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Concrete, Steal, and Sushi
by Nathan Schelble
When in Japan you may ask... Why do they do it like that? How come nobody reciprocates a smile or a hello? Who could ever understand what they mean? What is with all the high prices? Where can we go to get a hearty American meal?
My wife and I arrived in Japan a little over a year
ago and occasionally we still ask these same questions. We feel as
though we have been in this wonderful country just long enough to
understand why ex-patriots love living in Japan; but not nearly long
enough to totally understand this interesting and complex culture. We
certainly don't claim to be experts on living and working in Japan. In
fact, if one were to talk to various expatriates about their experiences
in Japan, I would say their perceptions would vary greatly.
The faculty, staff, students, and parents are truly outstanding.
With the help of Joyjobs we were able to land International teaching positions at Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan.
Kobe is famous for their devastating earthquake about 10 years ago. The hand massaged, and beer fed Kobe beef are a trademark. Interestingly enough, I don't know of anyone who has ever seen beef cattle in Kobe. Also, Kobe is known to be one of the most desirable Japanese cities to live in.
We actually live on Rokko Island, an artificial
island attached to the mainland by two bridges and a monorail. This
unique Island was built to provide more shipping surface area along
it's peripheral, and an "ideal" place to live in it's center. The
environment feels and looks like a large university campus. In other
words, it's not really like living in Japan. Residence of Rokko
Island joke and say "I had an adventurous weekend, I rode my bike
across the bridge to
The island's landscape architecture is European influenced, it¹s population is widely multi-national, and it houses several international companies. There is even a chlorinated river running through the center of town, complete with elaborate fountains and an on/off switch. We've heard it said that one could be born, attend school through university, work, retire, die, and never have to leave Rokko Island.
Canadian Academy is our employer, "family," and life blood while here in Japan. It is a world-class kindergarten through 12th grade, American curriculum school. It is said to be one of the top ten international schools in the world, and we believe it! The faculty, staff, students, and parents are truly outstanding.
The Japanese appear to have an obsession with ferris wheels, fireworks, and fast mopeds. Every city has a ferries wheel, don't ask why. Almost every night, especially in the summer, we hear fireworks. In addition, the younger male generation love to display their "manhood" by illegally modifying mopeds to make them faster and louder. As you probably can guess, getting to sleep at night can be a chore.
At first glance, Japanese cities look like nothing more than concrete and steal jungles. It appears there is nothing more than raised highways, small automobiles, factories lining the coast, and every usable space utilized. When one takes a closer look, Japan offers a plethora of puddles of beauty amidst the crowds, traffic, and pollution. It's a relieving joy to stumble upon an ancient temple, a hidden waterfall, a mesmerizing view, or a traditional noodle shop when one least expects it. They are refreshing reminders that make us say "Oh yea we're living in Japan!"
Many people complain about the high costs of visiting or living in The Land of The Rising Sun. Sure it can be expensive but so can living in London, New York City, or Sydney for example. It helps to consider the cliché "you get what you pay for" when discussing the inflated costs to living in Japan. Japanese customer service is second to none. The Japanese pride themselves on helping one's neighbor or anyone, and a tip is not expected. Japan is the second safest country in the world, which is worth a lot. This is an amazing statistic when one considers the shear masses of people (126 million) and how notably scarce and ineffective the Japanese police appear to be. In addition, the Japanese public transportation system is punctual, clean, vast, and somewhat affordable. Okay, let's not forget the priceless luxury of saying "Oh yea we're living in Japan."
There are certain things one just does not buy or do very often while in Japan. For example, melons, berries, furniture, going out to the movies, vacationing, and highway tolls will particularly put a dent in one's wallet.
On the other hand, broccoli, bananas, seafood, wine, renting movies, going out for a simple meal, and used cars are surprisingly affordable. Then there is sushi. Japan is, undeniable, legendary when referring to sushi. The freshness, preparation, price, and taste are premo. One really has to make up special words to do it justice like scrumdelicious, fantastyful, or yummifying for example.
The language barrier has not caused as much grief as we expected. Non-verbals, a smile, and knowing a few necessary words and Japanese symbols can go a long way. When one works, lives, and socializes with English speakers, that drive to learn the local language to survive is hard to maintain. Interestingly enough, during the holidays most ex-patriots, we know, leave Japan where their dollar can go further for entertainment, shopping, and general vacationing options. As a result, leaving Japan every chance one gets, doesn't promote effective study of the language. At least this has been our excuse, ahh I mean observation. Without a doubt, more doors open up and a better understanding of the people and culture can emerge when one learns more and more of the local tongue.
Visiting Japan's countryside is a huge treat. The small towns, plentiful rivers, scenic mountain hikes, and stunning coastline is only but a few things an adventurous traveler will be pleased to discover. The biggest challenge is getting around. Public transportation is great but it can get very expensive and of course it doesn't go everywhere. Biking is possible but the hills can be brutal and distances can be great. Renting a car and driving results in high rental fees, expensive fuel, and tolls that will make your head spin. As a result, many ex-patriates who live here, don't see all that Japan has to offer and choose to leave during the holidays instead.
The quality and ease of living, helpful and humble people, intriguing culture, and delicious food make Japan a desirable place to visit or live.
One can start to understand why many ex-patriots who come to live in Japan only for a couple years, say after many years, "Where has the time gone?"
Japan is not only a good place to visit but an even better place to live. Thanks Joyjobs for helping us, once again, get placed in another interesting country! We are loving life!