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Monday

So, I got one of these in the mail:


You can click on it to enlarge.

It's a post card you'll receive a couple months before your driver's license expires in Japan, which is coincidentally aligned with your birthday. So if you thought it might be a congratulatory message from your prefectural traffic safety association, I'm sorry to break the bad news.



Friday

If you live in the mountains of Japan like I do, you probably have seen your local service stations fill up with lines of cars waiting to get their tires changed.

This winter tradition has always mistified me. Despite being from a part of the US with plenty of snow, I almost never see anyone change their tires seasonally. But then again we don't really have any mountains and dangerously curvey roads to speak of. Also, just about every other car has four wheel drive and roads are plowed regularly.

While you may be tempted to be a dare devil, investing in a good pair of "stud-less tires" is a good idea, especially if you live somewhere where snow accumulates.



Wednesday

The well-populated song and dance group AKB48 has been a pop culture staple in Japan for the past four or five years. Their creator, Yasushi Akimoto, kind of took the nation by storm with his idea to make a gigantic 48-girl pop performing group that could then be split into several subgroups to tour and perform live in multiple locations simultaneously, increasing accessibility to fans. Additionally, with 48 "varied" personalities, fans can choose and follow a member that they find specifically appealing. It was like everyone had completely forgotten about Hello! Project's Morning Musume.

Anyway, AKB48 holds a variety of annual televised events to popularize the group and give fans a sense of interaction. One of those events is a giant Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament held between all of the group's members in single-elimination matchups. The grand victor is awarded the lead spot on one of the group's CD singles released in the following year.



Monday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. I just picked up the keys to my new place, and now I'm dropping off my first load of boxes.

Week 4, Tuesday:
It's already nighttime when I walk into my new place, and it's probably thanks to lights shining in from my neighbors' homes that I realize another hole in my carefully planned move: I'm going to need enough curtains for all the windows in my new home.



Friday

I am sure that you don't need a blog post to tell you that drinking and driving is an all around terrible idea no matter what country you live in. However, during these festival holiday times, many people may be tempted to try and test their luck after having a nip or two at the office holiday party.

However, before you decide to tempt fate keep in mind that the Japanese police are on their game when it comes to looking for drunk drivers on the road.



Wednesday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. I just finished calling the electric company to make sure I have light in the new place (and am not still paying for light in the old place). Now I need to call about the water and gas.

Week 4, Tuesday:
It hasn't been so long since I first started looking at new apartments online, but already I find myself going to pick up the key to my new place.



Friday

Just in case you have been taking a prolonged vacation in Okinawa or you are just generally not all that aware of your surroundings, we here at AccessJ would like to remind you that the Japanese winter is upon us. And with winter comes the inevitable realization (or re-realization) that Japanese houses are freezing.

One of the major heating sources in Japanese homes is kerosene (toyu 灯油) which is readily available at just about every gasoline stand. However, with the way oil prices are going these, a standard 18 liter tank of kerosene can be a bit of a pain in the wallet. Let's take a look at some pro tips for getting cheaper kerosene.



Monday

When I was a little kid, my parents and teachers drilled into me the importance of hand-washing for staving off colds and other illness. At the time I was terrified to think that there were things crawling around on my skin that I couldn't see, and I became paranoid about shaking other peoples' hands or sharing a glass or utensil with anyone else. I eventually got over it, but it took the better part of two decades.

In Japan as well, hand-washing is considered an important sanitary measure and children are taught to do it from an early age. Elementary school teachers and junior high school teachers (yes, really) demonstrate proper hand-washing behavior to students and then watch as students practice. Presumably offering tips. "Make sure to scrub all the way up to your wrist, Timmy!"

Now, hand-washing in Japan offers plenty of tangents to spiral off on, like the rarity of soap, paper towels, and hot water in public restrooms or the crazy little sink lids outfitted on toilet water tanks (you are supposed to wash your hands with the water that pours into the tank at the end of the flush cycle).

But the one I want to talk about today is the inseparable partner of hand-washing in Japan: The gargle.



Friday

The road to a happy marriage is fraught with choices. What ring do you buy? What do you say to your bride's parents? All these questions and more will likely be nagging you right up until your happy day.

Unfortunately, we here at AccessJ can't help you with these questions but we can help you make sense of the variety of wedding ceremonies available in Japan to make your life a bit easier.



Wednesday

Looking to save some money on train tickets, event tickets, department store gift cards, or even postage stamps in Japan? The 金券ショップ (kinken shoppu, "discount ticket shop") might be one of the most overlooked saving tricks among English speakers in Japan.

