Monday, 30 November 2009

The grass is always greener

I should be happy with all the food available in Japan, and should not be so greedy, but there is one thing I truly miss…..that is cheese. 

Suddenly I realised that many type of cheese easily available everywhere in UK and Europe, and taking it for granted while I was in London, vanished.

Japan, maybe Asia in general, is not so big on dairy products, which, I assume, is to do with geography. In case of Japan, 40% of country is occupied with mountains; they are not almost hill size ones you might see in UK but are real mountains, so you cannot get to the summit without proper climbing gears & being trained, or even not be allowed to enter. That is the reason Japanese live in small houses/apartments and therefore not much spare land for cows and sheep.

Hokkaido, the northern Island of Japan is the only place where cows and sheep are farmed in a commercial scale, ice cream, milk, yogurt, cheese are famous and Hokkaido dairy products are well known brand in Japan. However compare to UK and Europe where dairy goods are produced throughout countries, resources in Japan are very limited. As a result, there are not many varieties and dairy produce section in supermarkets is very small. Japanese camembert and few selection of import cheese can be found here, but as you can imagine, they are all expensive considering European standard.

So, you would not be surprised if I said I put on weight 6 kg in the first 6 months of arriving London 13 years ago. My favourite was Danish blue at first, then stilton was introduced, and I was hooked. It was around Christmas time, I was already getting pretty round but mixture of sweet and savoury, port wine and stilton were heavenly combination and could not resist. How could you?!

As now entering to December and Christmas lights are on in the streets, I miss stilton and all other cheese, the party pack we often get from Tesco as our Christmas treat!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Immigration in Japan

As many of you may know, now Woody is a fully approved foreigner in Japan.   Although it turned out to be a very quick process, applying visa is always a little nerve racking business.

At first, I was slightly worried about applying spouse visa without any income in Japan though we have some savings in UK account.   However immigration officers were so helpful, and it ended up as the easiest application I have ever done & was certainly a lot easier than dog importation, and much cheaper too.

All I needed to do was;

- filling one sheet of application form

- writing additional information about how we met

- submitting a couple of photos of two of us together

- submitting a copy of bank statements (in fact it was only a screen dump of online banking)

- submitting a copy of UK marriage certificate and the Japanese translation

- submitting a certified original of family registration certificate in Japan which includes Woody’s name

- submitting a certified orignal of address registration in Japan

- writing an additional statement that I am his guarantor and am currently looking for a job, in case of emergency,  my family in Japan will look after him.

That’s it. Within a couple of days, we received an approval letter from the immigration office whereas 3 weeks as we were originally informed.  Then his passport was stamped the following week.  Mission accomplished!  And it only cost us 4000 yen (approx £25), too.

I am sure the fact we have married for 11 years helped accelerating the process, but it was so quick!!

When I visited the immigration office in Sapporo for the fist time to pick up an application form, there was a very friendly man at the information desk. As I asked few questions, he soon said,

“Don’t worry, it should be fine. I am sure you’ve got lots of money in your bank account too”

Then he showed his cheeky smile. The atomospher in the office is so relaxed.  There is no tension like Home Office in Croydon.

On the day of submission, hardly any questions were asked. Woody did not even need to show up!

Having said that, I can imagine it will be a completely different story if we were in Tokyo It could be a lot tougher examinations and could take more time too.

Well, all in all, it’s a good start. Sapporo seems to be welcoming us.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mr Entrepreneur

I have been teaching English to a Japanese businessman since the beginning of November.  It’s an evening weekly private lesson, using combination of English and Japanese.

Originally, the student Mr S was taught by one British teacher all in English. But as the teacher had struggled to explain some of the student’s questions, Mr S requested the school to hire a Japanese teacher to back up the lessons.

So, here I am. Many of you may think “How could Mariko teach English?!” Well, don’t worry I am teaching only a beginner, in addition, I prepare a teaching plan & being checked by Woody, so I don’t teach utter wrong thing.

Anyway, Japanese may not be a good English speaker but often have a good grammar knowledge since they learn English in Junior High (13-15 years old) and in High school (16-18 years old). 

On the other hand, despite Mr S had the same opportunity at school, he said he did not pay any attention at all,  Well, here he is, in his 30’s, suddenly he decided to learn English to pursue his dream - that is to live in Hawaii.

Although Mr S is a keen learner, it seems he was forced to run before he could walk…or more likely before he could even put on his shoes.

When I was teaching present perfect and passive forms the other day, I discovered that he did not know the word “him”, & he thought “S” of “he walks” is plural “S”. Doh!

OK, I need to go back to the very beginning. Next week, I will start with lesson one, “I have a pen”.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Japanese Trains

It’s a well known fact that Japanese trains run on time. They certainly do. It makes my life easier to organise travelling, especially since our local line does not run as frequent as subway (tube).

At first, I assumed all staffs dedicate to keep the time, mechanically without emotion. Yes, it is correct that they devote to the time keeping, but I was wrong about them being robotic.

Yesterday, when I arrived at my local station, I heard a staff call to the train driver.

