Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Craziest thing I have done to make money in Japan

Let me just start off by saying, its probably not what you are thinking. ;-P

No, the craziest thing I have done for money while living abroad was Match Reporting.

I found this 'per-gig' job on craigslist...where all good jobs come from of course. :-/
There is a company out there that is very interested in obtaining live stats for Japanese professional sporting events. Especially basketball, volleyball, and soccer (football to everyone but my fellow American's). I know this because I registered with the Asian regional manager of this company, a Chicagoan who formerly lived in Japan but now is based out of Thailand (wtf; I know, right!). The company pays JPY 7000 (about $80) to attend Japan-league Basketball games, and report play-by-play the various stats they wanted about the match. Actually after the cost of the ticket (JPY1500-2000) and transportation (JPY500-2000)
one was left with a net pay of about JPY4000 for 2-3 hours of work. Probably averaged out to about $15 an hour per match.

An average match took about 120 minutes give or take 10 minutes for overtime, injuries, halftime etc. One time I had to wait an extra 35 minutes because the backboard shattered after a dunk and they didn't know how to replace the hoop. It took forever!!!
Anyway, for about 120 minutes, I called out the possessions, scores, time, and fouls. They were very specific about what stats they wanted. The most annoying things was that the philippina/philippino operator on the other end repeated every damn thing back as soon as you finished saying it. It was like an awful digitalized echo with a Philippino accent. And it wasn't even full sentences.

Imagine saying "Two points, home. Away possession. time two minutes thirty-eight seconds. Turnover .Home possession..." and having it repeated back to you. Its bad enough having to speak like that for 2 hours let alone hearing it back again.

So this gig I did a half-dozen times. But I soon realized that I was getting the matches at stadiums way out in the booneys that nobody wanted.  quite far from any train stations. One time I was going to be late and had to take a taxi to the stadium which ended up eating into my entire net pay. Leaving me with absolutely nothing. Imagine my despair and "multiply it by infinity, then carry it to the depths of eternity and you will have only a faint idea of what I am talking about"Meet Joe Black-Anthony Hopkins. 

So in an attempt to save on transportation, one day in January 2012 I rode my clunky mamachari bicycle (see picture below) to the stadium in Chiba...approximately 12 miles away. It took me 1hr and 45 minutes in 40 degree F weather, one way.  :-( But I saved $20 on the train fare. :-D
At a time when I was counting "pennies" to buy lunch, that was a big deal.

Just to give you some idea of that bicycle trip. I must have cycled some 25 miles through not only some densely populated cities from Matsudo, Chiba out to some very rural looking areas, past large open fields and dark looming construction sites. At one point I was chugging up a long sweeping curve in the road, again around 9pm or so, and just as I started picking up speed on the other side of the hill, two cars came from opposing sides of the narrow road. So to give them space, I shifted over and off the road into what looked like space for parking but it was so dark and there weren't any street lights so I couldn't be sure. Going full speed ahead, I nailed a long, thin, black metal chain held between two short posts and was nearly thrown from the mamachari, the rear wheel was suspended in air for what seemed an eternity, but instead of flipping me off it thankfully, in the end came, to rest just about where it lifted off from. I was damn lucky that chain was only held a foot or so off the ground. Being clotheslined at the neck going full speed in the dark would have ended much worse for yours truly.

I got home that night thankful for the adventure and "learning experience", the little extra I was able to take home as my net pay, and for returning in one piece. But when I hit that pillow, I remember thinking There has got to be any easier... ZZZZZzzzzzzzz.

And that has been the craziest thing I have done to make money at home or abroad. How about you? Would love to have some comments from my readers. Whats the craziest thing you have ever done to make money?
Email me or leave your comments below.

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Craziest thing I have done to save money in Japan

This is a truly embarrassing story but one that I don't mind telling. At the time, I was struggling to pay for the train fee to get to the training site in order to get the new job teaching English that I needed to get a visa to stay in Japan. . . Did you catch all that?

