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Sep 9, 2010

Visiting The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion (also known as Kinkaku-ji or Rokuon-ji) is one of the most famous sightseeing places in Japan. It was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994 and is part of the overall list of 17 historic monuments of ancient Kyoto. Kinkaku-ji is the most visited site by tourists in Kyoto. However, finding it is not really an easy task, as you would probably have to change a few busses and trains.

The closest and biggest international airport to this site is Kansai International Airport. However, it takes 85 minutes by car/bus and 75 minutes by train to reach Kyoto. I suggest you take the JR train. You could check the pricing here: JR West Rail Pass. And furthermore, the airport itself provides some opportunities for shopping mall and cultural tours in Kansai Area. Check them here: Transit Tours from Kansai Airport. However, back to the temple's access. When you reach Kyoto Station, you will have to catch the Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205. It takes 40 minutes to reach the site and costs 220 yen. Entrance fee is 400 yen and it is open every day from 9:00 to 17:00. 


However, I would like to briefly share my experience. My colleagues and I took the train from Kobe Sannomiya to Kyoto Kawaramachi (Hankyu line trains) and then rode to the site on bus 205. When we arrived it was about 11:00 on Sunday, so I expected it to be extremely overcrowded, but hopefully it wasn't. And surprisingly, big part of the visitors were actually locals. The Golden Pavilion looks gorgeous on the opposite site of a lake, beautifully located in a small park in the outskirts of Kyoto. I managed to take many pictures, but unfortunately there was this tree (you could see it) which was preventing me from taking the best shot. However, we passed very near the temple and I took some close up pictures. There was a table with photographs of the interior (yes, they do not allow visitors inside unfortunately, but if it was me - I wouldn't as well) and of the temple in winter, and both were astonishing. 


After lunch we went to another temple, near Kinkakuji, called Ryoanji. It has a "rock garden" which very much reminded me of a Zen-Buddhist temple. It is a total contrary of the Golden Pavilion, as inside there were even fewer people, it was totally quiet and peaceful atmosphere, and everything was just telling you "sit and relax". You could find more information about the site here: Ryoanji Official Website


I would recommend anyone who ever visits Japan, to go and see these two temples, as it is more than worth it. And you could think on that Zen Koan: "What is the color of wind?"

Nyago

Sep 8, 2010

Tourboarding - The Easiest Way to Visit China

Up to now I was providing information mainly regarding Japan, but my core idea is not to focus on only one country, but rather on the whole East Asian region.

Nowadays, China is becoming a Great Power, and supposedly in the near future it will take decisive part in the world problems discussions and solutions. This, and the somehow mysterious atmosphere around the country, fed by the communistic information curtain, cause the interest of many people in visiting it.

Tourboarding.com is a great site created specifically for those who would like to visit China and experience the true spirit of the largest nation on Earth. The only ability required is to be fluent in some language "in demand", mainly English, but there are people searching for  French, Spanish, German, Russian and Portuguese speaking mates. There are a few options available to choose from:
  • Language for free accommodation - probably the best service (depending on what you are searching for of course), you have to speak a minimum of 2 hours per day in English with your host family/person and in exchange they provide you free accommodation (including meals)!!! If I had the time to fly to China, I would take this opportunity right away...
  • Language for free guiding - this option is targeted to those who are scared to go out on themselves in China, without knowing the language or the places and worried to be cheated. Again during the guiding you will have to speak with the "guide" in English (or whatever language you arranged to speak), but what easier than that?
  • Language for Chinese - I can hardly imagine a better opportunity to practice (or even start studying) Chinese than speaking with a native person all the time and teaching each others' languages in a win-win situation
  • Language for traditional Chinese skills - these include painting, calligraphy, cooking, music, etc. and as far as I know to study these is usually very expensive and in group courses for a few hours per week, where the teacher cannot actually guide each "student" individually. If you are interested in such activities, I would recommend you to take the opportunity.
  • Language for long-term rent - this is almost the same as the free accommodation, but as far as I know meals are not provided, and this is mainly for people who would like to start a transition to living in China, or really adventurous ones, who want to live the real life of a native
  • Friendship and Dating - I think the title says it all... if you are into Asians, you could have your life story :)
  • Co-Touring - your "student" could tour around the country with you if you would like it, and I think it's much safer than for example going with friends or family. It's always good to have a native by your side anywhere you go!
  • Paid Home Stay - well, it's definitely cheaper than if you would have to stay in a hotel...
I know what many of you are right now thinking - hey, where's the catch? I'm sorry but I cannot answer as well. I guess there is no catch and the popularity of this site among Chinese is based on the fact that the private language lessons rates in China are incredibly high (in the range of USD60-70 per lesson for English language), which means that it would be much cheaper for a native person to provide you home and food than pay for private lessons.

