I have finally moved out of my Tokyo sharehouse in Japan!

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I finally moved out of the nightmare share house I was living in!

Carrying on from my last few posts, I was sat on my bed minding my own business and started hearing the familiar humming of a particular tone deff, high pitched man and his even higher pitched eleven year old anime girlfriend. Only this time he seemed to be back with a vengeance.

He was humming so loud! I even cleared my throat really loudly and obnoxiously a few times to let him know how paper thin the walls were but to no avail. He just kept going. I thought they had broken up? I mean, how could he cheat on his Japanese anime bae with Chinese porn and get away with it? Eventually, enough was enough. Two weeks with this nutcase was all I needed. I packed my stuff and headed for the door!

The new place is amazing! So much better than the last place! The space is so much bigger! I can actually roll out of bed and not have my nose be touching the wall. The area around the apartment block has four shopping malls, two train stations, a cinema, and an international supermarket!

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The complex actually has its own gym! I mean it’s not much, a few free weights, a pull-up bar, and this weird horses saddle type thing but still, it’s a space to work out!20190314_171655 (5)

It even has a cinema room with musical instruments to mess about with.

It makes me wonder why I didn’t look to move out sooner! This place is so much better.

The move was a little bit hellish. The new place happens to be about two hours away from where I was currently staying. So dragging my whole life between two suitcases, four trains, for two hours, TWICE was a nightmare. The disapproving looks from all other passengers were palpable. Funny enough, Japanese people don’t tend to enjoy it when you block the isles of the train with suitcases. In fact, it downright irks them! I don’t really like taking public transport in Japan at the best of times but now I might as well have a giant sign above me saying “look at me, I’m ruining your day!”

The downsides are few and far between but I have run into a few issues while I have been here.

Issue number one. Dominos pizza is faaaar too close for comfort, like stone’s throw away. And I know what your thinking! …But John!… That’s a good thing. No. No, it isn’t! I have to walk past it every day! The smell of fresh pizza, seeing it come out of the oven. It’s like someone trying to quit smoking around a group of smokers.

The second problem is that I live a thousand miles away from all my students. So now I have the lovely task of asking for more money to travel or find new students. P.S If you are Japanese and live in the Kanagawa area and want to learn English email me.

Never the less it’s taken about two weeks to fully move in but I can honestly say I’m so much happier here. If you ever look to move to Japan, don’t settle for the cheapest place!  Remember, it’s cheap for a reason.

Bad housemates, a Japanese sharehouse in Tokyo: The worst tenants

I finally moved out of my Japanese share house.

Checkout part1  Part2   Part 3

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So I have had a few bad housemates in Japan up to this point but it gets worse. Living in a share house anywhere in the world, not just Tokyo is pot luck. You never know who you are going to have to put up with.

The worst tenants.

I’m relaxing on my bed watching something on Netflix and I hear the all too familiar rumbling of suitcases being rolled on the laminate flooring down the corridor. Living in shared accommodation for a few months has made me very familiar with the sound. Coming, going, shape, size, I’m sure that if I tried hard enough I could even guess the brand of suitcase at this point.      part3

I like to guess what room they’ll be moving into by listening to the sound of footsteps and noise coming from the suitcase. But this noise is getting louder, and louder, and closer. By the sounds of it, it’s my new next-door neighbor. “Well, there goes my peace and quiet,” I think to myself.

On my way out to teach a class the next day, I check the mail as I always do and I notice there is a new picture up on the notice board. Sure enough, right next to my picture there are two new people in the same room, two Chinese guys holding hands. oh my god! That’s amazing! I think to myself.

Don’t get me wrong as far as Asian countries go, Japan’s views on LGBT rights are fairly progressive, as their religions have never specified nor deemed it to be immoral like western countries had. However, your housing company can still refuse to house or rent to you because (at the time of writing) there is no national civil rights law to protect you if you are gay. Same-sex marriage is illegal and if you leave Japan to marry in a country that does allow it, Japan still won’t recognize the marriage. So it makes me feel relieved to see that the company I rent with is pro LGBT.

I catch them on the way out of the house that night and they seem like great guys! However, the fact that two people had moved in right next door to me became evident pretty quickly. It started with the arguing. really loud arguing! Unlike The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and his helium-filled Anime girlfriend from the first story, these two were fully grown men with really fully grown angry voices screaming at each other in Chinese.

The second issue came when I started smelling cigarette smoke in my room when I left my window open. After a few days, the hallway smelled like an ashtray. The rules of living here are pretty harsh but fair. No drinking, no loud noises, no parties, no plants, no leaving stuff in the shower or on the kitchen work surfaces, no un-vetted guests, nothing in your room that can cause a fire or damage property, no pets, no sleeping in the kitchen (there is definitely a story behind that one) but most of all! Rule no.1! Kicked out immediately if found doing! Not inside, not outside, not anywhere in the vicinity of the building. Absolutely NO SMOKING!

“Well, they’ve smashed that rule” chuckling to myself. I’m not gonna rat them out though. Their arguing and smoking are annoying, but I wouldn’t feel right sneakily getting them kicked out over it.

The third issue was a strange one. They would keep cooked/raw food in their pantry. This needs a bit of explaining. In the kitchen, there is a giant shelving unit that spans the width of the wall. The shelving unit has wooden doors with glass centers and each shelf is labeled by room number. For example, door one contains shelves for room 101,102,103 and room 104. The next-door contains shelves for room 105,106,107 and 108, and it goes like that for the number of rooms there are in the building.

Well, it just so happens that their shelf is directly above my shelf. So when I opened the cupboard to grab a cup and was hit with the smell of three-day-old cooked broccoli, an unidentifiable open can of wet meaty looking food, half an Avocado and what looked like a half-eaten plate of curry, I was mortified. I knew it was three days old because I had seen it there three days ago. What shook me more was that ten minutes into my afternoon coffee they came in and ate it in front of me! Well I left, The smell was contained in the cupboard but after they took it out there was no protection.

Their bad taste in food would come back to haunt me. I arrived home late one frosty day, desperately trying to keep warm as I had stupidly only packed t-shirts for my year long stay. I remember walking up the step to the front door, typed the code into the keypad and expected to be embraced by the warmth. Instead, I was blown away by the absolute stench of death!

