Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Japan Files ~ When Concerns Come Creeping In

It’s exciting, isn’t it? To be moving to another country to live and work for a minimum of one year. The idea of experiencing a completely different world, of trying to integrate into a new culture, and having to adopt a completely different lifestyle in addition to new rules and conduct sounds like a giant adventure. And in my family, this is quite a big deal because I know for certain – that on my mum’s side anyway – no one in my family has ever attempted to do something quite so radical. And with such a big deal comes a huge amount of thought and preparation. In fact, there is so much information out there that it’s a little bit difficult for me to narrow everything down. In fact, my brain is doing some serious overtime right now trying to make sense of what I need to do before I move, who I need to speak to, how I intend to get myself out there and above all how I intend to survive. But as the cogs in my head keep turning, there is a part of me that’s raising alarm bells. Because in fact, the first emotion I got after that lengthy period of “this doesn’t quite feel so real yet” was nervousness. Because the control freak in me is currently yelling a thousand obscenities because she can’t relax. She has a million and one worries about her journey to Japan and what won’t, might and probably will be in store for her so allow me to offload:

Language Barrier

I’m so used to be surrounded by foreign language speakers in the UK but I’ve never been that foreign language speaker myself and with the limited Japanese that I have, I’m royally screwed if I don’t pick up some of the lingo sharpish. I’m aware that in the cities, there are people who are keen to use their English but I’m not going to rely on that. I intend to come to Japan and as a gaikokujin living in Japan, it is only right that I learn some Japanese.

What I’ve noticed amongst my foreign language friends and colleagues is that at times they can become frustrated at not being able to communicate as they’d like. And even though I try to reassure them, I realise that their issues with their inability to communicate are quickly going to become mine. But rather than smile about my apparent lack of Japanese language ability, I foresee myself kicking myself in the shin at not being able to grasp the language fast enough and therefore, not being able to perform every day activities, such as grocery shopping, to a satisfactory standard.

Health Trauma

It’s inevitable. Every year at some point, I get sick. It’s usually in the form of a cold and in more rare cases, a migraine or upset stomach. So I’m gonna need to go to the chemist or see a doctor but how do you explain to someone what’s wrong with you and what you need when you don’t have a common language between you? I’ve heard that in some hospitals, some doctors are bilingual which is great but I can’t expect this really. I’m gonna need to pick up some medical-related words fast.

Money Matters

For some strange reason, my mind’s on my money. I mean I have the money I need; the problem is getting it over there. The easiest way is to bring cash but walking around with thousands of pounds just doesn’t seem plausible to me. I don’t even like walking around with £100. I might carry £30 if I’m going out for the evening or £200 if I’m undergoing some serious retail therapy but this is only because I know the money is going to disappear quite quickly. On average however, I never carry more than £10 a pop in general and I don’t usually withdraw more unless I run out. So yes, basically, I dislike carrying big money and what’s ironic is that I am well aware that Japan is a huge cash populace. Cards aren’t accepted as often as they are here in the UK so I’m going to have the shake this comfort fast.

In terms of the initial overhaul however, I could go down the route of Traveller’s Checks but I realise I know very little about them and am aware that they’re only accepted at banks or at the post office. I could bring my card but I don’t fancy being taxed through the roof for each transaction. Any other option just doesn’t seem attractive to me so I’m going to have to ponder on this one further

Social Damnation

I can be a rather antisocial person at times. I don’t always desire to go out and spend time with people. Sometimes I like being in the comfort of my own home and I often appreciate a lazy day in. But despite this, I’m not a complete recluse. I do crave social interactions and that leads me to my next concern with regards to making friends and attempting to establish a social life. What if I end up on my own a little too much? What if I find it difficult to throw myself even more so out of my comfort zone and what if via doing this, others find me unapproachable? It’s like a double-edged sword really.

Job Strain

In all the jobs I’ve worked in, there have been good times and bad times. Fundamentally, however, I have worked jobs that I’ve loved more than I’ve hated and vice versa. But the fact still stands. A job’s a job and no day will ever truly be the same. But my fear is what if I hate it? I like kids and when I was a kid myself, I often played with the younger children because I found them much more amusing than my classmates. But now I’m older and my experience with children has dwindled. I have no kids of my own and I’m not as maternal as I probably should be. I don’t want to do a bad job however. I wanna become great at it but the issue still stands. What if it becomes a little too much for me?

