Rachel in Tokyo

This is a blog about an American law school student studying in Tokyo for the semester.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Palette Town

Here we are at Tokyo Port on our way back to a new Metro line at the end of an eventful day in Palette Town. Behind us is another ferris wheel. Joe and I had already ridden a ferris wheel at Tokyo Dome City, so we opted not to ride the one at Palette Town. Although the lights on the ferris wheel changed and lit up the night sky beautifully!

Toyota has a "test drive" facility at Palette Town. There are 2 tracks. On one, you do not need a driver's license, because the cars pretty much operate themselves. However, on the other, you can test drive new Toyota models on an indoor/outdoor track. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car, so I would not venture a trip on this track, since it would be very strange to me to drive on the opposite side of the car. Plus, I could probably not do more than 20 MPH, so that would be kind of boring for my lead foot.

One of the entrances to Palette Town. Notice the needle in the background. I have no idea what this is.

Two very cool buildings on the way to Palette town.

Inside the mall at Palette Town: VENUS FORTE.

Tokyo Dome City

So what to do on a cloudy day? How about an amusement park! Actually, I pass by this park every night I go to Kameido to teach. I knew it was off of the Suidobashi exit and I knew I wanted to go there. When Joe and I arrived, we had no clue which exit to take, so we just followed the mass of people.

Here I am at the entrance to the dome. On the way up, however, Joe and I were starving, so we started looking for a "snack" somewhere. We found a street vendor just outside serving little hotcakes for 100Yen. We bought one and it was great! It was filled with some kind of custard. This park was different than theme parks in the US. To get in, it was free. You could walk around, shop, and do whatever you wanted, but if you wanted to ride the roller coaster or some other ride, you had to pay for it individually. We decided to ride the roller coaster. And yes, it was FAST! And the way that it came out of this building was crazy! Over 100 miles an hour! The first hill was a doozy!!!!! And you would never know I had a fear of heights with the way I love to ride roller coasters!

Then Joe and I decided to ride the ferris wheel, if only for the view. The ferris wheel was interesting. It moved at a mach-speed of 2 centimeters an hour. No, really, it was so slow, in fact, I questioned if it was even working when we entered the park. It was indeed working. It just goes around one time for each ride, and takes several minutes to do that. But inside, you get to listen to this really cheesy music supplied by your own individual sound system. They are equal opportunity offenders here in Japan, I think they picked the single-worst song from 5 different countries to choose from for the ride. I suppose if you're on a bad date, the sound system beats having to talk to the person!!!!

A view from the dome side of the ferris wheel ride. Notice the long line of people below. This is the line to get into the dome for a "chrysanthenum festival"...must be real exciting!

Another view from the ferris wheel on the opposite side. Tokyo goes on FOREVER!

Friday, February 24, 2006


Each year, in February (this year, February 3rd), there is a special day called: SENTSUBUN. This day is symbolic to the Japanese culturally. The Japanese do 3 specific things on this day in accordance to tradition. 1) They throw beans at the monsters in their house, basically across the threshhold of their door, while chanting "go away, demon! go away!", and after they chase the monsters out of their houses (symbolically), they then 2) eat sushi facing the southeast (to watch for the good spirits to come), and 3) they do not say anything (they must eat in complete silence), until everyone has finished their sushi roll.

The convenience stores all around town sell special sushi rolls for this event as well as special masks worn by members of the family to commerate this event.

Here Nick and Amy prepare peanuts and beans to throw at their uncle who will pose as the demon. They prepare "most" of the peanuts, it's okay to eat some in the meantime!

Peace, Man! YO YO!

Demon go away! Demon go away! Come spring, come spring! Come good spirits to our house!

Warding off the demons is hard work! Time for some french fries!


