Showing posts with label Machida. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Machida. Show all posts

Saturday, 14 April 2018

14 - Friends, Talking Birds & Guinness

Day 14 - Sunday

Today we were kicked out the hotel room again at 10am for cleaning. It's quite good, both for us and the environment, that the hotel has offered us a discount if we just ask for the room to be cleaned every second day instead of every day. I just wish we'd planned it better so we had a lie in on the non cleaning days...

This morning (after awaking slightly the worse for wear after last night's jaunt into Tokyo) we were to make our way to Machida station to meet some friends and go for a very nice lunch in Denny's. We caught up on the past six years and again found the time lapse almost insignificant. The only change was in our kids' ages. It was fantastic to mix and mingle with familiar faces and made me more and more want to consider every possibility in whether we could actually relocate back to Japan.

My son got a present - a toy blackbird with a small microphone and speaker so that you can record a short word or phrase and when you pull the trigger it opens its mouth, flaps it's wings and repeats back to you what you said in a high pitched squawk. It cracked my kid up for the whole rest of the day.

After lunch my family went off to Sagami Ono to track down one of his old friends (when he was three) and I slunk into a Doutours near the hotel for a bit of blog self publishing. I have to confess, I've never really done this much travel writing and upload in the space of two weeks before and I am starting to get a little fatigued. I know it's all down to self discipline, to keep writing every day and there's no such thing as a bad first draft, rest on the page etc., but also in the back of my mind I can't help thinking: is any of this any good? I try to leave the words to cool down on the page for a few days and come back to them to try to reread them and edit as a third person, but is it working? Is it interesting? Are you the readers feeling engaged or is my exhaustion showing through between the lines?

What is prose? The longer and more often you study a sentence the less it seems to mean. It should flow. Be easy to read. There should be variety in vocabulary and sentence structure. Imagery. Words should fall like drips from a stalactite onto a stalagmite to form a connection between the writer and the reader in the dark chasm of nothingness.

Boom. A simile. And it's only 8:40am!

After writing, the image of me crawling into our huge empty recently made up bed in the hotel room for a cheeky afternoon few z's became too compelling to resist, and I obeyed instantly.

Blackness. Blackness, and if I'm honest, some drooling.

After my nap I went out to meet my family in Ono again for some dinner before heading off to meet another old friend from our 'Tough Gig' and 'Ripped' days, in a new Irish Bar right across from our hotel in Nakamachi, Machida. There, among other things, we discussed recent changes to Japan's national English program in schools. Presumably to save money on a drop in budget ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) are now only present a few days a week on a rotational pattern, and to make up for this, all Japanese English teachers must teach their lessons only in English. It's a shame and must make things difficult for both lower level students and teachers, but I suppose when a board of education has to tighten its belts the ALT program would be the first to be affected. My chances of getting another job in Japan had just taken a hit.

But when I returned to my hotel room I heard from my wife who'd heard from her friend that because of this change in the public schools more parents were sending their kids to private lessons and after school English clubs. My chances had just sprung back!

Another thing my wife relayed to me was the story of the talking bird (which had been driving us both crazy all afternoon). Apparently, on returning to the hotel, my son had trained the bird to say, "Key 401 please" in Japanese in order to pass this on to the receptionist. He'd rehearsed it several times in the long queue and when they finally arrived at the desk and the young Japanese woman smiled politely at them, my son took out the bird and pulled the trigger. "Key 401 please!" it squawked. My son and wife cracked up and waited for the receptionist to smile or laugh or get the key or something. But according to my wife, there was absolutely 'no reaction'. She said she tried to make a joke out of it and got my son to repeat the bird's request just in case the receptionist hadn't heard right. He repulled the trigger : "Key 401 please!" bleeted the bird. My wife and kid cracked up again, and my wife was crying wth laughter when she retold me this story. But again, 'No reaction.' The receptionist had frozen, and for all we know is still standing rigid and petrified to the spot days later, as understandably she had not been trained to deal with such a bizarre and unsettling request from wide left field. If she had had an ALT in her school while growing up she would have been familiar to such antics, but alas it didn't seem that way.

So if you ever stay in the Toyoko Inn in Machida, and see what looks like a very lifelike wax statue of a young female Japanese receptionist behind a glass case in the foyer, that was us - the Young family.

