How to be a Great Co-Worker

Spring break is drawing to a close, which means that for most of us here in Ishikawa with the JET Program, we’re headed back to a regular working schedule.  Back to teaching, back to English club, and of course back to the staff room.

The Staff Room

Ah, thar she is. ‘Tis a thing of beauty.

In light of that last reality, I recently found a great survey from the website What Japan Thinks, a site dedicated to translating Japanese public opinion polls into English.  If you have time, it’s a great way to gain insight and understanding into some really intriguing subjects of Japanese culture that are rarely discussed openly, much less with people from other countries.

The survey I want to discuss, however, is one that all of us can learn from and use in our daily JET lives: Office Annoyances That You Just Can’t Talk About.

The survey asked over 1,000 Japanese office workers what kind of behaviors they can’t stand in their co-workers, yet do stand, presumably because it’d disrupt the social harmony of the office if they burst out screaming at their neighbor.  Reading through the list, I couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty at my own office habits.

Especially since I (and may I be so bold as to suggest that a majority of the readers) don’t speak Japanese at a fluent level, I’m sure there are little cues or tones of voice or connotations that I miss during interactions with my co-workers that would offer some clue as to how I could better my office behavior.  As such, I loved reading this survey.  Hopefully we can all learn a thing or two about how to become better co-workers while we’re in the staff room.  You can tell that the questions are geared more for your traditional office setting and not necessarily a school staff room, but overall I think they’re very applicable.

So then.  Are you ready to start being a better co-worker?  How many of these annoyances do you do on a daily basis?  You can find the full survey results here.

Topping the list is the co-worker “who has terrible coughs or sneezes and doesn’t wear a mask.”  Yeah, that seems a little rude I suppose, though I’d still advocate for “cover your nose/mouth and wash your hands frequently” over “wear a mask and let ’em rip,” as seems to be the approach in my own staff room.

Interestingly, the next two in line have to do with smell – co-workers who wear too much perfume, or co-workers who smell like an ashtray.  Take note!  Your fellow teachers have sensitive noses!  (Included in the ‘smell’ category is number twenty, “co-worker who eats smelly food like curry or ramen at their desk,” which I am most certainly guilty of.)

Pictured: Something way more adorable than me.

Pictured: Something way more adorable than me eating curry at their desk.

Many more of the annoyances had me vigorously nodding my head in agreement, such as “Co-worker who has an unnecessarily loud telephone voice” (HAI!  HAI!  ARIGATOUGOZAIMASU!  HAI!) and “Co-worker who batters their keyboard keys” (I once had someone in a completely silent staff room delete an entire paragraph of text by repeatedly slamming the backspace key, instead of holding the dang thing down or just highlight-deleting it.)

Yet just as often, I caught myself thinking, Oh, crap!  I didn’t know people found that annoying!  When I read things like “Co-worker who frequently cracks their knuckles, neck, etc.”

Sheesh!  Next thing I know, I'll learn that "staring menacingly at others" makes the list, too!

Sheesh! Next thing I know, I’ll learn that the “co-worker who stares menacingly at others” makes the list, too!


I hope the survey enables you to be a more hospitable office-mate to your fellow teachers this year, and that you can remember to avoid the things that secretly drive your co-workers crazy.




Daniel is a second-year JET living in Kanazawa.  He teaches at a junior high school and enjoys coffee, riding his bike around the city, and hanging out with his wife.

To Drive the Cold Winter Away: Resource Roundup

Starting to feel the cold? It’s been a (relatively) mild winter so far, but Ishikawa snow and storms can last through March. Brace yourselves–winter’s still here.

