Looking back at the seven days between the 5th and 12th of October, I think it’s fair to call it ‘Jenny’s Very Busy, Pretty Intimidating and All Round Stressful Week’. Even over three weeks on, I’ve failed to catch up on chill out time, and I’ve still got another one before I can truly relax.
On the 5th, I’d decided that I wanted to surprise one of my schools at their sports day, giving up half my weekend to spend more time at work. In my last job, I would have been supremely grumpy at sacrificing a precious day off, but nowadays I love my students so much that I don’t even care about it. Seeing the shock on their faces when they realised I was there was more than worth it.
I was there last year, but because it started raining the event was postponed to a day when I was teaching at a different school. This year I was determined to be there again. Fortunately it started later than usual school time so I was able to have an hour’s lie in, but I’m still not a fan of waking up before 8 on a Saturday. Armed with a coffee, I arrived at school right on time.
Like my primary school sports days in the UK, the pupils were split into colour-coded teams, but unlike the mine, there were only two: akagumi (赤組, red team) and aogumi (青組, blue team). The event started with a boost of morale – the captains leading their teams in a chant for motivation. Everyone from first to sixth grade joined in and the atmosphere was brilliant.
Shortly after, my co-workers noticed I was there and ushered me into the teacher’s tent so I could watch from there. I was thankful for the shade; even in the morning the heat felt oppressive and not realising how sunny the weather would be, I’d left my hat at home.
During a short break, I checked my emails to find that a housing company I’d contacted had replied and instantly my heart jumped into my throat. After not hearing for a while, I’d practically come to terms with the idea that I’d be staying in my apartment for another year, but this gave me a small ounce of hope that I would be able to move house after all. With help from one of my friends, I quickly sent a message back. I was on edge for the next few activities, wanting to enjoy them but also wanting to check my phone for replies, so I compromised and checked after each race.
Lunch was drawing closer, which meant it was nearly time for the half time finale – the Soran Bushi. This was what I was most excited for and I made the resolution in my head that even if I felt my phone vibrate, it could wait.
The Soran Bushi originated as a sea shanty for fishermen on the northern island of Hokkaido, and the song and its accompanying dance have been adopted by Japanese elementary schools as part of their sports festivals. I can understand why – as a nation of many islands, seafaring and the fishing trade are a huge part of this country’s cultural history and it’s certainly energetic enough to work up a sweat. The kids get so pumped up and it’s probably the most fun event to watch. I couldn’t take any photos or videos of my own students, but you can watch one performance here.
I’d been able to catch a few glimpses of their practice sessions out of the staff room window and I knew I wanted to see the whole thing. It’s even more special because the 6th graders were dancing, so this was my only chance to watch that particular year group.
There’s also Kibasen, an event where two teams become samurai and their noble steeds in a face off to see who will be victorious. Two students are held up by their teammates (acting as the ‘horse’) and the goal is to snatch the hat (or ‘helmet’) from their opponent. There are various different strategies on how to win and fortunately I was rooting for both sides so I wouldn’t be disappointed either way. I mean, they’re all my students so I have to stay impartial. Kibasen is probably my second favourite event, after the Soran Bushi of course.
By the end of the undoukai, I had secured a house viewing for the next morning, and feeling both accomplished and apprehensive I spent the whole evening running through all the possibilities and potential issues in my head. I thought: “If tomorrow goes well, I might just be moving after all.” But if it didn’t go well, then I would’ve got my hopes up for nothing.
The next day on the 6th, I met the agent at the train station and after a brief (and slightly awkward on my part) introduction in Japanese, we left to see the house. I tried my hardest to stay unbiased and logical, but it was very difficult when the gut feeling in my stomach was giving me a big resounding “yes”. It’s a sharehouse, and I had two rooms to look at. To be honest either looked good, but one had more space. I was surprised at how well I was following what the agent was saying and I was able to ask my own questions, so maybe I might finally be able to call Japanese my second language… It’s so hard to tell what qualifies though.
There were some gaps in communication, but fortunately we were able to temporarily slip into English if any terminology was a little difficult. I’m still proud of myself regardless.
Feeling very happy with myself, I said goodbye to the agent and hurried out to Kamakura. I had the English conversation club I occasionally volunteer at and I decided to go directly so I could take some time to think beforehand.
Once I arrived, I quickly had lunch somewhere while taking notes on what we’d discussed about the house. With those all laid out on paper, I went for a walk along the Wakamiya-oji leading up to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu while listening to some calming music. The leaves were just about turning brown, the sun was out, and the air had begun to cool off. I took slow, almost lazy breaths to calm myself down enough to make a rational decision. I did not want to be driven by my heart this time, because it was risky if I didn’t think it through properly.
I went to the English club and I ended up making it into one of the conversation topics, as it was practically my only line of thought. Some people commented on how excited I looked and because it was completely subconscious, I took that as a positive sign. Once I got home, I called my family to talk through my reasoning, then sent an email to say yes to the bigger room.
