Posts Tagged life in Japan
Today a typhoon passed by Numazu. We weren’t directly in the path, but we did get some sideways rain. There isn’t an umbrella in the world big enough to keep you dry when it’s raining sideways.
Typhoons are also not friendly to laundry. Clothes dryers are not common in most parts of Japan; most people hang their clothes outside to dry after washing. In my company apartment, my roommates and I hang our clothes to dry on our apartment balcony. Since the balcony is covered, we never rush to bring in clothes when it starts raining. Unfortunately a covered balcony doesn’t help much when the wind picks up and switches the rain from vertical to horizontal.
Today’s typhoon ended up soaking all of the clothes we had out for drying, but at least nothing blew away like some of the less fortunate people in the neighbourhood. Trying to find your wet, muddy clothes on the street after a typhoon passes is no fun.
Remember friends – bring your clothes inside when the weather gets nasty!
In preparation for a move in inspection, my roommate Azeroth and I have been working hard to clean our apartment. One of the items on the inspection list is a check for mold under the bathtub.
The “bathroom” in Japan is different from what I was used to in Canada. Back home, “bathroom” was a room with a toilet, sink, and a bathtub or shower. In my apartment in Japan the toilet is in a room all on it’s own, which is very convenient for use when someone is having a shower. The bathroom itself is an enclosed room with a shower nozzle, a deep bathtub, and a drain on the floor.
To be truly Japanese, you need to wash yourself with the shower until you are completely clean, and then sit neck deep in extremely hot water. The bath water stays clean this way, and can be used by different people. My roommates and I have probably never used the bathtub for its intended purpose, opting instead for the convenience of the shower.
Since the bathroom is always hot and damp, it’s a great breeding ground for mold. Until we started our cleaning exercise, I had no idea that I could remove plastic panels from the side of the bathtub and get access underneath. When I did this, I discovered a black forest of thick mold everywhere. It looked like the entire underside of our tub had been taken over by the dark hair of Sadako from The Ring (Samara for those who have only seen the American remake).
After trying to remember if I had recently watched a haunted VHS tape, I headed across the street to the small supermarket in search of one of the most popular mold killers on the market: Kabi Killer (literally mold killer). I returned home, and sprayed about half of the bottle under the tub, periodically stopping to rinse with the shower nozzle. I’m not sure when the last time this was done, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been years ago. The whole experience was nasty.
English Teachers: when you get an instruction book on how to maintain your apartment in Japan, actually read it. Nobody wants to discover a dark mold cavern under the tub.
2016 Bonus Material: For an excellent read on maintaining your bathroom, check out this article on the excelled website “Surviving in Japan” http://www.survivingnjapan.com/2012/07/prevent-and-clean-mold-in-the-bathroom-japan.html
There are a few good stories coming up involving my friend and coworker Vivian from England. I met a lot of different people during my 3 years teaching in Japan, and Vivian was always one of my favourites due to her personality and attitude. Here’s a good example of what made her so cool:
Shortly after Vivian came to Japan, she learned that the local “English school and bar”, Speak E-Z, had salsa dancing classes one night a week. Vivian loved salsa dancing, and was really excited to go check out the classes. In the days leading up to her first class, she invited virtually all of the teachers in the area to come with her. Some said no, many said yes.
On the night of the first class, she got dressed up, and started trying to collect her dance team. One after the other, everyone cancelled. Some didn’t feel like it, some didn’t have anything to wear, and one small group decided to watch a movie instead.
Many people in this situation would have given up, taken off their salsa dancing clothes, and sat at home, quietly hating their friends. Vivian decided to go by herself instead.
She walked into Speak E-Z, introduced herself to everyone in the room, and then proceeded to have a lot of fun dancing and hanging out afterwards. She came home with a phone full of new contact numbers and three dates set up over the next few weeks!
I know that walking into a room full of strangers and introducing yourself is not easy for most people. But if you’re going to move away from friends and family and travel half way around the world, you should at least get out of the house and make some new experiences. Vivian had exactly the right idea, and she made the most out of her time in Japan.
