FAQ

Got the concept?

Because I people keep on asking me the same questions, I decided to type this up. I know people ask these questions to get to know me, but I’ve heard them so many times that I really, really don’t want to answer them again for the 100th or so time. =\

  1. Why did you decide to go to Japan?
    Well, the answer to this goes back to my teenage years. I was a babysitter and the kid I was babysitting was really into Pokémon cards at the time. I watched the show — I was young, everyone did after school! He brought home Japanese Pokémon cards once and I got interested. I asked if I could have one and I either bought it off him or traded one of my cards for it. From there I searched online and found out what language it was, where it came from, After finding out it was from Japan, I began looking more and more into the culture of Japan, its history and anything I could find. I listened to j-pop, watched anime, centered my school projects around culture specific things regarding Japan, etc. The rest is history.
  2. How long have you been in Japan?
    I’ve been here since April, 2011. Feel free to do the math. 🙂
  3. How did you get a job?
    I used a website called Dave’s ESL Café. They have an international job board and I searched high and low on there for jobs and submitted many applications and coverletters. Eventually I found one.
  4. Wait, so what kind of job do you have?
    I work for an eikaiwa (English conversational school). I do not work in a high school or elementary school. I work in a school that is optional. That people choose to pay an extra fee and join so they can practice or learn English. As a result, classroom sizes are small. It ranges from 1 student to 8 students. It really depends if anyone shows up. Sometimes the normal students call in sick, etc.
  5. So… do you teach kids or adults?
    Both. I teach toddlers, elementary school kids, jr high school kids, sr high school kids and adults. Of course, not all in the same class. Usually earlier in the day are the kids classes and then evening classes are adults.
  6. How late do you work?
    A typical work day begins at 1pm and I leave around 9pm. I have a 2-3 hour break in between those times, but I don’t usually return home until after my shift is over.
  7. Oh, so where do you live?
    Kyushu. http://www.google.com
  8. Why did you choose Kyushu?
    Please see Q#3.
  9. Do you need anything specific to get a job in Japan?
    I believe at the very least need a Bachelor’s degree.
  10. What do your students call you?
    “Sensei”.
  11. Do you work in a large school?
    No. I wouldn’t say the building is large. It’s on the 3rd floor of a building that houses many other shops/offices.
  12. How much do you get paid?
    Seeeecret. Sorry. It’s none of your business.
  13. Do you need to know Japanese to work at an eikaiwa?
    No, you don’t need to; but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to know some. It’ll make living in Japan easier on you.
  14. What do you do in your free time?
    I practice Kendo. Currently, as of August 4th, 2013, my level is shodan.
  15. What do your parents think about you living so far away?
    Well, I’m an adult so it’s my decision, right? Obviously my family misses me. My mother and my grandmother worry about me, and I love them for it. Most of all, they want me to be happy. They understand this was my dream and I have achieved it. They wouldn’t ever try to stand in the way of that dream. They support me and are always there for me, even time zones and worlds apart.
  16. Is it true about how people want to touch your hair or skin?
    I really haven’t had strangers ask to touch my hair. I have had friends ask, and I usually allow them. Random people don’t ask to touch my skin either, but once when I was in an onsen (hot spring) an old lady asked if she could touch my arm and shake my hand and she did so without giving me a chance to answer. Aside from that I did have a coworker ask me if they could touch the bridge of my nose because Caucasians tend to have high bridges whereas Asians typically do not.
OMG JAPAN!!

OMG JAPAN!!

People generally get pretty excited when they have an interest in Japan and they are speaking to someone who lives in Japan. I get that and I welcome the questions, but I am bombarded with these questions daily, and after a while it becomes a pain to write out my responses every time. I am asked the same questions in person to, in Japan, from not only other foreigners but also Japanese people. I have been interviewed by television channels, by papers, I have even been an extra in a movie, and in every one of those instances they ask me some of the questions provided above.

I find that when it comes to my time in Japan, I would rather talk about the things I am involved in rather than my work or my job. I know a lot of people are interested when it comes to jobs in Japan because they are curious about finding work here themselves, but I don’t really feel that I am the right person to get that sort of information from. I really got lucky on my job placement — and I got the job early on. Moreover, if you don’t have a degree in something English related or have any experience teaching English there is a good chance you will be looking for a job for a very long time. Eikaiwa has become more competitive and they want people who have a history of teaching or have some sort of degree that deals with English. I don’t have a teaching license, but my major in college was English literature and my minor was linguistics. I also took a TEFL course, which is generally not all that important since the area of study isn’t exactly regulated, but some eikaiwa schools don’t know that!

Anyways, if you want to get to know me, try more personality related questions. Work related questions bore the heck outta me.

Made ya look!

Made ya look!

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In battle, if you you make your opponent flinch, you have already won.

