Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Japan Files ~ Gateway to Sleepytown

Imagine this.

A night out on the town with your mates. You just got off work on a Friday or you're dolled up to the nines on a Saturday. The pre-drinks. The bar hopping. The club stomping. The midway beers and after "shots". And by about three o clock in the morning, although you're exceedingly happy, you are absolutely, completely trashed. But the only way you're getting home really is a taxi. And we all know that cab prices double come the early morning. So you're stuck on the street somewhere dying in your heels or freezing your bollocks off as you wait for the first train. And maybe you feel it. And maybe you don't. But not only are you drunk, you're also exhausted. So what do you do? 

Well, in England, you'd stick it out - biting cold and all; stiff upper lip. But in Japan? Well, you've certainly got a bit more variety to keep you warm after a drunk-filled evening. So allow me to introduce the many ways in which you can find yourself some sort of bed in the land of the rising sun.



We have these almost anywhere. And you might have to shell out a bit of money depending on where you are -cough- Roppongi -cough- but you're definitely guaranteed a bit of luxury if you opt to stay at a hotel. Some come with kimono and slippers - potentially the Japanese equivalent to indoor wear so you can get comfortable. No need to worry about shampoo or toothpaste because in addition to towels, that's usually provided too. And what's better than actually sleeping in an actual bed? I very rarely get this luxury these days. What's better still however is that you're actually divided by walls so providing the person in the next room doesn't sound off like a foghorn, you're guaranteed a relatively peaceful and uninterrupted sleep at least until the 11am check-out.

Capsule Hotel

Brilliant if you're a man. There are some capsule hotels about that do cater to women however - (and couples apparently). Things are changing these days (even I managed to stay in one). A little bit cheaper than a typical hotel because all those little luxuries I mentioned above are pretty non-existent and you're pretty much sharing space with around thirty to fifty other people. You're allocated a locker for your belongings before making your way to the morge-style booths that are stacked next to and above each other in two storey fashion. The only real privacy you get is separated by a curtain usually. Check-out time is typically even earlier at 10am because staff need to clean in preparation for the next set of guests. But a good place to crash temporarily after a night out. Heck, you won't even notice the snoring if you've drunk enough.

Manga Cafe

Even cheaper still, the manga cafe or mangakisa is a comic book nerd's fantasy. Wall upon wall of manga, unlimited drink bar and food if you order it, and you're own personal computer-with-internet booth to enjoy it all in depending on what package you select. Some even have a shower and a ladies area for those of us who wish to be away from prying eyes. Of course, before you think about staying in one, you usually have to become a member first. Japan has a thing about loyalty after all. Then of course, there's the fact that a lot of manga cafes allow smoking and even if they have non-smoking areas, there's always going to be some crossover. The one I stayed at offered darts, billards and karaoke as extras but all I wanted to do was crash. Then there's the incessant clicking if you're a light sleeper. An 8 hour package was not enough in my opinion but if you're only going to stay until first light, then it's no problem

Karaoke Booth

I have very fond memories of singing karaoke into the night and then leaving and passing by the room next door only to see a gang of about six guys completely flaked out on the sofas. I smirked at the time but I look back now and think to myself, why not. Karaoke bars usually offer a "freetime" package during their least popular hours - usually either in the middle of the day or in this case, the early hours of the morning. This means that you can karaoke all night long usually from around 11pm to 6am all for one price. And of course, you're drunk. All night karaoke is going to seem like a viable possibility. But evidently, you will lose your voice and you will fall asleep, but at least you won't be waiting outside in the cold.


Picture courtesy of
There are so many stories about Japanese people flaking out on trains after an evening of hard liquor (or even just hard work). People so drunk that they sprawl out across three or four seats, suspend themselves from the hand rails swaying side to side, or sometimes using their fellow commuters as a pillow. But in some cases, there are actual trains that are designed to accommodate sleepers as their travel from one part of the country to the next. Creatively called "Sleeper Trains", these trains offer bedtime accommodation for the overnight traveler so as a tourist, you can travel from one part of Japan to another without actually losing a day. Of course, it doesn't come cheap and some in-carriage areas are a lot less luxurious than others. You definitely get what you pay for, but it is definitely an experience and if you're already drunk, luxury won't really matter to you. Just don't miss it obviously.


