Monday, November 30, 2009

A walk around my neighbourhood

New home. Takamatsu.

Long moving day! Woke up at 6am, packed the rest of my bags, and even though my suitcases had been shipped, I realized I had way too much stuff left behind. Lugged everything around the Nagoya subway, and hopped on the Shinkansen to the deep, deep south!

The best part of my trip was when the train crossed the bridge that connects Shikoku island to the mainland. So beautiful! Mountains, mountains, beaches, islands, more islands, and the greenest water I've ever seen. I really, really live in a beautiful place.

Today felt surreal. I kept telling myself, 'this is home now'- but somehow I couldn't grasp it. Everything felt so strange and unfamiliar, but so charming and welcoming at the same time. Even tonight, after my luggage and futon finally shipped, I ventured out to the grocery store, cautiously wandering the streets, trying not to get lost.

I live a 5-min walk away from a beautiful, ancient castle that stands tall on a mountain. My neighbourhood is surrounded by trees, parks, temples, and little wooden restaurants. The train station and grocery store are a few steps away. I live next to a library and museum. I have the feeling I'll really love it here.

And the apartment! The only word that came to mind when I first saw it was 'cute'. It's small, but so cozy. It's a standard Japanese apartment: a little hall and kitchen when you first walk in (the kitchen definitely is big for Japan), then the main room, where I'll sleep/eat/relax. Sounds tiny, I know! The bathroom is in two separate parts: one room is the toilet, and the other room is a nice deep bathtub, shower, and sink. And my closet is huge!

Tomorrow I'll make a trip to Muji (Ikea-like store) to get some essentials, and I'll most likely get a cell phone. Finally.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hello, Shinkansen and Takamatsu!

{Ritsurin Garden, Takamatsu. Yes, I'll be living there.}

Last day in Nagoya! Had a fantastic weekend. Went out every single night, and taught a little bit on Saturday. Last night some friends and I went to a few random bars around Nagoya, some foreigner bars, as well as Japanese bars. Stayed up all night, Japan style. I realized this is my last day in a really big city, so I made some purchases today (quality coffee and teas, little house things at Muji). I still don't know what will be available in Takamatsu, but I imagine quite a few things.

I'm moving tomorrow, hopping on the Shinkansen at 9am. I'm actually more excited about getting to ride the bullet train than the actual moving. I'm quite ecstatic, but a bit terrified at the same time. My fellow trainees told me they feel a bit lonely sometimes in their new areas, so that will be a bit of a challenge.

My area supervisor is picking me up at the train station tomorrow around noon, and he'll help me move into my apartment. My luggage has been shipped with the company a few days ago, so hopefully it will have arrived when I get there. I can finally get a phone and perhaps a more decent internet connection! He'll help me take care of everything tomorrow. He also gave me a day off on Tuesday, so I can relax, settle in, and get familiar with my new city!

I am in a hurry to get away from Nagoya, because my work schedule was ridiculous, but at the same time I've been having so much fun here, meeting locals and fellow teachers who live here.

Well, here's to my new home. Takamatsu. Kafka on the shore. Beautiful mountains, temples, gardens and the beach.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

So long, Nagoya

Only three more days in Nagoya, then I'm officially moving to Takamatsu! I talked on the phone to the girl whose apartment I'm getting, and it sounds great: brand new apartment, large closets, and pretty big kitchen according to Japanese standards. Don't get too excited, a big Japanese kitchen is probably quite tiny still. But I'm excited! So, so excited. She also told me the neighbourhood I'm living in is great, there are little cafés and tons of cool, young Japanese people.

Pretty everyone from my training group left for their respective cities. My apartment is not ready until next week, so I'm just staying around Nagoya, teaching here and there. It's nice, but I cannot wait to finally unpack and settle in. The schedule in Nagoya is a bit overwhelming, I still have those crazy long commutes and treasure hunts to find the key to each school. Once I move to Takamatsu, my commuting time will be much shorter, and I'll always go to the same schools.

It's a bit odd to be alone here in Nagoya, after spending two intensive weeks with the rest of the group! I don't have much time to get bored, there is a lot to do, and I know a few people in Nagoya by now. The good thing is, I kept in touch with everyone from my training group, so I'll be able to go visit them in different parts of the country!

