Category Archives: Life

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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Me and Japan

When I first met Japan, it was love at first sight. We would spend all day, every day, together. Each day spent with her produced a plethora of experiences – new, and exciting. I looked into Japan’s eyes and I saw the world in a new and exciting light, bursting with possibilities, and 24/7 convenience stores. Together we would try new foods, explore new places, concepts, ideas. Days turned into weeks turned into months, but for me and Japan time seemed to stand still, as gazing into each other’s eyes the hustle and bustle of life passed around us.

I loved Japan and Japan seemed to love me. I would leave my home to be with Japan, throwing everything away I knew to devote my life to her.

But oh how time can be a cruel mistress.

Me and Japan

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Wi-Fi in Japan – Everywhere and Nowhere

Japan is often thought of being some super high tech, city of the future. This is how I envisioned Japan when I was younger and is the image we are often exposed to on TV. There are many areas where Japan, especially Tokyo, is way ahead in incorporating new technology (touch-screen vending machines or menus anyone?) and there are places where it is still very much behind.

Jamie has written a very interesting article on this topic! The article touches on whether Japan is really an image of the future and paving the way for the perfect 21st century metropolis, something that it is often idolized as being, or not.

I know I though Japan and specifically Tokyo was the image of the future, and it is with that feeling which I decided to write this article. My biggest personal qualm with Japan is its almost total lack of public wi-fi. This shortcoming also very inconvenient for tourist in Japan and is something that they must improve for the Tokyo Olympics.In a recent survey they actually found that the No.1 thing people who visited Japan struggled with was the lack of internet at 23.9%, this being ABOVE communications problems or language barriers at 17.5%.

In fact, Japan’s entire concept and experience towards the ‘internet’ seems to be very different to what we have experienced in the west. Much of the reason why there isn’t free public internet I believe is due to how mobile phones were introduced and used. Bear with me!

Mobile phones with internet capabilities were widely available in Japan from 1999 with those who used mobile phone internet reaching around 51,930,000 people in March 2002! That was around 75.1% of all mobile phone users and just 3 years after the feature had started to be introduced. Impressive stuff ey. However this ‘internet’ is much different to the internet we are used to today. The mobile phones at the time having limited functionality – a simple web browser and ability to use e-mail. Perhaps the most famous was something called i-mode, which was introduced by the mobile phone company NTT Docomo. The other phones companies also offering their own version Au had EzWeb and Softbank had Yahookeitai, but i-mode paved the way and offered it for only about 300yen a month! You’d be crazy not to have it.

At a time when personal computers were pretty damn expensive everywhere anywhere in the world, a phone that could handle internet and e-mail was a god send, especially for teenagers and people that didn’t want to splash out for a high cost computer. Mobile phones were becoming so popular that they made a new buzz word to describe the young people that used them ‘Oyayubizoku’ big thumb family (doesn’t sound AS stupid in Japanese, I promise). The reasoning for the word being that when people used the internet and mail on their phone, their big thumb would predominantly be used and be flying all over the play. TBH not much has changed, apart from the fact everything is more of a slide motion. Long live touch screens!

Ok, so what has this got to do with public wi-fi? Well the point I wanted to make was that Japan has had a MUCH longer history of people using their mobile phones for the internet and e-mail. This means that even when wi-fi was being introduced many didn’t (and many still don’t) feel the need to introduce it into their homes due to the fact that they could use their mobile phones for any kind of internet on the go, so a wired connection at home isn’t a big deal as it could never be truly ‘mobile’ anyway. Especially considering that the time everyone is spending at home has been decreasing since the 70s with time at school, jyuku (after school study) and work has been increasing(Japanese source: Here is a report by NHK that shows data on this,  page 32 is specifically about the time spent at home decreasing).

In fact this concept of being ‘wired’ at home is only increasing with the introduction of fibre optic internet. In most of the major electronic stores you will see MASSIVE  campaigns for fibre optic internet. In Tokyo at least there is a big push for a take up of  this ultra high speed internet. Compared to other countries such as the UK and America it is a lot cheaper to set up and use here too. The government offering tax incentives to companies to help increase increase installation and adoption of fiber optic internet. Sony owned provider actually supplying the world’s fastest internet here in Tokyo apparently.

