April 27, 2006


The week seems to have gone incredibly quickly, possibly because I keep thinking that it's one day earlier than it actually is (I thought today was Weds, etc). Erm yeah. Uneventful week (thus far) all in all - but at least I have learnt a lesson about the perils of cheap supermarket sake. I discovered that the Seiyu here sells these 1.8ltr boxes of sake for Y500 (about £2.50). Bargtastic! Needless to say I had one glass too many on Tuesday eve and had to struggle through the next day with a slightly foggy head. Ah, drinking alone. It was purely as a study aid, you understand. Wait that doesn't make any sense.

Anyway, the course is hotting up. I was at school today from 9am - 5:30pm and my brain is a little fried. In fact I think I'm only writing this because my brain wants to avoid more study. I am signed up for the Acceleration course, y'see, which essentially appears to be the basic course only with more bits bolted on. In my case, these bits are private lessons (essentially one-on-one conversations, or writing classes, or whatever you want to study, with a teacher), which I think will be incredibly helpful, as I think I need (in particular) all the speaking practice I can get. They started today (I will have 4 a week) and the one I had today helped to highlight the canyon-sized gaps in my knowledge.

It's the aforementioned Golden Week next week and I'm a bit worried as I don't know what I'm gonna do (money is a problem). I don't really fancy hanging around the apartment and studying/job hunting for 5 days solid. We'll see what materialises.

Well must sign off and get some beauty sleep...for some reason I have to have a chest x-ray tomorrow afternoon (apparently all people staying a while in Japan have to have one...do you know why? Answers on a postcard plz) and I want my innards to look their best. Steering clear of the sake might be an idea then.


April 24, 2006

Trip to Osaka

First up, a big thanks to my folks for the care package. It's greatly appreciated, however I'm not sure my waistline shares my gratitude ;) . I'm currently out on my balcony again enjoying a nice cup of English tea (gawd bless it) and a Creme Egg. ありがとう ございました!! ^_^

Anyway, today we had a test of everything we've learnt thus far. Wasn't really anything to get stressed about, however I did get a little flustered and screwed up the speaking part a little.

Hope all of your weekends were clement. I went to Osaka on Saturday with 4 others, which was very cool, and it formed my first experiences of the Japanese Metropolis and the Shinkansen (bullet train).

We started out at about 8:20am getting the regular train from Okazaki to Nagoya (about 1/2 an hour) and from there we boarded the Nozomi Shinkansen (the fastest) which whisked us to Osaka, stopping only once (I think) at Kyoto. The train was very nice (it bloody better be at these prices!) and pretty sexy and the journey took just over an hour; not sure of the distances involved but you can get an idea from this page.

After eventually figuring out how to get a day pass, we got the subway to Osaka Castle, which while a bit tourist-y is very scenic and beautiful (in stark contrast, it seems, to the rest of Osaka, which apparently was bombed heavily during the war and as a result is mostly concrete) and well worth a visit. Have a look at their website for more info and historical gubbins.

We spent a good 3 hours there wandering about and having lunch (takoyaki for me). We also went inside the actual castle building, inside which there is a museum, and from the top of which you can see the entire city (it's 8 stories high; here's a tip - don't take the stairs).

After that it was off to Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium, which was very cool and quite humbling. I would reel off (no pun intended) a big list of everything I saw but that would be boring and I can't remember; so have a look at their website instead.

Like the Castle, the Aquarium was overrun with schoolchridren, who ran about declaring every animal either "kakkoiiii!!" (cool) or "sugoi!" (another word for cool) or "kawaiiiiii!" (cute). Or, in the case of the sea otters and the seals, "chou kawaii!" (very cute). My favorites were Yu-chan the whale shark (damn that sucker's big) and the turtles.

After a brief stop-over in a nearby Sega World we were off to the Minami (sounthern) area to do some shopping. This is partly my fault as Minami is the home of the venerable Japanese independent record label Alchemy Records, and it's shop, which I desperately wanted to visit. However, the Minami area is excellent for shopping, especially of clothes; it is littered with ultra-cool designer stores, "gothic lolita"-type stores, hip, urban 2nd-hand stores, etc etc. I was also interested to come across the official Gloomy Bear store (Wiki), and I really wanted to get some crap from there; however I don't quite believe in paying £30 for a t-shirt. Anyway I hope to go back to Minami one day with a lot more time and money.

