So, in a couple of weeks, I'm about to experience my six month anniversary since touching down in this country that I currently call home. I can't believe I'm nearly at the halfway mark already; it seems like only yesterday that I was attempting to navigate my way around and get used to the customs and what have you. And to be honest, I'm still getting used to it. There's a new experience to be had or means to get accustomed to at every corner. I haven't even braved the hospital visit yet (and I'm hoping I'll never have to) but with every encounter, I learn something new and adding it to my arsenal of life experience is quite encouraging.
And speaking of experiences, I recall making a sort of Bucket List depicting exactly what I wanted to do when I got here. I actually didn’t expect to get through it as quickly, granted my list was hardly difficult now that I think about it. Many an opportunity presented itself and while I haven’t fully completed it (I've yet to visit a Tokyo or go to a theme) – and then there’s the fact that there are more things I wish to do – I figured an update was necessary. So allow me to check off the items of my list, which I will write in the order that I managed to complete them in.
Locate a Love Hotel.
Eat Japanese food…and Japan
During my first week in Japan, I took the opportunity to visit a few restaurants. The restaurant that stands out to me most was this traditional Japanese restaurant in Nagoya. There was no English menu but I managed to ask the waitress what she would recommend. She suggested that I have this little concoction called 鳥そばろ丼 (torisobarodon) and it still stands as the best meal I’ve had in Nagoya to this day. I also visited an okonomiyaki restaurant, a ramen hut and a curry house among other places. I have got to say that I cannot complain. I just wish Japan was bigger on cakes as when it comes to dessert, nearly everything is always swimming in cream.
Go to a Karaoke bar
Once again, during my first week, I had to check this off. Myself and a couple others found a Karaoke bar and spent roughly the first twenty minutes trying to figure out how navigate songs utilising a primarily Japanese system. I remember it being quite expensive and wonder if the clerk might have ripped us off because subsequent visits to other karaoke bars suggested cheaper options with a greater variety of songs and all-you-can-drink options. Since living in Japan though, I’ve been to a karaoke bar quite a few times. The best time seems to be going during the daytime in the middle of the week. (Becoming a member warrants even more discounts). These days I sing quite badly (and cry to myself as to where all that childhood talent went) but I always have a good time belting out old and new classics.
Ride the Shinkansen
Everyone who is anyone talks about the bullet train and how awesome it is. And it is really. You can cover about half of Honshu (the main Japanese island) in about four hours, most of which you can spend asleep. And similar to being on an aircraft, there’s usually someone wondering through serving food and beverages (you have to pay for it though). I’ve ridden the Shinkansen twice now and I’ve got to say that while it’s nice watching stuff whizz by at ridiculous miles per hour, it really was like riding in a plane which isn’t something I’m particularly fond of. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I’m not afraid of heights – but I do get the ridiculously annoying air pressure build up in my ears. And unless I’m wearing some protective ear-gear, it hurts like a mofo. So the next time I ride the Shinkansen, I will be prepared.
Paint the town red
After a gruelling two weeks of training, I was ready to hit the club scene. And while I haven’t been to many clubs in Japan – I always have a good time. The first club I went to included that famous all-you-can-drink option in the entrance fee. My colleagues were ecstatic but all I wanted to do was dance. The music was good for my tastes as I knew most of the songs. Nobody bothered me or tried to invite themselves into my personal space against my will which was doubly lovely. But what did end up irritating me in the morning was the extreme smokiness of the environment. Patrons can smoke indoors and so come morning, my throat was raw and I was miserable. Still had a good time however and I will be going back.
Befriend a local
|Japan Guide has a Classifieds section|
The internet has been a great way to get connected and I’ve certainly used it to my advantage when looking for friends. Despite Hiroshima being considered relatively small-scale in comparison to bigger cities like Osaka and Tokyo, I’ve managed to establish a few connections with people – both foreigner and Japanese alike. In Hiroshima, it also seems that the foreigner circle is very well connected. If you haven’t met someone yet, it’s likely that you’ve got a friend of two in common and that you’ll cross paths soon enough. Even now I’m still meeting people, whether it be online or in person and with the emergence of the LINE app, I can choose to keep in contact with someone without the awkwardness of exchanging telephone numbers which I consider to be a bit more personal.
Locate a Host Club
While I haven’t been able to procure photographic evidence of this endeavour, I am pretty sure I’ve come across my fair share of Host and Hostess clubs. In actuality, in Hiroshima, the most happening strip of bars, clubs and restaurants is a place called Nagarekawa. I’ve only been along there a few times but I actually went along there in the daytime and saw a couple of closed establishments that make me reckon they’re either Host clubs or Strip clubs. Will I be going in? Probably not. Host clubs require you to empty your pockets and I rather prefer the cheaper option.
Visit a Temple or Shrine
|Inside the Gokoku Shrine at Hiroshima Castle|
The very first shrine I went to was Aichi Shrine in Okayama. I didn’t actually do anything besides wash my hands at the purification trough (every time I go, I find myself having to relearn the method) and taking a few pictures. It was nice to behold however and as it was midweek, it was very peaceful. When I went to Miyajima however, I went to the Itsukushima Shrine there and tried my hand at a fortune. In Japan, fortunes come in five levels. My fortune at the time was second from the bottom and I was feeling pretty crappy at the time so I thought it was fitting really. Over time, my fortunes have started to get better however and I’ve had the opportunity to watch kannushi (or Shinto Priests) perform rituals. I tend to come across more Shinto shrines than Buddhist ones however.
Learn some Japanese
My Japanese is still quite horrendous. There are a lot of rules within the language that don’t exist in English but I can get around a bit more than I could when I first arrived. In actual fact, I’ve sort of made it a goal of mine to be able to hold a conversation in Japanese by the end of the year. In order to facilitate this, I bought a new book and joined a class which is hosted at one of the international centres here in Hiroshima. I also take part in a one on one class with a volunteer teacher and do a weekly language exchange with a guy in Shiga. I’ve still got a long way to go. I can’t understand informal Japanese very well and Kanji is just out of the question right now but I’m getting there…steadily.
Visit an Onsen
|The Hyotan Onsen in Beppu|
So there you have it; my - for the most part - almost completed bucket list. And don't worry, both Tokyo and the theme park's coming. It's my intention to go to Tokyo some time in September. And I'm hoping to head back down to Kyushu for my rollercoaster fix in a couple of months because it has been far too long since my last adrenaline rush. I feel quite proud that I've managed to check these off though. I'm also fortunate to have been to so many places despite my short time here. So you can bet your bottom yen that I'll be setting up another to-do-list soon enough. Watch this space?