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In episode 2 of the English LingQ Podcast Jahrine is joined by fellow LingQ team member, Eric. Having both lived in Japan, they talk life in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Jahrine: Hello everyone.
And welcome to the English LingQ podcast with me, Jahrine.
I will be speaking to Eric another member of the link team.
Hey Eric, how’s it going?
Eric: I’m good.
How about yourself?
Jahrine: I’m pretty good.
Uh, we thought it would be fun to talk about Japan because both Eric and I .Lived in Japan for a number of years, different times, different places that, um, yeah, an amazing place.
I want to know from you, Eric, what were your reasons for going to Japan?
How long were you there?
Actually, first off, I don’t think I know that.
Eric: I was in Japan for, uh, almost three years, uh, from 2015 to 2018.
Um, yeah, just about three years.
Um, I got my Work Holiday Visa and I just, uh, jumped on a plane and went to Tokyo.
Jahrine: Oh, nice.
Tokyo, the place to be.
What were you doing there?
Eric: So after getting the Work holiday Visa, that meant I was able to work in Japan.
However, I didn’t have a job lined up.
So when I first got to Japan, I lived in Tama, um, which is in Tokyo, but it’s in the outsk… uh, outskirts of Tokyo.
And I found a teaching job, uh, took me about six weeks.
Um, I found a teaching job in a nearby local station, still outside the main center of Tokyo.
And I started teaching and I did that for about a year and a bit.
Um, so it was quite an experience I was used to being in Tokyo in the center of Tokyo when I visited before, but living outside, near Tama, um, it was, uh, it was cool to see, uh, more of the local side of the busiest city in Japan.
What kind of age ranges were you teaching when you were teaching there?
Eric: So it was a private school and it was more of a conversation um, I guess class.
So I would have a variety of students from… I’d have one class that was quite young, maybe seven or eight.
Um, and then I would have some other classes that were probably high school students.
They were around high school.
Um, and then there were adults, so it had quite a mix.
Um, but for the most part, I would say, eh, half of it was kind of like a classroom setting.
The other half was just conversation.
So like an eikaiwa type…
It was a really small, uh, school.
So we only had, uh, maybe, uh, at a time, like two or three classes going on at once.
Jahrine: Okay. And what did you do after, after the teaching?
So a year and a half of teaching.
So while I was teaching, I found a internship at a startup in more of the center of Tokyo.
So they were located in Ebisu and I joined them.
I was still teaching because my teaching was part-time it wasn’t full-time so I still had a day or two to work at this internship.
Um, and that’s kind of where I started transitioning into, uh, out of teaching.
And I did that internship and taught, uh, for probably about a year.
Um, and then after that, I was able to find a full-time job at a design company in Shibuya and, uh, Yeah, it was pretty cool.
It was short-lived, I mean, I only lasted four months.
Not because of my bad, uh, bad.
No, I didn’t get fired or anything.
I don’t think.
But, uh, I got, yeah, I got super lucky because it was, um, what happened was, um, I was hired to do, uh, help with the content of a project that this company was working on.
But the manager of this project was my boss that hired me and ended up quitting.
And so the project was pretty much cut and I was just there.
I would come to work and I would just sit there and do absolutely nothing, get paid was great.
I mean in Japan, you can’t really get fired.
What they try and do is, well, they didn’t do this to me, but there’s stories that people have tried or companies will isolate you until you probably find uh, find something new or just can’t take it anymore.
I don’t know.
It’s kind of interesting.
It’s kind of a, you can read about it online, but for me in my, in my case, um, it wasn’t anything like that.
I just had nothing to do.
Um, I would come to work, but this was actually.
Uh, three months in.
So I was doing work for the first three months, the last month when, um, I was, uh, uh, just didn’t have a project to do.
I was looking for a new job and I got really lucky.
I found a job fairly quickly, full-time at a startup that, um, that created the Ili Translator device, which is a hardware product.
Um, and yeah, within a few weeks I got out of the previous company and jumped into the new company full-time so yeah, the transition was quite, uh, it wasn’t so bad.
I was kind of lucky that I just kept looking every day to, uh, to find a new job.
Jahrine: So that’s interesting.
You did, you did the teaching thing, which is what a lot of foreigners do when they go to Japan and then you moved into tech.
That’s um… I don’t know.
I don’t, I mean, I, I taught in Japan for three years and I don’t know if, I don’t know if anyone, everyone I know basically who stayed in Japan or was in Japan, they were teaching.
That was it.
That’s the main, the main occupation.
But that’s interesting.
So I want to ask you then, because as you were working for a tech company, one of the things that I was most surprised by when I went to Japan was, you know, Japan has this, kind of people think it’s a very technologically advanced place and in many ways it is.
