Another year passes 

Today marks the last day of my working year, and for most people in Japan the national new year holidays start today too. While Christmas is not really celebrated here, new year is a very important holiday for many. It is a time when people go to the temples to pray for a good new year and watch the first sunrise with their families. It’s also very traditional to clean your home before the end of the year, to start clean and fresh in the next. This makes me glad that my home is not so big here and thus much easier to clean.

Personally this has been one of the most interesting and exciting years of my life, as it’s the first time I have lived in another country (unless you count moving from England to Wales, which I really don’t). The food here is good, the places are interesting and the language is crazy. I’m also still really enjoying my job, and the people I work with are great. It helps that they like to go on little adventures, which leads me to my next point… 

Adventures in Kyoto – a day trip.

As mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Kyoto for the day with the other teachers. 

This day mostly consisted of walking from temple to temple, eating some amazing food, seeing more temples and then going for a rather delightful boat ride before we got to view the city at night.

Kyoto is a city of historical sites, as the former capital of Japan there are a lot of buildings that stand as testament to that fact 

I have never seen so much red in one place before today (it’s a lucky colour here) and as it’s winter even the leaves on the floor are matching the rest of the city in colour. It’s just kind of a shame they were not so attached to the trees.

On the plus side it did give our boat guide the opportunity to ask us to imagine what all the trees will look like in about 4 months, which I promise was much funnier at the time. Mostly because he started by telling us how amazing it is (I’m guessing from a prepared script) before looking at the bare trees and then switched to ‘imagine’.
We also got to see some interesting rocks with names based on the vague shapes they resembled (other than rock shape, although I for one would like to see more rocks named rock rock). Some were more believable than others. Snoopy rock was actually pretty clear while Monkey Jamp, yes Jamp, was more than a little perplexing if only because I have no idea what Jamp looks like.

The city at night is of course also a beautiful thing to behold, made more so by the illuminated bamboo forests

While I was sad to have to go in the end, it’s always nice to know that it’s reasonably easy and not so expensive to visit places like this in my spare time. In the UK while I would go places occasionally, I’ve never traveled as much as I have here. Every month I’m visiting a new city but it doesn’t feel like such an effort. 

Next time I’m visiting Osaka, and then next year I’m going to try for a little further away and visit Hiroshima which will likely be my first time on a bullet train too. 

So until then, have a great new year and I’ll see you all in the future!

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Japanese; it’s almost easy

But unfortunately it really isn’t. Japanese has the appeal and struggle of being considered the hardest language for a native English speaker to learn. And not for the reasons you might expect. Sure there are two alphabets with 46 characters in each. But once you learn these sounds they almost never change.

Of course there is also kanji, the 3000+ symbol writing system. Memorising this lot is quite the challenge, but with each one you learn you are safe knowing that it’s done, the meaning of that reading will not change. 

The problem is Japanese is a high context language. You can know all the words but unless you are in the situation good luck guessing what the topic was, cause that will be said once at the beginning and then dropped for the rest of the conversation. In English we like to state everyone quite clearly. Even when we are being ambiguous there is still only so much guesswork that’s needed. Japanese is closer to 50% understanding the language and 50% paying enough attention to figure out if we are talking about your house and friends house or a house you once visited ten years ago on holiday.

That being said I think it is a beautiful language and the challenges are exciting and interesting. Living here certainly helps my interest, as being able to actually order food rather than pointing and looking hungry is quite a rewarding experience. 

I’m particularly pleased today as I passed my first language test, and I’m now studying harder lessons. So yay for more language but oh dear for the complexities and confusion that is bound to follow. If you are also interested in learning this delightfully challenging language, aside from taking lessons I can really recommend two apps to help you along. First is kanji study. This one helps learn kanji (surprising I know!) as well as teaches you how to write them and gives you a good bulk of vocabulary too. It’s a flashcard style teaching app and quite effective in my opinion.

The other is memrise. This app deals with a few languages but I’ve only tried it for Japanese and I’ve really noticed a jump in my learning since I started using it. It’s fun and simple enough a tool that I actually want to use it every day, and have done so for nearly a month now.

Both apps have a good free to use section, but have the option to pay for more features. I’m still on the free versions but would not consider it a waste of money when I’m done with those to upgrade to the full versions. (This is not a sponsored review, I really do just like them.)

That’s all from me this week, happy learning!

Why did Kirk jump off a mountain?

Thanks to the very nice people I work with and the many new friends I have made here in Japan, it is starting to become a country where I do all the things I normally wouldn’t get round to on my day off. It’s a lot of fun to wonder just where the hell will I find myself a few weeks from here because (within the boundaries of physics and finances) anything is possible.