I'm starting to think that this is some sort of rite of passage for Japanese salarymen. To get so drunk that you simply end up rock bottom...literally. And I have seen it all - an old businessman completely knocked out in the middle of a train carriage. A young twenty-something rather uncomfortably conked out in a bush. A middle-aged commuter who decided that the park bench would be the safest bet. I've yet to see a foreigner end up in this predicament but I'm sure it has happened. Because come Friday or Saturday night, people just seem to wind up anywhere. And Japan is safer than most places, it really is. But even I wouldn't want to wake up in the middle of Tokyo somewhere wondering exactly what happened to me the night before.


So seriously folks, take note of all that opportunity. In England, it's either cab or bust for most people but in Japan, you've certainly got a lot of variety. Take advantage of it.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Dating in Japan ~ Tinder Exploits

I have got to hand it to Tinder. 

For all the slander I used to give it, it has actually put me in contact with the bulk of my dates. Like any dating or social networking platform however, you still have to sift through the masses to find someone who's on the same wavelength as you but I can't complain. Because I've said it before that this app is used a lot differently in Japan. People use it to find friends and unsurprisingly, they also use it for language opportunities. There will always be those looking for hook ups but there are also those seeking something more meaningful which is nice. Sadly, while none of my dates have actually ended up being a sure thing, they've certainly been interesting experiences so here's to the second round of contestants.


The "Japanese Only" Guy Date

As the title suggests, this guy spoke zero English so when we first started communicating, I was convinced that it wouldn't even get off the app. Nevertheless, I saw it as an opportunity to use my somewhat limited Japanese ability. In my day to day life, I barely use Japanese at all but via text, I can communicate fairly well. We spoke for about a week and then one evening, he asked me to lunch on a Saturday. I accepted and for the first time since I'd started dating, I was actually nervous. Texting is one thing; speaking is another ball game. Nevertheless, we met up and despite looking as he did in his pictures, he was a whole lot shorter than me. Starting off, things went well however. I liked the fact that he was pretty quick at finding places to go despite having never traveled to the area before (hurray Google Maps). But as the date progressed, I began starting to find it difficult to communicate effectively. My spoken ability is still beginner at best. He was very patient nonetheless but eventually conversation began to dry up due to the fact that my brain simply couldn't handle the sudden influx of "foreign language". It lasted roughly four to five hours and was a good date overall but by the end of it, my head hurt and I knew that logically nothing else was going to come from it.

The Older Guy Date

When I first started communicating with this one, his profile had indicated that he was 31 years old. After communicating for some time and scheduling a date with him, I came to find out that he was actually 40 years old instead. I was gutted. You see, I have both a lower and upper age limit where dating is concerned because I feel like I'll have very little in common with, or very dissimilar mentalities from those who are much younger or older than me. But as I'd already agreed to the date in the first place, I went on it anyway. He was late which annoyed me further but when he arrived, I had to admit, he was extremely attractive. He did not look forty at all so I brightened up a little. As the date progressed however, I soon discovered that we had absolutely nothing in common. He would bring up a topic that I knew nothing about and vice versa. What's more, his mentality seemed a hellova lot younger than his age. He didn't seem to completely have his act together and everything (and I mean "everything") was a joke with him. I braved the time we spent together to give him a chance but ultimately ended it. What I'd suspected before had come into fruition so we parted ways. I was polite and thanked him for the date but ultimately I never heard from him again and rightfully so.

The Ugly Guy Date

He was tall, older then me and also, within my age range, and he asked me to meet one Saturday afternoon. His pictures weren't completely clear however and that should have been my first clue because when I met him in person, I physically recoiled. I have never done that before. Physically, everything else was perfect - height, stature...etc - but he had not been gifted in the face department unfortunately, and I think maybe he knew this as well. Nevertheless, I'm not one to completely rule someone out so the date continued. He reminded me a lot of one of my students who likes to talk a lot and he also possessed similar alpha male characteristics to the date I mentioned in my previous entry. Unlike the others however, I could tell based on his body language (and the occasional body touch) that he found me attractive. He also told me so, although I think his words were more PG then what he was really thinking. He was alright however and our conversation was good (when he wasn't sneaking in a text message to someone). He was also kind enough to help me catch the train I needed to get to my next destination. I just found it very difficult to look at him.

