Friday, November 16, 2007

Back in Black

We're back. And my lord that was a long trip! 26 hours from our Japanese apartment to my brother-in-law's condo in Greenville, SC. On the last leg of our trip our flight was delayed two hours because the toilet wouldn't flush. This following a five hour layover following a ten hour flight. You gotta love air travel sometimes.

But we're back and it's good. I've enjoyed several little things that most Americans wouldn't think twice about. For example, a Route 44 Vanilla Dr. Pepper from Sonic, Judge Judy and Cops on TV, children speaking English. Even the obnoxious car commercials on the radio give me warm, fuzzy feelings (NO PAYMENTS UNTIL 2008!!!) I guess I missed America more than I thought.

So now is when we start to get our lives back together, i.e. jobs, cars, our own place. Right now we're staying at my in-laws' sweet beach house, which is nice, and they're giving us a car which is even nicer, so our main objective now is to find jobs. We're planning to live in either Charleston, SC or Tampa, FL, depending on where we can find the best jobs. Which means we'll probably end up in Tampa because unless one wants to work in hospitality the job market in Charleston leaves much to be desired. Anybody have any connections?

Monday, November 12, 2007


Well, it's over. We've attended our farewell parties, said our goodbyes and packed (most of) our things. Tonight is our last night in Japan and this will be the last blog entry I write in the country. We've made some great friends from around the world and have had many unforgettable experiences. My husband and I will never forget our time here.

Goodbye Japan.

Goodbye young, Japanese guys with big hair.
Goodbye wild, all-you-can-drink karaoke nights.
Goodbye green haired old ladies.
Goodbye to the phrase "go to shopping."
Goodbye ridiculous television.
Goodbye bathroom slippers in public restrooms.
Goodbye street beers.
Goodbye fish head, raw sea urchin, fried cartilage, raw horse meat sushi and other terrifying foods.
Goodbye balcony view of Mt. Fuji.
Goodbye sushi carousels.
Goodbye singing songs about triangles to uninterested two-year-olds.
Goodbye server summoning buttons.
Goodbye not having to tip for everything. Or anything.
Goodbye to instantly standing out in a crowd.
Goodbye random earthquakes.
Goodbye blatant stares from children, old people and other random people.
Goodbye to living thirty minutes from one of the world's largest and most exciting cities.
Goodbye polite government office workers.
Goodbye beer and cigarette vending machines.
Goodbye crazy students who say bizarre things.
Goodbye to not being able to say, understand or read anything.
Goodbye school girls and young women with shockingly short skirts.
Goodbye foreign guys who think they are far better better looking than they are because they are able to get attractive, Japanese girlfriends.
Goodbye deafening pachinko venues.
Goodbye to riding the train everywhere.
Goodbye signs and clothing with ridiculous English words and phrases.
Goodbye 1984ish, city-wide announcements and songs blaring from community speakers.
Goodbye cutesy mascots for everything from English schools to tourist attractions to butter.
Goodbye creepy train perverts.
Goodbye creepy train suicides.
Goodbye to being a professional English speaker (and entertainer).
Goodbye food theme park based around monocle sporting cats.
Goodbye high-tech cell phones.
Goodbye futons, to not having central heating or air and a nationwide absence of clothes dryers.
Goodbye corn, mayonnaise, raw egg, potato, sausage, little wiener and seaweed pizza.
Goodbye astonishing politeness.
Goodbye Dancing Days song on educational TV.
Goodbye surprisingly low crime rate.

Goodbye students.
Goodbye friends.
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

I will continue this blog once I'm back in the States, for those who've asked. Thanks for reading! I like comments too!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Japan: A Nine Month Review in Photos

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil, See No Evil

Eating at Big

Temple in Nikko


Safety First

One of My Least Favorite Lessons

I React to a Gift From Eriko, My Husband's Branch Manager

Making a New Friend

Fun at the River


A Temple Somewhere in Tokyo

View of Mt Fuji From Our Balcony

I'll Miss This Karaoke Place

My Husband and I With Random Japanese Guys Who Dragged Us Into Their Karaoke Room

If Only Nova Had Hired My Husband to Do PR...

Cherry Blossoms!

My Husband Poses in Asakusa

Side View of Our Apartment Building, or Mansion, as the Japanese Say



Karoake Hijinx

Waiting for First Train

Young Love

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Five days until we go back home. I wish I could say my husband and I are living it up, doing everything we always meant to do before leaving Japan, but that's simply not true. We have absolutely no money and have spent most of our days going to bed at 3, sleeping in until 12:30 and sitting in our apartment doing nothing. My husband took out a credit card advance today and we used some of that money to buy food, drink beer in the park and sing karaoke one last time. Pathetic I know. PS: doing nothing is not nearly as appealing as it sounds.

