10 Twisted Myths about Japan – Debunked!

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When I tell people I’ve lived in Japan, people usually reply asking me if something about Japan is true. Usually, it is not. I’ve written before about how frustrated I get when people think Japanese culture is all about weird sexual preferences, but I thought I’d write again about 10 things that just aren’t true.

1. Japanese men are not all perverts.

Nope. I mean, some of them, sure. But no more than any other place, I bet.

“But Charlotte, what about those weird pervy manga comics? Don’t they even read them on the trains?” Yeah, but come on, in the UK we have a topless woman on the 3rd page of one of the (sadly) most popular papers. And then there are lads’s mags, which are full of semi naked women posing between articles. These things may be very different to dodgy manga, but they are still on a similar level of perviness.

2. It’s unlikely you’ll be molested on the trains.

“Wait, don’t they have to have women’s train carriages in Japan because the men can’t keep their hands to themselves?!”

If you’re a Japanese woman, the sad fact is that there is a chance of you being touched on a busy train. I once tried to ask Japanese friends about it, so I could understand how often this happens, but they weren’t very keen to talk about it. If you are a foreign woman, Japanese men would probably be way too scared to lay a finger on you.

And anyway, if you’re worried about this, you can always use the women’s carriages of trains. It differs from city to city but the Nagoya ones at least ran as female-only from 5pm – 8pm on weekdays, since that’s when the rush hour was (and having lots of people squeezed next to each other makes it easy to grab someone). If you are a man, be aware that if you are in a women’s carriage when the clock strikes 5pm, you’ll end up being pretty embarrassed.

3. You won’t be finding used underwear machines.

They are illegal. It is a myth.

4. Japanese women don’t need you to save them.

When I went to study in Japan I was at a university for women. It’s one of the most prestigious women’s universities not academically but for producing young ladies of the highest quality – fit to marry any politician or high profile, high earning business man.

One day, I said to the Japanese guy I was dating that I felt sorry for my classmates since they have no choice in life but to work in a meaningless job for a year or so, then find a guy to marry, then quit their job, have a baby and then be a housewife for ever more. He told me that they don’t need me to feel sorry for them, that they are perfectly happy with this situation.

True enough, in speaking with my classmates, they really did just want to have lovely families. Sure, there were probably some of them who probably wanted to be career women, but in the same way that in the culture I grew up in it’s common for women to aspire to have jobs, it’s common for Japanese women to aspire to have families.

Japan has one of the largest gender gaps in the developed world, but it seems there are women fighting for the gap to be closed. Whether they are close to doing that or not, I don’t know. But what they don’t really need is for the west to look down on them while they work this out, and they don’t need rescuing because that’s just patronising.

5. Japanese people cannot automatically speak Chinese, and vice versa.

English is like German. Just because you can understand English doesn’t mean you can understand German. Oder?

6. Japan isn’t all skyscrapers with busy streets.

The Japanese countryside is gorgeous. Hills and fields and trees…ahhh I swear Japan is one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

7. Manga doesn’t equal porn.

Just like how novels come in all kinds, manga (Japanese cartoons – NOT anime which is animation) also comes in all kinds. There are kids’ manga, girls’ manga, boys’ manga, women’s manga…and dirty old men manga!

Before you start judging manga, do a little research. There’s so many great titles that have been translated into different languages today and many chain bookshops stock manga these days. I love girls’ manga from the late 80′s…like Tenshi Nanka Jyanai and Itazura na Kiss.

8. Japanese people DO know English…

Japanese adults have learnt English from junior high school to high school, and Japanese young people have probably learnt it from elementary school. BUT, especially from junior high on, they learn grammar so that they can pass tests. They don’t learn how to have a conversation. So if you are lost in Tokyo there may be a brave person who wants to use their English on you but a lot of other Japanese people will be scared that you’ll ask them something and they won’t understand.

9. Japanese isn’t that hard.

“Oh, you speak Japanese, that must mean you’re clever!”

Haha, I wish. Here’s an awesome link from Tofugu explaining why Japanese isn’t that hard at all.

