How I went to Japan and how I left…

It was March 2007 when I first visited Japan. It was a very short trip. We visited Osaka first, and then Tokyo and some other cities like most other tourists would do when they visit Japan for the first time. Growing up, I have always been familiar with Japanese food and culture although not very deeply, but to some certain degree. And for some reasons, I was not very interested Japan but instead I always found myself going to English-speaking countries for home stay or go somewhere far away to travel.

In that very short trip, I met a girl on a bus in Osaka. She was in a senior year of an international university in Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Since she was also from Thailand, we greeted and chatted a little. She told me she received a scholarship from her university and that Japan is great. She encouraged me to apply to her school. It sounded to me like a good opportunity. Although I had zero knowledge about Japan, during that trip, I realized Japan was probably the cleanest, safest, and probably one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to. And that was only the first impression I had of Japan which followed by thousands of things I love about the country during my almost 6 years there. I also noticed how good the service was. I felt very welcomed during that visit. I was impressed with how polite people were and how unbelievably organized everything looked and not to mention so many unique things I had never seen anywhere else. There were just so many places and things that are beautiful and also very different. The beautiful sakura, the shrines and temples, Maiko-san on streets, vending machine in every corner, the cool toilet (!) and so on.When I returned home, I applied to her university and I was very fortunate to receive a 100% scholarship from the university. My university is called Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). It is an international university in a very small city called Beppu located in Oita prefecture – the city of onsens (hot springs). I took the chance and went to Japan. I was 17 years old, fresh out of high school just two weeks before I left for Japan.

I am not going to mention much about how I adjusted to the life there but like other people, I struggled for a couple of years trying to learn the language and culture and figuring out how everything works in Japan. I remember some of my first incidents in Japan were using a cooking sake (alcohol) as cooking oil, using mochi instead of normal white rice, carrying my bed across town with my friends when I was moving out, etc. When that period was over (although there were always things I had to struggle with :P), it was mostly the fun part. I explored the country, met new people, and just simply let myself experience.

I moved to Chiba after I finished all my credits in fourth year first semester to find a job. Although, everyone warned me working in Japan is not easy, I decided to take the challenge. After so many hand-written resumes, web tests and interviews, I received a job offer. Then, I changed my visa, moved to Tokyo and started working! And yes, like what people had warned me, I encountered several hardships that I considered that time to be one of the toughest times I had in my life. When the first company did not work out, I tried to change my job. It is not easy to change job in Japan as a new graduate but I was determined to get out of the situation I was in, and so I did. After two months working in the first company, I received a job offer from a very big and well-known Japanese company. I thought things were going to be alright finally but before it even go anywhere, things were just really wrong. I was fired right after I told my first company my plan to quit, I was asked to move out of the company’s dorm, I had an accident in the middle of a mall in Shinjuku and was rushed to hospital, I could barely walk, I became completely broke, and so on. It was a very rough time but I got through it and after all that, I think I definitely added a few layers on my skin for sure. Like they say, life is a struggle. All in all, it was a good learning experience. What can I say? I became salary woman in Japan and also a real shakaijin (社会人- working adult)!

After that, I moved to Yokohama and commuted to my new office in Tokyo every day. From my office I could see the beautiful Mt. Fuji view every morning. The new company was great, everyone was nice, things were right again. Then, they moved me to Osaka. The workplace and the people were completely different. People are more casual and fun. Everybody has some sort of energy which I tend to think it’s only-in-Kansai. They are fun, energetic and have a strong Kansai dialect that I got used to after a little while. In Osaka, I woke up to a buffet breakfast provided by my company, I walked 10 minutes to work, and then when I finished working, I went out and then I came home to a nice hot bath. What could be better than that? My weekend schedules were also full of travel plans to other cities in Kansai areas and even a farther trip to Okinawa and others. I had the best time!

Then, I decided to further my studies since I have always wanted to do so. This reason, along with some issues just made me go for the graduate school plan. I chose to come to Bristol, UK for my master degree. After so many years, I decided to leave which was a very hard decision but I knew it is not going to be forever (hopefully). Japan has given me so much from the start. It is one place I feel like home in many ways. One way I like to see it is that part of me grew up there. I may have become the third culture kid who understands the culture while also choosing to follow and not follow some of the traditions but I guess that’s the whole purpose to go live abroad which is to broaden your horizon and become an open-minded person.