This week we decided to go paragliding, because why not? After climbing a mountain last week and being forced to merely walk down after, it seemed quite fitting that this time I would get to run off the edge instead. As I had never done this before it was of course a tandem flight, which made it a lot more relaxing as I only had to worry about gravity and its desire to bring objects with mass back down towards the core of the planet. Stupid gravity.

Of course before I could jump off a mountain we had to get to the top, which turned out to be an equally exciting / enjoyable / terrifying experience (depending on which of us you asked). Upon a monorail a traction engine slowly pulled the ten of us, plus equipment, up the side of the mountain which at points felt close to being an almost vertical climb. Personally I thought it was a great time, but perhaps not for everyone as there are no belts to strap you in or anything either side of you for the ascent. Perfectly safe though, honest!

Now this is normally where I would describe the joys of slowly falling through the sky with another man strapped to your back speaking to you in broken English / Japanese. Fortunately though as part of the experience I have a video of the whole thing which is in fact online and can be found here

To summarize though, it was surprisingly relaxing and a hell of a lot of fun. If you get the chance I would strongly recommend giving it a go as even if you are scared of heights the decent is very controlled. In many ways it’s like being in a lift with no floor and you can fly really close to the side of a mountain. Just like a lift, right?

In other news typhoon season is well under way, with all of the worlds water falling from the skies in Japan, which makes for an interesting swim to and from work. Otherwise life is good and Japanese living is proving to be very enjoyable. I also started taking Japanese lessons, which proved to be an interesting experience being on the other side of the table but recognizing the teaching format. Again though, very good stuff and most helpful. Especially considering outside of the class most people here seem to only speak Japanese. Weird that.

 

Under the Sea

This week has been a good one for new things.

This is the first time I have been to a beach in Japan, the first time I have swam in the sea in Japan. This is the first time I have been snorkeling in Japan and the first time I have ever sung karaoke. (Because how could I not when in Japan.

So to bring some context into this whole situation; as Thursday was a national holiday here most of the people from my school decided it would be nice to spend the day at the beach. As a person who enjoys having fun I thought it would be good to go to, so I did. While the beach itself was more like fine shale than sand, the sea was beautiful and not too crowded with people.

An area was actually sectioned off for people to go swimming in, keeping us safe and away from boats and jet skis. While from the shore it didn’t actually look all that big a space, once we were in there and snorkeling it was clear that it was ample. I didn’t really know what to expect from the snorkeling, as we were so close to the shore I didn’t really expect fish to be all that interested in coming that close to land, let alone the many people splashing around. Fortunately I was delightfully wrong with my assumptions and managed to encounter small schools of fish at one point, as well as a few loners probably off to see what the humans were doing.

Actually as a slightly random aside I do wonder if fish ever see people in the water and think ‘oh dear, they’ve fallen in again. Best try and get them out.’ And this is why when people film nature documentaries fish will swim up to them.

Anyway, back on track…

There were neons, and zebra-fish, possibly even puffer fish and a whole bunch that I didn’t know the names of but were very colourful, including  a couple that were easily over a foot long. It was a very enjoyable experience and I managed not to accidentally drown when swallowing half the sea at one point. All in all, a good time.

Karaoke is a very different experience here from anything I have ever seen in the UK. For one you have a room for just you and your friends. There is also no song book, just a computer tablet that you can search for different songs and artists. The range of songs is probably what impressed and amused me the most though. From your karaoke classics and modern pop to some pretty obscure 80’s tracks and Norwegian death metal. Yea that’s right, there were tracks from Emperor and Dimmu Borgir on this thing, along with SOAD and Turisas. Naturally this meant that our playlist swung dramatically in direction nearly every other song. The consumption of large quantities of alcohol is also very traditional (I was told) and may have encouraged some of the more extreme song choices at points.

So I have to say, although it can be a little expensive if you buy a lot of drinks from the place itself it was certainly an excellent way to finish a very fun day. Considering karaoke is a very typical way for people to hang out after work I would recommend trying it as soon as possible, especially if you are a bit shy about this sort of thing, as it will help you realize no one cares how bad you are (if you are bad) and it’s a lot more about no one really giving a crap and having fun.

Another Day Older

So as many of you probably already know, I turned 31 on Thursday. While maybe not as exciting as turning 21, or as monumental as 50 it was still a fun year marker. After all, I now live in Japan and have a bunch of new friends out here so it was a very different experience from any of my other birthdays.

Once again I am forced to announce that the people I work with are just lovely. Having known me for a whole two weeks they bought me a cake for my birthday, and then we went to a bar for food after finishing work for the day. They really didn’t need to do this, and even though I’m not really a big birthday person I really appreciated the effort they went to.

