Tuesday, 25 November 2014

End of an Era ~ Tribute to Hiroshima




Sad times.

For in a matter of days, I will be jumping ship and moving to a new city in a new prefecture, thousands of miles away. But while I have made it known that I would be moving to Hiroshima, I realise that I haven’t really taken to time out to talk about the city in itself. Famously, it’s known as one of the places where the Americans dropped their bomb but in the year that I have been here (and that year has flown by) I have come to enjoy and cherish Hiroshima as my home. It has become more than just a piece of Japanese history but a piece of mine as well. So today I am going to toast Hiroshima in all its greatness.

 Fuku-Chan

I arrived in Hiroshima at night and spent the rest of it in a hotel but the following day as I began the process of moving into my apartment, the very first restaurant I was introduced to was this little number. Hiroshima is famous for okonomiyaki or its original style of Japanese pancakes which, unlike others, are made with yakisoba noodles. I immediately fell in love with this style of okonomiyaki and would often bring visiting friends and guests to this restaurant at every opportunity. I visited other okonomiyaki restaurants but none could compare to the taste that was Fuku Chan. It’s also conveniently located just outside Hiroshima station and often gets busy. I would highly recommend this restaurant. They boast an English menu and their okonomiyaki with cheese is simply to die for.

Peace Memorial Park

This is probably one of the most famous areas within Hiroshima city. Within walking distance is the equally famous Atomic Bomb Dome. One of the very few buildings to partially survive the bomb all those years ago. The park itself is stunning, littered with various artefacts and tributes to that fateful day. It is also the location of the Peace Memorial Museum which I would both highly recommend and also warn that you should brace yourself. I went in expecting to be a tourist, snap a few photos and what have you. I came out feeling extremely heavy hearted. I actually went in a second time, discovered some new stuff and felt equally as heavy-hearted as the first time. I will not be going in there again but it’s definitely something I would say everyone should see at least once.

Hondori Street

This shopping haven is the busiest and longest shopping strip in Hiroshima city. As I lived within easy commute, every once in a while I would pop to Hondori for my shopping needs. Obviously, shopping for clothing in Japan is relatively difficult for me but Hondori housed a few known brands such as H&M and Uni Qlo so I’d find myself frequently there. It also has quite a few restaurants and other forms of entertainment. It was also here where I got my iPhone and where I went to my first family restaurant, hilarious at the time, known as, Bikkuri Donkey (Surprise Donkey). Nearby is the famous meet-up spot known as Alice Garden and a relatively large Don Quijote – one of the only places where I would walk in with the intention of only buying one item, and end up coming out with a bag full of stuff. It gets insanely busy on weekends – obviously – so I preferred going there in the week.

Round One

I discovered this place a little late but Round One is a giant arcade conveniently located in the vicinity of Hondori street. It possesses eleven floors of gaming goodness. UFO catchers, pachinko slots and other general arcade games litter the first couple of floors. Mario anyone? Upper levels boast darts (which I’ve come to really enjoy), billiards, table tennis, golf and even a batting hut. Everything else is bowling and karaoke so if you fancy a fun night out – Round One closes ridiculously late – I would highly recommend this place. I had actually intended to become a member but circumstances being what they are, I held off. If I find another one however, you can bet I’m gonna be signing up.


Aeon Mall

This giant mall was located about twenty minutes walk from my house and like Hondori, has many shops and other forms of entertainment. The name was recently changed to Aeon Mall but veterans know it, nostalgically, as Diamond City. When I first went to the supermarket here, I spent over three hours inside, finding my way around and figuring out which products were what. Later, I would buy my heater, fan and a couple other small appliances here. Once, I bought a month’s worth of shopping and carried all eight bags and my rucksack back home. I’m sure it must have looked a little strange me carrying all those bags and believe me, it’s not something I will ever attempt again. I am quite strong but even my body has its limits. On other occasions, I would meet friends for meals, shop or watch movies. I was very fortunate that this place was so nearby.


Fitting that I snapped this
at night considering that
I both arrived in Hiroshima
and left it at this time of the
day.
Hiroshima Station

Why would I consider Hiroshima station worth a mention? Well, if there was always a place I was passing through, it was Hiroshima station. Whether I was travelling to work or meeting up with friends, Hiroshima station was the place. I also became a big fan of the Starbucks here and would frequent it after I had my Japanese classes in the afternoon. Not all the staff were as friendly as those in the afternoon but they alone made me a loyal customer. The only thing that annoyed me about Hiroshima station was the constant construction works. It made travelling from one side of the station to the other take five minutes longer than it should have. Besides this, Hiroshima station was something of a home base for me. I have a lot of memories here. 


