Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Land of the Rising Sun

Well, I've been here for over a week now and I've just experienced my second earthquake whilst sitting on my futon on the floor of my apartment in Okazaki. It was not as bad as my first earthquake encounter which occurred while I was on the 9th floor of head office in Nagoya. What an experience, at first I thought I was getting dizzy and about to pass out because I was swaying and then our trainer told us it was an earthquake and that's when I realised it wasn't me that was moving but the actual building. The whole building was swaying and rocking and it felt like standing in an airplane during turbulence. Pretty scary stuff. By now you all know that the earthquake and following tsunami have caused mass destruction and death and Japan is working through one of its biggest tragedies in history but where I am it's business as usual. I am concerned about the nuclear reactor and radioactive fallout. I don't want to be here if that is going to pose a threat.

Yesterday I said goodbye to my fellow trainees which was a sad moment because we'd all bonded during our intense week of training and because I'd be on my own until I'd established friends in Okazaki, hopefully we'll all get to together soon and visit each other regularly. I'm getting a spare futon for my apartment so they will have somewhere to sleep when they visit.

I haven't really had a chance to form an opinion on Japan yet as I really haven't had a chance to see it with all the work I've been putting in. Surface observations are these but ask me again in three months:
  1. Speaking Japanese and being able to read Hiragana and Katakana would be a real bonus. I got really spoilt in Nagoya with other trainers translating stuff for me. I'm now completely useless bar a few common phrases which only go so far.
  2. You don't realise how good the non-smoking rules are in Oz until you get to Japan. They have the most odd rule. There are designated smoking areas on the street outside where you are only allowed to smoke but its a free for all in the restaurants where you are eating. Smoking is popular here so the restaurants are full of smokers. It sucks and stinks and all your clothes and hair smell like cigarettes when you leave.
  3. They have hardcore recycling rules and as a result there are hardly any rubbish bins on the street therefore everytime you eat or drink something you end up hanging on to your empty container, by the end of the day I have a handbag full of crap! You then have to methodically sort it into about 4 different piles for putting out. At least they are doing their bit for the planet.
  4. The food is good and there is a lot of interesting and tasty stuff to choose from but after a week of Japanese food you are starting to think about steak, steamed veges, lamb roast, cereal, salad and all that stuff your body is used to. My body hasn't coped too well with the change in diet but now that I've gotten to my school I've been able to get to a supermarket and get some fresh fruit, veges etc. Today was the first day I've eaten healthily and I feel so much better for it. Hopefully, I will continue to eat better foods at home and just go out occasionally for a restaurant meal.
  5. The Japanese people are amazingly efficient, orderly, and polite. They are friendly and try to assist you as much as possible. Quite a few speak English in Nagoya and we've had some fun on the street late at night with brave, young guys getting the courage to say a few words. We Gaijin also get quite a few stares on the street because we are not common. In fact I've found myself staring at Westerners also because you don't expect to see them and you wonder what they are doing here.
  6. The train system is awesome. They even have rules for waiting and embarking which require you to stand in a certain spot before you get on. Can't wait to try the bullet train (Shinkansen)
  7. Some of the TV ads are hilarious, so cheesy. I love the one for Gatsby (which I think is like an aftershave) with all these guys dancing in a group like a Backstreet Boys film clip as well as one for breath mints, flavours include Breath Shower, where a lady opens her mouth and a bubble escapes from it.
  8. The Bidet toilets are the bomb! The Japanese are on to something here. I love the heated toilet seats and the warm spray of water to clean your bits. So civilised.
I got my 'Inkan' the other day which is my official signature in Katakana for use when doing official things like opening a bank account etc. They engrave your name in Katakana on the bottom of a small stick like thing which is about half the size of a regular pen and slightly wider. You press the stick (Inkan) onto an ink pad and mark your name. The Inkan come in all sorts of colours and patterns with fancy little cases that hold it and the ink. I chose one with cherry blossoms all over it.

Enough for tonight. It's late and I have an earthquake to get over.

Until next time.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What the Yakkan Shoumei?

Now I'm no drug mule but to err on the side of caution I thought I better check into taking my prescription and over-the-counter medications into Japan. Good thing I did as it turns outs Japanese customs is very strict on what you can and cannot bring into the country.

From the research I did I found that you can basically take up to a two month supply of non-prescription medication and up to one month's supply of prescription medication without approval. Sounds simple enough however, the information then goes on to say 'this does depend on the type of medication' and this is where it gets vague and difficult and you're so unsure of just what you can and cannot take without getting into trouble at customs.

Asthma puffers are ok to take in and don't need approval but one puffer is usually more than one month's supply so therefore you do need approval.

Cold and flu tablets are ok to take in so long as they have no more than 1% codiene. Only problem is most Australian cold and flu tablets have more than 1% in a single table, ergo approval is required.

Also, it appears just about all drugs ending in 'azepam' are on the hitlist and are restricted without approval which means my sleep assistance med 'Temazepam' is probably restricted too.

