Things I missed about Japan

I spent almost 2 full months in South Korea before going back to Japan to obtain a certain Korean working visa, and realized while being in Korea, and when arriving back in Japan of several things I missed about Japan.

  1. The Food
    • I mean who doesn’t love Japanese food! Tonkatsu, Tonkotsu Ramen, Curry Rice, Yaki Udon…
  2. The Culture
    • I had gotten so damn used to how polite the Japanese have to be, and how polite they simply are, that I started to see it as the “norm.”  What I mean by the “norm,” is that now I compare every other culture to the Japanese, as well as to American too, but that defeats the purpose.
  3. The Language
    • Although I spoke some Japanese during my stay in Busan – it was not the same as talking with my Japanese friends in person and being able to use the Kansai dialect without having to concern myself with the other person not understanding it.  I mean, the language was the reason why I went to Japan in the first place!
  4. The Country
    • I was quite emotionally devastated during my last few days in Kyoto before I left for Busan, but I didn’t let it show! (not sure if that’s something I should be proud of or not…) But let’s think about this for a second – why was I feeling that way?  Was it because I didn’t want to separate from my friends?  No, it was simply the fact that I love the city of Kyoto and was sad to be leaving it after 1.3 years of living there.  And then I came back to Japan, and realized that Japan really is apart of me!  When sitting at the train station waiting for the train, I noticed myself feeling happy from just looking at the scenery in front of me; I’ve grown very fond of how Japan has developed their infrastructure and cities.  I found myself feeling the same way as I gazed upon the view from the top of Namba’s Park of Osaka city…
  5. The Order
    • Dare I say it…I actually missed how structured everything is!  It may be because of how unorganized a certain organization is here in South Korea, but it does make a significant difference for the organization, its members, and others directly and indirectly influenced by it.  Structure is necessary for organization, for society to be civil, and it comforts those afraid of risk, danger, and unknown potential and hazardous things.

I’m sure the same can be said about many other countries and their respective cultures, but do you have any similar experiences with Japan?  Let me know!

Bicycle Tips (Kyoto, Japan) Part 2

May be common-sense, may not be, either way I think these are significant to know before hopping on a bicycle in Kyoto or in any city in Japan!  And if you missed the first part.

  1. Try avoiding main roads as they are usually the most crowded; it may be difficult if you are only visiting Kyoto and won’t be able to get to know it well enough to use the side and back streets, but the downtown area is grid-like so if you know where north is, you’ll be fine!
  2. Do not hold an umbrella, talk/text on the phone, listen to music while riding the bicycle – it can lead to a fine.  I know a few months ago, the police started cracking down on riders whom were listening to music while riding their bicycle as it appears it was the main cause of many accidents.  The other two are not really enforced from what I’ve seen thus far, and I do not condone such actions!
  3. If you noticed certain traffic light patterns already, do not go assuming it is the same all throughout Kyoto, or Japan!  It is best to wait for the light to turn green.
  4. Take into consideration that as you go further north in the city of Kyoto, there is an incline making it a little bit tougher to ride than when going south.  Once I rode for 1 hour from the northeast part of Kyoto to the southwest part, and then from there to the southeast to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷神社), and finally from there all the way back up north; I must say, it was dreadful!  That’s around 10km with an incline, for me at the time, it was considered vigorous and not fun.
  5. It is illegal to ride your bicycle on the main roads in the downtown area; this includes sidewalks as well as the roads.  Policemen are usually on the lookout in this area so it is best to avoid it altogether and if anything simply try researching a path consisting of small back roads prior to leaving the house.

Just be careful!  Although the Japanese are known to obey the rules and laws to a T, they actually do not all do!

Can’t buy the JR Pass?

You’ve got some sort of long-term visa in Japan and thus ineligible for the JR pass – what are your options?

  • Airplanes
  • Buses
  • Trains

Airplanes
You can use your typical flight arrangement websites to set you up, but if you aren’t made of money then you’ll might want to look into budget airlines in Japan.  This is a news article for 2012 and thus a bit outdated but it comes in handy.  These budget airlines are always providing promotions, sales, and the initial ticket price is usually extremely cheap, and thus difficult to obtain.  It may be worth to subscribe to their promotional emails.

