Category Archives: Japan

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Tokyo from a Gaijin’s Eye –

Standard

Japan has a significantly high and ever increasing number of expats with over 2.2 million long term and permanent foreign residents.
With a dwindling local population and increased demand of highly skilled talent, the expat traffic is set to rise even more drastically.
Being the heart of the nation and host to the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is already positioning itself to be Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.
But the key question is, how do foreigners feel about living in Tokyo?
In this blog, I am trying to reflect the sentiments of the expat community in Tokyo.

What do expats love about Tokyo the most?

There are way too many things to be mentioned, so I picked up my favorite ones below.

Cleanliness: Most of the developed world is generally very clean, but Japan takes cleanliness to a completely new high.
The dedication and passion of Japanese people for clean and tidy surroundings is profoundly infectious.
Where else in the world will the staff come and pick up your garbage in the middle of a sumo game or while watching festivals at local streets?!

Safety: As a foreigner, one’s biggest concern abroad is one’s safety and in this area too, Japan scores very high over many countries.
Crime rate is almost nil and it is highly unlikely to hear from an expat that he/ she was robbed, discriminated or harassed.

Humility: Yes the Japanese have sometimes difficulty in English communication but that does not hinder them from being the super kind humans and good Samaritans.
Each expat will narrate to you hundreds of stories – from extremely friendly treatment at shops and restaurants to locals going out of the way in helping strangers.
“Gaijin sama” – that’s the polite word Japanese people use for a foreigner.
And to me the word “sama”, meaning ‘our dearest guest’, is quite literally a everyday humbling experience.

Customer service: Many expats swear by it and are always in awe of the magnificent customer service experience.
Whether it is a fancy cafe or a salon or even government offices, attention to detail and complete customer orientation in almost every business is totally unrivaled and is simply mind boggling.
Also, what makes the Japanese hospitality very unique is that nobody ever expects or gives a tip, even for extremely high quality of service.

What do expats do for socializing?

As a foreigner, a large share of socializing opportunities come from the after work team get-togethers Nomikai.
These help both the locals and foreigners get personal and understand each other better.
Also, there are plenty of ways for socializing with other expats.
Networking sites, forums and meet up groups in several areas of Tokyo allow Gaijins to share their Japanese experiences and learn from each other.
I am part of a few of these forums and have become friends with people of several nationalities.

Recreation and entertainment

Tokyo is always super busy and bustling with action.
There are all kinds of events happening all year round – seasonal public events, grand traditional festivals, global food festivals, carnivals, concerts, shopping sale and sports events that can keep expats busy all the time.
If you have locals in your group, there are the Izakaya (restaurants) dinners followed by crazy Karaoke sessions.
If you like gaming, there are the maddeningly loud pachinko gaming centers which will take you to a different world.

The Not so pleasant things

This list is not a long one.

One thing that foreigners struggle the most to deal with in Japan is cultural differences.
These differences lead to miscommunication and trust gap at the work place.
The polite and humble Japanese style is contrastingly different from the straight-to-the-point Western business style.

More English usage would be nice, especially in written form.
With complex kanjis to decipher, most Gaijins have to resort to translation of literally everything they put their eyes on!
On a different note, many translations end up being completely irrelevant to the subject and also extremely hilarious.

Final word

My friend asked me recently about my overall impression of living in Tokyo.
My answer to her was – ‘My love for it is growing deeper each day’.
This is probably what many foreigners feel too and almost certainly they never would have imagined this before arriving to Japan.
I think I am very blessed to experience it all.
My heart goes Arigato Gozaimasu to the great times I have had here and I hope to enjoy this for a long time to come.
Sigh!

Advertisements

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- My quick getaway to Misaki/Jougashima! –

Standard

I’ve only lived in Tokyo for 2 months, but even I know that we all sometimes need to get away from the hectic hustle of the Tokyo lifestyle.
One warm and sunny afternoon, we (my friends and I) spontaneously decided that we wanted to escape Tokyo for a day, and set out on a day trip to Misaki and Jougashima in Miura peninsula.

The reason we chose Misaki/Jougashima was because it is not overpopulated with tourists, and is also not too far or expensive to make this day trip.
There is actually a great value day trip package called the “Keikyu Misaki Maguro Ticket”.
It includes a round-trip from Shinagawa station to Misaki-guchi station (only on the Keikyu local line), unlimited use of local buses in the Misaki/Jougashima area, a free “Maguro lunch” from a selection of 30 restaurants, and 1 of 8 leisure activities (onsen admission, aquarium ticket, bicycle rental for the day, “maguro souvenir ”, glass-making souvenir, short ferry cruise ), all for just over 3000yen.

We had a relatively slow start to the day and ended up leaving Shinagawa station around noon, and arrived at Misaki Port (a short bus ride from Misaki-guchi station) around 13:30, where we ate our “Maguro lunch”, which was delicious!
After lunch, we walked around the town and immersed ourselves in the atmosphere of a traditional fishing port (which is well-known for having a big tuna market, which we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to see).

