Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tokyo and Myoden

After sleeping in airports and aeroplanes i arrived in Tokyo and had to sleep in a hostel. Actually, i had to live in a hostel for a week as my new company was organising an apartment for me. I wasted a couple of days watching cricket on the internet and ambling around cold, sunny, central Tokyo and past rows of shops and restaurants that had shut for the New Year holiday.

My new job is busy. I’m teaching at three different places around Tokyo all for a company which provides English lessons all over the greater Tokyo area at little language schools. It involves quite a lot of commuting and i’ve got all sorts of different classes. My youngest student is three and my oldest is seventy but as long as i don’t get the lessons plans mixed up things should go well. Although, if i get bored i guess i could always break into a rendition of The Wheels On The Bus with one of the business men.

I’m not complaining that the new people i’m working for organised an apartment for me (it would have been a hell of a language barrier to climb over for me to do it myself) but i think i might have been better off in the hostel. I would use the word “apartment” very loosely here as well. “Apartment” makes me think of a spacious open plan living space in Manhattan. I’m living in a flimsy shoebox on the outskirts of Tokyo in a bland commuter suburb called Myoden. Also, when i moved in the other week i discovered that the stove didn’t work properly so i couldn’t cook any food, some of the furniture was falling apart, there was no internet connection so i couldn’t email anybody and my washing machine is a twin-tub cold water contraption that’s older than me so i have to go to the laundrette around the corner. And the carpet smells. And the bathroom is the size of a phone box. And when i wake up every morning i open the curtains to be greeted by rivers of condensation dripping down the windows. The last place i had felt like the halls of residence at a university. Now i feel like i’m squatting. Still, on the plus side i’ve got a phone that works properly this time.

Apparently there’s a recession going on. We’re in a period of sluggish growth or a downturn or a stagnating economic situation or some other combination of words that are getting overused. I think it means that it’s now difficult to get and keep a job and banks aren’t lending money to people who can’t pay it back so less people are buying shit they don’t need. Japan is in the same boat as everybody else but you wouldn’t know it if you went to Akihabara. Akihabara is a part of Tokyo that’s home to a bizarre mix of electronics, manga porn and maid cafes. Everything electronic is sold in department store sized gadget stockpiles while dozens of shops selling cartoon porn DVDs and comics nestle in between along with discreet upstairs cafes where, apparently, cute girls dressed up in a variety of different outfits will serve you drinks and flirt with you, if that kind of things floats your boat and flicks your switch. Last month, when i went to buy a mobile phone that actually works as a phone should, the place was stacked full of people hurriedly buying something electronic, something pornographic or some drinks from a Japanese girl dressed as a French maid. I guess you’ve got to have some fun, even in a recession.

There’s another thing in Japan that’s recession proof. The trains. I’m not sure i’ve been to a country that uses, needs and breathes trains as much as this one. Everybody uses them. All the time. Everyday. There’s 27,190km of train track in Japan. That’s enough to go around the equator. There are 20,000 daily train services. The annual ridership is 400 billion. No wonder Honda and the rest of them export so much. They have no choice. In Japan the train is king.

I'll be here for twelve months so i’m planning on seeing yet more of Tokyo and snatches of the rest of the country as well in the coming months so hopefully i’ll have something more interesting to write about than washing machines and trains. Hopefully.

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