I have been putting off writing out me leaving Japan for a long time because I simply wanted to spend time with people I knew I was going to miss and do things I knew I couldn’t do here. On top of that, I was overwhelmed with UK visa application and things I had to do before leaving Japan. If you noticed, I also didn’t go into details of many stories but maybe I can write more into it later.

So I am here in Bristol for a few weeks now. School has already started. I don’t know many people, or where to go, what to do, what to eat and others. I am still homesick. There are just millions of things I miss about living in Japan…but the main things are probably the food and people, even Thai food in Japan is quite authentic enough that it rarely let me down. The only things I don’t think I miss are those typhoons and earthquakes…and maybe morning trains on rush hours. 😛 Although wanting to go back every day, I am here now and I intend to not forget what I am here for and make this time the best. So…may new the adventure begins! 🙂

As for this blog, I will definitely continue writing more about Japan since I have so many posts in the drafts already and I may as well update you on how I am over here sometimes.

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One of the hottest day in Tokyo this year (you can probably tell).
Taken with my best friends in Sensoji temple, Asakusa(浅草寺、浅草).

A Weekend in Okinawa (沖縄)

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Traveling is one thing I can say I would invest on when I have the time, chance and some pocket money. A lot of people have asked if I am a secret agent, rich or if I am a professional traveler but I am none of that (although the last one sounds amazing). I started traveling since I was little as much as I can to broaden my horizon and to fulfill my own little curiosity. I prefer to spend some time in a certain place than a couple of days in order to really experience what the place is all about but that, of course, always up to time, money and for sure, some luck.

That say, this time I had a special 3-day-weekend holiday, a department holiday which is although short, I decided to spend this holiday on the beach and explore another interesting place I had never been in Japan – Okinawa.

Okinawa (沖縄) is a prefecture with group of islands located in the southernmost of Japan. The islands can be grouped into three: Okinawa islands where the main island (本島) with its capital, Naha (那覇市) is, Miyako islands (宮古島), and Yayeyama islands (八重島). It is also a site for American military bases even after WWII. It is said to be the Hawaii of Japan. Okinawa is also known as Ryukyu islands for its own culture, art, and language of the Ryukyu native culture which is very interesting.

I planned the trip quickly right after my move to Osaka in April. I got a package from HIS, paid for the trip, and then prayed for the good weather. May is supposed to be a rainy season in Okinawa which starts earlier than other parts of Japan. After May, it is the typhoon season which may easily blows off my plans. Whichever the case, May 24th – 26th was the travel date, and it was all set! I kept checking the weather and it seemed to be raining almost everyday but then suddenly, the weather for Friday May 24th changed to cloudy. I was very lucky. The weather was nice the entire trip. 🙂

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Our hotel is located in Onna-son(恩納村)or Onna village in the main island of Okinawa (本島 Hon-to) which is around an hour by bus from Naha airport (那覇空港). We flew from Kansai airport which took around 2 hours. We got to the hotel in early afternoon and the first thing we did after checking in was finding information on marine sports. We went out snorkeling just half an hour after we arrived. Our hotel is called ‘Hotel Moon Beach’; it is a beautiful resort with various marine activities and a warm indoor pool.

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This was the first time I went snorkeling with a wet suit. I was quite surprised since in Thailand, we never have to wear one except for diving. 画像 2522The fish in Andaman sea of Thailand are visible even within one meter deep water (I miss Thai beaches!). We got all the equipments, and then they started explaining how to use them. Then, we got out to the sea! The water was unexpectedly cold…like Titanic-cold as I am so used to the warm water in Thailand. The wave was quite strong. We got out and started snorkeling…so much fish life! We gave out some bread, saw more fish, and then back to the port. It was quite an exercise but definitely fun! Our hotel offers so many marine sports such as diving, para-sailing, snorkeling, canoe, and something called fly boat & so much more!

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Cool, isn’t it?

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Snorkeling time 🙂

We went out to dinner that day at an Okinawan food restaurant called がちまい(Gachimai). I found the food to be quite different from everywhere else in Japan. The variety of food and drinks were interesting. I had more than just a fun time trying all the food and drinks. 😉 The guava drink, the famous shikuasa drink (シークワーサー), and so much more yummy things that should be sold widely in Japan!

