12 August, 2010

Tokyo Orientation: Day 0

Good advice for the year ahead
...and we're off! Finally my blog posts don't have to be about stuff I did before I left Melbourne, and can instead be about adventures in Japan. As I wrote previously, we landed early on the 25th of July in Tokyo. Really early. Like, I think it was 6:00am local time when we landed. Finally we thought, we're in Japan after the process which began over 6 months earlier so let's get teachin'! Well, I don't think anybody thought about it in exactly those words or at least I hope not. But we were definitely relieved and also excited to be in Japan. First stop for everybody: Tokyo Orientation. The JET Program runs two main orientation sessions (Group A and Group B) a week apart from one another at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, Tokyo. There, the several-hundred-strong new JET contingents have a couple of days of seminars and workshops designed to help us settle into our new jobs in a new country. I thought it was all run pretty well, with a lot of our face time being with Tokyo Orientation Assistants (TOAs) who basically reminded me of O Week leaders back at college. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Aussies lining up to send their luggage off
The first time we saw the super genki (happy/excited) faces of the TOAs was at the airport as they ushered us from just outside the customs gates (where everybody wandered through without declaring, always a nice change from Australia) through to the luggage sendoff point. Speaking of customs, that reminds me of the trip through immigration too. Japan has followed the lead of some others including America in making fingerprinting and photographing at immigration mandatory. I guess the world's become a much scarier place where we need to keep track of everyone in the last few years, let alone decades. Anyway, of our 23kg limit of check in luggage, we had to send most of it through to our placement city/board of education (BoE) straight from the airport and only take what we needed for a 3 night stay in Tokyo for orientation. By the time all of us got through sending our luggage away and getting onto separate buses which took us to the hotel it was between 8 and 9am when all of the Aussies arrived at the hotel. Along the way I took a couple of photos on the bus:

Tokyo, here we come

Tokyo Tower

Rushing off the bus
We wandered into the Keio Plaza Hotel, which is pretty nice if I do say so myself, and were directed to the JET reception area where we thought we'd be able to check in then head up to our rooms for a shower.

Wrong!

Keio Plaza Hotel
Random turtles in park
We were too early to check in, and would have to wait another 4 or so hours. Some particulary energetic types wandered as far as Harajuku in the morning's free time, but because I'd been planning to catch up with some friends from school I thought I should stay near the hotel. Luckily, a few people were thinking of doing the same thing so we decided to trek across the street to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. After getting up to the free observation deck and taking it easy in the nicely air conditioned interior, we then wandered around a small park for a while before heading back over to the hotel at lunchtime where I had been planning to meet my friends Ryo, Daichi and Jerry from school. Ryo and Daichi met me in the lobby, but we then had to 'just meet Jerry' at Shinjuku station. For those of you who don't know, this is the busiest station in the world, with an average of 3.7million people passing through on the transport network alone, not to mention the fact that it's built up into a station bigger than most shopping centres, with over 200 exits. Thankfully Daichi knew where he was going, because Ryo and I honestly could've gotten lost inside the station for a good hour or two. We caught a great bite to eat of yakiniku (cooked meat, literally translated) which we cooked ourselves at the table, and then 3 of us wandered back to the hotel (Jerry had to duck off to work). We had a drink in the sky bar of the Keio Plaza (thanks, Ryo!) and then said our goodbyes. By this stage it was about 4ish in the afternoon so I finally got around to going up to my room which I would be sharing with another Aussie.
Ryo, Daichi and I in front of the hotel
Unfortunately, Kyle (who I would eventually find out was my roommate) was taking a nap inside and had the chainlock/latch thingy on, so I couldn't get into the room. That's no problem, I'll just ring the bell I thought...
Ring
...
Ring
...
RING RING RING RING RING RING
OPEN THE BLOODY DOOR!
...
I ended up chatting to some other Aussies near the lobby at 5pm because I was still locked out of my own room.

Train tracks? Check!
Eventually I got inside, had a shower and got ready to meet a handful of Aussies in the lobby at 6pm before we were going to find a place to eat for dinner. We played follow the leader for around 20 minutes before realising that the girls in front were either lost or didn't have a plan. However, we eventually found ourselves somewhere which looked promising.
Off to the right side of the photo is a big wall. Over the other side of the wall are train tracks, which brings me to my Dad's surefire rule to find great food in Tokyo. A restaurant needs to be built either next to train lines or even under them in order to definitely be delicious. A lady in one of the restaurants yelled out that they could fit 20-30 people upstairs (in Japanese) so I told the rest of the group and they decided to go there. However, I then ended up at the back of the pack with a group of 4 other people who were thinking that they might prefer trying to go to a less busy place as a smaller group.

Dinner group with the seafood boss man
So, we walked into the place 2 doors down and I tried to spak Japanese well enough to order some seafood for us from the extremely nice guy running the place. Considering the fact that we all ate as much seafood as we possibly could, most of it yakiniku-style self cooked on a grill, I thought it was very reasonably priced and quite delicious. After this we walked back around the corner to a massive 8 storey electronics store, where I once again stretched my limited, rusty Japanese as far as it would go to help someone buy an adapter and new camera.
After this I started walking back to the hotel for a good night's sleep before orientation would officially begin the next morning. But first, I bumped into a few more Aussies (the JETs pretty much took over the 5 blocks out the back of the hotel for the next few days) and decided to duck into the local conbini (convenience store) for a beer to take back to the rooms. The first room we tried to drink in had someone passed out on their back snoring, so we went to another and said kanpai (cheers) to our first night in Japan!

Beer!

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