House Troubles

It’s no secret that Japanese homes are small. The counters are lower, the fridges are tiny and everything’s compact – or at least it will be when I move into my studio apartment. I don’t doubt I’ll be in some sort of apartment complex but I’m a tall woman by Japanese standards and also, a little heavy-handed (and footed too). My first concern is that I’ll break something. I’m not usually so clumsy but I’m much more used to wider spaces. My second concern is my neighbours. I had problems with my neighbours here in the UK who kept playing their music at ridiculous hours mid-week. What if I get horrible neighbours, or better yet, what if my neighbours don’t like me? My last concern in this category is the refuse system. Apparently, Japan have rather strict laws on separating rubbish whereas in the UK, recycling and the like is optional. Certainly, it’s better for the environment but most of us are a lazy people and we gather up all our waste into a black bag, chuck it in the council provided bins outside and wait for the bin men to collect them every week. What if I just can’t grasp it?

Japan Anxieties

Of the people I’ve come into contact with and of some of the blogs I’ve read, most people have talked about Japan favourably but with every situation in life, nothing is truly perfect. Some people have had their reservations while others have flat out hated their experiences but what both these types of people have in common is one denominator: culture shock. I aware of the four stages of culture shock and I’m also, aware that I’m guaranteed to experience it, but what concerns me is that I might end up staying in the Negotiation Stage whereby the frustrations of living in Japan become really apparent to the point that I just can’t hack it. I’m aware of some of the differences already (has anyone heard of the giant crackdown on dancing in nightclubs?) so in a sense, I expect them but I’m sure there are some customs and practises that I don’t know about or mightn’t become accustomed to.


I’m sure I have more worries (for example, shipping things over to myself and/or back home to the UK) but the above are my main areas for the moment. For some of them, I’m steadily getting my head around how I’m going to have to do things but I fully intend to revist this entry some time next year as an update to how I managed to conquer them or become conquered by them.

Here’s hoping for the former.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Japan Prep ~ When the Teacher Becomes the Student

So I’m still waiting in the land of limbo. I have no confirmed date for Japan and I won’t get a location until much later so my ability to start really preparing for the move has been delayed.

Irrespective, however, I have managed to find something that will aid in my transition into Japan so as soon as I was able, I booked myself into a ten week Japanese beginner course with United Internation College (UIC).

I had my first lesson this evening and found myself amongst six other likeminded people all shy and British but with one common desire. And as the lesson progressed, I couldn’t help but notice two things.

      a) I knew quite a bit already

Everything that we learned today was stuff I knew already and I’m pretty damn sure that my general pronunciation was pretty accurate. In fact, I was so self aware of how much I knew that whenever I was called upon to speak, my voice got lower and lower until a fellow student had to ask me to speak up. I guess I didn’t want to stand out or seem arrogant, but I knew it all already. Fundamentally, today’s lesson was revision for me.

What was useful, however, was the hiragana worksheet the teacher gave us towards the end of the lesson. I recall learning hiragana towards the end of last year and after I stopped learning Japanese in my pursuit to find work in the very same country, I knew that I’d forgotten some of the characters so re-learning them is going to be pretty damn helpful.

      b) Our teacher was either really nervous or really incompetent

I kept thinking to myself that I’d shelled out the better part of £200 for this course. I hadn’t really read up on it but not only was it within my price range but it was also the only course available that ran during the time period that I needed it for. (The only other course on offer within the same price range started in October and I was thinking that by then, it might be too late).

I’ve done a language course in the past with Cactus (this course was Spanish) and their teaching method involved full immersion meaning that very little English – if any at all – was used in the classroom. During my CertTESOL course, I experienced this as well and I have to say that I think this method is awesome. (In truth, I think they should introduce it into the British curriculum really. Everyone else the world over can speak English but the English can’t seem to speak sod all; it’s embarrassing). All you hear is the language you’re learning and you have to really tune in to gain understanding and find your way around it. And when you do find your way around it, it’s rewarding and by remembering that achievement, I believe you retain what you’ve learnt more so, but that’s a little psychological input for another time.

Anyway, for some strange reason, I expected that I’d be walking into a mini-Japanese classroom but in actuality, our teacher – while Japanese – spent half the lesson speaking in English. And maybe this was useful for the complete beginners in the room – one of whom couldn’t get his tongue around certain things (poor guy went bright red as he was usually called to say something first) – but I wanted that full immersion. I wanted to get a bit lost and try to find my way home. I wanted a big fat slice of Japan in my hand.

In addition, I noticed that our teacher had to continually refer to her notes. The lesson wasn’t delivered smoothly and there were times when there were silences whereby we were left idol.

