A few months ago I stumbled upon an amazing book review blog site called Jean BookNerd. I noticed they always give an honest review and I thought it might be interesting to see what they thought about my latest novel Tokyo Hearts: A Japanese Love Story. I sent them a copy and I’m so pleased I did. If you visit the Jean BookNerd blog site you can find out exactly what Jean had to say about my book and you can also read my answers to her very original interview questions.
Roppongi Hills, the very fashionable shopping & entertainment district in the heart of Tokyo, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. As part of the Love Tokyo Project and in line with the celebrations, Creative Director Tsubasa Oyagi has created the Tokyo City Symphony – it’s an amazing concept which gives you the opportunity to symphonize with the world through an interactive online synthesiser. The combination of psychadelic patterns and music with a fascinating miniature model of Tokyo is truly amazing and very cool.
1. There are lots of Japanese expats living and working overseas with their families. Before I went to Japan to teach English, I gave private English conversation lessons to the wives of Japanese expats living in Australia. I asked them to provide references for me in Japanese and this really helped me to get a job in Tokyo. Get in touch with your local Japan Society and make some friends. Many Japanese people who live overseas are looking for locals to teach them English privately and this will be good practice for you before you go and teach in Japan.
2. When you apply for an English teaching position in Japan make sure you include a passport size photograph with your resume. Also, make sure your CV is up-to-date and it communicates why you think you’d be a good English teacher in Japan.
3. If you have a university degree in any subject and/or a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate then you shouldn’t have any trouble finding work as an English teacher in Japan. Knowing what qualifications you need, whether you’ll enjoy the experience and the amount of salary you should expect are all points you may want to consider before leaving your own country.
4. The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is very famous for recruiting non-Japanese people to teach English all over Japan for at least twelve months. I know this is an excellent programme but there are many other schools in Japan which offer great salaries and good working environments such as Aeon, ECC and Interac. I’d also like to mention there are lots of small private English conversation schools to consider that are looking for teachers. They are advertising in the Japan Times newspaper or online. These schools are often looking for a foreigner to teach for just a couple of hours per week and at these places you can pick up some extra money teaching on your days off.
5. Look out for English teaching jobs that offer free or subsidised housing as it’s very expensive and difficult for foreigners to rent an apartment in Japan. Real estate agents will expect you to provide a guarantor and there are lots of upfront fees even before you start living in an apartment so free rent provided by your Japanese employer can save you a lot of money.
6. Make sure you buy a few nice suits before you go to Japan. You’ll need to wear these for interviews and you’ll continue to wear them when you are teaching. Japanese companies like their English teachers to look polished and professional. Imagine you’re applying for a position as a general manager and in the interview you have to look your best. If you do this then you’ll dress appropriately for an interview in Japan and you’ll make a great first and lasting impression.
7. Always be on time when you’re going for interviews and teaching classes. You’ll be required to prepare your English lessons for at least fifteen minutes before the start of each class so don’t be late. Japanese professionals do not tolerate tardiness. One of the major reasons for being late in Japan is that foreigners often get lost trying to find the right platform at train stations to get to their destination. For example, Shinjuku station in Tokyo has millions of people passing through it every day and it can be difficult to find the right train line amongst a sea of commuters, so make sure you leave your home early if you’re going to an English language school you’ve never been to before.
8. Remember that honesty and integrity are very important attributes in Japan.
9. When you teach English in Japan you should try and make your classes as interesting and as memorable as possible. Make sure your students learn something new at the end of each class and always make sure your personality shines through. For example, you could teach your Japanese students some slang or something interesting about your own country. If you’re from the UK, you could tell your students the Queen’s favourite residence is Windsor Castle or you could talk about the six wives of Henry VIII. If you’re from Australia you could talk to them about how koalas love to eat eucalyptus leaves or about the history of Ned Kelly. If you’re from America you could explain why President Obama is so popular or talk about Thanksgiving Day traditions. You can use these subjects to start interesting discussions. Remember students are often asked to evaluate their lessons so make sure they leave your classes with a smile on their faces.
10. Every month, you’ll receive a substantial salary as an English teacher in Japan so make sure you save at least 10% of what you earn.
Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world but it’s certainly possible to visit Japan’s capital without breaking the bank. If you’re thinking about travelling to Japan, don’t be put off by stories of how expensive it is. Below are some great suggestions to help turn your dream into a reality so you’ll be able to experience one of the most fascinating countries in the world.
o If you arrive at Narita airport you’ll need to get a taxi, a bus or a train into central Tokyo. Never jump into a taxi, especially during peak hour because it’s extremely expensive and the longer you’re held up in traffic the more costly it becomes. Catching the train would be my second option but if you don’t speak Japanese you could get confused when you have to change for the Yamanote Line at Tokyo Station. My number one suggestion is to get the Airport Limousine Bus. It takes about 1.5 hours to get into the heart of Tokyo but it only costs ¥3000 and the bus stops at many of the major hotels and popular areas.
o You can find some reasonably priced three star hotels in Tokyo with comfortably furnished rooms. You can always book these on the internet via websites such as expedia.co.uk but if you’re backpacking or short on cash there are lots of friendly hostels or guesthouses in popular tourist areas that offer excellent and cheap accommodation. There may be a minimum age requirement and some house rules but those are there to ensure everyone has a calm and comfortable stay. The Guardian newspaper has provided a list of ten budget hotels in Tokyo ranging from ¥3,000 to ¥20,000 per night. Check it out and you’ll surely find somewhere that meets your needs.
o If you love shopping but you can’t afford the Ginza prices, there are other places to pick up bargains. You should head for the Nakamise shopping street in Asakusa (see picture below) which leads up to the Buddhist Sensō-ji Temple. Here you’ll find souvenirs like yukatas, masks and fans etc. from about ninety different stalls. The Asakusa Cuture Tourist Information Center has just opened up next to Nakamise Street if you need tourist-related help or advice. Another great place for cheap knick-knacks is Akihabara, the district for all things electronic, and you can check out all the latest technology at the same time. If you’re looking for stylish but well-priced clothing then you should head for Shimokitazawa – an area favoured by local students, artists and musicians.
o When it comes to eating out, everyone knows food shopping certainly eats into your budget (excuse the pun – I couldn’t resist that one!). You often see photos for Japan of businessmen eating in fancy Japanese restaurants served by women dressed in elaborate kimonos but Tokyo is actually a beehive of cheap dining options. Ramen, yakitori, curry houses, udon noodles, gyudon (a very popular beef on rice dish – look out for the popular Yoshinoya chain pictured below) and other cheap eateries can be found everywhere in central Tokyo. My suggestion is to stay away from business districts as well as Ginza and tourist areas like Roppongi. Instead you should head for Shibuya, Harajuku and Shimokitazawa where there are hundreds of small restaurants, bars and cafes specialising in well-priced but filling meals. You’ll also find cheap eats in the food courts down in the basement of many department stores and if you’re really hungry look out for the all-you-can-eat and drink restaurants which are just starting to become very popular in central Tokyo.
o Ameyoko Market is another great place to explore. This open-air flea market is situated under the Yamanote Line between Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station. It started out as a black market after World War II but it’s now completely legitimate. The word ‘Ameyoko’ derives from two words ‘Ameya Yokocho’ meaning ‘Candy Store Alley’ so if you have a sweet tooth you’ll love the bundles of popular candy and snacks sold at reduced prices. You’ll also find American style clothing, sportswear, spices, bags, cosmetics, seafood, alcohol, brand knock-offs and cheap souvenirs and gifts at rock-bottom prices. As well as this, it’s a multicultural area offering lots of very cheap places to eat and drink.
o One of the most popular tourist attractions at the moment is the view from the top of Tokyo Skytree but it costs about ¥3,000 to get to the top. Alternatively, you can get a great view of Tokyo from Tokyo Tower for about ¥1,420 which will take you up to the Special Observatory.
o One of the loveliest places to visit with free entry is the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace (pictured below), home to Japan’s Emperor. There are also lots of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples scattered around Tokyo and entry is often free. Next to Harajuku Station is the very popular Meiji Shrine. Here you’ll discover why Tokyo is a city of contrasts. The spiritual shrines and temples act as a back drop to the fast-paced and materialistic lifestyles favoured by many Tokyoites.
o If you’re planning on visiting other areas besides Tokyo, the Shinkansen Bullet Train is an exciting way to travel. The locals often opt for an overnight bus instead. These are surprisingly comfortable and a much cheaper way to travel. You should ask your local Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) about this option.
o You should also give some thought to what time of the year you plan to visit Japan. Prices for hotels go up during cherry blossom season (early April) and New Year.
I hope these suggestions above have put your mind at ease, especially if you’ve been putting off a trip to Japan because you’re afraid it might be too costly. Tokyo might be depicted as one of the most expensive cities in the world but I can honestly say that after living in Japan for several years and having visited the place many times, I really think you don’t have to spend a lot if you want to have a great time in this enchanting country.