Buses
There are many kinds of buses available to travel within Japan, but I would like to briefly mention just one specific kind for travelers on a budget.  Overnight buses (夜行バス / yakou basu) are generally cheaper than airplane tickets but sometimes budget airline ticket prices are cheaper than these overnight buses.  Many people rely on overnight buses and therefore the prices increase due to that demand and you’ll especially see this for weekends; if you can, it would be best to look to take these overnight buses on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday.  Since you’ve probably lived in Japan for some time now, you probably noticed that there are some shops around selling a lot of tickets to crowds of people at a time; these places hold tickets for overnight buses as well!

Trains
Obviously you can pay an arm and a leg for a bullet train (新幹線 / shinkansen) or you can take the normal trains at the respective fixed prices, or you can purchase a Youth 18 Ticket (精神18切符 / seishin jyuuhachi kippu)!  Japan Guide has loads of information on this useful and amazing opportunity.  But to answer a few FAQs that might have popped up into your mind:

  • Anyone can purchase this ticket!  Yes, that includes people younger and older than 18…
  • It costs around 12,000 yen (<$120) and may be used up to 5 times (5 days, once used that day, you can continue using it as much as you want that day without consequence).
  • Only available 3 times a year – corresponds to the school’s vacation periods.
  • You may purchase as many tickets as you want.
  • You may share the ticket with other people.
  • If used at 11pm and then again during the same night at 12am, it will count as TWO times as it resets at midnight – in other words you can use it the same day from 12am to 11:59pm.
  • Can be purchased at any JR office.
  • These tickets are not meant to be inserted into the regular gateways but rather to be inspected by a clerk next to the gateways.
  • This ticket limits you to certain trains, local (普通電車 / futsuu densha) and rapid trains (快速電車 / kaisoku densha).  What does this mean?  It will take longer, sometimes much much longer, to get to your desired destination.  For example it took me 3 full days of traveling from Kyoto (京都) to reach the southern most port city in Hokkaido (北海道), Hakodate (函館).  Also took me the same amount of time from Kyuushuu’s Kagoshima (九州・鹿児島) to Kyoto.

For more information, I would always recommend Japan Guide and Wikitravel.

Black Burgers

You’ve probably already seen many posts that surfaced on your Facebook news feed, Twitter, or some other social media network, but the Burger King in Japan released 2 black burgers for a limited time.  Yeah, it sounds nasty doesn’t it!?  It actually wasn’t that bad to be honest.  But I could definitely live without it; one time was enough.  I mean it’s a black whopper but because of the subtle differences, it doesn’t taste like a whopper; just doesn’t have the whopper effect.

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Ingredients

“To achieve the black coloring, Burger King dyed the buns and cheese with bamboo charcoal and mixed the meat with black pepper.”

“Bamboo charcoal-infused black buns and cheese…Chaliapin (sauce) and to which Burger King has added squid ink into to turn pitch-black.”

Black Pearl
The Black Pearl.  Sounds like it came from Disney’s the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series.  Although the name is quite appealing, the taste on the other hand is not quite up to par.  And let’s not even get started with its appearance!  Looks like an alien from AVP popped it right out… Anyways, the black buns and cheese flavor was quite subtle.  I must say that BK Japan did a great job with that otherwise this would’ve been unbearable to eat.  The sauce was a bit stronger and was apart of every single bite.  With that being said, it was not overwhelming at all.  And I dislike squid ink, so that should count for something.  I read that there was black pepper in the beef patties but didn’t particularly realize it; maybe the sauce masked it.  Well for alien vomit, this was not so bad!

