Distance Job Hunting in Japan Under COVID-19

Hey, it’s been a while.

I would usually use this blog to write about my ‘adventures in Japan’ but I would like to address something that has consumed my life throughout these past few months. Job hunting in Japan. Whilst it was most certainly not a ‘fun’ or ‘exciting’ adventure, it was a considerable challenge and I think it deserves to be recorded so that future generations can look back and wince in pain at ‘what it used to be like’. This is going to be a really long one, so I won’t be offended if you skip between sections! Anyway, without further ado, let’s get started.

An Introduction

The spread of coronavirus has quite literally plunged Japan back into its medieval state of 鎖国 (Sakoku), leading them to both postpone the 2020 Olympics and totally prohibit entry to the country from any non-Japanese nationals (allegedly even returning foreign residents). Long story short, it’s really not the right climate for foreign job seekers. This understandably threw dampers on my desire to seek employment in Japan, but as someone who changed their university degree from chemistry to Japanese and translation studies with the specific intention of living in Japan, giving up now would have been a major blow to my self-esteem. So I didn’t, and I managed to see it through to the end. Therefore, I would like to use this blog entry as both an informative piece and an homage to my own experiences thus far. I’ll start by explaining the ‘normal’ job hunting process in Japan and how it had to adapt to counter the spread of COVID-19, then going on to recount my own experiences as a foreigner trying to break my way in to the country. As an extra bonus, I’ll throw in where I managed to find employment and what I’ll actually be doing there when it starts in April.

Job Hunting in Japan

So, we’re going to start by talking about the bog-standard method of Japanese job hunting, or 就職活動 (shūshoku katsudō), which is a period of time that resides within the nightmares of all but the most resilient Japanese students. Why? Because it is possibly the most frustrating experience that any young person has the misfortune of finding themselves in. Allow me to explain.

For the average Japanese student, job hunting will begin in their penultimate year of university. Realistically, however, the earlier one starts looking the better. This may seem obvious but it is actually really important as many companies will completely finalise their recruitment process over a year in advance of the advertised job actually starting. That’s right – if you haven’t secured a job by March 2020, you will likely miss out on lot’s of opportunities for an April 2021 start. This was a problem I faced too, as whilst I spent my penultimate year of university studying in Tokyo, I had so much work to do that I couldn’t spare the time for socialising, let alone job hunting. As a result, I came back to the UK knowing none the wiser and ultimately missed the recruitment deadlines for many of the companies I was originally planning on going for.

So let’s explain the job hunting process itself. I’ll list the steps neatly here and explain them in more detail later on, so make sure to fasten your seat belts.

  1. Pre-entry (プレエントリー)
  2. Explanation Session (説明会)
  3. Entry Sheet (エントリーシート)
  4. Aptitude Test : 1-2 times (適性検査:1-2回)
  5. Personality Test (性格検査)
  6. 1st Interview : HR (一次面接 : 人事)
  7. 2nd Interview : Managerial (二次面接 : 責任者・管理職)
  8. Final Interview : Executive (最終面接 : 役員)
  9. Job Offer (内々定)

Note: Many Japanese companies also implement ‘group interviews’ in which you are asked very similar questions to a normal interview but there will be 2 or more interviewees giving their response in turn (it really sucks). There can also be ‘group discussions’ which are similar to group interviews but involve intercommunication between participants, usually in the form of cooperating to solve a task (these suck even more).

Personally, just reading that list back makes me feel nauseous. As a disclaimer, some companies may have 2 interviews, others only 1, but this list should reflect the recruitment process used by the large majority of Japanese businesses. The problem with this process is that it is extremely time consuming. Just because you passed steps 1-7 does not mean you will pass step 8 (and in fact many people don’t), meaning that, if you fail, all of the time you spent getting to that point goes straight out the window and you’re back to square one. To counter this disappointment, the average number of companies that a Japanese student applies for during their job hunting is around 20, but many people recommend to go for 30-40 just to be safe. Here’s a scenario to put it in perspective. You are a Japanese student in your penultimate year of university and want to start job hunting. Like many others, you want to start your career in Tokyo, but it takes you around 3 hours on the bullet train to get there from where you currently live. Traditionally, i.e. up until this year, all explanation sessions and interviews, even exams, had to be attended in-person. So if you applied for 30 companies, even if you were lucky enough to attend 2 explanation sessions per day, you would still have to go to Tokyo 15 times just for that first step. That’s 90 hours of travel and a whole lot of money just to find out if you like the companies you are thinking of applying to. That’s just the first step, but I will touch upon the exams and other steps later on whilst regaling my own experiences.

Luckily I didn’t have to do any physical travelling for my job hunting, but it’s absolutely worth thinking about the mental impact on students after they’ve spent such a ludicrous amount of time and money on applications, most of which will inevitably be met by a simple rejection email without a lick of feedback. Luckily, however, there is a simple solution and it only took a global pandemic for it to come into effect.

COVID-19 and the Transition to Online Recruitment

As a kid I imagined the year 2020 would see us all riding around on robotic dinosaurs and shooting each other with laser beams. Okay, it’s not particularly realistic but in terms of technological progression we’ve actually done far better. What 2020 does offer us is a hugely saturated market full of both educational and recreational apps and devices through which we can learn languages, new skills and even help cure mental illnesses all from a small device in our pockets. This means you can keep in touch with family across the globe, learn languages without leaving one’s country and even meet new people in different countries without leaving the house. So why on earth did it take us this long to implement online interviews?

