Random Findings

30 04 2009

Tokyo Shopping Adventures

26 04 2009

Today was a big day. First we rode our bikes to Kisarazu station by 9:15 to catch two trains to Minami-Funabashi, where we visited Ikea. We ordered a couch, dining table and chairs, and a rug for Benno’s desk. Also picked up some essentials like a plastic divider for our cutlery drawer, and of course some Swedish (vegan) biscuits and jam.

Next, we headed into Tokyo again and had lunch at Loving Hut in Yotsuya. On Sundays they have a Yum Cha type lunch. We feasted on many dishes including noodles, steamed buns, rice triangles, sugary donuts with bean filling, tofu and mushroom soup, cold rolls, potato slivers, sweet jelly and tea for a bargain set price of 1000 yen.They also have a small range of items for sale, so we picked up some vegan mayonnaise, instant noodles, and a vegan pocketbook with vegan-friendly restaurant listings in various parts of Japan.

Then we headed to Akihabara, famous for its electric town where basically all the shops sell some type of electronics. We picked up a wireless router, some computer speakers, and a shaver for Benno.

Back on the train to Meguro, where we visited Non, a tiny but delicious Vegan Izakaya (food-serving sake bar), believed to be the only one in Japan. We had another delicious vegan Japanese meal with satay tofu, raw avocado rolls, gyoza, brown rice with homemade tofu, iced oolong and tofu tiramasu. We ate sitting at low tables on traditional tatami mats (which means you have to take your shoes off and kneel to eat)

Train back to Tokyo, bus to Kizarazu station, bike home by 11pm. Zzz! Time for bed because Lara starts Mondays with the first lesson at 7.30am!

New Favourite Song

24 04 2009

Who needs language skills?

24 04 2009

Week three highlights:

The weeks are flying by. Soon enough we’ll be on Golden Week holidays and that’s almost the first school term gone…

Monday: I got paid on Monday- pay day is always a good day! Especially when you have a Disney bank account?!?

Tuesday: So, with yen in hand we went out to buy some more furniture. We went out riding in the rain to 2nd Street after work. We have a TV, TV cabinet and washing machine waiting to be delivered after Golden Week. The TV should help Benno acquire more language since he doesn’t leave the house much.That might change now that we have signed up on the Tokyo Vegan meetups group that have regular dinners out.

Wednesday: Benno was busy at home when I came home early from school at 4pm. So, I rode my bike to Nitori (a furniture store) on my own to buy some furniture for Benno. I went in, and with a combination of no, yes, here, thank you, and, where? spoken in Japanese (i.e. not very much at all) I was able to select, order, arrange delivery and pay for a desk and chair for Benno. Awesome!

Friday: The desk and chair were delivered. Benno’s office is complete!

The Cutty Mug

19 04 2009

cutty_mugIt reads, “Everyone loves ladybirds. Because it’s small,colorful, and cutty.”

There’s a lot of this sort of bad English around. The letter sets in particular are hilarious.

Second Week Highlights

18 04 2009

Monday: Going to the town hall after school to get a health card and not being able to get mine because they a) didn’t believe me that I lived at the address I said I did and b) didn’t think I looked like my passport photo. So they posted it and I got it in the post the day after. Dinner was curry and brown rice.

Tuesday: Benno’s birthday, eating oven baked fries for dinner and drinking soy chai lattes at Starbucks, doing 3 practicals at school with very low supplies and hearing Low Rider on the radio (*the* birthday song if you’re from Manila). Dinner was tempura stirfry.

Benno’s birthday cake

Wednesday: I decided to read some books from the Inter library and ended up reading 4 novels in as many days (they are fairly basic English novels after all). The most interesting was reading the sequel book to Howl’s Moving Castle called The House of Many Ways.

Thursday: Freedom Machine here we come – Benno bought a bicycle – with uber trendy front basket and 3 gears (about as high tech as bikes go. Shopping bicycles are practically the only bike available- in the one colour and style). Dinner was salt and pepper tofu with rice.

Friday: Getting internet installed (finally) at our house. Fibre Optic to the door is something Australia is gonna have to wait about 10 years for – pity we were so impatient having to wait 3 weeks. Dinner was mushroom stroganoff with udon. Benno stayed up until the wee hours playing on the internet while Lara went to bed as on Saturdays she starts work at 7.25am.

Saturday: Up early for a 7.30am lesson – at least the bus stop is not far from home.

ourhouse_frombusstopThis photo is taken from the bus stop, facing in the direction of school. You can see our apartment the on the ground floor of the yellow building, straight in front.

Second Freedom Machine – Lara got a bicycle from school that wasn’t being used. It has a front basket and 3 gears and is similar in style to Benno’s except that it also has a back carry rack. Benno rode his bicycle to school and when Lara finished around 1.30pm we both rode down the hill home.

