Eight friends, sixteen days Japan trip through Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo

In September 2018, after I had spent a year and a half in Japan, seven of my Dutch friends decided to come to Japan for a road trip. It was their dream too to go to Japan and see this fantastic country from up-close. My reasons for writing about our trip is to immortalise our amazing experience. This has been the best trip we ever had, and I had this urge to write about it. More importantly, I wanted to share our experiences with you. I received many questions from my dear readers who would love to visit Japan at least once in their lifetime, but have no idea where to start. All they know is that it is expensive. This blog will inform you of the costs and provide some tips! 

This is going to be my biggest blog ever, but unfortunately, it will also be my last. I already returned to my home country, and I have picked up my life here again. I enjoyed writing about my student life, Japan life, and my trips through Japan. Much has been said in my blogs, and I am more than happy with the results. The idea of writing a blog derived from the lack of information regarding APU’s student life and Beppu city life. It felt like it was my calling to share my stories and experiences with you.

My blog was born from this idea, and I have enjoyed writing them it two years. However, all great things come to an end. If I ever go to Japan again, I might write more about my experiences, but for now, this will be my ‘Ultimo Capitolo.’

Preparations

As this was going to be an epic trip with seven of my friends, we took our planning quite seriously, and we took our time reading about almost everything. For our trip in September 2018, we started to develop a plan somewhere in November 2017.

There was one thing that we had to tackle first; the plane ticket. Getting from Europe to Japan is expensive. The cost of your ticket really depends on when you book your plane and for which period. I already experienced the extreme heat and humid weather of Japan in July and August, and I knew that this is the most terrible time to come to Japan. I advised my friends to go to Japan either April/May or September/October. The weather conditions during the Summer are horrible. In July and August, the humidity is between 90% and 100%, daily. Walking outside is like walking in a sauna with no off-switch.

May and April were not possible for me due to exam week and due to the Ramadan that took place in those two months. Therefore, our trip was planned for September. With September in mind, we looked at the plane tickets through websites like www.flights.google.com. A straight flight from Amsterdam to Tokyo was too expensive. So, therefore, my friends had a stop in between which would in turn drop the price drastically. My friends did not book the plane immediately, as there was more to plan first. The ticket was around €650 (¥70000) and €700 (75000) (roundtrip with a stop) including luggage, and etc.

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The next part took most of our time, which was finding where to go and what to do. There are hundreds of itineraries on the internet, all with ideas and tips from other people. These itineraries are meant for people who travel either alone or two to three peoples. We were eight strong. As this was our first trip through Japan, we decided that we wanted to see the big famous cities, Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Kyoto and Tokyo had to be visited. Kyoto because it was more of a traditional, samurai era-ish place, where you can see geisha and the traditional temples. And Tokyo, well Tokyo is just crazy, you have to visit it anyway. The reason we decided on Osaka because it has an international airport and it is close to Kyoto. In our opinion, the things we visited in Osaka was quite dull. It is merely a big shopping city. We are not really the shopping-type people. You have Dotonbori, which is the most famous place in Osaka, other than that, nothing really appealed to us, then again we were there for only 2 days. Our main focus were Kyoto and Tokyo). Do try their cuisine. Osaka is renowned for its delicious Takoyaki (dough with a piece of squid inside)! It is very yummy. Takoyaki is by far my favourite snack in Japan (see my other blog about food in Japan).

Luckily, our itinerary was mostly based on a website named TripAdvisor. We looked into the must-sees to not complicate things too much. Some of us had some particular niche things that they wanted to see or do, such as visiting a saké brewery or joining a Jiu-Jitsu dojo, but overall, we had a clear idea of what we wanted to see and experience. But like I said, it took a lot of time. Japan is not around the corner, and we wanted to see as many places as possible.

When we had the lists of what we wanted to see and visit, we then made a schedule. This schedule was not a rulebook, but more for keeping an oversight and to act as a guideline for ourselves.

Now we had the accommodations that needed to be booked. Since we knew what we wanted to see on which day, we could look for the places where we could stay the nights. We booked an apartment, houses, and capsules. Since Japan is the safest place in the world, we were not worried about housing. You can safely book a place through booking.com and airbnb.com. This is what we did; we roamed the web, checked the locations of the sites, space, prices, and availability. I reckon that you will have less difficulty in finding a place as we were looking for places to accommodate eight..

When we had finally decided on what we wanted to visit, one of my friends opened Google Maps (G-maps) and added all the locations on a map which he then shared with us on Google Drive (G-drive). Basically, we shared all our ideas and predicted costs on G-drive. G-maps is a great tool to use. It visualised the locations, and if we would ever get lost in Japan, we would know where our accommodations were located and the locations of the places we would visit. We also sharWe marked all the locations on G-maps prior to our arrivaled all kinds of links of webpages that provided information on all the places. Some accommodations had specifications such as codes to enter the house or time slots when we had to enter and leave, and etc. All the info was shared in the same G-drive for everyone to read. We all shared the responsibilities together.

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We marked all the locations on G-maps prior to our arrival

 

Note: Under each section, I will share with you the links of the accommodations and the costs. 

When arriving at the airport get these three things first:

Exchange money

This one speaks for itself. Your foreign currency cannot be used in JP. Make sure you have enough cash. Japan is a cash-heavy country. Don’t even think about your fancy credit cards or debit cards. Cash, cash, cash, cash, and cash. If you think you had enough cash with you, think again, get more cash. And like I said before, Japan is the safest country on the planet. Don’t worry about your pockets. Criminals are slim to none in Japan. Just be careful with other tourists, though.

IC card

When traveling in JP, get yourself an IC card. It is a card which you charge with ¥, and you can use it almost anywhere, from trains to busses, arcades to restaurants. We mostly used it for public transport. This IC card can be purchased at every train- or metro station. You will be traveling by public transport a lot, so get one of these cards and charge it. It is very convenient, and it made our trip easier.

¥2000 (€17) for a first time purchase. In reality, the card will only cost ¥500 (€4.50), and your card will be charged with ¥1500 (€12). From thereon you can charge it at every station.

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Source: These are all the IC cards. Just get 1 per person and it works literally everywhere.

Internet

The most important thing in my honest opinion. Get yourself some internet when traveling in Japan. A lot of info is provided in English, but the vast majority is simply not. It is not that difficult to get lost in Japan. Always bring a small power bank with you and internet so you can always use G-maps to find your way back (I assume you have a smartphone). You should have marked all your accommodations on G-maps by now, so no need to search.

As I was already living in Japan, having internet was not an issue. I simply had a sim card. Sim cards in JP require a one-year subscription. I did read there is a version without a subscription for tourists, but it’s a bit of a hassle to acquire it. When my friends arrived at the airport, they rented a pocket WIFI at a shop. Pocket WIFI is a small WIFI router with a sim card. You turn it on, and you will have WIFI for as long as you require. Make sure to recharge the battery every evening. This will make your life in Japan much more comfortable. Of course, at every hotel, and hostel, there is internet available. Or when you are in a pickle, go look for the nearest convenience store (it will not take long finding one), and tap on their WIFI for free. Internet was vital for our entire trip.

What we paid for the pocket WIFI: ¥7700/ €69 for 16 days.

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Source. Just rent them at the airport

Our Trip Through Japan

Osaka (12 Sep – 14 Sep)

After finally finishing our preparations, booking, and paying lots of stuff upfront (accommodations), the day came for us to meet in Osaka. Since I was already in Japan, I took the ferry from Oita to Kobe (a city right next to Osaka). My friends took the plane from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany, and from Frankfurt to Osaka. Unfortunately, my friends flew to Osaka a week after a huge typhoon had hit Osaka and Kyoto. Osaka airport was damaged, and as a result, my friends did not land in Osaka, but in Nagoya. This was quite a pity, as they had to take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Nagoya to Osaka. Shinkansen is quite pricey, but we were glad that we were reunited in Osaka.

We immediately dropped our stuff at our accommodation. The great thing about Japan is the cleanliness of their places. Everything was clean, and all the apartments are equipped with all your needs. Air conditioner, foot-massage-machine-thing (no idea why it was there, but it was very convenient), television, refrigerator, and more! We chose a strategic location, close to the metro, and close to the city centre. We love to walk, so we did not mind taking our time to go to the city centre. My friends were a bit jet lagged, but it did not stop them from roaming the city.

We walked through the Shitenoji area, and of course, we ended up at Dotonbori. Shitenoji area is not a special place per se, but we were staying in that area, we wanted to explore, and so we did. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day, I arrived at Osaka early. I looked for a Daiso. Daiso is a ¥100 (€0.90) shop, which sells lots of cheap stuff. Umbrellas were cheap, and I had them prepared for my friends.

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Where our trip started: Dotonbori, Osaka

Nara (13 Sep)

The next day we traveled to Nara. Luckily public transport is easy to get used to. Even though everything is in Japanese, in the tourist areas we visited, a lot of the signs were in English. And when in doubt, Google it.

Nara is famous for its huge temple called Tōdai-Ji. We were stunned by its size.. The temple is impressive, and the location is beautiful. Furthermore, Nara is, probably, more famous for its deer. The deer roam freely outside the temple, and they bother the tourists for snacks. There are stands where they sell snacks for the deer. If you hold the snack in your hand, you can count on ten deer who will surround you like a mob and demand you to hand over the dough :p. The deer are harmless, they do not bite, but they are very curious creatures. They will look into your bags for food. The area is beautiful, lots of forestation, and small temples. We had a great day, and we walked a lot.

Accommodation we had in Osaka for 2 nights ¥23000/ €216 = ¥3000/ €27 per person.

Kyoto (14 Sep – 17 Sep)

After spending a day in Nara and two days in Osaka (mostly Dotonbori), it was time to travel to Kyoto. Fortunately, Kyoto is only 30 minutes away from Osaka. The house we rented in Kyoto was unbelievable big and beautiful. The house was equipped with all the necessities. The landlord even provided us with jukatas, and clean towels everyday. We had no idea that it was this amazing. Below the pictures of said house:

After settling in our accommodation, we headed out for Fushimi Inari Taisha. It is a mountain that has allegedly 1000 torii gates all the way to the summit. Believe me when I say it is a lot more than 1000…. It is a beautiful mountain with lots of trees. The mountain is 233 meters high. As a bunch of fanatics who love to walk, we decided to go all the way up the mountain. The stairs are steep, the weather was very humid and hot, but we managed to do it. It took us one hour to reach the summit. We hoped that there was something special on the top, but it was just another shrine, nonetheless it was great to get to the top. The higher you get, the fewer people you will meet. It was very crowded at the foot of the mountain. The big hike is only for those who are crazy enough :).

On the same day there was a special event at the Kiyomizu-dera temple. Once a year there is a blue dragon event. The Japanese were carrying a long dragon through the streets of Kyoto. Starting from the temple, and after an hour finishing at the temple. We rushed to the temple to see this event. It was a great sight. There were priests with instruments walking behind the dragon, and priests who were chanting. This event is called Seiryū-e (青龍会). We, of course, went in to the temple; which has a magnificent view of the city. I advise you to leave no temple unvisited. Just around a corner at this temple, there is a funny superstitious place where two rocks are standing across each other. The idea is to start at one rock, walk with your eyes closed to the other rock in one straight line, if you reach the other rock without missing it, you will find true love. There is so much I would like to tell you, but I will need a book to fit it all.