10. Gaming isn’t making Japanese people forget about sex.

Late last year the BBC was craping itself over having created an amazing story to tell – that Japanese guys prefer 2d girls to sex with real women. Only, that story wasn’t true. Some Japanese men (and women!) like to play dating gaming but it’s no more worrying than men who like page 3 girls in Britain. There may be men who like to spend a lot of alone time with pictures of the topless models, and in Japan there may be men who prefer to spend all their efforts on fictional girls in games. But neither country is suddenly sexless because of either of these things.

Around the time the BBC’s documentary and article came out, a Japanese speaking friend went through and tried to find the Japanese sources of all the BBC’s facts. Guess what? Most of them were greatly misquoted and some seemed to be made up. So even with the BBC, don’t believe all you’re told!

 

So there we have it! Do you know any myths about Japan that need to be debunked? Let me know in the comments!

Gratitude in Japan

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For some reason, I happened to be reading through an old blog of mine that I used to write when I was in Japan. I started to read a few posts from there and couldn’t even remember writing them, but they were like portals back to my Japanese life.

I’ve found one post that I particularly liked. After almost 2.5 years out of Japan, this is a particularly nice post to look back upon and think about the cultural differences I encountered.

Here is my post, from 10th March 2011 (the day before the tsunami):

In the past week, I’ve had two events that have made me understand Japanese culture just that little bit more than I did before. The first was graduation. Of course, I had graduation last year too, but as it was my first, I was in awe of everything and so wasn’t able to catch a few things. The second, was the wedding of two Japanese friends.

As with any formal event in the Japanese school calendar, such as sports day or the culture festival, the students spent a long long time practicing for the graduation ceremony. Looking back to last year, I wonder why on earth they would want to spend so much time on what is, actually, standing then sitting then standing and singing, then sitting, then standing, then walking, getting some papers, taking them with two hands then tucking them under your left arm, then walking, standing, sitting, standing and listening to enough speeches to make your ears bleed. Some time in the week before graduation, I was stood in a classroom of graduating students, with about 10 minutes before class started. I like to try to speak to the kids in this time; just by being there with nothing to do gives the kids some free time when they can- and often do- talk to me about whatever they like. I saw that the class before was science, and so asked a girl what she had studied in it. “Oh, we didn’t do much science”, she said. “We were writing letters.” Letters? In a science lesson? I asked if it was some kind of project to save rain-forests or – heaven forbid- stop whaling. But she told me that they had been writing letters of thanks to their parents, for helping them and pushing them throughout their junior high school life.

What an interesting custom. In a country where parents (read: mothers) spend hours every day planning their child’s schedule with evening classes to get them ahead, make sure they do homework, buy them piles of books to help them.. it would be common place to take a step back and thank the parents. Unfortunately I don’t think I ever thanked my mum and dad.. well, of course things are different in England. Education is much more left to teachers. There is no cram school, though I did take (at the expense of my parents) extra French class to make sure I actually passed the A Level. But they did work hard to make sure I did my homework, and mum used to read over my essays (she is very good with words, is my mum). In days before wikipedia, dad was always getting me to use his wonderful collection of encyclopedias to help. But I never said thank you. I think even after graduating university, when the key speaker (Brain May wooo!) had told us that we needed to thank our parents for their funding and support, did I not thank them. So I thought it was wonderful that my kids were made to sit down and think about how they had come be where they are today.

And then the weekend before the graduation ceremony, at my friends’ wedding, I saw another custom of expressing gratitude.. but I have mixed feelings about this one. I’m sure I’ll do a separate post about it, but basically it was the wedding of my friend Mi-chan, a guy who I met a year ago. It was a mock Western wedding (I’ll explain why it’s “mock” in the wedding post…) but there were still a lot of things that were very Japanese. One of those things was, during the lunch (the days events were: wedding ceremony, lunch with speeches, after party that was pretty much exactly like the lunch but with more people and no posh food) the bride stood up next to the groom, who was holding a microphone and some tissues near her face, and read out a letter to her dad. As far as I can see, the sole purpose of this was to make everyone in the room cry. The parents (all 4 of them) had to stand in a line at the back and cry, but not before the bride herself started crying. So most of the speech was her sobbing things like “I’m sorry …. mrrrhhhhh…. for always …. mhhhrrrrrr… being … mrrrrhhhhhh… so … selfish .. mrrrhhhhhhhhhhhh!” into the microphone while the groom mopped her damp face.

