Kinkaku-ji: The Golden Pavillion

At the very beginning of July I took a look at the beautiful weather outside and I decided that I needed to get out of the house and do something. Even after three months in Japan there was still so much that I hadn’t seen. So, I hopped on a train to Kyoto and then decided on where I might want to go. There are hundreds of temples in Kyoto and I had barely seen a handful.

The day was super sunny and because of that I decided I wanted to go and see Kinkaku-ji, the golden temple. I figured that it would be beautiful in the bright sunlight. I grabbed a bus at Kyoto station and I was on my way. Buses are the primary way of getting around in Kyoto. While it does have a subway system, it is not extensive and does not really cover all the sightseeing spots very well. The easiest way to get places is by bus.

The temple itself was very easy to find once I got off the bus. Like many of the popular temples it costs around 500-600 yen to get in. It was well worth it though. Like I had imagined the temple looked amazing with the sun glinting off of its gold coated walls. It was well worth the trip out there in the sun and heat. It is definitely a place I would return to see again.

There was also this fellow hanging out on an island near the temple. It definitely added to the picturesque feel of the temple. I’ve actually seen them quite a lot in Japanese gardens.  IMG_0816

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The Pros and Cons of Staying at a Japanese Manga Cafe

If you are young and traveling or living in Japan and on a budget then you have probably heard people tell you to stay at a manga or Internet cafe instead of finding yourself a hotel or hostel. It’s cheap and easy to do and if you give in a Google search you will probably find quite a few guides telling you how to do it.

But is staying in a manga cafe the right choice for you? It’s definitely not for everyone and depending on what you are looking for it can be a great choice or the worst decision of your trip.

So, without more ado, here is a list of Pros and Cons of staying at a Japanese Media Cafe.

Pros:

  • Cheap! This is definitely a choice for people on a budget as you won’t find many cheaper places to stay, especially not without booking ahead. Prices vary depending on the location but in general it can go from around 800 yen for around 3 hours or up to 3500 for 10 hours.
  • Location, location. Media cafes can be found all over the place in Japan and that can be a really awesome thing. Not done exploring an area? Partying so late that you missed the last train? There is probably a media Cafe close by that you can crash at without going too far at all, or paying for an expensive taxi.
  • Entertainment galore! Whether you want to peruse the larger manga library, watch tv or movies, or surf the net, these are all things that are typically included in a stay at a media Cafe. Even if you can’t find sleep you’ll still have plenty to do for the duration of your stay.
  • Shhh! Quiet! If you haven’t noticed yet Japanese people tend to be a lot quieter than most westerners. You’ll find that media cafes are very quiet places, the only sounds you’ll here are people moving around every so often and the occasional snore or person having a midnight snack. Obviously this is going to depend on who is around you, so it is pretty variable.
  • Free drinks and even showers! That’s right, a lot of these media cafes will offer extras like a drink bar(non-alcoholic) and even showers and tanning booths. Now this is not every place so check what kinds of extras places might have when looking around as not every place will be the same. The drinks bar is actually pretty awesome and affects a variety of drinks from different sodas to hot drinks like coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. The showers and other amenities are often for a price( a few hundred yen) but if you are the kind of person who feels like they can’t go without a shower then that is definitely a positive to look for.

Cons:

  • Itsy Bitsy Living Space. If small spaces aren’t your thing then this might not be for you. While it is generally more spacious than say a capsule hotel it’s not by much. There are a variety of different cubicles available at many media cafes and you can pick the one that suits your needs best. The smallest rooms are ones with just a general computer chair that doesn’t recline, this are usually the cheapest but if you can’t sleep sitting up then they probably aren’t for you. Other common room types are ones with a fully reclining computer chair and flat rooms which have a padded floor. If you need to sprawl out and lie down to sleep then go for the flat room. There are also options with couches if you are with friends and want to share. These are generally karaoke booth type rooms and a little bigger. Comfort is also not top priority in these places so if you are looking for a super soft bed then look elsewhere.
  • Privacy. If you need to feel like you have entirely your own space then this isn’t the best choice. Height wise the cubicles are maybe around five and a half feet tall so unless you are a rather short person you would easily be able to peer into other cubicles when standing. So, don’t go standing as this is generally considered very rude. While no one may be looking in on you, you still won’t be able to escape that open feeling as you stare up at the large open ceiling space above you and listen to the faint movements of everyone around you.
  • Speaking of noise, if you need absolute quiet to sleep then bring some ear plugs. While media cafes are indeed quiet there is still a lot of ambient noise going on constantly. There might be background music playing quietly and the sound of people shuffling around or even coming down on some chips at 4 in the morning. This might be highly dependent on the location though as I have read about some places turning off the power from midnight to six to allow for sleep.
  • More expensive then you might think. That’s right, even though the cheap price made it into the pros list there are definitely some price factors to think about if you want to stay at a media Cafe. The shorter you stay, the cheaper it is. If you are out partying until 2am and just need to crash somewhere until the first train of the morning then this is a wonderful option. Or if you need to be up for an early flight or event(like the fish market in Tokyo which starts in the wee hours of the morning before trains run). If you are looking for a full night’s stay then the price can go up dramatically, to around 3500 yen. Now, this is still very cheap for a night’s stay somewhere but if some of these other cons seem like they might be a problem for you then you can probably find a room at a hostel for around the same price.
  • Keep an eye on the time. The different packages available (3 hours, 6 hours, etc.) are definitely convenient but be aware of which one you pick. Many place will not let you change afterwords and they usually charge around 100 yen for every 15-30 minutes you stay over your time, which can really add up. They will come let you know your time is up too, so if you pick a 3 hour package at 3am after your done partying, be prepared for a 6am wakeup call.

There are obviously a lot of good and bad points about staying at a Japanese Manga Cafe. In the end it is really up to you whether or not this is an experience that you just have to try. As for me, I’m not sure it would be my go to choice if I have time to plan ahead. If I even miss the train then sure but if it’s a trip I’m planning ahead for then I’ll probably find myself a hostel.

If you are looking for a media Cafe to stay at in a busy area then check out the people standing around holding signs. These will many times be for media cafes or karaoke places. Be aware that the price on the signs may not be what they seem, as they are usually for the cheapest option possible and not the reclining or flat rooms.

Overall, staying in a media/manga/internet cafe in Japan is definitely on the list of cheap and unique places to stay in Japan. If you are traveling or living in Japan on a budget definitely don’t discount this as an option!

Surviving your first Japanese Concert

What can you do when it’s a rainy day and you’re on the Internet? Maybe buy a concert ticket? Well that is what I decided to do when I was bored one rainy day.

Now, buying a concert ticket in Japan is not an easy thing to do. Especially if you live outside the country. I luckily live here and so it’s a little bit easier. The hard part is navigating the ticketing sites, which don’t always respond well to google translate. So, after signing up for an account on one of the ticketing sites I was able to slowly navigate my way to buying a ticket to the concert that I wanted. This process was slow and required extensive use of the google translate app on my phone. Eventually though, I bought the ticket. The cool part? I hadn’t actually paid for it yet. Japan has a pretty cool system in place where you can pay for things at the convenience store. You just select the store you prefer and then head there and show them your number and they’ll print it off for you and you pay for it there. It’s super convenient if you don’t have a Japanese credit card, which are notoriously hard for foreigners to get.

So the ticket was bought and paid for, and all that was left was to wait for the concert that weekend. What concert? Well, in the past year or so I have become a fan of a certain anime that features male idol characters, and has a ton of songs to go along with it. The cool thing is that the voice actors, called seiyuu, are the ones performing all the songs. So because of that show I became a fan of several different seiyuu. Now, not only do these seiyuu do the voices in various anime and video games but many of them also have singing careers and have their own bands or singles. The concert I was heading to was for a favorite voice actor named Morikubo Showtaro. He has some pretty awesome music, I would totally recommend checking it out, and I was really excited to see him.

So the concert was at a pretty off the beaten track place in Kyoto, at least in terms of touristy areas, and it was pretty small. Kyoto isn’t exactly the go to place for concert, unlike Tokyo or Osaka. So this concert was standing room only and maybe only 800 people. Now, I’d looked up online when the merchandise booths opened and I arrived a little early to check out what kinds of merchandise there was. I was surprised at the amount of fans I saw there with merch from previous shows. So I bought a few things and then checked my purse into the coat check since you aren’t supposed to bring large bags and things into the concert. After that I intended to get some food but halfway there I realized that I’d left my ticket inside my checked bag like an idiot and so I had to go back and get it.

Because I bought my ticket last minute I ended up waiting until almost last to get in to the concert and so I was standing at the back. Thankfully, being just over average height here has its advantages as I could easily see the stage even from the back.