Later that evening, we decided it was time to go to Gion; the place where the geisha live. Due to its worldwide fame, the book and movie ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ had a big effect on Gion. The book and movie romanticised the work of geisha. Due to its terrible representation, people in the West tend to think that they are exotic, oriental prostitutes, but this is far from the truth. They are merely entertainers. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and Gion is swarmed by tourists. I really hated how the streets were crowded with tourists looking for geisha. It is tough to see a geisha in Gion as they live an obscure life. The geisha travel by taxi, because on the streets they will be chased by tourists for pictures. We were lucky to see a geisha on the street, and surely we made a picture from a distance, but other tourists would make a big commotion of seeing one. The streets were lovely, very typical traditional Japanese architecture. But there is not much to discover other than hoping to bump into a geisha.

The next day we visited Kinkakuji. You cannot tell your family or friends that you have visited Kyoto without visiting the most famous place in Kyoto. The golden temple. You cannot enter the golden temple/ pavilion, but that is not the point. The temple is fully covered with golden leafs. It was built at a large pond, and it is surrounded by a typical Japanese garden. When visiting the place, you can feel the zen around you. In one word; tranquillity.

After our visit to Kinkakuji, we visited the bamboo forest. An incredible forest with giant bamboos. Pictures cannot describe how fascinating it is to walk there. Unfortunately, many of the bamboos were bent due to the typhoon that passed by a week earlier. The amazing sight of the bamboo forest kept us in awe. It felt like walking through a samurai movie scene.

It was originally not part of our plan, but monkey mountain was close to the bamboo forest. We went to monkey mountain, as the name implies, it is a large mountain where all the monkeys roam freely. Just like the deer, the monkeys are very curious too. However, these monkeys are used to people; basically, they do not pay any attention to you. Only if you have food, otherwise you do not exist. Monkey mountain had the best view over Kyoto, in my opinion.

Accommodation we had in Kyoto ¥140000/ €1231 for 3 nights = ¥17000/ €153,90 per person. 

Mt. Fuji (17 Sep – 19 Sep)

Part of the Japan experience was visiting Fuji-san. Kyoto is very far away from Mt. Fuji. We had already planned for this and did our research on the web. We really wanted to experience Japan to its fullest, so we had to travel by Shinkansen (the bullet train) at least once in our life. The bullet train travels 300 km/h (186 mp/h). The trip from Kyoto to Fujikawaguchiko (a town near the mountain) was only 3 hours (!). It travels extremely fast! And the shinkansen is exceptionally luxurious and spacious. I now understand why traveling by shinkansen is so popular. You do not need to reserve a seat. You can just go to the ticket shop and buy a ticket any time of the day.

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The shinkansen (bullet train) we took to Mishima

We wanted to climb Mt. Fuji; however, we were offseason. You can only climb Mt. Fuji till the first week of September. the authorities deem it dangerous as the mountain is starting becoming cold again. Nonetheless, it was our mission to see Mt. Fuji from up close.

When we arrived at our accommodation, we were not able to see Mt. Fuji. In fact, we had no clue which direction it was, as the weather was very cloudy. It was not until the evening of the following day that we were able to see Mt. Fuji, the clouds finally broke. There was a small window of time to see Mt. Fuji without the clouds, but luckily, we were able to take pictures. We went up a mountain by ropeway two or three time to see Fuji-san, but we had no luck. Some of my friends went at 6 AM to see Fuji-san, but it was even worse due to the mist. We were very fortunate to witness Japan’s largest mountain on the very last night.

Kyoto to Mishima by shinkansen ¥12000/ €109 per person

Mishima to Fujikawaguchiko by bus = ~ ¥2000 (€17)

Accommodation we had in Fujikawaguchiko 2 nights ¥50000/ €464 = per person ¥6500/ €58

Tokyo (19 Sep – 27 Sep)

On 19 September 2018, we finally arrived at the crazy town, Tokyo. Visiting the world famous city was no longer a dream, it had become reality. After finding our way to our capsule hotel, we decided to go to the most important place in Tokyo, namely Akihabara. Akihabara is THE Mecca for all the gamers, geeks, nerds, and anime lovers. Akihabara is a vast area with large buildings that have all the niche things for gamers and whatnot. All the buildings are emitting lights, making sounds, and like a moth, you will walk into one of these buildings without you even noticing. We practically stayed at Akihabara the entire day. There is much to discover, much to see, and much to buy. We even made friends with the donür kebab guy. I strongly advise you to visit Akihabara at least once!

In Tokyo, we spent an entire week visiting all kinds of places:

  • The Owl Cafe
  • Tsukiji Market (famous fish market, however, it has been relocated now)
  • We attended a Kabuki show at the Kabukiza Theatre
  • Shinjuku Park
  • Yoyogi Park 
  • Asakusa (free park)
  • Tokyo Sky tower (largest Japanese tower) 
  • Karaoke 
  • Robot Cafe (¥8000 (€74)f overpriced-batshit-crazy-no-idea-what-happened-robot show)
  • Shibuya crossing
  • Pachinko
  • Nikko National Park
  • Harajuku street (niche shopping street)

Each of these deserves their own blog post. On the other hand, I also love the element of surprise. If I spoil too much, it wouldn’t be fun for you :p.

Fujikawaguchiko to Tokyo by train = ~¥2000 (€17)

Staying a night in a Capsule hotel ¥20800/ €160 = ¥2600/€20 per person. 

Apartment we had in Shinjuku ¥211571/ €1654 = ¥26446/ €203 per person.

Total Costs of our Japan Trip

It is difficult to give you an exact number on our expenditures per person. Surely, the big expenditures such as plane tickets, shinkansen, accommodations, were all documented here, but of course, we spent much of our money on food, drinks, tickets for sightseeing, omiyage (souvenirs), and whatnot.

However, I asked my friends, and we think that our entire trip would have been around €2000 (¥250000) per person.

It was a fantastic experience, and we had an amazing time. I love Japan, and I will definitely revisit Japan. To all my dear loyal readers, thank you a lot for joining me on my journey. I hope you enjoyed reading my blogs, and I hope I was able to bring Japan closer to you.


Arigatou Gozaimasu, Dankjewel, Sukran, Danke Schon, Merci, Grazie, Gracias, Salamat, Terima Kasih, Gomabseubnida, Dhanyavaad, Xièxiè, Thank you very much!

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Masha’Allah

Nagasaki: Road trip part 2

In September 2017, after our successful trip to Huis ten Bosch in Sasebo, we headed out to Nagasaki. When I was a kid, we were hammered with the WWII stories at school. And of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki had their own chapter in the history books. When I was thinking of Nagasaki, I couldn’t stop imagining how the city would look after the bombing. Was it still safe? Is it still flourishing? Basically, I had no idea what to expect. This trip set my image of Nagasaki straight. 

(Wait, your title says part 2? Did I miss part 1? Yes, you did :p. I wrote a blog for APU, but it was too long for their webpage. Therefore they cut my road trip story in half. In the APU’s half, I wrote about my experiences of my trip to Huis ten Bosch in Sasebo. I recommend you read that one first 😀 MY MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE IN JAPAN.)

The next morning we left Sasebo, and we went to Nagasaki. Sasebo to Nagasaki is only an hour’s drive. Nagasaki is a big city with quite some history. Our objective for our trip to Nagasaki was to learn more about the horrible history of the Second World War. We went to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. We all, most likely, were taught about the atrocities that Nagasaki had suffered. However, I was still shocked to read all about the bombing and the visual representations of the event. We had spent about two hours in the museum as there was much to read about. I recommend you to go to this museum as this is a significant page of mankind’s history. Just in front of the museum, you will find Ground Zero (epicenter). The experience of standing there was quite unforgettable.

 (There was a smudge on my GoPro, I had no idea until I checked my pictures on my laptop. My apologies)

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Real life-size of the A-bomb “Fat Man.”

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I remember standing at the epicenter and thought of all the people that lost their lives in a time when mankind was at its worst. The feeling that went through me was surreal. I couldn’t imagine it as it is unfathomable. Destruction at such a scale wiped an entire city, and I was standing there where it all happened 72 years ago.

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Ground Zero of Nagasaki

After we visited the museum, it was time to cheer up. I felt quite down, as the pictures at the museum and standing at Ground Zero really had an impact on me. One of my wishes was to visit Dejima. In the Edo era, only two countries were allowed to trade with the Japanese, namely, China and the Netherlands. The Dutch were only allowed to do business in one location, which was Dejima. It was a great experience to walk through the quarters.

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Dejima is a small area with cabin-like houses, and the area is quite tiny,  located at the sea lake. Dejima had been turned into a museum. You could read about all the Dutch people who traveled to Japan and the goods they had brought from Indonesia and Europe in these houses. Japan and the Netherlands have been doing trade with each other for over 400 years. You could feel the pride in Dejima, or maybe it was just me feeling proud of my country. Most likely, the latter :p.

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Entrance of Dejima
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Inside one of the houses

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A miniature Dejima
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Miniature Dejima different angle.
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One of the streets of Dejima
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No idea why Nijntje (Miffy) was at Dejima but okay :p

Coincidentally, there was a festival in Nagasaki. We were unaware that this festival was held at that time. It is called the Kunchi festival. As we were walking through the city center, Japanese men were carrying a ship with the Portuguese flag, and they would run about through the streets passing the shops whilst chanting. I believe they were bringing blessings to the shop owners. Around the city center, there were many stands with lots of food and snacks. The Matsuri (festival) was ten times bigger than the one we had in Beppu. The stands were along the dock by the sea. It was a fantastic sight. We just had finished Dejima, and we decided to go for lunch, and we just walked into a big event without knowing.

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The Japanese carrying a huge boat with the Portuguese flag whilst chanting passing by the stores.

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There was lots of music. The streets were crowded with people. The Japanese were wearing their traditional clothes (yukatas and kimonos). The weather was great, and lots of food and drinks. We were delighted to experience such a great event!

Later that evening, we roamed around the city, and in the end, we went on top of Mt. Inasa by ropeway. Here we had a Nagasaki night view. The entire city was emitting light, and it was very bright. It was a great way to end our Nagasaki trip. If you are ever in Kyushu, please go to Nagasaki. You will not regret it.

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I guess this IS my street.
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Peace and love
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A church was bright at night

EDIT 24 July 2019: A friend of mine with whom I went on this trip reminded me of another thing we had stumbled upon. When we came down the mountain after our evening city view, we just walked randomly towards an area, and we saw a huge cruise ship.

The ship was massive, and we were in awe, so we had to see it up close. When we arrived at the cruise ship, we came across two sailormen who were members of that cruise ship. They came from Italy, and we had a nice talk about their occupation and Japan. They were wondering where they could eat good Japanese food. We advised them to walk into a random alley or perhaps try to get “lost” in the streets. There are food stores in the weirdest places, but everything is safe, and the food too. After having a friendly chat with the sailormen, we headed back to our guesthouse in Sasebo.

My friends and I remember the most is the vibe the streets had in Nagasaki, especially at night. It was very friendly and cheerful. People had a great time, and the streets were full of people. Nagasaki is a safe city, and do not worry about any radiation issues. Nagasaki is a beautiful city, and I would love to visit it more often.