Allow me to give you a brief history lesson of the things that I have smelled in my life.

Between the age of eight and fourteen, my parents owned a farm. Every so often my dad would boil a giant vat of offal to feed to the dogs. That’s where you would take the parts of animals that most people would be too stupid or daring enough to eat. Lungs, intestines, brain, bones, the list goes on. It would be boiled all day until you got a thick gelatinous soup. The smell to this day still hits me out of nowhere. As if my brain likes to go “hey! Remember this smell!?”

I went home to Liverpool for the whole of December one year and left my flat in Leeds in a relatively good condition for when I returned. Little did I know, the trip switch for the plugs in the apartment went off and left my fridge and freezer out of commission. Obviously, the fruit and veg rotting in a warm fridge was bad enough but to top it off, the fruit juice, the milk carton, and the veggie smoothie bottle had exploded all over the fridge leaving layer upon layer of different colored mold, fungi, and rot. If you have ever dripped your Mcdonalds milkshake on the carpet of your car and let it bake in the sun for a week you’re about three percent there.

I have cats, three of them. and one day one of the cats decided that the litter tray wasn’t good enough for them anymore and started pissing on the wooden floor behind the litter tray. Well, not to be outdone by said cat (which will remain anonymous) the other two cats get in on the action. So every time I look at the three litter trays and see that they’re more or less empty, I leave them. Until a week later. Sat on my couch, I catch the scent. I follow the scent. Realize it’s coming from under the cat litter, pick up the cat litter, to find piss soaked wood and I’m submerged in a smell that made me think I had just been hit in the face with a can of mace. It made my nose burn, my eyes water, it even made me cough! Not because it made me feel sick but because it felt like I had inhaled mustard gas, and my lung’s response was to cough it up.

None of those things, however, came anywhere near the smell that I walked into that day. It was a powerful overwhelming scent. Put it this way, smells don’t make me sick, but this smell had me gagging from the moment I opened the door and unsuspectingly took my first breath. I thought for sure there had been an accident! Surely a sewage truck had overturned and flattened a colony of ants and the worlds blue cheese supply had caught fire, causing thousands of skunks to spray out the flames. I covered my mouth and nose to make sure nothing got in and walked cautiously to the kitchen to see what had happened. I catch my two neighbors just eating quietly with something cooking on the hob.

It just seemed so unnatural to watch them silently eat while this noise of smell was punching holes in my understanding of physics. I just stood there looking at them looking at me with my hand over my mouth and nose. I just walked away. It must have appeared rude that I was basically signaling to them that the food they were eating absolutely stank but at the time I honestly couldn’t care less. How dare they ruin the atmosphere of the entire house! I was genuinely the angriest I have ever been! I had almost talked myself into confronting them twice but decided against it. They probably wouldn’t understand me anyway.

They had two really nasty habits that really did get to me though. They would spit constantly! All-day and all-night, the soundtrack to my life was retching and spitting. The other thing was, I don’t think they were trained how to use a toilet. Every time I went to the bathroom there would be shit all over the toilet seat. There would be a little white board with “clean the toilet after yourself” written on it as a message to all of us but I knew it was them. This wasn’t an issue before they arrived so it must be them!

A few days later, my appetite for blood long subsided. I keep getting this garbage smell coming from their room. Not a horrible food smell but a generic wet garbage smell. Every day I walked past I would just hold my breath until I reached the safety of the other end of the hall where the front door is. Until one day I had had enough.

It was late and I’m walking around the room listening to music and cleaning like I do pretty much every other day, and a gigantic cockroach runs right under my door and straight under my bed right in front of me. I screamed like a child and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Unfortunately, my bed can’t be moved. It is a heavy wooden bed with draws underneath to put clothes in. Its where my clothes were! I got dressed and left. I walked straight to my closest convenience store and bought every kind and roach killer available. I kicked my door open like a cop raiding a drug den and I sprayed every inch of my bed with roach killer, clothes and all. The fumes were making me choke but eventually, it ran from under my bed straight back out of my room and shot straight under… My neighbor’s door.

THAT is IT!!! IV’E HAD IT! I march straight into the bathroom where the “House Mother” was (she is sort of like an unpaid tenant that makes sure we follow the rules and ensures we have supplies) who was washing her face at the time, and I am so angry that I can only really blurt out nonsense and point at their door. “COCKROACH! SPITTING! SHITTING! SMELLY FOOD!” She’s looking at me like I have lost my god damn mind until I say “they are smoking,” she says “ahhhhh I was wondering where that smell was coming from, I’ll sort it” and just like that, they were gone the next day.

I was “fortunate” enough to be walking past when the cleanup operation was happening and it was disgusting! Their room was trashed! Empty cans, half eaten pizza on the floor, pizza boxes stacked high, bowls with food in them, clothes all over the place, boot prints on the bedding, it was a hoarders dream. I was shocked at the amount of crap they had accumulated in such a short amount of time. It was like they hadn’t used a bin in the entire time they were here.

“Well, at least they are gone!” I can finally get some sleep without shouting and spitting every five minutes. The next few weeks were bliss. Quiet nights and even quieter mornings. Until one day I awoke to the sound of someone humming… NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I finally moved out of my Japanese share house.

Bad housemates, A Japanese sharehouse in Tokyo: Something isn’t right

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Following on from my last post about bad housemates in a Japanese sharehouse in Tokyo, I spoke about my next door neighbor with no concept of tonality, privacy or modesty.

While listening to him shriek about how much he loves his girlfriend and the PTSD I still suffer from, I still found that having him as a neighbor was more funny and entertaining than anything else. The next neighbors however, were not.

Something isn’t right.

On the wall just as you enter my share house there is a notice board with the rules of the house. There is a whiteboard to write notes like “keep the kitchen clean” or “going out Friday if anyone wants to come”, and a segment where all the housemates put their picture up so that we can see who lives here. One day I get home from teaching English and there is a new couple that had just moved in upstairs. The picture wasn’t great just like everyone else’s but these two looked… “off”.

He was balding but with long hair. Think Paul Kaye in Game Of Thrones but maybe a bit thicker with a really thick long unkept beard. She had crazy wavy unkept hair, skin that looked a lot older than it should be and just had a general “I scream at pigeons in the park” kind of look. They both had the same sickly pale skin with huge bags under their eyes and both had the same intense yet expressionless stare. Like an “I’m going to get you later” look that you might shoot a friend for saying something embarrassing about you to a group of people, but a lot more sinister. Almost as if they hated the camera that was taking the picture of them.

