Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: The Little Things in Life

Browsing through Reddit, I stumbled upon a little group for foreigners living in Japan (such as myself). One of the posts was a question about the little things we’ve seen or done that made life here a little better compared to where we originally came from.

That one made me pause and think. For the past 3 years, I’ve only taken notice of the big difference between my hometown and my new home. But there are, in fact, so many little things that seem commonplace only in Japan.

(I’ve only lived in 2 countries so far, so this list is very subjective).

Washlets, Bidets and Seat Warmer

Almost every toilets here have built-in bidets. It’s the one thing I rarely experienced in Manila, unless it’s a super fancy type of place. Here, I’ve seen old public restrooms with very modern type of toilets: with bidet, sound, and seat warmer. The seat warmer are especially useful during the cold winters, and I am so thankful that my apartment has one.

They also have washlets, which are built-in faucet and sink on top of the water tank. You wash your hands from this faucet and then the water is reused to flush the toilet. It’s very convenient. However, you can’t wash with soap using these washlets. It clogs, so it’s still better to use the lavatories for a thorough wash.

IC Cards

I’ve used IC cards mostly for trains and buses (though I rarely take the bus). It’s also very useful when travelling across the country as I can use it for almost all the public transportation (except bullet trains). I’ve also noticed that whenever I use my IC card in convenience stores, I get a little discount.

Some casual dining places have also installed self-service ordering machine that accepts IC cards. It’s very cool and convenient since I can just tap my card after selecting my meals. Plus, I won’t have to burden my wallet with a lot of coins.

Once, I also stayed in a hotel that would only accept cards (credit card, debit card and IC card). It was weird, but at least I didn’t have to charge my credit card for a 500 yen-worth breakfast.

Doings Things Alone

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts that Japan is an introvert’s paradise. This is the only place where I can eat in restaurants by myself without feeling self-conscious. And most places have counters or small booths for lone diners so I don’t have to use the big tables and rush myself.

I’ve also watched movies in cinemas by myself. Reservations are made online, and I just have to use a computer kiosk to get the physical ticket. The only time I have to talk to someone is when I buy popcorn and soda.

Where I grew up, I used to go to place by myself. But when I tell people that, they tend to feel sorry for me. They said I must be very lonely, but I’m not. I just really like my “me” time.

Feeling Safe at All Times

If you grew up where I did, the first thing you’d learn was how to avoid danger. As a woman, I had to be twice as vigilant. My parents used to worry when I had to go home at 1am from work because of the rampant crime in our place. I’ve carried mace, learned how to use keys as make-shift weapon, and how to trust my gut when it comes to strangers.

I know that Japan is not 100% crime-free, but it feels so much safer here than anywhere else I’ve been. I could travel by myself, and even walk home late at night. If I misplaced my wallet or my phone in a mall, there is a 99% chance that I could get it back.

Even the roads here felt safer than in Manila. Granted that most drivers I’ve observed drive really fast, they almost always give way for the pedestrians. The sidewalks are also clean, and the only danger (for the unobservant) is a bicycle wheezing past.

Flowers Growing Everywhere

This makes me specially happy. And it’s not just during spring that flowers bloom in my neighborhood. I’ve seen purple flowers burst from summer-dry ground, random blooms mixed among the maple leaves, and sturdy plum blossoming during late winter.

Even the weeds have uniquely shaped and colored buds that made me want to stop and take some photos.

I live in a slightly urban area, and seeing the seasonal flowers never fails to make me smile.

Seasonal Wardrobe

I don’t have a lot of clothes, and I rarely go shopping. When I arrived here 3 years ago, I’ve only got a few month’s worth of clothes, and 3 pairs of shoes.

But Japan has four seasons, and continually changing temperature. So, I had to buy blouses, jackets, coats and shoes that would be comfortable for each changes. I even noticed that my clothes have become more work-conscious. I still wear my style, but I’ve adapted to how the women dresses here. I’d like to believe that I dress more maturely these days.

So now, I had to rotate my wardrobe according to the seasonal calendar. My clothes and shoes more than doubled in just 3 years, and I may need a bigger closet space in the future. LOL!

********************************

These are just the few things I really appreciate while living here. Sometimes, I forget that I wasn’t born here, or that I don’t really speak their language yet – because I’m so comfortable here.

I thought I was already an independent girl, but Japan has made me even more so.

I will always love the Philippines (despite all their many problems right now), but Japan is my second home.

Posted in JapanLife

Japan Lockdown: My Experiences as a Foreigner

On April 7th 2020, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a State of Emergency (SoE) on 7 prefectures: Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka. It was later expanded as Nationwide SoE, and extended until May 31st.

During this time, my hometown in the Philippines was already under an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Family and friends had adjusted to working from home, no public transportation, limited mobility, and social distancing. Some friends who were required to still go to work (ie frontliners) were living in company-provided hotels near their employment.