I guess I can’t help but evaluate the lesson as a fellow teacher about to enter the field. I recall during my CertTESOL course when we were asked to evaluate other teachers in addition to ourselves and also, when our trainers would give us feedback after we taught a lesson. One of the things we learnt was that there were to be no silences. We were encouraged to get the students talking, whether it be to the teacher or to one another. So I look to those silences during the lesson today where our teacher was shuffling with handouts and I think to myself that these were school-boy (or in her case, “school-girl”) errors.

In a sense however, I’m probably being a little too critical of her because she seems to be quite a nice lady but maybe, just like me, she’s new to the field. Maybe standing in front of a classroom full of people got the best of her. Maybe that’s why she dropped some of the handouts behind her desk. (And believe me, I know how that feels. My second lesson during my TESOL course was a complete and utter disaster and I didn't just drop sheets of paper either). Or maybe she’s just really Japanese and quite shy. And as for her teaching methods – TEFL Lab had some of its own methods – maybe UIC has its own as well.

So, today was lesson one and even though I wonder whether it was money well-spent, I’ve still got nine more lessons to go so I’ll pass judgement upon completion. I Just hope I’m going to be able to learn how to string together more sentences that will help me during my time in Japan.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Japan Files ~ To Do List

So I already know that I’m going to Japan even though no date has been confirmed yet but in crossing into a new culture, there are definitely some things that I want to do while I’m there because who knows? I may not even like it. In fact, I may even be hit a little too hard with culture shock  so that all I'll want to do is come home…


Knowing myself, however, the chances of that being the case might be pretty slim. I can’t wait to stick my fingers in this culture that I’ve read and heard so much about so this will act as my Bucket List, plus or minus a few things that might crop up in the future…


Now if that isn't a Bullet Train...
Ride the Shinkanzen

Japanese trains are known for being one of the most punctual and efficient in the world. But this extends to Japanese people who consider it incredibly rude if you’re late. In actuality, people are often early as oppose to just 'on time' and I guess it indicates a show of respect. That said, the trains that run along this sophisticated construction are known as some of the fastest trains in the world. Known for their speed, comfort and safety (and also, for the expense), I’ve got to get on one of these at least once (or twice), especially considering that I’m going to want to jump ship and visit other cities and prefectures.

Locate a Love Hotel

These establishments were born in Japan during the Edo period and are nowadays primarily of use to couples who are seeking a bit of “alone time”. In Japan, it isn’t uncommon for people to stay at home with their parents after university whereas in the west, we are encouraged to find a place of our own. More often than not, people don’t want to bring their romantic interests into their parents’ house so they head to these little boutique-style destinations for a little privacy. I’ve heard they’re hard to find because of their discreet nature but I’m sure I’ll come across one at some point.

Go to a theme park

Tokyo Disneyland. Universal Studios. Nagashima Resort. I love me a good theme park. Rollercoasters are win and the faster and taller the rollercoaster, the better. I feel like a kid again whenever I enter these establishments and they’re general good for a day out with friends. So in the interest of being truly ‘genki’ for a day, I think I’ll have to find my way to one of these

Visit an Onsen

The ‘hot spring’ (or public bath) is something I’d love to try, especially one that’s outdoors. It’s general used as a means of relaxing as well as its appeal to tourists (like myself…sorta) but a lot of them have strict ‘no tattoos’ policies because in Japan, a tattoo is often associated with criminals. Considering that I have a tattoo smack bang in the centre of my back, this might be a problem. But I have read that some foreigners have managed to enter into onsen irrespective. Maybe people are more forgiving of foreigners with tattoos? Hopefully…

Eat Japanese Japan

It’s one thing to eat Japanese food in the UK, but I’m pretty certain that eating Japanese food in Japan will be a completely new experience altogether. And there’s a lot I want to try as well. Okonomiyaki, ramen, soba, tenppanyaki, dango, sushi, oyakodon and stuff I haven’t even heard of yet. I’ll give most of it a go.

Visit a Temple or Shrine

I don’t know too much about these establishments but I do know that they are often the embodiment of religion or ritual and that they’re to be respected. Perhaps similar to the equivalent of walking into a church or a mosque. Therefore, as a crucial part of Japanese culture, I would like to visit one and of course, offer up a prayer. A lot are often still steeped in history meaning that they’re quite stunning to behold. Shame about the no photography rules though.

