What? No DDR? WTF Konami?!

A Konami Sports Club located in Ibaraki.

I mentioned before that I have been exercising pretty frequently, which brings me to now. I never thought that going to a gym in Japan would be so significantly different from having a gym membership in America. In some aspects it’s not–it’s more like they actually enforce the rules rather than give guidelines (at least in America it felt like the rules were more like guidelines…).

So when you go to a gym to sign up for a membership you’ll want to have all your information on you. Most likely, if you’re a gaijin, you won’t have a Japanese credit card because we’re not cool enough for that. Long story short on that one is I’m pretty sure Japan feels as though foreigners can’t be trusted, though I’m not sure if the new alien registration card (which isn’t actually called an alien registration card anymore) that they are releasing in July will allow for more “rights” for foreigners because it’s pretty much the same card as a Japanese citizen. Except you’re a foreigner–and you’ll probably still be treated like an alien…

(e.g. “So in America… do you eat rice at all?”)

Anyways, signing up for a gym membership is way more time consuming than it is in America. They want a whole slew of information that in America they really don’t seem to care much about. In America I’m pretty sure I gave them my address and phone number, handed her my credit card and then went on my merry way. In Japan you give the same information but like any contract of any kind they want a part of your soul… They want your health status, if you have any illnesses, if you’ve had surgery, if you have any weaknesses… how many partners you’ve been with–okay, maybe not that bit of information.

However, in Japan they do payments a little differently from how they do it in America. I think it’s safe to say that most Japanese people have bank accounts but it’s also safe to say that most Japanese people do not have credit cards or debit cards that they can use to buy items at stores. In fact, when I signed up for my bank account the closest thing they have to a credit card was the nifty Tsuruya credit card that you can only use at Tsuruya. Most banks do not offer online banking, either. When you pay a bill it usually comes to you in the mail  and you then take it to the nearest convenience store and pay it. For the gym membership, however, I had a choice of paying it in cash every month or allowing them to take it directly out of my bank account. To do that I needed to bring my bank book (which has the same information as an American checkbook would in regards to bank number and account number) in with me and they would take my account information down so they could pull the money directly.

Afterwards it takes about 2-4 months for their system to accept your information and proceed to take the money out of your account every month. For me, by the third month it still hadn’t verified my bank information yet and I found myself having to pay in cash while being reassured that it will probably go through by the fourth month. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Other than that, it follows pretty normal Japanese rules. When you check in you get your locker number and before you can move on to the locker area you have to take off your shoes. After that point your outside shoes are not allowed on the floor. In the locker room no shoes are allowed, but once you leave you can put on your gym shoes which are shoes that are basically inside shoes… but for the gym. I’m sure there may be people who wear outside shoes in, but I was told they wanted me to use shoes that were not used outdoors. It reminded me of when I was in high school and I had “gym shoes”! Except we all wore them outside.

Depending on your plan you can have access to the pool, the studio (basically workout classes), etc. I enjoy the workout classes (specifically body combat). There are always a bunch of staff on duty and they are always wandering around to make sure people are okay. In America I don’t think the staff really batted an eye at me once. Most just stayed behind their desk and texted or… zoned out?

Konami DDR game.

Long story short: it’s a lot of fun and I kind of like being part of the gym community in Japan over America. The people and staff are really nice (even if they’re supposed to be) and I feel welcome. Now other members are slowly warming up to me and chatting with me time to time. It’s a nice feeling. 🙂

Also, despite the fact my gym is called Konami, and pretty much has the same logo as the game company, I’m a little disappointed I can’t workout and play games at the same time using their machines. 😦

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Life is very short and what we have to do must be done in the now.

"They dance around the horse..."

Man, I have been busy. Let me tell you! On September 18th there was a huge event in Kumamoto called the Fujisaki Hachimangu Festival (藤崎八旛宮秋季例大祭) where there is a parade of horses numbered up to 67. The people dance and yell, “dookai, dookai! (How’s this?! How’s this?!)” around the horse, following it, and playing instruments–the entire festival is full of energy. At one time they would give the horses alcohol and get them completely drunk, and I have also heard that they would cut off the horses head at the end, but I’m not sure how true that statement is.

The fact of the matter is it was a blast. Despite the detest for the festival some of my coworkers had due to the previous mistreatment of the animals, I had a great time. I can’t say without a doubt that they were not given alcohol and that they were all treated well, but not a single one of them was forced into running or forcibly spooked in front of me. There were a few times that a horse got a little agitated and uncomfortable with it’s surroundings but there was no one there beside or around the horse trying to instigate a situation where the horse might get out of control. I wasn’t the only one enjoying my time at the festival–many people were there enjoying the entertainment and every person in the parade was dancing and singing/yelling and having a wonderful time.

"Dookai! Dookai!"

