Recently some of the kids asked if I’d like to meet their class pets. The class pets:
For some godforsaken reason, it’s somewhat of an annual tradition for Japanese kids to spend the summer raising and caring for these beetles (kabutomushi and kuwagatamush), dutifully feeding them fresh fruits and jellies. Apparently, they’re “cute”.
After living away from your home for an extended period of time, it’s kind of inevitable that you start looking back on your life retrospectively:
“What have I achieved? What did I come here to do? What is there still for me to do?”
Failure to answer these questions and one living in Japan could perhaps find themselves in what I call ‘ALT-limbo’ – simply drifting from home to school, school to home, lather, rinse, repeat.
While the pandemic has moved these goalposts somewhat through nobody’s fault, it’s sometimes hard to see the 森 for the 木 so to speak. But I also don’t want to become another resentful, bitter gaijin; burdened and resentful of one of my favourite countries in the world.
Japan is currently going through its *counts on fingers* fourth state of emergency, mostly a consequence of a government who are frantically scrambling to save an Olympics that no-one wants. It was golden week in May, a 5-day weekend that pretty much everyone in the country gets off – and just like last year, everyone was encouraged to stay home.
After the best part of five months I recently reinstalled my social media apps on my phone. While I’m usually pretty good at keeping up to date with the happenings in jolly old Blighty, I don’t think I’d realised how much the UK is beginning to open up again.
I saw my friends smiling and waving and clinking glasses in places I know. My mam sent me a selfie in Primark. My best-friend Sam threw a peace sign from our favourite pub in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, for the past few months it’s mostly just been me in my apartment. Alone.
“What the f*ck am I doing here?” I actually said aloud to the four walls on particularly gloomy Saturday, and threw my phone huffily away from me after an hour of scrolling through happy reunions at pub gardens and bottomless brunches.
“What have I achieved? What did I come here to do? What is there still for me to do?”
Too much time indoors means too much time to think.
Japan isn’t my first time living abroad. I left Australia in 2013 after living there for a year and it felt right. I was ready. Honestly I don’t think I even cried properly. I caught my flight from Melbourne with nothing but excitement and anticipation ahead of me. There wasn’t a single regret in my bones as I landed at Heathrow, caught the tube and saw Sam waiting tearfully at the Kings Cross barriers.
So, when do you know that it’s time to leave Japan?
I had this conversation with my friend Liz – who is actually leaving Japan this summer – over a socially distanced al fresco lunch as she prepares for a period of uncertainty and unemployment ahead.
“Six years in Japan is quite enough for me,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll ever know if it’s right.”
She’s right about the six years thing. After just two years, I sometimes find myself weighed down with cultural fatigue.
My pal once described Japan as “one big, awesome theme park.” I sort-of get what he means, but living in Disneyland would do your nut in after so long.
After two years at the same schools I now feel like part of the furniture – which has it’s pros and cons. I’m sure teachers letting me have free reign in class comes from a good place as they find me reliable and have confidence in my lessons, but working in the confines of a tight schedule plus ad-hoc duties, I have extra responsibilities compared to a lot of ALTs.
However I am given the greatest gift of all: that I’m usually left alone to my own devices. Many ALTs find themselves under constant surveillance from their schools. But long as I look busy and don’t take the piss, I’m free to do whatever I want between classes.
While age is a social construct (at least that’s what I keep telling myself), I recently turned 32 and it’s kind of unavoidable to look towards the future.
Sure, if I was a 21 year old fresh out of university with body parts that are still perky and a back that didn’t worryingly creak first thing in the morning, then staying in Japan for years and years and years would definitely be a good option. But there are simply other things in my life that I want to achieve.
It’s easy when you’re living on the other side of the world to put higher stock in connections made here as you find yourself content in your gaijin bubble, warm and fuzzy like mold.
The longer I stay in Japan, people I’ve grown close to inevitably move on, either elsewhere in Japan or back to their home country. I find constantly both making new connections and letting friendships go mentally taxing, often akin to the grief of a break-up.
Unfortunately, that’s just a fact of expat life and comes with the territory. This didn’t bother me much when I was a young’un in Australia, staying in hostels and taking day trips to see koalas with people I barely knew and would probably never see again. But the older I get, the less tolerant I am of such relationships, preferring a deeper attachment with a smaller group of people. It’s exhausting to constantly be saying farewell.
So while I’m not saying I’m about to split from Japan anytime soon, I am asking myself when will the (rising) sun begin to set on my time in Japan?
I’ve always toyed with the idea of moving to Japan ever since my friend Hayley suggested it to me nearly ten years ago now over pizza in her Sydney apartment, recounting tales of working at an eikaiwa during the day then partying in Tokyo until the early hours.
I started officially planning to come to Japan in 2017, then actually applied in January 2019 for an Autumn arrival.
