The ALT Insider guest post!

In the space of little more than a year, ALT Insider has become the one-stop-shop for those of us who ply our trade as token gaiji…er, I mean English teaching assistants in Japanese schools, and seeing as James – the man who rules over the ALT Insider kingdom – was kind enough to let me write a guest post for his site, in the spirit of reciprocity, here’s his contribution to the United Kingdom of Muzuhashi. Read, enjoy, and if you’re an ALT in Japan, I strongly recommend that you check out ALT Insider (for example, probably my favourite post is this one about how to skive off work without incurring the wrath of either your vice-principal or your dispatch company).

Friday 13th September 2015 – My home to the 7-11 (自宅 – コンビニ)
Presents received – receipt, smile, several hundred pictures of college students

On a random Friday in a September like any other, I took a break from the endless hilarity that is Japanese TV and walked to the fridge to grab a drink. Upon opening it, I realized my only thirst-quenching options were the remnants of a slightly expired quart of milk, and a large bottle of Sirachi hot sauce.

I considered my options. I could take a chance on the milk being okay to drink, but the potential downside would leave me hunched over and unwell. I could sip on the hot sauce, but aside from that not being very thirst quenching, a mistake could force me chug the milk, adding another monkey wrench to the equation.

Without an appealing option, I decided that I was going to take action to improve my situation. I was going to make the trek to a convenience store. I knew the path well. I wouldn’t need any supplies other than a bike and the clothes on my back. I took a quick shower, gave myself a pre-biking massage, and began to squeeze into my biking shorts.

A mere 45 minutes later, I bid farewell to the cat and locked the door behind me as I left. As I heard the twist of the lock, I felt that familiar feeling when any great quest begins.

What awaited me on my journey? What characters would play a part in this tale? How did that cat get into my house? What treasure was awaiting me at my destination? Seriously, though, whose cat was that?

As I pondered those questions, I arrived at my bike garage. Okay, it’s not actually “mine,” but rather more of a community garage over which I claim ownership to feel better about myself.

Anyhow, in my glorious garage, I was presented with a pair of options:

The first was a pink beauty I nicknamed The Stallion. No gears, no basket, no rules.

The second was an orangey yellow stunner upon which I bestowed the name Puddle Dancer. It boasted a basket, a semi-flat tire, and a locking system that isn’t functional.

Since I felt like living dangerously, I hopped on Puddle Dancer and prepared to depart. I input the address into my iPhone, and I was ready to roll.

Departure time: 3:15

If everything went well, I was scheduled to arrive at the convenience store at 3:17, but I’ve been on enough of these bike trips to know that you should always expect the unexpected. I pressed on.

After I pushed the pedals a few times and breathed in that smooth Japan air, my jitters quickly disappeared. I was officially on my way. Sometimes on these epic quests, that feeling of, “Wow, this is really happening,” doesn’t show up until the middle, and sometimes even later than that. On this trip, however, it came nice and early, which is a great feeling. I took a selfie to commemorate the rush of adrenaline.

About half a minute later, now that I was within viewing distance of my destination, I picked up the pace. Was it excitement about being so close to my goal? No, it was something deeper than that. There is this really huge dog that scares me, so I speed when I go through his domain.

With Cujo in my rear-view mirror, I foolishly sighed in relief. The feeling wouldn’t last.

As I turned onto the road with the 7-11, a huge herd of college students appeared, blocking my path! I could have probably cleared them out through my usual tactic of acting like a lost foreigner asking for directions in English, but these quests are defined by their uniqueness, so I chose to wait it out.

After waiting countless minutes for them to pass, I pulled into the 7-11 with a feeling of sincere satisfaction. Not because most of the students were wearing skirts and it was a windy day (or at least not exclusively because of that), but because I had made the effort and took the risks to get what I wanted and to grow as a person.

There are too many people out there who don’t go after what they want. I’ve met so many people who, if put into the same situation as I was, would have just settled for that two-day-old milk or the hot sauce. Probably more people would have just settled for tap water. It takes a bit more to be someone who leaves the safety of home and treks to the great unknown to satisfy a thirst.

I set the bar higher. And I know you can, too.

The next time you need something, don’t settle for tap water (or your situation’s equivalent). Go for it. Make the effort. Take that selfie. Wait for those students. Go to that conbini.

I’m James Winovich.


James Winovich is the creator of, a website all about helping people have more fun in Japan. Lesson plans, a podcast, and a huge archive of articles are waiting for you there. Have more fun during your time in Japan.