Many of the people who took part in the festival were very friendly, came up to my video camera and waved, or struck a pose. The horses may not have been given alcohol (at least the times when I saw them give the horses anything it was water, but the people of age in the festival were enjoying theirs. They would pour the remainder of the water on the horse when the horse had it’s fill and none of it smelled of sake or any sort of alcohol.

Each number (there were 67) had different colors, lead by a horse and a man on a moving cart with a megaphone/speakers cheering on their group and filling them with energy. So many people dressed up in costume or strange makeup. Even the children took part in the event, even if by the end someone was carrying them. The festival took up the entire day. There was still a portion of the parade left by 10pm that night; and to think I wanted to stick it out until the end desperately. I didn’t have that kind of time. I threw in the towel around the 30th horse or so.

"The trees toward Kumamoto Castle were littered with lanterns..."

On the 22nd a friend from Osaka came to visit me and it was great fun. My only regret is that we didn’t have the time to show him everything he would have preferred to see. Hopefully I will have another shot at showing him more of Kumamoto and the surrounding area in the future. On the second and last day of his stay here we began by going to Kumamoto Castle. On our way up, the trees by the sidewalk leading up to Kumamoto Castle were littered with lanterns. I don’t believe I have ever seen them lit up at night, so I wonder if they are only lit for certain events or if they are just for show and have no candle/light inside. The road was narrow so walking side by side to talk to one another was very difficult to do as many people were on their way down.

Afterward we went to a wonderful ramen shop where we tasted the deliciousness of Kumamoto ramen, which was very good. I’m sure there are better and more expensive shops out there, but I must say that I did really enjoy what I ordered. A little recent fact about me is that I have been dieting recently in attempt to lose some weight that I have put on over the years, and the past few days I allowed my diet to be thrown out the window for a while so that I could enjoy and partake in many delicious food. For example, the previous night, I ate cooked horse meat and heart! It was delicious–both of it. I was skeptical about the horse heart at first but I faced my worries and ate it. It was soft and delectable. It practically melted in your mouth.

"Both Byung and I took part in drinking the water at Suizenji..."

From the ramen shop Byung and I quickly made a break for Suizenji Koen. This was a first time visit for me as well. I have been in Kumamoto for about half a year and it’s one of the places in this city I had yet to go to. I’m glad I finally went. The park was beautiful. I was expecting it to be a little more barren and with a lot less people–so many people made it out to sound as though it was some boring experience; but it was far from that. There were children down by the pond feeding the koi fish who were trying to shove themselves up onto the shallow rocks in attempt to gulp up some pieces of bread people were tossing down. I have never seen such a mob of koi fish before. There was a crane standing upon a rock, looking at me with hollow eyes as though he knew I was not even remotely a threat–or perhaps he thought he could beat me up if I tried. The shrines (神社) were amazing. There was an area where you could drink the water of Suizenji which was said to help give you a long life. Both Byung and I took part in drinking the water and I was again reminded how delicious Kumamoto water is.

Before we knew it the time had already passed and it was time to get Byung back to Kumamoto Station so he could catch a bus to the airport to head back home to Osaka. I had a great time and I’m really happy I was able to see him. The silly, but fortunate, part is that this coming weekend I will be going to Osaka. At first I was a little hesitant about the idea and I wasn’t sure how much I liked the idea of going, but after I booked my overnight bus there and back I began feeling a little more excited about it. I can’t wait to go and see Kazu and Byung again. It’s really been a long time since I have been to Osaka and I feel a little giddy about seeing the city again. It’s what showed me how much I loved Japan in the first place. I guess a part of me is hoping that it still is the same.

When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.

So it seems as though I have become ill once more. At least I am beating the record to how often I used to get sick when I lived in the dorms while attending college. I think I got sick once a month… But then again, dealing with children is bound to catch you a few colds, or in some teacher’s cases… chicken pox! Thankfully I had my share of chicken pox as a child, but I always have a nagging in the back of my head that worries, “maybe it wasn’t bad enough and I can get it again!” A few of my students have come in with what seems to be the end of chicken pox; I wonder why they don’t vaccinate for it.

Vaccinations are done differently in Japan. A lot of my students have these grid-like patterns on their upper arms from the vaccines they were given as children. These patterns end up usually turning into scars that last for the rest of their lives. I have tried to figure out what the vaccines are for, but it seems the majority of them are for TB. Apparently the way they do vaccines here are from some sort of “shot” guns. Stab and squeeze… I guess.

It kind of makes me happy I never had that happen to me. My mother, actually, was diagnosed with being positive with TB when I was a child. The doctor was so very worried because my mother was working at an old folks home and if she was contagious it could mean a pandemic. I took the test and I came up negative so everything ended up alright. But the test I had to take required there to be something (liquid) placed just under my skin. My friend says she had some sort of liquid placed under her skin as well, so maybe her scar is from TB. I just don’t remember there being that many shots for the vaccine… Either way, when I received my TB vaccine, it was just one shot. Both times.