During this time at my old job in the UK – through every crappy shift, being yelled at down the phone day-in-day-out, through every event I declined, everything I sold on eBay – I counted down the days until the big move.
Is there really a perfect time to leave Japan? Honestly, I’m not sure.
Even when the day comes and my plane touches down in Newcastle, I don’t think I’ll ever be sure.
As I’ve previously mentioned, living a short walk to the downtown area I enjoy eating out at the weekend – but as we all ride Japan’s fourth wave of the ‘rona, I’m still trying to stay home as much as possible and have been ordering in instead.
Also notably, 99% of the time I don’t eat breakfast during weekdays. I know this is really bad and breakfast is so important, but when I have a 5:30am alarm I’d prefer to trade this in for an extra half an hour in bed.
LUNCH: Soup with veggies and pasta shells, currypan and a custard pudding. (¥270)
DINNER: Mondays are really stressful at work so I stopped at the conbini on my way home. Pasta salad with proscuitto, tomatoes and cheese (¥496), karragebo (¥180), rice in tofu (¥213) and kimchi (¥110).
DESSERT: Two kiwi fruits. (Discounted from the supermarket ¥100)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with milk.
LUNCH: Soup with veggies and bean sprouts, two spring rolls and minted pickles. (¥270) (We also had rice but I took mine home as I don’t like to eat a lot of carbs if I have afternoon classes as it brings my energy down.)
DINNER: Aubergines and mushrooms in a sticky Korean-style sauce, the rice from school lunch, miso soup with tofu and the rest of the kimchi.
DESSERT: Discounted fruit salad from the supermarket. (¥250)
SNACKS: Cheese puffs. (¥180)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with milk and a potato croquette (¥120) as I waited at the bus stop.
LUNCH: Creamy soup with mushrooms and pasta, chicken karaage, bread with chocolate sauce. (¥270)
DINNER: Spaghetti with mentaigo (cod roe) sauce
DESSERT: Daim bar (thanks, mam!)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with soy milk.
LUNCH: Creamy soup with pasta and sweetcorn, fried fish, cabbage. (There was also bread but I didn’t eat it) (¥270)
DINNER: I went to KappaSushi for dinner. 7 plates of sushi and a beer. (¥1300)
SNACKS: Cornetto-like ice cream. (Multipack – 5 for ¥350)
BREAKFAST: English breakfast tea with soy milk.
LUNCH: Special bento for the school sports day. (¥800)
DINNER: Cheese and ham baguette sandwich (¥300) and pizza crisps (¥130).
DESSERT: Coconut Pocky. (¥150)
SNACKS: Vanilla mochi ice cream. (¥200)
BREAKFAST: Coffee with soy milk, greek-style yoghurt with granola and honey.
LUNCH: Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake made with cabbage), the rest of the mushrooms and fried aubergine.
DINNER: I ordered a personal-size Dominos pizza and potato wedges. (¥1600)
SNACKS: Another Daim bar! (Thanks again, mam!)
BREAKFAST: I ordered a McDonalds breakfast – sausage egg McMuffin, two hashbrows and an iced latte. (¥960)
LUNCH: Japanese-style curry (¥250, but I already had the sauce in my cupboard) and rice with the rest of the edamame.
DINNER: None. I wasn’t hungry for dinner as my breakfast and lunch were pretty heavy so I just snacked in the evening…
SNACKS: Cheese crisps (¥120), Black Thunder chocolate (my favourite Japanese chocolate!!) (¥100)
I actually enjoyed doing this and want to do something similar in the future!
As Tokyo is once again in a state of emergency (despite the Olympics being mere weeks away…), here in Hamamatsu I’m reminiscing about my favourite city in the world and how eager I am to go back when it’s safer.
Looking through pictures on my phone, I totally forgot to post about the incredible afternoon tea I had late last year at the Tokyo Grand Hyatt with my friend Farrah.
While the spring Marie Anotinette theme (Marie Antoinette’s Sweet Haute Couture) had a very pastel, sweet aesthetic – this event was called The Queen’s Masquerade, which was more alluring with a sort-of spooky opulence; lots of blacks, pinks, purples and gold – perfect for Halloween!
While special events are usually served buffet-style, due to the pandemic nearly everything was table service.
Anything you did have to get yourself had a strict queuing system. If you wanted to take photos of the settings (I mean, who wouldnt???) we were called up table by table.
It ran like clockwork and all the waiting staff were so amazing under such difficult circumstances.
Of course afterwards, there was purikura to be had:
It was such a special day, and I’m dying to go back and experience some of their other themed events.
In most Japanese towns and cities, you can hear a gentle sound and a short announcement around 5pm. This is known as the 五時のチャイム or “5pm Chime.”
