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.
The NO WAMMINZ one. Doesn’t like female ALTs. Yes, it’s a thing.
The THAT’S NOT WHAT THE TEXTBOOK SAYS one. 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!
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 experiencehere), 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.
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 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!”
FREEEEEEDOMMMMM. 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.
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.
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.
Pay. 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 hehebefore 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.
Repetitive. 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.
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)
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.
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)
KISSU KISSU FALL IN LOVE.
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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 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
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.
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).
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
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!
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 was in hospital for 14 days in total, and this was how the process was for me. Out of everything that has happened this year, I didn’t have “spend a fortnight in a Japanese hospital” on my 2021 bingo card.
Yes, during my stay I kept a diary of sorts because frankly there wasn’t much else to do. And as I always say, this blog is somewhat of a diary for me to look back on in years to come.
DAY 1. After 3 days of pain and vomiting I went to a regular clinic who did some tests and said I must go straight to hospital with potential gallstones. Since my Japanese isn’t great, my company sends a representative to make sure I understand everything.
I swing by my apartment to quickly pack a bag, thinking I’ll only be away for a night or two – ha!
At the hospital I have an x-ray, CAT scan and ultrasound scan and am diagnosed with an inflamed gallbladder and gallstones. The doctor predicts I’ll stay in hospital for two weeks which is a big shock. The first week will involve fitting a drain and going on a course of antibiotics to reduce the infection, then the second recovering from the actual gallbladder removal.
Later, I had an emergency procedure where they fitted a drain that took away all the fluid that had built up. I was awake during this with only a local anesthetic – not even a sedative! It was really uncomfortable and a little painful (especially when he activated the suction – it felt like all my internal organs were being pulled) but was over in about 25 minutes.
I’m admitted to a ward and to keep the costs down I chose the basic 6-person ward. I hadn’t eaten for 3 days anyway, but the doctor puts me on a fast, although I can have water. I get an IV drip and start a round of antibiotics.
As I don’t have everything I need due to the unexpected admission to hospital, the nurse says I can make some online orders. I buy some essentials using Amazon Prime and order a pocket WiFi as the hospital doesn’t have any and I’m afraid of running out of data coming up to the end of the month. (My contract doesn’t allow for any “top ups”.)
DAY 2 My Amazon order and WiFi arrives. I have a chance to call home via Whatsapp and tell my family I’m in hospital. I feel suddenly very homesick and wish I was back home in the UK. Only some blood tests today.
I share a ward with a very old, confused lady who is up all night talking to herself and buzzing the nurses so I don’t sleep well the first few nights. The nurse puts me on sleeping medication.
DAY 3 No tests today. I can start drinking tea – a wonderful day! Starting to get into the swing of hospital routine. The sleeping medication is crap so I ask for something stronger, which I’m surprised I’m given without a quibble.
DAY 4 Had another ultrasound. My blood tests have come back showing that the inflammation is going down. I start being able to drink a little carton of high calorie protein drink for lunch and dinner, but I don’t really have an appetite yet. Starting to feel a little down, but a phone call with my friend Sam cheers me up.
DAY 5 MRI test – I felt a little claustrophobic, but it was OK. Changed wards for some reason, and way prefer this one as the patients are much quieter and I’m next to the door (as opposed to in-between two beds like before) so I have more space. But the constant footsteps and checks still keeps me awake. I wish the nurses would take care to be more quiet at night.
Some IV fluid leaks into my arm, leaving me with a big, hench, Popeye arm for 12 hours. The surgeon visits and says that as my infection is going down, the gallbladder removal is unnecessary but I can go ahead of I want. I say I definitely want it removed and he tells me there’s an operation space in three days time.
DAY 6 No tests. I’m allowed a small lunch and dinner. I’m told I have an endoscopy tomorrow, which I really don’t want and discuss it with my doctor, but he explains it’s impossible to do the gallbladder removal without it so I decide to proceed.