On Saturday, April 7th, I took my first kendo ranking test–1kyu–and I passed. It was one of the most terrifying and nerve wracking things I have done in a long time. I felt so out of my element. I was putting myself far, far out of my comfort zone.

Kumamoto is known within the Kendo world as being a great place to study the practice. So many great high schools here who have won many national championships; so many individuals here who have one championships as well. Kumamoto is the very city where Miyamoto Musashi lived a good portion of his life and wrote The Book of Five Rings. The teaching here is strict and even the test, which varies from prefecture to prefecture, is a little different than other places where things are usually the same. I have been to Miyamoto Musashi’s grave and I have been to the very place he meditated and wrote his book–all here in Kumamoto City.

The day of my 1kyu test came about and I was a nervous wreck. Heck, the day before I was nervous. I understand that it may not be a good reason, but I was to be the only foreigner there at the testing–and I didn’t want to be the only foreigner. The moment I arrived on the day of the test and made my way down to the floor anyone who was able to see me on my way stopped in surprise, some even stopped whatever conversation they were having and just stared in surprise. Being the only foreigner there kind of puts a lot of pressure on you. People want to see how you do and are curious of how you do it. I was nervous. Very nervous. I wanted to do well, and I made many mistakes, but I passed.

The first part of the test had something called kirikaeshi which we had to perform twice, after that was something called uchikomi where the other person opens up specific hits on their body and the other is supposed to properly go for those openings and hit them. After those two things you recenter yourself and you start the shiai (match). In 1kyu it doesn’t matter who wins or loses. You just want to attempt to properly make cuts and hold your ground with good form.

If you pass that portion of the test you are allowed to move on to the second part of the test: the kihon kendo kata. In this portion of the test you are placed up against another person and perform specific kata. There are two sides to these techniques. One person is motodachi (loser) and the other is kakarite (winner). I got lucky in that sense because I ended up being motodachi. Motodachi actually started off being the hardest one out of the kata for me to learn, but in the end became the easiest. I performed my kata without any mistakes and that felt great.

The process was long. I was able to enter the budokan at 8am, things started around 9am and I sat around waiting to go on for almost three hours. I was #81 of 82 people! All in all, I finished around 2:30pm. My teacher was there watching, which made me even more nervous, but I tried. After the last part of the test was finished and while everyone was waiting for the results my teacher congratulated me on passing shodan before the results had even been posted.

After everything was said and done Kevin, Yuji and I went and got ramen and followed up with some ice cream to celebrate. It was a good day and I was very glad when it was over. My teacher is already pushing towards shodan which is in a month. I am already afraid, but if I really do intend to do shodan I will have to push myself harder and harder.

You should see me in a crown

Just replace “BARROWMAN!” with “MOFFAT!”

And then I found out about Sherlock, and I fell in love with the show because of that funny looking, sharp-as-hell cheekboned boy. It really is too bad that the seasons are so short. I love the fact each episode is 90 minutes long, but I want more time with the characters. More Moriarty. It really is too bad that I don’t have much of anybody to talk to about these two wonderful shows. Mom, Dan, grandma? That’s a hint. Hop to it!

Kya!

I began kendo again after a long hiatus. I took a break back in June because I was studying for the JLPT N4 test–which I passed. I’m due for N3 in December. After which (if I pass) I will be taking a break from the tests and focusing on conversational Japanese. I had my first kendo class last weekend and I got my bogu armor set (hand-me-down) which I fell in love with. Yes, it’s used, but I love it. It’s different and unique. It’s old, with character. It’s amazing. The stitching is purple and everything is just good. It’s just perfect. Well, almost perfect. But it’s close enough. I bought a bokken for practicing alone (it’s heavier than a shinai).

I’m going to Tokyo later this month (on the 22nd). I will go to a art museum for some geeky Evangelion fun, the ghibli museum, Akihabara, Asakusa, Tokyo SkyTree, and some other awesome places yet to be determined. Nick and his wife want me to go to the huge Gundam statue. I will sure try, but I cannot promise.

Yeah, baby!

My phone is on the fritz. It’s broken, and I am looking for a new phone which means a new email address if I switch. I will not be going to iPhone and I’ll be switching back to an Android OS phone (YES). There will be mass emails when/if I get it. Don’t worry. The number should stay the same, so no worries there. Not like any of you know my number. But the email will change. Completely. No choice. I’ll be changing providers.

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.

Lately on my bike rides home at night either from work or the gym I find my thoughts being flooded by the steps that I’ve taken that have lead me here. To this point in my life. To this country. To the path I’ve chosen to currently walk.

Sometimes it feels like it was only a few days ago when I was staying up all night chatting online in the Yahoo chat rooms with my friends about Japanese things such as anime and whatnot. Having sleepovers with my best friend Monique and watching Toonami after school. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with the very same sensation and feeling that I felt during summer vacation in between grades. It’s so hard for me to believe sometimes that time has really flown by this quickly.