I actually had an incident in the bathroom during the full week of unpaid training. Without going into too much detail, I had basically managed to drop approximately JPY800 ($8.50) worth of coins into the toilet which fell out of my pocket as I pulled my suit pants back on. I stared  horrified at the murky water, thinking "HELL NO! That DID NOT just happen!" There is no way I was going to reach for the coins I so desperately needed to get back home that night. But I wasn't sure if the coins would stay put if the toilet was flushed. I guess I wasn't that desperate to chance it...I pushed the lever, closed my eyes, and prayed. When the bathroom became silent again I opened one eye slowly, and to my surprise there was my precious, my ticket home shimmering in a now clean bowl of porcelain. It was still a bit irksome but I reached my hand in a grabbed the gold and silver colored yen pieces and quickly rushed to the sink. I washed each coin with soap for at least a minute and when I was done I washed my hands twice over. Somehow the whole idea of it all still felt dirty so I wrapped the coins in a paper towel until it was time to deposit them in the train ticket dispensing machine. I went back to continue training but found it a bit difficult to make eye contact with anyone for a while.

And that, my dear readers, is literally the craziest thing I have done to save money in Japan.

The moral of the story
ALWAYS wash your hands when handling money and never put coins in your mouth :-/  ...I guess Mother was right again on both accounts.

How about you?
What is the craziest thing you have done to go out of your way to save money? I would love to know. Please email me or leave your comments below and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

47 Ronin and Sengakuji Temple

Today starts gray and dreary. I made my way across Tokyo on the Yamanote line, watching the city roll by, cold as the winter that preceded it, shared by 10 million others in this 30 mile radius. But oh what a glorious day it turned into. An English instructors dream come true, the student cancels too late. Payday without the work. 

With three hours to kill to get from Shinagawa to Tokyo station (normally a 12 minute train ride) I decided to walk. So I hung a right from the station exit and headed north on Hwy 15 (Daichi-keihin).
A friend had once recommended Sengakuji Temple (Spring-peak Temple) but I had no idea of its significance. As I walked up to the main gate, the clouds parted and Mr. Sun decided to join me for the tour. 

Turns out, interred here are the famed 47 Ronin and the master they committed seppuku for. 

Check out the wiki page here for the full history. In brief,
Lord Asano was offended by his mentor Lord Kira Noshinaka. Pushed too far, Asano lashed out at Kira with a daggar and struck a non-lethal blow to his face. Since striking a court official was illegal, Asano was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). 

Disgraced, all of Lord Asano's samurai became ronin. Masterless samurai, and virtually unemployable. More than defend honor of Asano and restore the some 300 samurai, Oishi, Asano's go-to man had an obligation to avenge his master per the samurai code of honor. So he devises this incredibly elaborate revenge plan that takes two years to set up. In the end, the 47 Ronin launch a precise, well-coordinated attack, storming Kira's mansion in the middle of the night. They found him hiding in the coal box.

They collected Kira's head when he refused to commit seppuku and die honorably like a samurai. They then marched 10 km across town, the same trip I took today, and deposited Kira's head and a receipt at Sengakuji, where their master's body was interred. They paid their respects to the monk and then turned themselves in knowing full well that death was expected as punishment. They were all forced to commit hara-kiri (seppuku, ritual suicide) for their revenge of Asano. This restored the honor to Asano and ensured futures for his subjects. All the samurai are buried at Sengakuji temple also. 

Credit to thetokyootaku for this last picture of the headstones of some of the 47 ronin. check here for more great pics.
I don't do the story justice but I definitely think there is something to it. I toured the grounds today and saw the graves of Asano and the ronin. Including the statue of Asano's main-man Ōishi Yoshio (大石 良雄 )。Ōishi ,by the way, translates as "large stones"...I am just saying...the name fits. 

Finally, on my way out of the temple I overheard a funny exchange between a 70 year-old, gray-haired, Japanese woman and what I assumed was her husband. As they passed in front of Ōishi's statue:

"Wow, he's a pretty handsome guy"

"You've got to be kidding, right?"

I will let you be the judge. ;-D
Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

アメリカンジョーク American Joke

I still am not sure what Japanese people mean when they say "American Joke" but I think I know. so here it is, a joke relating to Japan made by an American. This is Mizuho Fukushima,  chair of the Social Democratic Party of Japan.

