Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Stuff and Things

Snow Daze

It was Friday evening, and I was at home making chicken soup to round out an excellent day of staying home and not wearing pants. My phone lit up with an email from the manager at the school where I teach part time.

“The weatherman says there will be a lot of snow tomorrow, so please be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the school in the morning. Thanks!”

“Pffffssshhhhh!” Snow in Tokyo. Any snow in Tokyo is a lot of snow in Tokyo. I’d seen trucks put on chains for a couple centimeters of snow just the year before.

FOOLS!” I thought. “This city is no match for precipitation of any kind! Any time there’s any sort of weather, everyone acts like it’s the end of days!”

Still, I headed for my laptop where a quick Google search showed me that yes, indeed, the weather forecast was warning we’d get 15 centimeters of snow on Saturday.

“Wait, the 23 wards of Tokyo? Really?” My confidence faltered when I saw that even the heart of the beast that is this city was expected to get hit with the storm. I read the forecast several times to make sure I was reading everything correctly. Suddenly I found myself appreciating my manager’s email.

“Well! I’ve clearly chosen the right food to make tonight,” I said to myself, heading back to the kitchen. I resolved to start my day a little early in the morning to compensate for the expected traffic delays. I enjoyed my soup in my pajamas and was feeling warm and fuzzy. When I went to bed at around midnight there wasn’t a single flake of snow in sight from my little balcony.

“Hmph. We’ll see what actually happens.”

The next morning when I woke at about 8:30 AM there were already a couple centimeters of snow on the ground. I got ready for work. I layered socks and leggings and sweaters. I was feeling extra smug, so I straightened my hair. Coffee made, cereal eaten, leftover soup packed for lunch, and brand new boots from my parents (thanks, guys!) on my feet, I donned my fuzziest, warmest hat and my long wool coat before heading for the door, grabbing a little umbrella on the way out. The weather forecast had mentioned the snow would be turning to rain at the end of the day.

When I stepped outside, I locked my door and noticed everything was extraordinarily quiet. There were no footprints in the little bit of snow that had accumulated on the walkway leading up to my door, nor were there any footprints on the staircase. At 10:30 AM, it seemed I was the only person to have left the building by that point in the day.

When I reached street level, I plodded carefully to the road, where two kids from a nearby house were hard at work building snow-creatures in what might loosely be called their “front yard.” The snow was blowing at an angle. Small, icy flakes flew in my eyes and stuck in my hat and hair. I could feel nature’s bitchslap already.

“Ha. Ha. Thought you’d try to style your hair today, huh?”

What an idiot I was for wasting those ten minutes in front of my mirror. I trudged down my little street, and as I did, I realized very quickly that the lack of grippy-sole (that’s a technical term) on my boots might end up being a problem.

I came to an intersection in the street that would take me to the station. An old woman from the neighborhood was bundled up, sweeping and pushing snow and slush off the street in front of her house as best she could.

“Be careful,” she cautioned as I passed her.

I turned the corner next to her and got blasted in the face with cold air and snow. Well. My smug attitude was wearing off rapidly, and it occurred to me that I might actually spend a portion of my day being stuck in a snowdrift.

I headed through one of the neighborhood temples and towards the station, making my own path as I went. I did not see a single car. I saw only a handful of people. The umbrella I had picked up as I left my apartment came in surprisingly handy; without it, my visibility was impaired by the battery of icy flecks pelting my face.

I made it safely to the station where a few people were straggling around looking haggard and cold. Despite the glances I was getting, I was quite proud of my exceptionally fuzzy hat choice. I was warm, after all. It was about then that I began guessing how many of my students would actually come to class. I briefly grumbled at the idea of having to go to work on a day like this, but that thought was quickly replaced with “Hey, I’m getting paid!”

Thankfully, the subways were still operational, though they were not running on any sort of time schedule by that point. I think there were a total of 6 people in my car that morning. The train rather lazily headed to Shibuya.

The station was pretty quiet for a Saturday. Typically it’s crowded and full of young people getting ready to go shopping. I won’t say it was empty (is that even possible?), but it was certainly less packed than usual. I headed for my exit and out onto the street, where the snow/wind combo started stinging my face again. Conditions weren’t bad.

