17 May 2011

Welcome to Japan (Part 1)

This one is probably a long delayed post.  But now, I have a purpose and better creds to write it.

** First, you might have noticed that I haven't posted anything here since early February 2011, and it is primarily because I became so busy since...  And then the big earthquake happened.  While we are very thankful to everyone who expressed their concern, and that we have been generally safe and are practically back to normal for over a month now, we still express deep sadness over what happened and continue to pray that all those affected get their lives back up moving again.  And here's hoping that we will be better prepared for the next big thing that nature will bring. **

** Second, I would like to announce that, probably starting Friday, my wife will start blogging about our life here in Japan. We have yet to decide if she will post here on the Japan! Japan! blog, or if she will post on her own blog. Until then, please enjoy this latest post here, and hopefully in 3 days we will have an internet connection at home and my wife can start publishing her blog posts about Japan! **

Last week, my wife and love of my life joined me for the last 2 of my 3-year stint here in Japan, and I would like to help her (and all of you coming here) to a few things Japan that could help make your stay here a little easier.  As of today I've stayed in Japan a total of about 14 months, and so I have better background information now more than ever.

So here I will basically link to a lot of websites.  I hope though that in a few months or years, most of them are still up and available.

And as you all might know, I am based in Atsugi, Kanagawa, and so I'll also have a special section devoted to all things Atsugi, from my very own eyes.

By the way.  Hey Joe, I'm not talking about the Naval Base.  That base was just named after Atsugi, but that base is not actually in Atsugi.

Oh, and I'm a Filipino Catholic.  So I have a Churches section and Filipino section.

Of course, you can just simply live on Google alone, which is pretty much what I did and still do, and that only requires you know how to use a web browser and Google's services properly.  Most of you probably have that skill already, and I say most because I've met some people who do not probably even know at least about Google Translate, which is a very, very helpful albeit not-yet-so-perfect tool.  And of course, there's Google's bread-and-butter search service and their Google Maps and YouTube services.  Oh, and there's also Wikipedia, another very useful tool.  While you might have heard of both Google and Wikipedia already, I'm sure not most of you actually use those two sites to the fullest of what they can offer.

But I've done all the Googling and Wikipedia-hopping for the whole time of my stay here and I'm basically listing all that I've found here, which again I hope will be very helpful to you (my wife included) who are coming to Japan and staying here for a rather long period of time.

First Things First

Sure, the last greatest powers, the victors of the last global war included some of the largest English-speaking nations that start with "United" - the UK, the US, and the UN - and sure, English is now an international language.  When you visit those countries, you are expected to speak English.  Unfortunately, when people from those countries visit other "non-United" countries, they also expect people to speak English well enough.  Sometimes, they would even equate English inability with stupidity.  There are groups of people, like in the Philippines, who think like that, too.  Hey, you're stupid as well in the eyes of (some) Japanese if you come to Japan and you don't know Nihongo.  Anyway, for now, let us just forgive these kinds of people for they know not what they do.  And anyway, that is the first thing to put in mind when visiting Japan: it is not an English speaking country.  It's not that they (or other non-English-speaking people for that matter) are stupid; it's just that Japan has a longer history than, say, America, and they are proud of their culture.  Just as Americans are proud of theirs.  And so on.  Hey, I and a few other people think that one reason why Japan is so developed is because they have pride in their very own culture.  I respect American culture; that is theirs; and I believe it has brought them to where they are now.  And so on.  We should also respect Japanese culture.  But yeah, no culture is perfect although each one might think theirs is.

