How-to guides, tutorials, and tips to make living in Japan more awesome.

Group of skydivers social skydiving

How to Social Skydive in Japan

So you came to Japan ready to start a new life full of experiences and adventure.

At first, everything is cool, fresh and new. Novel. You’re excited about seeing all the places, and meeting all the people. You’re also excited about tackling this new beast of a language: Japanese.

But after that initial love affair with Japan, the novelty wears off. You start to get comfortable. You stay inside the house more. You’ve been working a lot. You’re tired. Visits to new cool Japanese restaurants become replaced with cheap and easy konbini bentos. Worse than comfortable, you start to stagnate as a human being.

Living in Japan comes with its unique set of challenges.

Those challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Risking embarrassment learning and using the language;
  • Breaking unfamiliar social norms;
  • Being judged as a clumsy, ignorant foreigner no matter how well you speak Japanese, and no matter how well you know the culture;
  • Not knowing how to make friends with Japanese people and expand your social circle in a culture where social groups are so tight-knit;
  • Not knowing how to graduate from just “teaching English to get that visa”, to doing the work you truly want to do;
  • And feeling isolated from society and getting bitter about life in Japan in general.

Not even saying these things are the objective reality of living in Japan. I’m just saying its easy to interpret many of the daily occurences as instances of these challenges happening. Basically, even if it’s all in your head, the struggle is real.

And these struggles mixed with the other normal stresses of life can start to weigh down on you, causing you to want to take it easy. It they can cause you to want to stay inside your comfort zone and NOT spend the effort it takes to build an amazing social circle of friends, and tackle your life aspirations.

“Nah man, It’s cool. I think I’ll stay home tonight and “relax”, rather than going out tonight and spending the effort to make new friends and find new opportunities.”

“I think I’ll take it easy tonight and study Japanese tomorrow. I mean, my Japanese is already OK I guess…”

“I really want to audition for that role in that new Japanese TV show, but I don’t know. My Japanese probably isn’t good enough. I’ll just skip the audition this time and try out next time.

Pack your parachutes, it’s time for Social Skydiving

Social skydiving is the art of challenging yourself by putting yourself in unique social situations that you may not have the chance to encounter on a day-to-day basis, in order to develop more confidence and consequently, improve your overall social life.

Just like feeling the fear of jumping out of a plane can be exciting, scary, and fun, so can placing yourself in novel social scenarios.

This can include talking to strangers in public areas, dancing in public, making absurd requests to strangers, or anything that puts social pressure on you such as singing Happy Birthday to yourself in a crowded restaurant (see video below!).

Social skydiving is also popularly known as rejection therapy and was made well-known by a badass dude called Jia Jiang in his 100 rejection therapy challenges.

I like to distinguish between “rejection therapy” and “social skydiving.” Whereas rejection therapy is for people who have social anxiety and want to use “therapy” to get to “normal”, social skydiving is to go above and beyond what is considered normal. On the level of application they are the same, but they have slightly different end goals.

You can read more into detail about what social skydiving in Japan is, and follow me on my social skydiving journey here.

To social skydive is to challenge yourself to an exciting adventure. Social Skydiving will change your life both in Japan, and anywhere you go.

Why is Japan a great place to social skydive?

Actually, any place is a great place to social skydive. However, there are a few great reasons I can think of for why I love social skydiving in Japan.

  • You can expand your social circle and meet cool new people and open yourself to new opportunities.

Sure, you can always make friends through social circles, your local bars, work connections, and etc.. But when you start challenging yourself with new, crazy social interactions you build more confidence. And that confidence will open up new doors of opportunity to meet people in ways that might surprise you.

Having those opportunities in a place where foreigners are often seen as being different can actually have a very cool effect! You might find yourself on TV, modeling for Abercrombie and Fitch, breakdancing and tricking with the best underground circles in Tokyo.

Who really knows! The possibilities are endless and depend upon who you are and what your interests are.

  • It gives you a fresh way of practicing Japanese.

One of the biggest problems that people have when learning Japanese is that they are to afraid to speak it (me included!). They are embarrassed about how they will be percieved by the Japanese people if they make mistakes.

I invite you to challenge that embarrassment by purposefully placing yourself in an absurd situation like asking the Japanese police to drive their car.

Not only does it help you overcome your fear of speaking Japanese but you are simultaneously practicing Japanese as well. This is exactly what Moses McCormick and Benny the Irish Polygot, two established polygots, talk about in this popular article.

  • It gives you insight into how the Japanese would react in a given situation.

One of the reasons you’re in Japan is to learn about the culture. Doing these wacky challenges in Japan has surprised me so much at the way the Japanese people will react. It’s unexpected, and its really a lot of fun.

It has taught me that my expectations of what will happen do not always match up with the reality of what will happen if I try.

The only thing I ask is that you always put the other person’s feelings first, and never do anything that would cause the other person shame and embarrassment.

Otherwise, please go out and embarrass yourself, as that’s a part of social skydiving. Place yourself in new social situations that may be intense or embarrassing, so that you overcome fear of that embarrassment and as a result live a more free, uninhibited social life!

How to start Social Skydiving today

Start small. Start with something you know you could do, but would make you feel a bit uncomfortable, and work from there. Remember that its impossible to do the impossible. I started by saying “hello ” to one hundred people on the street.

Make it too hard, and you won’t do it.

It’s like lifting weights. You don’t walk into a gym your first day never having worked out, and try to squat 500 lbs right?

Same with social skydiving. Just make it a bit outside your comfort zone.

Set a quota and stick to it. Give yourself a quota like “25 challenges” or “100 challenges.” You could even set a time frame like “30 challenges – one challenge per day for the next month.” I am personally committing to 25 challenges for my current project I’m documenting.

I also did a social skydiving challenge before, in which I first said “hello” to 100 strangers on the street. Then I did a second challenge in which I started conversations with 100 strangers.

At first I was very shy about all of this, but I started small and worked my way up.

No matter how hard it may seem in the beginning, I know you can do it too. No matter what level you are at in terms of social shyness/confidence, you always need to start with a challenge that is appropriate to you.

Document it! Please don’t skip this step because it’s super important to integrating your mental insights with the experience of doing the challenges.

You could write in a journal about it. You could blog about it. You could make videos and upload them to YouTube (heck, I do all three!). You must give yourself some opportunity to reflect on your experiences so that you can later go back and review the progression of your attitude and mindset.

This is not only super motivating, as you can literally see yourself growing into a stronger, more confident person but it also ensures that you learn all the lessons that social skydiving has to teach!

Find friends to social skydive with. This isn’t a requirement. But its amazing the difference you will feel in being motivated to do this if you have a buddy to share experiences with, and hold each other accountable.

When I did my first set of social skydiving challenges, I didn’t have anyone to share it with. I just did the challenges and wrote about them in my journal.

This time, I have friends who are also doing this to go out with and share my experiences with. We can also really push each other to expand our comfort zones – much more than if we were doing this alone.

Try to find someone interested to do this with you! I’m sure you will enjoy social skydiving much much more.

Go out, and sail the social skies!

That’s it for now. I hope you are as excited about going on this adventure as I am.

If you are interested in seeing me do and talk about my social skydiving in Japan project, give my YouTube a check.

For more written articles about social skydiving in Japan check out the official list of challenges in this article.

For articles about Japan life, learning Japanese, and living a fun and inspiring life in Japan, check out http://tonymichaelhead.com.

For social skydiving in Japan updates and other Japan related fun, check out my Twitter: https://twitter.com/tonymichaelhead

If you enjoy the expression of lifestyle through photos, give my Instagram a look: https://www.instagram.com/tonyingunma/

I really want to hear about your stories and experiences with Social Skydiving as well!

PRIVATE PROPERTY

4 ways to make your JET app stand out (ALT)

If you want to get onto the JET programme then congrats! You are reading this article, which means you are doing the research you need! The JET programme receives several thousand applications every year, so you not only want to make your application good, you want to make it stand out. Here are four tips to help you look like the best JET programme candidate.

1) Why Japan?

I have offered to help some current applicants, and I was surprised that some missed out on this key question: “Why Japan?” You may have a fantastic resume of teaching and/or international experience, maybe even background in TEFL, but miss out on specifying why you want to teach in Japan. Why not teach English in China? South Korea? Or even Europe? Why Japan specifically?

This does not just mean a rich background in Japanese studies – in fact, there are many current JETs that had little to no experience with Japan before coming here. My advice is to answer Why Japan?, or even Why JET?, in your personal statement. Even for those applicants who do have university courses and activities they can list on the “Japan-Related Studies” section of the application, the reality is many people, especially JET applicants, probably have some experience with Japanese culture they can add to their application. To make your application stand out, tell them your story: say what sparked your interest and how you are eager to experience Japanese culture first-hand.

2) Remember, you are applying to be a TEACHER.

For many JETs, the JET programme is their first time teaching, ever (including me!). Some of us joke that in the programme there are two kinds of people: people who have loads of experience with Japanese culture (but no teaching) or people with loads of teaching experience (but no background in Japanese culture). Now imagine the person who has experience with both!

For those of you who have little background in education, I encourage you to list any teaching experience, or even experience working with children and teens, you can think of. You are, after all, not applying to live in Japan, you are applying to teach. There is a place in the application where you can list teaching experience, and it is not limited to teaching in a classroom: ever been a camp counselor? Led a lecture at Sunday School? Assisted your professor and/or high school teacher? Think outside of the box! Any teaching-related experience is good experience! And DO mention it in your personal statement – again, I cannot emphasize it enough, this is a teaching job, so prepare your application accordingly.

3) What can you bring to Japan? …What can you bring back?

Consider this: What is the purpose of the JET programme, and how can you fulfill that purpose?

The answer to this question is (and has been) highly debated, but for your application drop the debate and focus on these two objectives and how you can help the programme meet those objectives (then you can pick it back up again once you are here in an izakaya with your fellow ALTs).

Objective 1: Internationalization of Japan

Allow me to remind you of the JET Programme’s mission statement:

The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program seeks to enhance internationalization in Japan by promoting mutual understanding between the people of Japan and those of other nations. The Program aims to enhance foreign language education and promote international exchange at the local level through the fostering of ties between Japanese youth and foreign youth alike. – The JET Program USA

TL:DR The JET Programme wants to introduce Japanese to foreigners.

