Food · shopping

Souvenirs From Japan

Completely unbeknownst to each other – several of my pals have booked trips to Japan in exactly the same time frame as each other.

As such, I’ve been asked for recommendations of essential omiyage – which reminded me of this draft I’ve had on my back burner ever since I lived in Japan. (But seemed a bit pointless to post at the time with the borders being closed…)

Here are some of my suggestions for mostly inexpensive items you can bring back from Japan, and where I recommend you pick them up.

Japanese Supermarkets

Snacks make the best kind of souvenirs in my opinion – but of course if bought from a speciality shop, expect to pay a premium. However, there likely be a supermarket within walking distance from where you are staying (especially in the cities) and most of them are open 24 hours a day, so be sure to stop by on your way back from a day of sightseeing.

I love visiting the supermarket in whichever country I am visiting as you get a feel for what locals are buying, but it also is a good chance to pick up some snacks to bring home.

For savoury, you can’t go wrong with a good ol’ curry sauce for katsu curry (Wagamama could never…), furikake rice seasoning, senbei rice crackers – but my personal recommendation is to bring home a few packets of mentaiko sauce for spaghetti (above) – so, SO good!

Chocolate, cookies and the like are much cheaper at the supermarket than in souvenir shops. Yes, you can usually pick up a range of Japan’s infamous KitKats for a fraction of the price. There have been over 200 variants released over the past 20 years so you’re bound to find some unique flavours not found in your country.
If you’re not sure what to get then green tea Kit Kats are a staple and people back home are always delighted by the bright green colour.

Depending on the time of year, you may also find some speciality snacks in relation to upcoming events. For example, for Hinamatsuri (Girls Day) you’ll often find hina-arare – sweet little rice crackers not unlike ‘Rainbow Drops’ in the UK.

Extra points of this is local. I lived in Shizuoka prefecture which is where most of the green tea sold in Japan is from, and there were several speciality tea shops in Hamamatsu. However, you can pick up a few boxes of good quality Japanese green tea from the supermarket. I especially recommend hojicha (roasted green tea) which has a beautiful nutty taste and is my favourite beverage to pair with traditional Japanese sweets.

¥100 Stores

A right of passage to any tourist to Japan is a trip to the 100円ショップ / Hyaku En Shop or 百均, Hyakkin selling items for about £1GBP / $1USD. The most popular brands are Daiso and Seria. I recommend these for:

Japanese ‘tat’.
I don’t mean this as disrespectful as it sounds, but it sells the usual Japanese stuff that people may expect – fans, charms, chopsticks. They also sell cute Japanese tablewear which look way more expensive than they are. (Never met a female gaijin who doesn’t have at least one sakura plate from Daiso…)

Character homeware goods.
Many ¥100 stores sell character homewear goods (mostly Sanrio and Disney): from lunchboxes and soap to cutlery and sandwich bags.

You’ll quickly discover that Japanese public bathrooms more often than not do not have a means of drying your hands. As such, most people carry and personal towel on them. These can be weirdly pricey in other stores, but just pick yourself a cheapy one up from Daiso.

Washi tape.
There are so many varieties for the bullet journaller in your life. (The rest of the stationary is a bit crappy though.)

Malls/Department Stores/Homegoods Stores

If you’re in Tokyo I love the iconic Shibuya 109, although it does mostly specialise in fashion.
There are also several branches of the PARCO department store around Japan.
AEON is a really popular mall chain in Japan.
For stores which sell a little bit of everything, my favourites are Tokyu Hands, Loft and Muji. Don Quijote is also really popular, but for me it’s a sensory overload!

Here are a few items I have brought back over the years:

Bath salts.
Bubble bath isn’t really a thing in Japan, and if you know the recipient enjoys baths then bath salts make lovely, inexpensive and lightweight souvenirs.

Face masks.
Sheet masks are popular now in the west too, but you can definitely find more interesting themed ones in Japan.

Self-warming eye masks.
I brought a stockpile of these with me when I moved back to the UK, they’re really nice after a long day of staring at screens. I especially love the lavender ones.

Card/pass holder.
If the recipient uses public transport, Japan has so many cute pass holders. They range from Y500-Y3000 depending on the character.

Everybody needs socks! In Japan you can find some with some hilarious designs.

You can find a magazine for any hobby or interest in Japan. My local bookstore carried SIX different magazines on the band BTS alone. Many brands even have a specialty magazine which are a little more expensive but come with a gift included. Fashion magazines especially make great gifts – even if the recipient doesn’t speak Japanese, they will enjoy flipping through and looking at all the cute clothes!

Annual schedules can be very inexpensive compared to the UK, and can be found themed for many franchises – Disney, Sanrio, Marvel, anime etc. If you know the recipient loves journalling and you want to splash out, you can buy them a Hobinochi journal which are only sold in Japan! You can select the cover and inserts you think they would like the most.