I had one regular day’s respite (if you can call it that between work and sending important emails), in which I arranged an appointment to sign the contract for the new house. The only problem was that it was the next day – the 8th – and that was already supposed to be a little stressful.
I’d booked half a day off work because I had no classes, and I desperately needed to go the immigration office for the second time this year. After filing my visa extension in September, I was due to pick it up a few weeks later and this was the most appropriate opportunity. I would need my updated visa to sign the housing contract – so there was definitely no procrastination allowed – but the turnaround time was hairpin-tight and I would have to not miss any of my transport links to be able to make it.
I rushed to the immigration office, and fortunately there was only 11 people ahead of me in the queue and they got through us pretty quickly. I got my new residents’ card issued and my eyes widened in surprise when I checked it out. Instead of granting me the one year extension I was expecting – I got three!
It’s almost a running joke that no-one gets more than a year’s renewal at a time and in fact, one friend commented how lucky I was that I got it after only two years here.
I practically skipped out of the office, but now I had to race from Yokohama to Tokyo in the space of an hour. Due to the train and bus times, I would just about make it to where I needed to be.
I hurried over to the capital, arrived at what I thought was the right place and took a few minutes’ breather to check my phone. It turned out that Google Maps had sent me a couple of blocks away, which explained why I couldn’t find the company name on the floor guide. I thought I just couldn’t read properly!
A short walk later, I was in the right building and swallowing down the trepidation that was slowly rising through my windpipe, I entered the office.
A lot of the meeting was carried out in Japanese, with minimal English for the more complicated details. The company did have an English translation available for the contract which was reassuring, and I read it through as carefully as I could. I left an hour and a half later with a housing agreement freshly signed and a fuzzy feeling inside my head.
My brain was well and truly fried, so instead of grabbing some food in Tokyo I went straight home to have a conbini ready meal in bed. Your girl was exhausted, and it was only Tuesday. I was thankful that I didn’t have to make a bento for the next day, because I could pop into a cafe on my way to my meeting on Wednesday afternoon. It’s turned into a tradition, because once a month, I have a good forty minutes to sit with a coffee and a sandwich and maybe get some writing in at the same time.
After our meeting, I wanted to hang out with some of my friends so we ended up going to a local Irish pub for a drink and a bite to eat. There was shepherd’s pie which made me very happy, and I also ordered a pint of beer. We sat and talked while watching the rugby (Scotland vs. Russia) and even though I was tired, it was a great evening.
Thursdays are the busiest days of any regular week, because I’m usually out of the house for over 13 hours thanks to my Japanese class. I was debating whether to skip it that week, and to be completely honest, I was in a bad mood.
I realised my skirt had been practically see-through all day and all I wanted to do was go home and sulk, but on the way to the train station, I realised that I was being ridiculous and there was an easy solution. I stopped off at a second-hand clothing store – one which I check semi-regularly – and bought a ‘new’ skirt for about 500 yen (£3.60, or $4.60). It’s cute and matches a load of my other clothes, plus the fact that it was thrifted makes it even better!
I got changed in the station bathroom, and I felt much more comfortable. I pushed myself to go to my Japanese class and once I was there, my teachers complimented the skirt, saying how I had a good sense of style and I was good at choosing which clothes to buy. I’m not going to lie, that comment cheered me up considerably.
I always go to the supermarket after class because there’s a 30 minute wait for the bus, and this time was no different. What was different, however, was the sheer amount of people who were there. Typhoon Hagibis was approaching and as a result, lots of people were starting to prep for it. Most of the bread was gone, as were the Strong Zeros, and the queue for the cash registers snaked around the shop. I grabbed what I could and got in line, and just in time too because if I’d left it any later I would have missed the bus.
The next day was the Friday 11th, the last day of the work week, and the last day to get to the supermarket before I hibernated in my apartment for the weekend. I went to the bigger one, hoping that its size would offset the amount of emergency purchases. Surely a bigger supermarket would have fewer things sold out?
That’s what I thought, but relatively speaking, that wasn’t the case. All the bread was gone, there were no two litre bottles of water, and the cup noodle shelves were almost bare. However, I could still grab some canned fruit and tuna, vegetables, and anything else I could eat raw. I thanked past Jenny for already having a bottle of water in the apartment but I still bought a two litre bottle of sports drink though, just in case. Like last month’s Typhoon Faxai, I spent way more than usual on my food shop, but it was better to be overly cautious especially considering how all the media outlets were saying this typhoon was going to be worse.
I went home, and now with a fully stocked cupboard, I set about doing the rest of my typhoon prep. I filled up my bathtub in case my water shut off, I brought my laundry pole in from the balcony and I closed the storm shutters. I packed an emergency bag in case of evacuation and charged all of my devices and power banks. All that was left was to go to sleep and face Hagibis when it arrived the next day.
