Friday, March 11, 2016

3 Things to Know About Hamamatsu

The Act Tower in Hamamatsu and Mt. Fuji in Shizuoka
photo credit:

Here's a recent email I got from someone who's coming to work in Japan:

Hello Faye!

I'll be coming to Japan this April. I've been hired by Interac and I will be assigned in Hamamatsu. I was glad to find your blog. It was really helpful. 

I just like to know what other things should I know about Hamamatsu? I haven't heard of this city before so any information would really help. 



I'll post my response to her email just in case other people are curious about Hamamatsu City. It's not as popular as Tokyo and Osaka so I understand the slight apprehension.

I could list a lot of things about Hamamatsu but I think here's the top 3 things you should now:

1. Hamamatsu is a windy city. 

Being windy is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Hamamatsu. Because of the wind, winters feel a lot more colder than the actual temperature. There are also days when the wind feels and sounds too much. On my first year in Hamamatsu, I had trouble sleeping on windy nights. The wind literally howls. I was also afraid that my rooftop would be stripped by the wind. Eventually, I learned to sleep in the midst of the disturbing winds.

On some windy days, cycling and walking would be a challenge. I was almost afraid that the wind can carry me. Just be prepared for the winds is what I'm saying.

2. Hamamatsu has a considerable population of Brazilians and Asians. 

When you arrive in Hamamatsu, you'd notice immediately the Brazilian and Asian population. They're always around the station so it's easy to see them. As of 2015, there are more than 25,000 foreigners in Hamamatsu. Half of them are Brazilians. More than a quarter are Koreans, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Indonesians and Peruvians. There are many factories in Hamamatsu that employ foreigners. Hence, the foreign population. As for the presence of the Brazilians, they're mostly of nikkei descent. This means they were children or grandchildren of Japanese people who intermarried in Brazil.

Because of the foreign population, Japanese residents are used to seeing gaijins. Foreigners are not as rare as when I stayed in Iwate, Kochi or Okayama. For a foreigner, it's actually comforting to know that there are other foreigners in the area.

3. Hamamatsu is in a good, accessible location.  

Hamamatsu is bordered by the Pacific Ocean in the south and the Akiha mountains in the north. It is blessed with nature. For someone who loves the outdoors like me, it's a great place to live. It is also a great starting point when travelling domestically. It's halfway through the big cities of Tokyo and Osaka. It's near Nagano for skiing and Izu for swimming. It's also accessible from Nagoya Airport and there are three bullet train lines that pass by Hamamatsu. If you're planning to travel around Japan, Hamamatsu is a great place to be in.

Other things to note that may or may not be helpful:

  • Hamamatsu is known for the gyoza, unagi, tangerine and green tea. 
  • It's also a musical city. Concerts happen all-year round. 
  • A number of companies are headquartered in Hamamatsu like Roland, Photonics, Yamaha and Suzuki, Because of this, there are plenty of company English-teaching jobs
  • It has a direct bus service going to Nagoya Airport. 
  • There's a big festival that happens during the Golden Week. It's worth participating in. 
If ever you've been assigned in this city, don't be scared, It's a safe and a well-populated city. It may not be as exciting as the big cities but it's not inaka. You'll enjoy it here. I hope. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

FAQ's on Travelling in Japan

Mt. Fuji in spring
photo credit: investopedia

Here are the questions I receive frequently on email. They are about travelling in Japan.

For other FAQ's about Japan, check these posts:
FAQ's on Teaching English in Japan
FAQ's on Working in Japan
FAQ's on Living in Japan

1. Is Japan an expensive place to visit? 

If you compare Japan to other Asian countries, it is comparatively expensive. However, if you compare it to Australia, NZ, North America and Europe, it is relatively affordable.

Accommodation is the most expensive thing you'll spend on when you visit Japan. Unlike in other countries, Japanese hotels base their rates on the number of people not on the rooms.

Food is affordable. There are many tourist spots that are free. For transportation, there are various passes that you can avail for cheaper travel.

Here's a more detailed answer: How Much Money to Visit Japan? 

2.When is the best time to visit? 

Spring is the the most recommended time to visit because of the cherry blossoms. However, this is also the busiest time. March to early May are the peak months for tourism.  Autumn is also great for sightseeing. The autumn leaves are as lovely as the cherry blossoms, for me. This season is shorter though. It usually starts late November to mid-December.

If you want to do winter sports, January to mid-February is a great time to go. The snow is powdery and perfect for skiing and snowboarding.

3. What are the best places to visit? 

Most Japanese recommend Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo as the must-see places in Japan. Kyoto and Nara are historical places while Tokyo is the captial.

If you are pressed for time, concetrate on the area of Kyoto-Nara and Osaka. Another alternative is Tokyo, Yokohama, Nikko and Kanagawa.

