JET Programme and Japan Part II

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Okay, I didn’t get it. But my other half did. So after graduating last May, I worked for a little while in London, before flying to Japan in September. It was the first time I had been back since my year abroad in second year of university. It felt great to be back, surrounded by Japanese signs, bowing shopkeepers, and delicious food.

Returning to Japan

We lived together in Kochi Prefecture for a few months, where I spent most of my time studying for the JLPT. It was a good life, living in a small coastal town in the countryside. We were quite far from the nearest city, about two hours by train, and even though Kochi City itself isn’t the busiest place in Shikoku, but we had plenty enough to do, and we were happy. 

tano river

I went for runs along the beach, and after the busy life I had just spent working in central London, I didn’t mind spending my days in peace and quiet in the house. For the two of us, it was quite spacious, with three tatami rooms, a big living room and even two balconies. I converted one of the rooms into my yoga/study room where I did my daily stretches by day, and read while snuggled under the kotatsu by night.

Tokyo

Then, in December, I was accepted for a position at the British Embassy in Tokyo.

I had applied on a whim, without seriously considering whether or not I would get it. It turned out that they thought my experience of working on energy and climate change in London would come in very handy, plus I could already speak Japanese. My interview was just two days before my JLPT exam, so I almost didn’t go. Not only that, but I didn’t feel confident that I would get it, so what was the point in going? To get to Tokyo from Kochi meant getting on a plane, which took a lot of time and money.

Nevertheless, I took the plunge in the end, and I was accepted. Somehow, I ended up with a second amazing job opportunity during what I had intended to be my year off. I guess the universe is telling me that it was about time to get off my ass.

So now, here I am, living in Shinjuku, central Tokyo. I call my partner in Kochi everyday, but I’m quite used to living on my own for now. I spend most of my time at work, or reading, or reluctantly studying for the next level of JLPT. Well, I say ‘reluctantly’, but I’ve been studying Japanese for five years now, I don’t know what else to do with my spare time. It was inevitable that I would go for JLPT N1 one day.

For me, a little bit of solitude is always accompanied with the need to write. I thought about this blog, which I started years ago, before I even went to Japan for the first time, and how little I knew back then.

I used to follow a whole bunch of blogs like this one, telling me about what life in Japan would be like. Since then, I’ve learned a lot, and I lately I’ve been thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to pay it forward?’

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I’m still alive

Hey guys! Just a quick post to let you know that even though it’s been a while since my last post, I am still walking on this earth (somehow I have managed to avoid falling off a cliff and/or being arrested so far).

As I mentioned before, I ruined my camera when I went to Koya-san, and being as disorganized as I was, I couldn’t get it fixed in time for my next field trip to Mie Prefecture (see below).

Therefore, I bought invested in a brand new camera. Introducing, my new love:

A Panasonic Lumix GF1, red. After extensive research, I had decided on a compact DSLR since they’re a bit more established in the market than when I bought my previous camera. With it’s detachable lens capability, I can carry a DSLR quality camera with me in a small package. You can read the specs and the cnet review here.

The pictures I have already taken with this camera are absolutely beautiful. Finally, I can get this blog back on track to a couple of posts a week, so stay tuned as I go back on schedule with completing The List!

Meanwhile, I took a two day trip to Mie and got up to a lot of mischief.

This is the view from the bottom of the Gaizoshou Ropeway – a cable car ride that goes a couple thousand meters up and is known for it’s changing beauty during each of the four seasons. I caught it at a good time in fall when the leaves were an array of colours. I would love to go back when it is winter and hills are covered in snow.

 

Meoto Iwa are two rocks that represent Izanagi and Izanami, said to be the creators of the Japanese kami (gods). They are  joined by a straw rope that weighs over a tonne. Despite this, the rope is ritually changed several times a year.

 

Unomori Jinja is a relatively small and unknown shrine that was near the hotel that I stayed at. I visited it early in the morning, which gave it a tranquil atmosphere – a refreshing change to all the very touristy shrines I’ve been to lately.

 

I ate this feast at Moku-Moku farm, where you got to look at the cute animals before being lead to the adjourning restaurant to eat them. The guilt was a little bit much for me, so I ate very little meat and just stuck to the vegetables and sweet potato. (This table was laid out for 8-10 people by the way, my stomach hasn’t grown that big….yet).

 

These are the disks/spools used to make braids at the Iga Kumihimo Center. Kumihimo is a traditional art that involves many levels of skill. I managed to make quite a pretty bracelet after a lot of trial and error and constant bugging of the kumihimo lady who had to keep undoing the last five minutes of my work to take out kinks in my braid. It was a great experience, and at only ¥1000 I highly recommend it.

Okage Yokocho is an old Japanese style shopping street that mainly sells food. It looks and smells great to walk along it! It’s a little overpriced, but the food is great and I bought most of my omiyage from here because the foods tended to represent Mie’s specialities.

 

And finally, this is the river by the Ise Grand Shrine (of which I was not allowed to take pictures of). Also known as Ise Jingu, this shrine is one of the holiest Shinto Shrines in Japan. Apparently, the highest priest or priestess must be from the Imperial family. There wasn’t too much to see, since most of the buildings were blocked off from the public, but I could definitely feel the majesty of it in the atmosphere, especially when I looked up to see the Japanese flag waving at fall mast between the autumn painted trees.

#45 Keitai + Strappu

A few weeks ago, a gaggle of gaijin (otherwise known as foreign students) invaded an AU shop and bought out their supply of keitai (mobile phones). AU is Japan’s third largest network provider. They have kindly made a deal with our university to provide us with a ‘cheaper’ plan. Whether or not it is actually cheaper, I am too afraid to find out.