Anyway, I get on with my day. I go back to my room, I spruce the place up, write a little, and eat some food. Later that day I go to the toilet and on my way, I catch a few people in the hall quietly and nervously talking amongst themselves looking very concerned. I ask them, what’s up? Well apparently there are two new people sitting in the kitchen and they’re “not right”. They are debating who should go and speak to them, almost daring each other. “Ahh no problem! I’ll go talk to them! Let’s have a chat shall we” and I storm in.

As I approached I heard her speak a language that I was completely unfamiliar with. It was very slow! And deep! Like a rough old Italian woman that smokes fifty cigarettes a day. When I say slow I mean heavy opiate user slow, like saying a word but taking 10 seconds to say it. Anyway, I walk in and I’m like hey! Hows it going!? Their little noise battle ends and they slowly turn to face me. Nothing was said, both of them just staring at me with completely blank faces.

Their eyes reminded me of a sharks eyes, just black with nothing behind them. They were looking in my direction but it didn’t feel like they were looking at me, more like through me. “Maybe they don’t understand English,” I think to myself. So I say, “English?” Still, no acknowledgment. It was like talking to two people that had just had a fix. So un-deterred I say, still with a smile on my face (a little more forced this time). “first time in Japan?” My eyes darting back and forth between them. Nothing, not a word. They just kept the same expression and the same blank stare. So I slowly backed away. “Well” “ok then” “enjoy your stay” “welcome to Japan”.

I rounded the corner and my already long stride quickened as I hurried past the guys waiting for me in the hallway giving them a “good luck” expression as I passed. Apparently, another housemate went to speak to them and described the exact same thing to me later on.

Over the next few days, I would accidentally encounter them in the bathroom, in the kitchen, outside on my way out, and each time they would turn to face me slowly but not acknowledge me. Like a gust of wind had just blown into the room and they were cautiously checking to see where it was coming from with a slight look of worry on their faces. Absolutely no acknowledgment of another human life though.

The one time I did get acknowledgment was when I was heading into the kitchen to heat up some rice for dinner. It was about 1AM and the lights were off. As I walked in, thinking no one was there I caught a glimpse of a silhouette at the table in the moonlight. Startled, I turned the light on and caught the guy slouched over a bowl of food. He was spooning it into his mouth like he hadn’t eaten in days with his right hand and covering his food with his left arm as if he was protecting it from predators or something.

I thought a homeless man had broken in because I didn’t recognize him straight away. If he was disheveled before, tonight he looked like he had just escaped a brutal interrogation from Guantanamo. Trying my best not to let on that he had just scared the absolute crap out of me I said, “hey! hows it going?”  Putting my rice in the microwave. “Not bad” he managed in between spoonfuls. Then, nothing. I just cooked my rice quietly to the sound of him chewing and slurping. “Good talk,” I said as I grabbed my rice and left leaving him with the light on. Returning the same way to go the bathroom not thirty seconds after leaving the kitchen, saw that he had turned the light back off and was still slurping away.

A housemate tells me that she went out for a drink and a cigarette one night at about 3am. On the way back from the vending machine she caught the guy just standing in the middle of the street with something that looked like “a big phone”. Doing something that looked like, “scanning the street and bushes” with it. Apparently, she just stopped and stared for a good five minutes before he looked up from what he was doing, noticed she was just standing there watching him, slid the device into his pocket and walked inside. Something was telling me that I needed to keep my door and windows locked at all times.

One day, just like that, they were gone. Their picture was gone, all evidence that they were ever there was gone. nobody even heard them leave. Usually, when someone leaves, they leave stuff that they didn’t eat/use or at least leave rubbish, but no, absolutely nothing.

Needless to say, they were two people I’m glad I’ll never have to deal with again.

But they weren’t the last of my nightmarish neighbors, the worst was yet to come.

Bad housemates | A Japanese sharehouse in Tokyo | The Humming Man

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I have lived in shared accommodation in Tokyo since I moved to Japan. It’s in a good location, it’s cheap, and it has been one of the best experiences making my stay in Japan a lot more comfortable than a boarding house would.

I have had a good laugh while I have been here. It’s not like a hostel where multiple people stay in the same room and things can get a bit crowded. You get your own room, your own shoe locker, your own segment in the pantry to store your cutlery, dry foods, non-perishables, plates, oils, stuff like that. We get two bathrooms, four showers, four washing machines, and one hob in the kitchen. Not to mention a cleaner comes around once a week.

Because most of the people are here for ether holiday or work it’s not uncommon to go all day without seeing a single person. The best and worst part of living in shared accommodation at the end of the day is the people. If you end up with clean, quiet, respectful, like-minded people your experience of shared accommodation will be that of a positive one. However, if the opposite happens, “you’re gonna have a bad time”. Unfortunately, in my five months of being here, I have had a few “bad housemates”.

So I thought I’d tell you the stories about the, not so great ones, starting with…

The humming man.

I moved in August 2018. First impressions were great! My room had a fridge, air conditioning unit, desk, and enough outlets to suit me. The whole house was spotless and the three or four people that I had met seemed like great guys. I had just spent sixteen hours in the air and about four hours lumping my suitcase around Tokyo to get to my accommodation. The time was now three in the afternoon and my first day was spent introducing myself and wandering around trying to keep awake so that I can go to bed at a reasonable time and cut the inevitable jetlag recovery time in half.

Finally, the time is now eight in the afternoon. “That’s a reasonable time to go to bed, a little on the early side but I’ll just get up early tomorrow,” I think to myself. So I’m lying in bed, it’s pitch black in my room, and it’s quiet. The only noise I can hear is the low rumble of the fridge and the gentle blowing of cool air from the air-conditioning and I start to drift off.

Then another noise creeps into my focus. To begin with, I thought it was an electric razor or toothbrush from the bathroom down the hall. However, the pitch would change every now and again and I realized it was someone humming next door. Now that’s not abnormal. People hum, that’s not the strange part. The strange part was that he wasn’t humming anything with a tune or rhythm or any of the usual markers that he is mimicking a song. It was just mmmmmmmMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmmmm. And the female voice coming from that room kept clearing her throat. Anyway, as interested as I was in knowing what the hell is going on, I was tired as hell so passed out pretty quickly.