We then headed for Jougashima (which can be accessed by a short bus trip or ferry ride), where we had planned to do a short hike along the coast (Yama-michi course).
However, this trail was closed off, so instead we walked along the rocky shoreline of the coast.
To our delight, this shoreline had very interesting rock formations all along it, which resembled “waves of rock”.

With the final destination of the walk being Jougashima Park, we stopped off at a rock formation called “Umanose Domon”, but there were also many small inlets and caves along this walk.
We then made our way to Jougashima Park, where we found some very interesting looking “slanted trees”.
As the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to the final destination, which was an onsen at Hotel Keikyu Aburatsubo-kan Shio-sou (bus fare there, and onsen admission was included in the Misaki Maguro Ticket).
All in all, it was a very beautiful and relaxing day , and very inexpensive!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Capturing the surreal –

Standard

As I mentioned in my introduction for English Avenue, one of my hobbies is photography.
As I got more into photography different aspects began to appeal to me more than others.
One particular aspect that I’ve become obsessed with is geometry in photography – either in the form of lines or symmetrical patterns.

Life’s Treadmill.

However, geometric photos alone can be a little boring – they need a human element to bring the photos to life and to give the photos a sense of scale.
Often just a lone figure is great but, occasionally, more than one depending on the scene.
Also, the combination of geometry and the human element give the photo a kind of surreal look – hence the title of this blog – Capturing the surreal.

The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Around this time, one of my English students introduced me to the work of Giorgio De Chirico – an Italian artist whose art influenced the ‘Surrealists’ – a cultural movement that began in the 1920s.
I found his artwork to be both inspirational and beautiful and I wanted to try and create real life photos that were similar to some of his artwork.

The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street by Giorgio de Chirico.

I began searching Tokyo and the surrounding area for forms of geometry I could incorporate into my photography.
I’d often spend 30 mins to an hour before sleeping doing google searches or searching Pinterest for locations I could use.
I found some amazing locations – not only in Japan but around the world and started making lists of places to visit.
As I got more into geometric photography I also started to notice patterns and lines in my everyday environment that I hadn’t noticed before.

Stepping out of the shadows.

The one downside to this type of photography was the time I would sometimes have to wait for the right person to step into the frame.
Sometimes I’d go to a location and no one would be there to step into the frame, which was pretty frustrating.
Another aspect that I was keen to combine was shadows.
This provided another problem as it meant I was dependent on the right weather as well as the right time of day for the location to be in the light and not the shade.
However I did learn that a few locations would work just as well in the rain or just after the rain.
A further problem was being able to get the right vantage point (height) so that I could show the sense of scale – a problem I’m still dealing with regarding some locations.

Rain check

‘Capturing the surreal’ is an ongoing project for me and I’m really looking forward to being able to add some locations I’ve found further a field in Japan and abroad.

And, as a final note, if you have any geometric location recommendations please let me know.
I can be found on these links:

https://www.instagram.com/laurence__bouchard/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/drzzz/
https://www.facebook.com/laurencebouchard2015

*Below are a few more images:

Some lines have to be crossed.

Out on the tiles.

From a jack to a king.

Detour.

Life through bars.

Untitled.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Japan Should Change Its Traveling Ways –

Standard

If you’re coming from another country, particularly the U.S., Japan is a relatively easy country to navigate.
Best of all, with the JR Rail Pass, it can be very affordable, which includes use of the bullet trains (shinkansen).
You can go wherever you want in Japan for just a few hundred dollars.

If you live in Japan, however, it’s another story.
Travel within Japan can be prohibitively expensive, even among foreign residents.
Of course, a big reason so many foreigners move to Japan is to explore it, so the irony of the situation should not be lost on anyone.

Such is the case with me.
I came to Japan for a number of reasons, one of which is to explore the country and to travel within it.
Despite being a resident of upwards of six years, I haven’t traveled anywhere beyond Osaka.
It’s just too expensive, and with not enough return on the investment, it’s difficult to justify the expense.

Visiting the likes of Hiroshima and Kyushu will likely have to wait until I return to Japan as a visitor from the U.S.
I can buy the JR Rail Pass then and go wherever I please.
It will sure be convenient, and I can finally explore Japan in the way I couldn’t when I actually lived here.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?
That’s why Japan should offer the same pass for its foreign residents who contribute their labor and tax money to the country.
We invest more of our time and money than any tourist.
We should enjoy the same benefits.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Bigotry in Japan? –

Standard
News reports about possible racist jeering at sumo wrestler Terunofuji, who hails from Mongolia, has spread quickly among many outlets in Japan.
The sumo wrestler performed in a way that some feel isn’t quite in line with the methods of a true grand champion, even if his tactics are technically allowable.
Still, the incident left a bad taste in the audience’s mouths, and some alleged racist heckling ensued.
The crowd reportedly jeered at him, “Go back to Mongolia!” after he secured a victory.
I’m not particularly interested in sumo wrestling as a sport, but the incident raises questions about the levels of bigotry in Japan.
How much does it exist, and against whom is it directed?
A lot has been written over the years about prejudice in Japan against Japanese-born Koreans.
This is a recurring problem with which Japan has not successfully dealt.
Other possible issues remain, such as bigotry against other minority groups and ethnicities.
I remember seeing a strange video on the Internet several years ago.
It was filmed in Japan, and it showed people protesting Americans.
One man had a megaphone and shouted, “White pig go home!” at some white people.
It was a shocking video, to say the least.
I don’t know to what extent this might represent people’s feelings in Japan.
Like many places, Japan must deal with this issue.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but this kind of prejudice does seem to exist, as it does everywhere.
I hope a day will come when these problems never have to be addressed again.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Christmas in Japan –

