Close Desperation

I need help, and I’m open to ideas. I’m hoping there may be some lurking readers out there with connections, biding their time until the blogger presents a call.

My current visa expires June 9th, 2007. My last day of work is May 24th. I want to stay. Simple as that. Why?

– Back in Austin, I was merely surviving, not thriving. Eating the same meals, running the same paths, talking to the same (albeit few) people. In Japan, I am traveling, studying the Nihongo, writing more, learning more, staying up to date with current affairs, and meeting more people.

– Japan has been good to me, despite certain employment conditions.

Other reasons

Now, before you go thinking, “It’s almost April! You should have done something before now! Search for jobs, tap every connection,” I should tell you: I have. I know all the best job search websites in Japan (see my link bar under Living in Japan), and I have been searching daily and applying for many positions. So why haven’t I found a job yet? Well, it’s not because I’m an inexperienced idiot (mostly not):

1. Number one, numero uno, and I cannot stress this enough: I DO NOT WANT TO TEACH ENGLISH for another year. My conflicts with my current employer nonwithstanding (I’ll have to write about them after May 24th), the fact remains I’m sick of the stereotypical foreigner in Japan only teaching English. It feels like the majority of us. I want to see the other options, and have a different answer for people besides “ego no sensei des.” No, I’m not doing this for public perception – although it would be a perk; I want to see the rest of the job market in Japan. But mainly, my qualms are with the eikaiwa; I have to find something else.

Sidebar: I am willing to edit technical English, and possibly do some English language consulting for a professional business; as long as it’s away from the school system and the private language schools, I have no problem.

2. My Japanese is between JLP 4 and 3, which isn’t very good. Many companies hiring foreigners expect at least JLP 2, and they have every right to; I’m studying, but it’ll take time.

3. I need a visa sponsor. I have no intention of staying here illegally and later being deported. I can’t apply for a part time position and work freelance the rest of the time. I need a full time job with a company willing to sponsor my work visa. Although… if someone has gone through the experience of self-sponsoring himself, please tell me about it.

4. Another big reason, if you haven’t picked up on it yet: I’m picky. It’s easy to find an English-teaching job in Japan without knowing any Japanese, but if I’m not willing to do that, bartend, work as a male hostess, sweep floors, or recruit for corporations, the options are limited.

Any thoughts? Send them my way. I am waiting to hear from a very promising job based in Kagoshima and Wakayama… send your hope in my direction.

Apparently some of my pictures from the Sake Festival and Miyajima have been posted on Made of Japan; I can’t find them, but if anyone discovers where on the shoe I am (see link), please tell me.

I have been in and out of the Hakata area many times, but still had never encountered this before. In addition to the cramped sushi restaurants, there are small ramen shops with individually separated tables. And why…?

Apparently the owner of such a shop in Hakata, Ichiran, conducted a convey amongst its female clientele and discovered that women said it was not easy for them to enter ramen shops and eat while people watched them, that they were embarrassed…

I have no idea if this is legitimate, but thinking back on it… I can’t recall a single time in Japan I have seen a woman eating ramen. That’s just my experience of course, but I do recall a time a friend of mine and myself were wandering the streets of Fukuoka looking for something to eat. When we approached a ramen shop, I quickly indulged, but she abstained. Interesting…

Any thoughts? Prove or disprove me… I want to know how credible this claim is. Because ramen is fattening, women think eating it in public shows gluttony…?

Ichiran in Hakata
Another good example

My thanks to Setsuo-san for telling me about this.

Arudou-san recently referred me to one of his speeches directed at members of the JET Program in Hokkaido. Ignoring all the references to being trapped in a small, iced-in town up north, I found this was still quite a good read for those living in Japan. The “survival strategies” section in particular was enlightening, and I realized that I was trying to convey about 90% of that in my regular blog entries. Take some time and have a go at it.