Shibuya in light snow

Umbrella up, I headed for the office, increasingly careful of where I put my feet. My smooth-soled boots were sliding on anything even remotely icy. I made it to the building entrance, where I finally slipped (but caught myself), much to the amusement of a nearby salaryman. In retrospect, I wish I had recovered with an Olympic finish.

When I got to the office I checked my schedule. As expected, my students had dropped like flies. Cancellations abounded on my student lists, and with all the extra time I suddenly had, I prepared for the classes I imagined I would be teaching (a few group lessons). Before heading to my first class, management came to inform the teachers that the school would be closing at 3:00 to ensure students and staff would have adequate time to make it home.

My first class had a whopping 2 of 5 people. We enjoyed a very productive lesson. My next class had an amazing 0 of 4 people. Group lesson #3 for the day saw 2 of 8. Out of an expected 20 individuals I had expected to see that day, I saw 4. That’s 20%. But I understood. I too had no desire to be out and about in such nasty weather.

By 3PM things had gotten worse. Snow was starting to pile on the streets. With every change of the traffic lights, department store employees hustled along roads to try to clear walkways for customers. I had entertained the idea of getting a beer or three before heading home for the night, but that idea was quickly getting buried under the mounting piles of slush outside. I was, however, starving, so I took a few minutes and ate the delicious homemade chicken soup I’d brought with me. I almost immediately felt energized and capable of dealing with whatever the weather was going to throw at me.

I finished my paperwork for the day and headed out with my feeble little umbrella. The beer place I’d had in mind wasn’t open until 5 (I actually left the office at 4). Additionally, the 5 minute walk to the place (in regular conditions) now seemed like a trek across Hoth. I also quickly realized that the streets were slick enough as a sober human. Testing them after a few beers was certainly not something I wanted to do.

A Shibuya street in moderate snow

I toddled off to the subway station, hopped back on the subway (still running just fine, mercifully), and went back to my corner of the city. Much to my surprise, the local Lawson convenience store had craft beer in stock, so I picked up a few cans and began the march home through what was now several inches of snow.

A pond in East Shinjuku in the snow

The neighborhood temple I had passed through that morning now looked somewhat foreboding; I felt like the second I made it to the top of the stairs I’d be subjected to a boss fight or perhaps even have to re-enact a scene from an old samurai film. Fortunately (unfortunately?) nothing but more snow awaited me at the top of the stairs.

Trudging the rest of the way home, I noticed the kids I had passed earlier that morning had created a snowman with a battery for a nose. Very original. When I arrived back at my apartment, I stood in my entryway for a while attempting to dust off everything I owned. Snow was in my purse, in my hat, in my hair, on my coat, and stuck to my shoes. I had made a respectable puddle of melted snow-water by the time I got my boots off. After a quick cleanup, my beers and I were home and in for the night along with another bowl of my delicious soup. Warm, content, and happy, I then whiled away the rest of my evening on the internet, where I wrote terribly interesting things on Twitter and posted some of the images I have included in this blog post. I also discovered the beer bar I had intended to visit had opted not to open at all that day. I occasionally opened my balcony door to check the progress of the snow outside.
Measurement of snow in Tokyo, February 2014

Some point late at night, I finally went to bed. When I woke late on Sunday morning, the snow had already half-melted. The weather is said to have had an impact on voter turnout that day in the Tokyo Gubernatorial election. Snow-creatures will dot the city landscape for a few more days yet.

A snowcreature in Tokyo, February 2014

So, what is the moral of this story? What is the grand, overarching point I want to make with this post? Here you are, reader, seemingly at the end of this rather bland tale of a big city that’s bad about handling snow: what’s the takeaway?!

Chicken soup makes everything better.

How to Act like an Actor

I do a couple of “odd jobs” in an effort to gain a variety of different experiences here. One of those jobs involves working with a company that produces language learning materials for people all over the world. They don’t just produce Japanese language materials, but dozens of other languages as well. Some readers of this blog might be familiar with the Japanese Pod 101 series of materials. That’s the company I work for!