Outside of the house , now that many mobile phones with built-in wi-fi and full internet browsers (hello iphone!) were being introduced wi-fi made a lot of sense to phone companies, as wi-fi could help increase the access speed of the internet for the mobile phones and ease the load on the network. After all they required much more data than the simple days of i-mode with it’s ‘simple’ internet. The first company to introduce the iphone into Japan was softbank (the guys with  Yahookeitai) and they had a monopoly on it for around 3 years, it also during this time that they started spreading their softbank wi-fi spot. See the mark below? If a building has that on it then it has softbank wi-fi baby. Softbank claiming to have the highest number of wi-fi hotspots, more than 300,000 apparently. The only catch? If you mobile phone isn’t from softbank then there ain’t no way in hell you are accessing that wi-fi.

That sounds like a fair claim. However once you realize that the main companies that are spreading these wi-fi hotspots are phone companies that want you to be on their network you realize that it is extremely restrictive if you aren’t a customer of either of the mobile phone companies. While in the UK you could get around this problem by just getting a pre-paid mobile phone and sim card, in Japan pre-paid essentially doesn’t exist, it all contract here guys. Softbank are actually the only main phone companies that offer pre-paid mobile phones but as they can only be used for sms, mail, calling or simple internet (no wi-fi or full browsers in these 90s throw backs) also you are not able to connect to the 1,000s of softbank hot spots either. As 99% of Japanese users of mobile phones in Japan are on contract anyway, this concept of ‘members only’ wi-fi probably doesn’t seem that restrictive to them. The remaining non-mobile phone company hotspots are almost exclusively paid, not even offering a 20 min free hook up either.

It’s not totally doom and gloom though, Starbucks are paving the way for free internet (though you still have to register) and some convenience stores also offer free registered-wi-fi but it definitely can’t be referred to as wide spread. Also in the case of the convenience stores, often the explanations will be in Japanese which won’t really help any tourist that are there to visit and can’t read Japanese.

What has been growing in popularity these last few years at a phenomenal rate is ‘pocket wi-fi’ sounds awesome right? That’s because it is. Now technically pocket wi-fi is nothing new or exclusive to Japan, even in the UK the mobile company three had this little dongle that used 3g for portable internet (except it was pretty crap in every way) and now with tethering on mobile phones, the idea of just beaming out wi-fi from a device that receive cellular signal isn’t groundbreaking.

What is groundbreaking though is the fact that the pocket wi-fi in Japan is generally very fast, reliable and cheap. My own device offers unlimited data transfer (upload/download), 10 hours of continuous battery life,  10 devices to be connected at once and an average speeds of around 3mb/s. All for 3880yen a month which is cheaper than any mobile phone company can offer. Also there is no stress of line fees, installation or maintenance. DAMN I think I’m selling this thing better than the companies own sales people. I should work for commission. For those interested this the homepage of the guys I use.

I love it and so do many people in Japan. If you just try to search for a wi-fi connection on say a train (where the only wi-fi is going to be the portal pocket wi-fi) you will find  dozens of networks. All of cause personal and password protected.

Pocket wi-fi

Wi-fi is literally everywhere you go in Japan. It is beaming out of shops and people’s bags at every hour of every day. No doubt if data was actually visible it would be almost impossible to see 1 meter in front of you. Despite all this though, the wi-fi which is actually accessible with no strings attached (free of charge or non-afflicted with a phone company) is almost impossible to find. It is almost ironic that due to the initial mass popularization of mobile internet via mobile phones, the entire need for free public wi-fi has been compromised. While for the average person that lives in Japan this short coming doesn’t even register as a problem, for people that are visiting from abroad or don’t have the means to buy a mobile phone or pocket wi-fi (you need a ‘residence card’ in most cases) this is a massive problem. Especially consider that via using the internet may of the communications problems that were the No.2 biggest difficulties for tourists could be avoided as well. Online dictionaries and maps being especially useful. Hello two birds once stone.

With around 7 years until the Tokyo Olympics it is realistic that some kind of solution will be introduced. That is still no excuse though. The fact that coming into 2014 there is essentially no public wi-fi in Tokyo, which is often idolized for being the symbol of ‘the modern city’, is just crazy. It just doesn’t end at wi-fi either check back next week where Salaryman X will dive a heck of a lot deeper into this high-tech\ non-hi-tech Japan paradox.

Anyone had experience with wi-fi in Japan? Actually found it to be no problem or was it a nightmare for you too? Let me know!