The British Guy Date

I'd been speaking to this guy for a long time and had given him the benefit of the doubt because his work life had been crazy; I'm talking about no days off for at least a month. But ultimately, rather then let him take his sweet time to ask me out, I asked him out and we settled on a quick two hour "coffee date"as we both had places to go in the evening. What was ironic however, was that this guy wasn't British at all but had spent a considerable amount of time in the UK to make me feel like I was dating a guy from back home. His accent was extremely weird - a mix of Japan and southern England - but it was refreshing to hear vocabulary that I hadn't heard in such a long time. I couldn't read him however. Sometimes he would screw up his face and I couldn't tell if it was a facial twitch or a display of annoyance. He bought me lunch which I didn't finish (I felt bad for this) and then we spent an hour singing karaoke where he picked songs that reminded me of my childhood. I couldn't tell if he was serenading me or simply taking me on a stroll down memory lane but it was good fun. Whenever I finish a date with a Japanese guy, as public displays of affection aren't a thing here, I usually shake hands or wave but this guy actually went in to give me a hug which both surprised and didn't surprise me at the same time. "British guy" right? Just like home.

The Monastery Guy Date

I call this guy the "monastery guy" because he described his life as just that - a relatively simple one with no drama and absolute peace. He also described himself a naturalist; very food conscious, into yoga and very internationally minded. His intense dislike of crowds cropped up in conversation often. He'd also spent 6 years in Belgium and when I saw his profile, it was worded as if he had returned to Japan. What I found out later however was that despite the fact that he was looking for a relationship, he hadn't actually left Belgium. He was actually on holiday visiting his family and had no intention of returning to Japan for now. But to get out of the house one Sunday afternoon, I agreed to a "beach meetup", where we grabbed a bottle of water each, sat across from the sea and chatted for a couple hours. So I guess it doesn't really constitute a date but I can't say it wasn't cool chatting to a complete stranger without having to worry about how I came across or whether we had an interest in each other. By the end of the date, I think we'd indirectly agreed that nothing was going to come from it but we did decide to keep in contact.

The American Guy Date

Of all the dates I've been on, this is the first fellow foreigner I'd actually managed to meet in person. I'd talked to other foreigners before but conversation often fizzled out so I thought I'd hit a milestone here. Unfortunately for me however, I hadn't actually read the guys profile properly when I swiped him and it was only later after talking for a while that I saw that he too was a little bit outside my age band. Nevertheless, after talking for a while and coming to the conclusion that he was relatively normal, I decided to give him a chance. We met up and had a pretty short but amicable date. We swapped stories about our lives and our experiences in Japan (and outside of it). Him being ex-military had taken him on some adventures. He was definitely the most mature and levelheaded of all the people I'd been on dates with. I wondered if I ever met him again, would I be the immature party this time? With a southern drawl, Not used to my British accent, however, he found it difficult to understand me on occasion - which we both found humorous. It was also nice to be able to wear heels and have someone still hold a centimetre or two over me.


I think I'm quite lucky in that I haven't had any major disasters while dating via Tinder. I'm either screening people very well or I've just been very lucky. But I'm still very much single so I'm wondering if I'm doing it right. It just goes to show however that you really shouldn't knock something until you've tried it. So by all means ladies and gents, get out there.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Pursuing Japanese ~ Ulterior Motives

"Could you become a friend to exchange language?"

This message was sent to me by an old lady I met at a language event. I have to admit, I was furious when I saw it. And why, you may ask? It's only fair, right? If I'm learning Japanese from someone, then I should at least provide them with something in return. But simply put however, I'm sick and tired of people only taking interest in me because I happen to speak a certain language. And I feel like with every new person I meet, they fail to see the person underneath with a personality, opinions and interests; they simply see a walking opportunity for themselves.

Recently, I've realised my Japanese has been waning due to lack of study. I still go to class once a week but on occasion, I've had to cancel due to work commitments. Similarly, I still do my language exchanges in the week but again I may have had to cancel or my partners have had to cancel due to their own commitments. The consistency just hasn't been there. Additionally, I go to work where some Japanese ability is necessary and I still struggle to speak in spontaneous situations. Often I don't understand completely or I do and I can't respond competently. I get very nervous very fast and it shows. But ultimately, I only have myself to blame. It's become a problem so I decided to start taking action again.

