafe, and the cat cafe down the street. Of course they weren’t open that early, so I ate and dawdled at Mister Donut, and then nursed some coffee at Starbucks. I eventually gave up and sat outside the Sanrio store for the last 15 minutes before opening time; the security guard was none too sure about me, even though I was obviously waiting for the store to open. Whatever. I looked at everything in the store, and ended up with another washcloth for my sweaty face (no idea what happened to my old one, weird) and a phone strap of Hello Kitty in a geisha costume.

Then it was off to the cat cafe to play with these guys for an hour and a half! This was a really big space, with a lot of cats; unfortunately they had a rule that you can’t pick them up, but to my surprise one of the staff spoke some English, and he told me a little about the cats.

And then I went to meet my friend Carrie!! We haven’t seen each other in a billion years, but she and her friend were in Tokyo for the week, so we met up while he went to a baseball game. We had lunch at Chaya which was pretty good, if on the expensive side. Chaya is in the restaurant section of the Isetan department store, and there’s another restaurant there called Vege China that advertises itself as “New Vegetable Dinning” [sic] but, oddly enough, is not at all vegetarian. Huh.

Carrie and I walked all around Shinjuku, and I felt much more comfortable and with a much better sense of direction than the night before. We went pretty much all over the very busiest part of Shinjuku, including down into the Subnade which is an underground mall/dining complex. Eventually I was tired, so we retrieved my heavy backpack from the coin locker at the JR station (I have got to pack lighter for these trips) and found where I was going to stay, the Hotel Tateshina.

Now, because I am living 100% on borrowed cash, I have been extremely frugal. I have been staying only at places that cost $25/nt or less – capsule hotels, the internet cafes, etc. But dammit, I was tired of budget living, and I hadn’t used a private shower or even a private toilet in three weeks. It was time for a private room, a Western bed, and my own bathroom. And oh man did I love it. I was happy just to be in there. In fact, if I had a place like that here in Tsukuba, I’d be the happiest girl in the world. (I have my own dorm room, but other girls are knocking around all day and night, and the facilities are shared.) I was smiling all night, just because of the wonderful privacy. After walking nonstop for 12 hours (got there about 8pm), I was really sore, so I took a nice hot bath and all the aches and pains went away got better. Japanese baths are always very deep, because they like to soak, so I got my whole body in there and felt so much better afterward. And in the morning, I had a nice hot shower, and the water stayed on the whole time! No lever-pressing to make the water come back on! And there was shampoo and soap!! I’m sure to most people the room would be small and shabby, but to me it was wonderful. They even had TV in the room, though I didn’t watch much – they had BBC News but it was dubbed into Japanese.

So today, Sunday, I met my friend again who I met the last weekend I was down in Tokyo. One of her daughters had an audition at Fuji TV in Odaiba; she is contracted with a modeling agency and has done some commercials and things like that. So I got to see the inside of the Fuji TV center, her daughter whispered to me that a foreigner like me would never get into Fuji TV so easily! But as a member of their party, I got a little badge (had to give it back, boo), and I got to see things. The audition was closed, but we chatted and I played games with her younger daughter while we waited.

Next we went to Nyanda Cafe which had a totally awesome cat-related shop (I bought stuff!), and then a whole bunch of kitties to pet. (Again, no picking up, I hate when they have that rule!) I got to pet a Cornish Rex, which was pretty cool, but unfortunately the Sphynx was sleeping in an off-limits area; we could see him through a window but I didn’t get to pet him. There were also lots of kittens in cages for adoption, and they say they prefer adoptees to live in a single family home, not an apartment, because apartment residents are more likely to move and leave the cat behind! The sign about adoption also said that you are supposed to take care of the cat for the rest of its life…it’s a cute kitten now, but it will grow up to be a cat, and you can’t get rid of it. All wise words, of course, but I would never have known them if I had gone by myself. My friend and both of her daughters are fully bilingual, so they translated signs and stuff for me. (My friend is Japanese-Italian and her husband is Italian-American.) The kittens chewed our fingers through their cages, it was so adorable…no milk coming out of my fingertips, sorry!