They also told me about requiring quarantine pass – an ID provided by the local government for each household – just to go out and buy basic necessities. Because of that, and also limited capacity in stores, most of the people had to buy bulk and sometimes shops run out of items.

I’ve heard so many stories of the difficulties of ECQ from friends, family and even random people on social media.

Naturally, when news broke out about Japan’s SoE, my family was worried for me. I was living alone in a country where I barely speak the language. And most of the news articles in English sounded vague, and a little incomplete. Their worst fear was that I get deported for being a foreigner in Japan.

However, my experiences during Japan’s “lockdown” was anything but worrisome. My routine didn’t totally change, and I rarely felt the anxiety over the pandemic. Japan’s SoE was totally different from Philippines’s ECQ, based on my personal views. And I feel so fortunate that I am living in Tokyo during these times of global distress.

So, what did change?

The biggest change was that malls, shops and entertainment centers closed for indefinite period. Even parks and zoos temporarily shut their doors to the public. What amazed me about this is that most of these places voluntarily closed even before the SoE. They didn’t wait for any written rule from the government, but took their own initiative to protect their employees and customers.

Places that remained open (ie supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores) made every adjustment they could to lessen the spread of infection. Staff wore masks, face shields and gloves. Transparent plastics were used to cover the counter, and markers are used to measure the 1 meter distance for lines. However, their hours remained the same as usual, so I am still able to shop at the 24-hour supermarket without problems. There are no rules of capacity, but we had to undergo temperature check at the entrance, and we’re encouraged to use the free alcohol/sanitizer.

All the citizens were encouraged to stay-at-home and avoid crowded places. However, going out was not penalized by the law, and curfews were not in effect. Even so, since most of the places are closed, people hardly go out. There’s nowhere to go to anyways, so my friends and I just stay and have fun indoors.

Also, the government asked companies to allow teleworking (work from home). In our office, 80-90% of employees did telework, leaving only a handful to work onsite. Since I live literally a minute away, I am one of the few who decided to continue working as usual. I also gained a new housemate. She’s a new employee who doesn’t have a car, and our CEO didn’t want her to commute everyday via train. She’ll move out again when the “new normal” begins.

Public transportation are still operational. I could still travel anywhere in Tokyo, but crossing prefecture borders were highly discouraged by the government. I’ve always thought Tokyo train stations as spacious, but seeing it without people was a bit mind-boggling. It was like living in an post-apocalyptic period.

Japan also closed its borders to most countries that had high infection rate. Unfortunately, Philippines was included and our passport and visa were restricted. It doesn’t mean I had to go back home and suffer, I just can’t go out of Japan for a while. And even if they lift the restrictions, I would still be required to have 14 days quarantine when I return to Japan. I cannot afford 2 weeks without work and staying in Narita airport (their makeshift quarantine area looks weird, honestly).

Good thing I could refund the airline tickets I bought. It maybe some time before I could indulge my wander lust again.

One thing that my friends and I were looking forward to is the financial aid from the government. I am still unsure if I am qualified for this, but most of the articles I read stated that foreigners are also eligible to claim. I would be very thankful if I do receive some aid, but I won’t be sorely disappointed if I don’t. I still have regular income after all.

Today, May 26th, PM Abe has lifted the SoE throughout the nation – a week before its deadline. Japan is one of the few countries that have successfully flatten the curve in terms of new cases. The local government now has the authority to implement rules they deem necessary to continue the fight against Covid. Some shops have reopened with adjusted hours, teleworking is still encouraged as much as possible, and people are still requested to stay at home.

We are now entering the “new normal” phase. I honestly don’t know what will happen next, but I trust the government, and I trust the people around me. I love the Philippines – it is my home after all; but Japan is the safest place for me. Every day I feel so lucky to be living and working here. I can only hope and pray that the Philippines will overcome the virus (and its other “diseases”) and that I can visit home soon.

******************************

I hope that everyone is safe and secure wherever your are! Virtual hugs ❤ ❤ ❤ !! We can get through this. #WeHealAsOne

Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Exploring Little Edo

(This is a very late post about my adventure for my 29th birthday last February. )

On my 29th birthday, I have decided to explore Saitama’s famous Little Edo in Kawagoe City. It was a little over an hour of commute from Toyoda Station to Honkawagoe Station, with at least three transfers.

Little Edo (小江戸) was actually just a long stretch of road in Kawagoe known for it’s historical bell tower (時の鐘) and the shops with Edo Period architecture and design.

For my first stop, I went to the Kawagoe Kita-In Temple, a 10-minute walk from Honkawagoe Station.

Of course, I couldn’t resist getting a temple stamp. So, while I was waiting for the stamp, I decided to explore the Edo Palace buildings – which were the remaining halls moved from the original palace many years ago.