I do a couple different things for this company. Initially, I was hired to be the host of a web series called “English in 3 minutes”, a short series seeking to instruct students of English in more natural phrases and manners of speaking. The series is entirely in English, and is geared toward people who have already studied English and have a decent grasp of communicating, but need work improving their studies to be more “natural” and less “textbook”. It’s an effort to get away from the: “How are you–I’m fine thank you, and you?” That every textbook teaches, and replace it with: “How’s it goin’?” “Not bad!” Here’s an example (excuse the horrible preview photo):


I am told that the channel has been exploding with popularity. In December, the company told me that the channel had been getting 700 new subscribers every week. I remarked: “Hey, I should just be doing these videos myself!” To which my director replied: “Yeah, you’re not supposed to realize that.” The company also claims that I am their only host not to receive any negative comments. The only thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube is a snarky quip about my eyebrows, and some occasional mutterings that English being taught in English makes no sense. Oh well. Can’t please everyone.

In addition to this web series (for which I am contracted for 25 episodes, 24 of which are filmed), I also do voice recording for audio programs. Thus far, I’ve helped in the production of an Arabic series, a Spanish series, and today am heading off to do the final recordings for a Swedish series. Each series is 25 lessons in total. I don’t actually speak any of these languages (except for a little Spanish). Rather, my role in these lessons is to be the English guide. I’m the voice that asks questions on behalf of the listener, banters with the native speaker host, and tells listeners: “repeat after the host!”

Occasionally I also come in to record English vocabulary; they stick me by myself in the recording studio, and I record a few hundred words and phrases for vocabulary lists. This is arguably the hardest job because I do for them because I am placed in a dim, warm studio with my only job being to push a button and speak a word or two at a time. I won’t lie; I once nodded off.

Before I began doing this sort of work, it all sounded very fast-paced, exciting, and, well, “glamorous”. The reality of it, however, is that it’s pretty normal. It’s fun to have the chance to work with people from all over the world, but it does have downsides.

A green screen in a studio
This is the green screen I stand in front of to shoot the videos. It was freezing this morning.

The studio I shoot the videos in is actually just the office where entire company works. There is no separate space to shoot in. There’s just a green screen on the back wall, and the camera, lighting, and mics are all setup in a space in the back of the office. Because this is the setup, every video has to be shot really, really early in the morning – before the other staff comes in and starts making noise. We often have to stop recording and do re-takes because someone sweeping outside or a car door slamming gets caught on tape, and ruins the shot. We all have to be at the office and ready to go at 7 AM. This means on my shoot days I get up at about 5 AM to get camera-prepared and get to the place for shooting. Following the shoot (which can sometimes last up to 2 hours), I then go to my regular day job. Admittedly, these shoots happen very infrequently, so it isn’t an issue, but it does make my days rather long.

The audio recordings happen once or twice a month, and I have an agreement with my current company where I can plan in advance to leave the office a couple hours early in the afternoon to go and take care of my voice recording responsibilities. The sessions usually involve 2-3 hours sitting across from the native speaker in a tiny studio, and a supervisor sits outside, cutting in occasionally to tell us to re-take lines.

Alisha and Fernando, a voice host for Spanish lessons, in the studio

An Audio Recording Studio where language lessons are created.

It’s an interesting, fun thing to do occasionally, and it’s just another little tidbit of experience to add to a resume. The studio folks and the people I record my videos with tell me that I’m actually pretty good at it, but I like to think it’s because I have the rather unfair of advantage of doing all my work in my native language.

So, how does one go about getting a job like this? There are a couple things you can do to increase your chances. One is to sign up with an agency. There are a number of agencies throughout Tokyo that do extra work, or have connections for TV or voice recording jobs. I’m signed up with Group Echo, an agency based in Tokyo. The owner, Hikaru, is a very nice bilingual woman who runs things. Show up for a short interview and an introduction to the work, submit a few photos, and they contact you whenever work comes up. I get emails perhaps once a month about jobs I’m eligible to apply for, provided my schedule is open on the days specified.

In the case of this job specifically, however, I found a posting on craigslist and responded to it. I was looking for a little extra part-time work at the time, and although I didn’t have any professional experience in front of a camera, I figured having done a few YouTube videos was at least a foot in the door. I applied, and did a screen test. They liked me, and I got the job! Pretty straightforward.

I will warn people getting into this sort of thing that it does not pay the bills (at least on this level). The pay for the video work and the infrequency with which I come to the office means I get very little in my bank account from this company each month. It’s usually only about $50 a month or so, but I do it because I enjoy a little break in my routine now and then, and it’s a good chance to learn a little bit and meet some interesting people.

