Awareness: vaccine

This week I along with one of my colleagues went to a clinic and got the winter flu vaccine. The winter flu is said to be exceptionally terrible this year and it requires, in some cases, an entire week off work- no thank you.

As part of the visit I had a chat with the doctors and I need further tests. The ironic thing is that one of my awareness topics (diabetes) is something I am now being tested for along with hypertension (high blood pressure).

The vaccine costs ¥3300 (regardless of insurance) and an extremely common side effect is a localised rash and fatigue, both of which I had.

I would recommend getting the vaccine if you haven’t already had it. Additionally, if your at a clinic, spend an extra ¥1000 and get a diabetes test.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

Quick note, my laptop has broken (thank you window’s update) and is stuck in a boot loop, and my recovery disk broke, so posts may be slower or shorter for a time.

Post in Japan

Where to post a letter

So you have a stamp and a letter, now what?

Postbox outside Nabari train station

Like many things in Japan, they are designed to be as simple as possible, but this does not work.

In brief, you have local and non-local mail in red and blue respectively, simple right? Now look closer at the picture.

The red section is for local letters and postcards, yes they are still a thing. The pager has only just become obsolete here. Anyways, if you wanted to send a local non-standard sized letter, firstly it wouldn’t fit in this specific box and secondly it’ll be in the blue section along with international mail.

Post boxes are handy things but just go to a post office, it’ll make life much simpler.

I hope you enjoyed reading and are well (unlike myself this past week),and as always happy exploring!

The calm before the storm

A strange day

The Japanese are known for having many cultural rules and procedures that they often ignore when convenient- and living in Japan I know this quite well.

One of the more known rules is the request for silence on trains “to provide a comfortable atmosphere for other passengers” according to Kintetsu that is. But today from Tsu train station to Nabari train station (which is about 60 km or around an hour by train), and including a transfer at Ise-Nakagawa it was silent. Eerily silent.

What made this slightly worse, is that all trains were packed more than usual for a Friday night- as people were travelling straight home without the customary drinking sessions. This is to say ALL trains including limited express trains.

Today, Japan is holding its’ breath. There is cancellation of train services, flights, busses etc across Japan and even lines like the Kintetsu are considering the possibility of suspending services for “safety reasons”, but what actually got me worried was the announcement of this update in English. Most information, detailed information that is, is usually kept in Japanese.

This combined with the silent eery journey on the way back- where everyone was looking worried- has caused me to double check my bug-iut bag. I’ve never felt this paranoid about a Typhoon before.

But why are so many people worried?

This typhoon- number 19 (keeping with the Japanese theme or 台風第19号) is the largest of the year so far, its is extremely strong, set to potentially land in major urban areas, and has the potential to cause country-wide problems.

Additionally, warning about it are ALL over social media, the news, TV, in stations etc. There are many companies that are suspending workdays tomorrow and are advising to only go out if needed- advice I will be following.

The cherry on top for me, was watching people taking supplies home with them. Prior preparation and planning may prevent poor performance but if all Japanese people are doing it, that just worries me- they seem to like to wing it.

Stay safe all, gather supplies and know where your evacuation areas are.

Thank you for reading and stay safe.

Health food in Japan

The world of extreams

How long does it take to spot CC lemon?

I have talked about buying protein in Japan very recently, but what I have not yet mentioned is suppliemts, more specifically added vitamins and minerals.

If you were to go to a convience store and go to the drinks section, ignoring the sugar content, there would be quite a few healthy looking options. Admittedly one of my favourites is CC lemon which it’s selling point (on the front and highlighted) is that it contains the same amount of vitamin C as 60 lemons or 200 mg. The body cannot process this amount and a lot of it is lost via urination.

You may think that is a crazy amount, but it’s nowhere near the highest amount. Available at most stores are health tonics in small glass bottles that contain upto 2000 mg of vitamin C.

To put this into prospective, the daily recommended intake for most adults is upto 90 mg a day. If that is the case, does excess vitamin C cause any ill effects?

Yes! Regular amounts exceeding 2000 mg cause gastronomic distress i.e. Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps etc.

However Japan doesn’t just have products with excess vitamin C, there are products with excess anything.

You may buy wafers with added calcium, wafers with added iron, wilk with added calcium, health drinks with collegen etc. It’s sometimes amazing what extras Japanese producers add to products.