Standard

Japan, of course, is not a Christian country.
But Japan doesn’t let that fact stop it from celebrating Christmas.
Like Halloween, Christmas is a holiday that has been imported to Japan, even if the history of the holiday isn’t all that well known among the revelers.
Even in America, Halloween’s roots are pretty much forgotten these days, but Christmas is a completely different story.
It is, by far, the most important holiday of the year.

Families travel great distances to get together.
A lot of money is spent on buying and exchanging gifts. (Other than birthdays, America doesn’t have the same tradition of gift-giving that Japan does.)
Even more money is spent on buying Christmas decorations and Christmas trees.
Most families go all out to make Christmas a special holiday.

That’s why it’s so interesting to see the way Christmas is celebrated in Japan.
Some of the trappings are evident (Christmas lights, Christmas trees, etc.), but missing is the strong familial (and even religious) connotations.
Naturally, not every family who celebrates Christmas in the U.S. is deeply religious, but I think there’s a level of seriousness and importance missing.
Still, it’s a fascinating thing to see.
I guess I shouldn’t even bring up the KFC connection, which still baffles me.

In many ways, Christmas and New Year’s are the exact opposite of each in the two countries.
In America, New Year’s is strictly a party.
There is no other significance attached to it whatsoever.
Christmas (and to a lesser extent Thanksgiving) take care of all that for us.
But, in Japan, New Year’s is as serious as holidays get.
It truly is the Japanese Christmas in that way.
All that’s missing are the trees and decorations!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- How to find good food in Japan –

Standard

One thing I noticed immediately after coming to Japan was that most Japanese food restaurants specialized in a particular style of food.
A ramen restaurant served only ramen (and sometimes “gyoza,” a popular side dish), an udon house served only variants of udon, a sushi bar
served only sushi (unless you go to “kaitenzushi,” which is conveyor sushi restaurant), and tonkatsu (Japanese deep fried pork cutlet, similar to schnitzel) place only had deep fried meat.

This was kind of strange to me.
In Vancouver (as of 2008 when I left*), most Japanese restaurants had pretty much all kinds of Japanese food.
If you walked into a Japanese restaurant, you could always find sushi on the menu.
And it wasn’t weird to go into a Japanese restaurant with a picture of sushi on the street sign and finding “katsudon” (tonkatsu on rice with onion and eggs) on the menu.
In fact, one of the more popular all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants also had Korean and Chinese food on the menu.

At the time, it wasn’t really clear to me why the restaurants here didn’t bother trying to appeal to a wider customer base.
But then I learned that food in general is one of the most popular topic with the general public, and that “good food” is highly sought-after.
So for a restaurant to become and stay popular, it paid off to advertise itself as a specialist rather than jack-of-all-trades kind of restaurants.

So how do you know if a restaurant’s actually good rather than just trending at the moment after being featured in a variety show on TV?
There’s a website: Tabelog (http://tabelog.com/en/).

It’s the most popular restaurant guide in Japan, and it aggregates user reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
The site used be in Japanese only, and using it meant tabbing between Google to search for the kanjis I needed so I could copy-and-paste them in the search field.
And then switching tabs again so Google Translate could make sense of the reviews for me.

The good news is that the site is now also (partly) in English, and is fairly foreigner-friendly.
One oddity about the English version though, is that you can only search for restaurants by location (but not the name of the restaurant). I have no idea why the search function is missing such a basic feature, but the site’s still useful for tourists and for those interested in exploring new restaurants.

If you know the name of the area you’ll be close to (e.g. Shibuya), type that in the “Location” field at the top right corner on the main page.
If you know that you’ll be close to a major station, click that from the names list that appears (e.g. Shibuya Station).
I found that I tend to get better results that way.
You’ll now see a list of the restaurants in the area with reviews, which can be sorted according to “Standard,” “Overall ranking,” or “Reviews.”
I don’t really know which factors “Standard” takes into account, but after a quick search of restaurants near my home station, I can say I agree with the ratings for the most part (with either “Overall ranking” or “Reviews”).
Just a quick note–if a restaurant has reasonable number of reviews (say, 50-100) and the average of the scores is above 3.4 stars, then you can be assured of above-average quality.

The user reviews are displayed in their original language (Japanese).
If you want to know what people wrote about the restaurant you’re thinking of visiting, you still have to put your faith in the veritable gateway to knowledge that is Google Translate.

That’s about it for this post.
So get out there, and find something new restaurants!
If you find a good one, be sure to let others know in the comments section.
Happy eating!

*It’s different in Vancouver now, and the idea of specialized restaurants took off in popularity a few years ago.
When I went back last year, there were popular sushi bars and ramen houses that served only dishes they were experts at cooking.