Believe it or not, but many rural Japanese may have never met a foreigner before – or if they have, it has more likely than not been an English teacher. Japan is known to be a highly homogeneous and relatively closed society, and many argue that this is hurting Japan’s competitiveness in the ever-globalizing economy. As such, an effort of the JET program is not only to help students learn English from a natural speaker, but to help introduce them to a foreign culture.

In your application, tell them how you can help them meet this objective. Why are you the best candidate to introduce your students to your language and culture? And maybe not just your students, but the community you will be placed in? Consider your that you are applying to be not only a teacher, but a representative of your culture – an agent of grassroots globalization.

Objective 2: “Japanization” of your culture.

The JET programme is not only helping the Japanese internationalize, but it helps to improve Japan’s image around the world. The JET programme as a great example of public diplomacy at work; not only do the Japanese learn more about other cultures, but you have thousands of ALTs going back home each year to spread the love of Japan. Thus, Japan’s image improves.

Though the effectiveness of this is debatable, many JET alumni have indeed gone on to play a role in Japan relations in their home countries. You may have noticed in the “Teaching Experience” section in the application, there is a space for you to talk about your future profession; this is no doubt in relation to this objective. The JET Programme wants to know if you might go on to promote Japan’s interests in an influential way.

I know it’s a bit early to think about what you might be doing after JET but this is your opportunity to show that you are not only a temporary English teacher, but a long term investment. And your answer doesn’t have to be “I want to go into Japan-US relations!” (or Japan-whatever country you are from). If you aren’t a politics person, expand your mind and think of how the JET programme supporters are considering the possibilities: an ALT in Akita-ken who is business-oriented might like komachi rice enough to try to introduce it to people back home, thus making a local business international. A candidate who is interested in teaching will bring their experiences to young people back home, cultivating a good attitude toward Japan in their home country. You can find a way promote Japan’s interests in pretty much every career, so think outside the box and tell them how.

4) International Experience: Abroad AND At Home!

Finally, having international experience helps you stand out for multiple reasons, the least of which being that it proves that you can help the programme meet the two objectives I listed in Tip #3. The other side of the coin is that if you have international experience you are more likely to be able to mentally handle living and working in a foreign country. Showing that you have done it before is a pretty good way to reassure them!

So yes, in the “Intercultural/International Experience” section of the application, DO put that brief week-long trip to Italy. Even if it doesn’t seem entirely related to living in Japan for a year, it actually is! If you have never traveled abroad, that’s perfectly okay! But, like the previous tips, I encourage you to find other things to fill in the “international experience” section of the application if you want your app to really stand out. Any experience with other cultures shows that you can help the programme meet their objectives, and it shows you have an understanding of cultural differences which will better help you deal with culture shock.


I hope these four tips help you and that I will see you at the next Tokyo Orientation! Feel free to comment or contact me, or anyone else with the JET Coaster if you have any questions regarding your application. Also, check out our The JET programme application – paper application post about the first step of your app: the paper application. And finally, stay updated with The JET Coaster as we will be writing more application advice!

Good luck on your application, and がんばって!

Featured image by Tom Ventura, with edits. 

new car keys

How to Rent A Cheap Kei Car in Gunma (For JETs and ALTs)

After living in Osaka for a year I felt that owning a car in Japan was just stupid what with the ease of getting around with trains and bicycles. However when I moved back to Japan after graduating from university and getting into JET, that ideology changed once I moved to the green rolling mountain hills of Gunma prefecture.

Enter the inaka 

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Photo courtesy of Great-Sensei.com

My idea that having a car in Japan is stupid quickly changed after I came to the “inaka” or “countryside” of Japan. Everything was spaced out and it took a 15 minute bike ride up hills to just get to the nearest train station.  I found myself riding my bike for a good hour everyday, traveling to go grocery shopping, to buy clothes, go the gym, etc.  Local sightseeing around Gunma was also a pain and many sights were simply not accessible by train.

My first car… in Japan

Luckily after only a couple months of living in my town I was able to fall in…love?  Or well I found myself a girly and after only a couple months of dating I then found myself being presented with a car from her dad at the low price of just $300!!!  It pays to be beautiful 😉

It wasn’t anything special, a 1998 Toyota Calidina with mileage through the roof, but it did the trick and helped me go on some epic snowboard trips.  However, after only about a year….

Bump, crash, bang!  My car!!!!!!

Unfortunately for me, only a month before I had to renew my insurance, I crashed my car.  It was a monstrous pain in the ass. You can read more about it here and how I was able to bounce back.

After I got my car accident all settled out it was time to decide whether or not to buy a new car or pay for the repairs and pony up for the semi-annual Shaken inspection.

A new car was going to cost me about  $3000- $5000 if I purchased one from a used car salesman I knew.  It included insurance and shakken as well.  Not a bad deal, but since I wasn’t sure where I would be working in the up coming months I hesitated to make a decision. After discussing the topic with my friend Albo, he informed me about a Japanese man that rents cars to English teachers in Gunma.  So I made a post on a facebook group for English teachers in Gunma about renting a car and I soon received a private message from a teacher who knew Ebachan.

The man they call Ebachan

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The man they call “Ebachan”.

I contacted Ebachan immediately and he was very fast to respond to my email and answer my questions.  He spoke very good English and I never had any issues with communication.  After I told him that I was interested in renting from him, he set up a meeting time and I met with him shortly after. For our meeting he bought me donuts and tea and brought them to my house to discuss the contract, insurance, how his rental system worked and so forth.  He clearly described what he needed from me (more info below) and how he could help me if I have any problems what so ever.

The cost

Japanese passenger vehicles are differentiated by the color of their licence plate: yellow and white. Yellow-plate cars have smaller engines and are generally cheaper to run and maintain than White-plate vehicles. Ebachan rents out both yellow plate and white plate cars. The yellow-plate cars cost ¥15,000 or $150 a month.  A white plate car  costs ¥3000 more at ¥18,000 a month.  Ebachan usually has both types of cars for rent.  Unfortunately for me at the time I was looking to rent he didn’t have any cheaper yellow-plate cars and so I had to get the more expensive of the two.  But a ¥3000 yen difference isn’t too bad for being able to fit a bunch of your friends and their snowboard gear.

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This was my white plate wagon… It got the job done.

Why get a rental car instead of buying?

If you are an ALT, the only reason to buy a car over renting one in Gunma in my opinion, is if you want to drive a sports car.  If that’s not you, then save your money.  If you think you’ll only be staying 1 or 2 years, it may end up being cheaper if you just rent a car. In addition to the upfront cost of buying the car and all the maintenance costs, you don’t need to pay car tax ($500 a year), insurance ($500 to 1000 a year), and shakken ($1000 for two years.)

The other plus of renting from Ebachan(something I wish he was there to help me with when I had my previous car) is that he will help you if you get in an accident.  Unless you speak fluent Japanese, if you get in an accident it can be a hassle, trust me I know…  Besides dealing with a potential hot head Japanese yelling crazy Japanese slang at you, or police investigating you as if you murdered someone, you also have to phone your insurance company and deal with all the keigo (polite form Japanese.)  Not with Ebachan.  You can let him handle all that mess.

Besides doing all the talking for you, he will also handle any repairs or maintenance to your car as well.  He also owns a toe truck and if your car ever breaks down he is willing to come pick you up… I don’t have any clue what I would do in Japan by myself if that happened.

Overall the number one reason to choose Ebachan and a rental car over buying a car is…Convenience.  You have to pay 2 months in advance (for me that ended up being about $360), but after that you have the freedom to cancel anytime.  You also have support and can call him anytime with questions, help and advice and he may even take you hiking and show you around Gunma (unfortunately I had to miss out on his offer but he’s pretty experienced and goes  a lot during the summer it seems.)

How to make a contract

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To make a contract with Ebachan and get your own rental car you only need to bring four things to him!

  1. A photo copy of your international driving license
  2. Photo copy of your passport (only your picture is required.)
  3. Your bank book
  4. Your Hanko (name stamp/seal)  – This is used to set up an automatic withdrawal for the payment

Personal car insurance

So although you avoid having to pay the Japanese car check-up and insurance (called “shakken” in Japanese), your probably going to want a personal insurance that covers accidents with people, property damage, car damage, etc.  In my case I had help buying a cheap insurance for about $1000 a year that covered all my basic needs except for car damage, but I wish I knew about Ebachan sooner because he offers a great deal.

For people wanting insurance and the safety knowing your covered if an accident was to occur, Ebachan can introduce you to an agent of Tokyo Marine Nichido Fire Insurance, one of the biggest insurance companies in Japan and get you hooked up.

Don’t live in Gunma? No problem!

no problemo

Although Ebachan mainly helps English teachers with rental cars in Gunma, he also offers his services to English teachers in nearby prefectures that are not too far away (2 hours drive out of Gunma would be tolerable.)

Sadly if you live in another prefecture you will have to find another man.  However, the base cost for rental cars in Japan is about the same, your just going to lose the convenience of an English speaking Japanese helper most likely.  However, you can ask your boss, supervisor, girlfriend / boyfriend and they can help you get a rental car set up and with a little more hustling you can end up with the same good deal.

Before I found Ebachan I was looking into renting a car at another rental shop and had my girlfriend help me with translations and it ended up being quite similar to Ebachan.  However, Ebachan’s convenience, honesty, and English speaking ability made me decide to take my business up with him.

Contacting Ebachan

Email: ebachan32401579acupofbeer@yahoo.co.jp
Telephone: 027-283-5881
Shop: Ebachan’s Garage (“Tsurukiya Jidosha” in Japanese )
Location: 784-2 Kashiwakura, Maebashi-city, Gunma 〒371-0246

 

HOW TO BE A GREAT ALT

More than being genki: how to be a great ALT

One misconception about teaching in Japan is that if you’re super genki or energetic, you’ll automatically be an excellent teacher. In fact, many JTEs (Japanese Teachers of English) expect ALTs to be genki all the time. Nothing is wrong with genkiness per se but just being the foreign clown in the classroom will not help your students learn English. You are not here just to entertain but to teach. After one year as an ALT, here are some tips I’ve developed on how to be a good assistant teacher.