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I hope you enjoyed reading both my blogs about my trip to Sasebo and Nagasaki. Japan is a beautiful country, the people are very kind, and there is much to discover. My intention with these two blogs was to bring Japan closer to you and convey a message on how remarkable it is to travel through Japan. My next blog will be about my trip through Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. The coming blog will be more about tips and tricks, budget, etc. I received lots of questions on what to expect when traveling through Japan, and I will dedicate this blog to that.

As always, thank you for reading!

 

Masha’Allah

Moshi Moshi, sim card desu.

“Thank the lord I have arrived at Beppu safe and sound. I would like to contact my family/friends/boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband to tell them I am all fine, but I am not near a wifi signal. I would like to contact my friends and family without being dependent on wifi only. How can I get a sim card in Japan?” If you are asking this question, then this guide is for you!

Too often do I hear from students that they have no clue where to start to find a mere sim card to contact their family and friends. Probably, in your home country getting a sim card is easy peasy. All you require is to pay some fee and show them your ID card and voilà, sim card in the pocket! Unfortunately, this is not the case in Japan. It requires some paperwork and patience.

This guide will assume you already have a smartphone prior to your arrival in Beppu. As such this guide will focus on getting a viable sim card, one that works and receives internet. If you do not have a mobile phone, I strongly recommend you to go to a shop to buy a mobile phone, for example, at AU or Docomo. The AU shop at Kyomachi (in front of AP House 4) has a clerk that speaks (proper) English who can help you find a mobile phone that suits your needs. Docomo does not have a clerk that is proficient in the English language, but if you are able to communicate well in the Japanese language, maybe it is a good thing to give it a try. From all the stories I heard so far, these companies have the best services. All other companies have a terrible reputation, and it is maybe better to avoid them.

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Do note that buying a mobile phone in Japan can be quite expensive. In 2017, an iPhone 7 with a 2-year contract, with internet and a phone number was about ¥8000 per month(!).

Furthermore, first and foremost, ask yourself the question: ‘’Is my mobile phone sim card locked now?” If the answer is yes, please contact your service provider in your home country to unlock your mobile phone. All you require is to give them your IMEI code, and they will unlock it for you. This IMEI code can be found in your settings. Google it if you cannot find the IMEI code of your phone.

Back to that juicy sim card. If your mobile phone is not sim card locked, we can then proceed to acquire a sim card. Several providers provide a cheap sim card in Japan which you probably cannot find by merely using Google. These sim cards providers are IIJmio, Rakuten Mobile, and Line Mobile. Their data plans are extremely cheap, and their services are great. This guide, however, cannot make a claim which is the best choice as it all really depends on your personal preferences.

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To give you an example: Line Mobile provides a sim card with or without a phone number. A sim card without a phone number, only internet connection, is without a subscription. With a phone number, you will have a subscription for one year, and you pay slightly more. Line mobile furthermore, provides several types of data plans of 1GB, 3GB, 5GB, and 10GB. IIJmio has data plans ranging from 3GB, 6GB, and 10GB per month. Rakuten Mobile has data plans ranging from 3.1GB up to 30GB. It all depends on your budget and your internet behaviour. Please be realistic with your choice. You probably do not need 30GB to watch cat videos :p.

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The nice thing about these sim card providers is that you can always adjust your data plan either going up or down without paying any fee. You only pay the data plan for that month. I highly recommend you to take your time and read through the data plans at your own leisure. Do not make any hasty decisions just because you’re desperate to have internet. Patience is a virtue, and it pays off. You can read all about the cheap sim cards in here.

Language
Yes, everything is in Japanese, unfortunately. You might not have a Japanese friend just yet to help you translate everything, or your Kanji level is not that great just yet. Luckily, there is something beautiful out there to help you going. If you are not using Google Chrome as your internet browser, start using it! Google Chrome has an option to translate the webpage you are watching. All you have to do is go to a website and “right click” -> “Translate to English.” And it will translate everything from Japanese to English. The translation is not perfect, but it will help you a lot. Use this neat trick to wade yourself through.

What to prepare when ordering a sim card:
-Your Japanese Residence card
-Your name in Katakana
-Your address (preferably in Japanese)
-A credit card
-And….. a phone number…..

Yes, you will need to provide a phone number to apply for a sim card. And also, if you do not have a credit card and you would like to order a credit card in Japan; you will need a phone number too, but in order to have a phone number you will need a credit card…..

Chicken or egg

Yes, yes, I know it is problematic. The chicken and the egg situation. You will need a credit card. If you do not have one, you might want to apply for one at Co-Op, which is a store on the APU campus. In this situation, ask your senpai (senior student), your TA or your ‘buddy’ to use their phone number for the time being. You can change the phone number, later on, online through the service provider’s website to your new phone number.

When you have successfully applied for a sim card, it will be in no-time in your mailbox. Put the sim card in your phone and moshi moshi!

Masha’Allah

Halal food in Beppu, Japan

“These weird Muslims with their weird vocabulary and their weird spells. What do they mean with food needs to be halal? What the heck is halal? What is this odd-looking green logo with the Arabic thingy? Is it like a seal for ninjas and they will summon something? And where can these Muslims replenish their thirst for halal food? Can’t we try this magical food too?” (日本語で。 ハラールは説明した。 これをクリックしてください。)

Obviously, I am exaggerating the reactions and questions that I receive from my friends and acquaintances regarding halal food. But it is not far from the truth. Halal food sounds odd to the average person. I receive many questions from my Asian friends regarding halal food, what it is, what it means. I also receive many questions from prospective Muslim students who would like to know where they could buy halal food. At first, I wanted to cover these questions in my FAQ, but this topic is quite delicate and important to me so, therefore, I will spend a blog post on this. This blog is a two-parter; the first part discusses what halal means and the second part goes over the halal food in Beppu and in Japan.

Image result for halal food

What does halal mean?
Halal is an Arabic word which means allowed, permissible or legal. When we talk about halal food, we mean food that is permissible by the standard of the Islamic religion. Our religion puts hygiene standards very high. Hygiene means good physical health and good mental health which allows us to practice our religion. Without good health, we are not able to pray five times a day, and our primary objective in life is to pray to God. In order, to remain healthy, the religion dictates what is good for us and what is not.

In order to know what is good for us, which is quite an endless list, we need to know what is not good for us, this list is concise. In Islam, some food and drinks are forbidden to us. The opposite of halal is haram. This means forbidden, not permissible or illegal. The things that are absolutely haram (forbidden) are alcohol and pork. We, mankind, tend to try to find loopholes to justify certain things. For alcohol and pork, this is absolutely not possible. Anything that contains alcohol or pork is by default haram and cannot be consumed ever. In Arabic, we say: “Alcohol is the mother of all Fitna (chaos).” The real reason for alcohol being forbidden is health reasons. Alcohol is a poison, and it kills the body. Furthermore, as a Muslim, one needs to stay rational at all times. Alcohol does not allow this.

Pork is forbidden because pig and swine are filthy animals that would eat anything and everything and its conditions are filthy too. If one would give a dead human body to a pig, it will devour literally everything. Both alcohol and pork have been proven as harmful by today’s medical science.
So, the ones mentioned above are zettai dame (absolutely no-go). This is quite easy to understand and easy to live without. Now we enter the tricky part, which is food that is halal and can be simultaneously not halal.

Maybe halal, maybe haram.
All other meat, such as chicken, beef, sheep, horse, camel, and others, are halal to eat; however, it comes with a significant ruling. The animals just mentioned, can only be consumed if they are prepared halal. So the animals are halal, unlike the pig and swine, but the meat is not halal yet. What makes, e.g., chicken meat halal? The meat is only halal when a Muslim person, someone with good faith in Islam, does a small dua (prayer if you would like), cuts the throat of the said chicken with a sharp knife in a quick manner, the animal should not be stressed prior to the slaughter, and after the cut put upside down so it can bleed out. If all the requirements are fulfilled, then the meat is halal. Everyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, is allowed to eat halal food.

Image result for halal food rules

Why is it done in this manner? In Islam, we believe that all the bad things are inside the blood. The veins in the neck gush out all the bad blood, which makes the meat of the animal not harmful for us. Yes, drinking or eating the blood of any animal is therefore also haram.

There is another ruling regarding other animals. Basically, the animals above are more or less farm animals, and they are halal. The animals that are forbidden for us to eat are animals with fangs and claws. Animals with fangs are, e.g., snakes, wolves, dogs, lions, and etc. Animals with claws are hawks, eagles, bears, squirrels, cats, lizards, and etc. These animals are carnivores, and their meat is also haram. Even if they were slaughtered in a halal way, their meat is not permissible either way.

Seafood
This is a Muslim’s best friend. In the Islamic ruling, all the fish that are from the sea are halal. So, when offered fish, a Muslim can always eat it. Of course, it cannot be cooked with alcohol or offered with haram food. If any halal food comes in contact with something haram, e.g. alcohol, it becomes haram to eat it. There are some Islamic schools of thought who are arguing that some seafood is not permissible such as sea urchins, or shrimps. But that is another topic. Basically, everything that comes from the sea is halal. When a Muslim is in doubt whether he can eat something or not, he/she can always resort to seafood. Safest choice.

Vegetables and fruits
All vegetables and fruit are halal. Of course, if it comes in contact with haram, the vegetables and fruits become haram too. A salad with chicken that is not halal makes the entire salad haram. Picking out the chicken does not make the salad halal. It came in touch with the haram, and therefore cannot be consumed.

Part two: Is Beppu a Muslim-friendly city?

First and foremost, Japan is not a Muslim country. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, and the Dutch people eat pork, but I have never seen so much pork in my life as in Japan. Not just pork, but any animal meat in particular. Meat is provided everywhere and with their written Japanese ‘alphabet’, it is challenging to eat halal food in Japan. I will admit, I had made lots of mistakes when I came to Japan, as I was not able to read all the kanji. Of course, in Islam, when one did not know if it was halal or haram, but did try to his best abilities to investigate, but eats something haram in the end, this person will not be held accountable. However, when the person understands all the kanji and knows something is haram, then the person is held accountable.
You are probably reading this and thinking: “Well, in that case, I never learn Japanese so I can eat anything ignorantly.” Nope, it is the task of the Muslim to expand his knowledge and to learn more about the things that could harm him. If one chooses to remain ignorant, that person will be held accountable.
Therefore, I take it up to me to educate you about the kanji and katakana that are haram for you:
Source: HIJ Blog

“No. = Japanese Reading = Meaning

  1. 豚肉 – ポーク = Butaniku – Pooku = Pork
  2. 牛肉 – ビーフ = Gyuuniku – Biifu = Beef
  3. 鶏肉 – チキン = Toriniku – Chikin = Chicken
  4. (No. 1~3) + エキス = (No. 1~3) + Ekisu = (No. 1~3) + Extract
  5. 豚脂 = Tonshi = Pork Fat
  6. ラード = Raado = Lard
  7. 牛脂 = Gyuushi = Beef Fat
  8. 動物性油脂 = Doubutsusei-yushi = Animal Fat
  9. 加工油脂 = Kakou-yushi = Processed Fat
  10. 混合油脂 = Kongou-yushi = Mixed Fat
  11. コンソメ = Konsome = Consommé (soup)
  12. コンソメパウダー = Konsome Paudaa = Consommé Powder
  13. ゼラチン = Zerachin = Gelatine
  14. アルコール = Arukooru = Alcohol
  15. 酒 = Sake = Sake (alcohol)
  16. 洋酒 = Youshu = Western Liquor
  17. 酒精 = Shusei = Ethyl Alcohol
  18. 味醂 / みりん = Mirin = Mirin (alcohol)
  19. ラム酒 = Ramu-shu = Rum
  20. ワイン = Wain = Wine
  21. ブランディ = Burandi = Brandy
  22. ウィスキー = Uisukii = Whiskey”

Source: Halal Guide

“Substances that may be Halal or Haram:
乳化 剤 – Emulsifier
シ ョ ー ト ニ ン グ – Shortening
マ ー ガ リ ン – Margarine
油脂 – Oil and Fats”

It is advisable to learn the kanji and katakana of these readings. It will make your life in Japan more comfortable. I wish I knew them before I came here… May God forgive me :p.

