Japan Diary: September 2019

To say that Yokohama’s September had a bit of a bumpy start would be a definite understatement for sure.

First came the 3rd, ushering in the worst thunderstorm I’ve seen in my life. My apartment block rattled, and I could feel it every time a boom of thunder roared overhead. I’m on the second floor, and because of earthquake regulations, it tends to sway more than the floor below. I am not scared of storms but I can’t deny that I did get a little jumpy. A few flashes of lightning seemed a little too close for comfort and the thunder became deafeningly loud, but the scariest part would come later.

Things had started to die down a bit, but all of a sudden my phone started noisily vibrating, the disaster alert repeatedly flashing on screen. It was mostly in kanji but I could just make out the characters for ‘landslides’ and I felt my heart jump into my throat. I’d had earthquake alerts before but never landslides so I froze, unsure of what to do. That’s when another message popped up, listing my district as an evacuation risk and I couldn’t help but feel stressed.

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This photo does not do it justice.

I sent a few messages to my friends to figure out what was going on and it was only an advisory evacuation warning instead of a mandatory order, so I allowed myself to let go of some of the tension building up but I couldn’t relax just yet. I got up, got dressed, and started to pack my bag in case I did have to leave, keeping an eye on my neighbours to see if anyone was going to the evacuation point. Fortunately, the rest of the evening passed without an incident but I found it very hard to fall asleep.

The next thing to hit Yokohama was an accident in which an express train collided with a truck, leaving 1 person dead and 33 people injured. While I was nowhere near the accident itself, there was a sense of tragedy all over the city, with people talking about it in hushed tones at work. The Keikyu line was closed in the aftermath and I walked past that particular gate in Yokohama Station, where news reporters were talking to a representative from the company, at least three large TV cameras pointing in his direction.

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Emergency pie.

Then literally a few days later, in came Typhoon Faxai. I already knew it was coming so I stocked up my cupboards. Even though I usually do a food shop every few days, I ended up spending twice my usual amount just in case I wasn’t able to get out to the supermarket for a couple of days.

I included a frozen meat pie, because I mean, I’m Northern and it was right there. I jokingly dubbed it my ’emergency pie’.

Now with a full kitchen and Netflix’s entire inventory, I could wait out the typhoon in my apartment in relative comfort. I brought the pots for my long-deceased plants inside so they wouldn’t blow off the balcony in the night and drew my storm shutters so my glass wouldn’t break. I also pre-packed a bag and went to bed in comfy outdoor clothes just in case we were told to evacuate. After all, it was less than a week since the last alert, and the panic was still fresh in my memory so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared.

With some difficulty, I got to sleep an hour later than I usually would, but that would not last. I was woken up at 2:30 a.m. by the typhoon growing ever closer. It was ridiculously loud despite being blocked by a sheet of metal and try as I might, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I absent-mindedly scrolled through my social media, talking to some of my friends who had also been rudely awakened while occasionally tracking the online weather reports. An hour later, I’d just about relaxed and in an annoying turn of events, that’s when the warning alerts started.

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Faxai

Again, my district was among the ones listed for an advisory evacuation but it made no sense to go down a hill when there were potential landslides and no-one else was leaving either. With every notification, I grew more and more unimpressed, grumbling at my phone every time it stopped me from sleeping. In just a few short days, I went from worrying about the alerts to telling them to ‘shut the eff up’ and let me go to bed. Maybe I’m more adaptable than I thought.

Obviously, I still took the situation very seriously and I didn’t sleep for the rest of the night. When I went into work the next day, practically all the train lines were down, meaning that I would have to take a detour. I switched to a bus, which arrived at the stop late, and ended up taking almost three times as long to get to my destination due to the sheer amount of traffic. Some of my coworkers had decided to turn it into a game of who could arrive at work first, giving out prizes at our next meeting. I got 2nd place at around 10:30 but many people couldn’t get in until at least lunchtime.

Even though school was closed and as a result, I had no classes to teach; I still forced myself to look busy on only 3 hours of sleep, downing coffee and wishing I was at home.

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It looks so empty now

The next day, news websites started posting photos of the damage caused and one photo of a sign torn down in Kamakura made me realise how bad this typhoon was despite Yokohama escaping a lot of it. After all, I would walk under that sign every other week and it wasn’t exactly flimsy. Chiba was way worse than Kanagawa, and some people are still without power.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom this month.

