Well it’s been fun Japan…

And it has been fun, but looking at my bank balance (well more glancing out of the corner of my eye as to minimise the pain), it’s time to come back to England.

So, I’m currently typing this from Tokyo, where I’ll be for the next ~2 weeks, and after that it’s back to England…for like a day, then off to my mum’s place in France for (hopefully not too long – sorry mum!) whilst I look for work, line-up interviews etc. etc. back in England.

To make something clear, even if money weren’t the deciding factor I would still be set on leaving Japan at the end of the 1 year (so I guess that would’ve been March 2019), and whilst I could go into so much more detail here about all the ‘whys’ etc. a) I don’t think I can do it justice typed up here and b) I want something to talk about over drinks when I next see you wonderful people.

So, apologies Rich – I won’t be meeting you in Tokyo for drinks at the end of October, but I will send you some of recommendations for both Tokyo and Kyoto – I hope they’re useful, and if you have any follow-up questions, feel free to get in touch.

As for the blog, if I do/eat anything interesting over the next 2 weeks I’ll post about it, and if I feel like doing any retrospective posts on my time in Japan then those might appear here. The domain name will expire next March, so I’ll probably keep things ‘alive’ until then, at which point I’ll probably make it private on the default (i.e. free) wordpress address so (only) I can look back at it every now and then.

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Looking back at life in Tsumagoi (嬬恋)

So I guess this post will be a bit of a retrospective list of fun/interesting stuff that I encountered in my 2 months in 嬬恋.

And I mentioned previously that I was staying in Tsumagoi (嬬恋), and whilst technically true, we were very much on the outskirts (where all the holiday homes etc. are). So occasionally we would venture into the village-proper for events and whatnot.

One such event was the local festival – which was very small in scale but still pretty neat to see.

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This was the like the opening ceremony I guess, and with it being a predominantly farming (cabbages!) village, it was held in September – so more of a harvest festival than anything else.

Also, a few days after there was a really cool fireworks festival – 花火大会! Of which I have zero photos because my phone simply couldn’t cope with the very dark/very light contrast well at all. But I can assure you that it was absolutely delightful – set in a small village, amongst mountains made for a gorgeous backdrop for what (for me at least) was a nice farewell to Tsumagoi.

Anyway, enough waffle, here’s a list of random observations/happenings I kept track of on my phone whilst there – most of them are more ‘me-specific’ rather than anything to do with Tsumagoi, but whatever, read if you want to 🙂

– Trying to explain in Japanese how Windows changed from Windows 95 to Windows 98 and Windows 98 2nd Ed. specifically around USB support (painful!!).
– Pretty sure on that one night that I couldn’t sleep there was a bear or some other large animal outside my room at like 1am, pawing at the windows.
– Then there actually was a bear but I missed it because it occurred just after we’d left for work – police were called and everything.
– Bugs just in general. Man I do not miss that.
– Everyone I spoke to outside of folks running this farm and the volunteers, asked “where are you from?” as their opening gambit, fair enough I guess – white folks are pretty rare in these parts.
– Riding in the back of a truck in torrential rain.
– going to cut a cabbage and having it disintegrate in your hands because it was so thoroughly rotten, bleh.
– Ridiculously good home cooking…every day.
– Teaching English to several very awesome (and very patient) people.
– That guy I worked with for a week who barely said anything other than “thanks” or “ok”. Oh shit, I don’t even know his name. eep.
– Driving a tractor.
– That one time I was driving the tractor, fully loaded with several hundred cabbages and I unintentionally pulled a wheelie – absolutely terrifying.
– The feeling of a shower after 12+ hours of work.
– Getting up at 4:30am…like almost every day for 2 months.
– Having to contain my jubilation after hearing that “the rain’s too heavy, looks like today’s a day-off”.
– Being called ‘onii-chan’ or ‘senpai’ – too weird, I said just call me David (デイビッド).
– When it got cold (~10c) for a few days, and having nabe (hot pot) for dinner was just the best thing.
– Arm muscles (which I believe is the technical term)…that, aside from lugging around my suitcase, I intend to never use again
– Telling every newbie about the (lack of) local attractions, and seeing their expression at the news was always pretty fun.
– Of all the “do you have x in England” questions, being asked “are there black people in England” was pretty funny.
– Thoroughly shattering everyone’s image of England, both through me being me (sorry!), and explaining we don’t all walk around a foggy London with bowler hats, umbrellas and suitcases.

