Posted in Slice of Life, Uncategorized

Advice I Gave Today

Today at training I got asked a lot of questions, because I’ve lived in Japan for over six years (gonna be seven in July). The questions ranged from things that one could Google, but some weren’t so much. I wrote some down just for this particular post, mostly because I want to just be able to pull this post up when people ask in the future.

What do I do about (home country) taxes in Japan? 

For the first year, you’ll have to make sure you file for your home country’s taxes stuff. In America, I had to get a form from a rather surly I.R.S. employee lady that would be used as proof that I’m living abroad so don’t tax me twice, please and thanks.

Be sure to check with your embassy to see what exact rules and regulations there are, because each country is gonna be different. I discovered today that South Africa is awful and demands that people pay taxes in South Africa as well as Japanese taxes no matter what, which I think is robbery but whatever. For us Americans, so long as you don’t have any estate or investments back in the U.S.A., you file your income made in Japan and don’t pay taxes back in America. Once again though, do research and check on

Check your local Japan city hall or ward office if you’ve got Japanese tax questions in particular. Income taxes are deducted automatically from most salaries, you generally have to pay a city tax if you live in a city for over a year, and etc. Talk to people there for more information.

Can I leave my food or drink trash here at this *training center?

Not recommended, as it’s considered bad manners to leave trash in a place that you’re only using temporarily that doesn’t belong to you. Japanese people aren’t going to tell you not to do it, they’ll just not be happy about it and maybe won’t invite you back into the space next time. Also, odds are there will be complaints filed to supervisors about it, too. Not the best way to start off your job at the mere training stages by being known as the “rude” and “gross” employee. Kept a plastic bag on you and throw stuff away later.

*Note: Ignore if your training center is a huge public place with multiple trash cans, I’m talking about a small space with only one or two small bins.

Are Japanese students better than (British/American/ Western) students?

Japanese students aren’t really “better” in the sense of learning or studying than Westerners. They just learn differently. Japanese school systems are still very much lecture based, so it’s difficult to get them out of that format and into an active classroom.

A Japanese student will perhaps on average be more passive and disciplined, but not always. Also, for English language acquisition, both of those traits can be disadvantageous. If a student is passive, then they can’t actively communicate well. If they’re disciplined or really focused, then they are more likely to focus on the wrong aspects on language (i.e. grammar rules over actually trying to speak).

In other words, they have their own sets of challenges.

Where can I buy a (bicycle/electric bike/ kitchen appliances/etc)? 

Recycle shops would be the best place to buy necessary items like a bike or a microwave on a budget. In America we would call them “second hand stores” or “thrift shops,” but I want to emphasize that in Japan second hand items are so gently used they generally look brand new. Everything gets checked to make sure it works, so the odds of you going home with something broken is exceedingly rare. Hard Off and House Off are the two main chain stores with electronic and household things available, Book Off is more for used books and action figures store, and you can get clothes at Book Off Bazaar.

Is it really hard to find a new apartment? 

No, not really for urban areas. Back in the day foreigner friendly apartments were rare, but nowadays through websites and real estate agents you can find an apartment no problem. The real issue is can you afford the move in fees? Usually there’s a one month or two month deposit plus key money, and from there the fees could include cleaning fees, paper work fees, lock exchange fees, fire insurance, life support fees, and the list goes on. You generally need at least 200,000 yen in order to move into a new place in a city.

Now, in the countryside the rules are different. Foreign friendly apartments are harder to find, but the move in costs are usually much cheaper and you can get way more space for less rent money. In many cases, your apartment may even get paid for by a company or school just to have you close by.

But for Tokyo, yeah, save up before you decide you wanna move.

Where should I go to withdraw money? What’s the best bank to use?

Any Japan Post ATM will do foreign cards and most of the time a 7-11 ATM will work too.