It sounds a bit morbid but: health warming! Be aware of what you are consuming, an excess of a vitamin or mineral for you may have a completely unintentional side affect or may cause you harm. If in doubt either do further research (scientific papers etc), ask a doctor or dietitian or simply avoid it.

After all there’s only one you (and you read my blog, so stay safe)

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

How2: reading train fare tables

A large complex chart, for the uniformed that is

When I first came to Japan, and before I bought an IC card, calculating the correct train fare seemed like the start of a JLPT- even with the romanji. But it’s a lot easier than it looks.

We’ll start small with the Iga-tetsudo line:

Train fares for the Iga-tetsudo line

The Iga-tetsudo line like the Yokkaiichi lines are a small service with few stops, so finding the train fare is very simple. Want to get from Iga Kanbe to Uenoshi? That’s ¥370 one way for an adult or ¥190 for a child? Want a return or to go to more than one stop? Buy an all-day ticket (一日フリー乗車券) for ¥740- the same price as a return and the ticket machines are in multiple languages as well!

Now for something more complex, the kintetsu line:

So many places…

The kintetsu is a very large network and the fare map highlights this. Want some advice? Know where you’re going! It sounds basic enough but you have to be aware of train station names that sound the same (nishi Aoyama, and higashi Aoyama are a good example).

Another reason to be careful is if you are not using an IC card, and get the price wrong, you have to waste time at a fare adjustment machine before you may exit a station.

My advice for travelling in Japan is to use an app such as Japan Transit planner, which tells you the fare, train time and fastest journey.

Alternatively buy an IC card, it automatically deducts the train fare from the card and some link with your bank account, so you don’t have to worry about how much is left.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring

How2 eat healthy without breaking the bank

Not a millionaire? Don’t worry here’s some advice

Food shopping in Japan can seem expensive at times- no matter where you shop but here’s some advice I have found during my tenue in Japan.

Firstly, buy what you can at drug stores. Drug stores offer a reduced range of groceries but there is no difference in quality. I regularly shop at Cosmos (コスモス) and Kirindo- both drug stores offer fresh and frozen ingredients. I can buy a weeks’ worth of groceries for about 3000 JPY- or 7000 JPY at a supermarket.

Next, don’t forget frozen fruit and veg. At Kirindo, they offer a good range of fresh fruit and veg (I have bought a whole pineapple for 100 JPY) but if you’re not going to use it immediately buy frozen. Frozen fruit and veg cooks and taste the same as fresh but usually its cheaper per portion- very much so in the case of fruit.

This is a strange tip but go Japanese. Imported food is expensive no-matter where you buy it from, and this does include making foreign foods from scratch. Follow the expression: as in Rome, do as the Romans do. Does that mean eat Natto and Umeboshi if you detest them- no. Eat what Japanese produced foods you can- they are much cheaper. You can buy tofu for 30 JPY and soba for 18 JPY- which is the protein and carb component of a meal- you just need your greens and you good to go.

Like the look of that bento in the convenience store- forget about it. I was looking at the bentos recently and most of them were overpriced and have too many calories- there was a special bento for the rugby season with 1200 Kcals for just 600 JPY. If you must eat out- try the のり弁当 (nori bento)- it is usually the right size for a meal and has the right number of calories for people either losing or maintaining (bulking on the other hand, look elsewhere).

The final note I have on this topic is to have a general meal plan at the very least. DO I always know what I am going to eat in the evenings- NO! However, I have enough fresh and frozen ingredients to cover all eventualities and if I get back from work very late, a light snack of a kiwi or 2 is enough before sleep.

Healthy living has become much more mainstream in recent years and ignorance on this topic, in the eyes of many, is no longer inexcusable.

Very last thing (I swear), for vegans or vegetarians living or wanting to live in Japan, as a rule of thumb, forget about eating out. All meals (it seems like) contains some sort of animal product or fish/meat. You could just order rice, but it would have been made in a kitchen with cross-contamination and animal products galore- I cannot think of 1 restaurant in Nabari or Iga that is vegetarian (which together is a good size of Mie).

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

EDIT: I have since done further research on this and there is one in Nabari: “Be Happy! Chikyushoku”- I have somewhere new to check out!!!!!!

Review: Club sega

A nice distraction but don’t expect to win

Club sega is your typical Japanese arcade with UFO machines (offering the chance to win figures and food), medal games (slot machines using metal tokens), music games, classical arcade games, and photo stickers.

