You may or may not have seen photos of the ultra realistic looking cat head making its rounds on social media the past couple of weeks. It was created by a group called Japan Wool Art Academy. Yes, it looks creepy and intriguing all at once. No, you cannot buy this – but you were able to wear it. I was fortunate enough to live only an hour away from the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum where it was on display.
Where was this head?
It was part of a display featuring, you called it, cats. These cats are made out of wool and look pretty darned close to the real thing. Sadly, I was too excited to take photos of these cats, because I wanted my photo with the huge cat head!
The Cat Head
First, you had to sign up (for reasons I am not really sure of) and then wait you turn. Fortunately, there was only a handful of people there. You’re probably thinking “Why would I want something on my head that tons of other people already wore?” A completely valid concern – and they thought about that! Before becoming one with the cat head, they put a mesh bag over your head. Think of it like a large loose leaf tea bag, in which your head goes into. After that, it is time to channel your inner feline!
The woman looking after the cat head emphasized the fact that I was not allowed to touch it with my hands. Afterwards, she took as many photos as I wanted, which I was more than happy to do. She would shout out random poses for me to do, such as cute or scary. As you can tell from some of my photos she took, I did not quite hear what she was saying.
Can you believe it has been one year since I moved from the small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to the Megatropolis of Tokyo? Neither can I. This past year has been quite the growing experience, both professionally and personally. From finding a job in mobile/web development to climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji. There have been no shortage of challenges. Here is my first year in Japan, in a nutshell.
Landing a Developer Job in Tokyo
Initially, I came to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa, which allowed me to stay in the country for up to 1 year and do various types of jobs. Before I even arrived in the country I was applying and searching for jobs. Only after 2 months, I landed a web development position. Which was something I was not expecting to happen so quickly.
Now, just under a year I am the Lead Front-End Developer for the Japan team. Who would have thought a small prairie town boy would be playing in the big leagues?
Japan has no shortage of things to do. While not every weekend I have been climbing Mt. Fuji, I have tried to keep myself busy by trying out new and exciting things.
One of my best experiences has been climbing (aka trying not to slip and hit my head on the rocks) to the summit of Mt. Fuji. That had to have been one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, experiences of my life. Starting at Station 5 and climbing over night to the summit was exhausting but the view was spectacular. Not everyday you get to say you were on top of a volcano. You would swear that we were in a completely different world.
Another “only in Japan” experience was my AKB48 Handshake event back in December. Love them or hate them, Idol groups are huge. It was fascinating to experience this event first hand (pun totally intended). Also, I like being able to say I shook hands with some of the members from AKB48.
The fun and beauty that is Harajuku will never disappoint you on a Sunday morning. Especially during Halloween, which is slowly catching on here, you never know what you’re going to see …
Visiting Hiroshima was a great experience with John. It was a grim reminder of the terrible events that have happened here in Japan. Lets hope that something like this never happens again.
John and I had the chance to attend a Sumo Wrestling Tournament. The arena itself was worth admission. What’s there not to like with oversized almost naked men throwing each other around?
There is always coming happening in and around Tokyo. From Pikachu invading Yokohama to Ultra Japan 2014. A week rarely goes by without something exciting to do.
Japan has 4 distinct seasons, and the advertising makes sure you do not forget this. From seasonal drinks to food. You’re constantly reminded that “it’s incredibly hot outside!” or “Man, its freezing you should try this NEW hot coffee”. Summers are hot and humid and the winters are windy, wet, and cold. Spring and Fall are comfortable. The summer humidity took a lot to get used to, and some days I did think “Why am I here? How can anyone live in this?” But, then a quick trip to my nearest 7-11 to get a frozen alcoholic drink quickly reminded me that “Hey, it is not that bad I got alcohol in a bag”.
The beauty that is the sakura (cherry blooms) in the spring is something you need to see in person. Photos do look gorgeous but experiencing them first hand is something everyone should do. We have nothing like this back home in Canada.
Winters are nothing like back home in Saskatchewan. It does not even get close to -50C here. If it did, I would be concerned since central heating is non-existent. Having a shower in the morning when it is -1C outside is worse than you think it is. Back in February Tokyo got to experience the most snow it has seen in years. The city was a complete mess but I was dumb enough to go venturing out.