My point also is that it helps to learn even a little bit about the language - Nihongo - before visiting Japan.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?  It's practically applicable anywhere.  I've seen some really incapable people come and live here, thinking they do not need to learn at least a little of the language, and they end up like parasites, barnacles, or baby piglets that almost always you will find clinging to someone who can do the job for them.  I've seen some really stupid people who can't make it out of their usual route between their apartment and work by themselves, without getting someone who took the effort to learn some Nihongo to come along with them.  They end up not being able to enjoy a lot of what Japan has to offer, and heck, they end up not being even able to get a cellphone of their own here in Japan, not until someone with some Nihongo (or even English, or even Google) knowledge pities them enough to bring them along like a really annoying pet.  Putting a cat in a sack comes to mind.  Why were they here in the first place?  It is really annoying.

Oops, sorry about the anger.  Anyways, the second thing to keep in mind here is, Japan of course has mostly Japanese food.  If you don't like Japanese food, or Japanese culture, or to learn Nihongo, don't come here!  Sure, I can understand how some people might not like "raw fish," like in some sushi, and so on.  But if you don't like fish whether raw or otherwise, AND you don't like meat and meat products (yakiniku, chicken or pork "katsu," ramen broth, gyuu-don, and so on), AND you only like the veggies you are used to in your own country (e.g. you don't like seaweed, you don't like to even just try natto, etc.), please, save yourself some agony and us some annoyance and stay where you are.

Anyways, if you're coming to Japan, or any other country for that matter, to stay there for a rather long period of time (e.g. more than 3 weeks), make sure you know what you're going to be up for, and weigh that against your reason for going there (and I hope you have a good reason).  While of course like in most countries, you can still enjoy some of the comforts from your own home country, you should keep in mind that you are not at all in your home country.  And that is even if you live within a community of fellow countrymen here.  Don't be so annoying and talk in very loud voices in your own language that everyone else understands.

Sorry again about the anger, and no, this is not for my wife.  She is very much interested in going around Japan and experiencing the culture here.  And again, I wrote this as sort of a one-stop guide for her, but also for others who might be coming to live in Japan as well.

By the way, hey, learn how to use chopsticks.  It is really fun and more convenient to use, particularly for Japanese food.  I always say, Japanese food tastes better when you use chopsticks.  Don't ask me why.  It just does, at least, to me.

Now that I've gotten all that out, let's start with business, shall we.