Kita-In Temple is also the home of the 500 Buddhist Statues (五百羅漢). This small area contains 540 statues of the disciples of Buddha, all with differently unique expressions and poses.

To access the statue courtyard, you will first need to buy a ticket at the temple office. For about ¥1000, you can explore the Edo Palace halls and see the statues of the disciples of Buddha.

My next stop was the Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine.

This shrine was especially famous to couples. When I went there, there was a long line of couples waiting to pray or give thanks. Since I don’t have a partner, I decided to skip the worship at this place and instead explore the sakura-lined riverbank just outside.

It was winter when I visited, so the trees were still bare. But I can just imagine what it would look like in the spring: so pink! I thought about coming back during the blossom season, unfortunately I had to go to Manila and wasn’t able to return in time. Maybe I’ll try again next year.

When I finally went to Koedo, it felt like I went back in time. The roads were cobbled stones, and the shops all had that old-world atmosphere. Even the Starbucks used wood as main material for their shop!

Of course, I had to step inside for coffee and cake (it’s my birthday!) The interior was a mix of old and new. But the best part was the Japanese garden at the back.

Even though it was quite a windy day, I chose to quietly celebrate my birthday at the Starbucks garden. LOL. It was a peaceful and relaxing celebration.

After my coffee break, I went outside to take some photos of the famous bell tower. I also saw a street artist selling some of his drawings. I decided to buy one as a gift for my self.

The artist, Matsuda-san, used a single 5.0 technical pen to draw all his art. Despite using only one type of pen, his pieces have depth and feeling, and were really wonderful to see. I was able to practice my Japanese speaking skills, too!

I bought the cheapest one he had for ¥1000, but when I told him that it was my birthday treat, he decided to give me one of the better drawings for the same price. The kindness of random people really made me smile. 🙂

After that, I walked around Koedo following the main road to Roman Street. On the way, I saw the Kawagoe Festival Museum which showcased the different materials used during the annual festival (October).

I spent some time inside the museum and went back on the road around 5pm. Little did I know that Koedo shops closes early. I planned to eat dinner in one of the restaurants around Roman Street, but everything was already closed by the time I got there.

I did see a shrine with this colorful facade:

And with that, my Koedo adventure came to an end. Here are some of the random stuff I saw while walking along the cobbled streets:

I plan to come back in October to watch the festival. I hope my work schedule would allow it. XD

Til next time!

Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Beginning of a New Era

May 1, 2019 marks the beginning of a new era for Japan and its people. And I am lucky to experience it first hand. Unfortunately, I have work during the coronation day, but I did a few reading about this very auspicious event.

Emperor Akihito has stepped down from the Chrysanthemum Throne last April 30, 2019 – the first imperial abdication in at least 200 years – due to health reasons. This marks the end of the Heisei period which lasted over three decades. As with tradition, Emperor Akihito will not adopt the name “Emperor Heisei” until his death (which we all hope will be VERY far from now) but will henceforth be known as The Emperor Emeritus 「上皇」. His wife, Empress Michiko, will also adapt the title of The Empress Emeritus 「上皇后 」.

Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako, will be now known as the Emperor and Empress of the Reiwa Period 「令和」. Emperor Naruhito’s younger brother, Prince Akishino, will be the heir presumptive due to the lack of son from the emperor’s family. There is, however, a rumor (just a rumor!) that Japan laws might change to allow females to take the throne. This would give Princess Aiko a chance to accede to the throne after her father if it ever comes true.

Emperor Naruhito’s accession to the the throne while the previous emperor is still living is not the only non-traditional break he’s done. He is also the first Japanese royal who has placed education atop his priorities. He even studied in Oxford for two years before coming back to Japan to resume his duties as the Crown Prince. He also followed his father’s footstep in marrying outside the royal line and choosing Princess Masako, a former career diplomat. He is a protective husband and father to the two most important women in his life.

Another break he has done was in choosing and approving the name of his new era. The name 令和 has been the cause of some debate on the internet. For one, it is the only era name taken from classic Japanese literature while all previous names were from classic Chinese literature. There was also a debate about it’s meaning.

Some took the kanjis’s individual translation as 「令」decree and 「和」harmony  as a “command for harmony”. However, the Japanese Foreign Ministry provided an unofficial interpretation as “beautiful harmony” as taken from the classic poem from which the characters originated:

時に、初春の月にして、
気淑く風ぎ、
梅は鏡前の粉を披き、
蘭は珮後の香を薫す

It was in new spring, in a fair  month,
When the air was clear and the wind a gentle breeze.
Plum flowers blossomed a beauty’s charming white
And the fragrance of the orchids was their sweet perfume.

A nine-member expert panel chose the new era name with careful consideration, so I’m sure they know what they were doing. Thus, Heisei Period ends its 31st year on April 30, 2019 and Reiwa Period begins on May 1, 2019. The major impact of era change for me is that I am now officially part of the old era (1990 -> Heisei 2), and probably considered as an old person. LOL!