But I think one of the things I was surprised by is how, in other ways it isn’t.
So as an example, uh, when I was teaching, I had to fax my kind of like a time sheet every week, the end of every week on a Friday from my high school that I taught at, I had to fax in my time sheet with my personalized hanko, which is like a stamp with your name on it.
And that blew me away that I was, I’d never faxed before.
So I had to learn how to use a fax machine.
I thought nobody used fax machines anymore, but they’re actually.
Well, they’re quite widespread in Japan.
I don’t know about now.
I left to Japan in 2012, but, um, what are some things that surprised you about, uh, about Japan when you got there?
When you worked there?
Eric: Yeah, the hanko, the stamp was kind of interesting.
I think they’re trying to get rid of it.
Um, the government is because it’s like, and my opinion is just a major inconvenience in some sense.
I mean, I think it’s cool, but I also think that, uh, I mean, it’s okay.
It’s not bad.
It’s what it is.
It’s uh, it’s part of the culture.
So in terms of old technology, yeah, they use faxes.
Um, personally, I didn’t see too much of that though.
Um, the company. I mean the school I worked at, um, we just had a set schedule because it was so small that we just did everything in-house.
They just printed out sheets and you would just put in your schedule on Excel.
Um, and then the design company was more, uh, forward thinking.
Um, so they didn’t have anything like that, that I saw.
Um, and the hardware, a hardware company that last company I worked at.
Um, to be honest, didn’t really do…maybe they did some faxing, but in terms of what I had to do, it didn’t involve any old technology really that I can think of.
But in terms of, yeah.
Technology-wise yeah, they still use fax machines.
It feels like Japan yeah, they’re high-tech in Tokyo, but in some sense, they’re stuck in the eighties in some way, like, uh, because they, they advanced so fast in the eighties during the, I guess the bubble period that, um, they kind of just, I think stopped innovating in some sense.
Um, but maybe they don’t really need to, I don’t know.
The trains are all excellent.
Jahrine: very true.
Eric: But yeah, but yeah, I don’t think I don’t.
Yeah, I can’t off the top of my head.
I just thought Tokyo did things really conveniently.
Like when you go to a restaurant, you don’t have to sit down and place your order,
you can put a, uh, punch in your order through a ticket machine at most fast food restaurants.
That’s, that’s really helpful.
Um, the Compass Pass the, uh, I forget the… the Suica I think it’s called, um, yeah, the card that you use to ride trains that was convenient.
Um, you don’t have to, you can just charge your card and you can just go and hop on.
Um, yeah, but in terms of the old technology, nothing really stood out so much.
Uh, but I guess it just depends where you work.
Jahrine: Yeah, for sure.
How about the language then, uh, for you?
Did you learn any Japanese before you went, did you study while you were there?
I know you’re studying now on LingQ.
Doing really well.
Eric: Oh, um, so yeah, when I went to Japan, I didn’t speak any Japanese really.
I, I knew like some words, but no, I didn’t speak anything.
Um, and when I was there, I didn’t study at all.
I did not.
It’s kind of funny.
Like I did not, I don’t know when I came into, when I went to Japan, I didn’t think I would be there longterm.
Like I was like, okay.
Two to three years, which is why I didn’t study.
Um, because I was just focused on looking for a job and that took off.
Took some time.
And then when I was working, I just wanted to hang out with friends and check out Japan for what it is.
Um, so I didn’t really have time to study.
I didn’t have the motivation actually.
I did… all my friends spoke English.
I didn’t really have a need to speak Japanese.
Jahrine: And you were in Tokyo where lots of Japanese people speak English too, I guess.
Eric: Yeah if there’s enough English to go to get around, um, Uh, just because, yeah, it was a short term kind of goal.
If I were to live there for, I don’t know, five plus years.
I probably would have studied, but, um, at the time, no, I didn’t start studying until I joined LingQ, which is when I got back from Japan…
Jahrine: So when you got back.
Yeah, I, um, I didn’t really study before I left for Japan and I did study while I was there.
Um, And then a bit when I got back, but not anymore.
I really would.
I never really got to a comfortable, conversational level, but I can understand quite a bit.
And I love the language.
I think it is such a beautiful kind of melodic language.
I love watching Japanese movies and TV shows still.
I do need subtitles.
Um, but yeah, it’s a, it’s a really cool language.
Um, how is your language, your Japanese study going now?
Eric: Oh, it’s good.
So, um, yeah, no, I’m conversational now.
I would say, um, I can read, uh, quite a bit of material.
It’s going to take me a long time to get comfortable though.