“A gentleman is on the way”

Soon after, the gentleman, who seemed to be in his late 60’s, was walking slowly down the stairs. Then, as soon as he got on the train, it departed.

I was pretty impressed by the fact the train was waiting for the man. I thought Japanese train would never do such a thing. The schedule is their bible!!

There was an accident long time ago in Japan, a young train driver crashed his train because of the punctuality pressure. One day, as he was running slightly behind the schedule, he accelerated the train while approaching a bend and it went off the track.  The accident killed many people including the driver(I think) and became big news.  JR (Japan Railway) was criticised heavily by the public and the media that they put safety second to keep trains running on time.

Altough I am not sure the accident has changed JR’s attitude or just people in Sapporo are a lot more relaxed, I am pleased to find out there is still a humanity while staffs keep up with the high standard of service.

Monday, 23 November 2009

My favourite Snack in the Winter


Here is my favourite winter snack.  “Niku-man” It’s a type of Chinese dumpling.  Those can be found easily in a convenience stores with a quite reasonable price.  110 yen each (approx 70P) in Seven Eleven.

Picture 002

Picture 003

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Night Out

Last night, we went to a party at a language school in Sapporo.  Although the original purpose was to have a job interview for Woody, we ended up meeting many interesting people there.

Unfortunately the job interview was unsuccessful as we found out they want somebody who can speak Japanese, which we are not very happy about.

Anyway, the school organises a cultural exchange party in the evening few times per month. Anybody including non-student of the language shcool can take a part by paying entry fee of 2000 yen (approx £15). Then, the school provides food & booze all night long.

Many of attendees seem to be their students or ex-students, old friends of the school owner and teachers. Age group was from late 20’s to 60’s, so we fitted in comfortably.

Here are some attendees from the party;

A scientist, who researches bacteria lives in salt, a healthy living expert, who has just published his own book called “Mind and Body”, he has an experience of 54 days fasting, lived only on water, fruit and vegetable juice, an ex-marathon runner who are now Shiatsu therapist, a housewife who has studied English for last three years and her son lives in Vietnam with his Vietnamese wife, an outdoor expert who just loves to meet people from all over the world.

Few foreigners were there too. Two Americans, one Iranian, one Bangladeshi, one Australian….and one British (that’s Woody).

An American brought some home mad beer and mead.  Few other people brought some food of their own country, too.  Maybe we should bring some fish and chips in the newspaper next time!

Woody the dog meanwhile stayed behind at home and just about managed to be on his own for just over four hours. Although according to our webcam recording, he was whinging all night. At least he was not barking.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

No job yet

It’s been a month since we moved to Sapporo.  Spouse visa was successfully issued this week, foreign registration card has been updated, NHS card has been issued, enrolled to Japanese Pension scheme.  Now Woody is a fully qualified (?!) resident foreigner in Japan. 

Another good news is ….Woody received the very first job offer as an English teacher, hooray! It’s only one-off afternoon contract but it’s a start.  He will get paid better rate than mine & travel expense is covered as well. Not a bad deal.

Woody dog is happy to be in his double donut or loves to be in front of the fire (gas heater) and the hotcarpet underneath. He certainly knows the best spot in the flat.

Proper winter is about to arrive here in Sapporo.  We had some snow yesterday, on and off, and expecting more over the next few days.

Our local slopes are getting ready to open for the season. We can get to Teine Mountain less than £20 including four hour lift pass & return travel cost. I am sure a dry-slope in London costs more than that per hour!!

Despite all the good news, job hunting here is not so easy. Although cost of living is a lot cheaper than Tokyo’s, job availabilities are far fewer as well.  On top, I’ve heard many people are returning to Sapporo since they lost their jobs in Tokyo. So, there is more competition now than ever.  My age does not seem to help me either. 35 years old appears to be a cut off age for an employable worker.  Oh well, I am sure something will come up. My job agency is hopefully working very hard finding a suitable job for me.

At least, we will make the most of our free time while we can.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Me the Japanese Foreigner

After being away for 13 years from my home country, many things become totally alien to me.   Shopping could be a little challenge as I don’t recognise many brands.  Also, although I can speak Japanese, noticed that some words I use seem to be a little different from what locals could recognise.

For example, last week I asked if I needed to set up “account” prior to internet connection. The word “account” I thought is one of  many foreign words adopted to Japanese language. However this lady in the cafe did not understand what I was talking about.  When I changed the word to “kohza” which is the same meaning but in Japanese, then she understood.

Meanwhile, many systems in Japan feels very complicated to me.  More over, when an advert says “500 yen only”, often it is not the case.  Usually there are many conditions attached to it and ending up 10 times more.    Additional set up charge seems to be a quite common extra cost in Japan for whatever you do.

When I purchased mobile contract, basic monthly charge 980 yen became almost 5000 yen at the end for the first month.  Although our mobiles are free with the contract, usually you will have to purchase mobiles separately as well.   Having mobile could be a very expensive business over here, but everybody has one.

On the other hand, foods are fantastic.  I just sent off Woody to our local superstore.  He will love to look around there. Fish are so fresh, even ready made meals  are fantastic quality too.

I can easily put on weight…..