Check out this awesome studio that is a five minute walk from my apartment. I have this space to myself plus use of all the equipment in it for less than $8 an hour! It’s called Gourd Island Studio. I’m pumped: I can play drums again, I can record music and sing loud and plug into nice amps, all without worrying about bugging my neighbor.
Also, I finally went to the Ruby Room last night, which sounds like a strip club, I know, but is actually a pretty well-known music venue in Tokyo.
I had pretty lucky timing, five bands played and they were all really fun and there was a lot of talent on display. Met some cool folks, too. They have a Tuesday night open mic I’ll be back for this week.
I went to the hospital in Japan. Hooray for new experiences! Mom, I’m fine.
I was doing some squats a few nights ago—no weights, just down and up with my hands in front of me—and I guess I was doing them wrong because after I finished number thirty (the last one) my back sent a very angry letter of resignation to the rest of my entire body.
The next morning I hobbled to the hospital.
When the shift began, all the hospital staff lined up and greeted all the patients in unison with a “good morning,” a bow, some other Japanese I didn’t get, and another bow. That was pretty awesome.
I had an x-ray, two consultations with a doctor, and blood work done. Then I got a week’s worth of two different kinds of pain medication plus about 50 disposable heat pads. The total bill was around ¥8600 (less than $80 USD). Americans reading this will be amazed. Anyone else will be wondering why I’m even mentioning it.
Anyway, may I never spend more than 2 minutes talking about my health problems, a genuinely boring topic, I know. But for what it’s worth, I had a visit to the hospital in Japan and as usual even the worst of experiences was better in every way here.
Sometimes I look around and just say to myself, “Wow. I’m here.”
Japan is not heaven or anything but it’s a place I wanted to live. Now, whatever that place’s reality turns out to be, it’s a place where every day I have the ability to look around and say “I did it.”
If you have a dream, no matter how big or small or absurd to others, pursue it now. Make it happen. You can make your dream come true, and nothing will change your life for the better more than proving that to yourself. Nothing can rob you of the knowledge that you set your mind to something and accomplished it.
If you’ve already accomplished something you set out to do, take time as often as you like to remind yourself that you did it.
And if you’ve never had a dream, what are you waiting for? Take a minute today, imagine something that makes you smile. Then go after it.
There are a few difficulties with having a blog and living here:
I get new and amazing experiences so regularly that if I don’t blog for a week I feel overwhelmed by how much I want to share (which causes me to put off writing for another week and the snowball begins to grow…)
If I approach an experience with the mindset of wanting to write about it later, I take photos and think about how I would describe it. I spend the moment, as my photojournalist friend Kelly once told me, documenting life instead of living it.
So, lately I’ve just been trying to experience these moments, getting immersed in them and letting myself forget how I would describe it later. It’s been nice.
Now it’s time for a huge messy brain dump. I think I’ll just lay out whatever’s on my mind. Enjoy. 🙂
I got a package!
My friends Vanessa and Moses sent me a box!
They also sent me a cool collection of sci-fi stories based in or about Japan, and toothpaste because I heard it can be hard to find toothpaste with fluoride in it. I think there’s a different fluorine ion in it here instead but readers familiar with chemistry are already noting that I have no idea what I’m talking about so let’s just move on.
I got a guitar and I’m discovering the Tokyo music scene.
Shimokitazawa (“Shimokita” as all the cool kids call it) is an awesome little area near where I live, littered with vintage clothing shops and houses playing live music. I’m going as often as I can.
I got a Yamaha FG-251 acoustic guitar for ¥6000 (about $56 USD), restrung it and adjusted the truss rod. Now I’m trying to overcome my fear of bugging my neighbor by playing it. I mean, I can hear his microwave beep through the walls, so there’s no question whether he’ll hear my strumming. Probably should’ve bought an electric.
I’m also writing music in Garageband while riding the trains. None of it’s any good of course—I think music is the first (only?) thing I’ve ever been able to just give up trying to be great at and started doing just because I love it.
I’m introducing software development process improvements at work.
I’m going to write a separate post on this and link to it here later. Unless you’re into software engineering you’ll probably wanna sit this one out, but it’s making me happy.