Then I realize there is still so much ahead of me that I have yet to find and conquer. This part of my life is just a chapter. It isn’t the whole book. I think about where I will go, which path I want to take, if I want to walk that path with someone or go on my own for a while–and all of these thoughts flood my mind as I huff my bike along the path that follows along with Shirakawa River.

History and Tourism

Early last month in May I went to visit a friend of mine who lives in Osaka over Golden Week. For those of you who don’t know what Golden Week is, consider yourself lucky. It’s honestly one of the worst times to travel in Japan because everyone is traveling. Perhaps it’s similar to trying to travel and sight-see over Memorial weekend or Fourth of July in America. The difference is, you get about a week off from work (depending on your job) and since everyone else is getting time off, why not go places and see things? I decided to go to Kyoto and Nara. Both of which were full of tourists, but Kyoto was SO crowded. I was so surprised. There were crowded lines on the sidewalks just to get to temples and shrines.

I would not recommend visiting Japan during the first week of May. Everyone is going everywhere. Traveling is expensive because they jack up the prices during that time–because they can. Not only that, but tickets to travel by train, bus, or airplane are all sold out almost a month or two in advance because people plan ahead since it’s so busy during this week.

Because I am feeling lazy, here is a link to the pictures I took in Kyoto: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isshoni/sets/72157629971269309/

Here is a link to the pictures I took in Nara: http://www.flickr.com/photos/isshoni/sets/72157629591100774/

One strange thing, though. There was a guy at Fushimi-Inari Shrine (the place in Kyoto with all the red gates) who either had a REAL gun or a fake gun. He was dressed in American military wear, but the thing is the flag patch on his shoulder was not reversed, so it was clear that his uniform was fake. Diego and I stopped at the rest area on the way down to take a breather, and the guy came down and stopped just outside of the rest area, dropped his bag and pulled out a gun and proceeded to load a magazine. At that point I decided it was time to leave.

Other than that, the weather was beautiful. There were too many people, but that is to be expected of a tourist area. So many people say that they want to go to Kyoto to see “real Japan” but after living here for a year I can tell you that it isn’t “real Japan”. It’s a part of Japan set up to show you what they think you want to see. Yes, the shrines and temples are real. But everything else is just an act. People walking around in kimono or yukata pay someone to dress them up in that stuff so they can walk around Kyoto that way. Even the “old town” of Kyoto was rebuilt to show you what it used to be like and it’s all modern. It’s all tourist shops to try to sell you things.

If you want to see Japan, go to small towns. Get out of the big cities and just enjoy the surroundings.

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. 😦

Nagasaki is not just a few hazy images. I remember it as a real chunk of my life.

This past weekend some of my coworkers and I planned a trip to Nagasaki. It was a wonderful trip and I wish we could have had more time instead of just one day. There was so much we wanted to do, but just didn’t have the chance to do.

This was my first time traveling by train for an extended period of time–well, a train that wasn’t the shinkansen. We rode just an average train for about an hour and then switched onto an express line the rest of the way to Nagasaki. It’s really unfortunate. I enjoy traveling by train but the price can be a pretty penny depending on where you go. The landscapes fly by and you get to see snippets of Japanese life as they fly past your window. I caught myself wondering if some of the villages I watched from my window had changed much over the past couple of decades. How the Japanese build rice fields into their hills always amazes me no matter how many times I see it.

We arrived in Nagasaki at about 10AM in the morning and rushed to get our daily tram passes so we could be sure to get around the town. We first went to eat champon which was very tasty. Though I think I prefer just normal ramen. What is champon? Champon is a dish I assume was adapted from a Chinese dish. It has noodles inside which are nothing like those used with ramen, soba or udon. They are completely round and smaller than both ramen and udon but bigger than soba. In the dish there are a variety of things. Many different kinds of vegetables (leaks, sprigs, mushrooms) and seafood (little octopus or squid, some shellfish, etc).

Afterwards we went towards Suwa Shrine, which was lovely.  From the top you could look out over a nice chunk of Nagasaki. It allowed you to imagine what it would have looked like about a hundred years ago. The shrine was very nice and I think there was a small bird zoo nearby because we could hear the calls of peacocks.

Afterward we went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum. I have never been to the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum, but I have heard that it is much more “in your face” in regards to what exacltly happened before, during and after the bomb was dropped. We slowly walked into the gallery where there were pieces of buildings and other items that survived the atomic blast–well, barely. As we continued forward we reached the gallery which housed familiar items to many people that had been exposed. Melted coins and bottles, burnt and bloody pieces of clothing. There was even a large glob of melted glass with the bones of a hand encased within. A young school girl’s obento (lunch box) with the rice still in tact within from being burned so fast and quickly. There were also items you could touch, which I touched. I took one picture inside, but I couldn’t take more than that. Even though it was allowed (or perhaps even encouraged) I felt as though it was rude.

