These “Memory Lane” posts are here to tell the story leading up to my current status as a TEFL Teacher in Japan. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? and, of course, Where was I?
The very first time I came to Japan I was only about five or six years old. I came here with my mother to visit her brother and his wife. My uncle worked for Sony at the time, which is how we came to have a place to stay on our visit. I remember very little about the actual flight beyond the fact that it was unbelievably long and I’m sure I spent a good deal of time with my classic grey Game Boy. It was around that time that I was heavily obsessed with completing Super Mario Land, so I’m sure it was always close by.
Honestly, the few memories I’ve managed to retain from my younger years are rarely more than a scattered collection of images and feelings, as I’m sure is the same for most of us. Luckily my uncle has always been a bit of a technophile so he was well ahead of the curve when it came to documenting events for posterity. Thus there was a fairly lengthy VHS made with his state-of-the-art camcorder. Now, my memories from that time are mostly stolen from that video.
Japan is legendary for it’s love of food and I like to think that I am likewise known for mine. I delight in everything from the cheapest, greasiest back alley kebab to the finest, most succulent Snow Crab. However there was a time when my pallet was nowhere close to the broadness I now possess. My first visit to an Asian country fell in just such a time and I was surely a source of immense frustration for my poor Mother. I particularly remember being presented with a large bowl of chicken chow-mein in a Chinese restaurant and having my first, horrifying glimpse of the little freakish things known as Bean Sprouts.
I don’t know exactly how the scene played out but I do know that my Mum had to pick out almost every single bean sprout from the well-populated dish before I would even go near it. My picky eating habits would become the bane of our trip, forcing us to often eat at my uncle and aunt’s apartment.
What a Wonder
Hands down the most wondrous experience of that trip was when we visited Edo Wonderland. An Edo-period theme park, it makes for a great family day-trip from Tokyo. It’s essentially a village recreated in the traditional style. Almost all of the buildings and street furniture come straight out of the history books and you’ll see a multitude of kimono-wearing ladies and katana-toting samurai wondering the streets ready to pose or interact with enthralled visitors. In fact there is an especially cute section of my uncle’s visual chronicles that shows the moment when a passing samurai decided to stop and teach me how to honourably engage my opponent with a deep bow and a steady draw of my plastic katana.
As if just wondering around this interactive time-slip wasn’t enough there are a bunch of shows you can go and enjoy as well. Things like kabuki theatre, epic everyone-dies-in-the-end sword fights, and surreal ninja skill presentations. The one that was really burned into my memory was the outdoor performance. Picture a stone stage in the centre of an open square with a huge wooden tower behind it. On, in and around this setting two heroes must battle through a seemingly endless horde of evil henchman before the final clash with the head honcho. Needless to say this is not a simple task, and they pay a heavy price along the way. There’s a ton acrobatics on display as people are cut down with swords and bows, sometimes whilst scaling the tower causing them to tumble to their deaths. Of course it’s all just clever choreography with trampolines and overly loud slashing sounds but that doesn’t hold back the awesomeness.
Other than our journey to Wonderland there were many other spots to be investigated during our stay. Along with the obligitory visit to Disneyland there was the time I was asked to read the news on TV. We were approached when on a tour of the Fuji Television building and asked if I would like to be on TV. It seems clear now that we were granted this honour due to my “cute blonde foreigner” swagger. So I was led into a TV studio, plumped in front of a camera, under some hefty lighting, and given a massive placard filled with text, thankfully in English. What the producer had failed to take into account, however, was my reading level. After a couple of minutes of slow, awkward pronunciation attempts a Japanese assistant side-stepped in behind me and did her best to help me out. I’m proud to say I didn’t give up! However painful those stunted, unintelligible moments were I ploughed on through with a smile on my face and a chirp in my tone. And so went my television début. OK, so the only people who witnessed it were the live studio audience consisting of my chortling mother, her ever-video-taping brother and his encouraging wife, but still …
Another unmissable spot on our itinerary was the ever-buzzing electric town Akihabara. I remember it like I remember drunken discos – a throng of people; a mess of colours, lights and sounds; and an inability to define it as either fun or horrific. I did gather one treasure from that frenzy which I still have today. An original Game Boy copy of Kirby’s Dreamland, to this day the only Japanese-language game I’ve played the whole way through (not that there was much of a plot to follow …).
And speaking of games I leave you with this final slice of memory-pie. We spent one pleasantly sunny day looking over the illustrious Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. While there I was introduced to Ema (and a lovely lady she was too! Ho Ho Ho! No, that’s not funny.) which are small wooden blocks upon which you write a prayer or wish to be seen by the gods. There was a vast array of them hung from special frames in certain areas of the shrine complex. I was told some of the heartfelt desires that were inscribed on some of them. People asked for protection from illness, or luck in exams, or help with their love-lives.
Me? I asked for more Game Boy games.
Can you remember your first time travelling abroad? How old were you? Where did you go? Have you been to any of the places I mentioned above? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.