Read Day 15.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

12 - Dogs, Robots & Geckos

(Friday 6th April - Machida)

The nicest dog ever
Got train and bus to an old friend's enjoying a very pleasant lunch and a long chat in Japanese. Drank beer, champagne, whisky and coffee. 

Outstanding robot models

Got the bus back to Machida where we went to New Yorkers in the Machida Forum and did some homework and blog before getting dinner in Origin Bento and returning to the hotel in the quite high wind. 
We found this little guy/girl outside my friend's house 
Said friend is a member of the volunteer group which plants and takes care of the flowers along the roadside

The smallest shop in Machida - Palm Reading 
Then we watched Spider-Man: Homecoming back at the hotel which was quite good at points. I don't want to spoil it for you if you've not seen it, but a kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider and has super-spiderlike qualities. Apparently Spiderman was the first creation of Stan Lee, which is a factoid I will find out tomorrow.

Apologies for the brevity of this post. Obviously the beer, champagne, Suntory whisky and coffee are not altogether conducive to blog writing.

Read Day 13. 

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

11 - Nostalgia Lane

(Thursday 5th April - Machida)

Commercial survivors : The Ducky Duck : an overpriced and oddly named but central coffee and cake shop
Woke up feeling not so hot and bothered this morning to what felt like a 5 degree drop in temperature over yesterday morning, and sure enough, on venturing outside for my morning constitutional beneath the heavy concrete sky the temperature was pleasantly cool.
Don Quixote : everything from toys to bicycle bells
I don't know why I keep ending up back here. Maybe it's because it's technically part of Tokyo but right on the edge to still be open minded enough to accept different ways of thinking. Machida straddles two perpendicular train lines which can take you to a very wide variety of locations- the JR can shuttle you east to west from Hachioji to Yokohama, and the Odakyu can whisk you from the black sands of Katase-Enoshima all the way up to the seedy breathtaking towering human neon anthills of Shinjuku. 
This overpriced but delicious centrally located steak shop
To witness the reduction of what had been the largest 100 yen Daiso in the world to just half a floor in the opposite building was quite a tragic experience. If I remember right it was spread across six floors, resulting in a 92% downsizing. What happened between 2012 and 2018 to result in such drastic measures? Was it the increase in tax from 5% to 20%? Some other prohibitive legislation on imports? Who knows. I remember once someone questioned the morality of 100 yen shops saying that workers slaved away in gulags just to provide us with our cheap bowls and cooking utensils, but I found out later that it was Daiso's business model of buying huge volumes of goods in bulk at large discounts allowed them to sell them off individually at such a low price. Whenever you bought something from Daiso it was always a bit of a gamble, but, like gambling, it was fun, and everything was so cheap (67p) the stakes were low, so what did it matter if your umbrella broke on the way home in the rain- it was only 100yen. Who cared if the handle of your trowel snapped off the first time you try to build a sandcastle? And if your plastic shelving unit survived several lifetimes you thanked your lucky stars and looked back in amazement and marvelled, 'This was only 100yen!'.

For many years after leaving Japan I dreamt about this station exit
We decided today to take a walk down Nostalgia Lane and go back to where we used to live to see if our son, who was 0-3 years at the time of living there, could recall our apartment, and maybe even pop in unannounced to one of his play friends for a chat.

My sister found a gun in this river
He seemed to remember our old 4-block apartment building and where we used to sit him in a large basin of cold water on the top stairs verandah to cool him down in the height of the summer. 

I remember when this was all fields! Oh, it still is
When we went round for his friend though, for some reason we were all a bit nervous, but we needn't have been. The friend was either not there or too shy to come down, so we ended up chatting politely with the grandfather about his impressive collection of animals that he himself had hunted in the hills of Kanagawa and had stuffed and put on display around his home.

Presumably these tanuki (raccoon dog) were exactly like this when he shot them

I'm home, deer!
We took a walk around nearby Sagami Ono Station to see what had changed, as we were leaving in 2012 the old narrow alleyways filled with bizarre and wondrous back street shops were all being bulldozed to be replaced by an accommodation supermall. And when I got there I felt a little down. The tiny, meandering backstreets filled with so much unique Japanese character and history had been replaced with the ubiquitous clinically spotless shopping mills filled with many trademarks of businesses found in any large city in the world.  I didn't come all the way back here to visit another Starbucks or Burger King. 