Physical CDs are still popular in Japan, and if you know the recipient is a music lover you can bring them back a CD. Many music stores such as HMV still have headphones for you to listen to, and if not – go to the section of their favourite genre and choose the one with the most interesting cover!

And finally for some wildcards that don’t really fit in any other category…

Local specialities.
Every prefecture in Japan is famous for something. In Aomori it’s apples, in Hokkaido it’s dairy products, in Wakayama it’s plums. Alongside green tea Shizuoka is famous for mikan oranges. As such, you can find lots of items utilising the speciality items in some way. You can usually find a good selection in local museum gift shops or tourist information.

If you’re just staying in Tokyo and not travelling around a lot – I recommend checking out the Tokyo Government Building. Not just for the free views (pie off Tokyo Skytree and get here early!) but they also have an impressive gift shop selling a lot of these items from around the country.

Gift giving is very important in Japan, and if you’ve been on a trip you’re expected to bring something back for your colleagues. You can usually find these pretty boxes with beautifully presented snacks in train stations, and they’re usually not too expensive. (A Japanese student recently brought some omiyage back into our office which was very sweet of them!)

The most famous kind of omiyage in Tokyo is the Tokyo Banana, which are soft little sponge cakes with a delicate banana flavour – but if you’re elsewhere, they’re usually based around the local speciality as mentioned above.

Keep an eye out for charming little traditional sweet shops. I was lucky enough to live around the corner from the oldest in Hamamatsu, but if you ask at the tourist information/your hotel they’ll probably be able to point you in the right directly.

Daifuku and dango are my favourites, but you can see more about them here. If you’re unsure, most stores have a pre-packaged box of their most popular sellers, or simply ask the proprietors to suggest their favourites.

Gachapon toys.
There are thousands of gachapon machines all over Japan, and you’re bound to find something the recipient would enjoy. They are only around Y300 per toy, and they make excellent lightweight gifts. (If you have space in your suitcase, keep them in their original packaging for an extra surprise!) You can find speciality gachapon stores in nerdy havens such as Akihabara and Nakano Broadway, but most shopping malls and Don Quixote tend to have a good selection too.

If the recipient enjoys a tipple or three, the afformentioned Don Quijote is a good shout as they have a huge selection on Japanese and important alcohol for discounted prices compared to department stores, konbinis and even the supermarket! If they like a certain kind of booze – you could buy a Japanese whisky, gin, rum or vodka. Or you can bring home some Japanese specialties such as sake or plum wine! Of course this can be heavy, so I wouldn’t recommend if you don’t have a lot of room in your luggage – of course if that’s the case you can always pick something up at the airport but this will be a little more expensive.

There are of course plenty more options – but I hope these have provided you with some ideas for your next trip. It’s certainly got my excited for my holiday…even though it’s well over a year away!

~ Carla

School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: The different teachers you’ll meet!

Japanese law requires a licensed Japanese teacher to be with you in the class at all times.

I’ve touched on this briefly, but they are HRTs (Homeroom Teachers) in Elementary Schools, and JTEs in Junior High/High Schools (Japanese Teachers of English).

MEXT government guidelines expect all teachers to co-teach with you.
After all, you’re here to put the A (Assistant) in ALT, right?
Uhm…not necessarily. Most don’t even know what ALT stands for…

As you can expect, not all teachers are created equal.
Here’s a bit of a rundown of the sort of characters you can expect to meet.

(NOTE: PLEASE take this with a giant pinch of salt and some good humour! Rolling with the punches comes with the territory.)

The Head Cheerleader.
The ideal co-teacher: a supportive figure who always has your back. More often than not they’re a younger person around 25-35 years old who was quite likely to have been taught by an ALT themselves when they were at school. They understand your role well and do everything in their power to make your job easier and keep the kids engaged.

The Disappearing Act.
“You say “English class?” I hear “free period!”
Teachers who seemingly disappear in a puff of smoke as soon as you need them, and use your class as an excuse to take it easy.

The P.A.
“Assistant” Language Teacher? Like a Personal Assistant? Hooray! Takes literally any opportunity to fob work off onto you.

The Regina George.
Nice to your face, slags you off behind your back. May or may not wear pink on Wednesdays.

The Micro Manager.
Very interested and invested in everything you’re doing at school, even if it really shouldn’t concern them.
You need construction paper – what for? Do you really need to make all those copies? – 120 copies for 120 students sounds excessive. You want to use the communal computer? OK, but you can’t have the password! You’re in the storage cupboard? Oh, I’m just in here for no reason definitely not checking you’re not stealing anything.
Do you know how to use the hole punch? Do you know how to use the copier? Do you know how to turn a laptop on? Gyaaaaaahh…I’m in my 30s, hun.