If COVID-19 has a silver-lining, it’s that traditional face-to-face interviews have been taken off the table. They can’t, and shouldn’t, be an option. This no-doubt caused a great deal of stress to HR workers across the world as they had to recruit new staff without actually meeting them in person. However, online recruitment has now come in to full effect and is being praised by not only applicants, but also the recruiters themselves. Recruiters can also dial in from home, meaning they can get through far more interviews in less time than it would take if they were run in-person.

Remember that recruitment process list a few paragraphs up? Imagine it now, but every step can be done from your computer. No travel costs, less wasted time and you don’t even need to wear trousers whilst you talk to the big cheese. Of course it’s still time consuming, and there are certainly areas in which the process could be streamlined, but it’s a drastic improvement on what was happening before. Most companies still require an in-person interview for the final step, but this is understandable and also important for the applicants as they will be able to assess the working environment that they are applying for. So, given I acted as something of a lab rat in this transition, I’d like to explain the rest of the process through my own experiences.

My Personal Experience and Opinion

I’ll tell you honestly, I’m not an interview guru or a master of Japanese recruitment. In fact, out of the 30 companies I applied for, I only received an offer from 1. Sure I could blame it on the status quo, but where’s the fun in that? There’s no easy way to categorise my experiences as all companies are different, but I will try to split this section according to the aforementioned list that we have all come to know and love, starting with pre-entry.

Pre-Entry(プレエントリー)

This step isn’t particularly difficult, and has no effect on one’s application, but is important for keeping track of the ridiculous number of companies that you are applying to. The biggest recruitment websites in Japan are Mynavi and Rikunabi, stellar examples of the inconsistencies of ‘b’s and ‘v’s in Japanese transliteration. Through these services you can submit your ‘pre-entry’, basically conveying the fact that you’re kind-of interested, to as many companies as you’d like. However, what I found was that companies using these websites for recruitment were primarily expecting Japanese people and nothing else. Both websites are exclusively in Japanese, so perhaps it’s not too surprising? Either way, I applied to around 20 companies through Rikunabi alone but hardly made any progress whatsoever and had to rethink my strategy. In my case, I decided to scrap it all and start using Disco Inc.’s bilingual Career Forum as my primary job hunting platform.

The Career Forums typically take place in cities around the globe, with notably large ones in London, Tokyo and Boston. However, COVID-19 saw most of these events move online and therefore made them much more accessible to those not living in the cities that host the events. I attended the online London Career Forum in April and made progress with a handful of companies, but ultimately got completely dropped, including from one company I had done 4 exams and 2 interviews for, leaving me absolutely devastated and completely unmotivated. After finishing my dissertation and other university work, I tried again with the Tokyo Summer Career Forum, which had also moved online, and was again rejected or totally ignored by many of the companies I applied to. One company in particular invited me to attend their explanation session, but I was completely unable to book a slot despite following their instructions to the letter. Upon sending them a very polite email (employing my best honorific language), a pleasant lady replied explaining to me that my Japanese was not technically ‘native’ and therefore I was not viable for the position. She explained this all to me in Japanese too, so I was left slightly bewildered with a splash of exclusion and a bit of a grudge. Anyway, I politely refrained from replying and turned my sights elsewhere. Let’s take a look.

Explanation Sessions (説明会)

Apart from the company I mentioned above, most others were more than willing to welcome non-Japanese people to their explanation sessions. The only real barrier I felt with these was that the time difference between the UK and Japan meant the sessions were frequently very early in the morning or very late at night for me. This unfortunately led me to give up on more than a few places due to the fact that attending the sessions is compulsory and I often wasn’t willing to stay up until 4am to find out about a company I had never heard of. Also, some sessions lasted up to 2 hours which gave plenty of information about the company but was a total deal breaker if it started any time after midnight.

From the sessions I did attend, there were a few different delivery styles. Some of the larger companies such as Accenture and PwC had their own recording studios which made them look like daytime TV shows, whereas other smaller companies either rented smaller studios or just spoke into a webcam. Possibly my favourite type, however, was the interactive explanation session style. With this, there would be a host (usually someone from HR) and several other active employees present in the call too. Sometimes these employees would simply be there to answer questions put forward in the chat, but other times the session would be split into groups and you would get the opportunity to speak to them face-to-face. I found these to be the most engaging as you can actively ask questions and learn a lot more about the company than you can from being talked at for 2 hours straight. That was a brief explanation of the explanation sessions, so let’s move on to the application itself.

Entry Sheets (エントリーシート)

The Career Forum service submits your English/Japanese CV to any companies you pre-apply to, but most of said companies will invite you to sign up for their MyPage system. This keeps all of their recruitment internal, which I totally understand. One thing to note, though, is that many companies use the MyPage system so make sure you know which login details are for which company otherwise you may get locked out forever. Once you sign up, you usually have the options to upload a picture of your face, submit between 1-3 entry sheets depending on the company/role and take their aptitude test(s).

The entry sheets share a similar format between most companies and usually require your basic information alongside your reasons for applying to the company and role, what you put most effort into during university and any extra qualifications you may have. More specialised positions will ask about your research at university or any project experience you may have. Unlike British companies, however, they do not tend to ask fresh graduates for employment history or references, which is quite nice.

