Sašo in Japan!

A blag about my exploits in Japan
The Final Post

Hello. It’s me. It’s been a long time, how are you? I’m doing fine, thank you very much for asking! This is a post without any pictures, and very likely completely unreadable compared to the other posts, which were kind of unreadable to start with. Didn’t want to just leave this blig to keel over and die, so this is a conclusion post that discusses way too many, very unrelated things and tries to give several poorly-worded excuses for not writing ten-or-more posts in the time from the last one to this one.

To date the time of writing a bit, I’m writing this from a conference I’m attending, of which I’ll likely write in about 10-20 thousand words. This will be a very very messy post, as I don’t have any real plan of what to write about, or how to structure this—therefore I’ll just stick to my tried-and-true method of pressing the buttons I think are the best to press and hoping correct pixels change on everyone’s screen eventually so my thoughts can be properly conveyed through the emission of light from the screen in front of you. I guess this is also a kind of closure for me—I do actually miss writing bleg posts, but just didn’t get to it for reasons I’ll discuss at length (or not) somewhere below the pixels you are currently staring at, trying to figure out whether to continue reading or just closing the browser, shutting down your computer, and going out for a walk or something actually good for your health.

If you choose to continue reading, thank you very much. If you don’t, it’s been a fun ride, I’ve really enjoyed my posts being read by countless people around the world.

So let’s get some excuses out of the way first. I haven’t written a post since February, when I wrote the fuyukomi post, and have since also gone to the summer version of that, the natsukomi. I have more than 7 (that I can remember off the top of my head) topics I want to write about, but won’t. In winter, things were very slow. It was cold and nothing was happening, and I was quite lazy and just delayed writing anything even though I had more than enough time. In and after April though, after the weather got better (the rainy season was quite weak this year), things started happening and I actually didn’t have a lot of time to do anything, because sleep comes before writing below-average blug posts for no-one to read. Recently though, I’ve been running out of time for even basic things like getting proper rest, so I have quite a good excuse for not doing anything. That’s it for excuses. Now into more interesting (or not) things.

I did mention the weather—this won’t be a chronological post, maybe generally, but I’ll just write things that come to mind—and Japan’s weather is really quite strange. Right now, in Tokyo, it’s around 33 degrees Celsius during the day, dropping to about 26 during the night, with humidity being at 425 % at all times. It’s quite different from the weather in Akita (where I am while typing this sentence), it being 32 degrees Celsius during the day and apparently 24 at night, but it definitely feels much cooler, and it’s actually not really hot—that’s what you get for going a bit further north. I guess the weather is also quite different here anywhere than back home in Slovenia, because when it rains here, it doesn’t really get any colder, it’s just more water in the air. Quite a strange experience I would say. I’m still wearing clothes to work that other say I’m burning in, but I feel quite fine. Guess Slovenia is south enough to have made me used to the heat during the summer.

Oh, a thing I read somewhere is that you haven’t really lived in Japan until you’ve woken up and were able to see your own breath. The Japanese apartments (I guess some are better, some worse) are really badly insulated. Or maybe not insulated at all. I bought an electric heater (used, of course, and I got a really good damn deal for it) at some point before the real winter began, which helped tremendously. The air wasn’t constantly dry anymore because I wasn’t running my air conditioner in heating mode all the time, it was completely silent (compared to the noise the AC makes) and could set it to a timer—admittedly, I can also set a timer for the AC, but I never bothered. Even so, the winter was quite cold, but it may have been just because I don’t like the cold. It was around zero, but for some reason felt a bit colder. We also had some snow, but by any real standards I would say we had no snow.

Moving chronologically forward, the rainy season (the southeast-Asian thing that hits everything here) was not rainy this year at all. It was cloudy, yes, but we only had rain twice for two days, not for two whole weeks as it was apparently supposed to be. Oh well, doesn’t bother me, didn’t get as wet.

But the summer. Oh man the summer. It’s quite hot, but the problem is the humidity which makes things worse than usual. I mean it’s not unbearable, but everyone just constantly complains (someone saying “it’s hot today, right?” five times per day is considered not enough, and you should complain more), which really doesn’t help. I mean dude, I know it’s hot, you don’t have to tell me. Also, it doesn’t help to think about the heat. Also, I’m wearing literally three times the clothes you are and am not all that hot, what are you complaining about? The cute thing about Japan in summer though are the sun umbrellas that most women carry around. They do look very stylish, but it’s a bit weird seeing people walk with umbrellas in underpasses where the sun literally cannot shine. To each their own I guess.