If you’re using a domestic Japanese bank card, it’s either a convenience store or your chosen bank’s ATM from 9-5 on working day. I recommend you just simplify your life and get a Shinsei Bank account which is accepted by most convenience stores, Japan Post, and even outside the country. Also, you don’t get charged withdrawing fees from convenience stores with Shinsei and you can withdraw money 24/7.

How to a sort my trash at home? What are trash days?

Every city and even city district is different. Go to your city hall or ward office to get information on that.

And there’s that. I’m sure there are more but I’m exhausted. Tomorrow if I get more questions I’ll answer them here again. Might as well, I’m sure it’s helpful to other people out there too.

 

 

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Posted in Jobs in Japan

Teaching Experience: Do you “need” it for the JET Program?

I get this question all the time. “Somebody said that they don’t accept people without teaching experience, is that true?” The long and short of that is no, otherwise I would’ve been rejected from JET. I had some tutoring and an observing education class in university (wherein I went to different schools to watch teachers in their classes), and that’s all I had. Before the JET Program, I had never taught in front of a classroom, so you don’t need to worry about it.

It doesn’t hurt your odds to get in if you’ve got teaching experience, so by all means if you do have it put that on your application and mention it in the interview. Be sure you can answer questions well, like “Why did you want to become a teacher? What kind of teacher do you want to be? How long have you been teaching?” Those kind of routine questions will be asked, and then they may go even harder on you. “What are some challenges you’ve faced in the classroom that you’ve overcome? How many students do you teach on average?” And so on.

Regardless of whether you do or don’t have experience, be sure you can answer the question, “Why do you want to teach in Japan?” My answer was along the lines of, “I want to be a good representative of my country in the classroom so students will have a good impression of foreigners, specifically American foreigners. I want Japan’s international relations to improve, even if it’s only in a small way.” It’s not a bad answer, I think, but there are better answers out there. For example, an art major I knew told her interviewers that she wanted to learn about East Asian art, and bring that experience back to America to influence her art. She hoped to be a part of the art after school programs in her school so she could teach them the Western styles of art and they could teach her the Eastern. It was a better answer in my opinion because it showed she’s future oriented, she’s thinking outside the box, not just the classroom but even after school activities.

Know this answer and memorize it. Practice saying and explaining your view before the big interview. I’ve talked about the JET program before, so be sure to take a look at both the video and the article to learn about what it takes to get in. Also, there’s a very nifty guide from Tofugu about the JET Interview. Read it to get prepared to give the best impression!

 

Posted in flashback friday

Flashback Friday: Talking About Neighbors

Meeting your neighbors can be an interesting experience. I’ve been lucky in that most of my fellow inhabitants of my apartment complexes are pretty nice, usually pretty quiet unless it’s the weekend, kind of people. When I lived in Itako, my neighbors close to me were very sweet, they brought me over to cook me dinner. The elderly couple spoke some English, and I exercised my basic Japanese with them.

The other neighbors across the way from me where a mother, father, and two sons. I taught the older boy at my junior high school, actually, and he was a good student. I spoke with the mother every once and a while, and she sometimes brought over some vegetables or some sweets if she had extra lying around. I always appreciated the little gestures.

I didn’t know it at the time, but in Japan new neighbors are supposed to give some small gifts to all their surrounding people. Usually it’s something useful, like tissues or say air fresheners, but I like to give snacks like miso crackers or something. Nobody expects you to break the bank, so cheap is fine. Usually, you have a note attached that introduces where you live in the apartment complex, who you are, and then you tag on a “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” at the end of your note.

Over the years, I’ve had other neighbors, and I’ve given them gifts. In Machida, I had an old gentlemen who would practice his broken English with me. He’d also bring me gifts on certain days, and I’d always give him fruit or something in return. We had a long gift exchange thing right up until the day I moved out. Where I live now, I see my neighbors, but none of them seem interested in really getting to know me. They say good morning and good evening, but they all work and we’re all different ages. I doubt we’ll be close.