 

A day on the cabbage farm

So, not much to post in this one, just thought I’d share some parts of what has been my day-to-day for the past 2 months (as of writing I have left the illustrious world of cabbage farming). And also apologies for the lack of photos – taking my most important possession (well, 2nd to my passport) to a cabbage field was not in my list of things I wanted to do.

5am – start work!

Wow, yeah, this was a…not so much a shock, rather it just took a little getting used to do.

In summer it wasn’t that bad, as it was already relatively warm (at least by UK standards) by this time in the morning, and fortunately I only got to experience a handful of days where it was legit cold, and riding in the back of a truck (FUN! No really.) on these days, usually accompanied by some rain wasn’t the *best* way to start the day.

5am – 7:30am – cut some cabbages!

Or rather ‘harvest’, but we just used cut (切る) as short-hand i guess, nothing to it – just cut the cabbage and chuck it in a pile…many hundreds of times. Even on dry/warm days it’s surprisingly ‘wet’ work – so waterproof clothes and wellies it is. Only real downside apart from being amazingly tedious, is the often encountered rotten cabbage – enough to turn anyone’s stomach – you just sort of get used to it…until one disintegrates in your hand and you begin to question all your life-choices up to this point. Anyway, moving on…

7:30am – Breakfast on the field!

A delicious homemade bento by the wife of the couple who run the farm – Taeko(妙子)-san. Always delicious, and always most welcome.

It is worth just taking a break from this seemingly-endless barrage of boring text to appreciate the scenery in which I was doing this job.

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ok good? back to the tedium

8:00am-finish – Loading cabbages!

So, pretty much every part of lining up boxes, packing the cabbages into said boxes and then loading them onto pallets on the back of a tractor. I usually did more of the ‘lining up’ and ‘loading’ than anything else – you know because I’m a man (lol).

This did involve plenty of opportunity to drive a tractor, which was at times fun, occasionally terrifying, but usually just pretty ordinary. Oh yeah, proof:

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Finish depended on a few things such as: the field (quality of cabbages, integrity of ground), and if we had any extra helpers (and how quick they were at cutting cabbages). Recently it was around Midday, but there’s been a few days that finished at 4pm (bleh), and a few that finished at 11am (yay).

And then?

Well, free time to see all that sights in Tsumagoi (嬬恋村)…so pretty much just reading, and studying.

Although depending on the other folks volunteering, I did end up spending a decent amount of time just chatting to the awesome people that were volunteering there or helping them learn English, which was kinda fun – please don’t take this to mean that I actually want to be an English teacher – this is most definitely not the case.

WWOOF-ing in Tsumagoi (嬬恋村)

So, where were we?
Ah yes, after doing another round of sightseeing (see recent posts), I headed once again to Tokyo for a few days. There it was more of the same old Tokyo stuff that I always do, and then it was time to hop on a shinkansen to Karuizawa (軽井沢), and then head to my home for the next couple of months – a small village in Gunma Prefecture (群馬県) called Tsumagoi (嬬恋村).


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Having mostly experienced living in big cities (Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto), I wanted to experience the rural side of Japan. And fortunately for me (and my bank balance) there’s a scheme called WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) whereby you can totally work on a farm virtually anywhere in Japan (in fact it’s worldwide), and in return you’re provided with lodgings, meals and whatnot.

So here I am working on a farm, a cabbage farm no less – apparently Tsumagoi is something like the ‘cabbage capital’ of Japan (a sentence that is perhaps the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever produced), producing 90%+ of the cabbages consumed in Japan. Kinda neat, but it is still just cabbages so nothing to get too excited about.