In total, I submitted 21 entry sheets. However, this includes some companies that used a video entry system instead. Video entries were more interesting, as you had to introduce yourself and explain a certain topic within a very short 1-3 minute video. Whilst I think they certainly lack the level of detail one can put into an entry sheet, they are no-doubt more interesting for both the applicant and the recruiter so I thoroughly enjoyed doing them.

Right, on to the dreaded exams!

Aptitude and Personality Tests (適性検査)

Much like everything else addressed so far, the style of exams and their difficulties differed between companies. That said, the ‘SPI’ exam style was used in the majority of places that I applied to. The SPI is usually split into 2 sections, ‘言語 (language)’ and ‘非言語’ (non-language). The language section is essentially Japanese language-based questions aimed at Japanese people, focussing on the structure of set phrases, analysis of long texts and logical insertion of sentences into said texts. As a non-native speaker of Japanese it is hell on earth but also a great opportunity to improve. For me, despite passing the highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test around a year ago and having studied Japanese at university for 3 years, studying for these exams really re-opened my eyes to the level difference between advanced and native speakers. They are super difficult. In fact, I’m going to use the next few months going over practice questions as a new method for learning Japanese as they are that tricky.

The non-language section of the exam is essentially just maths and logic-based questions, but I had quite a lot of problems with this as I had never studied maths in Japanese and the questions have a strict time limit so will automatically proceed to the next question if you don’t answer it in time. I did maths to A-Level at school and never really had any problems with it, but there were certain problems such as ‘つるかめ算’ (tsurukamezan) which would be basic knowledge for a Japanese student, but we are not taught it here in the UK. Tsurukamezan doesn’t even have an English Wikipedia page or direct translation as far as I am aware.

There are many other exam styles, mainly ‘WebCAB/GAB’ and ‘Tamatebako’ which are more maths-focussed and include sections on logic, code-breaking and abstract reasoning. Some companies also employ English tests, but they’re not as common as I would have liked…

Finally the personality test is more of a chore than anything else. It consists of hundreds of questions that you have to rank in order of importance or pick which side is more like you. For example, the left hand side could be ‘I hate rules’ and the right hand side could be ‘I can’t think for myself’ and you would have to pick between them as there are only 4 levels with no neutral middle value (i.e. X○○○○Y). I didn’t mind it at first, but it is literally the same exam for every company so you end up doing it 20-30 times as it consumes your soul and makes you question your own reality.

Away with that, let’s take a look at interviews instead!

Interviews (面接)

It’s been a long journey so far, but thank you for sticking with me. I’ll try to breeze over the main questions I was asked in interviews and explain the process as simply as I can. Most companies have more than one interview, with the first being a fairly ‘casual’ chat with somebody from the recruitment team. When I say casual, I mean less like you’re decorating your words for God and more like you’re talking to a well-respected uncle. The main questions I was asked in the first interview are as follows:

  1. Introduce and sell yourself i.e. notable experience, skills, hobbies etc.
  2. What did you put the most effort into whilst at university?
  3. Why are you interested in Japan?
  4. Why did you choose our company rather than other similar ones?
  5. Where else are you applying for/how far along their recruitment process are you?
  6. What is it you want to achieve by working for us?
  7. Where do you want to be in 5-10 years time?
  8. Questions about experience/entry sheet
  9. Do you have any questions for us?
  10. Is there anything you don’t feel like you had a chance to convey during the interview?

All-in-all nothing too offensive. The question about which other companies you’ve applied for is always really difficult, and asking the interviewer questions at the end is just as important in Japanese interviews as it is here in the UK. I had 6 first-stage interviews, 1 of which was a group interview, and passed 5 of them so I don’t think the difficulty level is particularly high. As long as you’re nice and know what you’re talking about, it shouldn’t prove too challenging.

The second interview, however, is much more important. It will usually be with managerial or supervisory staff instead, meaning they will know exactly what kind of person they need for the job and whether you really know what you’re talking about. Again, I’ll list some common questions here:

  1. Introduce and sell yourself i.e. notable experience, skills, hobbies etc.
  2. What did you put the most effort into whilst at university?
  3. Why are you interested in Japan?
  4. Why did you choose our company rather than other similar ones?
  5. Where else are you applying for/how far along their recruitment process are you?
  6. What is it you want to achieve by working for us?
  7. Where do you want to be in 5-10 years time?
  8. Questions about experience/entry sheet
  9. Do you have any questions for us?
  10. Is there anything you don’t feel like you had a chance to convey during the interview?

Notice anything… fishy? That’s right, they’re pretty much exactly the same questions as the first interview. Part of the reason for this is that they want to check you aren’t lying about anything you’ve said previously, but it certainly get’s a bit repetitive as an applicant. I’m not Japanese and they may change the questions slightly to reflect that, but it seems relatively common. Whilst it may be repetitive, the second interview allows you to appeal directly to the people you may end up working under and ask them questions about the job that the previous interviewer may not have known the answers to. Long story short, asking questions at the end is very important.

Finally, there’s the ‘final interview’. I only had 2 of these so can’t really comment on what the process is like in general, but one of them was almost identical to a regular second interview and the other was completely different. The latter was quite intense so I would like to share my experience here.

