Aakruti In Japan
Believing is everything

Being a teacher, I have learned many things both about myself and about people in general. From here on out, I’ll be posting a few stories about my students, changing names, of course.

The first story is about a student whose English level is not that great (Let’s call him John). When his class came in, he had the lowest level of English, probably among all of the English-intensive students in the whole school. Teachers helped him, but he struggled his entire first year. By the end of the year, he was ready to drop out and transfer to another school, where he wouldn’t be in an English intensive program. The last project of the semester was an essay. They could write about whatever they wanted, and some of the kids got really creative. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting an effort from John, but when I got his paper, I saw that it was clearly not his own work. When I found out, I had a talk with him. I told him that he had to re-do the entire paper on his own. As his level was really low, I told him that I would help him if he needed it, but even if he was intending on dropping out, I decided that I would have that essay from him, even if he submitted it late (mostly because I wanted to make sure he understood that it is wrong to plagiarize).

After days of his homeroom teacher and another English teacher working with him, John finally submitted the paper to me, so that I could correct his grammar. Little did I expect him to submit a 2-page monster (considering that the assignment was only 100 words) titled “I Hate English.” I was shocked, but I figured that if he wrote so much, he must’ve put effort into it, and I didn’t want to feel insulted so easily.

When I read the essay, I saw that he poured his heart and soul into it. The essay was certainly all about the reasons why he hated English, but it was in no way insulting to those who taught English. He mentioned how English, especially the pronunciation, was incredibly difficult for him. He also compared it to Spanish and Korean, in which proper pronunciation came much more easily to native Japanese speakers. He then said that he was grateful for all of the help that he had received from the teachers, and he apologized for not being able to understand. It was a really well-thought-out paper, and I even complemented him on it. When he read it to the rest of the class (as a part of the assignment), they were initially shocked that I let him read it, but they also understood his feelings by the time he was done reading.

The following April (the beginning of the Japanese school year), I was surprised to see him at Opening Ceremonies. I was really happy when I saw him, because it meant that he had decided to give English another chance, and it meant that he didn’t fail out of the school.

Later, I found out that while some of the boys in his class were talking negatively about how strict I could be sometimes, he immediately jumped to my defense (even though I wasn’t anywhere nearby). He said that I believed in him when nobody else would, and that I was a really good person, so they shouldn’t talk about me that way. When I heard this, I was very pleasantly surprised because I was under the impression that, after having made him work so hard, he hated my guts. I guess all it takes is showing a student that you actually care to make them appreciate you, at least in this case.

Nightlife in Osaka

I love exploring the nightlife wherever I am. However, wherever I go, I despise the touristy clubs crawling with drunk, horny people only trying to get some. Especially since I started dancing hiphop, I’ve been looking for clubs where people go to dance, not to look for someone to…I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

So when I first came to Japan, I hung out with mostly foreigners that I knew from work, or met through other foreigners. Non-Japanese people usually like to hang out with each other, and usually live in a bubble. It’s understandable, as Japanese culture is so different from western culture. However, the places frequented primarily by foreigners in this city are not exactly the best places to go dance. For example:

One place I really hate going to is Sam and Dave’s. The last time I was there, it was because my friend was celebrating her birthday there. If not for her birthday, I would not have set foot into that place at all. On weekends, it’s usually packed with tourists and locals who are only looking for some tail. I was in that club for less than an hour, and my ass got groped at least five times. The only time a guy apologized for it was when I turned around and shot him a dirty look, looking him dead in the eye. The people there are usually too drunk to function properly, they hit you in the face or the back when attempting to drunkenly do a stupid dance move, and seem to be unaware of the fact that just randomly touching someone’s ass or dancing up behind them can be considered as sexual harassment. Don’t get me wrong, some people like that kind of stuff, but it is just plain rude to touch certain parts of people without their permission.

Another place I despise is a club called Pure. The crowd at the club is quite the opposite from the meaning of the club’s name. Yes, there’s an all-you-can-drink special for 3000 or 4000 yen, but, once again, that attracts the same type of crowd. I’ve only been to that club twice: once because I was new to the city and didn’t know about it, and the second time, because a social organization rented out the club for an event (though, unfortunately,  it still attracted the same crowd). The first time I went, a random local came up to me and just randomly asked me to pole dance. I thought he was joking, but he went on about it, demonstrating that he seriously wanted me to do it. The second time I went there, this creeper kept staring at me. When I glared at him and tried to walk out of his line of sight, he would somehow end up staring at me again throughout the course of the night. Finally, toward the end of the event, he approached me and said, “You are bloody Indian. YOU ARE BLOODY INDIAN!” to which I replied, “get the hell away from me.” Mind you, he was almost my father’s age. Needless to say, I have never been back there, and wouldn’t even go there for a friend’s birthday.