The Backseat driver.
Doesn’t assist in preparing lessons but also has a very specific opinion on how your classes should run. Talks over you, repeats everything you’re saying in Japanese, fucks about with your materials. But run the class myself? Oh no, please. Douzo, gaijin. Douzo.

The Clairvoyant.
Doesn’t communicate with what they want you to do. You should just knowwwww. Bring your own crystal ball.

The “I Hate The ALT” one.
Finds the ALT’s presence in class annoying and cumbersome yet doesn’t do anything about it. Often sulky and uncooperative.

The “Bestie”.
“But that’s not what ___________________ did!”

This teacher was BFFs with the previous ALT and wants you to look, talk, walk, prepare activities, perform classes exactly as they did. Usually still in touch with them and gives you updates on what their bestie is up to. No wun currrrrrr.

The Burned One.
This teacher previously had a terrible ALT and thinks all foreigners are weird, lazy, unprofessional fuckwits. Sometimes you can win them over, sometimes you can’t. Shouganai!

The USA! USA! USA! one.
Doesn’t like ALTs who are not from the USA. Yes, it’s a thing.

Doesn’t like female ALTs. Yes, it’s a thing.

ALTs talking in natural, modern English? Nah. Please stick to the jilted, out of date textbook baka gaijin. The textbook never lies. Textbook is love. Textbook is life.

The Dinosaur.
Has been teaching English for 30+ years and still using the same old methods. Fuck your interactive activities, ALT-chan. No games. No fun. Stick to drilling and worksheets while the kids die of boredom, please.

Can you think of any more archetypes? Have a funny story about a co-teacher? Leave it in the comments!

~ Carla

Apartment · Life · School · UK

Leaving Japan: Resignation Timeline

I’ve found in my personal experience that there is a wealth of information online about the process of coming to Japan (I wrote about my own experience here), but a lot less about what happens when the time comes for you to leave.

As of writing this, this is around the time ALTs are submitting their intentions to stay or leave as it’s coming up to the end of the school year, so I hope this is somewhat helpful.

I remembered to log a lot of what I did with dates, so you can tell from making the decision to actually leaving took six weeks – and this really was a tight schedule. Most people make their decision months in advance. So please heed my warning and take more time than I did to get your life in order.

Nevertheless, this is how it went for me working for a dispatch ALT company.
Dates are in day/month order as is standard in the UK.

06/11: Booked flights home to the UK and told my family. Start advertising furniture and appliances for free on Facebook expat groups and our ALT group chat on Line.
08/11: Sent letter of resignation to my company giving the minimum 30 days notice. Received a call in the evening from my manager asking if I’ve thought this through, but he was very kind and understanding as he knew that I was recovering from surgery. Company sends through a ‘leavers pack’ with a bunch of forms to complete and return.
15/11: Tell my teachers I am leaving and advise my final day. Arrange leaving parties with my favourites.
26-27/11: Leaving parties with teachers:

06-10/12: People come to pick the items I’ve been advertising up from my apartment. (IMPORTANT: Work around YOUR schedule, not theirs. If they’re too busy or flake, immediately offer to the next person or make other arrangements ie. take to the thrift shop or dispose.)
08/12: Last day at junior high school. I’m shadowed by my replacement.
09/12: Last day at my elementary school. I’m shadowed again by my replacement.
10/12: Representative from the company comes to survey the apartment for damage. The actual landlord will do an inspection after I move out. Go to city hall with representative to do leaving process. This includes notifying the city that you’ll no longer be a resident, and to set up a proxy to receive my pension/partial tax refund when I return home. There are various resources online about this and it’s way more complicated than it needs to be.
10-12/12: Leaving parties with friends.

13/12: Clear the last of my stuff out of my apartment. Finish packing and forward luggage to airport hotel using Yamato. Gas is turned off in the evening.
14/12: Water is turned off in the morning. Move out of my apartment and catch the shinkansen for a farewell weekend in Tokyo.
15/12: Check into airport hotel at Haneda, reunited with my luggage.
16/12: Residence card and visa are voided at the airport. Fly home.

N.b. one of my suitcases arrived at Newcastle International with only one of it’s four wheels but しょうがない British Airways were pretty great at coughing up for a replacement.

BACK IN THE UK: Receive final pay after two months, minus 20% tax and mandatory apartment cleaning fees. Also receive my sickness benefits from when I was recovering from my operation. Applied for pension/partial tax refund and discussed with proxy still in Japan.

~ Carla

School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: What I liked and didn’t like about teaching in Japan

ひさしぶり! Surprise!

Hi, hi – remember me? I hope you’re doing well, friend.

Being back home for well over a year now I’ve more that acclimatised back into life in the UK – surprisingly better than I thought I would.
I’m glad to report that I have a job I love and plan on coming back to Japan to visit in Autumn 2024 – hoorah!

I do enjoy looking back at this little corner of the internet from time to time and I am currently drafting a longer retrospective look back at my time in Japan now I’ve had some distance.