Staying Warm

SnJ Guide to Winterizing Your Japanese Apartment

SnJ Guide to Heaters in Japan

Kerosene Heaters: How to Use Them and How to Clean and Store Them

Energy-saving Tips for Staying Warm

How to Dress for Winter

Staying Healthy and Happy

Lifehacker on Avoiding the Winter Blues

Cold Medicine in Japan

Flu Prevention from the CDC

Life Outside the Kotatsu

Driving in Winter in Japan: common sense articles from Fukuoka JET and Japan Info Swap

Upcoming Festivals and Events (Japanese)

Hakusan Snowman Festival, Feb. 8th t0 10th, 2013. If you contact the Hakusan International Association by January 31st, you can reserve a spot on a special tour bus for foreign residents and visitors. The cost of the bus tour is 1,000 yen. See the 2013 Snowman Festival Tour Flyer  for details.

A Taste of Home in Ishikawa

As a foreigner living in Ishikawa, no matter how much you love Japanese food, there comes a point when you’ve had enough pickled vegetables, fried cutlets, and petrified fish.  Have you been wanting to prepare recipe from back home, but can’t find the right ingredients? Well, here is a collection of shops in Kanazawa which will help you put together a taste from home.

Yamaya – やまや

This is a major chain of mass-produced goods. It offers the fundamental ingredients for typical Italian, Southeast Asian, Tex Mex, and Indian meals. You’ll also find imported American potato chips and snacks, matzo ball soup, pancake mix, maple syrup, peanut butter, garbanzo beans, flour tortillas, hot sauce, and tons more. This place is enormous and my listings are items that stand out to me, so I encourage you to take a look at the inventory for yourself. Personally, I think their strength lies in their assortment of alcohol. They have a decent selection of imported beers that you won’t find in any Japanese market or conbini and an impressive selection of spirits at very decent prices; I’ve found the spirits here to be 10-30% less expensive than in the US. There are many branches across Japan, including one in Nanao, three in Kanazawa, one in Nonoichi, and one in Komatsu. Click here for a complete listing and hours of operation.

Diamond – ダイヤモンド

Ah, the elusive Diamond market. Often described as “the foreign goods store on the second floor of Omicho Market.” To some it’s a myth and many go searching for it in vain. Let me be your guide. Enter the market through the Cafe Arco Mercato entrance facing M’za (see picture), turn left and head towards the butcher shop, there turn right, and then turn right once more. Diamond will be on your left hand side. Walk inside and proceed upstairs to their foreign goods section. It is only accessible by going inside the store. Diamond has a plethora of foreign goods similar to Yamaya, but on a smaller scale and better curated. Highlights include hundreds of spices,  ghee, dry pastas, sun dried tomatoes, baking goods, shredded coconut, agave syrup, Cherry Cola, and cooking oils (avocado, grapeseed, walnut, almond). Hours of operation follow Omicho Market’s weekly schedule.


Fu-do – 風土

For the health-conscience, Fu-do stocks a variety of brown rice (玄米) harvested exclusively by a dozen farmers across Ishikawa prefecture.  A kilo of rice averages from 400-600円. Should you be interested, they also offer rice bran (ヌカ) free of charge, which you can use to cook bamboo shoots or pickle-ferment vegetables! If you are not familiar with cooking brown rice in your rice cooker, simply give it a rinse and let it soak in cold water for 5 hours prior to turning it on. Fu-do is located in the basement of M’za near the Andersen bakery. Hours of operation are 10am-8pm and follow M’za’s holiday schedule.

Yaoya -八百屋

This tiny produce market is owned by Matsuda-san, a friendly fellow who lived in Canada for a brief period and who speaks some English.  He carries an assortment of seasonal produce from Ishikawa as well as some items from overseas. Shop highlights include passion fruit, fresh coriander (cilantro), jalapeños, zebra tomatoes, tomatillos, purple cauliflower, round squash, and cherimoyas. He typically receives new inventory on Tuesdays and Saturdays, but if you are coming from out of town, he recommends giving him a call to ensure the product you are looking for is in stock. Produce is subject to change with the seasons. Yaoya is located near the top of Shintatemachi. He is open from 8am-6pm and closed on Sundays.