Hiroshima City International Center

In addition to the Hiroshima International Center (HiC) that’s located in the Hondori area, both institutes boast one thing in common – free Japanese lessons. Anywhere in the world, English is big business and you’d be hard pressed to find free English lessons in the UK unless you know where to look but in Japan, for the clueless foreigner, Japanese study is encouraged. I attended lessons for a year and learnt a lot from the volunteers that taught here. Though HiC also boasts free lessons and one on one sessions but I found the City Center a lot more fruitful overall and that’s why for me, it’s worthy of a mention

Nagarekawa

Generally considered a bit of a bad area by the locals, Nagarekawa is Hiroshima’s evening district. People generally come here to party. This area is littered with Host and Hostess clubs, bars, restaurants, and after a certain time, many drunk people. I generally came here to go to the very few foreigner heavy night clubs and/or bars. There is also an American style hole in the wall known as New York New York where I got to eat a chilly cheese dog for the first time (at around four ‘o clock in the morning). I’m not sure how genuine of a replica it was in comparison to the US, but it was damn good. So yes, if you are a party animal, Nagarekawa is the place.


Poplar

Poplar is a conbini chain and while I prefer Seven Eleven because the food and what have you is generally better, there was one particular branch of Poplar that held a place in my heart. Located about two minutes from my front door, I would often pop here in the evening, after work or if I fancied something a little bit sweet (or savoury). The customer service at this particular Poplar was always on point. The guys working here weren’t particularly chatty with me but I liked that they didn’t treat me any differently to anyone else. They were always polite to me. Even that time when I came in out of the rain asking for an umbrella (kasa) and made the mistake of saying “keys” (kaigi) instead. As a result, I was always in there so thanks for the service boys. Maybe I’ll be back some day.

~

So, I’m sure some of this seems a little strange, but these were the highlights from my time in Hiroshima. These places will forever stand out for the moments and the memories I made here. Thus, for anyone looking to teach abroad in Japan, I say – forget Tokyo. Sure, it’s the most happening place in Japan. You’ll never be bored there as you’re spoilt for choice but you’ll certainly be out of pocket because Tokyo is not cheap. Hiroshima city is a fairly big city in itself boasting over a million people. But I saved a helova lot of money here simply because the standard of living is cheaper – and this includes the occasion trip to other prefectures, and frequent weekends out with friends. It’s also a very chill lifestyle. I only really saw it at its busiest during a baseball game (I never got to go to one unfortunately) and during a national holiday. Nevertheless, it made me appreciate its relaxed nature compared to the craziness of Tokyo – and heck, even London. People are friendly – not everybody but such is life; you’ll come across many a tourist and many an opportunity.

Hiroshima was epic. But now I guess it’s time for me to begin the next adventure.



Monday, 3 November 2014

Moving House ~ The First

Well, I’ve finally done it. It took hours of scouting the internet, sending in CVs and only six interviews, but I finally managed to find a new job. The perks include smaller classes, a British boss and the opportunity to teach adults. 


The con – it’s all the way in Odawara, Kanagawa so I’ve had to begin the process of relocating.

Now it’s no secret to foreigners and Japanese people alike that moving house here is no walk in the park. Japan is a relatively nice and honest place to live but one of the hardest things to do here is to actually relocate. There are so many hoops to jump through and con artists out there keen to cheat you out of your money, so you have to have your wits about you. It’s easy to get swindled so it’s best to clue yourself in.
~
Typically, in order to move house, you are generally expected to pay the following things:


First month’s rent. This is a given.

Security deposit. Also a given. And it’s refundable at the end of contract.

Agency commission. Understandable. However, sometimes an agency fee can also equate to a month’s rent.

Key money. This is basically gift money for the landlord and is always non-refundable. Say goodbye to another month’s rent.

Fire insurance. You know – in case you set the house on fire. I would have thought this was covered by the security deposit but nope.

Maintenance. This is usually added on to your monthly rent. It’s usually only a couple thousand yen but it mounts every month. For the Brits out there, I guess this could be equated to council tax. For everyone else, maybe building maintenance?

Guarantor. In the case that you can’t find a suitable guarantor for your apartment – the person who fits the bill if you can’t – the estate agent might suggest a third party organisation to be a guarantor for you. And of course, they need to be paid.

Lock exchange. You know – to change the locks. I don’t really see the point of this one.

