Monday, June 27, 2011

Only the Essentials

Packing for any long-distance trip, whether that distance be in time or space, is always a hassle. Unlike the roaming, nomadic tribes of yester-millennium, our culture prides itself on "stuff" and "space." It reminds me of a funny bit by deceased comedian George Carlin. You have to divine the most important "stuff" that you own and fit it into a suitcase. Obviously, I can't bring everything. What it boils down to is this heart-wrenching question: "What can't I live without?"

Delta allows two bags of 50 pounds or less for international flights. It is a sobering experience to define yourself within the perimeters of 100 pounds. Is that really all a person's life amounts to? As I roll socks into balls and stuff paperback novels between t-shirts and jeans, I wonder how much I actually need to survive. If it came down to it, I could probably live out of a single bag, as long as I did nothing but stare at the wall after work and never changed my pants.

My suitcases is filled with things like lemonade mix, taco seasoning, extra toothpaste, video games, family photos, etc. I think nearly half of it is purely meant to keep me sane as I transition from a culture I've spent my whole life absorbing to a culture I lived in for a few months during college. I'll tell you one thing--I'll feel relieved once I actually set foot on Japanese soil. Until then, I plan to grind my teeth down to the gums with anxiety.


Friday, June 24, 2011


One of the things I have to accept about going to Japan is that I will be parted from much of the delicious cuisine that has made up the majority of joy in my life. Now, I'm not a glutton, but I do appreciate the finer aspects of dining. Let me begin by telling you that Japan is severely lacking when it comes to some of the staples that Americans care to dine upon.

#1: Pizza
A quick Google will tell you all you need to know about Japanese pizza. Obviously resources overseas are different, as are tastes. This is really just my own palette talking, but when I think of pizza I think of thick cheese, tomato sauce and pepperoni/sausage. I do not think of toppings like mayonnaise, asparagus, squid, seaweed or corn. I won't begrudge the Japanese their choice of toppings, but I will say that I have tasted their pizza in the past and was not impressed. I'm no gourmet, so I urge you to taste the difference yourself and see if you agree with me.

#2: Mexican Food
I love the occasional taco, enchilada, etc. Imagine my surprise when I went to Japan for the first time. I could not find a single Mexican restaurant. Perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough. Literally the only place in Japan that I was able to find Mexican food was the Spanish-themed restaurant at Tokyo Disney Sea. It was tolerable, meaning my gripe isn't with the quality of Mexican food in Japan but rather the scarcity of it. I have heard rumors that the Hard Rock Cafes located in major cities serve "Americanized" Mexican food, but it is expensive ($$$$).

#3: American Food in General
Don't tell me "if you're going to live in a foreign country, get over it and eat their food." I love foreign cuisine as much as the next expatriate, but anybody is going to become a little nostalgic for the dishes of their native land after a long enough absence. I'm expecting to eat plenty of sushi, okonomiyaki, and miso soup just like everyone over there, but nothing cures my homesickness like a reasonable facsimile of authentic American food. The one place I found in Japan that mimics a real American restaurant in terms of taste is The Oatman Diner. The staff is (of course) Japanese but the food tastes just like it does in America--plenty of salt, sugar, etc. If you can afford the price tag, you can get strawberry lemonade and a bacon cheeseburger just like you had back when you visited your favorite American restaurant.

#4: BBQ
You can barbecue in Japan... if you have a backyard. Space is scarce over there, so don't count on it. I was fortunate enough to have a host family with an ample garden in which to BBQ. Unlike in America, we used a small, lidless BBQ and served up the food as it was finished cooking, not all at the same time. One thing you may notice about Japanese dining etiquette in general is that people don't get served altogether. Japanese restaurants will bring your food as it is finished, meaning your friend may be waiting for his steak while you are halfway through your salad. I can't say if this is typical for Japan, but my host family's BBQ pit didn't have a lid, meaning we used paper fans to blow the smoke away. It seems to require much more effort and concentration on the part of the cook, but luckily it tasted just as delicious as back-home BBQ.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blogging and Bloggers

Short for weblog.
A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today."
(via Urban Dictionary)

I can't attest to whether I am a good blogger or not. Neither can I objectively judge whether my exploits are interesting to the casual web-surfer. Search engines like Google have made finding information incredibly simple, even if the validity of said information is occasionally dubious. My honest goal is to write something that will help another person in the future. "Hey, that guy went through the same thing I'm going through, and he turned out alright!"