The next day I wake up to the sound of the two highest and softest pitched voices I have ever heard. It was my humming and throat clearing neighbors. Now, I want you to close your eyes and picture this. Michael Jackson and a six-year-old girl with a super high pitched voice saying I love you to each other, over and over and over and over and over and over again. Imagine the most repulsively “in love” couple you can imagine and times it by a thousand. “I love you baby,” “no I love you baby,” “no I love you baby.” By the sound of their undeveloped voices, I thought there were a very feminine man and a very underage girl confessing their love for one another.

Gross! I thought. Forgive me for being a prude but this had gone on for 20 minutes, and that’s just how long I had been awake! God knows how long they had been doing it for. Anyway, I get up, go about my day, do some sightseeing, come home, and there seems to be arguing coming from next door. By arguing I mean her in a stupidly high cutesy, squeaky voice asking him WHY!? And him saying in a voice so high no man could/should ever be able to make “no” “I don’t know” “baby I love you” “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” It was at that point I had made my judgment! My neighbors were a couple of weirdos.

It transpires that earlier in the day she had caught him watching “Chinese porn”. I know this because she started screaming it in a pitch that made me fear for my windows. This was one of the many reasons she argues with him and this went on for weeks. Humming at night, “I love you” in the mornings and some kind of strange arguing sesh in the day. It occurs to me that I haven’t seen either of them in the three weeks I have been here. Never even hear their door open and close. Until that one day.

I was heading back to my room from the kitchen after making some toast and walking down the long corridor to my room (right at the end), and his door opens just to the left of my door. Out walks a small, kind of chubby, fully bearded man, in an open woolly pink bathrobe, rubbing his eyes like he had literally just seen the sun for the first time in forty-nine years. I am stopped in my tracks.

Number one, because I am blown away that a voice that high could come out of a fully grown hairy man-beast. Two, because he is now blocking my door so I can’t get past, and three, his open fluffy bathrobe is leaving nothing to the imagination, nothing! He was wearing nothing but an open bathrobe. Not one for male grooming (and he must have been cold). He stopped rubbing his eyes and squinted at me like he needed glasses. All of a sudden he opened his eyes fully in shock, squealed and jumped back into his room slamming his door. I jumped out of my skin and almost dropped my toast! All I heard after that was, “nothing baby” “nothing” “I love you” “I love you” and then came the humming! All bloody night!

For the next two weeks, I would catch the tails of his bathrobe around corners and disappearing through doors as if he would hear someone coming and run to safety. I assumed that he was an extremely frightened damaged guy and the humming must have been some sort of a coping mechanism. Anyway, They eventually left and I enjoyed utter silence from next door until my next batch of neighbors…

Click here for part two…

Ginza and Shimbashi

Ginza

So on my day off, I decided that I was going to explore Ginza. It’s been a recommendation of my housemate for weeks so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s one of Tokyo’s top shopping districts and I was super surprised at how western it is. It’s like the Paris of Japan. So many shops and cafes I was there for literally hours!

Apparently, it was built on a swamp and it’s where silver coins were minted in 1612 but after a fire in the 1800s that pretty much wiped out the whole city, the Japanese government decided to modernize. So now it has a huge collection of shops, restaurants, and bars. The best time to go is during the weekend because the giant street that runs right through the shopping district is closed to cars.

I have been to Paris and Italy but I have never seen so many designer shops and shops without price tags on the items if you know what I mean. It’s not all retail though, just down the street a five-minute walk away is a place called Shimbashi there are lots of things to see.

The Giant Ghibli Clock

Or the Nitele Big Clock. It’s like a huge steampunk cuckoo clock. Built from over twenty-seven tonnes of copper and steel, thirty feet high and over sixty feet in width. It springs to life a few times a day. Little characters move around. blacksmiths hammering stuff, a guy spinning a wheel and cannons moving around. It took six years to complete and is thought to be inspired by the film Howl’s Moving Castle as they were both made at the same time although nothing is confirmed. It’s amazing to watch!

Ghibli clock

Caretta Shiodome winter illumination

Every year the Shiodome mall puts on a light show and time the lights with music from Disney movies. Now I’m not a crazy massive fan of Disney and haven’t been since I was ten years old but it’s pretty good. When I was there it was playing songs from the movie Beauty and the Beast.

Caretta Shiodome winter illumination

food

It’s no surprise that given Ginza is so big and so full of shops and attractions (and being part of Japan) you would think that there is going to be one or two “nice restaurants” well you’d be right! Anything you could think of! French, Italian, Indian, you name it Ginza has the best version of it. But For me, every time I go to that area I always eat at the same place. Freoles! It’s a burrito place just inside the main doors of the Shiodome on level one.

In Japan, there are precious few opportunities to eat like you would at home, at least not without breaking the bank and Even then there will be a Japanese twist on it but here at Freoles I can confirm that if you want an uncompromised and not so expensive Burrito, Freoles is your place. (Vegetarian options as well)

Burrito

Just want to add that I’m a big fan of Christmas lights and am always super bummed they get taken down the moment Christmas is over. Well, not in Japan!

Here they aren’t “Christmas lights” they are “winter lights” so they stay up a lot longer than the rest of the world.

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Japanese christmas lights

 

If you come to Japan I highly recommend you check out Ginza and Shimbashi.

Things I wish I knew before I moved to Japan

Cat

When I moved to Japan I thought I had packed everything but the kitchen sink… And the cat. Arriving in Japan made me realize that I was not prepared at all.

Clothes

If you’re planning an extended stay in Japan prepare for all seasons. Japan isn’t like the UK where winter is a bit cold and muggy, and spring is a bit muggy and cold, and fall is a combination of both. Japan has seasons. Real seasons! Summer is very hot (like 38′ at night hot.) Winter is very cold.  You can set your watch by it! When the weatherman says Summer starts on this day or there is going to be rain at 3pm today, that isn’t an estimate, he’s telling you the day the weather will change for summer or the time the rain will happen. This might be nothing new to some of my readers in America or India but to us Brits if someone had told us particular weather was going to happen and it DID we would probably burn them at the stake. Needless to say, my insulated T-shirts killed me in the summer and now 5 layers deep and I’m still shivering.