If you would like to use the full services provided from the management of the project, you should become a VIP member, and I personally think it's totally worth it. There are three ways to become a VIP member:
  1. Donate $25 or more - as stated in the site, the money would be used for aids to poor students in the remote areas of China
  2. Invite 3 new friends - in my opinion the easiest way and I guess your friends won't mind registering and using the services as well
  3. "Finish the web works and publish in the task box on home page." - I seriously don't know what that means, but if you discover, please, inform me
Here are the benefits which you get as a VIP member: VIP Member Rights

Hope you would like it.

Xie-xie for reading :)

    Sep 5, 2010

    Study Scholarships for Japanese Universities

    This is a topic, which I am sure, has been buzzing around the minds of millions of people that are (or were) somehow attracted by Japan. I have noticed that most of the internationals who are starting to study Japanese are either anime fans or are amazed by the brand new technologies, which are being belched out of the country every year. If you have your own reason for studying Japanese or in a Japanese university, I would try to provide some interesting and vital information for you throughout this article. 

    As you probably know, Japan is one of the top countries in the world both in terms of GDP per capita and average annual salary, which means respectively that the living costs are quite high. For some American, English or Australian students the university fees may be relatively low and affordable, but for about 90% of the world population they are too high to be beared. Here comes the help of the numerous scholarships provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology - Japan (MEXT).

    There are 7 types of scholarships depending on what you would apply for. These are:
    1. Research Student - You must be under 35 years of age and a college graduate (includes prospective graduates). Or you must have completed 16 years of schooling.
    2. Teacher Training Students - You must be under 35 years of age and a graduate of a college or teacher training college. You must have at least five years of active experience as a teacher in a primary, secondary or teacher training college in your country. (Please note that college and university teachers currently in active service are not considered for this scholarship). 
    3. Undergraduate University Student - You must be at least 17 and under 22 years of age and have completed 12 years of school education or have completed courses in a school comparable to a high school (includes prospective graduates). 
    4. Japanese Studies Student - Applicants must be from 18 to 30 years old. Applicants must be enrolled as undergraduate students in faculties or schools which major in Japanese language or Japanese culture in a university outside Japan at the time when they come to Japan and must be enrolled in the home institution at the time when they return to their home countries.
    5. College of Technology Students -  You must be at least 17 and under 22 years of age and have completed school education comparable to a high school (a minimum of 11 years beginning in primary school) education (includes prospective graduates). 
    6. Special Training College Students -  You must be at least 17 and under 22 years of age and have completed 12 years of schooling or have completed school education comparable to a Japanese high school (includes prospective graduates). 
    7. Youth Leaders' Programme (YLP) Students - Applicants must be young public administrators and so on, from Asian and other countries participating in the YLP who are expected to play active roles as future national leaders in their respective countries. The participants must be university or college graduates, who have at least 3-5 years' work experiences in public administration or enterprises and so on(*). The screening of the participants is based on recommendations of the recommending authorities.
      (*)There are five different YLP courses, each of which has different qualifications in work experience and affiliation, and the recommending authorities.  
    The website Study in Japan provides in depth information for the requirements you must meet in order to be eligible for application for any of the scholarships. The number of scholarships is limited, so it is not an easy goal but putting enough effort on achieving your dream everything is possible! I know a person who was accepted just after the third attempt, but for example my teacher in Japanese was chosen on his first try and was making a research for 2 years in Kobe University and Osaka University (this was back in the early 90s). However you must notice that in the last years the amount of money given per scholarship is decreasing, but I could assure you that even JPY125,000 is more than enough for you to live happily in Japan (of course this is not the case with Tokyo). 

