lost

The Long Road Home…

From top...our interminable taxi ride with the blind driver; last views of Narita, last meal (coke float and sashimi) and the fabulous bird's eye view camera from the plane!

From top…our interminable taxi ride with the blind driver; last views of Narita, last meal (coke float and sashimi) and the fabulous bird’s eye view camera from the plane!

I’m sure many of you may have guessed from the radio silence that we were travelling and are now back in Vancouver. I do have more things to post about Japan so I’m not ending the blog…I’m extremely long-winded (I’m told by my daughter) and five and a half weeks was not nearly long enough to say all that I had to say ūüėČ

So we’re home. Getting home was a trial. Normally I have things fairly¬†well planned and organized but there were things out of my control on this one. First of all, we bought our tickets on CheapOair. Not my first choice…actually pretty much one of my last choices, but I have to say it was fine AND a great deal. We flew Cathay which was fabulous (more on that later) but at first I couldn’t confirm our tickets on the Cathay website with the locater number from CheapOair so I was freaking out. CheapOair actually emailed me back and confirmed the flight and told me how to get on the Cathay site. Next, I couldn’t print a confirm as Karis’s computer was not downloading files to ANY flash drives (yes, I did buy a new one, didn’t work) so I had¬†no printed confirms. Wanting to cover all my bases, I emailed the boarding passes to myself and Karis; downloaded the PDFs and screenshot each one.

Karis’s agency made reservations on the airport limousine, paid her fare and the cab to get to the bus and provided a map and instructions in Japanese for the cab driver. When I lived in Japan before, it was almost impossible to get a taxi to stop for a foreigner and you had to have a map and/or instructions in Japanese as there are no regular street names or addresses. I had all of this. Also, one of the bookers happened to be at the apartment as we were leaving so he helped load the car and explain (again) to the cab driver in Japanese exactly where the hotel was…literally a 5 minute drive from our apartment. Anyway we did everything exactly as instructed but we didn’t count on a cab driver not be able to find the hotel! With Japanese instructions, a map and a GPS! Though perhaps the fact that he kept looking at the map with a magnifying glass should have been my first clue. We missed the limousine bus. Luckily I still had my Japanese phone and called Yusuke at the agency and he talked to the cab driver but it was too late. Yusuke was trying to find another bus and was going to book us on the Narita Express which is a high-speed train. I explained there was no way this would work as we had too much luggage to manage on our own because it involves changing trains and going through the station. He then spoke to the driver again and told us he would drive us to Narita. At this point, I didn’t care as there was no way we could miss this flight. Cab fare to Narita is about $300.

So we’re driving and driving. Both Karis and I have to pee, like crazy. We finally get to Terminal 1 (as per Yusuke’s instructions) and Karis sprints out to go to the bathroom. The driver and I unload the car and I ask him the fare…on the meter it says 29000Y. He keeps repeating, “chigau, chigau, no fare.” I finally understand that he means not to charge us because it was his fault that we missed the bus. I insist on giving him 10000Y which he reluctantly accepts and bows until I enter the terminal building. I looked back and he was still bowing.

After the bladders were taken care of, we look for Cathay. And notice that it’s in…Terminal 2. Yusuke sent us to Terminal 1 because our original flight home was on ANA which is in Terminal 1. Sigh. Two floors¬†down to the bus stop;¬†load up the bus with our five suitcases, one carry-on bag and two purses; ride to Terminal 2; disembark with our five suitcases, one carry-on and two purses; wait 15 minutes for an elevator to the departures level–they’re always¬†full because people are loading up on the floor below so we can never get on. We finally break protocol (serious thing in Japan) and get on an elevator going down and don’t get off just to we can ride back up again. Otherwise we’d still be there waiting. Finally arrive at Cathay which is glowing like a beacon in the distance. I love Cathay. The opened up a desk to serve us, printed our boarding passes, checked in four huge overweight bags for free, all with great professionalism, kindness and speed.

A quick visit to the cell phone return counter, a snack and a pit stop to buy Hello Kitty pens and we’re on our way.

Longest flight ever. The food was great (for airline food), great service, personal TV screens, free blankets, pillows and headphones. And my very favourite thing…they have a camera on the bottom of the plane so you could watch the take-off and landing. I’d¬†definitely¬†fly Cathay again…but it was a bit frustrating to fly BACK to Hong Kong, then to Vancouver over Japan. Our direct flight was a little over 9 hours…this was over 21 hours. I was ready to jump off the plane about 3 hours into the second flight….