 

1. LEARN SOME JAPANESE BEFORE YOU GET HERE.

Learn more than survival phrases so that you can actually have conversations with your JTEs and other colleagues. This will help you to build more lasting relationships in the work environment. Initiate small talk. Share your culture and experiences. Also if you learn Japanese, you will understand the differences between Japanese and English and understand why students and teachers make certain errors.

2. TAKE YOUR JOB SERIOUSLY.

You are here to teach English. You are not on an extended vacation. Even if you’ve never taught before, don’t make that an excuse for poor lesson planning and execution. Just because you’re a native speaker does not automatically make you a great English teacher. Linguistics professor Robert Phillipson calls this the “native speaker fallacy.” There are many resources online. Use them.

3. RECOGNISE THE DIFFERENCE

between teaching English to native speakers and teaching English to ESL students. Don’t assume that your Japanese students will automatically understand complex grammatical rules. Break it down in the simplest way possible.

4. BE REALISTIC.

Not all Japanese students are well behaved. Many will sleep in class, talk loudly and not speak or utter a word in English. In fact, not all Japanese students want to learn English. Many of them don’t care about English because they don’t see how it relates to their daily lives. Focus on the students who are really interested and motivated to learn English.

5. REMEMBER THAT YOU WERE HIRED AS AN ASSISTANT LANGUAGE TEACHER.

Accordingly, you should respect the other JTEs as your superiors. You are here to help them, not run your own show. Once you humble yourself and stick to your role, you won’t feel frustrated. In my case, being an ALT meant team teaching, making lesson plans and activities, marking assignments and exam scripts, making and assessing speaking tests, coaching students for speech contests and managing the ESS (English Speaking Society).

6. GET FAMILIAR WITH EACH JTE’S TEACHING STYLE AND EXPECTATIONS.

Some may want you to take a backseat. Some may want you to be the head teacher. Adjust yourself accordingly.

7. LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR JTES HAVE TO SAY.

Remember that they too are constrained in their roles by the curriculum, examinations, club activities and other pressures. Use the textbook to guide your activities. Make sure that your team teaching classes supplement the classes the JTE teaches by himself or herself.

8. SHARE YOUR IDEAS ABOUT TEACHING.

Many of my JTEs were receptive to my ideas because I presented them in a firm yet polite way. I also clearly justified my position so that they were more likely to be persuaded to adopt my suggestions.

9. BE READY TO ANSWER COMPLEX GRAMMAR QUESTIONS FROM YOUR JTES.

If you don’t know, don’t lie and say something stupid. Do some research first and then get back to them.

10. ALWAYS BE ON TOP OF YOUR SCHEDULE.

In my high school, my timetable would change so frequently that it became something nice to look at. Listen to the announcements during the daily morning meeting to know whether the teaching day will follow a normal or special schedule. Ask the teachers what they want you to do and plan your lessons in advance.

11. GET TO THE CLASSROOM FIVE MINUTES EARLY

especially if you are using technology in your lesson. Many mishaps may occur like computer updates, power outages and speakers that don’t work. Always have a plan B or a low tech version of your activities.

12. BE AWARE OF THE TEACHING AND LEARNING ENVIRONMENT.

Japanese students are a lot more reticent than learners in other countries. For your self-introduction, help them get out of their shells by rearranging the classroom into small groups. This drastically changes the work atmosphere to a more collaborative one so that students are more likely to speak out. Also, don’t give a speech. Instead, make the students guess key things about yourself like your favourite food etc.

13. IF YOU ASK A QUESTION TO THE WHOLE CLASS, DON’T EXPECT ANYONE TO ANSWER IMMEDIATELY.

Speak slowly and give students time to answer. Encourage students to discuss it with a partner. Japanese students have a tendency to consult with their peers before they answer in front of a class of 41 students.

14. USE SIMPLE ENGLISH IN THE CLASSROOM.

Don’t use too much slang and don’t ramble as you’ll just confuse the students. Speak clearly and slowly so they can catch every word.

15. TEACH REAL ENGLISH

through viral videos, posters, signs, brochures, social media posts, movies, music, emails etc. Also show them that it’s not always possible to literally translate Japanese to English. Instead, teach them to develop an English mindset. Teach them that they need to think in English to speak and write understandable English.

16. EXPLAIN THAT THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS STANDARD ENGLISH.

Explain that the textbook does not provide all the answers about the English language. Explain that there is a variety of World Englishes. Explain that the language is always constantly evolving. Show that there’s not always a right or wrong way of speaking or writing English. Explain that just because someone speaks English with a different accent does not mean that he or she is speaking incorrectly.

17. ALWAYS GIVE YOUR STUDENTS A SPACE TO SPEAK AND WRITE FREELY IN ENGLISH.

Allow them to speak freely during warm up activities or introduce them to free writing. This gives them an opportunity to practise their English free of judgement and correction. Explain that’s it’s okay to make mistakes when producing language, that even native speakers do so on a regular basis! Free teachers and students from the misconception that English is muzukashii or difficult to learn.

18. CONSTANTLY REFLECT ON YOUR TEACHING.

Are you relating well to your JTEs? Does your relationship with the JTE in the classroom help the students understand English better? Are your lesson plans mirroring or extending the English taught by your JTEs in their other English classes? What activities need more explaining? Do you need to provide more examples? Constantly assess whether you’ve pitched your lesson at the appropriate level so that it’s not too hard and too easy for your students. Record your observations in a teaching journal after every class.

19. GET INVOLVED IN LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM.

School life in Japan is more than lessons and examinations. There are so many school activities and events to participate in: sports day, school festivals, cleaning time, club activities. Be genuinely interested and get in there!

20. REMEMBER THAT BEING AN ALT IS A SHORT-TERM JOB, NOT A LONG-TERM CAREER.

Accordingly, adjust your expectations and treat it as a learning experience.

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How to Stay Healthy in Japan

Half of you (especially if you’ve never lived in Japan before) looked at the title for this post thinking, “What on earth is she going to talk about? It’s a cinch!” while I’m sure the other half of you clicked on this thinking, “Finally someone’s talking about this!” Now that you’ve clicked and are reading, let me first give an overview of what I mean.

Before I came to Japan my first time, I believed the stereotype that Japan is extremely healthy and that I will lose several pounds by not even trying during my 9 month exchange student period. With this expectation in mind, before leaving the States, I loaded up on Snickerdoodle cookies (which I still don’t entirely regret because they’re delicious) and otherwise went about my normal week walking to class every day around my 1,933 acre campus, eating healthy food until the weekends, and taking Zumba classes at the gym every night.

Boy was I hit with a slap in the face when, after just a few weeks into my stay in Japan, I realized I had to try to make sure I didn’t gain weight and be almost even more careful of what I was doing than in America. I was being fed extremely processed white bread for breakfast and was served heaping portions of mainly white rice or noodles for lunch/dinner. My afternoon snacks of fruit were forcibly replaced by packaged cakes and candies by my host family since fruit is more expensive here. I walked 20 minutes to the station, 10 minutes to the college campus, and back, and that was all the movement I was able to get in a day.

“Japan is healthy” isn’t necessarily a lie. “I lost so much weight in Japan!” is also very true for many people. But it’s a very subjective reality. What I came to realize is that on the spectrum of healthy and unhealthy, America has two vastly different extremes, with whole wheat/whole grain everything and salad bars on the one end, and deep fried Oreos on the other.

Good luck finishing this giant bowl of ramen on your own if you're not a pubescent boy. I (and my 20-something male friend) tried.

Good luck finishing this giant bowl of ramen on your own if you’re not a pubescent boy. I (and my 20-something male friend) tried.

Japan has a much more limited scope that fits somewhere in the middle. Portions do not tend to be as huge as in the US, but I have been on the receiving end of many massive bowls of ramen and plates of omuraisu that I really wished I could take home half of. Fish is the staple meat, along with other easily accessible protein substitutes like tofu and natto (for some good recipes for all the haters, try something from here), although consumption of red meat is also on the rise. Japan does have quite a variety of fried foods (karaage, tempura, tonkatsu), but at least the portions don’t tend to be quite as large in the States. Japan does a very good job with organic produce (even if it is not labeled so, most tends to be organic), which goes bad almost immediately, so you need to make sure you use them up in your diet quite a lot quickly. Vegetables do tend to be integrated into cooked meals more than they tend to be in the US, but on the other hand, carbohydrates tend to be the focus of most Japanese cuisine (rice, noodles, etc.) and no meal is set without them. Bakeries are also everywhere, and melon-pan gets me every time. The key word here in almost all of these statements is “tend.”

Basically, refer to this diagram if I lost you here.

Japan.US food health

The US-Japan food spectrum. (The same can apply for exercise.)

Therefore, whether Japan is “healthy” completely depends on what your lifestyle and diet were like at home. For example, I’ve heard countless Japanese (and otherwise) exchange students at my home university complain about how much weight they gained after coming to the US. Upon probing, I found that in the majority of the cases, these were the people who ate fast food nearly every day (rather than cook for themselves and therefore control what they ate) or ate in the fast-food-esque lines at the cafeteria instead of the healthier alternatives, and never used the gym membership that they paid for as a part of their tuition. Everyone always marvels at American restaurant portion sizes but never portions a part of it out into a to-go bag, which is in any case a rarity in Japan. While it tends to be easier to make bad eating (etc.) decisions in the US than in Japan (again, because of the spectrum and the “tend”), that they gained weight was, essentially, their own choice.

I’m not saying that I’m the perfect epitome of a healthy American lifestyle. I do enjoy my deep fried Oreo, but the chance to eat them only comes around once or twice a year. My philosophy is cook healthy at home, eat whatever I want at restaurants once or twice a weekend. At such restaurants, most of the time I take some amount home, loving to get both a lunch and dinner for the price of one. I stick spinach and a good variety of vegetables in nearly everything I cook. I hate running and using exercise machines, but also hate sitting in class/at work for the majority of my day, and found walking around to class instead of taking the campus bus and Zumba and other dance-exercise classes to scratch my lazy leg itch.

Lotteria actually sells these types of burgers quite regularly.

If you ask Japanese people how they maintain their weight, you’ll get a lot of various answers. They walk or bike everywhere. They eat white rice, not bread, the thought being that if you eat bread, you need to heap on the butter and jam, but you can eat rice just as it is. (As I don’t eat either necessarily as a staple, and do not see white rice as “healthy,” I especially have qualms with this personally.) They eat more fish and vegetables. Fad diets (like the banana diet) are popular and “work” for some people. Standard portions are smaller. They drink green tea almost every day (as have I since high school).