    I would highly recommend you consider carefully these sites before you take the decision to apply for some kind of study scholarship in Japan:
    In case you have any concerns or you want to share something with me, you could always find me on Facebook, as Nyagoslav Jekov, or you could drop me an e-mail at nyagoslav.zhekov@gmail.com

    Have fun and take care ;)

    P.S. I just came back from visiting the Golden Pavilion!!! It was incredible I must admit!

    Sep 4, 2010

    Work in Japan for a non-native English speaker

    I know that most of the people who are browsing the net in search of any job for foreigners in Japan encounter these two obstacles:
    1. "We are searching for a native English speaker"
    2. "We are searching for a bilingual" (in English and Japanese or in Chinese in Japanese majorly)
    OK, but I am neither native speaker, nor my command in Japanese is perfect. Statistics prove the fact that the opportunities for non-native in English (speaking about the so-called "Westerners") are highly limited. From the overall number of 136,000 non-Asian foreigners in Japan (2003), 60,000 are Americans or Canadians, 18,000 British (English and Irish mostly), 11,500 Australians, and about 4,000 Kiwis, which makes it overall around 95,000 native English speakers. This means that in 2003 in whole Japan there were 40,000 Europeans, whose mother tongue is not English. This is about 0,005% of the total population. Don't get me wrong but if you are trying to find job in Japan, you are not from an English-speaking country, and your Japanese is not at least as good as the one that Japanese themselves speak, you have long way to go. I would recommend you to constantly check some sites that me myself was. These include:
    If you now open the links and check the job opportunities you will most probably notice that there are mostly "English teaching" and "IT" vacant places. For the first one, the chance for you to be chosen if you are not a native speaker is almost 0. I know a Dutch, who went to Japan to search for job for 3 months (he is fluent both in English and Japanese + some other languages), and no, he could not find any job. Anyway, the pesimism aside,  you COULD find jobs if you are flexible enough. Especially if you are in the field of computer and mobile technologies and if you are good at Java, C++, and the likes, you wouldn't struggle too much in your job hunting. Usually you would be required to be fluent in English and probably a basic level in Japanese would be an advantage. But definitely after the English teaching jobs, the IT ones are in highest number.

    As you probably could imagine, I am neither native English or Chinese, nor I speak Japanese, nor I have any serious idea of IT and programming. If you are in the same position as me, you have few opportunities left. There are numerous ads for work in bars, as a model or hostess or even promoter, where you basically just have to shout out some learned by heart phrases and that's all. Of course you could try your luck with the jobs in the field of administration, finance, accounting or even management and marketing, but they require some particular background (as everywhere else in the world) and probably you would need at least some conversational skills in Japanese.

    In conclusion, I would suggest that you are persistant and don't give up after some failures. If your dream is to come to Japan, but your Japanese is not that perfect, you will just have to improve it at least to intermediate level if you want to be able to find a proper job. But if you are just an adventure seeker, the only chance for you might be some kind of internship like the one I am on. The two most famous NPOs that are engaged in that activity are AIESEC and ETIC.

    I hope I was useful with this article. You could always find me on Facebook (Nyagoslav Jekov) or e-mail (nyagoslav.zhekov@gmail.com).

    P.S. If you meet somewhere the word "daijob" or "daijobu", it has nothing to do with job. It means "OK" in Japanese :)

    Chin-chin (Cheers in Brazilian Portuguese; discover yourself what it means in Japanese...)

    Sep 3, 2010

    Internship opportunities in East Asia with AIESEC

    Although AIESEC is one of the biggest student organizations in the world and the biggest student-driven one, I assume that some of you may haven't heard of it, so I will make a very brief introduction. AIESEC is an international student-driven organization and its main purpose is to unite the world's youth through exchange and internships in foreign countries' companies and NPOs. At present it has local offices in 107 countries and territories.