Anyways, I’m going to call that quits for now. I’M SICK.

Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.

It has now it the three month marker that I have been living here in Japan and I must say it’s had some major ups and downs. I never thought that my first experiences living in Japan would be as crazy and drastic as they have been but hopefully when all is said and done they will be nice conversational pieces.

As of now I notice that Japan has been losing that magical glow that I once gave it. Now that I have been here for three months I have grown accustomed to the shrine outside of my apartment, the view of the white dome on top of Mt. Hanaoka which houses Buddha’s remains, the wooshing sound of the shinkansen coming into the station or leaving, the view of Mt. Aso in the distance from my balcony, the suffocating sound of cicadas in the morning that can be heard over my air conditioner. I’ve gotten used to sleeping on the floor as well–so much so that when my coworker and I went to Fukuoka and stayed at a hotel I realized that it was my first time sleeping in an actual bed with a mattress in almost three months!

Yes, this area of Japan has lost it’s “oomph”. There is still much left to be seen, but the same paths and roads I take no longer have that special feel to them. I don’t have that, “Yes… I am here. I finally made it. Look! Look at everything so unbelievably Japanese!” feeling anymore. Perhaps it was naive of me, but I remember being a teenager and then throughout college, and even after my first trip to Japan back in 2008, looking back on pictures I took or images I found while searching and thinking that everything looked so incredibly interesting and so well balanced. Now being here I look around and I realize how I have just become used to everything that is around me.

Is this bad? No. I think it means that I have finally settled in. That I am finally able to look at my surroundings as my current home.

As strange as it may sound I think what sealed the deal on these thoughts is what I did today: I rearranged my apartment. After moving all my things around and putting them in a new spot I realized that this apartment, though small, is finally feeling like MINE. Now if I could only get some stuff to put on the walls. I need to find some scenery photography from magazines or something.

Other than that I went to therapy today at the Kumamoto hospital and while I was waiting to be called in so I could be shipped up to therapy some old lady began talking to me. I always dread those moments because I am so afraid of what they may say. What kind of conversation do they want? Can I keep up with it? She expressed how hot it was today and I agreed. Then she took out her fan and explained to me that she was going “do this for me.” I gave her a puzzled look and she opened the fan and began fanning me. It felt nice and I thanked her but she continued doing it. I almost felt awkward. What do I say? I only know thank you in these moments! I said, “Ah, it feels nice! Thank you!” but she just continued… until my name was called. I forgot to thank her in all my confusion but she was a very nice lady.

It can be hard as a foreigner…

So they say that this marks the beginning of “tsuyu” (梅雨). Or better known as the rainy season. It has been pretty gloomy/rainy out. I guess the rainy season continues for about a month–but it doesn’t mean that it will rain the entire time. People always emphasize the strength of the rain over how many days it rains during the rainy season. People tell me to prepare a rain outfit and to watch your umbrella because it’s the one time of year where people take other peoples’ umbrellas because the rain is so strong.

There is something that I have learned about as a foreigner here in Japan. The concept of signing something in Japan is done with a stamp (印鑑?). My name doesn’t fit in the tiny box they leave for using their stamp and, for example, my bank will not let me physically withdraw money from any other location but one (other than using an ATM) all because I don’t have a stamp. I spent 1 hour or more at the bank making an account because one tiny mistake (even writing the wrong month on accident) meant you had to redo the entire application–that and the worker didn’t really know what I was supposed to do. I had to rewrite the application because I didn’t use all capital letters for my name. “You can write your first name first.” “I’m sorry, last name first.” “I’m sorry… I need all capital letters…” And the list of “why not gather all the information on what I need to do before I write everything up using kanji and what have you? Frustrating…

Life in Japan is not easy if you don’t know someone who can help you. Most situations it is exceedingly difficult to get anything as a foreigner. You need the right visa length, etc. For example I wanted a cellphone through Softank but I couldn’t sign up for it the normal way because I didn’t have a 2 year visa. I had to buy the phone outright and then sign up for their service. I needed a bunch of paper work too. My proof of application for my gaijin card, my visa, my passport and another picture ID–and even then they could have turned me down. Technically speaking it went against protocol to allow me to sign up without a 2 year visa.

Internet can be hard to obtain–especially if you don’t have a Japanese computer because some services require you to install certain programs to access your internet which are in Japanese and have trouble running on computers that are English based for whatever reason.

In most situations the good outweigh the bad, but at the same time it’s very frustrating when Japan claims they want more foreigners to come and live and work here and yet they still keep things very difficult to have the same necessities they would have or want in their home country. Something that comes very easy for Japanese citizens to obtain and it has nothing to do with the language barrier.