Time flies, Christmas vacation will be here shortly. I have a fun little trip planned for New Years, more on that later!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Nihongo ga hanasemasen.

Or, I don't speak Japanese.

On Saturday night, my friends and I went to a bar, and I ended up sitting with a group of young Japanese people. It was a lot of fun, but they knew as much English as I know Japanese. All I could blurt out were the following:

-Ostukaresamadesu (Thanks for your hard work)
-Oazukarishimasu (I will take care of your child)
-Kono densha wa Nagoya eki ni tomarimasu ka? (Does this train stop at Nagoya station?)
-Oy shi (Tasty)

That's the extent of Japanese I know, mostly things I learned in training. The situation was comical, but at the same time kind of frustrating and sad. Not knowing Japanese creates a huge barrier- it makes it difficult to meet friends, makes it difficult to even order food.

I've been doing great at learning Katakana (some characters that spell out English words, like 'coffee' and 'latte'), so at least I can now read menus!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maps, trains, subways, oh my

How do I even begin explaining how stressful and intense this past week has been... The good news are, I survived training, and I did great. Training was quite difficult and the hours were long. Most of the hours were spent commuting to different schools all over the Nagoya area. It sounds simple, but it's not.

The company handed us a list of schools, along with their respective maps. Basically, each day was a challenge: to find out how to get there, to board the right train, to get off at the right stop (most schools were located in the middle of nowhere, where signs are only in Japanese!), then find the actual school, and finally, find the key to unlock the school. And oh, it's not over. You then have to prepare and plan your lessons, and teach under the watchful eye of a supervisor. Stressful!!

And to top it off, we had a nice big exam on Saturday. Thankfully it's all over now, and in exactly a week I'll be settling in my new apartment in Takamatsu. The rest of my group is leaving tomorrow for their respective areas, so this weekend has been filled with various dinner parties and drinking events. I'll be staying in Nagoya a bit longer, since my apartment is not ready yet, working at the office and teaching here and there.

Despite being sleep-deprived and a bit sick, I'm in high spirits. The commuting part was actually a lot of fun- I got to see so many other sides of Japan. Each day I'd arrive in a different town, so I got to walk around and see more sides of daily life. Big cities in Japan are fun and bustling, but I believe the 'real' Japan is in smaller towns. I just loved listening to my music and watch the countryside, and to also study my Japanese. I am learning so much every day. I can now actually read half of the katakana characters!

Trains are so pleasant in Japan: spacious, efficient, and always on time. And, very quiet as well. Train operators are so helpful, they'll actually come get me inside the train to let me know it's my stop.

I am still so happy. My attitude towards cultural differences is so different from back in Korea. I remember getting so upset when faced with a challenge. I'm so much more relaxed now towards everything. Living abroad can really make you feel like you're on the top of the world, but it can also make you feel like you're sinking- especially with the language barrier. And knowing the language can make a big difference... and I'll have to work extra hard, since the area I'm moving to is all Japanese!

I've been making quite a few plans for the upcoming weeks: perhaps a day trip to Kyoto, and New Years in Tokyo! So much to look forward to, and Christmas should be nice. I know I won't be around family, but I'll still manage to have a great time, and make the most of it.

Making the most of it. This is my motto for this year in Japan.

PS. Japanese fashion is SICK.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Starbucks in Japan

Remember last year how bummed I was about missing the Gingerbread Latte?

Japan does not have it either, but it has...

Caramel Eclair Latte.

I'll try it and report!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sake and Karaoke

Sunday is our only day off during training, so we partied Japanese style! Saturday afternoon it was the first time we all taught a lesson on our own- kind of stressful! The teaching methods are quite different from Korea- it's all very structured, and we need to follow the guidelines. My class went quite well, the kids were very young and adorable, and I played a few games and introduced myself. I traveled for almost two hours in the Japanese countryside- it was such a beautiful scenery.

Last night was a blast, and it was good to unwind. We had drinks at my place (seems like it's the place to be!), then headed out to a small Japanese bar for some warm sake (my new favourite drink). Then around 3am, we went to a karaoke room and sang our hearts out.... everything ranging from Oasis to Nirvana. Then, out to McDonalds for late-night grubs (Japan offers a 100 yen menu, which is one dollar for a meal). Went to bed around 5am, and I'm heading downtown today to meet a friend for coffee.