Nova found a new sponsor yesterday and that sponsor plans to reopen 30 (out of 600+) schools. Eventually the sponsor hopes to open up to 200 branches, but they have said they will not honor student credits or pay unpaid teachers' salaries. My husband called Nova's former Head Office today and the representative told him that if we officially resign we forgo our chances of claiming our unpaid wages (2 months worth!) from the government, yet we cannot currently pursue those wages because Nova has not officially declared bankruptcy. What the hell?! I am thoroughly sick of this situation.

I'm sure I'll miss Japan when we're back in the States, but right now I want nothing more than to go back home and get on with my life. I am ready to move on.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I'm Officially Coming Home

We've purchased our plane tickets and will be back in the States on Tuesday, November 13th. I am excited to see my cats and my friends and family again, but bummed that I won't be able to do much my last week in Japan due to a serious lack of funds. Rumors are still flying around that Nova has found a sponsor and that a few branches will be opening again, but I'm over all of the speculation. Time to find a 'real' job in the States again and time to start drinking less...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bankruptcy, Thailand

So after two packed flights, an eight hour layover in Bangkok and endless rides on three Tokyo train lines, my husband and I are finally back at our apartment. There wasn't an eviction notice on the door, and for that I am grateful. While were on vacation, Nova officially declared bankruptcy and now the government is busy searching for sponsors, i.e. buyers, leaving the former Japanese staff and foreign teachers with nothing to do but wait and hope for reimbursement of wages and/or the company to revive under new management. As my husband and I have literally no money to live on, we'll probably be returning to America in the next week or two and that's fine. We've been in Japan going on nine months and are content to come home early to our cats and American TV and native English and blending easily in a crowd and to not being gaijin. We won't have jobs, cars or a place to live that doesn't involve my husband's parents, but that's more or less true of our situation in Japan anyway.

Thailand was good, but it rained every single day. We didn't see the unclouded sun once on our vacation. However, we still got decent tans and were able to enjoy the beach and other outdoor activities between downpours. My favorite activity was probably the snorkeling/sight seeing trip around islands thirty miles off the coast of Thailand. If you've seen the new King Kong movie, the islands kind of looked like that, complete with soaring cliffs, thick tropical forests and monkeys. It rained practically all day and a few of the people in our group were determined to be miserable, but I really enjoyed the exoticness of it.

Another memorable activity was the ping pong show. Although ping pong ball ejection was the least impressive talent demonstrated that night. I didn't believe such things truly existed, but they do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tales From Impending Bankruptcy

We didn't get paid. How not surprising. There's been no new fax or scheduled pay date. The regional manager did tour the various branches on the local line and spin tales of savior investors and/or business deals. Deals that will allegedly transpire if we can just hold out a little longer. I can't say I have believe him. I'm beyond cynical.

Here is food our branch manager's boyfriend bought us because he knows we haven't been paid and can't afford to eat well.

Here is the schedule for tomorrow. For some reason, I'm still on the schedule even though the staff knows I won't be coming. Some poor Help teacher is going to get five kids classes in a row. Eeek! My branch could easily keep four to five teachers busy on a weekend, but this week there will be only one teacher. If they're lucky.

I can't wait to go to Thailand. Only three more days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'll Be Home For Christmas (or Thanksgiving)?

Nearly a month ago, I wrote a post detailing the massive problems my employer Nova is facing and the possibility that my husband and I might be returning to the United States earlier than expected. Well, nothing has changed and if fact the situation is even worse. I am fairly confident that we'll be back in the States next month.

Last month teacher trainers, teachers outside greater Tokyo/Osaka and Japanese staff members were paid, at minimum, 10 days late. After everyone was finally paid the CEO sent a fax saying the dark clouds were finally lifting, that there would be no salary concerns in October and that everyone should concentrate on business as usual.

Flash forward to October. Surprise, surprise there ARE salary concerns. Big ones. With the exception of a few Japanese part-timers, Nova has been unable to pay anyone. That's thousands of people, from foreign instructors and central personnel to Japanese staff members. The Japanese staff was supposed to be paid on September 27th, foreign instructors on October 15th. Everyone is now "scheduled" to be paid on Friday, October 19th. I have no idea how a company that is unable to pay rent and garbage bills at some branches is going to find such a massive amount of money in four days. And then Japanese staff is due to be paid again on October 27th, eight days later!

