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.

 

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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.

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)

London Day 3

Surprise, I’ve been here the whole time and just used Google earth for all the photos…

Okay, maybe not. So day 3 of Tokyo has been another successful day of using the trains (so far at least) and I have managed to get myself to the central station, which appropriately has signs outside saying Tokyo Station City, because it is freaking huge. This place puts London Victoria to shame (and you don’t have to pay for the toilets, and they are still cleaner here). There is an entire shopping center beneath the whole thing with more restaurants here than I’ve seen in my entire last two days of walking around.

After an exciting trip to a shopping mall which was part book shop, part dining hall and part opticians (I’m not too sure why, but hey) where I made a grand purchase of one whole envelope before heading back to the relative serenity of Akihabara. In fact the station is so huge that on my return I managed to find a whole other section of shops I missed the first time around, including a little pokemon place. I would genuinely not be surprised if they had an issue with tourists having panic attacks in that station as the options on how to get entirely lost and surrounded by people on both sides are many and easy to fall into. However being the super adaptable person that I am (and not having to ask someone this time) I once again managed to use the train for a whole two stops without getting lost (yay, go me!) I found myself tempted to see what the Japanese version of a British pub was like, remembering that I had passed one near the station yesterday called the Hub.

 It’s actually probably the best version of a British pub I’ve seen outside of Britain (the beer and spirit selection was actually pretty close to a couple of locals back home with a few Japanese extras) the food options were a little more Japanese based, with octopus pizza and squid ink being the first item you turn to on the menu. The drink options are good though, with various cocktail and happyhour options on the drinks menu and the staff, as always, were very friendly. Of course being the radical that I am I opted for the Japanese beer, Kirin, which is a reasonable draft larger and had a very British side of shrimp to go with it. Okay, maybe I missed the point of going to a British themed pub, but hey I had fun anyway. 

I shall be returning to my room soon as we will be attempting to record our first ever edition of the podcast with me in a different country to everyone else, so that’s going to be a bit different.

Things that I have enjoyed discovering today;

The literal translation of ice cream appears to be soft custard.

There is something proudly advertising itself as ‘style free beer’ which either means it’s just a regular beer or alcohol free. Not sure which yet.

Culture shock of the day;

Seriously there are so many people in Tokyo central and I didn’t even go during peek hours. It’s worth a look but you really do need to brace yourselves if you are not a big fan of overly crowded places. Good for the experience though.

Tokyo Day 1

So after a slightly longer than expected wait at customs (but it should be noted that everyone I dealt with was absolutely lovely) and so missing the last train, I just managed to get the monorail most of the way to my hotel and then a taxi the rest.

That kerfuffle aside and six hours of sleep later I ventured forth into the unknown streets of Tokyo. Turns out they are actually reasonable easy to navigate even without googlemaps to hand (although a quick glance on the hotel WiFi before leaving did help things). As my hotel is only a twenty minute walk from the rather impressive nerd central of Akihabara, or Electric City as the locals prefer to call it, I thought I would spend most of the day indulging my inner fanboy. 

That was of course after breakfast, which being in Japan ment I could enjoy teriyaki salmon and rice while not feeling weird about having that for breakfast.

Continuing on my adventures, now full of delicious fish, I was quickly rewarded by the sight of an 8 floor manga and collectables superstore. Soon after exploring that one I found another, and another and guess what? Yup, another. Some where electronic stores and some catered to cosplay. All were fantastic to see. In the end I bought myself some motivation to continue learning Japanese in the form of the complete set of Steins Gate mangas, because a) I need to and want to learn and b) it is my favorite anime of all time ever and will fight you over this. 

As an interesting aside, I also don’t think I’ve seen this many drawn women wearing so little in such a small space before, Internet excluded, and many of which are very large and in public spaces for advertising. While I realise it’s no different from how we use actual women back home, real women don’t normally pose in quite the same ways due to physics. There was also a slightly exciting moment when I suddenly realised I was surrounded by soft core pornography after failing to notice the doormat that said ‘warning r-rated materials’.

That aside, for day one I feel it’s all gone rather well. Here are a few ‘culture shock’ moments worth watching out for though;

Green Man means walk, but don’t mind the cars creeping towards you still. Basically traffic lights here work in a similar fashion to America (or at the very least people in New York drive the same way). This means when the light turns green you need to cross with confidence, or you will just hold everything up. The drivers know what is going on so will avoid you, but some do get a little on the close side.

Money is to be placed in a tray and passed over when buying things. Not entirely sure why this is the case, but a plastic tray is placed in front of you to put your money in when making a purchase, before your change is returned in the same way. I’m assuming it’s to reduce bodily contact and thus germs.

Everyone speaks Japanese. Well duh, but it does still take a little bit of adjusting to when you realise you can only understand half of the signs. You occasionally overhear someone speaking English and it really stands out from the crowd. Like if you are talking maybe a mile away I will hear you.

More adventures to follow soon! Almost certainly entitled Tokyo Adventures day 2.

The journey begins! 

Well, it begins a little later today as right now I’m lounging on a sofa waiting to head to the airport. If anyone else who reads this is considering also visiting or moving to Japan, here are a few tips I have learnt during my preparation. 

1. Injections. Being a reasonable busy person and slightly unaware of the medical situation in Japan I actually left it until very late to get my injections. This was mostly okay, but I’m now going to have to get two more while I’m actually in the country, which is a little less than ideal. I would recommend seeing your local travel nurse as soon as possible, especially if you need Japanese Encephalitis jabs as these are usually done privately.

2. Exchanging money. It has been both a good time and a bad time to be leaving the country in the wake of the Brexit vote. If you are looking to change money I’ve been told it is always worth doing it outside of Japan as the exchange rates to yen are never particularly great. When exchanging in the UK if you don’t want to do it online, Thomsons seem to be the place to go as they will search through all the available rates and find the highest. As an aside it is worth looking up some rates yourself as being human they may miss something and if you show them a higher rate they will do it for you. Saved me nearly £150 doing that.

3. 30kg is not as much as you think it is. When moving away it is quite hard to pack even just the essential life stuff like enough clothes within this limit. I think I’ve managed it (based off an electronic scale) but if you think you are going over its worth buying extra weight in advance, or even signing up for an airmile programme before buying your tickets as many of these offer extra luggage allowance.

So these are my three top points to be mindful of when being a crazy person and moving to another country. More points to follow as the journey progresses!