Monthly Archives: February 2014

Tokyo Café Corner: #001 “Kayaba Coffee” – Yanaka/Tokyo

 Tokyo Café Corner

 

Welcome to our new corner, a place to wind down and forget all about trains, technology and the toils of a hectic week as I take you to a small corner of Japan, for some coffee, and maybe even a bite to eat.

To me the greatest Cafés can almost be living works of art. The smells, whether it be from the ageing pine of the floorboards, the unmistakable scent of well-aged tatami mats, the aromas of the food piling out of the kitchen and of course, freshly brewed coffee. These buildings, sometimes decrepit and sometimes as if almost frozen in time, spill with character, warmth and history. This is where I like to sit and watch the world go by, and these are the places around Japan that I want to introduce to you too.

So let us begin with the first, ‘Kayaba Coffee’ in Yanaka, Tokyo.

First things first, if you have never been to Yanaka just get off the train and go exploring. It is one of those rare gems in a city like Tokyo, an area steeped in history and endowed with countless historic temples; it never seems to garner the same kind of attention like the ‘old-Japan’ seeking tourist hot spot that is Asakusa. But this is what makes it great. Yanaka is Edo. You don’t even need a map, just take a walk down any side street and you are bound to come across a temple with some kind of historic importance. And one of the best things, there are no tourists in floppy hats and knee high sock/sandal combinations with camera lenses protruding from their chests like a scene from Alien. Well, maybe only the occasional few.

Basically, Yanaka is that wonderful of a topic that it deserves a post all of its own, for another time.

Within the midst of all that history stands the Café, “Kayaba Coffee”.

#0001 : Kayaba Coffee

 

Kayaba Coffee

Working in Japan without Experience

Two years ago, right after I re-enrolled at UT Austin after my leave of absence to extend my study abroad program in Japan, one of Japanese language professors sent me an email asking me to talk to her class about opportunities in Japan.

I remembered the feeling of not really being able to see a light at the end of the tunnel as far as getting myself rooted in Japan after my study abroad at Sophia University.  I had never had a job even in the United States aside from helping with my father’s business.

Luckily for me, I had burned through all savings, scholarships and grants on partying with my new friends and anything that seemed slightly exotic. I started browsing around online for financial opportunities while living off of approximately 10 dollars a day for a couple weeks.  That soon turned to 5 dollars a day, and after a week of 3 dollars yen a day I really got moving. I was getting a little tired of Rice, Kimchi and Nattou for breakfast and dinner every day.

I lined up an interview  with one of the leading English Conversation Companies: GABA. I did my research, tried to think of anything that I have done in college that would count as “teaching experience” and pulled out my most formal clothes from the bottom of my suitcase.

Everything was going great until I was asked at the end of the interview to wear a suit to the second interview. I was more terrified at the thought of spending 300 dollars that I don’t have than I was excited at the fact that I passed the first interview. Thanks to UNIQLO, I was able to throw together what looked like a suit for about 100 dollars. I didn’t even have dress shoes so I had to throw down at 60 dollars at ABC mart for a decent pair. (I wish I knew then that you could get a seemingly decent pair in Shibuya for 20 bucks).

I made it to the second interview looking pretty sharp and it went pretty well. They asked me to wait two weeks while they considered my application.

Then, while taking a shower in my dorm on March 11th 2011, I started to feel really strange and found that I couldn’t stand up properly. After my shampoo bottle and everything else fell on my toes, I realized that an earthquake had struck. I ran out of the shower room in a towel to get to my room on the third floor. Once I made it to the staircase, I realized this was a big earthquake and just ran outside in the towel to meet all my dorm-mates and some of the Warabi-shi neighbors.

About a week later,  completely forgotten about my interviews at GABA, I got a phone call that went a little bit like this:

“Hello, is this Joseph?” , “This is he” , “So you’re still in Japan?” , “Yes…” “You’re still in Tokyo?” “Yes…” “Oh wow! Okay, well if you’re still interested in the position at GABA…”

And that’s one of the methods for getting a non-specialized job in Japan.

 Setsumeikai

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Japan Rules

Japan Rules Image

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I can always recall one of my earliest childhood memories of my “awakening” to Japan as a “modern country”, and not just as a land of the rising sun full of ninjas and samurai (TV can be a convincing media).

I was born and raised in the small town of Wednesbury in the UK. A village for most of its existence, when the Industrial revolution picked nearby Birmingham up and propelled it to Industrial “workshop of the world” Wednesbury was swept along in the pandemonium. Soon the banks of canals filled with barges laden fresh with coal for Birmingham’s roaring industries; brimmed to the edge with factories, workshops and steel mills – the modern age had arrived for this small town.

But history was not to be kind to Wednesbury. As fast as Industry had giveth life to the town it took it away. Post-war, as in other areas, British industrial output crumbled under the weight of cheaper foreign imports and factory closures, mass unemployment and mass unenjoyment soon followed. However as soon as the 90s began where once stood steel mills now stood shops, as the old abandoned land which once rang day and night to the sound hammers pounding steel now thronged with the crowds of Middle-England – row upon row of cars filled to impossibility with flat pack furniture and kitchen fittings crawling along the asphalt.

But that’s a story for another time, so let’s return to that 12 year old wide-eyed Wednesbury child – the most exotic thing in his life being an Indian curry. I clearly remember my father telling me about how his friend has been to Japan only to return flabbergasted, astounded by its neon metropolis and futurisms.

 “Everything they have is at least 10 years advanced of anything we have over here

That was it. That was all I needed. Japan from that point on cemented itself into my mind as certain kind of futuristic utopia. Everyday chores need not trouble, as your trusty robot would carry out those tasks. The flow of information is electronically controlled as everyday devices and appliances speak with each other to optimise your daily routines for maximised – Japanese style – efficiency. The age of men was over.

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Curry : The Unsung Hero of Japanese Cuisine

OK so the title has already given it away, this is an article about food. I am sure a lot of people are thinking isn’t this blog supposed to be about working in Japan?! Well yeah it is and we have articles on that stuff too, but let’s be honest, food is important. We can live without work but we sure as hell can’t live without food. So I think that as food is such a key part of our lives it makes sense to be passionate about it. My fellow writers feel the same way at WIJ too. When we meet up, we will often talk about food and especially about the differences in availability, variety, quality of food in Japan compared to what we have experienced elsewhere. Pretty wild night for three young 20 something guys to be doing ey!

A food that I love and briefly touched upon on one of my earlier articles in The Salaryman Diet is curry. Friggin love it. India curry, Japanese curry, Thai curry, it’s all great. I am not prejudice against my curry.

This article is actually going to be about just that, curry. I know what you’re thinking, this guy is friggin crazy, the hell do we care about curry and I am pretty sure you can’t write a full article about it. Well I won’t deny the first claim, but if there is something that I can do, it is write an article allllllllllllllll about curry. In fact during my year abroad in Sophia I did a full 30 minute presentation in Japanese about curry. I like to think the presentation changed lives in that classroom, it was groundbreaking, inspiring and as Steve Jobs would say “insanely great”.

That presentations is actually making the bases for this article (REALLY READ AS  I am just reverse translating my Japanese speech into English cause I am a genius…a lazy genius). The whole premises for the presentation is ‘If asked to name the top Japanese foods, how many people would say curry?` I honestly think that the answer would close to zero. I mean even if I was asked this question I would have generally answered sushi, tempura or ramen as they just ‘feel’ Japanese. However when you actually talk to families, watch food commercials and probably most importantly look at the data you find out that curry is one of THE most popular and loved food in Japan. Wow pretty big claims there eh! Well let’s begin with a little bit of background.

Work Curry

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