The weekend after Faxai I had the opportunity to visit Gunma Prefecture – somewhere I’d never been before, or even heard much about. I was invited to join in with a local festival at a small town just outside of Annaka City. I honestly had a great time, and I can’t wait to write about it and share my weekend with you (full post coming soon).

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Gunma Prefecture

Also, my new passport arrived! I could breathe a sigh of relief that I was no longer without one, and it also meant that I could finalise my visa extension application. My paperwork required my new passport number so I was waiting anxiously for it to get here and the at first opportunity I got, I raced to the immigration office.

To my eternal frustration, the immigration office is only open until 4pm which is only half an hour after work usually finishes for me. I do leave 45 minutes earlier on Wednesdays because the kids all have club activities, so I timed my visit for the first Wednesday available, making sure to be out of school right on time. Despite leaving at 14:40 exactly, I would need to rush and not miss any of my connections in order for me to make it.

But fortunately, I did, with a grand total of two minutes to spare. I only had enough time to collect my number and sit down before they took the ticket machine away and my heart was beating so fast. Luckily, there were about ten people ahead of me so I had chance to catch my breath while watching a sumo match on TV. Actually submitting everything went smoothly and I left feeling proud that I’d managed to get it in as early as I could.

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Russian kyuushoku

The Rugby World Cup started this month, and although I didn’t get tickets I could definitely tell that it was here. Yokohama is one of the host cities, and to celebrate the Japan vs. Russia game, my schools had a special Russian lunch which included a small piece of cheese shaped like a rugby ball. You’ve gotta give them props for commitment to the theme.

I’m hoping that I can get to Rinko Park in the next couple of weeks to watch a game in the viewing area they’ve set up there.

The Autumn Equinox is a national holiday in Japan, and my friends and I decided to take advantage of the extra day off. We’d been considering booking an AirBnB for a while, originally looking at sometime during the summer vacation, but with everyone being away in different places or busy, we had to postpone it until September. This month was the perfect time, when most of us were available but before the winter break.

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Board Game Retreat

I hang out with my friends to play board games most weeks, but we wanted to get all of us together for a whole weekend. But for that to happen we’d need more space and somewhere different so we weren’t relying on one person’s apartment. So we rented a house in Kamata, Tokyo, staying there for two nights.

The first group of people (including me) arrived at the AirBnB on Saturday afternoon, and most people left to do a Costco run to stock up on food for the weekend. I was one of the people who stayed behind to ‘hold the fort’, taking the opportunity to catch up on writing with some Netflix in the background, before playing a couple of rounds of Shinobi Empire. When the others got back we had dinner, played a game of Catan, and put on a few episodes of Kimetsu no Yaiba – a series that I really want to finish.

After breakfast the next morning, it was straight into Pandemic. We’ve been playing the Legacy version for the last few months and we’re pretty far through the campaign now, which means it gets more challenging. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but I’d say we have a pretty good track record so far.

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Kamakura Collection

Next was Kamakura Collection – a game where you pick up tokens from different places in Kamakura, a game that I really like even if people did keep blocking me from the actions I wanted to take. Then we played Smallworld and Photosynthesis.

I sat out for the next game (Cash and Guns) but I acted as resident photographer, managing to catch the moment when everybody turned their foam guns on the same person. I chilled out for a while, watching as a game of Mario Kart started on the TV. We’d eaten lunch earlier but all of a sudden dinner time had rolled around, and a couple of guests had brought stuff for takoyaki and yakisoba.

After a delicious dinner we played a game of Sushi Go, and for the first time that weekend, I actually won a game (not including Shinobi Empire because that was a draw… twice). It definitely helped that I collected the most amount of desserts, earning me quite a few bonus points. Next was Dixit, a game where one person gives out a hint and plays a picture card, then everyone else plays a card too. The aim is to correctly guess the original person’s picture, but also choosing a card that matches the hint well enough to convince the other players to guess yours. I like Dixit because you do have to think creatively, and with the right group of people it can be really funny.

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Dixit

The next day saw a couple more game, including Sheriff of Nottingham in which you’re a merchant trying to hide contraband from the titular Sheriff. I managed to get some pretty fancy and very illegal cheese smuggled through, which is saying something given that I am bad at lying. Then, the retreat came to an end and alongside Gunma the week before, it ranks among the best weekends I’ve had in Japan.