When I first got here, I knew I needed to work. I applied for about 20 different internships here at school (which was approximately 90% of all of the available paid internships - basically every one that did not require Japanese language proficiency). Realizing that my phone was not ringing off of the hook with offers for paid legal work, I started looking for work online teaching English. I applied to all of the websites I could here in Tokyo after completing a Google search for english-teaching positions in Tokyo. Within a few days a family in Kameido emailed me expressing their interest in me tutoring them twice a week. Kameido is about 45 minutes away from where I live in Tokyo. It is considered a suburb of Tokyo, but is just on the outskirts of the main metro map. It is a quaint little town with cobble-stone streets. I enjoy my time in Kameido with this family. Actually, I am tutoring 1 "extended" family. 2 Japanese women who married 2 Pakistani brothers. I tutor a mother and her daughter on Tuesdays, and then on Fridays, her sister-in-law comes over with her son and daughter as well. At the request of the family, I will show pictures, but am associating "American-English" names to the children, rather than their true Japanese names.

Here is Alisha. She is, of course, half Japanese and half Pakistani. As you can see, it's a great combination! She is as bright as she is beautiful. She's quite the bundle of energy, too! She is 5 years old, and has will be enrolling in school for the first time this year. Already, she knows the Japanese and English Alphabets, can count, read (at what we consider a first-grade level), and write. She will be enrolled at an International School, and will be educated in English. This will enevitably teach her both English and Japanese skills from a native beginning.

Alisha likes to take funny pictures of me with my camera phone. She's quite good at it! I've taught her many funny faces. I'm sure her mother is very proud that she has learned these funny faces from me. She probably wants to ring my neck.

Here is Nick and Amy. Alisha's two cousins. They, too are half Japanese and half Pakistani. I highly recommend this combination for any of you who are interested. Not only are the children highly intelligent, but they are real lookers. Nick, actually is teaching me KANJI. Once we finish our lessons on Friday nights, Nick and I sit down to practice Kanji. He shows me how to draw the Kanji, while I show him how to write the word in English. Invariably, he gets the English word right, while I suffer through the Kanji that always ends up incredibly wrong. This stuff is hard!!!

Alisha likes to clown around, too. Here she's "lovin it" with the Mcdonald's french fries. Kids love Mcdonalds here in Tokyo, too. There are certain things that remain unchanged even across international borders.

Here is mother and daughter. On Tuesday nights, I split my session between Alisha and her mother. When I first started, her mother seemed quite hesitant to speak English. But now, I have noticed an incredible improvement. We carry on regular conversations. I have been teaching her difficult concepts in American culture, and she has been explaining religious, historical and cultural aspects of Japanese, Chinese and even Indian culture.

She is also very kind to me every Tuesday and Friday nights. For after the lesson, she feeds me dinner. She is quite the cook and very generous, too. For example, this past Tuesday, we had crabs! They were delicious! The Japanese eat crabs differently than we do in the states. They use chopstix to help get the meat out, and scissors to cut the shell. A very typical japanese cuisine is shabu (or shobu?), where there is a big pot of flavored water boiling in the middle of the table, and lots of goodies inside. Almost like a fondue-concept, only the food is better for you. They put cabbage, oysters, and anything else they can find in the fridge. It's very good, actually.

Tutoring this family in Kameido is one of the main highlights of my trip here in Tokyo. I am fortunate to have this opportunity to get to know a family so closely. We have exchanged cultural ideas, conversations, experiences and much, much more. I have probably learned more about Japan through them, than through my classes or even exploring the sites.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Lambroghini's are cool in every city.

An entertainer singing salsa music in Electric City. This was in a music store.

SEGA! There are pachinko slot places everywhere! Sega in Electric City is a rather large one. This picture is for Jared!

Through the Zojoji Door to the city

Through the Red Door to the city.

Here is what looked like to be the gateway to a memorial for children.

A close up of the memorial. I could not tell if it was for children to express their worship to Buddha, or if it was for parents who wish to remember their own children. I did see a father with his daughter in front of one of the dolls.

Inside the shrine was serene. It was oppulant- all of the gold and insense. I put 100Yen in the box myself in hopes of making one of my wishes come true, but I am not sure how the whole thing works. If my wish does come true, I'm sure it was the 100Yen piece! I may have to consider converting to Buddhism.

Here is an example of the "old with the new." All around Tokyo there are old buildings and temples mixed in with skyscrapers. This is the spirit of Tokyo.

More SHOJU please!

Here is my friend, Tom Weiss. I'm very jealous of Tom Weiss, because his Japanese is unbelievable. He spent a couple of years over here as an exchange student through the Rotary Club in high school! Very cool! Tom goes to Georgetown. Tom wants to stay in Japan and doesn't want to go back to the States. Tokyo has that affect on people! Here Tom is standing in front of a 15th century antique tapestry worth a few dollars, I'm sure.