The abdication also meant a change in the way Japan will celebrate the ascension of the new emperor. Before, new emperors are crowned (not literally – there’s no crown involved) after the mourning period following the death of the previous emperor. But since the Emperor Emeritus is still alive, the coronation is one of joyous event to welcome the new imperial leader of Japan.

Therefore, it was decided to celebrate both events in the middle of Golden Week which resulted to a 10-day holiday for most people:

  • April 27 – Saturday preceding the start of Golden Week
  • April 28 – Sunday, extra Holiday
  • April 29 – Showa Day celebrating the birthday of the late Emperor Showa
  • April 30 – Emperor Akihito’s abdication
  • May 1 – Emperor Naruhito’s accession
  • May 2 – extra holiday after coronation
  • May 3 – Constitution Memorial Day
  • May 4 – Greenery Day
  • May 5 – Children’s Day
  • May 6 – End of Golden Week, extra Holiday

During the accession, Emperor Naruhito received two out of the three Imperial Regalia of Japan: the sword Kusanagi「草薙劍 」”Valor” and the jewel Yasakani no Magatama 「 八尺瓊勾玉 」”Benevolence”. The third treasure, the mirror Yata no Kagami 「 八咫鏡 」”Wisdom”, is permanently enshrined at the Ise Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. Imperial messengers and Shinto priests will be sent to the shrine and to the shrine-tombs of the previous emperors to announce the accession of the new emperor.

The actual Enthronement Ceremony will take place on October 22, 2019 – another holiday for Japan. There will also be a ritual and procession to receive good wishes from the people to the new emperor. Finally, February 23, 2020 will be the first celebration of Emperor Naruhito’s birthday on the throne.

All in all, this is a good year for Japan and it’s people. Like New Year’s celebration, the people are welcoming this new era with renewed energy and hope. I, for one, am looking forward to the changes the new imperial leader will bring to this country I consider as my second home. 🙂

*image source:
https://edition.cnn.com/2019/04/30/asia/new-japan-emperor-naruhito-intl/index.html

Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Maiko/Geisha Make-over Experience

Hi! I’m back. I recently got very busy with moving from Aichi to Tokyo. And I also had to do training for my new type of work! Anyways, as promised, here is how you can have your very own Maiko/Geisha Experience in Kyoto.

First off, what is a Maiko/Geisha?

A Geisha is a popular and important part of Japanese culture. They are the women who entertain by performing traditional songs, dance, and art. A Maiko, or apprentice, is considered as the peak of Japanese beauty and femininity. And contrary to popular belief, maiko and geisha are not the Eastern equivalent of prostitutes. They are artists trained to perform and preserve traditional arts.

*photo is not mine*

It takes years of school, training and real-life practice to be promoted from maiko to full-fledged geisha.

Thankfully, you can have a taste of at least a little part of this important heritage through a make-over experience.

*photo is not mine*

Gion Aya Make-over Experience offers ladies of all ages the chance to feel like a traditional geisha or maiko for a few hours. You can check out their website and make your own reservation here.

So, after making and confirming your reservation, you’ll need to arrive at the shop at least 10 minutes before your schedule.

Before the make-over, you’ll have to sign forms (English translation are also written). You will also have to choose at least 4 poses from their guide book. Every season, they offer special poses and props, so make sure to try them at least once.

Next stop will be the dressing room. Undergarments are allowed, but everything else will be put in a locker, including jewelry. Phones and cameras are placed in a small bag you can carry along the stages of the make-over.

They will provide you with a kimono undergarment and a pair of tabi (socks). If you’re a first-timer, there is a poster in the locker showing how to properly wear these clothes. If still unsure, you can ask the staff to help you. They are all very kind and speak English.

tabi

After changing clothes, you will be escorted to the make-up room. One suggestion: try to go to the toilet before this stage – you’ll thank me later. (^_−)☆

In the make-up room, you’ll be introduced to your make-up artist/dresser. In my case, it was Yukiko-san, a kimono-dresser instructor in a nearby school. She can understand and speak English well, so I had no problem with communication.

Yukiko-san gave me two options for make-up which will suit my round face: kawaii (cute) or elegant. We both agreed that softer make-up will look good on my features (round face with small round eyes, full nose, and full lips) so, we opted for kawaii. Turns out it means that I’ll be wearing a lot of pink on my face!