But for now, having a look through my drafts I’ve had some posts that have been sitting there for literal years now, and I figured I might as well post the ones that are still relevant.

So without further ado, here’s what I liked and didn’t like about my years working as an ALT in an elementary and junior high school.

The Good…

The kids.
This is what you’ll hear from 99% of ALTs you’ll speak to. Many a time I’d woken upon the wrong side of the bed and arrived at school grumpy and unmotivated. But as soon as I walked into the classroom and saw my bairns, a little voice in my head said: “I can’t let you down.”

Ask a Japanese student what their favourite thing about school is, and the most common answer is “talking with my friends” – so I worked hard to make sure there was at least one activity in every lesson where they can do just that.

While most of their other subjects are predominantly them are sitting at their desks quietly and vigilantly taking notes, they know English with the ALT is the fun class where they can play games, walk around the classroom doing an activity, watch some videos, listen to some music and – of course – talk to their friends. It makes it all seem worthwhile when you walk into the classroom and are greeted with smiles, cheers and “oh, Miss Carla is here today!”

This depends from company to company, branch to branch, but at my school I wasn’t really micromanaged at all. As long as I turned up on time, made dynamic lessons, kept my head down and at least looked busy between classes I could do whatever I want.

You are the gaijin (Part 1.)
As an ALT, you simply aren’t held to the same standards as other teachers – and although it can be hard to always be the ‘outsider’ in school , it does have it’s perks. While most Japanese teachers arrive before 7am and leave at 7pm earliest, you’ll find you can rock up at 8am and leave by 4pm.
As previously mentioned, your lessons are the fun ones focusing on speaking and listening skills while providing some context as a native speaker. If the kids don’t do well in their exams – that’s for the Japanese teachers to deal with.

Free time between lessons (Part 1).
As you become more experienced as an ALT, you’ll find lesson planning takes up less and less of your time. While of course I liked making sure my lessons were fun and interesting as could be, after a few months I found I could pretty much plan a grade’s classes for the week somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours at the very most.
As such, you’ll have extra time between lessons and a lot of ALTs spend this time studying Japanese. But as I mentioned before this time is your own. (Just don’t take the piss – “the ALT spends too much time on their phone” is one of the most popular complaints to dispatch companies or BOEs.)

Time off!
One of the major gripes people seem to have with teaching is you don’t have a lot of holiday allowance. I believe JETs get less time off, but likely if you’re with dispatch they’ll wangle these off for you. Dispatch ALTs are paid less than JETs, but personally, I preferred to tighten my belt from time to time and be able to actually enjoy Japan instead of rotting away in the teacher’s room on a higher salary.

You’ll get 10 annual leave days – 5 of these are usually chosen by your company and you can choose the other 5. It depends from company to company, branch to branch how eager they’ll be to process your holiday requests, but personally I didn’t have any rejected.
Most Japanese teachers don’t use their holiday allowance at all, or save it for sick days. But again, you are held to a different standard being the gaijin, so don’t feel guilty about using them! Just try not to take them around exam time or the beginning or end of term.

If you work in a Japanese school you’ll also get all 16 national holidays off. This is actually more than in the US.
Yes we get 28 days paid leave in the UK – 36 including national holidays (“bank holidays”) which I definitely missed, but personally I felt like I had more time off than I expected to explore Japan.

Better supportive materials.
The textbooks are improving. The funny videos like this one are sadly becoming a thing of the past as in the last few years as there’s been a major overhaul in textbooks in line with new government guidelines. Some of the media can still be a bit awkward, but it’s getting better.

The new songs kinda slap, though – this one was a staple in 6th grade elementary.
One girl even learned the chords on the piano and everyone sang it on my last day.

The So-So

You’re here for a good time, not a long time.
Except for a very small minority, teaching in Japan is not a viable career path. While it’s great for a few years, eventually most people go on to bigger and better things – usually back in their home country. The sweet spot tends to be between 2 and 5 years.

Teaching in Japan is pretty great for gap year or two, to gain experience after graduating or even for people like myself on a career break. But unless you’re looking to rise up the ranks in your company, it’s simply not really an option long-term.

The Not-So-Good

There’s no beating around the bush, ALT work doesn’t pay well. If you budget, you’ll find you can live fairly comfortably – until your second year when you are clouted around the head with residence taxes and mandatory pension premiums. A lot of ALTs end up getting a side-gig.

Not all co-teachers are created equal.
ALTs are not allowed to discipline kids, and if you have a JTE or HRT who let the kids run riot you’re on your own tbh. While I had mostly great co-teachers, there were also some who were downright lazy, had absolutely no respect for the work I did and saw my classes as the one they don’t have to do fuck all in – and it was tedious.

