Category Archives: Osaka

The Crossing: Nanao

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After training concluded and those of us taking the Shinkansen to Nanao were given our train tickets, it became a bit of a blur. I had already been thankful for the bag my Mom had randomly found and bought for me online with the flight over but trekking around Osaka to get to Osaka station made me even more grateful.

Sorry, I tend to bounce around on topics. This bag could probably fit me inside of it and splits into two separately zippered bags. This was extremely helpful in avoiding the 50lb weight limit for the flight over. Thought it’s heavy when all zipped up together, it is very easy to maneuver and the wheels are much tougher than any other large rolling bag I’ve had before. I think the brand name is Athlon and is made in China, like many things. I, of course, had to get the one with graffiti all over it and again this made it very handy when locating my luggage at the baggage claim.

So Osaka Station: A bit of a hike from our hotel but not too bad all things considered. Thank goodness the Japanese color code everything, including subway lines. And fairly clean, too. I don’t know if I’d put it on par with London but it’s still miles better than New York or Philly. I think we had to hop a couple lines to get us to Osaka Station. Once inside, we wandered until we found a gate for Shinkansen. We made it just in time but got on the train way too far from our reserved seats! Trekking down a moving train with all that luggage was not a highlight. By the time we sat down and I popped a couple dramamine pills, I was feeling less than awesome. A fellow ALT sat next to me and though I was genuinely interested in the conversation, I couldn’t look at him while he spoke. I had to keep my eyes on the horizon lest my egg sandwich end up in his lap.

But we survived and enjoyed the scenery along the way. Pockets of towns mixed with lots of rice fields. I was starting to notice some very Studio Ghibli-esque features already. But it was April 1st and very little greenery was even thinking about appearing yet. Many of the mountains still had snow on them. One of the ALT’s was getting stoked about the prospect of snow boarding. I couldn’t stop thinking about not throwing up and how much longer till I could get off the train. Such is life.

After almost 4 hours we arrived in Nanao. I had my first squatty-potty experience at the station and failed. Boys have it too easy. We then went our separate ways. I decided to go ahead and take a taxi since my apartment was the farthest and most obscurely placed. My taxi driver was so small, I refused to let him do anymore than help me lift the luggage. I think my big bag weighed more than him. But he was very nice and used a little English when he could. He seemed a little confused about the location of the apartment but I kept my faith. After a couple turn-arounds, we found it and he didn’t charge me the full price, which was awesome.

My first real impressions of the town were thus: built up city center near the station, houses close together and many of them, did not feel like a small town, mountains to the south and bay to the north, and I love my view from my back door. I walked in to keys for the car on the counter, a fairly clean apartment (especially for a guy to have been there just several days before), and a weird feeling of being at summer camp. Anyone who’s done those week long, sleep away summer camps knows what I mean. It’s difficult to describe but it’s not like a hotel. You feel an attachment to the place but there’s the feeling that many before you have lived there and you have to take some time to make it your own. The biggest difference is I’m not staying for a week. Only furniture was some chairs, a fold down table on the wall, a sort of desk area next to 2 steps leading to an elevated bed with storage underneath, and that was it. There’s a mini kitchen in the hallway along with a egg-beater washer, a bath/shower room, and a toilet room. Small but big enough for me. Bigger than my dorm room in college.

Still playing catch up with these posts. I’m getting there. Thank goodness for these free periods at work and the ability to bring my laptop. No internet, though, don’t get excited. Next post likely to be about shopping and getting my apartment up to snuff. I hope everyone had a good Mother’s Day! I didn’t even get to skype with mine…boo.

With love – M

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Wax on, wax off

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Training and meeting some fellow Interac ALT’s

That’s probably my favorite scene from Karate Kid. And it has great context for real life. This training we had to go through for Interac was, in it’s purest form, a wax on and wax off type of setup. We weren’t standing around waxing cars but the mental reaction was no less repetitive.

Personally, I’ve been through many of these types of trainings as a Resident Assistant, college ambassador, camp counselor and so on. I got the feeling most of the other ALT’s present had done this exact training before at least once if not several times. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Most of it was new information but the format was much the same as in any other training. It’s difficult to make things like this interesting when you’re stuck in a little office conference room (or even when you have a whole college campus to romp around in). I took a ton of notes, unlike my peers, because if I don’t write it down, I lose it almost instantaneously. I have the memory of a gnat. So they’d tell us some stuff, hand out some papers, some people would ask questions, and so on until all the information they could possible cram into those few days has been stuffed down our proverbial gullets.

Plus we got real pizza. Nice.

The people at said training were all very interesting folks, as I would expect of the type of person who’s willing to travel to a foreign land who’s people are almost as culturally confusing as their language. These folks were all shapes, all sizes, all accents, and most certainly all personalities. Although most of them were surely type- A, some were goofs, others were sarcastic to the point of ridiculousness, and others still were aloof (that was probably my category…). There were Australian, two different English, Malay, and handful of broad ranged American accents.

