Monday, November 28, 2005

Mr. Nose, meet Mr. Grindstone

So it looks like Amazon got all of my materials assembled two days early, and I will be starting tomorrow (Tuesday, 29 November) instead of Thursday! So I have to catch a train tomorrow morning at 07:30 at my friendly neighbourhood train station, Ishikawa-cho. For those of you who can read Japanese, you might be interested to see the exact route I will take tomorrow (scroll down to 経路2).

A steaming bowl of ramenI learned this news just this morning, at about 10:00, right after I had scheduled my 入社前検診 (nyusha-zen kenshin, pre-employment health checkout) at the Tokyu Clinic (yes, that is the same Tokyu that owns the department store of the same name, the Tokyu Toyoku train line that connects Yokohama and Shibuya, and about a gajillion yen (roughly a zillion dollars) of real estate in Tokyo) in Shibuya. This sent me into a flurry of activity. First, I called Ota and arranged to meet him at 13:00 for lunch at a cool little ramen-ya (ramen shop, but this ain't your five-for-a-dollar instant crap ramen that college students know so well--no, this is the real thing) by his office in Naka-Meguro (a district in Tokyo). Then, I spent a good 45 minutes compiling a history of the musical guests on "Chappelle's Show" (good use of time there--idiot). Add 30 minutes for doing my typical morning Internetting, 20 minutes to shower and dress, 15 minutes to assemble everything I would need for my day in the Big City, and you would get me running for my life to catch a train that would get me to Naka-Meguro in time to meet Ota for lunch.

As luck would have it, I did make my appointment, but forgot my digital camera, so no nifty slideshow of my trip this time. Sorry 'bout that. ;)

Retro Gaming HacksOta and I had a good time, what with the wonderful ramen (I had miso ramen, and he had kimchi ramen) and the conversation. He is headed back to the States for most of December, so I came up with a crafty plan to send Kohler a copy of "Retro Gaming Hacks", which he and several contributers will sign, then he will mail it to Ota's parents' house in DC, then Ota will bring it back to me in Japan when he returns at the end of December. He will, of course, sign it at some point while it is in his possession. Then, at the next TLUG technical meeting, we will put this collector's gem up for auction.

I am also trying to sell O'Reilly on a book idea--if I can get them to bite, you might just see my name on the cover of a published book this time! :) Details to follow if I am successful. If not, well, we never had this conversation. In fact, I don't even know you. I have no recollection of that fact. Etc.

So anyway, back to my story--I got sidetracked because if I do end up writing this book, Ota will be heavily involved, being a professional video game programmer and all--we finished our tasty lunch, exchanged some chit-chat with 高橋さん (Takahashi-san), the proprietor of the ramen-ya, then walked back to Ota's office. So now I know where it is. :) Ota and I parted company at that point, and I returned to Naka-Meguro Station to catch a Tokyu-Toyoku Line train for Shibuya.

I arrived at Shibuya Station at about 14:15, and spent the better part of 45 minutes trying to find the Tokyu Clinic, which was supposed to be in the Tokyu Plaza, which was supposed to be right next to the station. Rule Number One for finding places in Tokyo: allow at least an hour to find a place you have never been to before. Rule Number Two: ask for directions at every convenience store and koban (police box) you encounter.

Seeing as how my appointment wasn't until 16:00, I went to a nearby Starbucks, ordered a Tall Cappucino (yeah, I'm a coffee wuss every now and again), and kicked up my heels with my copy of "Firefox Hacks". For all of five minutes, until I remembered that I had to buy plane tickets for Lyani and I so that we could attend my sister Rachel's wedding in January! I called up two different travel agencies that had given me quotes last week, got the best price (from GM Travel, if you must know--though No. 1 Travel was also excellent--both agencies have English-speaking staff), and placed my reservation. ANA direct from Narita to Dulles, flying in style. Er, flying in economy class, that is--unless any of my lovely, generous readers want to give me frequent flyer miles for a business- or first-class upgrade! ;)

And then I finished my coffee (if you can actually call cappucino coffee), read a couple more hacks, and then went up to the Tokyu Clinic. (It is on the eighth floor of the Tokyu Plaza building, so it really is up! Great views of Shibuya from up there, by the by.) I had to fill out some health history in Japanese, which was fine except for the part where they asked me about various diseases running in the family--not only could I not read the kanji (except for the dreaded 癌: gan, cancer), but when I asked the receptionist to read them for me, I had no bloody idea what any of them were, anyway. Luckily, the receptionist had pity on me and exempted me from filling out that section. Then I waited until my appointment. Sitting in the waiting room, I was treated to a revue of the most popular Japanese family names: a Suzuki was called, two Satos, a Yamada, a Watanabe, a Takahashi, and so on. And then, a Glover. I was thinking how I had never heard of that family name when I realised that it was actually mine ("Glover" is pronounced "Gurabaa" in Japanese--グラバー for those of you who can read katakana).