Now, I don’t disagree that the father should be thanked and congratulated for bringing up a girl who is able to snag a good husband. A lot of his hard earned yen probably went to paying for the wedding too. But.. in front of everyone, and using something that should be a private little act of gratitude to manipulate the emotions of all the guests… I guess I don’t see the point of it. What’s more, it’s always the father. I’m pretty sure the mother worked just as hard, if not harder since it her job to bring up the children in Japanese society.

I think it’s really great that gratitude is a big part of Japanese culture. I wish we took the time out to say thank you to people too. Though we have the culture of sending thank you cards, people of my generation usually only use them to say thank you for a gift (even now I only get round to them when I have my mum breathing down my neck and nagging me endlessly about them.) Perhaps I should take notice and make the effort more often.

Awesome Things to do in Japan – TV!

Last week something in me clicked and I suddenly missed Japanese media, mainly Japanese music and tv. When I lived in Japan, I used to complain all the time about how terrible the tv is – it’s very low brow on the whole and doesn’t have so much variety in types of show. But there were a number of shows I really enjoyed, and I’d like to share with you some of the ones that are easy to understand even if you don’t understand Japanese.

Pitagora Switch

This is a kids’ show that even adults love. Scientists and other very clever people make circuits for little marbles to go around, usually ending in “Pitagora Switch” appearing at the end. With a very cute jingle, it’s pretty addictive -

If you think this is awesome and want to watch more, copy and paste “ピタゴラスイッチ” into YouTube.

Fountain of Trivia

My teacher used to make us watch this at uni – it’s a Japanese show very similar to the British show QI, in that the aim of the show is to teach really obscure but interesting bits of trivia. Whereas QI is set up like a game show, Fountain of Trivia isn’t testing the guests’ knowledge but asking them to rate how interesting it is. A statement is made – “the real name for Bangkok is really long” or “cats don’t steal fish if the fish is too heavy to carry” or something like that, then the guests rate how interesting that sounds by saying “heeeeee” and hitting a button. Then, these statements are put to the test.

Here’s one I really liked – testing whether dogs would go back to help their owner. The dog is introduced to a person on their walk. Afterwards, the owner gives the dog some food, then makes it seem as though he’s falling off of a cliff. The dog has to choose whether to keep eating, try to save its owner itself, or go back to the person they met minutes before. The outcome is pretty amusing…

If you enjoyed this and would like to watch a few more, copy and paste “トレビアの泉” into YouTube.

My First Errand

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this show before somewhere (I can’t find it though) but this is a really sweet programme. Little kids (usually 3-5 years old) are sent off to go on their first errand – usually to buy something from a nearby shop. They go without their parents, but there’s a camera crew following them so it’s not dangerous at all.

I’ve found a video with some great English text explaining what’s happening -

(Part 2 for those interested)

To find more of this show, copy and paste the following into YouTube - はじめてのおつかい

As a bonus, here’s a really great article my friend wrote on how the west sees Japanese tv as “wacky” when it’s not really any more.

If you’re familiar with Japanese tv and have a favourite show then I’d love to know!

Things to do in Japan – Kiyomizu Temple

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For me, Kiyomizu temple IS Kyoto. I can’t imagine a trip to Japan’s old capital without a visit to this – my favourite temple. People may disagree with me but I believe that the best time to visit is in the Autumn – just look how gorgeous it is!

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You can find it at the top of a big hill with lots of very tempting shopping options – and the geisha experience place I went to. If you like sweet things be sure to try some of the cake shops on the way as they are some of my favourites in Japan!