Flashbacks…but not enough

Ginza panoramic

I went to Ginza today. Thought I’d check out my old stompin’ grounds and see if I could find the place I used to hostess at. Shocking I know…that I was a hostess, not that I was trying to find it. Not sure what the hostess scene is now but back in the day there were a few ways of being a hostess. Roppongi, Ginza or the Asian clubs. Obviously the Asian clubs were out for me. The girls there were mostly Japanese, Korean, Thai and Filipino. Interestingly they made the least money.

If you worked in Roppongi in the dance clubs the hours were long and the base pay was lower than Ginza but you made GREAT tips if you could play the game…a whole lot of acting and schmoozing which means your¬†customers ask for you at the door, they ask you to¬†dance and they buy bottles of booze to leave at the club with their name on it. If you were involved in any of those transactions, you got a fee¬†every time. If you were good at the game you could make¬†$500-$1500/night. I knew this was not my scene as I had zero acting skills and would never be able to pull it off–also lots of drunken fools grabbing you. You’re not allowed to slap them. They would fire you.

Then there was Ginza. A rabbit warren of clubs, that were literally the size of my kitchen, stacked on top of each other in the office buildings surrounding Ginza station.This is where I worked. The clubs were more like a private clubs…they were very small and had regular clients. You couldn’t get in to many of them (including mine) without an introduction. I got to know most of the clients¬†very well. I even met some of their families and stayed in touch with a few of them.¬†It was all very much on the up and up. When my mum came to Japan, they had her over for tea before the evening started. I made $500/night working from 7ish-11:45 (had to catch the last train home). I had to sit and make polite conversation if the clients wanted to or else just sit and look pretty. We had a strict dress code. They had to approve all our dresses. Close-toed shoes. Stockings. Nails done. Make-up and lipstick. No eating. No crossing your legs. No drinking. No smoking. Nothing remotely vulgar. It was like going to a Swiss finishing school. No one ever touched me or groped me. There were usually three of us. We all spoke a fair amount of Japanese but we never let on…so we could understand pretty much everything they said about us¬†which was amusing. Hey it was boring just sitting there.¬†We spoke bad French amongst ourselves so we could talk without anyone understanding us, though we had to be careful when they brought in European businessmen. Sometimes clients would take us out for sushi after the club closed but they had to take ALL of us including Mama-san and her daughter Mariko-san. They also had to drive us home afterwards or pay for a taxi or limo in addition to paying for our sushi, the cover charge for the restaurant (usually a few hundred dollars per person) and pay Mama-san for our time. This was back in the heyday of Japan before everything crapped out. I think I was there on the last gasp and I started to see some of the impending financial doom near¬†the end of my time there¬†which would have been the fall of 1991. But when I was there the saying was that if you took at $100 bill and crumpled it up as small as possible and dropped it on the ground, the tiny amount of space it covered would be worth $100 USD. Not sure if that’s still the case. There’s still a lot of money in Ginza if you look at the stores but it’s a bit run down. I’d be interested to know how the club scene is but not really sure how I’d find that out.

My quest was unsuccessful. I wish I’d thought to read my journal and note down the instructions on how to get there for the job interview. I was hoping I’d have some sort of epiphany of recall when I got to Ginza station and I did a bit. I remember the Sony building and this weird bakery with cream puffs–Mama-san loved them and used to send ‘the boy’ out to get them whenever she wanted a treat. However, when I went down the back roads they all kind of look the same. There are tons of new stores too; it’s changed a lot since 1991. Also, I doubt they’re still in business…Mama-san would be close to ninety and Mariko would be in her 60s. It would have been cool to see it though….

All those signs are ALL for clubs. They're stacked on top of each other. The one picture of me in the mirror looked a bit familiar...but I'm not sure. The club I worked at was called 'Olive' because it was Mama-san's favourite colour.

All those signs are ALL for clubs. They’re stacked on top of each other. The one picture of me in the mirror looked a bit familiar…but I’m not sure

A typical day (Model child)

Karis walking to the agency. It's 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis walking to the agency. It’s 32 degrees out and cloudy. #areweinBangkok?

