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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

6 Things You Need To Know About Japan Before You Go - Part 3

This is the third part of my effort to better edumacate the person looking to go to Japan for a visit.

Part 1 is HERE
Part 2 is HERE

It’s NOT really designed for the vacationer, rather it is more for the person looking to work and live in Japan for an extended period of time, be it a month to years.

I have broken up my sage advice into three parts of six items, for a total of 18 items. I don’t plan on adding any more to this list, but neither does it mean that it’s the be-all and end-all.

The best piece of advice I can give anyone about Japan, is that after living there for three years and writing about for 10, I’m still no where close to know enough about the country to admit to being an expert.

I know a lot about Japan, and I continue to learn every day… it’s why I write the blog. To learn. Oh, and to share. The two reasons why I write this blog, are to learn and share… oh and ruthless efficiency… the three reasons I write this blog are to learn and share, and provide ruthless efficiency… and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope… My four…

That’s me going off on a tangent and beginning to paraphrase lines from Monty Python’s “Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition” skit.

Anyhow, here’s some more great tips - 6 Things You Need To Know About Japan Before You Go - Part 3

1) Appropriate Clothing. This is one of the few times when I actually suggest you do some research about where exactly you are going, and in the case of vacationers - when you are going, as clothing options can be important.
Japan is considered to be a sub-tropical country, but even where I called home, some 100 kilometers north of Tokyo, it’s cold come October, and windy and snowy, yet in the summer it was over 30C not including humidity. Aside from the approximate five to eight typhoons that strike the main island every year, it was just like Toronto, with four legitimate seasons. You will need winter clothing, gloves and hats - even a scarf if you are so inclined. Sunglasses couldn’t hurt. Running shoes for standard outdoor walking about. Slip-on dress shoes for teaching/work - you never wear your outdoor shoes indoors… it’s why I suggest slip-ons. A pair of runners for school, or a second pair of dress shoes for offices. Winter boots. Rain boots. Bring enough of what you need… and if you forget something, have someone mail it to you later.

2) More Clothing Advice. Size matters. If you have feet larger than a men’s size 8, you will have a very difficult time finding footware that fits. Same for clothing, I’m slightly above average size-wise relative to North American terms, but again, unless you are about 5’-8” for a man, and say 5’-4” for a woman, you will have difficulty finding clothing that fits. Also… bras… Japanese bra sizes are measured and sized in a manner completely different from anything you may have come across. Bring your own clothing! You’ll thank me for that advice. I actually paid extra to bring more clothing with me on the airplane. Even though I did my laundry every day, clothing will wear out… and as such, who knew my one year would turn into three! I did have dress-casual clothing made for me in Thailand over night and to my design. But I had to go to Thailand. 

3) Condoms. Again, size matters. Without sounding harsh, Japanese condoms will not fit the average westerner. I brought three boxes with me, hoping beyond hope I might get to use more than the first one I consider to be the practice one that you use to ensure you know how to put one one—virgin was I—and after running through them quickly enough, I asked my mother (MY MOTHER!!!) to send me a dozen more boxes. While I waited for that express delivery, I tried to purchase a box from my local pharmacist, Maniwa-san. I popped one on and watched it fly off me like a jet plane taking off from an aircraft carrier! Twang. I hit my girlfriend in the face with it… much laughter ensued, and I was then out of luck. Mostly. You could get condoms from an American military PX, and perhaps some shops in the bigger cities will be more accommodating, too. Failing that, bring what you can, and have the rest sent over later… gauge accordingly, and make sure you ask for them before you run out. Having said all this, as mentioned in Part 2 of this thread, sex and the gaijin isn’t a given anymore - unless you are in a relationship with other gaijin/foreigners.

4) Living Spaces. If you listen to most people who have been to Japan to live and work, there is a general consensus that the average living space is small enough to cause mice to be hunchbacked. IE, it’s small. Within those who live in the larger cities of Japan, it is true that the AMOUNT of living space is small, but it’s not always the case.
I lived in a small city in Tochigi-ken, and was lucky enough to have what was then the top-quality apartment in the prefecture… a three-bedroom, LDK (living-dining-kitchen) complete with a western toilet and shower, a washer-dryer, lots of carpeting - but only one tatami mat room, and two balconies. The place was designed for a Japanese family, and was more than adequate for a foreigner like myself. My girlfriend for the first year, she had a small Japanese-style apartment, complete with a wooden bathtub. And if not for my sparkling personality, I could assume that she spent so much time at my apartment because I had far better amenities. But… small size of a Tokyo/Osaka apartment aside… just how much room do you require? You work all day, you come home, there’s a small kitchen, a living room and TV, and then the bedroom where you sleep for seven hours or so. I may have kept my clothes in a closet in one of the bedrooms, and used the drawers in a dresser for undies et al, but otherwise the room was never used. The same with the other room. I just needed the bedroom to “sleep”. You’ll survive. By the way, while my girlfiend (I spelled that correctly) paid something like $80 a month on the apartment, I paid $330 a month. It was helped along by the various board of educations who paid from most of our rents while on the JET Programme. Those looking to travel to Japan and find work, rent is expensive in the big cities where the work is. You won’t be living in a huge place like I did. No… you’ll be sharing an apartment with at least two others in an effort to not go broke. I’m not even going to get into key money (where you pay sometimes five months rent in advance - because JET takes care of that, and if you are sharing with others, the constant in-out nature of the foreign worker negates the opportunity to charge key money) (Okay, I talked about it).

