Archive for category Life in Japan

Love Hotels are better than Regular Hotels

Before finishing off the stories of my teaching adventures in Japan, I’d be doing a disservice to my blog to not talk about one of the most interesting parts of life in Japan: love hotels. Note to readers: if you were expecting pictures you will be disappointed – this isn’t that type of blog.

Japan is a densely populated country with living spaces that would be considered “small” by North American standards. Also, it’s not uncommon for older relatives to be living with the children’s families. This creates a situation where privacy for some, um… quality time with your significant other is not always easy to come by. The same problems exist for English teachers, who often live in small apartments together where you can hear almost everything that is going on even behind closed doors.

Fortunately Japan has a solution for the lack of privacy: love hotels! They are specifically designed as a place where people can go for some intimate time together. Rooms are available for a “rest”, usually 2-3 hours, or a “stay” which lasts overnight.

The typical love hotel room is MUCH bigger than a regular hotel room. Love hotel rooms are also more fun, featuring bigger beds, adjustable music and mood lighting, and extras like video games, karaoke machines or even tanning beds. The bathrooms contain nice deep tubs big enough for two, usually with jets. Due to the purpose of the rooms, you will always find condoms, a sex toy vending machine, and 3 channels of free porn on the TV. Be warned: one of these channels is usually terrifying ( depending on your personal tastes).

Love hotels are also built for privacy: check in can be done without any face to face communication. Food can be ordered from nearby restaurants and the delivery comes through a tiny door in the wall. I have even seen love hotels where each parking spot has it’s own entrance to the rooms.

Overall, love hotels rooms are bigger, better, and more comfortable than regular hotel rooms, often at a lower price. If you’re  for a fun cultural experience in Japan, or you don’t want your roommates to listen in, I highly recommend taking a rest at a love hotel* – they’re fantastic!

* You will need to provide your own partner


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November 13, 2006 – Goodbye boxes

After a few weeks of trying to decide which of my things were going to stay in Japan and which things I wanted to bring back to Canada, I have ended up with 5 boxes of stuff to send and my 2 giant suitcases to accompany me on the flight.

About a month ago, my mother and sister started apartment hunting for me in Winnipeg. Vacancies are usually pretty low, so it took them a while to find a nice, spacious 1 bedroom apartment in Osborne Village, the same neighbourhood I lived in before I moved to Japan. The area is filled with cool stores and restaurants all within walking distance, and is served by several bus routes. Having a place to live also means that I have a place to mail my boxes.

There was no way I could get 5 boxes to the post office by myself. Thankfully, my helpful future father-in-law had the day off and gave me a ride. He waited patiently while I filled out the parcel forms several times. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the customs forms where I had to list all of the contents of each box. This took a little memory work, a little unpacking, and a lot of time. In total it cost me 40,000 yen to ship my stuff home (about $400). Ouch!

Shop sensibly when living overseas for a few years – you’ll thank me later.

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November 11, 2006 – Packing sucks

Packing sucks.

Packing with a hangover also sucks.


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November 2, 2006 – Facial Hair

Business attire in Japan is very conservative, so it makes sense that English schools have strict rules regarding teachers’ appearance. NOVA has the typical rules for dress code, but they also have an interesting set of rules regarding facial hair: if you have it you can keep it as long as it’s properly trimmed and groomed. If you don’t have facial hair you aren’t allowed to grow it on the job.

Ever since my last lesson I decided to stop shaving and see if I could grow anything. So far I have learned two important things:

  1. There are spots on my face where nothing grows. This is going to make a beard impossible and a goatee challenging
  2. Growing facial hair on a usually clean shaven face is super itchy

Some people like my roommate Azeroth can grow a full beard in a matter of hours. With my uncooperative face and blond hair it’s going to take me weeks and may look ridiculous the entire time. I can now understand the reason for NOVA’s “can’t grow it on the job” rules.

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October 30, 2006 – Official Farewell Party

When English teachers leave NOVA, there are usually 2 major farewell parties: the “official” party with teachers and staff, and the “unofficial” party with teachers and students.