Renewal. So moving into an apartment is one thing but if you want to continue living there, sometimes you’re required to pay a renewal fee too. Another month’s rent.

Cleaning. And if you do decide to move out, don’t think you’re getting out too easily either. Some places will charge an extortionate cleaning fee so they can make it fresh and nice for the next tenant.
~

Now obviously, this is the worst case scenario and I’m sure there have been circumstances where some people haven’t had to pay all of the above but sometimes, they have to. So be prepared to part with a lot of money.

I of course, went the foreigner route at first and searched online via the infamous Gaijinpot website but Odawara is a smaller city and Gaijinpot only really possesses decent housing in and around the Tokyo area. The only houses they had for Odawara were, what is referred to as a 1K. What this kind of apartment entails is one big room with bathroom and tiny kitchenette. Having spent my first year in exactly that, I wanted something bigger so in the end, I went the Japanese route. I found a website called AtHome, perused some houses and found one that I was interested in.

If I’m honest, I didn’t actually do the leg work. I’m based in Hiroshima and Kanagawa is far so my new boss and his wife decided to check the house out for me. The house was indeed lovely. It was a 2DK on the ground floor with a balcony – or two roomed apartment with kitchen and bathroom area. On the website, it had assured me that there was no key money or deposit to be included and the price was reasonable. I had also been warned to expect a headache. And headache we got.

When it came to discussing the price, the “estate agent” began rattling off a whole bunch of different things. It turned out that there was not only a deposit (not what the website had said) but there was a deposit to reserve it as well (of which would be refundable if I decided not to take the house). There was maintenance (which I expected), a fire deposit (of which I hadn’t expected), and a ridiculously pricey cleaning fee. According to my new boss, it actually took them a while to get the total figure out of the estate agent but it was ridiculous and it made them absolutely livid.

I wasn’t there in person so I couldn’t feel the aggravation per se, but I know that it took a lot of back and forth negotiations and some getting angry to sort it all out. In the end, we’d found out that the guy from AtHome was simply a middle man between us and the actual estate agent. When they had spoken to the real guy in charge, it had turned out that the price to “reserve” the house had been a lie. It was actually free to reserve and the total price to pay was dropped to something more reasonable. The cleaning fee was still ridiculous however and the deposit was still present despite the website saying something else.


Fortunately however, it really is who you know. One of my boss’ students happened to be in real estate and had a house for rent. They went to check that place out. It was also a 2DK and the guy had offered to throw in a bike and a stove as a gift. The house was also lovely and unlike the previous one was on the second floor – which I actually prefer. Discussions for the price were negotiated, guarantor was sorted and I will sign for that house on at the end of the week.
Headache terminated.

Since then, I checked back on the AtHome website, and the apartment I had been looking at has now vanished. It turned out they were going to renovate it and I wouldn’t have been able to move in until December which is too late for me. I personally think this was just a cop out – a way for them not have to deal with us anymore – but personally, I think I got the better deal.

I’ve also spoken to a number of people who have moved house in Japan. All mention having problems or spending more money than they had to. One guy mentioned being told he had to pay for something called a Drain Outlet fee by which they sterilise the drain outlet. According to him however – having worked in real estate himself – the price they charge and the job that’s done do not add up so he refused to pay that and instead had them clean the air conditioner to which they obliged. It makes me consider how important some of these fees really are if some estate agents are happy to bend the rules.
~
In preparation for the signing, I’ve been told I’ll need to following things:

Residence card. All foreigners who intend to live, work and study in Japan are issued a residence card. By law, we must carry it with us at all times.

Passport. A given.

Health insurance card. I’m not sure why this is needed – especially because I’ve never used mine.

Bank book. A given.

Inkan. This is a stamp with my surname in katakana printed on it. In the UK, we sign for things. In Japan, if you have one, you use an inkan.

Juminhyou. Apparently this is residence record attained from the Ward Office where I registered my current address. I’ve been told it doesn’t take long to obtain it but I’m expecting hurdles because of my limited Japanese ability.

Payment. Obviously.
~

As I now almost have an apartment to move into, I’ve also looked into removal arrangements. It was suggest to me to use Kuroneko to send my stuff to my new address as I haven’t much stuff. There was only one person who could speak English in the whole of my area so after a week of not receiving an email, I contacted them via phone and managed to get things underway. So for the most part, I’m almost ready to go. I have some loose ends to tie up in Hiroshima with my current place of residence and my company of course, but I’m hoping everything will go smoothly. I don’t think I can take another headache.

Wish me luck.