Luckily, I had my host mother with me when I was signing up because I had no idea what any part of the complicated plan meant. Trying to work out Fermat’s last theorem is probably an easier process. The lady just kept circling bits on the form in front of me whilst speaking Japanese at me. I just nodded and agreed to everything, so god only knows what I signed up for. I’m yet to get my first bill :S

However, I’m really happy with my keitai. The handset itself was free and yet it has a great camera and simply does what it’s supposed to do. It’s reliable and the battery actually lasts ages. Typing in Japanese can be a pain, but the predictive text is a lifesaver.

One time, my great organizational skills caused me to run out of battery when I most needed it (of course), so a friend suggested that I just walk into an AU shop and ask them if I can charge it. In the UK, doing something like this would swiftly be met with something along the lines of “f*** off” but in Japan, I was met with a cheery “douzo” (“no problem!”). Thanks again Japan for your free electricity.

To add to my Japanese look, I’ve also brought a strap to put on the end of my phone (pictured above). It cost be a few hundred yen to get the individual letters (plus the heart for the obligatory kawaii), but I guess it’s worth it if I want to look more Japanese than I already do.

It was a shame I couldn’t use my iphone that I had brought with me from the UK. It would have saved me from having to carry two devices with me all the time. It’s quite a bother that most contracts in Japan last one, two or maybe even three years, because since I’m going to be in Japan for shorter than that, I will almost certainly incur a contract cancellation fee. If I had tried harder, I probably could have gotten some sort of sim-only card from Docomo (Japan’s largest provider) to go into it (iphones from the UK are all unlocked) but I was too scared of the data costs.

On the other hand, I love my keitai, I always wanted to get one that flipped open like they do in the dramas. Also, they all have infra-red transmitters that make it so damn easy to exchange phone numbers and mail addresses (which can be very long and a hassle to type out). All of my friends have one, so what’s wrong with being a dumb sheep and following what everyone else does for a change?

Confessions of a Japanophile

Here are some things I thought would be a good idea to clarify about me and this blog.

1. Firstly, although I will sometimes refer to myself as a ‘Japanophile’, it’s doesn’t mean that I wear cherry-blossom tinted glasses about everything in and about Japan. I do realize they did some terrible things in the past and I know that today Japan isn’t a fantasy land of rainbows where unicorns gallop across the streets with geisha on their backs. In most ways, it’s just like any other country, it has its positive side as well as its misgivings.

2. On that note, I do like a lot of Japanese things. Most notably, I am a bit of an anime freak buff and I my brother does own a small collection of manga volumes and collectable DVD’s. Other things I love about Japan is its literature and culture. I’ve read quite a few books and watched as many hours of documentaries set in Japan, about people from Japan, about people going to Japan and about Japanese life and culture. All of these things ended up contributing to the list of things I want to experience for myself instead of just observing from the outside.

3. Lastly, the reason why I don’t really use the word gaijin to humorously mock myself is because I don’t look like one. I’m actually of Vietnamese/Chinese descent which means that apart from possessing the language skills of a 6 year old, I could pass for a Japanese person.

I was actually born in London, UK, and then moved to the south east cost of Kent when I was 10. So I have been living in England since I was born (my parents have been here for about 30 years), I went to English schools, had English-speaking friends and was blind-sighted enough by my love for English Lit to do it at A-Level. Since starting to learn Japanese, my already-rudimentary Chinese abilities have basically gone down the drain, but hopefully my English won’t follow suit.

gaijin camouflage

So I’m hoping that my non-gaijin-like appearance will actually help me get away with a few things that some foreigners can’t – like being stared at in an onsen or being able to enter places with a (rather innocently racist) ‘no foreigners’ sign on the door.

However, I have a suspicion that people will be less forgiving of my Japanese since there aren’t any obvious visual prompts (apart from my intense staring and lip biting) that I have no idea what they are saying to me. In shops, I know they will ask me things that I will be scared to say no to… and end up paying for it.

If it’s any consolation, at least people won’t be scared to sit next to me on the train.

My homestay family

For the last week, I’ve been spending time settling into my life in Japan. And I can honestly say… so far so good!

One of the main reasons why I chose Konan University out of all of the places available is because it offers excellent homestay opportunities.

I’ve heard many anecdotes about how staying with a host family exponentially increases your exposure to Japanese life and language, so, being as easily influenced as I am, I decided that I wanted to do it.

I know that there are a few disadvantages to homestay, apparently quite a few families aren’t happy with their host kids staying out drinking and so on until late, but personally I think this is a good trade off for the benefits (I’ll just start drinking earlier).

During the last couple of days that I’ve been staying with my family I’ve had an absolute blast. They’re lovely, I can’t believe how understanding and patient they are. Especially with my crappy Japanese and with me getting lost all the bloody time.

Cute, aren't they?

They are the Ikeda family, with two parents Takuji and Kazue and two young girls, Ayana (9) and Mai (3).

At first, I was a little horrified to see this in one of their emails:

私達は英語が全然分からないのですが、勉強したいと思っています。

…which roughly translates as “we don’t speak a word of English, but we’d like to learn”.

Great.

But, on second thought, I realized that this is actually a very good thing as it would mean that my Japanese should shoot through the roof after a few months.

Also, they probably wouldn’t be scrutinizing whether my use of English past progressive verbs was correct or not like a lot of English studying students.

So far, I’ve learned a lot of Japanese already, especially Kansai-ben. When they say something I don’t understand, I usually just assign it to the ‘it must be Kansai-ben‘ category.

A lesson in demolishing chocolate

My room is absolutely lovely, to read my full post about it check out my post ‘My minimalist bedroom‘.

They’ve really helped me tick a whole bunch of things off my list, so look forward to that very soon!

Now, I’ll just be off because Mai-chan is about to give me a Japanese lesson.

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