From Wellington to Osaka
With great ambition comes great loss. Amidst the excitement of preparing for a year abroad, I almost forgot to think upon the effects of leaving my friends and family in New Zealand for the sake of Japan. One of the most life-threatening situations for me is to be in a state of comfort. To be comfortable in your job and in your home, with your friends and with day-to-day life in general, is life-threatening. Living in such a way invites one to become a potato and neglect adventure. The push it takes to get out of that state will often have to be a big one. I think that in this regard, I was fortunate to have a whole 9 months to work up the strength to push out from my comfort zone. The ticket: The Japanese Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme.
Applying for the JET is an arduous, lengthy process, which separates the weak from the willing. The application papers alone are dense with interrogative questions. If you can swim through that ocean, however, you may be asked to interview for your position in JET. Now, this interview takes place two months after the application submission date in November so come January, Christmas and New Years have passed. For me, the summer sun had already seeped in to my brain, and I was basking in festive carelessness. I wasn’t thinking about JET whilst we swam through the gorgeous waters of New Zealand. The email informing me of this interview was a cold shower to my 30 degree, browning skin.
A panel of three women were waiting to greet me at The Japanese Embassy on the 18th floor of The Majestic Building in Wellington City. Their in-depth questions were unnerving, but I felt confident in my answers. None the less, I walked out of that building with a degree of doubt in my mind. And once again, I had to wait… and wait. It wouldn’t be until April, shortly after Easter that I would hear any news regarding my status for JET. So yet again, I waltzed in to a state of uncaring, not thinking too hard on whether or not I would be leaving for Japan this year or not.
My father and I were sailing down the Pelorus Sound for our Easter holiday when I got the email. I had been selected for The Jet Programme. Honestly, this moment for me was life-changing. At first, there was shock, then excitement, then contemplation, then sorrow. There was so much to think about. I sat at the bow for a good hour, just wondering how my future would look.
The remaining three months in New Zealand felt like a 7-second vine edit from a full feature film. They were over in a flash. I said my goodbyes, packed my bags and made for the airport on the 31st of July. Leaving my life in New Zealand wasn’t so difficult, I knew I would be back before long; however, leaving my girlfriend was like removing a part of my person. Words cannot describe the difficulty of saying goodbye to the person you love more than anyone else… so I won’t put it in to words at all. 30 Wellingtonians left on that plane with me, all headed for Japan to start their new lives with JET, only ONE would survive. No but seriously, my destination: Minoh, Osaka.
Fast-forward one month; I am now working as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for Daigo Junior High School. I have a desk, garnished with decorative Kiwi iconography, I have a brand new bicycle complete with the basket, and I have a room with a couch, yes a couch *enter Richard Branson joke here.* Setting myself up has been a lot easier than I had expected. I can thank Minoh Association For Global Awareness (MAFGA) for that. However, I have met a number of bumps in my adjusting to Japanese living.
Arriving in Tokyo, I was fortunate enough to be battling a flu from New Zealand. It not only made me extremely tired, sneezy, coughy, and watery-eyed, it also made me feel like patient-zero, ushering in a new disease to a virgin country like a harbinger of the zombie apocalypse or the next swine-flu. For three days I sat through lectures on Japanese etiquette, teaching protocols, and workshops on how to play Simon Says. The experience was excruciating. This little bug wouldn’t stop me from exploring the streets of Tokyo, however.
The first night in Tokyo, we fled the glamours of the gaijin hotel, and made for the streets with ambition in our hearts. Neon advertising and sky rise buildings set the mood for a massive culture shock. We strayed through the mysterious, magical maze, like mice on the move for a manchego monolith. And we found it.
A group of six over-conspicuous foreigners walk in to a Japanese restaurant – punchline. An elevator takes us up past the many levels of seating for this restaurant chain. We exit the 1.5 cubic metre box in to a cloud of smoke that fills the room. Ushered to our seats, we find solace beneath the smog. I would be lying if I said it did not enjoy the atmosphere though, the smoke offered an authentic Japanese feeling. The place is bustling with locals filling their stomachs with the wondrous gyoza, okonomiyaki, and dollar beer. I replace my flu symptoms with those of the town belligerent for a night. Before long, our adventure takes us to the red light district, deeper down the rabbit hole. Japanese people have quite a drinking culture, and as such, it’s far too easy to find places that offer Nomihodai, better known to me as all you can drink. This experience cost us ￥2,000 or about $20. The overwhelming culture shock soon settled, and before long so did we, back to our gaijin hotel, but not before seeing a number of unforgettable sights.
Tokyo was exciting when we were out of the hotel. We had our first experiences with Japanese food and drink, we visited Hachiko at Shibuya crossing, I got a fitted suit by an over-touchy yet charismatic Japanese elder. It was great, but after three days of JET orientation, I was excited to get to my new home, Minoh, Osaka.
Feeling very much worse for wear, I was taken to Osaka via shinkansen (bullet train) to meet my contracting organization. Did I mention it was the middle of summer and close to 40 degrees? In full suits, a dozen of us met our contracting organization under the beating sun. They were quite amused by our formality. It turns out that Osaka people are far more relaxed than those of Tokyo, a trait that works in the favour of a Kiwi boy. The reception was lovely and we soon felt quite at home. A welcoming party was organized for us to meet our school principals, some local figureheads, and the Lower Hutt (My Hometown) friendship club.
There are five Wellington cats here in Minoh and we all lean on each other for just about everything, it’s very comforting. A large number of other JETs have also played a role in our feelings of comfort. Typically, I have only excellent things to say about living in Minoh thus far. The people are so friendly and the area is beautiful. We are right next to the city, and there is always something interesting happening.
It feels like there is a festival every week, you can’t travel ten blocks without seeing something going on. Our first weekend was spent at a Fire Festival and a Summer Festival. The fire festival began with children walking lanterns up a river, yes it was cute. Then without notice, there were Japanese wrestlers running around with flaming torches and after that the locals began spinning flaming staves, much to the delight of the audience. It set the scene for a good night. The Summer Festival, only 15 minutes West, was like a street fair with all sorts of food such as omusoba (yakisoba noodles wrapped in an omelette), games for kids, and a stage for comedy performers. It was a great way to meet the locals; you will find that almost everyone wants to talk to the new foreign kids on the block.
The schools are on summer break for the majority of August, so there was plenty of time to get properly acquainted with the area. We’ve been to Rinku, a nice city south of Osaka with an attractive shopping area by the name of Pleasure Town.
We have made numerous trips to Umeda for the Pokémon centre, the crazy huge arcades and the sky building.
We have been to a plethora of temples, shrines and worship sites.
We went to the breath-taking aquarium in Kaiyukan.
We’ve visited Todai-ji Temple in Nara for the world’s largest Buddha. Nara is also home to thousands of tame deer that will bow for a biscuit. I strongly recommend going to the treasure museum which contains 8th century statues and memorabilia, as well as a thousand-armed Bodhisattva that will stare in to your soul.
We spent our most recent weekend in Namba’s Dotonburi where the city changes its colours after hours and you don’t want to go home until morning. I’ve seen beautiful Japanese architecture, Japanese 73 fold damascus knives, and the views of the largest cities in the world. I’ve eaten some of the best food of my entire life and gazed at spiritually penetrating sights.
It has been one month since I arrived in Japan and already I’ve been inundated with splendours beyond my imagination. I am filled with vigour by the wondrous place I now live in. I am beyond excited for what is yet to come. Tomorrow I will officially begin teaching English to Junior High Schoolers as a bona fide Sensei. Wish me luck.
Reference: A Kiwi lad in Osaka - https://newzealandmeetsjapan.wordpress.com/