Time in Japan
Hokkaido My first day's trip at Shiretoko National Park was split into three parts: snow shoes walking to see nature in the forest, drift ice walking on the frozen sea of Othosk and animal and coastal views at sunset. Moved a little south down the eastern side of Hokkaido. Originally I had intended to go to lake Mashū but the road was blocked so I went to Mount Iō instead and then the town of Kawayuonsen which had a nature trail with deer running free (which was quite a surprise as the trail I got first wasn’t on any map). I visited the Akan Crane Center for day 3. Unfortunately I narrowly missed the bus in the morning and had to wait over 4 hours in Kushiro for the next bus, by which time the cranes were almost all gone, but I could still get the odd decent pic of them. Public transport in Hokkaido is far worse than that in Tokyo and you really need to have things planned out and get up really early at times. I left the east of the island behind and headed for the heart of Hokkaido. This involved a train across the island which passed through endless fields of snow. Since there was heavy sleet and snow that day, I decided to make it a day. I went to see the zoo in Asahikawa where a range of different species from the world’s coldest climates could be found. In the evening I returned to Furano where I was based and walked along Ningle Terrace which is an arts and craft shopping area made entirely of wooden cabins in a forest illuminated by fairy lights. The 5th day got off to a rather bad start as the main purpose of my trip to the Shirogane area, near the town of Biei (within an hour of Furano) was to see the blue pond. However, at this time of the year (March) the pond is frozen over and covered with snow, so barely to be seen. I then headed to Shirogane Falls but enroute I found a gap in the snow drift that went into the trees and I found the relatively well concealed Fudou falls, which has a very uncanny resemblance to a stone staircase. Continuing along the road through the whitewashed landscape I reached Shirogane Falls and was pleasantly surprised to find the blue colour of the water was alive and well here after all. The water was so clear you could see the stones of the river bed even from up high on the suspension bridge. On my 6th day, after a 3 hour bus ride from Furano to Sapporo I felt like the trip to Hokkaido had already ended as it felt like I had returned to Tokyo with a dusting of snow as I had left behind the mountains, ice floes and blue rivers and traded them in for them towers and shopping centres. However, in time I would come to learn that this was in many ways a different place to Tokyo as while it shared many of the conveniences, it did not suffer from the overcrowding the way Tokyo does. In fact I felt like I had a lot of room to roam free, and so I did. I came across many things including the tower, both day and night, an underground shopping centre with exotic birds, the Susukino entertainment district and a giant ferris wheel placed in the center of the main outdoor shopping arcade area. I didn’t have much energy left on the 7th and final day, in fact I didn’t leave the hotel room until exactly the last possible minute I could to check out. I spent the day going around looking at things within a striking distance of the city centre before getting the flight back to Tokyo from Sapporo late in the afternoon. I came across a fish market, a lacklustre clock tower, a pachinko slot arcade and the main outdoor shopping street/arcade. Japanese Alps For the first day on the trip to the Japanese alps I went to Nagano prefecture to see the snow monkeys. There was very little snow left in the middle of March but an abundance of monkeys could still be found. This area is famous for monkeys bathing in the onsen but it was too hot for that (although one did fall in) and they all seemed to gather around the onsen like holidaymakers in Spain gathering around the swimming pool on a sunny day. The thing about the monkey park is although it certainly feels very touristy you still get to have a ‘real’ experience of seeing the monkeys as they act as if nobody's watching, often passing by humans without stopping to look to go off and see other monkeys. In the morning of the 2nd day I went on an hour-long ride to the lowest level of the three tiered shrine complex of Togakushi. Togakushi is essentially a group of shrines that are scattered up the mountain at 3 points of different heights. The ascent to the top involves an increase in altitude of over 100 flights of stairs. I may have picked a bad time of year (March) to go as although it was spring at the bottom it was still very much winter at the top and the shrines were buried in snow to the point I nearly missed them entirely. There was also a tree corridor where half of it was missing as only the conifer trees had kept their leaves. The snow and cold climate caused further problems as the route to the mirror pond was blocked off so all things considered you should wait until at least at the end of spring to come. I returned to Nagano in the afternoon and spent sundown walking around Zenkō-ji. Practically having the temple to myself was a peaceful way to spend sundown on a spring evening. I also liked the atmosphere uphill road leading to the temple, especially at night where it is lit up by street lamps and the mountains cast a strong silhouette in the navy evening sky. At the halfway point of my trip in the Japanese alps I visited Matsumoto Castle, one of the most famous in Japan. In my opinion, the outside of the castle grounds actually looks better but the inside is still worth visiting at only 700JPY. On the inside you can go inside the castle (which feels more like a matchup between a multi-storey shrine and a museum than a typical castle). On the fourth day I went for a ride on the Shinhotaka Ropeway (which can be accessed by bus from both Matsumoto and Takayama). The ropeway barely gets a mention from the guidebooks and online travel blogs, making it the most criminally underrated attraction I have seen in Japan so far. The views at the top of the mountain range were amazing. However, when you come in the winter months there is another thing to see, a mini snow corridor as high as you are running through the trees. The only bad things about the trip are that it takes hours to reach by bus and it is one of the more expensive things to do. Nevertheless, it is still the most impressive sight I saw in the Japanese Alps region. The final part of my trip to the Japanese Alps region was visiting the UNESCO world heritage site of Shirakawa village. I have never been anywhere like it. Even to reach it you have to spend half an hour in darkness going through a mountain tunnel and when you emerge on the other side you arrive at a place composed entirely of thatched roof wooden buildings. When I was walking around the place in the drizzle I couldn’t help but think that it was very much like where I am from in the UK. Both are surrounded by green fields, both are in close proximity to the mountains and the biggest similarity of course being the incessant drizzle that was pouring that day. Report by our participant Jacob