As you can tell, all of these reasons don’t really explain it to me very well. I tend to be even more healthy than what they sugggest above and am still not as stick-thin as the standard woman here. I acknowledge that thinness or thickness is to an extent a result of lifestyle, but to another extent, after watching tiny girls inhale giant bowls of ramen and then plates of gyoza (pot stickers) and then eat a piece of cake, I have come to the conclusion that part of it is just a very good metabolism as well. Therefore, I consider myself mostly on the healthy side of the food spectrum, right before you hit the Japan line in the diagram above, although I do acknowledge that I may be something of a minority. Minority as I may be, I know there are so many people who struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle like me in Japan.

Now, how do you accomplish this?

Food

This is a tough one, but at least now with the internet and the increasing internationalization of the country, it’s becoming easier and easier.

Rule #1: Stop eating melon-pan. Like I said above, the Japanese exchange students coming to America gained weight mostly because they didn’t have enough self-discipline. This goes the same way in reverse. This time around, I returned to Japan and bought all (exaggeration, but not by far) the kashi-pan (pastries) at the convenience stores and bakeries because it had been so long since I had any, and they are so good. Before I knew it, what I had originally planned to be a treat after a long while had turned into a habit. Break your bad habits early. Sure matcha kit kats are amazing, but if you buy them, put them in a place (corner of a cabinet, drawer, etc.) that’s not somewhere you look immediately, because the phrase is true to an extent: out of sight, out of mind. Eat your sweet, sweet cryptonite every now and then, but make sure it’s not regular enough to form a dependence or a habit.

Additionally, watch out for the convenience store food. This is essentially one form of Japanese fast food (Western places like McDonald’s are everywhere, but they tend to be higher prices for smaller portions than the American versions) in that it is cheap and pretty delicious, but can be horribly unhealthy. Just like how you can order a McSalad, you can buy a salad at the convenience store. Or you could order nikuman, corn dogs, spaghetti and meatballs, omuraisu in a demi-glaze sauce, katsu don, okonomiyaki, etc. I have grabbed the most delicious-looking item in the fridge section only to look at the health information and see that it is over 1000 calories by itself. Conbini food is cheap and pretty good quality, but just watch out. As with normal fast food, watch out for eating too much at places like Yoshinoya or Coco Ichiban (Japanese fast food restaurants).

Buy this guy at Lawson for 500 yen, intake 900 calories.

Rule #2: Find the healthy substitutes. While I was in Nagoya, I managed to find whole wheat spaghetti in the import stores, and one bag of brown rice in the giant rice section of the regular grocery stores. After arriving in Utsunomiya, I found the spaghetti in only one of several import stores, and zero brown rice in my local supermarket (although the rice section was much smaller than the other supermarkets I had been to in Nagoya). Import stores were trying to make me pay an exuberant price for a tiny bag of multi-grain rice (no brown rice was in stock), which was ridiculous, also considering Japan does produce and sell brown rice; it’s just not as common (for only the extremely health conscious mothers or vegetarians, as I was told). For this (and many other foods from back home you can’t find too often, such as oatmeal or almond butter), Amazon.co.jp is your friend. If you just look it up, you can find giant bags of brown rice for reasonable prices PLUS free shipping (sorry for missing you the first time you tried to deliver my giant, heavy package to my 3rd floor apartment, delivery man). I just bought 5 kg of Akita rice for a bit over 1,600 yen, and that will last me quite a while. If it won’t many Amazon orders actually offer you a discount if you purchase a delivery plan for your rice (and other products). For example, if you schedule to automatically re-order the same bag of rice ever 1-6 months, you can get about 100 yen off each time.

As for whole grain bread, while you will definitely not have the same amount of choices as you probably would back home, if you look hard enough, you can find about one or two choices of whole grain bread in the island that is Japanese white processed bread. The one I find most frequently is this one:

They also offer a rye bread with more or less the same health information. While these still may be on the unhealthy side compared to what you eat back home, they’re definitely the better option in Japan unless you can find other imported varieties of bread.

Also, if you don’t want to pay the price for the comfort of home and health, find some substitutes with Japanese ingredients! I’ve found varieties of “ramen” in supermarkets with noodles made from konyaku, which is full of fiber and fun. Instead of buying overpriced wheat spaghetti, substitute your Western noodles with soba (buckwheat noodles). Get creative with your cooking, and the world opens up to you. Your Japanese coworkers will also be majorly impressed.

Low-calorie, low-carb konyaku noodles

Speaking of noodles, if you need something quick, get one of these many healthier (low calorie) alternatives for cup noodles!

 

When searching online or at the market, here are some words to look out for:

低糖質 (tei toushitsu) or 糖質オフ (toushitsu ofu): “low-sugar/carb” or “reduced sugar/carb”

低カロリー (tei carorii) or カロリーオフ (carorii ofu): “low-calorie” or “reduced calorie”

低脂肪 (tei shibou) or 脂肪オフ (shibou ofu): “low-fat” or “reduced fat”

全粒 (zenryuu): whole grain

玄米 (genmai): brown rice (as opposed to “white rice” or 白米 [hakumai], which is standard and probably won’t be labeled specifically)

 

Exercise

This is surprisingly one of the most difficult things. Walking 30-60 minutes a day total does nothing for me, but apparently works for the rest of the population. I’m used to doing that plus 45 minutes of intense exercise every day. However, this is by far not popular in Japan. Gyms are not a regular thing for most people, and tend to be few and incredibly expensive. Where I live, if I want to join a Zumba class, I have to ride my bike or take a bus for at least 45 minutes just to get to a gym and then pay 500 yen each time–no thank you. Therefore, unless you are incredibly lucky with a nice public gym near your house, you may need to get creative.

Rule #1: Exercise at home. This is easier said than done, as many people live in apartments, and due to the high humidity, carpet is something of a rarity across the country. As for me, I live on the top floor of an apartment complex with wooden floors, and just enough space for me to do an exercise video in my living room if I shuffle some furniture around.

How do I accomplish getting a good workout without making my downstairs neighbors try to attack me? Here are my tips:

  • Buy a good (thick) yoga/pilates mat or floor rugs. While these won’t completely muffle the sound of you jumping around upstairs, they are significantly better for your downstairs neighbors than you jumping around on hardwood floors. You can buy some cheap ones again on Amazon or maybe check some stores in your area, like Don Quixote.
  • Use YouTube. If you’re into Zumba like me, just look up your favorite song + Zumba (or “dance fitness,” or the like), and odds are something will come up. Make your own playlists, and make your own class! I’ve also really gotten into Doonya (Bollywood fitness) and hula fitness lessons. The same goes for yoga, kickboxing, etc. Recently I found this activity called Buti Yoga, which combines yoga with dance exercise, which is relatively quiet for your neighbors but still a good workout. Basically, the internet is your friend.
  • Don’t exercise at odd hours. As I said, odds are a normal yoga mat or floor rug will not muffle everything you do, so make sure you don’t exercise when people are most likely sleeping, etc. Use your own discretion here.

Rule #2: Fit exercise naturally into your life. I, like many other people, am busy, and don’t always have the time or energy to do a 30-45 minute exercise routine after or before work. Therefore, it is important to naturally fit more movement into your day. Buy a under-the-desk pedal like this and do some desk exercises. If you’re nervous about what your coworkers think of you, maybe try something else. Bike to work instead of taking the bus if you’re far. If you’re close, walk to work instead of biking. If you walk to work normally…maybe run around for a while.

Run, fat white people, run up the stairs! While there are some racial issues with this poster in my office, it does have a point.

Run, fat white people, run up the stairs! While there are some racial issues with this poster in my office, it does have a point.

I work on the 7th floor of an office building and have been taking the stairs as often as I can (if you work out a system, it’s not as tough or crazy as it sounds). The main hall has spaced-out “grand” staircases with platforms to walk to the next staircase in between until the 3rd floor, which makes a good warm up (in addition to the 20 minutes I walk to work), then from there, I take the normal stairwell up the next 4 flights. From there, I walk around for about a minute to let my heart rate go down. If you still think I’m crazy, take the elevator up halfway, and go up the stairs from there. Do whatever works!

Basically, take a look at your surroundings, and think of a system to get that heart pounding (because of fitness reasons, and not because that car almost hit you running around)!

"I'm not fat!" "And I'm not skinny!" Body differences!

“I’m not fat!”
“And I’m not skinny!”
Body differences!

To end here, while not everyone can afford to do everything I suggest here, these are just some potential tips to get you started. Hopefully this sheds some light on the realities of both American and Japanese stereotypes, and can help out those like me struggling to stay healthy and sane in the land of the rising sun. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment, as I am always looking for new ways to stay fit in Japan!

 

Featured original image credit here.

Destination fuji

In Search of Goraiko: Destination Fuji (How To Climb Mt. Fuji)

The  beauty of the Japanese language, in my opinion, rests in the existence of a myriad of words used to describe very specific feelings that are often thought to be difficult to put into words. Let me elaborate. The Japanese word “goraiko” (ご来光) can be defined as the sunrise from Mt. Fuji, and sometimes as the overwhelming feeling you get when witnessing said sunrise. This feeling is often thought to be a sacred experience, as the sun is considered to be godly or god-like.

Of course this word does not exist in the English language, but I was still determined to experience its meaning. After all, how can we truly understand a feeling unless we have previously experienced it ourselves? And with that, I made the (crazy) decision to hike to the peak of Mount Fuji, a World Heritage Site and Japan’s highest mountain. At night. Oh my!

What will follow are general Fuji hiking tips mixed in with an account of my own personal experience.

No this isn't Shinjuku station- even the summit of Fuji is super crowded during the hiking season.

No this isn’t Shinjuku station- even the summit of Fuji is super crowded during the hiking season.

Preparation and the Great Fuji Myth

As far as mountain climbing is concerned, Fuji is by no means a difficult climb. Or so they say. Fuji is often advertised as being a mountain that anyone, regardless of level or age, can climb. This should really be taken with a grain of salt. After all, how easy could climbing 3,776 meters for 5-10+ hours be? Realistically, hiking Fuji should not be underestimated and you MUST prepare adequately. Only you can know your own limits, but if you have difficulties climbing up a flight of stairs (as I sometimes do) then you will obviously have difficulties climbing Fuji.

