10 Things Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Living in Japan

Day 13 [New Year’s Resolution]: 10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Living in Japan

Howdy, gang.

Thousands of people from around the world flock to live in Japan, whether it’s to teach English, travel as many prefectures as they can, or settle down and start a family. Some stay for less than a year, and others stay for decades.

Since Japan is such a popular country, there are many websites and blogs where you can find out about Japanese culture, events, food, customs, and the language. However, these tend to paint Japan in a light that makes it look perfect. I work for one of those websites, and any articles that make Japan look even a little bit bad are dismissed immediately.

I’ve been living in Japan for nearly five years now; eighteen months in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, and two and a half years in Tokyo, the capital city. Although I love it here, there are a lot of downsides as well that you can’t really find a lot of information about online. Here are 10 things that guidebooks and blogs don’t tell you about living in Japan.

1. You Are Always a Foreigner

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Coming from the UK where we treat everyone equally and don’t care if someone’s black, white, or purple with polka dots, it’s very weird to still be considered “a foreigner” even after being here since I was nineteen.

It’s the first thing people notice about me, and almost everyone’s first question is “Where are you from?” and the first remark is “Oh, you can speak Japanese!”

It’s not really that much of a problem, but even my boyfriend does it. “Look, a white guy!” I find myself irritably replying “So what?”

Learn the language, get a job in a well-respected company, learn all the complicated customs and rules and manners, it doesn’t matter – you’ll always be a gaikokujin.

2. It’s Very Difficult to Rent a House

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There are a hundred and one rules involved if you’re a non-Japanese person hoping to rent a house. There are all kinds of fees including bond, deposit, key money, etc etc, and you need some kind of written recommendation.

I’m really lucky because in Nagano, my company sorted out my house, and in Tokyo, my boyfriend sorted it out. I’ve never had to personally deal with renting a place on my own so I don’t know all the ins and outs, but there’s a good article on GaijinPot all about it.

3. No One Has a Proper Oven

As someone who loves her pies and lasagnas, this drives me crazy. The only ovens you can really find are a sort of mixture between an oven and a microwave, and the same size as that, too. Unless you’re willing to invest tens of thousands of yen, oven dishes aren’t an option if you like to cook. Boo.

4. It’s Hard to Find Good Cheese

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Of course you’ll want to try the delicious local food that’s on offer in Japan, but sometimes you want a little taste of home. Cheese is one of the things that the Japanese just can’t seem to get right. The much-boasted Hokkaido cheese is supposed to be fantastic, but compared to the rich and sharp cheddars from home, it’s pizza-topping tier.

You can find imported cheeses in certain shops, but then you’re expected to cough up for it. I managed to find some Brie the other day from Kaldi Coffee, and after wincing at the price tag, enjoyed it very much.

5. Everything is Scripted

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Back home, I can walk into a shop and easily have a chat with a shop assistant about anything. It’s friendly, it’s good customer service, and it makes the company look good. However, as soon as I walk into a shop I know I’m going to hear the welcoming phrase “irasshaimase“, the amount of money I owe the cashier, and the thank-yous when I leave.

It’s not for lack of trying, either. I’ve tried to chat with people many times in shops only to have a very startled, nervous, and short reply, or to have them ignore me completely or look at me like I’ve grown a tit on my forehead. It’s quite lonely.

6. You’ll Miss Things from Your Home Country

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Although you may not believe it when you first arrive, you will definitely end up missing stuff from your home country after a couple of months, especially food. That condiment that you can find in every cafe at home but doesn’t exist here. Your favourite brand of tea. Good chocolate. Decent deodorant.

Still, that’s what care packages are for. Be sure to send yourself some essentials before you go.

7. Everything is Tiny

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If you’re tall in Japan, you’re going to have a bad time. It takes a bit of getting used to, as doorways, food portions, furniture, and many other things will make you feel like you’ve grown several inches or everything else has shrunk.

Couple that with the fact that the average height in Japan for men is 5″7, and you’ll feel like a wandering giant. The wandering foreigner.

8. People are Fake

No, not everyone. But as someone who grew up with a father who was more forward than most people and didn’t care who knew it, it’s really hard for me to get used to a society where people say “yes” when they mean no, “maybe” when they mean “hell no,” and “sure, you can trust me with this information” when the next thing you know they’re blabbing to unfriendly ears.

