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A sporty night out — Spocha in Osaka

25 Jun

The rollerskating rink at Spocha. I see at least one person on the ground.

One of my group of friends’ favourite way to spend a night out, besides karaoke of course, is going to spocha. Spocha is pretty much any game you can think of for a set price… and there’s karaoke if you get restless.

We go to the Round 1 just south of Dotonbori, which is open 24 hours a day. When choosing how long to play, I would recommend going for the all night option. A two or three hour pass costs about 2000 yen ($20), but for a few hundred yen more you can play all night and not have to worry about late charges. The prices do seem to vary on what time you enter though.

The rollerskating rink at Spocha. I see at least one person on the ground.

The rollerskating rink at Spocha. I see at least one person on the ground.

After paying for the bracelet, you have five floors of entertainment to make your way through. The options seem endless and I doubt any person has played every game in the place in one night. The first floor welcomes you to the mayhem with bowling, pool and bull riding. For sports, you have team games such as soccer, volleyball, tennis and basketball on fairly good sized courts with nice squishy balls. There’s also dodge ball if you take the volleyball nets down and make your own court as my friends and I did in a fairly intense game one night. There are many games to play on your own or with a small group — darts, ping pong, archery, mini golf and batting cages.

Soocer or footie, depending on where you're from, at Spocha.

Soocer or footie, depending on where you’re from, at Spocha.

And there’s also the place that a select few of my friends and I shine at — the rollerskating rink. Apparently Canadians rock at rollerskating (I wonder why?). As every time we go, the Japanese seem to clear the rink and watch us in amazement while calling for rolling-by high fives. This while our gaijin friends from other countries are sore on their butts or clinging to the rails.

If you’re especially lucky you may witness the skating rink turn momentarily into a mini motorbike track. I sadly haven’t had the chance to race these yet.

For those less inclined to sweat, there is a whole floor dedicated to video games, with both new style games and arcade classics like Pac Man. This floor also has a children’s play area with ball pit, which I sneak into every time, powerful massage chairs with comic books to read and the aforementioned karaoke rooms.

Each time I go I’m so shocked that this much fun can be had under one tall roof for $20. One of the many, many reasons why Japan is fantastic.

Visit the Round 1 website (in Japanese) for more information and locations.

Sumo size it

4 Apr

How many french fries can a sumo eat?

Apparently sumo wrestlers don’t stick to a strict diet of chankonabe. I caught these wrestlers at the local MacuDo while they were in town for the Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament.

Everyone secretly loves McDonald's.

Everyone secretly loves McDonald’s.

Are they deciding between local favourites — the shrimp burger or the teriyaki burger? Or perhaps they are just deciding how many burgers to get in total. A sumo wrestler has to eat.

How many french fries can a sumo eat?

How many french fries can a sumo eat?

Read more about my experiences watching sumo for the first time.

It’s hanami time! Cherry blossom season in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.

3 Apr

The coming on spring is not a small occasion in Japan. It’s not a subtle and slow change from the brown and gray of winter to the new green of summer. It’s an explosion of white, pink and purple as the peach, plum and cherry trees blossom all over the country. The weather gets much warmer and it’s time for a party!

Sakura in Shukugawa.

Sakura in Shukugawa.

Hanami (flower viewing) is when everyone gathers with friends and family under the sakura (cherry blossoms) to spread out their leisure mats (tarps) and enjoy food, drink, games and many photo shoots with the blossoms. The tradition is thought to go as far back as the 8th century. Depending on the varietal, most cherry blossoms only last a week or two, so it’s really a time to seize the occasion and get outdoors.

Hanami parties at Maruyama Park.

Hanami parties at Maruyama Park.

This past weekend, the trees were in full bloom in many areas in Kansai. I took full advantage with three straight days of hanami. After a short day of training at work on Saturday, a group of teachers and I went to Osaka castle park, one of the greenest spots in the city with a range of blossoming trees.

Hiding in a plum (?) tree at Osaka castle park.

Hiding in a plum (?) tree at Osaka castle park.

Sunday saw a trip to Kyoto to visit Maruyama Park, which is just behind the well-known Yasaka shrine. This was a very popular hanami spot with many families having picnics, teenagers curled up in sleeping bags playing video games and coworkers sharing large bottles of beer. There were food and drink stalls lining the walkways and even a haunted house, in case the sakura are too relaxing!

A weeping cherry tree in Maruyama Park.

A weeping cherry tree in Maruyama Park.

We also wandered Kiyomizu Temple, close to Yasaka shrine, which had many ponds and gardens accented by sakura.

As I have Mondays off, it was time for even more hanami. We visited Shukugawa, which is on the Hankyu line to Kobe, and has a long river lined with cherry trees.