Maiko make-up is quite difficult to explain, but I shall do my best:

  1. Hair was bundled and secured with a mesh net. Since my hair was a bit long, a portion from the front was separated to be used later on the wig.
  2. A layer of wax was first applied to protect the skin. It smelled a bit bad, but it was important so that the skin wouldn’t dry under layers of foundation.
  3. White liquid foundation was applied around the upper face. Even the eyebrows were covered with this foundation. A thin space before the hairline was left as was traditional.
  4. Eye make-up was next. I’m not sure what Yukiko-san used, but there were eye shadows of different shades of pink and red. Then I had to keep my eyes closed while she applied very cold liquid eyeliner.
  5. While waiting for the eyeliner to dry, thinner eyebrow lines were drawn over my original eyebrows. She used a combination of black, brown and red to tie it all in.
  6. Then the rest of the face is covered with the same white foundation (including the lips!). The distinct 3 triangle patterns of a Maiko were also drawn at the back.
  7. To finish everything else, bright red lipstick was applied on the lips. As was in the old time, the bottom lip was fully red, and only a portion of the upper lip was painted. This gave the illusion of fuller bottom lip than I originally had.

The make-up process took about 30-45 minutes at least. There were many layers and retouches as the foundation dries. But I think it was all worth it.

Full disclosure: I am allergic to make-up. But, I really wanted to do this. 😛

After the make-up, the wig is attached next. The wig they gave me was arranged in wareshinobu hairstyle, which was what traditional maiko used to wear on their formal debut. The wig was sewn on the mesh net cover to keep it in place. The front part of the wig was covered by my real hair which was pulled and secured using bobby pins. Yukiko-san had to use a black dye spray to hide the brown streaks of my hair into the wig.

Wig and real hair. Heavy wig.

Of course, true maiko and geisha did not wear wigs. They had really long hair that was arranged into intricate and symbolic styles befitting their status. According to Yukiko-san, maiko/geisha had their hairs styled washed and styled only once a week year-round, and at least thrice a week during summer. The rest of the time, they had to keep their hair up at all times of the day. Talk about dedication!

Finally, it was time to put on the kimono. All I had to do was stand still, while the dresser did everything else. As with the make-up, putting on a formal kimono is an intricate task with lots of layers (literally!):

  1. A half-slip cover was placed on top of the kimono undergarment.
  2. Then a hard collar was attached around the shoulder. This will hold the shape of the kimono later on, and show the triangle marks at the back.
  3. I’m not quite sure what it was called, but layers of padding were wrapped around the waist and secured with strips of cloth.
  4. A thin white kimono with a red and gold collar was worn over everything.
  5. Then the silk kimono (of your choosing) was next. Formal kimono has long sleeves, and the hem goes over the feet. This was also secured with strips of cloth.
  6. A small padded pillow was placed at the back. It will be used to create the drum design of the obi.
  7. Next up is the long (and I mean LOOOONNNGGG) obi. It was wrapped around the waist multiple times and secured at the back. After it was wrapped, we noticed that my body looked straight and flat (I am quite curvy and full-bodied). Yukiko-san joked that to wear a kimono, you have to accept looking flat-chested. LOL!
  8. The long obi was tied at the back over the padding. Then a smaller obi with contrasting design was tied around the waist. Lastly, a decorative belt cord was placed over the obi.
  9. Final touches were the hair ornaments. Since my birth month was February, Yukiko-san suggested plum blossoms pins.
plum-blossom hair ornament

Dressing probably took another 20-30 minutes and I think I was wearing at least 10 layers of cloth after all that. There were certain rules on how to wear formal kimono, like which side to put inside and how to properly fold the excess fabric. Good thing the dressers at Gion Aya are all professionals at this. They will help you select the best style and color of kimono, and dress you up deftly and efficiently.

After dressing, it was time for the professional photographer to take the pre-selected photos. The studio was like a formal teahouse, with extra space for close-up shots.

the cold winter air was blowing through the open window

I admit I am not very good at posing pictures. But with the help of the photographer, Mayumi-san, I think my photos came out quite good. She directed me where to sit, stand and look. It was actually fun!

She took at least a dozen of posed photos and two candid shots. For the package I chose, 4 of those poses were printed, and everything else were saved in an USB device. One candid shot was printed in wallet-size and I was asked to write a message on it. This would be added to their guest book along with all their clients’ photos.

Full formal kimono with teahouse backdrop

After the professional photo shoot, I was given 10 minutes of free time. If I had a companion at that time, maybe we could do our own photo shoot anywhere. But I was by myself, so all I could take was a lot of selfies and videos. Mayumi-san was kind enough to accompany me for a few minutes and took some photos of using my phone. XD

After the free time, another staff helped me to undress all the layers of the kimono. Then I was led to the locker to wash my hair and face. I had to use a lot of baby oil and cotton wipes to completely remove all traces of the thick make-up. I also had to wash my hair over the sink, which was a little uncomfortable.

When I was dressed and back to my old self, I just had to wait for the printed photos and soft copy. In the waiting room, I was accompanied by the other guests’ male companions. Since the guys only need to change clothes into traditional male kimono, they had to wait for their ladies to finish make-up and put on the layered formal kimono (a good hour or so).