Almost no one expects to be paid on Friday, and when they aren't a ridiculous amount of instructors will call in sick and/or resign. A huge number of instructors and top executive types resigned after the last salary fiasco and even more are bailing now. In September my branch had seven teachers and now we only have three which is not enough to cover the demand. There isn't even the hope of bringing in fresh meat. The Australian consulate announced that Nova is going under and urged Australians to make contingency plans. A Nova recruiting agency in America told new recruits they could no longer secure housing and urged them to delay their departure until at least December. An Australian agency that has recruited for Nova for years refuses to do so anymore. Meanwhile, instructors all over the country are getting eviction notices because Nova took money from their paychecks but didn't pass it on to the landlords. I can't imagine a more dismal situation.

Nova has made some kind of strange, seemingly shady deal with a couple of offshore companies that I don't understand enough to explain, but it's of little comfort to most employees. The guy who was assumed to have made the deal for Nova has recently been arrested for stock fraud. Even if the deal did result in a significant cash injection, the earliest this injection could arrive would be October 25th and I think it may be too late for Nova by then. Seeing as more and more people are being paid late each month, despite company promises to the contrary, I think most teachers will find another job or go home. My husband and I certainly can't afford to stay in Japan without regular paychecks. Last month, we transferred a bunch of money home to pay off my credit card and to pay for our upcoming Thailand vacation and I now have literally 578 yen to my name. Seriously. We'll be living off our American funds until our next check, assuming it ever arrives. I have my doubts.

Sadly, many students seem completely unaware of the dire situation and my branch even had a sales visitor the other day. We're technically forbidden from saying anything, but I feel obligated to be honest with students if they ask. I haven't discussed it in class or anything, though I sometimes feel I should. They stand to lose hundreds, if not thousands of dollars if/when Nova goes under.

My husband and I plan to go into work on Thursday and Friday, but if we're not paid on Friday I doubt we'll work on the weekend. I feel guilty because that means the staff will have to cancel several classes and spend all day apologizing, especially as there is the possibility that no teachers will show up at my branch, but I am not comfortable working for one month's check when I haven't even been paid for the last and there is a real possibility I won't ever see another yen. That and my train pass has expired, I haven't been reimbursed for last month's pass, I don't have the money to renew it and I don't want to pay 600 yen a day to get to work and back.

If you were me would you go?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Japanese Sensory Delights

Below are just a few of the memorable, sensory delights that Japan has to offer....


Nothing says class and sophistication like boxes of cigarettes bobbing in an aquarium.

When being brown just isn't enough.

Girls for sale

Get little Kenichiro his very own Sheep Animal Girls plaything! Available in your local toy department.


You scream, I scream, we all scream at the shark and snake flavored ice cream!

The ice cream man never sold flavors quite like this.

A burger just isn't a burger unless it oozes black sludge.

And a pizza just isn't a pizza unless it has 75 ingredients.

Open container my ass!

Who doesn't want to eat Hello Kitty's plump, juicy wieners?

After all, she's got your back.


Sweet Smell Aroma Fashion. I wouldn't have my aroma fashion any other way!


There is no sound like the sound of drunk Japanese guys singing J-pop classics.

Who the hell needs arms and legs?

Because sometimes you really need to harass somebody!

Monday, October 1, 2007


Japan is internationally known for its bizarre crazes, but few people outside The Land of the Rising Sun have heard of the kancho. According to Wikipedia, kancho is "the act of clasping the hands together so the index fingers are pointing out and attempting to insert them sharply into someone's anal region when the victim is not looking." Yes, you read that correctly...

(Photo lifted from

The kancho is performed almost exclusively by Japanese school boys, who apparently think it's hilarious and not at all homoerotic. In Japan, the kancho is viewed as a harmless, childish prank and thankfully one doesn't see adult men and women kanchoing each other in public, unless it's drunken foreigners mocking the tradition. I must admit, I have (lovingly) kanchoed my husband on an escalator a few times.

While the kancho is not as popular as it once was, instructors must be on guard at all times while teaching kids' classes. I have not personally experienced the sting of the kancho, but my trainer fell prey one fateful afternoon and felt violated for hours afterwards. When pressed for details, i.e. how hard and how deep, he refused to discuss the experience. The man seemed truly traumatized. A ten-year-old boy once tried to kancho my husband, but was not successful, so the boy kanchoed another student and the two then tried to grab each other's balls for the rest of the class period.