We stayed in Minami for dinner and went to an excellent shabu-shabu restaurant (Wikipedia is your friend). Having never eaten shabu-shabu before we were a little worried that we didn't quite know what we were getting ourselves into, but fortuitously enough our waitress was Chinese and one of our party was of Taiwanese origin and as such speaks fluent Mandarin. We got the all-you-can eat deal consisting of beef and vegetables, and it was unbelievably nice.

After that, and feeling very full, we made our way back to the station, hopped on the (slightly slower this time) shinkansen and made it back by about midnight.

I've put all of my pictures on my Flickr page if you want to see them. Sadly my camera battery died in the aquarium so I don't have any pictures of the attractions; however my companions took loads and I should be getting copies of them, so hit me up if you are interested.


April 19, 2006


'Tis a lovely day and I'm sat on my balcony as I type this, but it's getting a bit nippy and I might go back inside in a bit, as my feet are cold. As I;m sure you can tell there's not much to report really...I'll do something interesting one of these days, promise!

Course is going well, still. My ability with numbers has increased since we've studied it (I can usually make out what they're charging me in the shops now). Some good news - we learnt that the week beginning May 1st is known as the "goruden uiiku" (golden week) as it contains 3 consecutive public holidays on the 3rd, 4th and 5th (Constitution Memorial Day, Nation's Day, and Children's Day, to be specific), followed by the weekend. Rock 'n' roll! (I have to go in for the 3rd tho)

About the most interesting thing I've done today was to go to a local second-hand book store after school. It appears that second-hand books are big business here, hardly suprising in a country where 60% of the population regulary reads manga (I'm pulling this statistic from a dusty corner of my memory, so it's probably wrong). This page gives a few other reasons. Again, if you don't know what manga is, the ubiquitous Wikipedia is ever on hand...

This particular store was seemingly run by a couple of middle-aged ladies who seem to spend most of the day sitting at the counter watching soap-operas. It's deceptively large, and there are huge amounts of manga books, magazines, regular books and a really quite considerable amount of porn/hentai (including DVDs for your more technologically-minded pervert) stacked on shelves right up to the ceiling. I spent a good 45 mins to an hour wandering about the place, and I know very little about manga/anime but recognised a few titles. I felt I really ought to buy something after spending so long there, so I left with Chibi Maruko-chan Book 1 (I like the more child-oriented manga as it tends to be more decipherable) and an Osamu Tezuka best-of thing. There was a set of early Crayon Shin-chan books that I was tempted by but I figured I have better things to spend £20 on than a stack of books I can barely read anyways.


April 17, 2006

Happy Easter

(I actually kinda forgot it was Easter until Sunday evening...hehe)

Not much to report really. Settling in, slowly. The sakura is slowly diminishing :'( . Course continues to go well. We are doing lots of revision of numbers, telling the time etc. which can be quite painful, especially with larger or more complex numbers (for example...let's see...288,300 translates into "ni-juu-hachi-man-hassen-san-byaku"...and 11:35pm is "gogo-juu-ichi-ji-san-juu-go-fun", I think). Crazy-ass moon language.

Weekend was cool, except for Saturday, which I spent nursing a hangover and watching er um legally acquired media files (I've now hooked my laptop up to my TV - cinematic!). Friday eve began in the campus bar drinking Guinness (gawd bless it) and ended with myself and 3 Swedish guys going to a yakitori (fried chicken) joint at about 1am...had a nice conversation (if you could call it that) with a local family before retiring. Ah the student life. Sunday eve had dinner at my neighbor's place with 7-8 others, miraculous really considering these are single-occupancy apartments.

Word to yo mother.


April 13, 2006


Just to answer a few questions I've had - no, as far as I can tell, they don't have Easter in Japan, what with the Japanese being godless heathen mud-people.



Excuse the lack of updates, but not much has been happening really. Have been going to school, going shopping, and studying, and that's about it really. Today we went on a little class walkabout and went around the town saying "that is a post office", "this is a bento shop", and so on and so forth, which was fun. Not to sound up my own ass or anything but I must say I have concerns that I've been placed in too low a level - I've covered most of the stuff we've been doing this week already. Although I've been learning some new vocabulary this week, I've been feeling that before I left I was just beginning to get my head around relatively advanced grammatical/sentence structures and that going back to "this is/that is" is a bit of a step backwards. I'm probably just being impatient, it's only the first week after all and, like I say, I've been learning some new stuff.