Primary Tools
  1. Google (search).
  2. Google Translate.
  3. Google Maps.
  4. Wikipedia.
  5. YouTube.
Contact loved ones back home
  1. Skype - VOIP or Voice over Internet Protocol calls from PC-to-PC, or -to-mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc., or -to-phones landline or mobile).
  2. Jumblo - VOIP phone calls to landline and mobile phones at very cheap rates.  SMS, too.  Even cheaper voice calls only if you use their sister company, VoipALot.  Mostly these are PC-based, but there are options for mobile-, web-, or Mac-based access.
  3. Gmail Voice/Video Calls & Chat - if you haven't used it before, you have 50 free text messages and unlimited phone calls to Canada, the US, and maybe a few other countries
  4. Muzta VOIP client with your very own prepaid mobile number (but the software is Windows only) and Chikka free SMS texting (Windows, iOS, and web-based only) for Filipinos.
  5. Of course there are more options out there, like Yahoo! Messenger, QQ, ICQ, MSN Live Messenger, and a bunch of other apps for the iPhone, and Android and other mobile devices.  I don't use these so often anymore.  Oh, except for Facebook.  Twitter is another popular way, of course.
Before coming to Japan: learn Nihongo and Japanese culture
  1. Pimsleur's Japanese I. Everyday, one full month before coming to Japan for the first time 6 years ago for a two-month stint here, I listened to this set of CDs lent to me by a friend who himself have visited Japan.  Basically each lesson is a 30-minute, listen-and-repeat kind of learning session, which was very helpful.  I was able to go around by myself and I was not even able to finish all of the lessons.  Of course it helped that most parts where I went to have some English-speaking staff, and in most parts of Japan, signs have "Romaji" (pronounced Roomaji) which are English language character (i.e. alphabet) translations of Japanese characters.  I met some people who pride themselves in being English-speaking, English being one of 1,000 official languages in their home country, and yet in front of 3 bins labelled "PET Bottles," "Cans," "All Others" here in Japan, he still put his PET Bottle trash in the "All Others" bin.  So anyways, being able to read (or to see) is a nice skill to have when visiting Japan.  You also need to be able to hear (and to listen) to take full advantage of Pimselur's Japanese language lessons.  You can buy this from Amazon Japan, or Amazon US.  If you do a search from there, you can also find Audiobook versions on a USB disk which you can use to listen from your laptop or desktop particularly those with no CD drives.  By the way, more than learning Nihongo, it helps to practice it, and this language learning tool helps you do that.  Because by simply studying and not practicing it, it is easy to forget.
  2. YouTube.  Just do a search.  But I guess this isn't so helpful, is it?  You can of course learn some from my YouTube channel, the videos therein being featured on this blog.  Since Feb 2011, I've been so busy though to update it but nonetheless there are still some useful stuff there.  Search YouTube for "English Teachers."
  3. Happy Hour Japan.  This features two Americans (one a Japanese American) who are here in Japan and share their experiences and what not.  They have a business selling Nihongo learning tools online, which I haven't tried (I just would rather search for free stuff than pay), but their website has interesting, useful, and most importantly FREE content for you to watch and learn from.
  4. More! See Part 2 of this post.
Basics: getting around, weather and earthquake/tsunami info
  1. Hyperdia.  This helps you find the best trains (sometimes even buses and flights) to hop on and what exact time they leave and arrive from one station to another.  You have to know which stations you're coming from and going to, though.  They also have a classic, lo-fi version that you can also view on your mobile web browser.  The current version though has autocomplete, which is very helpful.  For example, just type "honat" and there's only one station with such a name, Hon-Atsugi (Honatsugi) and so no need to type the rest.
  2. Accuweather.  I think most Japanese check the weather before they leave home.  Often, you will see them holding an umbrella on days forecasted to be rainy, or wearing an extra jacket in the middle of spring for days forecasted to have cooler than normal temperatures.  I like Accuweather's "Real-Feel" feature, like for example the temperature reading might be 10 degrees, but because of the wind and whatever else, it might actually feel like 2 degrees.  They also have good hour-by-hour and 15-day forecast features, which are very useful.  I access Accuweather forecasts via a widget on my Windows desktop, or via an iPhone app.  Unfortunately, by default they search only US cities and use English units.  After a few clicks, you can get the weather data most relevant to your area, and then just bookmark that website for easy access later on.  The link here points to Atsugi, Japan weather.  If you look at your browser's URL (internet address) bar, you can find that you can just modify some of the text to find the weather for your location.  Or you can just do a search from the search box.
