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Spotlight: (Thriving and) Surviving in Japan

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I’d like to spotlight a new addition to the recommended blogs here, Surviving in Japan (without much Japanese). This blog/how-to-directory is an ever-growing guide to how to improve your life in Japan if you are not perfectly fluent in Japanese, but are in English. The author, Ashley, is a writer (and part-time teacher) with a good sense of what people settling in to Japan really need to know about. She’s also the new writer for the “Lifelines” column at the Japan Times. There’s no travel-guide-style “wear toilet slippers in the toilet or risk embarrassment!”-style advice here–you can find that in your Lonely Planet. Instead, you get instructions, recommendations, links, photos, and even translations on topics such as

There are lots of other posts on everything from minor issues like how customize your order at Starbucks to critical issues like what to do if your Alien Registration Card is missing. (I’m secretly hoping for a post on reading Japanese nutritional labels at some point! That would be handy for me over here, even.)

This blog is highly recommended for being informative, readable, and essentially performing a public service. If you’re moving to Japan or are already there, check it out! I just wish someone were doing this for every country (and in every language combination!).

You can also follow Ashley on Twitter at @survivingnjapan.

No.

I do not accept guest posts or link exchanges with “online degree” sites or “online TESOL certificate” sites.

Of course, people contacting me to offer such undoubtedly have never actually read my blog. They’re just hunting (or using a program to hunt for) keywords.

But just for the record: The answer is “No.”

(Genuine offers of guest post exchanges, requests for reviews, etc., will always be considered.)

Twitter As a Lifeline

I wrote before that Twitter was like a magic cafe or an eternal, really good TESOL conference, but it can actually be a lifeline in times of disaster.

When the Tohoku Earthquake hit Japan, I was in California, but I was using Twitter at the time, on my @readable account with a lot of Japanese users. Many of them quickly tweeted 地震だ–”it’s an earthquake.” I realized something was wrong when, even fifteen minutes later, they were tweeting things like まだゆれる–”it’s still shaking.”

For people who were and are in a disaster area and are not totally fluent in the local language, the situation can range from stressful to life-threatening. Even being in the Tokyo area (distant from the tsunami and major quake damage), with aftershocks, confusing power outages, train stoppages, and food shortages, is proving a challenge for many people. People who have made a good effort to learn Japanese are still finding that a whole host of new vocabulary is cropping up–planned power outage, aftershock, evacuation, contamination, nuclear power plant, and so on.

For the first couple of days, information from official sources was hard to get (at least overseas) in English–people kept saying to watch NHK World News, but when I turned it on, it was often just a loop of tsunami warnings, or a loop of translated news that I knew to be many hours old. (I knew the news was old because Twitterers like @makiwi, a food writer, and @TimeOutTokyo, an entertainment magazine site’s account, were tweeting live news in English–read about Six 6 Tokyo Tweeters Who Kept the City Informed here. And while NHK World News was behind, CNN and MSNBC and so on were woefully behind, and just so bad overall that I quit bothering with them. Meanwhile, BBC’s radio announcers mangled Japanese place names so badly that I couldn’t understand where they meant, which was pretty useless. While there was some good mainstream reporting later [caveat], I would not currently rely on these news outlets in a crisis where I needed to make decisions.)

During this time, and even (to a great extent) now, if you wanted to get information about things like the current status of the nuclear plants, who could help with emergency translation (seriously–medical experts were volunteering on the spot!), what all those microsieverts and millisieverts meant, where you could get shelter, how you could get from Point A to Point B with the expressways closed, where get temporary medication refills, which train lines were running, where to buy bread and batteries, how to use Google People Finder to check on survivors, who would take English-speaking volunteers, where to get information on cooking with limited resources, how to extend a visa or replace a passport, and so on, you could find the answers on Twitter. And during the aftermath, many of my Japanese friends say that Twitter has also helped them feel less alone, more reassured, and constantly encouraged, despite the stress and confusion. Some people have criticized Twitter for spreading hoaxes and rumors, but those spread by word of mouth, too (and for, heaven’s sake, even newspapers). Critical thinking, asking questions, and checking with reliable Twitterers all go a long way.

People rapidly came together on Twitter to help each other find information, connect users to other users who could translate something or supply an answer, and otherwise assist each other (even outright offering spare rooms to strangers). I noticed people’s lists of followers exploding, and not just those (like @makiwi and @TimeOutTokyo) who were valiantly translating NHK live and otherwise providing information you couldn’t get anywhere else.

Anyway, I can tell you that if I’d been in Japan, I wouldn’t have wanted to have been without Twitter. At the moment of a crisis, of course, it’s better to head for high ground, get under your desk, or whatever rather than checking Twitter (although at least one person was apparently rescued from a rooftop due to Twitter, since he wasn’t able to make a call but could send a tweet!). After that first moment, though, Twitter’s usefulness really kicks in. Disasters of one kind or another–floods, invasions, earthquakes, wildfires, uprisings–can happen almost anywhere. And despite the way we humans naturally tend to think, you’re not immune to disasters if you’re an outsider who is only there for a year or two: without fully-developed family and social networks, high-level language skills, knowledge of your surroundings, a fully-stocked household, and so on, you are probably more vulnerable.

Of course, you can’t necessarily sit there and wait for information to flow in–you need to either already have a well-developed Twitter network or be willing to seek out and find additional useful people to follow (or both). And you need be adventurous and creative in your use of English and the local language to search Twitter for the information you need (and not hesitate to ask people who might be helpful). Two places to start are 1) my Twitter guide for ESL students (simplified, but suitable for anyone, including people who use Twitter but haven’t explored its various functions–hashtags, for example, became very useful for regional information-sharing), and 2) my Twitter lists. To use Twitter lists, click on the name of the list and then the “Following: ” tab at the top. You can choose to follow individual members, who will show up in your Twitter timeline as usual. Or you can follow the whole list, but the members won’t show up in your timeline unless you also follow them individually. To read tweets from the list, you’ll have to go look at the list in your Twitter app or on Twitter.com.

Anyway, sorry for the length, but I hope this is useful to someone (although I suppose it’s better if it’s not, eh?). If you have any questions, let me know–and take care!

Please take a moment ….

dousojin by me

Please consider donating to ongoing relief efforts in Japan. Many people in the northeastern areas still do not have access to sufficient food and other supplies, and those coastal villages were not wealthy to start out with (fishing and farming villages disproportionately inhabited by the elderly). I donated to Second Harvest Japan (also accepting volunteers in Japan). TimeOutTokyo has more suggestions about how people both inside and outside Japan can help, plus things you can buy, including music.

If you’d like to read more about the situation, I recommend the posts at Global Voices. They’ve translated posts from Japan into a variety of different languages (e.g., Onagawa, the Hometown I Once Knew.)

Anyway, thank you for reading this, and take care wherever you are (and remember to prepare for whatever disasters tend to strike your part of the world–even if you’re just living there for a year or two!).