This is part three of a series of posts by one of my university friends, Graham Moore. He is currently teaching English in Japan, and has agreed to write about the experience for my blog. All of the posts are available under the ‘EFL in Osaka‘ category, where you can find out more about Graham, why he wanted to go to Japan, and what he did in the UK to prepare.
Phase 3: Screw it, I’m going to Japan anyway
If Japan wasn’t going to invite me, I was going to crash the party. A second trip to London (luckily coinciding with a friend’s wedding), a visit to the Japanese embassy and a parting of £23 allowed me to get a working holiday visa. This gave me one year to travel, live, and work in Japan. Even if I failed to get a job, I would have at least been to the country I had dreamed of for so many years.
With my passport returned, I booked a flight from London to Tokyo a mere five days before I flew. I waved goodbye to my family and friends and proceeded to travel around Japan for two months. I really cannot emphasise enough that Japan is EXACTLY how you imagine it to be…
…and that is exactly what makes it an essential destination. I could talk at even greater length of the sights I saw during my travels but that’s a story for another day; I will merely say I was able to cover Tokyo, Nikko, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Naruto, Naoshima, Okayama, Tottori, Hiroshima, Akiyoshidai, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Okinawa, Zamami and Ishigaki. I considered this useful research on the Japanese lifestyle, hopefully allowing me to better understand my hypothetical future students.
Then I decided it was time to settle down and start work…. no wait, actually, I travelled for another month. I flew to Malaysia to meet some friends for a crazy Chinese New Year celebration before heading north to Thailand to meet some more friends. Anyway, with 9 months left on my visa, I returned to Japan to look for lodging and work.
I had chosen Osaka as my base of operations as it is a large city with high demand for foreign workers. It is right in the middle of Honshu, the main island of Japan, with easy access to any other place I may be likely to travel to. Osaka is also famous for its food and shopping, two items likely to benefit those living in it. Plus Kyoto and Kobe are very nearby.
Phase 4: A man’s home is his castle. A gaijin’s house is a gaijin house.
I crashed at the incredibly cheap Toyo Hotel in Shin-Imamiya for a few days. I needed to relax after my three months of travelling (I maintain that if you’re not exhausted after travelling, you’re not doing it right) and I needed to find a place to live. Apartments can be tricky to rent for foreigners; landlords may not be willing to let non-Japanese speakers, or those without a current source of income, sign contracts. Also, in addition to two months’ rent in advance, tenants are also likely to have to pay high deposits, including key money. This can mean a new tenant has to pay the equivalent of 3-6 months rent up-front.
Not with gaijin houses (gaijin means ‘foreigner’, and has become a kind of community name for expats working in Japan) – gaijin houses are similar to student houses in that they offer cheap accommodation in shared houses. They are fully furnished and are only available for foreigners. Best of all, you pay rent only, no deposit or key money. It was pure luck that I was able to find the perfect place to stay on my first try. While searching for gaijin houses, I found a post about cheap gaigin houses.
I heeded this man’s praise and contacted the landlord. After viewing the accommodation, I asked if I could move in straight away. Easiest move I have ever done. The house itself is small, but ultimately this is standard for Japanese housing. I chose the Western style room over the Japanese style; it costs more but the room is slightly larger and comes with a bed (as opposed to a futon and tatami mat). The area is quiet, but there are plenty of supermarkets and restaurants nearby, and Umeda, one of the largest train stations and shopping centres in Osaka, is only 20 minutes walk away. My ￥40,000 (~£240) rent covers my room, water and internet. I only pay for the electricity that I use in my room (around ￥2,000 per month in the summer, ￥4,000 in the winter). The toilet, shower and washing machine are shared but currently I am the only one living in this two-bedroom house. It’s a little lonely but it means I can spread my stuff out into the hall. My landlord has also kindly let me borrow a bike for a mere ￥3,000 deposit, an investment that has already saved me at least as much in train fares.
Phase 5: Phoning it in and taking it to the bank
The day after I moved in to my gaijin house was one of the busiest days since coming to Japan. I wanted to start job hunting ASAP, but I needed to register my address, get a phone and open a bank account. I intended to do all three in one day.
Registering myself wasn’t too hard; once I found my ward office, I just showed my registration card, filled in some forms and asked them to write my address on the card in kanji. The next two were problematic. In Japan, you need a phone number to open a bank account….. but you need a bank account to buy a contract phone. The banks would not allow me to use my landlord’s phone, so the only option was to buy a prepaid phone.
This was my first major gripe with Japan; everywhere else I have been in the world, using a phone is a simple matter of buying a SIM card and inserting it into your phone. Japan does not use a 2G signal and my Samsung phone that had served me so well in the UK was useless here. Finding a prepaid phone was alarmingly difficult, only Softbank seemed to have them and finding a Softbank store with stock was infuriatingly hard. I eventually found one – and buying a phone in Japan is painfully bureaucratic; with no exaggeration, it is harder than opening a bank account. I know this having done one after another. I had to fill in more forms, choose my number and my PIN, I had to show my registration card and my passport, the latter of which I didn’t even need for opening a bank account!
The next phase in Graham’s adventures coming soon…