The caption reads "More ice cream for everyone!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Meet@Marunouchi: Sake Tasting, Zen, and Maiko

I had the good fortune of meeting up with my buddy Phil from work last night. He and I went to an event run by one of our students. Watanabe-san works for Mitsubishi Estates which is a highly esteemed real estate company with many varied interests but they are most famous, I think, around the Marunouchi side of the famous Tokyo Station. They own a huge amount of the land and buildings around this area, including the building that Phil and I work in, the Shin-Otemachi Building. 

Anyway Meet@Marunouchi is a company sponsored event that aims to give foreigners a look at Japanese traditional culture and promote tourism for the Marunouchi area. The event I attended was a demonstration and brief lecture about zen in Buddhist religion delivered by a 'radical' young monk from Kyoto. I say radical because a number of times throughout the night, I was told by Watanabe-san and others that this guy is not like a traditional monk. I got the vibe that he is preaching to this generation and not that of his forefathers. And I have to admit I respect that. The way my grandparents worshipped, still used in many churches in small towns across the Midwest, is highly reverent but in my opinion no longer relatable. The best Lutheran ministers are the ones that are relatable. So I tip my hat to Mr. Monk. 

Personal religion aside, this monk was great. His English was pretty decent, he couldn't have been more than 35 years old (or could he??) and he ended a pretty cool talk about zen by asking people if they wanted him to slap their bent-forward backs with a giant stick made from a Japanese Judas Tree so they could "have a memory of this event". And then he encouraged us to drink various types of sake including a potent "sparkling sake" with an admittedly suspicious milky texture. A superb drink called Tsuki no Katsura月の桂, (lit. Japanese Judas Tree of the moon). Watanabe-san and I formed a plan to get Phil to drink most of the bottle...It totally worked. We got Phil buzzed. Unfortunately, Watanabe-san and his boss Yoshihiko-san had the same secret plan for me. At one point I put down my choko, 猪口、sake cup, and begged for a respite to "gather me wits about me"...because, you see, sake takes me straight back to the London of Oliver Twist. To which they all starred blankly at me and we all burst out into uncontrollable laughter. But on second recollection, it might have been just me laughing...with no actual references to Britain.

Oh and did I mention there was a visit from a Maiko, (geisha in training), who visited all the way from Kyoto. Check out the video below of Phil asking the Maiko about her training. 

Also, there was a very friendly news reporter from channel 4, Japan Television, asking us about our thoughts on the zen experience and sake tasting. It was quite funny as the reporter was speaking to the other foreigners present through a translator, a cute blonde, who I later learned is from England. The first question I was asked by the reporter, I had trouble understanding what he was asking so I looked to Joanna for help. She translated and I responded in English. His next question I understood well enough to answer so I just dove in and answered in Japanese. I think most of the crew and Joanne were a little taken aback. Joanne later told me that it was pretty funny because during the first question when I looked to her for help, she felt good, feeling helpful, like she was doing her job and was happy she showed up. But then when I answered the second question, she felt "What the heck, who is this guy who has been speaking to a Japanese guy for all of two minutes, and now speaks great Japanese." It looked like I was being mischievous...and who am I to say I wasn't.   ;-D

Overall it was a phenomenal event. When I left I was replete. And to top it off when I awoke this morning I found a giant bottle of sake waiting on the kitchen table: a parting gift from Watanabe-san and Yoshihiko-san who I am truly grateful to for sharing this event with me. Now, the same story in pictures and a video. Enjoy.

Buddhist priest and Maiko, both from Kyoto

Phil blending in

Meet@Marunouchi channel 4 Nihon Television news crew

"ZEN" with Mr. Monk

"Phil" :-D
My gracious host Watanabe-san and I

 Phil asking the Maiko about her training
Just so you know...Phil doesn't always get the girl  <lucky son of a gun>

Talk about a party favor, 1.8 liters of Kyoto sake. Next party, my place! Thank you for reading!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Missing Fingers and the Japanese Driver's Test

das Feuer!

Still on my quest to attain a Japanese driver's license via the conversion route, I attempted the test a 2nd time today. 
The preparation
Today I successfully made it past the starting line, a feat I could not boast from my 1st attempt. In fact, today I got to see the entire course from the driver's seat. Stand back! I think a button just busted off this vest. 