I’m learning a lot about not judging and seeing myself in others.
Things can seem pretty different at times. Discovering that a laugh is not always a laugh and can mean many things from “I find this humorous,” to “I have no idea what you just said,” to “I’m feeling pretty uncomfortable right now,” can make you question all of your judgments of others. And that’s been a good thing to question.
Learning you can’t trust your assumptions about another person’s intentions forces you to fall back on faith: what do I think is in the heart of the average person? If you think people are basically good, you’re going to respond to culture shock and culture clash positively, assuming the best when in a situation you don’t fully understand. Think people are basically cruel and every puzzling situation will leave you wondering if you are the butt of an ill-intentioned joke. I’m glad I’m able to believe people I meet are more likely to be kind to the stranger than rude or hateful.
My company is on break for the Obon holiday for most of this week, and I am determined not to spend it in my apartment watching South Park and Seinfeld on Internet TV. So I gave myself a rule today: out by 10am and back no sooner than 7pm.
I hopped on a train in a direction I never go and asked my girlfriend to pick a number between 1 and 30 (she picked 22). That’s how many minutes I stayed on the train.
And finally, I rounded the corner to witness a miniaturized horse race betting game. O_O
By the way, did you miss the fact that one of the jockeys’ bodies was horrifically snapped off at the waist? He was just a set of legs. I think that should disqualify him.
I was wandering around inside 3rd Planet thinking “This place smells just like the bowling alleys back home,” when I rounded the corner to discover:
I played one game. One sad little game.
Finally emerging from the incredibly fun and diverse gaming experience that my day had become, I grabbed a bite at the finest McDonald’s I have ever laid eyes on.
And now I’m writing this on the train at 7:30pm. Google maps says I’ll be home in 15 minutes, where I’ll upload all those pictures you just saw. My random train-riding journey took me to the opposite side of Tokyo from my home and cost me about ¥3000 total. Success.
If you’re ever looking for something to do, stop looking and just get outside. Something to do will find you.
As I prepared to move to Japan I maintained an ever-evolving checklist which I eventually published here, noting that my plan for maintaining connectivity was complex enough that it deserved its own post. Here is that post; may it help you, dear future reader aspiring to move to Japan.
Temporarily: use Mobal Narita for absolutely free incoming calls and texts to a Japanese number.
Temporarily: use Let’s Internet for relatively cheap internet via pocket wifi, which my phone connects to.
Use Skype for free internet-based calls to American toll-free numbers like my bank.
Use Google Hangouts for 3¢/min calls to America and 11¢/min calls to Japan over the internet.
Permanently: get an account with Softbank once settled in, send pocket wifi back, cancel Mobal Narita. I bought the sim from Mobal Narita so I cut it in half and threw it away.
Now for the details.
Before you leave & your first few months in Japan
Cancel your American cellphone account by porting your number to Google Voice. This way you can still get SMS texts and voicemails at the same old number and it’s waiting on you when/if you come back.
Rent a SIM card from Mobal Narita. Their deal is: free rental, free incoming calls, and free incoming SMS, ¥216/min outgoing calls and ¥135/msg outgoing SMS.
In other words, you have a free phone number in Japan if your phone is SIM unlocked and you only want to receive calls.
You pick it up at the airport and the lady at the counter spoke excellent English.
Not open 24 hours. If your plane is late, be prepared to stay at the airport overnight until they open.
Rent a portable wifi hotspot from Let’s Internet. Their deal is: ¥4250/month for unlimited cellular data coverage.
Minimum 3 months up front (¥12750).
They mail it to Narita post office, which is not open 24 hours. If your plane is late, be prepared to stay at the airport overnight until they open. Comes with a prepaid envelope you mail it back in when you’re done.
The device may be a bit flakey and will eat up both its own battery and your phone’s (WiFi takes a lot of energy). Rent from them (or bring your own) spare travel battery. My hotspot had a Micro-B USB port.
Install the following on your smartphone before you leave America (this is very American & iPhone-centric):
Skype so you can make American toll-free calls (800-, 888-, 877-, etc.) for free. Important when you need to talk to your bank, etc.