In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I REALLY hate garbage day. Not just the regular pickup, but the big day where everything can be collected: plastic, glass, cans, old clothes, paper, and almost everything else that we are allowed to throw away.
Living with two other guys who rarely cook and who enjoy beer means lots of plastic and lots of cans. You can’t just drop stuff off, you have to sort everything by material, colour, and sometimes size. The volunteer garbage police supervise everything and don’t hesitate to let you know when you’re doing it wrong.
As stated in this previous post, we tried to send Palmer out as often as we could for garbage day. Even the strictest members of the volunteer garbage police are reluctant to tell the tall, muscular, bald Australian guy that he’s sorting his glass wrong.
I’m going to miss Palmer when he moves to Hokkaido because he’s a good guy. But I’ll also miss him because now Azeroth and I will suffer the wrath of the garbage police.
Today is my last day of the New Years Holidays. I spent the day relaxing and mentally preparing myself to go back to work.
Last month, I agreed to be Santa for an upcoming Yamaha English school Christmas party. After work today, I went to meet the organizer for Sunday’s Christmas party. Yamaha English school uses Japanese teachers and has a kids English program. The Penpal used to work there and still has some connections with her old coworkers.
My original idea about the party was that I was going to put on a Santa costume for about 20 kids and hand out presents. I learned that I was actually going to double as a children’s entertainer and then Santa twice in the same day. The first show was going to be 60 kids 5 years old and younger. The second show will be 30 kids aged 6 and up.
What have I gotten myself into??
There was a massive earthquake in Northern Japan today. Even though it was 400km north east of Numazu, my apartment building was still shaking and creaking.
Every time there is an earthquake I am reminded just how much I hate them.
Too hot to sleep. TOO HOT.
Japanese summer is THE WORST.
One of the biggest differences between living in Canada and living in Japan is the disposal of garbage and recycling. Canada is a large, underpopulated country with lots of space to bury garbage. Japan is a small, densely populated country that doesn’t have the luxury of extra space. Garbage disposal in Japan requires some serious planning and lots of rules.
In Canada, most cities have weekly trash and recycling collection at homes. Some businesses and apartment buildings hire waste disposal companies to manage their needs. Garbage day in a house usually consists of putting some bags outside and an unsorted bin of recyclable materials. As long as you get the garbage out on the right day, all is well.
Garbage day in Japan is nowhere near as simple. Getting rid of garbage or recycling in Japan is a stressful, confusing experience. There is a never-ending amount of classifying, sorting, and then dealing with the neighbourhood garbage police.
Sorting, so much sorting
To prepare for garbage day in Japan, all garbage needs to be sorted into three main categories: burnable, non-burnable, and recycling. Burnable trash usually includes organic material (kitchen waste, etc) and waste paper. Non-burnable is anything that is not burnable or recyclable. Recycling includes anything with the recycling mark on it. There are some different local rules about what fits in each category, and the collection days might be different for all three. Schedules are usually only provided in Japanese, which is just one more great reason for English teachers to learn the local language.
Fear the garbage police
Since garbage sorting needs to be done correctly, some areas make use of the garbage police. This is my unofficial term for the volunteers who oversee garbage collection day, usually for an apartment or area with a central pickup location. Garbage police are volunteers, and they are typically the most cranky senior citizens that can be found in the area. I think they actually enjoy telling people they are doing something wrong.
The biggest cause for error on garbage day is recycling. Unlike most places in Canada where you can throw all of your recycling in one bin and forget about it, in Japan you need to sort everything by type (paper, plastic, metal), and then by colour. This leads to a large assortment of different boxes and bins outside the apartment building.
It’s easy to earn the wrath of the garbage police. Putting a clear glass bottle in the box for brown glass bottles? Wrath. Throwing out a bundle of newspapers that aren’t tied up with twine? Wrath. Throwing out plastic bottles that aren’t clean enough to use again or still have labels on them? Wrath and more wrath. With the wrath comes an element of public shaming as your neighbours can all see how poorly you sort your recycling.