As I rounded the final corner into the home stretch, I saw the evaluator had already filled out my "FAIL" slip and was waiting until I stopped the car before handing it to me. Probably a good idea, in theory. But next time buddy, why not keep it hidden until I stop the car. I mean, there is still a lot of horse power behind the wheel, not to mention the little bit the car had to offer and you wouldn't want that power unleashed on your sorry rear-ender now would you?

In any case, dear readers, I will strike out again in three weeks for my 3rd attempt at the driving test.
One good thing happened today, I took the new used scooter I bought (@25,000 yen and worth every penny) 1 hour through the heart of Tokyo in peak rush hour traffic to get to the Driver's License Center in Fuchu (pronounced Foo-choo). Fantastic ride, scary as hell, but thoroughly thrilling. I can't wait to go again...sort of.

On my way back I past my old University. So I hit up my old lunching spot, Bambi's restaurant. By Japanese standards, Bambi's is probably the equivalent of a local mom and pop diner back in the States with slightly greasy everything on the menu. But I love Bambi's, seasoned hamburger patty on a plate with some pasta, fried croquet of creamed corn, white rice, and chicken stock soup.  I want a picture of the meal to share with you but my camera broke when I sat on it in the Yamanote. So I gleaned a few from Tabelog which is a Japanese site for searching for good food in Japan. Thanks to hopkins  for posting these on Tabelog. Just picture a very happy white guy (or a very white happy guy) on a very tiny bar stool, seated at the bar which creates a semicircle around the cooks area. Now picture that crowded into half the size you are imagining and you might have a faint glimpse of what it was like for me today.
The food :-D

The shop :-l

das Feuer!

My main man!*see note below*

The entire ordering and payment system! Insert a 1000 yen bill and press your pick, let the Old Guy take it from here. 

Pay attention, because this is the remarkable thing about this whole day. The 65 year old cook who used to serve me 5 years ago (pictured above) when I was an exchange student, is now older and grayer but still serving. Spectacular coincidence, probably not. But how about the fact that he was now operating with a stub for a right thumb and the first knuckle removed from his right index finger. Figure that one out! My first thought was possibly trouble paying up with the local yakuza? What do you think?

Friday, September 7, 2012


  1. 新しいカメラを買いたいです。
  2. 自転車のインナーチューブを交換
  3. インナーチューブを交換するために、可動レンチが必要なので、ドンキーへ行なくちゃいけません。
  4. ちょっと勉強したいです。(ポルトガル語か日本語かベーシックプログラミング言語Cにも興味があるからこの頃勉強している。)日本語は間違いが多いけど、このブログで大丈夫です。
  5. 今晩、自宅で小さなパーティーの予定があるので、そのために買い物と料理をしなくちゃいけない。でも何を作るかと聞かれたら、全く分かりません


Wednesday, September 5, 2012



Saturday, August 18, 2012

Berlitz Outservice

At my company, I was asked to teach a contractual out-service. This is a special contract setup between Berlitz and another company, to provide English instruction to that company's employees. Usually these lessons take place outside the typical class setting at a Learning Center. This particular contract is being taught once or twice a month at the company's main office very near Tokyo station in one of the many surrounding skyscrapers. In fact, the office where I have been teaching has a spectacular view from the 30th floor overlooking the Imperial Palace. I make the 5km run around these grounds (follow the tree line around) once or twice a week. 

In the last lesson of the day, my colleagues and I decided to bring our groups together for a final 1 hour group project. The lesson theme for today was project management. So we thought it fit to assign them a group and a project and try to work things out in English using the phrases and communication skills we had just learned. 
The project was to build a paper tower using a limited amount of supplies. Towers were evaluated based on several criteria including height, aesthetics, and stability. 

This project incorporated a 15 minute planning session where the group decided their plan of attack. They assigned roles, determined a target structural plan, and so on. It was absolutely fascinating because some of the students are structural engineers and some of the plans they hashed out were amazingly detailed. One group had actually calculated the maximum achievable height based on the dimensions of the paper. Then, after 10 minutes we introduced the first twist of the project, personnel reassignment. We rotated one member from each group to different group siting some plausible reason, such as overseas job transfer. We gave them the remaining 5 minutes from the initial 15 to bring the new member up to speed. 
Next, began the actual construction. I caught myself staring amazed and jaw-dropped. These guys came up with some amazing structures. They definitely achieved the use of the target language which was also a great feeling. 
And then, half way through (they were given 20 minutes to build), we shuffled the groups again exchanging one more member and forced them to reiterate goals and reassign roles in order to meet the deadline. Utter caos for the students, sheer delight for the instructors. It was awesome! 