I feel like this is somehow permanently affixed to my forehead
I attended a language event last weekend that was a little different in that it was strictly time enforced by the host. We spent fifteen minutes in English and fifteen minutes in Japanese. Then we would break and repeat two more times. I ended up being the only foreigner on my tables of four. Every thirty minutes, I'd meet a new set of Japanese people and quickly felt like I was the weakest link because not only was my Japanese poor but their English was usually pretty good. During the Japanese segments however, I noticed that no matter how many times I would ask my "exchange groups" to slow down, they would speak at break-neck speed meaning that I often got lost during conversation. As annoying as this was however, I had to remind myself that these were not teachers. These were ordinary people who didn't really want to speak Japanese at a language exchange event. They wanted to speak English. And when the event came to an end, mine was the first table to disperse. Details were exchanged but I knew that I would never contact those people, let alone see them again.

I found another language group however and this group grasped my interest because unlike typical language events where people feign wanting to exchange, this event was geared towards foreigners who wanted to speak Japanese. English speaking was not a requirement. It was really early in the morning for me but as I needed to be in Tokyo anyway, I decided to go.

There were seven of us in total and only two foreigners including myself. The minute I arrived, I was greeted in Japanese so I felt like this was the real deal. We entered into a restaurant, introduced ourselves and the conversation began. I got talking to an old lady and a guy that I had met at a previous event, while the other four broke off into their conversation. It was very rare that we used English even though it was clear that some of the Japanese natives could speak it. Conversation was very broad and I even learnt some things that I hadn't before; not just about the language but about culture, sports...etc. When it ended, the host mentioned something I felt like was very true. That usual "language exchange" events often end up with foreigners mostly speaking English and that he created the group to give us an opportunity to speak Japanese. I felt so thankful.

I exchanged details with the old lady and then me and the guy hung out for a bit afterwards. We went to Akihabara and played games even though he had told me he had no interest in games whatsoever. As I had a met him at an event before, our conversation lapsed into English which I thought nothing of at the time but as I'm sitting here writing this, I can't help but wonder if the reason he'd decided to tag along was to get his fill of English. He had expressed interest in British culture however which may have been another reason but ultimately, I'm not so sure what his motives were.

When I returned home, I saw a message from the old lady who had sent me a picture of cherry blossoms. I replied in Japanese and then she replied in English. I replied again in Japanese and she sent me a message back in Japanese with some English at the end. All subsequent messages then came in mostly English followed by the question up top. She also asked me asked me if the sentence was grammatically correct sparking off realisations within me. This woman may have come to an event meant for foreigners speaking Japanese but her motives were clearly to find someone to help her with her English. She'd done her part by participating in the event, it was her turn to get her fill.

I was quite annoyed. I'm an English teacher and people pay me to speak and teach them in English. And despite living in Japan where English ability isn't particularly that great, I live about 70%-80% of my life in English. If this was any other country, I feel like I would have been forced to learn the language (I've heard that the French are particularly unforgiving) whereas in Japan, people drop in thank you's and hello's at random. I realise that the Japanese don't get much opportunity to practise using English themselves but I feel like Japan is the only country where the people are so borderline desperate to speak the language that they forget that foreigners are more than just an opportunity; they are people too; they might want to learn a language too; they might want to make friends too; heck, they might not even speak English in the first place.

I haven't responded to this woman yet. I already have two language exchange partners who I'm rather happy with. I'm not interested in having anymore. But I guess the fault lies with me, myself. The lady was nice and all but she did often drop random English words into the conversation at the event now that I think about it. We're also generations a part so we could never really truly be friends. And most people are not so kind as to want to help anyone without getting something in return.

I want to attend that event again and I've already decided that I'm going next weekend as well but I'll just have to be cautious. There's always a catch, isn't there?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Dating in Japan ~ Online to Offline Exploits

Just in time for 2016's approaching Valentine's Day (which is actually for men as oppose to women), I thought it time to introduce this little number to my Japan exploits. After all I feel like I have everything right now. I have my own apartment (although it's rented). I have a job. I have an income. I have friends. And I have a fairly decent social life these days but sadly, I've been single for a very long time. So I decided that even Japan, with its language barrier, cultural differences and differing standards of beauty wasn't going to stop me. Foreign women all over Japan often say that dating in this country is very difficult. Japanese men themselves are shy and reserved so as a woman, I would need to take the initiative and pursue them. And as for foreign men - well, it is said that they are less interested in their foreign counterparts and more interested in the natives. So what's a foreign girl to do really?

Well, take to the internet of course.