All eyes are on you not to fuck up.
There is so much pressure to be the perfect, genki gaijin all the time. If you’re having a bad day, you can’t be pissed off and grump at your desk – you have to get up and do your thing with a big smile on your face. One wrong move and your reputation can really take a battering.

Free time between lessons (Part 2)
The deskwarming. Oh, the deskwarming! It sounds good on paper, but trust me the novelty wears off after a while. There’s really only so much you can scroll, books you can read and blogs you can draft hehe before you feel like you’re losing your marbles. You have to make an effort to push yourself sometimes to be productive on days you are waiting for the clock to tick to 4pm.

While no two days are quite the same, teaching can feel pretty formulaic after a while – especially in elementary school where we seemingly played the same 6 games over and over and over. The kids love it of course, but there were times when I could actually feel myself losing brain cells.

~ Carla

Anime · Video

Anime I Don’t Hate from Someone Who Hates Anime

It always surprises people when I tell them I’m not much of an anime fan.
It actually comes with the gaijin expat territory that you’re expected to be a bit of a weeb. I think I’m just missing the gene.

However, I have watched a few over the years, and here are the ones I didn’t hate…from someone who hates anime:

5. Gyakuten Saiban: Sono “Shinjitsu”, Igiari! (Ace Attorney)

Ace Attorney is one of my all-time favourite video game series, and the fandom had been whining and moaning for an anime for years and years.

Following the adventures of defense lawyer Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey, the series pretty much adapted the first three video games practically word-for-word at times.
Unfortunately as someone who knows the series inside out that got a little dull for me.

STILL, there’s something about Ace Attorney that has such a special place in my chilly little heart I couldn’t not mention it here.
There is also a vastly superior live action movie, a stage play, a musical performed by an all-female troupe, and even a fan musical.

I do recommend the games though over the anime – especially the remastered versions for the 3DS or Nintendo Switch. OBJECTION!

4. Ouran Koukou Host Club (Ouran High School Host Club)


Haruhi, a student at a the prestigious Ouran Academy accidentally breaks a $80,000 vase. To pay off her debt, she works as part of the Ouran Academy Host Club (who are originally unaware of her real gender), entertaining female “clients” with sweets and tea. It’s a good mix of serious and taking the piss out of the shoujo genre.

It’s been 15+ years and fans are still pushing for a second season. Keep the dream alive, everyone!

3. Sanrio Danshi (Sanrio Boys)

Sanrio Danshi follows the stories of five high school boys who bond over a mutual love for Sanrio characters.

Although it really is one long, pretty commercial for Sanrio goods (Sanrio Puroland gets plugged for an entire episode), it’s refreshing to watch something that shows boys with an interest in the kawaii.

The show’s message is that no matter your gender identity, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then it’s perfectly fine to enjoy whatever makes you happy.

2. Ore Monogatari (My Love Story)

Ore Monogatari takes the shoujo genre (anime with a target audience of teenage girls) and its tropes and turns them on its head.

Instead of the typical clumsy, awkward yet naturally beautiful and perky teenage girl who falls in love with an arrogant, emotionally unavailable, basic boy in her school – our hero is the gorilla-like Gouda Takeo who despite his outward appearance is the gentlest, most wholesome soul ever.

After saving the adorable Yamato from being groped on the train the two begin the purest, sweetest relationship ever ever ever.

Yamato is also an aspiring baker, and the show features some of the most mouth-watering animated food ever – it always makes me want to up my sweets game.

Also Yamato singing Happy Birthday is the purest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

1. Yuri!!! On Ice

For someone who – again – says she doesn’t really like anime, Yuri!!! On Ice is actually one of my top five TV shows of all time.

Yuri!!! On Ice follows the story of Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki who is on the verge of retirement after a series of losses, when he is surprised by his skating idol, the current champion from Russia Viktor Nikiforov who offers to coach him to victory at the Grand Prix Final, much to the disgust of his protégé – the up-and-coming Yuri “Yurio” Plisetski.

While I think we’re all hankering for a second season, there is a feature-length film coming out entitled Yuri!!! on Ice the Movie: Ice Adolescence. It was supposed to be released in 2019 but has been pushed back to a TBA date. Wahh.

~ Carla

Life · School · Teaching

Life of an ALT: My Last Days at School

Hi everyone!

I’ve been back in the UK for a few months now and already looking back on my time in Japan. I’ll write a longer retrospective in a little while, but in the meantime I thought you’d like to know about my final days at both of my schools.

Part 1: Goodbye, Junior High School…

For my last lessons at Junior High School, I asked my JTEs if we could keep it casual and was given the go-ahead. I did this quiz for all the grades – so I did the same lesson 12 times (16 including Elementary School, more on that later…) but the kids really got into it.

My JTEs were always pretty strict on sticking to the curriculum, so the rare times I got to stray brought big sighs of relief all around.
I think no matter where you are in the world, the phrase “no textbooks today, everyone!” while the TV gets wheeled in gets you a big round of applause.