Drugs

No, not that kind. I mean Paracetamol, Oxymetazoline, Codeine, or just anything stronger than the weakest Ibuprofen you have ever taken in your life. Some shops don’t even know what Paracetamol is and the shops that do stock it will tell you its actually called Tylenol and its about 200-300mg per tablet. And there is six in each pack. So to take a normal UK dose you would need to take four-five tabs. Oh! And that will be 1,210 Yen (£8.37). You can buy sixteen 500mg tablets at Boots for twenty-five pence. It really doesn’t cost much to come prepared. And if you have a penchant for the stronger analgesic don’t even think about it. Co-Codamol, Codeine, Zapain, Solpadiene, Solpadiene-Max, Co-dydramol, Tramadol, whatever you want to call our little Poppy friend in drug form is completely illegal without a prescription.

Speaking of things that are illegal, this goes out to all my Vaping buddies. E-cig liquid with nicotine in it is also not available. Its legal to have, but not to sell. So make sure you stock up. Apparently, a merchant made Nicotine cig liquid in Kyoto once and was arrested for his troubles. The Tobacco industry pretty much runs Japan so if its bad for business its bad for Japan. But that doesn’t make any sense! Because there is a vape cafe or a vape shop on almost every corner in the big cities. Its super popular here. Almost as if Japan has seen the rest of the world vaping and wondered why they can’t! But because its Japan and people don’t tend to uproar or protest for a healthier option they just get on with smoking real cigarettes and vape at the same time.

Money

If you are on a Working Holiday Visa coming from the UK you are told to have either £1,500 and a return ticket or £2500 to last until you get a job. However, unless you go to the ward office the moment you touch down to get your residency card, have your bank application sent off the same day, have your application approved that month, apply for a job the moment you receive your bank card and get the job within the second month, work all month and then finally get paid in the third month and live in absolute squalor in the meantime, £1,500 will not last you! In fact, £2,500 won’t last you if eating every day is a thing you like to do. Tokyo is like London when it comes to prices, and the Pound to Yen at the moment is like bringing a Dollar to a Pound fight. My advice would be to bring as much money as you possibly can, have a backup credit card or two, grab either an N26 or a Revolt card to allow free withdrawals from ATM machines, (seriously wish I knew about this before I came) and get a teaching profile up as soon as possible! I recommend either hello-sensei.com or eigopass.com. This will not supply you with any kind of real wage for a few weeks and you can’t rely on it to pay your bills. However, a few thousand Yen every other day for chatting to some guy or girl to help him or her with there conversational English will help. Unless you’re a woman… You could probably turn teaching English into an empire. More on that in a later blog.

Buying cheap

Again, Japan (specifically Tokyo) is an expensive place to live but it does have really cheap stores. I didn’t discover these until my second month but there are a few places like. Can do, Seria, Daiso, Lawson store 100 (not to be confused with Natural Lawson which is one of the most expensive places to buy food.) That sell clothes, food, containers, plates, cutlery, the list goes on!

As soon as you arrive find your closest supermarket! Don’t rely on that oh so convenient 7/11 just down the street. You will find the exact same items and more for half the price in a supermarket.

Japanese

Don’t think that just because you are coming to Japan that you will pick up the language just by listening to people speaking Japanese, you won’t. You will end up getting here and feel like you’re being talked over in some sort of crazy alien arithmetic. Start studying now! When you’re here the last thing you are going to want to do is to sit inside studying. Download audio tapes, download apps, buy a book or sixteen. I highly recommend starting with Duolingo to get you started with Hiragana. When you know Hiragana you can start to actually learn the language as Hiragana is the most basic form of Japanese. Yea it’s a tough language.

Travel

It’s by rail or by bus. Nothing else! Taxis in Japan are for people who work in Japan and have money to burn. There is Uber but trust me you will order ONCE. 8,000 Yen (£55) lighter just to go down the street and you will never order one again. And don’t listen to anyone that says Japan Taxi is cheaper. Yea they are, about £5 cheaper. My advice would be to pick up a Suica or a Pasmo card from the airport machines. Top it up with a good amount of money, walk to the second closest train station and get off at the second closest station to your house. For me, I have found that each train station is about five to ten-minute walk from each other so not staying on the line for the whole journey will save you thousands of Yen per month.

Just a few things I wish I knew before I came to Japan and wanted to let others know to come better prepared than I did.

Welcome to Japan

The things I love and hate about Japan

John MiltonMoving to Japan was a dream come true, once in a lifetime experience. Definitely, the best thing I could have ever done. However, Japan is not without its issues. So not wanting to end on a negative note I’ll start with the things I hate.

Staring

Japanese train, insideImagine if you will, you’re standing in line at a checkout waiting for the person in front of you to finish fumbling about with their change and you cast your eyes downward to find that there is a pram. In that pram is a child about two to three years old, and they are staring at you. An undistracted, unwavering, relentless stare. “Heh, cute kid” you might think as you get back to putting your items on the conveyer belt. You glance back through the corner of your eye, she’s still watching. You turn your head to give her a proper look. No change, she’s still locked on. You make a face, poke your tongue out, flip her the bird, it doesn’t matter she’s still staring. I know the world around her is new and every new face is interesting. We know that she is not old enough to know that staring is rude so we find it funny or cute. We make jokes. “Oh got a new boyfriend have you?” “She’s such a flirt” haha very funny.

Now imagine four or five middle to old age men and women dotted about a train car, standing in a shop, or walking down a street doing the exact same thing to you. Now imagine that this is a daily occurrence and you’ll start to understand my frustration.

When I first arrived I thought “meh I must just be something they don’t see very often,” “let them look, not doing me any harm” and let it slide. A month in and not much had changed, despite the fact that I noticed Tokyo is FULL of foreigners and I’m nothing special. Two months in and I’m starting to get a bit annoyed by the one-man show with me as the star. I start giving those lingering stares the raised scrunched up brow and tilted head down “can I help you?” look. That stopped a few but not all. Another month and I had found that dead eye staring them down with my arms crossed until they looked away was, at first, very effective at deterring people from staring at me for the rest of the journey. However, none of these methods helped when dealing with a particular set of starers.