Went to the 100-yen store again today and found myself laughing at more wonderful "Clickety-click" merchandise. The little monkey dude seems to have the best range of stuff, which is emblazoned with (and I quote) "Named Mink. It likes reading the book of an adventure. It is excited very good." You can view the whole range here but sadly the pics are too small to read the text. You'll notice also that the company that produces this stuff is called "Lube Sheep" (!). I can't help but think that I could make a living buying up a ton of this crap at ¥100 (about 50p) a piece and flogging it over eBay to the sort of people back west who watch too much anime and shop regularly at Jlist.com.

Becoming slightly worried about the finances...hope I can find some kind of work soon. I guess I have enough to live on for a couple of months but now I've settled in a bit I'm going to apply for the school's Work Aid program ASAP. It would be nice to be not living foot-to-mouth and to be able to afford trips back home, trips to Tokyo etc. (~£30 on the shinkansen!). Also, to be honest, now that I've gone through all the trouble of giving up my job, getting out here, getting settled etc etc it would be nice to be able to stay longer than 6 months and learn as much as I can.

That said, this unemployment lark sure does suck...


April 10, 2006


Hope you all had a good weekend.

Classes started today. I am in Class M - 15 people consisting of Chinese, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Americans, and I think a Canadian, a Spaniard, a Brazilian and a Swede. Diverse bunch, I'm the only Brit. Not too heavy, mostly revision of hiragana and katakana (if you want to know what these are, I'm afraid I can't be bothered, try Wikipedia or something).

In the afternoon, went to the bank to try and exchange some money. Based on my experiences at the Post Office/Beaureau de Change back home, I thought this would be relatively straightforward; but oh dearie me no. After just about managing to get my intentions across to the cashier, and giving, as requested, my name, address, passport, samples of bodily fluid etc., there followed a 'processing period' of a good 20-30 mins before I was sorted. Hey ho.

A few random observations following my first week here -

  • The bread is weird. It's really expensive and comes in little bags of 5/6/10 slices depending on the slice thickness, which ranges from chunky, super chunky and ultra chunky. Evidently the baking industry never quite took hold here. On the other hand, you can get baked goodies such as Curry Pan, which are kind of savory donuts with a curry filling, and these are bitchin.
  • The ATM system is dumb. ATMs here live in their own special booth (which speaks to you when you go in) and are only open at certain times of the day. If you want to get money out after, say 10pm, you're screwed. Also, it appears that if you don't have a card issued by a Japanese bank, you can't get anything out of them. I've heard a rumor that the Post Office machines accept Maestro/Cirrus, but I have yet to confirm this.
  • Japanese soft drinks tend to be a bit sugar-heavy. My favorite of the bunch so far is Suntory Natchan!, which sports a big orange (or green or whatever, depending on flavour) smiley face on the front.
Anyway, I'm enjoying it here, though missing aspects of home life - friends, family, my record collection, The Simpsons, etc.


April 8, 2006

End of first week

Day 4 - went with a group to Okazaki City Hall, a great big block of beaurocracy, to apply for my alien registration card and National health insurance. The trip highlighted for me the ubiquitous use of cartoon characters in this country, which are used abundantly in everything from public service announcements and warnings to advertising billboards. For example, City Hall was full of posters featuring cute cartoon characters reminding you of the importance of health insurance, instructing you about beaurocratic procedures, etc.

Whilst there, I tried my first canned coffee (pre-heated coffee in cans or cartons that is bought from vending machines). They tend to be pretty nasty - lukewarm and pre-loaded with cream and sugar - and thus are quite addictive.

Day 5 - welcoming ceremony in the morning, followed by orientation seminar, which cleared up a few points. It also brought into focus just how intense the course will be - the usual weekday
will consist of 6 50-minute lessons, running from 9am to 3:30pm, with 10-min breaks in between and 40 minutes for lunch. On top of this one is typically expected to do about 3 hrs of self-study a night. 3 hours!!!!! I didn't do that much a week during my degree!! This will be my last homework-free weekend. Oh yes, and the classes are conducted entirely in Japanese.