  3. Then there's also Yahoo! Weather, which is basically the same as in Weather.com (The Weather Channel), if I'm not mistaken.  They use the "Feels Like" feature which uses a different algorithm than Accuweather.  I prefer Accuweather.  But for both, I think generally they would make forecasts on the safe side, like they might say the day time high is 17 degrees (so make sure to wear a sweater and a jacket) but suddenly it becomes as warm as 23 degrees (so just take off one layer of clothing!).  Or they will say there's a chance of rain, and then there's no rain at all.  But at least you were prepared, right?  And remember, like I always say, these are only FORECASTS.  Meteorologists, weathermen, nor the weather bureau cannot ever PREDICT the weather.  Those are two different things.
  4. Google Maps.  Can't emphasize this more than enough.  Problem though is most labels on the map are in Japanese.  But it can still help you get from Point A to Point B.  It is also nice to have an "offline" map - whether on paper or on your mobile device - in case you can't go online while on the go.
  5. JMA Earthquake Information.  There's also the USGS earthquake information service from where you can subscribe to e-mail notifications for earthquakes near your area.  There are also a couple of apps for the iPhone, and Android and other mobile devices.  If you use Google Chrome, you might want to use the "earthquake Notify" extension which creates alerts for Japan-based earthquakes.
Translation and Language Learning
  1. Google Translate.  Two-way translation; you can enter text in Japanese or in English, or you can enter a website and it will translate the whole website for you. This can also work as an English-Japanese, Japanese-English dictionary.
  2. Alternatively, you can download and use Google Chrome which can do automatic translations of websites which are not in the language you have set your computer to.  GMail, by the way also has e-mail translation services but I think you need to enable it somewhere in the settings menu.
  3. English to Romaji translation, and vice versa.  When reading Japanese characters is not yet a thing for you.
  4. Kotoba for iOS.  I used to use PADict on my Palm OS device.
  5. Happy Hour Japan.
  6. http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/language/index.html. This is highly recommended!
Blogs and Personal Websites
  1. The Japan! Japan! Blog, of course.
  2. Gaijin Housewife in Japan. Although as of the time of this writing, she's back in New Zealand because she lives near the troubled nuclear plants, and meanwhile, she's pregnant, so she's blogging now more about her life in New Zealand.  Of course, you can still read her past posts.
  3. Happy Hour Japan.
  4. For more blogs, you can visit http://www.japanbloglist.com/.  It's quite a long list though, and I am not sure which one is the best.
  5. This one called "Japandemic," I think is not on the above blog list, because while technically it is a blog (at least to me), it is not in the typical format of blogs of today.  But I think it is well done and gives you quite a good perspective from a single male foreigner (Caucasian) who lives and works around Osaka, Japan.  It is a must-visit website, in my opinion.
  1. For Japanese cuisine, we recommend: 
    • Nabezo, for shabu-shabu.
    • Fuu-Fuu-Tei, for yakiniku.  They also have nama gyuu niku, i.e. a raw beef dish.  I heard the raw beef dish is Korean in origin though.  3 people died already in a restaurant elsewhere, after eating raw beef, but I think that won't happen at Fuu-Fuu-Tei.  They also have a super spicy nin-niku (garlic) dish if you're into very spicy.
    • Dohton-Bori, for okonomiyaki.  
    • There's this place that serves "Hiroshima Yaki," Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. I am not sure of the name but it's near the Ito-Yokado department store. 
    • Kong (Konge) Ramen. Big servings!
  2. There are the typical Japanese fastfood places where you can eat gyuu-don, kare- (Japanese-style curry), with fresh eggs (if you so wish), miso soup, and a salad on the side, and more, at Matsuya, Yoshinoya, Sukiya.  And then there's Yayoiken, which is probably not as common, but for just a little bit more, they have eat-all-you-can rice.
  3. Coco Ichiban Ya (Curry House). Japanese-style curry. You can choose the level of spicyness, from regular (Level 0) to Level 10.
  4. Japanese love Indian food, and that's why, next probably to American food (including American-style pizza and pasta), there's a number of Indian restos here in Atsugi: Indian Kitchen. Neel Gagan. Bombay. Sakura.
