Japan Blog

This blog is from Kirsty and Kesh's trip to Japan in 2004 and 2005.

WEEK 1

Our first week in Japan! We arrived at Kansai Airport on the 6th October just after 8am. Our apartment is about an hour and a half away by bus and train, and we live near a station called Awaji. It's surrounded by an old marketplace that sells fruit and vegetables, flowers and noodles. Our apartment is on the main road outside the marketplace in a six storey block of apartments. We actually have two bedrooms, which is more than we were expecting. Seeing as we only need one bedroom, we took the sliding doors off the second room and converted it to a living area. Our bedding is quite comfortable, contrary to what we were told. Futon beds here consist of two mattresses on top of each other, and a comforter.

The first few days were a bit overwhelming. We ate lots of food from the 7-Eleven (they have cool sushi and ready-made meals), and when we did eat out, we had to point randomly at different items on the menu and hope they weren't too weird. We also discovered our local supermarket and found that food quite affordable.

We went into Namba a few times. It's one of the main parts of the city where you can find English bookshops, English record stores and lots of Starbucks coffee shops.

I felt a bit sick in the first few days. I think it was the stress of navigating around a new place and eating strange food. Apparently Japan doesn't have the same addressing system we have. We got lost a lot, and even if we could read Japanese, I'm not sure it would have helped much.

We visited Den Den Town, which is a whole town devoted to electronics. It was so big that we got a bit disoriented, so all we bought was a power adapter for the laptop, (actually really difficult to find, even though we have the some power points as China).

In the first week we also visited Umeda which is the other main part of the city. We discovered a huge ten-storey building called the Yodobashi Centre, with each of its floors devoted to either computers, digital cameras, mobile phones, music or appliances. We had lunch there and Kesh ordered a meal with heaps of different types of tofu in it, including some on paddle pop sticks. They looked like ice cream! Umeda also has huge arcades full of Skill Testers and Pachinko parlours (kind of like slot machines).

We discovered that we don't live too far from the river. If we walk about 400m behind our apartment block, we reach the water. There is a huge path that runs along the edge and extends for miles. We go there when we're feeling claustrophobic.

Our 6th and 7th days were filled with Orientation and training. We both got cool mobile phones (Kesh's has a built-in video camera!) and met some of the other new people (including one girl who lives 20 minutes from us in Australia!). My home branch is at a place called Senri Chuo. The office is in a huge open air multi-storey mall that reminds me of Robina Town Centre. We met a nice couple from Sydney who told us about an old Japanese man stopping them in the street and getting them to proof-read his Japanese to English translation dictionary. He was writing it for a local English college and wouldn't let them leave!

(Editor's note: Please keep in mind that this was 2004 and iPhones had not yet been released. A phone with a video camera was considered amazing!)

Random Observation

It is rude to blow your nose in public in Japan, however it seems to be OK to pick your nose and eat it in full view of everyone.



WEEK 2

Our second week in Japan was quite good. We finally figured out how the trains work (there are at least three different railways here) and can get around town quite easily. We discovered some cool fast food chains (Mos Burger and Mister Donut) and the interesting drinks you can get from the hundreds of vending machines around the city. My favourites are Dekavita C (like Red Bull) and Boss Coffee Au Lait (very sweet and creamy). I don't like Bikkle, which is a 375ml bottle of Yakult flavoured drink.

We finished our three days of training and did a few days teaching. It seems like a pretty easy job, especially because we're only working 5pm - 9pm Monday to Friday. The students are well behaved and very quiet. My first lesson was called Voice, which is a general discussion session. I had 10 silent students staring at me the whole time. Lucky I'm the queen of talking crap!

We've only been teaching for a few days but already find that our speech ischanging. Everyone at Nova uses specific phrasing and hand gestures to communicate, and it's quite hard to switch off at the end of the day. The teachers who have been there for more than six months have developed a strange international accent. I'm a bit worried that it could happen to us too.

We had our first taste of Japanese nightlife on the weekend. We were introduced to a friend of a friend who's been here for four months, and he took us out in Shinsaibashi (the Lonely Planet guide compares Shinsaibashi nightlife to the scenery in Blade Runner). Our evening started at 6pm. Kesh and I had a few drinks at home before going out at 11pm. The first stop was Murphy's (Osaka's first Irish bar), followed by Cinquecento (a funky bar where everything is 500yen - that's $6.40 in AUS dollars). Next stop was the Playpen, a seedy underground nightclub with lots of passed out ex-pats. I also tried my first takoyaki (fried squid balls - the equivalent to kebabs after nightclubbing). Our last stop of the night was Sam and Dave's, a scary place full of shady characters and crazy bartenders. One of them jumped up on the bar and sprayed an oxygen fire extinguisher over the crowd. It was the only place in Japan so far where Kesh and I have felt a little unsafe.

The trains stop between midnight and 6am (and the taxis are very expensive), so we didn't get home until 7am. I think we slept until almost 4pm that afternoon and then had to get over our hangovers before going back out at 7.30. This time we met up with people from work and went to Esaka and a place called the Coconut Club. After a few hours of drinking, we moved on to a karaoke bar, but not before some of the guys decided they had to prove their manhood with an arm wrestle on their stomachs on the sidewalk. Japanese locals crowded around to cheer them on.

Karaoke was fun. It cost about $25 for around 4 hours of singing and unlimited drinks. The karaoke machine had this strange thing where after each song, it would show a picture of a half naked woman, and depending on how well you sang, it would reveal more of her body. The best score was 98% for I Will Survive. (It was a group effort.)

The few days after that were pretty quiet. We really only worked and slept. Oh, and we had to open a bank account for work and chose to do it during the typhoon. By the time we got home that day we felt as if we'd been walking through one big shower.

Random Observation

It is hard to buy good cheese in Japan. You can usually only buy processed cheese similar to Kraft slices or grated mozarella. In large supermarkets, you might be lucky enough to find camembert.