I think reading, I really want to get better at reading.
It just takes time.
I read podcasts, which is my favorite kind of content, because it feels like the person’s talking to you and you’re learning a lot of, uh, everyday, uh, vocabulary.
So I like, I I’ve read a couple novels.
Uh, they can be quite difficult, like 20% of the words are unknown.
So I’m just doing a lot of, uh, LingQing on LingQ.
I could just look up words.
If I can find a novel, that’s not too difficult, but just enough.
I found one.
Um, and I went through that and I read that novel.
It was the first novel I read and it was, it was good.
Uh, I understood pretty much what was going on.
You just get a ton of new words that pop up to you.
But, um, of course when you read a novel, it’s a little bit different how then, uh, compared to when you speak.
So that’s why I would say podcasts with transcripts and YouTube channels with a transcripts as well.
I think are the absolute best.
I mean, when someone’s picking a topic and they just stick cause they stick to the topic too.
So you, you get a really good understanding.
While in novels, I found sometimes when you’re starting out, it’s a little bit difficult to see who’s talking.
When there are several people in the story and the conversation.
So, um, but it’s, uh, instead of novels, I found manga, uh, to be quite useful.
I don’t read it as much now, but you get pictures and that really helps a lot to understand what’s going on.
So, um, novels to me is probably a little bit, uh, towards the intermediate level.
Um, but yeah, no, I would say, uh, yeah, I’ve been studying for, I don’t know, two years, but it’s probably like 1200 hours I put in, um, I think 2000 hours and I will be quite okay.
Um, but I don’t really think like that.
I just keep doing it.
So I’d like to go back to Japan.
It’s probably one of the main reasons why I really want to go back to Japan, um, is because I can actually use the language now and it’s just going to be a, quite a different experience.
So it’s like, that’s my motivation.
Um, I had no motivation to study when I was in Japan, but once you, once you get to a certain level and you just start being able to understand.
Well, my case, the more I was able to understand, the more I wanted to learn.
So cause you get more content, you can start understanding.
What, uh, I think a lot of people listening maybe will be, are interested in Japanese culture or maybe learning Japanese.
So what some of the podcasts you mentioned just now that you’re listening to mainly podcasts, what are some that jump to mind?
The, your favorite content?
Eric: So there’s a podcast called let’s talk in Japanese.
That’s a really good one.
There’s uh, transcripts as well.
Um, there is a YouTube channel called Sayuri Saying she’s a good teacher.
She makes videos on a variety of topics and she has her own transcripts in the YouTube clos captions.
So those two, I would start off.
Um, they’re not for beginners, like they are late-stage beginners because they’re a hundred percent in Japanese.
Once you learn hiragana, katakana and some Kanji, I would say after three, four months, those podcasts are quite helpful.
Um, and then after that you could get into a little bit more advanced podcasts.
Um, there’s a lot out there.
Um, but for the most part, those two let’s talk in Japanese and Sayuri Saying they’re quite good.
Jahrine: Okay, excellent.
I will put, um, I’ll put the links to those in the description so people can check them out.
So you’ve been away from Japan now… you left in 2018, did you say?
Eric: Yes, I left in 2018.
So what, uh, what are you missing most about Japan?
Eric: Um, the food’s really good.
The food is excellent in Japan, I would say, well, I know because of the Corona situation, this doesn’t really apply right now, but going out and going to a lot of restaurants at night, um, I know right now everything closes earlier because of the virus situation.
But, uh, once that’s over, I mean, Japan is going to go back to how it was before that.
And I really like, you can pretty much get lost and have a good time in Tokyo.
Um, Tokyo is an interesting place.
It’s kind of like its own world.
And in every station, there are a variety of different places you can go check out, um, around the station.
Um, every station has its own world.
I would say, just from street culture to, um, beer culture, to anime culture, you get different experiences and there’s something for everyone.
I would say for sure.
Jahrine: I always felt pretty overwhelmed.
I lived in Sendai, which isn’t, which is in the Northeast of Japan.
And, um, you know, it’s like, I think it’s a population of around 2 million.
So nothing on Tokyo.
I always found, felt quite overwhelmed when I went to Tokyo.
I loved it, but I felt that I could only be there for a couple of days and then I needed to go back to my kind of semi-country city up there… I thought Sendai was the perfect size anyway, but um, yeah, I have to agree with you with the food.
I really miss the food and not just restaurants.
I talk about this with my husband all the time, who I met in Japan, in Sendai.
Um, we miss the Seven Eleven bento boxes.
This is, you know, a plastic bento box and some rice and some, whatever, you know, little fried pork and all kinds of little treats and it’s delicious.