  5. Japanese love Italian food, but as an Italian friend said, it's really Japanese-style Italian food, particularly if it isn't an Italian who owns the place.  There's the popular Saizeriya.  They also have an "Italian" restaurant at the Atsugi Urban Hotel.  Then there's also the rather expensive Chamomile (Kamomiiru).  Love these places.
  6. There's this bar which has live jazz music I think every evening, called MacArthur Garage.  They serve mostly American food, including pizza, pasta, and Mexican food.
  7. There's this other bar which apparently specializes in Mexican food as well, Guggenheim Mafia, but I haven't tried it there yet.
  8. There are the family restaurants like Denny's. Jonathan's. Gusto (Gasuto). Oh, and there's also Bikkuri Donkey. But do expect Japanese-style American food. They usually have a selection of steaks, burger steaks, fries, salads, pasta, and so on.
  9. OMG Burgers. Real American-style burgers. Huge. A bit out of the way from central Atsugi though.
  10. And then there's a helping of McDonald's (at least 4 branches here). And KFC. And Burger King.
  11. Mos Burger. A Japanese burger chain. If you're Filipino, think Jollibee. But I think McDonald's is bigger than anything like it here. So it's not really like Jollibee. If you ask me, I like Jollibee more.
  12. 7-Eleven (or 7-and-I). Lawson. Three F (Surii Efu). Family Mart. AM/PM. The list and availability of convenience stores is quite long. And there's probably at least one vending machine for every block.
  13. I saw this Tapas, Asian and Italian restaurant, but I haven't tried it there yet.
  14. Toys R' Us. YES!
  15. Nitori. A very popular Japanese brand similar to IKEA but the designs are not as elegant and the prices are not as high.
  16. Atsugi Trellis and Midorigaoka shopping/commercial area. There're two grocery stores (Yu-Dakaraya and Co-op), there's Kuroganeya "Home Center," the MEGAMAXX furniture outlet, Daiso, 
  17. Yamada Denki and Kojima Denki. Electrical and electronics stores.
  18. And in nearby Ebina city, you can watch movies at a movie theatre, eat-all-you-can Japanese-style Italian food at La Pausa, and visit a The Gap branch. There's also a Yodobashi Camera (electronics store) in Ebina, I think.
  19. Famous Japanese brands Muji and Uniqlo have at least a branch each in Atsugi.
  20. There is a Lego store and an Eddie Bauer store as well. Yeah, I don't buy really buy nor wear Eddie Bauer.
  21. There are the big department store chains: Ito Yokado (Itoh-Yohkadoh). SATY. My Lord (mi lohdo).
  22. Post Offices.  I know at least 4.
  23. Atsugi Catholic Church.  Twice monthly English mass services. Monthly Spanish and Portuguese mass services. Daily masses in Japanese, of course. I'm not sure about other Christian churches in Atsugi.
  24. Kusina ni Sarah and El Nido.  Filipino restaurants.  But I think Kusina ni Sarah might be closing soon.  I haven't been to El Nido but it is more of a bar, more than anything else.
  25. Atsugi Bus Schedules, in Japanese though.  There is also an option to find out monthly pass fares (i.e. if you take a route regularly, that is you get on and off two bus stops at least 6 times a week, you can buy a monthly pass which might save you around 6% off from regular fares.
  26. This is a blog by a Japanese friend which shows different restaurants she's been to around Atsugi, as well as around Atsugi.
The Dark Side of Japan
  1. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.  More than devastation by the earthquake, thousands of Koreans (mostly) were massacred.  One other fact: Japan covers up some facts.  And thus, the fear of people in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster.
  2. Lindsay Hawker and Lucie Blackman were two twenty-something, Caucasian murder victims in Japan.  The motives?  Apparently sex-oriented.  I've read also some unsolicited butt- or boob-touching going on in packed trains during rush hour and so on, sometimes even to high school or younger girls.  It's not that this don't happen elsewhere, and while the crime rate here is one of the lowest anywhere in the world.  Still, you know, just be careful.  On some train lines there are women-only cars/coaches.
  3. Like most people, many (non-Native-)Americans included, there are some Japanese natives who believe Japan is not for foreigners, and that some former cruelties of Japan are justified.  One example: former long-time PM Junichiro Koizumi.
  4. And of course, we Filipinos all know how the first and only Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, and his companions were tortured by the Japanese for being a Catholic in Japan, nearly 400 years ago.
Please stay tuned for Part 2 where we will have more on "Before Coming to Japan," watching TV in Japan, Catholic links, apartments, travel guides, online shopping, Filipino links, and jobs in Japan.


  1. natakam ako sa Atsugi part!

  2. @Yvaine, well I guess it is because it's the longest list here and in Part 2. It is my "hometown" here after all, so, dapat lang. :-)