This was taken just before we were about to walk up the Brooklyn Bridge. H E L L O Brooklyn!

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A Large Summary of the Japanese Experience So Far

I don’t know where to start. Maybe I should try and divide what’s been happening for the last two weeks into sections.

  • Money
  • Food
  • Japanese language
  • Smoking
  • Japanese men
  • Fashion
  • Japanese Trains: The JR line

Money: Well, I was surprised to see that the yen has gone down. It was 210 yen when I just left London, but now I’ve had a look at those bureau de change boards and it's different. Fair enough, it’still good for me, but it won't make me happy when I decide to exchange my pounds, which I need to do very soon. : ( I’ve already spent roughly 50,000 yen in the past 11 days and that is on the basis of buying a mobile, domestic items, travel tickets, and food. Japan is not cheap.

It’s 30 minutes to Yokohama from my nearest station and I have to pay £1.75 only yet, for travel to Tokyo, I need to spend at least £4.50 and roughly 90 minutes on the train - phew. In terms of how much I spend for travelling from place to place, it can start from £2-4 so I spend up to £8 just for a return travel. This proves that the Kanto region (Tokyo/Yokohama) is no different from London tickets (BOOO!) They have their own version of an oyster card accept there is no discount with the travel top up card :( The only upside is being more environmentally friendly. GREAT!

For food, hmmm, well… it depends. Obviously, there are swanky places to eat and there are cheaper places, but even those places are not quality. Some small restaurants that are the size of a box and have photographs of the menu, or ticket machines for you to choose and buy your food from, can rang from £2-5 for a bowl or ramen or chicken curry. Yet, I’ve been to some average restaurants and you still need to pay pay the same price as London I’m afraid. So on average you can expect to pay 1000 yen (£5) or less per meal. I was comforted when I went to a traditional sushi place, that was organised like Yo-Shi, and had two plates of sushi (4 pieces of sushi,) miso soup and unlimited green tea for 400 yen (£2.) I can only infer that it's down to knowing what’s out there and knowing what's cheap. I’m still getting to know Japan so hopefully, I’ll know where’s good to eat and what’s good for my pocket.

Another reason why it’s great for a Brit to travel to Japan is because they get more for the cash than the Yanks who constantly moan withtheir cheap dollar (jealously.) Although, I’m sure I’ll be shit once I start adjusting to the Japanese payroll. I don’t like discussing figures but I can admit that I’m not getting paid a lot. Just enough to survive and enjoy my stay here, in Japan.

Food: I’m not sure if I like Japanese food anymore. Yesterday, I had the most disgusting lunch ever. It was a Japanese set of whatever you’d like to eat, i.e. Japanese buffet and it didn’t include sushi. It was limited in variety, which included friend fish, fried (er, hem oily) chicken, pork, and bitter vegetables. I’m not sure if I like Japanese vegetables. I’m still getting used to things to eat here, but there are so many westernised places that it's so easy for me to stick to my preference just to save time. The menu for McDonalds is Japanese-itised. They have their own version called Mof Burger and have plenty of American style cafes including Star Bucks which is just a chain all over the developed world, isn’t it? Yet I should branch out since I'm in Japan (I suppose.) Also, this one is for those vegetarians and vegans, but traditional miso soup has fish in it. I had mackerel in mine, so always make sure you tell the waiter to make sure it’s edible for you first. Overall, either I force myself to enjoy Japanese food or I don’t and stick to my old ways, which isn’t hard given how accessible Western food here is, Japanese food is an acquired taste, I reckon. My tummy won’t accept everything, but maybe it's time it should.

