Kyoto-shi Life

Well then, time to finish catching up on what’s happened so far. Here I am, it’s Monday night. Week 2 of Japan has begun! Pictures have been posted both on Facebook and here on the website on the ‘pictures’ page.

Up until now I’ve been getting a lot of work done unpacking, going through paperwork, organizing, buying stuff, socializing, and so on and so forth. The day after that where my last post left off was…Thursday. Thursday morning our boss came by to help us find our way over to the Kyoto City General Education Center (home base kind of). Time to explain the trains. There are a lot of train lines here in Kyoto-shi. We have the Keihan (private railway), the Kintetsu (private railway), the JR (public), and the Subway (I don’t know about this one). Here is the basic rundown of these:

The JR is your CTA style public transit system. Old cars, very crowded, low budget. The closest stop to me is Kohata (about a kilometer away). This is the train I board when I want to go to the central Kyoto Station. The JR is definitely the most expansive of them all in Kyoto-shi, and runs all over the place.

The next line (my primary) is the Keihan. This one is slightly more expensive than the JR, but easily worth the money. The trains are well air-conditioned, comfortable, beautifully maintained, and it has express lines which I frequently use. This line takes inner city transit to a whole new level. I’m talking plush seats people. (Some of their trains are almost as nice as the bullet train!

I don’t know all that much about the other two, I don’t use them much. Kintetsu does some stuff up north, and the subway is more inner city. I will be using the subway tomorrow when I travel to my schools for the first time.

So anyways, this is my commute. I walk a kilometer to the Keihan Kowata station (Not the JR Kohata)(These are confusing, they use the same characters and are a block away from eachother). At Kowata, I board the train bound for Chushojima (the 4th stop from me). From here I transfer to the limited express (or rapid express) northbound for Demachiyanagi. I take this line until I reach Gion-Shijo. (The next stop (Sanjo) is party-town, Japan). From Gion-Shijo I walk another kilometer or so until I reach the General Education Center (GEC). That’s where I go for work right now.

Anyways, back to Thursday. We spent all day getting bank accounts and registering our apartments with the city. The bank accounts took forever, because my passport only has V for my middle name, and as far as Japan is concerned, my middle name is V. The bank didn’t understand that, even though ALL of my paperwork has V on it. My passport, my residence card, my employment paperwork…whatever. So after that, it was phone time. I went with some others over to a store called Yorobashi Camera (it’s the huge downtown electronics store). There I mulled over which phone to get. The company Softbank came highly recommended, so I wanted to go with them. Sadly, they had no windows phones, and no Samsung galaxy s4. Obviously I didn’t want an Iphone, so I went with the Sharp Aquos Xx (203sh). Turns out this is sharp’s flagship phone, and they are a big manufacturer here in Japan. This phone is incredible. It’s got a 16 megapixel camera, it’s water resistant and dust proof, it’s got the snapdragon s4 pro in it…. It’s a beast of a phone. I hear it might even have a radiation detector build in.

Anyways, got my phone, it was tricky because I don’t really speak all that much Japanese, and the guy selling it to me didn’t speak English. Fortunately, Blake’s wife Naoko was there and was helping to translate (I owe her some drinks). I had to pay for the phone upfront, which was $700ish (Not happy about that). Since I haven’t gotten any paychecks yet, I was unable to prove that I was employed for a payment plan on the phone. They don’t have a two year discount here like we do in the states. Speaking of differences…. Japan doesn’t do text messaging the way we do. It’s all still technically email. Everyone here uses and app called line instead, which essentially does the same thing, but over data. My plan (about 45 bucks a month) has no minutes. I can talk for 40 cents a minute if I want, but there is no need. Basically this line app does everything. I can text and call over my 4g data plan, which is unlimited. Unlike the states, I get up to 7 gigs a month at full speed, then my data speed gets throttle down to 128 kbps. (I can pay more to be rid of that throttling if I want). When I told the Japanese people I only had 2 gigs of data back home the response I got was ‘eeeeehhhhhh?!?!?!?!!?’ fun stuff.