There are some things about Japan that I will never understand.

In the West, we have the wedgie, in the East they have the kancho. I personally, would much rather have underwear shoved up my crack than someone's fingers, but that's just me. Which do you think is worse? What would you do if a child unexpectedly kanchoed you? Discuss...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Early Homecoming?

***I now CAN vouch for the truth of #5, because it's happening to our friend. See below. It's such BS!***

Wild rumors abound about the financial state of my employer and I am beginning to seriously wonder if my husband and I will be coming home early.

Our employer, Nova, has had serious financial problems for some time, and may now be bordering on bankruptcy. Immediately before we came, a handful of teachers were arrested in a minor drug scandal, (two of whom came from my branch) triggering a flood of negative press. In addition, Nova has fought, and lost, a number of student lawsuits regarding allegedly dishonest cancellation and refund policies, causing the Japanese government to suspend part of their operations. The suspension currently prevents the company from offering long term contracts, which is supposedly where the majority of company profits derive from.

There are a number of online message boards claiming that Nova is going under and will be completely bankrupt in the coming weeks or months. At first I scoffed at this idea, because they are always making such claims, but now I'm not so sure. The past two weeks have brought a series of strange, foreboding events that are difficult to dismiss. For example:

1. Teachers outside the Tokyo and Osaka metro areas were paid late this month, and trainers (teachers who train other teachers) have not been paid at all. Their pay is currently ten days late. The powers that be keep pushing the pay date back, and so far they've changed it four or five times. Needless to say, the trainers are furious and many have supposedly resigned, although none in my area have. The CEO has sent a couple of faxes, but none of them say why the pay has been delayed. In one fax he claimed that prospects look brighter for next month, that it is always darkest before dawn, and to carry on business as usual, blah, blah, blah. I've never seen a vaguer statement.

2. New teachers normally receive pay advances to help them make ends meet until they receive their first paycheck. This isn't available anymore.

3. The company is closing anywhere between 50-200 schools. Sadly, I know this not because they announced it to their employees but because I read it in the news. The lack of communication from head office is appalling.

4. A company recruiter presented three choices to a new recruit scheduled to come to Japan. The choices were to come to Japan and hope for the best, to resign before coming over, or to wait until October 16th "to see what happens." October 16th happens to be the day after payday. I know this because a new teacher started at my branch this week and his friend is the new recruit. He still came though.

5. I've read on message boards that a few teachers have been evicted from their apartments because Nova didn't pay the rent. If true, that is the most infuriating thing I've ever heard because the company deducts rent from the teacher's monthly check and charges nearly double. I've also read that Nova has been evicted from office buildings for not paying the rent.

**Edit: Unbelievably, this is true. Our friend and his two roomates found on eviction notice on their door yesterday stating they had seven days to leave! The company has been withdrawing rent money from their paychecks, but hasn't payed the landlord in god knows how long! The tenants don't know what they're going to do yet. In perhaps the most hypocritical move of all time, the company has kept our friend on probaation because he was late twice. Ha ha ha ha! If this happens to my husband and I, I'm going to sit outside my branch and tell everyone coming in what happened. I'm scared!**

If something does happen to the company, my husband and I will happily come home early or possibly draw Japanese unemployment (how strange would that be). However, I would feel terrible for our students and for the new teachers and staff members.

What do you think? Are we coming home early? October 16th is D-Day I guess.

If you're interested, click here for a recent news story about the situation.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dorky Video Tour of Our Apartment

Below is a video my husband and I put together when we first arrived in Japan. I realize that we make a lot of inaccurate statements, but remember it was our first month or so in the country.

"Take This Job and Shove It:" A Concept Foreign to Japan

A handful of Japanese staff members have recently told me that they tried to quit their jobs at our company, but couldn't. Your reaction, like mine, is probably:

"What do you mean, they tried to quit their jobs?"

What seems like a simple process to foreigners, i.e. putting in notice, working the designated remainder of time and then not coming to work anymore, is apparently not so simple to Japanese people, or at least not so simple for those working at my company.

It seems the Japanese staff members contacted upper management to put in their notice and were somehow guilted or bullied into working three or four months longer than they'd intended. The management tossed around threats of bonus cancellations, accusations of company disloyalty and other unfair nonsense, nonsense that was apparently successful as at least two of the staff members still work for the company. An employee who tried to quit a part-time position at my husband's branch three months ago, now works full-time and serves as a temporary manager. She is supposedly still trying to quit.