My most recent and final interview was actually quite down to earth despite how it may sound when I describe it here. Unlike previous interviews in which there had been mainly 1 or 2 staff present in the call, this one had 4 higher-ups including the CEO attending from a large office room. From their perspective, my face was plastered onto 2 big projector screens at the front as I tried to convince them I was a good candidate for the job. After introducing myself, they asked me questions in turn with the topic varying from person to person. Whilst there were still questions about why I want the job or why I want to work in Japan, I think there was a lot more focus on finding out how committed I would be and whether I would actually cope with not just the job but also living in Japan long-term. This is something I had not been asked too much about in prior interviews but I was moved by how different their questions were. There were no traps, no ‘what kind of breakfast cereal are you?’ questions, just honest concerns and good conversation. I scraped my way through and managed to pass the interview, receiving an offer the next day. Given I was on the brink of giving up and going to do a master’s degree, I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt when I strolled into my parents room to tell them my 4-5 month battle had finally come to an end.

The Future

That just about sums it up! Obviously there’s a lot more that I either couldn’t fit into the post or can’t make public, but for now I am very pleased to announce that I will be starting a new chapter of my life at Intelligent Wave Inc. as a systems engineer next April.

This has always been a fairly lighthearted blog where I would just write about travelling and decent food, a trend I’d like to continue if possible, but for now it’ll be goodbye for another year or so until I have managed to settle into my new position. Of course if COVID-19 breaks through into COVID-21 then all will be lost and my life plan will be absolutely ruined, but here’s to being positive and hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Stay safe and try to stop the virus spreading so I can get to Japan ASAP!

See you all in next year.

久々の熊本旅行!A Long Awaited Trip to Kumamoto!

This took far too long for me to get around to writing but it’s a short summary of my trip back to Kumamoto where I lived and volunteered when I was 18 years old.

On the morning of the 2nd, I said goodbye and took the local train from 小倉(Kokura) to 熊本(Kumamoto), changing in 久留米(Kurume). I wanted to take the bullet train, which would have taken about an hour, but the local train and it’s 39 stops were less than half the price. Maybe one day!

The train itself wasn’t too bad and I managed to sit down for most of the way, the excitement and intermittent Pokémon Go sessions distracting me from the length of the journey. Eventually arriving in Kumamoto, I was met by るさん who treated me to lunch! I had tempura-udon for the first time which was surprisingly good!

kumamoto eki

After we finished eating, we headed off to 水前寺成趣園 (Suizenji Park). I hadn’t been there in years so it was really nice to walk around the gardens and take in the scenery, especially when compared to the bustling atmosphere of Tokyo. We also teamed up and took the Pokémon gym from a pair of middle-aged women there, who relentlessly defended it but eventually admitted defeat and left.

We still had some time to kill after that so headed off to the new department store that had opened in the downtown area, COCOSA. It was really cool and had a Muji store inside which we spent ages walking around looking at everything from types of curry to interior design. I wished it was there when I used to live in Kumamoto, not that I had enough money to buy much at the time! To finish up, we went to karaoke for a couple of hours which reminded me of the times we used to go, and then said goodbye as I headed off to meet ニさん and ヤさん!

After separating ways and meeting up with ニさん and ヤさん, they treated me to 馬刺し (raw horse meat sushi) for the first time since I was in Kumamoto before. I know the notion of it must sound repulsive to most people but if you can build up the courage to give it a go, I would definitely recommend it! I just so happened to give a presentation on 馬刺し (raw horse sushi) the week after coming back to Tokyo, so it was nice to have a reminder of the taste before that. It was lovely catching up with the two of them, who both seemed to be doing really well and actually progressing with their lives unlike yours truly who still has another couple years of pampered student life to go. Either way I had a great evening with them and it was the first time I’d been to a fancy restaurant in quite a while!

To finish up, 二さん and I headed off to a wine bar for a last couple of drinks before he showed me to his friend’s house in which I’d be staying the night. His friend was away at the time and I was staying alone for the first night so it felt quite odd taking a shower and sleeping in the appartment of someone I’d never even met. but I met him the next day and he was even nicer than I was expecting!

Onto the next day, I met れさん and she took me to 焼肉 (yaki-niku, similar to a fancy BBQ) for lunch! Again, it was really nice to catch up with her and reassuring to see that she still looked as energetic as usual! After eating lunch I had no other plans so went with her to a flower exhibition. There were lots of impressive arrangements to look at but unfortunately I didn’t take many pictures.

FInally, she very kindly agreed to go souvenir hunting with me so we went to 鶴屋(Tsuruya department store) where they have a Kumamon character goods shop. I bought the majority of my souvenirs there, including for myself, and it was nice to have someone with me so I could actually decide on what to buy for a change!

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It was already a busy day but I had more plans for the evening! I met up with ゆさん who took me to an authentic-feeling sushi place for dinner. It was aan underground wooden room with the sushi chef’s in the centre and counter seats situated about them. You call out to them and ask for what you want and they’ll quickly make it and set it down in front of you on a raised platform. Most cheap sushi places in Tokyo use electronic tablets for orders and send the sushi out on conveyor belts so it was a nice change of scenery and somewhere that I would never have had the confidence to go in by myself. We also went for gyoza and another drink afterwards before parting ways again. Until the next time!