Achieving Life Goals
Everyone has items on their list they want to achieve or experience before the end. Being here in Japan, I have been able to cross some of those items off the list.
Ayumi Hamasaki in Concert at A-Nation
Experiencing ParaPara at a Nightclub in Tokyo
Holding an Annual Passport for Tokyo Disney Resort
Climbing Mt. Fuji
Sharing Japan with my Mom & friends
Eating at a Maid Cafe
Ok, maybe the Maid Cafe wasn’t exactly a life goal and we just happened to stumble upon it in Akihabara and figured I would include it. I have been a fan of Ayumi Hamasaki since she debuted in 1998 and was one of the many reasons that sparked my interest in Japan. Being able to see my inspiration was nothing short of satisfying.
Turning a Hobby into a Serious Thing
I have always been a huge Disney fan, so naturally going to Tokyo Disney Resort was high on my list. Recently I changed my “Fat Hobbit” website from talking about various topics on Disney Parks to “TDR Explorer” where myself and a small team publish English information about the resort. I noticed there was a huge gap in English information so I figured, why not turn my hobby into something people can find useful.
Not only do we have a website but also a podcast called TDR Now. The reception has been very positive and has motivated us to continue doing it!
Moving to another county, it is challenging to find friends. While I cannot say it has not been easy. Getting outside of my comfort zone, I have been able to meet fantastic people! They make those days where I miss home, just a little bit easier. I mean, who does not love having KFC for Canadian Thanksgiving?
Struggling with Japanese Language
Now, I will admit my Japanese study has slipped since the summer. Meaning my ability has not been improving as much as I would like it to be. I did write the JLPT N4 over the summer, which I sadly did not pass by only a few points. My goal in the next year is to be at least at conversation level. It is my own fault for not studying and speaking as much as I should.
Japan, you’ve been quite the experience so far and it is far from over! It is uncertain at this point how much longer I will be here. As I have many good things going for me at the moment. But, I do know one thing. I will be making the most out of every moment.
Typically, my blog posts are uplifting and entertaining. But as for most things in life, it is not all rainbows and Pikachus. As a warning to my readers, this will discuss my witnessing accounts of suicide and accidents involving trains here in Japan. There are NO graphic photos, but what I describe may disturb some. If you do not want to read any further, I totally understand. You can read some of my otherpostsinstead.
Trains are part of everyday life here in Japan. Morning commutes usually result in being pushed onto the train, just so you can fit. Express trains whip past stations at high speeds.
But with all that convenience also comes a dark side – accidents and suicide.
This will not turn into a discussion on how suicide is a problem here in Japan. It has been written about many times over. I will however share my unfortunate experiences witnessing suicide and accidents.
Again as a warning, the next sections will discuss death and going into graphic detail as to what happened. If you wish to not read, please watch an army of Pikachu take over Yokohama.
One of the easiest and fastest ways to get into Tokyo from Narita Airport is the Narita Express. Express trains do not stop at every stop, and they typically don’t slow down as they pass stations they are not stopping at. Sadly, because of this it is rather easy method of suicide.
Many stations do not have guard rails to protect you from falling on the rails. There are yellow lines to stand behind and announcements to tell you when a train is coming. If someone were to fall by accident there are red emergency buttons that will alert staff and the train will hopefully stop in time.
My mom recently visited Japan. Since it was her first time, I went to meet her at Narita Airport and take the Express back to Shinjuku. About 30 mins after being on the train, the emergency brakes came on as we passed a local station and came to a complete stop.
At first, I thought they said that there was an earthquake. So, I pulled out my phone to look up on the Yurekuru App to see if there was indeed an earthquake. Nothing was showing up, so I did not make a big deal out of it. My mom and I continued to visit and talking about all the fun things we will be doing in Japan while she’s be visiting.
About 10 minutes passed and we still had not moved. But we noticed train employees running around on the platform, putting tape across the doors of another train on the oppositie platform to us, as to not allow them to get off the train. We both thought that was rather odd. Again, we thought nothing of it and continued visiting.
A few minutes later police, paramedics, and train staff come running toward our train car and stood outside our window. At that point, we figured something must have happened.