Japanese language: Surprising a lot of Japanese people can speak basic English words. I reckon if you went to Japan not knowing how to speak Japanese, you’d still be able to get around. There are lots of English signs and directions all over trains stations so you wouldn’t lose your way. Also, some thing tells me that a lot of public service workers are encouraged to learn even simple English to help foreigners. It’s interesting that everywhere I go when I speak Japanese, (very simple and amateur Japanese,) people reply back in English, but not always. Some have got away with saying very little Japanese and got the impression that I was Japanese. : ) I can understand what Japanese people say, but I cannot reply back in full sentences… only a few words here and there, but they understand at least which is good. I’ve not had the time to look into Japanese lessons yet since I’ve been busy with moving, but my company has arranged Japanese classes for us, which start next week, yet these classes are for class rooms instructions for my home room teacher who can’t speak English. Basically, when I start teaching English to 6-11 year olds, I have the assistant of the original primary school teacher and she/he can help me with the class and organisation of the lesson, but they cannot speak in English so all AET (assistant English teachers) need to know specific instructions in Japanese to help them. So, I’ll give you feed back on how that goes and also what happens once I start going to proper Japanese classes.

Being surrounded by English speakers has also been a problem for me, since it’s given me a different environment to work wirth. Since I’ve arrived, I’ve stay on the same hotel floor as many other AET followed by another week of intense training with the rest of the ALTs in Yokohama. Just to clarify ALT means assistant language teacher while AET means assistant English teacher. The only difference is that AET are only for elementary/primary school teachers, so I’m an AET : ) Anyway, back to language, I haven’t had much opportunity to speak Japanese, well probably once or twice a day talking to people who work for the trains, asking for directions or the price of tickets, but besides that not much. There have been other occasions such as ordering food, asking for the toilet, or bill. Yet, the real problem was setting up my post office account and buying a mobile phone. It took me an hour on each occasion to set them up, but it helped that I knew some Japanese words so it was possible to get some things done. Also, with buying my phone, the shop assistant had to get a Japanese-English dictionary for the technical words like ‘insurance.’ Hmm, that reminds me I should start revising some words… how exciting! I’m so sad.

Tomorrow, I’m meeting my Japanese language exchange who I met in London. He is here in Tokyo but I know meeting him will be weird, because we saw each other last in London. It will be good to practice for my Japanese and for me to meet more Japanese people: )

Smoking: There has been no smoking ban in this country so Catherine Pollard get your ass over here because you can smoke indoors as much as you want. I guess it was strange at first eating in a restaurant inhaling cigarette smoke at the same time, but that’s only because my nose had become accustomed to a smoke free-indoors back in London. So, everyone is going to get cancer for passive smoking…woohoo. Also, I got a feeling that smoking is regarded as ‘cool’ over here. Also, they have flavoured cigarettes i.e. cherry blossom flavour ha ha.

Japanese Men: Right, I’ve had bad encounters with guys interacting with me and I’ve only been here for less than two weeks so please pay attention.

Ichi ban: I was walking in Yokohama station. While I was walking, some Japanese guy started walking right next to me. He started talking to me in Japanese and because I wasn’t interested, I thought telling him I was English would make him back off but no, that got him more interested. He then said, kawaii, (which means cute) and then I got scared as he tried to touch my fringe but I moved my head. He said ‘yellow’ in Japanese, but I corrected him and said, ‘no, blonde!’ Then I stopped walking and said in Japanese ‘sorry I am meeting my friend so I have to go now,’ and he replied in Japanese, ‘what you doing tonight? Do you want to drink sake?’ I said in Japanese, I’ve already got a boyfriend but he persisted, 'no its ok just as friends.' Under pressure, I ran off as fast as I could.

How annoying! He couldn’t take no for an answer. Grr!

Ni ban: I was walking about in Shinjuku station (Tokyo) and I was lost. Randomly a Japanese guy in casual clothes came up to me and asked me in Japanese to show him my alien card. He then showed me his police ID, so I didn’t hesitate to show him. I gave him my passport, which has a preliminary certificate of my residency in Japan. After that he started asking me about where I was from and what I was doing here. I replied, ‘eigo-no-sensai’ (English teacher) and he said ‘honto?’ (really?) However, what got me was that I was lost in one of the most busiest stations in Tokyo, and yet this guy was still able to identify me amongst the mass and multitude of Japanese girls. Hmm… this week, we had police officers come into our training giving us a few pointers about how to prevent crime and living safely in Japan. They advised us to write down a police officer’s ID number and report it to the central police who would keep it on record. I reckon this is required because some police officers randomly stop foreigners for no proper reason and begin bullying them, also for no proper reason.