5) Futon bedding. When I arrived at my massive apartment in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, I looked at that futon I was given, and grimaced. It sat on the tatami (grass) mat flooring, and looks so Japanese. Not only did I previously have a bad back, I would burn my knees on the tatami while having sex, immediately taking away any male dominate positions. It’s sounds stupid, but it’s 100% true. My bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education office told me that every day after I wake up, I should take my futon and roll it up and put it away, and once a week on the weekend, I should hang it over the balcony ledge to air it out. I did that exactly ZERO times. After a couple of months of me sweating on it, with other sexual juices applied, the bottom of my futon had caused the tatami under it to basically sprout a black mold. This caused many things to happen. a) My Japanese bosses realized I was dumb, because I couldn’t or chose not to follow a simple rule. b) They had to dig up and replace ALL of the tatami mats in my bedroom, which cost money from my allotted budget. Yes, it’s not talked about, but on the JET Programme, the various board of education offices are allotted a certain amount of money annually that they can spend on you to make your life in Japan more comfortable. c) realizing I was dumb, and not ant to spend more money to replace the tatami mats every few months, they decided to purchase a used Queen-sized bed, with a new mattress… just for dumb-ol’ me, my sometimes girlfriend, and later most of the women in the city, and still later a woman I wanted to marry. Yes, sometimes good things come to dumb gaijin. Apparently, I may have had the best ever board of education office in the history of the JET Programme. I never had to worry about giving myself tatami mat burns ever again. A Queen-sized bed!

6) HVAC. HVAC is heating, ventilation and air-conditioning. As mentioned, Japan has its extremes in temperatures, where it can be very hot and humid, or very cold. Or more of one than the other. In Japan during the stupidly cold winter, the Japanese like to open the windows (especially at the schools) to give the students fresh air. In the summer, they close the windows to avoid the humidity… actually… I don’t know why they close the windows in the summer. I don’t believe my apartment had insulation. I can recall the number of times my coldwater goldfish aquarium froze over night, and I had to break the ice in the morning so my fish could get some oxygen. To combat the heat, I was given a kerosene heater. Did you know that the Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo astronauts to the moon did so on a kerosene-based rocket fuel? Anyhow, in order to use the kerosene heater in my apartment, I was told that I had to keep a window open to allow the noxious gas fumes to dissipate, less I turn blue and die of gas poisoning. Now… in my apartment, there was a window over my bed… but who wants a cold wind blowing down over your head? The two other bedrooms had large metal sliding doors leading outside. The living room had a large sliding door facing north, where the cold winds would come down from the nearby mountains. Despite there being an active volcano 10 kilometers to the north, none of that came into play when the winds were blowing ice during the winter. So… I decide to keep the doors/window closed and use the kerosene heater one night. While I didn’t die or apparently nearly die, when I told my bosses at the Board of Education what I had done, they really realized just how dumb a non-Japanese I was. They made some calls, and later that afternoon while I was trying to watch sumo on tv, a worker came and poked a hole in my apartment wall leading outside. He then installed an AC/Heating unit… it was so powerful that I never sweat from Japan’s humidity in my apartment again, and could now offer women a warm place to stay through the rest of the year.

Obviously, I got amazing benefits, by being a stupid foreigner, thanks to my understanding bosses. Unknowingly, I was also now set-up to have one of the best, most comfortable westernized apartments in all of Japan. I’m not saying it helped me get ahold of multiple female sexual partners, but at least when I did, the creature comforts of luxurious western society made for a more relaxing environment. 

Now… it is important to note that I’m the only person in the history of Japan to have my experiences. Your own experiences will vary - perhaps even vary greatly.

It may be impossible, owing to circumstances for you to have a good time in Japan, but by at least knowing some of these thing presented in this and the other two past blogs, you can better prepare yourself and your expectations.

I would urge everyone to go to Japan with an open mind. Don’t read everything possible about Japan, because every situation is different.

Go… try new and different things. Have fun… oh, and for crying out loud… even though the rest of Japan may not smile at you, you can smile at them. It’s okay… you are an outsider.

A smile—actually, regardless of where you are even now—goes a long way. It shows you are non-threatening. I’m talking about normal smiles, and not the homicidal maniac ones.

That’s enough for now.

Andrew Joseph




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