While there are plenty of grimy clubs like this around the city, these two seem to be the worst, in my experience anyway. On the other hand, there are also some pretty good places that I tend to frequent. Here are some of my favorite places:

Azure is probably my favorite club in all of Osaka. They play hiphop/top 40 music. The club isn’t as big as Sam&Dave’s or Pure, but it’s still big enough to fit a good number of people. The bartenders and bouncers are friendly, the drinks are great and there is a discount for foreigners. However, unlike a club that caters almost exclusively to foreigners, Azure actually caters to those who are interested in dancing rather than picking people up. The music always has a good beat, and some of Osaka’s most well-known hiphop dancers frequent this club. Whether you get there at 10pm (before many people arrive) or at 2am when the party is at its peak, you’ll most likely see people dancing real hiphop, popping/locking, etc. It’s as fun to watch people dance there as it is to dance.

Another place that I enjoy going to is called Garden Bar. It’s not usually as crowded as Azure, and the party only really gets going after midnight or one, but this place is excellent if you like having room to dance. This place has a bar area where you can sit/stand and chat, and also has a separate dance area where you can go show off your moves, or sway to the music if you can’t dance too well. Every time I go there, I see well-known hiphop dancers doing their thing, or socializing with people at the club. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a VIP area at this club, so it’s not pretentious at all. While the place is a bit difficult to find, not that big, and without an English-speaking staff, it’s still one of my favorite clubs.

If you’re more into Top 40 than hiphop, then Grand Cafe is the place for you. I went there once on a Thursday night, but it was one of my better nights out. That night, ladies were free until midnight, and it was all you can drink until 11pm. Even though they had an all-you-can-drink, the crowd wasn’t sleazy at all. In fact, everyone was super cool, and there was even a smoke-free dancefloor (there was a separate bar/lounge area where smoking was allowed). The vibe was classy, the DJ was spinning great songs and the crowd was cool.

If you prefer to party in Umeda, I really enjoyed my night at Owl. Once again, Owl is a bit difficult to find, but if you ask at the train station, the attendants will guide you there. I was only there once, but I had a great time. The entrance was a tunnel of dim LED lights, and that was really cool. When I got inside, the decor was super classy, and the music was great. I was there for a DJ event, but I know that Owl usually plays top 40/house music with a bit of hiphop mixed in. The staff is friendly, the crowd is well-dressed and the music and ambiance of the club make for a fun night.

Not a clubber? There are some pretty good bars as well.

One of my favorite places to hang out is a place called L&L. It’s a little bit off the main road, but is worth a visit. It caters mostly to foreigners, but all are welcome there. The dance area downstairs is a bit small, but the main floor is pretty chill, and the crowd is nice. They have shisha/hookah, but the main reason why I go there is for the food. Their menu has some delicious mediterranean food (some of the best Falaffel I’ve ever had) and the drinks are reasonably priced as well.

Finally, a block down from L&L is a place called Shanti. It’s a bit hidden, and it has the same owner as L&L. The decor is mostly Indain and the food is mostly western, but like L&L they still have shisha and reasonably-priced drinks. The vibe is great, and they even have an area where you can take off your shoes and sit on pillows behind sheer curtains. It’s a bit small, but it’s still a fun time. I recommend their garlic toast.

Overall, Osaka is a great city for nightlife. There are tons of great bars and clubs, even besides the ones I have listed (needless to say, I haven’t visited every bar/club in this city). If you’re looking for a great night with your friends, the places I mentioned above are probably your best bet. Enjoy!

On Being a Bookworm

One of my favorite places in Osaka is the library. It took me a while to get my library card, but when I actually took the 60 seconds to fill out my name and my address on the little registration card, I realized that having a library card is well worth it.

Since before I could remember, my mother always stressed the importance of reading. I remember making trips with her to the library at least once a week, and coming out with a stack of 25 books. She often read me 2-3 “bedtime stories” per night, often encouraging me to read them on my own once I turned five. Even years later, the entire staff at my local library in the US still knows me by name. Though the Osaka City Central Library is just a bit less personal, it is just as magical of a place. There are several reasons why I love the Osaka City Municipal Libraries:

1. Anyone who lives in Osaka can join! All you need to register is the registration form, for which it takes 60 seconds to fill out your name, address, phone number and email address; and a form of ID with your Osakan address on it (I used my Alien Registration card). Within another minute, I had my library card, and access to thousands and thousands of English books!