While there is a lot, arcades like this are almost systemic in Japan. While gambolling in Japan is illegal, there is room for interpretation with pachinko, slots and arcades.

The club in Nabari is nothing special- but it doesn’t need to be. Nabari is in the 田舎(INAKA- or country side), and while there is a generalisation that such places don’t have much- it can be true for Nabari.

All-in-all, it’s a bit of fun, but make sure that it stays that way- set a budget before arrival and stick to it- I stuck to 1000 JPY (and I didn’t win anything) and while I could have spent more, you need to be aware of how much things generally cost. If I won a figure I wanted, it may have cost 5000 JPY to win but I could buy it for 1500 JPY. It’s all about what’s more important to you: winning no matter the cost (literally) or balancing a bit of fun with the change of winning.

I much prefer watching people play on YouTube while they waste their money.

If you go have fun but be warned.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

The plague of Japan: Tobacco

The old cool pastime is an outdated one- everywhere but Japan?

As an ex-smoker, I do struggle with my old daemon- tobacco. I have parted ways, no longer stay in contact and yet it still bugs me.

My fight had been made easier with most train stations on the Kintetsu lines and the Iga-tetsudo lines now being smoke free but there is but one place that does still haunt me- convenience stores.

In Japan, tobacco is sold out in the open- with even special offers and prices at times- showing you just how cheap it is- the cheapest one being just 350 JPY ( around 3 USD)- which never mind being cheap for Japan, it is cheap full stop. Even with the UN tobacco recommendations, Japan still mostly ignores them.

There are smoking areas inside restaurants (separated from non-smoking areas), smoking areas in train cars, in the street, outside convenience stores, outside clinics and hospitals and inside so many businesses- it hard to escape them and it is still socially acceptable but nor as much as drinking (to be looked into later).

However, there have been more laws brought in especially in Tokyo in the run up to the Olympics next year to become more anti-smoking, but this seems to be confined to places a tourist may see.

So, for those who are anti-smoking or have given up, be vigilant- Japan seems like a smoker’s paradise and is still tempting for those who have quit. For smokers, please respect Japan and be aware of other’s opinions.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring


Smoking in Japan

I do not condone smoking, but if you visit and would like to smoke please note the following:

  • You may only smoke in designated areas or face a fine
  • Not all convenience stores have smoking ash trays
  • Some major cities- Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya etc have districts where smoking is prohibited. If you want to smoke, you need to either exit the district or find an indoor one.
  • There are smoking rooms on limited express trains and on the Shinkansen- all other trains are non-smoking.
  • A pocket ashtray is not a free licence to smoke
  • most tourist places including moutains are completely smoke free

The problem with learning Japanese at University

For those that have been bitten by the Anime and Mange bug, or those who have fallen in love with the idea of Japan, studying Japanese at university and moving to Japan may be a no brainer but let me ask you one question- if your dream is to move to Japan, what will you do to live?

If you answer is a half-hearted teach or a depressed groan with translation escaping your lips, you may want to rethink your study plans- unless you want to be caught in the ALT/ English conversation school cycle.

Why do I say this? Because of one reason, I’ve seen it happen many times. Japan is interested in internationalisation, at least international communication- it is one reason why there are so many English conversation schools and why so much emphasis is put on English education in the school system. But understanding Japanese is not required for these jobs. All teaching is done via emersion with the Japanese teacher acting as a translator if needed.

Did you see the issue with that last paragraph? Japanese is not needed. This is further compounded with one issue- in order to acquire a visa, ANY degree is accepted.

Let’s say you want to escape the ALT cycle in Japan, and you have studied Japanese the problem when you look for jobs is that most jobs for foreigners in Japan are looking for a specific skill set. Did you degree include programming, engineering, biology, chemistry or anything scientific? No?! You are then looking at entry level jobs or office work.

But what about translation, you may ask. Most translation jobs in Japan require experience in the field you want to enter i.e. medical experience for medical translation, law experience for law translation etc.

What’s the solution? Another degree (this is the option I took)? Or perhaps (if you can) change your degree focus slightly (cultural anthropology or international relation and Japanese etc) to something that includes another skill set. If you don’t and translation doesn’t excite you and nor does being a pronunciation parrot, you’ll be heading back home within a year or be spending even more to fix a mistake.

What do you think? Any suggestions or advise?

As always happy exploring.