OMG, where CAN I buy halal food?
Don’t you worry. Alhamdulillah, Beppu, unlike many other cities in Japan, is quite Muslim friendly, and its friendliness is growing. APU has attracted many Muslims from all around the globe, and they are a big chunk of APU’s society. Beppu’s shops have identified this market and adjusted some of their items to sell halal certified food. It is still not much, but Alhamdulillah it is available nonetheless. I will not go too much in details on all the halal food they sell, but below the list of all the shops that sell halal food:

APU Cafeteria
APU Co-Op
Yusha (restaurant)
Purunima (restaurant)
A-Price (supermarket with items from all around the globe)
Itto-Ryu (Ramen)
The Mosque at Mochigahama
And since recently: Hirose (supermarket)

I advise you to download an app called ‘Halal Navi.‘ With this app, you can look up at the places that are halal near you. This app can be used anywhere! iPhone app and Android app. The shops above sell halal meat and whatnot. The halal items can all be identified with a certification logo which you can find below: Image result for halal navi

This app also helped me in finding halal food outside of Beppu. When I was traveling with my friends in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo, I used this app and was able to locate the halal food. We even found a 100% halal yakiniku (BBQ) place in Kyoto. I was relieved as I was finally able to eat yakiniku in Japan!

Image result for halal certified logo japan
These are the common certifications.

“But I need to survive.”
There is something that pains me a lot, and it is not limited to Beppu only, but this excuse can be found worldwide, especially in non-Muslim countries. It might feel like I am preaching here, but I need to get it off my chest, so please bear with me. Let me start with saying that I am not your father, brother, uncle, grandfather, neighbour, halal police, or whatever. I believe that everyone has a choice and you, and only you are responsible for what you do with your life. You cannot blame it anyone else but yourself. I cannot dictate you anything, but since I have been writing this blog post, it is my religious obligation to educate you. What you do with this information is between you and your Creator.

For those who do not know, there is an Islamic ruling that does allow a Muslim to eat a pig. “NANDAKORE?!? Didn’t you just say it is Zettai Dame?!” Yes, I did say that, and the rule remains unchanged. However, if someone is in a place where there is literally nothing to eat, and this person’s life is threatened by starvation, and the only thing this person can find is a swine or a pig, God makes it mandatory for you to kill the pig/swine and eat it. “How come God forces one to eat a pig?” God has given us the most priceless thing there is, and we should take the utmost care of it which is: Life. Our very existence is an act of mercy. When the person is almost dying, and the only thing that one can eat is haram food, that person is obligated to eat it to preserve life.

Now we come to the excuse that I hear most of the time. Lots of my Muslim friends, whether it is in Beppu or anywhere else, eat haram chicken, beef, and whatnot. Because halal food is quite limited in Japan, they go for stuff that is haram and use the excuse: “I need to survive.” Indeed, we all need to survive, but one’s life is not under threat in Japan. In fact, food is in abundance here in Japan, food is thrown out too often. Fruits and vegetables, fish, seafood, and anything else is available, and the only few things one can go without is meat, but yet some Muslim brothers and sisters resort to haram meat and rationalise their decision. Halal food is available, but limited and the shops are sometimes far away. But the meat is not expensive at all! It is merely uncooked, and far away, sometimes even cheaper than haram meat!

Image result for allah is with the patient

I would like to pose a question to my Muslim brothers and sisters whether they would dare to try to say to God on the day of resurrection that they needed the haram meat to “survive” in a country like Japan. It is an absolute insult to Him, as they have forgotten 1 of the 99 names God has which is Ar-Razzaq (The Sustainer). He is the sustainer of the heavens and the earth. He provides you with all the food that is permissible. The vast majority of the food is halal for us, and a few are haram. We say the sentence Ar-Rahman (The Most Gracious) and Ar-Raheem (The Most Merciful) five times a day. Someone who is neither gracious nor merciful would not sustain you. And yet here we are in the Land of the Rising Sun, with an abundance of food and you dare to say “I need to survive”? This sentence cannot stand ground, and I would beg my brothers and sisters to reconsider that excuse they have been using.

I hope my words are not too harsh, and I hope that my readers don’t take things too personally. I understand why some brothers and sisters eat the meat that is haram. Most of the Muslim students at APU are from Islamic countries, and the food provided there is always halal. You don’t need to read the ingredients or ask the seller if it is halal or not. Everything is halal, you buy it, and you eat it. But I have faith in my brothers and sisters all around the world. Insha’Allah (By God’s will) there will be only Khair (Great rewards). I know this is merely a chapter in our lives and we are all being tested. Sometimes we need someone who would wake us up so we can find our way back to Sirat-al-Mustaqim (the righteous path).

Image result for khair inshallah

I hope this blog post was insightful for those who are interested in the definition of halal, and insightful for those who want to know where all the halal food is available. As always, thank you for reading!

Masha’Allah

The Culture Trap

You have spent most of your life in a country with people from your culture. You speak the same language, you love and eat the same food, celebrate the same happy moments, go to the same school, go to the same work, go to the same supermarkets. One day you decide to study in the land of the rising sun. Different culture, different customs, different language. What an exciting time! You meet people from all around the globe at APU. You will even meet people from countries you never heard before….., but you decided to hang out with the people from your country, speak the same language, and eat the same food. Nani?!

I remember well the first month I arrived in Japan, and my mom asked me if I had met some Moroccans or Dutchies. I replied to my mom: “Mom, if I wanted to meet Moroccans or Dutchies, I would have stayed home.” Of course, this is merely my opinion, but I do believe that the purpose of going abroad is to broaden your horizon. For this, you will meet people from other cultures from all over the globe. Only then one can say you have been abroad.

Unfortunately, I have observed an interesting behaviour at my university. It is not an uncommon behaviour per se, and I can understand why it happens, but it goes against my so-called ‘international beliefs.’ Why would one go abroad only to meet the same people one left in the first place? 

Pots patriotism.jpg

The things I have observed at the university is, especially a common behaviour I see among undergraduates, students stick with people from their own culture. The most prominent cultural groups are Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. There are many more cultures, but these are the largest ones. What I see is that they tend to stay together during breaks, walk together going from classroom to classroom, have lunch together. I can safely assume they are also staying together inside the classroom. And this kind of saddens me.

There is a big opportunity to learn from other cultures. I have spent much time with people from many cultures, and I learned much about their countries, their customs, their cuisine, and their history. I spent most of my time with people from Vietnam, Tajikistan, Indonesia, and Japan. They are all great people, and I will miss them all when I return to Holland.

Cultural difference.jpg

Because I was open to their culture, they taught me a lot. I tasted their food, learned about their customs, about their history, about their country. When I was still in Europe I would learn a lot about Western countries, but not so much about Asia. I am very grateful that I have been given an opportunity to study in Japan, and meet all these fascinating people.

Truth to be told, there are not many Westerners or North-Africans at APU. There are a few Dutchies, and there were some Moroccans. I did hang out with them once in a long time, but not on a regular basis. They are not bad people, but I prefer to hang out with other cultures. I did not travel 10000KM to meet my people again. It might sound pessimistic, but I see problems of hanging with people from the same culture for too long.

International arrivals.jpg

Language

Dutch and Moroccan-Arabic are my mother tongue. I do not put this attest as these are the first languages I grew up with. If I keep speaking these two languages, which are burned in my mind, so to speak, I will be neglecting my other languages. I want to improve my Japanese and keep my English up-to-date. English because it is the most critical language in the world for intercultural communication, and Japanese because I want to be able to communicate with the locals. 

In my observation, I noticed that some students have barely improved their English because they kept hanging out with people from their culture. I sometimes have difficulties understanding some students even though they have been here for three to four years. Verbal communication is somewhat okay, but their writing skills are a mess. This caused a lot of miss-communication. It doesn’t need to be top-notch, but at least to a level to have ‘oke’ communications. 

Tolerance

Learning about other cultures increases your better understanding of their life. Humanity fears what we do not understand. If one is not open to different cultures, one will remain fearful of the other. I sincerely believe that xenophobia can be fought by education and tolerance. The challenge is to take the first step and open your arms for their culture. It all starts with you. You are not required to be an expert in intercultural communication, but with you will get a long way with tolerance. Accept to be accepted. 

Experience

In our contemporary world, everything will be globalised. Your fellow students from other cultures will be your colleagues one day. Learning about their culture now will make your life much more comfortable in the future. As you are still young and still a student you will make many mistakes with people from other cultures, and so will they with your cultural background. Learning from these mistakes will prepare you for your future job. Your supervisors will see you as an asset as you have the experience on how to work with people from many cultures.

In my opinion, there are only benefits from intercultural understanding. Of course, I am aware of my generalisation. You will be dealing with an individual from a specific culture, this does not mean they will act exactly like all the others from that particular culture. Even though the individual is unique, the person still carries some cultural aspects of his/her home country. And you can prepare yourself by hanging out with as many people from other cultures as you can. 

Cat apathy culture.jpeg

Cultural Week

APU has an excellent event which I believe is trying to bridge the cultural threshold. At APU we have something that is called ‘Culture Week.’ It is a week full events by a specific country which is prepared by the students (mostly undergraduates). In this week, there will be dances every day at the fountain, there will dishes from that culture at the cafeteria, there will be a stand where you can dress their cultural clothes and make pictures, and on Friday evening there is a grand show at the Millennium Hall (everything is held on campus). We have Indonesian Week, Korean Week, Thai Week, Chinese Week, Japanese Week, Vietnamese Week, Philippine Week, Taiwan Week, Sri Lankan Week, Nepali Week, African Week, and lastly Oceania Week. Unfortunately, Western countries are not represented this due to the lack of people from the West at APU.

All these weeks are mostly represented by the students from that culture, and their friends from other cultures also participate and help them. In that regard, APU did a great thing to introduce these events and let students become creative and share their culture with others. However, I noticed that its purpose has been lost throughout the years. These weeks have become a competition. Some healthy competition is always good, of course, one wants to do his best to show off about one’s culture. However, this has gone overdrive. The students have found ways to contact big companies in their home country to sponsor these events. 

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Indonesian Week is by far the biggest week at APU. Indonesian students practice every day, three months prior to this single week. In 2017, the students were sponsored by Indonesia Air (!), with the sponsored money they were able to make a grand show out of proportions. In all other weeks you are not required to get a ticket to get into the Millennium hall, but for Indonesia Week tickets are sold and the line to get in is long. Sharing the culture with people from other cultures is no longer the objective. It has become more than a competition; it leans towards nationalistic behaviour. 

