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Payday, Karaoke, and New Clothes!

June 6, 2012

It’s finally happened! I received my first paycheck on Thursday, and boy am I glad it’s finally here. For those of you who don’t know how the Interac payment system works, our monthly paychecks are given at the end of the following month. So this time we received our wages for April at the end of May. For those of you who may think it’s strange, don’t worry! Everyone was warned well in advance, and Interac did suggest a certain amount of money for us to bring to tide us over until the first paycheck.

Anyway, Becky and Joey came to Koga for the weekend in order to celebrate getting paid, which was a very fun time. I’m so excited to finally start having people come and visit me here in Koga. It’s a pretty neat place, and it’s conveniently near Tokyo too! Jess and I picked Becky up from the train station after getting a late dinner, and then went in search of Joey (who drove) so we could lead her to Jess’s apartment. She lives a slight ways out of town along the Shinkansen line, and it’s rather difficult to find when you’re first visiting. Never mind the scary one-and-a-half lane road you have to take in order to get there!

We met Joey at a restaurant parking lot and then guided her to Jess’s place. Immediately after we unloaded everyone’s things we hopped back into Jess’s car to meet Eric and Rob for karaoke at 10:00. Jess dropped us off and then drove back to her apartment in order to leave her car there and grab her bike. While she was switching modes of transportation, the rest of us got our room and began selecting songs and ordering our drinks.

Now, karaoke in Japan is rather different from karaoke in the United States. In the US (and I’m only basing this off of the karaoke I’ve seen in Wisconsin), people go to a bar and then stand up in front of the whole bar — oftentimes a crowd mostly full of strangers — to sing a song or two. In Japan, however, you go to a karaoke place and reserve a room with your friends for a certain amount of time. Staying for longer times means you pay more money, but depending on what time of day you go the rates will also drop. A lot of the time they’re also open 24 hours a day, so going at later times usually means lower rates. You are able to order food and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) off the menu, and you can also pay for 飲み放題 (nomihoudai), which is all-you-can-drink during your time at the karaoke box. Our group reserved a room for two hours plus 飲み放題, all for the grand total of ¥3000 per person. That’s a pretty decent price for karaoke! I prefer this type of karaoke over karaoke in the US, because you and your friends can be goofballs and sing all of your favorite songs without outside judgement. For example, a small sampling of the songs we sang that night are “A Whole New World,” Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” “Stop” by the Spice Girls, plus some of our favorite Japanese songs, including “Skyline” by Yui.

We sang until we were at varying degrees of hoarseness. I definitely wasn’t able to hit higher notes anymore by the end of the night. Our time was up at midnight, and so we said goodbye to Rob and began our walk back to Jess’s apartment. Eric joined us, since he was going in the same direction. What should have been a forty-minute walk ended up taking a little over an hour and a half because we stopped at a コンビニ (konbini) to pick up a few things and we also took a few wrong turns. In the end we got back and went straight to bed.

Saturday morning the four of us woke up bright and early and drove to the train station. Our plan was to take the train to Tokyo and celebrate receiving our first paychecks by getting some much-needed clothes shopping done. The biggest thing on my list was to find one or two pairs of shorts, because it gets very hot here in the summer and I knew that I couldn’t get by with just the two pairs I brought with me. I also have a few more things on the list, but Tokyo isn’t really the place to get them!

The four of us got on the train and rode for an hour or so to Shibuya, where we planned on meeting Kris. He was running a little late, so we went and explored a shopping complex near the station in search of a coffee shop. What we found there was either way too expensive or it was too small to accommodate five more people. Instead, we looked at the shops until it was time to meet Kris at our designated place. Once we were all together we decided to go to the Starbucks in Harajuku, because it’s located on the rooftop of a newer shopping plaza that recently opened.

Starbucks was fairly crowded when we arrived, but we took our food and drinks outside to the patio area and sat on some of the stairs. We got to sit and enjoy the nice weather, and there were several other groups of people who had the same idea as us. While we ate, we caught up with each other and compared shopping lists to see where we needed to go in order to make our strategy.

We went to many different stores within Harajuku, and each had our successes. I ended up buying two pairs of shorts, a black top, and a mint-colored dress. I’m looking forward to wearing the dress to school one of these days. We ended up shopping for a few hours, and soon our stomachs started telling us it was time to eat dinner. Jess suggested an area within Tokyo Station called Ramen Street, where famous ramen shops have little branches of the main restaurant lining the sides of a hallway in the station. We all were in agreement that ramen sounded perfect, so we headed to Tokyo Station.