Karis’s days are rarely the same in terms of timing and scheduling. She gets a text the night before sometime between 9-11pm telling her how many castings she has the next day and what time she has to be at the agency. She walks there¬†from the apartment which takes about 15 minutes as it’s so ridiculously hot that you just can’t go any quicker. There’s nothing special she has to wear…just a cute outfit. The girls mostly wear dressy shorts or skirts with short-sleeved T-shirts or short dresses. They have to bring heels and a bikini with them to every shoot just in case the client needs to see them walk for a shot or how they’d look for a swimwear or lingerie shoot. They¬†all meet at the agency (whoever is going to the castings) and head out in the fancy bus/van driven by one of their bookers Kai, Tai or Sho (whom I’ve never met but I’ve been told he exists). Most of the castings start in the mid-to late afternoon and go well into the evening. She doesn’t usually get home until 8 or 9pm. Sometimes later.

When the girls get work they are responsible for getting there on their own. They are given written instructions detailing which subway or train line they are to take and from which station, where they are supposed to change and the next subway or train line and so on. They also get a map to follow from the subway station which tells them which exit to use which is really important as the bigger stations have many exits…just to put this in perspective, Shinjuku station has over 3 million passengers per day, 36 platforms and 200 exits…servicing¬†12 different lines from five different rail companies:¬†the subway, the metro, the Keio line, the JR line and the Odakyu electric line.

New Faces like Karis also do photo shoots called testing (sometimes called creatives in Vancouver) to give them experience working with Japanese photographers and stylists as well as learning how to pose. It’s quite a different look than what we’re used to in North America and Europe.

The agency gives them an allowance every Tuesday of 10 000 Y which is a little over $100 for food and sundries. Your flight, accommodation and transportation is advanced to you by the agency. For more information on how this works in Japan (or anywhere actually) check out the Business Model Mag. It’s a very informative site¬†AND it’s Canadian.

Models usually get the weekend off unless there’s a special event or they have a photo shoot. Time to see the sights, shop, workout or just relax. No clubbing though. It’s written into their contract that they’re not allowed to drink or go clubbing if they’re underage. Even if they’re of legal age (20) they’re supposed to keep it to a minimum or they’ll be sent home. And the¬†agency¬†always finds out….

A typical day (the Mothership)

A Zen exercise environment...lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

A Zen exercise environment…lovely stone stairs to run up and stretch on and lion statues to stretch my shoulders out!

Being here in Tokyo, staying in a house that is not mine without a garden, husband or dog, has given me a fair amount of free time. I’m here to help Karis stay organized and on top of things…mostly by making sure she’s fed and her laundry is done. This isn’t always easy here. You need to food shop almost every day as there is no storage space and we are sharing with other people. Also, I’m pretty sure if I left it up to her she’d be eating a lot of Ichiban (which means ‘number one’)¬†noodles and salad which isn’t a nutritional wonderland. The older girls (17+) are a bit more cognizant of what they’re eating whilst the 15-year olds on their own tend to eat out, make pasta or have noodles and toast…mostly because they can because they’re 15! Laundry, as you’ve heard in previous posts, is slightly more complex as it has to be air-dried and there can be a lot of sudden rainstorms. Running errands and getting money can take time. The only bank machines that take foreign ATM cards are the ones at the Post office…which are only open when the post office is open. It took me a day to buy a pillow…one that didn’t cost $75. Printing and mailing an electronic document also took the better part of a day though I know how to do it now. However, seeing as I am experienced in doing the household stuff and relatively able to figure out other¬†things, it doesn’t take up that much of my time. So I’ve got some free time where I’m on my own.

I’ve been exercising every day. I tried running but it hurts my knee too much. Probably need new runners and the pavement can be a bit uneven. It’s also a bit unnerving as there is a constant stream of people and bikes coming at you which makes me really anxious. Anyway, I decided to run up and down the stairs at the sumo park around the corner. It’s been fabulous. Quiet. Somewhat shaded if I go early enough and doesn’t hurt my knee. I considered joining a gym or doing a class but it’s quite expensive here (over $30/class) and I’d have to walk or take the train. I’m so very lazy that any sort of extra work will end up being a great excuse for me not to go. So since the park is literally about a hundred¬†yards away, it works for me. I also do other exercises from Karis’s trainer Caroline Walton¬†which are helping my core and keeping my back from getting sore ūüėČ

I also write. This blog is part of my writing commitment as are various other projects I’m working on while I’m here. I write and read every day. Being here has made me really think about how I spend my time…and how I waste my time. I watch a lot of TV at home. Much more than I actually thought. We have a TV here but it’s in a cupboard and I don’t even know if it works. Haven’t cared enough to try. Karis watches movies on Netflix and sometimes we’ll watch one together. I read the newspaper about twice a week. I’ll be instituting a few changes when I get home.