I really owe it to the internet for giving me access to a lot of the information I required to set up this half-year exodus. Special thanks goes to the bloggers. Their life lessons, whether mundane or spectacular, have prepared me for this trip because they've gone through all of the little fiascoes that constitute moving to a foreign land and living by oneself. Though perhaps their entries were long-winded or dull, the content was of a vital importance to my planning.

The first time I visited Japan, I was so mistaken about the content of the country that culture shock hit me like a brick. I was completely unprepared for the reality of the situation and it almost drowned me in details. This time, thanks not only to my previous experiences but also to the research I've invested into my prep work, I think I'll have a much easier time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Japanese Immigration Laws

Right now, I'm waiting to receive my Certificate of Eligibility from Japan. This document is crucial to my trip. Having it allows me to apply for a work visa. Two years ago, when I went to Japan to study the language, I was able to travel there on a Student Visa and stay for four months. Their immigration policy differs from America's in some ways. Foreign nationals are allowed to visit Japan on a Tourist Visa as long as they remain in the country for less than 90 days. Students can stay on a Student Visa for a preset amount of time decided by the Japanese consulate. To find work in Japan, I need a Work Visa. These visas can only be obtained if one is sponsored by a Japanese company. As soon as my company sends my Certificate of Eligibility, I can travel to the nearest Japanese consulate and get it approved.

No two countries have the same laws regarding anything. America is a country founded on the concept of immigration, and as a result has a much larger influx of foreigners seeking citizenship every year. To give you an idea of the gap, roughly eight million immigrants have entered the country between 2000 and 2005, and in 2006 1.27 million immigrants received US citizenship (1). On the other hand, Japan accepts as little as 15,000 citizens through naturalization each year (2). Obviously this is due in some part to the disparity between the two countries in terms of size--Japan is slightly smaller than the state of California (3).

Now, I'm not planning to become a Japanese citizen or anything like that. These examples are merely to show how the policies of our nations differ. Once I get my Work Visa, I am legally bound to work at the company that sponsored me or to quit and return to Japan. However, there is nothing stopping me from finding a new job in Japan and transferring sponsorship of my visa to that company. This is one of the ways that my friends have managed to find better gainful employment overseas.

Based on what I know about my company, I have high expectations. It supports a large number of ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) from around the world and teach at almost 1,400 schools throughout Japan. While I am aware of the problems concerning teaching abroad (which I will address in a future entry), I am optimistic that this lifestyle change will bear fruit.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Packing Prep

The biggest problem with a long-term stay in a foreign country is that country will often be lacking in the amenities that make your daily life so comfortable. I'm restricted to two suitcases and a carry-on, so I've been trying my best to take only what is essential to my survival (including things that can't be found overseas). Based on my own research, here is a sampling of the things I've chosen to bring, and why:

Lots of Stick Deodorant: In Japan, deodorant is priced much higher than in America. Also, stick deodorant is rare. I don't know whether American men sweat more than Japanese men or just smell worse, but the deodorant sold over there is weaker, too.

Video Games: Unless I want to play every video game I like in Japanese, I need to bring them with me from America. I'm not planning to spend every day indoors, in front of a TV, but I doubt its going to be sunny skies and butterflies for seven months. Also, note to self: buy TV.

Books: Last time I was in Japan, I managed to find a small selection of English books at my local bookstore. Unfortunately, the majority of them were children's books. I did find a copy of "Shutter Island" that I read pretty quickly. As fascinating as I find Japanese, I don't want to spend every waking moment reading it.

Lots of Shoes: In Japan, you have something called a genkan. This is a foyer where you leave your outside shoes before you enter the house. Usually, you wear slippers inside the house. In my case, I had to buy extra shoes due to the fact that they don't sell my shoe size in Japan. Ugh...

Presents: It is customary to give presents when you visit someone or are newly inducted into a business. I don't want to come off as rude, so I bought a few modest gifts from my native state to bring to friends when I visit, as well as some American food to share with my future coworkers.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Almost There

Hi! My name's Nick [redacted]. Pretty soon, I'll be leaving for Japan to teach English. I'd like to use this blog to chronicle my time in Japan and keep people up-to-date with what's going on in my life. For example: What happened at work? Did you meet a cute girl? Tell me the infamous 'beach ball story' again!

I plan to arrive in Japan on the 1st of July, so there are still fifteen days until I depart. For now, I'm just busying myself with preparations. If I have time, I will try to explain what I'm bringing with me and why I've chosen these particular items out of everything I could potentially fit in a suitcase.

でゎまた (see you later)