$10 hair cut?

I’d been putting off getting my hair cut for a while, and it’s probably fair to say that I was getting a bit “scruffy”.

The reason for the delay was partly because I worried about my ability to communicate my preferences to a hairdresser (not that I have an incredibly complicated hairstyle – normally my instructions amount to “the same, but a bit shorter”). But mostly, my reticence arose from the fact that haircuts in Japan are, for the most part, stupidly expensive.

A typical bloke’s cut over here will set you back about $70-90. My hair grows really fast, so I generally need a cut every 5-6 weeks. This level of expenditure didn’t seem sustainable on a humble English teacher’s salary.

I briefly discussed letting my hair grow a bit longer with my supportive other half. Moon Tan was having none of it. She patiently but firmly explained that, no, it was not okay for me to have long hair.

“But this might be the last time in my life that I’m free to have a terrible hairstyle! I need to express myself. Besides, Johnny Depp does it”, I whined manfully.

“There’s only one Johnny Depp, and you’re not him” came the reply. And that, it seemed, was that.

One of my flatmates told me that he’d heard of some cheap haircut places in Shinjuku — not that he frequented them. I jumped online, googled “cheap haircut Tokyo”, and found my way to the web site of QB House. Their motto: “Just cut – 10 minutes – 1,000 Yen [about $10]”. An enticing prospect.

My co-workers weren’t so optimistic. “You need to be careful. You go into those places and tell them what you want, and they smile and nod and say ‘sure thing’. Then they go ahead and shave your head regardless of your instructions”. That sounded ominous.

So it was with a degree of trepidation that I wandered into a QB House in Shinjuku. My expectations were low, but what choice did I have?

QB house in action is a wonder to behold. Their claim of a 10 minute haircut is a promise, not a threat. The three barbers on duty, all male, were not mucking around, and they were clearly big fans of the Edward Scissorhands approach to haircutting – faster than the eye can see.

When you walk in, you feed your 1000 yen into a machine, take a ticket, and take your spot in line on a big bench. While I was there, I didn’t see any girls volunteering for the 10 minute treatment. I think it might be a guy thing.

There is no smalltalk; no need to scramble to produce an interesting answer to “so, have you got any big plans for the weekend?” or “seen any good movies lately?”. There is no pampering, no “you’re worth it”. You’re not worth it – if the haircut makes the man, you are worth precisely 1,000 yen. There is no careful examination of every individual follicle to maximise its style potential. This is shock and awe.

And the result? Well, thankfully, it’s not terrible. In fact, not bad at all. My new cut is a good length, and apart from a slight chunk that seems to be missing from above my left ear, very even. It’s not the best haircut I’ve ever had, but in the past I’ve paid a lot more for a lot worse.

Highly recommended.

Japlish

So I’m only a few short days away from joining Tamago in Japan. I have had farewell dinners, drinks, cakes and fattened calves. I’ve only got a couple of ‘farewell’ events to go and then the farewelling is done with and I’m outta here.

I have finished up my study for the year. I have one yoga class to go, and after six weeks I can finally touch my toes. I have only got two things left on my to do list (print off a photo for an International Student Card and close my old bank account). I am surrounded by piles of clothes that may and may not be coming with me to Japan (should I take two pairs of sandals or one?). I have even made up folders of photocopies of important documents. One to take on the plane, one to put in carry on and one to leave with my in case of emergency parents. I have one shift left at my job to go and I’ve finished handing over a series of detailed notes to the person taking over my job. I’ve even wrapped my family’s Christmas presents for this year.

I could possibly be the most organised person to go to Japan. Ever. Except for one little tiny issue I’ve been procrastinating about.

Japanese.

I have not opened my Japanese textbooks since my beginner’s course I took earlier this year. Of course that was back when I wasn’t really sure if this was going to be a long term thing or a shorter trip so maybe that affected my study. Then again it could have been the three alphabets that for some reason Japanese people believe are necessary for communicating. I’ve got news for you Japan – us Roman/Latin alphabet users make ourselves clear with JUST ONE. Some folk (mostly boys. Sorry fellas) don’t really even need that alphabet either.

It’s just so darn hard.

