Finding an apartment in Japan

Having found apartments in America, I wasn’t too worried about it in Japan. Except for the fact that I barely know anyone in Osaka, and that it’s known to have lots of yakuza. Also, having this Asian face meant that they could either take advantage of me, or not trust me to pay the bills.

I started looking with some help of my neighbors who had an uncle who’s a landlord and lives out in the suburbs. He gave some advice on good neighborhoods and stations, namely Tsukaguchi , which is on the Hankyu Kobe line where the office is also closely located, so I started looking out there. Because I’m looking for a pet-friendly place that was big and was within my price range, my options shriveled. I decided on 5 rooms: 2 were investment properties in Daikokucho, a gentrifying neighborhood, 1 was a renovated room in an older building in a neighborhood I was told was popular, 1 was a warehouse-like open space that could also be used as an office near Shin-Osaka station, and the last was a really nice big space that’s near my office, the most expensive, and my last resort. I started contacting the real estate agents who were in charge of the places I wanted and settled with Osaka Fudosan, which is the most generic name ever, and hard to find on Google. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but the agent I spoke with was really good at dealing with me as a foreigner by asking a lot of questions, as well as informing me of a lure tactic that real estate agents use to get people to go to their offices and sell rooms to them that they didn’t care for in the first place, so I decided to designate him as my agent.

Knowing that, almost every real estate agent I reached out to welcomed listings I was interested in, even if they weren’t in charge of the units, so this made me even more wary to accept their offer to come into their office. I stuck with Osaka Fudosan because I felt they knew what they were doing, and he had a number 2 on his agent’s license, which according to trusted sources, is an experienced real estate agent (for better or worse).

I went to Osaka with the intention to apply for a place, and was quickly told that I have access to only two places after I said I didn’t have a guarantor, a Japanese person in Japan, because I believed that I could get one through a service. So seeing how I only had two options to choose from that weren’t my top, I frantically contacted some friends and later in the day was able to get one of them to agree to be my guarantor.

My real estate took me to my top place, the one-room in Shin-Osaka that I imagined I could decorate and divide to my liking, but it was right next to a highway, and had a lot of noise. It was also very minimally furnished, so while it was a nice neighborhood and close to Shin-Osaka station where visitors could easily get to my place once they step off the bullet train, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live there after all with air and noise pollution.

My agent took me to the room in Daikokucho, which was a room I had originally really wanted to get, but was still being cleaned. He took me to another unit that was 2 flights up, 1000 yen more in rent, had a nice balcony view, and a TV on top of the bathtub, but the floor plan wasn’t ideal, and it had a nook that felt claustrophobic.

The agent didn’t bother to take me to the second Daikokucho room, saying that the owner was really strict, so it’s not worth trying. At this point I was really tired, so I didn’t have the energy to push it too much.

At the office, I filled out applications for 3 rooms, got a run-down of terms and conditions and payments I was required to make for the Daikokucho room that my agent was in charge of, and paid a months rent for the broker fee, which is supposed to come back to me when I sign, but is kept if I decide to back out.

What doesn’t make much sense to me, is that the amount goes to the background check company if I am approved, and that amount is based on the first months rent of the Daikokucho place. It’s only in hindsight now for me to think about asking whether I have to pay for the background check for the other two sites as well.

So at the moment I’m waiting for the contract to come through the mail so I can sign this quickly and start throwing around my new address to places and get re-situated.


Japanese guessing games

There’s a show in the morning where they have TV talents try to guess what is special about this particular day. They only have 5 minutes to do the segment, so they only have 45 seconds to guess the right answer for their team after they’re given 3 clues. Usually they they’ll throw out a lot of wrong answers, with no connection to each other except to the clues, then one just magically throws out the right answer.

So when I introduced 20 questions, it seems to me that the students feel this pressure to guess the correct answer, when they should be asking questions to gather clues. And the kinds of questions usually have no deductive quality to them.

But every once in while they guess correctly after a few questions. I don’t know how they do it. People here just have this magic ability to understand context… that is, until they run into foreigners.


I just watched ビリギャル, a movie set in Nagoya about an introverted girl who had trouble making friends, fell into the wrong crowd, and during her senior year, changed from having no chance of entering college to getting into Keio University’s schools. It’s a feel-good movie, very down-to-earth, and with a touch of realism, such that the girl fails getting into the main school, but still gets into the comprehensive school.

She attends a cram school run by an instructor who treats every student as individuals by using incentives that work for them. The instructor is passionate and gets along well with the kids and speak their language. At the end, he’s jumping and waving to his favorite student from afar as she rides the bullet train to Tokyo.

Before coming to Japan, I would think the timing of the scene was movie magic. But after arriving, I met a part-time social studies teacher, who was also the girl’s softball club advisor. He had learned the flight patterns of airplanes that passed over Aizu-Wakamatsu, and at times when an airplane would fly overhead, he would tell me where it was headed.

People really keep time here.

Long time no see, what’s happenin’?

Hey blog, haven’t written on you for a while. I just paid for another 2 years of hosting, so I better make good use of it. Thanks, Dreamhost, for being so reliable and giving this minimalist user so little trouble, even when I give you trouble.

Anyway, here’s a funny story from today.

I’m headed out to lunch and took a peak at the students checking out the potential incoming freshman who came to find out their exam results to enter the school. Several students had signs to get interest from the freshman, and I’m always having trouble with 器楽部 so, of course, I approach some students with this word on their sign and say “Kirakubu!”, and get some giggles from this, and realized I said it wrong, and probably said something inappropriate.

