VIE for Valeo in Kohnan / Kumagaya

valeo logoI get a lot of Google traffic from French people whenever a job posting comes up for a VIE contract (special government high-profile trainee contract for European citizens in French companies abroad) at the place I work.

All this traffic goes to a much outdated post I wrote over 4 years ago just before coming here and I thought I’d make an update for the new arrivals or just people researching the living conditions here before accepting the job.

So if you are considering coming to work for VALEO in Kohnan – or Kounan, or Kōnan depending how you romanize 江南 – you must be asking yourself 3 questions:

Where is it?

Kohnan is in northern Saitama prefecture, some 55km north-north-west of Tokyo proper – see map below. It used to be a town by itself but has since been absorbed by the bigger city of Kumagaya which explains the dual Kohnan / Kumagaya naming conundrum. The factory itself is pretty much in the middle of the countryside with not much around, meaning: you will not go out for lunch or coffee break unless you have a car, the closest Starbucks being 15km away anyways…

View VIE for Valeo in Kohnan in a larger map

Where can you live and how to get there?

Tokyo – First out, do not expect to live in Tokyo and commute by car. Unless you are an expatriate with all expenses covered by the company, the cost of parking in Tokyo and highway tolls everyday is way way out of your budget. You can live in Tokyo and commute by train though, like I do now, preferably in northern Tokyo close to Ikebukuro station. Commute time from Ikebukuro station: 1 hour train + 20 minutes company bus.

Kumagaya – The most popular place to live among VIEs here. A bigger country town with a respectable number of restaurants and bars which will keep you entertained at least on weekday nights. Relatively good train connections to Tokyo with the Takasaki/Shonan-Shinjuku line taking you direct to Shinjuku/Shibuya in 1 hour 20 minutes. The town is 7-8km so you can come by bicycle when the weather is good. Commute time: 20 minutes by public bus + 5 minutes walk.

Higashimatsuyama – Second popular spot, I lived there for 2 years while I was myself a VIE. Small country town, not many restaurants, almost no standard bars although there are plenty of hostess clubs… The Tobu-Tojo line will take you straight to Ikebukuro in 55 minutes and with a painless train change to Shibuya in 1 hour 35 minutes. Only good point is it is cheaper than Kumagaya so you can have a bigger apartment and there is a company bus that picks you up from there and drops you inside the factory. I would not recommend it though unless you are the quiet type… (note: the area around the station is being renovated with a cinema complex and new apartment buildings as write this post, so there might be a little bit more animation in the near future) Commute time: 20min by company bus.

Kawagoe – The new frontier, only 1 or 2 Valeo VIEs live there. Big lively country town halfway from Tokyo and the company. There are tons of places to party and the place is culturally active (nicknamed “The little Edo”, there is a whole neighborhood that still has traditional buildings from the lat 1800’s, a rare sight in Japan). The Tobu-Tojo line will get you to Ikebukuro in 30 minutes and a change with the Fukutoshin line to Shibuya in under 1 hour. I would argue that this is the best compromise between commute time, cost of living and closeness to Tokyo for partying in the weekends. Commute time: 30 minutes train + 20 minutes company bus.

Additional points

One thing to keep in mind is that Kumagaya/Higashimatsuyama is 1h30 away from the ski stations which are open from mid-December through May. Bring your snow gear with you or plan to buy some here because there are snowboarding trips organized every weekend of the season.

If I could hit a big reset button and do it all again, I would probably choose to live in Kawagoe. Kumagaya is good if you hate living more than half an hour away from work. There is very little point to living in Higashimatsuyama…

If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll be sure to reply to you.

Update: As of May 2011, I no longer work for Valeo.

Sagami Original condom ad

Love needs distance, an interestingly touching ad for Sagami Original condoms airing on Japanese TV recently.

A man from Fukuoka and a woman from Tokyo (1.200km apart) run towards each other and meet in front of the Osaka castle. This commercial proves you can sell condoms without stupid childish sexual innuendo…

Japan is supposed to have the most advanced condom makers – as this claims to be the world’s thinnest condom. But with the staggering amount of できちゃった結婚 (literally “oops I got married”, meaning getting married because you got your girlfriend pregnant, a shotgun wedding) I hear about – a colleague of mine says 50% of all marriage in Japan are thus, he’s exaggerating but he speaks from experience… – it seems all this technology is going to waste.

Driving school and discrimination awarenesss

As I said in a previous post, I do not have a driving license it every now and then I get itchy and think about getting one. So the other day, feeling itchy, I scanned the web to find driving schools close to my new home in Ikebukuro and found the Koyama driving school.