2. The Osaka City Municipal Libraries have an inter-library loan system. This means that if you want a book from another library, they can have it delivered to the library of your choice within a day or two, provided that somebody hasn’t already checked it out. You can either go to the library and request it through the online catalogue, or you can go on the website and request it online from your home computer or your smartphone, which leads me to my next point…

3. They have an English (and Chinese) version of their website! It’spretty easy to navigate and includes a bunch of information about the libraries, and even has an English search engine in which you can look for books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, etc. As mentioned before, you can even request books through this website (even if you’re too lazy to search for it on the shelves of your local branch, they’ll pull it off the shelf for you), and they will send you an email or call you (your choice) when your requested book has arrived. It’s pretty awesome.
( http://www.oml.city.osaka.jp/english/index.html )

4. There are books in a bunch of different languages. Besides Japanese, there is a pretty good selection of books in English and in Chinese, and they even have books in German, French, Italian, Baha-Indonesian, etc…

5. They have an amazing selection of both domestic and foreign magazines (and newspapers, which I don’t really read at the library). I’m not sure about whether or not you can borrow the magazines, but it’s great to be able to read magazines from all over the world, like the New Yorker, The Economist, Time, Newsweek, Cosmo, Cosmo Paris, Vogue, Vogue Paris, Le Figaro, Allure…(I’m sure you get the picture). 

6. It’s all FREE! (or rather, financed by the taxes you pay). You don’t have to pay any fees for getting a library card, renewing your card, borrowing certain types of media, etc., and I’m pretty sure that they don’t charge any fees for overdue books either. It’s a pretty sweet deal. 

For people like myself who love to read, I strongly recommend joining your local library instead of shelling out the big bucks at Kinokuniya and other bookstores for books that you are only going to read once or twice. It has been well worth it for me, and I’ve only been a member for a few months ^_^

Japanese Concerts

Last Saturday, I went to the Springroove concert in Kobe. The performers were Kreashawn, Azalea Banks, LMFAO (with Quest Crew), 2NE1 and Big Bang. I went with two of my friends. All of the performances were so good that they blew my mind!

Let me preface my story by saying that I have found the Japanese to be the nicest, most polite people I have ever met, so some of the people I will talk about in this post are not your typical Japanese people. That being said:

When I got there, it was around noon. The line had already wrapped around the block. Fortunately, one of my friends already knew some people who were on line for an  hour and a half longer than us, so we went to stand with them. By the time we got into the venue, it turned out that instead of getting tickets to stand on the floor near the stage, my other friend and I accidentally bought tickets up in the seats. I explained to the guy who checked my tickets that I wanted to stand, not to sit, and that the guy at Lawson’s told me that my tickets were standing. Then, I asked if there was a way that I could pay the difference in ticket price and go down to stand. I guess he appreciated my gesture to pay my part, so he was like “shhhh” and let my friend and me through after talking to his manager. 

Unfortunately, the attendees of the concert were not as kind. As I was pushed forward in the crowd, people kept trying to tap my shoulder and asking me to move back, even though there was no possible way I could move. When (to my pleasure) I got pushed to the second row of standees, right next to the stage, there were high school girls who had a problem with me. For some reason, even though they were in the ideal position to see the concert, they kept trying to make me in particular move back, even though I was trying to ignore them. This one girl who was in the first row of standees kept trying to physically push me. At one point, she tried to jab my arm with her spike bracelet and her friend physically scratched me. When I pretended not to understand Japanese, they tried to call the security guard and tell him I was dangerous for not being able to put my arms down, but luckily, the security guard told her that the crowd was too thick, and that it couldn’t be helped. At another point, when the crowd was pushing too hard, I was in pain and said “ouch, ouch, pain, pain!” and the girl who scratched me was like “shutup shutup shutup.” I got so fed up that I was like “You shut up!” After that (which happened toward the end of the concert), they didn’t really bother me. If it weren’t for these girls, I would have had the best concert experience of my life because the five acts were certainly phenomenal. It was the crowd that wasn’t. 

While this might not be the last time I see a musical performance in Japan, my experience with the crowd has made me decide never to see a top-40 act live in Japan because I have been told that these types of girls tend to frequent these events. As long as I’m in Japan, I think I’ll stick to the performances by artists like David Choi: not too crowded and no psycho fangirls to deal with. 