But anyways, I remember back when I lived in Itako that I wrote a post about neighbors in a bit more detail, but I ended up deleting it because I thought it was too boring. I wrote it all out, agonized over how to make it more interesting, and just gave up. I also feared someone reading it, because I felt I was too whiny about not feeling included enough.

See, I knew they might chit chat with me, or invite me over once in a blue moon for dinner, but I couldn’t be friends with them in the way Americans are used to being friends with people. My American friends didn’t even knock on my door half the time before they’d just waltz on into my house or room or whatever. I couldn’t do that in Itako, and it made me feel really isolated, knowing there was no one around whose door I could knock on to just go talk to.

Because of that complaint, which was much longer in the deleted version, I opted not to post it. I waited around until something interesting happened to post about. Well, be careful what you wish for, I guess.


The Other Kind of Neighbor

Posted on October 22, 2011

Most of my Japanese neighbors are pretty swell. The few times there’s been big earthquakes since I been here (meaning, the ones that just either keep going and going or the ones that actually make my stuff move around) we all run out to make sure everyone’s okay. When we’re all sure everyone’s alive, we proceed to go back to the tasks we were doing. A couple of my neighbors even invited me over for dinner and I had a good time.

Then, there’s the other kind of neighbor.

Meet Bob, everybody.

Spiders. I don’t particularly like them, but I don’t hate them either. However, I’ve got one small problem by the name of Bob. Bob is a spider. He’s apparently a pretty common Japanese spider that just likes to hang around, making webs, and helping to keep the evil mosquito population down. In other words, they’re my friendly neighborhood vampire killers, and I’m okay with letting them live.

I catch most spiders in my house and throw them outside. Usually, it’s not such a big deal. Also, they’re usually small enough that I can just scoop them up with a tissue and shake them out of said tissue. It’s quick, painless for both of us, and I get karma points for not killing a helpless creature.

But then, Bob happened.

I was minding my own business one morning. Coffee in hand, I moved into the living room to open the curtain. I like natural lighting. I can stand fluorescent just fine, but I don’t like it. I slid back the curtain to find Bob. At first, I thought he was inside my house. One heart attack later, I figure out that he’s just outside the window. I breathed a sigh of relief and then glared at him.

He sits in his web and just dares me to do something. I sigh and just walk over to pick up a book. I think I was reading “Memoirs of a Geisha” at the time. I did my best to just ignore him and go on with life. After a few days, I kept opening the curtains to find him in the same place. I took pictures and then went to Google to find out if I should worry. Luckily, Bob proved to be a pretty boring find.

He’s just a common spider called Yama Onigumo, which translates to “barn spider.”  However, Bob’s big for his species. I measured him safely on the other side of the glass. He’s bigger than the average yama onigumo. I decided since he was sticking around and he wasn’t doing anything to bother me, I named him and started greeting him every morning.

We had a routine. I would wake up, eat breakfast, and then go open the curtains. He would scurry around on his web until he got to the middle. I would say, “Mornin’ Bob.” And then I’d either read a book or watch a movie. He wasn’t a bad cohabitant of the same approximate living space. He killed a good many bugs, and I saw that as keeping his keep. All was well.

One day I opened the curtain and Bob’s web was gone. I looked around for Bob, but he was nowhere to be seen. I surprised myself at how sad I felt. My eight legged little friend had gone and abandoned me. I continued on with my routine, but it didn’t feel right.

Later on that night, I saw Bob…in my apartment…making A GODDAMNED WEB OVER MY TV! I freaked out and screamed a little. I shouted, “Bob! You get down from there this instant!” Bob gave the equivalent of a spider giving me the finger. He proceeded to continue making his own mini-home in the corner where the walls meet the ceiling. I yelled out a few curses, felt violated beyond measure, and felt irrationally betrayed. At some point, I got around to grabbing a cup and a sheet of sketch paper.

The process of getting Bob down from the ceiling included me chasing the freaking spider along the walls. It would’ve been easier to kill him, but it felt wrong to kill him after I named him. I finally got him on the ceiling at a good place to slam the cup over him. I slid the paper, and Bob plopped into the glass.