Screwing my courage to the sticking point, I followed the diminutive nurse into Exam Room 1. Where I was promptly instructed to remove my shoes, empty my pockets, etc. so that my height (176cm) and weight (76.8kg--I've lost weight!) could be measured. Oh yeah, she was nice enough to ask me if I spoke Japanese first. To which I replied, "A little, maybe." Then it was onward to another room, where I was ushered into a soundproof booth and given headphones and a thumb-button to press when I heard a sound in the aforementioned headphones. I passed the hearing test with flying colours (according to the exam sheet, I could hear perfectly in the 1000Hz - 4000Hz range), then received a vision test, at which I did less well. The vision test was not like the American ones where you have to read lines of letters, each one smaller than the last; no, it featured only one letter, a capital "E". All one had to do was report whether the "E" was pointing to the right (a normal "E"), the left (reversed), up, or down. So there were 12 "E"s in various orientations, each one smaller than the last. With my left eye covered, I could read the first 10 of the little buggers. With my right eye covered, I think I got four of them. :) This gave me a score of 1.2 for my right eye and 0.4 for my left. I am guessing that a score of 1.0 corresponds to the American 20/20, and scores above 1.0 are good and ones below are bad. The last time I had an eye exam in the States, my right eye was 20/15 (great) and my left eye was 20/80 (terrible).

Finally, I had my blood pressure measured (112/66, not bad at all), then it was in to see the 先生 (sensei, "doctor" in this context; sensei can also mean "teacher", "mentor", or it can be used simply as a title showing respect for someone you consider your better) so that she could listen to my lungs. I am happy to report that I at least understand when someone says, "take a deep breath" in Japanese. :)

After passing the exam, I walked back across the street (or, more accurately, over the street--hurrah for elevated crosswalks) to Shibuya Station and took a Commuter Express train on the Tokyu-Toyoku Line back to Yokohama. I went home, collected Lyani's ATM card (she is currently the main breadwinner in the family, so I use her money! ;) and commuter pass (hers is for Ishikawa-cho Station to Sakuragi-cho Station--exactly the route I needed to take), then caught a train back to Sakuragi-cho, so I could use the Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank ATM that is located in the basement of the Landmark Tower. (For more information on Japanese ATMs, take a look at this entry in Ota's blog.)

And why, you might ask, did I need to visit the ATM? To pay for my plane tickets, of course! You see, credit cards have not really caught on in Japan. GM Travel would actually accept them, but for a 5% service charge. And when you are spending $1500 on plane tickets, 5% is actually real money. So, when you buy stuff in Japan over the phone, you typically pay for it by transfer the cash directly from your bank account to theirs. And that is what I did. Unfortunately for me, the English language help for these ATMs covered only deposits and withdrawls, not transfers. So I took a deep breath and bravely pushed the 振込 (furikomi, transfer) button on the ATM. Luckily, I had done this once before, with a bank employee helping me, so I was able to slog my way through it. I probably took ten minutes to do what should have been a one- or two-minute transaction, but when you are transferring ¥175,940 ($1,468.86 / €1,253.46 as of markets' close today) out of your bank account and into somebody else's, you want to make right sure you don't bollocks things up.

Hopefully I did not. In any case, I returned to Sakuragi-cho Station and took a train to Kannai, where I got off so I could walk down the Isezaki pedestrian shopping street to the ¥99 store and pick up more bags of mikan--basically the Japanese version of a tangerine. From there, I walked home, stopping off at a little noodle shop that Lyani and I like to pick up some カツ丼 (katsudon--fried pork cutlets over rice) and 天ぷらうどん (tempura udon--a battered and fried prawn in a bowl of tasty soup and thick noodles) on the 持ち帰り tip (mochi-kaeri is the Japanese version of "to go"--which reminds me of a funny story).

So here's the funny story, courtesy of Lyani's university classmate Misho (a Bulgarian who grew up in Central London). He was in a McDonald's shortly after he had come to Japan, and was trying to explain that he wanted his food to go. He did not know the word "mochi-kaeri", so he had quite a time of it. Finally, the Japanese guy behind the counter understood him, and said, "a, omochi-kaeri desuka?" ("ah, you want that to go, oh honoured customer?"). Misho, overjoyed at the prospect of being allowed to purchase his food, said "hai". Upon which the McDonald's employee turns around and yells, "tsu go purizu" (say it out loud, I think you will understand what it means). You see, at McDonald's the employees are trained to use "English" to make a "more international atmosphere". Of course, this being Japan, no-one can actually understand the "English" they are "using". And that is enough sarcastic use of quotation marks for one night.

And I should probably go to sleep soon, as I have a long train ride to look forward to too early tomorrow morning! :)

--Glover out


chall said...

Ha HAAA! back to work sucka. It should be interesting to see what you think about this whole work thing in Japan.

Anonymous said...

I like how when I order at my coffee shop I have to say o-mochi-kaeri they wont' understand if I say 'take-out' but amoung themselves they shout teku auto (テクアウト)

chall said...

Wow! that's truly awsome, wait.. I wonder why that is?

It might be because they are asking you politely "Would you like to take this home?" and then you repeat the same thing back, it might not make any sense to them. I bet of you just say "motte kaeru" they will understand, but then again my Japanese is pretty rusty. Maybe the set phrase "teku auto" has replaced mochi kaeri and they no longer recognize that phrase in the context of working at the coffee shop.. who knows.

Josh Glover said...

No, I think "anonymous" meant that, just like in my story, the coffee shop people do not understand when you say, "teiko auto" instead of any variation of "mochi kaeri". I think the reason for this is simple: the fast food or coffee shop employees have learned "teiko auto" by rote as a set phrase. It has no real meaning for them, it is just what they, like parrots, are trained to say when okyaku-sama wants to motte kaerimasu.

Though you are right, Chall. They might be a little puzzled at you using the honorific version of the phrase, since a native speaker of Japanese never would. I have heard native speakers say either "mochi kaeri [desu]" or "motte kaeru / kaerimasu".