Speech to JETs

I must recant some of my earlier comments regarding the lack of variety of food in Japan; it is true, I don’t quite see as much of an international cuisine that I used to, but there are so many different types and specialties in Japanese food that they more than made up for it. However, if you are seeking some of the comforts of home, be aware:

1. Subway sandwich shops exist. You can find them in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Osaka, Shizuoka, Kyoto, and a few other places in the Tokyo and Kanzai area (but nowhere in Kyushu, Shikoku, or Hokkaido). The menu seems to be exactly the same with a few exceptions: no freshly baked cookies, and no meatball subs. On the plus side, they do stock turkey meat, which is somewhat of a rarity in Japan.

2. There are Wendy’s restaurants in Japan, although I tended to stay away from them back home in the first place. Canal City shopping area in Fukuoka, and in the Ginza area of Tokyo; I’m sure there are others.

3. McDonald’s. No explanation needed. But if you are hooked on the Big Macs, I suggest you watch a little movie

4. KFC has nearly as large a presence as McDonald’s in Japan. Again, I say: fast food is disgusting, and you’d be better off buying a bento from 7-11 at the same price.

5. Outback Steakhouse has a few locations in the Osaka and Tokyo areas. Japan is a big importer of Aussie beef, and sometimes you get a craving for something juicier and fatter than some Japanese restaurants can provide. I must admit I indulged during a recent trip to Osaka, just to see if they had the same menu.

6. Lawry’s: The Prime Rib has a prominent location not far from the American embassy at the Akasaka Twin Tower.

7. Surprising even me, there is a Chili’s Restaurant in Japan. Unfortunately, it is only accessible to members of the United States Air Force living at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

I, for one, am now content with the Japanese diet and the occasional foreign meal. However, as a native Texan, I am dying for some decent Mexican food or TexMex in Japan. So far, the closest restaurants to offer anything remotely in that range are:

The Shack, an American-themed bar in the Hondori area of Hiroshima

Otis, a small Mexican cafe not far from Peace Park

Mike’s, a hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Kure city

– Rumors of a half-decent restaurant in Iwakuni

– There is a Mexican restaurant in Sapporo Station

Regardless, I didn’t come to Japan to complain about the food and seek only familiarity. Hardly. I enjoy broadening my food horizons with the unique delicacies in each city.

There is an excellent Hokkaido-style restaurant in the Saijo area of Higashi-Hiroshima called Otaru Shokudou (小樽食堂). Next to Saijo Plaza, this restaurant offers all the fine foods of Hokkaido with just two small differences (as far as I could see): no Hokkaido ramen, and no crab sashimi.

However, they did offer Hokkaido’s most famous and expensive dish: kegani, hairy crab, 毛蟹. Best eaten boiled, this crab is served to you whole (as in the picture), the waiters entrusting you to be able to slice it up just right. You are provided with a pair of scissors, some small prying forks, and a set of instructions.

Cut all the legs off. Slowly dissect the main body – eyes, tail, etc – until you are left with two halves of visible innards. Enjoy! I enjoyed the leg meat best.

In Japan, you can always tell when local election time comes around:

– Walking around the streets of most major cities, you’re sure to bump into loyal citizens standing on the sidewalks with their loudspeakers and signs, yelling about how only their candidate can solve the world’s problems
– Although I have heard rumors that cars and buses blasting campaign promises (see picture) were banned, I still hear a few of them in my area

For US citizens residing in Japan, here is everything you need to know about filing taxes: IRS link. Also, I should point out you receive an automatic two-month extension without any additional paperwork (just for living abroad), and a six-month extension if you qualify.

Lindsay Ann Hawker, age 22, a British woman working as a language teacher in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, was found murdered Monday. Police have issued a warrant for the man believed to be responsible for her death, Tatsuya Ichihashi.

Japan Probe story
BBC story

Did you know this girl?
– She was 22 years old
– She had been living in Japan since October 25th, 2006.
– She lived in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture
– Lindsay Ann Hawker

If anyone in the blogosphere has any information, please contact Richard Lloyd Parry, the Asia Editor for the Times, who recently issued an appeal calling for any information about this case

If anyone has information on this case which they wish to share with a sympathetic and responsible correspondent in Japan, please be in touch.

Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia Editor, The Times

Mobile: 090-9373-7305
Office: 03-3270-3481

Finishing the Samurai parade on Miyajima last week, I was treated to a sip of sake and an interview with the Sankei Shimbun. For those of you still learning the Nihongo: “shimbun”, 新聞, is newspaper. This was printed in their March 22nd, 2007 issue:


Very loosely translated, we find:

“In attendance was an American English language school lecturer, Turner Wright (age 24), who felt very excited: ‘Wearing the armor made me feel very powerful, very strong.'”

My thanks to Rikai for help with the translation – a great website for looking up the definition to Kanji, if you happen to have the digital text. I realize that my translation wasn’t perfect, but it’s closer to my original interview.

Get Hiroshima should be posting their own interview about me in their people section relatively soon. Will keep everyone posted.

An earthquake of magnitude 6.7 struck Japan north of Ishikawa prefecture at 9:42 AM on March 25th, 2007.

CNN story
Japan Probe story

I wasn’t aware the Japanese had a particular name for this phenomenon, but I found this entry on wikipedia:


For the real budget traveller wanting to get by on the cheap in Japan is the option of nojuku (野宿). This is Japanese for “sleeping outside”, and although it may seem quite strange to westerners, a lot of young Japanese do this when they travel. Thanks to a low crime rate and relatively stable climate, nojuku is a genuinely viable option if you’re travelling in a group or feel confident doing it on your own. Common nojuku places include train stations, michi no eki (road service stations), or basically anywhere that has some kind of shelter and public toilets nearby.

Those worrying about shower facilities will be delighted to know that Japan is blessed with cheap public facilities pretty much everywhere – notably onsen, or hot springs. Even if you can’t find an onsen, sento (public baths), or sauna are also an option.
Bear in mind nojuku is only really viable in the summer months, although in the northern island of Hokkaido even in summer the temperature may dip during the night. On the other hand, there’s much more scope for nojuku on Okinawa (although public facilities on the smaller islands are lacking).

Nojuku is not really recommended for first-time travellers to Japan, but for those with some experience, it can be a great way to get into the ‘onsen’ culture, meet other fellow nojuku travellers, and most of all travel very cheaply when coupled with hitchhiking.


The season for nojuku is fast approaching with the imminent arrival of cherry blossoms and the changing temperatures. I may have to take advantage of sleeping outside when I’m backpacking around Shikoku…

In other news, the Onsen Matsuri will be in Beppu next weekend. Never pass up an opportunity to attend a Japanese matsuri, especially one centered around the bathing culture. With Beppu accessible by train and ferry, you have no excuse. Apparently they use special lights to make the steam in the Kannawa area multicolored:

Today, March 21st, 2007… a day which will not live in infamy. Although it is a rather astronomical day – the day of the Vernal Equinox

In Japan, this also happens to be a national holiday. The result? No work, and the chance to march in a Samurai parade in front of Itsukushima (厳島) on Miyajima.

It was a beautiful day for a parade, and a great chance for me to participate. Although I must admit, as the ferry neared the shores of the great island, that the entire “Samurai perception” is one stereotype foreigners have a hard time overcoming about Japan, and I was determined to enjoy this parade just for the fun of it. No more, no less. Let things fall as they might.

An ad on GetHiroshima had alerted me to the idea – ¥10,000 wired from my bank account to the Miyajima Sightseeing Association, and the armor is yours.

Let’s go over the procedure, shall we? Just like armor you’d see on a Medieval knight, Samurai armor is equally as complex. A yukata, covered with shin guards, three cloth belts, inner clothing, outer armor, helmet, flag, sword, dagger, sandals (not a chance they had a pair my size), arm coverings.

On this occasion, the most ridiculous part to me was having seven different ladies attempt to make my face look Japanese. If Sean Connery couldn’t pull it off, I know I couldn’t. It’s a good thing the helmet covered most of my eyebrow markings; I looked pretty ridiculous.

Still, there’s something to be said for the weight of any armor – it makes you feel stronger, more powerful, and you feel a little emptier once you have to lose it. Whether this is imbedded in my mind because I met my first love while wearing armor, I’ll never know, but the world seems more polarized when you start thinking about warrior mentality: love, life, death, honor, virtue, at the hilt of a sword and the blow of a fist.