This is used for two reasons: as a daily check to ensure the speakers are working correctly in case of emergencies, and also giving children a gentle nudge that it’s time to make their way home before it gets dark.
Kids are not supposed to be out at all after 10pm – but that doesn’t deter some of the more rebellious teenagers in Hamamatsu, who hang around conbinis in the evening in their “LA-style” streetwear, eating ice cream cones and thinking they’re solid. (The Lawson next to Shin-Hamamatsu station seems to be the place to be.)
While Japan enters it’s *counts on fingers* fourth wave, cases in Shizuoka prefecture are still pretty low compared to the rest of the country. Nevertheless, we practiced vigilance and I kept my celebrations pretty low-key.
First, we had a cute picnic in Hamamatsu Castle Park:
I always take my birthday off work because from the ages of 10 to 21 I had some form of exam on the actual date, and I promised myself as an adult I would never ever work on my birthday again!
So because my birthday was once again on a weekday, I took a day’s 年休, relaxed in the morning then met my friends for cream tea and shopping:
We went to Afternoon Tea in Entetsu mall, and it was actually really great.
They had English Breakfast which can be a bit of a rarity in Japan. The scones were much smaller than the ones back home, but still warm, crumbly and delicious. One was orange and earl grey, the other plain.
The only thing I’d knock a point off for was that they was served with lightly whipped cream instead of clotted cream – you’d get thrown out of a cafe in the UK for that offense! ;D
Because the gang are a bunch of top huns, they surprised me with not one but TWO cakes. They really know their audience. Matt also brought me an adorable peach rooibus gift set – thank you so much!!
As always, me and Felipe-chamanever know when to stop so ended up at one of our favourite bars until the early hours. Usually packed on a Saturday, it was only us and the people behind us you see in the photo!
Last year I bought myself a Kånken backpack as a present, but haven’t really bought anything special this year – maybe I’ll buy Miitopia in a few weeks for summer break!
However – side-note – I’ve really been enjoying relaxing with some indie games lately:
The Longing(top), Stay (left) and Not Tonight(right).
Thank you everyone who made my 32rd birthday really special!!
As usual I tend to take some time away from this blog during breaks from school, and although I didn’t managed to go far in golden week, during spring break in March I managed to score a great hotel deal for Kyoto. (Before the fourth wave hit!)
I hadn’t been outside Hamamatsu since October and was eager to get out of the city.
I first visited Kyoto during my first trip to Japan back in 2014(which was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday but didn’t quite work out that way, haha…), and although I still really enjoyed it, it was a very fleeting visit as I was touring around the country. Also, I found myself pretty overwhelmed by the hordes and hordes of tourists.
My second time in 2017, I ended up getting sick for most of our 2-day stay so I stayed in our AirBNB while my sister went to explore. (I was super-proud of her for doing this, since her Google Maps didn’t work and it was her first time in Japan!)
However eager to replace old memories with new ones and international travel still suspended – it really was the best time to visit Kyoto.
Travel restrictions were slowly lifting again everywhere except Tokyo, so I figured as long as I kept my distance and used common sense I could enjoy a solo yolo to Japan’s old capital city.
Since I’d already done the major touristy stuff, I was free to just enjoy the city.
To save a bit of money, I took the highway bus for the first time. It was actually really great with plenty of rest stops so I would definitely get it again as shinkansen prices are just a piss-take. However it did take a ride on the Enshu line just to get to the bus stop.
Since I was self-isolating this time last year, I completely missed the sakura, so was determined to see some this year. (Still no hanami, though. しょうがない!)
I would never usually go to Starbucks when galivanting about – but I made an exception for the Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya Starbucks as it is the first in Japan situated in a beautiful, old, traditional house.
I did eat very well in Kyoto: the Ninenzaka area leading up to Kiyomizudera Temple is particularly great for street food. The Nishiki Market was pretty great too, if a little overpriced.
I am of course still a sucker for anything kawaii, so had brunch at the Snoopy cafe:
I love craft beers and breweries so walked a little out of the way to the Kyoto Spring Valley Brewery, but it was very overpriced and the servers were kinda rude so I’d give it a miss.
I also found a lot of great vegetarian and vegan options in Kyoto – definitely a rarity in Japan. (Unless it’s specifically marked as plant-based, be wary because it’s often still made with pork or fish stock.)
I stumbled upon Choice Cafeen route to my hotel, and I loved it so much I went back twice.
Both visiting Japan as a tourist and now living here, I don’t find shrines and temples very exciting anymore. Call me uncultured, but after a while it feels you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
However I made an exception for Okazaki Shrine, which is entirely dedicated to bunnies:
Unfortunately the aforementioned fourth wave has hit Japan as the government frantically try to find a solution to save the Olympics. So I’m glad I was able to travel when I could.
It was my 32nd birthday yesterday though, so hoorah for that!