27 August 2007

2 Days in Tokyo

Good evening! Presently, I'm Japan Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (headquaters for the SDA Church in Japan) about 17km from Yokohama, within Tokyo metro area. We're staying here until this Thursday when we finish training and go to our various English schools. We had training yesterday and today, and will continue tomorrow and the next day.

The training is quite good, and helps us get ideas for lesson plans for teaching English to Japanese kids, school students and adults. It sounds a lot of fun, but for me it will take some effort to start the cogs turning in the creative part of my brain. I anticipate that it will be difficult at the start, but after a while, once I get into it, it will become more natural and enjoyable.

There are about 7 new English teachers from UK, US, Canada, Jamaica, Phillippines and Jamaica. We are all staying in Yokohama for about a week during training. We'll be sent out to various SDA English Schools in Japan including places such as Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima (where I'll be), Kagoshima and another place on Kyushu. We'll be teaching English and also Bible classes. We teach English in a safe, positive, fun environment, and give students the opportunity to know God through Bible classes. Having known the benefits (peace, security, purpose, acceptance) of knowing God is real and that He cares, I have a desire to share that with people, and this presents an excellent opportuinty to do this.

Other reasons for coming to Japan include giving me a broader perspective on life through experiencing a brand new culture (compared to western-Australian culture); the opportunity to really understand people from a different background, which will help me learn more about myself; perfect chance to learn a new langauge (which is fun so far); able to share my faith as part of my occupation; chance to develop the more creative side of myself and to develop teaching skills; learn what it's like to be a "gaijin" (foreigner) and away from home... ultimately, it's to help me learn more about God, people and myself.

By the way, there's an eclipse tomorrow! On Tuesday, 28 Aug, there'll be a partial/total lunar eclipse in areas of Australia, Asia etc starting from sunset and I'll be able to see it from Japan! More info at the NASA website.

Man alive! Tokyo is biiiiigggg! Akashi-san arranged for Rachel (from our group) and I to take the bus from Narita airport, across Tokyo, to Yokohama. We drove through past a LOT of city. About 20 minutes after leaving the Airport on the bus to head for Yokohama, we got to the edge of Tokyo. The industrial buildings are large; apartment buildings began appearing. And from then on, the buildngs just got bigger and closer together, until there was endless buildings. We drove about 1.5 hours on express way (some parts slowed down because of traffic, not during peak hour), and almost all of it was in Tokyo, and surrounded by buildings. Again, Tokyo is big. It makes Melbourne look very small. Tokyo is overflowing with industry, commerce and business. I have to say the parts I saw were not that attractive (industrial looking, since it was all along the highway), but, Japan, overall, for me, has been quite nice.

After finally arriving at Yokohama, we met some colleages and ate some lunch (interesting asking questions when you don't know the language... just point and count using fingers!) Being vegetarian is a fun challenge in Japan, especially when you can't talk the language and ask questions! Nevertheless, we settled in here in Yokohama, spent Friday night together as a group of new arrivees in Japan, and got some well needed rest.

Sabbath morning at church was nice. A small English church meets in Yokohama here. Good Sabbath School and excellent sermon! I thank God for the message because it really spoke to me, encouraging me to be committed, and experience the power of God in my life.

We headed into Tokyo proper on the train Sabbath afternoon (after a nice lunch), changed trains at Shibuya, visited Tokyo Central SDA Church in Harajuku (including the International church) and met a few members there. Caught another train to Shinjuku, which is one of the busiest train stations in the world. Once there, we then went up one of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings for a free view of the city! (I recommend doing it if you are on a budget in Tokyo). The view was incredible... endless buildings and city. HUGE! Shinjuku is a trendy, fashionable, and youthy suburb, with also many commercial buildings.

We ate out at La Pausa (I think the name was) which was a pizza place on the 29th floor and great views of the city, tasty food and nicem cheap price too (about 800yen for large pizza). Walked the city a bit, took a few photos of Tokyo Tower after arriving at Roppongi station (where there's a large spider statue). We also went through Yoyogi station. Finally made our way back home.

Pictures from Tokyo: http://picasaweb.google.com/bradwarden/JapanTokyo

Reflecting on the Tokyo tour, it's not a small place. Plenty happening, plenty to see and do, plenty to get distracted with, never-ending, plenty of people (quite squashy on the train, which is apparently not that bad comapred to peak-hour during the week), plenty of lights, plenty of stations, trains, ads, shops, food, entertainment, distractions from the things in life that matter. Well over 95% of the people are Japanese, compared to a much more multi-cultural mix in Australian cities, or Singapore. But, the people have been quite polite and haven't had the "cold shoulder" or anything like that.

I'm also really surprised at the amount of English in Tokyo! There's English everywhere! Almost all of the train signs have Japanese and English. Many brand names are only in English. Many restaurants have English menus. There are "Kornu Fulairku" (Corn Flakes) for breakfast. English is clearly becoming the International language. Many Japanese know or are learning English.

The weather here is not really pleasant. It's been about 25 to 30 degrees (maybe a bit more) and high humidity in Tokyo since we've arrived. It doesn't cool off a lot at night, but it a bit nicer. No real rain so far, but not really clear skies. There's clouds, but then I'm not sure if I'm seeing smog, haze, fog, clouds or dust. Hmmm, I think it's a comination of cloud and pollution. Not terribly blue skies though. I hear that winter gives clearer skies. I haven't worn more than just pants and shirt-sleeve shirts since Australia... Singapore and Japan are having the last couple of weeks of summer.

It still does not seem like I'm in Japan! It's just like I'm visiting another city in Australia and they've changed all the writing to Japanese, as well as there are many Japanese people. Toilets are a bit different here. Bathrooms are smaller. Seats have less room. Everything is a bit more compact. Yen is used, not dollars. Roads have slightly different signs (but same general idea). Some houses bit different. I see some differnt types of trees every now and again. The sun is in the southern sky, not the northern sky (like it is in the southern hemisphere). The moon is upside down. The stars are not as visible. It's hard to communicate at restaurants and shops. Phone calls back home are more expensive. TV is a bit differnt too.

Well, the differences will become more apparent as I begin to mix more with Japanese people after our training. We've pretty much had mostly western food and been surrounded by westerners so far, so it will hit home soon once I get to Hiroshima and have been there a little bit. I'm looking forward to learning more of the language. Watching Japanese kids TV I think will be a good idea (I'm not kidding :-).

It's quite exciting and new at the moment. I'm enjoying the different environment, the fun of being in a totally different place, meeting new people, and trying to get myself to realize that I'm really in Japan! For now, there a bit more training, a few days to settle in after arriving in Hiroshima this Thursday, and then... into it! Teaching starts this Sunday!

Man, the Internet here is fast!

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