I stared at him. He stared at me. I sighed. All the effort I’m going through to save him from a shoe and he just looked as content as ever. Jerk.

I walked over to the front door. Carefully, I set Bob near the stairs and said, “Okay, Bob. Stay out of my apartment.” I thought that was the end of it. Bob would scurry off into the night, and I’d never see him again.

The bastard made a web on my porch. He won’t leave. I’ve destroyed his webs several times, and even sprayed some bug spray around in the hopes of making him leave. All the other spiders got the hint and got the hell out of dodge. Bob just remade his webs and avoided the areas I’d sprayed.

After a certain point, I just gave up. I wasn’t going to kill him. I couldn’t do it. Stupid spider was determined to stay, and honestly he wasn’t inside my apartment. In my opinion, I have no right to kill him. He’s not bothering me. If his web strays just a little too much into the walk way, I just destroy it. Bob will have another one up before the sun rises.

I could complain, but oddly enough, Bob’s a part of my routine again. I find him comforting. The spider stands on constant guard for the other, more annoying, bugs. He even took down a cockroach once, which was pretty awesome. The cockroaches here are pretty big, and he made that one fly as far and fast as its wings could take it. I also take great pleasure in imagining a thief coming up the stairs, taking one look at Bob, and heading straight back down.

Every day, I walk up my steps and look up at Bob’s web. He’s usually just sitting in the middle, waiting for a meal. I nod my head and say, “Hey, Bob.” right before I enter my apartment. Bob doesn’t say anything back. I doubt he understands me, but I’m glad that he’s watching over me anyway. All in all, I guess Bob’s a pretty cool neighbor, even if he’s not human.

TTYL!


Yep, so that was the introduction of Bob the Spider. For weeks after that post, I can’t count how many times I got asked, “Is Bob still there? How’s he doing?” and such. People got just as attached to him as I did. I remember he stuck around way longer than most, he stayed on that porch right up until December, when it gets too cold for spiders to be out and about.

I wrote out that post and intended to get around to rewriting the neighbors one, but look how long that took! Five years later and I finally did it. I hope this one wasn’t too long with the story attached. See you all next Friday for another flashback!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Travels in Japan

When You Miss the Last Train

Despite the fact that Tokyo is a huge metropolis completely capable of 24 hour transportation, it chooses not to because reasons. Last trains are generally from 11:00 p.m.to 12:00 a.m. Most train lines start back up at around 5:00 a.m. In general, you’ll just need to stay somewhere for about 5 hours or so if you miss the last way back.

Still, where do you go? What are your options? Well, you’ve got plenty of them! But I’ve narrowed it down to the top five things you can do if you missed your last hope towards home.

#5: Internet Cafes

Manboo_(Internet_cafe)_japan_No2.jpg
Wikipedia Commons

In Kentucky, internet cafes weren’t exactly common, and what few there were didn’t have much besides computers with quarter slots. Japan’s internet cafes are a completely different thing, it’s not even an apples and oranges comparison.

Internet cafes will have large lounge chairs, small mat rooms, and other types of corner office spaces transformed into a cheap place to crash. For less than ¥2,000 you can sleep in that space for 8 hours, and it only gets cheaper if you want to stay for less time.

Of course, the main reason it’s so cheap is because it’s not like a hotel. Your small space will have very, very thin walls. No pajamas or amenities unless you want to pay (about ¥700 for a set). They will give a blanket for warmth, but that’s about it.

Manboo is my top pick, because 8 hours at Manboo you’ll pay ¥1,600 to stay. Also, in my experience every Manboo I’ve ever stayed at has showers that are nice. Other internet cafes will have showers too, but they’re not always as well maintained as Manboo’s. They even have ¥500 t-shirts available if you want to feel a little less grungy in the morning.

