My Year in Japan

Can you believe it has been one year since I moved from the small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan to the Megatropolis of Tokyo? Neither can I. This past year has been quite the growing experience, both professionally and personally. From finding a job in mobile/web development to climbing to the summit of Mt. Fuji. There have been no shortage of challenges. Here is my first year in Japan, in a nutshell.

Landing a Developer Job in Tokyo

Shinjuku at night
Who would have thought a prairie/reserve boy would end up here?

Initially, I came to Japan on a Working Holiday Visa, which allowed me to stay in the country for up to 1 year and do various types of jobs. Before I even arrived in the country I was applying and searching for jobs. Only after 2 months, I landed a web development position. Which was something I was not expecting to happen so quickly.

Now, just under a year I am the Lead Front-End Developer for the Japan team. Who would have thought a small prairie town boy would be playing in the big leagues?

Unique Experiences

Japan has no shortage of things to do. While not every weekend I have been climbing Mt. Fuji, I have tried to keep myself busy by trying out new and exciting things.

One of my best experiences has been climbing (aka trying not to slip and hit my head on the rocks) to the summit of Mt. Fuji. That had to have been one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, experiences of my life. Starting at Station 5 and climbing over night to the summit was exhausting but the view was spectacular. Not everyday you get to say you were on top of a volcano. You would swear that we were in a completely different world.

Mt. Fuji Climbing
This was me thinking about “What have I gotten myself into?”
Summit of Mt. Fuji
The summit was breath taking.
Mt. Fuji was quite the experience. Not sure if I would want to repeat it though.
Mt. Fuji was quite the experience. Not sure if I would want to repeat it though.
Summit of Mt. Fuji
The summit of Mt. Fuji was something like out of a video game. This reminded me of Final Fantasy.
Climbing Mt. Fuji
The descent of Mt. Fuji was worse than going down.

Another “only in Japan” experience was my AKB48 Handshake event back in December. Love them or hate them, Idol groups are huge. It was fascinating to experience this event first hand (pun totally intended). Also, I like being able to say I shook hands with some of the members from AKB48.

The fun and beauty that is Harajuku will never disappoint you on a Sunday morning. Especially during Halloween, which is slowly catching on here, you never know what you’re going to see …

Halloween in Japan
Halloween costumes and cosplay are not taken lightly here. At all.

Visiting Hiroshima was a great experience with John. It was a grim reminder of the terrible events that have happened here in Japan. Lets hope that something like this never happens again.

Hiroshima Dome
Paid a visit to the Hiroshima Dome. It was quite the site but a grim reminder.

John and I had the chance to attend a Sumo Wrestling Tournament. The arena itself was worth admission. What’s there not to like with oversized almost naked men throwing each other around?

Sumo Wrestling
John and I got to experience professional sumo wresting. How amazing is this?

There is always coming happening in and around Tokyo. From Pikachu invading Yokohama to Ultra Japan 2014. A week rarely goes by without something exciting to do.

Pikachus Everywhere
What is Japan without a little bit of Pikachu food? This one was a limited time item for the Pikachu Attacks campaign in Yokohama.
Odaiba Gundam at DiverCity
Care for a little Gundam with your shopping? This huge guy can be found at DiverCity in Odaiba.
Ultra Japan 2014
One of the biggest electronic music dance festivals was in Tokyo this year!


Winter adds for everything in Japan
We are reminded of what season it is and the offerings that come with it. Photo from Tokyo Five

Japan has 4 distinct seasons, and the advertising makes sure you do not forget this. From seasonal drinks to food. You’re constantly reminded that “it’s incredibly hot outside!” or “Man, its freezing you should try this NEW hot coffee”. Summers are hot and humid and the winters are windy, wet, and cold. Spring and Fall are comfortable. The summer humidity took a lot to get used to, and some days I did think “Why am I here? How can anyone live in this?” But, then a quick trip to my nearest 7-11 to get a frozen alcoholic drink quickly reminded me that “Hey, it is not that bad I got alcohol in a bag”.

The beauty that is the sakura (cherry blooms) in the spring is something you need to see in person. Photos do look gorgeous but experiencing them first hand is something everyone should do. We have nothing like this back home in Canada.

Sakura in Japan
We have nothing like this in Canada, so this was a beautiful treat during the spring.

Winters are nothing like back home in Saskatchewan. It does not even get close to -50C here. If it did, I would be concerned since central heating is non-existent. Having a shower in the morning when it is -1C outside is worse than you think it is. Back in February Tokyo got to experience the most snow it has seen in years. The city was a complete mess but I was dumb enough to go venturing out.

Summer in Japan
Summer in Japan is hot and humid but everyone knows how to stay cool and stylish.
Summer Matsuri
Plenty of summer matsuri (festivals) to take part in. This one was in Yoyogi Park.
More Pikachu
Seriously, you cannot go anywhere without running into them.

Achieving Life Goals

Ayumi Hamasaki at A-Nation 2014
Ayumi Hamaskai at A-Nation 2014. One of the best days of my life.

Everyone has items on their list they want to achieve or experience before the end. Being here in Japan, I have been able to cross some of those items off the list.

  • Ayumi Hamasaki in Concert at A-Nation
  • Experiencing ParaPara at a Nightclub in Tokyo
  • Holding an Annual Passport for Tokyo Disney Resort
  • Climbing Mt. Fuji
  • Sharing Japan with my Mom & friends
  • Eating at a Maid Cafe

Ok, maybe the Maid Cafe wasn’t exactly a life goal and we just happened to stumble upon it in Akihabara and figured I would include it. I have been a fan of Ayumi Hamasaki since she debuted in 1998 and was one of the many reasons that sparked my interest in Japan. Being able to see my inspiration was nothing short of satisfying.

Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine and using my mom for scale.
Mom Enjoying Quality Coffee
Mom has always been a coffee drinker, so I took her for some of the best espresso in Tokyo.
Mom and I at Tokyo DisneySea
I got to share one of my favourite places in the world with my beautiful mom. She loved every minute of it.
Mom takes on Shibuya
Mom takes on one of the busiest and famous shopping areas of Tokyo. Shibuya.
Tokyo Tower Thunder
While visiting the Tokyo Tower, we got to watch a huge thunderstorm roll int.
LOVE in Shinjuku
Mom and I found this huge sign and of course we had to get a photo.

Turning a Hobby into a Serious Thing

A year of Tokyo Disney Resort
Made full use out of my Annual Passport for Tokyo Disney Resort

I have always been a huge Disney fan, so naturally going to Tokyo Disney Resort was high on my list. Recently I changed my “Fat Hobbit” website from talking about various topics on Disney Parks to “TDR Explorer” where myself and a small team publish English information about the resort. I noticed there was a huge gap in English information so I figured, why not turn my hobby into something people can find useful.

Not only do we have a website but also a podcast called TDR Now. The reception has been very positive and has motivated us to continue doing it!


Moving to another county, it is challenging to find friends. While I cannot say it has not been easy. Getting outside of my comfort zone, I have been able to meet fantastic people! They make those days where I miss home, just a little bit easier. I mean, who does not love having KFC for Canadian Thanksgiving?

Team Fuji Survival
We made it to the top of Mt. Fuji alive. That’s what friends are for right? Ensuring we do not die on a mountain.
Brunch in Tokyo
Mom, Shannon, Hiro, Aya, and I having brunch in Tokyo!

Struggling with Japanese Language

Japanese Language Struggle
Reading and speaking is taking me a while, but I am slowly getting there.

Now, I will admit my Japanese study has slipped since the summer. Meaning my ability has not been improving as much as I would like it to be. I did write the JLPT N4 over the summer, which I sadly did not pass by only a few points. My goal in the next year is to be at least at conversation level. It is my own fault for not studying and speaking as much as I should.

Whats next

Japan, you’ve been quite the experience so far and it is far from over! It is uncertain at this point how much longer I will be here. As I have many good things going for me at the moment. But, I do know one thing. I will be making the most out of every moment.

A-Nation 2014
Full filled one of my goals of being able to see Ayumi Hamasaki perform live at A-Nation 2014.

My AKB48 Handshake Experience

If you’re not familiar with AKB48 let me take quick second to briefly break it down for you. They are a girl idol group from Akihabara, Tokyo that has a massive and cult following and is also one hell of a marketing machine. There are also “sister” groups from other parts of Japan such as SKE48. It’s a group of roughly 48 girls broken into “teams” and perform many catchy songs that you see in the Top 10 around Japan.

AKB48 Top 10
Still in the top 10 even though the song has been out for awhile.

Many people do not care for them due to how it portrays women, but I am not going to get into that. That’s a whole other topic within itself. I’m here to talk about my experience with what is called a Handshake Event, where you literally get to shake hands with your favourite members from AKB48.

Tickets to the Event

AKB48 Handshake Event December 2013
The ticket clearly states that this is a handshake event.

To obtain a ticket to the event you must buy their CD, which will come with only one ticket. This is where marketing comes into play. There is no limit on how many tickets you can get, so there are people who will buy quite a few CDs just to shake hands with their favourite idol numerous times. This is part of the reason why their songs seem to jump to the top of the charts more often than not.

Tent Map and Ticket Number
They provide a map to tell you which tent the girls will be in so you can line up. Also our ticket number was 14514. Yikes.

A good friend of mine wanted to go to the Handshaking Event in Yokohama, and asked if I wanted to come. This is not something I would normally do, even though I do enjoy their music. It’s typical throw away pop music, sometimes you need that. I figured, since I’m here I might as well experience as much as I can.

Event Venue

AKB48 Event at Yokohama Stadium
AKB48 Event at Yokohama Stadium

The event was at the hugely impressive Yokohama Stadium. Before the event started, members from the group put on a very short show performing one of their popular songs. After they would do some more marketing by promoting their newest album.

Afterwards the tickets we got from the CDs would be turned in for another ticket that gave us a number. This is when we could come back and get in line to shake hands with our favourite idols. We had three tickets each. There were some people who had well over 1000 tickets, and I wish I was joking. That’s how far some people will go to meet their favourite idol. In fact if you have 10 or more tickets you can spend more time with the idol of your choosing at the end of the event.

Waiting in Line

AKB48 Event at Yokohama Stadium Lines
The lines were increidbly long especially for Yuko oshima

Our ticket numbers were about 14000 and the idol we wanted to shake hands which had an incredibly long line up. Her name is Yuko Oshima and is currently one of the fan favourites from the group, she also recently announced her “graduation” from the group. Meaning, she is leaving. There were already rumours of her departure so that was another reason for her long line.

Yuko Oshima
Yuko Oshima, one of the more popular members of AKB48.

Shaking their Hands

Where you shake hands was in tents that were setup on the baseball field in Yokohama Stadium. The names of the idols were above the tents where you knew where to line up. The line we were in was an hour and a half long. Once you got up to the front of the line there were security guards who checked your hands. I asked why this was and it was to ensure the safety of the idols, since they actually do shake your hand. Making sure you have nothing that can hurt them such as weapons or open cuts.

You enter the tent and there were more security guards who would grab you by the waist as you rounded the corner. They would guide you through the line up so you did not spend too much time with the idol as she shook your hand. You got to see them for maybe 2-3 seconds at the most. It was like a human conveyer belt as the security guided you along.

Mayu Watanabe
One of my favourite members that I shook hands with, Mayu Watanabe. She’s adorable.

It shocked me at first to have some huge Japanese security guard grab my, not so tiny, waist and guide me along as I tried to conjure up what to say to the girls. When I saw the girls, they all gave me the same reaction, which was something along the lines of “Wow, a foreigner!”. A couple of them even asked me where I was from. While, I’m sure I was not the only foreigner there, I did not see any other ones.

The entire experience was pretty unique in itself and somewhat overwhelming. The whole AKB48 phenomenon is rather interesting and I am happy to have been able to see what it was all about. Here I leave you with one of their biggest hits of 2013, 恋するフォーチュンクッキー (Koisuru Fortune Cookie).

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