Going hard - Japan Style
Paint the town red

I haven’t been out properly in London for quite some time but I’ll have never been out and experienced the night life in Japan either. So I intend to find a club out there somewhere and shake a leg. I’m not much of a drinker so I don’t know how that will bode well with other people. I’ve heard that Japan is a lot like England in that sense ~ a big drinking country. But more often than not, if I don’t want any more to drink than I won’t have any more to drink. Dancing however? That’s another ball game. As long as the music is good, I can stay on the dance floor all night. So J-pop clubs and Hip Hop clubs, here I come.

Go to a Karaoke bar

Even though it’s uncertain, it is generally believed that karaoke was born in Japan and in fact it’s still a popular form of entertainment today. I think I’ve only done karaoke publicly once in the UK but in Japan, I’ve heard that you can rent a booth with friends and sing the night away. I fully intend to give my vocal chords a good work out at some point during my time in Japan.

Befriend a local

I have a couple of Japanese friends already and I’m currently in correspondence with some foreigners like (and unlike myself) who are currently working out there as well. But what’s an extra friend of two to help you get around a bit. I know this is going to be a bit difficult considering that I can’t speak a lick of conversational Japanese at the moment, but I think it would be cool to make friends with a local. I’m quite reserved in nature but not trying to make friends would be very stupid of me.

Visit Tokyo

Japan’s capital city. It’s only right that I visit this place. I already know that I won’t be living in it and that’s fine really.It’s known as potentially the most expensive place in Japan. Nonetheless, I’ve just got to go there. Roppongi. Harajuku. Akihabara. Tsukiji Market. The Ghibli Museum. These are just some of the places that others have told me to stop by and visit. So I’m definitely gonna get my Tokyo fix.

Locate a Host Club

As an extension of the above, host clubs are places where men and women go to laugh and drink the night away in the company of an attractive stranger. Sounds a bit suspect, doesn’t it but they’re quite popular. It is the job of “hosts” and “hostesses” to keep their patrons entertained by pouring drinks, flirting, lighting cigarettes…etc, and they’re paid dependant on sales generated. I have heard it said however that some of these places are Yakuza run so while I want to locate one, going inside one mightn’t be an option.

Learn some Japanese

I’ve always been of the mindset that if you’re going to live in another country than you should bloody well learn the language. And even though I know the odd word and phrase, I couldn’t have a conversation in Japanese to save my life. So I’ve got to make a conscious effort to get some Japanese under my belt. And when I’m out there, I’ve got no excuse really.


So yes, these are a but a few things I'd like to tick off during my time in Japan. Some of them are a sure thing; others may be a little bit harder. 

In a way though, as I look back at this list, I realise I'm looking at Japan from a tourists perspective so I'll say it again, it still doesn't feel like it's sunk in that I'm moving to Japan. I'm aware that I'm going to have to take my entire life here in London and convert it into some form of Japanese standard, but I guess all I can do is cross that bridge when I come to it.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The ESL Job Search Ends ~ And So It Begins...

Look out Japan! Here I come.

That’s right! The results are in. I am officially going to Japan en route with iTTTi Japan – Peppy Kids Club.

Mount Fuji 
That ten day wait I mentioned previously actually became seven and even though I haven’t an official start date as the iTTTi representative needs to confirm dates with Human Resources, one thing is certain, and that is that I will be on my way to the land of the rising sun.

It hasn’t sunk in yet but you can bet that my brain has already gone into overdrive. I’ve already made a long list of things that I’ll need to take care of between now and then but fundamentally, I think I’m going to use this weekend to chill out before going at it hard from Monday.

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I have a serious control-freak issue.

Don’t worry. It’s not with reference to people, but with regards to how I deal with planning, preparation and the like. I’m not the kind of person who leaves things to the last minute so I fully expect that I’ll be good and ready to go at least a month or so in advance.

But we’ll see.

Sometimes things don’t always go according to plan after all.

It has been a long time coming. I think it was around late 2011 that I started pondering teaching English overseas. I had considered doing a weekend TEFL course but after speaking to my supervisor, she recommended that I try something a little bit more solid. I did my research in early 2012 and found the course in April/May of the same year. I read blogs. I read forums. I emailed people and upon completing my Trinity Certificate in September 2012, I decided that after I’d saved a substantial amount of money, I would begin my search.

I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to go through many interviews. And I’m also, fortunate that I managed to find work in the country that I desired to go to the most. So I would say to anyone pondering this journey to fight for it.

If you want to go abroad, whether to teach or otherwise, keep persevering. Do what you have to do to get there because you’ll feel a great sense of achievement once you know you’re on the way.

As for me. I’m about to start my own adventure.

Let the real journey of self-discovery begin...