These hikers were well prepared, and they made it to the top!

These hikers were well prepared, and they made it to the top!

Fuji has an official hiking season, early July to early-mid September. This is when most people will climb the mountain, and this is also when I decided to climb. Outside of peak season, climbing Fuji is much, much more challenging, and only experienced hikers are advised to climb. Though it is considerably less congested, temperatures dip well below zero, and the rest huts along the trails are not open for business so you must be bring everything you need.

What you should absolutely have:

  1. HIKING BOOTS. Confession: I climbed Fuji wearing the wrong footwear. I was told that you can rent hiking boots at station 5 of the Fujinomiya trail, however I did not have time to rent any as the rental place closes at 3p.m. Be wary of this! Going up Fuji I was relatively fine with my definitely-not-made-for-hiking sneakers, but on the way down… absolute hell! So please, please, please make sure you bring adequate footwear!
  1. Water! And food! And yen! Yes, you can purchase things to eat or drink along the trail, but the general formula on Fuji is “as altitude increases, prices also increase”. You must keep hydrated as you climb, so it’s good to have plenty of water- as much as you are willing to carry but not less than 1-2L. As far as food goes, the usual hiking foods will do: trail mixes, protein bars, replacement meals, and the like. As for the money, you will need between 200-300 yen each time you use the bathrooms at the rest huts, so plan accordingly.
  2. Layers of warm clothing. It gets very, very cold! Even if at the bottom you are dying from hyperthermia, realize that you may be dying of hypothermia by the time you go up. So bring extra layers, scarves, gloves, hats, blankets, a heated kotatsu table (just kidding on this last one… maybe), etc.
  3. Flashlight, preferably a “head light”. I did not have a head light, but most people did. This will allow you to see while you climb in the dark with both hands free. Very convenient.
Remeber to bring a buddy! Or two!

Remeber to bring a buddy! Or two!

5. At least one buddy! So, you could theoretically climb alone. During hiking season the mountain is literally packed with people so you will technically never ever be alone, but it’s always nice to have someone with you who can help you if anything were to happen. Also my hiking buddies really helped keep me motivated. I am convinced that if I did not have someone with me I would not have gotten to the peak.

  1. Probably something else, but I forget.

Fujinomiya Trail-blazin’

There are four trails you can take to reach the peak. Varying in difficulty and location, each trail offers a slightly different experience. As I live in Shizuoka prefecture, I hiked on a trail starting from there (one trail begins in Yamanashi prefecture)- the Fujinomiya trail. This is a good choice for the less experienced hikers because it has plenty of rest stations along the way. The trail begins at Station 5, 2,400m along the mountain. The peak is Station 10, but this is a bit misleading because there are more than just stations 6, 7, 8, and 9 along the way. There also exists “Old Station 7”, and Station 9.5.

Hiking along the Fujinomiya trail alongside the clouds.

Hiking the Fujinomiya trail alongside the clouds.

During the hiking season, rest stations are equipped with rest huts where you can sleep if you choose to, but that will cost about 6,000 yen depending on the season, and you do need reservations. Fortunately, you do not need to sleep at the huts if you choose not to, and there is some floor room and benches outside of the huts where you can still pull out your blanket and rest for a bit. These rest stations also sell food, drinks, souvenir brand markings for your walking sticks, and bathroom access. It is advisable to rest anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour at any of these stations in order to adjust to the altitude and avoid altitude sickness. My group rested at station 5 for over an hour before beginning, and we spent about 20-30 min at each subsequent station after wards, with intermittent mini-rests throughout, as necessary.

Be prepared for breathtaking views!

Be prepared for breathtaking views!

My experience on the Fujinomiya trail going up was this: during the first 20 minutes I started out waaay too fast, and decided “wow, this is so hard, I can’t do it!”. Definitely you want to keep a very slow and steady pace when you go up… going too fast can really deplete you of oxygen, especially at these altitudes! Personal rule: I don’t always go slow, but when I do, it’s when I hike Mt. Fuji.

Please go at your own pace, drink lots of water, and when you feel like you want to give up (you may feel this a lot), please remember that something special is waiting for you at the top.

Nirvana!

Right before the sun rise...

Right before the sun rise…

...And there it is!

…And there it is!

There is a point on the Fuji hike where you will know that all of the difficulty was worth it- reaching the peak.

Watching the sun rise from the highest point in Japan is absolutely a moment you will remember and cherish for your entire life. No exaggeration. If there is a reason Japan is known as the land of the rising sun, this is it. I won’t describe this moment too much, but I will invite you to try and experience this for yourself at least once in your life.

Post-sunrise, the top of Fuji has much to offer. You can mail a postcard letting your loved ones know you are alive at the peak’s post office, visit a temple where you can purchase charms, walk around and enjoy the scenery, take a peek at Fuji’s very own crater (did you forget that this thing you were climbing was a volcano?), take a nap at the summit, or eat cup ramen at the tenth station.

It does get a bit congested, but I would recommend really soaking up the peak and looking at the volcanic landscape, the rocks, the tori gates, the views…

The Mount Fuji Descent: Descending the 9 Inner Circles of Hell

Beautiful yet deadly- the Mt. Fuji descent.

Beautiful yet deadly- the Mt. Fuji descent.

“That which goes up must also come back down.” – A Wise Man (also, a panicked realization of many people at the peak of a mountain)

Once you’ve reached peak, the only way down is… The way you came up from. Yes, you will have to face the tortuous trail once more! If you are on the Fujinomiya trail, you use the same path to go both up and down, so it can become quite congested during hiking season. You should factor this in with the estimated time it will take you to go back down.

For whatever reason, Fuji guide books say you can descend Fuji in as few as 2 hours. I think this may only be true if you literally jump off the top and fall to the bottom, because I found the Fuji descent to be much, much more difficult than the ascent (although it definitely does take less time). Remember that you probably have not slept in hours, and have just climbed up a mountain, so do not think you have to descend quickly. Take your time and be safe!

Climbing down gravely terrain means you should expect to fall on your bum at least once (or in my case, closer to one thousand times), so make sure you maintain a good pace as to not tumble down the wrong way and get seriously injured.

Yes, some people can run down Fuji and be done in just a few hours, but my guess is that they hail from Krypton and are thus super humans. If this sounds like you, then no need to worry too much about the descent.

Other than that, stay alert! And expect to hear many ohayo’s and konnichiwa’s from friendly hikers that pass you on your way up.

PFSD- Post Fuji Stress Disorder

It's been real, Fuji...

It’s been real, Fuji…

After Fuji you will be beat- in pain, exhausted, starving, and personally, I never wanted to even look at a mountain ever again… so, I fell into the deepest sleep of my life.

It was amazing.

And after that, you can do what I did and reflect back on what was accomplished- I just hiked to the top of Japan’s highest mountain! Check THAT off the bucket list!

“一度も登らない馬鹿、2度登る馬鹿” – “
You are a fool if you never climb it (Mt. Fuji), you are twice the fool if you climb it more than once”.

6 Must Read Tips For New JETs & ALTs

Advice For New JETs, 6 Must-Read Tips

So you did the hard part, right? You’re on the programme. Time to let your hair down and enjoy the ride. Right? Wrong.

Now begins the serious work.

If you come here with a half-arsed attitude you won’t last long and won’t have much fun.

I’ve been where you are and seen many, many more people walk the same path. From my leaning ivory sempai tower, here come six absolutely vital tips or advice for new JETs

Advice For New JETs #1 – Learn Japanese

Seems obvious, right? I will reiterate strongly the incontrovertible maxim that higher Japanese ability correlates strongly with more fun in Japan. (If you’re already a gun, skip ahead) You can communicate better at work, develop a good social circle, and it even helps you find romance.

So what should you do about it? Get studying! Anki, Koohii (RTK) and grammar guides are great starting points. Dedicate at least an hour a day to serious study.

Actual kids were happier than the masking emoticons!

Actual kids were happier than the masking emoticons!

Put it the effort. You will be rewarded.

Advice For New JETs #2 – Be Happy At Work

Easier said than done? Not really.

My friend Tony wrote a fantastic article on how you can control your attitudes and mindsets: How The Words We Use Affect Our Reality. Take a positive attitude at work. Even if you come in at 8:15 at leave at 16:15 and do the bare minimum, do what you do with a smile and appreciation for the great experience you have.

Advice For New JETs #3 – Eat Out A Lot

Gyoza in Utsunomiya

Gotta selfie. Gyoza in Utsunomiya with the locals

While I wouldn’t suggest going out every night (bad for your wallet), eating out a lot is a fantastic thing for new JETs to do. It gives you a chance to taste new foods and experience your local delicacies. It also provides a great opportunity to converse with the locals and potentially build great connections. My friend Joshua “Great Sensei” Walters is especially good at this. Wish he’d write an article dissecting how and why (wink, wink).

Strike up a conversation at the local yakitori place; who knows where it might lead!

It will also help keep you in good spirits, eating delicious stuff all the time. It shouldn’t cripple your finances either due to there being a fairly slim margin between the costs of eating out and eating at home. Just be active and watch your health and figure.

Advice For New JETs #4 – Travel

I came to Japan as a guy who didn’t really ‘get’ travel. I’d done a lot of it when I lived in England (over 20 countries) but mostly for work or with family. Arriving here changed that. TJC co-founder Thomas Simmons is a close friend and he was a big influence. He showed me that travel was something that had numerous charm points. Self-development, cultural awareness, horizon-expanding, mentality-strengthening and … good old fashioned fun times.

What can you do about it? First, I urge you to download Thomas’ free guide on travel (form bottom of this post). It teaches you in easy steps how to plan and execute a ballin’ trip. It should be a $10 ebook but it’s free. Just go get it before he listens to my advice and charges for it.

Secondly, please follow me on your social network of choice! I upload snaps to Instagram and Facebook. Also from time-to-time I will make travel blog posts here. Perhaps, some of the destinations I visit will appeal to you, and you can head off for your own adventure.

Advice For New JETs #5 – Dress Well

I have yet to write any articles about dressing specifically for work, but don’t underestimate the effect of presentation. Your clothing reflects your identity and attitude to appearance. If you dress poorly, you are broadcasting low social acuity and carelessness. Dress sharply and practically and you communicate efficiency, professionalism and capability.

