Monday, December 31, 2012

Time to Get Your Japanese License Renewed!

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, December 28, 2012

Winter Tires and Chains in Japan

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, December 26, 2012

Guile and Deceit in the Ranks of AKB48

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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Kenmon: Drunk Driving Checkpoints in Japan

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Being Cheap in Japan: Cheap kerosene

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, December 10, 2012

Ugai: Japanese People Love Gargling

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, December 07, 2012

Getting Married in Japan: Wedding types

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, December 05, 2012

Discount Rail, Concert, and Event Tickets in Japan

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, December 03, 2012

e-Statements: Save Money on NTT Internet

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.