I was standing at the back of a train holding on to the rail. The time was about 2:30pm and I was in a foul mood. Can’t remember why. Not enough sleep, not enough food, a combination of both who knows. As I’m glaring out of the window I noticed two middle-aged men sat down on the opposite side of the car whispering and staring at me. I side-eyed them for a few seconds then looked away thinking this would let them know that they are making me uncomfortable. It did not. Another two minutes go by and they’re still doing it. Haven’t taken their eyes off me in that time. So I stare back. Nothing, no change, still staring at me. I cross my arms. Now I’m being outright defensive. My face, my eyes, and my body language are now screaming “stop staring at me!” They’re still doing it, in fact, the one sat on the right leans into the man on the left to whisper something (while still staring at me). Before he gets a chance, I very firmly say, “Nani!” (what!) Well to say these two shit themselves would be an understatement. Their faces hit the floor and they did not look at me for the entirety of the remaining journey. I got off at my stop about ten minutes later feeling like an asshole but seriously what would anyone else do in this situation? Its almost as if “it’s rude to stare” was never a popular saying in Japan. And I’m a guy! A 6’2, weight lifting, lots of food eating, broad-shouldered guy! Women have it so much worse than me. In fact, staring is just the tip of the iceberg for women on trains. Let’s just say there is a reason some of the busiest trains have women-only carriages.

Bikes

Japanese bikeYou know, in a country that has over eighty million bicycles (that’s 1.5 Bikes for every person in Japan), ranked no.8 in the world for most bikes in a country. You would think that Japan would be built for bikes, or that the necessary training standards for riding a bike would be very high. Not so. I used to hate bikers in the UK. They take up too much room on the road for absolutely no reason, they are slow, they jump lights, they pull out into the middle of the road without looking, they have clipped my wing mirror three or four times while I’m sat at a set of lights and apparently that’s my fault, and drive past them a bit too close and they become the angriest people on earth. I could go on but at least there is order, at least there is a highway code, at least its illegal to ride on the sidewalk. In Japan its a free for all. Cutting in and out of pedestrians riding on the sidewalk, riding in the road until they get to a red light then they just think “screw it” and ride anywhere, and they fly at you! It’s not like they take care when riding around pedestrians either. So many times I’ve had to stop dead in my tracks because a bike was coming at me fifteen to twenty miles an hour, and I’m stuck in the, “am I going left?” “Am I going right?” Oh god, I’m going to die in a head-on collision with a peddle bike situation. And this isn’t a youth issue. In fact, the worst offenders is a tie between elderly ladies in a “they see me rolling” one hand on the handlebars and one hand swinging to the side lent back position and women with baby carriers fitted to the front and back of the bike. There are outlines on the road to indicate pedestrians and bike areas but no one pays attention to it.

love!

Super SportsThe things I love about Japan far outweigh the things I hate about Japan. Here are just a few things I love about Japan and I will just keep adding more to the list as time goes on.

The Food

Vegan Ramen

The food is delicious. Even the cheap stuff you can buy in Seven Eleven can be stuck on a dish and served in restaurants and believe it or not the vast majority of food in Japan is healthy. Now, I think this could be a blog post by itself but the food here has so little calories in it that it makes me wonder what is in our western food that makes it so calorie dense. I could have a whole day of eating and I mean really pig out but the calories would only end up being about 2000cal as opposed to being 4000cal in the UK. When I first arrived I was hungry every day. I would wake up, eat breakfast, go out to meet one of my students, eat, teach a lesson, eat, go sightseeing, eat, more sightseeing, eat, go home, eat, watch Youtube, eat then go to sleep and I still woke up in the middle of the night to rip my fridge apart. I woke up so many times covered in food because I had started sleep eating but I wasn’t putting on any weight. In fact, I kept getting slimmer.

It wasn’t until a housemate pointed it out did I realize a full meal with all the trimmings was only working out around 150cals. Even the chocolate here has about a quarter of what a regular western chocolate bar has.

Convenience

Japanese vending machineLet me give you a sentence never spoken by a Japanese person. “Gee I could really go for a hot coffee, a packet of cigarets and a fully cooked hot meal, but oh well its 3:30am and all the shops are closed.” You can pretty much get anything you want whenever you want. There are drinks machines on almost every corner (hot and cold drinks). Cigarette machines in cities. Not to mention Seven Eleven and Family Marts are everywhere and open 24/7 and they will cook you hot food if you want. Definitely a city to have jetlag in.

politeness

Japanese buildingsThe Japanese are the politest people on planet earth, sorry Canada. So many times have I asked for directions and the people in the store have taken me by the arm and lead me there. I have never been in a country that had people crossing the road to come and help me because I looked a little lost. The first time it happened I was thinking “get away from me” and fumbling around in my pockets to make sure my valuables were still there but, by the fifth time it happened, I realized they actually just want to help me and not rob me. The crime rate as well! It’s so low! If I was to walk down a street in the UK at 3:00am chances are I would be accosted by a gang of youths dressed head to toe in the finest fake Adidas money can buy, and probably not leave that alley in one piece. In Japan, at 3:00am you will just about catch the old ladies and the early birds getting a head start on their day. I live in an apparent “rough area”. When I tell people where I live there immediate reaction is “Omg!” “Are you ok?” “Why do you live there?” “That’s not a nice place!” But honestly, I can’t understand why. No attacks, no theft, no drugs, I can’t even find the slightest bit of graffiti. I sometimes wonder what a Japanese person would think of my home City of Liverpool, or Leeds, or London, or Newport!

Order

Japanese shrineEverything works! If Apple or Honda ever created a country it would be called Japan. Trains run like clockwork, people cross the road when the green man tells them too, there is no smoking in the streets, no eating if you’re walking, you stand on the left side of the escalator and walk on the right (this is reversed if you’re in Kansai). I have yet to have anything break down on me. Not seen a single pothole in the road. In fact, if there are roadworks there will be about nine or ten workers, they will finish the works in half a day and when they are finished they will clean the road and wash the cars that are on the road. There are potholes in the UK that are older than I am! Now with dicks drawn on them! Two people will work on the road maximum! It will take them a week to finish, and when they are finished they will leave half of their stuff! Including the cones, yellow tape, and plastic bollards.