    Anyway, the focus of this article is on internships in East Asia, or Asia Pacific as it is considered in AIESEC's world distribution list. Countries the organization is present in include: Mainland China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan (only in Japanese), Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan (only in Traditional Chinese), Philippines (I am not including here the offices in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, although they are listed in "Asia Pacific" region due to AIESEC, but I guess they are part of South Asia, not East Asia) 

    CHINA. The most active one by far is AIESEC China, and it is also number one in the world. So if you have the strong will to go on internship in East Asia - China is the easiest option for you. It has 17 active local committees at the moment and is expanding further. Largest ones are LC SYSU and LC UIBE and you could find any type of internship from volunteer work for the Shanghai Expo 2010 to internship in Hilton Hotel Beijing (one acquiantance was on such internship).

    HONG KONG. As you probably know the life standard in this small country is extremely high, so you could no problem find internships that pay in the range of US$1200-2200 per month... A good deal for an internship student job don't you think? However, it is tradition there to work even on Saturdays, so you may need to consider that as well.

    TAIWAN. On the contrary, Taiwan provides mostly Development Traineeships. These are internships mostly in NGOs and you usually do not get paid, but you are provided free accommodation and free food. This committee is providing opportunities for those who would like to teach their knowledge to school pupils and at the same time study Chinese.

    KOREA. If I say that there is abundance of opportunities in Korea, I would lie. Usually there are not more than 3-4 internships present and about 99% of the time they are connected to engineering and IT (as could be expected). The payment is not so high and the working hours are long. Consider very carefully if you want to go there. However, the chance that you could be employed permanently high.

    JAPAN. There are 24 committees in Japan, but most of them are not really active during large period of the year. Most internships' requirements are very high and salary is usually sufficient if you live outside Tokyo. Otherwise you will have hard times... I personally matched with AIESEC Kobe and I am living in this city, but working in Osaka (which is much more expensive place). Usually to go on internship to Japan you would need a certain level of Japanese, especially if you are not in the technologies field.

    SOUTH-EAST ASIA (Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia). Although each of these countries' AIESEC has their own specifics, there are some uniting factors, which must be pointed out. I will make it fast and clear - if you want to make money from this internship, this is not the place (unless you want to try your luck with Singapore, but I would suggest you to prepare for a long fight, which has high possibility to be lost in the end). Average work time is 45 hours/week and very often you would be asked to work on Saturdays. However, most of the internships are unpaid (Development Traineeship), but as far as I am concerned, my next stop is Malaysia :)

    P.S. Time for some linguistics. One of the newest words I learned from my girlfriend Jenny, is "kanasai" and it is in hokkien language (kind of Chinese). What it means, you have to discover by yourself!

    Hope you enjoyed! You can always write me on nyagoslav.zhekov@gmail.com or find me on Facebook "Nyagoslav Jekov".

    TTYL

    Sep 2, 2010

    Foreigner in Japan, not speaking Japanese

    My name is Nyagoslav, but you can always refer to me as Nyago. I am Bulgarian but for the past two months I am living in Japan. And yes, I am not living in the Tokyo area. My current residence is in Kobe, Western Japan, about an hour by train to Osaka. I am neither native English speaker, nor I speak Japanese any more than being able to greet and build some simple sentences.

    I am on a 3-month internship in a Japanese food labeling company (food label is the small text on the food package that informs about the calories, ingredients, nutrition, etc.) and I am responsible for the international relations of the company and partly for its marketing. AIESEC is the institution through which I managed to find out the internship I am currently on, but I will explain in detail about the AIESEC organization and internships system in some other post.

    A person who is for the first time in Japan may face many problems, but the biggest and most difficult to overcome one is the language barrier. If you plan to come to Japan and you don't speak Japanese, and furthermore, you do not have any friends or relatives in the country, who could guide you, you are going to find yourself in bad trouble. Japanese DO NOT speak ANY English, and as I say ANY I mean that for 90% of them it is quite difficult to understand anything else than "hi" or "bye" (although they may not even understand the first one as it means "yes" in Japanese). Asking about the direction, street address or "is this food eatable", may prove to be a total fail. Ah, you are probably wondering right now "what about the other 10% who may still understand some simple English???" I am sorry, but those 10%'s English level is equal to the one of a 5-year old non-native child living in USA just for a few months. They may still understand some words, and even they may have quite a broad vocabulary, but when they start speaking you need to power up your patience to the maximum, and most importantly you must not be in a hurry, because the average speed of speaking for a Japanese "who speaks English at least a little bit" is 1 sentence per minute, simple sentence. Official data is that the English speakers in Japan are almost 12% of the population, but I told you at what level most of them are.