Each bank of the river in Shukugawa was lining with groups of people enjoying hanami.

Each bank of the river in Shukugawa was lining with groups of people enjoying hanami.

The whole weekend was such a nice introduction to a beloved holiday in Japan. The sakura are beautiful and the Japanese celebrate them, which is great to see. It’s also a fantastic way to welcome the beginning of summer!

The first few weeks of training in Japan

27 Nov

I’m nearly finished the training for my new teaching job here in Japan. The training has been long and intense and will be finishing at the end of the month. Generally it has been long days, homework and preparation for demos. I’m working at what is called an eikaiwa, one of the biggest in the country. It’s a conversational English school business with about 50 small schools just in my region of Kansai, which includes Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and Nara.

Japanese study English throughout school, but mainly reading and writing, and may not be capable of speaking in English at all. This is similar to how French is taught in predominately English provinces in Canada. Many Japanese want to learn English conversation for school, work, travel or just as a hobby. My company offers English classes for everyone from one and a half year old babies to senior citizens, with the majority of the classes held after school or work or on the weekends.

I will start out mainly subbing for other teachers then it sounds like I will be working mostly drop-in classes and kids classes. The drop-in classes have a maximum of just four students, starting at 16 years old, and are 40 minutes in length. The lower levels work more on memorizing vocabulary and dialogues whereas the upper levels have more free conversations about whatever the topic of the day is. It’s neat because, for example with the upcoming holidays, there are discussions about both Western and Japanese traditions and customs. One trainer was saying that these classes may be the first time they’ve ever spoken to a foreigner and can be very interested in cultural differences. He said one older male student asks him about once a week if he can use chopsticks.

What did you do during the Bon Festival? I went to the cemetery to clean our family gravestone.

We also just started learning about kid’s classes, which have up to eight students and can be 1.5 years (with parent in tow) and up. It’s similar in introducing vocabulary and dialogues but there are more games, crafts, and activities, as well as songs and dancing of course. A lot of it is learning to speak as simply as possible and modeling exactly what you want the students to say and do. The first day of kids classes training, the trainer did a whole lesson in Swahili to show how you need to get the kids to understand things in an entirely different language.

We could also be teaching the adult, high school, business English and media courses, and have been learning about each.

My training group has been great so far as well. We’re around the same ages and mostly Canadian, which is apparently unusual. There’s a couple and two girls from Canada. One girl just taught for two years in Thailand so we’re always comparing how things are similar and different. The fifth is a girl from Australia. The latter two females both live in my building, which is fun. More on training and teaching to come…


My first week living in Japan

17 Nov

Having arrived last Thursday evening, I have been living in Japan now for just over a week. Strange how it already feels much longer!

Japan, so far, has been everything I expected and more. Life seems very easy here. My apartment is perfectly situated a ten minute walk from one of the largest downtown areas in Osaka, there’s two grocery stores a block over and a subway station two minutes walk away. Other than initial cultural differences and issues with  language barriers, it’s quite simple to get around, eat, drink and shop. (Though this view may change in a few month’s time as culture shock sets in.)

Osaka is a lively metropolis with endless restaurants, bars, shops, combini (convenience stores), food stands, and pachinko parlours (like slot machine casinos) on each of the winding streets and small walkable side streets. It’s not a particularly attractive city or as cutting edge and sleek as Tokyo, but the charm is in wandering the city and finding all these great spots.

Shopping in Dotonbori, in Osaka.

Shopping in Dotonbori, in Osaka.

I didn’t even venture on the subway for my first five days here as so much is so close to home. People ride bicycles everywhere in the city, often on the sidewalks and through crowds. Bicycles are seen in massive lineups, unlocked as there’s so little theft, outside of most large buildings and stores. The streets are surprisingly empty for such a large city, as most take the very efficient train or subway system or bike.

The city is not nearly as expensive as some Westerners would think. Often it seems cheaper than Toronto, especially since I will be making more money here and paying less tax. I’ve eaten out in numerous restaurants and only recently spent more than 1000 yen ($13) on a meal, with taxes included and no tipping. Fantastic, ready made food is also found in convenience and grocery stores for less than 600 yen. One of Osaka’s most distinctive foods – okonomiyaki – can be had for 130 yen and last evening I had 200 yen drinks with some coworkers at the funkiest little basement bar.

The Japanese people make Canadians seem rude. They are so polite and helpful. But also can be very humourous, welcoming and talkative. And, at least in Osaka, they don’t stare at foreigners as much as some people do in other Asian countries. So it’s nice to be able to feel, sort of, like I’m blending in and exploring this neat city slightly anonymously rather than just being the “gaijin” – the foreigner.