And yes I do realise that people in Japan speak Japanese and I will not be one of those foreigners that makes everyone speak in English. For starters because not everyone speaks English in Japan. I will make an effort to open my books and have a go. But I’m just too busy at the moment…

Maybe on the plane?

Nikko part 4 – Abandoned temple

Continuing my doomed quest to find the waterfall marked on my map (it was a mere four centimeters from the train station, so it had to be close, right?), I got it into my head that there might be a shortcut if I got off the main road and onto some of the hiking trails.

While I never made it to the waterfall, before I had to turn around and head back to the station to catch the last train back to Tokyo, I came across an amazing temple in the woods next to one of the paths.

No one was around, and it was clear that the shrine had fallen into disrepair. The red paint on the main building had faded and there was a huge tarpaulin draped over the roof where the tiles had been damaged – perhaps by a fallen tree.

Surrounding the temple on 3 sides was what must have been a fairly ancient graveyard:

(click on the photo for a larger version)

A couple of the grave markers looked reasonably new, so maybe it is still being used as a graveyard, even if the temple has been neglected.

It was a pretty special place. No people, and no noise except for the wind rushing through the forest.

The day I spent in Nikko was certainly action packed (hangover notwithstanding); and I only did about half of what was on offer. I never did make it to the waterfall. Also, I didn’t have the time to climb into one of Nikko’s famous hot springs. So I think a return trip will be on the agenda soon.

Me teach English? That’s unpossible!

[… with apologies to Ralph Wiggum].

So I’ve taught about 20 English lessons so far, and it’s pretty fun. I’ll dwell tediously and at length on the teaching experience some other time (I bet y’all can’t wait); for now I just wanted to express my delight that the learning is two-way, and my clients/students have taught me some really interesting stuff about Japan. Among the most interesting tidbits:

– there is a Supermarket in Azabu Juuban (a suburb in Tokyo) that sells cartons of Coopers Sparkling. Awwww yeah!

– on a related note, there is apparently a great hangover cure in Japan called “ukon no chikara” It comes in a 100 mL can and apparently the main ingredient is tumeric. I have a can sitting on my desk, so next time I over-indulge, I will give it a shot before reaching for the chocobanana or the good old egg yolk and tabasco. Multiple, independent sources swear it works, so maybe there’s something to it…

Nikko part 3 – Imperial Villa

After braving the crowds at the temple area (see parts 1 and 2 of this adventure), I thought I’d try and get off the beaten path a little. I didn’t really have much of a plan, but I noticed that on my map, there seemed to be a waterfall within walking distance.

What only became apparent later was that said map was not to scale, and that the waterfall was a good 20km from the temple area. At the time, though, it seemed like a good idea, and with high spirits and only the faintest remnants of a hangover, I set off.

I never made it to the waterfall, but I did get off the tourist trail and I got to see some amazing stuff that I would have missed otherwise. Walking along the road, I came across the “Nikko Tamozawa Imperial Villa”. The villa dates back to the Tokugawa period. It was adopted as a summer house for the Emperor and his court in 1872. During the Second World War, the crown prince (now Emperor) was evacuated here. Aparently it’s unique because most of the buildings were developed or renovated during the early 20th century when Japan was making efforts to adopt Western ideas and technology. As such, it’s an unusual mix of the traditional and the modern.

I pretty much had the place to myself, except for a few very nice, very old guides, who tried to explain things to me in Japanese.

There was a billiard room, but the billiard table has no pockets! Old school.

The gardens were absolutely amazing. It felt like every leaf and twig on every tree had been contemplated, and carefully arranged for the best aesthetic effect.

Overall, I feel like I could have lived quite happily as a member of the Emperor’s court (spending my days composing haikus; perhaps giving His Imperial Majesty the odd bit of legal advice).

Stay tuned for the final thrilling instalment in the Nikko series, coming soon…

Here

When I look up again, it’s done.

A few days of prodding, encouragement, and gentle threats, and that’s all there is. Tomorrow it will all be real, not simulated.

We go to an Irish pub. I have an American song in my head. We eat pizza and drink Guinness.

I walk home in the rain, dodging bicycles and wondering how many couples have snuck into the park to be alone, together.