We went to Saizeriya for lunch, and I discovered that it is wonderful. Dirt-cheap food, including pizza, garlic bread, spaghetti, and all kinds of stuff, and for ¥180 you get all-you-can-drink at the drink bar which includes 7 sodas, coffee, tea, etc. There is one not far from the university, so I will definitely go there when I am feeling poor! The big plate of delicious spaghetti I ordered was only ¥299…how can you beat that price?! After we ate, we went back to the train station; when we separated, my friend’s daughter gave me one of the two small stuffed kitties she had bought. I tried to decline, but both her sister and her mother insisted she had bought it for me in the first place! SO sweet, she is only 7, and now I have a little calico kitten for my dorm room. :)

I took the train back to Tsukuba (by way of Akihabara), and on the way back I fell asleep hard! Somebody tapped me and I woke up and the train was empty – we were at Tsukuba! Thank goodness it’s the end of the line, or I’d have been far from home! I walked back to the dorm and now I am super sleepy so I will end here.

Week Two Begins

On Sunday it rained and rained. I wandered around Asakusa a little bit, bought a couple of items from the shops in the covered outdoor mall, and then settled into a Starbucks to nurse a mocha and ponder my next move. The #1 thing I wanted to do that day was wander around town – Shinjuku, maybe, or even just in Asakusa – but the rain was making that decidedly unattractive. I decided to give up and went from the Starbucks straight to the train station to come back to Tsukuba. I had bought a poncho in Asakusa, and I unwrapped it when I got back to Tsukuba, intending to use it on my bike. For all the good THAT did! I ended up getting soaked anyway, and I did get a teensy bit lost but I corrected it within a block or two. Now I know that I need to turn on Higashi-dori dammit! Only Higashi-dori gets me home! Anyway, so I biked home, and despite the poncho I was all wet. I got up to my dorm room and toweled off, then just loafed the rest of the day. I did freak out about money in the evening, but I took a chill pill and was all right.

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On Monday, classes resumed, as they tend to do. Mondays are my ASL day, and honestly I think I enjoy that the most because I actually understand everything. There are two teachers – one is my supervisor, and the other is a part-time teacher who only teaches ASL. Last week I was just observing, but this week I got to start participating. The teachers each had me model correct signing technique (not that they were doing it wrong, but more like “let’s watch an American signing ASL!”), provide alternatives to signs, and monitor students for correctness during short conversations in front of the class. Most of what I corrected was handshapes; they have got the words in their head properly, but I think they’re not coming out right through the fingers. So anyway, that was a lot of fun, helping with the ASL classes! In the evening, I freaked out about money again, oh joy! I think everything is going to work out, I just have to be patient with the time difference and the time it takes for things to transfer electronically.

Today, an English day, I did a lot less helping than in the ASL classes. Mostly because the classes are taught primarily in Japanese, and there’s not really much for me to do in terms of teaching the language. What I will be doing, though, is providing cultural information. One English teacher asked me to talk about Washington DC next time, another wanted me to demonstrate “academic competition” like College Bowl next time (I told the kids to come prepared with countries and I would name the capitals – figured that was something that didn’t require much linguistic competency on either side), and another said that he wants me to teach the class when he’s gone next month! That one is going to be super awesome, I get to come up with my own lesson plan, anything I want as long as it’s about Gallaudet. The teachers have universally said that the kids really want to hear about me, my culture, Gallaudet, American deaf culture, etc. Maybe by the time I teach the class, about a month from now, I will have learned enough nihon shuwa (Japanese sign) to communicate better.

Speaking of which, my tutoring sessions have started! My first student was absolutely petrified. I tried as hard as I could to make him feel at ease, but I later found out that he went to a teacher and asked about it, and the teacher suggested that maybe he wasn’t ready for one-on-one tutoring, and should watch some DVDs instead. Poor kid, I would have kept working with him, but he just wasn’t happy. All of the other kids I have worked with have been fine, even the one who doesn’t know ASL or even JSL (oral background) – we managed just fine!