The whole area is always very busy, but it is the most busy when it’s full of kids on school trips. You can often see them having group photos on the steps in front of the temple itself.

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If you go, be sure to line up for the three magic waters – that’s where the temple gets its name from (‘mizu’ means water!) One spout is for eternal life, one is for health and one is for wisdom. I drank the one for wisdom just before I took my Japanese proficiency test for the first time (…I failed…)

There’s also a great area with a test to see if your love with your partner will last. As you enter the shrine area there’s a little pathway up to the left, and up there you’ll find a start point and an end point. If you can make your way from one to the other with your eyes closed, your love will be forever.

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At sunset the walk down the hill is very pretty – and a perfect opportunity to try out some more cakes!

Have you ever been to Kyoto before?

What to Eat at an Izakaya

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The other day I took my chummy out for some Japanese food. There’s a Japanese ‘pub’ – izakaya – in Frankfurt and she’d never really Japanese food that wasn’t sushi before. Most people only think of sushi (and maybe tempura) when they think of Japanese food, so I thought I’d write a guide for what to eat at an izakaya.

These aren’t really pubs like an Irish pub, for example. You sit at long tables, either on the floor on cushions or on chairs, and order lots of little plates of food to share between your group. And of course, there’s beer. HUGE glasses of beer. So, what should one eat?

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This is my favourite – age dashi tofu. ‘Age’ means deep fried, ‘dashi’ is a stock made from fish, and tofu is tofu. It’s deep fried tofu in a sauce, basically. Spoon one block of tofu onto your plate then use your chopsticks to pull it apart by pushing each stick away from each other inside the tofu…if that makes sense.

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Japanese’s answer to KFC – kara age. ‘Kara’ has little meaning…it seems (I just did a search). But here we have the ‘age’ again – deep fried goodness. You won’t find bones in this chicken but it will be very very hot. Should be served with mayo, lemon and salt.

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Sure, you can have some sushi if you like. I don’t ever remember eating sushi at an izakaya in Japan before. though.

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But if you really want some rice, what I really recommend is a yaki-onigiri. ‘Yaki’ means ‘grilled’ and an onigiri is a Japanese rice ball. Usually these won’t have fillings in – you’ll be too busy picking the sticky bits of rice out of your teeth to be able to miss any kind of filling.

There are LOADS of other awesome things you can eat at an Izakaya – if you’ve ever been to one then I’d love to know what you liked the best!

Awesome things to do in Japan – Purikura!

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This might not be listed in the guidebook but there is a Japanese hobby that I think everyone should try in Japan! It’s called “purikura” which comes from “print club”, and it involves going to game centres and taking photos in booths, then drawing on the photos.

I didn’t sell it very well, did I? Haha. Well, just take some of the ones I’ve taken in the past (with friends’ faces blurred out because, you know, I don’t want to upset anyone here).

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A lot of the machines prompt you to make really creative photos…but most just want to make you look and feel beautiful. They’ll whiten your skin and make your eyes huge – both things which Japanese people consider to make one beautiful.

The first time I went to Japan, when I was 16, I took loads of purikura with my friends. When I got to my Osaka homestay, the daughter of the family wanted to swap these stickers with me (as is the norm in Japan) but I was so reluctant to let go of my precious photos! I think I swapped a few ones that I looked particularly bad in…

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The machines are only in Japanese (even when I visited Seoul, they were still in Japanese!!) but luckily there is a friend of a friend who writes an amazing blog about purikura, and she’s got a post on how to use one!

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If you find yourself in Japan, I recommend just jumping in and taking some purikura – but be careful as men aren’t allowed in some purikura areas. It’s best to go with a female friend if you can. You may find that some Japanese schoolgirls will drag you into the booth with them anyway! Nothing like having a token gaijin in your shots!

Who Am I?

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I was enjoying reading about blogger Alice so much the other day that I decided to pinch her idea and write a post about who I am – which would be perfect for today, the start of NaBloPoMo!