    Done with the evaluation of Japanese English, now I could proceed to giving you some tips of how you could actually survive. The advices are targeted to people who are planning to permanently reside in Japan, but those who are purely making a Japan-through trip or going for a holiday or honeymoon, could also find some useful information.

    First of all, before you depart from your home country buy a phrase book or even better - a dictionary and use it frequently. If you have totally no idea of Japanese the best for you would be to buy an English-Japanese dictionary (or "Any Language-Japanese dictionary"), where there is added a latin alphabet transcription of the Japanese words (so called "Romaji"). I would personally recommend that you purchase Kodansha's Basic English-Japanese Dictionary. When you need to go to the shop, pharmacy, restaurant, bus or train station, always consult it beforehand and look up the words you suppose you may need. Japanese may not be good in English, but they are quite smart in nature and saying even one word, like for example "Umeda" (the name of a central station in Osaka), would immediately tell them you are searching for the right train or bus to go there (depending on which is closer to the place you met the person you are asking). I discovered that Japanese are very logical thinkers and sometimes they even amaze me as they truly understand me just by a single word I am pronouncing. It will be a little topic shift but as far as Wikipedia is concerned, Japanese are one of the smartest nations on Earth, occupying the third place in the world in terms of IQ! Nevertheless, they are not prophets, so you need to give them some hint first. Usually in the trains there would be a map of all stops or even an electronic screen showing exactly where you are located right now, which stations have passed and which are to come. Names are very complicated and you have to be quite difficult about the table sign color of the train you are stepping in, as there are 4 different main types:

    Limited Express (red color) - the fastest train, which is stopping at very few major stations
    Express (yellow color) - fast and yet not stopping at every station, but missing the smallest ones
    Semi-Express (green color) - not really frequent train and you don't have to care about it as it could always be substituted by the Express or the Local
    Local (black color) - the slowest train, stopping at every station, which means a stop every 2-3 minutes (use it only if you are totally sure where you are going)

    To tell the truth I am still not very familiar with the lines, and moreover there is more than one company which is operating the city trains. The major ones, however, are JR and Hankyu and you would need to use them most frequently. There are many guys with yellow hats all over the station and you will easily distinguish them by the funny hats. They are authorized to help you if you have any concerns about which train to take, but you should at least know the name of the train station you are heading to or the famous place you want to go to. For example: Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is maybe the most famous monument in Japan for foreigners, but in Japanese it's obviously not called like that and Japanese do not even know what Golden Pavilion means, therefore you need to look it up in a dictionary. However, situations like getting lost or getting on the wrong train are happening to me even now. Today I was late for work because the train I took did not stop at the station I was going to. In such cases the easiest and more uncomplicated is to just take the same train back to the station you started your journey from and give it a second try. It costs nothing (except your time of course).

    Going to a restaurant is another topic, which would be very important for you as a "new Japanese". You would probably always wonder about what the food contains and if its eatable, as some foods may look poisonous (at least for me it was like that). Don't worry about that - Japan's food laws are one of the strictest in the world and the probability that you will eat something harmful is close to 0. However, you may still wonder how big your portion would be as there are nowhere listed the grams (or pounds) of the meal you are going to be served. Let me make it clear - all meals are smaller than you could expect. And believe me if you order only one meal you will definitely be starving only 1 hour later. Prices are extremely varying depending mostly on the area in which the restaurant is located, so if you catch the "Limited Express" (the red train) you will most probably head to some district where price is not worth the size. Don't be surprised if there are many Japanese and even there could be a queue for sitting in this restaurant - Japanese think of the food as an art or something very precious, so they often take plenty of pictures of the meal itself and of themselves eating it. If at some point you get homesickness over food, you may always go to Italian restaurant as there are such in almost every neighborhood.

    For more details or tips, you could always drop me a message at nyagoslav.zhekov@gmail.com

    Kampai! ("Cheers" in Japanese)