My previous stays in Japan as a student were relatively smooth. Maybe a minor problem early on, but rarely anything substantial. A lot of this is due to the fact that the school(s) set things up and made the basic procedures easy for me. As an employee, however, I’ve had several things to deal with since arriving, with little help from the company, and the resolution process has been slow. A (not-so-)short list:
My apartment. I arrived already possessed of the knowledge that Japanese apartments are small. I’ve seen it in anime, movies, photos, and web articles. I was fully prepared to have a small apartment with enough room for me and the stuff I brought. What I was given was something I couldn’t have prepared for. It’s not just small, it’s painfully so. The good points of this place are that it’s a new building and I’m the first person to live here. I was provided with a microwave, dorm fridge, small washing machine, and some frying pans to go with a small range in the entryway, as well as a desk-with-shelves combo and a smallish flatscreen TV. The downsides are as follows: There’s practically nowhere to put anything. The washer is good, but there’s nowhere to hang my clothes once I’ve washed them. (As of this writing, I’ve yet to use it.) While they gave me a desk, there wasn’t a chair. (I bought a little Coleman camping chair as a temporary stopgap, but it’s not comfortable for long-term sitting.) There’s a shower, but no tub. Finally, my sleeping area is up a seven-foot ladder in a loft. This one is a major sticking point, because if I’m asleep and someone comes to the door (via an intercom), there’s no way I can get down in time to answer it — I know this because it happened the first night. Meanwhile, I was not allowed to move in until the day before training, which was the Sunday after Obon (a major festival during which many places are closed). Meanwhile, my coworkers seem to have had no problems setting up their own places, which seem to be larger than mine and cost less per month. I’ve mentioned this issue to some of the company staff, and they’ve only just recently started to take it seriously.
My bed. The school ordered me a futon and the associated trappings, but since I wasn’t allowed to move in until the Sunday after Obon, it wasn’t delivered. This meant I had nothing to sleep on except the floor. The manager of my home branch, who showed me my place and helped me settle in, went with me to Oomori Kaigan and bought me a foam pad (much like I bought a few years ago in Okazaki). I was glad I’d brought along a couple single sheets and small throw blankets (otaku goods, of course) or else I would have had to spend extra money. It’s not as bad as I expected it to be, but it’s been far less than ideal in terms of comfort. It took three days for them to finally start trying to deliver the futon, but I’ve been running around trying to solve my other issues, so it wasn’t until this evening that I finally received it.
Money. Past trips to Japan showed me where I could and couldn’t get money — specifically, my bank’s debit and credit cards only worked at the post office ATMs. That changed this time. I was unable to get a cash advance via my credit card at JP machines, and found myself rapidly running out of money, which would have kept me from eating and getting the train to work. After numerous attempts at different banks and ATMs, as well as several conversations with my bank’s call center and local bank staff, I finally tried a random suggestion I’d gotten and went to a 7-11 ATM (which hadn’t worked years ago, so I wasn’t expecting anything) last night. To my surprise, it worked the first time, and I was no longer broke. This was a major victory for me.
Phone and internet. I learned the first day that I couldn’t get internet without a phone, but training started the second day I was here, giving me very little time to pick a provider and a competetive plan. Takashi offered to help me with this issue, and recommended I go with au (as opposed to Softbank or Docomo). I’ll want a smart phone, specifically an Android, but am largely unfamiliar with the options. I don’t want to just go with the first thing I find; when I get a phone, it’s unlikely I’ll upgrade for a while (and Japanese providers don’t offer quite the same deals as American ones do). In the end, Takashi and I searched but couldn’t find anything that day (mostly due to time constraints). I did some searching today and got more information, so I should be able to pick a phone tomorrow. The nice thing is that if you go with au for both phone and internet service, you can get a discount on your phone bill. As for internet, I’ve been able to find a few isolated spots where I can use wi-fi with my old phone from the US and my new tablet; there was an unsecured signal near my apartment I was using until the other night, where it got weaker and now won’t connect even when in range.
Bank account. This one isn’t vital, but I do need it if I’m to be paid. Takashi and I picked UFJ, but weren’t able to do anything until I’d been to the ward office. Imagine the DMV (but with nicer people) and you’ll get an idea of how quickly that went. By the time we finished there and drove around looking for phones, the bank had closed. When I went today, the woman I spoke to said it’d be easier if a Japanese person came along, so I’ll wait until Monday and try to go with Takashi.
The trains. It always takes me a bit to get used to the trains in a given area. Because of this, and the huge scale of Tokyo, I’ve had trouble with estimating how much time it will take to get from my home station (Oomorimachi) to other stations. This has made me late for work more than once, to my dismay and embarrassment. The more trains I take, however, the easier it gets, so this problem should disappear with time.
The humidity. Technically, nothing can be done about this one, but it’s still been a daily concern. I forgot just how oppressively humid summer is in Japan, particularly late summer, which comes into play any time I step outside for more than about thirty seconds. Also, Japan isn’t as big on AC as America, so I have yet to arrive anywhere — the train station, a nearby convenience store, my job — not covered in sweat and in need of a shower. The need to wear business attire for work makes it even worse in that case. I figure it’ll get better in the fall, if nothing else. I will say it’s been helping my efforts to lose weight — I sweat like I’m in a sauna, eat only when necessary, and crash due to fatigue much earlier than I did back in the US, which cuts back on snack time.
Up until last night, I’ve been having a pretty rough time of it, but now that I can access my money and maybe get a good night’s sleep, I’ll be better-equipped to deal with the remaining problems. Tomorrow, I’ll head to Akihabara — not for the otaku pursuits I’d rather go for, but to find competetive rates on phones and plans, and maybe get a couple cables to make connecting my electronics easier.