We heard someone let out a loud scream from the car in front of us. My heart sank. I told mom to stay in her seat and I would go see what is happening.
The area of the train where the washrooms and luggage is located was full of people looking out of the window. People were gasping and taking photos. One woman was in complete tears and went back to her seat.
Now, I know I should not have looked, but curiousity got the best of me. I eventually got to look out the window and what I saw, was something I wish no one would ever see.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT
It was the dismembered body of a man wearing white clothing. All I could see was what was left of his torso and leg. The rest was under the train, out of view. There were paramedics already out there beginning to clean up. Small white tarps were laid in seemingly random spots. I quickly realized that these were body parts. Whatever the person was carrying at the time was also scattered about.
Other people were taking photos with their smartphones. An event like this, I do not want to remember, nor have on my phone. So, I did not take any photos of this person who decided to take their life.
I was unfortunate to witness an accident involving a 20-something woman. I was arriving at my station for work and making my way off the platform. As I was walking, I could hear another train lay on the horn. Trains will usually blow the horn as they approach the platform just to warm people, but this horn was drawn out and incredibly loud.
I look over and see this woman fall onto the tracks just as the train was pulling into the platform. My heart completely sank and my first instinct was to hit the emergency stop button that are placed everywhere on the platform. As I was about to hit the emergency button, someone already had pushed it.
The train came to a screeching hault. The sound of metal on metal made my skin crawl. A woman who was standing beside the woman who fell was completely hysterical and who can blame her.
My first instinct, after attempting to hit the emergency button, was to see if she was alright. I ran up to the spot where she fell and looked down onto the tracks. Not knowing what I was going to see.
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT
The poor woman was laying face down beside the tracks and only with her arm laying on the tracks. There is an opening under most train platforms, so it looked like she attempted to get out fo the way. Her arm was clearly ran over, as it was broken from what I can tell. The rest of her looked fine, but she was not moving so I was not sure if she was alive. I can still see her laying there, as clear as day. With her lunch and high heel shoes scattered about the tracks.
Paramedics, police, and train staff were running around the platform. Eventually a large tarp was used to block the view of the people who got the woman off the tracks. They had to pull her out from the other side.
When they took her out of the station, they had an oxygen mask on her, so she was thankfully alive. Police were questioning eyewitnesses around the platform, so I stuck around to answer questions if I was asked. They never did approach me.
While these experiences were not positive ones, they are still experiences. You always hear about suicide and accidents with the trains in Japan. Seeing them first hand is something that I wish not to repeat.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please reach out. There are hotlines available in Canada and Japan.
Remember the first time you moved out of your parents house? I’ve had that feeling all over again since moving to Japan. It’s hard to believe it’s only been eight months, and so much has changed in my life. In such a short amount of time, I’ve experienced so much – some of it a result of great planning and organization, and some of it purely by chance. And while most of of my experiences have been positive, it’d be untruthful to say there are no negatives.
I came to Japan with no job and prospects. About a month after landing and a few job interviews, I joined an American-based company’s Tokyo branch in December 2013. It was important for me to find work that was not only in my field, but something I knew I’d enjoy.
It was a gamble coming here without a job but I saved up enough money at my previous job to be able to live, on a strict budget, for about a year in Japan. So, I am very fortunate at how things turned out for me.
There have been challenges – from understanding the immigration process to simple everyday tasks like grocery shopping. Thankfully I have great friends who were able to help me out with things that I had no way of figuring out on my own. Like my air conditioner!
If you have ever learned a second language, then you know the best way to learn is to be completely immersed in it. I have noticed my Japanese has improved leaps and bounds since I’ve arrived. I have gone from barely being able to string a sentence together to being able to express myself (although in the most basic ways possible.)
There is still much work toward becoming fluent, but I’m learning everyday. Besides textbook study, I’ve found ways to work my language skills in to everyday life. Japanese is the language of preference on my iPhone – in fact, I instant message with my Japanese friends only in Japanese. Reading absolutely everything I see. Tokyo has no shortage of advertising so being able to read ads while on the train does help quite a bit. I will look up words to find out how to read it and the meaning. I’ve also been reading Manga comics like Yotsubato! – which, while aimed at elementary school children, is a good way for me to ramp up my understanding of words.