It's a pawn shop that deals specifically in tickets and gift cards, and its cornerstone items are transit fares--shinkansen, local trains, and long distance buses. Usually located next to major railway stations in cities, this shop is an easy way to save a few bucks whenever you're planning to travel. They are usually tiny storefronts with a single counter and often-handwritten signage you mistake for a travel agency: dozens of destination cities listed up and down the storefront along with the (shinkansen) ticket prices to those cities.



Monday

Bills from NTT are the largest (physically, as in size of the document and envelope) piece of monthly utility-related mail I get at home. It seems like a pretty big waste of paper for a billing amount that never changes month-to-month and which I can already and more easily double check by flipping open my bank book.

In fact, for some months I was getting two giant envelopes regularly, as NTT reminded me over and over again that they were switching to a new billing system run by the newly established company NTT Finance. (Further thinning the guise that the NTT telephony monopoly was ever really broken up in Japan...)

So the other day I signed up for NTT e-statements. It's a pretty easy procedure, and it knocks a simple 100 yen off of your monthly bill. Since you're probably roped into a 2-year contract with them anyway, in the long run that's about $30 saved.

To do this, you can still contact a representative at NTT East's @Billing service or NTT West's MyBilling service, but since all the financial transactions of both are handled through NTT Finance now, that's ultimately where you'll end up. So on NTT Finance's site, hit the apply (お申し込み) button and fill in your account information.



Friday

Now that winter is upon us, it seems fitting to post something about this author's favorite winter pastime: lounging around naked in hot baths with a bunch of dudes. If you have not tried your local hot spring or "onsen" (温泉), you are missing out on a truely relaxing experience. 

Since both myself and LP have talked about finding local onsen as well as finding semi-private baths, it seems only fitting that we cover some ground rules for onsen bathing.



Wednesday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. I just finished calling the electric company to make sure I have light in the new place (and am not still paying for light in the old place). Now I need to call about the water and gas.

Week 4, Monday:
Now that I've got one call done, I approach the next two with more confidence.


The call to the water company runs a course very similar to the electricity call; What's my name and account number? What's my old address? What day do I want the water turned off at the old place? (two weeks from now) What's my new address? And what day do I want the water running there? (today) They also confirm my bank account details.

Now all that's left is the gas.



Monday

Japan is big in the world of social networking. I don't mean Facebook or LINE or whatever else is popular for showing your friends how many friends you have. I mean, in order to get things done in Japan (just like elsewhere), it helps a lot to "know a guy" or to have some connection.

Examples? In all the job interviews I've passed here, the interviewers at some point dropped the phrase, 何か縁があるようですね。 "Oh, you went to that university? We're invested in a research center there." "Oh, you play concert piano? We're affiliated with a conservatory." "Oh, you taught at that school? My daughter's a graduate." Who your family is, where you went to school, and who you work for are all a big deal, and being able to say, "I was referred to you by such-and-such," can open doors that may have otherwise stuck fast. (Interestingly, this is the same country in which references are often unasked for in job applications.)



But perhaps the biggest examples of this reference culture in Japan is the guarantor.



Friday

Continuing on from our introduction to marriage in Japan, today we will look at fun-filled process of selecting wedding venues.

If you are not a girl, chances are that embarking on a search for the perfect wedding hall is about as exciting as filing your income tax returns. But if you are an awesome husband-to-be-like myself, you will devote your every waking hour to helping your dear fiancee find the wedding venue of her dreams.



Wednesday

This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. I just finished cancelling my old contracts, and now I'm ready to move in--almost. Before I get the key, I need to make some important phone calls.

Week 4, Monday:
After a relaxing weekend, which may or may not have involved packing things into cardboard boxes, it's time to get back to work.

A gaping hole in my moving plans that I've been blissfully ignoring until now concerns my utilities. I've gotta tell the electricity, gas, and water companies that I need those services stopped at the old place and started at the new place.



Monday

Among the dregs of Japanese television, I have a guilty pleasure. Aside from NHK morning news and those relaxing nature shows (of which I'll write shortly), Japanese TV seems pervaded by questionably acted soap operas and, I think, essentially one cookie-cutter variety show whose shiny chrome finish wears off after you've seen its formula repeated over and over for a few months.

Enter the guilty pleasure. I know that this show I'm about to introduce is just the same thing over and over again. I know it fits the variety show pattern almost to a "T" (--it's only missing the wipe.) And yet I cannot get enough of it. Aside from dry wit I import from home (in quantity to match the local schedule's dearth), it may be the only thing playing on my screen to which I audibly laugh. And laugh I do, with consistency, occasionally to the point of tears.