The class clown in one of the top sets took the opportunity to ask if I liked his new haircut and if I thought he was an ikemen in front of the whole class. I really did dish it back to them, so I pointedly looked him up and down, looked thoughtful, then replied “meh…so-so” while everyone exploded.
“No, Miss Carla,” he insisted. “Very sexy hair!”

Every class had written me letters and cards and there was a little presentation at the end of the lesson. They then did a very formal thank you with a deep bow – always a bit jarring when they did this as mere minutes beforehand they were all giving each other noogies and wedgies and the middle finger. But very sweet.

I had one student I’ve taught from 2019 burst into tears. I finally managed to console her, then on a whim I unhooked the Yuri Katsuki gatcha charm from my USB that she admired every day and gave it to her. More tears!

I’m really not a big anime fan, but Yuri!!! On Ice is one of our favourite shows so we bonded over a mutual love of Yuri and Viktor.

Near the end of the day, the whole school gathered in the gym for a short farewell ceremony and to hand over to the new ALT who had been shadowing me all day. Typical Japan, a lot of pomp and circumstance over nothing at all, but I felt very loved.

I’d also been told 24 hours prior that I had to give a speech, which was really the last thing I needed to sort on top of all the moving stress – but I did my best.
“Don’t worry, it just has to be short,” said my co-teacher.
“It’s going to have to be!” I replied.

I was incredibly nervous and stumbled a little, but it seemed to get the message across.
Here’s what I said in my usual piss-poor broken Japanese..
(I stole most of it from various corners of the internet.)

Look at those tense shoulders.


皆さんとお別れするのは悲しいです。この にー年間、 オー世話 に なりました。 ありがとう ございます。○○中 の皆さんは元気で明るく積極的で,私もこの学校に来るのが毎 日楽しみでした。ミナーさん 新設 で、 渡し を 受け入れて ください ました。校長先生と教頭先生はじめ○○年間の援助をどうもありがとうございました。先生の皆さん特に○○先生、皆さんも本当にお世話になりました。先生方は忙しい合間をぬって,私の質問や疑問にていねいに答えてくれました. 頑張って、ね!新しい所で皆さんがいなくて、寂しいです!皆さんお元気で。

本当 に ありがとう ございました。

Hello, everyone.
Please excuse my poor Japanese.

I am sad that I have to say goodbye to you. You have been kind to me for the past two years, thank you very much. Everyone at ○○ Junior High School was so positive and energetic that it was an absolute joy to come to work every morning. Everybody has been kind and has accepted me.

I wish to thank the principal, vice-principal, and everybody else for all of your help during my two years here. I have become really indebted to all of the teachers as well, especially ○○ sensei and ○○ sensei.
No matter how busy you all were, you always found the time to answer any question that I had.

Good luck. I will miss you. Take care.
Thank you very much.

The message seemed to get through as I got a big ol’ applause afterwards, and my JTE told me she could some students were leaning forward because they were listening so intently. Bless them.

Unfortunately for the school, I had to leave mid-week as I had a whole bunch of stuff to do before I actually flew home and the teachers had their big meeting so there was no formal goodbye.

I managed to hand out my goodbye presents to the principal, vice-principal, and the JTEs and also take a few quick photos before they said goodbye and they went to the meeting.
There was nobody actually in the teacher’s room apart from the janitor who I have a big soft spot for (he was so accommodating when I was recovering from my operation and had some new dietary restrictions) so he actually saw me to the door.
I took my shoes from the cupboard in the genkan and put them in my backpack, took one last look at the lobby, gave him a final bow and a wave, and left the junior high school for the last time.

Just like Whitney, I get so emotional, baby, and was surprised that I didn’t cry.
“Wow, that wasn’t so bad…” I thought to myself, as I walked to my bus stop.

Cue, the next day…

Part 2: Goodbye, Elementary School…

OK, OK. So ending my contract mid-week wasn’t wholly an accident. I maaaaay have also timed it so I would have my final teaching day co-teaching at the elementary school with my best-friend Haruna.

FUN FACT: I actually enjoyed my commute! I got to school around 7:50am, so the bus was very quiet. It was a nice time to catch up with people from home due to the time difference, and also just play some tunes.

Usually, at elementary school, we followed the textbook to the letter, but because it was my last ever class, I showed Haruna the lesson I had done at the junior high school and she gave the OK to do a simplified version.

(The new ALT was shadowing me again and I think he was a bit put-out because it was his first time teaching elementary school and I think he wanted to see how a regular class was run. But that ain’t my problem, hun lololol.)

At the end of every class, I was presented with a preciously bundled lot of letters; scrawled “I love yous” and “I like English” among coloured pencilled drawings of Splatoon inklings, Animal Crossing villagers, Among Us crewmates and (rather worryingly given their age) Squid Game pink soldiers. Thanks, guys.