A lesson I learned the hard way is to not share things that can be used against you unless you absolutely 100% trust that person. Learn to read between the lines and read body language (tilting their head to the side with a smile/frown often means “no”). It’s a pain.

It’s all part of the politeness thing, but there’s a massive difference between being polite and being fake.

9. Everything is Ridiculously Over-Packaged

This isn’t really a bad thing, I suppose, but the amount of nagging we get in Europe about reducing, reusing, and recycling! Then you buy a box of sweets as a souvenir and hey-ho, you have to battle through three boxes and a plastic bag before you can finally get your (unexpectedly tiny) sweet. Next time you buy anything in Japan, take a look at the packaging. It isn’t normal.

10. Drinking a Lot is Normal

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Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies and this is said to be down to a lot of factors: better diets, healthier lifestyles, and more exercise. Despite this, drinking in Japan is huge. It’s not only okay to drink several times a week, but in some jobs, it’s expected.

Many companies engage in nomikai, a party where the boss and his employees go out to a local izakaya pub or bar to drink themselves silly. Seeing passed out young men in suits at train stations in the wee hours is a pretty normal sight.

This attitude towards drinking leaks into the lives of those who aren’t businessmen as well. I find myself surprised when I realise I haven’t had alcohol in a few days, and my boyfriend loves to go out and get wasted from time to time without even thinking of it as a potential problem.

It’s good news if you love to drink, though, as western men are often admired for being “osake tsuyoi,” or having a high resistance to alcohol. You might find that your alcohol intake, and in turn, your weight, increases while you live here unless you don’t drink at all.

The good things about Japan outweigh the bad by far, which is why I’m still here! No country is perfect, though, and it’s important to know the downsides before you arrive so you can prepare for them. Whether you count all of the above as downsides or not is up to you.

Top 10 Favourite Games of 2017

Day 11 [New Year’s Resolution]: Top 10 Favourite Games of 2017

I like video games a lot, and 2018 promises to bring some seriously cool releases. I played some awesome titles in 2017, so here is a list of my top ten favourites! Bear in mind these games weren’t necessarily released in ’17, they’re just ones I played.

10. Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy

Released in June 2017 on PlayStation 4, I was pretty excited to see a remake of this loveable orange character, who first appeared on the PlayStation 1. I didn’t actually have a PS1 when I was a kid (we were a Nintendo 64 family), but I remember playing the original on a cousin’s console sometime in the ’90s, and The Wrath of Cortex, which vaguely resembles the second in the new trilogy, was on GameCube.

The new one was fun and actually pretty difficult! I only just managed to finish the first of the trilogy, which means there is a lot more crystal and gem collecting, box destroying, fruit pick-upping, and bad guys’ ass whooping to go.

9. NieR RepliCant

NieR was a game that it seemed only my brothers and I knew about. It had a gorgeous storyline, a great script, fun gameplay, and was completely underrated. Then NieR: Automata came out, and everyone was suddenly a huge fan (just for the record, I do like Automata too, but I didn’t start playing it until 2018).

I found RepliCant on PS3 at a BOOK OFF store sometime last autumn and decided to play it again. Although it was RepliCant where Nier is a young boy and the brother of Yonah (as a teenager, I played the XBOX version, Gestalt, where Nier was a middle-aged man and Yonah was his daughter), it was still enjoyable. It brought back some great memories.

8. Shadow of the Colossus

Another classic is Shadow of the Colossus, an incredibly artistic game that resonated with a lot of people with its fantastic orchestral soundtrack, unusual gameplay, heart-wrenching ending, and mighty monsters. I bought my PS3 especially to play this again, and it was a lot of fun to complete.

Apparently PS4 owners can look forward to another Colossus remaster (it was originally released on PlayStation 2 in 2005). If you’re a fan of the game, keep an eye out for it. According to PlayStation’s Twitter account, it’ll be out in February 2018!

7. Call of Duty: World War II

I’d never played a Call of Duty game before, but I was really excited for WWII. I’m not too big on the multiplayer function, but I really enjoyed the campaign. Sometimes I felt I really was Officer Daniels, fighting to stay alive and blowing up Nazis.