And let’s not forget about their study performances. Many professors complain a lot about these weeks because they can see that the student’s performance drop as all their focus goes on the culture weeks. The students do not get any study points from the culture weeks. It is all voluntarily, but as it is one’s culture that is on the line, the APU students try their utmost best to try to outperform the others. I hope APU doesn’t kill off the Culture Weeks, but it needs to return back to its roots namely: Sharing and experiencing cultural differences and similarities with others. 

As I said at the start of this blog, I do understand the behaviour of hanging out with people from the same culture. It is comfortable, it is easy to communicate, you understand each other, you do not need to explain about the inside jokes and etc. But I believe this comfort zone does not have a place on an international level. When you learn more about other cultures, you are not only learning about their customs, but you are also increasing your knowledge and awareness about the world around you. Broaden your horizon, because one day you will Shape Your World.

cultural difference dogs
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/silvialily/

 

Masha’Allah

Calamity Survival Guide

When you live safe all the time you tend to forget you are alive. Not in Japan! The thrill of life is always present in Japan. Typhoons, earthquakes, and the mountain on fire….

Lava mountain

When we (my classmates and I) came to Japan we were living on AP House 4. The building has two sides; the ocean view side and the mountain view side. I had the mountain view side. The view looked really nice. You could see the entire city and the mountains behind it.

But one night the mountain was on fire….. I freaked out…. because the fire flowed down from the left side of the mountain and the right side. “The mountain is a volcano!!!! It erupted and the lava is flowing down.” I immediately warned my friends. We were all stunned looking at the mountain that was on fire. We had no idea what to do. One of our friends was even thinking of evacuating.

The fire kept going down and down. We barely spoke Japanese at that time so we were not sure what to do. Then one of our friends Googled and found out that we should not worry. The mountain is intentionally set on fire to celebrate something…
Apparently, it is a matsuri aka a festival. It is called the Hatto Onsen Matsuri. On the first day of the festival, the Beppujin (Beppu townspeople) would set Mt. Ogi on fire to celebrate the start of the onsen festival.

Beppu is known for its onsen (hot springs). Beppu has so many onsens that it gushes out 130,000 tons of water every day! As the Beppujin are grateful for the onsen in Beppu they thank the onsen god by setting the mountain on fire. The fire is very controlled and every year the Beppujin do a different pattern for the fire to follow but on that day the fire looked like lava as flowed from both sides of the mountain. There is no risk of forest fire. In fact, this particular part of the mountain has no forestation at all due to this festival.

I was a bit disappointed though, lava mountain sounded so cool.

85_100_l
source: https://taiken.co/single/beppu-hatto-onsen-matsuri

Earthquakes
According to livescience.com, there are approximately 1500 earthquakes a year in Japan. Of course, the vast majority of the quakes are minor ones that you probably never notice. Nonetheless, they are counted as an earthquake. The last major earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter’s scale was in 2011 with the nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima.
On April 16, 2016, there was an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 in the Oita prefecture. I came to Beppu in 2017 so I did not experience an earthquake of this magnitude. Though so far I have experienced quite some earthquakes in my life, some in Morocco and one in Italy, but I already have experienced more quakes in Japan than anywhere else.

You could do three things during an earthquake in Japan. The first one is obviously mankind’s first reaction: panic. This will not help yourself or others.
When the 7.0 earthquake occurred one of my professors told us that many international students were so afraid of the earthquake they went back to their home country for a short period…. *facepalm*. There is no point going back as they have actually survived the earthquake, there will be only a few aftershocks but they are never stronger than the former earthquake. It is just a waste of time and money…

Two: Remain calm and hide your head under a table. Or three and be an idiot like me and laugh at the earthquake. There are so many earthquakes it doesn’t scare me at all. I actually slept through a couple of the quakes lol. It is so common in Japan I just shrug it off, and you should too.
Earthquake detection kit.

Typhoons
The summers in Japan can get extremely hot. The weather is very tropical. As it is a tropical climate, typhoons are a common thing in the summers. So far I have experienced four typhoons. The typhoons did not go through Beppu and did not cause a destruction on their path, but they were quite close. So close that you could see it changing the weather. The sky is dark grey and the wind is stronger. The wind is always strong in Beppu, but when the typhoon is close it feels as if someone is banging on my window for days.

Again, you could do three things. one: panic, two: just remain calm, or number three open all your windows and welcome the typhoon with open arms! Before I explain to you why let me tell you that the typhoons are not as dangerous as the earthquakes. When an earthquake happens, it is everywhere around you and you cannot escape it. However, a typhoon goes a certain path and you can anticipate it days prior to its arrival. Now let’s go to the next section: the summer….

Typhoon expat
This is me during a Typhoon. At least I am cooling off.

The summer
In Europe or more specifically in the Netherlands I would always prepare myself mentally for the winter. I hate the winter with a passion. Though the winters are less cold than in the past decades (thank you global warming), but still it can get very cold. I start to get worried about the winter somewhere in September/October. The nights start earlier and remain longer, people become sad/depressed, and the cold winds getting tougher. When spring starts it feels like an achievement.

But when the summer starts in Beppu it feels like I’m literally melting. I have experienced the hottest summer in Marrakech, Morocco, where the weather would go up as high as 45°C but at least the air is dry. In Beppu, as we are quite far south, the climate is extremely tropical and the humidity gets up to between 90% and 100%. When the humidity is low sweat will evaporate faster on your body but when the humidity is this high it does not evaporate at all and as a result, the weather feels way warmer than it actually is. August was by far the hottest month.

I could barely leave the house. I would go to a store that is a little bit downhill. It takes less than 5 minutes to get there. When I did arrive at the store the sweat would be running down my back. I would stay in the store to cool off as they have an AC. Now imagine me going back home up-hill in the extreme heat and high humidity.
When a typhoon passes our island, I embrace it and welcome it any day. During this time, we cool a bit off. I never turn off my fan as it is my best friend. Heck, get yourself two fans and never turn them off. Without a fan, you will literally melt. The warm summer days are unbelievable… What comes with the extreme heat is the bloody insects that I still do not know how to pronounce; cicadas. Is it pronounced sisadas or kikadas or sikadas or kisadas. Doesn’t matter, they make the sounds of 5 million rattlesnakes starting from 7 AM. I hate dem bugs and I hate the summers in Beppu.
Summer of 2018 is coming…… I’m afraid…. Tell my mom I love her…..
Winter is Coming - Brace Yourselves Summer in Japan is coming

I am being ludicrous about the weather and nature in Japan because there is nothing to worry about. My family would warn me to be careful because of the earthquakes, but the quakes are not that scary at all. It is the same nonsense when I am telling them that the Netherlands is 1 meters below sea level and they would be having a pool in their garden very soon. The earthquakes happen randomly over all of Japan and most of the time you would not even notice them. I laugh at those who panic and get scared of them. For me, it is a time that I realize that I am still mortal and I remember that I am still alive and kicking ;).

Image result for alive and kicking meme

Masha’Allah
References
Livescience. (2011, April 8). Japan’s Biggest Earthquakes. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com

Note: By no means is this an actual survival guide. Just a fool’s guide :p

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: One year in Beppu, Japan

A year has passed. My god, time flies and I wish I could slow it a bit down. I think it is nice to do a small review of my year in Beppu, Japan as a graduate student at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University and look back on this amazing year. Lots of things happened! Many great things, some bad things, and some ugly things.

Note: Last month’s blog was written on behalf of APU! I cannot post that blog here, but I can link you to it :): GETTING STARTED IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN

I arrived around mid-March 2017 and from there on it was an interesting ride. A new country, a new home, new people, new city, new school, new food, and so on. My eyes were wide open all the time. Actually, I arrived in Tokyo and on that day that I had my eyes wide open all the time. I was jet-lagged and tired of the long trip, but Tokyo was just amazing. There was much to see and to experience. The tall buildings, the streets, the stores, the sounds, the food, and the people. But this is not a post about Tokyo. That is something for you to experience ;).

The Good
After coming to Beppu I could easily tell that things were very different from Tokyo. Life in Tokyo is crowded and hectic. Tokyo is very gigantic and the people look stressed and busy. Here down south people are way more relaxed. You can see that on their expression on their face, the pace they walk, and are more easy going. Beppu is a big city, it almost has 123.000 people residing, and the streets do not feel crowded or chaotic. Overall, Beppu is a great city to live in.

The cost of living in Beppu is much cheaper than Tokyo. Food is cheap too. To give you an example; Ramen in Beppu is around ¥600 and in Tokyo, the price could go up to ¥1200. The rent in the city is more than decent. My pal and I are sharing an apartment with 3 bedrooms, a kitchen, and a dinner (also known as 3DK) for ¥36000 (ex-utility costs). With the utility costs included shared by 2 people, it never exceeded ¥25000 per person. I highly suggest you to find a friend and move into the city!

When I came to Beppu it all felt like I discovered new land and had to explore everything. Even though my Japanese was not optimal back then (still isn’t but much better though) I managed to hike through the city and discover the places that are important to know such as the train station, the mall, the stores for all your daily needs (Daiso, Hirose Homecenter, Yamada Denki etc.). The streets are just like in the anime, the electricity wires go above the poles, the streets are narrow, there are tiny restaurants in the middle of nowhere, the smell of delicious food can be smelled almost everywhere (more can be read about my favourite food here), the cars are like cardboard boxes on wheels, the cicadas are loud as F during summer days, vending machines everywhere, convenient stores everywhere, summarized: Japan as Japan could be. Actually, the anime Steins;Gate (by far one of my favourite anime) gave me a good idea how summer would look like in Japan.

Source: https://mangaguy12.deviantart.com/art/Steins-Gate-Future-Gadget-Lab-Exterior-389148685

Beppu city is a very clean and relaxing city. The healthcare system in Japan overall is very good and the doctors are well educated. As an APU student, you will get 70% discount on all the healthcare treatments. Not just at the hospital but also at the dentist. Make sure to make use of the 70% discount and let your teeth checked. At APU you have to do a health check-up every year. APU will provide a shuttle bus to the hospital and the hospital will guide you step-by-step for the check-up. This helps you to identify any health issues or advise you what to do. At the APU campus, we have a small clinic where you can go to if you have any health issues or just need to rest. There are rest places where you can sleep at the clinic. From time to time I have a headache I will just go to the clinic and ask for a painkiller. Overall, if you have any health issues you do not have to worry about Beppu or Japan they will take care of you.

I have met many kind Japanese people that would love to help you. At AP House 4 there is a person who has a calligraphy and Japanese course on Wednesdays and Sundays. These courses are for free and the volunteers that teach Japanese are very kind too. The person who started these courses his name is Kajiwara-sensei. He is the kindest person of Beppu. Every semester there are new people joining APU and he helps these students. Kajiwara-sensei also makes events for Japanese and international students to meet. The recent one was a hanami event at the Beppu park. Many Japanese and internationals joined. There was plenty of food, music, and whatnot. The people overall in Beppu are kind to foreign students. APU was established 18 years ago and the citizens of Beppu are used to foreign faces. They will always ask if you if you are an APU student and they are always curious from which country you are from :).

The diversity of students at APU is big. Many international students study at APU. The vast majority of foreign students are from Asia, more specifically China, Korea, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This makes things quite interesting at APU. You will meet many people from different cultures. This makes things very interesting and it will let you see things from different perspectives. Try all the food they offer as it is all a great experience to try food from other cultures. But more importantly, making friends! I thought I would make many Japanese friends at APU but instead made many friends from other cultures. In the end, we all share something in common, we are all graduate students who want to graduate and to enjoy our time in Japan!