 

Daniel Bamford ALT Teacher Japan Classroom

Advice For New JETs #6 – Other Tidbits

Skype your family. But, don’t over-Skype. Find a solid hobby and make it worthwhile (sorry, gaming doesn’t count). Play an instrument or a sport. Read extensively, focusing on books that will make you a better person. Do some nice decor and fit out your apartment. I’m sure there are hundreds of other good tips too.

This advice probably applies to existing old JETs too, but I was compelled to write this for all those freshies out there who are sick of hearing about Stages or ESIDs. This isn’t Kansas college, folks. Flourish and revel in your new life.

Any questions or ideas, I’d love to interface! You can message me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. I want to contribute and help, just hit me up. If you found the article inspirational or useful, please consider sharing it with your friends so they can benefit too.


The full version of this article appeared on Daniel Bamford’s personal blog. If you’re interested in the recommendations, check it out for more depth.
Advice For New JETs, 6 Must-Read Tips

 

KILL

Japanese Horror Story: How to deal with abnormal sized bugs

Mira: The Crusher

Three years ago, on a hot summer night, I laid in bed focused solely on a good night’s sleep while my thoughts slowly drifted away.  All I could think about was surviving one more night in the dreaded heat and going back home in a few weeks time. At that time, I was a student studying abroad in Osaka, and lived in my own AC-less apartment on the first floor of a building. I woke up in the middle of the night, must’ve been 3am or so, dying of heat.  My electric fan wasn’t enough. I needed a cooler breeze, and so decided to open the screen-less balcony door to get some fresh air.  My balcony didn’t lead to the street; it was hidden behind another building and some bushes, so I wasn’t worried about someone walking into my apartment in the middle of the night.  I decided to leave the door open, put the fan in front and go back to sleep.  At around 6am or so, I felt someone touch me on my stomach, or should I say something? The tingling sensation ran across my stomach from left to right and woke me up with a jolt.  As I sat up, I looked across the room to see if anyone was there, but there wasn’t.  The tingling sensation continued across my thighs and my face suddenly turned white.  I couldn’t move.  I couldn’t breathe.  There was something under my sheets.  That something kept moving across my body as if it was looking for something.  I slowly picked the sheets up and lifted them up.  There it was.  Standing over my leg with its black body, its disgusting long legs and wings, looking right through me.  I swear, we even made eye contact for a whole three seconds, before I went bat shit crazy, slapped the cockroach head on, dropped the blanket back on it and ran out of my apartment. What had I just seen? What had just happened? I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t calm down.  My heart was beating so fast standing outside in the hallway. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I honestly didn’t know what to do.  I had NEVER seen a cockroach in my whole entire life.  In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen a bug that big. Damn you, hot & humid weather! I thought about what I could do, stepped back into my apartment tippy toeing around my bed to get my phone, and immediately called my mom on Skype crying and panicked. She laughed so hard at my misery. Thanks mom. She then told me to kill it.  Right…as if it was that easy.  I can barely kill a spider, imagine a fatter and bigger one that can fly. But alas, I had to do it.  There was no other way I could survive against that atrocity unless I killed it first. I took the heaviest book I could find, lifted my blanket up again and there it was, knocked out from my previous slap. I threw the book right at it with my adrenaline-infused arms of steel.  There.  I did it . I killed it.  Actually, thinking back on my actions, I had completely massacred it. The only problem left was to get rid of the body. As gross as it was, I picked it up with a broom and dustpan, put it in a bag and immediately threw it out.  Moral of the story: don’t leave your windows open if you don’t have a screen.

Yusuke: The Samurai

Four years ago, on a hot summer day, I was hanging out at one of my Japanese friends’ house.  He complained that his feet stunk and needed to wash them (this is really common in Japan, a lot of my friends wash their feet before entering someone’s house).  He headed straight to the shower room to do his business. Instead of hearing the water running, I heard a loud distinct scream, and when I looked to see what was happening, he was running towards the kitchen to grab the biggest butcher knife he could find.  I thought there was someone in the bathroom and that he was about to murder them. I followed him, panicked, to see what the fuss was all about.  And there it was.  My friend held his knife like a katana and immediately sliced the body in two hoping that it would kill it.  Except, cutting their bodies into two APPARENTLY DOESN’T KILL CENTIPEDES. Oh, and when I say centipede, I don’t mean the N. American PG-13 version.  I mean 10-20cm long centipedes that have black bodies, long yellow legs and antennas or whatever those are called, with a mouth so big ready to bite you. My friend didn’t know what else to do, so he decided to slice the bodies once again in half, holding his knife like a samurai warrior heading into war.  We then had four 5cm pieces of centipedes wiggling around on his bathroom floor.  I don’t know how we didn’t faint from fear.  He then ran back to the kitchen, grabbed a garbage can and a dustpan.  He covered the body parts with the garbage can and slid the dustpan under grabbing the moving body parts.  He left his apartment and threw the parts out into the wind…Okay, that probably wasn’t the best idea, but I think he panicked and didn’t know what else to do. Moral of the story: don’t cut them into pieces.  Note: don’t touch them with your hands.  They bite and sting you.

Evelyn: The Dual Can Wielder

Last year, on a hot summer day, my friend moved to Japan in the countryside of Shizuoka prefecture.  One night, she was making dinner and noticed from the corners of her eyes something move on the wall behind her.  As she turned around to double check, she stood, frozen, looking at the horror that was standing in front of her. The 20cm long spider was staring deep into her eyes.  She pulled out her phone and immediately started texting her friends for help.  As a pro texter, she was able to text without having to lift her eyes off the creature.  This lasted an hour.  She eventually sought help from her neighbour, who in turn chased it with a broom, but unfortunately, it managed to vanish into the cracks of her house. Evelyn couldn’t sleep for 3 days, as the thought of a gigantic spider loose in her house haunted her every thought.  A couple of days later, the spider appeared once again in her bathroom, as if it was waiting for her.  Up to the challenge, Evelyn geared up and killed it with a can of roach spray.  Huntsman spiders are very common in the countryside.  They are extremely fast, so can be really hard to catch.  They don’t cause any harm whatsoever, just scary to look at.  Nowadays, Evelyn uses a combination of ice spray to freeze the spiders which slows them up, and finishes them off with roach spray, thus the dual can wielder nickname. Moral of the story: don’t chase them with brooms. They are faster than you.

Ways to kill these bugs

If you haven’t noticed already, Japanese bugs appear during summer. The long, hot and humid weather brings them to life.  There are different ways to kill these unwanted guests. I think Evelyn’s way is one of the best there is.  You can always go the old-fashioned way and crush them with a shoe or a book, or slice them into pieces if you have the heart to do so, but I think the fastest and cleanest way to do so is to freeze them and to kill them with the sprays.  The ice spray is called 凍殺ジェット(frozen to death spray) and the roach spray is called ゴキブリがいなくなるスプレー (the spray that will make cockroaches disappear).

ice spray cockroach spray

For smaller insects such as mosquitoes, small spiders, flies, and even cicadas, you can use different kinds of anti-bug sheets that you put near your windows that will emit some sort of smell and make the bugs go away.  There are different kinds, but one of them is called 虫コナーズ.  The other is called コンバットハンター and is like the ones we have in the west for ants and stuff.  The bugs will go in, get the poisoned food and die. ぶgsぶgs2

Bugs will come into your apartment no matter what you do.  They can crawl through tiny cracks in and out without being noticed.  Cleaning regularly does help, but if you live in the countryside or in an older house, chances are you will be finding lots of bugs.  I usually find centipedes near my bathroom, inside the stove air vent, and inside my AC. I did have a cockroach fly out of the bathroom vent last week in the middle of my shower…Like seriously?! The sprays are my best friends and I have one in each room of the house, except the shower room… Note to self: should put one in there.   If your house isn’t equipped with screens for windows and doors, I suggest you go buy some, as it can get really hot in summer, and you’ll definitely need some breeze coming in.

On a side note, if you have fruit flies, windex kills them instantly.  The only downside is that it leaves your walls blue, so you have to clean up after.

If you know of any other bugs in Japan that commonly appear inside your house, or different ways to kill these bugs, please write a comment below!

How to Pack for JET (sorta)

Every JET

When I think about packing for this move, I try and think about what I need and what I want… And then I got get a drink. And then after I’m done drinking and crying, I go back to thinking. How the heck do I pack for a multiple year move in just 3 suitcases?

Once I’ve processed all the liquor I just put into my blood, I try to remember that I’ve done this before I moved to Japan in 2009 to study abroad, so I’ve had to pack like this before. But there are two key differences between this and that trip.

Difference the first: I am going for much longer this time. When I was studying abroad, I didn’t have to worry too much if I left something in Canada. I was only going to be there for about 9 months. I didn’t need my cherished childhood toy, nor my book collection. I could safely leave things in Canada and return to them later. With JET and this move, that’s not really the case. I do not know when I will be returning to Canada. This means I need to be very careful with what I pack and what I leave, since those decisions are basically written in stone.

Difference the second: I am no studying abroad. This is actually a nice save here. When I was studying abroad, I was inclined to bring this and that textbook with me. I needed a large amount of Japanese language materials, but I also had other materials I needed to bring with me for other disciplines. As a JET, much of that is less important. Sure, I’m still going to be learning Japanese (and in a proficiency level I’m less comfortable with), but I’m not doing it formally. I can also find some of these materials locally should I need them. So sorry, Genki textbook, but you gotta stay behind. But I’ll look you up in Japan if I need your help.

So what does this mean? Well, everything and nothing. Because I’m moving to work instead of study, my academic needs are much lighter this time around. I don’t really need to be hauling a suitcase full of books with me. But because I’m moving, I need to bring extra or different items with me this time. In my mind, the two sort of cancel each other out.

There’s sort of a third difference as well (give me a break. I can’t count). This time, I’m a little better prepared and know more about what is available to me and what isn’t. I’m going to touch on this later, but it’s a good point to keep in mind moving forwards.

What to pack? Step One.

I don’t think I will ever forget what my school’s Exchange Coordinator said during my pre-departure to study abroad. Standing in front of a room full of university students, all bound for different countries and different experiences, she said one thing that applied to all of us; one thing that we all needed to remember.