I made the mistake of telling Haruna about my speech from the previous day, so she insisted I give the speech again but just to the teacher’s room since it was after school club activities day and the bairns would be busy.
(I’d learned in Japan it’s best to keep your gob shut lest you be dragged into stuff like this, but I had a momentary lapse!)

It seemed to go over pretty well again, and my desk-mate who came to my (secret, shh!) goodbye party told me I spoke very clearly and sincerely.

Haruna had unfortunately missed my big moment as she was dealing with a parent (always means business when hops out of her trackies and puts her suit on…) and she suddenly hurled back into the teacher’s room, disappointed that she’d missed it. So I took her outside the teachers’ room and did the speech again for her. Andddd that’s when the tears started. From both of us. And they didn’t stop.

And so as the clock crept past 4pm, the time finally came for me to leave. I felt my heart in my throat as I packed my chopsticks, diary and mug into my kånken with a sense of finality. My usually messy desk (my friend Matt was appalled when he substituted for me) was empty except the textbooks and post it’s I’d left behind for the new guy.

As I stood up to leave, Haruna suddenly barked “Carla is leaving now!” and to my huge surprise, all the teachers stood up and applauded as I walked through the teacher’s room to leave. I think it was then that I started Kim K-level bawling.

For the final time, I turned, bowed and said お先に失礼します (“Sorry to leave before you”) and everyone replied お疲れ様です (“Thank you for your hard work”) and readers know that I was in bits.

Haruna and some of my favourite teachers followed me to the genkan to see me out of the building, waving and applauding as I walked through the gates and headed to my bus stop.

And that was that. A happy chapter of my life had closed.
Now the time had come to leave Japan…but that’s for another post.

~ Carla


Life of an ALT: Interac Timeline

I’ve seen a few blogs over the years from incoming ALTs who have logged their Interac timeline and I found them really helpful during the initial application process.

Remember that everyone and every situation is different – however, these are my personal experiences as part of the Autumn 2019 intake as an applicant from the UK.

My experience does not take into account any restrictions due to the pandemic.
(Dates are shown day/month as is standard in the UK.)

17/01 – Completed application on Interac’s website.
24/01 – Invited to interview, received questionnaire to complete.
25/01 – Contacted my references.
28/01 – Emailed completed questionnaire and contact information for my references.
29/01 – Received request for my demo lesson with tips and guidelines. Confirmed interview date.
19/02 – Emailed my demo lesson video to Interac.
24/02 – Posted my full CV, visa photos, copy of passport, degree and TEFL certification to Interac.
26/02 – Attended group interview in York.
06/03 – Interac confirmed my application has been forwarded to the Tokyo office for consideration and I should hear back in two weeks.
21/03 – I followed up with the Interac UK office since it had been over two weeks, and received a reply the same day that they recently conference called with the Tokyo office who are experiencing delays.
11/04 – Placement offer received for the Kansai region from the Tokyo office which I accepted the same day.
12/04 – Email from Kansai office welcoming me to the company and advised I will receive more information shortly.
26/04 – Received contract and application for COE (Certificate of Eligibility) from the Tokyo office to complete and return.
28/04 – Completed and emailed COE application and contract.
29/05 – Chased Interac for training dates as I was eager to book my flight. Received a response the same day with the tentative dates, but that these should be 100% confirmed within the week.
31/05 – Received confirmation of training dates, accommodation, and location of the training centre. Also received information regarding a driving position, and I emailed back advising in my application I specified I would require a non-driving position. Received an email back within an hour apologising for the error and confirmed I would definitely be placed in a non-driving role.
06/06 – Booked flight to Japan.
18/06 – Received notification that my COE application has been lodged with Immigration authorities and will be processed in 3-6 weeks.
12/07 – COE arrived via Fedex.
15/07 – Dropped COE and passport off at embassy.
26/07 – Picked up COE, passport, and visa from embassy. (They’re usually unable to post these.)
07/08 – Received apartment information and phone contract to sign and return digitally.
17/08 – Arrived in Japan.
20-23/08 – Training.
24/08 – Mandatory drugs test and health check at a clinic. A helper from Interac (known as an IC) takes me shopping for essentials and I move into my apartment. Internet, gas, and electric are switched on.
26/08 – City Hall adulting with IC: sorting out national health, pension exemption, received residence card, open bank account, etc.
27/08 – Visit schools.
28/08 – Term begins.

As you can see, the actual process takes longer than you might think.
It took four months from my initial application to receiving an offer, and eight months from application to arrival in Japan.

So I’d recommend even if you’re still just thinking about it, get your application in early.

While Interac does hire year-round, their big intakes are for the beginning of Spring (late March) and Autumn (late August) terms. I would aim for these, you’ll be in a larger training environment where you can meet other ALTs.
If you arrive outside these times, chances are you’re covering for someone who has done a bunk and you may find it harder to settle in, arriving in the middle of a school year.