Overall, despite the downsides, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. Japan is the cleanest, most organised country I have ever lived in and paints a stark contrast to my previous home in the UK.

MANBOO

The problem with the taxi option is that I have taken three taxis since I have been in Japan and all of them cost me north of 50 quid. The first two where Uber, until I was told Uber in Japan, isn’t the same as it is the UK. Uber in Japan is used by businessmen and CEOs that require a “professional driver” so I was told to use Japan Taxi which to be fair, was a bit cheaper (by about 1000 yen-about seven odd quid), so not much of a change really.

The problem with the second option was that hotels in Tokyo can be on the very, very! VERY! expensive side. I could get a love hotel for six to twelve hours but I was a bit weirded out by it at the time. As for just staying up and partying all night, well, although I am a binge drinking English man, bars typically close at 3am here and the trains don’t start until 6 giving me 3 hours homeless time. And then I discovered ManBoo.

Manboo is an internet cafe with three room options, you have your standard room with internet access, a tv room with a comfy recline-able chair, and a room with both Internet access, A TV and a bed. Now, when I say “room” and “bed” I use the terms very loosely. By room, I mean cubicle much like a typical office style cubicle that reaches a bit further up, say about 6ft with a lockable door, and when I say bed, I mean a bit of a thinner landing mat you would typically see in gym class, or a martial arts school.

The lobby area is more like a library with rows upon rows of every manga you can think of and you can take the books and comics to your room and chill out in private with your favorite manga and help yourself to unlimited free soft drinks, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Cheap food is also available from vending machines and I don’t mean your typical packets of crisps and chocolate bar type of vending machines, I mean real food vending machines, noodles, pasta, fried chicken, chips, dumplings etc.

I booked for twelve hours in the highest price room, TV, internet, bed, the works. I didn’t need twelve hours but I wanted to experience as much as I could of this strange place and maybe get some sleep. How wrong and naive I was.

Sleep was not a possibility. As you might expect a cubicle within a massive room filled with computer equipment and TVs was about the temperature of your average sized server room. The aircon did very little to help, especially as my cubicle was on the top floor and elevated towards the ceiling meaning that heat could easily get in but not out. The people inside the cubicle next to mine were (and I’m just going off the grunting, knocking, moving and giggling) having a very good time, and just when I thought it was over, it would start up again ten-fifteen minutes later. So either there was a pair of newlyweds with the stamina of Rambo on bull shark steroids or these places are frequented by a particular worker, and it makes sense!

A cheap room that you can pay for by the hour, with a mat, no questions asked, is the perfect place to engage in questionable nighttime activities. This kind of made me wonder, what went on in MY room before I got here… on my easily wiped down crash mat… noticing that the room wasn’t what I would call clean…

Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night chilling by the free drinks bar or bolt upright careful not to touch anything, watching Japanese TV (which is a whole blog post by itself). Needless to say, I will not be staying in an internet cafe again anytime soon.

Internet cafes have a use (for all kinds of people) and I am sure there are lots of people that would just like to book a room where they can play games, read manga, watch TV and have free drinks all night. In my teens I would be happy to say I was one of those people, however, my view of internet cafes in Japan is that they are now more of a sex den than a nerds paradise.

Check out some of my horror story’s of Living in a Japanese share house.

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Being a Vegetarian in Japan

Ain Soph Ripple  アインソフリップル
Fully Loaded Burger from Ain-Soph 

Contrary to the title I am not a vegetarian. However, I am a bit of a health nut and while I was living in the UK I would always opt for the sweet potato pitta at Nandos or the Veggie Burger in Frankie and Benny’s. In fact, the only time I ate meat was if it was put in front of me and not wanting to seem rude by saying “I don’t want this” I would just eat it.

My typical day would be oats with honey in the morning, couscous and beetroot humous salad for lunch with a Nature Valley protein bar, a few bits of fruit here and there and a dinner consisting of some kind of Quorn dish with a Gold Standard Protein shake made with unsweetened almond milk before bed. In fact, if I didn’t eat eggs I would eat vegan.

However, moving to Japan threw my diet out the window, from the 40th floor, on to spikes, made of lava.

The thing is, Japan doesn’t really do vegetarian. In fact, I have come across one too many people that look at me like I’ve lost my goddam mind when I say things like “no meat” “vegetarian” “don’t put Bonito flakes on it!” It’s not that they don’t understand it, vegetarian in Japanese is “Bejitarian” and vegan in Japanese is “bee-gan”. No seriously. Even though there are words for it in Japanese doesn’t mean that they understand it. Every time I say vegetarian I still have to run through the list with them.

Egg? ok.

Milk? ok.

Dashi? (fish stock) not ok.

Chicken? not ok.

Eh? but… Eggs from a chicken are ok?

Its like in the majority of cases they can’t tell the difference between eating an animal and eating what comes from an animal. If you tell them outright you are a Vegan they tend to understand that you want absolutely nothing to do with an animal. However, that checklist will still probably come out. And restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg. Getting food from a Seven Eleven or a Family Mart is a minefield of meat, even the pre-made vegetarian salad has some kind of animal derivative in it for absolutely no reason. Just plain lettuce on its own in a pack has fish flakes in it. Almost all cakes have gelatine or animal Rennet in them. And if you’re a Vegan!? Good luck! Even the bread has milk in it here.

Now, I have succumbed to the fact that I can fight this every single time I eat or just go with the flow. Not wanting to be that typical foreigner with a list of dietary needs that end up slowing a kitchen down because they need to remake everything, I either eat a little meat or simply go to vegan restaurants.

But! Fear not! Vegan restaurants are popping up all the time. It would seem that more and more people are realizing the niche that is veganism in a meat-eating country. Don’t get me wrong they are few and far between but the ever-increasing rate is a good sign that Japan is heading in the right direction. I will link just a few places that I have eaten in and can personally vouch for their deliciousness for vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters alike.

It goes without saying, I am a very respectful foreigner and I would never walk into an establishment and throw demands around and kick off when I don’t get my way. I have read up on the culture and how Japan does things. I know that they are a homogenous society with a collective mindset and I am happy to assimilate. However, the vast majority of goers of the Rugby world cup and the 2020 Olympics will not care one bit.