I really don't get the crazy Japanese work ethic sometimes. That, and their penchant for jumping in front of Express trains.

Is this "trying to quit" a Japanese thing or a phenomenon found only at my company?

Ironically, our company is currently having financial "difficulties," and employees (both Japanese and foreign) will be lucky to receive their regular wages on time (or at all) next month, much less bonuses. But that's a completely different blog post...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Vacation Bitch Rant and It's a Small World

*Rant about my brother-in-law and husband's friend deleted in a fit of guilt and paranoia *

In perhaps the strangest case of It's a Small World, one of my blog reader's Bloom in Japan not only lives down the street from me now, but will be working at my branch. I assume he found my blog when researching Japan, but who knew he'd be placed so near.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

5 Weird Facts About Me

Months and months ago, Random Musings of My Life tagged me with a 5 Things meme (that's what they're called right, memes?) but I didn't notice until now. So here it is. Better late than never!

1. Until I was twelve or thirteen, I swallowed rather than spit when I brushed my teeth. Eventually I got scared by the warnings on tubes of toothpaste and finally broke the habit. It sounds disgusting now, but at the time spitting seemed disgusting to me.

2. Despite the fact that I failed my first driving test for the following reason, it took months of post-license driving for me to figure out that one is supposed to yield at a green traffic before turning left. It didn't click until my friend shrieked this information, after a near miss at a traffic light.

3. I used to have an imaginary friend that I could only see in the mirrors above the vegetables at grocery stores. Every time I went shopping with my mother, I'd look up at the mirrors and have an inner dialogue with my non-existent girl friend. A few times I tried to pretend I could see her in the shower door mirror at my grandparent's house, but it didn't feel right, so I quit. I haven't said hello to her in awhile. I wonder if she's in Japan.

4. I love ketchup and have no problem sucking it out of packets. This is most common on road trips, when I'm eating fast food and have no convenient object to squirt it on. I also like ketchup on potatoes, crab cakes, beef, chicken, pork, various vegetables, etc.

5. I sometimes have strange, nonsensical ideas about things. For example, I used to be certain that a person's age resided in his or her knee. It wasn't anything physical, for example a creaky knee belonging to an old person, but rather the idea that the number itself, invisible of course, lurked beneath the surface of the knee. I imagined that on every birthday the old number flew out and the new one flew in. Sounds crazy I know. I also occasionally compare taste to strange things. For example, I once quit drinking a frozen pina colada because the taste reminded me of a head concussion, and in the past I wouldn't drink Guinness beer because I thought it tasted like dirt and grass.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Alcoholism Anyone?

Japanese girl I just met in a bar/restaurant:

"I think you are strange because you drink so much beer."

Different Japanese girl in a different bar/restaurant:

"You can drink a lot can't you?"

Japanese man in bar/restaurant, as gleaned from his broken English and friend's translation:

"Ladies usually drink from small glasses, not from the huge mug you're holding."

Student in a conversation about free time activities:

"I think you are probably strong drinker."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Blonds Be Damned!

Strolling into work today, I noticed this poster pasted to the window. Notice anything unusual?

My first reaction was "Holy Shit! They're all blond." My second reaction was "Gee willickers! They're all white."

Ironically, I've met more non-Caucasian teachers here than I have blond ones, and needless to say the poster is not an accurate representation of the company's teachers. But, as you may remember from this post, blonds are popular here in Japan, so I suppose it benefits them to uphold the stereotype that foreigners are primarily blue-eyed blonds. Still, it's annoying.

Here is my reaction....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wacky 100 Yen Treasures

Got Milk?

On this classic drinking glass entitled Milk, we see six streams of milk spewing forth from the swollen teats of a mother cow. Scattered beneath the abundant streams are four calves, each with equally swollen udders. Whether they are racing to feed, or attempting to escape death by drowning is anyone's guess. Is it just me or does the mother cow look like an alien spacecraft and the milk streams like incinerating death rays? Kind of like those things on War of the Worlds. Now if only there was a mini Tom Cruise....

The Chicken or the Egg?

Speaking of farm animal products, here we see the sad fate of your average egg. I'm surprised there isn't a fifth picture of an egg atop pizza, a hamburger or some other innocent food, as Japanese people seem to love putting eggs, usually raw, on top of EVERYTHING. But really, if you think about it, chicken embryos are disgusting things to eat, regardless of whether they're scrambled or eaten raw on pizza.

It's a Boob!

I think these pictures speak for themselves.