6. Destiny

I’d vaguely heard of Destiny before, but didn’t pay it much attention until I heard the song Rise from the Dark by Malukah. As a huge fan of her music, that song got me interested, so I bought it.

I actually thought it was a lot of fun. It had a lot of features I love in games: open-world (kind of), the ability to level up and upgrade my weapons and armour, and interesting lore. However, I never got far beyond the basic campaign since I wasn’t willing to pay for downloads. Considering I got it for 600 yen at BOOK OFF, it was pretty good value for money.

I’ve heard Destiny 2 is out, but haven’t heard enough good things to invest 7000 yen into it.

5. The Binding of Isaac

All right, this game is super old, but I still played it a lot in 2017 (mostly during times I was supposed to be writing or studying.) It remains a fantastic and addictive game with deliciously dark underlying meanings.

4. Dying Light

I hadn’t even heard of Dying Light until my friend Mike lent it to me. He lent me a bunch of games, and I didn’t even touch this one until it had been sitting in my drawer for several months. I finally pulled it out last year and had a go at it, expecting a lot of shooting and gore like in Left4Dead. But it was really good!

I loved the open world, the ability to collect, loot, and craft, and the fact that it wasn’t all killing zombies – you had to climb and run and hide as well. Dying Light definitely exceeded my expectations.

3. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

This gets bonus points for nostalgia and the time spent furiously playing online and losing much more than I was winning. Super Smash Brothers has a special place in my heart; my brothers and I played it from the original Nintendo 64 version all the way through Melee and Brawl, too.

I, unfortunately, sold my Wii U towards the end of 2017, but not before I had fun playing as Peach, Wario, Kirby, and Shiek.

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I’ll admit, I was a late bloomer when it came to Skyrim. I actually did buy it when it came out in 2011, but my PC could barely run it, and after half an hour of lag, I gave up and didn’t play it again until January 2017.

I don’t need to explain why this is a great game. It had its flaws, but from its open world to endless quests to great music to DRAGONS, it was fantastic.

1. Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Origins on XBOX 360 was my favourite game when I was a teenager, and the story, music, and characters (Alistairrrr) touched me on a level nothing else has ever managed to. If you’ve played Origins, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

So imagine my surprise when Mike casually offered to lend me his copy of the newest installment, Dragon Age: Inquisition. I don’t really keep as up-to-date with the latest gaming news as much as I should, so I had no idea it was even out.

I’ve easily knocked five hundred hours or more into Inquisition, and it’s everything I wanted. I’ve written around twenty articles on LevelSkip including romance guides, approval guides, and how to kill the high dragons, and the characters have stayed with me almost (almost) as much as Alistair did in Origins. It’s a total masterpiece, and I just bought the Game of the Year edition the other day!

Rumours are flying around about another Dragon Age game as well, which I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed for.

Video games are a great pastime, and I’m always looking for interesting new titles to try as well as clinging to the games I played as a kid. Have you played any of these? Which ones do you like?

 

Happy Valley on Netflix

Day 10 [New Year’s Resolution]: Happy Valley on Netflix

“Netflix and chill?”

Netflix is one of those things everyone knows about and a lot of people have rather than regular TV. There’s no question why, of course; it’s easy to use, loads quickly, and has a massive choice of films and TV shows.

It’s better than Love Film, at least. I was cornered on the street and pressured into signing up while I was at university, and kept getting fined because I forgot to post the DVDs back in time.

I rarely watch TV shows on Netflix; it’s mostly films or the odd Friends episode. But recently, a friend recommended a police drama called Happy Valley.

It is set in West Yorkshire (I went to university in York), which caught my interest right away. There have been lots of shows where I’ve watched episode 1 and then got bored, but I just got done with the first series of Happy Valley and I must say, I’m really enjoying it.

Catherine, the sergeant and main character, is a badass middle-aged policewoman. I won’t go into details on the story for now as I’m not great at blurbs or synopses, but here’s the trailer.

One of my favourite things about this show is the characters. They aren’t cliche at all and often behave in a way I didn’t expect. There’s some fantastic acting in Happy Valley and I found myself becoming very fond of Catherine and her sister, Claire.

If you’ve got Netflix, check out Happy Valley. It’s got a lot of adult themes, so make sure you’re above 18 if you plan to check it out.

Day 10 of the New Year’s Resolution done! Let’s keep it up!

If We Could All Rediscover Our Love for Writing

Day 9 [New Year’s Resolution]: If We Could All Rediscover Our Love for Writing

If you’re a writer, you’ll probably be able to relate when I say that I’ve loved books and writing since I was a little kid. My mum read all the Harry Potter books to my brother and I, and my aunt gifted me a large collection of Jacqueline Wilson books when I was around seven or eight. I read a lot, and loved writing stories in school.

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When I was in Year 6, my teacher liked my story so much that he read it to the whole class, and then he wrote in my school report that I was gifted. Gifted. Me! I already liked writing before that, but that was the day I decided – I knew – this is what I was going to do.

My whole life was writing after that. I started writing the Fire Princess stories, scribbling on pages and pages of A4 printing paper. When I inherited my Mum’s old computer – big, heavy, bulky thing, it was – I’d sit and type for hours and hours and hours. By the time I was thirteen, I’d written three books. Not great books, mind you, but at the time that didn’t matter. I had no idea what the difference was between a good book and a bad book. I really, seriously believed that I would be a famous author by the time I was 20. That’s how easy I thought life would be!

I got the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and sent my poor Fire Princess novels, along with a poorly-written cover letter, to a lot of people, but although some people replied, they weren’t picked up by anybody. It didn’t deter me, though; I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, and it would happen for me eventually.

 

Then when I was 17, I started writing a fantasy series called the Blood Scrolls Trilogy, and self-published it (with a hilariously horrible cover) in 2014. Then a year later I met the proprietor of a Greek start-up publishing house called Quest Publications and they re-published it with a new cover. I’d done it! I was going to be a successful writer!

Ha ha.

Quest Publications are HORRIBLE, by the way; do not go anywhere near them. They didn’t edit or proofread the book (and the sequel) before it was published – even the proprietor didn’t finish reading it, and he was supposed to be in charge of marketing – and they put no effort into selling whatsoever. They “forgot” to pay me my share of the profits and if I offered suggestions, I was either told off and insulted or ignored completely. In 2017, I ended up firing them and finally got the rights to my books back.

Speaking of bad companies, check out this article on how to spot fake publishers and agencies if you’re trying to get published.

Even though Quest Publications finally removed me from their website, the damage was done. Because I hadn’t got any professional editing, some readers spotted plot holes or mistakes that should have been fixed before release. I got badmouthed on Goodreads and my reputation was damaged.

I was heartbroken. Imagine thinking your dreams have finally become a reality, only to have it come crashing down and be back to square one. Worse, actually, because Goodreads and Amazon never completely delete out-of-print books, meaning negative comments are going to be online forever.

Now and then, though, I’ll rediscover that excited feeling I used to get when writing. And I’m not talking about excitement for fame and fortune. I’m talking about that sheer, raw joy of creation, the excitement of buying a notebook and scribbling all your ideas down, no matter how outrageous they were. It’s something that was lost while focusing on writing what people like.

The Fire Princess books were very flawed. I sometimes go through them and laugh at how ridiculous some parts were. But they’re pure like nothing else I’ve written. I wrote whatever I wanted back then, because I wasn’t afraid to fail. I miss that feeling. Can you imagine what we’d be capable of if doubt didn’t exist?

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I might go back and rewrite the Fire Princess books. Why not, right? “You weren’t put on this earth to win a popularity contest,” my dad always says.

Writing shouldn’t be a chore, not unless it’s your day job, I suppose. Writing a novel is recreating a piece of your soul, and I sure put all my soul into those books from my childhood. I’d really love to have that feeling again, of actually enjoying the writing, not toiling through it with the promise of having a product at the end of it. Maybe we’ll discover that passion again someday.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all enjoy writing again?

Coming of Age Day in Japan

Day 8 [New Year’s Resolution]: Coming of Age Day in Japan

Today is a national holiday, which means no work!

There are a lot of national holidays in Japan where office workers and the like get a day off. Today is Coming of Age day, where those who turned 20 years old in the past year dress in kimonos or suits and go to their local city hall for a ceremony.