Bikes

Bikes are incredibly popular throughout Japan, especially in Osaka. In fact, one of the first things I did when I moved to this city was to trade in my predecessor’s old bike for a shiny new one of my own. Every time I use it, I tell myself that buying my bike was one of the best investments I have ever made. In the United States, at least where I’m from, there are not very many bike lanes, and things are very far apart (and by far, I mean by more than 2-3 kilometers), so it is a bit difficult to bike anywhere. Also, though Osakan drivers are insane, they still seem to respect bikers more than the drivers in the US, in my experience. I always take my bike when I do my weekly grocery shopping, but lately, I have been biking to other places more often than taking the subway (probably because it’s spring break and my schedule is freer), and I’ve noticed that there are, in fact, a considerable amount of people in this city who travel by bike. 

While riding around, especially during the past few days, I have noticed some quirks about Osakan bikers:

1. Many people don’t bike on the correct side of the sidewalk/bike lane (we drive on the left here, but many bikers seem to ride on whichever side suits their fancy that day). 

2. If you are coming face-to-face with an Osakan biker, even if they are biking on the wrong side, they will play chicken with you until either you move, or they are inches from you. 

3. Some bikers don’t use lights at night (admittedly, I’m guilty of this, too because I either forget, or don’t feel like exerting the extra energy to power the light when I’m biking uphill). 

4. Most Osakan bikers don’t look both ways before crossing the street, even if there’s no traffic signal or stop sign for cars on that particular street. 

5. If you slow down to look both ways before crossing the street on your bike, other bikers will zoom past you. 

6. If you are biking at a reasonable speed, there will always be those one or two bikers on your way to your destination that think you’re going too slow, and will cut you off. 

7. Osakan bikers tend to get dangerously close to you. Even if the signal is green for you and red for them, some bikers will zoom perpendicularly past the front of your bike, with only centimeters between your bike and theirs. If you and another biker are going opposite ways, but there’s only a narrow space for both of you to pass, even if you’re already going through that space, the opposite biker will come within a centimeter of you to pass you. Same for those bikers behind you who feel you are going too slow. This particular quirk scares the bejesus out of me every time it happens. 

8. Bikers here aren’t required to wear helmets, and nobody does. 

9. Osakans will park their bikes anywhere there’s room, even if there is a “no bikes” sign. (The photo below was taken nearby where I work). 

10. Some people will bike with their pet dogs sitting in the front basket. 

Riding a bike in this city, for me, is an adventure because I always have to be alert, and I usually get a thrill every time I ride from the crazies (or apparently, the average Osakan bikers) who come close to crashing into me. Nonetheless, it is incredibly convenient and useful to own and use a bike in this city. 

Socializing in Japan

From my experience, making friends with Japanese people is a lot like making friends with Europeans: A friendship goes beyond a simple facebook add. In order to be considered as a friend, you have to connect with the person and spend time with them, rather than just being acquainted with them. That’s why it takes time to develop friendships in Japan. 

When I first came here, I made friends with other foreigners who lived in my building, but I was finding it difficult to make friends with my Japanese colleagues. I wondered why this was. I realized that since people already have established social circles here, and their friendships are already pretty deep, it is a bit difficult to break into these circles, especially because they don’t know you as well as they know the others, and it takes time to get to know a new person. 

If this is the case, then how did I manage to make new Japanese friends? Personally, I consider myself to be an outgoing person. I love meeting new people, talking with them, and discovering new perspectives. I therefore attend many social events hosted by organizations such as AJET (the Association for JETs), FranceKansai (an open social circle for anyone who is interested in French and Francophone culture in the Kansai area) and Whynot (an open social circle for foreigners and Japanese people who want to interact and learn about each other’s culture). While I’ve found that most Japanese people are shy about making new friends, the outgoing ones who want to meet and talk to foreigners actually attend events hosted by organizations such as Whynot and FranceKansai. There are many groups like these all throughout Japan. While you obviously won’t have a brand new Japanese BFF from only going to one of these events, you can still make friends who you will see regularly at these events, and build your social circles over time.

Also, don’t be afraid to keep in touch with your new friends through email and social media such as facebook. That is how you establish and maintain friendships. Make plans. Create facebook events and invite groups of people to do things such as watching movies on days with discounts, taking a daytrip out to a nearby city or by going to see things like interesting museum exhibits. 

While you won’t likely build an entire social network overnight, you will meet more and more people over time if you put yourself out there socially. I hope this helps. 

Restaurant Review: Chano-ma

Fun Fact: Osaka is known as the Kitchen of Japan. After living here for six months, I realized why: the food here is absolutely delicious, and you don’t have to empty your wallet to get good food around here. I will start posting restaurant recommendations to this tumblr (alongside other types of commentary about my experience here). 