What do I want to write about now? I guess I’ll look at the pictures I took to remind myself of what even happened almost half a year ago. Found something! It’s hanami, which is an event in Japan where people come out of their houses en masse and go watch pretty trees. Specifically, blooming cherry blossom trees. I’ve known about this, and how purportedly beautiful it is, but I didn’t really believe it. I guess this sounds a bit exaggerating, but seeing a corridor of cherry blossoms formed naturally in a park is really something. If only it weren’t for all the people though. Hanami is also used as a very good excuse to go drinking in public parks with as many people as possible. But that’s also fun, and something you kind of need to do while here, just because it’s a great social event. Also, not all trees bloom at the same time, so there are about two weeks per year when various places are nicely decorated (even a brand beer changes their cans a bit), with illuminations that rival the ridiculous ones present around the New Year (and five months before in recent years).

Me and Alvaro also went hiking for a day to a mountain in Chiba. We took a ferry to cross Tokyo Bay. It was quite interesting, the ferry being unexpectedly luxurious, not only on the special VIP section. The mountain itself isn’t really all that tall, but there is a shrine/temple complex at the top with the largest stone carving of a Buddhist symbol, which was quite impressive. And a viewing platform where you can take a picture of you “falling” off a cliff. If you wait in the huge line of people. We didn’t. That day was very nice, although very tiring from all the walking. There are nice large beaches nearby, the sunset seen from the ferry was really nice. We really enjoyed it.

Then, some festivals happened all over Tokyo, but it was nothing special compared to the ones I’ve been to before. I won’t say that if you see one you’ve seen them all, but there are definitely a lot of common themes and if you don’t have a specific reason to see one by yourself or with friends, it’s not really all that interesting to see the same thing over and over again. Although, it is fun to see the sights and hear the sounds. Whatever floats your proverbial boat though.

We also went to an escape room. That’s a game where you have an hour to be a detective and solve clues to find a key to escape from the room. We did quite well, but missed a key that was literally in front of our eyes, and had to use a hint. Apart from that, it was a nice and fun, albeit expensive experience. Would recommend, but would not do again.

Oh, an interesting place we found is an izakaya (place where you live and drink, literally) that serves karaage (friend chicken) for unbelievably cheap, and serves it in a wooden boat overflowing ti the things. It’s become our go-to place for group parties, usually before going to a nearby karaoke for the night. Speaking of karaoke, it’s been really fun! Going with a lot of people, a few people, a normal number of people, it’s fun every time, because everyone screams their (and others’) songs unintelligibly into the microphone. If you’re not aware, the Japanese karaoke experience is dramatically different from the western one. Whereas in Europe, karaoke means that a person goes up onto a stage in a restaurant/bar and sings while others watch (and laugh), the Japanese one is much, much more civilized. A group gets a small room, and everyone sings together (well, also solo, but it’s more fun to scream together), preferably while drinking alcohol and eating ice cream. That way no-one is singled out and everyone embarrasses themselves, and everyone is happy. It’s another must-do in Japan, especially the all-you-can-drink all-night version with a lot of people, where everyone has fun throughout the night!

We also made some very good Japanese friends and are doing various things with them. A thing was going to Yokohama and its rich district called Minatomirai, where we saw the city, ate, rode a ferris wheel, went to an arcade, saw a live street performance from an American speaking perfect Japanese, and watched neon-light-decorated cars blasting very loud music. That was a fun day. Pictures would tell more, but, again, I won’t be including any pictures.

The reason for not including any pictures is because I’m too lazy to edit them, and I have so many in my backlog that I’ll just wait to edit them all at once on a better computer that this laptop, for when I show them to my relatives and friends after I go back home.

I almost wrote “come” back home there. Shows how homesick I am. Well, I’m not sure homesick is the proper term for this. I’ve been here for 11 months now, which is the longest time I’ve been abroad up until now, and it’s getting to me in unexpected ways. I want to go back home, for many, many reasons, but a part of me also wants to stay here, because I’m having so much fun, especially in the past few months. It’s really strange. What’s the opposite of homesick? Homehealthy? Either way, I’m going back home soon and am looking forward to it quite a lot.

I guess this is the start of the part that is not just a report of what I did, but the completely unintelligible composition of my thoughts on various things over some time, before I get the chance to post this.

You are probably aware that I speak some Japanese. Well, I had better, we’ve taken a three-month very intensive course. My Japanese has also steadily improved from January on, but at a slower pace, and only in the conversational level. I can now say I’m capable of having friend-level conversations on topics I’ve heard about and understood in Japanese before, but I’m still a ways away from being any good in general. In particular, my vocabulary is severely lacking, as is my ability to read. It’s really fun though, and it’s a very nice and interesting language with special quirks that surprise you at every turn. I’d like to continue practising it after all this, but it depends on the opportunities I get.

I am very surprised by my ability to interact with everyday service staff in Japanese—that means hotels, restaurants, bars, asking for information and so on. It sounds pretentious to say that I guess, but at some point I became confident enough to be able to converse with complete strangers about things I don’t know and they do, and then successfully understanding information they give me. Well, when I say it like this, it really doesn’t seem all that impressive. It really isn’t, right? But I like it, so there you go.