I didn’t attract any more attention than I usually do; the nail that sticks out… and I do stick out as a foreigner. During the parade, people asked if they could have their pictures taken with me; this isn’t a far cry from my typical traveling experiences; the armor is not the only thing separating me from having my picture taken by everyone in Japan.

However, this was a good experience. Despite the calls of “Gaijin samurai! Mite! Mite!” (yes, that really happened), I enjoyed showing off for the kodomo; I’ll never forget the look of amazement on their faces when I drew my sword and struck a pose… priceless.

Many Japanese people who see me on the street may think I’m overtly polite, especially when it comes to bowing. Why? I’m doing it on purpose, so it comes more naturally to me.

My first instinct in admitting some kind of public apology (i.e. running in front of a car or bicycle) is to wave. I’m not sure if that’s recognized in Japan, but I know a bow would be more openly accepted.

After a purchase at Fuji Grand… I bow.
After thanking the pizza delivery man… I bow.
Nearly running into someone coming out of the elevator or train… I bow.
Finishing a dinner, whether it be at Jolly Pasta or a quality izakaya… I bow.

It’s not easy to train a reflex like this, to turn my American gestures Japanese. But practice makes perfect.

Some general guidelines to follow if you’re going to attempt an interview with a Japanese company

Naturally, the same rules that apply in other countries apply in Japan as well – standard formal attire, pen, paper, and be sure to arrive early.

Sumisu-san to apo ga arimasu
“I have an appointment with Mr. Smith”

Where Japan does differ however, is in the first few minutes, when you are introduced to the group that will be conducting the interview. Chances are there will be at least three people, including the human resources person with which you have been corresponding.

Introduce yourself in Japanese:

Watashi no namae wa … des. Dozo yorushiku onegaishimasu
“My name is… Please favor me”

Complete this self-introduction with a small bow and proceed to hand out your meishi (business card) to all present; ideally, you should give the most senior member your business card first. Hand a copy to each of them with both hands, and they will receive with both hands, as your business card is somewhat sacred:

– In Japan a business card is essential to any first meeting. It’s just as valuable as a full resume, containing nearly as much

The recruiters will in turn give you their business cards. Accept them with both hands and read them immediately; when you are finished, place them carefully on the table in front of you to use as reference.

Most likely if you are inteviewing with a Japanese company, it will be for a native-English speaker (whether this is teaching, proofreading, etc) – my apologies to those competent enough to speak Japanese at JLP 1 or 2. An interview for a native-English speaker will naturally differ from a typical Yamamoto Coporation from this point on. You might be asked to give a small introduction and explain some of the finer points of your resume. Don’t hesitate to show your versatility, such as how you might enjoy the finer aspects of Japanese culture (i.e. my pilgrimage plans to one of the southern islands next month, Japanese hot springs, and all my travels).

Next up – perhaps a questionnaire distributed to all candidates, in English. Many questions, the most prominent being: do you have a problem working overtime with no money? This is known as zangyou in Japan: after time. Japanese are expected to stay extra hours despite when no work is required – of course, sometimes deadlines do approach. Even with all the fourteen-hour days, this method was discovered to be no more efficient than western work habits.

If you’re applying for a position which requires some Nihongo, now might be the time to test your Japanese skills. The questions might be very simple, regarding your time in Japan, where you’ve travelled, what did you enjoy… If you’re not very confident in your skills, apologize:

Gomen nasai. Nihongo yoku hanasemasen.
“I’m sorry. I don’t speak Japanese well.”

Stress that, if required, you will make every effort to improve your skills.

Finally – there could be a written portion, in Japanese or English. A simple test of your average work in the position (proofreading example, a lesson plan, etc), and perhaps an explanation regarding your intentions in their company.

Stand up when they decide the interview is concluded, and give each of them a long bow.

Ojikan o domo arigatou gozaimashta
“Thank you very much for your time”

Fresh off the ferry from Hiroshima, I find myself walking in the Dogo district of Matsuyama. A quaint village with fruit stands, foot onsen, and people adorned in kimono and geta, I find it to be a very relaxing place to spend Sunday morning. However, I’m on a mission. Turning away from the Dogo Onsen and towards an easterly direction, I soon come upon what I believe to be the object of my search.