This is Japan. This is Tokyo. I am here.

The Great Apartment Hunt

I recently heard that statistically speaking, Australians live in the biggest houses in the world per capita. Those of you who also live in Australia would probably agree with this assessment. We are ridiculously lucky compared with the rest of the world. I have friends whose mothers call them on their mobiles to speak to them…from the kitchen.

Tokyo, on the other hand, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Which is going to be a huge culture shock for me but is also kind of exciting. It also means that wherever we live is going to be absolutely tiny.

So what are we looking for in an apartment may you ask? Apart from a reasonable price, aircon and internet Tamago and I are looking for slightly different things. High on my list is relatively easy access to a ‘green space’ (I know, I’m optimistic but I need at least one tree ok?) and a kitchen that you could swing, if not a cat, then at least a ferret. Tamago’s list is more practical: access to a main train station and being located near to amenities such as supermarkets and ramen shops etc.

Anyway we’ve spent the last two weeks trawling throught the many real estate websites that cater for foreigners living in Tokyo and emailing back and forth with different apartments. The beautiful thing about the internet is that I’ve been able to see pictures of them from Australia. However a word to all you prospective rentors in Tokyo and this may seem obvious: approach with caution. The internet lies. I really liked the look of one apartment; it had a nice kitchen, good location and Google maps told me it was within a ten minute walk of a decent sized green area. Foolish, foolish gaijin. Unless a ‘water reclamation centre’ is another term for ‘botanical gardens’, it’s probably not a park. Luckily Tamago has been able to investigate the neighborhoods near possible apartments to avoid mistakes such as these which has been excellent.

Throughout this whole experience I have tried to be realistic about the fact that we will have a tiny bathroom, a tiny kitchen, a tiny balcony and that we will be living in an apartment block with lots of other people and very thin walls. All of this I have made my peace with. However an issue has come up that I was completely unprepared for:

Beds.

Our real estate agent has told us that we will have a ‘one and a half bed’.┬áNot a single, not a double but a ‘one and a half’ bed. Apparently in Japan this is the standard. Problem. Last time I checked, Tamago and I were not ‘one and a half’ people. If anything we are two rather large people who can barely fit in a double bed without killing each other.

Tamago and I had a very heated Skype the other night when he broke this news to me. I tend to be fairly level headed so he wasn’t really ready for, shall we say, the onslaught that occurred. This news awoke within me a very cranky, previously sleeping, lion which even I didn’t know existed. All I know is that I was gripped with an extremely strong feeling that hell will freeze over before I would accept that the two of us will be sleeping in ‘one and a half’ bed for a whole year. I have told Tamago I will give it a shot but if our real estate agent can’t procure us a double bed I reserve the right to flip my lid and resort to the one thing that is always constant, that you can always rely on, no matter how far from home you are: Ikea.

It may be exciting to live in one of the most densely populated cities in the world for a year, but the most densely populated bed? Be serious Japan.

 

Ginko!

A short epilogue to Sunday’s Keitai! post. My other big chore for this week was to set up a Japanese bank account. I was dreading this, as by all accounts (heh, heh) this can be a nightmare if you don’t speak Japanese.

In the event, though, it was a piece of cake! Well, at least compared to the keitai experience. One of my flatmates recommended that I try Shinsei Ginko (Bank), purely on the basis that they have low fees, including for transferring money overseas. Shinsei have an extensive and well written English section on their web site, although they do say that “if you have the concern” about your level of Japanese, you should bring a Japanese speaking friend with you when you apply for an account.

Bugger that, I thought. If I can buy a phone, I can open a bank account. Any gaps in my Japanese can surely be supplemented by my excellent mime skills.

Implausibly, this turned out to be true. I was in the bank for about half an hour, and the whole consultation was conducted in Japanese. There were no queues, and the teller that helped me was very patient and spoke clearly and slowly. I understood about 75% of what she was saying, which is a definite personal best for me in an extended conversation. I employed the full extent of my pidgin Japanese, and could make myself understood with only minimal use of my excellent mime skills.

I will get my pin number in the mail in about a week, apparently. After that, it’s just a matter of finding an employer that is willing to pay me money…