DAY 7 Endoscopy, one of the most unpleasant parts of this whole experience. Although I take a disgusting medicine to numb my throat, the sedative they gave me is weak and doesn’t really work. I end up crying like a baby, and have a sore throat for the next few days. However I’m told that the result is clear and the nurses help prepare me for surgery the next day by giving me a gown (which interestingly folds over yukata-style) and some compression socks. The representative comes back so we can go over information with the anesthetist and I can sign some forms.
DAY 8 The representative comes to see me off to surgery and returns afterwards to check with the doctors how it went so she can report back to the office – I also ask her to speak with my family, which she very kindly does. Surgery begins at 11am and finishes at 1pm. It’s a little delayed as the doctor struggles to find a vein for my IV as they’ve been popping out all week and my arms are sore and swollen from all the needles. I’m extremely sore and groggy after the surgery and am surprised with the lack of pain killers – I’m basically given glorified ibuprofen despite having 3 cuts in my abdomen and one right through my belly button.
I move into a room of my own for the night as there’s one free. I have a catheter which feels gross and I’m determined to get it out as soon as possible – the nurse tells me as soon as I can walk to the bathroom she can take it out, but I only make it as far as the seating area before my incisions hurt too much and I have to go back. A kind nurse helps me back into my own pyjamas in the evening, even this small act makes me feel more human. I’m surprised to have dinner served, but it’s all “claggy” food – a texture I’ve never been able to stand – so I hardly eat anything.
DAY 9 Back on the ward and I’m happy to have a bed next to the window. I’m very sore, but manage to walk slowly to the bathroom by myself (using the IV as a walking aid) so the nurse removes my catheter. I go for an x-ray, but the staff are kind of rough and impatient with me, despite being out of surgery less than 24 hours. But during my stay they’re the only staff I meet who I really dislike. Because of the pain in my chest scar I get breathless easier so the nurses keep me on oxygen.
DAY 10 Supposed to be discharged tomorrow but I don’t feel ready as I’m still very sore, can’t walk very far and have some anxiety so I’m allowed to stay in hospital over the weekend. I’m so tired now of eating white rice for every meal and the staff are concerned that I’m not eating properly, so they send a nutritionist round. Once I explain that I don’t usually eat rice every day – let alone three times a day – she understands and I’m allowed to buy some regulated snacks from the FamilyMart conbini on the ground floor.
I’m still a little breathless, but the nurses tell me my peak flow is normal and tick me off when they catch me sneakily using the oxygen. The nerve!
DAY 11 The surgeon visits. My scars are healing well and bloods are almost clear so I can go home on Day 14. I’m eating better so the nurses remove my IV and drip. I take a peek a look at my scars – one on my breastbone, two on my stomach and one through my belly button. They look very neat and I thank the surgeon for his very good handiwork.
DAY 12 Rest day but I feel kinda restless and depressed. I use the opportunity to catch up on my sleep.
DAY 13 Rest day. Very restless still but I’m allowed to take a shower and gently wash my hair which cheers me up.
DAY 14 The representative comes to take me home. We go through all my medications and I get an appointment for a follow up later in the week. I pay my hospital bill – around £440 – and go home.
I ended up spending another two weeks recuperating at home before going back to work. It was a bit of a struggle recovering from surgery while living alone – but I’ve about made it to the other end.
I’m about one month post-op now and the scar on my breastbone can still feel a little irritated when my underwear rubs against it, but my other scars have healed wonderfully. I’ve also still been pretty fatigued but this is slowly improving.
I also feel a dull pain if I’m moving about too much or vigorously – but both my schools have been absolutely fantastic throughout this entire thing and I’m still on a reduced schedule compared to my usual teaching hours.
I’m still a bit sore around the area where I had my drain, then the operation, but was told at my check up that this is to be expected as I was cut twice.
All-in-all, I did find the Japanese hospital experience very pleasant. The language barrier was the main issue for me – but this is my fault rather than theirs of course. But most of the doctors and nurses were very kind and understanding.
Because of Covid I wasn’t allowed any visitors (except the representative) so it could get pretty lonely and boring – thank God I thought to pack my Kindle and writing stuff.
Ahh well, if nothing else – it’s another funny story to tell when people ask “So what did you do in Japan, then?”
You must be logged in to post a comment.