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).

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Late Night Conbini Run – 11PM Opening, First 50 Customers

How many of you can say you have been to a convenient store ‘Grand opening’…at 11 pm at night?

I don’t think there are many of us who have done so.

I live in my company’s dorm in Osaka not so far from the company, close enough for me to walk to work everyday. It is a pretty fancy place but that’s another story for another post. The area around the place I live is mostly covered by my company’s facilities: our office, factories, hospital, dorms, employees club, gym and other facilities. So, besides these, there are not many things despite being located only one stop from Universal Studio. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, forget about walking in a mall after work. Thus; when something new opens around here, we all get excited (I guess?).

This time, it’s a convenient store – Family Mart! Convenient store = Conbini コンビニ in Japanese, shortened from コンビニエンスストアwhich is a direct katakana translation from English. This new Family Mart is right in front of my company. It was built and decorated in less than a month. Then, when it’s finished, they put up a sign ‘OPEN 5/22 at 11PM – First 50 CUSTOMERS GET FREE PRIZES!’ We saw a lot of people stopping to read that sign and we got interested, so we set up a goal to be one of those 50 first dates customers! As odd as this may sound, this is probably one of the funniest moments since I’ve been in Japan and one I’ll remember…

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Something to do before going out to get the prizes!

9:30 PM, we gathered at one of my coworkers’ house right next to the new Family Mart. While waiting for the time to come, we managed to snack ourselves, laughed, and played Wii!! 😀

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Some snacks for the Wii night.
POPCORN PAPA and Umai 〔うまい)

At 10 PM, we went out to see our ‘competitors’. About 10 people were already there! We got a coupon from one of the Family Mart staffs to exchange our presents. She said although the coupon says 5/22-5/23, 5/22 11 PM- midnight is the only time we can use. So YAY! We surely can get the prize now. Went back to play Wii with peaceful minds!

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Present exchange ticket

Then, it was pretty much like what pictures tell. So funny being there, coming out to a conbini at 11 pm. I kept laughing while standing in line.

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10:45 pm
LOOK LOOK..There are there already!!

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10:50 PM

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Photo for memory… 😀

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We were not the only ones looking forward to this ‘grand opening’

The place was surprisingly packed. Believe it or not, some people brought their babies. Even at this time of the night. First thing we were handed when we went in was this little bag.

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The prize for the first 50 customers!

Then, we bought their Fukubukuro 〔福袋) or Happy/Lucky bag just for fun. In my head echoed (YAY YAY YAY!).

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Family Mart Happy Bag – 500 yen!

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The store got so packed…

I started laughing till my stomach hurts seeing everyone, including myself, got all excited over a new Family Mart. I have to admit, it was kind of…fun.

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Store front: The open sale

We got back and opened the bags. Both bags were filled with snacks and drinks.

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Stuff in the lucky bag!

I guess I got my breakfast…

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The first 50 customers bag

やった!YATTA (Finally).

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11 PM Convenient store opening
CHECKED!

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WOO HOO!!

This was just a very funny night. Made me thought of my time as a college student in Beppu city 〔別府市) when I would walk outside at night to the only McDonald’s and have a few laugh with some friends while devouring the M size french fries. Everywhere, city or suburban, there are always things and events to enjoy and laugh about. ❤

Yaki-Tate Melon Pan 焼きたてメロンパン – Not a normal melon pan!

What’s a Yaki-Tate melon pan (焼きたてメロンパン)?And how is it different from the normal melon pan sold at convenient stores and supermarkets?

As you may know, melon pan is a melon-flavored bread. Bread in Japanese is ‘パン’ pronounced as ‘pan’. It is a round-shaped bread with rough sugary texture that looks like checker prints. I personally love this ever since I came to Japan. But last year, I found something even better than normal melon pan-Yaki-Tate melon pan 〔焼きたてメロンパン)!  This literally means it is a melon pan that is fresh out of an oven. It may seem to be not so different from the normal melon pan, but I can tell you it really is.20130429-111350.jpg

One day when I came out of my station and about to walk home, I saw this melon pan van. The smell was mouth-watering but I did not pay much attention and just walked away. 20130417-184712.jpgThe second time this van, there were so many people waiting in line and I thought…maybe this is good. So I bought one melon pan just to try if it was special. There were Hokkaido and butter flavors. I chose the butter one. The bread was freshly-baked from the oven. I took a bite and then…I LOVED IT! So soft and it tasted really good. Since then, I loved it and I looked forward to this van coming to my station every week. This is definitely different from normal melon pan sold at supermarkets. Obviously, it is sold in a van and since it is fresh out of the oven, it is hot, soft and just yummy!

This just started to sound like a confession from a FAT GIRL AT HEART. 😉

Apparently, it is not that easy to find this melon pan van. After I moved from Tokyo to Yokohama, I never saw this again until last month when I went to view sakura in Naka-Meguro 〔中目黒). That’s when I found this van again. Judging from the long line of people, I guess I’m not the only one who love this!20130417-185259.jpg

I also found a website with schedules of this melon pan van ‘HAPPY HAPPY’. Check the schedule to see if you’re close by. It’s delicious. Definitely my favorite although some people may find it too sweet. (I have a sweet tooth) 😉 Website: http://www.happy-happy.jp/

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Other than the van HAPPY HAPPY in Tokyo, I also found one right near my place in Osaka. This van has even more flavor…even strawberry flavor. They also sell apple pie and others as well.

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If you haven’t tried, I suggest you do so. 🙂

Company food (社食-shashoku)!

This is one of the things I love about my company – the food! We have a cafeteria where we can have lunch and dinner in a very cheap price. Not to mention that we don’t have to go out, find restaurant, order, eat and run back to the office. We can eat right away and still have a bit of time to do something else like going to the bank or convenient store.

The food here is great. The price is also very good-always less than 500 yen (mostly 400yen in my case). They also care very much about our health. Moreover, they do take requests, too! I requested for kimchi fried rice once and they actually made it. Sometimes they also have special occasions such as gratan week, Indian curry fair, and others. This is so cool since eating good, cheap, and quickly is so helpful in a working life. Big Japanese companies usually have this support. They also give a small amount of money every month to support our food expense.

My colleagues told me that company’s food is called “社食” (shashoku). Not all companies have this so I consider myself very lucky. Eating out everyday in Tokyo would cost me tons of money!
Also, remember that taking care of your health is super important!

Here are some photos of the cafeteria food I’ve been collecting. 😉

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A relaxing day in Minato-mirai, Yokohama

I have been living in Yokohama since the mid of 2012. Before that, I used to come around here on weekends and spent time sightseeing around the harbor or eat some delicious Chinese in China town. Then, I found some amazing restaurants and cafes and loved coming here ever since.

Now that I live around here, I get to explore a lot more. I often find a cozy cafe and just sit…and read or just relax with a nice warm coffee..or PIES at BUBBY’S! 😀  Today (Jan 19th), just like any other day here, I met up with friends at Queensquare where Minato-mirai station is located in. We went there around lunch time so we had to look for restaurants. I visit Queensquare a lot and I have so many favorite places in there but today, we went up to the 3rd floor and found a nice cafe called “24/7”.

The place is very nice with unique designs and great atmosphere. They also have free drinks corner as well.

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My favorite spot at this cafe is a long seat where you can lie down and eat as in this picture. How comfortable. 🙂

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After lunch, we decided to go to a spa. We took a short walk there. It was really a lovely day- not too cold and it was very sunny. The sky was clear. I love walking around this area. It’s just very relaxing.

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The spa is called Manyo club. It has great onsen and offers lots of relaxation plan such as massage services, relaxation plan, meal plan and others. It is a bit expensive but I think we really needed it after a long week. 🙂

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  From the onsen pool, we could see the sky and the sea..it was so refreshing. We were there for 2 hours. I had a great time.

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Then we had dinner at the red brick house or Akarenka-soko. It was lovely evening.

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(This is an old picture)

I really recommend exploring Yokohama. It’s a beautiful place. I wish you all a great relaxing day like this!