 

However, I didn’t go home just yet. I met up with 二さん and みさん (who was graciously providing my lodgings). We went out for a few drinks and then みさん left his appartment to us again so 二さん and I stayed there afterwards. Before having breakfast the next morning, we played a few lively games of Jenga and Shogi (similar to chess) before having breakfast and heading to 二さん’s actual house to meet his new baby! It was my first time going into an unfamiliar Japanese family house so I was constantly worried that I was forgetting certain etiquette etc. but his wife, her mother and みさん who joined us again were all really lovely and treated us to lunch. The baby was super cute but it was still hard to picture 二さんas a dad so that will take some getting used to! After eating a huge lovely meal, みさん、二さん and I headed off to the batting center to let off some steam. It was my first time to go there and initially the ball hurling machine was absolutely terrifying as it lobs the balls at you with quite a lot of speed and if it makes contact with your bat the noise is jarring. Once I got into it though it was really fun and I’d really like to go again. We also played billiards which I had no idea about the rules because I’m used to just playing regular pool with coloured balls at the pub whereas these all had numbers and different colours to each ball. Either way, trying to grasp the rules as we went was pretty fun. After that, we still had a bit of time to kill before going to the airport so I managed to convince them to take me to karaoke where we all sang for about 2 hours and wrapped up what was a really relaxing and fun day.

Finally our time together came to an end and みさん was kind enough to drive me and 二さん all the way to the airport to see me off. It was really nice meeting so many people in such a short amount of time, and the nostalgia of walking around Kumamoto and the atmosphere there was totally worth the cost it took to get there! The fact that I had to come back to Tokyo almost brought a tear to my eye. I will go again!

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As a final note, I met a couple who were sat next to me on the plane back to Narita airport who were super friendly and it was great talking to them. In fact, we’ve met up a couple of times since and gotten fairly close so it was a great end to a great trip and I couldn’t have asked for a better time away.

 

Study, study, study…

Greetings once more from Tokyo!

The last 2 months have gone past in the blink of an eye but I’ll try my best to fill in the blanks since my last post. Starting with a grumble about classes and a lack of time to enjoy myself, I’ll go on to talk about my trip to Kyushu island where I used to live! There have been a few events with the Waseda International Club that I’ve attended too, which have been really fun, but I’ll write about them in the next post so stay tuned! There’s plenty more to talk about so I may have another recap blog post coming soon too.

Classes and Homework… *grumble*

After starting my classes in October, I realised just how hard the workload here is compared to home. In other words, I slightly regret my decision to “challenge myself” with lots of difficult classes this semester. Each class is 90 minutes long and I am taking 11 different modules for a total lesson time of 19.5 hours a week. The majority of my classes are relatively interesting so this alone wouldn’t be a problem save for the fact that the vast majority of classes distribute homework every week and presentations aren’t uncommon. So long story short, I’ve been in my room for the majority of my spare time! However, I’ve become friends with a handful of my classmates and am actually improving Japanese (hopefully) so I’m happy enough continuing at this pace for now. I may however lessen my workload next semester in order to spend some more time job-hunting and enjoying myself.

Now, onto something more fun! A short holiday back to Kyushu where I used to live!

First time in Kitakyushu! / 初北九州!

After finishing classes on the 31st, I took the tram as the first step on my journey to Narita airport. It was my first time on the tram here and apparently it is the only remaining tramline in Tokyo. The ride itself was fairly pleasant and not too pricey so I’ll definitely use it again if I get a chance to go in that direction. Following the tram ride, I rode the fancy Narita Skyliner train to the airport which cost a little more than the other transport options but offered spacious seating and a relaxing journey. However, upon my arrival at Narita I stupidly stupidly stupidly pressed my ICOCA travel pass on the ticket gate instead of inserting my ticket. Therefore paying again despite the fact I already had a ticket. Clever James.

The terminal itself didn’t provide much entertainment other than the ice cream vending machine (which I of course used), and whilst the plane appeared to have a relatively fresh-looking interior, I soon found that my shoulders didn’t fit the chair at all and was fairly uncomfortable for the entire 2+ hour journey. However, after those 2 hours had passed, I finally stepped off the plane and entered Kyushu for the first time since moving back to the UK almost 3 years ago.

I didn’t have much time to take in the scenery, or even have a quick nose around Hakata station because of running for the train but I managed to make my way to Kitakyushu without any major problems. On reflection, I do regret not stopping for a bit in Hakata to buy the はやかけん transport card. Japan has many different designs for their IC transport cards which usually depend on the prefecture/region that they are bought in. I decided to keep these as souvenirs rather than the fancy CocaCola bottles shown above because they’re lightweight and won’t explode in my luggage. The ones I have so far are ICOCA (Kansai), SUGOKA (Kyushu) and mono SUGOCA (Kitakyushu monorail). Tokyo uses PASMO for the underground and SUICA for the Metro, so I will go and buy those at some point too.

Arriving in Kitakyushu, I was met by beautiful friends who were at Cardiff for their year abroad last year! After a month or so of trying to make friends in Tokyo, it was really nice to see some familiar faces.

The next day we met up with another two of our friends, rented a car and went on a drive to Yamaguchi Prefecture! After a small incident we didn’t have much time to explore our destination but we managed to take some pictures and absorb the scenery at least. The destination in question was a small island called 角島 (Tsunoshima). It really was a tiny island, but it boasts a famous lighthouse and great coastal views with a long curvy bridge connecting it to the mainland. It would have been nice to spend a little more time there, but alas we continued in the car!