So I continue and ask, “Okay, why is it (楽) gaku when usually it’s raku?” And they answered “Because music (音楽) is ongaku, so it’s instruments, so it’s kigaku!”

“Oh! I learned something new! Thanks!” and adding a knowing tone and look that they are not the “easy-going club.”

As I walk away, I hear them telling their friends, “I got to teach Cat-sensei something!”

This, dear readers, is how you get kids to step up (And how to hide your embarrassment from them and still be smooth).


Getting into the top public universityin Japan

Translation from the May school bulletin advising and informing students of the amount of study necessary in their 3 years of high school so that students can plan accordingly.

This year, Todai has released the recommendations application process that replaces the current system of screening final semester examination results.

  • A total of 100 applicants will be accepted
  • Each school’s principal recommends one male and one female
  • The examination will screen applicants’ documents, in addition to an interview. They will also take into account high scores on the National exam.
    The document screening  includes:

    • Written essays in school, or other accomplishments during general study hours.
    • Various science fair (Olympic) awards, and the like.
    • Foreign language certifications (such as TOEFL, Eiken, IELTS, etc)
    • International study abroad experience, or scores on certified exams that could be used to enter international institutions (such as the International Baccalaureate, or SAT)
    • Other considerations may include activities that demonstrate motivation for civic contributions, art, writing, sports.

The National Exam scores will be used to judge the applicant’s academic habits that ensure the effectiveness of their academic foundation after entering university, so one should aim for scores around 80% in general.

The writer

English Cafe brings the best 1st years.

This year, a really excited boy came up. I must have taught a class where I revealed that I liked anime, so he comes along one day and asks what shows I like and asks if I like JRPGs, and that he’s wants to write one in the future. Unfortunately, I’m no fan of JRPGs, but I am so excited to feel such rare passion from a student, so I totally show my support. He recommends to me J-pop groups, like Back-Tick, and recently a horror anime called Kurodzuka 黒塚, a Kamakura period style modern setting based on the story of 姨捨山, the mountain where you abandon your grandparents. At least that’s what I was able to fill the blanks with.

When he first comes up, he would try a few English phrases with me. I would continue the conversation in English, ask him a few questions, and I receive a stream of excited Japanese. I have to tell him to slow down, or explain a few things to me. I told him about a local Game Jam that’s happening at the local university. He hesitates, saying that he’s more of a writer, and will probably focus on that. At least he’s got his priorities straight!

The Modesty Walls

I consider myself a rather modest and humble person, but I also know that I can be a proud and stubborn, so I am constantly checking myself to make sure I’m not feeling full of myself in my interactions. With others in America, sometimes it felt like this “courtesy” wasn’t reciprocated, which left me frustrated because I wasn’t willing to play the “I’m better than you” game. In Japan, modesty and humility goes a long way in relationships with others, and since I’ve been here, it’s been nothing but a refreshing feeling of mutual respect. The struggle is real wherever you are, and everyone is eager to root the other on.

But now that I’ve been surrounded by it, I’m starting to see how modesty is a way to assert power. If one does it too much, I find it to be distancing, especially if they are older. Naturally, you wouldn’t want to push too much if someone is acting shy and uncomfortable talking about themselves, and usually old people are the first to tell you about themselves, especially if they find someone who has the time to listen.

So when they turn up the humility knob, I can’t help but feel stonewalled.

Welfare lesson

So the students learned about Finland’s welfare system in their textbooks, and they would know about Japan’s. So my JTE asked me to talk about America’s welfare system.

What a mess. This is going to be complicated.

After getting over the panic, I decided to just check out what wiki had, and summarized some federal welfare programs into a bullet-point list. But I also know how our daily American lives are filled with discussion about where our tax money goes, so I also provided a short summary on America’s history and how tax resistance is a cornerstone in our culture.

With all that in mind, I wanted the students to pretend they were mayors of a city and decide what top 3 government services they would provide to their citizens, and what services should be run by private companies.

All the girls provided services that took care of their citizens, like subsidizing health, parks for pets to roam free, and providing free concerts. Free wi-fi was also a last minute service for some. The boys used tax money to build monuments, for example, an unfinished Uesugi castle during the Sengoku period in Kita-Aizu.

To connect everything back to what they learned, I asked them which tax model they’d want to implement on their city, Finland’s, Japan’s, or a state in the United States (California). In order to help them decide, I wanted them to fill out a chart using data provided in the textbooks, and some tables I provided as data for California. They had to fill out the income tax range, real estate tax, and sales tax for each country/state.

The girls all chose Finland’s for security as seniors. The boys both chose the United States’ model because 1) their city would be full of rich people 2) their city would be a tax haven because it would have its own mint.

Legacy I tell you.

Kyuudo review

I’ve got a kyuudo test coming up in October, so I spent tonight’s session going through the moves again. Things to notice this time:

  1. Take one big step with your left foot, and 2 normal steps forward to the shooting line. There should be enough room for your knees to touch the shooting line.
  2. Eyes don’t go onto the target until your bow goes up. Eyes are at 4 meters in front of you, then at 2 meters when you kneel before the shooting line.
  3. Raise the left knee immediately after setting the bow on its bottom for the first arrow. Raise the left knee immediately before mochikaeri, returning the bow to its normal position in your hand. Lower the left knee before standing back up.
  4. At doozukuri, breathe 3 times before continuing.
  5. Inhale as your eyes follow the arrow to the target. Exhale at the target, and inhale as your eyes follow the arrow back to your bow.
  6. At daisan, position your bow only as far as where your elbow starts to hide the target from view.
  7. When leaving the shooting position, exit with your right foot. Turn with your right foot first.