You are all going to countries  that sell shampoo.

Those few words resonate with the frequency of the galaxy, and are so important to remember at every stage of packing. Never in my life have I heard some good advice that keeps coming back to me, whether I am leaving the country or moving down the block.

This phrase and the meaning behind it is going to come up again and again, and it has already impacted how I look a pre-packing.

Step Two: Clothing

So the first thing to consider packing is probably clothes. As a teacher, I’m going to need my suit, ties, formal shirts, and dress pants. Check. I also need my man shoes (check) and other similar formal wear.

I don’t like going commando, so boxers are a must (check), as are socks. This is basically where packing takes it’s first nose dive off the side of a mountain. Without trying, I have amassed a large collection of socks. Most are for casual daily wear, but some are for formal situations, while others have a more silly time and place. But I don’t have a lot of formal socks, because that has never really been a thing. So I’m going to have to pick though my daily wear socks and cut them with my formal and other socks. I guess check?

So I;ve got my formal wear. Now what. Well, I’m going to need some casual wear for the weekends and for when I need to gaijin smash. I’m going to be wearing my favourite plaid shorts, so those don’t need packing. Jeans are right out. Ahh. The first cut. See, I’m going to have several pairs of pants with me, and bringing a few pairs of jeans is pointless. It’s also very hot and humid in Japan (compared to Prairie Canada), so wearing heavy thick jeans isn’t something I’m excited about. Lastly, I can buy jeans in Japan. There’s that phrase again. If I don’t want to dress like a grown up, I can always go somewhere and buy some jeans.

Now for the rest of the casual wear; shirts. I love wearing t-shirts, but I really am not going to need that many. Maybe 5 or 6. I dunno. I have a LOT of shirts, so so that’s going to take some time. But again, I can buy clothes in Japan, so if I only bring a few t-shirts with me, it’s not a big deal.

Shoes are super easy. I’ve already decided on my man shoes. I have a pair of runners (check), and if I can find my sandals, I’ll bring those two. I don’t actually own winter boots, but that’s something that would just take up space anyways, so that’s a Japan buy.

I think that leaves things like winter wear, sweaters, and jackets. Just like shoes, I live a simple life. I have my leather jacket, which is quite warm and I wore all winter (check). I’ll bring some gloves and a toque, and maybe a scarf if I can dig one up (check all around). And that’s it. If I need anything more, I will buy it when I get to Japan. Winter is months away and I have no intention of taking up valuable real estate with tons of winter wear I’m not convinced I need.

Here’s the catch though. I’m overweight and I know it (clap your hands *clap clap*). I also have short legs and wide shoulders. I know from past experience that some clothing just won’t fit. Japanese boxers are the worst (at least the ones I bought. Pants probably won’t fit me well either, since I’m not an androgynous 100 pound Japanese cross dresser. But I’m short like a Japanese man, so that’s a plus. And most Japanese people have smaller feet like me, so shoe shopping was a dream. And socks… don’t get me started on socks. I have a pair of socks from Uniqlo from 2009 that have lasted longer than socks I bought last year.

But at the end of the day here, the recurring theme is that I can pack light and buy anything else I need after I get there.

Step Three: Books

I sort of touched on this already, but I plan to bring far fewer books with me this time. Since digital media has become more common, I can buy novels and the like online, so they don’t have to take up space in my bag. I can go pretty textbook light as well, though I do want to bring some English grammar books and other learning aids (check). And I scanned a lot of my TESOL material, so no 5 inches of textbooks there. So hopefully, I’m gonna be pretty book light.

Step Four: Gaming

NERD!

Here’s where I drive off a cliff again. I’m a tabletop gamer. Just like last time, I expect to bring a certain number of gaming books and board games with me. But I need to be SO careful here, since I have single board games that can fill a suitcase and take up half my weight limit. So here’s how I’m thinking about this.

First, my living conditions are different. I’m not that close to any large expat communities like I was when I lived outside of Osaka. And there aren’t a lot of them even around me. My town has me and my predecessor (who told me he’s received a position with the town). I think there are some JETs around me, but that is literally around me in a circle. The likelihood that I can find gaming groups is much, MUCH smaller than when I was in Osaka. So bring a lot of games isn’t as necessary or valuable.

Second, specific to roleplaying games, I own many in digital form. Since I will most likely be playing online, having physical books isn’t as important. Sure, I’m going to try and bring a few of the smaller ones in case I do get a local game going, but I can pack pretty light.

Third, I am aware that many board games are available in Japan, either in Japanese or as an English import with a Japanese crib sheet. In the case of the latter, it’s often the same game I can buy in Canada. For the former, I can find English crib sheets or even the full rules online, either from the publisher or on BoardGameGeek.

So I can leave some games here, even if I really enjoy them (like Forumla D) since I can buy the after I land, and I can leave others that I love but are unlikely to play at this time. Also, I can buy most (but not all) gaming books I’m watching online, which I am increasingly doing anyways. So that’s kind of a check.

Step Five: Other Hobbies

I do other stuff too. I swear. *cries* Anyways, I would like to again bring my rock climbing harness, since there are a number of gyms in nearby Asahikawa (check). I’m also going to be bringing some bookbinding supplies (I tried to get into that but lacked the time and room where I live now), mostly since the tools are pretty small. And if I have a printer at home and find any craft stores to get the rest of the supplies, I’m good (so check). I don’t think I’ll bring any origami books or the like with me. Although it was surprisingly hard to find non-kids books, I can just cross that bridge when I get there.

Same goes with a lot of other hobby and interest stuff. No point in packing around my several hundred disc DVD and blu-ray collection since I can stream movies, watch TV, and hit up some rental stores. I will try to bring my Arduino and electronics kit, provided I can get it small enough and through airport security (I still have to make that phone call).

Step Six: Computers

See that “s” on the end. Yep. Nerd. This is a tough and stupid choice, but one that needs to be made. So let’s start with my laptop. That’s a check, or rather my main laptop is a check. I’m not bringing my other two (yes, I have three laptops. Get over it). My desktop is also staying home.

Dramatization. May not have happened.

That leaves my mini-PC and my file server. Yeah. I have a lot of computers. I purpose built a file server (to handle redundant storage and to prevent data loss) to be as small as I can make it, yet be a full PC so I can better maintain and control it. It’s still really big and very heavy, but that’s the hand I was dealt. And my mini-PC is coming with me, which I may convert into a media centre-settop box kind of deal.

Lastly is my tablet, which will be coming as well, though I may be replacing shortly. So that’s lots of big, heavy, stupid checks. Note that this is pretty excessive and due to my specific needs and neurosis. I wouldn’t actually recommend anyone bring a desktop PC or as many computers as I am bringing. Computers can be bought and built in Japan. I’m only doing this because of careful planning over the duration of about two years.

Step Seven: Personal Affects

This one is both easy and hard. Since I can buy shampoo in Japan, a lot of toiletries are going to be left. I’m going to get a cheap toothbrush, a travel bottle of mouthwash, and I have some little bottles for shampoo and body wash for a few days. I’ll have a towel, but that’s mostly for suitcase padding to keep other things in place, and so I can have a shower my first morning.

I’m also going to try and bring a small quilt that belonged to my grandpa, since it made a really good blanket and cuddle buddy last time. But my suitcase is getting full, so I’m not sure about that. I’d also like to bring my zafu, because I am a terrible Buddhist. But I also know that I can buy religious materials after I land, despite how ridiculously hard it was last time, so this might get cut too.

Aside from that, I can’t really think of anything. Photos and valuables are staying here, aside from legal and personal documents. I’ll surely have a bunch of knickknacks and small items, but nothing major. And of course, my gifts, prizes, and teaching aids. Oh. And that silly amount of loose tea I have. Basically no weight but does take up a little space (yes, I can buy tea in Japan, but this stuff is expensive and probably won’t keep).

That might seem like a lot and it probably is, but there is going to be a pretty heavy slash and burn as I pack. Stupid crap or replacables like casual clothes, board games, and my zafu are on my endangered list, as is anything that isn’t totally vital for my job or sanity. Ironically, computers are probably quite high up. I paid good money for my server and it holds all my important documents and off device storage, so if any cuts had to be made, it probably won’t be here.

Advice?

Pack light. Seriously. I know it doesn’t look like it, but that’s basically an itemized list. We are really attached to physical things, and all this is going to do is weigh you down. So many things can be bought in Japan once we are paid that it makes at least half of what we pack completely pointless.

Perhaps the best way to pack is to take half of what you want to bring, lay it out, and then pick up half of that and put it away. And then maybe do that another time. I actually do feel, file server taking up my carry on suitcase aside, that I am going to be travelling a bit lighter than last time. I’m going to be really light on clothes, bring fewer board games with me, and may actually go bookless (save for a few texts and classroom aids). Everything else is pretty small and manageable.

Ultimately, everyone’s packing is going to be different, but this will hopefully give people and idea of what they may or may not want to bring.

As before, please check out my full blog, Scooter vs Japan, where I talk about other topics in dirty barbarian living, JET, and life.

Thank for watching.

specials

How to stay cool/warm during Japanese summers/winters

The harsh reality of Japanese summers and winters

Surviving Summer

summer

If you’re like me and your Japanese apartment did not include an air conditioning unit, then you may need to live by these next tricks to stay cool.  I’ve long dreaded summer, it’s my least favourite season, at least in Japan.  Back in Canada, I didn’t mind the summers because they were dry heat.  Yes, they were hot, but at least you didn’t sweat like a beast.  Everyone warned me, as I complained that the teacher’s room was too hot in winter with the kerosene heaters blasted to the max.  My coworkers repeating the sentence 日本の夏暑いよ nihon no natsu atsui yo (Japanese summers are hot) over and over, I asked myself: Can they really be that hot? I mean, summer is just summer…right? Boy was I wrong.  Imagine daily temperatures ranging from 35ºC-45ºC night and day, PLUS humidity.  I feel so sorry for whoever is coming to Japan in August, as I can remember so clearly those first 10 minutes after getting off the plane.  Thinking to myself, are the air conditioner’s broken? Did I just step into an oven? Oh, I see. They just turned on the heaters by mistake…right? No…That humidity that wraps around you and suffocates you, that heat that pierces through every single inch of your body…This is what you will experience every summer that you live in Japan.  You will be miserable. You will sweat from places you never knew could sweat. Your body will be drenched in sweat and be sticky all day long, but honestly, you eventually get used to it. Behind that intense heat and humidity, Japanese summers are one of the best seasons to enjoy. It’s a time where you can wear summer yukatas and enjoy summer festivals, eat cold delicious food, and travel around beautiful areas.  I also really love the tsuyu and typhoon season because the rain cools down the earth and brings down the temperature! YAY! To help you survive a Japanese summer, I’ve compiled a list that you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable in this intense heat.