Without a shred of hesitation in my mind, I walk right up to the attendant’s window and ask in Japanese: “Do you have books? I’m looking for Shikoku Henro: Hitori Aruki Dōgyō Ninin.”

The woman is flustered to be talking to a foreigner, and after a few ragged attempts, she drags out a man to speak to me in English.

“This is a shrine, not a temple,” he explains successfully. Ahhh… baka gaikokujin. I’m a fool.

I had been search for a Buddhist temple along the 88 temple pilgrimage (八十八ヶ所巡り) path in Shikoku. However, due to my own ignorance, I had successfully navigated my way into a common Japanese shrine.

Why a Buddhist temple? In a few weeks time, I will attempt a journey across Tokushima-ken in Shikoku that many Japanese people walk for various reasons: to obtain spiritual enlightenment, to complete a grand adventure, or nothing more than to engage in an alternative vacation. Many travel to the 88 temples in the footsteps of Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師), becoming ohenro (お遍路) pilgrims in the process. You can easily spot pilgrims at all times of the year if you’re in Shikoku – they are identifiable by their white clothing (though not all the time) and staffs, symbolizing the spirit of Kōbō Daishi (two travelers walking as one).

Henro traveling to Matsuyama Station, Matsuyama

Consulting a map, I quickly realize my error and begin making my way towards the true Buddhist temple, #51 if you happen to be walking around the island clockwise from Tokushima.

The difference is immediately obvious. This is what I had been searching for. Statues of Buddha. Burning incense. Henro travelers stopping and paying homage.

But as I said, I’m on a mission. I need information, and there’s only one place I can get it. Many of the temples along the pilgrimage route are similar to Japanese shrines: low maintenance, unmanned, and a place to say prayers. However, for the Buddhist temples, there are also many places to stay the night, enjoy a meal, shop for necessary ohenro supplies (white robes, staffs, guidebooks, candles, etc). In short, I was hoping that this temple would have one of these stores:

The website Shikoku Henro Trail had recommended the guidebook written by Miyazaki Tateki as a 100% absolute must own and read for those attempting the pilgrimage.

Publisher’s website, or call 089-952-3820

This book is the quintessential volume for your quest, containing all the maps you need to walk to each temple, the distance involved, nearby accommodations, etc. ¥2500 and it’s yours.

Often in my travels, I am treated with a sense of amusement: “Ooooh! Let’s talk to the foreigner!” I’m not really discouraged by such talk; in fact, I find it kind of funny, and am usually able to twist the conversation into something more serious. However, even looking like a confused foreigner with an overpriced camera around his neck, I sensed immediate respect from the ohenro store at Ishiteji (51st temple). I told them in fractured Japanese that I would be attempting to walk the first twenty two temples in Tokushima-ken, and they didn’t react with an overblown sense of excitement. Their tone was respectful and serious, and I appreciated that. After a few questions about the guidebook, we parted ways with a series of respectful bows. I must remember to stop by that temple after my journey; I highly recommend it as a starting point as well (technically, you can begin the pilgrimage anywhere; most people start in Tokushima).

What’s in my near future? Visiting the Buddhist temple atop Mt. Kōya (高野山) in Wakayama. Traditionally ohenro visit this temple prior to starting the pilgrimage, to ask for blessings from Kōbō Daishi.

Interesting facts about Japan

There are approximately forty eight castles (城) left in Japan, the southernmost being Shurijo (首里城) in Okinawa. Visit them all.

Kumamoto Castle (熊本城)

Matsuyama Castle (松山城)

Apparently the Japan Meteorological Agency made an error (誤) in calculating the opening dates for the cherry blossoms. The correct (正) dates should be:

Opening Dates

Shizuoka ~ March 19th
Tokyo ~ March 21st
Matsuyama ~ March 23rd
Kumamoto ~ March 25th
Fukuoka, Hakata ~ March 25th
Takamatsu ~ March 26th
Hiroshima ~ March 31st
Osaka ~ March 31st
Kyoto ~ March 31st
Nara ~ March 31st

Approximate Full Bloom Dates

Shizuoka ~ March 26th
Tokyo ~ March 28th
Matsuyama ~ March 30th
Kumamoto ~ April 1st
Fukuoka, Hakata ~ April 1st
Takamatsu ~ April 2nd
Hiroshima ~ April 7th
Osaka ~ April 7th
Kyoto ~ April 7th
Nara ~ April 7th


Kannewaen Onsen (神和苑)

This place came highly recommended by a hot spring master in Beppu, so I set out to find it on a return visit.