San ban: This week, my company paid for all of us to get a medical check and this included a urine test, which I suspect was a drugs test. There was also an X-ray examination, which we had to perform for our TB test. For me, this was an interesting and awkward experience. I entered the X-ray room and was first assisted by a woman and a tall male. The tall male told me to take off my jacket and put on the apron. After that, I looked at the male guy for more instructions and noticed there was another male in the room, who was gorking at me. The woman was gone. And then he asked me the million yen question that would get him a warning from his boss, ‘are you married?’ At first, I thought it was procedural because it was a medical check up, but only after I had my X-ray and left the room, I realised that this question had nothing to do with my medical check up. I asked 10 girls the next day if they had been asked the same question and they said ‘no.’ So I told my leader and he asked me to write a concise report of what happened so he can report it, because he reckons it was improper and could be regarded as violation of privacy. Isn’t that weird? Making a pass at a patient during working hours? Bad Bad Bad!!

Yon ban: When I was looking for my guest house, I spent a good hour walking around my area and dragging 10 kilos of my small baggage wirg me. I was so lost that all I had was a map and simple Japanese. I went up to one guy who was getting into his car. The guy looked at my map and said in Japanese, ‘oh it is very close, let me give you a lift,’ and he grabbed my luggage and put it in his car, but then I got scared. I thought, this can’t be right? He could have been a genuinely nice guy trying to help me,but I remembered saying first (in Japanese) to him, ‘I’m English’ so I wondered if I was giving him the wrong idea. I didn’t want to be the next foreign girl who got cut into pieces so I saved myself by grabbing my bag and saying, ‘sorry, but I’ll just walk. Thank you.’ Then he gave me a weird smile. ARGH!!

So far… not good! I look forward to knowing for sure that I will never involve myself with a Japanese bloke unless he is already my friend.

Fashion: Oh, it will take forever to explain that. You’ve seen my photos and that was just in Yokohama. Just watch when I go to Tokyo- I’m going to go absolutely mad. I’ve seen those Japanese girls that dress up in goth and the other girls that have super blonde hair and deep tans and it makes me feel so un-cool. It makes my fashion sense dull and boring. Japanese girls (the ones that put the effort) really know how to dress. They dress just like the mannequins, which is excellent given the effort. There are various styles for Japanese fashions and there is even a ghetto style - just like US music videos. Two brands I already like are ‘ba boo’ and ‘baby shoop.’ One of the shop assistants of baby shooo walked up to me and said I had nice eye make up, but the truth is that

they don’t

wear a lot of black eyeliner in comparison to us Londoners who do. Ha Ha. I’m not going


be able to write so much for this section today because I live in Yokohama and not in Tokyo

which is roughly 90 minutes away. I’m going to Tokyo on Tuesday for shopping with girls from

my company so I’ll be able to give you a better report of what I think then.

Trains or the JR lines: It is crowded in the mornings. The same as London, but… but… but, this is not Tokyo and on a normal day Tokyo is absolutely backwards. It is more than busy. It’s confusing. There are so many people that being on the train is such a mission. I used to like taking the trains to university, but when I started working for Miva (in Euston Square,) I got annoyed at the amount of people on one carriage and the people who wouldn’t move to the centre. Now, I’m dealing with another issue – a homogenous society. I don’t mean to sound racist, but being viewed as an ethnic minority in London, I enjoyed being unique. I also liked seeing different faces and different ethnicities on one train, however in Japan, it’s all the same. All Japanese people for the most part so I'm currently dealing with culture shock. Perhaps I’m too demanding, because at least I’m not in Tokyo, whereby train assistants push employees into the carriages so they won’t fail the economy by ensuring everyone gets to work punctually, but, everyone is Japanese and I’m not used to that yet. Although, I’m not completely isolated from an international community, I see at least two or three random foreigners exploring Japanese or getting on with their lives, which they have been doing since they arrived in Japan following their fathers who work for the US Navy, etc. They are Americans and not Brits, but I’ve met six Brits so far and probably thirty yanks. Yikes!

That's my summary for now. More to come!

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I've moved to NY

I've moved to NY
I have certainly moved to New York City