Driving in Tokyo

A friend of mine received his new car last weekend and we went driving around town all saturday night and sunday afternoon.

Fun thing to do with a car in Tokyo: drive to Yokohama’s 中華街 to eat chinese food for lunch a Sunday afternoon after partying.

It really got me into thinking I need to get off my lazy ass and finally get my license. I never bothered getting it while a student living in Paris and now that I’m 27 years old living in Japan, I realize my mistake.

So I’ve been looking at driving schools around my place and found a nice one not to far. Prices are ¥291.000 for manual, ¥278.000 for automatic. I should have no problem taking the driving courses and test in Japanese and the written test is available in English in Saitama prefecture, but studying for the written test in Japanese might be a bit out of my league.

I’m going to see with the school if they can waiver the fees for the non-driving classes and let me study at home on my own with whatever english materials I can find.

Internet is almost void of any accounts of foreigners passing their driving license from scratch in Japan so I have no real idea of what I’m in for…

JLPT Fail

For all the hundreds of people waiting for their JLPT results to arrive and coming to my blog via google searches, know that this year’s score slip has arrived yesterday in Japan. As I was expecting, I failed level 2 again for lack of studying…

JLPT 2008 score: 217/400

  • Vocabulary/Kanji: 58/100
  • Listening: 81/100
  • Grammar/Reading: 78/200

Yep, 23 points short… I guess I’m up again for the June session…

Alone at work for Christmas

It’s christmas day and I’m at the office, working…

Actually, it’s nothing unusual for Japan where the 25th is a day like any other day. But this year is special: you should know that I work for a big French automotive parts manufacturer, and this is not a very fun time for us.

Car production is down ~30% over all the industry, which means we also must cut our production by 30%. So our manufacturing plants all over the world are shutting down 1 or 2 weeks early for new year vacations.

But then, since part of my job is support, not only for Japan but for all our plants around the world, I have to be there in an empty office in an empty factory on Christmas day in case the phone rings or an email comes in requiring my mad skills…

*crickets chirping*… yeah, right…

JLPT Level 2

I took the test last Sunday at Surugadai University in Hanno, way out at the feet of the mountains west of Tokyo. Usually I’m assigned to Saitama Daigaku which is 10min of taxi from my new place, but I guess this year they thought I was too close and needed to suffer a bit more than usual… So I took my 1h+ train ride in the freezing cold of this Sunday morning of December a 7:30am to meet my doom: the grammar test…

As usual these past couple of years, the whole test with solutions were out on chinese websites a mere hours after the end of the examination. People in the USA have it easy with the jetlag.

I don’t want to check the answers. I’m pretty sure I did the same thing as last year: 60~65% on kanji, 85~90% on listening and utterly failed the reading/grammar part…

See you next time archnemesis!!!

Train accident on my way to work

This morning, on my way to work, my train stopped one express station after mine. Some accident had happened on the line and the traffic was stopped for 2-3 hours. No way I could get to work, and once the train would start running again there’d be no bus left to bring me from the station to my office (it sucks working in a factory out in the middle of nowhere).

So I startend to head back home. Trains were out, I decided to give the bus a try: no bus connection from this station back to my home. Taxis? The line in front of the taxi stop climbed back up the stairs all the way to the ticket gates… All that’s left was to hoof it up along the tracks.

It took me 45 minutes to get back home for a 5 minutes ride of express train. On my way I passed by the place of the accident and caught some shots of the train’s broken windshield. There were 5 or 6 TV helicopters circling above.

UPDATE: Jeff, over at JapanProbe.com, fished out the news article related to this accident along with a picture of the K-car that was crushed and the throngs of salarymen walking along the tracks like I did.

Continue reading Train accident on my way to work

U.S. Elections impact on Japan

I don’t know if we will see any real difference here with Democrats instead of Republicans at the helm over there. All I know is this made me laugh right after lunch.

A friend of mine who works in a cargo ship brokering firm forwarded me a market report written by another broker:

Following the American erections last week, it is expected that Mr. Obama will decrease the Japanese car import ratios starting next year.
[…]
Thankfully, most Japanese cars exported to America sport an automatic transmission as most Americans are not comfortable holding a stick, according to a poll conducted few hours after the erections.

3-day weekend in Karuizawa

I spent last weekend, which was a 3-day holiday with 文化の日 on monday, in 軽井沢, which could be compared to the Gstaad or Courchevel of Japan. Of course, it’s a pretty far-fetched comparison: the ski-station could barely be called a hill, but anyways that’s where all the rich CEO’s buy fabulous chalets and come chill out in the weekends playing golf, tennis and splurging on designer clothes at the gigantic outlet mall that sits next to the Shinkansen station. That’s the Japanese way…

I was invited by a friend to his company’s country house. That’s one of the perks of working for a company that makes profits, unlike me and the automotive industry.