Cheese Oukoku – チーズ王国

This cheese stand, located in the basement (デパ地下) of Daiwa, carries an impressive variety of cheeses (ricotta, Gouda, cheddar, blue, goat’s, brie, Parmesan, mozzarella, Camembert, feta, the list goes on). This shop is not cheap, but the quality and selection is excellent and incomparable to than anything you’ll find at any supermarket in Ishikawa. While you’re here, the market around the corner from this cheese kingdom sells pine nuts if you are interested in making pesto from scratch. Hours are from 10am-7pm.

The Meat Guy

The Meat Guy is an online meat provider based in Nagoya. Not exactly in the neighborhood, but if you are looking for meat, this is your guy. You can find most meat products on there: 100% beef patties, lamb chops, turkeys, alligator sausage, rib eye steaks, suckling pig, real bacon, and more. Shipping is a reasonable 650円 and they can usually deliver within 2-3 days of your order.  Occasionally they’ll offer free shipping deals. Check them out at

This listing is Kanazawa-centric as this is with what I am familiar, but it should cover many of your bases. I invite those who live outside Kanazawa and everyone else to chime in with your recommendations in the comments section.

Here is a map I’ve put together of all of the shops mentioned.

Mauricio Cobian is a 2nd year ALT in Kanazawa who, despite this entry, cannot have enough of Japanese food.

Smartphone Apps for Living in Japan

Everyone told you to get a smartphone for your Ishikawa JET tenure, but whether you’re running iOS or Android, your phone is only as useful as the apps you put on it.  Here are some recommendations to get you started or to make your life a little easier.

For Both Android and iPhone

Yurekuru Call (EN and JP, free).  An earthquake warning app. Uses your location and your phone’s notification system to give you up to a minute’s warning before an earthquake is projected to hit your area. Highly recommended–it may be the only English language warning you get.

Japan Goggles  (EN, free). This nifty app uses your smartphone camera to recognize and translate kanji words. It might take a moment for the app to recognize the right kanji compound, but it’s still incredibly helpful.

iConnect (EN, free) Published by AJET, this app is a converter, phrasebook, directory, and national event guide all in one! If you miss the JET Diary, this app is for you.

Ishikawa Travel Guide (EN, Free). Uses Google Maps to show you nearby sights throughout Ishikawa. Unfortunately, the gourmet list is lacking, but the list of sightseeing spots and activities is comprehensive. Good for exploring a new part of the prefecture!

北鉄バスビュワー Hokutetsu Bus Viewer (JP, free). Japanese language bus route-finder and schedule for buses all around the prefecture. Allows you to bookmark your favorite bus routes. It can also use your current location to find nearby bus stops.

乗換案内 by Jorudan (Free, JP). Japanese only. A nationwide train route finder and schedule. Recognizes romaji place name input.  Includes a Live feature that notes train delays. The paid version, 乗換案内プラス (norikae-annai plus), is 630 yen in both stores and allows you to save routes.

EnjoyLearning Japan Map Puzzle (Free, JP).  Want to get 上手 (jouzu) at Japanese geography and prefecture names? This drag and drop prefecture map game will help. It includes hiragana readings of the prefecture names, too.

Platform-specific apps are after the jump!

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Bugs of Ishikawa (and what to do about them)

On the bottom it reads 名前のわらからい虫にも!loosely translated to "Don't know the name? Ain't no problem!"

Let’s rock.

It is a cruel fact of life in Japan that the more you want to open all the windows in your apartment, the more the bugs want to come inside.  This is a field guide to insects you may encounter, what to do when you encounter them, and how to encounter them less often in the future.

For convenience’s sake, we’ve sorted them into generic home pests, bugs you may see while out and about, and three that might land you in the hospital.

Throughout the article we also have pictures of helpful products and bug specimens. If you happen to have your own product recommendations or stories of creepy crawly terror, do share in the comments.