So after getting the phone, we went out for dinner somewhere, I don’t remember where.

The next day (Friday) was our first attempt at getting to work on our own. I met up with Blake and Patrick (the guys in my complex) and we headed into the inner city. I’m happy to say that we made it in time, with not too many problems. We did discover how slow it is to not take the express trains though.

When we got to work, a veteran Kyoto-shi resident and former JET (now works on his own as an assistant language teacher) took us on a tour of Kyoto-shi. A few current JETs came with for fun. The tour was pretty neat, we found the nightlife areas, good restaraunts, visited a shrine, and toured the shopping areas. When we got back to the GEC we went over our schedules and our school locations. After work I went to a store called Nitori, which is basically like the bed bath and beyond of Japan. There I finally got some towels and pillows. (Hooray!) I’ll be going back for more stuff later on.

Friday night I planned to meet Joel Benjamin Crabtree at a bar called ‘A Bar’. I gave up trying to find it after about 2 and a half hours of wandering the streets of Kyoto at night (alone). The last 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering included Convini stops and alcohol. I had given up trying to find the bar at that point. So instead, I decided to try my luck visiting Kamogawa (the river, we call it Kamo here). Kamo is a really neat pavilion by the river where a bunch of college students and foreigners kind of just… drink and hang out. I must have met about 100 people this night, from all over the world. It was awesome. I ended up taking a cab home around 3 or 4 am, which cost a little under $40. Lesson learned there.

After a morning of….relaxing and cleaning (did some laundry), I decided to meet up with Joel again. This time we met at a train station, and headed to A Bar as a team. It turn out I walked past it like… 5 times the other night, but didn’t realize it was on the second floor. Something interesting about Japan is that they really cram you into the tiny little places. The thing is, there are so many of them, it’s never overly crowded. Many places seem to have hidden bonus rooms just waiting for more guests, it’s kind of neat.

At A Bar we coincidentally ran into two more of the new JETs, Isadora and Cecile. Even more coincidentally, we met up with a current JET named Steffan, a former JET named Liz, and a friend of theirs. So we spent a fair chunk of time at A Bar sharing large beers in tiny glasses, then headed to Kamo. Kamo again, this place is where it’s at. We met a bunch of new random people, and had a grand ol time. After missing the last train home (intentionally, my last one leave that area at 12:01), we stayed out until about 2am or so. Cecile, Joel, and myself split a taxi back to their apartment complex, and I spend the night over at Joel’s place after we spend a couple hours on the roof.

Woke up super early the next morning, commuted home (about an hour or so), skyped for a few hours, and immediately fell back asleep, only to wake up too late for an even called a ‘Nomihoudai’, which is essentially a two hour long ‘all you can drink all you can eat’ extravaganza. So I hit up a small Café, had a small dinner, and joined up with the people afterwards at a bar called ZaZa. It was a pretty tame night in comparison to the others, and we headed home nice and early for work the next morning. Something that is stressed often to us here is to say yes to as much as we can. Well let me tell you, it can be exhausting.

So finally we come to today (Monday). I had more time this morning, so I made an omelet for breakfast (asagohan) and headed back to the GEC. We got our library cards today, and went over self-introductions. Apparently we were all so good at Japanese already that the people giving us the crash course really didn’t have much for us to do. We ended up spending most of the day with the other JETs just sharing experiences, practicing our introductions, studying Japanese, and going over teaching materials. After that I finally got my Guitar! (Yay!). Sadly, I had to walk home from the station in a downpour (they last a long time here), which forced me to expand my umbrella collection to ‘2’. Womp. Anyways, that’ll do it for now, sorry I haven’t been so great at updating this. It takes a lot of time, which is a bit scarce at the moment. Until next time!

-Matt


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