Now back in England, I'd done online dating before. But my criteria had been a bit different back then. I'd been very naive twenty-two-year-old and perhaps a little scared. I didn't fully commit to the idea of dating people (I remember specifically putting "seeking friends" in my profile) and I ruled out people pretty quickly if they weren't prepared to go at my speed - which was very slowly I might add. In Japan however - and maybe it's because I'm older, wiser and know exactly what I want - I think I've fully committed to it now.

I joined a couple of websites, filled in my details and started searching.  I landed my first date within a couple of weeks. The guy asked me out for the end of the same week we started communicating. (In the past, I'd been too afraid to meet people too soon but I realise now that it's better to meet sooner rather than later). We spoke for about three days. He disappeared until the actual date day itself and then he contacted me and asked if he could cancel. No contact for a while and a cancellation on the day spelt red flags to me but evidently, the date still happened despite overall poor organisation. He was also late despite living a station away from where he had suggested we meet. The date itself was okay - dinner and karaoke - but I'm a stickler for first impressions and I decided that he wasn't for me. I think a piece of him is still hoping I'll change my mind however.

A week later, I contacted another guy and my second date was scheduled. This guy had spent some time overseas and seemed to have his act together. He was good looking and he pretty much contacted me for a week straight up until the date itself. We had a good time; he rented a car; we went to a few places but sometimes our conversations weren't free flowing despite his assurance that he wasn't nervous. At the end of the date, there was talk of a second but he disappeared shortly after never to be heard from again. Can't say I wasn't disappointed but to make myself feel better, I bit the bullet after so many years of slandering the app and I downloaded Tinder.

Now Tinder has a reputation of being a hook up app but since downloading it, I'm starting to think that the Japanese use Tinder in the same way they use a lot of online mediums; for a language opportunity, to make friends or to see what's out there. A LOT said that they were "looking for friends" but when I interrogated some of my matches, the truth often came out sooner or later; some were very direct from the get-go which was nice.

I got speaking to a third guy one morning and arranged to meet him the same day actually. The date itself was pretty good but I kind of felt like the guy was a) not being himself and b) trying a little too hard. We had fun on the day but it ended quite suddenly when rather then walk me to the station, he rather abruptly shook my hand, told me goodbye and stormed off in the opposite direction. I distinctly remember thinking that he'd been so rude and I wouldn't be seeing him again. But despite this occurrence, this same guy asked me out a second time. My mind was completely blown. Thus we ended up on a second date. Naturally, I confronted him about his actions and it had turned out that he'd needed to go back to his office to collect something quickly before he missed his last train. He hadn't communicated this however - in true Japan fashion. I forgave this and this date actually went very well. 

But I had also scheduled a fourth date the very next day...

We ended up heading to an indoor amusement park of sorts. In comparison to all the others, his English wasn't outstanding and he was also very nervous; he denied it obviously but towards to end of the date I finally got the truth out of him. It was busy so we spent a lot of time queuing. I've always said that a theme park would be my ideal date but even though this date went swimmingly, I'm wondering if an amusement park would be a better third or even fourth date instead. Queuing can be rather exhausting after all, and coupled with nerves and forced conversation, it can feel almost unnatural. After, he bought me dinner and then saw me to the station. We parted amicably but ultimately it just wasn't meant to be. He had been a nice guy though and I'm sure he'll find someone. I however, had scheduled yet another date two days later...

This guy had told me from the get-go that he was very aggressive. Unlike some of the others who had used the "looking for friends" medium, this guy had very boldly stated he was looking for a girlfriend. Bonus points for honesty. We met up, ate at a cafe, played darts, had dinner and ended up in Starbucks to finish it off. Whenever we were on the move however, conversation was very basic but whenever we were stationary, we would have some of the most interesting and almost in depth conversations. Now I love a good conversation - I'm a sucker for it - but when we ended the date, I couldn't help but feel like this guy would have made a much better mate, then a boyfriend. What particularly stood out about him was that he encompassed some of the stereotypes that I associate with alpha types in Japan. In the restaurants, he wasn't rude but almost borderline arrogant when he would order or call for the waiter - as if he was used to doing so at work. He didn't open any doors for me (not that I require it but all my other dates had done this almost naturally) and his general manner just screamed assertive.

There had been another date scheduled actually but this one ended up getting cancelled and I never did end up meeting this individual. Not a big loss as with this last guy, we didn't have a lot in common. Somehow we managed to talk for a solid three weeks however...