#4: Capsule Hotels 

Capsule Hotels
Wikipedia

Capsule hotels have an interesting reputation abroad, with many tourists wanting to stay in them for the sheer novelty. They are generally pretty cheap, running between ¥3,000 to ¥7,000 a night. Why are they more expensive than internet cafes? Well, you get more stuff usually.

Unlike an internet cafe, you’ll have a bed with sheets and blankets. You’ll be given a locker for your stuff, as well as pajamas to sleep in along with shower packs (razors may or may not be included though). The walls aren’t as thin as the internet cafes, so odds are your sleep will be more restful.

However, a big downside to capsule hotels is that so many of them are for men only. For whatever reason, all internet cafes are fine with men and women, but capsule hotels can be only men. There are some co-ed and a few only women capsules, but not all. Be sure to check out if you can get in before you check in!

#3: Business Hotels

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Japan-Guide.com– “Business Hotels”

Business hotels are intended for Japan’s salarymen, the business guys who travel a lot and want a no frills hotel room. You’ll get the basics here, a bed to sleep in with a bathroom. It’ll have towels and soap, but don’t expect anything 5 star. These rooms will range from ¥5,000-¥20,000 depending on what kind of place you’re going to stay in.

For example, I usually stay at the small ones about ten minutes walk away from the nearest train station. Those tend to not have as many people in them, and will welcome someone trudging in a midnight needing a room.

If you get one close to the station and has more than fifteen levels (and say possesses a bright neon sign that stays lit even in the darkest of nights) odds are it’s going to cost you much more.

And honestly, for the money you’re going to spend, there’s not much difference between a lower end business hotel and a higher end one. You’ll just be wasting money if you pay more than ¥5,000 for one night, since they all come with the same basic amenities (that aren’t very good). For Americans, if you know what a Holiday Inn Express is, you will be getting more or less the same thing with a Japanese business hotel.

#2: Love Hotels

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Kotaku– “Inside Japan’s Plasure Hotels”

For these, the price range can be super cheap from ¥3,000 to a whopping ¥50,000! So be careful and ask before you just sign up for a room. Usually with love hotels you need to have a partner with you, you can’t just sleep by yourself, but that’s fine! Grab your friend who no doubt stayed out late with you and make them experience this!

Love hotels generally on the outside look, well, ridiculous. They’ll have the oddest names like “Goddess” or “Passion” or something crazy like “Hotel Castle” and even be in the shape of a castle! Neon lights, signs with purple or pink colors, some kind of theme or statue to set it apart from everything else around it, they’re just amazing to see.

The reason some of them are so expensive is because some rooms have unique designs and themes, and along with them a bunch of adult toys to play with. They’re made for a night of love making, after all, but the big ones make an American honeymoon suite in Las Vegas look tame in comparison. Meanwhile, the cheaper ones fit with the hotel theme, but they’re smaller and just provide lube and condoms. Basically, you’ll be staying in a room with a friend (or special friend *wink,wink*) for cheap if you find the right place.

#1: McDonalds, Saizeriya, Denny’s, Jonathans, Gusto, etc.

nn20110125i1a.jpg
Satoko Kawasaki Photo featured in Japan Times

Let’s say you don’t want to stay at a hotel. The morning trains are coming soon enough, you don’t want to shell out your precious money for a room you’re only going to use for a few hours. Family restaurants are for you then!

Denny’s, Jonathans, Gusto, just to name a few, are all 24 hours. They will serve you food and get you sober for that first train back home. Those restaurants offer sit down meals that will fill you up, too. However, if you want to be super cheap, the golden arches are also 24 hours for your convenience. McDonalds will be the place to go for free WiFi too, so if you want to watch a movie on your smartphone, eat a greasy burger, and just chillax until the trains are running that’s where you want to go.

All in all, these are the options that I like the best. These are also, for me, the safest options as I’m a female who often travels alone. If you’re a male, you might be able to get away with just sleeping on the sidewalk. I’ve seen plenty of guys doing that after a night of hard drinking. But if you want a good place to stay, these are the best and cheapest options for you.