Interestingly, they claim to be the only driving school in Tokyo to cater to the gaijin population by offering a curriculum entirely in english. So I checked out the prices on the English and Japanese versions of the site for basic manual license:

  • Japanese: ¥302,950
  • English: ¥398,630

Wow, those bilingual driving teachers sure come at a big premium don’t they? Well if you compare the detail of the prices here’s what you find:

koyama-japanese

koyama-english

So if you actually compare the detailed split-up, the english textbooks cost ¥18,900 compared to ¥5,250 which I can understand. All the lesson/test fees are the same. The only other difference is that the entry fee is ¥83.000 more expensive if you sign up in english…

Now the interesting thing is not that it’s more expensive, I would consider it normal to have higher lecture/training fees in english language in Tokyo. What’s shocking is that there is so little awareness of “discrimination being bad” in this country that no-one thought it a bad idea to write down the price hike for this special service (which could be justifiable) as a random meaningless admission fee.

Suffice to say, I will not be bringing my business to this shop…

Softbank’s “summer scam” campaign

Softbank is launching a fun summer campaign with its cute mascot お父さん:

Use your Softbank 3G phone overseas this summer and get a chance to win one of 100 flower-necklace-wearing-お父さん straps!

softbank-summer-campaign

Way to go Softbank! It’s a classy move, trying to lure customers into using their cellphone overseas at ¥200/min and potentially incurring ginormous phone bills, all for a chance of winning a ¥150 keitai-strap…

View from my new place

Last night was the first clear sky sunset I could catch since we moved in the new apartment in Ikebukuro. 梅雨 (the rainy season – literally rain like plums) is not over yet so it was a lucky day.



I can’t wait until the typhoon season – after a typhoon, the skies are like washed from any cloud or fog – when I should be able to see the Fujisan clearly from my window.

More photos in the flickr photoset…

Eclipse excitement building up

The solar eclipse craze is building up less than 2 months before the big day. This nice map resumes pretty well what you’ll be able to see from major cities in the country with and the times to adjust your schedule. (click to zoom)

eclipse-map_small

Better hope 梅雨, the rainy season, will be over by July 22nd…

eclipse-sunglasses

Amazon Japan also started selling eclipse sunglasses for the occasion: buy 4, get one for free.

Interesting language point: solar eclipse in Japanese is 日食 which basically means “eat the sun”… Sound pretty cool.

Also I’m extremely disappointed as I was invited by a now retired colleague to come to his home on 奄美大島, one of the only islands dead center on the full occultation path, but I was not able to get plane tickets to get there. There is only one plane per day from Tokyo, operated by JAL, and they sold the exclusivity of all the seats for a week to their travel agency branch JTB who sold out their insanely expensive tourist packages months and months ago… Of course, in a typical Japanese move, JAL never thought it might be a nice idea to buff up the number of flights for the once in a lifetime occasion.

If I still were a student, I would’ve taken the 48h boat trip. Alas, my salaryman life does not permit it anymore…

Moving to the city

After a bit more than 1.5 years since moving to my current place in 志木, it’s time to move again. I’ve set my mind on a tower mansion 2 minutes from Ikebukuro station in Tokyo and should get the keys by the end of June.

floorplan of the new apartment

The view from the living room should be like the picture below on clear days (albeit from a lower vantage point but I should still be able to glimpse the Fujisan). Can’t wait to be doing cool Tokyo timelapses from my own window.

west-view
fujisan view - the weird white triangular building is Nakano

This time, my company does not wish to rent it for me and take it out of my salary as I am a local contract employee. So this is my first foray into actually signing a rental contract and paying all the fees myself upfront. So lets break it down:

  • 1st month of rent (you pay your rent in advance in Japan) = ¥220.000
  • Moving in on 26th of June so 5 days worth of rent until 30th = ¥36.700
  • 敷金 – deposit, 2 months of rent = ¥440.000
  • 火災保険 – fire insurance = ¥25.000
  • 鍵交換代 – lock change fee = ¥35.000 (that’s a hell of a lot for a lock!)
  • 町内会費 – neighborhood association membership fee for 2 months = ¥500

For a grand total of ¥757.200 or three quarters of a million yen… upfront… it hurts…

And actually, I should count myself lucky, this is rather cheap and most of it is the deposit which I’ll mostly get back. Apartments here, especially new ones, often have a 礼金 which is also called key money and is a nice gift of 2 months of rent to the owner.