I’m going to end this now and go watch last night’s Big Bang Theory on my friend’s Slingbox. All hail American TV! Don’t forget to check out my pictures!

All Day in Tokyo

I got to Tokyo yesterday afternoon, and after some accidental clueless wandering around* I made my way to Hotel Kawase. By the time I got upstairs to my capsule, I was tired, so I figured I’d take a short nap – that was at about 5:00. I woke up about 8:00 and decided not to bother wandering around Asakusa, and just stayed in the hotel/hostel place. (I found it on hostels.com, and it’s cheaper than most capsule hotels, so it’s more like a capsule hostel. And the capsules look click for picture about 30 years old…hence the $20/nt price tag.)

Of course then I stayed up until about 2am on my phone, which I used by unplugging the TV and borrowing its power outlet – there isn’t a regular one in the capsule. So I woke up around 9:00, and changed quickly and headed out. I spotted a Starbucks, so I went there for breakfast; the guys in front of me were western but ordering in Japanese…I assume they were otaku?? Then I hopped on the Ginza Line and headed to Higashiikebukuro. I got there by changing at Ueno for the Yamanote Line to Ikebukuro, and then changing there to the Yurachuko Line for Higashi-Ikebukuro. (I mention all the changes so you can see how convoluted the whole system is.) Of course, as soon as I got off at Higashi-Ikebukuro, I promptly walked in the wrong direction. Ahem. I finally got turned back around, and after checking at a police box to make sure I was in the right area (had to hold up my phone to show the address in Japanese) I finally made it to Nekorobi Cat Cafe!

I stayed there an hour and had an absolutely marvelous time. The cats were more shy than I was expecting, only one let me hold her click for picture, but I loved just being around cats for the first time in over a week. I wrote in the guestbook and everything.

After my hour was up, I went to Sunshine City Mall for the Vivitix store, which was a huge disappointment. Vivitix click for picture is a branch of Hello Kitty merchandise, but there was practically nothing there I wanted. I did end up getting a washcloth for about $6 so I could mop my brow, which is always sweaty! click for picture I walked around the mall a little more – saw some Sweet Lolitas click for picture – and headed for the train station to go to Harajuku. I got sucked into another HK store along the way – this one was much better, with JR Line HK keitai straps and everything! Then I got on the train – no need to change this time – and went to Harajuku.

When I came out of the train station, I was immediately faced with Takeshita-dori click for picture the major fashion center of Harajuku. I guess that’s what Gwen Stefani was singing about. Maybe it would have been more impressive if I could have fit into any of the clothes they were selling. Whatever. I walked around the neighborhood some more, and just when I was going to meet a friend, I spotted Cat Room Chamamo! So I had to go in. Duh. It was 300 yen (about $3) for 15 minutes and that’s how long I stayed. I managed to get lots of pictures in that time though, including several of a Munchkin kitty. I don’t think I like it. He got around fine, but…it just looked wrong. His legs looked bowlegged or something. I don’t know.

I got back on the train and went to some other station to meet my friend and her daughters. They took me out to a lovely dinner that I really enjoyed, yum! I wish I knew what the place was called. After that I got back on the train and came back to Hotel Kawase, where I am sitting in the hallway on my laptop uploading pictures and writing this. Unfortunately the guys in the adjacent room, which closes with a curtain, are smoking. It’s disgusting, and I used Kotoba to read the kanji in my capsule that said “no smoking” so I know the Japanese guys should be able to read it. Ugh! Just one final set of pictures uploading now, and then I’ll close the laptop and switch to my phone in bed.

^ See, Japanese addresses are freaking complicated. Checking the map before leaving does you no good, because when you get out of the local train station, you don’t know where you are on the map. I have wandered off in the wrong direction at least four times now.