Monday, 28 February 2011

Be Prepared! Or "What Should I Bring to Japan?"

It has rained constantly since last night, and my feet are soaked. I thought to myself as I walked to school this morning; "I wish I'd brought some wellies* to Japan with me". A size 7 in the UK, it's hard for me to find shoes that fit comfortably here in Japan. Perhaps I'm not looking hard enough, but so far I seem to be just squeezing into the largest size available - not comfortably, might I add. This got me thinking about the things that I wished I had brought with me to Japan. As there are a new batch of Interac ALTs coming over in just a few weeks, I thought that it might be helpful to write a few pointers. I have blabbed on a lot, so at the end I have written a concise checklist for easier viewing.

*Wellies = Wellington Boots (British English), aka gumboots, rainshoes... these things!


It isn't that you can't find shoes or clothes in Japan, it's just that larger ladies will have a hard time of it.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Keep your tears out of my miso soup....

I witnessed an interesting cultural phenomenon this morning.

I was at Denny's with Jeff and Megan, preparing to order some early morning katsudon, when a family of five people sat at the table next to us. There were two parents and three young children, perhaps around six and younger. The youngest - perhaps one or two years old - was clearly upset about something, and started crying and screaming. He wouldn't be quiet, and it was pretty annoying.

Suddenly, an old man a few tables away put his fingers in his ears and started shouting something angrily at them.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Hamamatsu's International Restaurants

Hey, I know what you might be thinking - "you're in Japan, you should eat Japanese food!".... Well, of course I eat Japanese food. I love a lot of it, and I tolerate a lot of things that I find in my school lunch. If you're travelling in Japan for a brief amount of time, you should of course make the effort to try as much of the local cuisine as possible. If, however, you've been living here for a few months, then you might fancy a break from Japanese food every now and again.

Hamamatsu is home to many foreigners, and as a result boasts a great amount of international food. If you've been wondering "where can I find non-Japanese food in Hamamatsu?" then look no further - I have compiled a list of the places that I know of. Please feel free to tell me of others, I can add them on!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


The final destination on our weekend was Okayama - just an hour's train ride from Takamatsu. Chosen only for its location, I knew nothing about it, other than that the castle looked quite cool (more interesting than most). After leaving Naoshima quite early, we took a train that landed us in Okayama for about 3.30pm.

My shoes still soaked, the first plan of action was to find cheap shoes than fit me. I hadn't managed this in Japan so far (not that I looked very hard) so I wasn't hopeful - but it turns out that the station is a magical wonderland.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Naoshima - Art Island

There are many small islands off the coast of Takamatsu, which you can travel to by ferry quite easily. Alternatively you can take a ferry from Uno on the main island of Honshuu. I had spent some time researching islands on Japan-Guide; did I want to visit the Mediterranean Shodoshima, famous for its olives? The small, mostly mountainous island of Megijima, famous for its Ogre Cave (from the story of Momotaro)? Or perhaps Ogijima, with its one village, reportedly a collection of wooden houses connected by a confusing system of lanes? In the end, I decided on Naoshima -

Shikoku: Naruto's Whirpools and Takamatsu's Old Village

Last Friday was my favourite kind of national holiday - the kind that latches on to a weekend, giving me freedom to travel a little further out of Hamamatsu than I normally could. Japan is made up of four main islands, and so far - other than my soujourn to Hachijo-jima - I had not been off Honshu, the main island. For a long time, Jeff had wanted to visit another of the islands, in particular Shikoku. I didn't know much about Shikoku, other than that Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shorewas set in the very city that we would later stay in...
Armed with the internet and zero knowledge, I set about planning a 3-day trip. Unfortunately, time and money wouldn't allow us to travel too far into the depths of Shikoku, but we did manage to skim the surface while visiting two other cities on Honshuu on the journey. The plan - travel to Kobe on the Thursday night after work and stay at a hotel. The next day, we would take a bus from Kobe to Naruto, at the closest point of Shikoku. Here, we would marvel at Naruto's "famous" whirpools for a while before heading to Takamatsu (where Kafka is mainly set!). We would stay there for one night, and spend a part of the next day on Naoshima, a small island famous for art. From there we would travel up to Okayama and stay there for a night (I liked the look of the castle) before heading back our separate ways on Sunday.
So, Thursday came and off we went. Meeting in Maibara, we were in Kyoto by around 9pm. Using the JR trains all the way from Hamamatsu would normally take about 5 hours, but I was lazy and decided to splash out on the shinkansen to Maibara, before continuing on the JR trains. We walked around Sannomiya for a while, but to be honest there doesn't seem to be that much to do there. We spent some money in an izakaya, and Jeff showed me their "famous" flower clock... which, to be honest, was nowhere near as awesome as the totem pole lurking behind it! It was raining so we didn't stay out for long. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Being a Broad

I thought I'd take a minute to tell all your foreign ladies out there about Being a Broad.

It's a support and information network for foreign women living in Japan, although Japanese ladies are also welcome to join. Set up in 1997 by the lovely Caroline Pover, Being a Broad holds girly nights out, careers seminars and other meetings in Tokyo every month. However, if you don't live in Tokyo, fear not! There are Being a Broad reps all over Japan, with events happening in various prefectures. Shizuoka prefecture's rep is my friend Ali (check her blog at They publish a magazine every month, which you can get hold of through a rep or view online from the website, and have an online forum where you can ask questions, find out about events or

Getting my Wisdom Teeth Out... in Japan

Major oral surgery... in a foreign country??

The very notion strikes fear into the hearts of many - be they xenophobic, odontophobic* or my parents. (*That's fear of teeth or dental surgery.) But when my teeth started hurting back in December, I decided that I had better get them checked out.. after all, I had already been told a few years ago that my bottom wisdom teeth were growing through impacted. After an X-ray, I was told that I should get ALL FOUR of my wisdom teeth removed.

Should I have them out in Japan? I wondered. Wouldn't it be easier to get them out in the UK? Well, it might have been cheaper, as the UK has the NHS (National Health Service, meaning that most medical care is free), although I don't know if dental surgery is covered for those over 18 or not in full-time education. Still, the thing about the NHS is that you normally have to wait months and months for an appointment - it would have been August or September 2011 by the time I could have had them out, plus I'd have to book a flight home. On the other hand, I had heard that in Japan they didn't like to use general anaesthetic, meaning that I would be awake during the operation. The thought of being conscious and aware while my gums were cut open and my teeth hacked out filled me with dread.