Monday, November 25, 2013

Pain Medication in Japan

So, recently I talked a little about the big pharmacy chains in Japan. But if you're like me, even after you find and walk inside a Japanese pharmacy, you have a bit of difficulty identifying and choosing what you want to buy. Part of this is simple brand unfamiliarity, and part of it is the language barrier--and I'm sorry to say that in my experience, it doesn't get much better with time. Even after I learned Japanese to a tolerable degree, I found that it is a skill of conscious effort. It is still very easy for me to just "tune out" Japanese characters when I'm presented with advertisements, billboards, and product packaging. If I want to know what they say, I have to stop and think about it.

So, anyway, let's get to the point: You've got a headache, you're in Japan, and you want something OTC to take care of it. Here are some of your options:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Off Brand Medications in Japan

Getting over the counter (OTC) drugs in Japan can be an expensive proposition. The Japanese drug market is heavily protected from foreign competition and large pharmacies and drug companies still have a cartel-like lock on the market, even after the liberalization of online drug sales. If you are looking to by in bulk it is actually sometimes cheaper to go to the doctor and get a prescription as prescription drugs are heavily price controlled.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Chain Pharmacies in Japan

This is a list of some of the major nationwide and regional pharmacy chains in Japan where you can purchase OTC medical supplies. This list is by no means complete, but covers many of the major players in the Japanese pharmacy market.

For more information about pharmacies and drugs in Japan, check out Dan's series of articles here on AccessJ:
Pharmacies and Prescriptions in Japan
Over the Counter Drug Laws in Japan
Online Drug Sale Laws in Japan

Friday, November 15, 2013

NISA: Nippon Individual Saving Accounts

Warm up your engines, eager non-instutional investors, because a new type of tax free trust account is coming to town. That's right, I am talking about the much hyped NISA or Nippon Individual Saving Account (shogaku toshi hi-kazei seido 少額投資非課税制度) that is starting up next year. If you are investing in the future (and you should be!), then this new system is a good opprotunity to get your foot in the investment door. Let's take a look...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Tips when Selling a Car in Japan

I'm in the market for a new set of wheels--to replace my old ones. As I mentioned in my previous post, I've met a lot of people as I've visited a dozen new and used car dealerships to ask about buying something new, and about selling the one I have now. Much of the information differs from what (admittedly little) I knew about buying and selling cars in the US. In today's post, I'll continue to share more of my findings:

Friday, November 08, 2013

Japan Factoid: Nintendo playing cards

Most die hard fans of games giant Nintendo have probably heard by now that the storied company was originally a playing card maker. But I bet you didn't know that to this very day you can still buy yourself a brand new set of 任天堂 cards.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

TP#2: Difficult Japanese Phrases

Some of the most difficult words to translate are those that are context sensitive, or need wildly different translations depending on context. I'll take a look at four tricky Japanese → English interpretations in context today: ① もったいない (mottainai), ② しょうがない (shou ga nai, also 仕方ない shikata nai), ③ 面倒くさい (mendoukusai), and the pervasive Japanese ④ よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegaishimasu)。

① 三連休が仕事で潰れそう。もったいない...
I'm going to lose my whole three day weekend to work. What a waste.
Alternatively: What a shame.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Tips when Buying a Car in Japan

I'm in the market for a new set of wheels, and have been to visit just about every new and used dealer in my immediate area, plus a few more across town (and out of town). A lot of the people I've met have been very cool and have shared their tips with me about buying and selling cars in Japan. Much of the information differs from what (admittedly little) I knew about the process in the US. In today's post, I'll share some of my findings:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Translation Practice #1

This is a foray into the world of Japanese university entrance exam translations (大学入試英作文), with some notes on the things I learn along the way.

Without further ado, let's get started! Today's source is a list of 2009 private university problems from the ticc PukiWiki.