The agency I’m signed up with is much the same; jobs are infrequent. I receive emails now and then about upcoming positions that I fit the client’s needs for, and the agency sends out a call to all eligible individuals, asking if they are interested and available. Pay varies from job to job. Average for most one day jobs (as an extra), is about 10,000 yen a day (about $100). I did see one job come through recently for a very high profile video game client, however, where pay was more like $700 for a job. In almost a year of being signed up with the agency, however, I’ve only ever seen one job opportunity like that. The agency pays on time, but it’s usually two months after the date of the actual job.

If you’re interested in this kind of work, get yourself signed up with a few agencies, and have another job or another source of income. Unless you’re wildly successful and famous, chances are that you will not be supporting yourself solely with a career as an extra in Tokyo.

I’m not an actor, but I do act like one from time to time because it’s something I enjoy doing, and it’s a straightforward, interesting job. Many other Tokyo residents have dabbled in this kind of work, and there are a wide range of experiences. As with all career choices, how far you go is up to you! My only recommendations are to be smart, only do work you are comfortable with, and have another source of income. If you think you’re going to be the next big star, you’re setting yourself up to have your hopes dashed. If you’re going into the experience just looking for an couple interesting little jobs here and there, you’ll be in good shape.

Office Parties in Japan

Japanese work culture is a subject that can raise a lot of questions and concerns for foreign people. “I heard people work till they drop!” “Do you have to work 70 hours every week?” “Is it true that there are no days off?” “Are there really mandatory drinking parties?”

These questions are, to an extent, referencing somewhat extreme workplace situations. In Japan, just as in every other country in the world (except for maybe someplace like North Korea, I guess), every workplace is different. Your job and your situation will depend on a number of factors: your supervisor(s)/boss(es), the location of your office, the nature of your job, your coworkers, etc. If you’re a guy working part time for 900 yen an hour at a local convenience store, your workplace experience is, naturally, a lot different than the woman in the suit in the high-rise business building across the city.

Imported Beer on a Shelf

I want to focus in on the last of the questions I posed in the introduction to this post: “Are there really mandatory drinking parties?”

The short answer to this is: “yes”.

The long answer to this is the infuriating: “it depends”.

Some companies (admittedly, not any I have ever worked for) DO have regular “parties” where their employees are all expected to go out and get fall-down drunk together. There are a number of layers to this.

1. Generally, nobody ever tells you that you MUST do something. There is just a permeating sense of: “you’d better do this and fit in with the rest of the group, or else life is going to be difficult for you in the future.”

2. Everyone drinks differently. Some people are very, very good at faking drunk. Some people can take two shots worth of beer and be red in the face. Some people can drink till dawn and be bright and cheery at work the next day.

3. Part of the reason for these drinking parties is to enhance the sense of workplace community. In some cases, this means people can get mind-numbingly drunk (or fake it very well) and say whatever they like to their bosses and coworkers. All is forgiven the next day.

Of course, just as in paragraph two of this post, these 3 points are all generalizations. Each office party is different, and expectations are different. By no means does every company follow the same “rules”, nor is everyone expected to binge drink.

Last night, my company hosted a little shindig to say goodbye to a worker who is leaving the company this month. Our goodbye party was held at a rental space near Shinjuku park, and we all gathered at about 7:15 for food, drinks, and merriment. We played a few games as a group, enjoyed some music, and consumed both food and beverages.

As some readers know, I work for a beer importer. Of course, that means the alcohol flowed freely. One of the games (participation optional) was a “how fast can you drink this beer” game. See Exhibit A: Office Drinking Competition (via Vine).

One guy had it done in about a second. Nuts.

Participation for this drinking game was, for the most part, voluntary. Some people were teased into joining, but anyone who did not want to participate could opt out. The same went for this Gangam Style dance-off, where the winner took home a bag of 10 beers.

Beverages other than alcohol were available – soft drinks, juices, and water were all acceptable. You might have even spotted a few kids running around in the background of those videos – they had to drink SOMETHING.

In sum, consider office parties in Japan the same way you would any other aspect of life; it all depends on the situation.