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Black Diamond
This burger is just the Black Pearl but with onions, tomatoes, and lettuce.  And it costs about $2 more!  But at least it came with a free Coke (limited promotion apparently)!  I only wanted to get this burger but I felt that I would receive some criticisms from a cousin of mine that challenged me.  So I walked into the BK on Sanjo in Kyoto and ordered the Black Pearl, just the hamburger, and the Black Diamond with the Coke.  The cashier questioned with concerned eyes and reconfirmed my order; either because the two burgers are essentially the same, with the exception of the vegetables, or because I ordered 2 burgers and that’s not quite the norm here in Japan.  Enough jibber-jabber.  This burger was tastier than the Pearl.  Maybe it’s because of the veggies that made it healthier and subconsciously made me think it tasted better.  If you look closely, you’ll see that they also add mayo to this burger.  The mix was interesting to say the least.  Can’t quite describe it, but completely understand if people were unable to eat it because of the mix.  To me, it seemed like they balanced out, but with a weird subtle aftertaste.  So I’m guessing this was the result of a health-conscious alien…

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In related news, McDonald’s has also released their own version of the black burger for Halloween.  Unfortunately it is only available at selected locations in Tokyo, but that’s only for the time being.  I think I can grow another pair and try McDonald’s version if it came to Kyoto.

Fun fact: the Japanese say McDonald’s as ma-ku-doh-na-roo-doh.  Personally I prefer Mickey D’s.  Note how the “‘s” is very important here.

So, do you have what it takes to ingest an alien’s vomit?  Let me know!

Getting Around Kyoto, Japan

Planning a trip to Kyoto City?  Pondering how you should get around the city?  Let me break it down for you.

  • Bicycles are easy, cheap, healthy, and the best way to see and get around Kyoto.  Kyoto City is not that large and you can easily get from one point to the other without getting lost.  It is also not that small where you can just simply walk everywhere.  C’mon, experience how it’s like to be a local in Kyoto City and hop onto a bicycle and ride with the wind!
  • Public transportation is largely available, useful and decently priced.  It can be very confusing and overwhelming, especially if you are not used to any other large city’s public transportation systems.  Can be quite costly, but there are various kinds of passes to help you save your money during your trip here.
  • A car is not necessary in Kyoto.  The traffic is not bad so it’s ok if you decide on getting a car, but it really isn’t necessary.  There are many parking lots available; some for a fee, some for free.  Why not spare some gas and hop onto a bicycle and break a sweat!

If I had to paint a picture for you, picture this: you are riding a bicycle through Kyoto, along a river, along a beaten path, breathing the beautiful air, seeing traditional structures, awing at the urban downtown center.  Or, picture yourself staring at maps, checking the internet for directions every hour, getting on the wrong bus/train, transferring at the wrong station, accidentally missing your stop, amongst commuting crowds.  Or, you can also picture yourself seeing Kyoto from the other side of a window on a road/street rather than on the sidewalks, riversides, etc.

There you go!  How to get around Kyoto City in a nutshell.  A more detailed post on Kyoto’s modes of transportation is on the way!

5 Bicycle Tips (Kyoto, Japan) Part 1

There’s no doubt that the best transportation option for getting around Kyoto is by a bicycle!

For that purpose, here are 5 tips to keep in mind.

  1. You obviously do not need a license to ride a bicycle, but what you do need is to register your bicycle when purchasing it either new or second-handedly.
  2. If there are no bicycle lanes on the sidewalks, ride on the side closest to the street.  Remember that the traffic is the opposite way so try to pass on the right.
  3. You are legally required to stay on the left side of the streets.  You may notice many Japanese do not exactly obey this, but I recommend trying your best to.
  4. Bicycles are legally treated as vehicles therefore the penalties are graver than you would imagine.  Thus, it’s best if you obeyed the lights and other traffic regulations.
  5. You cannot park your bicycle just anywhere you wish.  Bicycles are a huge part of the Kyoto lifestyle and therefore there are places to avoid parking your bicycle at so as to maximize traffic flow and minimize accidents.  These no parking or no standing spots are clearly marked by signs so be sure to double-check the area before deciding to park your bike there.  If you do happen to park in such a spot, the police may confiscate it and transport it elsewhere.  If you were that unlucky, check the nearest no parking sign to check where the location is and head there to pick it up.  You will be fined at least $20.  I heard that some places where you can rent bicycles from reimburse you, but you should re-confirm that before renting and relying on that piece of info.

And that’s it for now!  Look forward to the following 5 tips as I’m sure there will be at least 5 more!