I think it’s fair to say that I did not sleep well. Unable to de-stress for any substantial amount of time, I would keep waking up every couple of hours. The next morning, I was not well rested at all and I could physically feel the tension in my shoulders. It was going to be a long day or two, that was for sure.
The first alerts started around 12:30 in my area, and once again, my chest clenched painfully. My district flashed on screen and nausea pooled in the bottom of my stomach but I forced myself to breathe and stay calm. Hovering by the door, I listened out for my neighbours to see if they were leaving, but there were no doors closing, no footsteps, nothing.
In actuality, it was probably safer to stay where I was: at the top of the hill in a place on the second floor with storm shutters and a heavy metal door. As a result, I hid in my room, turning up the volume on my anime in an attempt to drown out the sound of wind and rain outside. Periodically, I’d check my phone for updates on the situation. Because it was charging at the same time, the screen had grown very hot and I have reason to believe that I gave my thumb a low-level burn by using it so much. But the alternative was being kept in the dark, both figuratively and literally. The storm shutters are very practical, but they also shut out all natural light, which in turn felt a lot like being cut off from everything else. I was stuck in a bubble of my own making until the typhoon had passed so I had to rely on news websites and social media to know what was going on.
There’d already been a tornado in Chiba that morning, plus the typhoon, and if two natural disasters in Kanto weren’t enough, Mother Nature clearly decided to give us the middle finger and add an earthquake on top. Because my apartment walls were already rattling from the strong winds, I didn’t immediately recognise what was going on, but a split second later I found myself thinking: “Oh, you have got to be kidding me right now” (only in much more colourful language). I was not impressed.
The worst of Typhoon Hagibis hit Yokohama at around 9pm.
By then I’d binge watched an unknown number of Kimetsu no Yaiba episodes, attempted to have a nap and failed, and briefly considered tidying my room but didn’t. Being on constant alert certainly screwed with my motivation and I didn’t want to do anything. Fortunately I was able to call one of my close friends as the eye of the storm drew near. As far as I know it didn’t pass over directly, but it was still ridiculously loud and I needed that phone call to help me calm down a little.
It passed over us with no more emergency alerts and at nearly midnight I was sure everything was fine, so I messaged my family to let them know I was safe. I could feel the tension leave my body, and my muscles ached once they finally relaxed. I hadn’t realised how taut they were until I could let go and the relief meant I fell asleep easily.
The next day I decided to venture outside to get a coffee from a nearby vending machine and investigate whether there’d been much damage. Luckily enough, it was pretty minimal, but you could still tell that something had happened. In the aftermath, the weather had grown hot – bordering on 30 degrees in the morning – and the skies were incredibly clear, almost like Hagibis had taken all the clouds with it. This meant that I had an unobstructed view of Fuji from the end of my road and in that moment, I felt very fortunate. Yokohama had been lucky, and after more than 24 hours on lock-down I was thankful for the fresh air, the sun on my face, and the beautiful view. Being alone and holed up at home is not my idea of fun, for sure.
While all I wanted to do was chill for the next week or two, the fact that I was moving put a stop to that idea.
My room was awful, and there would be a lot of work needed before I left. I spent days just trying to get it to a manageable state, using several anime marathons to keep me on track. I finished Kimetsu no Yaiba, got through all of last season’s given, and caught up on both Attack on Titan and Zombie Land Saga. I keep telling myself that I’ll be less messy in the new place because I’ll have the social pressure of housemates, but we shall see how long those intentions last.
The process took up all my time outside of work and I ended up throwing out so much rubbish that it actually felt kind of satisfying. On the flip side though, I started to feel guilty every time I slowed down.
I would have to accept that I needed some chill time, especially after I went to get my flu vaccine. While working with kids I can’t risk anything, which is all the more evident by how many times I got sick last year. I played it safe and got my shot as soon as possible but as soon as I got home, it was like everything caught up with me at once.
I fell straight asleep at around lunchtime and when I woke up, I was still tired. That fatigue would last for the next few days and while my brain was saying “come on, let’s get stuff done”, my body replied with a firm “no thank you”. It took all my willpower to not have a nap at my desk, which was no small feat after doing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes more than ten times. I wasn’t expecting to react so much because the last flu jab I had in the UK barely affected me, but I now see why the illness is such a big deal over here. It’s strong stuff.
Overall this month hasn’t been the greatest, but looking back I’m really proud of everything that I’ve got through in the last few weeks. It’s also had some very big positives, with managing to successfully find a house and getting my three year visa renewal, so I should be very happy about those. By the time I post this, I will have moved into my new place, so here’s to a fresh start!
(I just need to not let my room get untidy – wish me luck because I’m gonna need it…)
I have very nearly run out of space on this blog, but don’t worry – I’m in the process of formatting a sequel account so hopefully I’ll be posting on there from next week. Watch this space for an announcement later in the week!
Thanks to everyone who’s followed the first installment of my life in Japan and I hope to see you over on my secondary blog! Lots of love, Jenny.