It was a funny sight, actually. It was a good thing the waiting room had a lot of outlets and free puzzle games. (^v^)

After I received the printed and soft copies, all that was left was payment. For the package I chose, I spent around ¥15,000 which I paid using credit card. Different packages have different rates, and you can also have other add ons. You can check out Gion Aya’s prices here.

I truly believe that a Kyoto adventure wouldn’t be complete without trying this. And I highly recommend Gion Aya for a greatly memorable experience. This is one of the best moments in my life, and I am really glad I got to do it in my 20s. LOL!

So, don’t forget to include this in your Japan adventure itinerary. 🙂

Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Working in an Office

It’s been 7 years, and I am still working for the same company I’ve started in after I graduated from college. Well… almost the same.

In 2011, I was working at Frontier Intermediary Technology, Inc. (FIT) which is the Philippine-based office for Nishi Tokyo Kensetu, Ltd. (NTK) from Japan. I worked there from May 2011 until March 2017 when my contract was changed to the main office. I had a year of vacation while waiting for my visa documents, but I still went to the office to visit and help from time to time.

March 2018, I finally moved to Nagakute City, Japan (at least for a year). I am now working in another NTK branch office, Nexthouse/Actie. In my mind, the count continues. The company president is still the same, the projects are all familiar, – it’s just that I have new things to learn, and new jobs to do.

Transferring from Manila to Japan office can be quite a culture shock for employees. I remember when I first went to train in NTK in 2012 how I was amazed of the differences between Japanese and Filipino work environment. It was only a 3-month experience, but it left a huge impact on my views about work etiquette.

I have list down below the things I have noticed about working in a Japanese company:

  1. Job hunting starts in college.

During my college days, we had a career seminar day. We were required to wear business formal outfits, and spent the day listening to trained professionals, HR and administrative officers, and even freelancers talk about the “real world”. They gave us tips how to make impressionable resume, and to leave memorable job interviews.

I started looking for a job after I received an interview invitation from a tile company in Makati a month after graduation. Apparently, they’ve sent out letters to all new Interior Design graduates from my school. If it weren’t for that invite, I’d probably took my board exam first, and my life would be different.

But here in Japan, 4th year college students were required to submit resumes to many companies even if they’re still in school. They also have interviews with human resources (HR) or sometimes the mangers themselves. It is no surprise that a student will have several job-offers before graduation.

This doesn’t mean that they don’t have any vacation or respite after studying for so long. But I’ve noticed that Japanese people are hard-workers and rarely likes long breaks. So, they usually have a couple of weeks rest and preparation for transitioning from being students to employees.

  1. Working hours are flexible matter.

When I was in FIT, our initial hours were 8am until 5pm (UTC+8:00). Later, it was changed to 7am to 4pm (UTC+8:00). Regardless, my workload was still the same and I usually go home between 9pm to 11pm. Sometimes, I wished my contract allowed flexible hours. It’s very hard to work for a full after having only 3-4 hours of sleep. I felt like a zombie most of the day.

Most Japanese companies operate between 9am and 6pm (UTC+9:00). I usually wake up at 6am, so I have plenty of time to prepare for the day ahead. Some of our architects and salespersons in the office also do a lot of on-site work. It’s now normal for me to come into the office and find myself almost alone for the whole day. It doesn’t matter if they come in the office or stayed on-site, as long as it was logged in their online schedule, it was counted as work day.

Their rest days also varies during the week. Since I am technically a newbie here, I don’t have that kind of privilege yet. But I’ve noticed that my colleagues would sometimes work 7 days straight, and then have a very long vacation the next week. Attendance is based on how many hours you’ve logged on your online sched for the whole month, and not which days you were present.

  1. Cleaning is a job for everybody.

In the Philippines, a company either have its own maintenance crew, or avails services from professional cleaners. Cleaning is scheduled at night or weekends, when most of the employees are on rest or vacation.

Here, it is everyone’s job to maintain the cleanliness of the office. Even the senior officers do their part on the daily cleaning. I am training to be an Interior Coordinator, but every morning I am responsible in wiping the model house’s floor, and throwing out the trash. Our architects and salespersons vacuum the carpets and tatami, dust the shelves, and fix the displays. Once, I even saw the company president wiping desks and tidying up bookcases!

  1. Greetings are a must – every day!

When I was doing job interviews, I’ve noticed that people in a big company rarely greet each other – unless they’re in the same department or really close friends.

But in a Japanese company, greetings are an important part of communication. At FIT, every employee was taught the basic greetings during their orientation day. Some of the common expressions you’d hear in a Japanese company are:

  • おはようございます! – /ohayou gozaimasu/ – “Good morning!” Morning is anywhere between 6am until 2pm, as I’ve noticed. You can also use this greeting when you see a colleague for the first time for the whole day. It’s totally acceptable.
  • お昼にいっただきます – /ohiru ni ittadakimasu/ – “I’m going/taking my lunch” Weirdly enough, you also need to inform when you are going to take your lunch. Even if you have a べんと (packed lunch) or going out to the canteen, reporting your basic whereabouts is a common thing.
  • 行ってきます・ただいま – /ittekimasu・tadaima/ – “I’m leaving.” “I’m back.” If you are an anime fan, you’re probably familiar with phrases already. The usual response for these are いてらしゃい・おかえりなさい /iterashai・okaerinasai/ “Take care.” “Welcome Back.”