I’m Charlotte. Named after a princess…I think. Myself and my two sisters were all named after queens or princesses. As well as two sisters I have one younger brother who has suffered me hen pecking him for most of his life. When I was little I used to wake him up at 7am on the weekends and make him practise baton twirling with me. He was pretty good!

I turned 27 last month but refer to myself as a “Kinder Surprise” since it’s a surprise to me that I’m not a kinder anymore.

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I used to live in Japan. I studied at Kinjo Gakuin University in Nagoya as an exchange student, then went back there on the JET Programme to work as a junior high school teacher for two years. I don’t think I’d live in Japan again since the cons outweigh the pros now, but I’m thinking of at least visiting again some time in the coming year.

I get what I’m going to call “life anxious” sometimes, when I get myself all worked up because I feel that I’ve not done enough with my life already. You may laugh and say that I’ve lived in two different countries and have a good job and am seeing the world. But I know people who’ve taken paths that I almost took – like learning Chinese in Taiwan, working on the Peace Boat, learning Korean – and I start beating myself up about me not having done these things as well. Perhaps it’s an expat thing, perhaps it’s a gen y thing. No idea.

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I eat gluten free because wheat creates a horrible rash next to my nose, and I’m vegetarian 90% of the time. I eat fish or meat once a week, but am considering sticking to meat and not fish after reading an article about how we are overfishing the seas. I drink as much tea as possible (I use Tea Horse tea subscription service – highly recommended!) I’m not really one for alcohol though I like a nice beer with a meal, and red wine is my drink of choice at all other times. I don’t like olives.

I live in Frankfurt, Germany, with 4 German humans and 2 Tunisian cats. The photo above is of Nerina, and Yannick is the other one. As I write this, Yannick is asleep on my feet and Nerina has found a way into my suitcase which is stood upright. I have no idea how she’s going to get herself out of there.

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I’m from a little town called Bury St Edmunds, but if you ask me where I’m from I’ll tell you Cambridge because people (even fellow Brits) have never heard of Bury St Edmunds. I once had to draw a map for my Liverpudlian flatmate to explain where Suffolk is because she didn’t “know anything about the South”.

Here in Frankfurt I work for Nintendo where I translate games from Japanese to English. I’m not sure if I’m able to mention some of the games I’ve worked on, or even my favourite project so far, but I’m sure you can imagine the type of thing I do for a living.

So, I guess that’s it for me! I’d love to know more about the people who read my blog so I tag all of you reading this and hope that you leave me lots of nice links in the comments section!

 

Working in Japan

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I know so many people who would do anything to be able to go and work in Japan. It seems to be on the bucket list of so many people, whether they are people who are obsessed with anime, people who like to travel or just people wanting to live an adventure for a year.

I want to write (what may be a kinda long post) about how you can live in Japan – from what options are available to what you’d need to do. SO, let’s get going…

Question 1 – Do you have a degree?

If the answer is NO, you have two choices; be a student or get a working holiday visa.

Japan doesn’t give working visas to those without degrees. It kinda sucks, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t go live in Japan still, it just means that it might take a little money.

If you want to be a student, you can enroll at a language school, or perhaps if you are a university student you can be an exchange student like I was.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?!

Well, to be a student, first you should pick a school to study at, then apply for your visa. You can get lots of info on this here. I’ve never done this (I went through my British university) so I’m afraid I don’t have so much advice. Shop around for the best deal with the school and check out the local area, too. Some universities have programmes where you don’t have to be a university student yourself to go there, but going to a language school is probably the easiest option.

To do a working holiday visa, it’s slightly harder as there are certain conditions, such as being from a certain country, being within a certain age bracket, having a certain amount of savings stocked up and so on. I found a really good website that talks you through the process so check it out. If you don’t have a degree then this is possibly the best way to go about Japan for the year.

Question 2 – Would you be up for fighting for a popular job?

If you have a degree then perhaps you’d like to become an ALT (assistant language teacher) in a school. I asked if you’re ok with fighting for this job because the process is very complicated and involves writing essays, having interviews, and applying for a job that thousands of other people are also dying to get.