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Yummy fried crabs

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Okinawa-only ice creams

Not only the food I found different, it was the people and the dialect, too. めんそれー!(Mensore) meaning welcome as in general Japan would say いらっしゃいませ(irasshaimase) was visible almost every tourist places I went. 画像 2642The people, too, looked different from Japanese people in general. Some of them even looked like foreigners. I have heard that Okinawa people or Okinawans are actually native Ryukyu people with different cultures and dialect they had formed way before Okinawa islands became part of Japan. I do not know much about this but it is very interesting and I would definitely find out more about it.

The next day, I visited Ryukyu Village (琉球村) to explore more into the Okinawan culture. We took a taxi from our hotel for about 15 minutes.

When got there just in time for Ryukyu dance show. There was a parade, song, and then a dance I had never seen before. They used some kind of wooden instrument to make sound when dancing. Their heads and faces were so still… After the dance, they all got us dancing, too!

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We had the famous そーきそば (so-ki soba) there. It is a famous Okinawa soba with pork and flat yellow soba. The pork was so soft and tender…delicious!画像 2598

Inside the village, there were small cottages with some exhibitions in each one, for example, silk making, Okinawan musical instrument, pottery, and others. All of this, you can pay a small fee and do a trial session by yourself. Then, there were the famous water buffaloes which is quite unusual to be seen in Japan and then some goats! We explored a bit and got back to the hotel. I saw later at night that the hotel also offers a day trip to 4 different places with one lunch meal and the cost is only 4,700 yen. This is definitely worth it if you want to visit many places.

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After Ryukyu village, we got back and went out on a dragon boat (ドラゴンボート)! I am not quite sure about the difference between a dragon boat and a banana boat. In other places, it is called banana boat, a boat people ride with the intention of the driver to make it flip so that people fall into the water. However, the banana boat has only one row while dragon boat has two. So I guess that is the difference.

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Our tour package includes a buffet Yakiniku (焼肉) dinner at Okinawa Beer Garden (沖縄ビール園). What could be better than this? I couldn’t think of any. A guy from the restaurant picked us up by car to the beer garden. That good thing about this place is the free pick up. Then, everything went pretty quickly…next thing we knew, we were strolling on the street in front of the hotel trying exercise a bit after a huge meal.

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The next morning was the last day. We had the buffet breakfast, headed out for a walk on the beach and left for the airport. We had a wonderful time. Definitely a great place to visit. There are so many places in the main island to visit such as Nago pineapple park, Churaumi aquarium, Ryugujo butterfly garden, and so much more. Next time, I would love to go to other islands in Okinawa especially Ishigaki island (石垣島), an island a bit far from the main one with deep blue ocean. 😉 Time was limited, but it was a great trip.

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Airport Okinawa themed Purikura

More information on Okinawa

Travel guides:

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Nara park (奈良公園)- Don’t get bitten by a deer!

Deer are cute, aren’t they? Well, I always thought they are until a couple of days ago when I visited Nara. My family is here for a visit after my recent move to Osaka so I guided them around traveling in Kansai area and visited Nara (奈良)the other day.

This is my first time in Nara. We went to Nara park and some famous old temples around. Nara is also a famous tourist spot since it used to be Japan’s capital in the past similar to Kyoto in which it has a great glorious history. It is also famous for wild deer!

As soon as we got to Nara park, we saw so many deer. They were there waiting for FOOD! We were told not to feed them or be very careful if we do. I was taking pictures of the area with my brother when I turned and saw my father running away from those deer. The deer were after ‘senbei’, a salty Japanese crackers. They could smell it and followed that smell! 😀

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The deer wouldn’t wait one second! lol

As I was in the park, I could see that the deer’s antlers are cut off to prevent them from attacking people (in some certain level anyway).

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Warning!

This is a senbei stall where people can buy deer food.

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Look how hungry they are!

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That’s the closest I would go close to a deer.

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Some deer can also be shy.

It was a fun experience walking in a park full of deer. So much nature! I loved it. A must-visit place if you pass by kansai area.