These are normally used at family settings, when someone goes out or comes back home. But, you can also use these in the work environment, especially if you’re only going out for a short period of time. If you are going home, you’ll have to say:

  • お先に失礼します! – /osaki ni shitsurei shimasu/ – “Excuse me for going ahead!” Before you head out of the door, you should say this phrase to your coworkers. It means that you are humble and apologizes for going home first while everyone is still working. It shows that you respect their hard work and dedication.
  • お疲れ様です! – /otsukaresamadesu/ – “Thanks for your hard work!” You’d normally say/hear this at the end of the day, before you go home. But, you can also say this as an alternative to おはようございます if your colleague arrives later in the day. I’ve also experienced exchanging this greeting with 日本人 (Japanese) employees who were working the same building as I was, although not necessarily in the same company.
  1. Open office layout, and desks without clutters.

Honestly, when I was studying design in college, the office layouts I made had lots of walls, and cubicles and separate areas for different things. Also, the perspective views would surely have a lot of cluttered objects on the desks and shelves to make it more realistic.

Japanese employers, or at least my employers, have a different opinion. They don’t like to many objects on an employee’s desk. My desk right now only has a calendar, pencil case and laptop. All other materials are stored away in the pedestal, or boxes under the desks.

The layout is also very simple. Everyone can see each other easily. Even the managers sit amongst the employees. I actually don’t know who is the head officer in our office right now. It may be Udo-san who is sitting in front of me, or Kodaira-san who is sitting four seats away. Udo-san leads the morning assemblies, but attendances are reported to Kodaira-san. XD

So far, those are the things I am currently experiencing as a foreigner working in a Japanese company in Japan. I am thankful that even when I was in the Philippines, our Japanese manager was employing the same system as the one in here. It wasn’t that much of a culture shock for me, fortunately.

Seven years of working in the same company, and I am still learning new things every day. 😊

Have you noticed the same things in your office? Or do you have a different experience as a foreigner working in Japan? Share your stories, and let’s chat!

Talk to you soon!

Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Visiting a Shrine

A trip to Japan is not complete until you’ve visited a shrine or temple.

Japan has two common religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. Both religions have rich cultural and historical importance to Japanese population. There are many similarities and differences between the two religions, but, that is a whole other discussion.

For now, I will explain how a 外人 (foreigner) can enjoy a cultural experience like visiting a shrine.

761
Shrine Gate (鳥居)

It’s common to bow at the main shrine to show respect to the gods. But you’ll notice that 日本人 (Japanese people) tend to bow at shrine gate before entering the sacred grounds. As a foreigner, you are not expected to do the same, but if you do, it means that you appreciate and respect their culture.

Some shrines have bigger grounds and might take you a couple of minutes of walking around before reaching the main building. Others are on a smaller scale, like the one I visited a few weeks ago: 景行天皇社 (Keikotennosha).

Either way, before you approach the 本殿 (sanctuary) you will see a small structure with flowing water. This is the purification area or 手水舎 (temizuya).

755
Purification Area (手水舎)
754

You need to wash before you can present yourself to the gods:

  1. With your right hand, dip the ladle in the fountain. Fill up the ladle, as you can only dip once.
  2. Pour a little bit of water on your left hand. Then switch to your left to wash your right hand.
  3. After both hands are cleansed, pour some water on your cupped left hand. Draw the water to your mouth. DON’T DRINK the water, just swish it inside your mouth and spit out.
  4. Remember to pour and spit out water to the ground. DO NOT MIX USED WATER IN THE CLEAN FOUNTAIN!
  5. Some shrines have hand towels you can use to dry your hands, if there are none, just gently shake your wrists away from the other visitors.

Now that’s done, you can approach the main hall.

756
Approach to Main Hall
757
Main Hall (本殿)

There are signage available near the offertory box that show how you can pray. Most of the time it’s in 日本語 (Japanese), but there are pictures. If you’re still a little confused, here are some guidelines:

  1. Take a picture after you’ve prayed. Show a little respect to the shrine and other worshipers. If photography is not allowed, follow the rules.
  2. You start by dropping coins inside the offertory box. You can donate however much you want, it won’t matter.
  3. Ring the bell by pulling the thick cords above the box. It will make either a loud booming sound, or small tinkering bells. This is to attract the attention of the gods so they could hear your prayer.
  4. Show respect by bowing deeply two times. Take your time for each bow.
  5. Then clap your hands twice as well. Slower and more deliberate claps show greater respect.
  6. Silently say your prayer.
  7. End your worship by bowing once deeply. If you can, pause a bit during your bow before bringing your head back up.

