Moving to Japan – Tokyo
Finally! Three months after leaving Korea I have home internet and am able to update this blog!
In that time a lot has happened including a lovely relaxing holiday in The Phillipines and relocating to Japan to start the latest chapter of our teaching and travelling adventure.
We arrived in Japan on Friday evening March 14th and flew in to Osaka. We needed to travel to Tokyo and we’d found flying to Osaka and then catching an overnight bus to be the cheapest option. This had seemed like a great idea at the time but when actually put in to practice it was a nightmare. We had almost 100kg of luggage between us and had bought a large pull along holdall that wouldn’t move properly (and ended up taking a chunk of Ash’s leg off!). So yeah travelling across Osaka city centre was pretty stressful.
We caught an overnight bus from Osaka to Tokyo that arrived at 7am and then tried to traverse Tokyo’s confusing subway network at rush hour to find our hotel (with the luggage from hell).
The hostel was the cheapest in Tokyo (there is a money saving theme going on here) and was a nice tiny traditional Japanese house. Again we hadn’t thought about the volume of luggage we had when booking and weren’t expecting to find so many other travellers in such a tiny space! Our room was literally like a cupboard with two bunk beds in it! It’s hard to actually describe how small it was but basically only one of us could be getting changed in there at a time and if both of us were in there stood up we couldn’t move!
We wandered around the area, did some laundry, drank coffee and ended up snoozing in the afternoon because we were so tired. In the evening we visited Shinjuku and ate a delicious dumpling ramen before wandering the streets aimlessly for a while.
Day 2 – Sightseeing mission
After an exhausting first day in Tokyo we decided to make the most of our time before starting our new job orientation the next day.
Our first sight for the day was Yanaka, a residential area which has kept an old town traditional ambience in modern day Tokyo. We walked up narrow roads lined with traditional Japanese houses and shops, as well as visiting small temples, shrines and traditional graveyards. It was a really relaxing way to spend the first part of the day and was in total contrast to what we were to experience next!
Our next destination was Akihabara, famous for being an area full of electronics shops, game arcades, comic shops and maid cafes. It is renowned as the center of Japanese Otaku (diehard fans/geek) culture. It was absolutely rammed (mostly with men), full of tall brightly coloured buildings decorated with lots of signage, neon and animations. Here are some pictures as they can do a better job of describing it than me.
We spent ages wandering around the buzzing streets taking in the atmosphere. It was so different to anything you’d encounter in England so was a great experience!
We were pretty hungry after hours of walking around so went for a sushi dinner and then sat in Ueno Park to watch the sunset.
The next day we had to spend at the office of our recruiter signing documents and getting registered at City Hall so nothing of much note happened then.
The following day we left our hostel and lugged our bags out of Tokyo to our orientation. It was held in the middle of nowhere in a teacher training centre which was also being used by a university band camp for rehearsals.
Okay so I won’t write much about the orientation because although we met some very nice people it was all quite tame due to be being out in the sticks and having a 9:30pm curfew! Also Ash and I had to share dorm style with other teachers and weren’t allowed to share a room. Something which made me feel distinctly like an untrusted teenager, not a thirty year old woman!
Anyway, we basically spent the next few days waiting to find out whereabouts we were going to be placed. Our company owned contracts to place ALT’s (Assistant Language Teachers) in schools in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, Kanto and Chiba Region so we had no idea where we were going to be (but were really really hoping for Tokyo!)
On the third evening we were all summoned and told our placements. Ash and I had been placed in Futtsu City. A tiny super super rural area at the bottom of Chiba prefecture. This meant that we would be quite isolated and not easily able to travel around. In addition our Japanese language skills were probably the lowest in the group so the prospect of living somewhere so rural was daunting. I wasn’t very happy but went to bed trying to be positive and accept things.
The next day got worse! We found out that between us we were working at 16 schools and would be working across elementary and junior high which would mean a lot more lesson planning. On top of this we were expected to use our travel expenses which were actually part of our rather low wage on one car and car pool to work each day. Our schools weren’t always near each other and some days we had to attend two schools. Upon hearing this news I got a bit upset and felt that we were being taken the piss out of a bit in expecting to accept the placement. It hit home that we were in Japan in a bit of a weird situation.
We spent the next couple of days avoiding signing any contracts whilst staying in this weird place and being put under a bit of pressure so it was quite stressful.
A change of plans
Luckily once we left the orientation (promising to go back to the office and discuss our placement again) we managed to get in touch with another recruiter we’d previously interviewed with and they told us they still had positions in another part of Japan and offered us a job! We were over the moon! We went back to our previous recruiter and broke the news and it actually went as well as could be expected because they appreciated that we didn’t just do a runner and came in to explain our situation to them.
We now had to move across the country in time to start ANOTHER orientation the following week and would then be living in Toyota City (yup, where the car originated!) near to Nagoya. We decided in the meantime to enjoy more of Tokyo’s sights for a few more days. This was easier said than done!
No room at any of the inns
We began searching for hostels and guesthouses to stay in for the rest of our time in Tokyo and to our surprise it was impossible to find one place to stay for the rest of our journey. Cherry Blossom season was looming in Tokyo, which brought tourists from all over Japan and the world wanting to experience the beautiful blossoms. This meant that most hotels were booked.
We ended up in four different places:
- Going back to the smallest hostel in the world for one night.
- Staying a night in a dodgy AirBNB in a totally different part of Tokyo and having to leave at 7am in the morning because the guy who owned the apartment was going to work
- Staying two nights in a boarding house in an area full of day labourer boarding houses
- Visiting all boarding houses and hotels in the area to try to find somewhere for our last night. Finally we found a hotel near to our previous one.
I couldn’t believe that in such an enormous city it would be so hard to find accommodation. I’ve since been warned that during peak festival seasons this is common.
We spent the next few days:
Eating lots of yummy food.
Enjoying an Andy Warhol exhibition and magnificent city scape views in an art gallery on the 50th floor in Roppongi Hills.
Shopping in Shibuya and watching the infamous Shibuya Station crossing.
After a few days it was time to catch another cross country bus to Nagoya to start our new job!
Since then we’ve been settling in to Japanese life and adjusting to the differences between the UK and Korea. But that’s a whole new post!