However, if you have plenty of time, other places are worth a visit too. Consider visiting Nagano especially in winter. (It's my favorite place in Japan, by the way.) Hokkaido during the lavender season and snow festival is spectacular.

4. How can I make my trip cheaper? 

I often get this question and it's quite hard to answer. I don't know how much you're willing to go cheap. But if you're like me who can get as "cheap as possible," consider these tips:

  • Sleep in internet shops
  • Take the local trains esp if the Juhachi Kippu is available.
  • Focus on the free tourist spots
  • Don't splurge on food. 

5. What are the best festivals to see?

My favorite Japanese festival is Hamamatsu Festival, of course. But that's just me because I live in Hamamatsu. Aside from this, the Snow Festival in Hokkaido is simply amazing. There's also Nebuta Festival in Aomori, Gion Festival in Kyoto and the risque Kanamara Festival (Steel Phallus Festival) in Kanagawa.

6. How can I get a tourist visa? 

There are 67 countries whose citizens can visit Japan without a visa. Here's the list: Exemption from Japanese Tourist Visa 

If you're country is not there, you have to check the Japanese Embassy in your country about requirements to get a visa.

For Filipinos, here's the process; How to Sponsor a Japanese Tourist Visa

7. Aside from sushi, what food should I try? 

Sushi is not the only Japanese food you should try. Other not-so-famous Japanese food are natto, green tea ice cream, various-flavored Kitkats, and mochi.

Japan is a great country to explore anytime of the year. There are modern cities and historical towns. There are amazing natural spots  and impressive structures. And there's the unusual and strange Japanese culture.

Friday, March 4, 2016

FAQ's on Living in Japan

photo credit:

Here are the most frequently -asked questions about living in Japan.

Check here for: FAQ's on Teaching English in Japan.
Check here for: FAQ's on Working in Japan

1. Do I need to learn Japanese if I live in Japan? 

Life would be so much easier if you can speak and read Japanese. But the language should not stop you from coming here. You'll survive (and you'll eventually learn some Japanese) if you move here.

2. Is Japan an expensive place to live? 

I used to think Japan is an expensive place because I keep on converting everything to peso. Eventually, I realized that Japan is a reasonable place to live in. The bulk of your expenses will go to rent especially if you live in big cities. I think housing is the only expensive thing in Japan.Other than that, you can buy affordable clothes, food, things and necessities if you know where to look.

Check this post, Just Moved to Japan: Where to Buy Affordable Things

3. Can I migrate to Japan? 

You can work in Japan but becoming a permanent resident is difficult. And, becoming a citizen is almost impossible. The Japanese government grant citizenship to those who have "Japanese blood," such as children or grandchildren of Japanese people who intermarried.

A lot of studies have cited that Japan needs to ease it's immigration policies because of the aging population. But as of the present time, it seems like the "no immigration"policy is as solid as ever,

4. How are foreigners treated in Japan? 

There is no straight answer to this except it depends on what country you came from.

The Japanese are not overtly discriminatory nor racist but there's a difference in their treatment among different colors. I'm Asian so the Japanese are not as interested with me as when they see an American or European.

Check this post for more details, Is There Racism in Japan?

With these being said, the Japanese are generally polite and helpful to foreigners. But it's rare to find a Japanese who will not make your "not being Japanese," a glaring detail.

5. How is the radiation problem in Japan? 

Because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, some people are still afraid to come to Japan. The radiation and nuclear meltdown are still issues 5 years after the Big Disaster. However, these happened in the northern part of Japan. If you're planning to live in the Central Area or South Area, you are less prone to these problems.

6. Where are the best places to live in Japan?

This question is hard to answer. It really depends on what you want to do in Japan.

The big cities are great for party people. There are also plenty of jobs there.
The smaller cities like Hamamatsu are calmer and perfect for starting a family.
The more rural places are more peaceful and more closely-knit.

I live in Hamamatsu and I really like it here. It's a small city bordered by the sea and the mountains. I love nature so I like it. There are also plenty of jobs here since there are many factories in the area.

7. What should I prepare before to Japan? 

Cash and patience.

For practical reasons, you'll be needing cash to rent a place and buy the things you need.
Patience, and understanding too, because the Japanese are not entirely easy to deal with. Some banks and shops don't want to deal with foreigners, especially the newly-arrived ones. Rental can also be a problem.

Check these posts: Living in Japan

8. What bills should I pay when I live in Japan?

The bills are the most annoying things for me. There's two taxes you have to pay,  residence and prefectural tax, There's also the income tax which your employer will deduct from you, There's health insurance but you still have to pay 30 percent of your medical bills. There's the national pension. And the NHK payment if you own a TV. There are many bills, basically.

Japan is a generally nice place to live. It's convenient, safe and clean. But it's not perfect like any other place in the world.

Good luck if you're moving here!

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