We were also given the lowdown on Okazaki's mind-meltingly complex garbage management system. Allegedly Okazaki was the last big Japanese city to implement a recycling program, so to save face the mayor evidently came up with the most thorough system he could devise, which requires residents to sort trash into no less than 6 seperate categories (paper, PET bottles, burnable, non-burnable etc.). All recyclable bottles, food containers etc must be rinsed clean; labels and caps must be removed from bottles and placed into the appropriate category; and a whole host of other incredibly anal rules. While this is of course admirable from an ecological standpoint and I'm happy to do it, from a practical standpoint it is completely insane. We have been issued with a 24-page brochure (replete with more cartoon characters) that explains everything, I shall spend tomorrow poring it over.

Sakura (cherry blossom) season is in full swing here - the TV news is full of reports about it, and the drunken parties that typically accompany it.

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A party for new arrivals was held in the evening, and involved eating and drinking outside under the campus sakura trees, followed by rather too many pints of Guinness (well, for me anyway) in the campus bar. There are about 30 English speakers amongst the new intake so it was good to speak and hear some English after 5 days of Nihongo. Great to get to know some of my fellow students, and a good time was had by all, especially it seems by the Swedish contingent who drank even more than I did.

Day 6 - not much to do, really. My neighbor and I walked alllll the way out to Yamada Denki (electrical store) to hunt for plug adapters. Naturally they didn't have any. We found a little shrine on the way home. Could've been considered very tranquil if it weren't for the adjacent main road.

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A group of us are going to attempt to go for dinner somewhere tonight, which should be interesting...


April 5, 2006

Day 3

Sleep cycle still hasn't righted itself. Placement test this morning was interesting - multiple choice "fill in the blank" type questions (entirely in Japanese) that you had to answer as many of as you could, followed by a hiragana and katakana (the Japanese syllabaries) writing test, followed by a brief interview. Certainly got the old grey matter working trying to dredge up half-remembered words and characters.

Slept this afternoon/early evening, did a bit of tidying and shopping. Loneliness, confusion and the overwhelming alienness of my environment is setting in a bit, so I've treated myself to some cheap-ass beer ("Lively and crispy draft") and some pizza, which is (hopefully) currently cooking in my little toaster oven thingy, and will spend the rest of the evening watching bad TV and translating the remote control for my aircon/heating unit.


April 4, 2006

Day 2 - sleep is my friend

Woke up at about 3pm today after going to bed at about 9pm the previous evening. Spent the next few hours pottering about at home, unpacking and watching kids TV and a program that demonstrates to Japanese people how to pronounce various English words. The kids TV here is fantastic in ways I can't possibly describe, and was actually kind of educational, even though my language level is far below that of the average Japanese 5 year old.

Am still not to grips with everything and am quite jetlagged. Don't really know what to make of everything right now. The school is giving an orientation seminar on Friday which I am really looking forward to, as there are many many basic things I haven't got my head around and I have a ton of dumb gaijin questions that I'd like answered (how do you use a rice cooker? Which TV channel is which? How does the aircon/heating in my apartment work? Is it OK to blow my nose in public? What do you say in shops/barbers/post offices/tran stations/etc? How do I set up a bank account? and so on and so forth). I am also really looking forward to learning the language as quickly as I can, mostly as a means of being able to survive and socialize (as opposed to back home, where I was just studying it out of interest).

Haven't really had the opportunity to meet many people yet, partly because most of them will insist on speaking Japanese. Hence I've been watching lots and lots of TV. Not to get all Bill Hicks or anything, but back home I tried to avoid TV as most of it is very stupifying and lowest-common-denominator, and I mostly found TV (and other) advertising offensive and brainwashing, and tried to avoid it where I could. However, here I find it fascinating and frequently amusing. Probably because I can't understand most of it, and probably because it provides a bit of a window on the culture. Plus I guess it's good for me to hear as much Japanese as possible I suppose.

In the early evening I took what will doubtless be the first of many trips to Seiyu, the local
supermarket-cum-shopping mall. The supermarket bit is on the first floor (they call the ground floor the first floor here, I think) along with a travel shop, a Maccy D's and an Ice-cream Parlour; on the 2nd floor there's a homewares store and a very noisy amusement arcade; and on the 3rd floor is the 100-yen shop Can Do! After much confusion, pottering about, and marvelling at some real-life Engrish, I was able to acquire some basic food and cutlery items, including these (I just had to) -

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Then I came back, watched some anime (Bleach, no less), and am going to get something to eat before going back to bed again. I have a placement test with the school tomorrow morning to determine my current level of ability and which class I will go into.