Survival techniques for English teachers
My roommates and I came up with two strategies to make garbage day easier. The first option was to use the bins at the 7-11 across from our apartment as much as possible. Since most of our trash is packaging of food or drinks that we bought at 7-11, we did not feel very guilty about this.
Throwing away home garbage at convenience stores must be a fairly common practice, since most stores have a sign asking people not to dispose of their family garbage in the convenience store bins. Many English teachers “conveniently” miss this sign if it is displayed in Japanese only, but will obey English signs. The thought is that if the store made the effort get an English “don’t dump your family garbage here” sign, then the teachers should make the effort to dispose of their garbage properly (or find another convenience store).
Our other strategy was to send out Palmer with the garbage. My roommate Palmer is a 192cm (6 foot 3) bald Australian with big muscles who doesn’t like to wear shirts with sleeves. Whenever we had a difficult day with some questionable trash, Palmer would take it out, scowling and flexing at anyone who gave him a second look. The garbage police never said a word.
This strategy only works if you are large and can look intimidating. My other roommate Azeroth and I both look about as threatening as tax accountants, so we could not have pulled it off.
The best advice for people living in Japan is to learn the local rules and plan ahead for garbage day. Putting forth a good effort on garbage day will make a good impression on your neighbours, and will reduce the stress of last minute sorting or getting chewed out by the garbage police.
For a much better written article about garbage disposal in Japan with lots of pictures, check out “Getting Down and Dirty with Japan’s Garbage” by Verity Lane.
When people think about moving to another country, they usually get excited about the big things – exploring, learning the language, trying the food. When you arrive, you realize that there are other things that need attention as well. Not many people consider small everyday tasks that they will be experiencing, like doing laundry.
What I was used to:
In Canada I either lived with my parents or in an apartment. My parents, like most Canadians, own a washer and dryer. Most washing is done with warm or hot water, and clothes are either hung up to dry or put into the dryer. Due to the long cold winters, it’s not common to hang up clothes outside for large parts of the year. An indoor drying rack is a must have.
All of the apartment buildings I lived in had laundry rooms with coin operated machines. Most apartment laundry rooms close at a certain hour to avoid noise for nearby apartments. This, and the fact that you were using the same machines as everyone else in the building, meant some planning ahead was necessary.
Washing clothes in Japan:
Both of the places I lived in Japan had free laundry machines, however they only used cold water for washing. Cold water works fine for most items of clothing, but I found that tough stains don’t go away as easily. For the first time ever, I had stains on the collars of my work shirts that wouldn’t go away. This required occasional visits to a dry cleaner.
Finding a good dry cleaner is important. When I lived in Kawasaki, there was a cleaner between Hello House and Noborito station that all of the English teachers used. The staff was very polite despite the general lack of Japanese language skills of the teaching community. They did a fantastic job – the crease they put on my pants was so sharp I probably could have cut bread with it. They also kept a list of the local teachers’ names in English and katakana (Japanese script for foreign words) to help with pronunciation. I wish I had remembered the name of the cleaner so I could give them some free advertising!
Don’t forget drying:
Drying clothes is almost always done by hanging them up outside. One of the most useful things a person can own is what I like to call a clothes octopus. It is a plastic hanger that clips on to your clothesline and has a number of small vertically hanging clips on the bottom. They are very useful for hang drying anything that you can’t put on a hanger.
I was not used to hanging my clothes to dry, so it felt a bit strange displaying all of my laundry on the balcony for everybody to see. It’s not like I had anything particularly embarrassing, it was just unusual to display my wardrobe to the public. However, the more time I spent in Japan, the less self conscious I felt about it.
Folding it up:
If you are in another country for a short time, you remember the big exciting things that you get to see and do. Spending a longer time in another country provides a great opportunity to appreciate some of the mundane, everyday things as well. I would have never imagined when I moved to Japan that I would end up being able to write 500 words about washing my clothes, or that someone might actually want to read it! However, a quick Google search shows that this is a common concern. Check out some of these other (likely better) articles on the subject: