This is the first day since we arrived that we haven’t been rushing around all day, so I thought it would be a good time to post an update!
Everything has been going really well so far. We have quickly got used to the subway system (we are about a 2 minute walk from Nagahoribashi, which is the nearest subway station to us). It is incredibly easy to buy train tickets; you can switch the ticket machines to English, and the subway map is very accessible and clear about how much it costs to travel to each station. Usually it costs between 180-240y to travel, and you buy a one-way ticket each time – it costs perhaps £3 maximum to travel anywhere in the city).
The most pleasantly surprising thing so far is that the sky is very blue every day – like a summer’s day in Britain – but it is fairly mild all day, so you can still wear a coat if you want to, without it feeling too hot, while the sea breeze makes everything feel very fresh. The streets and roads are really wide, so even though there are lots of people and it is usually fairly busy, there always seems to be enough room for everyone to have enough space, which I have struggled with in London.
Everything you could need is a walking distance away – there are lots of single/two-storey food and general purchase shops, as well as huge buildings that look like office blocks but are actually shopping malls, with everything in one store. At the moment we are in an apartment in the centre of the city. Apartments in Japan are typically quite small, but they have everything you would need: a bathroom, toilet, sink, cooking area, storage space, and space for a bed/sofa/chair and tables etc. We have been getting by with my key phrases, and we are trying to learn some more Japanese words and phrases every evening together. Dillon’s colleague in Shimane has kindly sent us lots of resources for learning Japanese online, so we have plenty of material to work through.
The flights from Ireland to Osaka were very easy. Although I had been wary of it to begin with, I really enjoyed the long-haul part of the journey, which was 10 hours from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. We arrived later in Hong Kong than expected due to severe winds over Russia, which meant that the flight to Osaka was delayed by about an hour, but this actually worked better for us as it meant we didn’t have to rush through to the next departure gate and had time to wait in the lounge before our final flight. Neither of us have really suffered from much jetlag – we were very tired when we arrived in Japan on Monday afternoon, as we had only had about 5 hours of sleep over 48 hours, but we were lucky that we arrived in our apartment around 6pm, so we could just get something quick to eat and go to bed. I experienced some nausea and motion sickness, but I think that was a mix of jetlag and lack of sleep.
On Tuesday we went to sign our first month’s rental contract and went to view long-term apartments – we found one we really liked in the Kuromon area of the city, which is near a famous market and very close to where I will be working in the city centre (walking distance), for much less than our previous flat was costing us. Despite being very central, the area is fairly quiet as we are away from main roads. We were recommended two companies that work specifically with foreign visitors: Daiwa Homes and GTN Mobile. Everyone at the Daiwa Homes property agency has been really helpful, as were the staff at the GTN cell phone company (you always get hot or cold green tea served while you wait for appointments, and the cell phone store gave us a big parcel of rice as a welcome gift). As it is necessary to have a Japanese cell phone number in order to rent a property, we now have Japanese cell phones, which are quite a bit bigger than the kinds of phones that are typically used in the UK – almost like little games consoles – but as international calls are very expensive we will probably use them for work and contacting people in Japan, staying connected with our family and friends in the UK and worldwide via Skype and email.
We have been very busy since we arrived, trying to sort everything out, but we have got most of the important things organised now. We have registered ourselves at the local ward office, which was an experience in itself! We had help frrom a translator to fill in the form, then we took it straight to one desk in a long row, where it was stamped and we could see in the open-plan office the staff creating our new residency cards, as well as all the different documents everyone else waiting in the office needed processing, then after half an hour ours were given back to us at a different desk. Something that is amazing in Japan is how quickly things are sorted out for you – for example, when Dillon needed to get the equivalent cards in the US and UK, it took weeks to months to receive, through different agencies, whereas we got it after less than an hour from the same place.
Registering at the ward office also means we have begun the process of getting health insurance, so the last important thing to do is to open Japanese bank accounts. We were planning to do that yesterday, but luckily before we left the apartment I received an email from my contact at the school telling me to open an account at a specific branch that was different to the one we had identified. I need some paperwork from the school though, so I don’t think we can do that right away. I have been invited to the Kinder Graduation and Primary End-of-Year show tomorrow (Friday) afternoon, so I’m going to attend that. It’s quite close by, near Osaka Castle, and I think it will be great to introduce myself and get my first impression of the school and staff in that kind of environment.
As a final thought: the toilets in Japan are quite amazing! The seats are gently warmed, and you can play sounds like a rainforest or running water for privacy if you want to. We have been eating fruit for breakfast, and the local food store sells teas and coffees, then a mix of vegetables we fry with soy sauce, katsu (fried) potato, sweet rolls (sesame rice), edamame beans etc. for dinner. For lunch yesterday we picked up fresh buttered raisin rolls from a bakery in the subway station for the equivalent of 70p each! Finding your way around the city and travelling is quite easy because maps and signs are also written in English, and people appreciate when you try to use Japanese to speak to them.
I’m hoping that this weekend we can go out exploring Osaka a bit, maybe visit Osaka Castle or one of the big parks, or the Shinsaibashi/Dotonbori area, which is the centre of the city and where I will be working.
Check back soon and hopefully I will update with some photos!