Benno and Lara’s bicycles outside our apartment. It’s very safe so we can just leave them outside and no one will steal them, even in town if we’re out shopping. This photo was taken with my pink slide cell-phone/mobile/k-tai.

Yay! One day weekend!

12 04 2009

What should everybody do on their day off? Sleep in and have pancakes for breakfast.
benno_kitchen_pancakesBenno making pancakes in the kitchen.

In the afternoon we walked past the 100 yen shop to a large park up the hill called Odayama Park. We visited a traditional Edo house, the Old Anzai Family house. It was a restored farmhouse from the early 1800s. A lovely old Japanese man (volunteer tour guide) took us for a tour and spoke slowly so Benno could understand. There were two tatami rooms, dark (almost black) wooden floors in the rest of the house and massive black-wood ceiling beams with bamboo ceilings. There was a sunken pit in the middle of the room for a fire to cook food and traditional oil lanterns lit the room. In the lower half of the house it was a dirt floor and the rest of the cooking and heating water was done here.


We walked to the top of the hill and climbed Kimisarazu Tower to see the view of the city. You can see the red sign for Ks electrical store (3-5 mins walk from our house) in the distance but we couldn’t see far across the bay because it was smoggy/foggy/dusty/glarey. There were lots of drunken young punks at the tower, disturbing the serenity.


On top of the tower is Prince Yamato Takeru and Princess Ototachibana, extending their arms to each other. There’s a story that goes with it about how the prince was sailing across Tokyo bay when a storm hit. The princess threw herself into the Tokyo Bay waters to appease the water gods and saved the prince from his destruction.

We saw a wild butterfly on our walk and ate sweet potato ring chips.

Dinner was spaghetti with garlic bread and brownie with strawberries for dessert.

Benno’s birthday brownie, ordered over the internet from a veg* organic store in Saitama.

Week One of Teaching: the highlights.

11 04 2009

The starts can be a little early – on the bus by 7.10 to be at school by 7.25am with the first lesson at 7.30am. At least it only takes around 10 minutes on the bus and the bus stop is 2 minutes walk away.

On days when I don’t have the first lesson (which is 3 days out of 6) I can catch the later bus at 8.05am which is a bus for elementary school students. The first time I caught the bus the little kids looked so cute with their berets, blazers and socks pulled high. The seats still had plastic covering on them so the kids were sliding around everywhere when the bus stopped. The elementary teacher quickly helped the students to put their seatbelts on so they didn’t fly out the window.

The work load is fairly easy – 20 lessons a week with 3-4 lessons to teach in a day. I only have 2 homeroom duties filling in for other teachers. So, that leaves a lot of preparation time. Also, the class sizes are 6, 9, 6 and 8 (for J-1, J-2, J-3 and H-1 respectively – equivalent to years 7, 8, 9  and 10)

During some of my lessons the principal or vice principal walked in and looked around – checking up on the new teacher I guess. That was a little intimidating but since they don’t speak English it probably didn’t matter what I said.

Benno made hot cross buns for Easter – not that we have any holidays for Good Friday or Easter Monday. In Japan Easter is not celebrated – we’ll have to wait until May 2-6 for Golden Week holidays.

Benno’s handmade hot cross buns.

On Friday after school Toshy came and we went to a local doctor for a pre-employment compulsory medical. The three new Inter teachers pee-ed in cups, had heart scans (involving about 12 sticky electrodes), had x-rays of our lungs, the doctor listened to our heart and took our blood pressure. My health was perfect (of course) so the school is happy to employ me. I have to pay compulsory health insurance anyway so I’m not sure what the big deal is. Every year teachers and students sit compulsory health checks, but I’m not sure if there are any consequences if you fail.

Working on a Saturday:

The first time I’ve had to work on a Saturday (apart from detention supervision, but that’s not actually teaching lessons). The school bus had me home by 2pm to enjoy the sunshine and be lazy for the rest of the day…we had roast vegetables and gravy for dinner followed by a strange not-dessert – black sesame and tofu japanese-pudding (that was fine on its own) with miso topping (bad addition – next time we’ll throw out the miso dressing and use straight sugar).


Starting school

6 04 2009

First teachers’ day at Gyosei. I had an introductory walk around the school before being introduced to all the other International faculty staff members. We sat in the staff room for over a hour listening to random Japanese from old men teachers (saying such things as ‘let’s keep the corridors clean’ and ‘our college admission numbers are dropping’). I got my timetable, keys, codes, textbooks, instructions etc before heading off to the whole staff lunch. I had to say an introductory statement for the third time, introducing myself to different gatherings of staff. The rest of the day was spent in preparation and international staff meetings. The 6 others seem to be a co-operative, collaborative bunch that work together to ensure the smooth running of the inter division. There are 3 females in total on the entire high school staff (with a few more in the elementary school) and very few young staff. The school includes such features as: only using chalk and blackboards, having labs that are basic with no lab techs, and a small cupboard of chemicals (apparently the labs are not used much- textbook science only!), the classrooms are unadorned rooms with individual wooden desks and chairs and there are 5 mops in each classroom for daily after school cleaning duties.