This is mainly with The JET Programme but if you happen to fail with them, there are other companies that do the same thing such as Interac, and depending on the city there are other, smaller companies too.

Why is JET so popular?

Well, there are many advantages to being on JET. The first being that the pay is very, very good. I’m willing to say that unless you get a real job at a big company in Japan, you won’t find a salary this good in Japan. Interac and the others don’t pay quite as good, but it’s still better than most.

JET is great because you are welcomed into a great community. You have pre-departure meetings in your home country, and then everyone gets to go to Tokyo together and we take of the Keio Plaza hotel for a few days while we are all training. Those days were so much fun and I made friends with JETs from all over the country.

It’s also a fairly easy job and you don’t need much to be able to do it. The application process requires you to be on the ball though – you need a great essay and to be able to be charismatic and engaging in the interview. Nothing in your application process should hint that you want to go to Japan because of anime, or because you want to find a Japanese partner. You need to have some REAL, solid reasons for wanting to go there.

Why did you leave JET?

There are also a few downsides to JET. The main one for me was that I felt I was over qualified for the school that I was placed at. Some people get placed in amazing schools. Some get placed at schools who use them as human tape recorders. My placement was somewhere in between that, but it still didn’t mean I was actually teaching. I wrote a lot more about it in this blog post from a while back.

They tell you that you are there to teach but really you are there so that they can have random foreigners in the countryside. You will probably not be placed in Kyoto, Tokyo, Osaka etc. You are more likely to be placed in the middle of nowhere, with one convenience store which is a 20 minute bike ride away, and where wild boars come scratching at your door every night (hahah, you think I’m joking?!)

I miss life on JET a lot, but I am very grateful to be in a job where I use my skills and my brain.

HOW CAN I DO THIS?!

I’d love to write a blog post on how to get into the JET Programme, but actually a great guide has already been written. Go check it out, and good luck!

Question 3 – Do you want something a little less…stressful?

If the fight to get a place on JET doesn’t appeal to you, then you’re still in luck! In Japan there is a culture of taking classes outside of school – usually called “juku” or “cram schools”. They leave school and go straight to these schools to sit for another few hours cramming their brains with more info. It’s rare that juku would hire native English teachers since they would focus on grammar (being taught in Japanese, of course…) but there are also after school English schools called “eikaiwa”. There are big names ones like Aeon, ECC and the troubled NOVA, and then smaller ones that are owned by, usually, a middle aged Japanese woman who studied abroad and wants to share her love of English with children (correct me if I’m wrong, guys!!)

How is this different to an ALT/JET job?

Well first of all, your salary would be less. It may even be commission based (I had some friends who were to build up their student base and only then made a decent wage.)

Your hours would be different, too. An ALT works from 8am -4pm. An Eikaiwa teacher might work something like 2pm – 10pm. It means that these two different creatures don’t get to hang out so much as their schedules are totally opposite.

Like I mentioned above, as an ALT I went into classrooms and mainly stood at the back until the teacher needed me to say something, then the kids would repeat after me. Occasionally I’d plan a 15 minute game or something. I worked as an eikaiwa teacher part time when I was at uni in Japan. It was a very small school, run by a nice Japanese lady. I was to teach alongside a real idiot British guy (the type who has lived in Japan for 10 years but speaks only a few words), and in an evening the two of us would teach 4 elementary classes back to back. We’d start with a welcome song, then maybe do some alphabet workbook activities, then maybe read them a story and finish off with some shadowing (a strange practice they like to do in Japan where the kids listen to, say, a fairy tale cd, and try to mimic what they say in real-time. The kids have no idea what they are saying. I have no idea if it’s any good or not.)

TELL ME MORE!!

I can’t personally, but I have found some pretty great links that explain what it’s like working at one of these companies.

Smitty Media working for NOVA (Nova are a company that went bankrupt a few years ago but are making a comeback)

Keeping the Peace in Japan working for AEON

What can I do with a BA in Japanese Studies – unnamed school

Susie Somewhere at Peppy Kids Club

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There are, of course other ways to get to Japan. Perhaps you can get a gig as a foreign model, or you are a real life teacher and get a job at a university. But these are the three most popular ways of getting to live and experience Japan, and this post is LONG ENOUGH.