So there you have it - five dates set up across a two month period; I can definitely say that I've done well for myself. There are many blogs, guides and forums that talk about what you should do to date in Japan; I will admit that I have read a lot. But I decided that going into these dates, I was going to be completely myself. I was going to order all the meat in world; I wasn't going to expect the man to pay for everything; I was going to bring conversation to the table and I was going to have a good time. So foreign women in Japan, maybe it's been said to death, but get out there. Give online dating a try, or if online isn't your thing, head to some events and see what and who's out there.

Dating in Japan isn't going to happen by itself.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Peppy Kids Club ~ The Experience

Today marks approximately two years since I arrived in Japan as somewhat young hopeful looking for her next adventure. I stepped off the plane in Nagoya and gave one year of my life to my ex-employer - Peppy Kids Club (PKC). And I must say it was definitely an experience, but rather than write about my time teaching there immediately after I left them, I decided that I would give it a year and give myself a chance to reflect on everything so that I could give them a fair evaluation as well as answer the typical questions that people generally have when they start applying for teaching work in Japan. But PKC were my window into teaching and I will always be grateful to them for giving me that opportunity.

Unlike most conversational schools, when I was there (and I think it's universally known), PKC working days are shorter. It was not uncommon for me to teach no more than three to four hours. At one point, I taught five hours straight and at another I taught only one hour. Hours will fluctuate and I quite liked that aspect of it. What might be considered a little inconvenient is that dependent on your supervisor, you mightn't receive your schedule until the end of the month. This wasn't really a problem for me as it was never completely last minute but in other places, I'd heard differently so it just depended really.

Pay was pretty good in my opinion. Maybe it was because it was my first year and I didn't have the city tax or inflated health insurance that I'm now paying but I was happy with what I was on. I didn't have to worry about rent because it automatically came out of my salary every month; I kept my bills low and I still had money to travel to different places in Japan, do my shopping and have a good time with friends. I also saved a lot (which came in handy so much towards the end of the year). I have heard it said however that it's not a sufficient salary if you have a family but then I'm not a mother. I reckon single parents would struggle on it but a duel income would quickly sort that out.

The holidays were okay for me. It's no London where everyone's entitled to at least 20 days off but I was given five flexible days and five fixed days off (during the turn of new year). I also got a bit of time off during Golden Week and Obon which meant I could do a bit of travelling. It all depends on the calendar year though but I got six days off during Golden Week and I believe three plus the weekend for Obon. I could not complain.

My co-Japanese teachers were lovely. I never had any problems with them and I even hung out with some on occasion. I met some really nice kids as well; I often loved it when I met those kids who were really keen on English. You could see it in their eyes. But naturally there were also kids that were very bad. Larger classes - especially younger kids - were sometimes difficult for me to control, especially if they were high energy. And some kids were also very rude and because we weren't really allowed to fully discipline them, we had to find creative ways of dealing with difficult behaviour.

I look back and realise that the reason I had so many friends in Hiroshima was because I got friendly with my team members. I'm still friends with some of them to this day and while others have moved on, I'll always remember the times I had with them. Unfortunately, from the get-go, I quickly learned that there was sort of a divide in my team. We were quite a big group so obviously some people are going to prefer some people over others. I guess I went in thinking that as foreigners in Japan, we'd all find some common ground but I also had to remember that as with all people, we are very different.

Training was excellent. It was two weeks long and I learnt so much. I picked up so many games and I even use a couple of them to this day. It was very thorough and I gained some in class experience even before I started teaching on my own. But because it was so intense, I lost a lot of sleep. There will be homework; you will need to prep, and if you're anal and a bit of a perfectionist (like I was), you will lose weight at the same time. But when you conquer it, it'll be worth it believe me. You should feel somewhat prepared (although I was still very nervous) when teaching your first set of lessons.

People often mention that commutes can be a killer. And they can be. You get multiple schools so you're often travelling to different locations but I didn't mind some of the journeys. I got to see different parts of Hiroshima (and I was paid for it). If you have to commute more than two hours, you also got to stay in a hotel but I was unlucky. One of my commutes was just under two hours so this one quickly started to grate on me - especially in the winter when it was biting cold or even snowing. I would get home late and while Japan is relatively safe, who really wants to be commuting home at midnight.

Again, this is all just from my perspective; everything I experienced, but as the JET crowd say - every situation is different. Some people really enjoyed (or might still be enjoying their experiences) while other might have hated it. But I think this is with all jobs everywhere really. Where you're placed might come into play as well. I think I was lucky. I was placed in a city and I absolutely fell in love with Hiroshima. (I would go back in a heartbeat).