Google Voice so you can easily get voicemails and SMS texts sent to your old number and check your Google Voice balance.
Google Hangouts so you can spend your Google Voice balance making 3¢/minute calls to America and 11¢/minute calls to Japan (much cheaper than the Mobal Narita price).
imiwa? so you can look up Japanese words and kanji even when you don’t have an Internet connection.
You can’t keep your non-Japanese iPhone. I tried hard. I had the technical conformity mark, I had the SIM unlocked Verizon phone, I know it supported all but 2 of the dozen or so 4G bands. Not gonna happen. So be prepared to sell your phone. The price of the Softbank phone is built into the contract monthly price.
Early cancellation fee of the contract was around ¥9500. Not bad!
You have to have an insurance card to prove you’re a legit resident. An alien residency card isn’t good enough. This may take a few weeks after you get a job.
You do not have to have a bank account, but you will need a credit card at least.
PS: Boy, you can really tell I wrote this at 12:30am. Updated with a little bit of information I left off originally (especially the Google Voice porting bit).
Wow. I have taken 80 pictures and videos since posting last. One downside to living in Japan like a real person and not a tourist is that you always have real person things to do. Setting up bank accounts, gas bill accounts, water, electricity, phone, working 10 hour work days. I’m not complaining, but I am pretty damn tired when I get home. So instead of a full-fledged post, I’m just going to dump some videos and pictures here with tiny explanations. Enjoy!
My coworkers treated me to a Shabu-Shabu “drinking party.” I had an incredibly fun time. Shabu-shabu is my second favorite Japanese food. My number one favorite Japanese food is freeShabu-shabu, which this was! These people are incredible, really. Also, somehow, about 5 beers in my skill in speaking and understanding Japanese seems to skyrocket.
Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival)
I went to my ku’s Summer Festival (a ku is sort of like a county in America) last weekend. Got sunburned. Experienced many new things: giant drums, beautiful music, mikoshi (portable minature Shinto shrines) being paraded, dances, local foods. Too much to describe. I don’t even have time to rename the image files. Just have a look if you want; if a picture is worth a thousand words, you’re about to read a novel. Maybe a collection of short stories.
A random shrine
I came across this shrine walking to a library. I love this country. Everywhere you go it invites you to pause and appreciate simplicity. Can such a place of serene beauty in the midst of human civilization exist anywhere else?
Before you dismiss that picture above as just a screenshot of a weather app, please, read it. Look at that stuff:
There is 62% humidity and no chance at all that it will rain.
It’s 91°F (33°C) and it feels like 99°/37°.
It’s only July.
And I can vouch for that “feels like” bit, too. In the train station (where you don’t feel that 17mph wind), it literally feels like a sauna.
But enough about the weather. Speaking only an idiot’s version of the language and knowing practically no one here, it gets lonely in Tokyo too. I’m an introvert, and something of a loner too, but I’ve surprised myself by how difficult that level of alienation can be at times.
So today I’m treating myself to 3 hours at 猫の居る休憩所２９９ (neko no iru kyuukeisho 299, or “Rest Area 299, Where There Are Cats”).
Here’s what things look like as I write this:
Pretty nice. Also, here’s a cat licking my plastic bag. Some cats are into this sort of thing, including my kitty at home in America.
By the way, just outside of Ikebukuro Station, I found a warp pipe:
Needless to say, this is among the coolest things I’ve seen in Tokyo so far.
Afterward I headed back in to get some dinner: gyoza, Chinese dumplings that are among my favorite food in Japan. I thought I was ordering “Set #3” and somehow ended up ordering…
…three of set #3. Which is strange because in Japanese there are counter words, and “three of something” would have been mittsu, which I never said. My guess is that the waiter was accustomed to taking orders from gaijin and ready to assume that when I pointed and said san setto onegai shimasu (“combo number three please”) I meant “three of these please.” Oh well. I can think of many worse problems to have than too much gyoza. I ate it all. Next time I’ll try to use my counters properly. Hitotsu setto san onegai shimasu.
I didn’t think I had room for desert until I spotted a familiar sign.