Living in the Japanese countryside If during your Working Holiday in Japan you want to get to know the traditional Japanese countryside with people who have a strong sense of community and are deeply rooted in their traditions, try Sado Island. Sado, after the main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa, is Japan's six largest island. When gold was found on Sado Island in 1601, the island flourished economically and culturally, developing a unique and rich cultural heritage, including performing arts such as dance, chants and music, the world-famous Taiko drumming, puppet theater, folklore festivals, and traditional handcraft. Sado has hundreds of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and several historical villages from Edo Period (1603-1867), which have remained architecturally mostly intact. The island is of extreme scenic natural beauty, with 288 km of rocky coastline, dense forests, terraced ricefields and a northern and southern mountain range reaching an altitude of 1172 meters. Sado is sparsely populated, with the vast majority of the population of around 55,000 living in Sado City in the flat middle part of the island. You can find all infrastructure there that you can expect from a Japanese city of that size. As opposed to large cities such as Tokyo, you will find it easy to get in contact with the population, as the people of Sado are very community-oriented and interested in their fellows. Which Working Holiday Jobs are there on Sado Island? Working Holiday jobs mostly exist in the island's 3 main economic sectors, which are tourism/gastronomy, farming and fishing. Jobs in tourism/gastronomy include employment in ryokans, hotels, restaurants and with tourism activity providers. Most opportunities for tourism-related jobs exist during the summer months from May to October. The agricultural produce most typical for Sado are rice and persimons and helpers are usually needed during the planting and harvesting seasons, which are April/May and September/October. Fishery jobs exist throughout the year. Particularly for oysters and mussels the season is during the winter months. While for some jobs, Japanese language skills are required, they might not be necessary for others. As you might struggle arranging a Working Holiday job in the countryside on your own, World Unite! offers support services on Sado Island. They provide for instance English training about how to harvest and classify persimons, which will make non-Japanese speakers employable even by farmers who can only give you instructions in Japanese. What else can I experience on a trip to Sado? You can travel from Niigata to Sado using a Boing 929 Jetfoil. The jetfoil is basically "an airplane on the water", which gets the dynamic lift from sea water instead of air. While the wings are under the water, the passenger cabin is floating on top of the water surface, easily reaching speeds of around 80 km/h.
Experience life with a Japanese family as an Au Pair As an Au Pair you live with a Japanese family for a couple of months. You are supposed to look after the family's children and support doing the household while the parents are at work. You usually receive some pocket money, along with food and accommodation. Finding an Au Pair job in Japan can be difficult because many Japanese families are unfamiliar with the concept and often scared to allow a stranger penetrate into their privacy. There are some agencies offering Au pair jobs in Japan though. It is usually required to have childcare experience to be accepted into their programs. The host families they arrange for foreign Au Pairs to be placed at, are typically residing in villages or small towns, but not in the big cities, because in large cities such as Tokyo or Osaka, apartment sizes are small and there is usually no space to accommodate another person.
Learning Japanese at a language school The most intensive and fastest method to improve your Japanese language skills, is to join a language course at a language school. Attending a language course can be your main reason to travel to Japan, or you can also add some language lessons to your Working Holiday or Au Pair experience. Many nationalities can book Japanese language lessons at formal language schools for up to 90 days (but not get involved in remunerated work) on a regular Temporary Visitor Status that they get granted for free on arrival in Japan. Citizens of the UK, Ireland, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein can easily extend this status by another 90 days once in Japan. If you are of different nationality or you plan to come to Japan for language lessons longer than the time you get Temporary Visitor Status for OR if you wish to finance your stay in Japan through part-time work in Japan, this is possible on a Student Visa. Some (but not all) language schools are accredited to apply for Certificates of Elegibility to get you a Student Visa. With the Student Visa you can stay in Japan for as long as you are enrolled at full-time language lessons and you can also apply for a Work Permit, allowing you to work for up to 28 hours per week. These 28 hours per week are calculated as an average during your whole duration of stay, so you can for instance work full-time during a semester break and then work less hours while you are attending language lessons. Language schools offer the most intensive and effective way of learning Japanese. Besides attending lessons, you are expected to do our homework, and most language schools proceed at a relatively fast pace, so you need to put effort into studying the language. Book language lessons in Tokyo now! Which other options exist to learn Japanese in Japan? Other options besides formal language schools are to attend Community Centres and to learn Japanese with a Tandem Partner. Community Centres offer low-cost language lessons, offered by volunteers. There are language lessons targeting foreigners living in Japan, wanting to learn Japanese. They are offering classes around 1-3 times per weeks. Often it is necessary to prove that you are a resident of the ward where the community centre is located to be allowed to join the lessons at the Community Centre, so this option is not possible if you are on a Temporary Visitor Status. A Tandem Partner is a Japanese person who wants to learn your native language and in exchange teaches you some Japanese.