Recently wrote the N4 Japanese Language Proficiency Test, here in Tokyo. It’s the second lowest level of the exam, where N1 is the highest level. The test was a welcomed challenge and motivated me to do more book study, to accompany my speaking skills.
There have been some frustrations and difficulties along the way, which is going to happen. Anything worth doing will have its challenges. One challenge seems unavoidable – when asking someone who works in customer service, such as a food service employee, a question and they reply to me in English. While I do appreciate it, sometimes it throws me off. It feels strange replying back in Japanese after they replied to your question in English. It used to really bother me, because I want to speak Japanese. But, I realize there’s a good chance they don’t realize what I’m trying to do.
One thing that I told everyone before I moved was “There will always be a futon for you, so you should come and visit!”. So far three people have taken their opportunity to come and visit. John has been to Japan twice now and cannot wait to come back. My mom and her friend Shannon have visited as well. Mom was brave and stayed for a full month.
Don also came over on a Working Holiday Visa and is still currently in Japan. A few more friends are looking at coming in the next few months.
Also have had the chance to reconnect with old friends and classmates. Met with my friend Erina. We graduated together in 2003 back in Canada. Visited my friend Yuki up in Tochigi-ken. We were in the same volunteer group back in 2003, when I was first in Japan. Cannot forget our Host Brother Hiro (pictured above), who stayed with my family in 2005. There are still more friends I need to connect with.
Besides learning Japanese there are many other interests and hobbies that have become part of everyday life. One thing I relish is the ability to visit Tokyo Disneyland whenever I get the chance! With my 2-Park Annual Passport I am able to go anytime I wish. As a Disney parks fan, this is a dream come true!
I have also been working very hard on my website, Fat Hobbit, which focuses on travel advice for the Tokyo Disney Resort. It’s aimed at foreign visitors who are looking to make the most of their experience, and has been getting a great reception so far. In fact, it was recently highlighted on a Disney fan podcast!
As an avid gamer, it has been odd not to have my hands on one of the new next-generation consoles back home. With a tiny apartment and a small TV, getting one of the new systems hasn’t been high on my priority list, so my gaming console of choice has been my Nintendo 3DS. I have been enjoying Monster Hunter and Animal Crossing in what little spare time I have. Because games are region-locked on the 3DS, I haven’t been able to buy games here to play on it, but in the next coming weeks I am going to pick up the You-Kai Watch 3DS XL when it is released. Then I can start playing Japanese games, to help improve my abilities even more.
As fun as the experience has been here in Japan, there is a dark side to life as well. I’ve been unfortunate enough to witness two train accidents while I’ve been here. Much is written about them online, and so I won’t dwell on it here, but it is a very unpleasant – yet everyday – part of life in Japan. I’ve also encountered some Japanese people who don’t care for foreigners, but thankfully they are not in the majority. I do not let these experiences ruin anything for me, but take them for what they are — an experience.
Overall, it’s been an exciting eight months here in Tokyo, and I can’t wait to share even more stories in the coming months. Of course, you’re always welcome to come visit. There’s a futon here with your name on it!
Maid cafes became incredibly popular a few years back in Japan and have expanded around the world. They are present in major tourist areas throughout Tokyo such as Akihabara and Shibuya. These cafes specialize in having their servers dress up in French maid outfits and treat patrons as their masters. They then act “cute” and do “cute” things such as talking in a high pitched voice. If you have ever watched anime with the original Japanese audio, then you know exactly what I am talking about. If this sounds strange to you, then you would be correct. We had no plans on going to one of these cafes but it ended up happening. So, here’s our story.
Our unplanned visit to Maidreamin Cafe in Akihabara, Tokyo happened when we were in search of food. A strategically placed menu, that featured adorably decorated food and desserts, caught our eye. Before we could even read the menu this “maid” came up to us and told us (in pretty good English), “The food is so cute, just like you two, so please come and have us serve you!”.
Now, normally these things never work on me, but the fact that she spoke to us in English threw me off. Also a combination of being hungry, wanting to experience a Maid Cafe, and the cute food. This all clouded my better judgement.
The cute maid quickly explained to us how it worked. She then took us to the an elevator that took us to the third floor. You pay by the hour, for your food, and any extras you want such as photos with the maids. As you exit the elevator you are greeted, very ecstatically, by all the maids.