Minna-san, kyotsukete!

PS if you want general info about my local environment, try here


April 3, 2006

Day 1 - bewilderment

Well, here I am, and here is my blog about being here. First, a few disclaimers - this blog comprises the ramblings of someone who's never been to Japan before, and as such will probably not be of interest to anyone who knows the country already or who is of course Japanese; also, I have to keep it relatively clean as the family will be reading it ;) . Click image thumbnails for a larger picture.

After a long, long, loooooooong and largely sleepless flight I arrived in Nagoya airport, about 9am Japan time. Just one thing to say really - Nagoya airport is nice. It's all new and clean and not even very busy. Granted, I'm informed that the terminal I arrived at was only built in February, but still.

Naturally, the first thing I did was take photos of the ultra-futuristic lavvy -
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I was picked up and driven an hour to Okazaki by the venerable Suzuki-san. Didn't speak much as I was too busy marvelling at the neatness of the highways, as well as trying to read billboards and so forth.

Arrived at the school to be informed apologetically that my apartment was still being cleaned, so went to the computer lab for a while. This presented the first challenge of my stay in the form of the Japanese computer. Though the keyboard looks the same as western ones, only with more shift keys and the like, I found it difficult to get the symbols and punctuation marks I was after; not to mention that Windows was entirely in Japanese. Hey ho, onward and upward I thought.

My apartment was still not ready so decided to try and acquire some lunch. I went to a local kissaten (cafe/coffee shop thing) run by three slightly mad women who spoke no English, and a gnarled old dude who very obviously smoked too much. I somehow managed to order curry rice & beer (and sat down to watch some baseball (the Yokohama somethings vs. the somethings from somewhere else) and read (well, kind of) a nice big compendium of Shonen Jump, the manga comic.

It was during this visit that I discovered that, when one enters a shop, the propieters and any employees who see you will scream (often in unison) "IRASSHIMASEEEE!!!" ("welcome") at one, and "ARIGATOU GOZAIMASHTAAAAAAAA!!!" ("thank you very much") when one leaves. This will definitely be something to get used to.

I then decided to go walkabout to get an idea of my surroundings, and took a few photos -

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- the main school building

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- just down the road from the main school building. Note the sakura

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- for some reason, I love how the "Sorry for any inconvenience" notices in this country feature a little workman bowing at you

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- I have no idea what this is but thought it was kinda creepy

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- there are vending machines outside pretty much every shop - slight overkill perhaps? I hope this one has nothing to do with the crap singer of a similar name

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- again, no idea I'm afraid but this little fella was stuck to most every telegraph pole I walked past. Best guess, it says "please don't knock over telegraph poles".

Anyway, my apartment finally became available and I moved in amidst a plethora of "gomen nasai"s ("sorry")

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- rather swish, no? Can't really see them but I have a fridge/freezer, a totally cool front-opening toaster thing, a rice cooker I have no idea how to use, a very nice bathroom and a little space by the front door where you HAVE to take your shoes off

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- oh, and a balcony

Thus ensconced, I decided to do a bit of light shopping, and took myself to the local computer store PC Depot to buy a network cable (they have a theme song that plays over the in-store speakers in between special offer announcements - "Welcome to! Pee-Shee Depot! Yeah yeah yeah!" - I must go there more often) and then on to the Mini Stop convenience store that my balcony overlooks (see above). They sell all of life's little neccessities - bizarrely named snack foods -

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- the always-welcome Pocky (now available, bewilderingly enough, in a "Men's" edition) -
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- and delightful soft drinks such as Pocari Sweat (which, interestingly enough, doesn't taste too dissimilar to sweat) -

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I was also pleased to note that their magazine rack ran the full gamut from manga, numerous titles aimed at teen girls, and an FHM-esque men's rag bewilderingly titled "Men's Egg" up to porn and hentai.

Anyway, I'm incredibly tired, and I've forgotten most of the incredibly witty stuff I came up with during the day, so I'm going to go watch more TV (which is fantastic here, BTW) then go to bed. Oyasumi nasai...


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