  1. Buy an air conditioner.  Yes, this is the most obvious one, but some apartment may not come with one. E.g. mine.  I managed to survive a Japanese summer without the use of an AC up until the first week of August.  Yes, it was hard, and yes, it was hot, but it wasn’t impossible.  However, when August came up, the nights became too hot to handle and I had to buy an AC. I don’t personally use it during the day, just at night so that I can sleep comfortably.aircon
  2. DRINK WATER. I’m not kidding. I don’t know how to emphasize this enough.  Your body needs water, and lots of it.  That amount of water your sweating needs to be re-hydrated. DO NOT underestimate the heat.  It will bring you down and you may suffer a heat stroke.  Heat strokes happen every single day in Japan because people don’t stay hydrated.  Don’t take this lightly as it’s really dangerous. I used to drink a 500mL bottle of water a day back in Canada, but after coming here, I started drinking 2-4L of water per day.  If you notice that your head suddenly starts to hurt, it’s because you’re dehydrated. You need to re-hydrate a.s.a.p.heat stroke
  3. Close your curtains and windows during the day, and open them up at night *(hopefully your windows come with a screen, or else GINORMOUS bugs will come flying in).  You don’t want the sun rays and heat to heat up your house during the day, but you do want the *cooler* breeze to come in at night.
  4. Install a fan in your window and turn it on at night. This will bring a cool breeze inside your house.  You can also buy more than one fan and install them at various places in your house to get the air flow going.fan window
  5. If you don’t have enough money to buy an AC, then freeze some ice packs and install them in front of your fan.  This will send wind through the ice packs and make the wind feel a bit cooler. You will need to repeat this process a couple of times per day as the ice packs will melt pretty quickly.  You can also use frozen water bottles and place them in front/back of your fan.  fan ice packsIf you feel like you’d rather buy a fan that does all of that for you, you can buy a cooling fan and only need to add ice to the bucket inside the fan.cool fan
  6. Sleep with an ice pillow.  An ice what?!  It’s a gel pillow that you pop into your freezer that freezes halfway so that it’s still squishy.  Once it’s frozen, you place it inside the pillow case and sleep on it.  This way, your head will stay cool during the hot summer nights.ice pillow
  7. If you’re home and don’t have an AC, you can always wet a long neck towel and wrap it around you.  This only works ’til a certain point though.  The wet towel will no longer be effective after July as the air temperature is just too hot to make a difference.wet towel
  8. Wet a long neck towel and put some ice cubes in it.  Wrap it around your neck or place it over your head.  This only works until the ice melts off. It’s a good temporary solution.
  9. Buy cool towels. You simply need to pour water over the towel and wrap it around your neck.  The towel supposedly keeps the water cool until it has all evaporated, to which you then fill up again.  They sell these at various department stores.cool towel
  10. Carry a bag of ice packs.  Some of my Japanese friends do this.  They carry a “cooler” bag and load it with like 4 large ice packs.  Whenever they feel too hot, they either hug the pack until they cool down, or they grab one ice pack and rub it all over their body to cool down.ice pack bag
  11. Buy sweat wipes.  We don’t have these in the West, but they’re awesome!  I buy the ‘cooling’ wipes.  It’s basically wipes that you use to clean the sweat off your body.  They clean your skin leaving a cooling agent all over your body.  This works for 10-30 minutes.gatsby
  12. If you’re outside in the heat, then you’ll need to carry a portable fan.  They sell them everywhere or give them out for free in front of stations, at festivals, or in convenience stores. The word for these is sensu or uchiwa.uchiwa
  13. If you need to cool down right away and you don’t have any ice on you, then you can use these fever stickers.  They care called 熱さまシート netsu sama shi-to. People usually use them when they are sick and their head is boiling hot.  Stick it on any part of your body that feels too hot, and it’ll automatically cool it down.  These work 5-10 hours. I showed them to my mom when she came to visit me and told her it was for her head.  She took the box and stuck them everywhere on her body.netsusamashito
  14. Buy a sun umbrella.  This is great if you don’t want to tan or make your body absorb all the sun rays.  It really does help when you’re outside all day in the sun.sun umbrella
  15. Buy a dehumidifier.  The reason you can’t sleep at night isn’t because of the heat, it’s because of the humidity. You furniture, clothes, bed sheets, and so on, all have this layer of humidity on them. Getting a dehumidifier will make your apartment so much more comfortable to live in.
  16. Get cotton sheets for your bed.  Any other fabrics will just absorb the heat and bake you as if you were in an oven at night.   Speaking of cotton, wear cotton clothing.  It’s breathable and perfect for summer.  DO NOT wear polyester clothing.  It absorbs all the sweat and traps it inside making you super uncomfortable all day/night long.
  17. Turn off your computer, lights, and appliances when you’re not home or at night.  These not only use your electricity, but they also generate heat.  This is what was happening at my house: the sun warms up the house all day long, so it’s basically a little oven.  Your computer generates heat (in my case, my iMac) + all the heat that’s been accumulated.  It’s gotten to the point that my furniture, yes…my furniture is now HOT.  My chairs, my bookshelves, computer desk, carpet, etc, are all hot.  I swear I could fry an egg on my desk.  Also, my iMac has been shutting down automatically because it’s becoming too hot for it to handle.  Unfortunately, you can’t do anything about the sun heat that comes into your house, but you can try to limit the heat by turning off your computer and other electronics that may be using heat.

Surviving Winter

winter

I remember coming here wondering if the winters would be cold.  I come from a land of long, dry and cold winters, where the lowest temperature can reach up to -50ºC, just like beyond the wall.  Whenever spring comes in Canada and the temperature drops to 0ºC, you can see people rockin’ pairs of shorts and light vests, and essentially come out of hibernation.   0ºC is like a dream come true; a sign that the long harsh winter is finally over and that summer is finally coming.  Before coming to Japan, people warned me that it would be cold, and so I trusted them.  They explained that Japanese houses weren’t insulated and didn’t have central heating so the winters would be long and cold.  Coming to Japan in January, the coldest temperature it got in Saitama was 0ºC.  Okay, not bad at all! I don’t think Japan is cold, not like in Canada.  I mean, I would walk in the streets with my light jacket and see people wearing huge ‘North Face/Canada Goose’ jackets, snow pants, and snow boots as if they were ready to march through Siberia in the middle of an ice age.  Unless you’re placed north of Kyoto, I wouldn’t bother bringing snow boots, snow pants, and a huge winter jacket.  Chances are, it probably won’t snow where you live, and if does, it won’t snow very much. Yes, it does snow up north, so be ready for that.  So like I said, Japan isn’t necessarily cold, but it is SUPER cold inside!  Basically the inside and outside temperature of a house will be the exact same. The lowest temperature it will get to in Hokkaido will be -25ºC. But fear not, I agree that houses do get cold in winter, but there are loads of ways to deal with the cold! I personally think that if you put enough layers on and follow these next steps, you will have no problem surviving non-insulated Japanese houses!

  1. Buy a heater if your house doesn’t already have one.  You may need to buy additional ones if you think it may not be enough.
    1. This can be a heater directly attached to your wall. In Japan, these are also air conditioning units.
    2. It can be a kerosene heater where you need to add gasoline in it every time it runs out.  Note: this will stink up your house and be hard to breathe, but it will keep you warm and you eventually get used to the smell.
      1. There are different types of heaters that you can buy.  These include heater, carbon, ceramic, electric, oil, stove, and kerosene.kerosene
    3. Buy a portable heater and stick it right in front of you wherever you are in your house.
  2. Buy a kotatsu.  These are the most genius Japanese inventions.  It’s essentially a low table that has a heater installed at the bottom.  The table is then covered with a gigantic blanket and another piece of wood is placed over the blanket.  You then sit on the floor, cover your legs and lower body with the blanket and crawl under the table to stay warm.  The only problem is that your upper body gets cold, while your lower body is boiling hot.   I usually sit under my kotatsu and cover myself with a blanket so that all parts of my body stay warm.kotatsu
  3. Buy an electric carpet or/and blanket.  Seriously, buy one.  Those are life-saving! Basically, you put your futon over the warm carpet, or any other furniture you foresee yourself using every day, and sleep over it.  The warm carpet will keep your futon warm all night long!  You can also just buy an electric blanket and place it between your blankets when you sleep.  This will ensure that you’re warm all night long.  I personally have this and use it whenever I’m at my computer and cover my legs.electric blanket
  4. Insulate your house!  This can be achieved for a very low price using only a couple of tools.
    1. Buy bubble wrap and tape it all over your windows.  This will keep the cold air from coming in, but still keep the hot sun rays warm up your place.
    2. Buy sukima teepu.  This is tape that you can use to fill in the cracks or gaps in doors or windows that may be letting the cold air in.sukima tepu
    3. Buy thicker curtains.  This will act as a blanket for the house walls to keep them warm and stop the cold air from coming in.
    4. Buy a noren.  This is one of those sign curtain that’s hung in restaurants and shop entrances.  This won’t exactly insulate your house, but it will keep the heat in one room.
  5. Buy a humidifier.  This may seem silly, but the Japanese winter’s are extremely dry.  When you sleep at night, your throat may get really parched and you may become sick, so having a humidifier really helps keep you comfortable and healthy.
  6. Buy hokkairo.  Those are small pouches that get warmed once opened.  Great for pockets or for inside shoes.  There are sticky types that you can stick to your clothing, or non-sticky type that go wherever you want them to go.hokkairo
  7. Drink lots of hot liquids to prevent sickness!

Note: Japanese weather apps or websites do NOT include the ‘real feel’ option.  So you may think it’s 0ºC or 35ºC, but it actually feels like -6ºC or 43ºC.

If you know of any other ways to keep cool or warm in Japan, please write a comment below!