Here are their completed structures. 
'The Triangle Building' incorporated triangular subunits, a solid base, and received points for being the most likely structure to survive an earthquake!

'The Unstable Skytree' incorporated triangular subunits, a Star-of-David base and received bonus points for being the tallest structure as well as the most aesthetically pleasing. (The star theme was noted in the base and on the "top spire"; can you see the faint red star at the top?)

The Inclined Tower, like the others, incorporated triangular subunits. This structure achieved a respectable height. The base consisted of several pieces of paper, one of which was anchored between the two desks. Very clever, but they lost points for aesthetics. 

As judges, we decided the winner was Unstable Skytree for the unique design theme, stars. We also agreed that the height and overall neat appearance of this structure were contributing factors to the success of Unstable Skytree. 
Overall, the group project was quite fun to watch. Far more than anticipated. I highly recommend the activity for a group lesson on project management or team-building. 
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 279

A true sign that things are picking up is the infrequency of my blog posts. If I had to weigh it all out, I would say its not only a great thing, its fantastic. Staying busy, staying healthy. Can't ask for more than that. Tokyo summer is staying true to form, unbearably hot and humid.
Tonight as I finished my run around the Imperial Palace, a popular pass-time for nearby residence, I was actually stopped by a police officer and was told that if I didn't put my shirt back on I would be taken to the Koban. I have a feeling that this young officer wanted to flex some muscle more than anything and I highly doubt there is an actual law against running in the hot, muggy Tokyo summer shirtless. My guess is he reacted more out of custom than anything. I know it is considered indecent by Japanese cultural standards. And I don't do it every time I go running; only a handful of times in the past four months. But not having any fight left after a 30 minute run, I didn't argue and donned the shirt. But believe me, I will do it again tomorrow if the weather is just as hot.

On another note, I started working part-time as a translator and native English checker for a small Japanese law office. Finally, a small goal fulfilled, I hope to get some use out of all those years of Japanese language study at the UW.

This weekend I am planning to relax a little, teach a few private lessons and spend a Sunday at the beach with some friends. Apparently this will be one of the last good weekends for swimming in the Tokyo area because a giant mass of jellyfish turns up every year around August 18th...or so I am told and this event can make the whole swimming experience a variable pain in the @$$.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TY Harbor- A Pre-birthday Celebration

Today I had lunch with my buddy and former classmate "Kobayashi". We first met in the Japanese department, studying (mostly over beers) at the Japanese conversation table in the Memorial Union. 

August 8th being his birthday, we met up for a pre-birthday luncheon to discuss the weekend birthday plans. Nick chose TY HARBOR in Shinagawa (Tokyo). Turned out to be an awesome choice. 

Cool! Boat PARKING! 

It's a decent enough restaurant, spacious, the food and service were excellent. They have their own microbrewery on-site. This was, of course, the main attraction for us both. Nick tried the IPA and I had the Imperial Stout. Both were pretty good. The stout had a good balance of the coffee and creamy tastes one often uses to describe a typical stout. The IPA, according to Nick was comparable to another one of his favorites, Hoppalicious. 

Located right on the water, this converted metal factory is worth a look. Average price for lunch with a small draft beer is around 2000 yen and goes up from there. Yeah, its definitely a bit pricey but not bad by Tokyo standards. And they have a bakery, a bar, outdoor dining area, and a floating lounge on site with Happy Hour from 5pm-8pm M-F. 

Gotta love this pairing: Burger with 1000 Island Dressing and fresh fries with a decent IPA. A recipe for summer; a recipe for success!