Overall, for me however, I think PKC has an even list of pros and cons. They really helped me get started in Japan. I've heard that with some other organisations, you're required to start up on your own and obviously with limited Japanese, this can be difficult; PKC alleviate this burden. I've also heard it said by others however that PKC is a "one-year" thing and I think that somewhat applied to me. I really enjoy teaching and while I don't mind kids, I've also realised in my latest job, that I rather enjoy teaching adults so a role where I teach both is more ideal for me.

I think however that as an entry-level English teaching job however, if you're deciding to teach English in Japan, Peppy Kids Club is a rather decent opportunity. Therefore, if you're thinking of applying, I wish you all the best.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Pursuing Japanese ~ Language Exchange

My Japanese ability is still crap.

It's better than it was a year ago when I worked for a company that prohibited us from speaking it at work but it is still abysmal. I am a high beginner at best and a novice at my worst. I cannot handle speed and dealing with spontaneous situations can be rather trying at times - especially at work. But I know deep down that the more these situations arise, the more I'll be able to cope with, should the situation come again. And it is a good feeling when I've understood a customer enquiry or when my friend's card got eaten by an ATM and as the stronger Japanese speaker I had to call the bank to get them to retrieve it. It's nice having chats - albeit brief - with the ladies at my local convenience store. But I know deep down I need to step up my game. And ultimately this comes down to me. So lately, I've been doing a couple of language exchanges.

For those out of whack, a language exchange is exactly what it says on the tin. You exchange language with one another. You might spend a little bit of time speaking in your native language and the rest of the time speaking in the language you're studying. They recommend that in order to get the best out of this, it's better for language learners to be at an intermediate level (or somewhat conversational) in order to get the most out of this arrangement but being me, I jumped the gun a little.

My first exchange partner in Japan was purely text-based in that we simply exchanged messages back and forth. At this time, my Japanese was virtually zero, but I still know this person to this day; we have met a couple of times and I must say that on a computer, my reading and typing comprehension (if we're not talking about kanji) is still my strongest attribute.

My second exchange partner was via Skype and once again, it was at a time where my Japanese was still sub zero. As a result, we spoke mostly in English which was good for him but then he disappeared for a while and I was convinced that I would probably never hear from him again.

Skip forward nearly a year later. I was actively studying and I had already booked my JLPT exam. My job had changed and I could use Japanese at work as and when required. My "second exchange partner" suddenly came back into my life and we have been exchanging languages nearly every week since. The balance between our time spent in English and Japanese has significantly improved and providing neither one of us is tired, we can easily talk for two hours straight.

But it wasn't enough. Because even though I'm living here and learning the language, I still spend most of my life in English. So I started seeking out other exchange partners but it wasn't easy. After all, it has to be considered that simply having an interest in somebody else's language is not sufficient and in the same way that we choose our friends, it's important to be selective because the internet is full of all sorts.

I set up a few language exchanges to test the water but quickly discovered some of them were not to my taste. One thing I strongly dislike during an exchange is if someone decides to drop English in at random intervals when we're supposed to be speaking Japanese. I find that very unfair because when I'm exchanging English, I never drop in any Japanese unless I'm asked to confirm something. I think it's really unhelpful as I understand both as a teacher and a student that sometimes, language learners can't always understand certain words or phrases at natural speed. But if they've come across it previously and you slow it down, they'll get it. And even if they don't, they'll gain a bit of language to add to their arsenal

Another thing that winds me up is when people don't have anything to offer but are happy to talk your ear off when it's their turn. I spoke to a guy for one hour and when we would speak Japanese, he would interrupt me constantly if I couldn't generate the sentence fast enough. When we spoke in English however, he very rarely asked me questions but was happy to answer all of my questions and in a lot of detail, I might add. I don't like being talked at or talked over (I get paid to get people to talk more than I do) so I'm sure you will have guessed that I haven't spoken to him since.

Another issue I've run into are time wasters. I started off speaking to a person in Japanese but when we had to switch to English, he could barely string together a sentence. I asked him if he had been studying and he said that he hadn't studied in years. It lead me to wonder why he'd be interested in an exchange if he wasn't actively doing anything else to improve his English. He also kind of annoyed me because we were supposed to be doing a face-to-face Skype exchange but he decided that he'd rather do a voice chat so he could clean his surfboard at the same time. He was also swiftly cut.