Friday, October 25, 2013

It's in Your Blood: Japan's obession with blood types

For a long while, I thought that the standard blood groupings ( A, B, AB, and O) only had to do with microscopic antigens on my cells. Boy was I wrong. As it turns out, your blood type determines everything about you core personality...or at least that is what many people in Japan seem to believe.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Your Visa Status After Divorce in Japan

"What happens to your visa status after you get a divorce?" I've heard a variety of opinions on this subject from forums like Gaijinpot. Some people claim that divorce, for those staying and/or working in Japan on a spousal visa, means renunciation of your status of residence (在留資格). Others assert that you are still eligible to stay in the country until the printed date (在留期間) on which that last-issued spousal status of residence expires.

To complicate the issue, until recently there was no clear legal impetus for a divorced foreign national to report the divorce to immigration. Some people seemed to just fly under the radar for as long as possible.

Recent updates to the immigration laws have made this issue much clearer:

In short, if you get a divorce, you'll need to apply for a change in status of residence as soon as possible if you intend to remain in Japan.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Immigration Bureau's Online "e-Notification" Service

Under Japan's recently revised immigration laws, foreign residents of the country are explicitly instructed to inform the Ministry of Justice Immigration Bureau of any changes to information they've registered with the bureau. For example, when you change jobs or get a divorce, you're now required to notify the immigration bureau and can face penalties for failing to do so.

To ease the burden of these notifications, the Immigration Bureau has established an online notification service that allows foreign residents to log in and submit many (but not all, as we'll see) of the legally required notifications without making a time-consuming and, for some, costly visit to the nearest regional or branch office.

Monday, October 07, 2013

What is a "Special Permanent Resident", Anyway?

"Special Permanent Resident." It's a term that plagues Japanese immigration legalese, and I've only ever had a vague inkling of what it means. It identifies a group of people that, for some reason or other, has been granted special permission to be in Japan indefinitely without needing to notify the immigration bureau of working situation or marital status, but whose members are still not recognized as actual citizens in Japan.

I'd heard stories of how, especially in the late 80's and early 90's, the MOJ wrote out some special immigration laws to encourage ethnically Japanese Brazilians and other South Americans to come to Japan as laborers. And I knew that there were a lot of ethnic Koreans in Japan whose families had lived here for generations but had been and sometimes still are marginalized to certain communities and severely discriminated against. They had been encouraged to come into the country and stay here for the long haul, but not as citizens.

All these people were the ones the government was talking about when it used the term "Special Permanent Resident," right?

Monday, September 30, 2013

RTK: The Best Kanji Study Tool I've Used

Heisig-Schmeisig: How I (Wish I'd) Remembered the Kanji

I cannot emphasize enough how important a solid kanji vocabulary is for your progression in the Japanese language. Knowing the jyouyou kanji, or at least a hearty subset of them, will unlock so much of the Japanese world to you. If I could go back in time and change one thing about my early Japanese study efforts, I would without a doubt change the way I handled kanji.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Juki Card and e-Tax

As you may have noticed, LP has been hard at work on articles about the Juki Card (AKA the Basic Resident Registry Card) system that has just been opened up to foreigners.

As we have mentioned before, in addition to containing your registered alias (tsushomei 通称名), the Juki Card can be used as an electronic identifications for official government transactions over the internet. Perhaps the most important of these transactions is the system for electronic tax filing, better known as e-Tax.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Parking Space Registration in Japan

Normally I enjoy writing out DIY instructions for stuff like this in Japan. Unfortunately, parking space registration involves a large amount of dreadfully boring paperwork. Written out in duplicate.

Years ago, Dom wrote us a nice article about getting your residential parking space approved by your local Japanese police department. This is a necessary step in purchasing a car or changing the address on your 車検証 (shakenshou), an automobile registration document that basically functions as the equivalent of a car title in Japan.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Residency Card and Visa Expiration Woes in Japan

Recently I had to renew my landing permission at Japanese immigration. I was a little worried about the process because of my impending expiration dates and some upcoming plans to travel abroad. However, things worked out OK, and I ended up learning a lot from a nice lady at the immigration window. Here's the story:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Possible Rising Tolls and Shrinking Highway Discounts

The Japanese highway system is fast, modern, and very well maintained. But if there is one thing it is not it is cheap.