Afterwards, you can leave the main hall and wall around the grounds. You can also buy 絵馬 (ema) which are small wooden plaques wherein you can write your prayer and thanksgiving. It usually costs around ¥500.

758
Ema (絵馬)

Write in English, Nihongo, or any language you want. I even saw some Ema with drawings and sketches.

Afterwards, you can hang the tablets around a sacred tree, or any designated areas around the shrine. You can also buy one and just keep it as a souvenir, but where is the fun in that?

When you leave the shrine, you can also bow at the gate before you go. It’s nice to show respect to the beliefs of other people around you.

And that’s that! You are now ready to explore the different shrines and temples in Japan. Don’t worry if you are still unsure about how to move around a shrine or temple. You can always ask the people working there. They may not speak English, but everyone is extremely kind and helpful. I promise, they’d find a way to help you. 🙂

冒険が待っている!

Posted in JapanLife

JapanLife: Watching a Film in the Cinema

I just want to say that I love Marvel films! My sister and I used to watch last full shows of Marvel movies back home. When I moved to Japan last March, I was worried that I’d be behind with watching the films, since Japan doesn’t really showcase foreign films as much as their local ones.

You wouldn’t believe how happy I was when I found out that my apartment is just 5 minutes away from the mall… with a cinema.. where they play both local and foreign films. 😀

And they screened the latest installment of the Marvel films, Avengers: Infinity War, just one day after it’s international showing!

So, I’m going to explain how a foreigner like me can watch a movie at a Japanese cinema. 🙂

First off, do some research. If you are not too familiar with the Japanese language, you need to go online and search if the film you want to watch is subbed or dubbed. Don’t make the same mistake I did (more on that later).

1

Japanese 映画館 (movie theater) is the same with any other cinemas. It has a counter where you can buy tickets and a concession stand that sells popcorn, soda, and other questionable Japanese snacks. LOL!

There is also a small area with self-service ticketing machines. This is the glaring difference between Japanese and Philippine cinemas (and maybe other western theaters too?) You can buy ticket* and/or claim your online reservation without talking to a single person. An introvert’s dream come true! This way, you can also watch a movie by yourself without anyone judging you. XD

Of course, a movie experience is not complete without popcorn!

3
Regular-sized popcorn (worth ¥550)

The Aeon Cinema where I watched the film offers a variety of snacks. Some are common in any theaters, others are a bit more weird and unusual. Oh, and did I tell you that this big popcorn comes with a 16 ounce peach-flavored soda drink? Yep! It was the “シンゲルセット” (single set). I told you, this place is an introvert’s paradise. 🙂

After you’ve bought your tickets and snacks, and you still have time, you can chill and relax at the cinema lounge while waiting for your film to be called (at least in Aeon Cinema). I waited for at least 20 minutes before they announced that the screen 10’s door is already opened. I bet if my best friend was with me, half her popcorn would already be gone before we even took our seats!

Most cinemas have reserved seating, so you don’t need to get in very early. Just give your ticket to the nice lady at the entrance, find your cinema number, take your seat, and enjoy the show. 🙂

Oh, and about the mistake I did? I didn’t do my research properly. I watched MIB 3 in Hachioji in 2012 with some friends. It was in English, with Japanese subtitles, and I assumed all foreign films are played the same. So, I bought the ticket and didn’t even ask the cashier if the movie is subbed or dubbed. I ended up watching 2 1/2 hours of a Japanese-DUBBED film.

But… I still enjoyed the film. I was able to understand a few snippets of the dialogue (thank you so much Duolingo, LingoDeer, Tandem, and every conversation with my colleagues!) Everything else was body language and context. It was a testament to the skills of the actors in portraying their characters and making a fictional world almost a reality. It could also be because I was obsessed with Marvel films, and I already looked up the million spoilers on the internet. XD

Either way, the movie was great! The whole experience was fun. It was my first time to watch a movie by myself, and I had a MARVELous time (get it???). I can finally cross that off my bucket list!

Next time, I’ll definitely do some Googling first before spending ¥1800 on a movie ticket. XD

*PS: Some theaters have discounts/promos. Check out their websites before purchasing so you could save a few yen.

I watched the last show at Aeon Mall which played at 9:10 pm. Instead of paying ¥1800, I availed the late show discount of only ¥1300. Next time, I might try the other promos. LOL!

Being a 外人 (foreigner) in Japan can be hard sometimes. But you can still enjoy the activities you like to do in your home country. It just takes more diligence and patience than the usual.

If you are a foreigner, like me, hoping to watch the Avengers: Infinity War (subtitled). It’s still screening at Midland Square Cinema in Nagoya. Have fun!