Ramen Street was pretty quiet in some areas, and had long lines in others. Having long lines at a restaurant is a good thing, because it means that the food is good, but we didn’t really want to wait very long! We settled on a restaurant that had a shorter line, and had to split up into a group of three and a pair in order for them to accommodate us. Luckily our tables were right next to each other so it wasn’t too difficult. The ramen was delicious, and we were all happy to finally eat after a long day of walking around.

After dinner we decided to go to Shinjuku and see Times Square at nighttime, but Becky unfortunately had to go home after dinner. So, we waved her off as she boarded her train home and we got onto ours for Shinjuku. After twenty minutes or so we got off and went to see the tower. Kris wanted to try out his new camera, so we stopped on a bridge overlooking a brightly lit road and hung out while he fiddled with the controls and got to know his camera.

A short while passed, and we crossed the bridge and headed over to a place that absolutely made my day: Krispy Kreme. This one is open late in Shinjuku, so we all bought doughnuts and headed to the second floor to sit for a short while. It was strange to realize how much I had missed the taste of a Krispy Kreme doughnut! It literally had been years since I last had one. I was one very happy camper. The best part is that they gave me a coupon for a free doughnut, which I’m definitely going to carry around in my wallet so I can use it the next time I set foot in a Krispy Kreme store!

Our doughnuts eaten, we collected our things and moved outside to try and get a picture of the tower in Shinjuku. We had to wait a short while, because Jess suggested getting a train running through the shot. I thought it was an absolutely brilliant idea. Afterward, Joey,  Jess, and I managed to convince Kris to return to Koga with us and watch Princess Mononoke. We got on the train home, which was absolutely crowded. There were moments when I felt like I was in a can of sardines. As time went on, though, people got off and we eventually all got to sit down for the last leg of the trip.

We walked to the car and went back to Jess’s apartment. We all got into our pajamas and popped the movie into the DVD player. Partway through the film, I absolutely wasn’t able to keep my eyes open anymore, so I slipped into a light sleep. When I woke up, though, the movie was still playing and everyone else was asleep around me! I decided to take the only picture I took the entire weekend.

Sorry for the grainy quality — it was taken on my iPhone.

Isn’t that a sweet picture? I’m a fan. While I was searching for the remote to stop the movie, I accidentally roused Jess and together we turned off the TV and DVD player. In doing so we woke up Kris and Joey, which allowed them to properly climb into bed, and we turned off the lights and went to sleep!

Sunday morning was a little late, but we went to buy some bread and coffee and then headed to Navel Park, which is a fantastic park inside Koga. Jess and I were there last weekend and we wanted to show the others the awesome playground the park has. Unfortunately, it was late enough in the day that the playground was crawling with children so we decided to err on the side of caution and not play. Looks like we’ll have to get there super early if we want to play!

We sat down on some benches and ate our breakfasts before Jess and Kris whipped out their cameras. We had a lot of fun just sitting and taking each other’s pictures (or in my case, I was only having my picture taken). If they end up putting the pictures up online, I’ll be sure to post a link to them here. Oh! Speaking of linking, if you go on the right hand side of my blog, you can get Jess’s perspective on all of our adventures over at her blog, The Girl in Translation. I have loads of fun reading it, and her pictures are always amazing.

Back to Sunday, though. After one last attempt to check on the number of kids on the playground, we decided it just wasn’t for that day and went back to the apartment. From there we loaded Joey’s car with her things and then loaded mine in there as well. Our plan was that Joey would drive to my apartment where we could unload my stuff with Kris’s help and then we all would go to a coffee shop near the train station. From there Joey could begin her long drive home and Kris could get on the train to head homeward as well. Jess would meet us there on her bike.

It didn’t take long for my things to make it into my apartment, and we soon found Jess once we got near the station. We eventually ended up at a place called Roomz, which is right next to TES. It’s actually owned and run by the parents of one of my fifth graders at TES, which I learned the first time I went there — when Courteney, Eric, and Rob brought me when I first came to Koga. I’ve been there a few times after they introduced me to the shop, since it’s so close to school. It’s so much fun hanging out there, and I tend to stay several hours talking to the owners.

Unfortunately, it did become time for people to go, so we waved Joey off as she drove off and I left Kris and Jess at the train station and walked home. They were going to meet Kate and Debs at Yoyogi Park, and I wanted to tag along but unfortunately I had some major cleaning to do and I had to start in on my lesson planning for the week. Next time, hopefully!

And there you have it! How a weekend is spent when we get our paychecks!

Remember, if you ever have any questions about my life in Japan, you can always leave them in the comments! And be sure to go over to Jess’s blog at http://thegirlintranslation.com/

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