What’s your work party situation like? Do you even go out with your coworkers? Is it a culture of drinking and debauchery, or gossipy lunches and relaxed afternoons? Do you think you could ever work at a place where “mandatory” drinking parties were the norm? It’s easy to want to say “YES THAT SOUNDS AWESOME” when you’re a college student buying the cheapest alcohol you can find. The idea of your boss taking you and all your coworkers out for free drinks sounds fantastic, right? Just imagine doing that regularly for the rest of your life. The fun wears off quick. I don’t think I could do it. Could you?

Shiken: TEST LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT

(Remember how I said I was going to just write about stuff without so much unnecessary nitpicking? Yeah, my computer crashed and burned a little while after that and I still haven’t got it fixed. I have bad luck with them.)

What if your whole life depended on a test? I’m not talking about a medical test in this case (though I’m willing to bet that quite a few people have had their lives hang in the balance of one of those). Instead I’m talking about an educational test. I can’t quite fathom the amount of stress that must get put on a person when they know that their ability to to pass an examination could be a huge determining factor in the groundwork for the rest of their life.

What were you like when you were a high school student? I think I was a pretty average kid. I did pretty well in school, took some honor classes, and had some friends. I generally did my homework, played some sports, and hung around my house doing normal teenagery things. If you had told teenage me that my entire future could potentially depend on a test I’d be taking my senior year of high school with no real chance for a “re-take”, I’d probably have been a little worried.

Yes, American students do have the SAT test, which is a general aptitude test. Some might argue that the SAT is a future-determiner of a test, but I disagree.

I remember my very first full day in Japan. Jet-lagged though my Grandmother and I were, we hopped on our trusty yellow Hato Bus and took a day tour. That tour included a visit to Meji Jingu, right smack dab in the heart of Tokyo. Part of just about any religion I can think of is prayers (or some variation of that; you might call it a “wish”). Shintoism incorporates prayers/wishes as well. At shrines, visitors can purchase small wooden placards, write their desires on them, and hang them up in the shrine, hoping to get a little extra attention from the powers that be.

Our tour guide asked us what we thought was the most wished-for thing. Of course, we guessed: “Health?” “A happy relationship?” “Money?”

Nope.

The #1 wish is to pass the university entrance exam.

Every year, in winter-spring, universities have tests. Part of the application process for university in Japan means you take this test (and pass) to become a student. There are some tests that can be applied to several universities, but many universities also have their own tests year after year that students must study specifically for.

Yesterday (February 25th), happened to be “shiken” day, or “test” day at the university where I work one day a week. Exam day is taken very seriously. I had to show ID to gate guards just to be let on campus in the morning. Motley crews of what were obviously high school students milled around looking nervous.

It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a high school student when you are not one yourself, and you don’t really spend much time around one. Could you imagine being that high school student and being asked to take a test that might determine the rest of your life? One of my coworkers explained that there really are no options for “transfer” within universities, or “community college” options for students who cannot pass these tests. Admittedly, some tests are much more rigorous and difficult than others, but could you imagine what life must be like in the lead-ups to these exam days? When I was teaching, I remember learning about how some of my senior-year high school students no longer studied regularly for the last half of their final year. Instead, their curriculum shifted exclusively to studying for these tests. Thankfully, my students all passed their university tests and got into universities they were very happy about.

I suppose when this sort of educational culture is what you grow up in, it’s perhaps a little less terrifying to think about (but maybe only slightly). I’d have been  a ball of stress and angst at that age without the fear of such a test looming overhead, but I like to think I could still have done it.

It’s an interesting and different approach to higher education, and it makes me think about what sort of programs and curricula are in place in other countries.

What do you think? If your future, your education, your job, and your livelihood could all potentially ride on a pass/fail on a single test, do you think you could pass? Or would you turn into a shriveled ball of terrified humanity? Would you even try?

20 miles

I’ve heard a lot about how long the Japanese live. Friends and family (and even myself, at times) have remarked on how Tokyo is, mostly, devoid of fat people. Of course, rural towns are likely a different story, but I am not familiar with the trends in such places, and so will choose to ignore them for the purposes of this post. Besides, most of the media folks in the western world see from Japan is from larger, metropolitan areas (Tokyo, Osaka).

Many people (even Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) suggest that the Japanese diet is very healthy, which is why there seems to be such an epidemic of slim people in this country. Those statements are true, to a degree. While the traditional Japanese diet is much less greasy-sugary than the average American diet, nobody is perfect. There are plenty of foods on the Japanese menu that are probably best consumed in moderation.