As long term readers may remember, AccessJ has long extolled the virtues of getting your very own ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) card reader and card if only to take part in the hefty toll discounts that they offer. However, thanks to a change in the government's transportation policy, unhappy drivers can look forward to the possibility of even higher toll and less discounts in the future.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Organic Peanut Butter in Japan

I love peanut butter. And I'm sad that it is not as widely appreciated here in Japan. I mean, yeah, I'd probably think "PB&J sandwiches" or "peanut butter on celery" sounded gross if I had the same archetype for "peanut butter" that most Japanese people do: sickly sweet, peanut-themed sugar spread sold next to bread whiter than an anemic ghost. In the presence of abominations like that, it's no wonder there's no adult demand for nut butters in this country.

Friday, September 06, 2013

The New Re-entry Permit System

As you most likely know by now, there has been a pretty big change in the Japanese immigration system over the past year or so. Gone are the "gaijin cards," replaced with more inoccuous sounding "resident cards." Even better, the expensive and terribly inconvenient "re-entry permit" (sai-nyukoku kyoka 再入国許可)that all resident aliens were required to pony up for before leaving the country. 

But little do many foreigners know, the re-entry permit system is not actually gone; rather, it has just been simplified and stream-lined, thereby removing the trip to the immigration authorities before you travel. Let's take a look.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Annual Car Maintenence

The reliability of Japanese automobiles is legendary. The reliability of Japanese automobiles in Japan, even more so. So what is the secret? Is Japan a country full of obsessive compulsive gear-heads? Or perhaps it is the legendary strict shaken bi-annual car inspection?

The strict inspection regime certainly has a lot to do with keeping cars in good working order. But there is another component to the whole system: (semi-) legally obligated car maintenance.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Popular Words to Propose With in Japan

A few recent comments from friends have set me wondering about Japanese marriage proposals. (No, I'm not planning on making one sometime soon.) My college professor once pointed out in class that a traditional way to ask a Japanese girl for her hand was with the suave line, "Will you make my miso soup for me every morning?" But it turns out that with a modern audience, that bit gets more mileage in laughs and jokes than in swoons.

So what do Japanese women these days actually want to hear? How should Japanese guys pop the question? Are any of the modern alternatives less gender-stereotyped?

Entertainment statistics giant Oricon proffers answers to all these questions and more with the results of a 2007 survey of single females:

If a Man Proposed to Me With These Words, I'd Be Happy:

From the top:

#1 ... "Let's get married."
#2 ... "Let's be together forever."
#3 ... "Let's be happy together."

#4 ... "I'll protect you for the rest of our lives."
(The submitter, in her 30s and from Osaka, explains, "I'd feel as if I were really important to him if he said that.")

#5 ... "I can't think of anyone but you."
(I want to feel that I'm number one. Kanagawa, 40)

#6 ... "Can we endure hardships?"
(I think more than anything else endurance is crucial to marriage. Saitama, 40)

#7 ... "I want you by my side for the rest of my life."
(It feels like he's giving me permission to be beside him for a long time--for the rest of our lives. Hokkaido, 30)

#8 ... "Will you be my wife?"
(Subtle proposals are romantic, too, but if he asks me clearly I'll be able to take it more straightforward. Okayama, 20)

#9 ... "Let's live our lives together."
(I don't ever want to be thrown away. Chiba, 20)

#10 ... "I need you."
(I would feel how important my presence is to him. Tottori, 40)

#11 ... "Let's make a happy home together."
(I want to be happy forever. Mie, 30)

Translation Notes:
実感 じっかん  actually feel like, realize
苦労 くろう    hard work, labor, toil
傍に そばに    next to, beside, the same kanji as in かたわら
許容 きょよう   allowance, concession
遠まわし とおまわし roundabout
ときめく     makes your heart beat fast

#6, 苦労してもいいか and its comment, were the most difficult for me to put into realistic English. If you have any other suggestions for how you'd translate those, please share!

