Earthquakes in Japan and what I feel experiencing them as a foreigner

The first earthquake I have ever experienced wasn’t in Tokyo or in Japan at all. It was actually in the UK. It was roughly eleven years ago and to be honest it just kind of shook my room a little bit. If you had said to me that a really big truck had just driven past I would have believed you. It wasn’t until a few friends texted me asking “did I feel it”, that I actually believed it was a real earthquake.

Fast forward to living in Japan. It was about the fourth or fifth day still suffering from jet-lag that can only be described as terminal. I was lying in bed just waking up at about 3pm and felt the bed suddenly moving beneath me! The fridge knocked against the wall, the door to the room kept banging and a few of my things fell off my desk. I thought, “Wow, that was a real earthquake!” Still, nothing I couldn’t handle. I’ll get used to it.

I felt several more over the next few months and, sounds weird to say, but I loved it! It’s so strange having the earth shake underneath you and feeling powerless to your surroundings. I have always been fascinated by extreme weather and natural disasters, and being part of a natural occurrence that could very easily become a natural disaster is really scary but really interesting at the same time. I used to snowboard and rock climb and would love to base jump or parachute one day but I never really considered myself an “adrenaline junkie”. I thought “If I lived in Dallas or Oklahoma I would probably be a tornado chaser”. That was until…

I was in a bar called Amber9. It’s a cool, moody kind of bar/grill. It’s located at the top of a narrow building on the 9th floor in Shinjuku. I was telling a story to a group of Japanese colleagues when suddenly the lady sat to my right grabbed my leg with a slap and squeezed. Hard.

Totally taken aback with what’s just happened I stopped what I was talking about and turned to her, and just before I could say “what?” I felt it. The biggest earthquake I had felt so far and it was only just getting started! At its maximum bottles were clanging together, plates were falling on the floor and smashing, it really did feel like the building was going to come down! I noticed a giant air conditioning unit above one of the crew and it looked like it was going to fall I immediately pulled her seat from underneath the giant industrial-sized unit. The fight or flight part of my brain was working overtime! Under a table? Under a door frame? Who do I save first!? Then after a few seconds, it subsided.

Things just went on as normal. Waiters continued serving drinks, restaurant staff handed food out, (food that they were holding throughout the quake). Everyone just looked at each other and shrugged and then looked at me as if to say, “Sorry about that, what were you saying?” I was still clutching the table! Heart going 100mph! Apparently, my Japanese friends could tell that the inexperienced foreigner in me was a little bit unnerved. Probably the look of horror on my face. “Don’t worry that was just a little one.”

“A LITTLE ONE!?” The thing is, Japanese people experience it all the time and everyone remembers “the big one.”

They all took turns to explain to me what they were doing on the 11th of March 2011. Some were at work and had to walk home for hours because trains and taxis weren’t running for the rest of the day. Some were driving when the roads opened up in front of them, leaving them to abandon their cars. They told me that with no way to get home they had to either rent or buy a bike and apparently there were no bikes left to buy for weeks after. My favorite story, however, was that (at the time) one of my colleagues was only 13 years old and he was having lunch in school. When the earthquake hit, he grabbed his freshly made bowl of ramen and ran outside protecting it at all costs! When the earthquake subsided he returned to the chaos of the cafeteria and just sat there quietly eating.

Needless to say, since this ordeal, I have spent the majority of my time in Japan on the ground floor or close to. Maybe I’ll put my Tornado Chasing career on hold for a little while longer!

Are you earthquake ready? Here’s the definitive guide to earthquake preparation.

Nagi Kyoto Sanjo Hotel Review

When working for a Japanese company in Japan it’s really easy to slip into a routine of work, work, work, sleep, work, work, work, sleep. It’s so easy to see why middle age salarymen walk around with a glazed over “kill me now” look on their faces. You see them every day. Crisp, clean, freshly shaven in the morning sleeping on the train, shirt slightly untucked in the afternoon, and pretty much passed out on the floor in a train station or hunched over their dinner in a Yoshinoya at night. All with a miserable look on their faces.

Feeling like I was falling into the same sort of regime, I decided that it was time to take a break. That’s when Marianna (from Marianna Vlogs on YouTube) told me that she had found a very new hotel in Kyoto. It didn’t have many reviews but the location was good and meant that traveling around Kyoto and visiting the shrines and temples that I wanted to see would be relatively easy.