One of the maids took us to our table. Our table was between two different groups. One was a group of young Japanese men who were celebrating their friends birthday. You could tell because of the oversized “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” rabbit ears he was wearing. The group on the other side of us, looked like a couple that were on a date. It’s a peculiar place to go on a date, but to each their own.
Our maid came up to our table and asked us if Japanese was OK. I told her that I spoke Japanese. Even though she is supposed to act cute and adorable at all times, you could see this relief go over her. She quickly explained we had to order food and drinks, that we were paying by the hour, and we could add any “extras” to our experience. Which included items such as getting our photos taken with all of them, or photos just of them.
Once she was done, she pulled out this candle and instructed us to countdown from 5 to make the “magic” happen. I was not too sure what to expect but we counted down to 0. As we hit zero she blew into the candle and it lit up. Magic, I tell ya. She then complimented me on my “incredibly amazing” Japanese (my ability is far from amazing, just enough to get by). She then asked for our names and wrote them down on some points cards. You know, for when we want to come back and collect all the photos of the girls.
After she was done explaining how everything worked, she handed us the menus and skipped, yes skipped, away. Again, image how a girl would act like in any typical Anime.
We opened up the menus and started going through what we wanted to order. After looking at the prices we decided we would only get dessert. The main courses were incredibly overpriced, as to be expected, and for the portion you would get we knew we would be hungry shortly thereafter. We both decided on the, overly adorable, parfaits that were shaped like animals.
After ordering our overpriced parfaits, we watched other people around us. One guy, who was there alone, had a binder full of photos of all the girls individually. He clearly has been to this one quite a bit. The maids even knew him by name. Don’t ask me what his name was, I will not be able to remember. He was wearing a huge pair of bunny ears and got his photo taken with the maids a few times throughout our stay.
Another guy, who knew every of the girls by their (I am assuming) stage names, was sitting alone at the counter. He was an older gentleman who carried an iPad around with him. He would talk to the maids about mundane topics, such as the weather. Meanwhile the maids were bouncing around, giggling, laughing, and hanging off his every word.
Our parfaits finally arrive and we devour them in record time. While it looks rather big, they put a lot of corn flakes (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is) at the bottom. There was almost more filler than ice cream. Which was disappointing for the 800 yen price. But regardless, they were delicious and incredibly cute. While eating the maids would have loud arbitrary conversations for us to hear. They would be about nothing in particular but it was clearly for the “atmosphere”. I go back to the anime comparison again.
We were there around 5pm, which is when the sun begins setting in the winter. Shortly after finishing our parfaits, one of the maids goes on this stage. She instructs everyone that she needs our help with her “magic” so we can “light up the sky”. It resulted in us and everyone else in the restaurant wave our arms in the air and point to the ceiling. All at the time. When we did this, this magical sparkling sound filled the room. You know what sound I am talking about. And the lights turned from yellow to blue and stars being sparkling on the ceiling. I had no idea I was a witch, go figure.
By this point we have been there for close to two hours. We did take our time, but the service was a little “slow”, which I am not sure if it was on purpose or not. We opted not to get a photo with the girls, as we already spent quite a bit of money by this point. By the end of it we both ended up paying about 2000yen (roughly $22) for the parfait, experience, and time we were in there.
While the experience was expensive (that’s to be expected for a place such as this) and a little strange, I am glad that we did it. It was an overall positive experience and if you want something a little strange and/or unique then give it a try. Just be ready to spend no less than 2000yen per person.
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Pop music comes and goes very quickly here in Japan. Which is no different than many other counties. Some of it, just like everywhere else in the world, is very forgettable. But, every so often something comes along that stands out so much, that you have no choice but to pay attention.
Recently a group called BABYMETAL released their first album in Japan. They have been around since 2010 and have released a few singles. What makes them different is the groups entire approach to pop music.
Seriously, what are they?
The easiest way to describe BABYMETAL is, you take the vocals of any idol group (such as AKB48, who I have spoken about before) and add them to the heavy growling sounds of death metal. The lyrics consist of what you’d expect from a “pop” group. Nothing about death and suicide here. One of their popular songs was an anti-bulling anthem. What would you expect from a “dangerous kawaii” idol group where the average age is 12 year old? Yes, you read that correct, 12 years old.