To go a bit more into APU: APU has a lot of great utilities for the students. APU provides a great library system. For instance, if a certain book is not available at APU but it is available at another university they will send the book over to APU and you then can pick it up, for free.

Furthermore, the gym is a great place to do your exercises or join an indoor sports club. At APU there is also a big outdoors field where you could join a baseball team, rugby team, or even join a football group (soccer if you will). At APU we have a huge cafeteria where the cafeteria people cook food every day for the students. We also have something that is called the Asia Pacific Cafeteria. This is a more lounge-ish cafeteria where you can order a hamburger, ice-cream and whatnot and relax and enjoy your meal. I come here often to buy an espresso. The espresso here is of very good quality and extremely strong. And APU has, in my honest opinion, the best view ever: The view of the city. You can sit on the stairs and enjoy the beautiful view as shown below :). And lastly, the graduate students have a graduate room where undergraduates are not allowed to enter. I avoid the library because there are just tooooooooo many people in there. The graduate room allows us to study quietly and in peace (my God, I am getting old).

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The Bad
I will start off with my greatest frustration in the Japanese society. This frustration is so big that it might have changed my direction where I want to go. The frustrations come from the inability of Japan to adapt to the world. The Japanese society is very conservative. The world is changing and many countries in the world adapt and follow the money. In order to follow the money, one requires to communicate in a language that makes doing business more fluent which is mostly in English. I do believe that my grandchildren will speak English and Mandarin as the next world economic hegemony is shifting towards China, but for the time being it is English. In order to do business with other cultures, the English language is a bridge. Japanese companies come to APU to recruit international students, but they are required to write the application letter and the CV in Japanese, do the interview in Japanese, and they will tell you that you will need to speak Japanese in their company. What?! Why even bother hiring international students? Why not just hire a Japanese? And finding a job in Japan is a hell. But you can read more about it here.

To go further down the issues regarding the language barrier; At APU we have a lot of scholarships available for students that have been admitted to the university. With a lot, I mean a lot. The scholarships are always updated and every student can apply. I thought: “Great! I could use some financial aid.” So, I went to the website that can only be accessed with an APU student credential. I click scholarships, and then I click the link that literally says: “Scholarships for international students”. Grand! I am an international student! …..*sigh* why did I even….. Yup, everything is in Japanese.

The application form is in Japanese, all the provided information is in Japanese. There a few rare cases where you can apply in English but there is a section that you will need to thank the institution that gives you the grant in Japanese….. and you have to do it handwritten….. “What about the interview?” Don’t even ask…… This adds up to the frustration, believe me.

Rules, rules, rules, rules, and more rules. Don’t think that I am a riot and hate all the rules. Some rules are there for a good reason and I cheer for them. But the problem that comes with the excessive rules in Japan is the lack of flexibility that comes with it. In Europe, we have rules too but we can examine if the rules apply to a certain situation or not. If a force majeure happens to a person we might not apply the rules to the person as the person could not have done anything to prevent the unfortunate event. But in Japan, rules are rules and everyone needs to abide them as if it is the decree of God. I give you an example, one day I hopped on the bus and sat. After a while, the bus stopped at a bus stop and I could clearly see an old man trying his best to catch the bus. He was walking towards the bus from the front. I could see him, and everyone else too. The old man was more or less waggling trying to catch the bus and even waved meaning that he wanted to hop on too. But as rules are rules the old man was “too” late and the bus driver had to leave on time. This kind of broke my heart. The old man was trying his best to catch the bus and the sight of the old man was very sad. I cannot generalise all of Japan in the “abide-to-the-strict-rules” box, but this was one the things that was typical. I can understand the dura lex, sed lex mentality, but this is a private company and nothing is written in stone.

Speaking of the public transport, the public transport in Beppu is too damn expensive. It is ridiculous! Storytime: according to many professors, APU received the land for free from Beppu city. Initially, they wanted to build APU at Beppu park. The citizens of Beppu did not like this idea as they wanted to preserve their beautiful park (rightfully so, the park is indeed beautiful). Beppu then allocated APU to the top of the mountain for free, BUT there were some strings attached.

One of the strings was that Oita Kotsu (I hope the darn company burns down) was allowed to build the road from Beppu to APU and they are the only bus company that is allowed to use that road, and now we have a monopoly. There are tickets only for students which make the price more “digestible” but the tickets are sold in a bundle of 3. The 3-ticket’s price is ¥1000 ($9.31 or €7,53) to go to school, back home, and then back to school. Selling 3 tickets makes no sense. Sell them by 4 or 2, not 3…. Let’s assume you go to school 5 times a week, you will need to buy 4 bundles (12 tickets) which will cost you ¥4000 a week. Students are getting extorted because Beppu has no competition when it comes to public transport. There is another bus which is the Kamenoi bus (we call it the ‘blue’ bus), but this bus has a different area it covers but this bus is slightly cheaper than Oita Kotsu (we call it the ‘red’ bus). Oita Kotsu has never changed their price.

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Source: accidentally posted university memes

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The Ugly
Note: these are not bad things per se but just things that could have been better.
Japan is quite an advanced country when it comes to technology. When people think of Japan they immediately think of robots and things that make loud noises and things that can talk to you. As such, the idea suggests that Japan is far ahead with things. This is very true, but do not be fooled there are definitely some ugly things in Japan.

Let’s start with plastic bags. I was stunned by the number of bags that I started to accumulate in Japan. Wherever I went, whether it was for grocery shopping or buying some household stuff, I always received bags from the cashiers. They would give

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Yo dawg, I heard you like bags, so we put a bag in a bag so you can carry while you carry (these are actually my plastic bags)

me two big plastic bags. At some point, I was not sure what I needed to do with all these plastic bags. I would go to the supermarket and I would just buy e.g. tea in a bottle which I could just carry and walk to my dorm, but the cashier would give me a plastic bag anyway. I do understand it from a Japanese point of view. It is customer service. As a cashier, you do not want to see you customer walk off in an inconvenient way. You would like to make your customer’s life as easy as possible. I love this mentally of Japan, but I felt that I was not helping the environment by accepting all these bags. Therefore, I bought a durable shopping bag from Daiso which I would carry with me when I do my errands. And if you do not tell the cashier you already brought your own bag, they will give you one by default. If you tell them you brought yours, they will thank you for bringing your own bag.

You go down the streets and you see that there are construction workers working on the road. There are about 10 construction workers. 6 that are actually doing something and 4 that are just standing to overlook the street. Believe me when I say that you will need only 1 guy overlooking the street as it is a small street and not even an important street. Japanese are overall very afraid of uncertainties and responsibilities. As such you will have people that are overlooking the street and when a pedestrian is walking by they would spread their arms and legs as if they are protecting you from something but there is literally nothing. These things can also be linked back to the excessive number of rules. Japanese are afraid of taking risks so much so that they will go far beyond in order to avoid issues in such a manner it is just plain exaggeration and unnecessary.

Next, which was first: the chicken or the egg? You do not have to answer this question, but it is very annoying in Japan as an international student when you would like to buy a sim card. In order to buy a sim card, you will need a credit card. Most of the students do not have a credit card prior to their arrival in Japan so therefore they go to whatever institution that provides a credit card. They apply for a credit card but the credit card provider asks them for their phone number. Without a phone number, you cannot apply for a credit card but in order to have a phone number……*facepalm*


I hope the negative points of Japan have not demotivated you. I enjoy my life here but nothing is perfect. There are some stupid things in Japan that needed to be addressed. But the nice things outweigh the bad things!

As per usual thank you for reading my blog! I appreciate you guys taking the time to read my stories. If you have any suggestions on a certain topic or you have a question feel free to contact me or leave a comment below!

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Source: https://chillyfranco.deviantart.com/art/The-Good-The-Bad-and-The-Ugly-320626352

 

Masha’Allah

Harmonious Gift-Giving

Gifts here, gifts there, gifts everywhere. Valentine’s day and Asian New Year have just recently passed, and there is a big chance you have been receiving gifts from your Japanese friends. You are grateful for all these gifts, but you probably have no clue why you keep getting gifts, and you probably not sure what to do from there on out. After receiving so many gifts, you probably feel guilty for not giving something back. Don’t worry; you are not the only one who feels like that.

“Happy whatever-day, I have a small gift for you.” Oh boy, not again… Usually, I would be happy receiving a gift from someone. Where I come from, I will receive a gift for my birthday, Christmas, Eid-al-Fitr, for my graduation, for helping someone who required help, and so on. Most of the time, these gifts feel like an accomplishment for doing something that needs to be rewarded (except for Christmas). One would throw a party first where you provide lots of food, cake, and drinks, and people would come over to celebrate your birthday and gift you a nice birthday present. Without a birthday party, you will probably not receive many birthday gifts.

However, in Japan, gift-giving for accomplishments is also embedded in the culture, but it goes much deeper than that. In Japan, one gives a gift not just to celebrate something but also to keep balance and harmony. Balance means the equality between two parties, and harmony is the relationship between the two parties. In Japan, giving a gift is to preserve the relationship between one and another. It means something along the line: “I would like to remain close to you, and therefore I give you this gift so we can extend our relationship,” simply put.

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Omiyage (お土産)
You better memorize the word ‘omiyage.’ You will hear this word a lot. The word ‘omiyage’ can be loosely translated to ‘souvenir’ or ‘gift.’ Omiyage is BIG business in Japan. There are omiyage shops everywhere. In places where you probably will get lost, you might find an omiyage shop that sells different kinds of omiyage. As Japanese people love to travel, they will always buy the local omiyage to bring home.

Most of the time, the omiyage shows the name of the city or place, and this can prove you were there. This doesn’t come by surprise as the kanji omiyage 土産 exists of two parts. 土 means local and 産 means product. These omiyage are then shared with friends, colleagues, and family members that are close to them. This social behaviour reveals that the Japanese let their friends, colleagues, and family members know that they had not forgotten about them even when they were travelling.

The majority of omiyage, which I have seen so far, is in the form of cookies and sweets. The cookies and sweets represent the local taste that cannot be found somewhere else most of the time. This makes gift-giving a unique thing to do. It is to bring the local taste closer to the people that are dear to them. The packaging is as important as the content. The gift must be stylish and/or cute. The more stylish and/or cute, the more it shows you have put effort into selecting the person’s gift. If the gift is not wrapped in beautifully, do not even think about sharing your ‘gift’ as it insults the receiver. The omiyage is an extension of you, and thus it represents you and your intentions. Though, if the gift cannot be gift wrapped because of its form, then alternatively, you can offer your omiyage in a nice omiyage-bag.

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Harmonious pressure
“The gift-giving thing is great! It shows how much the person cares about you. How can this be bad?” I would not necessarily call it bad. The harmonious gift-giving is, in my view, a beautiful thing as it keeps the relationship steady. Though, the moment you receive an omiyage, you become part of the harmonious gift-giving system. The gift-giver has revealed that he/she is grateful for your help and/or cherishes you being a colleague and/or friend. This concept is also known as ‘on‘ (恩) (Meek, 1999). ‘On‘ is quite tricky to translate into English, but it can come close to the words indebtedness and gratefulness.