I do miss Sunday brunch, though ;)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Training, maps, and trains

This week (which is not over yet) has been intense with training, training, training. Kind of harsh and exhausting, but I was expecting it. My training group is a lot of fun, so we all hang out together and plan our lessons and share tips. Makes training a bit more bearable!

Funny story today. All of us trainees were left on our own in Nagoya, we each had to go to a different school to observe some classrooms. We were left with a map and some directions. The company made a mistake and sent me to the wrong school, so they had to fax me a new map so I could get to the right location. They had me take a taxi and direct the driver in Japanese, it was quite eventful. I was a bit stressed out, but mostly amused.

I've been floating on a cloud since I got here. You know, that euphoric feeling. Being in love feeling. It's probably just a (honeymoon) phase, but it feels great. I think coming to Japan was the best decision for me. Right now.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Futon and language musings

Still loving Japan. Thank you for all your kind comments, I'm sorry I haven't had time to comment on your blogs, but I've been catching up on them. I can't wait to move to my location in a few weeks, and have an easier access to the internet.

Quick notes about training... I've been learning a lot of Japanese! My trainer was quite impressed with my speaking skills (or rather, my intonation and accent), but I blame it on my time spent in Korea. I've somehow picked up on the different intonations. That being said, I still only know about ten Japanese words!

They even taught us how to bow properly, which is essential in Japan. Customer service is so amazing here, all shop employees (even at 7-Eleven) are so polite... and I mean, extremely polite, bowing to you and saying 'Arigato' over and over. I very much enjoy that.

Last night, a fellow trainee and I went to a cozy little Japanese bar and drank some warm sake. We chatted with some locals, and it's definitely a great way to learn more Japanese.

And oh, I've flipped my futon mattress and even put it outdoors. Apparently Japanese people do it on a daily basis, to avoid bed bugs (eww).

Monday, November 9, 2009

And, it starts.

{First day of training}

{Got loads of tissue paper samples in the street}

{Eating breakfast. Better pictures coming soon I promise}

First training day.

My fellow trainees and I showed up at the training center this morning, all dressed up in our finest business attire. First training day was rather easy, they told us all about how our schedule works, and all about living in Japan. It was very comprehensive, and I wish we had that kind of training back in Korea. I remember struggling and trying to figure everything out, like banking and setting up the internet.

Here in Japan, everything is just more organized and detailed, and I left with a thick binder containing all the information I would need about life in Japan. I know the next days are going to get quite intense and difficult, but our group is fun and I'm loving life in Japan so far.

Yesterday all three of us girl from the group hit downtown to do some shopping. I happily reunited with Uniqlo, and found that Zara has a much better selection than back home! Lovely, warm Sunday spent in crowded Nagoya.

I'm glad to be surrounded with people during those first few weeks, I think it prevents me from having little meltdowns and feeling too lonely. I'm definitely not homesick, and I feel so much lighter. The past few weeks (even months) back in Montreal have been so stressful and kind of painful, and being in Japan I feel so removed from all the drama, even though I dearly miss my loved ones.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

{Konnichiwa, courtesy of PhotoBooth. Still jet lagged. And hung over.}

{The internet café. Only for a few weeks, until I move to my location}

{The washing machine. Scary!}

The weather is my favourite thing here, so far. I left a freezing cold Montreal, and landed in very warm Nagoya. No jacket, warm sun, and sunglasses.

Yesterday I met the rest of my training group: a mix of fellow Canadians, Brits, and Australians. The neighbourhood I'm staying in is quite small, so every time I ran into another foreigner at 7-Eleven, I knew they'd be a fellow trainee. They're all really nice, interesting people, and being on the same boat brought us closer rather quickly.

We made a first visit to a grocery store, to pick up some essentials. I was surprised to see how easy it is to find imported foods in Japan. In a regular supermarket, the selection of cheese was quite interesting, and I even found taco mixes and tortillas- things that would be near impossible to find in Korea. Maybe it's because we're in a big city, perhaps it will be a different story once I move to my smaller city. I had a blast going around the store, with my Japanese phrasebook, trying to find soy milk.