Advertising for this group has exploded since the release of the album. You cannot step into any Tower Records or TSUTAYA in Japan without seeing a huge display, and their music blaring through the speakers. It’s incredibly strange, but interesting, hearing these cute vocals screaming to over the top guitar riffs. Everyone wants to know who BABYMETAL is. Their promo video for “Gimmie Chocolate!!” has almost 2 million views.
Then to make it even more interesting, they seem to be gaining traction overseas. Friends back home have started asking me about BABYMETAL. Saying they are hearing them being talked about on various English websites and through word of mouth.
Next “Big Thing” in Japan?
The group takes a unique idea and plays on an already successful model, in Japan anyway. Cute girls in over the top outfits dancing and singing to equally over the top music. Have you heard of BABYMETAL outside of Japan? What do you make of these incredibly young women singing death metal?
I do not know about you, but I had to pick up the album. It has been on repeat ever since. If you’re wanting to listen to something different then I highly recommend it. You have to admit, it’s pretty damned catchy.
“Put your kitsune up!”
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If you have ever traveled abroad for any extended period of time, you know how hard culture shock and homesickness can hit you. Everyone deals with it differently and it shows up at the most unexpected times.
Having lived in Japan previously, I am used to most of how things are done in Japan. Granted that was over 10 years ago. Now I am an adult who has to take care of everything myself. If I told you that I did not experience culture shock this time around, I would be lying.
It’s the small things
It is not the big things that get to me, such as having to speak Japanese on a daily basis or figuring out the trains. But rather all the small everyday items that really hit me hard. A perfect example is going to almost any coffee shop, Starbucks in particular, you usually have to get a seat before you order. That is if you are wanting to stay. This is not typically the norm back in Canada, so I was not aware of this. The first time I went to Starbucks I went to order and the lovely barista asked me if I was staying. Which I replied with a simple “hai” (Yes). She then asked if I already had a seat. Which I replied with a simple “iie” (No). She then politely explained to me that I must have a seat before ordering, and that I had to wait in another line to get a seat.
While this was a small thing, I was completely embarrassed and felt foolish for not knowing what to do. But, how would have I known? We learn through doing, and when you make a mistake, hopefully, you learn from it and never make the same mistake again. Now when I go into any coffee shop I make sure to have a seat before I order.
Grocery shopping has been quite the challenge. I am particular to what is in my food, so reading labels is something I always did back home. Being in Japan, I am learning quite a few different Kanji (Chinese characters) for ingredients used in food. Grocery shopping becomes much more than a chore since I have to figure out what a lot of the ingredients are. I will admit, I have bought some items not caring what was it in, because I could not be bothered to figure out the kanji for the ingredients. Those are on some of my off days.
Another example are movie releases. Most movies are not released at the same time here in Japan as they are in North America, unless it is a HUGE blockbuster but that rarely happens. You can read my previous post about being a movie geek in Japan. While it may sound completely silly, but when I found out The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug was not going to be released until February 2014, it made me upset. More than something like that should.
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan and I wanted nothing more than to see it with my best friend, who loves it just as much as I do. Most people would say “Hey, it is just a movie”, which is true. But it was just one of those things you take for granted.
The only time I ever felt homesick was Christmas Day. That was by far the hardest part of this entire journey, so far. We are not a religious family, but not being able to see them Christmas morning hit me fairly hard. Thankfully, technology allows us to see our loved ones even when we are thousands of miles a parts. I woke up very early on Boxing Day, because of the time difference, and was able to see my family over Skype. That was the best Christmas present I could have asked for.
It Gets Easier
Living in a different culture does not get easier, you just get better at it and learn. There are still many things I do not know or understand about the Japanese culture, but I am taking every opportunity to learn. Making silly mistakes along the way, but that is the best way to learn. Most people are incredibly polite and understanding.
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Snow in Tokyo is a rare occurrence, except for February 8th. It was said that this was the most snow that Tokyo has seen in over 45 years. Now, if you’re from Canada or anywhere where snow is the norm during winter, then this will sound like nothing. There has been light snow over the course of winter but nothing like this. Here’s a photo for comparison.