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Then, because 20 is the legal age to drink in Japan, they go out and get bladdered with their friends.

I didn’t do much with my day off except write and go out with my friends. National holidays are for relaxing, after all. It’s back to the grind tomorrow, though.

Oyasumi for now.

A Day in Kita-Senju

Day 7 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Day in Kita-Senju 

I met my homestay family today! I first met them in November 2012 as part of the study program at Toyo University and we’re still close now.

Since Kita-Senju in east Tokyo is about halfway between their house and mine, we decided to meet there. I’d never been, but it turned out to be a nice little shopping spot.

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We has a nice meal (super cheap – beer for 300 yen and Jim Beam and soda highball for just 200) and I got NieR: Automata on PS4, yay!

Even though I’m still a bit sick with a cold I had a lovely time with them and my friend Leo. Then I took Krispy Kreme doughnuts home. Today was a great day!

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Tomorrow is Coming of Age Day in Japan which means a bonus day off as well. Hopefully it’ll be enough to get completely well before it’s back to work.

Have you ever been to Kita-Senju? What did you do today?

The Japanese Comedian’s Grave Mistake

Day 6 Part 2 [New Year’s Resolution]: The Japanese Comedian’s Grave Mistake

I love Gaki no Tsukai‘s yearly comedy show Waratte wa Ikenai. Most of it is pretty slapstick so it’s easy to understand. I recently wrote about the top 8 funniest moments, so give it a watch if you’re in need of a laugh. All the videos in the article have English subtitles.

I honestly didn’t think 2017’s show was that great. And it looks like Hamada is in hot water over his “blackface” costume.

The truth is he was supposed to be dressed as Eddie Murphy from a movie. What’s not acceptable in the west is perfectly OK in Japan – not that I’m saying there’s nothing wrong with what the show did here. It was extremely poor decision-making. If this was a western show, no doubt everyone involved would have been fired on the spot.

When he first came out in the costume, I and my Australian friend both groaned and cringed. I knew there’d be the backlash and tweets that so many western newspapers are talking about.

Personally, I think it was really stupid of them to do it. Blackface has never been OK and the joke itself wasn’t funny, either. Throw in how everything is potentially offensive these days and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a lot of angry people.

I still like the show, and I hope Hamada is forgiven for what I genuinely think is just a stupid mistake taken too far. What about you? What do you think? Blatant racism, or just bad taste and poor decision-making?

The Japanese Really Like to Drink

Day 4 [New Year’s Resolution]: The Japanese Really Like to Drink

There was a definite after-holiday gloom in the air on this crisp-clear January day. After teaching in a cafe in Jiyugaoka (where I was given a take-out cup despite the fact I was eating in), I wandered back to my house and watched Friends on Netflix all afternoon.

It’s my last day off, so as you can see, I spent it well.

The 4th is the day most people are actually back at work but since I always take Thursdays off to teach, it was a sort of bonus day. Despite the fact that most businesses started up again, though, it didn’t stop people drinking.

The Japanese love to drink. And when I say love to drink, I mean it’s not unusual for people to drink every day. Beer, sake, and chu-hi are among the favourites here. Even as I’m typing this, I’m sipping one of these:

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The Japanese drink when they’re tired, stressed, out with friends, having fun, winding down, and for everything else in between. All-you-can-drink offers, obligatory nomikais where you have to go and drink with bosses and work colleagues, and cheap booze means that it’s not considered a problem if you drink a lot. It’s not even considered unusual.

I’m not saying this is a bad thing… not really. After all, Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world and drink-related violence is, compared to a lot of western countries, almost unheard of.

Drinks in Japan

Here are some drinks you can, and can’t, get in Japan.

1. Beer. Obviously. Nama-beer is draft and bin-beer is in the bottle, usually served with little glasses so you can share.

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2. Sake. Japanese rice-wine. There are thousands of different types and brands out there, and it can be served hot or cold. It’s common to see older businessmen enjoying a bottle of sake at a Japanese pub, an izakaya.

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3. Umeshuu. Similar to sake, but much sweeter as it’s made of plums. I loooove umeshuu.