What was most surprising to me was that I was one of the youngest. I think one other guy was the same age or one year younger than myself. That I was not expecting. I just assumed the majority of folks doing this type of thing would be fresh out of college. Instead, there was a wide range of situations like one guy had a wife working as a JET, several had been working with Interac for several years, a few had worked with other private companies and were hoping to move on to better prospects through Interac. I also thought I would have an okay understanding of Japanese and the culture comparatively. This was blatantly wrong. I knew the least and had the least cultural experience. After I got over feeling sore about it, I started feeding off those more experienced that surrounded me.

Eating with them for lunch and out for dinner was also an adventure. Kim, a new friend, and I sat together and being girls, we clung to each other a little. Though I didn’t know her at first, I grew to like her just as I got to know the others. It’s funny sometimes how those things work. But I think it’s always best to just dive in together. You never know what you’ll come out with. I’m just eternally grateful for everyone’s patience with me. At times I felt like the dim-witted child, the one you drag around on a leash. This was not because of anything they did, of course, it was just the situation as it was for me. The saddest part was that most of us were going pretty far from each other so I think that made some people hesitant to make any meaningful friendships quickly.

Some of the places we at at that were memorable were a little hole in the wall okonomiyaki place, an izukaya on the basement level of some random building that we were sort of lured to be street walking advertisment, and a awesome Indian resturaunt where the owner was as authentic as the food… delisiozo.

Sum-up: The training was to the point and mostly succinct. Some things could have been left to our own reading but I’m glad it wasn’t any shorter than it was. The people were good and I didn’t have any issues getting along or being friendly. For those preparing for their own upcoming trainings, just focus on getting there in one piece and with your sanity intact. The rest will follow suit.

With love – M

First real taste

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Hotel and Osaka (first time)

Amazingly, this rather past due post coincides well with what I did just this past weekend. My friend Nathalie and I visited together while wandering Osaka and Kobe. But more on that in another post. First, let’s step back a month to my first real taste of Japan.

After grabbing my luggage from the terminal, I headed out to use the trains for the first time. To give you a better idea of how ridiculous this was for me, let me provide a little background: I know elementary level Japanese and have not practiced it with a native speaker in over 4 years, my luggage was large, the map I brought was not nearly sufficient in explaining the route as I had previously thought, and I don’t have a whole lot of experience traveling via public transit in the States (let alone Japan). Also, it was after dark and I knew the trains stopped running around 10pm or so… I was a little nervous. Jumping ahead, I prevailed thanks to some broken Jap-engrish conversations with the ticket clerks and some very kind English speaking strangers.

One in particular needs accurate representation, I think. She came up behind me while I was very slowly reading the overhead subway map. She asked if I needed help and after figuring out my destination, she offered to not only take me to the right train but also to help carry my luggage! I very gratefully accepted and we chatted in English while she walked me to the train. It was a rather confusing turnabout kind of area so I became even more grateful as we went along. She then buys my ticket and hands it to me before I knew what was happening! Of course I forced money back to her and after the traditional Japanese refusal, she accepted. Right then, the train pulled up. I didn’t even have time to ask her name before she hurried me on and left for her own destination.

This pretty much sums up the whole vibe of my first experiences in Osaka including the hotel staff, random store clerks, and any other person I had cause to speak to along the way. The food, also was exemplary from the conbini (convenience store) to specialty shops. Service with a smile… or at the very least a polite nod. It seems a running trend that some men here just don’t like to smile openly. I imagine that’s much the case at home in the States if I paid closer attention.

The hotel itself was gorgeous (Osaka City Plaza Hotel I think…). Huge open lobby with wrap around glass and running water along the walkways (in-doors). A cute little public foot onsen out front and upstairs was a full onsen. Needless to say, the entire building was a bit warm all the time due to the natural heating. I imagine it might be a bit much in the summertime but the AC unit worked just fine in my room. As for the room itself, it was obviously quite a bit smaller than what I’m used to in the states but to be honest, it was quite cozy. It’s hard not to notice that even though everything is smaller, tighter, closer together, it doesn’t feel too cramped. I believe this is because of the attention to detail that happens regularly around here like the feng shui of the room or fold away tables, multipurpose areas, etc.

As an overall note, it’s the funny little things that got to me first. Not in a bad way, these were just the things that I couldn’t let pass without taking note of them. Like how quickly I learned to bow more appropriately, how delicate people treat things like chairs or money so as not to make a sound, how silent the Japanese are in elevators or waiting at stop lights, the fact that even if you ask a stupid question, they will act as though it’s a real question and never respond with sarcasm. It’s no surprise that us outsiders seem so brash and openly brazen to them.

So if your looking for lots of good eats (particularly okonomiyaki, pastries, or fried goodies) as well as some rather entertaining nightlife (just walk around Namba at night and you’ll see), then Osaka is the place for you. In my opinion, it’s also one of the most friendly and comfy cities I’ve ever been to, and that includes London. Unfortunately for me, cities are just one of those things that even though they’re a blast to visit, I would never want to actually live there. I have that weird need to stick my toes in the earth once in a while, reconnect and center my self.

With love – M