The Salaryman Diet

When I first came to Japan I was shocked by all the delicious food. I knew people who had been to Japan raved about how amazing everything was, but being in the UK with very limited knowledge of Japanese food, when someone said ‘Japan’ and ‘food’ in the same sentence all I could think of was sushi and noodles.  Yeah I know, me and 99% of the the non Japanese population. Furthermore despite the fact that I had been studying Japanese at university and held an interest in Japan since 15 I was actually very ignorant towards Japanese foods.

I didn’t know what takoyaki, okonomiyaki or oden was. Now for the average Joe not knowing these foods isn’t anything special, but for  a self confessed Japan-aholic  this is kinda embarrassing. The flip side was when I came in September 2010 for the first time I was blown away by pretty much everything. Biggest surprise being that Japanese curry doesn’t taste a thing like the Indian curry I had been pretty much brought up on (my family LOVES CURRY!).

My class and I were always told before going to Japan that we would lose weight. That every year people go and come back lighter than when they went. After our year abroad and everyone was back in the UK, the majority of people had indeed lost a fair few pounds. Most people looked pretty damn slim and healthy. I say most people because I actually put weight on in Japan. Nothing big, nothing even that noticeable to other people, but the scales don’t lie, I was heavier than before I went. Did I care at the time? Nope. The food in Japan is amazing, and not just the Japanese food. You have high quality and delicious Korean, Chinese and Italian food here too just to name a few. 10 months of gorging on ramen, pasta, curry and sushi (often tabehoudai (all you can eat) together with nomihoudai (all you can drink best/worst invention in the world!) had resulted in the gain in weight. Many of the main social activities in Japan centering around food and drinking in some way.

Upon returning to the UK and not having the same temptation/opportunity to just go to the city at any time meet some friends and have a food/alcohol orgy like I did before, I had a much healthier eating lifestyle. Me and my roommate would often try food related challenges such as ‘Vegetarian Month’ (Fegebruary anyone? Best name ever!). I had also started running, actually to the point where my big toenail fell off, fun times. Going back to Japan in September 2012 at age 22, I was a lot fitter than the time I left and was looking forward to sampling all the cuisine that Japan had to offer again. However I vowed that this time I would make an effort to cook more and have a ‘healthier’ diet. Boy, did I fail!

Tsukemen

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Alcohol and Work in Japan

My last article introduced you to some of the main alcohols that are available here in Japan. I also talked a little bit about who they were aimed at, as well as some background about how the genetic make up of a percentage of Japanese people mean they can not physically drink alcohol. Here is a handy dandy link for those that missed it.

Ok, this article is going to focus specifically on alcohol and how it relates to working life here in Japan. I said in the last article that a few of you might be thinking “What has alcohol got to do with work!?” my answer being “Everything!” and oh boy does it!

So essentially there are key moments in every Japanese company where you will have the opportunity/duty to drink. These are kangeikai (welcome party), soubetsukai (farewell party), bounenkai (end of year party), when you are interacting with customers and finally just the general office nomikai (general drink-up).  In most cases these events will be in the form of nomihoudai. As far as I know this is a unique system to Japan that is both wonderful and devilishly self-destructive (though I hear it is also recently available in Korea also under the same Japanese word nomihoudai). How it works is that for a set price and time you can drink as much as you like on a range of drinks. So in theory you can have 1 glass of beer or 20 glasses of beer and it will be the same price. If nothing else, it certainly helps working the bill at the end of the night easier.

So we now know that they are many times in which we will have the opportunity to drink and it will general be in an environment where there is no limit to the amount of alcohol. I am sure that many think “Even so, surely you can just say…no? ” If only it was that simple.

As a shinnyuushain (new employee) in any Japanese company you have certain expectations to fill, whether this be answering the company phones, refilling the coffee machines or making sure you greet everyone in the morning. Perhaps the most important non-office duty is attending drinking events where you will have the responsibility of pouring everyone’s drinks, as well as having to drink anything that is given to you by a superior. This may seem like all BS, but I assure you that it in 99% of ‘How-to’ books or websites on being a new employee in Japan they will cover this topic in detail. Not only that, but there are very specifics way in which you must ‘correctly’ pour the drinks. Heaven forbid you just pour that bad boy without consider where the label is or your own hand placement!

Here is a perfect examples of a Japanese book which is aimed at new Japanese employees explaining about what to do in a drinking situation.