Anyway, six trains and a shinkansen later, I finally arrived at the hotel and oh my god! I was not expecting this kind of hotel!

The hotel itself is down one of the copy and paste streets in this particular part of Kyoto. To me, all of the streets look exactly the same and they weren’t exactly in what I would call a touristy location, more like off the beaten path, a place not built for tourists but more for the people who live there.

Nagi Kyoto Sanjo Hotel

The entrance is new and up to date. The hallway to the front door is covered in flowers (a traditional way to signify a new establishment in Japan). Inside the main foyer there is a huge water feature takes up the whole of the opposite wall giving off an atmospheric, tranquil vibe.

Nagi Kyoto Sanjo Hotel reception area

I have never met friendlier staff at a hotel. The receptionist, and what I can only assume was the hotel manager were nothing but smiles and they spoke fantastic English. Upon checking if, we were asked if we would like breakfast at the hotel. We said no because we wanted flexibility and also with Marianna being a vegetarian, we were eager to experience traditional plant based dishes that Kyoto had to offer.

After a swift and easy check in process we were shown to our room. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. The manager and the polite lady who checked us in appeared outside our room with printouts of restaurants specialising in traditional Japanese breakfasts. They also told us that they have called ahead to make sure that they definitely had vegetarian dishes available, the prices and there availability. Talk about excellent customer service!

Nagi Kyoto Sanjo Bedroom

The room was amazingly spacious! With a big flat screen TV! And a Nespresso machine! Needless to say my needs were more than met, but my favorite part was the bathroom with ensuite wetroom (and a completely separate toilet).

Nagi Kyoto Sanjo Hotel bathroom

Nagi Kyoto Sanjo Hotel bathroom

Overall, the beds were comfortable, the hotel was quiet, and the people working there were fantastic! If you ever find yourself in Kyoto I would highly recommend checking out Nagi Kyoto Sanjo!

Use this link to get £15 off your next visit! www.booking.com

Hotel Vista Premio Yokohama Minato-Mirai

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Traveling Japan isn’t something I have really done yet, so it was nice to finally get a few days off. I wanted to know what I should do with my newly acquired freedom. A friend advised me that it’s the middle of the Chinese New Year and there is a lot going on in the Yokohama China Town.

So I jumped on booking.com and found Hotel Vista Premio in the Minato Mirai area. I dare say my luck is getting better because this place is great!

I booked a room with a seafront view and this is what I got. It overlooks the harbour, gives an amazing view of the city, and it only gets better at night.

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I have looked at some of the reviews online about the Hotel Vista Premio and they range from excellent to very good. No poor and no terrible reviews. Which in this day and age of self-entitled critics is very impressive.

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The room was big and had everything you would expect a hotel to have. TV, kettle, phone, and fridge. The bathroom with dedicated wetroom and bath was amazing! To top it off it had a separate toilet with green tea scented toilet paper!

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Literally, the two things stopping me from giving this place a five-star review is that you don’t get any coffee in the room. You have to go to the reception, past the reception staff and into the waiting area where the coffee machine is.

Those of you who know me, know that I can’t function without a coffee in my hand at all times. So having to get in the elevator, travel down 3 floors, walk past the (very lovely) staff, so that I can refill my coffee was a bit of a ball ache.  They only had tea in the room for some reason. The pillows were filled with some kind of ball bearings. I’m not even joking. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to fill a pillowcase full of beans and rubber bullets but here we are. I had to take the pillow cover off and put it on the chair cushion to get a good nights sleep.

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You get a really good amount of amenities! Call me what you want, but when a hotel room has lots of free stuff my swag bag comes out and my shifty mode activates. Face wash, razors, hair brushes, PJs, slippers, toothbrushes, hair ties. If you are a woman you get a few extras when you check in, which is sexist AF by the way! I also enjoy fancy face serums! It’s 2019! Jeez!

Overall, Hotel Vista Premio is a great choice if you would like to experience the night cityscape views of Yokohama. The proximity to attractions is also excellent. Although there are a few minor niggles (such as the coffee), for a short term city getaway or a business visit, this is a good option. Visit  Booking.com <-use my link to get £15 off.

 

 

 

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…

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