In Japan, as the person feels indebted/grateful, it is now his moral obligation or also known as ‘giri‘ (義理), to return this favour to you. In order to express his gratitude, the person will give you an omiyage. In the gift giver’s mind, the favour has been returned, and harmony has been preserved. However, the gift receiver feels obligated to return this favour as he now feels indebted. The gift receiver wants to return this favour because he feels that the act before was not worth receiving an omiyage for as he feels that it was just part of the ‘giri’ to help in the first place.

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Source: https://cdn.tatcha.com

The harmonious gift-giving system is only viable if one can afford it. You see, when one receives a gift, it is necessary to figure out the price of the gift. The gift-giver will not tell you as it is a gift. To keep balance and harmony amongst yourself, you do not want to give an omiyage that is cheaper or more expensive than the one the gift-giver gave you. That will disturb the balance in your relationship (Star Wars pun intended).

You might feel burdened because you will need to do a bit of an investigation to figure out the price of the omiyage you have received and buy an omiyage of the same price for the gift giver. Of course, this omiyage should be something else than the one you had received, but the price should remain the same. But imagine that the person bought you an expensive gift and you cannot afford to return it. As this gift-giving is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture, you will receive many omiyage from many people, which you will need to return in a different form.

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My Japanese language teacher from the Netherlands told us that women would keep a list of which present they had received, the gift’s price, and from who they had received it. If one needs to return the favour, it is imperative to administrate the gifts. She told us that the gift-giving culture was very stressful as some families could not always afford it, which brings tensions to the relationship. The gift-giving culture is not always about the actual item or the packaging. Of course, this should be very nice and neat, but it is about the act. These families that cannot afford to return the favour would re-use the omiyage they had received, re-wrap it, and gift it to other people.

As for me, I have felt this pressure myself as well. I felt burdened with receiving gifts. I kept receiving gifts, but I had nothing to return. I had to buy something that represents me. Luckily a store in Oita called Kaldi is selling all kinds of food from all over the globe. Fortunately, they also sell ‘stroopwafels’ (Dutch waffles with caramel inside). I would then share the stroopwafels with the people who gave me an omiyage before. I did this to keep harmony with my peers.

You might think you have found a hack to avoid this harmonious gift-giving by not accepting the gift in the first place. 🙂 guess again. That is even a bigger insult. You have to accept it, and you are immediately inside the gift-giving loop. If you plan to come to Japan or already are, start stacking lots of omiyage from your home country. I heard from my friends that they would bring a big suitcase filled with their home country’s omiyage. Believe me when I say you will need it, and it will never be enough ;).

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Masha’Allah

References

Meek, C.M. (1999). Ganbatte: Understanding the Japanese Employee.

Japan’s Stranger Things

Japan is a beautiful and great place to live. The culture, the people, the food, the landscape, and the language give you a great Japan experience. All of it is in one word, ‘Amazing.’ But as in every culture, there is some weird stuff that boggles the mind and will leave you with a great question mark above your head. Looking for work in Japan is not as easy as one would have thought…

Such a question mark happened to me quite recently that actually has a more underlying issue covering the entire country. 

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Alright, storytime: In October, there was a post on a Facebook group (Minishare, a Craigslist for APU students in Beppu) that invited all international students to join a seminar that was organized by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). This seminar was to inform foreign students about finding a job in the Kyushu island. For those who do not know, Kyushu is the southern island of Japan. I thought: “Great! This is nice, as I would love to work in Japan, mind, and look at this seminar. The Facebook post stated the following: ※The seminar will be conducted mainly in simple Japanese and there will be English interpretation in some parts.” Of course, I was worried about this as I am not that proficient in the Japanese language. Still, I had some hope regarding that some things would have some explanation in English.

I went to the seminar, guess what….. It was all in Japanese. Yes, there was a lady that would “translate” maybe 5% of the entire seminar. Still, her translation was extremely lacking, and adding the word ‘like’ 4 times in a sentence does not really convey the message. If you think I am lying, please have a look at their recent Youtube video uploaded to “attract” internationals: How you should not attract internationals

Fortunately, I had an employee of the METI who spoke English sitting next to me to translate the presentation to me. The presentation went to fast for him to be able to translate everything accurately. I was sitting in a group of 2 Egyptians and 1 Palestinian. During the break, I told the METI employee my frustrations about this whole fiasco. I would love to work in Japan, but everything is in Japanese. The employee said to me that they were targeting international students that had have been living for a long time in Japan and were able to converse in the Japanese language on a high level. In this context, it means undergraduate students that have studied for 4 years in Japan, whereas the 3 students from the Arab country and me were all Master’s students. We have a mere 2 years to study in Japan, which will definitely not be enough to get to N2 JLPT level (Starting from N5 up to N1).

I told him that Japan is not ready for the international world. The working environment is not foreign-friendly. About 60% of the APU undergraduate students, who found a job in Japan, would leave Japan in the first year as they cannot cope with the Japanese work ethos. APU is pumping undergraduate students to work in Japan, and it flaunts their results on their website about how many students found a job in Japan. However, it fails to report, explicitly, how many not only left the job but also left the country.

This whole seminar made no sense to me. Imagine yourself holding a seminar to attract international students to your country/region for work. Would you do it in your native language? Of course not! I cannot imagine the international student’s look if I would conduct an entire seminar in Dutch.

The situation is quite sad as Japan is reluctant to change anytime to internationalize. Of all countries in the world, Japan needs to internationalize due to its decline in population. As reported by the Japan Times (2017, July 5), Japan’s population has been declining for 8 years. The number of births in Japan was 981,202, and deaths were 1,309,515, a decline of 328,313 people. Japan is in dire need of a solution for its decline. This decline puts a lot of stress on the economic situation of Japan.

As described by Forbes (2017, July 10), Japan has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 234%(!). Greece, with a deb-to-GDP ratio of 176%, is a joke compared to Japan. My (Japanese) teacher asked me: “To whom does Japan owe all this debt?” To which I answered: “To foreign countries.” Which she replied: ”No, to the Japanese citizens.” This surprised me a lot as Japan has been spending its people’s money. Clearly, Japan is in an economic ****hole.

The course name was Society and Culture. Here we discussed the current social issues of Japan regarding the economic issues and population decline. For this, we used a book Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan by Jeff Kingston. One of the chapters goes deep into the social issue, and it suggested two solutions to the economic issue. One of the solutions was to increase women in the labour force. Women are highly discriminated in Japan regarding work. It is hard for a Japanese woman to go up the promotion ladder as the Japanese society expects that a woman will eventually marry and have kids and remain at home. As such, it is hard for women to keep up their working life. The Japan Times (2016, April 8) did report that there is an increase of women in the labour force. 43% of Japanese women are working nowadays, coming from 36% three decades ago.

That is indeed great news, but remember we are talking about Japan, where long working hours are not alien. With long, I mean loooooonnnggggg (12+ working hours). Furthermore, childcare is lacking. There are long queues for day-cares as many families want to drop their child at a day-care before going to work. If that wasn’t enough, as reported by JapanInfo (2017, Jan 17), women want to earn less than ¥1 million because earning more than that, the government will tax the women heavily, and pension money will be deducted. This is because the men are the biggest breadwinners and stay working the entire day, also known as Salarymen.

I agree that increasing women in the workplace and giving them the same career opportunity is required. But will this be enough to lift the economy up? If women do work, they do not have the time to rear a child. Working long hours is the norm. I admit it is changing, but not fast enough!

In my opinion, option 2 is the best, namely open the borders for international workers. This is because many highly motivated, skilled, and talented people would love to be part of Japanese society. When talking about international workers, people immediately think of uneducated people and do dirty jobs. The criminality rate will increase. No, this is, of course, bullocks. There are educated people out there who love to work in Japan, but the environment is not ready.

Hurdles

It is a norm to prepare to find a job in your last year as an undergraduate in Japan. Meaning, at the start of your 4th year, you start looking for a job. If you are looking for a job at the end of your 4th year, you are too late. Japanese employers want the jobseekers to spend an entire year looking for a job because the process takes a whole year… There are 6 hurdles you will need to partake before you are accepted for a job. The 6 hurdles are: 1) an entry (probably your application), 2) job fair seminar, 3) resume entry sheet, 4) paper test and a web test (aptitude test and math test), 5) job interview (group interview, group discussions, personal interview. All in that order), 6) getting a job offer. All of this and maybe, just maybe, you will get the job. Just keep in mind, you do this with at least 20 companies because the job interviews are killing. This also means you are required to do lots of traveling in order to participate in the interviews.

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I told the METI employee why I would want to go through so much trouble to find a single job in Japan while I could just send my CV and application letter to a company in, for example, Germany, go for a (Skype) interview, and get accepted all within one month?! Before you even apply, you will need to have a JLPT N2 level. A JLPT N2 level tests your ability to read, listen, and write in Japanese (grammar and spelling), but it does not cover speaking. If you do not have JLPT N2, do not even think about looking for a job in Japan. When you finally achieved the JLPT N2, you are only half-way. Getting to the N2 level takes 3 to 5 years. The hurdles are amazing.

When you have read this, I probably have demotivated you to find a job in Japan. I am not saying it is impossible. If you have managed to jump over all the mentioned hurdles above, you will find a job in Japan. I want you to be realistic about your idea of finding a job in Japan. I have not given up, as I would still love to find a job in Japan and be a beautiful society. But as the Japanese say: You have to ‘Ganbatte‘ a lot and overcome Japan’s stranger things.

Masha’Allah

References:

Forbes, (2017, July 10), Japan Has Entered The Next Phase: Unlimited Money Printing

JapanInfo, (2017, January 17), Why Are Many Women in Japan Stay-At-Home Wives? Here Are 6 Reasons

The Japan Times, (2016, April 8), Still a struggle for working women

The Japan Times (2017, July 5), Japan’s population falls for eighth straight year but number of foreign residents rises

 

 

Landscape Escape

Tired of the concrete jungle? The air in your city is too polluted? Is your job causing you a lot of stress? Not in the mood to study and need more inspiration? Why don’t you escape to the landscape?

I admire several things about Japan: The people, the culture, the food, the history, architecture, and the landscape and nature. From time to time, I look out of the window, and I gaze into the beautiful mountains covered in green trees from top to bottom. My eyes grow big, and I am filled with awe. Whatever I was thinking or worrying about all comes to a full stop.

Japan is blessed with rich and green nature. I, recently had the opportunity to join a short trip with three Japanese (senior) friends of mine to a town near Beppu: Kitsuki. Along the way, we stopped to have lunch. We brought our Bento (lunchbox) and had our lunch out in nature. The location was terrific. We were far away from civilization, and big, green mountains surrounded us. It was a sunny day, and the temperature was pleasant. Eating your lunch in all tranquillity, with fresh and clean air, no noise, and a beautiful view made my lunch tastier. Some peace and quiet from time to time will do one good. 

Normally, I would write about my experiences in detail, but I wanted to do something different this time. I would like to share with you some pictures of Japan’s landscape and nature. And I would like you to look at the pictures down here and take a moment and REALLY see. Don’t scroll through it like you normally would when you look at someone’s Facebook profile photos (lol 😉 ). Believe me when I say being here and seeing it with your own eyes beats everything. The pictures below have been taken on different occasions. I hope this gives you a good glimpse of Japan’s nature. Hopefully you will one day come to Japan and experience it yourself. If you are already in Japan, please take your time and look at nature. Life in Japan can become quite busy, and you might feel like you are drowning in your work or study. Whenever you have a break, take the opportunity and go for a landscape escape :).