We went to dinner at a local restaurant about a mile away from school. There were 5 of us, having a blast. When this nice Japanese local came to our table and offered us a bottle of SHOJU. This was my first experience with Shoju. It is not really sake, but not really liquor either. It's in-between. And it will *&^%$) you up if you're not careful! And the hangover is a &%#@#^(*!!! Of course, I would not know about this from personal experience!!! I would never.....!

Jeremy's japanese is also impressive. I like going out with Tom, Jeremy and Dan. I'm sure always to be understood. At least, I think.....it would be very easy for them to play tricks on me and interpret things incorrectly on purpose...maybe THAT'S why that Japanese man looked at me funny and asked if he could follow me home that night!!!! TOM!!!!!!!!!

Kristina likes to take advantage of Jeremy's language abilities, too...as you can see, her request for: "MORE SHOJU PLEASE!!!" paid off (below)...

Red Door

This is the entrance to Zojoji Shrine from the street. You enter this BIG RED DOOR. (Biggest one on the street, you can't miss it...)

Okay, so imagine the door to your house. Then multiply that by like 1000 times. Then, add a few more doors and then you get the picture...

I thought this was a funny sign. I live at the Crescent House apartments in Miami Lakes. I don't think this is the same company.

Another Buddha.

This is a big bell. It rings twice a day to drive off all of the evil deeds that the believers in Tokyo have committed that day.

Yoyogi Park Entertainers

Believe it or not, these Japanese men were impersonating ELVIS! I don't think they got the memo that Elvis is dead. For he is very much alive in their minds! If this is cool, then I'm a dork.

Here are some rather interesting attractions. This is where the Japanese teenage punk rockers go to get noticed. Silly American and English tourists like to come see them and take pictures. Rock on!!!

Tranquility in Yoyogi Park. One of many statues.

More street performers! This time, they were practicing for the circus tryouts coming up! (Well, at least that's what it looked like...)

Pay money, get poem. I'm sure the poems are great, but I would have no clue what it means.

Japanese Wedding in Yoyogi Park

When we came to the temple, a security guard asked us to step aside. What a treat to see a Japanese Wedding procession!

Notice the wedding dress. Wow. That must have cost a fortune! The groom wears funky pants, too! The wedding guests all follow suite behind the bride and groom as they walk in front of the temple. In Japan, the bride and groom spend a ton of money on buying gifts for each of the wedding guests. This is probably the number one expense of any Japanese wedding. Seems slightly backwards to me, since the bride and groom are just getting started with their life together!

Here they are in front of the Shinto Priest, who says a few short words, blesses them and then sends them on their way.

As we were walking up to the temple, we saw this car being driven up to a carport. 3 shinto priests performed a ritual blessing on the car for the bride and groom to wish them safe travels.

Perhaps Buddha is shining down his blessings on the bride and groom here, too!

One of the busiest Starbucks in the world

Here is one of the busiest Starbucks in the world

Yoyogi Park

My friend, Sean, took me to Yoyogi Park. We had a bet that I could not make a bulls eye playing darts. When I eventually did, he owed me a trip to Yoyogi. I think he was just being nice, however, since it took me a very long time to make the bullseye. Those Brits. They never play by the rules!

Sean is standing in front of rows of sake barrels. He tried explaining some religious or cultural custom/thing the Japanese do with these, but I can't remember now. I just thought they looked cool. Maybe I'll get one of the symbols tattooed (spelling?) on my shoulder and pretend that the symbol means something cool. Like porcupine or weasel, like half of the Americans out here.

Here is a shinto "wishing well." I know it's called something very different, but this is all I can come up with. Basically, you throw in a coin, burn some insence and make a wish. It's not the water fountain in central park, but it will do. Don't try to pawn off your 1Yen pieces, though, people can tell you're being cheap when it doesn't sound as heavy as the other coins.

This seemed to be one of the main shrines, but Sean tried to explain to me that we were close to the Imperial Palace and there were many shrines in the park. Well, this one looked pretty big, but there was probably one bigger.

A smaller shrine.