Now, I’m sure if you are reading this and you are not from Japan, you are a very respectful, easy going person that would be more than happy to adjust your lifestyle for the two to three weeks that you stay here. You might even be reading my blog to get a bit of insight into what to do and what not to do. And if you have done a bit of research about the typical foreigner faux pas, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I fear for Japan. I have lived in other parts of the world prior to moving here and I can honestly say that Japan is not ready for the rest of the world. Smoking in public is illegal here. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. Eating and walking aren’t exactly good manners. Well, foreigners won’t care about that. I once saw a group of old ladies scowl at a man that coughed one too many times on a train and caused a disturbance. Well, get ready for carriages full of people on their phones screaming about god knows what. The one thing that Japan is going to need is to hurry up and get the right dietary requirements catered for. I’m not just talking about meat, fish, and milk. I’m talking about allergies and religious needs as well.

If you are Vegan/Vegetarian I highly recommend trying these places out.

T’s TanTan– my favorite place to eat! the hot and sour ramen is the best in my opinion.
Vegan Ramen
Ain Soph. Ripple -or any of the Ain Soph resturants to be honest but the best is Ripple. Typical American style food. Chilly Cheese Fries, Burgers, Burritos, Salads but all one hundred percent vegan.
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Nataraj Restaurant– for us Brits it’s important to know where the closest Indian restaurant is, its a safety blanket. If you’re not from the UK you wouldn’t understand. Nataraj is the place to go, trust me on this.
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Coco ichibanya– now bear with me on this one. You have to find a vegetarian one because not all establishments are, you also have to tell them you are a vegetarian to be given the secret menu and you have to be ok with certain veggies deep fried in the same oil as meat but, it is the best curry in the world!
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Noodle StandIt isn’t a vegan place but they do have a vegan option on the menu. It’s the Vegan Coconut Miso Ramen. A white Miso soup cooked with coconut oil and Ramen. And it is delicious! Reminds me a lot of Yasai Itame from Wagamamas in the UK.

Okonomiyaki zen– The one place I found that know what a vegetarian is. Okonomiyaki is a type of pancake made with veg and meat. Just tell them you’re a vegetarian or vegan and they will bend over backwards to accommodate and it’s delicious!

Kanro Shichifukujin– A traditional Japanese vegan macrobiotic sweets and bento restaurant. It’s run by the sweetest Japanese lady in the world and there is a cat. What’s not to love.

Please check out the Happy Cow App and the Veggie Map for more restaurants that are vegetarian and vegan-friendly.

I started a multicultural underground theft ring, here’s how I did it.

John Milton

I accidentally started a multicultural underground umbrella theft ring here’s how.

I live in shared accommodation. it’s an amazing way to exchange ideas, language, culture, art, fashion, jokes and make new friends from all over the world, just one problem, when it comes to Japan we are all clueless.

Don’t get me wrong no one wants to upset the Japanese people or insult the culture in any way so we have all done our own research to make sure we don’t offend anyone, sometimes to death! I live with one person that is paranoid about everything she does from coughing in public to what direction she places her chopsticks after a meal but nothing quite prepares you for all the strange things you see and hear along the way.

For me, the strangest thing I see is storefronts, the fact that all the trinkets, wares, items, and products are all just on display and not bolted down or security tagged, is mind-blowing to me. I passed a garage once and outside the front of the shop a good 40 meters away from the building was a wall of rims and tyers, all shapes and sizes Chrome, spinners, gold plated aftermarket stuff I know for a fact are hundreds of thousands of pounds just sitting there and I’m looking around to check if anyone else is seeing this!?

A smaller thing I have noticed is the sheer abundance of umbrellas there are, everyone has one, every shop sells them right next to the door, they hang unaccompanied on walls, railings, signposts, and sometimes just lying there at the side of the street. This is why I thought hmm maybe people just leave them out for others to take instead of binning them or taking them home where they already have a hundred or so, that makes sense, not to mention they are cheap! they start at about 500 Yen about (£2.50-£3.40) and you can buy a fancy one for 1500 yen (about £11). anyway I was on a review page for The Millennials Shibuya trying to find out a bit about it before I stayed there and one of the reviews said that there is a take an umbrella, leave an umbrella, stand, and sure enough when I visited, there was indeed an umbrella stand (that I deposited my umbrella in) and when I went to collect it in the morning it wasn’t there! so I took someone else’s, “of course!” I thought to my self, this must be how it works everywhere!

Fast forward a month later, I sat in the kitchen eating toast with a few of the other guys in the house talking about what we have been doing and what we will do in the coming days. One of my housemates looks out the window and sees it’s raining.

“oh for god sake!” “what?” I ask, he says

“its raining again! I can’t afford all these umbrellas! I keep losing them or putting them down and forgetting them!” so I say “don’t worry about it! just grab one from the umbrella stands out the front of the shops! people just leave them there for you to take. Stunned! REALLY!? I said yea! I read a review about a hotel with a take an umbrella leave an umbrella stand and its the same one that’s outside the front of like every shop. Five other people around the table chimed in, “really!? we didn’t know that!”

About a week later our umbrella stand that sits just inside of the front door which is usually barren was absolutely FULL of boosted umbrellas, the slots to put the umbrellas in were all full and umbrellas were strung up about the place, you couldn’t move for umbrellas, we could have started an umbrella warehouse fit for bulk orders.

Unfortunately it wasn’t to last, the guy I had told about the umbrella stands pulled me to one side and told me he had just had a lengthy telling off for stealing umbrellas and that the man in the shop that he frequents on his way to and from work that he had been robbing umbrellas off this whole time wants his umbrellas back!                                           “I must have made a mistake/misunderstood!” “I had no idea!” “I’m so sorry!” “I didn’t mean to give you the wrong information!” “I’m just going off what someone else had said!” “we need to warn the others” “I feel really bad!” all the things I said to him and more! and I meant it! honestly, I did! but as soon as I got to my room and locked the door I burst out laughing, the thought of him getting caught and told off for stealing umbrellas for a week pushed me over the edge, I laughed for a straight 20 minutes, the state of the front door umbrella area, the fact that I had told six people that stealing umbrellas was totally fine, the look on his face when he told me he got in trouble. I just kept envisioning this Japanese shop owner telling off this guy.

Its fine, we’re still good friends, I laugh at him about it sometimes.

He doesn’t laugh back.