Posts Tagged living in Japan

June 2006 – What’s the Japanese word for “pink eye”

Not sure the exact date this happened, but I’m pretty sure it was mid 2006.

Due to the lifestyle of an English teacher, I’m used to having red eyes that are sensitive to light. However in late June my eyes started bothering me in a way that I couldn’t attribute to hangovers. Regular eye drops didn’t seem to help, and I eventually started to realize that I had pink eye aka conjunctivitis.

I haven’t had pink eye since I was a kid. At the time, almost all of the kids I knew had it, and I remember fighting my parents over the use of painful eye drops to fix the problem. Now, as an adult, I had to seek out the painful eye drops and buy them in a language that I was still learning.

I used my English / Japanese dictionary to look up the word for conjunctivitis, and then confirmed with the Japanese staff at work that I had the right word. When it comes to taking medicine, it’s very important to make sure you get the translation right! The staff, at a safe distance, confirmed that the word I needed was 結膜炎, which is read as ketsumakuen.

After work I rode my bike to Seiyu and started looking around the pharmacy section. I found a section with eye drops and contact lens solution, and then started slowly scanning the packages for the the characters 結膜炎. This is not an easy process, especially with irritated eyes. After a few minutes of looking I decided to suck it up and ask for assistance.

There was a clerk nearby, so I told him in Japanese something along the lines of “excuse me, I have pink eye. I would like to buy medicine.” He showed me that there were three different products not far from where I had been looking. I asked him which one was the best, and he pointed out one of them as being popular because it was the easiest to use. I thanked him, made my purchase, and headed home.

Inside the box were a whole row of small disposable plastic vials, each containing one dose of medicine. I was happy that I didn’t have to try to read the dosage instructions in Japanese, but I did question the wisdom of disposable packaging in a country where it is notoriously hard to dispose of garbage. The eye drops stung like crazy, but my pink eye was gone within a few days.

Taking care of your health in a country where you don’t speak the language can be scary. There are a few good English language help lines for gaijins, but it never hurts to have some local contacts to ask too. Stay healthy friends!

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Train legs

For those who are new to this blog, I taught English in Japan from 2003 – 2006. One of the best parts about living in Japan was getting around by train; Japan’s train system is known around the world for being reliable, punctual, and inexpensive.

In my first year as an English teacher, my daily commute was 27 minutes each way between Noborito and Kawasaki, in addition to more trips around Tokyo and Yokohama than I can count. My second year commute was a modest 6 minutes between Numazu to Mishima. Despite not needing to commute in my third year, I still logged a lot of distance on the rails.

After being in Japan for a few months, teachers start to develop what we referred to as “train legs” – the ability to balance while standing on a moving train. This is a skill that develops over time, and it’s even more impressive considering the destabilizing effect of the average English teacher’s alcohol consumption.

When I was on the train with other teachers, we would occasionally compete to see who could stand up without any support the longest. Yes, we did get some strange looks from the Japanese people in the same train car, but we were lost in the friendly competition and didn’t care.

I have been back in Canada for 10 years now. Most of my trips to and from work are on the far less reliable and punctual Winnipeg Transit, with the bus riding over Winnipeg’s notorious potholes. Thanks to my train legs, I am usually able to walk from one end of a moving bus to the other with minimal support. It’s not the world’s most useful skill, but I still feel a sense of accomplishment every time.

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September 24, 2005 – Second Japanniversary

Today marks my second Japanniversary. I marked the occasion by teaching English to some children who attempted (unsucessfully) to remove my tie while I was still wearing it. Good times!

(2015 Update) For those late to my blog, check out the my arrival in Japan in 2003 here


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March 2, 2005 – Lazy


(2015 Update) Living in Japan for 3 years was the biggest adventure of my life. However, since I was working and not just sightseeing for 3 years, there were some days where I just didn’t do much of anything. Having a day off doing laundry and playing video games while living on the other side of the planet is still pretty damn cool.

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NOVA Apartments

My second home in Japan was an apartment building called “Ooka City Plaza” in Numazu. Coming from the dormitory style gaijin house known as Hello House East, it was a big change. I will write more about the details of Ooka City Plaza in a future post.

Getting an apartment in Japan can be difficult if you are not Japanese. There are lots of up front fees, language barriers with contracts, and many reports of real estate agents not wanting to rent to foreigners. In order to keep the flow of conversational English teachers coming to the country, NOVA rented apartments all over the country for the use of their employees. NOVA would then place employees in their apartments, and deduct rent from the monthly salary payment. The rental charge was higher than what you would pay for your own apartment, but still reasonable considering the apartment was ready to live in.

Living in a NOVA apartment was a convenient option for new teachers. The apartments were fully furnished and stocked with kitchen supplies. All new residents got their own futon and pad, and a very useful guide for living in a Japanese apartment. The guide was written in English with illustrations, and covered everything from regular maintenance to garbage disposal rules to getting along with your neighbours.

Most of the apartments had 3 bedrooms and and one bathroom. NOVA made money if the apartment was filled to capacity, so they always tried their best to keep all of the rooms full. The apartments themselves were small by most foreign standards, but decent enough for Japan.

Other than finances and convenience, the other main advantage of NOVA apartments was that you would be living with other English teachers. This provided a built in support network of people who knew the area, and also understood the challenges of living far away from home. NOVA would often rent several apartments in the same building, creating small communities of teachers in an area. As long as everyone was getting along it was a good way to counter the effects of homesickness.

I have a lot of good memories from my time in my NOVA apartment. Other than some disagreements with roommates (which could happen anywhere), it was a good place to live while I was teaching in Japan.

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March 24, 2004 – 6 months in Japan

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Holy crap, I have lived in Japan for 6 months! I celebrated this milestone by completely forgetting about it. Time is going by very quickly.

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