The Rover

Since my bus took an hour longer than anticipated to get to Tokyo, I didn’t have time to fumble around and figure out the way to use the non-express trains as I’d intended. I did, however, manage to check out the terminal into which The Rover's flight would be arriving, and realized like an idiot that all international flights go into Terminal Two.


Between his travel time in Canada, the flight, the wait for the next non-express and the Shinkansen Hikari we caught to Shizuoka, by the time The Rover got to my place, he’d been travelling for a total of 24 hours.


The Rover then got to watch my epic four-hour kabuki rehearsal on Thursday. Francis, an Australian with whom I share a name that we agree is only slightly worse than being named “wanker,” showed up for the first time since he’d been out of commission due to knee surgery. During the course of the session, he asked me where I’d been learning Japanese since I’d been pretty terrible when we’d first met. I told him I hadn’t been studying anywhere, which seemed to raise his eyebrows. I wonder if maybe I just needed the first six months to loosen up my tongue.


I also discovered that Grimm was, in fact, in New Zealand, which explained why he hadn’t been replying to my phone messages asking if he could use his van to help me move to The Village.

Through the Looking Glass

I was going to The Village to see my apartment and meet the local board of education on Friday. The regional Company B branch manager was meeting me in Mishima, and I spent the thirty-minute Shinkansen ride to Mishima standing by the washroom in an overcrowded car with about sixty pounds of baggage at my feet. I then met the regional branch manager and we took a local train another thirty minutes to Shuzenji, from whence we drove for another hour in a rented car over insane cliffside roads to The Village.


I could see Mount Fuji in the distance as we drove along the coast. At one point, we drove across a bridge between two mountain ridges and I could see spread out below me an oceanic expanse of rolling, perfectly verdant mountains into which we began to descend down a switchback road that was barely wide enough for the two lanes of traffic it was meant to accommodate. There were buses coming in the other direction.


I determined that I needed to buy a camera: I was going to live in a storybook. The only problem was that the entrance might as well have been through a wardrobe. The Village was on the distant edge of the middle of nowhere.


But I think I went to visit at exactly the right time of year. The Village was nestled between two lines of deep green mountains, through the midst of which ran a lazy little river lined on either side by blossoming cherry trees. Rice paddies stretched away below the road to my apartment, with occasional buildings dotting the lower levels of the nearby mountainsides. It started to rain a bit as we arrived.

The river through The Village
The river through The Village

When we went to the board of education, I learned for the first time that I was not, in fact, starting work on the first of April, but rather on the Monday a week later.


I dumped my stuff off at my apartment and the branch manager wrangled with the landlord for a very long time as he tried to set up gas, water and power for me in time for my arrival on the last Sunday in March. I couldn’t delay my arrival any later since a new teacher was scheduled to move into my room in Shizuoka the day I left.


After that we went and grabbed everything from the old ALT’s apartment that wasn’t nailed down. This included a small, half-broken TV and a refrigerator among other odds and ends. In a classic example of sloth breeding ingenuity, we used a one-yen coin to unscrew the washing machine. Then the branch manager got shocked by the ground line and we decided we should find the tool kit.


The old ALT's apartment was actually much nicer than the one I was going to be living in. Mine had a huge living room and a tiny bedroom with ugly green walls and nasty copper-coloured stains on the paper sliding doors. The old ALT's apartment was generally cleaner and featured a large bedroom and less living space, which would have suited me fine since I own no furniture and tend to live in my bedroom anyway. It was also right up against a mountain, beside a driving range, and much closer to the bus station, as well as being in the same building as the only other foreigner in town, who, incidentally, happened to own a VCR.


Did I mention the rent was cheaper? And I wouldn’t have had to pay key money?


It was about 5:00 p.m. by the time we gunned it out of The Village on the rain-slicked roads so I could make it back to Shizuoka to meet The Rover and the guys from my private class for drinks at 8:00.

Shizuoka's Last Hurrah

The language school organizer’s nephew came out with the guys from the language class that night, which worked out rather well since he had been acting as translator during our lessons and spoke fairly good English. The Rover spent most of the night talking to him since the other guys were just barely comfortable asking each other what kind of music they were into.


The next day, The Rover and I met with Toronto Girl and we went for lunch. Under The Rover’s expert guidance, she became very good at mocking me. She also helped me pick out little gifts to go with the cards I was writing for the staff at Blight, which I finished that night while The Rover asked me incessant questions about scheduling details I was already stressed out not to know anything about.


Perhaps as a result of my curt reactions to his queries, The Rover decided that he wouldn’t be coming to Tokyo with me. Since I now knew that I wasn’t going to have to work during the first week in April, we decided to go to Tokyo together on the Wednesday and Thursday before he left. My stress-o-meter dropped by about half.


After I delivered the cards and gifts on Sunday morning, I walked The Rover around and showed him some of the hills I liked in the area. I gave him my pass for the overland-subway-thing and my house key, as well as Toronto Girl’s phone number since she’d seemed to indicate that she wanted to see us again. My new housemate had mentioned that he was planning to visit eastern Izu on Monday, and when I mentioned that The Rover was staying in town for the week, he immediately offered to take him along. He also offered to rent a car and help me move my stuff to The Village if all else failed. Good guy.


Feeling a little better now that I knew at least a few of The Rover’s days were taken care of while I would be gone, I headed to the train station and got to stand over-encumbered on yet another 90-minute Shinkansen to Tokyo.

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April 2002