Saturday, 15 March 2014

Settling in

Moving on.

So I arrived in Japan and quickly got my shit done to start my life here. The most important thing was of course going to my language school everyday. Of course, this wasn't easy to begin with as I have almost expected for two reasons. First, the placement test I took was given to me without much explanation and I was a bit nervous as well. Second, after being pushed to the lowest beginner's class I was dumbfounded with the ridiculously low level of Japanese I had to speak here. The teacher expected me to repeat おはよう御座います (Good morning) literally 10 times. I was in a class with students who clearly showed no interest in learning the language and only were here to work for low salary, but still higher than in their home countries. But there were also a Spanish and even a German guy. Almost felt bad to leave them behind.

Because being the type of person I am, I talked to Verena and complained about the low level. We quickly sat together with a teacher and she showed great understanding to my situation, basically agreeing to my statement that I would become even dumber while attending that class. So I was given the opportunity to take the placement again and this time I knew what to do and also had less pressure. I did well and was being placed in the next beginner's class the very next day. The class had almost only Chinese and Vietnamese students. One was Chinese-American, so at least I had someone to talk to in English. Funny fact, I got quite some attention when I entered the classroom the first time. The Chinese girls liked the fact that a western guy was studying with them and I for my part was also quite happy that all of them were quite attractive as well :D

A daily routine of studying Japanese began. I received a Kanji book, a textbook and was given homework every day. Most of the grammar I knew already, even most of the Kanji, but the class was very good nevertheless. They didn't want us to take notes and focus more on the talking and listening, but it was by far better than what I have experienced at Kudan Institute in 2012. The Chinese were definitely the pacemakers in my class, their participation and language level exceeded the Vietnamese' by far. All the Vietnamese did was actually talking and joking during the lessons, a fact that would sound get on my nerves big time. More about that later though. I liked them the best when they were sleeping.

Some Vietnamese students
Pretty Chinese students
Even more pretty Chinese students
A very important item on my checklist wasn't taken care of yet: obtaining a Japanese phone. I had a bank account and a residence card, so I could go ahead and get a new contract at the provider of my choice. In Japan there are basically 3 providers to choose from. SoftBank, au (KDDI) and NTT DoCoMo (fun fact, all websites look similar). None of them allowed to use an Android phone from outside of Japan or any phone for that matter. I don't like iPhones and I didn't want to buy one with a new contract. All I wanted is a SIM card, an unlimited data plan and a number I can put on my business card (another unchecked item on my list). But buying a simple SIM card with a contract is almost an impossible thing here. It was an odyssee of the annoying kind. I searched the web, talked to my housemates (one of them even is a manager at SoftBank) and I visited an au, as well as a Softbank shop and tried to convince them in Japanese and English to give me what I want. They all told me the same: you need to get an iPhone, sorry.

Alright, fine. So I get a bloody iPhone, take out the SIM card and sell it for a good price. But wait, it's not that easy as you might think. SIM cards here in Japan are more or less registered to the device I was told, there was no guarantee that a Softbank SIM card would work in an Android phone from overseas. I went so far to ask my housemate to borrow his SoftBank SIM to put it into my phone and see if it would work. I had to tweak the 3G settings, but hallelujah, the mobile internet finally worked! Well then, off to Softbank to get a brandnew iPhone 5 16GB to sell it later on. The English speaking store staff was not only pretty (damn you Japan and your tempations), she was also quite receptive to my ideas of not using the phone at all but selling it instead. I signed up for a 2 year contract, even though I wasn't sure if I could stay that long. No biggie though, there is a fee to get out of the contract earlier if need be. The final monthly rate was around 6.800 Yen in the end, an amount I could live with. At least I could save some money by selling the phone for some good money.

Or so I thought. Selling an iPhone in Japan isn't that easy, even if it's brandnew and more or less unlocked. I tried one of the stores in Akihabara and they actually have a database to check the phone's serial number to see if it's already paid or not. Technically of course, it still belongs to Softbank until I paid my 24th fee. That was some dissapointment there. The price they would have bought it for wasn't that good anyways (around 22.000 Yen). I tried Craigslist instead and I had to adjust my price around 4 times, going lower every time until I finally had an Indian guy who bought it for 31.500 Yen. Finally some money, yay!

Another thing on my checklist was a business card (名刺), an important object in the Japanese business world. Having no business card is a big no-no here I was told, so I wanted to have one ready as soon as possible. Unfortunately the delay in getting my phone left without one for a couple of business events. I didn't want a boring card, I wanted something special. I had a little idea in my mind and drafted it. Esther from erstehilfedesign did the rest and created a great piece of design for me, as you can see below. I love working with talented people and it feels even better when it's done across such a distance (her being located in Berlin, me in Tokyo).

The draft
The final product

Another thing worth to mention is my get-together with the Germans in Tokyo here. It was quite a pleasant experience, kind of a re-connecting with my country even though I wasn't gone for long (at that time not even a month). It was "Tag der Deutschen Einheit", a public holiday in Germany and important day of celebration. The German Embassy in Tokyo had open doors and every German with a passport could enter for free. We had all the good German food, drinks and culture you could think of. I met many interesting people, some of whom I met before, even a friend of a friend who I thought would still be in Berlin but instead she moved to Tokyo with her Japanese boyfriend as well. A wonderful surprise and another proof for me that Japan has these magical moments of an intertwined mesh of meaningful moments and encounters that I haven't fully grasped yet. Another fun fact: she was a supervisor in Berlin during my JLPT N4 exam. I also met the founder of doitsunet which was my entry portal to meeting a lot of wonderful people at worldfriends.

My camera doesn't like the darkness.

The German ambassador to Tokyo during his good-bye speech
We had many, many...many Jägermeister
It felt good to be a German among Germans. I told my story to many people and they were all encouraging me. Eating a lot of cheese, sausages and other German delicacies made my day, not the mention the amounts of beer, Jägermeister and other alcohol we enjoyed together. We also went to an Izakaya together later and it was good times all over.

Last but not least, a very important part of settling in to my life in Japan was to begin regular practice at my Iaido dojo in Shibuya. I was in high spirits on my very first practice session, as you can see here.

A hipster in Tokyo...carrying a sword.
The welcome of Esaka-sensei and the others was friendly and polite, as expected. A gave Esaka-sensei my present from Germany, my dad's self-destilled alcohol in a neat bottle looking like a witch. Miyazawa-sensei, who was a sensei at the last German seminar in Oberwerries was friendly as ever and he, Esaka-sensei and me went to the local Izakaya after the training and had a enjoyable conversation about Iai, Japan and Germany. More and more I could understand the deeper meanings of Iai as expressed and described by Esaka-sensei. This was why I came to Japan, this was why I was really really happy. Everything felt right. The future looked bright!

After practice time is best time.

In my next blog post I will write about my internship/job hunt. You don't want to miss this, it will be quite emotional for sure and by emotional I mean a lot of cursing and man-tears ;)