Friday, July 26, 2013

License Plates in Japan: Can you move them?

On the way to work, it seems like I always drive past some sports car with the front license plate stuck nonchalantly in the front window or angled up or down. As it turns out, there is a big market for license plate modifications in Japan, despite the fact that they are pretty much affixed to you car with an anti-theft bolt.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Hatsugen Komachi: The website where Japan comes to complain

The Japanese people have a reputation for hiding their personal feelings, especially amongst people who are not immediate family. But thanks to the wonders of the internet, the fine art of guchi (愚痴), or "complaining" can be done totally anonymously.

One place such website where Japanese people vent their frustrations and ask for advice is the Yomiuri Newspaper's hatsugen komachi (発言小町 or "small village of speech"). Let's take a look...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Juki Card Application and Expiration Date

Just a mini-update about the juki card (住基カード), a government-issued identification card that was made available to foreign residents earlier this month.

As a reminder, the juki card is one of the few government ID cards available to foreign residents which can contain your 通称名 (tsuushoumei), or registered alias. If you're like me and have a long name, you may find that it's the only card you can get with a tsuushoumei on it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Japanese Tidbit: 私立 vs 市立

Although Japanese is a relatively rule-abiding language when compared to English, there a plenty of foibles and ticks when it comes to the art of combining kanji. Let's take a look at some tricky kanji that have different readings when spoken.

Today's culprits: 私立, 市立, and 公立.

Friday, July 05, 2013

New Rules for Online Generic Drug Sales in Japan

I am going to out on a limb and guess that most of our readers are not keenly following the fantastically exciting world of Japanese pharmaceuticals. So just in case you missed the big news, a recent Supreme Court ruling has lifted a ban on the online sale of almost all generic drugs (ippan-yo yakuhin 一般用薬品). That means, come later this year, you can finally buy your anti-hangover aspirin supply online and have it shipped directly to your house.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

It's Illegal for Minors in Japan to Associate with Political Campaigns

This little bit of information caught me off guard:

Just this year, Japan lifted its general ban on domestic political campaigning activities conducted online. It is now legal for Japanese political candidates to set up websites and advertise their platforms through social networking services. (That's right--it used to be a no-no in this country.)

Now, with this ban lifted, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has identified as a potential issue the activities of minors--that's anyone under the age of 20 here--in relation to political campaign efforts.

To try to nip any such activity in the bud, the ministry has issued a blanket statement targeting minors, reminding them that they face potential fines of up to 300,000 yen ($3000) and up to a year of jail time should they express public support for a campaign during their online activities.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Tax Increases in Japan for 2013 and beyond

Feel that your pay packet is a little lighter these days? Perhaps it is a raise in your insurance, or maybe you bonus is a little smaller. While those maybe  a problem, pesky tax increases (zozei 増税) are also taking effect, so watch your wallet carefully.

After the Great Tohoku Earthquake, the already debt laden Japanese government needed to find a way to cover the monumental costs incurred by this unprecedented natural disaster. In order to help put the Tohoku region back together, a special "reconstruction tax" (fukko tokubetsu-zei 復興特別税) has been added and a planned five percent decrease to the corporate tax rate was scraped.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Official JEES Sample Questions for Revised JLPT (2012)

Since the revised JLPT began, JEES has continued to provide sample problems for the exam on its official website each year. The problems are presented in official style, very similar to what examinees will actually see on the tests themselves. MP3 files are included for actual listening practice. These materials are all freely available from the official JLPT website, and some description of problem types and problem design are available there as well for you to learn about the test designers' intentions.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The JLPT: Online grammar resources

In my experience, biggest cost of studying for the JLPT is not the test fee or even arranging transportation to the test site. Test preparation materials are probably the single biggest expense of an potential Japanese master. Like any good language test, the "standardised testing industrial complex" makes sure that you pay out the nose for all sorts of fancy books and CDs.