I had the shrimp po-boy and side of potato salad with a creamy Stout to wash it down. Delicious!
The lunch set came with iced tea, side salad, and all-you-can-eat bread basket.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Nihonbashi Building On Fire (Tokyo)

A fire broke out today in one of the richest areas of Tokyo, famous for its department stores like Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi and the original "Japan Bridge" Nihonbashi.
I came home this evening to a building the size of a city block billowing black smoke, not more than 200 yards from my apartment.
I counted at least a dozen fire trucks and countless firefighters. I managed to capture a few seconds of video on my pre-paid. The smoke could be smelled for miles. 

3 hours later...the smoke stopped.

Look out for the drunk pedestrian who didn't seem to notice there was a building on fire and started yelling at the traffic cop. 

Update to come when I know more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Getting a Japanese Driver's License: The preparation

Today I began the process of converting my American driver's license to a Japanese one. It is a notoriously difficult process but a necessary one if I wish to drive after the expiration of my International Driver's license. The international driver's license was obtained from AAA before I left the States and is good for only 12 months. So I wanted to start in on the process well before the expiration date.

My first stop of the day was the Japan Automobile Federation for a translation of my American driver's license. It is required by the Licensing Center and is the most expensive step in the process at 3000 yen for translating a grand total of 4 important pieces of information. They are: Date of issuance, type of license (car, motorcycle, commercial vehicles, etc.), restrictions (contact lenses), and Date of expiration.
Because I lost my wallet at a phenomenal Badger football game 1 month before my departure to Japan, I had my license replaced. The issuance date was only 1 month prior to my arrival in Japan. This apparently is a problem for the licensing centers in Japan as they make you prove that you had your license at least 3 months prior to your arrival. The popular belief is that they instituted this regulation to prevent Japanese nationals from flying to the US to get a license and then flying back without any actual driving experience. I guess it makes sense. You have to consider this, a typical John Smith (or in this case Yamada Taro) would obtain licensure through a certified driving course that would cost the equivalent of $3000 and several months worth of classes.

Anyway, to prove that I have been driving since I was 15 years old, I had the Wisconsin DMV print out an abstract of my driving history. This cost $5.50 and was all done online without any problems.

So I ran this with my Wisconsin Driver's license to JAF offices near Hamamatsucho, Tokyo. Paid my 3,000 yen and it took about 20 minutes for them to translate those 4 pieces of information for me.

Then I ran over to the Tokyo licensing center near Oimachi station. I handed them my passport, alien registration card, my American license, the hot-off-the-laser-printer translation, and a headshot from the picture booth (700 yen, about $8.85 with today's exchange rate).

They took my information and I waited. Unfortunately I was behind a group of three Arab guys, an ornery middle-aged New Zealand women, and an even more cantankerous Japanese guy who shouldn't have even been in line at the "Application to convert a foreign license to a Japanese license" desk. It took 2.5 hours for the staff to call my name. The call came 5 minutes before I had to depart for work. I thought, "Oh great" and asked the woman if I could come back to finish another day. Of course, I received a pleasant, "If you come back another time, you will have to do everything over again." I was fuming at this point, especially because between the NZ woman and the Japanese dude, I know there was at least an hour of decent DMV staffers time wasted in pleading and arguing. My one consolation is that the Japanese dude did not get what he came for. I, on the other hand, can boast a tale of success.
Well, sorta...
On Tuesdays, my first lesson starts at 5:30pm.
It was already 4:25pm when my paperwork was partially ready. When I was called to the service window the second time, I was told to do the following:
"First go down stairs to offices 3 and 8"
Office 3 was an eye exam. Office 8 was the cashier.
"Then come back to this window"
I dashed away from the window and scrambled for the stairs.
At 4:30pm, I arrived back at the main window relieved that I had somehow managed to finish in time.
Alas, I wasn't finish.
"Time for the written exam"
[4:31pm] I was taken to a touch screen computer (possibly one of the first CRT touch screens, who knows!)
and had to answer 10 questions in English (the only English I encountered all day).
The guy before me apparently failed with 6 of 10 and passing is 7 of 10.
Again I thought, "Oh great".
10 of 10, boo yah! Thanks to this website about testing centers and the driver's test in general.
Next, the staff returned my documents and put it into a large envelope.
4:35pm: In Japanese
"Now you should go downstairs and schedule a driving test"
Again I dashed away from the window and scrambled for the stairs. Only this time I managed a rather loud utterance of a 4 letter explicative. Sorry Ma.