The show itself was great! There was a ton of songs, with little breaks for Morikubo to talk to the audience in between. As for the concert itself, the fans are defiantly more reserved than concerts that I went to back in Canada. They mostly stay in one place and there is no real dancing besides some serious arm waving. The exception to this was the group of girls at the back of the concert who where full on head-banging the whole time, whipping their long hair around like crazy for most of the songs. It was odd and I was hit by their hair more than once but at least it was a bit of a breeze?

All said and done the concert was super fun and an experience that I am so glad that I had, especially in my first few weeks of being here when I was just sitting around most days. I am really looking forward to getting to see more concerts this summer and the rest of the time that I am in Japan!

 

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

Well after the week of training it was finally time to head to my home city of Otsu, in Shiga prefecture. It was a very busy week with moving in and I had to get all sorts of things sorting like buying things for my apartment and getting a cell phone. My apartment is small but I quite like it. It is just enough space for me right now. We’ll see how I feel about it in a few months.

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I really like the neighbourhood that I am in as well. It is very much residential and like a suburb but it’s quieter than some places. I am also a very quick walk to trains and groceries. Also, to one of my schools. I am hoping that won’t be too much of a problem if kids find out where I live.

In my first week I did a little bit of sightseeing around my neighbourhood and Otsu but I mostly took it easy and worked on making my apartment home. I did go down and check out the lake briefly though.

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I also made a late afternoon visit to Omi Jingu shrine. It was very cool and I was nearly the only person there at the time. I look forward to going back there in the summer because they have a cool festival that involves horses and archery that I want to check out.

So, who likes lakes?

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Take a look at my new city folks! That’s right, I finally found out where I am heading to in Japan. Actually, I’ve found out twice because they have moved my placement once already about a week after I first found out. So this might not actually be set in stone but I’ll post this anyways because I have less than three weeks until I am in Japan!

Where am I going do you ask? Well in the last post I mentioned that I was narrowed down to three prefectures: Shizuoka, Shiga, and Kyoto. Well, I was placed in the capital city of the Shiga Prefecture, Otsu.

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As you can see it is very, very close to Kyoto and not very far from Osaka either. My earlier placement was a city only a little ways away on the other side of the lake so I’m not to concerned about the change.

Since getting my placement I have done a little, or a lot I suppose, of research on the prefecture and city that I am heading to. Shiga as you might notice from the picture is home to the largest freshwater lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. The lake itself is actually one of the twenty oldest lakes on the planet, something like 4 million years old. Because of it’s close proximity to Kyoto, Shiga is full of historical sites and things like that. The city that I am heading to, Otsu, is the capital of the prefecture and was at one point the capital of Japan for a very brief period. It’s maybe about 15 minutes away from Kyoto and it is full of some very famous shrines and temples.

I don’t know much else about my placement yet, besides that I will be working at a couple of elementary schools and that I won’t have to drive, but hopefully I will be hearing more soon. The countdown to Japan is officially in high gear though as I have 19 days before I get on a plane and get this adventure started!

Narrowing the Possibilities

As I talked about in my last post, patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to applying to live in Japan. That being said it seems like Interac is doing some new things this year which means that people like me, who were hired quite a few months ago, are getting a bit more info on where we will be earlier.

I got a phone call last night from the Tokyo office about a branch placement! So a branch of Interac is generally in charge of the contracts in a particular area in Japan. There are quite a few branches in Interac since they cover most of the country.

Anyways, I was offered a placement in the Hamamatsu Branch! (Which I accepted, obviously.) The Hamamatsu Branch works in the prefectures of Shizuoka and Shiga, as well as Kyoto (I’m not entirely clear on whether it’s the city or the prefecture for that one). I was really pleased to hear about this because it’s right around where I wanted to be. I really wanted some place that was in central Japan so that it would be easy to get around and travel.japan2

I have been spending my time (and abounding excitement) doing a little research on the areas Hamamatsu covers. Shiga is a prefecture right next to Kyoto and is home to Japan’s largest freshwater lake. It also seems to be pretty connected to Kyoto and rich with a lot of history. Shizuoka is on the other side of Japan and is home to Mt. Fuji.

I won’t find out an exact placement until sometime in January probably but at least I can kind of narrow it down now. I can’t wait to find out exactly where I will be. This blog might still be quiet for this month but once I start getting more information I plan to post more. I also want to talk about things like packing and purging a lot of my things and all. Also, you may find some really geeky translations of songs or cd dramas on here occasionally because I like to translate things to improve my Japanese.

Until next time!