However, not everyone has the resources to shell out 3000 yen per book. But that is where the internet comes in. Here are some good websites that provide grammar and vocab resources for (mostly) free.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Forum Full of JLPT Prep Materials

Another Vietnamese source: The forum Tieng Nhat Club appears to contain a wide variety of materials for JLPT study. Both old materials (1~4級対策) and new materials (N1-5対策) are mixed together. The forum requires a registered account to browse threads.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Official JEES Sample Questions for Revised JLPT (2009)

Before the first year of the revised JLPT exam, people were scrambling to find materials to study with. In anticipation, JEES arranged for the release of practice problems similar to what might appear on the new N1-5 style exams.

These problems were made freely available as PDFs and have been mirrored in dozens of locations online--you may have encountered them before, but if not, they are worth a look in your studies. They include examples of all the different test sections for all levels of the test, and they even include audio files and sheets to mark your answers on akin to the real exam answer sheets. (The answers to the problems are provided as well, in separate PDF files.) You can still find all of these files at the official JLPT website.

If that link no longer works, however, you can find the same PDF and audio files mirrored at

Friday, June 14, 2013

The JLPT: Sentence arrangement problems

Seeing as how LP has been busy posting Japanese Language Proficiency Test prep materials, I figured I would make my own small contribution to the world of test preparation with some hints on how to conquer the dreaded "sentence arrangement problems" (bun no tatekumi mondai 文の立て組み問題)found on the higher levels of the JLPT.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

JLPT Practice Problems: Meguro Language Center

The Meguro Language Center is a Japanese language school in downtown Tokyo. In addition to JLPT prep classes in their center, they offer a variety of practice problems and self-assessment tools for JLPT hopefuls. I downloaded and skimmed through all of their freely available materials when I was prepping, and I'm happy to see that they've redesigned and re-released a lot of their materials to reflect the N1-5 test revision.

You can check out the materials on the Meguro Language Center website.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A JLPT N1 Practice Test (2010)

In previous articles, we've covered some sources of past JLPT exams for download or sale. Unfortunately, many of the downloadable ones are outdated and do not reflect the redesigned N1-5 style test, and I'd again urge test-takers to take a look at the official past problems available for sale at bookstores or through Amazon.

However, example exams are slowly beginning to spread around the Internet. Today we'll look at another one aimed at you N1 hopefuls, a practice exam put out by a Japanese language school in Seoul. (Unfortunately the listening script is not included.)

Friday, June 07, 2013

Websites for Foriegn TV Shows in Japan

There are many things I love about Japan, but prime time TV is not one of them. Even though I generally prefer time wasting computer games over mind dulling TV, there are times when I long to see some good 'ol Western TV shows.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

JLPT Practice Exams for N1 and N2 (2009, 2010, 2011)

A host of original practice exams are available from Yu Da University in Taiwan. They include all of the relevant sections, including listening with an MP4 file to listen and a listening script for study. Answers also included in separate files.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A Collection of JLPT N2 Example Problems (2010)

The Vietnamese message board Tinh Huong appears to have a copy of a modern example questions for JLPT N2 prep. A PDF and RAR file (containing sound files) are linked on the page in question; the PDF at least has been checked and is legit. The forums appear to load a popup on your first click to an outside site but after that the links function normally.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

JLPT Past Papers: Official

We're coming up on JLPT season again. A few readers have mailed/messaged in about locating past problems, practice exams, or other sources of study. In the past couple years, there was a big scramble because the test design changed and there were no published examples of past or sample exams that test-takers could use for study. That's now no longer the case--there are official publications of past exams.

Friday, May 31, 2013

My Number: Welcome to Japan's new unified tax and benefit number system

Get ready folks, because come 2015, you will be the proud owner of brand spanking new My Number (マイナンバー) issued by the friendly folks at the Japanese Government. On May 24th, the three major parties in the National Diet finally got off their duffs and managed to put together a brand new law that gives everyone residing in Japan (foreigners included) a single unified identification number akin to a US Social Security number.