There’s ramen (real ramen, not the noodle packs you find at the dollar store), tempura (DEEP FRIED VEGETABLES), tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlets), and donburi (essentially bowls of rice topped with piles of meat), to name a few (mostly taken from the lunch menu
of your average salaryman). Add to this list a crapload of rice. I say “crapload” specifically to reference its special constipating powers, the effects of which are sometimes discussed candidly in everyday conversation. You should SEE the lines in some women’s bathrooms. But this is not a post about fast food, diets, or poop (or lack thereof). This is about movement.

How much do you move every day? I don’t mean from your computer to your bathroom, or picking up the TV remote from the armrest of the sofa. Do you walk to a car to go places? Do you walk to a train or bus station? Do you bicycle to work or to school? What do you think all your movement each week adds up to? What distance do you travel? How many calories do you burn just getting from point A to point B?
I did a little experiment (and I suppose I’m still doing it) with the help of my smartphone and a pretty nifty little app called Map My Run. I started tracking data about my movement habits. Yes, that’s right! We’re getting scientific (NOT) here at Arisha In Tokyo.

I creepily stalked tracked myself on an average week around town. Using the app, I monitored my movements via GPS tracking on my iPhone for a regular week around Tokyo. I did not track short trips to the convenience store or going down the street to do my laundry. Rather, I tracked commutes to and from work, time taken to meet friends (in other areas of the city), and my regular exercise (3 times a week). I walked (or ran) at a regular pace, took my regular routes, and watched the data as it came in.

Admittedly, my reasons for starting this project weren’t solely in the pursuit of glorious science. Truthfully, after coming home from my family’s European vacation at the beginning of July, I came down with a pretty serious case of what we scientists refer to as “lazy bum syndrome.” My symptoms included late-night delivery burrito orders, ass-to-sofa fixation, and a general desire to keep my “vacation” going as long as humanly possible.

This behavior, while awesome and much-needed for a couple of days to get over jet leg, was making me feel awful. I wasn’t spending much time outside, I wasn’t feeding myself good food, and I was moving only a small amount each day. I was even starting to feel depressed and nervous about the prospect of finding a new job (SPOILER: I FOUND WORK). I decided that even if I wasn’t working for money again just yet, I could at least be working on myself. 2 weeks of pizza, burritos, and internet had laid the foundation for some extra squish in places I’d rather weren’t so squishy.

I started slowly by cooking for myself again. I’d forgotten how cheap it was to cook food at home! And WOW, I was making delicious stuff that was actually pretty healthy! One day, after about a week of chowing down relatively guilt-free on tasty home made goodies, I decided I had to put jogging back into my routine. I’d take to the outdoors! FOR SCIENCE! Sorta.

I looked at a map of my neighborhood. Trying to estimate my relative health and abilities, I plotted out a 1.8 mile loop in my neighborhood within the app (on my PC), keeping in mind that I hadn’t exercised in about 2 months. Once plotted, I took to the streets, armed with my iPhone and some tunes. The route I plotted is flattish; it has a few ups and downs, and one rather large uphill section about 1.3 miles in, after which there’s a straight stretch to the finish. It was a challenge the first night. I took a lot of walking breaks, though still tried to challenge myself. I was only a little sore the next day (an appropriate amount, I felt), so I went again that night. I pushed way too hard and had trouble rolling out of bed the next morning.

I decided I needed to have a method to my madness, otherwise I was going to hurt myself. That’s when I decided to just start tracking my regular movements, and see if I could find a way to best expand upon them. Upon leaving home for work or the station, I’d just activate the GPS tracking on my phone, go about my commute, and then turn off the tracker when I arrived at my destination. My data (route, time, average pace, average speed, and more) were automatically saved to my account. I can now refer back to data about previous routes, and can even “race” myself I want to at this point. It’s pretty neat. Once I got the hang of remembering to turn on and turn off the tracker (I forgot a lot at first), I tried to do it for a week straight. Here’s the data I collected:

Map My Run Data

I moved roughly 20 miles (32 km) in one week while going about my regular business. About 40 minutes of my day Monday-Friday is spent walking to and from work, and Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are my designated days to go for a run on my neighborhood loop (which gets easier every time I do it). I feel better than I did a month ago, and while I have lost a little bit of squish, I also now have a little more muscle. While yes, the data does say 19.77 miles, I chose to round it up to account for all those little trips I said I wouldn’t record on GPS. While I wasn’t tracking them, they’re still a part of my schedule.