I am used to fluffy and dry snow back home, but the snow here was sticky and wet. This made for a slushy mess everywhere. The pathway from my apartment to the train station was nothing but slush and if you were not wearing boots, your feet were going to get soaked.
For those who deal with this every year, then this is nothing. But, Tokyo and the surrounding areas are not well equipped or used to handling such a huge amount of snow in such a short time span. What affects the most people is public transportation. Now, you can call me crazy but I was brave (or stupid) to make my way to Tokyo Disneyland. Since this amount of snow is rare, I had to take photos.
Snow day at Disneyland
I expected there to be train delays, and going across Tokyo was not bad at all. Granted this was earlier in the day. My train line Keio, was delayed only by half an hour. On the way back from Disneyland, that is a whole other story in itself.
4 Hour Commute Home
Maihama Station train platform completely covered in snow. That train was there for almost 30 minutes.
As a friend and I were enjoying Tokyo DisneySea there came an announcement throughout the entire park. They were warning guests that due to inclement weather, the trains and buses may stop for extended periods of time. They were politely telling us that if you need to take public transportation home, you better leave now.
Not knowing how much of a delay I was going to experience it was in my best interest to start making my way home. When I arrived at Maihama Station, it was completely full with people who were at Disneyland. I waited around the train station for about an hour before the next train would come by. The one train that was going the opposite direction of me was stopped at Maihama Station due to wind, and they were waiting for it to die down before proceeding to the next station.
If you’re unfamiliar with Tokyo Disneyland, it is located in Tokyo Bay. Which means there is a lot of wind.
Finally, after an hour our train, bound for Tokyo, finally arrives. Since there was so many people waiting, you bet the train was crowded just as if it were rush hour on a weekday. The train was packed with people holding onto their Disney purchases, which made it just that much more crowded.
We slowly make our way towards Tokyo Station, when at the last stop before our destination an announcement comes on. It was telling passengers that Tokyo Station was completely full, and that we had to wait for an undetermined amount of time before we could get to the station. We were advised to transfer to the subway at this stop.
Myself and a couple hundred other people got off the train and made our way to the subway station. We get to the ticket gates and the area was at a stand still. The employees locked the ticket gates because the platform for the subway was completely full and we had to wait for it to clear. Now, I am standing with at least another 200-300 people, all crowded in this tiny space waiting to get through. Not being able to move, literally.
After about 10 minutes the employees open the ticket gates to begin allowing people through. There was such a push to get through the gates that you had no choice but to go with the flow, regardless if you even had a ticket to get through or not. Eventually the employees opened ALL the ticket gates. Since there was such a flood of people, no one was able to either tap their commuter pass cards or insert their tickets. Everyone just went through the gates.
After flowing down the river of people to the subway, I got on and made my way to Shinjuku Station. Once I got to Shinjuku station I transferred to the Keio Line, which was only running local and semi-express trains. Normally there are Special Rapid trains, but not that night.
Nearly Missed Last Train
I get on the train and continue on the last leg of my journey home. I had to make one transfer in Chofu before I could get home. When I transferred I noticed that the train I was going to be taking was the last train of the evening. Service was being suspended after that due to weather. It was only 10pm. Normally, the last train from that station is particular is 12:43am.
Finally, after 4 hours I got home to my station. Normally it is only a 1 hour journey. But, the fun was not over yet. There was so much snow that the area I live in was completely transformed by the snow. It looked like the Apocalypse had hit. All the stores were closed (expect 7-11) and there was wet snow up to your ankles.
The pathway to my house was a wet and muddy mess. My shoes got completely soaked. It was only 10pm but there was not a soul in sight. I guess they were the smart ones.
Not Doing That Again
The snow was nice as it reminded me of home. But, I do not want to have to experience this again. Wet and sticky snow is terrible, and I much prefer the white fluffy stuff we get back home in good ole Saskatchewan.
I do not claim that my Japanese is amazing, because it simply is not. But I do try everyday to speak to at least one person in Japanese, even if it is simply asking how much something is. I am trying though.
Depending on where in Japan you go people will react differently to you when you speak Japanese to them. Some will have a look of relief on their face (I’m guessing cause they think their English isn’t good or non-existent) and some will speak English with you even if you speak Japanese (mainly touristy areas).