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4. Chu-hi. A canned drink commonly found in supermarkets and convenience stores that comes in a variety of fruit flavours and alcohol percentages, usually ranging from 3% to 9%. These are good for parties but horrible for hangovers.

5. Wine. Though maybe not as popular as the others, you can easily get white wine, red wine, and rosé easily enough. I don’t drink wine that much though so I don’t know much about brands.

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6. Whiskey. International whiskey like Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam is easy to find in Japan, and the country also has its own brands such as Suntory, Hakushu, and Nikka. It’s popular to drink with soda, water, or ginger ale.

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Most drinks you can get in the west are available in Japan too, like Malibu and Bailey’s, but unfortunately, I’ve never come across Tia Maria, one of my favourites. They have a really great beer here called Tokyo Black, but I’ve only ever seen it in the supermarket near where I used to live in Daikanyama.

That’s enough from me today, because I’ve got to finish watching Shrek; my boyfriend is watching it for the first time and his reactions are just adorable. “Princess Fionaaa!” “Why? What happens after sunset?” Love it!

Day 4 is done! Let’s keep this up!

A Bit About My Home in Tokyo

Day 3 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Bit About My Home in Tokyo

Writing one blog post a day for 2018 is all well and good, but it’ll just get boring if it’s a constant daily diary. Day three and we’re still going strong; at this rate, we’ll be a week in, and that’s longer than 95% of most new year’s resolutions.

Since Tokyo is a pretty big place, I thought I’d tell you a bit about where I live.

This is Gakugei-Daigaku.

Some of you will know that means “art university,” though the actual Gakugei Daigaku University of Arts moved to a different area long ago.

Gakugei-Daigaku has a town-like, local atmosphere, even though it’s just four stops from Shibuya Station on the Toyoko line. It’s got restaurants, cafes, a small BOOK OFF store, a shoe shop, and a Starbucks, Baskin Robbins (locally called “31 Ice,” KFC, and McDonald’s. It is part of Meguro Ward.

I love it here! People have asked, in various levels of sarcasm, whether living in Tokyo means that I’m constantly around massive crowds as if we’re all bunched together like sardines whether we’re crossing the road or on the toilet. No doubt they’re thinking of places like Shibuya Crossing, Shinjuku, or Ikebukuro during rush hour. Shibuya Crossing, for example, sees around three thousand people per minute during peak time.

There are a lot of places, though, that are spacious and beautiful, and you’d never guess that you were just a several-minute subway ride from metropolitan areas. I’m talking about the Imperial Palace area, Yoyogi Park, and of course, small community areas like Gakugei-Daigaku.

That’s enough from me right now anyway, as I have a lot of other writing tasks to get on with. If you have any questions about Gakugei-Daigaku or Tokyo in general, feel free to leave a comment! 🙂

Less Sleep, More Sake

Day 2 [New Year’s Resolution]: Less Sleep, More Sake

Mate, I’m tired.

My friend Alex is staying over at the moment, so I took a break from some assignments I’m doing to chill out with him. We watched The Hangover and The Hangover II because he’s never seen them. Even after seeing them both fifty times, they still make me howl with laughter.

*gif copyright belongs to the Hangover guys and Warner Brothers, blah blah blah

I had to get on with my work but my boyfriend brought back a massive bottle of sake last night. He’d got Dassai, at a special price of just 5000 yen for 1.5 litres, because he knows it’s my favourite.

Gimme, gimme, gimme!!

Anyway, maybe I didn’t think this post through because it’s the 2nd of January and I’ve only written about New Year’s Day so far. Maybe it counts that I was up until 4:00am finishing one of the assignments I was asked to do, then lay awake wondering if it was good enough, then woke up ten because I didn’t want to sleep all day. KNACKERED.

Today is going to be all about the second assignment, I guess, as well as saying goodbye to Alex. He lives in Nagano Prefecture so it takes a good while to get down here but he came for New Year. Nagano is a couple of hours by train, but Alex generally catches a bus from Shinjuku because it’s quicker. Nagano is a cold prefecture in the north where I lived for a year and a half, but the winter was too much and I love the excitement of Tokyo.

Two days, and the New Year’s Resolution is still in place! WE’VE GOT THIS!