I evidently settled on a third person who I now speak to via Skype every week as well. Said person has roughly the same level of English as I do Japanese and on a good day, is rather patient, never drops in English when we speak Japanese and is even more aware of the clock then I am. I've decided that these three plus the lessons I take every week will be enough for now.

But ultimately, while language exchanges can be a bit hit and miss, I think it's important to decide what it is you're looking for and what kind of things you can and cannot tolerate. I think it helps to find people who are of the same ability as yourself as well. Two of my exchange partners' abilities far exceed my own but I've known them a long time and they've actually crossed the border and become friends of mine. The latest one is just right for me. So if you're looking into language exchange, be sure to consider what is right for you.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

British Airways ~ One Is Not impressed

Please bear in mind that I only flew with them in one direction...and thankfully so I might add. Because you see, I was rather looking forward to flying with BA. I'd never flown with them before and I had kind of equated them to other long haul carriers like Virgin and Cathay Pacific (both of whom I have flown before). I don't know why I was expecting phenomenal service but I suppose I had to remember that I was flying economy and I had been living in Japan for two years. In terms of service, I have to say it but the Japanese do it better, but I suppose what I have to take into account as well is that this flight was also operated by another carrier - Japan Airlines, but more on them later.

Checking in was easy. The woman didn't waste much time on me but I suspect it was due to her limited English. It's not uncommon for some Japanese folk to become fiercely uncomfortable when they have to speak another language. Even the customs agents barely spoke to me. I wondered around the airport - Haneda was nice but a little small methinks - and waited until roughly an hour before my flight, went through customs and went straight to the gate. I boarded with ease and parked myself in my aisle seat while everyone around me tried to figure out how to get their suitcases into overhead compartments with little space remaining.

A man and his son found themselves next to me but neither one bothered me throughout the entire flight even though I knew they could speak English (they had to interact with the cabin crew on occasion). This was fine. It meant that whenever one had to get up, they bothered each other and I wasn't in the mood to socialise after only getting two hours sleep prior to my flight.
The plane took off but it took a long time for the plane to stabilise so the seat belt sign stayed on for the longest time and I really wanted to go to the bathroom. Then we ran into some turbulence... Now I have to say that I'm honestly not afraid of flying. And I've experienced turbulence before but not like that. I couldn't even focus on the movie in front of me. I felt so uncomfortable. Obviously a crash is always a possibility and obviously, I have no idea about flying and even trying to stabilise a plane at high winds but I don't ever want to experience that again.

The in-flight entertainment was passable but the touch-screen was absolute rubbish. I had to really press the screen for it to register and the dude behind me was also having a hard time because I could constantly feel him pressing into the screen behind me. (I swear it was like a pogo stick at the back of my head at times). I dunno if he just had no sense or fat fingers but it was a constant and annoyed me through the whole flight. The headphones were also rubbish. I had to press the earphones against my ear to hear certain movies while others were fine. I wondered if the business customers/first class folk were experiencing the same garbage we had to because I was not impressed.

The first meal was bacon and eggs but the eggs were a bit lacking (but what can I expect from plane food really though). The beef casserole was nice however. Like Cathay Pacific, most people paid no attention when the seat belt sign was switched on. And even after they were told to return to their seats instead of waiting for the bathroom, they continued to ignore it. (This was not the fault of the staff however). There was somebody else's hair on my blanket (they "wash" and repackage them, don't they?) but there was plausible leg room so I was able to kick off my shoes and stretch  bit. This was also the first flight I'd been on where there was no emergency demonstration. (Are we British just a little over-confident? I mean, most people don't pay attention but I think it's kind of necessary as you never know). I had an aisle seat and I was about four seats out from the bathroom so getting in and out was child's play and we arrived a little earlier than scheduled which was nice.

Overall though, compared to some of the other airlines I've flown with, I wasn't overly impressed with British Airways. I guess I can't completely blame the airline but the in-flight entertainment is kind of important to me. It kills time and occupies most of my journey when I'm not sleeping - so having it fail to function adequately killed the quality of the flight for me. I could have complained I guess but the flight was actually full to the brim  - or at least Business Class was when I'd walked through - so I couldn't see them moving me to another aisle seat. They might have given me some new headphones now that I think about it but I don't think the problem lied there.

I dunno. BA, sort it out. 2.5 out of 5 stars.