Sagami Ono's new mall complex
In the evening, while my wife and son were off visiting his childhood friend again (this time for a prearranged and more successful meeting) I wandered the streets of Sagami Ono killing time before meeting another old friend of my own. I probably shouldn't have, but I was cold and dressed unwisely in shorts and T shirt, so I went into a game centre on the main street and found the Gundam consoles.

Gundam was something that I confess was an unhealthy addiction in my previous incarnations in Japan, but if I hadn't gotten into it I would have missed quite a few good moments getting deep into Japanese culture interacting with other gamers. It was an effective (not to mention expensive and time consuming) way to break out of the culture bubble in which many people who live abroad find themselves. That said, sitting down to play this time I found that through several years' lack of practice, as well as unfamiliarity with the new system and robots, and not particularly liking the over-complicated and cluttered set up, I was destroyed quickly and decisively each and every time, by faceless victors online.
In the evening I met someone I usually bump into while randomly walking around the area, but this time had prearranged a rendezvous just to make sure. We went to Angie's (which was completely dead being a week night) and soon warmed up with an Irish coffee, before moving on to Heartland. A good chat was had and many topics discussed to various degrees of depth and sobriety. 

Read Day 12. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

10 - Return To Machida

(Wednesday 4th April, Nagoya-Machida)

Interestingly I woke up this morning having slept the worst since arriving in Japan, probably due to the fact that it had been very warm, added to that for a cheaper room we'd elected to all sleep three in a double bed. But alas, our son is no longer the small quiet creature of yesteryear when this used to be possible. The heat also got to him which lead him to moan and thrash around, lashing out in his sleep resulting in a punch in the nose or kick in the takoyaki becoming a real and present danger. My wife staying up to sort out the washing in a plastic bag with the light on didn't help, and in fact only exacerbated the situation. Imagine trying to sleep in the desert at high noon lying next to a pack of wild dogs tied to a cactus while someone maliciously crunches an empty crisp packet right next to your ear.

Morning couldn't come soon enough, and when it did it was too soon.

I had two onigiri, some rice, two cups of coffee and two orange juices, some mini sausages and other seaweed bits and bobs, and afterwards began to feel quite human again. On TV at the end of the hall was a program that seemed to be about big butts. The female Japanese presenter seemed to be saying, "Using these cutting edge methods and optical illusions people with big butts can become people with smaller butts." Each of the guests to me were clearly thinking, "Why are we here?" My wife disagreed. She interpreted their expressions to be that of polite interest. Not "What idiot TV program producer planned this nonsense?"

Striking architecture in Nagoya

 I heard chocolate was an aphrodisiac, but still ....
Even though we were due to check out today we left our cases in the hotel foyer so that we could wander around Nagoya for a while until we were due to catch the shinkansen up to Tokyo at 2:40 pm.

It was hot and sunny and the heat bounced off the asphalt, concrete, steel and glass to produce a shimmering haze though which we meandered like a mirage, gasping for coffee, coffee. 

My son and I holed up in a Doutours in the station to do some homework while my wife slipped away for a few precious solitary shopping hours in the labyrinthine symbiotic department store train station.

Shinkansen coffee travels at 200mph
We dismounted the bullet train in Shin Yokohama station and climbed the familiar stairs up and round and down to the JR station where it was just anther 20 minutes or so until our next destination, a little old place called Machida.

Full Circle - Back in Machida 
I walked past this hotel every day from 2000-2002
I can't believe we've come all the way back to Machida. Coming down the stairs at the JR exit looking out over the night view I almost felt faint as three lots of memories all superimposed on my mind: the first version I experienced in 2000 when I first arrived in Japan, got disorientated due to the two raised platforms and ended up blissfully lost; the second chapter of my life when I returned to Machida in 2006 and we made Tough Gig and Ripped; and this third 2018 version, with its similarities and differences - the commercial enterprises that survived, those that didn't, and those that adapted. But still the same glittering neon-lit canyon from JR to Odakyu, providing everything you need from donuts to guitar tuition; from steak to spatulas; from fish to cigarettes.
The Hub in Machida is still there, and has expanded to Sagami Ono

This could be why I keep returning

The massive Daiso 100 Yen Plaza in Machida has become an apartment block
We did find anther Daiso but it had been reduced from 6 floors to half a floor in the Lumine Building.

Relieves stress!?

Ninja climbing tools - just 250 yen!

The Neon Lights of Machida Main Drag

Order by iPad in Ootoya to reduce the stress of talking to other humans