Monday, February 27, 2012


It is now roughly one month until I depart Japan for America. I am in the midst of numerous preparations, all of which could be considered time-consuming and difficult. I thought I would attempt to illustrate some of the problems one encounters when leaving Japan.

1. Utilities
I have been, like most adults, paying for all of my utilities. Gas, electricity, internet, etc. In any situation, you receive a bill for the previous month's usage, meaning you are charged in May for what you used in April. However, I will not be here in May to pay for my usage in April. Unlike moving between states, there will be no way for me to pay this money. In order to settle my accounts, I must contact my utility providers and have them calculate a rounded end-of-service price.

2. Transportation
I cannot speak for all companies like mine, but I imagine my predicament is not unfamiliar to the majority of teachers. When our contracts are up, the company's obligation to us ends. We are required to provide our own transportation back home. That means shelling out cash for plane tickets, train tickets, and bus tickets. Although my company paid to send me out here to the middle of nowhere, they won't pay to get me back to the airport. As a result, I am forced to search for cheap but reliable methods of reaching Tokyo.

3. Bank Fees
Some companies will give you your final paycheck before you leave. Mine does not. Unless I want to stay over my visa until my final paycheck clears, I will request my company to transfer the money to my bank account in America. That means paying the heavy handling fees associated with overseas bank transfers. In my case, that fee is a minimum of $50.

4. Moving Out
My contract expires on the 26th. My last working day is on the 23rd. I have to vacate my apartment before the 29th. When you add Japan's trash-sorting laws into the equation, the end result is a short amount of time to clean out my home and make my way to Tokyo. I've already begun the process, but it is difficult while working at the same time.

I've never been the best forward thinker. When it comes to planning for the future, I draw a vague outline in my mind and leave it at that. However, when making a monumentous decision like switching countries, I encourage people to think long and hard not only about getting there, but also getting back. I did not take any of that into consideration because it was so far off, and now I am regretting my lack of research.

Nikko & Utsunomiya

Sorry for the lack of updates! Over the weekend, I visited Nikko and Utsunomiya, located in Tochigi. Three hours by car, Nikko is a historical tourist spot with many temples and ancient relics. There are numerous waterfalls, a huge park, and a variety of historical sites, such as the resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu. The picture above is pretty famous, too--the origin of the phrase "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Known as mizaru, it is a carving located on the Toshogu Shrine inner walls. It is part of a series of carvings about the lives of simple monkeys. I had never stopped to think that the phrase must have come from somewhere.

We also visited a number of historical sites in Utsunomiya. The picture above shows a number of stone coffins built into the hills outside the city limits. These holes once held the ancient corpses of the dead. When they were opened, the corpses were removed and replaced with stone Buddha statues.

I had the misfortune of choosing a weekend when it snowed, so my feet were constantly soaking wet with slush. We stayed at a nice little guesthouse in Nikko, owned by a Japanese couple who spoke intermediate English. It was cozy, although the walls were paper-thin. Utsunomiya is more like a city, full of department stores and train stations. There are only three Starbucks in Fukushima, according to my friend, so we jumped at the opportunity to grab some mochas when we visited this city.

The last stop on our two-day holiday was the famous Min-min gyoza restaurant in Utsunomiya. We visited the original store, standing in line outside until there was enough room to enter and find seats. I found it akin to my visit to the original Starbucks in Seattle, Washington. Line outside, not much to look at inside, mostly there for the ambiance. But I have to admit those were the best gyoza I'd ever eaten. I need to learn how to make gyoza myself.

This was my last big trip in Japan until I return to Tokyo to catch my plane for America. From now on, I'll be keeping a low profile. Travel is expensive in Japan, even in the countryside. But I'm glad I was able to bask in the warm glow of Japanese culture for even a couple of days.