Friday, July 4, 2014

A Visit to Kichijoji

I traveled to a neighborhood called Kichijoji(吉祥寺) for the first time the other day. Kichijoji is located in Musashino, one of the suburbs of Tokyo. This is an older part of town, and it has a pretty rich history.


For those that have been following my blog for a while, you may recognize the ending of "-ji" there in the name. This final character is used to name temples, and Kichijoji itself roughly translates to "The Temple of Lucky/Auspicious Omens." This Buddhist temple was moved to Bunkyo on the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu - the first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate and the man credited with the expansion and reconstruction of much of traditional Edo (what is now Tokyo). Bunkyo is a ward within Tokyo that today holds the Tokyo Dome, the Headquarters of the Judo community, and the University of Tokyo Hongo Campus.

As was prone to happen in those days, a small town built up around the temple. It was therefore named Kichijoji-Monzenchou (吉祥寺門前町), literally "The town built around Kichijoji." Traditional city planning measures allowed homes to be built very close together. Even today, you can see older areas of the city that have only centimeters of space between the buildings. Homes and shops were made to be light in order to withstand the frequent earthquakes in the area. They were therefore built out of wood. Due to the high volume of wooden buildings in a small space, coupled with the dry summers and winters here in Tokyo, the city was very prone to large and destructive fires. The most famous of which was the Great Fire of Meireki in March 1657. This fire lasted three days, claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, and destroyed up to 70 percent of the city. By the time the fire was extinguished, the temple and its surrounding town were destroyed.

A new era of reconstruction began. The shogunate decided to repurpose the land for daimyo residences. The previous residents of Kichijoji-Mozenchou in Bunkyo were moved to the present-day Kichijoji in Musashino. Although this present-day neighborhood does not hold the Kichijoji temple, it did keep the name as a tribute to the original town.


Inokashira Park
By far one of the most popular things in the area is Inokashira Park. This park is busiest in spring due to its large number of cherry blossom trees, but it is enjoyed year-round by Tokyo residents for its beauty and greenery.

Inokashira Park Spring, J. Peterson, Wikimedia Commons ©

Side Alleys
Called Yokochou (横町) in Japanese, these backstreets and side alleys hold a variety of small bohemian-style shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy the traditional side of Tokyo, this is definitely it. Due to its distance from the city center, you can find things a bit cheaper here. I found a great pair of running shoes for roughly 5,000 yen. You would normally have to spend between 8,000 to 10,000 yen to find the same item in other parts of Tokyo. I even found a small shop that sold only handmade goods. There were handmade linen tablecloths, handmade wooden spoons, and handmade cups and plates.

Harmonica Alley
This is one of Kichijoji's most famous yokochou. Here you can find small bars where you can sip beer or hoppy, a favorite of older Japanese businessmen. Hoppy has a taste similar to beer, but it is made with shochu and contains about 1% alcohol. It was especially popular in the past when beer was considered too expensive for the general populace.

Hoppy, Hykw-a4, Wikimedia Commons ©
The air smells great here due to the wide variety of restaurants, one of which is the ever-popular yakitori (kebab) bar. I also found a small tsukemono-ya, or pickled foods shop. I was all for buying bettarazuke, which is a slightly sweet-tasting pickled daikon. It is a something Tokyo is famous for, but Tai wasn't in the mood, so I'll stop by another day. All in all, Harmonica Alley is very similar to Sangenjaya in Setagaya Ward with its high number of restaurants and local atmosphere.

Sun Road
A covered shopping arcade, this was one of my favorite spots in all of Kichijoji. It really reminded me of Kyoto's downtown covered Shijo Street near Nishiki Market. By far one of the most interesting places here is a small croquette shop called Satou Kichijoji.  If you click this video (Japanese-only), you can see the meat croquettes that have made it so popular. This shop was amazingly busy. I think we discovered it around 2:00, and there was still a line of 50 people waiting to buy meat croquettes. When we left around 7:00, the line was longer if anything. In fact, it was featured on TV the other day. Despite the shop's small size, it sells 3,000 meat croquettes a day.

The other place I really enjoyed was a traditional geta shop. Geta are the Japanese wooden clogs. This shop had ones that were handmade from bamboo and tatami. As well as ones that were wooden. They had everything from the traditional-style geta that are worn with kimono to modern-day styles that are more comfortable for every-day use. We spent a while talking to the shopkeeper about the different styles as this kind of shop fairly rare today.