In the meantime, what do you think about the bicycle registration regulation in Japan?  Do you think it’s ridiculous?  Let me know!

KICL – 3 cons

Update: I graduated from KICL yesterday! Not exactly graduated, but I finished my year of Japanese language studies yesterday! It was a long and short experience, and will be remembered forever; only the experiences, the language on the other hand… who knows, I’m not the brightest after all!

Anyways, down to business.  But if you didn’t catch the 3 pros post yet, click here.

As I’ve obtained from my business experience, the following are 3 “opportunities” that KICL needs to focus on.

  1. Information
  2. Target Audience
  3. Common Sense

Information
The school is known not to give a heads up regarding events, deadlines, and information in general; whether it pertains to classes, the school, exams, etc.

There have been too many times when I or other students had to move our own schedules around simply to accommodate the school.

For example, my friend had appointments and meetings for the next following few days when the school suddenly announced that in 2 days they will be holding a mandatory health examination.  Another example is when I had to inform my part-time job a month in advance that I may have to miss a day of work because the school doesn’t know when the graduation ceremony will be held. Shouldn’t the school know when and where the graduation ceremony is taking place months in advance?  Well, I think they should!  At least the date, then the time, and then the location.  Anyways, I know that I’m not alone in this as many other students have complained about it in the past.

Target Audience
Moving on to the target audience.  Now if you’ve ever been in Japan for more than a couple of days, I’m sure you realized that there are a lot of Chinese speaking tourists, visitors, and/or students in Japan.  And that is because there are!  This also applies to KICL.  The majority of students are without a doubt, Taiwanese.  There’s nothing wrong with them, it’s the school!  The school is so geared towards this target audience, that it simply leaves the others in the dark.  Now, the school and their teachers are improving but I still say that there is a need for more progress.  So what am I really getting at?  Kanji, Chinese characters.  The school briefly touches upon them in their lessons, and it’s 99% self-study.  Now what does that mean for someone from the west?  It means a shitload of confusion!  I’m Asian American, however I do not know an ounce of Chinese.  So how did I start studying Kanji?  I did what many do; repetition and memory.  Is that the best way?  Absolutely not.  Is that how Japanese students learn Kanji as they grow up?  Apparently so.  What I’m saying is that they do not teach you how to study Kanji, you have to learn it on your own.  In addition to that, the teachers often write new vocabulary on the white boards with the Kanji.  That’s nice, but what about the reading of the Kanji?  Do you expect us to look up the Kanji in our dictionaries while you continue on with the lesson and then wonder if we’re paying attention?  We not only have to look up the Kanji in the dictionary but have to waste time trying to write the Kanji in order to find it in the dictionary!  Why not save us all the trouble and write it on the board as well!  This of course differs from teacher to teacher.  I told my teacher and she was much more conscious about it from that day forward.  Thank you S!

But yes, the school is growing larger, becoming more popular, more western students are going to study there, so why not start changing your management, teaching, and lesson strategies to accommodate your new and growing target market?

Common Sense
I ranted quite a lot in the previous so I’m going to try to keep this clean and cut.

  • The school moved locations and now it takes longer to get to the classrooms; it’s also a bit of a hike for some of you who aren’t quite fit.  That means that you have to wake up earlier, leave earlier, and arrive earlier.  What it also means is that your lunch break is actually shorter than it is because of the “commute.”  I mentioned this to my teacher a few months ago, but I highly doubt the school will do anything about it.  It’s a shame too since it also effects the teachers.
  • Once a semester there is an event where all students and faculty participate in.  The school always travels to the destination together.  That may seem very obvious and evident, but I beg to differ.  Maybe it is because I grew up in NYC and we always found our way to the destination on our own and met there, or because I’m just unique.  However I do not think it to be necessary for me to travel all the way to the school, just to come back to an area close to where I live.  Now, it would not be a problem if I was talking 10 minutes or so, but I was talking about an hour.  Why can’t they allow it?  Rules.  They love their rules and regulations.  That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Should you study at KICL?  If you are serious about learning Japanese, I think it’s a great language school to do it at!