A thing I noticed on my many trips home in late-evening during the week, where I was walking home from my station, is the impressive solidarity I feel to everyone else around me. It sounds as if I just suffered a stroke or something, so let me explain with a picture of the situation. So there I am, at let’s say 23:00, getting off the express train home from getting a drink and “chewing the fat”, as they say, with friends, and walking down the platform stairs, because the escalator is full and it’s actually faster to take the stairs. Because I live near quite a major station, a lot of people get off the train and we all start walking in the same direction out of the station. The people are composed of businessmen carrying watches of various qualities, businessladies looking very nice even after doing a 14-hour shift, high schoolers who very likely shouldn’t be out at this time of night and so on. We walk down the stairs, each pull out our card to pay our fare with, and exit through the ticket gates, which are going beep-beep-beeeeeep in irregular intervals all throughout the ordeal. The crowd thins out towards the multiple exits, but I’m still walking behind two businessmen looking at their phones probably playing a game, alongside another very handsome businessman and very likely in front of many other people, all wearing headphones and listening to music, as are we all, as is the norm in the Japanese commuter society. My stride is faster than theirs so I swiftly seize opportunities to pass them, weaving in and out of the proper lane to walk in, no doubt amazing many a Japanese person by my proficiency of putting one foot in front of another in a manner which allows me not to fall over and advance towards my destination. A thought hits me—what am I doing with my life? Wait, I know what I’m doing, but what are all these other people doing? Why are they walking home this late? Is this normal? I start pondering the possible situations of their respective lives that could lead to them not coming home before 6 in the evening, all the while feeling a sense of solidarity, as we all advance to our destinations.

That didn’t make sense, did it? Probably not, but it was actually quite fun to write. I didn’t even properly explain the solidarity part. Maybe that’s what they call a cliffhanger! Or maybe not.

Another thing I haven’t written in the A Guide to Vulcanus series. I honestly wanted to finish it, I did, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I did write the important parts—the things you need to do after what I described are very clear. What is lacking are, I guess, general tips for starting Vulcanus, or maybe just general life in Japan. If anyone reads this, great! If not, I’ve just pressed hundreds of buttons I didn’t need to press.

The main thing you want to do in Japan is to have fun. That goes for everything, of course, but it’s especially true for Vulcanus. Work hard, play hard is a saying I don’t particularly like, but it does lead to an exciting life. You get enough money for your life here (save for those that party expensively each and every week), so that shouldn’t be a problem, but maybe you want to get some additional savings from the money we receive. Either way, sometimes it’s just worth to pay a bit much to have a lot of fun with friends, because it’s a special experience.

There is a thing that I would recommend doing before coming to Japan. You still have time if you manage to read this even two weeks before departing. Learn. To. Read. And write. Quickly. The single regret I have about the Japanese study is not that I didn’t study harder, because that would just be boring, instead it’s the fact that I still struggle to read and write quickly. I can read and write perfectly, don’t worry, it’s the speed that is lacking. So, practice writing, practice reading, just get some kana-only text and read it, even if you don’t know what it means. Learn some basic speed-reading so you become familiar with clusters of words frequently appearing together and you’ll thank me for a year straight, or even more if you end up staying in Japan. It’s really something that is so very important in all aspects of life here and you would be doing yourself a big favour.

Other than that, maybe just experience life here, eh? If you’re a tourist-type, go around and see every place you can and travel a lot. If you’re not a tourist type, just walking around the city is unexpectedly nice, even in smaller cities (compared to Tokyo of course). You get to see interesting sights that people generally don’t see because they’re too busy looking at all the statues of the Buddha or whatever.

A thing I just remembered is the ridiculous opening hours of several establishments here. For example, my local supermarket is open until 22. Maybe it’s not strange for you, but it is strange for me. All convenience stores (at least the ones in metropolitan areas) are open constantly. However. City halls and banks. The places you need to go to do official business, are only open during weekdays from 9 to 17. In other words, when everyone is at work. It’s madness, and it has nothing to do with the fact that Japanese work more than westerners. You have to take a vacation day or half-day to go to your bank, which is really strange. And it’s not as if you can go during your lunch break, there’s no time for that. I don’t know, it just seems strange to me.

Another thing is the convenience store situation on my way to work. When I started back in January, there were three convenience stores along the 15-minute walk. The interesting thing is that two of those stores are 2 minutes away on foot and are from the same company. The third one just got replaced with a third company, but even more interesting is, that near that one, another convenience store appeared, from the same company as the first two! Why! I mean, it IS more convenient, but still, why. And there’s a fifth convenience store just three minutes away from the new one, from a fourth company. Convenient!

I guess this is it for this post, I can’t think of anything else to really talk about, or the things that I can make no sense—even less than the majority of this post. Thanks for reading through this and looking at my pictures if you have done so at any point. Have fun!