Archive for June, 2015

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It’s now been been a month and a half since I started living in Tokyo. I completed term 1 of my Japanese beginners course which has made life SO MUCH EASIER. I can now read & write using hiragana and katakana and I’m now onto term 2, learning kanji. For those of you who don’t know, kanji are symbols created by pure evil and written with your feet. (At least that’s how it currently feels.) We’ve made firm friends with a Japanese man who owns the jazz whiskey bar next to our house – he likes to practise his English with us while we practise our Japanese with him, and whichever other unsuspecting victim enters the bar. Talking to so many strangers would make 5 year old me giddy with rebellious excitement.

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Chris & I bought bicycles to travel to and from school on, which has opened up a whole new side of Japanese life. Did you know they cycle on the pavement here? THE PAVEMENT!! It’s like bloody Mario Kart out there! I hate having to weave in and out of groups of pedestrians. Except when I am one. Then I hate the cyclists.

It still beats the subway during rush hour though. Just when I thought I’d experienced the worst of it… I experienced the worst of it. We all went from a carriage full of strangers to subway spooning in 60 seconds. It’s like some horrible love-in you never wanted to be a part of. You don’t even need to hold on to anything because of the dense wall of people surrounding you. Particularly horrible when you’re going round a bend and have all the air squished out of your lungs by your new friends.

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literally not having any of it

I think I’ve covered quite a lot of ground in the last 7 weeks. One of my adventures was visiting Ueno Zoo. I specifically went to see the “giant” panda who was as giant as a large household dog. I did see some naughty otters and an excellent flamingo though so all is forgiven, Japan.

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Best part had to be this bird who made off with someone’s sausage.

 

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I also visited Sensō-ji, the ancient buddhist temple. Visiting temples here is a pretty unavoidable activity. They’re everywhere and some are pretty impressive. You get a real sense of “にほんのぶんか” – Japanese culture. (See? Being a student isn’t all about the post-class beers.)

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You can find out your fortune at the temples via a small scroll of paper if you’re willing to appease the Gods with ¥100 (55p). One of mine said I shouldn’t aim to get married, start a new job or go to a new country, all of which I’ve done in the past couple of months, so that was reassuring.

Try to read up a bit on temple etiquette before you go so you don’t accidentally try to drink the sacred water like I did: click here.

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One of the potentially best things I went to do which ended up being the not-so-best was visiting SHIBA INU!!! (いぬ or “inu” is “dog” in Japanese.) Those of you with access to social media will know him as the dog who sells tobacco in Tokyo. He runs his own little shop! I can’t take it!
..But what actually happened is he was tired and grumpy, and his shop was closed. Didn’t stop us from taking photos until he gave us a smile! *

 

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*baring his teeth because he hates us.

I tried to explain that Shiba Inu is a well known meme to Chris,  to no avail. I was like:

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To watch Shiba in action, click here.

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Through my language school I also did a little cooking course, where we learned to make “おしずし – oshizushi”. I’m not sure what I actually learnt in the end as it mainly involves squishing layers of rice and filling together in an oblong box. It was pretty fun though! And I got to keep the box, so that’s dinner sorted forever.
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Another school activity was kanji calligraphy. (Chris and I signed up to pretty much every school activity on the first day like some weirdo keen-Os.) We were given 3 symbols, some paintbrushes and some worryingly indelible ink. After an hour and many failed attempts, with a big pile of scrunched up paper behind me like a true artiste, I produced this:

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光 means light, glow, honour and scenery. Take your pick.

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I think I’ve finally got the hang of basic Japanese cuisine now. Doing your first grocery shop and cooking your first meal in a foreign country feels like a right of passage. Until you learn the lingo you can never really be sure if what you bought was a vegetable, or how to cook that unidentifiable blob of seafood.

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le cuisine du jour; pickled “saba” mackerel on a bed of おかゆ okayu rice avec veg.

 

Back home it’s easy to take for granted that you can read food labels; here it’s like an accidental game of Russian roulette.
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Random loosely related fact because it’s about food: slurping is the correct thing to do out here when eating a big ol’ bowl of noodles. Like, really slurping. Not feeling it just yet as I mostly end up splashing molten hot ramen liquid into my face. The Japanese word for slurping is “zuruzuru – ズルズル”.

 

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On Sundays I sometimes hang out with a friendly man I met in a park. (Literally my mother’s worst nightmare.) He’s a lovely Japanese man named Masashi who plays Spanish guitar like a ボス (boss).

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I love how relaxed and friendly most people are.

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You may have heard that we’ve had a few bigger-than-small earthquakes in the past month.. The term “scared to death” gets used more than toilet paper but believe me, I came pretty close to needing an unglamorous outfit change. You’re supposed to have an emergency bag with food and water in case you have to evacuate your house. So far I have half a bottle of iced coffee and a chocolate wafer but I’m working on it.

 

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Last month I finally sorted out a bank account. The process was about as fun as tweezing out a particularly painful ingrown hair, so here’s some information to ensure you won’t have to go through the same.

The bank you want is Shinsei Bank, the number one choice for foreigners. They have a few English speaking members of staff, English information booklets as well as an English section to their website. They won’t make you fill out dozens of forms either. You just need to know how to spell your name in katakana. (“Just”… Lol.) Again, instead of wasting the bank clerk’s time scribbling out your name like a child with a crayon, use this website: Japanese Name Converter. SO my name, Sophie Clifton-Tucker, becomes:

ソフィー クリフトントゥッカー (sofii kurifutontukkaa)

(Yes I tried all the rude words first. Fun for DAYS!)

Banks and bills can be scary when they arrive in pure Japanese and you haven’t even learned your arigatos properly yet. In the first week I went running to Chris clutching two “bills”, one of which was for over a MILLION YEN (thousands of pounds) and one which had inexplicably been divided into 2 payments of 1989 and 1987. Turns out that one was just Chris’ bank statement and the other was a registration confirmation with our birth dates on.

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To anyone thinking of coming out to Japan, or making a big brave move anywhere actually, remember that being out of your comfort zone can often bring you the biggest comfort of all. ~ SophieSensei

If there’s one thing I’m learning out here it’s that I can make anywhere my home. Like in uni that time I slept in a bush.

 

またね Mata ne – Until next time!

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