I also help Karis if she needs to take the subway anywhere as she’s not yet confident on her own. She’s pretty good and is picking up the finer points–the agency does give them maps but it’s still VERY confusing. Basically, I manage to amuse myself all day, every day. The department stores here are amazing…6-9 floors of cultural anthropology. The cosmetic stores are amazing…they have products we haven’t even heard of. Stay tuned…. I still hate cooking and find it hard to figure out what to cook. Ingredients you take for granted are sometimes hard to find though I have to say, it’s a lot different than it was in the ¬†90s…I got anchovies and capers at the store today to make Salad Nicoise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicioise!

My working area in the kitchen; the weird toaster/broiler worked well to roast peppers; the finished product: Salad Nicoise with prosciutto and melon and roasted peppers on Italian buns!

 

Car Culture

Alfa Romeo traffic UPD DeliveryIMG_0230

They have cars here that we don’t get in North America. Some are very cool Japanese concept cars that are hybrids or electrics; some that are extremely tiny and compact from international car makers; and some that are fancy versions of Toyotas that they don’t export. Apparently the Japanese car market is highly competitive and very specialized with high tariffs. Basically Japanese people¬†like Japanese cars though there are growing numbers of number of luxury cars in wealthier areas. Apparently it is prestigious to own the usual suspects here as well:¬†Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo and Range Rover, though the patriotic stick to the luxury versions of Japanese brands that are not usually exported.

Driving here is a nightmare. It’s on the other side of the road, like the UK. I am almost run down at least once a day. The traffic is horrendous–I actually saw a woman READING whilst driving the other day. To be fair, she wasn’t moving very quickly. People also text while driving here too and I don’t think it is illegal. If it is, everyone does it and no one seems to care.

Lots of people ride bikes…especially mums with kids and older people. I haven’t been hit by a cyclist yet and I’m learning to look out for them. They don’t ring their bells that often…they probably think it’s rude. I have to say…it’s all pretty efficient, the transportation thing, considering the population of Canada lives in Tokyo. If we were staying longer, I’d get a bike. I certainly wouldn’t drive here. Ever. Even if I lived here.

Car = kuruma

I think I work for the child (the teenager)…

So it was a busy day today. Exercise. Recycling. Grocery store. Creating a professional Facebook page for Karis…her agency just got a new website (http://www.lizbellagency.com if you’d like to check it out) and they now have the ability to add FB, Twitter and Instagram for the models; however, it can’t be a personal page–gotta keep it professional. So Karis has little downtime to update said FB page so that’s what I did today: source and edit photos, research the names and websites of the stylists, photographers, publications and makeup and hair people. Tomorrow she’s working and it’s her first day on the subway…I’m going with her to show her the ropes. It’s a little overwhelming at first, though her booker gave her very clear instructions with important info like how LONG it takes, which lines to take, where to change trains, how much it costs. She should be able to get the hang of it after a few trips ūüôā

Model day

On the subway

on the subwayTook the subway today…just to see if I could do it. It’s not that hard if you’ve got all the time in the world. Also if you stand around looking perplexed someone will come and help you. Every time I stopped and looked at a map today someone asked me if I needed help within about a minute. Anyway, the subway ticket machines have an English button, but not all have the handy-dandy fare calculator. So I overpaid to get to Shinjuku…should have only been 170Y. Live and learn. I also figured out that I don’t have to transfer…I can get off at Shinjuku sanchome instead of transferring as that gets me to the ‘fun’ side where the cool shopping and the English bookstore (Kinokuniya) are located. The subway does have announcements and signs in English though there are still many things I don’t understand. Like the stainless steel box with the flashing red light. And why some trains don’t stop at all the stations and how do you know which ones? There’s WAY more English than there used to be though…but I still have a chance to practice reading hiragana (more on that later).

Serious Fashion…

In front of the PRADA store

So they’ve got some serious fashion going on in this city. I was walking Karis over to her agency (got lost…THANKS Google Maps) and the number of amazing stores we passed in 15 minutes was astounding: Prada, miu miu, Alexander McQueen, Loewe, Balenciaga, Ted Baker, Issey Miyake, Gucci, Emporio Armani, Chloe, Burberry, Agnes b, Cartier….

And that’s just in this particular area. We live in Shibuya which is very close to Aoyama and Omotesando, and they have even more shops here, not to mention the boutiques within the department stores (think Saks not Sears)! And THE swankiest district ever, Ginza, is about 7 minutes away by metro and they’ve got them there again. (more…)