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just look at all them cabbages

The folks that i’m staying with/working for are a couple in their late-60s(!), and they run a guesthouse as well as a relatively small cabbage farm, I say ‘relatively’ but there’s still plenty of work to be done, and whilst it varies from planting, watering and misc. tasks like cutting grass etc., at this time of year the main job is harvesting – for which I’ll do a separate post to bore everyone with the cabbage-y details.

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Anyway, it’s pretty much nothing like I expected, I didn’t realise before coming here that Karuizawa is synonymous with holiday homes and guesthouses/lodges etc. so it’s a lot less like a ‘village’ than I imagined and more like I’m just staying in a quiet rural retreat. Which isn’t too bad, though it does mean that everything is pretty far away – which is fair, I’ve just been spoiled by cities which excellent transport connections.

But still, plenty of opportunities to practice my Japanese – which is great (the opportunity that is, not my Japanese).

Oh, and bugs, loads of bugs. Though, I do seem to have reached some sort of accord with the bugs in as much as, they don’t bother me and I don’t kill them…is what I like to think, but the reality is more that I don’t think the guesthouse I’m in was used much before my arrival, so the bugs have probably just retreated into the recesses until I leave.

Anyway, look forward to more cabbage-based blog posts coming soon. or not, i don’t know.

I’m not dead, but this blog is for a while

So yeah, my internet situation has gone from ‘occasionally alright’ to ‘even posting text is tricky’, so yeah…don’t expect any new posts for at least a month.

However, after that you’ll get pictures of:

– Kanazawa (金沢)

– Some anime guff (Evangelion!!!)

– Takayama (高山)

– Kamikochi (上高地)

– Lake Kawaguchiko (河口湖) – one of the (5?) Great Lakes around Mt. Fuji

– Maybe one or two pics of Tokyo (again)

And I assume some pics from my current adventure which is…

Cabbage farmer.

I know right!? Also, pretty sure I won’t be able to eat cabbage ever again after this month

Anyway it’s in Gunma (群馬) prefecture in the middle of nowhere – hence the awful Internet. It’s frickin’ hot, and the list of things I’ve been told to be careful of includes: snakes, foxes, bears, bugs…well rather I wasn’t told to be careful of the bugs, I’ve definitely encountered some plenty of interesting specimens.

That said, the hosts/employees/people feeding me are awesome, so that’s a huge plus.

Anyway, the bugs are slowly encroaching, so I should probably go. Laters.

(Also, posting this from my phone so I assume the formatting has gone to shit)

edit: The formatting was so bad I ended up using my laptop on this god-forsaken wifi.

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It’s a super chill bar in Osaka, stocked with most video game consoles from the last ~30 years and cd booklets (remember those things that held like 30 CDs) & trays full of games. On top of that, the walls inside are absolutely crammed with old games, game-related books and other miscellaneous merchandise.

Due to it being a) super chill and b) full of games, it has quickly become my favourite place to get drunk in Osaka.

And the only reason I found it was through stopping to take a photo of the awesome artwork painted on the store’s shutter. (and yes I keep meaning to go back and get an unobstructed photo of the shutter)

 

I’m back baby

Well I guess technically I never left?

So yeah, been a few weeks since I last posted, but finally, yesterday (July 1st) was the JLPT exam I’ve been studying for for the last couple of months. 100% sure I passed the first 2 sections, though the last (listening) section may have been my downfall (though still cautiously optimistic).

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I guess the first part of the test is being able to read where the test is being held.

There was though a really (unintentionally) funny moment during the listening section: picture an exam hall with a few hundred folks in, everyone’s pretty tense with it being a potentially important exam (though N3 isn’t that important I guess…) and at the end of one of the questions there’s a pause, and a voice on the tape that says “let’s take a break” but you know, in Japanese, and then like 20 seconds of basically this:

So everyone’s basically just still holding their pencils just waiting for this seemingly endless 20 seconds to finish…it was a little surreal and I couldn’t help but chuckle a little. The exam invigilators didn’t even crack a smile though.

Anyway, hopefully now I’ll have a little more time to post stuff or you know, do stuff.