Thinking of all that money makes me a bit more partial to the idea of buying a place for myself…

Corporate flu prevention in Japan

coughing etiquetteSince coming back from Golden Week vacations, my company has been sending flu-related information by email to all employees twice a week.

Last week we had an employee coming back from the US get yanked into quarantine at Narita for a week because he sat in the vicinity of a guy with a fever.

Today we received the following email:

Due to prevention of New type Flu, VTSJ Safety & Health Committee would like you to deploy as followings.

Before coming work place, it is necessary to check your body temperature. If you have more than 38℃ of fever, Report to your manager and call to inquiry counter (phone desk organized by the health ministry).

*If you are not able to talk by Japanese, inform to your HR Department.

When your team member will be infected a flu, Manager must report it to Safety Group by attached format. Manager must ask your team member to avoid coming to his/her work place until approval from Public Health Department.

Along with PDF flyers about proper hand washing and “coughing etiquette” as well as the official excel-made (everything is made with excel in Japan) “Flu Patient Declaration” form for use by managers to report to Human Resources.

flureport

One of my team members didn’t come to work today because he wasn’t feeling good. I’m tempted to rat him out to the company with the provided form and get him quarantined until next week… (^o^)/

Business card at a job interview

Expanding on my previous tweet, this is of course from a Japanese “business practices and manners” point of view…

american psycho - business card scene

When arriving at a job interview, as with any business meeting, your interviewer will usually give you his 名刺. It is considered polite in Japan to accept it with 2 hands, bow, place it neatly on the table and answer by giving out your own 名刺.

Note: to anyone about to work with Japanese people: always have at least 2 dozens business cards with you at all times!

But in the case of a job interview, should you present your business card if it is from your current employer? In a way, you are betraying your company by looking for a new job. Moreover, the guy already knows you, he has your resume on the table already…

I’ve always been confused with this and am not sure of the appropriate behavior. Maybe I should make myself a batch of personal business cards for such occasions where it is not acceptable to present yourself as your business-self:

Superman – associate @ SuperFriends

As opposed to:

Clark Kent – reporter @ DailyPlanet

Funny dog toys from Japan

I’m going back home to Paris with the girlfriend for a week after Golden Week so of course the usual shopping lists start dropping in my mailbox. They are mainly filled with tech related stuff and gadgets that are quite a bit cheaper than in France (with a VAT at 20%, it’s hard not to be competitive…) – like digital cameras, or just not available anywhere but in whacky Japan – like USB humping dogs.

But this time I got something really original. My brother asked me to bring him back a special chewtoy for dogs that he wants to offer to a friend of his. I found the design so cool and original I wanted to share it with you guys.

doggy-teethdoggy-lineup

There are 4 different types and they go for ¥238 on Rakuten. Pretty awesome.

Golden Parachutes or Organized Cartel: which is more popular?

scrooge-mcduckLast week my company, Valeo, made the frontpage of all the big newspapers (at least in Europe) as our CEO stepped down and was given a 3.2M€ “golden parachute” farewell bonus in spite of the company needing governmental aid to stay afloat. The French government promptly started working on a new law to ban such bonuses in companies receiving financial aids.

His replacement was nominated at the same time as the ex-CEO of Saint Gobain, a high-tech materials manufacturer mostly known for its glass products (your car’s windshield and windows have a good chance of coming from them). The interesting thing being that he had to step down last December when Saint Gobain was indicted for price-fixing cartel by the European Union and fined for 900M€.

The interesting part is the reactions I observed on my French and Japanese colleagues as they heard the news:

  • French people follow the news about the company and were all talking about it the Monday morning after the announcement.
    • The bonus, although everyone thinks it’s pretty tasteless in our situation, was more or less expected.
    • However people are really shocked that the new CEO’s last accomplishment was getting his company indicted for the very serious offense of price-fixing.
  • For my Japanese colleagues, I had to break the details of the news to them as the local papers are much more interested in the latest development of the North Korean missile threat.
    • They are pretty much outraged about the bonus.
    • When told about the cartel affair, their reaction is incredulity: “Europe is really severe on those things…”

Funny how the points of view differ on the subject.

On my way to work

Japan is not only Tokyo with its crowded street crossings and neon lights. It’s also the old countryside, small traditional (and not so traditional) houses with rice paddies or vegetable farm in the backyard.

I live in Tokyo (technically not but almost in the city limit) but I work in a factory way out in the countryside of Saitama prefecture, 50km north of Tokyo. This is what I see every morning from the window of my train.