Our next stop was a large cave system called 秋芳洞 (Akiyoshidou). We were worried it would close for visitors before we got there and it had gotten quite dark by the time we did. Luckily for us, there was some kind of event where they installed loads of multi-coloured lights inside the cave and we were allowed in shortly after arriving. My camera did it no justice in the dark but here are the results:

It was a really interesting place, with the cave itself spanning a total 10km in length with areas reaching 80m in height. The tourist route only covers about 1km of that but even so it was truly surreal to walk through.

Then, our last leg home in the car. Arriving quite late in the evening, we regrouped and headed out for a good traditional izakaya for meat skewers and beer. All-in-all I had a great time with everyone there and I was very sad to leave. I hope I get another chance to go, and next time have more than just a couple of days to spare!

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On reflection, I had a lot more to cover in this post than I had originally anticipated so I will end it here for now. However, the next post will be about my brief trip to Kumamoto and the way back to Tokyo so stay tuned and I’ll see you next time.

Good night!

ただいま。お久しぶりです。

Hello, and greetings from Tokyo!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog but, to cut straight to the point, I am studying at Waseda University for a year and so will be living in Shinjuku, Tokyo, until August 2019. This post will be a recap of my last (very busy) couple of weeks so feel free to skim through at your leisure.

A bit of a recap

On the 8th of September, I took a flight from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita via Amsterdam and Xiamen, China. Despite only being checked in until China and having to re-check in there, the voyage wasn’t as painful as I had originally expected it to be. I met a fellow Brit on the long-haul flight to Xiamen so at least had someone to share the immigration pain with before getting on the flight to Tokyo. Initially I had planned to hold back all my excitement until the last flight and release a flood of nostalgic tears upon disembarking the plane in Tokyo. However, I was tragicaly struck with the misfortune of needing the restroom and thus any feelings of nostalgia were wasted. BUT I had arrived in Japan and that alone was enough to put a smile on my tired dehydrated face.

My classmate, Tom, came to meet me at the airport and we went back together to my capsule hotel (I couldn’t move into my halls until the day after I arrived…) but before that, we had a quick look around Tokyo station and bought FamilyMart Chicken which I had been craving for about 2 and a half years.

東京駅

After dropping my stuff at the capsule hotel we hit the streets and searched out a yakitori (awesome chicken skewers) bar. I remembered how much I loved this damn country, not just because of the atmosphere and people and ease of living but the food is so good! Saying that, it was a special day for me so I figured I’d be adventurous and we had skewers of hearts, skin, cartilage etc. which sound terrible to the average Brit but are actually surprisingly nice (though I’m not a fan of the cartilage!).

After a good night’s food and a few drinks, I head back for an almost sleepless night at the capsule hotel. I was tired enough to sleep most of the night but the gentleman snoring and hitting the walls next to me did not particularly help. Moving on! I left the capsule early in the morning and dragged my suitcase for a 40 minute walk over to my new dormitory halls. The walk in the heat was killing me so much that after I arrived and started the check-in process I was still dripping sweat on the table whilst trying to still give a good impression. I guess you can’t win every battle. The rules are pretty strict (and suck!) but I was lucky enough to get a room on the 10th floor and I think the following photos speak for themselves.

部屋からの景色

部屋

After acclimatising to the new room and making a conscious effort to communicate with my fellow dormitory mates, I began my long month of meeting old friends and attending a handful of compulsory orientations. You may not be surprised to hear that I am lacking photos of the orienations but I did however get a few pics from the sightseeing and days out!

I met up with a few really good old friends which was great and the first time I’d laughed so much in a while. Good company really is priceless. I also had another look around Tokyo, which I mostly remembered from last time, but was really nice to see a lot of familiar sights and even go to some new places like the Emperor’s Palace and Tokyo Skytree! A friend I met in Bristol told me to go for dinner with his mum too, which I was skeptical about at first but went anyway. Not only were both his parents really nice, but his mum treated me to some okonomiyaki which was delicious.

Then, my dad came over to Japan! I was surprised to hear it at first, but he came over on the 22nd-25th and we had a pretty good time. It was his first time in Japan and it was nice to see his bewilderment at how different it is here, even if he couldn’t stomach the food…

Either way I’ve had a really great start to this year and whilst I will have to start thinking about saving some money before I go bankrupt, I’m really happy with the time I’ve had and look forward to an exciting year ahead! よろしくお願いします!

IMG_20180925_192731
フランク達と餃子と炒飯

散歩しないほうがいい

今日はすごく暑かったが日焼け止めを使い切ってしまったので新しいのを買わないといけなかったです。それでコスモスに歩いて、日焼け止めを買って、サンリブシティまで歩いてみようとしてそこにも行きました。まだ閉まってて、ドアに貼っているサインには「9月」なんとかって書いてあったので残念ながら帰る前に入れないですよね… けれどもサンリブの向こうにセブンイレブンをできたらしいので美味しいパンケーキしか食べず、頑張りましょう〜 (笑)

結構出仲間と平成のあたりを回ったりして、すごく懐かしかったです!日が出すぎてその30分間くらいでありえないくらいに汗をかいて、早く家に帰ってシャワーを浴びました。そしてゆっくり休んで、また出かけました。今回は病院まで歩いて、この前の泊まっていたところに忘れてた服をもらいに行ってきました!この時の方は熱がひどく、病院のバス停に20分間くらい動いていませんでした。

そこから帰って、またシャワーを浴びていました。こんなに汗をかけることが想像できませんでした。けど、今晩もお出かけでした!今の病院ボランティアの2人と、上司たちとご飯でした!会う前に気まずそうと心配していたが結局予想していたより楽しかったです!俺はチキン南蛮を食べてたけど早く食べ過ぎてみんなを長く待たないといけなかったです。今日はお餅とポッキーしか食べてないですから!!

