Tokyo Snowpocalypse Experience

Snow in Tokyo is a rare occurrence, except for February 8th. It was said that this was the most snow that Tokyo has seen in over 45 years. Now, if you’re from Canada or anywhere where snow is the norm during winter, then this will sound like nothing. There has been light snow over the course of winter but nothing like this. Here’s a photo for comparison.

Vending Machine With Snow
The before and after of the vending machine outside my apartment.

I am used to fluffy and dry snow back home, but the snow here was sticky and wet. This made for a slushy mess everywhere. The pathway from my apartment to the train station was nothing but slush and if you were not wearing boots, your feet were going to get soaked.

Slushy Snow in Tokyo
Wet and sticky snow makes for some wet feet unless you’re wearing boots. This is right infront of my apartment.

For those who deal with this every year, then this is nothing. But, Tokyo and the surrounding areas are not well equipped or used to handling such a huge amount of snow in such a short time span. What affects the most people is public transportation. Now, you can call me crazy but I was brave (or stupid) to make my way to Tokyo Disneyland. Since this amount of snow is rare, I had to take photos.

Snow day at Disneyland

Snow at Tokyo Disneyland
There was a ton of snow at Tokyo Disneyland along with adorable Mickey and Minnie Snowmen.

I expected there to be train delays, and going across Tokyo was not bad at all. Granted this was earlier in the day. My train line Keio, was delayed only by half an hour. On the way back from Disneyland, that is a whole other story in itself.

4 Hour Commute Home

Maihama Station Coved in Snow

Maihama Station train platform completely covered in snow. That train was there for almost 30 minutes.

As a friend and I were enjoying Tokyo DisneySea there came an announcement throughout the entire park. They were warning guests that due to inclement weather, the trains and buses may stop for extended periods of time. They were politely telling us that if you need to take public transportation home, you better leave now.

Not knowing how much of a delay I was going to experience it was in my best interest to start making my way home. When I arrived at Maihama Station, it was completely full with people who were at Disneyland. I waited around the train station for about an hour before the next train would come by. The one train that was going the opposite direction of me was stopped at Maihama Station due to wind, and they were waiting for it to die down before proceeding to the next station.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tokyo Disneyland, it is located in Tokyo Bay. Which means there is a lot of wind.

Finally, after an hour our train, bound for Tokyo, finally arrives. Since there was so many people waiting, you bet the train was crowded just as if it were rush hour on a weekday. The train was packed with people holding onto their Disney purchases, which made it just that much more crowded.

Snow Covered Train Platform Stairs in Tokyo
Employees were constantly clearing the snow.

We slowly make our way towards Tokyo Station, when at the last stop before our destination an announcement comes on. It was telling passengers that Tokyo Station was completely full, and that we had to wait for an undetermined amount of time before we could get to the station. We were advised to transfer to the subway at this stop.

Myself and a couple hundred other people got off the train and made our way to the subway station. We get to the ticket gates and the area was at a stand still. The employees locked the ticket gates because the platform for the subway was completely full and we had to wait for it to clear. Now, I am standing with at least another 200-300 people, all crowded in this tiny space waiting to get through. Not being able to move, literally.

After about 10 minutes the employees open the ticket gates to begin allowing people through. There was such a push to get through the gates that you had no choice but to go with the flow, regardless if you even had a ticket to get through or not. Eventually the employees opened ALL the ticket gates. Since there was such a flood of people, no one was able to either tap their commuter pass cards or insert their tickets. Everyone just went through the gates.

After flowing down the river of people to the subway, I got on and made my way to Shinjuku Station. Once I got to Shinjuku station I transferred to the Keio Line, which was only running local and semi-express trains. Normally there are Special Rapid trains, but not that night.

Nearly Missed Last Train

Too Much Snow in Tokyo
When they said there was a lot of snow, they were not kidding. This is almost Saskatchewan snowfall!

I get on the train and continue on the last leg of my journey home. I had to make one transfer in Chofu before I could get home. When I transferred I noticed that the train I was going to be taking was the last train of the evening. Service was being suspended after that due to weather. It was only 10pm. Normally, the last train from that station is particular is 12:43am.

Finally Home

Grocery Store Covered in Snow
The grocery store in front of the train station looks completely different with all the snow.

Finally, after 4 hours I got home to my station. Normally it is only a 1 hour journey. But, the fun was not over yet. There was so much snow that the area I live in was completely transformed by the snow. It looked like the Apocalypse had hit. All the stores were closed (expect 7-11) and there was wet snow up to your ankles.

Pathway Home
The pathway home was wet and sticky. My already soaked feet got even more soaked.

The pathway to my house was a wet and muddy mess. My shoes got completely soaked. It was only 10pm but there was not a soul in sight. I guess they were the smart ones.

Not Doing That Again

The snow was nice as it reminded me of home. But, I do not want to have to experience this again. Wet and sticky snow is terrible, and I much prefer the white fluffy stuff we get back home in good ole Saskatchewan.

Wet and Sticky Snow in Tokyo Disneyland
Never going out in that type of weather again. Even with a raincoat and umbrella I still ended up looking like this.

Farewell 2013 and Bring It 2014

My obligatory New Years post talking about the past year. However, I do find it quite enjoyable to reflect on the previous year in a few paragraphs. Looking back at your accomplishments, failures, ups, and downs.

Gifu Castle, the oldest Castle in Japan
Gifu Castle, the oldest Castle in Japan

2013 was the year I decided to make some huge changes in my life. I realized that I was beginning to become complacent, which is something I didn’t want to become just yet. My move to Tokyo, Japan started in January 2013 when I began the application process for my Working Holiday Visa. April was the month I applied for the visa in Calgary. The visa was granted to me the following week. September I gave my notice at my previous job. Then finally in November I moved to Tokyo, Japan. It was quite the process but all that hard work really did pay off.

Tokyo from Tokyo Tower
View of Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

Completely uprooting myself from my comfortable lifestyle in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was the biggest risk I have taken thus far. Did I have my doubts? Of course I did. Did I question myself day in and day out? You bet I did. Were there days that I wanted to give up? I can’t count how many days I felt like that. Thankfully, I have the most supportive family (Hi Mom!) and friends in the world. I couldn’t have done it without you guys, it’s that simple. You’re all a big reason why I made it this far, I don’t think I could have done it without you. So, if I haven’t told you already, thank you.

John and Yuki
John and Yuki playing with various items in Village Vanguard.

I never want to be that person who asks themselves “what if?”. After being in Japan for close to three months now, I know I made the right choice. Was this an incredibly risk move? Of course it was. I left my job, family, friends, and comfort back in Canada to set off on an adventure. Now I’m visiting Disneyland every week (damned rights I’m making use of my annual passport), making new friends and reuniting with old, improving my Japanese, and working. Who would of thought that a small prairie boy from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan would be working for an IT company in Tokyo? I certainly didn’t think so.

Hiro, Hiro's Mom, and Me enjoying Sushi in Tokyo
Hiro, Hiro’s Mom, and Me enjoying Sushi in Tokyo

2013 was the most challenging but also the most rewarding year of my life, so far. You never get anywhere unless you are willing to take risks and work your ass off. Opportunities are almost never handed to you, they present themselves after you have put in the work, if you’re willing to do so.

Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan
First time back in Utsunomiya after over 10 years.

In closing, 2013 was an incredible experience. Whatever 2014 has in store for me, bring it.

Chris in Utsunomiya

One Month After Moving to Tokyo

It’s been quite the month as I settle here in Tokyo. My tiny apartment is about 30 minutes outside of Shinjuku and I’m paying roughly $750 Canadian a month, including utilities and fiber internet. Which if you’re from Saskatoon, that’s pretty cheap. Granted the space much smaller (~220 square feet) compared to Canadian standards, it’s more than enough. Here are the photos that everyone has been asking me about.

This month has been full of learning and frustration as I check items off my never ending list. Here’s just a small sample:

  • Figure out how to ship all my bags to my apartment (I recommend Yamato)
  • Get a pasomo card (Japan’s equivalent to a cash card that can be used for trains and other stores)
  • Find the post office in Narita airport to pick up my BMOBILE sim card. This is my iPhone will function.
  • Take the correct train to my apartment
  • Register with my local city office
  • Open a bank account (Ended up going with Shinsei Bank)
  • Purchase items for my apartment to make it feel like home (Daiso or any 100 yen shop is a haven for the small items)
  • Figure out how to separate my garbage and recyclables
  • Translate my washing machine and rice cooker
Recycling & Garbage Separation
Took me about 30 minutes to figure it all out.

While it has been incredibly stressful it has also been a great learning experience. How else are you going to learn if you don’t get out of your comfort zone every once in a while? Even with having lived here back in 2003, it’s a lot different this time around. With the simple fact that I have to do everything myself. The best way to explain it is that it feels as if I’m living on my own for the first time, again.

Super Mario Kun
Children’s manga is a good way to learn kanjii and vocabulary.

I have found that my Japanese is not as terrible as I thought, but I have a long way to go. Being forced to speak it every day while I’m out is great practice. I have bought some children manga to help with my vocabulary and kanji. I can only read a textbook for so long before I become incredibly bored and unmotivated. This way it stays interesting and fun. If you’re curious I bought Super Mario and Animal Crossing manga. They were only 150 yen (~$1.50 CND) at Book Off. To keep the stress levels down I’ve taken the time to go and enjoy Autumn in Tokyo.

Beautiful Autumn in Tokyo
Beautiful Autumn in Tokyo
Shinjuku National Park
Shinjuku National Park

Seiyu & Daiso

To make my apartment feel like home (it came with basic furniture) I have been making multiple trips to Seiyu (which is Walmart in Japan) and Daiso (the dollar store). I simply am not able to do everything in one or two trips. I have the choice of carrying items home or having them delivered. There are still most things I wish to buy, but it’s really starting to feel like home.

Seiyu
Seiyu in Chofu, Tokyo. Source: http://nationalmaclord.web.fc2.com/annex/shop/seiyu/chofu.html

My Disney Resort Mishap

One item that oddly caused me the most grief was obtaining my Annual Passport for Tokyo Disney Resort. I went to the ticket purchasing center at the resort. Told the lovely Cast Member that I would love to purchase an annual passport. Everything was fine up to that point until I went to pay. She tried my credit card about five times before she called someone else to help her out. They punched in my number and they told me, in a very vague way, that my card did not work. They instructed me to phone my bank. Being a little flustered I went to a pay phone to see if I can make an international collect call to my bank. No such luck, so I went and asked another Cast Member if there is anyway to make an international call. I don’t think the girl understood me clearly as she just pointed me back to the pay phones.

Mike Pastries at Tokyo Disney Resort
The mishap wasn’t that bad after I had one of these delicious pastries.

By this point I was tired, hungry, and flustered. I went to the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel (which is gorgeous by the way) and asked the front desk if they had anyone that spoke English. I couldn’t really think of a good way to explain my exact situation with my elementary Japanese ability. Thankfully there was a Cast Member who spoke English and she was amazing. She wasn’t sure how to make a collect call to my bank, so she tried a few times, then she called an operator to get me through. About half an hour later I finally got through to my bank only to find out that my credit card is completely fine and the issue is on their end. I thanked the Cast Member for assisting me and went back to the ticket center. The Cast Member tried it once more and still nothing. This time I asked her what the exact error was, she told me that my limit had been reached. Which was impossible, but by that point I told her that I will come back another day. By that point I was incredibly embarrassed and flustered that I could not think of a way to solve the issue.

In the end I did get my Annual Passport by paying with cash a few days later. I’m still not 100% sure what caused my card not to work, as it works every where else in Japan. But, regardless it made for a good story.

Tokyo Disney Resort Two Park Annual Pass
Tokyo Disney Resort Two Park Annual Pass

Chris & John’s Japan Extravaganza

Being here just over a week John (aka @himpster) came and visited for two weeks. While that time frame seems sufficient, in reality it went by too quick. There are a few things we had to skip but that means there’s more things to do when he comes back! John was brave enough to take the Narita Express into the core of Tokyo on his own. Have to say I was quite proud of him for doing that, it was really outside of his comfort zone. Thankfully Japan makes it relatively easy for tourists who do not speak any Japanese to get by.

John Himpe on the train
He may look bored but he’s actually having the time of his life

Instead of going into detail what we did (I will let him do that with his own blog), I will simply give you the run down:

  • Tokyo Disney Resort
  • Tokyo Tower Tokyo Sky Tree
  • Visiting Yuki up in Utsunomiya, Tochigi
  • Nikko
  • Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akihabara, Ueno, and many other neighborhoods
  • Ate amazing sushi at a place a friend knew
  • NHK Studio Park
  • Hiroshima
  • Visiting our friend Jane in Osaka
  • Experience Tokyo trains during rush hour
  • Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
  • Experience his first earthquake

LINE APP & Help from Friends

In Canada we use messaging apps such as Whatsapp, iMessage, BBM, Snap Chat, etc. The most popular messaging app in Japan in LINE App. It was created shortly after the earthquake in 2011. Along with being able to message and phone through the app they have a never ending list of “stickers” you can send in your messages. They range from popular characters in Japan to familiar western characters such as Mickey Mouse and Snoopy.

I have been using this app with my friends who live in Japan and it has become invaluable. If I ever have an issue with something my friends are only a quick message or phone call away. I have relied them on a few times. One instance where I was unsure of what type of rice to buy and how to prepare it. Sent off a message with a photo of the rice and got the answers I needed. Sometimes when there is a lot of Kanji (Chinese Characters) I run into issues.

If you want to get line, simply visit their website and download it to your device of choice. Ask me for my ID and you can add me!

Line App Logo
Source: http://goodkindofgeek.com/2013/02/08/line-app-reviews/

Job Hunting

One of the other reasons for coming to Japan (besides improving my Japanese and experiencing this beautiful country) is to find a  job. With my Working Holiday Visa I am able to work. I have been receiving daily emails from sites such as GaijinPot for jobs matching web development and other related jobs. I have sent my resume (or CV) out to a few places.

The Cute

Japan is known for everything and anything cute (kawaii) and of course I’ve had to buy a few things that I simply could not resist. Some of it was editable and some dangles off my bag.

Cute yet disturbing
Cute yet disturbing
Chip N' Dale
These are just to rest your phone on top of. Yes, that’s all they are for.

Conclusion

That’s my first month in a nutshell. I’m happy to answer any questions about things I’ve glossed over, just ask them in the comments. If there are any topics you’d like me to go more in-depth please leave them in the comments as well. Don’t forget to subscribe to get my updates sent right to your inbox, less effort on your part right?

Depending on the questions you guys leave for me, my next entries will pertain to my Working Holiday Visa and job hunting in Japan. Also there will be posts just about everyday items.

Until next time!

Relaxing in Shinjuku Garden

Why I’m Moving to Japan私は日本に移動しています

The first of many entries that will talk about my journey in Japan. I will do my best to have posts in both English and Japanese. If you’re able to read Japanese you can see the Japanese version of this post in my incredibly poor attempt (I am trying though). Let’s get onto why you’re here, to find out why Christopher Nilghe is moving from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to Tokyo, Japan.

It’s no secret that I am moving to Japan. Those closest to me have known for quite some time, while everyone else was recently informed. This was one of those decisions that I had to keep under wraps until I knew for certain it was going to happen. I find the less I talk about something, the more likely I am to do it.

CHRISGOESTOJAPAN

There is one month left before I leave for Tokyo to start my Working Holiday Visa, and there is still so much left to get done. Thankfully the major tasks are done, such as securing an apartment, plane tickets, funds, and my Visa. It has been quite the process and I’ve been documenting every step along the way. Even started keeping a journal starting at the 100 day mark. There have been a lot of emotional highs and lows, all of which are recorded in this journal.

100 Days Until Japan

I have been asked many times why I have made this decision to move to Japan. If you didn’t already know, I lived in Japan once before as an exchange student in Ujiie, Tochigi (which oddly does not exist anymore). This was in 2003 after I graduated high school. I made a lot of great friends and completely fell in love with the country. It was one of the best decisions I made in my young adult life. I made a promise to my 18 year old self that I would one day return. That is one of my main reasons for returning.

Host Family in Ujiie Tochigi
Host Family in Ujiie Tochigi

The other reason is timing. The Working Holiday Visa has an age limit of 30 and I turned 28 this year. My window is closing to have an easier entry into Japan. Not that I couldn’t go after I turn 30 but being able to stay for a long period of time would be a lot more challenging. I am fortunate to currently have the freedom to move around easily. This won’t last forever and if there was ever a good time, this would be it. I always go with my gut (after torturing myself with logical reasoning) and it has not steered me wrong, most of the time.

Speaking of timing, today is my last day with the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority where I have been a developer for the past 3 years. It was my first job in my field right after University. I have learned more about myself and development in those short 3 years than I could have ever imagined. It helped me figure out what I want to do with my career and where my passion lies. Which if you’re wondering, it’s with web and mobile development.

nodejs

The people I worked with were one of a kind and I enjoyed every moment of it. From arguments about who had to sift through legacy code to which Firefly character was the best (Kaylee). We always had a blast while ensuring we got our work done the best way we could. I am truly sad to leave behind such a great group of people but I know they will carry on without me. I’m sure they have already picked out who got my nice window desk with a beautiful view of College Drive. I am grateful to have worked with such a unique group of individuals.

Kylee Frye

Not only am I leaving my job but also my friends and family. While this isn’t forever, it’s still tough. So, to make it easier on myself I am offering everyone a place to stay in Tokyo so they can come and visit. It’ll be fun and we will go to Disneyland!

Tokyo Disneyland

Speaking of Disneyland, everyone knows I’m a Disney Fanatic (shameless plug to my Fat Hobbit Disney Blog). One of the first orders of business once I get to Tokyo, after I get all the essential things taken care of, is  purchasing an Annual Passport for Tokyo Disney Resort! That way I can go every single day, but don’t worry I have Duffy to come with me! OK, I really won’t be going every day but likely a few times a month at the very least. Currently the closest Disney Resort is Disneyland. Which is about 2788km from Saskatoon according to Google Maps. You can’t blame me for wanting to have an Annual Passport while one of the best Disney Resorts is only a train ride away!

Dancing Mickey Mouse

I’m excited to move onto this next chapter in my life. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared or uncertain of what’s going to happen. One thing I do know, is that I will do my best.今年僕は日本への移動です。東京で住んでいます。1ヶ月で僕は日本に行きますよ。

CHRISGOESTOJAPAN

旅のためにジャーナルを書き始めた。僕はとってもわくわくですよ!

100 Days Until Japan

ホストファミリーと2003年氏家栃木県で住んでいました。僕は留学生でした。そして沢山友達を作りました。いつも日本に帰りたいと思った後。

Host Family in Ujiie Tochigi

今日はSIGAで僕の最終の日です。皆を欠場する。皆はFIREFLYが好きでした。僕はカイリが一番好きです。かわいいですね!仕事にとっても楽しかったでした。ありがとうございます!

Kylee Frye

今毎日僕はディズニーランドに行きます!ディズニーランドの近くに住んでいますから。一緒に行きましょう!ダフィーさん会いますよ!

Tokyo Disneyland

日本で僕を会ってください!楽しみ!はい頑張ります!