The show isn't new to old Japan hands. In fact, it's about to enter its 43rd year, the same guy hosting the show since its debut in 1971.



Friday

No doubt you have heard about Japan's legendary $100 melons and various other exorbitantly priced foods. "Gift melons" not withstanding, going to the grocery store in Japan may seem a bit expensive considering the size of the portions you get. However, there is a cheap alternative, at least when it comes to select fruits and vegetables: the chokubai-ten and farmer's market.



Wednesday

This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. My new apartment contract is about to start, and I'm running out of time to cancel my old contracts. (That's a plural because my parking space and apartment were contracted separately and spaced a few hundred meters apart from each other.) Last post I cancelled my parking space, and this time I'll get on that old apartment contract.

Week 3, Friday:
When I found and contracted my old apartment, I was using a rental agency. Since these agencies don't usually own the properties that they are showing, they act as intermediaries and are listed as such on the rental contract. In Japanese they're referred to as the 仲介会社 (chuukai gaisha). They introduced you to the apartment, and they may have handled all the documents and details when you signed for it, but the contract is ultimately between you and the owner.

Sometimes the property owner requests that the 仲介会社 handles all the details in termination of a contract, too. But other owners may prefer to handle terminations themselves. That was the case for me.



Monday

Well, now that you're probably wondering whether Amano Foods sent us a big check to write last week's article (ahaha, that's a good one: making money from blogging), we've got another food tip for you.

Because of the really poor fiber content of Japan's omnipresent white rice and very, very white bread, frequent and delicious green, leafy salads can be a great addition to your diet here. (And they give you a good reason to try out all the Japanese-market-specific salad dressings here.)

The problem I run into, though, is that I'm not familiar with a lot of the greens commonly sold here. Sure, I can recognize cabbage (キャベツ), lettuce (レタス), spinach (ほうれん草)--which when you eat raw will bring bug-eyed stares from Japanese people--and even "Chinese cabbage" (白菜), but there are a lot of other greens on the local supermarket shelf that weren't common for me back home.

Today I'll introduce one that's easy to use, cheap, and grown domestically year-round: Mizuna (水菜).



Friday

In Japan, houses and apartments are typically outfitted with either LP gas or "toshi" gas to serve in, primarily, cooking and water heating needs.

Let's take a look at where gas is used in the Japanese house and what the difference between these two types are.



Wednesday

Every once in a while I like to introduce some Japanese product that I've fallen in love with. Miso soup is something I enjoy adding to a meal... but not enough to pull out a pot and make it from scratch every day. And although there are many, many brands that put out single-serving packets of miso soup, it took me a really long time to find one that I thought tasted really good.



Monday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post I signed on the new apartment. The contract will now be sent to my guarantor, and in the meantime I have a lot of other things to take care of:

Week 3, Thursday:
I'm ready to move into the new place, and deadlines are coming up for me to contact my current landlords to cancel the contracts on my old apartment and parking space. I'll take care of the parking space today.



Friday

When I bought my car I was told that it came with a "remote engine starter" (rimooto enjin sutaataa リモートエンジンスターター). I am not much of a car person so this wasn't such a big deal to me at the time of purchase. However, I am an extremely lazy person. And now that the the colder months of the year are upon us, I have started to use my starter for the first time to warm up my car.

As it turns out, many drivers in Japan opt for a remote engine starter, even in places that aren't very cold. Let's take a look how to pimp out your J-ride.



Wednesday

This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post we started looking at the contract and other documents you sign before you move in. Today's post covers two more important notices I got from my agency at this stage.

Week 3, Tuesday:
So I've looked at and inkan stamped the two biggies: ① The Contract, and ② The 重要事項説明書. What remains to be clarified is through what means I'll be paying for this apartment month-to-month and the bill from the agency that must be settled before I can move in.



Monday

This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post I thought to check for Internet reviews of my new apartment... after I'd already made the down payment. Fortunately I didn't find any unpleasant surprises online.

Week 3, Tuesday:

The real estate agent calls me in: My rental contract has arrived. I stop by in the evening to sign and stamp my inkan on several documents.

A fair number of complicated documents are involved in this step. We'll work through them one or two at a time:



Friday

I am sure that you don't need a blog post to tell you that getting married complicated business. While I am no wedding planner, I am currently going through the knot tieing process here in Japan and I figured that I would share my sage advice with all you potential bride and grooms to be.

Whether you are marrying a local or just want to have a Japanese wedding, AccessJ is here to help!