The prices are definitely quite high in Japan, but there are a lot of ways to save money and get some deals. Japan has many "100 yen" stores, which are like dollar stores back home, but much, much nicer. You can get everything there, from food to household items. Also, if you shop at the supermarket right before closing time, many items are reduced by 50%, so its the perfect time to pick up a bento box.

We had so much fun at the supermarket, and I even found a Starbucks near the apartment, where I bought a French coffee press- an essential to live in Asia. This way I can save so much money by making my own, and not spending five or six dollars on a cup of java.

Last night was spent exploring the downtown part of Nagoya, and hitting some bars with the rest of our group. My favourite spot was a little watering hole, filled with locals and awful punk rock music. It was a lot of fun, and trainees from the previous training group gave us some tips about training, and prepared us for the worst-apparently it gets quite intense.

I'm really having a lovely time so far, and I'm so happy to be back in Japan, a country I've been dreaming of for some time now. I also remembered how Japanese people are so friendly and helpful, they'll really go out of their way to make sure you find whatever you need.

Alright, time for me to get some breakfast, I don't think Pocky is an appropriate breakfast after a long night out. Or maybe it is.

**Sorry for the lack of good pictures. I forgot my memory card at home, so I'll have to borrow other people's pictures in a bit, until I buy a new one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Saturday in Nagoya

Some random pictures of my apartment... the garbage system is so complicated! Three different bins, we must separate everything. Great for the environment, though. The view from my apartment is not all that great, right under the subway tracks, but it's only temporary. Must jet, some sightseeing to do... The weather is so warm, like 22 degrees.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First night in Japan

First night in Japan.

Trying to grasp the fact that I actually live here now- which hasn't hit me yet. I was expecting a mini breakdown on my first night, wanting to go home, but everything went quite smoothly. Maybe I was too tired, or too drunk!

After the longest flight I've ever had, a rep from my company picked me up at the Nagoya airport, then drove me to my training apartment, where I'll be staying for two or three weeks. It's a pretty nice Japanese-style flat, which I'm sharing with a nice Canadian girl. My bedroom is covered with tatamis, and I sleep on a real futon, right on the floor. It's quite comfortable. And, it's so clean!! No cockroaches or mold.

We have everything we need for now- kitchen, living room, and bathroom. The bathroom is funny to me, there are three different rooms for it: the actual toilet is in its own little room, then the sink in another, and finally a room combining the shower and bathtub. Sweet! The shower is not Korea-style, but I like how it's right next to the bathtub. According to Japanese customs, you're supposed to shower first, then soak in the tub.

I barely opened my suitcases last night, as I just wanted to hit the hay. I did knock on my neighbours' door and met some fellow trainees, with whom I had a quick drink, then walked to the nearest convenience store to get a snack (a triangle-shaped rice and tuna concoction), and some shampoo. Can you believe I got Shiseido shampoo for less than 3$? One of the only brands that is actually cheap here!

I've been up since 6am (hello, jet lag), and my next few days are free for me to explore Nagoya and get some rest. I'm now on a mission to find some breakfast!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tokyo Love

I'm in Japan.

I'm in Tokyo, just waiting for my last flight to Nagoya. What a long journey! I slept for a few hours, but it was quite uncomfortable despite all the leg room. I'm exhausted, but ecstatic. I'll meet my employer in a few hours, along with some coworkers. I already have some plans for tomorrow and the weekend! I will probably be a jet lagged mess for the next few days.

I cannot post pictures just yet, but I treated myself to Vivi magazine, Suntory lemon water, and Pocky. Japanese style!!

Konnichiwa, Japan!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Going, going, gone.

As I sit here, packing the rest of my stuff, I have a feeling of déjà vu. Almost two years ago, I was doing the exact same thing, at the exact same place. Packing for Korea, and getting ready to leave everything behind. I was terrified.

This time it feels different. I know what to expect, and it's a decision I made on my own. I'm a little bit sad, a little bit heartbroken, and a little bit nauseous. However, I feel quite calm and peaceful, knowing this is the best thing for me, right now. Living my dream, living my Lost in Translation fantasy.

My friends and family have been so amazing and supportive. My last day in Montreal was spent eating brunch at my favourite café, in my pajamas, and walking around aimlessly in my neighbourhood. Taking in the sights, but knowing everything will still be there, waiting for me, when I come back.

Off to a long, long flight, and very little sleep.

Hello, Japan.