The so-called mai nannbaa-ho (マイナンバー法), or "My Number Act" (officially called the shakai hosho zei bango-ho 社会保障・税番号法 or "Social Benefits and Tax Number Act") will have far reaching effects on just about everyone who uses a government service (i.e. the whole country). Lets take a peek at what the law entails.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Japanese Internet Slang

Where the internet goes, slang will surely follow. This axiom is as true of Japanese as it is of the modern English language. The Japanese language netscape is filled with all sorts of interesting slang, much of it originating from popular websites such as 2-Chan, Twitter, and Nico-Nico Doga. However, even if you have nearly perfect Japanese, deciphering some of these cryptic words can prove to be a challenge if you are new to a given net community. Let's take a look at some slang decoding resources.

Monday, May 20, 2013

6 Varieties of Japanese Green Tea

Last week, we covered four popular kinds of tea in Japan. We ended the article with a note on green tea (緑茶, ryokucha) and its ubiquity in Japan, so much that the general term "tea" is understood in this country to mean "green tea" unless otherwise specified. Here are some of the many varieties of green tea in Japan:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Annual Automobile Tax in Japan

Yes, folks, its that time of year. The time when posters of consternated anthropomorphic vehicles with cute faces get plastered all over government buildings and mysterious official envelops get dropped in your mail slot. It can only mean one thing...time to pay your annual automobile tax!

Monday, May 13, 2013

4 Kinds of Tea in Japan

Though not all of these tea varieties originated in Japan, they are all quite popular drinks across the country:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Automated Speed Cameras in Japan

Despite being the home of Toyota and Honda, Japan is not a land known for its generous speed limits. As a matter of fact, I am hard-pressed to think of any posted speed limit in excess of 80km/h, and that is on the expressway! So what keeps lead-footed drivers in check in Japan? Is it Japan's legendary adherence to societal rules? Or perhaps it's the iron fist of The Law?

The answer, as it turns out, is much more of the latter. Take a quick trip down any highway and you are bound to come across a set of jido sokudo ihan torishimari sochi (自動速度違反取締装置, literally "automated speed violation control devices"), better know as "speed violations cameras."

Monday, May 06, 2013

How Japanese People Take Their Tea

Black tea is a popular "Western" drink in Japan, and it is widely available at restaurants, cafes, and in bottled form at supermarkets and in vending machines. Specialty shops offer a wide variety of black teas to the enthusiast, but in casual restaurants and cafes, the popularly available black tea is Earl Grey.

Black tea is usually served in one of four forms in Japan:

Friday, May 03, 2013

Stamp Taxes and Revenue Stamps in Japan

I have long wondered what the deal is with Japan's obsession with postage size "revenue stamps" (shunyu inshi 収入印紙) that you have to stick on just about every offical document. Anyone who has ever gone to the immigration office has had to a least by one or two of these expensive little suckers in order to get a visa renewed. Not to mention you probably have some reciepts laying around somewhere with stamps stuck to them. Lets take a look at what exactly these expensive postage stamps are for...

Monday, April 29, 2013

Drivers Education Refresher Class in Japan

Last week I lauded my local driver licensing center for their efficient processing of renewal applications. In a sea of a couple hundred other individuals, I got my whole application finished--including an eye exam and photograph--in under thirty minutes.

Because I was a first-time renewal (初回更新者, shokai shoshinsha), I was also slated to take a 120 minute drivers' education refresher course as part of my renewal process.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Getting Married in Japan: Changing to a Spousal Status of Residence

If you are getting married to a Japanese national and already a lawfully registerd foreigner with mid-to-long term residence, you may find it advantageous to take a trip down to the local immigratin authorities and apply for a so-called "spouse visa."

Among other advantages, becoming an offically registered spouse removes any working restrictions that a traditional visa carries. In addition, it is easier apply for permenent residency (eien jumin-ken 永遠住民権) when you are offically married to a Japanese national.