Japan, being the maverick that it is, has very different way of going about regular physicals. Believe it or not, physicals are not covered by health insurance on account of the fact that work places are legally obligated to provide medical screenings (kenko shindan 健康診断) for their employees.

While medical screens are comprehensive, they are usually conducted in a conveyor-belt fashion and are not particularly invasive. If you are in your mid thirties or forties, it is recommended that you instead get a "full physical examination," known as 人間ドック (ningen doku).



Wednesday

This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post I got quotes from some moving companies. I didn't haggle as much as I should have, but I set a date to have my big furniture and appliances moved to the new place.

Week 3, Monday:
Belatedly, I think to check online reviews for the new building I'm moving into. Consumer reviews posted on the Internet have helped me make a lot of purchase decisions in the past. One site for reviews on Japanese apartments is Mansion-Review.jp. It is certainly not free of fake reviews posted by property owners and agencies, but the occasional legitimate review can provide insight about nighttime noise and area traffic during commute hours.



Monday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post I got around a potentially discriminatory second guarantor requirement and now I'm thinking about logistics of the actual move. (OK, it wasn't actually discriminatory.)

Week 3, Sunday (Continued):
In the meantime, I have sent requests to two 引越し会社 (hikkoshi gaisha, moving companies), asking them to provide estimates on cost of moving all my big furniture and appliances to the new place. A representative from one company arranges to meet me that evening.

I point out the items that I'm asking to have moved and the timeframe I'm considering. He calculates for a moment and spits out 31,000 yen. I didn't know what to expect, but it still seemed steep. After all, I'm saying that I'll take care of all the little stuff. I only want them to move big items that I can't handle myself and which can't fit in my car.



Friday

Now that we have covered high level JLPT reading (see our posts on practicing with newspapers and opinion pieces) and listening practice (via radio and television), we can now move on to everyone's favorite topic: grammar.



Wednesday

Back in May, we covered the new Zairyu Card (在留カード) being issued to foreigners in Japan. This card replaces the old Alien Registration Card (外国人登録証明書).

The change is optional for the validity of your card, your period of stay (在留期間), or until July 8, 2015, whichever comes first. Up until that time limit, you can continue using your old Alien Registration Card as an equivalent to the Zairyu Card.

But, there are a few complications that might incline you to hang on to the old ARC as long as possible:



Monday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post I signed a formal application, made the down payment, and now I'm waiting for the application to be reviewed by the property owner.

Week 3, Sunday:
I hit my first road bump. The building owner calls me directly. My application has been flagged because I am not Japanese, and they want some extra assurances. Specifically he asks about my guarantor, who lives in another prefecture. I'm told that he lives too far away. Considering my circumstances, a guarantor living in the same prefecture as me would be preferable. Isn't there someone nearby whom I can ask?

I explain that I have provided the only contact whom I feel comfortable asking to be financially responsible for me. I don't know anyone else well enough to ask such a favor of them, and particularly not within my current prefecture. From the owner's uncomfortable silence, it is clear that this answer is unsatisfactory.



Friday

With the winter JLPT fast approaching, I though it would be a good opprotunity to post about one of my favorite reading exercises: the opinion piece. Let's take a look at how to boost your eye-wateringly long passage reading skills!



Wednesday

In all our fury of thrice weekly posting, filling our beloved readers' heads with (sometimes) useful and (sometimes) funny information about how to not simply live but thrive in Japan, AccessJ's second birthday almost slipped by without a proper tip of the hat.

Coincidentally, this is also our 500th post.

That's five hundred articles to help make your life better in Japan. Sure, you've probably skimmed our list of recent posts and moused over the popular posts display (whose top contenders might just be interned there for life), but have you taken a good look at our archives? In two years, we've run the gamut of:



Monday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post I found some apartments I liked, and now I'm ready to sign on one of them.

Week 2, Friday:
I decide on one apartment and email "Mr. T" (my agent) to make sure it is still available. He responds that it is and again encourages me to hurry up and sign on it before anyone else does!! I tell him I'll be in sometime soon.



Friday

When it comes to the reading section of the JLPT, time is of the essence. However, there are plenty of ways to hone your speed reading before test day. Let's take a look at one of my favorite methods.



Wednesday


This post continues my chronicle of moving to a new apartment in Japan. Last post, I checked out some places online and now I'm ready to look at properties in person.

Week 1, Tuesday:
Within a day, replies come for two of the three apartments from 仲介会社, chuukai gaisha, the real estate agencies that interface between property owners and renters (or buyers) in Japan. I stop by one of the agencies when I happen to be out shopping nearby that same evening.