Tonight was my official farewell party. Most of the teachers from the area showed up, and a few staff joined as well. We enjoyed beer and sushi at Ryoba, the most popular izakaya for teachers. I was happy that The Penpal was able to attend for a few hours. Her parents are extremely strict and didn’t like her out late, especially to hang out at an izakaya with a bunch of rowdy English teachers. I’m happy they were flexible for my farewell party.

After closing out Ryoba, the second party included karaoke and pool (billiards) at one of the new karaoke places near Numazu station. It was a lot of fun and I didn’t have to worry about being in rough shape for work the next day: there is no more work!

It was a fun night, although I could have done without having all of the oshiboris piled on my head

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October 29, 2006 – Ikebana and Murder

The Penpal and I spent the day in Tokyo attending two very different cultural events: ikebana and live theatre.

In the morning we took the shinkansen to Shinagawa and then transferred to Meguro to see an ikebana show. Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging, something that neither the Penpal or I knew anything about. The invitation came from one of the Penpal’s friends, who was a student of Shogo Kariyazaki, one of Japan’s most famous flower arrangers.

Shogo Kariyazaki, picture from (click to link article)

We walked through a beautiful old building looking at the intricate displays of flowers and branches set up along the way. I didn’t really understand what we were looking at, but they looked nice. Near the exit there was a table set up where Mr. Kariyazaki himself was signing copies of his new book. He looked like someone right out of Rivendell in Middle Earth! Waiting to see him was a long line filled with middle aged women who were as excited as teenagers meeting a pop idol. It was a truly interesting look into a culture that was totally unfamiliar to both of us.

In the afternoon we went to see The Tokyo International Players perform Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit “And Then There were None”. The TIP is an English language amateur theatre group which was founded in 1896. We came to see my former coworker and Saturday night late shift companion Vivian in her Japanese stage debut as Ethel Rogers, the housekeeper and second victim. The performance was fantastic, and it was a great English challenge for The Penpal to interpret a variety of different British accents from the characters. We had a short visit with Vivian after the show – with only a few weeks left until I moved back to Canada this was my opportunity to say goodbye.

After our cultural day of ikebana and murder, we spent our evening wandering around Shibuya before returning home. It was a very fun day!

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October 24, 2006 – Dollhouse Kimura

One of the many reasons why I like teaching in Numazu is the variety of people different people I get to teach. I have taught English to doctors, students, musicians, Buddhist monks, soldiers, hostesses, and cowboys to name a few. Among the interesting occupations was miniature dollhouse furniture artist, which is not someone you would normally get to meet everyday.

My student and her husband own Dollhouse Kimura, a store in Numazu where they create and sell very detailed, very realistic dollhouse furniture and plants. They occasionally visit model conventions around the world, but especially in America. Speaking English was helpful to interact with the other modellers.

I always enjoyed teaching this student and did my best to help her become more confident with her English abilities. When she heard that I was leaving Japan, she invited me to come and see her shop before I left the country.

After work, The Penpal and I went to the store which is located in the Nakamise shopping area near Numazu station. We got a tour of the store and workshop. I’m not artistic at all, so it was very interesting seeing how they created their very detailed, very tiny furniture. I was in awe of the skill and patience required to create their work. At the end of the tour they gave us a miniature plant as a housewarming gift for our future house in Canada.

As mentioned throughout my blog, NOVA has strict rules against interacting with students outside of the classroom. Going to a student’s business and accepting a gift were both not allowed. Having said that, I am happy that I had the opportunity to interact with some of my students outside of work – these interactions were some of the best and most memorable experiences of my time living in Japan.

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October 23, 2006 – Fuji 5 Lakes

Satellite pic of the Fuji 5 Lakes (thanks Google Maps)

With only a few weeks left before I move back to Canada, I spent the whole day with The Penpal and her parents. Our agenda for the day was a drive around Mt. Fuji with stops at all of the Fuji Five Lakes.