それからちょっと散歩したり、公園でビールを飲んだりして、歩いて帰りました!友達がまだジムにいたらしいで、テレビで「僕のやばい妻」と言うドラマを見ていました。なかなか面白かったけど最初のエピソードじゃなくて、何が起こっているかあまりわかりませんでした… そしてちょっとゲームしたりして寝ました!

観光?

今日も早く起きて朝ご飯食べたりして、またお母さんと2人になりました。8時前に家出て熊本城の辺りまで自転車で行きました。お城の壁しか全く見えなくて、また全部回ってようやくちょっと見えてる写真を撮れました。

そして自転車置き場を使って、街を散歩していました。どこにも「がんばろう、熊本!」って書いてあって、ほとんどのお店が閉まってて泣きそうな気分になってしまいました。本当に懐かしかったのに悲しさもありますね。お母さんがその後に「まだ早いから閉まってるでしょう」って言って、まだ10時前だって気がつきました!明日はもっと遅い時間に行きましょうね!

帰ってきてからお母さんは水前寺公園に連れて行ってくれました!9ヶ月ぶりに行ったのにまだ同じように綺麗でよかったです。たぶん地震のせいで、池のお水がなくなったらしいけれども少しずつ戻ってきています!石が白いところには水がなくなったみたいですね…


それから、動物園の辺りにある湖に!前回ここに来たのは死ぬほどに寒くて、手袋やでかいコートを着ても寒すぎて痛かったけど今回はちょうどいい気温でした!道が地震で壊れて本当にすごかったです。ありえないくらい硬さで絶対戻れないってわかってきました。湖の隣の道はもっと大変だったらしいけれどもう修理が始まっているらしいです!


そういえば、上のキリンが前回来た時にも壁を舐めていました。壁を見たら、それをわかるでしょうか (笑)
そして夜にはお母さんと3人で買い物に行ったりして、日本の買い物がイギリスのよりめちゃいいって覚えだしました。お母さんが先に帰って、2人でバスでインド料理やさんに行って水曜日休みって書いてありました。それ残念だったが結局家に近くハンバーグ屋さんで食べていました!美味しかったけど相手のご飯が少なくて可哀想でした… お誕生日プレゼントをあげたりして、好きそうでめちゃ嬉しいです!

昨日もあまり眠れなくて、帰ったばかりに早く寝ました。おやすみなさい!

寝坊や地震

今朝また5時くらいに起きてしまったけど6時にまた眠れて、11時くらいに起きました!朝ごはんを食べたりして、すぐにチャリに乗って街に行きました。街では本当に暑かったです。日が出すぎて道から陽炎がのぼって、本当に熱からどこにも逃げられないな気分になりました。

スタバで変なチーズケーキ味のフラペチーノを飲んだり、話したりしてから晩御飯を2人で食べて、初めて地震を感じていました!ここまでは何回もあったけど弱すぎて感じられなかったが今回は震度2だけだったらしいのに、そのレストランがすごく揺れたり音したりしてなかなか怖かったです。体験なしで最初は外から車が壁にぶつかれたと思っていました。びっくりで肩にも悪くて、熊本のみんなの肩はまだ元気ように!!人間は床が必要なのでそれが動いてどこにも逃げられなくて、1番助けてくれる人に裏切られるみたいな感じで怖いです。この前に震度7があって、本当にどれくらい怖かったか分かることができません… とにかく沢山のお店の言う通りに頑張ろう、熊本!

最後に帰ってから、みんなでジョジョの奇妙な冒険のアニメを見ていました!英語の字幕なしでちょっと難しかったけど予想していたより分かっていました!いつも通り面白くてよかった、そして初めてに別の人と見れて嬉しかったです。

寝る前に相変わらず喘息の薬を吸わないといけなくて、そして相変わらず吸ったばかりにちょっと息が切れました。薬の注意書きを読んで「吸ってから息が切れるならすぐに吸うのやめてお医者さんに見て下さい」って英語で書いてありました。もう少しで1年間この薬を吸ってるので困ってきました!とりあえず吸うのやめるけどイギリスに帰ってからお医者さんに診てもらいましょう!!

熊本での暑い1日

朝の5時くらいに起きて、顔の痛みと思っていたが地震が起こったらしいです。さすがに俺は全く気がつかなかったがそのほうが良さそうのでもっと強くなくてよかったです!朝はだらだらして、両親とちょっと話出来て良かった。家のお父さんは先にお仕事に行ってきますって言って、泊めてくれてる子も家出て、お母さんと2人でいました… めちゃ気まずそうと予想していたが実は全然そうじゃなかったです!いろんなことを話したり、漫画を読んだり、折り紙を教えてもらったり、一緒にご飯を作ったりしてなかなか面白かったですね!