This onsen is definitely a local secret – it’s not mentioned in any guidebook, you can’t find it on any tourist map, and the entrance isn’t too well marked.

However, it’s not difficult to find, as it is located in one of the big touristy areas of Beppu – the Kannawa jigoku tour. The jigoku (地獄, loosely translated as “hell”) are hot spring areas with unique features. These hot springs are for viewing, not for bathing.

Jigoku in Beppu

Umi Jigoku
Features bluish water due to the mineral content

Oniishibozu Jigoku
Bubbling mud

Shiraike Jigoku
Milky water

Chinoike Jigoku
Blood-red water giving the appearance of hell

Tatsumaki Jigoku
A natural geyser which erupts every twenty five minutes, lasting six minutes

Yama Jigoku
Small ponds with boiling water and overcrowded zoos

Kamado Jigoku
More boiling ponds

Oniyama Jigoku
Enjoy the sight of one hundred crocodiles packed into a cage about the size of three cars

Kinryu Jigoku
Golden Dragon Hell – has a greenhouse where bananas and other plants are grown from hot spring water

Kannawaen is tucked neatly away in the greenery next to Umi Jigoku. If you see a big blue and white sign with “Umi Jigoku” written on it you’re very close.

Map of Kannawaen

The bathhouse is on the road before you reach the main inn. Just walk right up to the inn’s threshold and get someone’s attention. If you’re loose with Japanese, try saying “onsen dake” (only the onsen). It costs ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children. There is no time limit, but the ryokan guests have priority; that is, the bath is only available between 10:00 and 4:30, between check out and check in.

As for the onsen itself… very relaxing. This is an uncrowded, well-maintained, seldom used onsen. The dressing area would be a tight squeeze for a dozen people, and is very modern, featuring a vibrating foot massager and everything you need to change and wash.

Step down a flight of stone stairs and you’re sure to enjoy the first stage – the showers and the hottest bath. Take your time in the indoor bath because it is significantly hotter than the others.

Next up – the main course. The rotemburo (outdoor bath) at Kannawaen is very unique due to it’s milky blue water rich in silicon. This water changes color from dark to light blue depending on the mineral content. It’s warm, the area around the bath gives you the feeling you’re surrounded by nature, and the water itself is quite healthy. Stay in as long as you want, and don’t rinse off so as to take advantage of the mineral properties on your skin.

In one of the more well-known areas, having a secluded feeling, and unique in appearance and quality, this onsen is a fine attention to Beppu. Ikimashou.

Kannawaen website

〒 874-0045 大分県別府市御幸6組

Kurokawa Village (黒川温泉)

Kurokawa is one of the best onsen villages in Japan, and one I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting. Located northeast of Kumamoto, it is not accessible by train, and it would be best if you had a car.

Set in the Japanese countryside, these onsen are tucked away from the outside world and in a more traditional Japanese setting. One of the best baths there is Shimmeikan, which features cave baths and huge rotemburo

If you’re looking to try different onsen in the area, the tourist information desk provides you with a wooden medallion for ¥1200 that gives you access to three onsen of your choice.

Although I highly recommend staying in a traditional onsen ryokan at least once (around ¥12,000-20,000/night), you have the option of commuting from the cheap Aso Senomoto Youth Hostel (¥2300/night) and just visiting the baths.

Onsen ryokan in Kurokawa

Bus from Aso at 10:30, ¥940
Buses from Beppu Bus Terminal at 8:20, 9:00, 14:30, 15:40, ¥1180
Buses from Hakata Station at 8:17, 9:39, 11:07, 12:19 weekdays
Buses from Kumamoto Station at 8:30, 9:40, 10:00, 14:20

And if you think those areas are interesting, take a good look at this champagne bath in a popular onsen facility: