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.

The Maidreamin Cafe Experience

Maid cafes became incredibly popular a few years back in Japan and have expanded around the world. They are present in major tourist areas throughout Tokyo such as Akihabara and Shibuya. These cafes specialize in having their servers dress up in French maid outfits and treat patrons as their masters. They then act “cute” and do “cute” things such as talking in a high pitched voice. If you have ever watched anime with the original Japanese audio, then you know exactly what I am talking about. If this sounds strange to you, then you would be correct. We had no plans on going to one of these cafes but it ended up happening. So, here’s our story.

Kyari with Maids at Maidreamin
One of Japan’s biggest Jpop stars, Kyari with the Maids at Maidreamin

Our unplanned visit to Maidreamin Cafe in Akihabara, Tokyo happened when we were in search of food. A strategically placed menu, that featured adorably decorated food and desserts, caught our eye. Before we could even read the menu this “maid” came up to us and told us (in pretty good English), “The food is so cute, just like you two, so please come and have us serve you!”.

Maid Greeeting Us
She was pretty convincing and looked EXACTLY like this.

Now, normally these things never work on me, but the fact that she spoke to us in English threw me off. Also a combination of being hungry, wanting to experience a Maid Cafe, and the cute food. This all clouded my better judgement.

The cute maid quickly explained to us how it worked. She then took us to the an elevator that took us to the third floor. You pay by the hour, for your food, and any extras you want such as photos with the maids. As you exit the elevator you are greeted, very ecstatically, by all the maids.

Greeted By Maids

One of the maids took us to our table. Our table was between two different groups. One was a group of young Japanese men who were celebrating their friends birthday. You could tell because of the oversized “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” rabbit ears he was wearing. The group on the other side of us, looked like a couple that were on a date. It’s a peculiar place to go on a date, but to each their own.

Our maid came up to our table and asked us if Japanese was OK. I told her that I spoke Japanese. Even though she is supposed to act cute and adorable at all times, you could see this relief go over her. She quickly explained we had to order food and drinks, that we were paying by the hour, and we could add any “extras” to our experience. Which included items such as getting our photos taken with all of them, or photos just of them.

Once she was done, she pulled out this candle and instructed us to countdown from 5 to make the “magic” happen. I was not too sure what to expect but we counted down to 0. As we hit zero she blew into the candle and it lit up. Magic, I tell ya. She then complimented me on my “incredibly amazing” Japanese (my ability is far from amazing, just enough to get by). She then asked for our names and wrote them down on some points cards. You know, for when we want to come back and collect all the photos of the girls.

After she was done explaining how everything worked, she handed us the menus and skipped, yes skipped, away. Again, image how a girl would act like in any typical Anime.

Maid Dressing
I think they are going for something along these lines.

We opened up the menus and started going through what we wanted to order. After looking at the prices we decided we would only get dessert. The main courses were incredibly overpriced, as to be expected, and for the portion you would get we knew we would be hungry shortly thereafter. We both decided on the, overly adorable, parfaits that were shaped like animals.

Strawberry Bunny Parfait
A delicious, and cute, Stawberry Bunny Parfait.
Chocolate Teddy Bear Parfait
A Chocolate Teddy Bear Parfait. They really are super cute.

After ordering our overpriced parfaits, we watched other people around us. One guy, who was there alone, had a binder full of photos of all the girls individually. He clearly has been to this one quite a bit. The maids even knew him by name. Don’t ask me what his name was, I will not be able to remember. He was wearing a huge pair of bunny ears and got his photo taken with the maids a few times throughout our stay.

Another guy, who knew every of the girls by their (I am assuming) stage names, was sitting alone at the counter. He was an older gentleman who carried an iPad around with him. He would talk to the maids about mundane topics, such as the weather. Meanwhile the maids were bouncing around, giggling, laughing, and hanging off his every word.

Excited Anime Girl
The girls acted this excited at anything you would say.

Our parfaits finally arrive and we devour them in record time. While it looks rather big, they put a lot of corn flakes (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is) at the bottom. There was almost more filler than ice cream. Which was disappointing for the 800 yen price. But regardless, they were delicious and incredibly cute. While eating the maids would have loud arbitrary conversations for us to hear. They would be about nothing in particular but it was clearly for the “atmosphere”. I go back to the anime comparison again.

We were there around 5pm, which is when the sun begins setting in the winter. Shortly after finishing our parfaits, one of the maids goes on this stage. She instructs everyone that she needs our help with her “magic” so we can “light up the sky”. It resulted in us and everyone else in the restaurant wave our arms in the air and point to the ceiling. All at the time. When we did this, this magical sparkling sound filled the room. You know what sound I am talking about. And the lights turned from yellow to blue and stars being sparkling on the ceiling. I had no idea I was a witch, go figure.

Falling Witch Gif
Seriously, I left feeling as if I had some magical powers.

By this point we have been there for close to two hours. We did take our time, but the service was a little “slow”, which I am not sure if it was on purpose or not. We opted not to get a photo with the girls, as we already spent quite a bit of money by this point. By the end of it we both ended up paying about 2000yen (roughly $22) for the parfait, experience, and time we were in there.

While the experience was expensive (that’s to be expected for a place such as this) and a little strange, I am glad that we did it. It was an overall positive experience and if you want something a little strange and/or unique then give it a try. Just be ready to spend no less than 2000yen per person.

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