Broke My Left Pinky Finger

 Thursday on my way to work my bike bit the dust, and I along with it. I broke my left pinky finger and let me tell you, it hurts like a bitch. Everyone has been super nice to me thus far but I can feel some eyes on me, especially at work, in regards to how things have been as of late. Or perhaps it’s just me. I hope it’s just me. I like my job.

When I bit the dust a few people watched from a distance and kept walking. Only three people came to my aide and it was after I didn’t get up right away and took some time to compose myself because I was really just telling myself not to cry. I was reminded of the time Nick told me about the Bystander Effect because for a while I wondered if anyone was going to come over and help instead of just stare and pass me by or stare from a distance. I also want to give some benefit of the doubt that they may have assumed I couldn’t speak any Japanese.

But as you can see, my hand has swelled up to a decent size. I can’t believe how much it hurts constantly and I can’t believe the best pain reliever that the doctor will prescribe me is something in the same bracket as Ibuprofen and Naproxen. I was given 60mg pills of Loxonin. I should tell my doctor that I’ve been known to take 400-600mg of Ibuprofen. When I told my doctor that after taking the medicine I felt no difference he just told me that what he had given me was the strongest he could and that I could up my daily dosage from 3 to 4 if I wanted to. So I have. It does take off a little bit of the edge (pain) but honestly I’ve gotten better drugs in America with less pain (like my oral surgery).

All in all, my visit to the doctor for this cost me about $56USD. It included the x-ray to confirm there was a break.

Obtaining a Japanese Visa…

So Monday I sent out my paperwork so I could get my visa. It didn’t involve a lot of paperwork but at the same time with it being so close to the deadline I couldn’t help  but be worried that something would go horribly wrong. I called the Consulate General of Japan so many times I’m sure they recognize my voice now.

All I needed to send in was my Certificate of Eligibility with a photocopy of it, the application (signed) for the visa along with a passport-size picture, my passport and a self-addressed return envelope (I chose overnight). With that information they will create what I believe to be some sort of sticker which they will stick to one of the “Visa” pages in my passport.

Anyways, the way to get a Certificate of Eligibility is, I believe, through a university as a student or through other means for work. The employer/school needs to apply for the Certificate of Eligibility and then once they receive it they must send it to you. It feels like a pain in the butt because it’s so time consuming!

Other than that, you don’t have to pay the consulate any sort of fee for them to get your visa–which is super nice.

At any rate, this is how it works when you are an American citizen living in America.

 

Things I needed to send to the consulate office for my area:

  1. Certificate of Eligibility
  2. Photocopy of the Certificate of Eligibility
  3. Visa application (which had to be filled out and signed at the bottom)
  4. A passport-size photo which you would paper-clip to the visa application. It had to be recent (within the past 6 months).
  5. Your passport which must have at least one blank visa page.
  6. If you were not going to physically pick up your passport from the consulate office, you were to include within your package a prepaid envelope (they stated they preferred Fed-ex, so I used Fed-ex). Be sure to put your address in both the recipient and sender spaces provided on the return envelope you include. If you do not, and you place the consulate office as the sender, Fed-ex will bill them and they may not send your things back to you with that envelope.

If anyone has any questions, go ahead and leave me a comment. Don’t be shy, now! I can see what posts get views!

Job in Japan

This April I start my new life in a new country with a culture very different from my own. I may have been to Japan in the past, back in 2008, but I have never been to Kyushu. I have always only stayed on the main island of Honshu. There are a lot of interesting things about Kyushu and Kumamoto City that I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with. For example there is the largest active volcano in the world practically within my back yard (exaggeration… it isn’t THAT close), Mt. Aso. Kumamoto also served as the shooting place for the Last Samurai battle scene from the movie The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. Kyushu also has a lot of hot springs one can visit, as well, and the beach is a site to behold.

This will be the place where I talk about my life experiences, show pictures and videos of daily life in Kyushu, Japan, and do my best to show Japan as real as I can show it. Food, culture (festivals), entertainment, public transportation, the sights and the sounds… If you’re interested in learning about Japanese culture and Japan, feel free to subscribe and stick around. I’m not one to usually write in Japanese, but I may talk about the language gaps I have noticed and words that are awkward to me.

これから、日本語をもっと勉強するつもりです。最近、私の日本語が悪くなりますけど、問題ないでしょう。日本に行く時、私の日本語の本を連れて持ってるつもりでしょうね。とにかく、ようこそ。どうぞよろしくお願いしますね。

P.S. Up until I leave for Japan my posts will talk about my daily life within my fleeting days of living in America. They may include information I have learned about relocating to Japan, the things I need to prepare for, etc., and they may include my time I spend with friends and fun times.

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Japan, I’m coming back.