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Masha’Allah

The Land of the Rising Convenience

In the West, you are being taught your whole life that you are living in a first-world country. ”Life is the best here; we have the best infrastructure, the best health care, the best technology, the best et cetera et cetera.” But what if you live in an even greater place, but there is a place that is even greater. A country in the Far East where people still managed to be a step ahead of you. A country where people who are never satisfied until they reach perfection. When you always try to achieve perfection, you learn to have an eye for great detail.

Now imagine yourself at home around 11:00 PM, and you would like to bust open a bag of delicious crunchy chips, but you are out of chips. What do you do? Well, if you are in the Netherlands, you are out of luck. The supermarkets are closed at 8:00 PM. If you are lucky enough to live in a big city, then the Albert Heijn might be open till 9:00 PM. But the thought of those salty chips is now marked in your mind. You really want that Lays chips land on your tongue. Wouldn’t it be convenient to have a store open 24/7 and be located around the block so you can buy yourself some of that quality chips?

Again imagine yourself on a summer evening outside in a park. It has been a long hot day for you. The thought of drinking a can of cold soda passes your mind. However, the closest shop is kilometres away from you, and you are just too tired to go all the way to the store. ”Man o man, what I would do for a cold can of Fanta.” Wouldn’t it be great if there is a vending machine around the corner that has a cold Fanta ready to be devoured by you?

When I arrived in Japan, there was one word that kept coming back in my mind. I have studied the Japanese culture for quite some time, now and I knew about this, but I totally forgot about it due to the excitement of being here. It is namely: convenience. The amount of convenience is very apparent in Japan. The moment you arrive at the airport you start to notice it. At first, very subconsciously, but later, you begin to see it everywhere. At Narita airport,  three people stood there close by the door and just greeted you by saying ‘Konnichiwa.’ At first, you will think this is odd as these people add nothing here on this spot, as you can just follow the signs stating where you need to go. They were standing close to the door, and behind the door, there was nothing. Only more walking involved getting to the luggage carrousel. So the place they were standing was quite irrelevant.

The more I started to think about it, the more I understood the reason. They were standing there for any questions you might have. Was it necessary to have these people here? Well, in this context, it was not, but it was convenient. They are standby for anyone.

Later that day, I took the metro, and I noticed a sign on the wall stating what the previous name of the last stop was, what the current stop is, and what the next stop will be. I have never seen this before, and I was thinking again: ”Is it necessary to show what the previous stop is and what the current one is?” The answer was ‘no.’ But was it convenient? The answer was ‘yes.’


Later that day, I made use of the public restroom. Luckily for anyone who visits such a restroom in Japan, they are very much clean and maintained. I sat down on the toilet, and I got freaked out for a split second, as I had never experienced such a thing before: a heated toilet seat. I learned that many toilets in Japan have a heated toilet seat. It was pleasant, I might add. And again, the question passed my mind: ”Is this necessary to have?” The answer is ‘no.’ But is it convenient to have? The answer is a ‘yes.’

In the last 2 weeks being here in Japan, I can say that this country is very far ahead when it comes to details. You would not think about many small things, but the Japanese have, and that is what makes this country very special. Japan has always been well known for her remarkable eye for details, and this can be seen, felt, and be tasted everywhere.

For instance, on a rainy day, many Japanese just magically summon an umbrella and pop them open and walk around town as if there is no rain. I have never seen so many umbrellas on one street. Whether it was a big city like Tokyo or a smaller city like Beppu. Everyone has an umbrella ready. Compared to the Dutch, where rain is our fellow citizen and never seems to leave the country, I do not see so many umbrellas as here in bigger cities. Because there are so many people with umbrellas when it rains, a store prepares an umbrella plastic sheet holder (This is my best attempt to give it a name). Before you enter the store, you put your then wet umbrella in a plastic bag. You push your umbrella in the bag, and the holder will then seal your umbrella. This way, your umbrella will not be dripping water inside the store. *MIND BLOWN*.

Why does this small yet remarkable piece of equipment not exist in Europe? Is it necessary, I would say debatable, but it is very convenient! This is precisely the type of detail the Japanese understand, and we Europeans do not. There is so much to learn from the Japanese.

In Japan, you have something that is called a Konbini, aka a convenience store. These stores are open 24/7. You might compare them with something like an Albert Heijn ToGo, a small supermarket-ish store with all the necessary things you require, such as Lawson, Seven-Eleven, FamilyMart, and many more. These stores can be found EVERYWHERE. The ones mentioned Konbinis are the big three. You want to buy deodorant at 2:00 AM, well you can now! Having a headache in the middle of the night? Go to the nearest (and with near, I mean they are really close by) Konbini and buy some pain killers, the Konbini is open and at your service! That bag of chips you crave for? Sure thing, all sorts of chips ready to be stuffed in your mouth.

In Japan, you also never go thirsty. It is impossible to go thirsty even if you wanted to. There are vending machines EVERYWHERE! Below you will find an Imgur link with all the pictures of these vending machines. Is this necessary? No, it is not, but I found myself thinking about coffee (my drugs, especially in the morning). Before I knew it, I found a vending machine selling me my daily fix. There are so many of these machines you cannot miss them. They sell water, (cold) coffee, (cold) tea, soda, and more.

Vending Machines Rule the Nation

DCIM100GOPRO

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There are many more examples of the high level of conveniences in Japan. For that, I invite you to come to Japan and experience it yourself. Life can be hard, but the Japanese know how to make it easier for you. The Japanese are indeed cunning people. My experiences so far are extraordinary.  If there is a reason for you to stay in Japan, then certainly the amount of convenience is one of them.

Masha’Allah

A Japan lover was born…

I dedicate this blog to my grandfather Ahmed El Kahlaoui. I only knew you for 16 years, but those 16 years were enough to inspire me for the rest of my life.

March 17, 2017, is the big day. That is the day when I take the plane from Amsterdam to Tokyo. Something that has been only a dream is now becoming a reality: Studying in Japan! But before we jump into life in Japan (which this blog will focus on), who am I, and why the heck do I want to go to the other side of the planet and spend 2 years of my life studying in Beppu, Japan? 

On October 26th, 1989, a boy named Zakaria Ennahachi was born. This boy had no clue where life would take him and what he would be doing……

When I was a youngster, I remember watching Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network at 10 or so. I enjoyed watching this cartoon a lot. Trunks is my favourite character in this show. Cartoon Network was broadcasting a lot of anime shows back then. Dragon Ball Z, Digimon, Pokémon, MedaBots, Shaman King, Shinzo, Yu-Gi-Oh, Beyblade, Gundam Wing, and probably a lot more. Little did I know this was all God’s plan to lead me on a specific road where I am headed now. I was not aware of the existence of the word ‘anime’ back then. I would watch every single one of those cartoons and would re-watch them again.

At the age of 13, my pal Wesley introduced me to Naruto. This is where things really took off. The anime that were mentioned above were not spoken in Japanese on Dutch television. They were all voiced in either Dutch or English. Japanese was a strange language to me, and I never came in contact with this peculiar language. Naruto was a new anime that came out on the Japanese national television in 2002. It is about a kid who is a ninja with all kinds of special powers. The anime only became dubbed in 2005. When it finally became dubbed, the Japanese version was far ahead in the storyline. This part became critical in my life. I was exposed to the contagious Japanese language, and there was certainly no cure.

I grew up in a Moroccan family where three languages were spoken: Moroccan-Arabic (it is a dialect to Arabic, a.k.a Al-Darija), Berber (Al-Riffia), and Dutch. When my mother moved to the Netherlands, she spoke Moroccan-Arabic, Arabic, French, and English. She did not speak a word Dutch, and her way of communicating with the Dutch locals was English and French. A friend of hers came to our place a lot, and my mother always conversed in English with her. And as you know, when you are a child at a young age, your mind works like a sponge. You will learn a language quickly. So I grew up speaking Dutch, English, and Moroccan-Arabic. My mother did not want the Berber language to be spoken in the house, so we never learned to speak it, though I can understand the language a bit.

This pool of languages always has been of great value to me. I have always been a firm believer that language brings people together. There is something magical in a language. Besides understanding each other through different words and pronunciations, it is through the language you understand each other on a higher level. Language creates friendship, mutual understanding, and respect. I always had an affinity for languages, besides the ones I already spoke.

When I got exposed to the Japanese language by watching Naruto, I started to enjoy the language. After Naruto, I hooked up with Bleach, and this was also in Japanese. The language sounded enjoyable and beautiful to me. After a year of watching Naruto and Bleach, I was able to distinguish the Japanese language from Chinese or, for example, Korean. Within the Japanese language, there is a clear hierarchical structure. For instance, when you talk to an older person, you would use different and longer words to show your respect to this person of age. The more important the person is, the longer the words become and more difficult. As a language lover, this appealed to me, because one would implicitly show his/her respect and gratitude to the listener. The appeal I had for the Japanese language brought me eventually to their culture, the history, the landscape, the food, and the people.

There I went down the rabbit hole that was Japan. My gateway drug was the language, and I never thought I would be such a Japan lover or felt that I would actually go to Japan.

At the age of 19, I reached a crossroad, and I took a turn which, made me who I am today. I could have gone into a path and followed my childhood dream and become an anchorman(!) or go onto a road that may or may not lead me to the international world and eventually Japan. When I was 8 years old, there was a television show in the Netherlands called ‘Geef Nooit Op!’ (Never Give Up!), and there was this kid who wanted to be an anchorman. This inspired me to become an anchorman one day myself. When I was 19, I did a journalism selection test for the study course. I failed the test. So, I had to re-evaluate what I really wanted.

I asked myself the question: ”Where do I want to be in the future?”. The answer was Japan. However, I could not just reach Japan just like that. I had to do a 4-year study course because I had to get a bachelor’s degree that allowed me to enter the international world. I started International Communication & Media in Utrecht. The study course was in English, and this diploma would open the world for me. I graduated in January 2014. But I was still not there. I could not finance anything as multiple scholarship institutions denied me a scholarship. My family could not afford my study. So I had to be patient again and take a long detour.

I started to work at a company as customer support for Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging stations in September 2014. My goal was to save money as much as possible. I grew to become a Software Quality Assurance Analyst within the company. Also known as Software Tester. In August 2016, I finally managed to save up a large sum of money, and it was time to apply for a study in Japan. Before that, I already applied for a study course in Duisburg, Germany, but they did not accept me. I thought heck with it; I will just apply for a master’s degree in Japan. I applied for a study course at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific Studies University in Beppu. And in November, they returned to me stating they accepted me to their university!

Now imagine yourself as a 19-year-old who had to take his/her biggest decision in his/her life. I am glad I chose this path because now I am finally going to fulfil my dream. There is a Japanese saying 七転び八起き (fall seven times, stand up 8). I keep this proverb close to me as this really applies to me. Be patient and never give up on your dreams. Persistence will pay off. Never Give Up! It took me 8 years, but I am finally going to the land of the rising sun.

A 27 old guy from Berber descent but speaks Moroccan-Arabic, born in the Netherlands, studies and prefers to write in English, goes to Japan…

On October 26th, 1989, a boy named Zakaria Ennahachi was born. This boy had no clue where life would take him and what he would be doing……

Masha’Allah