The Fuji Five Lakes are, as you might expect, five lakes near Mt. Fuji. All of the lakes are around the north side of the mountain and all were created by previous eruptions when Fuji was an active volcano.

Our first stop was Lake Yamanaka, which is the 3rd highest lake in Japan. The lake was surrounded by boat rentals and all kinds of watersport activities. We fed ducks and giant koi from the docks.

Before our next lake, we took a detour to the Fuji Radar Dome Museum. In the days before the sky was filled with orbiting satellites, the government of Japan wanted to find a way to get better warning of large storms heading towards Japan. The best way to do this was to put a radar station on top of the highest mountain in the country. The museum explained about the challenging construction and the benefits after the radar station came online. I found it really interesting, although I wish there was a little more English explanation. My personal highlight was a room where you could experience -15 degree temperatures (5 degrees F for my American readers). The museum provided warm jackets and mittens to wear in the room. As a proud Winnipegger I went in unjacketed and laughed off the -15 while the rest of the people in the room suffered.

After a delicious curry lunch at Coco Ichibanya, we continued to Lake Kawaguchi, which is by far the most popular of the Fuji 5 Lakes. The surrounding area was built up with docks, hotels, restaurants, and tourist shops. Someday I will need to come back and spend a few days here.

The remaining 3 lakes were further away from cities and much less touristy. For the first time in my 3 years in Japan I saw campgrounds, which combined with trees, rocks, and lakes, reminded me a lot of Canada. Lakes Sai, Motosu, and Shoji are all connected by underground waterways. Shoji is so small that you could probably walk around the entire lake in a couple hours.

During our drive I noticed an interesting difference between English and Japanese. In English, to refer to a lake by name you would say “lake” followed by the name, for example “Lake Blabla”. In Japanese the name comes first, followed by “ko”, for example “Blabla-ko”. I found the sign for Lake Sai funny because it was written in English as “Lake-Saiko”, which would translate as “Lake Sai Lake”. I also had a laugh at the idea of Saiko Lake, which sounds like the setting for an 80’s slasher movie. I was unsuccessful in explaining to The Penpal why I found either of these things amusing.

Our trip back to Numazu took us through Fujinomiya, which I had only been to by train before. We also drove by dairy farms, which again reminded me of Canada. We finished our long day with Chinese food at one of the Penpal’s family’s favourite restaurants. Chinese food in Japan is very different from “Canadian Chinese” food – it’s a lot more authentic, and in my humble opinion, a lot more delicious. We stuffed ourselves silly.

I lived close to Mt. Fuji for a few years, but without a car it would have been difficult to see all of the Fuji 5 Lakes in a day. I’m fortunate that I am marrying into a family that both likes me and wants to take me to interesting places. I’m going to do my best not to screw this up!

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My first time using a Japanese Toilet

Japanese style squat toilet.

Japanese style squat toilet.

Note: as you may have guessed from the title, this post is about using the toilet. You have been warned!

The background:
Above is a picture of a Japanese style squat toilet. These toilets were the standard in Japan before the “western toilet” came along. Despite virtually everything else in the country being modern and new, you can still find squat toilets in older houses, older buildings, and most train stations. Squat toilets can even be found on the shinkansen for those brave souls who want a little more excitement on their voyage.

The Japanese style toilet was the single most intimidating thing about living in Japan. I was so scared of squat toilets that I went out of my way to avoid using them during my 3 years living in Japan. I had great success for about a year and a half until an emergency situation arose leaving me with no other choice. Here is the story of the most terrifying toilet experience of my life (so far).

The incident:
The NOVA school in Mishima, Japan was located in an old building across from the train station. The men’s room had a urinal and a squat toilet. On work days I would either be sure to take the kids to the pool before leaving the house, or hold on until I returned home.

On one fateful day my stomach was unhappy with me, likely due to a previous evening of beer and greasy izakaya food. During my first two lessons I tried to ignore the warning signals and hope for the best. By the third lesson, my digestive system was making some very unpleasant noises and sweat was breaking out on my forehead. I started to realize that there was no way I was going to be able to hold out until the end of my shift; I was going to have to clear out some inventory in a hurry.