And it’s so cheap.
And I think I ate that, those for dinner a lot on my way home from teaching when I was teaching at night, especially, um… yeah.
I really, really miss the food.
food’s great… yeah.
Luckily in Vancouver we get a good variety of sushi.
Jahrine: We do.
That’s that’s very true.
Um, I live in North Vancouver.
There’s a sushi place down the street that I could walk to and it’s-Japanese-run and it is just like being in Japan.
I’m really fortunate for that.
Eric: And speaking of the, yeah, the convenience stores they’re open 24/7.
For those that don’t know they’re open 24/7.
You can buy anything.
You can buy alcohol, which is insane to me.
Um, coming from Vancouver, you can, um, yeah, and then they have the, quite a big selection.
They have those giant jugs of sake, which look like giant water bottle, like for the water containers.
It’s pretty funny.
300 yen bottles of wine… it was terribly.
You know, straight out, fresh out of university when I went there, didn’t have any money.
So our weekends were fuelled, my friends and I, by these 300, I think they were called Mon Frere
Eric: oh, that sounds very, that sounds very high end.
Jahrine: It was, you had a hangover the next day after that, but 300, 300 yen.
What is that in Canadian?
Eric: That’s about um, that’s like $3 American, so like $3.50.
Jahrine: For a bottle of wine.
I saw the one cup sake, which is like a dollar tastes like gasoline when you drink it.
Me and my friends we were… like we were just doing a few of those in the beginning, but then we just stopped because it was, it was not good.
Um, and then I was going to say the Chu-Hi, the strong zero, the infamous drink for those who’ve been to Japan, probably know.
Did you ever have a strong zero?
I had one, but I knew about it prior.
I don’t, I stay away from them.
They’ll they’ll just, they’ll give you a bad hangover and you see a lot of young people drink them.
Cause they’re so cheap, but they’re just packed with sugar.
Jahrine: It’s so sweet.
It’s basically like, yeah.
It’s Alco pop.
Jahrine: Times a million.
Super, super sweet.
That’s a huge drinking culture in Japan.
I can think of, I think you see the images of people passed out in the streets, the salary, man, I know you’re living in Tokyo.
You must’ve seen this.
I, one image comes to mind for me in Sendai.
I remember walking home at the early hours of the morning, one Friday, Saturday night.
And there was a man in a suit, a salary man.
And he had his McDonald’s bag and he had his milkshake just kind of propped to his chin and a little, little trickle down his chin.
And he was fast asleep and his, you know, his wallet, his keys, his phone are on him, I imagine.
I don’t remember seeing them… totally safe.
Nobody called the calls the police or anything.
It’s just, it’s just a hardworking salary man having a good night out.
He’s deserved it, passed out drunk in the street.
That is another thing that surprised me, actually, about Japan.
I don’t know if you knew about that before you went there.
Eric: Oh, well, I’ve been in Japan a couple of times before, so I’d seen it already.
So when I moved there, it didn’t.
It was just something I’ve already seen, but no, yeah.
It’s pretty funny.
If for those who don’t know, you can check it out on, you can just Google there’s an Instagram page called the Shibuya Meltdown.
And I think they’re just pictures of salary men.
Just, just, uh, from a long night.
So it’s, it’s it’s yeah, that’s another thing it’s just.
It just goes with the territory and it’s quite safe in Japan.
So you can kind of leave your wallet out and no one’s gonna take it.
Um, hopefully, but, uh, yeah.
Jahrine: Yeah, it’s happened.
I had a friend who dropped, um, her purse and I think hours later we went back and someone had just put it on a little wall next to it where she dropped it.
It’s…so, so safe.
I mean, it’s not… also had a bike stolen from outside my apartment.
My husband did, but, um, but I’d like to tell the story of that.
The police were incredible.
Um, so the bike was left outside.
We reported it.
The police came.
For a stolen bike.
Now, two police officers, they came in and they asked us questions.
They took measurements outside our apartment.
I’m not really sure what that was all about.
They drove us to the police station and asked more questions and then they took it really, really seriously.
So yeah, it is a really safe, it’s a safe culture.
And when there is a crime it’s taken seriously.
Bikes get stolen actually often.
That’s what I thought.
Uh, when I was there, they get misplaced.
Um, and also when you have a bike, one thing that I learned the hard way is you gotta make sure to park, in the designated areas, my bike got, I guess, towed, you could say so many times that I had to go pay a fee, pick it up.
I ended up realizing that by one of the stations where I would drop off my bike there’s underground parking just for bikes.
That’s always something to look for.
Um, it’s cheap and you can leave it there overnight.