I was surprised with my result. It motivated me to be taking better care of myself in general. I am a very, very firm believer in moderation, and don’t believe that depriving oneself of favorite foods or a fun event makes much sense. I try to consume consciously, and work within reasonable standards for myself. I think the phrase “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard in my life. It was clearly written by a person who has not been exposed to delicious things. I submit that “reasonably sized portions of whatever you want to eat taste as good as reasonably sized feels”. Not as catchy, I know, but it’s a work in progress.

Tokyo is a city where walking is integrated into everyday life. While yes, we enjoy the conveniences of a truly excellent public transportation system, we still have to get ourselves to places where we can utilize it. I was pretty amazed to discover my regular lifestyle adds up to 20 miles a week. How far do you think you move in a day? A week? A month? Do you make a conscious effort to move and exercise? To think about the food you’re eating? Are there restrictions in your life that prevent you from doing the things you’d like to do? Do you have goals for yourself you’ve been thinking about working towards?

I’ve found that integrating exercise and good, homemade food has made me feel different, in a positive way. I am generally more upbeat, I have more energy, I enjoy things more, and I feel good about myself. While yes, I do still have my down days and get bummed out or emotional from time to time, it’s a world of difference from where I was a couple of months ago. I’d be interested in comparing my regular week with data from others around the globe. If you’re feeling ambitious, try it out and send me your results!

Oh, and if you ever visit Tokyo…be prepared to walk. A lot.

 

Season Three

Life never ceases to be boring, if you make efforts to keep yourself interested. At least, that’s how I feel after the last three months.

I mentioned near the beginning of the year that I’d be leaving my job with American Language School in West Tokyo to move on to other things. That all went very smoothly. The woman who replaced me is a lovely, lovely human who I hope is enjoying herself in her new position. I haven’t received any desperate phone calls from the office asking if I can come in to help, so I’m assuming things are going great! Saying goodbye to some of my students was emotional. Saying goodbye to some of my other students was, honestly, a relief. Thankfully, the ones I had the strongest connections with I’ve been able to keep in touch with. I’m still on good terms with management at the school, too.

While I had written on this blog a few times about my feelings regarding my teaching job, there were a number of factors that went into my decision not to renew my contract. One of the biggest factors was a family plan that would take up most of the month of June and the first few days of July. If you followed along on YouTube at all, you’ve likely already seen some video footage.

My family went on a month long trip to Europe. We explored Italy and Croatia, and got to meet distant relatives for the first time. My father competed in a worldwide swimming competition (and got 10th place in the world for his age group!). We rented a sailboat and island hopped around the Adriatic, stopping in the evenings at beautiful harbors to eat delicious food and enjoy the summer. It was a whirlwind trip and an incredible series of experiences. I’m still in the process of completing videos of our fun.

Milna, Croatia, on the island of Brac. The first place our sailboat stopped. Absolutely gorgeous!
I arrived back in Tokyo at the beginning of July to a mailbox full of junk and bills. Ah, reality.

To finance my trip and my anticipated period of unemployment that would inevitably follow, I sold my car (in the US) in spring with the help of my family. I had some cash stocked up to help make the transition to a new job easier, but knew I needed to find a new position by the end of July. As much as I wanted to get going and start working right away after arriving home from my long vacation, jet lag and and a brief sickness got the best of me. I suppose it was just my body’s way of reminding me that having a few days of staycation following a vacation are very important.

Over the last 6 months, things have really picked up on the activity front for me here, though I didn’t blog about it. For about a 2 month period in spring, I worked with a Tokyo based law firm helping with some stateside liaising and document checks. My agreement with them ended when I left for Europe, but through their connections, they (totally on their own) hooked me up with a university job one day a week. I met my former employer and their university connection for dinner and drinks (AKA “an interview”) one evening. This was followed about two weeks later by an interview with the managerial staff of the department interested in hiring me at the university. It all went well, and I secured a once-weekly position doing editing/proofreading work. It’s great, but one day a week doesn’t pay the bills.

