December 8, 2004 – One Year (and a bit) in Japan

Today’s column is a few months overdue. I had the best intentions to write about my Japaniversary when it happened, but life got in the way. Anyway, here goes.

I have officially been in Japan for 1 year (and 2 months). The last year has gone by entirely too quickly. I have managed to meet about a zillion people, work in a completely new job, see many interesting things, and do things I never imagined before. It has been a great year, and I am looking forward to (possibly) another year in this great country. Of course, with the good comes some bad as well. So without further delay, here is the official “Drinking in Japan first year in Japan Highlights and Lowlights List”, presented in alphabetical order.

Highlights

  • Australians – I have never seen so many Australians in my life. They are generally really cool people. They are like the Canadians of the Southern hemisphere, if Canadians lived in a warm country. Maybe Canadians are the Aussies of the Northern hemisphere, who knows.
  • Drink Bar – Many “family” style restaurants have self serve drink bar with free refills. Great for hot days!
  • Food – The selection and quality of food here is unbelievable. Everything tastes good!
  • Japanese people – Japanese people are great! Overall, they are very friendly and helpful to visitors, and are really fun to party with.
  • Kamakura – There is a GIANT Buddha here. What more do you need?
  • Karaoke – I LOVE karaoke! I love that most karaoke is in a private room with friends, and that you can get food and drinks delivered.
  • Koban – A Japanese police box. Instead of having a few centrally located police stations, there are many small police boxes scattered throughout the cities. The police are able to patrol a familiar area, and are great for giving directions to lost travelers. The Koban system works really well for densely populated areas.
  • Kyoto – You can experience Japan’s history in a city where you can’t walk down the street without tripping over a temple or shrine.
  • Mt. Fuji – Impossible not to like. A snow covered Mt. Fuji is beautiful.
  • Nikko – Probably the most breathtaking place in the country for sightseeing. Allegedly there are monkeys there too.
  • Niku man – (niku = meat, man = steamed bun) Chinese steamed meat buns are sold for 100 yen each in convenience stores and are a great snack. You can also get pizza man, curry man, and bean paste man.
  • Shinkansen – A.K.A. the bullet train. Cruising across the country at 250km/h rules!
  • Tokyo Nightlife – Wow. There are so many places catering to everyone’s liking, it is really impossible to see it all. I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the options.
  • Skirts – Skirts are popular here, and they are great. Seriously great.
  • Skylark Express – What can you say about a restaurant that serves you hamburger steak, rice, soup and a vegetable in 60 seconds for five dollars?
  • Students – One of the best things about being a teacher is actually seeing someone improve over time. Giving a level up recommendation to a student is one of the highlights of my job.
  • Visitors – I had two sets of visitors this summer which both provided incredibly fun times and great memories.
  • Winter – A winter without snow and with temperatures that stay on the happy side of freezing are okay by me.
  • Yen – Japanese money is worth a lot in other places.
  • Yokohama – It’s big, fun and has everything Tokyo does, but a completely different feel.

Lowlights

  • Being illiterate – It is a shock to go from being an intelligent, functional person to being almost completely illiterate. It is frustrating to have trouble doing basic everyday things. I am improving, but it is still difficult.
  • Crowded trains – There is not much more uncomfortable than being wedged into a train that is 200% over capacity while trying to carry a bunch of bags.
  • Garbage collection – The rules for garbage collection are annoying and difficult to understand. Garbage must be separated into about 500 categories, each with their own collection day. And there is always one cranky neighbour making sure you are doing it right.
  • Getting lost – Only the largest streets have names, and most seem to have been designed completely at random. Someone’s mailing address is no help at all when it comes to finding anything. With my meager Japanese skills I can ask for directions, but understanding the answer is still challenging.
  • Hangovers – Cheap alcohol, all you can drink, the Japanese party spirit, and my rubber arm make for some serious overindulgence. I have had 2 of the worst hangovers in my life here.
  • Japanese style toilets – I am still scared to death of these things, and have managed to avoid them for any “serious” business.
  • Kids classes – I still don’t feel completely comfortable in a classroom full of children.
  • Loneliness – Being far away from home can be incredibly lonely. It sucks knowing that your friends and family are enjoying life as usual while you are stuck in a small room on the other side of the planet. No matter how much you fit in and how many friends you make, it’s jut not home sometimes.
  • Missing Last Train – Last train comes way too early, and if you miss it you are committed to an expensive taxi ride or staying out till first train.
  • Movies – I like Japanese movies, but without subtitles I am lost. Watching Jackie Chan movies is nearly impossible because only Japanese subtitles are available.
  • NOVA Usagi – Man, I really hate that thing!
  • Size – Streets are narrow, rooms are smaller, clothes are smaller, cars are smaller, everything is smaller. It’s a big adjustment for me, and I am not even a particularly large person.
  • Summer – Too hot, way too humid.

It’s been a good year, and thanks for reading!

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