Um, but, um, yeah, if you have a bike, just make sure you can’t leave… just make sure you don’t leave it on the street, um, or anywhere for a long period of time.
Otherwise there’s people that will come and just snatch it from you and you’ll have to find out.
Then you’ll have to find out where it is and it’s usually at a different station and then you have to go and pick it up and pay a about 6,000 yen.
I think that’s how much it costs.
Jahrine: That’s quite expensive.
Eric: It’s yeah.
Especially if you do it several times, like I did.
Yeah, not fun.
Yeah, I guess
Jahrine: with so many bikes, because there are lots of bikes, uh, in the cities, in Japan and just everywhere in Japan, there have to be solid rules.
Otherwise it’ll just be a mess.
The Japanese love rules.
Eric: The rules.
Everything is…there’s so many examples, but yeah, you just got to be quiet on the train.
I had one guy, he just smacked my phone, even though I probably shouldn’t have been talking, but he just was like, I was like, Oh man.
Yeah, just an old, pissed off.
Uh, I don’t know how old he was, but yeah, on the, on the train foreigners, don’t realize you need to put your phone on manner mode.
Um, and, uh, What other rules are there?
There everyone stands on one side, uh, when you’re going up the stairs.
Well, it’s kind of like here, but they follow it more rigorously.
And, um, what other rules are there.
There’s just so many different rules, like lining up is very, uh, taken seriously.
So you got to make sure you’re in the right spot at the right time.
Um, And things like that.
Jahrine: don’t tip taxi drivers.
I learned that the hard way.
Eric: Oh really?
You can tip, well, you don’t have, you can tip, but you’re not, it’s not a culture thing.
I, well, I went to, I visited in 20… 2008.
No, no, no, no.
I went in 2008.
It must have been 2006.
So I did a Tokyo trip and then two years later, I moved there to live for three years.
And I remember, uh, going into a cab for the first time in Tokyo and then trying to tip the cab driver.
And he was just very confused and then kind of annoyed and I felt terrible.
I didn’t know any Japanese and I was.
I feel like I should have known that before I went, but I didn’t.
So that’s kind of a good tip if any…
anyone is planning to visit Japan or live in Japan for sure.
Um, also, uh, what else, what are the tips would you give visitors or people who would like to live in Japan?
To live in
Um, make sure you have an understanding of certain processes, like opening a bank.
It was so weird.
You have ti open a bank, but to open a bank you need a cell phone and to get a cell phone, you to open a bank.
So yeah, figure that one out.
I tell people research.
I was lucky.
I had a friend that translated everything.
Some of the other things, if you’re there long-term is moving is, can be quite a bit of a hassle because you need to tell… you need to walk.
So speaking of you were saying fax machines, here’s something that I found quite annoying was.
You can’t email the city to say, you’re moving to another city.
You need to go there in person and fill out all these forms within 14 days.
So you always have to go in person to do certain things.
Um, and even if you’re moving from one place to another, that’s quite a ways away.
You still, I found you still had to go.
So just make sure those things are, uh, something you’ve researched, moving, changing jobs.
Um, health insurance.
Um, and I would say those are the, kind of the things that I learned while there, I didn’t really do much research.
I just went once I got my visa, um, it worked out in the end, but, um, uh, if you don’t have someone or you don’t speak Japanese, I would say, just look online.
Um, and also one other thing that it wasn’t really a problem.
It was just really annoying once I got back to figure out was, uh, when you leave… well in Canada, for instance, when you mov to Japan, you need to declare to the CRA that you’re not a resident anymore.
And I never did that.
So my taxes were, I had a lot of questions with taxes, but it was all fine in the end.
Um, But I would just make sure prior to that prior to moving to Japan, if you’re in Canada or whatever country, just let the, uh, tax agency, your government tax agency, uh, know that you’re going to be a resident in Japan.
Um, so that those are just like some of the major things that I would look into otherwise.
Uh, there’s, there’s a lot of surprises in Tokyo that, uh, That will just happen.
But for the most part, you can find a lot of answers online.
It’s easy now.
Especially now yeah , lots of blogs and podcasts and all kinds of things.
Well, I think we could talk for a really long time on
We have had lots of experiences, but we’ll stop it there.
And, um, Yeah.
If anyone listening, um, or watching, if you’re watching on YouTube has any fun stories from a visit to Japan, or if you live there, please let us know in the comments.
And also if anyone has any tips on good content as if you’re learning Japanese.
As Eric mentioned some podcasts, um, maybe have some, you know, some good YouTube channels.
It’s always good to share the content.
Uh, so you can pop that in the description as well.
Uh, thank you very much, Eric.