The day after I visited another friend in Zama, where we spent the day walking around a nature park and became slightly confused by the myriad of pathways. Fortunately as they were all giant circles in one form or another we were not forced to build a rudimentary camp and survive off the local wildlife when we could no longer escape.

There will also be many photos of this wonderful place just as soon as I have wifi for my phone again. Unfortunately my tourist sim card has run out so I need to sort out a more long term solution, but now that I have a bank account all is possible, so you can expect a mid week update on this post with all the pictures once it’s done.

Forests are very interesting places.

We feature them in so many of our stories and typically they are rather magical places, homes to a great variety of creatures and fictional beings. They are also very polarized places in our collective minds. Either they are wondrous and contain the secret to defeating evil kings, sometimes loaded up with magical items or just sage advise from mystical beings. At other  times they are evil dark places, holding only death an misfortune beneath their haunted leaves. Princesses are poisoned, killed or lost in them. Wicked creatures lead travelers off the safety of the path to become lost forever, while others are homes to powerful but evil magicians who are a little too trigger happy on the curse front.

And I can really see both points of view. During the day time it was a wonderful place to be, full of life and joy. The sunshine filtering through the trees and dancing across the floor as they moved in the wind. There were some really wonderfully bizarre creatures too, easily mistaken for something not of our world for its weirdness. Then when it slowly became darker the trees blocked out what little sunlight remained entirely, the birdsong would echo ominously around the woodland and without clearly marked paths it would have been very easy to get lost there.

This leads me to the conclusion that a lot of our fairy tales were probably written about the same places just at different times of the day, which really goes a long way to show you how important perspective can be when you form an impression of something. Now it feels like I have accidentally stumbled into some sort of morality story, but I suppose worse things have happened from a tangent.

The Joys of Banking

So first of all, just a quick update on regularity. Now that I’m working full time again I’ll only be updating weekly rather than daily. But on the plus side that means there will be so much more to read about. Like how I’m failing at playing the borderlands pre-sequal (need to level more before trying to so the boss) or how due to the lack of a car I mostly walk for 5 to 10 miles on my days off to get anywhere in Fuji. (I still really like it here but there is a lot of walking to be done).

During my time off this week I decided I would try to avoid being deported and registered my presence in the city at the Ward office.  Considering how bad my Japanese is, and how everything was in Japanese it actually went reasonably smoothly.  Once again the staff were lovely and helpful, and no one said out loud that I was ruining their day so that’s a plus.

It’s genuinely very easy and mostly involved Google translate for the occasional confusing bit, although some of the English variants were really off the mark. But we got there, between me, Google and three members of staff the Japanese government now knows where I live and seems content with that situation.

I also tried to open a bank account today. Again the lady helping me tried her best, and together we got through the forms except for one tiny detail. I needed a hanko. This is an official stamp that you register with the city and use on important things. A signature was right out, so looking online I saw that it can take up to a week to get one. A week! But I have till the end of the month to open a bank account or I have to start dancing for yen in the street, and my visa doesn’t really cover that. Unless of course I use my dancing to teach English at the same time, but it’s a bit of a grey areas.

Fortunately I won’t have to test that theory just yet as I found a hanko shop nearby that could make it in an hour. Only downside is the bank closed before that and I still needed to register it. Plus side, I could still register it today and the bank is open again tomorrow so everything is still mostly on track! Yay.   

So my advise for people moving to slightly more rural cities in Japan. Get a hanko quickly. It’s a bit of a pain as you then need it for everything important, but unless you can find a very foreigner friendly bank you will have problems.

Work wise, everything is good. The students are nice and the other teachers seem to be able to cope with me too. It’s actually a lot of fun, and still rewarding to hear people using what you taught them less than an hour later. 

Also if anyone else does have the borderlands pre-sequal on steam let me know as I need people to play with.

First Day of Work

It is done! I have taught the English to people by myself. People have intentionally paid for lessons with me and I think they enjoyed it / learned some new things. 

It was really good fun and my manager seemed really positive about my work so I’m very happy about that. It’s very different from what I am used to as a work day, with very set times for everything to happen in and only ten minutes in between to check for any additional students or even new lessons if it was previously blank. So that is a little terrifying at first because it does mean I may have to plan a whole lesson in 5 minutes.

Fortunately though the formula for the lessons makes it possible, and the more I do it the more familiar with each lesson I will become and that will certainly help.

So my experience is still overwhelmingly positive, and life is great. Suck it brexit, you can’t touch me now! (He says, inviting the worst possible outcome of being summoned back to the UK when we leave the world)