There was a wall that had the shadows of items and a person etched into it. A ladder with the shadow of a man standing next to it, almost as though time there stood still and the shadow was still looking up toward the sky unknowing about what horror was going to shortly occur. The testimonies from people who survived the blast were also horrifying. A young kid who had to cremate his mother in the backyard of his school and that whenever he went to where she was cremated and scratched a stick into the dirt he could see the face of his mother in the black ash.

Afterward we went to Peace Park, which was very nice, but still indeed looming. There was a large statue with one hand pointing up towards the bomb that fell and the other stretched out in peace. The Hypocenter was also very dreary. I feel like I learned a lot despite how depressing the entire subject is.

Afterward we went to buy some omiyage (souvenirs) for the people we work with and went hunting for some yakiniku. We found a lovely grill, albeit expensive, but we were able to eat a lot of food and we couldn’t even finish all of it! We had beef, chicken, special cuts from pigs and even whale! I know many people do not agree with eating whale, but truth be told we didn’t know it was part of the course we ordered and since it was ordered and the money already paid for we found no reason to allow it to go into the garbage–which is exactly where it would have gone. Whether I ate it or not, the outcome would have still been the same–it would have still been purchased whale.

SOPA and PIPA

Many people have woken up in America to find that many sites, such as Reddit and Wikipedia, have gone offline for the day in protest of what could very well become a reality if the two bills SOPA and PIPA pass. However, if you’re reading this it probably means that you are not without some base knowledge of your own regarding the issue.

SOPA is a House bill and PIPA is a senate bill. Apparently the Senate tends to be more older and conservative than the House. We can only hope that they’ve brushed up on information regarding the internet.

You can read more about their differences and even look at a wonderful chart to show you the differences between the two and what they will do if passed here (which is currently dark in protest for January 18th):
http://socialmediacollective.org/2012/01/17/whats-the-difference-between-sopa-and-pipa/

You can also watch this awesome video that tells you about PIPA and SOPA:

You can also learn about your senators and what they stand for regarding the bill here:
http://projects.propublica.org/sopa/

Please, do not stand idly by and hope that things smooth themselves out. Do not wait until it is too late to act upon this. It is hard to fathom something like this actually happening and it’s hard to imagine censorship to the degree the bill claims it can be enforced but it is real and it can happen. Please let your senator know how you feel.

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference

Things have been going pretty well lately. I had some bumps in my life early in November. I felt like I was losing a friend–perhaps that friendship is lost. I made some plans and they all slipped through my fingers for one reason or another. It’s been about a month since then but I am still blaming myself for the events that happened–or the events that didn’t end up happening. I guess only time will tell before I learn whether or not the friendship stood the test of that amount of stress and I was worrying and beating myself up for nothing (really, I tend to do that) or if that friendship slipped through my fingers as well. Regardless, the words that were spoken I have taken seriously. As of late I have been finding all the reason in the world to go someplace else and I haven’t been trying nearly as much as I should be. After I returned to Kumamoto I decided to put a little more effort into my time here. I have been trying to hang out with more friends, but honestly I worry that perhaps I am not a person people really want to hang around with. I always feel like I’m the one doing the calling or the texting…

A friend of mine told me not to worry so much about the Japanese language. He tells me most of the people he knows who come here without any prior knowledge of it spend their first year trying to get used to the country and having random fun before they focus on studying and learning the language. He tells me not to beat myself up over not pushing myself more to learn it. Unfortunately I cannot help that. I want to learn more of the language but I don’t have as much motivation as I should. I become discouraged when I get stuck in a sentence or I am not being understood. But I am trying to branch out.

Today I made some new friends and I had a lot of fun. I met them through another friend of mine, the only difference is they do not know English so I am forced to speak and only use Japanese. There is no fall-back language. I hung out with them for about 4-5 hours or so and had a great time. Of course there were bumps in the road when it came to communication, but we were all very patient with one another. We laughed and had fun. I learned some more of the language (though I think it wasn’t committed to memory in terms of use later on… it was more committed to the part of my memory that recognizes it in conversation or when spoken). The friend who introduced us can speak English so when we were all together introducing ourselves I felt nervous to speak Japanese. But when it was just me and the two of them I opened up a little more. Either way, it’s a constant war with language with me.

I joined a kendo group. I have not much to say about it as I haven’t had a lesson yet, but I am looking forward to it. 🙂

Later this month my boyfriend will come to Japan. I am excited about that but I don’t know what I am going to show him. A lot of people have requested to meet him which may create some fun in terms of language barriers.