My suggestion: For Spring intake apply by September. For Autumn intake, apply by January.

~ Carla

OFF-TOPIC: This was actually my 100th post on TheGeordieGaijin. Thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the years. Keep it 100, guys!

Drinking · EAT! Hamamatsu · Hamamatsu

DRINK! Hamamatsu : An EAT! Hamamatsu Special

I’ve mentioned before that in many ways Hamamatsu is the Sunderland of Japan.
(Osaka is the Newcastle of Japan btw.)

This is for so many reasons – but mostly that while as uninteresting it may be in general, nevertheless there is many a watering hole in which to spend your hard-earned (debatable) wages. Here are a bunch of my favourites…



Kagiya tends to be a favourite for a lot of people in Hamamatsu and is usually a 50/50 mix of locals and gaijin.
Most drinks are only ¥500 and they also offer bar snacks including pretty good cheap pizzas.
If you’re looking for a language exchange group: there’s one that meets every Monday from 7pm. It’s ¥500 entry and includes a drink.

The Lord Nelson

The Lord Nelson

My pal Felipe asked me if The Lord Nelson is named after my local in the UK. Doubtful. Nobody who visits Jarrow leaves with all their limbs intact.
Are you even an expat if you don’t frequent the local British pub? (There’s a chain in Japan called Hub, but The Lord Nelson is independent.)

There’s canny enough beers on tap, and an impressive selection of Japanese and imported spirits – especially if you like whiskey. Food is fairly cheap too, around ¥600 for decent fish and chips.
The staff are really friendly with a high level of English, and if you’re a regular you can sit at the bar and they’re happy to chat to you.

The Smuggler

The Smuggler

The Smuggler is another British pub…that has a pet owl and a cat. Do I need to say anything more?
The music selection is actually very authentic – they often play UK artists such as Robbie Williams, Take That, Little Mix etc. I haven’t ordered the food myself but I’ve heard it’s pretty bomb.



A cool standing bar which is particularly lovely in summer. A mostly Japanese crowd and a nice drinks selection including beers, wine and spirits.

No Name Bar

No Name Bar

Ahh No Name. It should be called No Shame Bar, being as it’s the place of all bad decisions.

Usually I can’t remember my own name by the time I’m stumbling out of here.
Good bottled and tap beer selection (I’m usually on the Sam Adams but their cocktails are only around ¥600) and the staff are all super-nice, especially the lovely Hassim. Tell him I say hello!
If you’re feeling peckish, there are some authentic Turkish bar snacks on offer such as shish kebabs.

Liquid Kitchen

Liquid Kitchen

Hamamatsu’s premier divebar, ran by an Australian nutcase named Marty. Pretty much exclusively an international crowd if that’s your thing.
I’m usually too steaming by the time I’m in Liquid to take a decent photo, so enjoy this one from their Instagram page of Felipe looking like a Mexican drug lord (his words).

Mein Schloss

Mein Schloss

I’ve done a full post about Mein Schloss here already, but drinks-wise if you’re into craft ales they have their own brewery and they’re all really good. I do recommend the food, but if you’re just looking for beverages they have a nice beer garden.

Beer House Tir na n-Og

Beer House Tir na n-Og

A bar specialising in regional and national craft ales. It’s pretty pricey – about ¥1000 upwards for a pint, but really nice if you fancy something different to most other bars in Hamamatsu. There’s also a small selection of bar snacks – sausages, peanuts, pretzels etc. Mostly a Japanese crowd.

Grindhouse Rock Bar

Grindhouse Rock Bar

Hamamatsu’s premier rock bar, which reminds me of my beloved Trillians back home in Newcastle. As you can imagine they often have a band on with reasonable cover charge. Usual selection of beers and spirits. A fairly mixed crowd, Grindhouse is popular with Brazilians!

There are of course so, so many more – but some I have completely stumbled into my accident and never been able to find again on Google Maps (the bar of requirement?). So I’ll leave the rest of the exploring up to you!

~ Carla

Life · Personal

Goodbye, Japan!

Me and Quentin Bear are in the middle of packing hell.

So I have big news.
Now that my friends and my schools know, I can announce that after two and a half incredible years…I am leaving Japan next month!

This isn’t quite the end of this blog yet – I still have some draft post that are half-finished, and I’m definitely planning on some more updates when I’m back in Blighty and fondly looking back on my time here. You’ll all have to put up with me for a little while longer yet!

I’m of course really sad to be leaving Japan, but I unpacked some of my feelings in this personal post a few months ago. And while of course I do have pangs of doubt every now and then, I’m fairly certain that it’s the right decision for me.

I won’t be The Geordie Gaijin for much longer…just a regular Geordie lass.
(Although I should actually confess something now – I’m actually a Sandancer. But shhhdon’t tell anyone.)

~ Carla