Japanese Manner Book

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Alcohol in Japan

Now we have many articles that are just dying to be written, how to go about job hunting in Japan, how to avoid over time at work, as well as other great tips on working and living here  and these bad boys are definitely going to blow your mind. Now don’t worry we do intend to get round to writing these articles. In fact I have just finished writing an article about applying for a working holiday visa for Japan if you are a UK citizen, very useful and very valuable information right there.

However as the title implies for this article, first I want to talk about one very important topic, alcohol. Specifically on how it links to work here in Japan. Now you might be thinking, wait one second here, what has alcohol got to do with work? To put it simply, everything.

Now not everyone drinks. Some people find it too unhealthy or expensive. Some people don’t like the taste, others might just be too busy. However some people just can’t physically drink alcohol at all. That last fact I actually learnt during my 2 month training period at my Japanese company (It was a 2 hour seminar in a conference room, where we were given lots of free beer and told how to pour it into a glass ‘properly’….then the guy explained for around 30 seconds about the ill effects of alcohol. The seminar was done after all by a guy employed at an alcohol company.)

According to http://www.e-b-s.co.jp/products/genotypist1.html  9.5% of Japanese people just can’t drink the stuff without their bodies getting all crazy and weird. This rather interesting articles even suggest those people carrying around come crazy red card so they can prove to people that drinking is a risk to them.

The reason why they can’t drink is  essentially all down to genes, specifically two. The gene ADH1B, which breaks up the alcohol into acetaldehyde (a toxic), and is actually found a lot in Japanese people. According to the article 60% have genes that help efficiently break down the alcohol turning it in the toxic acetaldehyde. As a side effect it means that they don’t feel the ‘buzz’ of alcohol much either. We also have the gene ALDH2. This little guy then turns that toxic acetaldehyde into acetic acid, and 4% of Japanese people are unable to break this acetaldehyde down at all. Resulting in all kind of side effects such as turning red in the face, sweating, itching as well as just feeling pretty damn ill in general.

Despite the facts I have listed above about many people not wanting / being able to drink much alcohol, it is pretty damn hard to avoid the stuff here in Japan.  Especially if you are working at a Japanese company and you are male.

Ok now for some background about some of the main alcoholic beverages that are available in Japan. Because information is FUN! When I first came to Japan in my 20s I just assumed it would be the same as the UK where it is mainly beer and spirits mixers, such as lemonade and vodka or Jack Daniels and coke….how wrong I was.

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Applying for a Working Holiday Visa Japan from the UK

This article is going to walk you through how to successfully apply for a Working Holiday Visa for Japan from the United Kingdom. I will supply the EXACT documents that I used and you are more than welcome to take them for yourself, alter them a little and submit them. Hell you can even just change my name to yours and submit them the way they are!

The Japanese Working Holiday Visa is an amazing visa that will allow the holder to stay in Japan for one year, allowing them to work an unlimited amount of hours. Now they do stress that this visa in NOT for people who are specifically looking to just work or study, the main focus should be travel with any side jobs there to help support this. This is a key thing to remember when filling in all the information for your  application.Below is a list taken form the Japanese government website detailing the general requirements of the applicant and also the documents required to be submitted.

British Passport Fully-loaded with a Beautiful Visa

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Japan, a wonderful imperfect country

England, my home country, is a great place. There are plenty of days when I miss my ‘simpler’ life, living in the English countryside where my biggest worry was what was going to be the prize for next week’s pub quiz. However, since I was 15 years old I have had an almost obsessive fascination with Japan. Fast forward 7 years and I am finally living my dream of working here in Tokyo, and I have to say Japan is a fantastic place to live.

Now don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of stress here too. My personal favorites being the whole job hunting business, hours of overtime and ridiculously packed trains. Don’t worry they’ll be plenty about these delightful topics in future posts.

All in all however I love living in Japan. Tokyo is so exhilarating and vibrant. When I used to work in Kanagawa for Mercedes Benz it was so beautiful riding the train to work, with the morning rays beaming across the river before inter-lapping between the city skyscrapers again. I’m a big fan of the urban jungle and there plenty of beauty to be find here in the sprawling metropolis, but there was something about seeing the morning sun ricocheting off that river surrounded on either side by the every growing ‘Tokyo’ that made me feel lucky to be in Japan.

Tokyo at Sunset

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