Japan’s payment system operates a little differently than the US system. Paychecks are delayed by a month. For example, if you begin work on the first of April and work full time through that month, you are not paid for that month of work until the end of the following month (May). Keeping this in mind (along with my slowly draining bank account), I knew I had to find something by the end of July, or I’d be in deep trouble.

I got lucky. I sent one resume and one email to a listing I saw online. The listing was for a data entry job, and it was close to home. The listing used words like “flexible” and “part time”. I figured it couldn’t hurt to chat with them and see what they needed. If we could come to an agreement, it would be great. I figured I still had other options, if absolutely necessary.

I went in for an interview and had a great time. To make an increasingly long story slightly shorter: they hired me. 4 days a week. 9 hour days. And it’s definitely not data entry.

So, what’s my primary job now? I work for a beer importer! The company imports beer from all around the world. Delicious, delicious beer. I’m split between two divisions of the company. One of my jobs is to work with the company’s owner/COO to manage branding and planning activities. This so far has involved preparing presentations for him, monitoring promotional activities, going to events, and checking out sales data to start forming marketing plans. I am thoroughly enjoying myself and learning a lot in a very short period of time.

A summer rooftop pool party I went to last weekend. Free of charge, with a guest. Because my boss asked me if I could make it. Life is sooo hard. Just terrible.
The other portion of my job deals with assisting in the development of the company’s new e-commerce project. Readers who are in Japan: think of it as Rakuten, but for craft beer. It is awesome and I can’t wait for it to go live so we can all take advantage of it. The site is both a collection of media and resources as well as a beer shopping site. However, you won’t be finding Asahi, Sapporo, Suntory, or Kirin available for purchase. Instead, you’ll be choosing from beers produced by Japan’s 200+ local brewers. We’re very, very excited about it. It’s going to be ready for users soon. Really soon. Like, make sure you know where your wallets are, residents of Japan. I can’t wait.

In addition to these jobs (which have me working Monday-Friday, 9-6 or later), I’ve also been doing more and more media-related work this year. Some readers may be familiar with the JapanesePod101 series, or other language study services provided by the same company. I’m now working for them on a very part time basis to produce video lessons and to provide voice support for audio lessons.

The video lessons I’m doing are to teach more natural English phrases to people who have already been studying for some time. There are a few free sample versions available for viewing on their official YouTube channel, but the full package is a subscription service. My role in all of it is pretty small; they set a time for me to come in to film a few lessons at a time (from 7 AM, ARGH). I show up and try to stay awake and energized. They put a script in front of me, I read it, they edit it a few days later, and then give it to people. Feedback has been good. They tell me I’m their only host that nobody has written bad comments about. Huzzah! I’m contracted to do 25 lessons with them, and we’re at about the halfway mark.

The voice recording work I’m doing for the same company is fairly easy; I sit in their teeny little studio and read vocabulary words into a large microphone. Occasionally I also work with a native speaker of another language to be the English support for individuals learning something else. For example, most recently I worked with a native speaker of Arabic. My voice is the one saying things like “When you want to express that you like a food, try saying…” For the most part, it’s easy work.

I also have an online editing job. I do it when I can. Pretty self explanatory.

Lastly, and most recently, I have one new media project on the horizon working with NHK. I met with the producers of a show a couple weeks ago, and things are now in progress for…something! I don’t want to say too much here and risk counting my chickens before they’ve hatched. News will be announced when news is available.

So! That’s how season 3 of ArishaInTokyo starts! I realized today that I’d forgotten completely my 3 year Japan Birthday. July 19th marked the date! My, how much has changed. I’ve been reading through a lot of my old posts in the last few days and have wanted to write something, but wasn’t sure where to start. I guess this is it!

I hope that everyone has had an amazing summer thus far. Mine has been fantastic. I’m very, very excited about the latest turns my life has taken, and I’m excited to be sharing it with all of you. While I’m afraid I won’t be writing much about my experiences with students, the last few weeks have shown me that my new positions are going to be anything but boring. I’m busy, but not in a way that makes me feel frustrated. It seems as though these changes have been for the good!

I have a lot to get caught up on, blog wise. There are draft posts sitting on my wordpress account just waiting to be finished off, plenty of pictures to share, and more videos to be made. My hiatus was a good one. It was absolutely necessary! I’m looking forward to making the next year the best year yet.

Thanks for reading, as always! Have a wonderful week!