Dinner was spaghetti with a tomato sauce and adzuki icecreams for dessert.

Tokyo Excursion

5 04 2009

Shinjuku Gyoen

TOKYO here we come! We got up early to be on the 8.06am express bus from Apita to Tokyo train station. It took about an hour to travel through Kisarazu, along the Tokyo Wan bridge to Umi Hotataru, under the tunnel to Kawasaki and up the expressway into Tokyo. We took the train for a short hop to Shinjuku (the train station is huge – easy to get lost if you don’t know what coloured line you want to travel on). We walked to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building(s) and travelled up the elevator to the 45th floor where there is an observation deck. We looked at the sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers stretching across into the fog/smog horizon. Back on the first floor we stopped off at the Tourist Information Centre to pick up some maps and a guide to veg* & macrobiotic restaurants in Tokyo.

tokyo_skyline_2View of Tokyo

tmgTokyo Metro Building


Lara & Benno by the cherry blossoms (sakura)

We wandered across to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden where the line up was huge…flocks of people were converging at lunchtime to enter the gardens for hanami (picnic under cherry blossoms). The cherry blossoms were indeed beautiful – mass plantings of massive cherry blossoms all in bloom with pale pink petals floating in clouds whenever the wind blew. We sat down in the Japaneses-style garden section and enjoyed the sakura (cherry blossoms). By 12.30pm the garden was packed – not a single area of lawn was free of a blue tarp picnic rug with millions of Japanese enjoying hanami with their friends and family.

crowds_hanamiThis was the garden when we first arrived – you couldn’t see any of the lawn by the time we left.

sakura_treeBeautiful Sakura

It was time for our lunch so we followed the advice of the T.I.C. brochure and ate at a macrobiotic restaurant called de Chaya in Isetan on the 7th floor, behind the Shinjuku 3-chome subway station. We ate delicious meals – worth waiting for since there was a line up of about 10 people when we got there. We had a tempeh salad with steamed potatoes and tofu tartare sauce and tofu and pea fried dumplings with salad. We also had desserts of strawberry cheesecake and toffee and nut slice. Delicious!

Lunch: tempeh salad above, strawberry pie and nut slice below.


We caught the train to Harajuku, the hub of trendy high-school aged kids and one of the busiest shopping districts. We saw crazy teenagers dressed up in costumes (who stood around on the station corner for hours).

harajuku_stationHarajuku station – so many people and most of them under 30.


Some of the crazy dressups outside Harajuku Station on the way into the Meiji Jingu Shrine complex.

We joined all the other tourists in ‘paying our respects’ at Meiji Jingu Shrine, where there were just as many people as in Shinjuku Gyoen but the ratio was now 1:1 foreigner to Japanese. The Shinto Shrine was built in 1920 by/for Emperor Meiji and is surrounded by around 100,000 trees in a huge garden, making it an ‘enviro-hotspot’, apparently.

meiji_shrine_buildingThe main entrance building to the shrine complex.

meiji_gatesHuge Torii made from massive big trees – entrance to the shrine.


The wall of prayer tokens.


A Shinto wedding occuring at the time – they paraded through the complex a few times and then sat down for wedding photos.

Then we wandered past the fashionable shops (all the big names in fashion have stores along with many small boutiques) and through the narrow backstreets filled with more shops to the Organic Bakery der Akkord. We treated ourselves to a vegan apple pie, adzuki pie, rock-cookies and basil pate/spread. Dinner was at Brown Rice Organic Macrobiotic Cafe. We had another totally delicious meal that included a vegie-burger with fries and salad, bean curry with brown rice and salad, soy chai and a hot sweet drink made from fermented rice called amazake. We had little muffins with struesel toppings for dessert – quite interesting considering the macrobiotic philosophy is no sugar, but the fruit sugar is sufficient.

vegie_burgerBenno’s vegie burger dinner

dinner_curryLara’s brown rice bean curry dinner.

dinner_muffinFruit Struesel Muffin for dessert.

By this stage we were stuffed to the brim with good food so we caught the train back to Tokyo station and took the express bus home. But we caught the wrong bus back to Kisarazu and instead of stopping at Apita near our house it stopped at the train station, about an hour’s walk from our house. All of the local buses had finished so we had to catch a taxi back home. Oops. We’ll remember that for next time.

tokyo_lights_from_bridgeTokyo by night from the bumpy bus going over the Tokyo Bay bridge.