My favourite coffee shop is on the way to work and I will stop there a few times a week. The first time I went in there, the employee greeted me and you could see on her face that she was thinking something along the lines of “Oh my god, my English is really terrible what do I say if he cannot understand!?”. Once I ordered, completely in Japanese, you could see the relief on her face.
Another time was in a Shibuya, which is a very touristy area. Being a typical Canadian, I wanted some McDonald’s. So, I went to one close to Shibuya Crossing (they are everywhere much like Starbucks). The lovely girl behind the counter greeted me and I started to order in Japanese. I thought nothing of it. Then when I was done ordering the girl has this look on her face like “Holy crap, seriously you can speak Japanese, that’s awesome!”.
I find it interesting being foreigner and talking to Japanese people from different parts of the country and/or city. The reactions you get will be vastly different. Which I think it pretty awesome in itself.
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If you’re not familiar with AKB48 let me take quick second to briefly break it down for you. They are a girl idol group from Akihabara, Tokyo that has a massive and cult following and is also one hell of a marketing machine. There are also “sister” groups from other parts of Japan such as SKE48. It’s a group of roughly 48 girls broken into “teams” and perform many catchy songs that you see in the Top 10 around Japan.
Many people do not care for them due to how it portrays women, but I am not going to get into that. That’s a whole other topic within itself. I’m here to talk about my experience with what is called a Handshake Event, where you literally get to shake hands with your favourite members from AKB48.
Tickets to the Event
To obtain a ticket to the event you must buy their CD, which will come with only one ticket. This is where marketing comes into play. There is no limit on how many tickets you can get, so there are people who will buy quite a few CDs just to shake hands with their favourite idol numerous times. This is part of the reason why their songs seem to jump to the top of the charts more often than not.
A good friend of mine wanted to go to the Handshaking Event in Yokohama, and asked if I wanted to come. This is not something I would normally do, even though I do enjoy their music. It’s typical throw away pop music, sometimes you need that. I figured, since I’m here I might as well experience as much as I can.
The event was at the hugely impressive Yokohama Stadium. Before the event started, members from the group put on a very short show performing one of their popular songs. After they would do some more marketing by promoting their newest album.
Afterwards the tickets we got from the CDs would be turned in for another ticket that gave us a number. This is when we could come back and get in line to shake hands with our favourite idols. We had three tickets each. There were some people who had well over 1000 tickets, and I wish I was joking. That’s how far some people will go to meet their favourite idol. In fact if you have 10 or more tickets you can spend more time with the idol of your choosing at the end of the event.
Waiting in Line
Our ticket numbers were about 14000 and the idol we wanted to shake hands which had an incredibly long line up. Her name is Yuko Oshima and is currently one of the fan favourites from the group, she also recently announced her “graduation” from the group. Meaning, she is leaving. There were already rumours of her departure so that was another reason for her long line.
Shaking their Hands
Where you shake hands was in tents that were setup on the baseball field in Yokohama Stadium. The names of the idols were above the tents where you knew where to line up. The line we were in was an hour and a half long. Once you got up to the front of the line there were security guards who checked your hands. I asked why this was and it was to ensure the safety of the idols, since they actually do shake your hand. Making sure you have nothing that can hurt them such as weapons or open cuts.
You enter the tent and there were more security guards who would grab you by the waist as you rounded the corner. They would guide you through the line up so you did not spend too much time with the idol as she shook your hand. You got to see them for maybe 2-3 seconds at the most. It was like a human conveyer belt as the security guided you along.
It shocked me at first to have some huge Japanese security guard grab my, not so tiny, waist and guide me along as I tried to conjure up what to say to the girls. When I saw the girls, they all gave me the same reaction, which was something along the lines of “Wow, a foreigner!”. A couple of them even asked me where I was from. While, I’m sure I was not the only foreigner there, I did not see any other ones.
The entire experience was pretty unique in itself and somewhat overwhelming. The whole AKB48 phenomenon is rather interesting and I am happy to have been able to see what it was all about. Here I leave you with one of their biggest hits of 2013, 恋するフォーチュンクッキー (Koisuru Fortune Cookie).
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