 If you liked this, please hit the like button. Share with someone you know who needs this info.  Do you have a topic you want me to write about? Please leave a comment below! I’d love to hear from you. 

 

 

Posted in Japanese Langauge

日本語 Conversation Tip: Saying the Right Goodbye

When it comes to parting ways, context is important in Japan. As I mentioned in my previous conversation tip, often the simple “Sayonara! (さようなら!) is good enough in most situations, and often expected to be the one standard farewell from foreigners. When your first starting out, no one will correct you from saying the standard phrase, because technically using it is never “wrong.”

However, depending on the context, you could be saying something that either a bit too formal or not formal enough. Whether you’re talking to friends or colleagues, specifically, is what this conversation tip will focus on. For the sake of brevity, we won’t be focusing on any high level politeness (a.k.a. keigo 敬語).

Friendly goodbyes are easy, and often short. A simple “Matta ne! (またね!)” is perfect for most friends, as you’re expecting to see each other again some time in the near future. When you’ve got plans to see each other again, say next Monday, then it might be nice to say something like, “Matta raishu (no) getsuyoobi! (また 来週 の 月曜日!)” Then, if you’re on really good terms with this person and don’t know when you’ll see each other again, a really simple “Ja ne! (じゃあね!)” is fine.

With colleagues and co-workers, usually they’re expecting more formal goodbyes. A nice way to say goodbye formally is “Otsukaresama-deshita! (おつかれさま でした!)” It can be a mouthful to try and say all at once, but it’s very useful nonetheless. Just try thinking about it like so: “Oats-car-eh-summa-deh-she-tah!” Practice saying that ten times fast and you’ll have the right idea. Usually, you can shout this over your shoulder to your office as you leave to go home.

If you want to say this to a single co-worker, you might simply say, “Ostukaresama-desu! ( おつかれさまです!)” or when you’re really close in age and experience a simple “Otsukare! (おつかれ!) is nice too.

You can sometimes use these phrases with friends. If you see someone after they’ve gotten off work, it’s nice to say these goodbyes as hellos instead.

What?! You say, confused. How does this work?

That’s because “Ostukaresama” means more along the lines of “Good job on all your work today!” It’s not a direct translation of goodbye. Often when you see an anime subtitled, you’ll see an “Otsukaresama-deshita” translated to something like “good work,” “good job,” or “goodbye.” However, that’s more of a cultural translation, as we don’t really have a word in English that’s used like “Ostukaresama-desu.”

I recommend that if you should meet up with a Japanese friend at a cafe on a workday in the evening, you may want to say, “Ostukaresama-desu! Genki desu ka?” as a greeting. You’re telling them you’re recognizing that they are making time to meet you after a long day, and you’re asking how they’re doing all at once. They’ll appreciate the kindness!

Now, there is another way to say goodbye to co-workers, but it’s a little high level and specific. At the same time, it’s usually appropriate for ALT’s and ELT’s, as usually the foreign teachers leave work earlier than all the others in the office.

When you’re the first to leave, or one of the first, then it’s very appropriate to say the following phrase: “Osaki-ni-shitsurei-shimasu! (お先に失礼します!)

The translations for this are also more cultural than direct for this type of goodbye. Basically, it means “Please forgive me for leaving!” or if you want to want to make it complicated “Forgive my rudeness for leaving before you!” Some of you more advanced learners might recognize “shitsurei-shimasu (失礼します)” as the more high level way of saying “excuse me” and you’re not wrong. You could also translate this goodbye phrase into “Excuse me for leaving you!”

Saying this before you leave is a really polite way to recognize that you’re going home while everyone else is working. As always, Japanese people won’t get upset if you don’t say it because they know you’re learning, and they don’t expect you to become fluent overnight. Still, saying this phrase is a nice way to say goodbye and show you’re a little more aware of their situation.

And so, those are the ways to say goodbye. Next week I’m going over how to do different versions of “Excuse me!” and “I’m sorry!”

See you next time! またね!