One of the last things I did this month was attend a fireworks display in Zushi, which is just outside of Kamakura. It was on a Friday evening so I had to go straight from work, but I’d made sure to pack a change of clothes and choose a lunch that meant I could easily throw away the wrappers in the recycling bins at school. I’d also brought my camera along because I wanted to make sure I got some good shots. We bought some yakisoba and karaage on the way, and the person who’d invited me already had a bag full of drinks.

When our group had arrived at the beach it was already really crowded., which is nothing less than I’d expect from Japan.With it being late September, it was one of the last chances to see fireworks before it truly became autumn. Even though it was busy there were still a few spots left to put our sheet down and we managed to choose somewhere with a decent view, but not before I could take some photos of the beautiful sunset.

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Sunset at Zushi

There was still an hour to go, so we had our picnic in the meantime.

The fireworks themselves were beautiful, with a few songs from the Aladdin soundtrack among others. This country really does know how to put on a good firework show, which makes sense because unlike in the UK, they’re not limited to a couple of specific days in the year. I was so happy in that moment; I was with good company, the night air felt just right, and the multicoloured light of the hanabi glittered on the sea’s surface.

Afterwards, the crowd headed back to the train stations in a mass exodus. We were swept along a little, the group being split into two factions. Fortunately, however, we’d already made a reservation at a local izakaya to wait most of it out.

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Fireworks time

Almost everyone ordered a nama biiru (draft beer) and chose the medium size, to which the waiter warned us that it would be a bit expensive. I didn’t understand why until it arrived and the tankard was as big as my head (and that’s saying something in my case). I’d hate to think how big the large ones were. I slowly got down to the bottom over the course of the night, but man, that was a lot of beer.

It can’t hurt to relax at the end of the week, though.

Over the course of the last month, I’ve given my daily routine an overhaul after realising that I could be doing fitting more in. I’d passed the JLPT N4 after all, and I wanted to start studying immediately in an attempt to reduce the gap between N4 and N3 as fast as possible.

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Japanese

I bought a set of textbooks that my friends had recommended, plus upgraded my level on JapanesePod101.com and downloaded their N3 playlist. I also wanted to keep track of writing, especially after taking a four week break over the summer, and especially considering just how much stuff I still have left to write about. By the looks of it, I’ll still be covering August events up to the start of November, so I kind of need to get those posts finished.

I am also an extraordinarily untidy human being, and now sick of living in a mess, I resolved to make a change. It didn’t have to be a lot; it could just be picking stuff up off the floor at the end of the night. One thing was for sure, though… I was determined to at least try.

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Korean

Another small thing I’ve added is learning Korean on Duolingo because it’s only ten minutes or less per day and I can be closer to my goal of being able to read Hangul. Having studied linguistics at masters’ level, I’m definitely fascinated by different writing systems, which is all the more evident by the fact that I’m aiming for fluency in a language that uses four of them (hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji).

Hangul would be the fifth ‘alphabet’ I’ve attempted to learn (or 6th if you count IPA, which I do). I did try Cyrillic for a whole afternoon once, but I dropped it to focus more on kanji first. However, I would still love to be able to read it at some point. I decided on Hangul over Cyrillic because I want to visit Korea some time in the next two years, and I felt it would be useful to know some basic Korean when I eventually go. I don’t think I’d study it with as much seriousness as my Japanese though, so I’ll stick with a couple of mobile apps for now.

The last thing I’ve added to my routine is reading. My Osaka post mentions how I was struggling to find time to finish my book, so now I have motivation to try for at least a few pages each night. That does usually turn into a chapter or two once I get started, so obviously my problem was not having the drive to pick up my Kindle in the first place. I keep track of all six things with a sticker chart on my wall – just like I did while I was studying for the JLPT N5 – and it sounds silly but it really does work. My inner child freaking loves stickers, and I even give myself a little star if I finish all six in a day.

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My checklist for the week…

Overall it was a rollercoaster of a month – one which threw a few challenges my way but made up for it with some great times. As I’m finalising this post, I am very aware that the stress wasn’t over (we just got through Typhoon Hagibis), but for now I’m going to focus on the positives.


In honour of not focusing on the negatives, what something good that’s happened to you recently? Let’s share the positivity in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Japan Diary: September 2019

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