One of the interesting and charming things about Mishima is that it largely survived the bombings of World War 2 in tact, leaving an impressive collection of narrow streets and old buildings. I appreciated the character of the older buildings, but not their restroom facilities.

When considering my options, I realized that the building that was home to Mishima NOVA, as well as most nearby buildings were going to be lacking proper sitting toilets. My only viable option was the nearby Lawson convenience store, but I wasn’t confident that I could make it there and back in time for my next lesson. There was also the terrifying possibility that the one toilet available at Lawson’s would be in use. With the urgency increasing and time running out I only had one option left: I would need to make a deposit in the porcelain bank at the only branch available – the squat toilet.

I rushed into the stall, locked the door, and straddled the bowl, making sure I was facing in the right direction. I carefully lowered my pants and squatted down, doing my best to make sure that my pants stayed off the floor and out of the bowl. When I got into a full squat position, I started to realize that I was not very stable. Losing my balance and falling over in the middle of releasing the Kraken would be disasterous! I used my right hand to hold the water pipe for balance.

Now that I had my balance, I became aware that my tie was dangling dangerously into the line of fire. With my free left hand I wrapped my tie around my neck and tucked the loose end between two buttons on my shirt. Now that I was (mostly) balanced and not going to soil my tie, my attention turned to aiming.

For a first time squatter, aiming is not intuitive. Not being able to see exactly where my butt was pointing, I had to guess how things were lined up. This also led to an unpleasant thought: what if my pants got in the way? My nearest clean pair of pants would require a 6 minute train ride and 5 minute bike ride, so failure was simply not an option. While continuing to hold the pipe with my right hand for balance, I used my left hand to hold my pants as far forward as possible. If I had more time I would have taken my pants off completely and hung them over the top of the stall, but time was not on my side. Things were about to happen.

As I stayed there, squatting precariously, right hand gripping the pipe for balance, tie wrapped around my neck, left hand trying to keep my pants safe, my mind rushed through nightmare scenarios where everything went wrong: how would I possible explain to the staff my reason for leaving in the middle of a shift to rush home? What would they tell the students? How would I hide my shame on the train ride home? How long would my coworkers make fun of me? Just as my brain was reaching full panic mode, IT HAPPENED: bombs away, right on target. Pants, shirt, and tie were all safe and clean! I made it!! My mission was accomplished with no casualties! I returned to complete my workday in comfort with a sense of relief and accomplishment.

I have had some unpleasant experiences in bathrooms before, usually after too much spicy or greasy food, but my first Japanese squat toilet experinece holds a special place in my memory as the absolute most terrifying and least relaxing toilet experience of my life! I can’t imagine trying to use one while sick or drunk, and I feel bad for Japan’s aging population trying operate this horrible device with arthritis or bad knees.

The world is full of exciting and stressful experiences: using the toilet should not be either of these things. It should be relaxing and predictable, allowing a few minutes of peace and solitude. Using the toilet should NEVER be struggle for balance with your very dignity on the line!

Country of Japan, I implore you: as a favour to your aging population and legions of visiting foreigners, PLEASE rid your country of the menace of squat toilets once and for all! Make pooping relaxing again!

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October 11, 2006 – Married with Children

Working during my overtime day with a cold killed my voice, meaning I couldn’t teach today. Sorry NOVA!

I did my best to recover – lots of sleep, lots of tea and vitamin C drinks, and I binge watched Married With Children.

MWC was one of my favourite shows as a teenager: in addition to laughing at the continuous failures of Al Bundy, I had a huge crush on Kelly. The show is still funny now, although I found myself getting really annoyed by the excessive laugh track. My only other complaint was that they couldn’t get the rights to the song “Love and Marriage” to open the episode on the DVD release, so they simply dubbed in some generic music over the title cards which is pretty weak.


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