Have you ever lived in Japan? I’d love to hear how you got there and what you did!

Expat Friends

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There’s a certain cycle that (I’m guessing) most people have with friendships when they live abroad. I’ve already written about how one can make friends when living in a different country, but actually once you’ve made those friends it’s still pretty tricky and probably not like making friends back home. (But I wouldn’t know…I’ve not been back home making friends since the start of uni…)

I’ve been fairly lucky here in Germany because my office has many strong social groups. It’s often a bubble that’s hard to break out of, but at the same time I feel I’m closest to my colleagues; both the ones from the UK team and ones from other language teams. We may be a little weird and geeky, but we’re good deep down ;)

So, here are the stages of expat friendship.

Stage 1 – BON VOYAGE!!!

The night before you leave for your foreign country, you gather up all your home friends and say goodbye to them. They know you inside out and backwards. But you’re so excited for your new adventure.

Stage 2 – OMG are you new here too?!

You get to your new home, and find other people in the same situation as you. For no other reason than you being in the same situation, you become friends – joined at the hip. You do everything together, and experience all the new things together.

Stage 3 – OMG why am I friends with you?!

Stage 2 lasts for a few weeks, then you look at your new friends and realise you have nothing at all in common. Why can’t they just be like your home friends?! Your home friends wouldn’t be idiots like them. They’d be so witty and clever and know exactly what to say. You Skype your home friends every day for a week.

Stage 4 – Where can I get more friends?

You start to venture out of the small comfort zone you’ve created. Perhaps you seek out new hobbies, go to meetups, take a language class. You dedicate a lot of time and effort into looking for new people to hang out with.

Stage 5 – This stage may be a repeat of the 2nd stage, where you find people who are equally bemused with their initial friends, but then after a while you realise that the only thing you had in common was your common bemusement. Either that, or friends you made that you were pretty fond of have finished their internship/course/marriage and have moved away.

Stage 6 – You spend months carefully pruning your garden of friends, weeding out ones you wonder what you ever saw in, saying sayonaya to ones leaving the country, and picking up lots of new ones on the way. Then, and only then, you may have a good, artificially made group of friends.

The above list may not be true for most expats. It’s been my experience here in Germany, and it’s similar to my experience in Japan (it’s just that in Japan I was a lot more limited to who I could make friends with). I’d say the hardest part is the end of stage 5, where you find someone you like but their timeline in that place differs from yours.

I found myself being really cynical and, when I met someone new, I assessed the amount of time and effort I would “invest” in that person. It’s a horrible way to think, I know. It’s just really hard when you meet someone and you really hit it off and you want to be BFFS with them, but they are at the end of the time they’d like to spend in the place because maybe they just can’t get over culture shock, or maybe they just don’t like their job. But at the same time, you love the country and love your job and don’t plan on leaving for a long time. It’s hard.

At the beginning of my time in Frankfurt I kept on getting attached to interns from the banking world. They are a really cool bunch, but they’d be gone in a few months.

There’s also something else you may want to take into account – why is this new friend an expat? You’d be really surprised to find how many people are apparently escaping from something back home. It’s not a bad thing. But it often means that the amount of crazies in the expat world is very, very high. Sometimes the crazy doesn’t show itself for weeks or months. But it’s often there. One day you look at your friend and think “my God, were you this crazy all along? We do I hang out with you?!” We need to find likeminded people so we can match our crazy and become good friends.

As always, I’ve love input from you all! Have any of you created strategies for making friends abroad?

Awesome things to do in Japan – EAT!


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When exploring the world, I think one of the things that gets people excited the most is food. Well, maybe that’s just me. Boyfriend and I are going to Turkey soon and the first thing we arranged was to go on a food tour in Istanbul. It’s very important to us!