Geta, Haragayato, Wikimedia Commons ©

Finally, if you're looking for something a bit more upscale, there are the department stores in the area. I'm particularly fond of Atré, because it has such a eclectic variety of goods. This one had a small chopstick shop, a variety of florists, a stationary and bag shop, among others.


All in all, it was a great day at Kichijoji. It was very easy to see why it is so popular among all age groups. With its easy access to Inokashira Park and its vibrant community, Kichijoji is consistently rated the number 1 place that people want to live in Tokyo. Even I felt that if I wasn't so happy living in Setagaya Ward, that I would be happy to move to Kichijoji in the future. People were very friendly and it definitely had a small-town feel, something you don't get often in urban Tokyo. I know that I'll definitely be going back to eat those delicious croquettes and maybe enjoy a drink or two in Harmonica Alley with the local residents.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Job Search

Whew! It's been a while since I last posted up on here. I have much to discuss, but we'll keep this post relatively short. It's already been 2 years since I started living in Tokyo. The time has flown by. In that time, I started a new job straight out of school here, moved into a new apartment twice, and traveled around to Kyoto, Nikko, and random onsen. I'll post up on here how to find an apartment if anyone is ever looking, some of the great hot spots in the area, and general life updates. For now, I am just going to provide a brief explanation of the current situation.

I had a great experience under my previous company, where I worked for two years as a marketing assistant. I had the chance to meet some wonderful people, gain some great marketing experience, and get a bit of an introduction to the sales environment here in Japan. I've decided to pursue my dreams of finding a way that I can use both my English and Japanese skills and try to work/support companies globally, so I recently decided to resign in search of something new. For those who do not know the job market here, or are wondering about my situation from this point forward, no worries. Job hunting is much the same everywhere, you search online and contact recruiters to find jobs that interest you and then you send out a number of resumes.

Japan requires you to fill out what is called a Rirekisho and a Shokumu-keirekisho.

What's a Rirekisho?
This is basically your personal information and educational history starting from high school. I found this interesting as we try to avoid mentioning our high school at all costs once you graduate college in the States. You also include a short reason for applying and any qualifications you may have. Finally, you have to attach a picture of yourself. Normally you handwrite this. As my Japanese handwriting has been called "cute" for its perfect bookish-looking nature, I elected to handwrite mine. (We both know my handwriting in English doesn't leave much to be desired either. ;))

What is a Shokumu-keirekisho?
This is what we would consider a resume in the English sense. This includes all of your work history. Though it can also include short essays about your skills and what you can contribute to the company.

Is the situation any different for non-Japanese?
The short answer is "no." You still have to take all of the character, reading, logic, and mathematical tests that any Japanese person has to. These are all written in Japanese. Without a doubt, this is the biggest hurdle for non-native speakers of the language. I took a test the other day that was 40 extremely difficult to read words that would stump even native college-level speakers of the language followed by 40 famous Japanese historical figures, and then 3 essays in 30 minutes. Needless to say, I didn't score well. Hopefully, the company will throw these out if you do well enough in the interview, though there is no guarantee.

Does this affect your visa?
Yes, and no. Officially, my visa is tied to employment. I sponsored myself last time, but as long as I find employment in 3 months, I get to keep my 3-year visa. If I don't, I have to go talk with the government and see what they say. This is a new change implemented by the June 2012 residency system. It used to be that once a permanent resident got a visa, it didn't matter what happened to your employment status during the time, but now we are required to report everything. The Immigration Office was very understanding when I went to speak with them. They just asked me to sign a paper and wished me luck.

What happens after 3 months?
It used to be that you would get told to return to your country for a period of time (e.g. 1 month), and then return on a tourist visa. However, the government is trying to increase the number of foreign workers in Japan and with the 2012 law, no one is really sure what happens yet.

In short, that's the situation. I'm looking for something new, visiting new companies and meeting new people. It's a great experience, but I certainly would like to find something soon.  I have the funds to stay here long-term. To those that may ask for me to return to the States, keep in mind that I still have friends who graduated college 2 years ago and have yet to find full-time positions. The job market is difficult everywhere, but the opportunity to work overseas directly out of college and gain experience is a great chance that I can't pass up.

The world is globalizing rapidly and we can't afford to only remain within our comfort zone. I really love living here, learning new things, and making a career for myself that I can be proud of. Everyone goes through this stage in their life at some point, some earlier than others. We all may take different paths, but the end is the same. I'm searching for happiness not just in my career but my community as well. I'm hoping to build something here. Let's explore it together.