We spent the weekend contemplating the 紅葉 (and manically taking pictures) that has started already in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. Pictures are trickling down on my flickr photostream as I get to treat them from the RAW format of my new camera through Aperture. It’s a lot tougher than what I’m used to on my Ricoh GR Digital but the result is worth the effort.

Prime Ministers of Japan

  • Junichiro Koizumi小泉 純一郎 – 2001 to 2006 – grandfather was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications
  • Shinzo Abe安倍 晋三 – 2006 to 2007 – grandfather was Prime Minister
  • Yasuo Fukuda福田 康夫 – 2007 to 2008 – father was Prime Minister
  • Taro Aso麻生 太郎 – soon to be sworn in – grandfather was Prime Minister, father in law was Prime Minister

Can you see a pattern here?

On the road to Hokkaido

My good friend Jon, who is clearly superhuman, was until 3 weeks ago working at Valeo on the desk in front of me. He is now between jobs taking a sabbatical and, since he can’t stay idle too long, has started a great journey from Saitama to Hokkaido… on a bicycle.

He will be twittering his trip all along the way via his iPhone. I’ll be following him all the way from my desk.

Half-assed features on Softbank iPhone

I’m getting reports from my friends with iPhones here in Japan, since I still haven’t gone crazy and taken one as a second phone. Some features have been completely borked by Softbank:

  • There’s no + for international calls. Apparently, Softbank’s network does not support the + (country code) (your number) that is industry standard on all modern phones. Instead, they customize their keitais, which are manufactured to Softbank’s specs by the nicely compliant Japanese manufacturers, to replace the plus sign with a special prefix: 010.
  • The mail address @i.softbank.jp is not “push-compatible”. This means you have to initiate a mail check to see if there is mail waiting, unlike @me.com mail which pushes the mails straight to your phone through the network without actual polling on your part.
    Softbank has implemented a sort of fake notification which must be a background process continually polling the server for new mails, showing the butt-ugly greyed-out fullscreen popup whenever you receive a message. Of course, there is no chime nor vibration hinting to a new event while the phone is in your pocket, making that mail address basically useless…

I hope Softbank gets its act together before I need to change phones. Sadly, even after knowing all these caveats, I still want one…

Special rules for Gaijin buying an iPhone

If you’re planning on buying an iPhone (it’s a little too late now since they’re already out of stock everywhere in Kanto) and you’re a foreigner, there’s a couple of things you need to be aware of before you head out to the Softbank shop:

  1. Bring your Gaikokujin Torokusho (Alien Card) + Passport. It seems they now require the passport too.
  2. Check your visa expiration date, the following rules apply:

From Softbank’s website
本人確認書類を「外国人登録証明書+外国パスポート」にてお申込される場合、以下項目をご注意ください。

  1. 在留期限が90日未満の場合は回線契約ができません。
  2. 在留期限が申込日より15ヵ月以内の場合、割賦購入(あっせん)契約による受付はできません。(店頭一括払いのみの受付となります)
  3. 在留期限が申込日より15ヵ月超、27ヵ月以内の場合、割賦購入(あっせん)契約による支払回数は12回払いもしくは一括払いのみの受付となります。
  4. 在留期限が申込日より27ヵ月を超える場合、支払い回数に関係なく割賦購入(あっせん)が可能です。

Which translates to:

  1. If you’re on a 90 days tourist visa, no soup (or iPhone) for you!
  2. If you have less than 15 months left on your visa, you wont be able to make a contract, but they’ll sell the phone to you without a plan for ¥80.000
  3. Between 15 and 27 months left on your visa, you can either pay it cash for ¥80.000 or negociate take a 12 months contract (instead of the normal 24) possibly at the discounted ¥20.000 price-tag, but whether the discount applies or not is not clear in the document
  4. Over 27 months and you’re clear, you can buy the phone like any native

With my 3 years visa expiring in 27 months and 24 days, I might hurry my purchase plans…

Note: the maximum length visa you can have (apart from being a permanent resident) is 3 years, so you’d better work on your timing or you might have to wait a very long time to get a phone

Update: as John points out in the comments, if you have a Japanese health insurance card or driver’s licence accompanied by a utility bill to your name, then this should suffice and Softbank’s people should not ask you for anything else. That’ll help quite a bit.