One of the first restaurants I went to in Osaka is called Chano-ma, which means living room. It’s located on the 7th floor of the Marui(OIOI)/Toho Cinema building in Namba. It was actually a friend who brought me there. When I entered the restaurant, I was greeted by a relaxed ambience and a friendly staff. I noticed two types of seating: regular tables and chairs, and beds. Needless to say, I requested a spot on one of the beds. 

Once I got the menu, I saw lots of things. While many of the dishes were meat-and fish-based, there were still plenty of vegetarian options. So far, I have several favorites. First, their coleslaw with salted kelp is great. It’s not heavy or greasy like American coleslaw. In fact, all it consists of is a stack of cabbage topped with a light mayonnaise sauce and bits of salted kelp. It’s a great appetizer. For the main course, my go-to dish is their mochi-cheese pizza. At first look, it looks like it is a thin tortilla topped with lots of cheese, but in fact, it’s only a thin layer of cheese over mochi, topped with a sweet garlic sauce and a dash of (not too spicy) chili oil. It’s a unique taste, but in a good way. Finally, if I’m in the mood for dessert, they have a rather large selection to choose from. My favorite, though, is the pumpkin coconut cake. It’s white sponge cake with pumpkin (and I suspect coconut) filling, tpped with white icing with a mild coconut flavor. It’s one of the best desserts I’ve had in osaka so far (and trust me, I’ve had a lot of dessert here). 

Needless to say, I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone who is looking for a culinary adventure in Osaka, and also to those who are just looking for some good food at a reasonable price. 

National Umbrella Exchange

Normally, I’m the type of person who likes to be prepared. My predecessor (the girl who lived in this apartment before I did) left me at least 10 or 15 umbrellas (which I’m grateful for, considering the quality of the umbrellas and the general price of good umbrellas in Japan). As a result of having so many umbrellas, I brought 2 of them to school, and left them in the faculty lounge’s umbrella rack, which is over-stuffed with teachers’ umbrellas. 

Today, it started raining when I was in school. I didn’t mind, because I knew I had two umbrellas waiting for me on the rack. By the end of the day, the rain was coming down pretty hard. I was looking forward to being under the protection of one of my two strong umbrellas. I walked over to the rack and alas, neither of my umbrellas were there. This was especially bad, since I wasn’t going straight home. I felt a pang of fear, hoping I wouldn’t have to venture out into the deluge unprotected (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but there was enough rain to wet my hair by the time I got to the subway). 

Luckily, I remembered that Japan conveniently has an unofficial “National Umbrella Exchange.” Let me explain: Once, I went to a club with some of my friends on a rainy day. I left my umbrella in the rack, but someone had taken it by the time I was ready to leave, so one of my friends who lived in Japan for a while told me that people often take the wrong umbrella here and leave their own behind, so it was ok to take another one. Fortunately, it stopped raining by that time, so I didn’t need to. 

Remembering that instance, I figured it was okay for me to take an umbrella from the rack in the teachers’ lounge. I told one of the teachers about my predicament, and she said I was allowed to take an umbrella on the condition that I return it tomorrow, so I did just that. This confirmed my induction into the Officially Unofficial National Umbrella Exchange of Japan. 

Needless to say, the umbrella that is currently drying in my Genkan will be returned to the teachers’ lounge racks with the hope that my umbrella will have suddenly appeared on it. 

Hi, I'm applying for JET this year and would LOVE to get Osaka-shi (or anywhere in the Kinki region around the waters)! Would you happen to have any clue to how you managed to get that location? At this point, I don't know what reasons to give them for that placement request other than something no better than "I just want to be in Kansai"

Osaka-Shi is the most competitive prefecture to get into. Furthermore, there are only about 3-5 spots opening up next year, if that. Also, the newly-elected mayor is thinking of reducing (or eliminating) the number of JET program ALTs from Osaka-Shi and replacing us with private ALTs. However, we and our colleagues at the BOE will work to keep the number of positions constant. 

I didn’t do anything special to get this placement, except list Osaka as one of my top 3 preferences. Contrary to popular belief, the JET people at your local consulate do take your preferences into consideration when assigning you to a prefecture.

That being said, other JETs have just as rewarding of an experience as we do. While Osaka-Shi is great, there are both pros and cons to it as with any other placement. I wish you the best of luck getting into the JET program, and hope you get your desired placement! ^_^

i noticed that i can reply to ur posts right on ur tumblr page instead of just on the dashboard. how did you make your tumblr so that you can do? ur blog is the only one i know that can do that.

I think you do that through the settings. I just fiddled around with it and discovered the option.