On the quirky side, Vicks inhalers cannot be brought into Japan either. It's also a good thing I don't want to import Rhinoceros horn, Musk or Tiger bones as they are a big no-no too.

At finding all this out I began to panic. I don't want to be held up in customs in Japan with the possibility of one little bottle of sleeping tablets or an eczema ointment potentially causing my downfall and seeing me in the inside of a Japanese jail cell. I know I'm probably being over-dramatic and over-analysing this but as a result will I have to go to the GP and add an anti-anxiety script to my list of meds to? Lol. 

Anyway, I thought it best in the end to declare every prescription ointment, pill and eyedrop to the Japanese pharmaceutical inspector at the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in order to receive a 'Yakkan Shoumei' which will give me approval to import my medications and hopefully navigate through customs with no problems.

The Yakkan Shoumei application form was as equally confusing to fill out and hopefully I have done it correctly so there are no hold ups. I hope to have my approval in my hot little hand as soon as possible as I'm pushing it for time with only three weeks out from my departure date.

Here's hoping my non-presecription medications won't cause me any grief either!!!

Monday, January 3, 2011


Well, it's all happening now, I have booked my flights to Nagoya and I'm off on March 4th to begin my stint and new career as an English Teacher in Japan for 12 months.

I've been busy reading a dozen books on Japan to prepare myself for the culture and the etiquette, there is so much to know and I just know that I will accidentally offend someone on a daily basis.

Also, heads up to all you Australian manufacturers of Macadamia Nut chocolates for gifts, 9 is a number that represents death or misfortune so now I can't take the small packs of you with me to give away. Boo!

Until next post...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Contracts Signed

Well, it's all happening now.

I've signed the employment contracts and sent the paperwork to Sydney to have my Visa processed.

The Aeon policy and procedure manual was full-on and there are lots of rules, one of which is that I have to be very careful about what I post online on Facebook or Blogs with relation to Aeon and its staff and students.

One of the biggest things I think I'll struggle with is 'fashion boredom' as my workwear must be very conservative and apply to their very businesslike and strict dress code - thank god for the weekends when I can cut loose.

So far I know that I will be one of three at training in Nagoya when I arrive. The are two other consisting of one male and one female, from the UK and USA. This could change before I arrive.

I have 3 one week designated company vacation periods throughout the year, these being:
  • One week from the end of December to the beginning of January
  • April 29th - May 5th
  • One week in August
So if you are thinking of coming to Japan and you want to visit me, these might be good times and we can do some sightseeing and travel together.

Keep watching this space...


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Okazaki Japan - Job Contract

I've accepted a job contract with the Aeon Corporation in Japan so now I know where I'll be heading next year. I leave for Okazaki on March 5th 2011.

Okazaki is in the Aichi Prefecture in Central Honshu (main Island) about 40 mins by train from Nagoya which is Japan's 3rd largest city apparently. It will be coming out of winter when I arrive and Okazaki gets snows two or three times a year.

Central Honshu is where those wild monkeys relax in the hot springs in the middle of winter. I definitely want to see that.

I will have my own single accommodation apartment which will be subsidised by Aeon and is apparently only a 15 min walk to work, which is located in the largest of Okazaki's train stations. Also nearby are cafes, restaurants, gyms, cinema and very large shopping mall which, funnily enough, is also called Aeon .

My English school has 180 students ranging in age from 20-50's plus 3 children . The breakdown is:
30% businessmen
20% bsinesnesswomen
20% homemakers (women)
17% senior high school students
12% uni students
1% other (retirees etc)

There are six classes daily and teachers start at either 12noon or 1pm and work through to 9pm.  I will be one of only 2 Foreign teachers. Other extra social activities outside teaching include parties for Christmas, New Years, Summer BBQ's, Cherry Blossom season and welcome and farewell parties.

Okazaki has a population of approx 360,000 over 227 square kilometres and is famous for its fireworks festival and fireworks manufacturing and traditional candle making.. There is also a castle in Okazaki which was built by a warrior called Saigo Tsugiyori in 1455, a temple founded in 701 by a priest called Gyoki plus much more,

Apparently there is a lot of industry in Okazaki and as a result the unemployment rate is low. There is a large foreign population living there with many of those being people being from Brazil, Peru, and China. The percentage of foreign population in Okazaki is actually more than double the national average in Japan.

This should give you a good indication of what I can expect when I arrive in Okazaki.

Stay tuned for more postings chronicling my adventures and life in Japan once I get there.



Saturday, December 4, 2010

I got the job!

I have been officially hired by the Aeon Corporation to teach English in Japan. 

My Aeon recruiter is now busy searching for vacancies within the organisation that match my preferences.

Hopefully I will be heading off to Japan in late February 2011 to live and work. I have Tokyo down as my number one preference.

Check back in again to find out when and where I'll be.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stay Tuned, it's coming...