So,  grab some bug spray and let’s dive on in!

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Driving in Ishikawa, Part 1

So you’re coming to Ishikawa and you’re trying to decide what to do about transportation. Here are a few general tips, and a few more specific ones for those who will definitely be driving, on what to expect.

  1. Get your International Driving Permit. Whether or not you think you will be driving, everyone who already holds a license in their home country should get the IDP. Ishikawa isn’t the most rural prefecture in Japan, but you may find that a car makes your life significantly easier or more fun once you get here. Getting your IDP should be cheap–about $15 USD–and easy; Google for procedures specific to your country.
  2. Budget for a car. Whether you inherit a car from your predecessor, buy a used car, buy a new car (you rich thing, you!) or lease a car, be prepared for the worst cast scenario in which you have to pay for a car outright when you arrive. Although this situation is highly unlikely, put aside as much as you’re able before you arrive in Japan. You can buy outright a used car for as little as ¥150,000 (or less if you’re buying from your predecessor) or you may find a good deal on a lease. Whatever the case, the sooner you have the money, the sooner you can start enjoying the benefits of driving.
  3. Get insurance. Municipal employees may be able to join the city’s inexpensive insurance plan while prefectural employees will have to find private insurance. Ask around to your Board of Education, co-workers and neighbors. You could pay as little as ¥1,200 a month or as much as ¥30,000 depending on the plan you get.
  4. Secure a parking spot. In order to get a car you will need paperwork guaranteeing that you have a parking spot. Many apartment buildings offer you a spot, possibly at a cost, with your room; in that case, you only need it in writing that you have a spot. In some cases you may need to rent a spot near your house/apartment; start by asking your landlord, realtor or supervisor.
  5. Register your hanko and confirm your address. Japan loves paperwork! In order to get a car you’ll also need a piece of paper that confirms your address. In some cases you will also need to bring the document that confirms that your hanko (personal seal) has been registered with the city. Because the hanko serves as your signature on important paperwork, it’s not uncommon to need this certification. You should be able to get it at your city office (shiyakusho or chousha).
  6. Wait. This procedure will vary depending on where and from whom you’re getting your car, but there’s likely to be a waiting period, even after you’ve picked a car and filed all the necessary paperwork. Expect the process to take at least one month from the time you contact a dealership and adjust your lifestyle and travel plans accordingly.

Go, drive free! And check back here in August for more information about rules of the road, car maintenance and obtaining a Japanese license.

Hokuriku the happiest region in Japan, study finds

The three Hokuriku prefectures took the top three spots in a study by Hosei University in Tokyo trying to pinpoint the happiest prefectures.

Fukui came in first place followed by Toyama and Ishikawa coming in second and third respectively. The study used 40 socioeconomic indicators such as crime rate and welfare services to determine a numerical “happiness scale” which was measured in all the prefectures. One of the things that propelled Fukui to the top spot was its low crime and accident rate as well as an excellent preschool system.

So what’s the unhappiest prefecture in Japan? Osaka! The study cited Osaka’s high crime rate as a main reason it ranked so low on the list. So what do you think Ishikawa dwellers? Are we living in one of the happiest places in Japan?

Read the article (Japanese only)

Use Technology to Find (More!) Must-See Fall Spots

You’ve probably found many of Ishikawa’s Must-See Fall Spots, but now iPhone users have a tech-savvy way to find great foliage wherever they may travel with Rurubu (Fall Foliage 2011), a free app designed to help you scope out the best spots around Japan.

Use the Location function to find foliage wherever you are. Clicking on a red pin will give you more info about the spot, including its peak color time–apparently Kenrokuen is best viewed from mid-November to early December–public transit directions, address, contact information and a full description (Japanese only).

This fall, try using technology to guide you into the great outdoors!

Get Rurubu from the iTunes store

Find recommended foliage wherever you go!

Get more info about each spot (Japanese only).