コスモスという薬屋さんに行くはずだったけどお母さんのちょっと危なさそうな自転車で行って、コスモスを見つけなくて街や熊本城に着きました!天気がめちゃくちゃ暑く、お城の壁がすごく落ち、悲しい気分になってしまったがお城の周りを全部回って壊れているところをほとんど見れました… 熊本城の下にある神社が完全に壊れて本当にすごくて言葉がないんですけれど回って続いて、本当にこの前に行けて良かったなと思っています… そしてお母さんの自転車のかげで俺は生きていると思うので、ありがとうございましたね!


京町という場所で迷子になってしまって、太陽の夏で死にそうだったからお水とポカリを日本買ってコンビニ前に全部飲んでいました。帰り道も間違えて、熊大に行ってしまったがコスモスがそのあたりにあって見に行きました!残念なことに効きそうな薬がなく、店員もみんな忙しく、そのままで帰ってきました。お母さんとまた話していて面白かったがもっと出なくて申し訳ないですね… 本当に暑かったのにね!

夜には散歩したりして、建物のダメージとか見て回って本当に大変って見れます。家が壊れている人が本当にかわいそうに、想像できないです… 別の薬屋さんで薬を買えて良かったが効くかどうか明日か明後日は見てみます!
帰ってからみんなでご飯食べたり、ワインや他のお酒を飲んだりしてお腹がまあまあ痛くなってしまったが普通にみんなと話せて嬉しいんです!!
今日も早起きで今から寝ます!

明日も楽しみにしておきます! おやすみなさい〜

もう一回熊本へ!

この前にはお父さんが「日本にまた行きたいならちょっと飛行機の切符ようにお金出す」って言ったので今日はようやく熊本市に来ました!
今朝起きて、スーツケースになにを入ればいいのか全くわからなくて結局完全に暇を潰してしまいました。結構緊張していたけれども楽しみにしすぎて集中出来ませんでしたね… ヽ(;▽;)ノ

電車が混んでいたが席を見つけて本当に良かったです!電車はめちゃ大きかったのに人が多すぎるのまじですごいって思っています。なんで人間はそんなに多いのかなって思ってしまって、俺も人間だと覚えましたけどな… (笑) 
子供の頃におじさんが言ったことを思い出して「You can’t complain about traffic; you ARE traffic」ってことでした。おじさんは普通に言ったけど俺はめちゃ強いメッセージがあると思うので青春しても忘れません… BathからLondon地方の電車に乗って、着いたらお父さんと会いました!父にこの前「何かの食べ物を持って行きなさい」って言われたのに忘れて、怒られました ♪( ´▽`) 空港まで見送ってくれて嬉しかったが予想していた通り「帰り道は上海で俺にタバコを買いなさい」って命令されました。普通には絶対買わないんだけどさ、飛行機の切符を半分以上払ってくれたので断れませんでした。俺は喘息で買うのが本当に嫌ですが…

London Heathrow空港には長く並んでて、チェックインはめちゃスムーズで良かったけどセキュリティがばたばたすぎて中々怖かったです!!最後まで生きていましたけどドキドキしてしまっていました!
飛行機に乗って、安い感じしてたんだけど本当はイギリス人としてもBritish Airwaysより良かったと思います… 席から見れてたところには1人の白人もいなかったですけど!!席ベルトの注意が1秒もオフにならなく、トイレもきたなく、まあまあきつかったけれども日本に安く行けるの本当にいいです。


トイレを並んでた時にキャビンアテンダントは “Clean the bathroom.”って言って、 本当にびっくりしました!3回も言ったのに英語が間違えてるのでわからなくて、結局”Go ahead”って返事して、その人が掃除をしに入ってきました!中国語を勉強したほうがいいんですかね?

ニキビで本当に生活が終わりそうです。彼女や友達とも会う予定なのにこういう酷いニキビがあってありえないです。飛行機で長くいてちょっと治るかなと期待していたのに、最後には本当に悪くなってしまいました。いつもニキビがあるときには鬱になるんだけどさ、こんなひどくなってどんな感じか説明できないですね。とにかく長く熊本に帰れなさそうので必ず楽しみます!そう決めて本当に楽しめているので今からそう思っておきましょうかね!

上海には変な空気でした。外から中国はすごく賑やかな見た目するんだけど空港少なくとも中々静かでした。そこのセキュリティは必要最小限みたいだったがスタッフがめちゃ真面目で怖くて、それで十分だと思っています!


ようやく日本に着きました!!すごく疲れたんだけど、最後の入国審査をしないといけなかったです。 「誰と泊まってるのここに書いてください」って言われて、俺は漢字で友達の名前を書いて「わぁー感じうまいんですね」って言われて、それでここは本当に日本だなぁと確認しました!(笑) そして荷物の検査をされたんだけどその人にも「日本語めちゃうまいね、」って話してくれて笑ってしまいました。ドイツ語とかフランス語も知ってる言葉が話せますかって聞かれたりしてうまく検査をできましたね〜!


セキュリティのところを出て、迎えに来てくれた子を見て嬉しすぎてそこまでの心配が全部なくなりました。一緒に新幹線で帰って、緊張していたが両親と会ったりして大丈夫でした!もう遅くなりましたのでシャワーしたりしてそろそろ寝ます!

おやすみ、そしてただいま〜 ♡✈︎