Things to remember to do when moving to another country

5 Nov

I’m currently in the midst of packing and last minute preparations before my flight to Osaka on Wednesday. In 2007, I moved to Bangkok, Thailand for a year. For that trip, I had found a job, booked a flight and obtained a visa weeks before leaving the country. Because of this there were many preparations that I hadn’t done so I ended up scrambling at the last minute and organizing things from overseas.

Here are some important things to consider and do before moving your life overseas for a short or long period of time.

All your stuff

Moving abroad really makes me want to become a minimalist. Do I really need all this stuff? It’s a great opportunity to get rid of as much as possible. Throw out all those old greeting cards, give away books and clothes you don’t like. But what to do with the rest?

I was living in Toronto before moving abroad and I wasn’t sure if I’d be back there anytime soon. So I shipped the majority to my parent’s house and left some at a friend’s. Do you know how long you’ll be abroad? What will you be doing afterwards? Your plans may change. Renting a storage unit may seem like a good idea if you’re only going for a year. But what happens if you decide to stay another year or travel afterwards?

Money matters

Transferring money back to Canada was a huge pain from Thailand. Here are some banking related things to figure out:

  • consider adding another person to your account that can easily add money if you have a bill due
  • inform your bank and credit card companies that you’ll be moving abroad
  • order foreign currency or traveller’s cheques through your bank
  • find out whether your company will help you open a bank account abroad
  • figure out how much money you’ll need for the first few weeks before your account is opened. Will your current bank cards work in the new country?

Bills, bills, bills

Take a good look at what you’re currently paying for in your home country. Figure out what services can be suspended and which can be cancelled. If you’re not entirely sure when you’ll be back, cancelling such services as a cell phone may be the best idea. I also found that I could transfer my cell phone contract to another person for $25 (with Koodo mobile in Canada) and not have to pay for an iPhone that I probably can’t use in Japan.


What sorts of drugs and vitamins do you take at home? Do some research and find out what’s available in your new country abroad and how easy it is to get it. It may be worth stocking up before leaving.

Do you need shots or drugs for the country you’re moving to? There may be other requirements as well. Japan requires a medical examination with chest x-ray.

Also, look into whether you’ll have health insurance in the new country and whether you should purchase travel health insurance for the first weeks or months.

Visa and red tape

What sort of documentation do you need to get into the country and work there? For Thailand, I needed to come into the country with a tourist visa. For Japan, I’ve obtained a three year working visa. Check out the consulate’s website and realize there may be lots involved including getting copies of your degree notarized, obtaining visa photos and waiting for the visa processing.

Things to bring

Research what you should be bringing and what can be purchased there. In Thailand, I could buy pretty much anything and I believe it will be the same in Japan. It’s nice to start out with the essentials though. Also, if you’re moving to Asia and are taller than 5’5″ and weigh more than 100 lbs, it’s a good idea to bring lots of clothing basics, especially shoes, underwear and pants.

It’s also nice to bring photos from home, postcards and gifts, especially to a country with a strong gift-giving culture like Japan. I’ve purchased sweets made from Okanagan fruit, maple syrup, Canada stickers and postcards.


Why I’m moving to Japan

15 Oct

Why Japan? Why now? Many reasons:

1.) I want to travel and see as much of the world while I’m young

I’ve grown tired of working a job I don’t love for two weeks vacation time a year. Then going into debt to travel since I’m not making much money.

Being entirely immersed allows you to live like a local and begin to understand how other people live and think. With this understanding comes the realization of how large and diverse the world is but also how incredibly small it is. And that there’s not one “right” way to do most things, rather we are often molded through our own culture’s expectations and standards.

Japan guidebooks

2.) I miss Asia.

I know it’s a huge place so I can’t generalize. But I miss the drastically different smells, tastes, mannerisms and way of life. I miss eating such incredibly amazing food everyday. I miss seeing things that I could never even imagine – things that are totally baffling, gorgeous or absolutely hilarious.

3.) I want out of my comfort zone.

Staying in one comfortable place can really make you complacent and make life seem boring and a bit pointless. Being challenged forces me to learn new things, adapt to new situations and think in new ways.

4.) Japan has always held my imagination.

The more I’ve learned about Japan leading up to this adventure, the more incredible it sounds. This little chain of islands really has it all, from thick forests to tropical beaches, and so many activities in such a small space – snowboarding, scuba diving, volcano climbing and natural hot spring soaking, to name a few.

It’s also the birthplace of karaoke, sushi, Murakami, Nintendo, instant noodles, Godzilla, and geishas. What’s not intriguing about the place?

Godzilla versus King Kong

Godzilla versus King Kong