My first week living in Japan

It's half past 10pm on Tuesday the 22nd of December, and this time last week I was out cold on my newly-made futon bed, on my own in a cold and unfamiliar apartment, exhausted from my long journey to Japan.

Here's a summary of my first week living in Japan.

Tuesday - Arrival

I wrote a blog post as 'Mr Russell' for my journey to Japan, which you might already have read. It was a long journey from early Monday morning when I left my brother's in Hertford, to arriving in Japan on Tuesday afternoon local time. I had no internet that entire time, and when I landed in Tokyo's Narita Airport (pretty far from Tokyo's city centre) I had time to make a payphone call to OES (Ota English School) telling them I'd landed before I had to get on a coach for a 3-hour trip to Ota.

I arrived at Ota Station on Tuesday evening, with my backpack and two big luggage bags, and because I was half an hour early and had no means to contact anyone, I dragged my bags to a nearby mini-mart type shop and looked for some food. Turns out I was actually 2 minutes from OES's central office, though I obviously had no idea at the time. Eventually one of the native English speaking staff (can't actually remember who it was, thinking back now) arrived to walk me to the office.

After a few introductions and a chance to sit and chill, I was whisked off to Oizumi and my apartment. It was cold and dark by then, and the apartment seemed a bit dingy and dirty, but I was exhausted so after a very friendly Japanese OES member helped me make my new futon bed, I flaked out until Wednesday morning.

Wednesday - Exploring Oizumi and Ota

I woke early Wednesday morning and made myself more familiar with my apartment. There was a lot I wasn't sure about still - the Japanese garbage separation protocols, my washing machine, the hob, what supplies I had and what I needed to find - but it was nicer in daylight and I spent a while unpacking and made myself a cup of tea and had a hobnob, which naturally made everything a bit better.

I'd had my local 'corner shop' pointed out to me as we approached the night before, so I headed over there to scope it out, and picked up a few things I recognised like milk, eggs, bread, and croissants.

Then after Skyping my mum and sister, I planned a journey to Aeon Mall on Ota on the trains. Handily, once you've planned a journey with the Google Maps app on your phone, you can leave the route loaded and it'll track you on GPS even if you don't have internet once you've left your home. I spent a lot of time on the Japanese public transport system in April, so it wasn't that hard to get to the mall. I had a double cheeseburger at Japanese McDonald's (マクドナルド - 'Makudonarudo'), and had a poke around at the cinema (Star Wars would be coming out soon...!).

Knowing 'katakana' (one of the two Japanese scripts, the one used for emphasis or for foreign loan-words) is dead helpful in Japan and lets you figure out most of the stuff you see. Lots of stuff is labelled in approximate-English, using their writing system.

Thursday and Friday - Driving Lesson and Observations

After my day off on Wednesday, I had driving lessons and some lesson observations to do on Thursday and Friday.

I woke up early again on Thursday so after some Weetabix and a cup of tea to remind me I'm English, I headed out for a wander around Oizumi. I'd seen a few things of interest and Google Maps showed some more, so I plotted a route around Oizumi's industrial centre. There were supermarkets, big second-hand shops selling consoles and computer parts, restaurants, dingy parks (Winter's not really the season to show them off I guess), and lots of residential areas. It was pretty cold and I headed back with my arms full of a cheap computer case and second-hand monitor so I could try putting my computer together when I got time.

When I got back Joey was already waiting to take me out driving, so I dumped my stuff and we went out. Driving in Japan is really straightforward. They drive on the left like we do, and the cars are all automatic. The main thing to learn is how to use the crossings they have instead of roundabouts, but it's dead simple. I've been assigned a car by OES which is really handy as you can imagine! It's only 600cc and kinda looks and drives like a golf cart, but I'm not complaining!

So far I'd been eating snacky-type food from the 7-11s and McDonald's, so I went to a ramen cafe (ranem is a favourite food in Japan) and ordered this meal:

It was very tasty and I ate it all. I haven't been back yet but there are loads of ramen cafes around to try. I still haven't figured out what all the things are at the supermarket so I don't have enough supplies to make myself interesting meals at home, but I did make a cheaty stir-fry with real chicken and a ready-made pack of mixed veg and sauce, and a cute microwaveable rice portion (which works really well actually).

Saturday - Star Wars and Izakaya

Now I missed Star Wars in the UK which came out on Thursday, and I missed the first showing in Japan (which was Friday at 6:30pm across the country) because I was working, but the second showing was scheduled for 10am on Saturday, so I shot over to Aeon Mall in the morning hoping there'd be tickets left. I wasn't very optimistic, and I didn't know if I'd be able to figure out which times were English-language screenings (Japan shows both dubbed and subbed for lots of films). First hiccup: I arrived at the mall at twenty to 10 but it was closed. The mall didn't open until 10 and that's when Star Wars was supposed to be shown!

At 10 the doors opened and I hurried in to the cinema. There weren't many people around, a small group of Japanese shoppers waiting at the entrance, and when I got to the cinema it was easy to get to the cashier and ask, in my rudimentary Japanese, about tickets. Luck was on my side - the 10am showing had tickets to spare and was in English. With little fanfare, I was in and sat in my seat!

Even sitting by myself it was great fun seeing another new Star Wars film. My family's kind of nuts over Star Wars. We watched the prequel trilogy together, we've made silly fanfilms, we all went to Tunisia to see the filming locations. Missing out on this one with my family was sad, but seeing it and knowing they had just seen it themselves made me feel a bit more connected to them.

On Saturday night a bunch of OES employees were going out to a local 'izakaya' restaurant/bar as an end-of-year celebration thing. I tagged along and it was good fun. We sat at a table that was sunk into the floor, so you sat on the floor but your legs still had room under the table. We ate a small selection of finger food and drank and chatted.

Sunday - Computer Building

Even though Ota's a reasonably small town, and Oizumi's even smaller, there seem to be a lot of stores for things like computer parts, old and new. I brought my computer to Japan in pieces, and didn't bring a case or a monitor. I figured the motherboard wouldn't survive the journey, but that's the oldest part of my computer anyway so I was theoretically happy to replace that, but I didn't know if I'd be able to figure out how to get one, or how much it would cost.

At first it had seemed like my computer pieces didn't survive; I hooked them all up and the computer kept turning itself off after a minute. It was as if it was overheating but everything seemed to be connected properly so I thought something must have been fried in transit. I went to 'PC Depot' and picked up a few bits and pieces, and set about tinkering. The only thing that had gone wrong was that the fan had come loose from the processor, which I didn't realise would overheat so quickly. Connecting that up properly solved the problem, and with my new monitor I was set up again!

My 'tatami room' is now my fully-fledged computer/study room where I sit and relax at home. I'm feeling pretty settled and happy :)

Monday and Tuesday - Teaching

That just leaves the last two days. I've been observing some more lessons, including kindergarten which is an experience! Teaching in this context is quite a lot different from the teaching I did in the UK. Having 30 kids all day every day and being the Big Boss, versus having all sorts of different clients in short sessions and having less of an authoritarian role, is a big change.

Today I taught a few lessons, covering for one of the other OES teachers who's gone back to the UK for Christmas. I think once I get into the swing of it it's going to be pretty straightforward and a good fun way to spend a year. There should be lots of opportunity for me to explore Japan - its language, culture and food. But I still miss everyone in the UK!

It's now 1am on Wednesday morning and I'm teaching from 3pm to 9pm tomorrow (then I might sneak in another viewing of Star Wars...). I'm working on Christmas morning, but then I shall be Skyping my family and seeing what sort of Christmas dinner I can put together!

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