The agency's employees (after confirming I can communicate with them and that I haven't just inadvertently wandered into the wrong place) ask about my requirements (quiet, under ten years old or newly renovated, on-site parking, reasonable commute), then prepare printouts detailing several different apartments. The agent who emailed me, "Mr. T," offers to drive me around to see some properties that evening. I grab my camera and visit three apartments I liked on paper, but am less impressed when I see them in person.



Monday

You've decided that user shaken just isn't for you. Because of time constraints, necessary maintenance, or whatever else, asking a business to take care of your shaken just seems to make more sense.

There are a lot of places that can provide this service. A lot of them advertise right outside their shop with huge banners reading 車検! But which one is best? Which is the cheapest? Is there any difference at all?



Friday

Even if you have never set foot in Japan, there is a good chance you have heard of the unbridled wackiness that is Japanese television. Believe it or not, the inanity that is makes up the bulk of silly game shows and variety shows can be a treasure trove of kanji and listening knowledge for all those who are trying to master the Japanese Language Proficency Test.



Wednesday

In our archives, we have a lot of great articles about moving house within Japan. We cover a lot of basics, from a checklist of things you'll need to do before and after the move, to explanations of common terms in the Japanese real estate gig like shikikin and reikin, common features of apartments, and a description of how Japanese apartments are classified.

What we haven't done, yet, is provide a real time account of what steps you go through when you decide you want to move from one rental property to another. Over the next few weeks, I'll share one of my own moving experiences in Japan. If you're planning a move yourself, I hope you find some good information in it, and if you don't have a move in mind yet, I hope you find the read entertaining.



Monday

If you don't have time to do your shaken yourself, you can do what a majority of Japanese car owners do: Ask a business to take care of the process for you.

Although figures for the process have long been quoted online as something between 100,000 and 200,000 yen (hell, even we once did), these numbers were very different from my experience. For my car, a 2.6L, 1400 kg white plate in good working order, shaken through a big box store (e.g. Autobacs, Yellow Hat) cost 72,000 yen.



Friday

For those of you who are aiming for the upper echelons of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), serious listening practice is a must. And I am not talking about the "let's go to a bar and talk to the tipsy locals" sort of practice. Believe it it or not, one of your best weapons is the good old fashioned radio.



Monday

Earlier this year, Dom put together an awesome and very comprehensive shaken (車検) guide explaining how to get Japan's mandatory vehicle safety inspections done by yourself at your regional Land Transport Bureau.

I got excited, printed up all the necessary forms, and started scanning my calendar for a date, only to realize I'd arranged my schedule in such a fashion that there'd be no way for me to visit my bureau on a weekday to get the tests done.



Friday

If you work in a public school, then you may have noticed that, come the end of the year, many teachers are transferred to other locations. In big schools, it is not uncommon for a good portion of the staff to pack up at the end of the school year and, if you are lucky, you might just be able to get rid of that one teacher you just can't stand.

This part of a time honored tradition known as jinji ido (人事異動), often translated as "personnel transfer." Let's take a closer look...



Wednesday


It's been 36 degrees outside for long enough to give in and buy an エアコン (air-con) unit. But what's the best deal? They seem to range in price from 30,000 to 120,000 yen. The cheapest air-con unit in Japan, if you don't have the apparatus already set up for a wall-mounted unit, is a portable window conditioner. Full details below:



Monday

I've been trying out some new recipes over the summer and hit on a particularly simple one that's both healthy and cheap to make--helping it fit right in with Dan's current selection of AccessJ posts on saving money in Japan. Better yet, a post like this is an easy place to review some Japanese kitchen words. So, get your pot in one hand and memo pad in the other; we're about to cook up some good old Japanese nimono (煮物)!



Friday


If you come from a country like US where even low denomination currency is in bill form, then you might be in for a bit of a surprise when you find how much coinage is in circulation. This can lead to a problem I call the "quarter delusion."



Wednesday


There are two basic types of air-con units in Japan: wall mounted and window mounted (let's ignore the industrial ceiling-mounts for now). Each has it's pros and cons which will be discussed in the next couple of weeks. For now, let's look at the factors which determine if a unit retails for the low end (30,000 yen and up) or the high end (120,000++).



Monday


Dashi (だし汁, dashi-jiru) is a cornerstone of Japanese cooking. It's like "starting with a roux" in a Southern-US cookbook. Dashi appears as an ingredient in dozens of Japanese menu items, from miso soup to broth for udon noodles.