It’s actually closer to the end of Day Two as I write this, but everything has been a blur since we left California on Tuesday morning. Despite our visa issues and the late night packing and cleaning, once we got to the airport, everything was like it was on rails. All of our bags and boxes weighed in properly, the flight and service were perfect, and a wonderful CAJ employee, Naoko, picked us up at the airport and has been a God-send to us ever since. So far, she has taken us to City Hall to get us through all of the processes of becoming a resident of our city and Japan and taken us through a full morning of opening a bank account where we were seemingly routed through every seating location and employee in the building. All the while, she and her family is prepping for their own move across the city this weekend!
Arriving at our new house, we found a fridge stocked with food and other sundries, and all the necessities we would need plus a few more we thought we were going to have to purchase. This morning while we were at the bank, brand new curtains were installed for us. To say CAJ has treated us well would be an understatement. We feel more like royalty than ministry workers. But we realize it is just the way things are done around here. But I’m not talking about Japan. I mean in the CAJ community, where the love of Christ is evident in the way people treat one another, especially those of us who are new to Japan. We’ve had the privilege of meeting several CAJ staff members who had in some way supported us in getting here or making us comfortable in our home.
So what have we learned so far living here in Japan? Here’s a few things that stick out:
Japanese food is amazing. Yes, we already knew this, but living here and eating from restaurants, conbini (convenience stores, e.g. 7-Eleven) and supermarkets, Japanese food is simply the freshest, tastiest food we’ve ever had. Yesterday, for example, we boiled some corn fresh from the local fields, had fresh baked pastries from a local bakery delivered to our house by new friends, picked up a tray of maguro sushi (tuna) from a little shop on the way home from the station (less than $7 for 12 pieces) and topped it off with crisp potato croquettes, picked up from the prepared food section of a nearby supermarket at half price (5 pieces for $2.50). I didn’t even have room for my Coolish soft ice cream in the freezer! When Americans think of Japanese food, they often think of sushi or ramen, but there is such incredible variety in Japanese foods, one can never grow tired of trying new foods. And yes, we did have a great spicy ramen from Kinkai Ramen, a favorite hangout for CAJ staff and students.
Japan Amazon Prime is the best. In America, we get 2 day shipping with Amazon Prime and it costs $79 per year ($99 starting next year). Of course, Americans also get perks like free movie and music streaming. But then you realize when you get to Japan that those “free” movies and music aren’t actually free. Because in Japan, Amazon Prime costs $39 per year, and you get several choices for shipping. The first choice is 2 day shipping (which can also often be next day shipping in the greater Tokyo area) with a scheduled delivery window of 2 hours. This is best if you want your package delivered to your door but you can’t wait around all day for the delivery person. The second choice is next or same day shipping but you don’t get to choose a delivery window. If someone is going to be around the house, this works great. But another option is to have the delivery made to a local convenience store so you don’t need to be home to receive the package. You can just go to the local store, most of which are open 24 hours, and pick up your package at your convenience. No extra cost. Beat that, America.
Bureaucracy? Yes! Japan has been accused of taking things that have already been invented and perfecting them. The same can be said about bureaucracy. So far, we’ve visited government offices, a banking institution and a mobile phone sales counter. You can be assured that you’d better have at least 2 hours to kill to complete a process at any one of them. And it’s not the fault of the people who work there, who are clearly working diligently at their tasks, all the while being amazingly attentive to you. But the tasks they are working at? Many are mind-boggling. For example, at the bank today, we were asked to fill out a new form that would make it easier for the bank to report our income to the IRS in America. Fair enough, since we’re Americans, and probably will end up saving us the trouble later. However, upon further questioning, we found out this form was required to be filled out in some fashion by every customer of the bank, regardless of whether they were American or not! Can you imagine the look of indignation on a British person’s face if they were asked to fill out a form regarding payment of taxes to the American government?
Also, the rules that are laid out for Japanese workers to follow are
seldom never questioned. Whether or not a process actually makes sense is not the concern of the average worker. For example, we were asked to provide a copy of marriage certificate at the City office to prove we were married. It clearly said we were married on our Japanese visas, but the woman insisted that the rules required her to see a copy of the actual certificate. It didn’t matter that the scrutiny put on us by Japanese immigration was a thousand times greater than the city’s. What mattered was the rules. We went back to our house to dig out the copy of our marriage certificate and returned 30 minutes later.
Garbage sorting requires a Masters Degree (which I do not have). We have a 15 page manual on how to sort garbage in our city. Even with help from the manual, Jayne and I were left scratching our heads over some items in our trash. Today was my first experience with putting out garbage. I went to the curbside and took photos of how our neighbors put out the trash (and got some interesting looks from people riding by on their bikes). Then I came back inside to figure out how to sort our trash. My daughter ended up helping me and even then, I contemplated what to do with a potato chip container for three and a half minutes. Not a good sign.
Japan is easier when you’re connected. We’ve only been without mobile phones for 2 days, and we aren’t completely unconnected. We have a mobile Wi-fi device that lets us use our phones to connect to the Internet while we are out and about. But when we split up, only one person gets the mobile Wi-fi, so the other person is left digitally disconnected. We’ve found this to be a problem in a couple of ways. The most obvious is that we can’t communicate with one another when we’re separated. No asking about picking up dinner on the way home or if you need anything from the store. But we’ve also found it’s not easy to navigate our neighborhood without a map and with no Wi-fi, there aren’t any portable maps to reference. No train schedules either. And no way to call our friends to ask for advice or just say hello. It’s been painful so we’re making progress on getting our own phones hopefully in the next 24 hours.
Tomorrow, the weekend begins for us. Happy Independence Day for our friends back in the States; perhaps we’ll do a few fireworks to celebrate with you. Much, much more to come!