But when I was in Japan, I had so many interesting and rare food opportunities, so I thought I’d share some of them with you. I spent ages on my computer searching for lots of photos I’d taken of food from Japan and it was so much fun reliving the memories. I guess it’s a good thing I am obsessed with taking photos of food!!

The photo above was taken in Kobe. I’m sure many of you know that Kobe is famous for it’s beef. Japanese people have a very different view on what makes good meat – they much prefer it if there are ribbons of fat going though as they say it makes the meat sweeter. They are really shocked when westerners go to Japan and cut off the fat on their steak, or turn down meat that has a high fat content.

Kobe beef has fat running through it and this makes it EXPENSIVE. I went to Kobe with my colleagues from the junior high school (like a school trip…but for teachers haha) and in the planned itinerary we went to this really expensive Kobe beef restaurant. The lunch alone was 7000yen – around 50 euros. I was ok with this price as I was doing well for money but there was a catch – I had a stinking cold and couldn’t taste a thing. Luckily, at the table where the man was preparing our food, there was a small mountain of wasabi mustard. I decided to take a mouthful of wasabi that opened up my nose, then crammed in a bit of the beef, which I could only taste for a few seconds before my nose closed up again. I was SO sad.

Luckily I lived near to Matsusaka which has very similar beef and so I could try something similar again, but I was just sad that I couldn’t taste my 7000yen lunch!!

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When I was studying in Nagoya, I didn’t make so many friends with the Japanese students at the uni. My closest friends were actually the Korean exchange students. They were all very warm and welcoming, they spoke very good Japanese so I didn’t miss out linguistically, and they were just very open and wonderful people. One of the closest friends I made there was a girl named “Arumu”. I’ve visited her in Seoul twice now and I am planning on going again next year.

When we were studying together, Arumu had a part time job in a Japanese restaurant. But this wasn’t just any restaurant; it was a Nagoyan speciality eel restaurant. I would go and visit her and she’d show me how to eat it (the meal shown above). First, you eat half of the food in the top left bowl. It’s basically rice with grilled eel and sauce. Then, once you’ve eaten half, you pour green tea from the tea pot into the rice and eel and eat the rest with a spoon. It’s SUPER yummy.

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Towards the end of my working life in Japan, the city invited me to speak at a formal event with some government officials. Basically, they wanted to know how to make Japan/my area more appealing to foreigners and I was chosen to speak about the kinds of problems we face on a day to day basis there. I have no idea why such high up government officials were interested in our little city but anyway. It was a huge deal.

After the event, there was a buffet for us all. It was the most lavish buffet I have ever seen; they really went to town. I hovered over the plate in the photo above. I knew that I didn’t like the things in the shells (sazae) because they get really bitter if you eat the tip and I never know how much to bite off to avoid hitting that point. So I stuck to the yellow meat to the left.

I put two or so pieces on my plate then turned away from the table to eat a bite of one. I came face to face with the minister for tourism. He asked me if I knew what it was that I was eating. I replied that it was pretty chewy so perhaps it was some kind of squid…but he replied saying that it was shark meat. I dropped the piece I had on my chopsticks and listened as he told me how Japanese fishermen often partake in cutting the fins off of sharks and then throwing them back in the water to die a slow death, and how we shouldn’t support that. I didn’t eat any more of the shark after that…(it wasn’t that tasty anyway).

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**For some reason the penis hot dog photo doesn’t show up…have this photo of me talking to tv cameras about penises.

You’d be forgiven if you thought there was something a little rude about that sausage. That’s because it’s a penis sausage. No, it doesn’t contain penis (to my knowledge) but I ate it at the fertility festival in a town near to where I studied in Japan. The festival started with a parade of massive wooden penises, where I (as one of the few white people in the crowd) was invited to kiss the penis for “good luck” (translation: great headlines – “FOREIGNER LOVES PENIS”.. yes I was on the news that day). Then we made our way around the festival stalls where they were selling phallic foods like bananas and sausages, as well as wooden penises of our own to take home.

Although it was way too crowded and I wouldn’t go again, it was certainly an experience I won’t forget!

Now a question for you! What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?