[4:36pm] I handed the overstuffed envelop to another waiting official. While he prepared a card for me to schedule an appointment for the Practical driving test, a police officer and another staff member commented on how I looked like their friend "Ikeda". The fact that I am fairly tall and unmistakably white did not deter them from remarking directly to me on the subject.

[4:40pm] Finally, I made an appointment for a practical driving exam (only 3 weeks away) and was released from the Japanese DMV. I proceeded to sprint the 3/4 mile back to the station, literally jumping the center median of a 4 lane highway and dodging pedestrians, mopeds, and one rather cool looking Alaskan husky. I arrived at the station at 4:45pm, drenched in sweat...although I was dressed to impress today, there wasn't a single cool cell left in my body. I again found myself scrambling for the stairs, this time to get to the train platform. And just as the train doors were closing, I shoved my hand in the door. I waited and prayed that the conductor would open the door. Instead, he opened the doors slightly, thinking that I would simply remove my hand. I didn't budge. He had to do it two more times with me glaring all the way down 10 cars before I realized he wasn't going to budge. So out of sheer will and determination not to let the Japanese DMV make me give up my perfect attendance record at work, I pulled a "Hulk" and forced that door open.

After spending $52.34, and about 6 hours in bureaucratic hell, I made it to my first lesson of the evening with 5 minutes to spare (albeit still sweating from the muggiest summer I have ever experienced as well as the fastest three-quarter mile sprint of my life). And what do I have to show for it? Well, to be honest not much more than a slightly amusing (or rather, bemusing) story to tell the kids and an appointment for what is certainly going to be more pain and toil.

But as Grandfather always said, "Keep looking up."
I only pray that the hard part is over.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Bubby's Tokyo (八重洲地下): An underwhelming experience

I just checked out the newest Bubby's restaurant under Tokyo Station (Yaesu Chika). I was recommended by my co-worker to go check it out after I said I wanted to eat an American-style breakfast like Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast. Jeff's first recommendation was Bubby's stating that he often goes to the Bubby's located in Ark Hills. So I went. While the atmosphere and service is great, the breakfast I ate was lacking.

First of all, the breakfast menu was small. I could choose from French Toast (3 styles), Pancakes (4 styles), and a breakfast set called The Yaechika Plate. I asked for the Plate since it included toast, fried potatoes, a fruit cup, and an omelet-like preparation with mushrooms and eggs.

The toast was rye. Ok, no problem, I like rye bread. Plain white bread which is readily available at any convenient store would have been better. At least provide the choice. And of course, include some jelly either on the table or on the plate. The omelette was fair. The shredded cheese on the top was served cold. The fried potatoes was the only thing I thought was authentic. I quite enjoyed the bacon it was fried with.

I also tasted the French Toast. Again their choice of bread was a little different. It was prepared on a French baguette. I personally would have been fine with Texas-style toast, also readily available at any 7/11 convenient store. It was soggy and a little undercooked.

I can recommend only the fried potatoes. Traditionally, however, I think the omelette should be as big or bigger than the potatoes. In this case, the potatoes were double the size of the omellette.

Overall, this experience was underwhelming. The menu was too small and the food did not meet me already very low expectations. It is clear to me that this is still a new shop. The staff and cooks are probably still acclimating. But for now, I would suggest avoiding the Yaesu Bubby's restaurant until they get some things straightened out, in my humble opinion.

Monday, June 25, 2012

When the party comes to you, MIKOSHI!

Mikoshi are portable shrines that resemble the Jewish Ark of the Covenant (I am thinking Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark here). Japanese festival goers hoist the gold-laden wooden shrine on two giant poles and bounce their way down the street, chanting as the try to excite the god who resides within. This is for the viewing pleasure of the neighborhood temple goers. It was a pretty cool parade and festival. It just so happens that the Mikoshi parade stopped right in front of our apartment on what is normally a quiet Sunday afternoon. I was told that the Mikoshi weights about 2 tons. Check out my video below. 
The traditional dress for this event is strangely similar to that of Zap and Kif from Futurama...short! While some guys and nearly all of the women who participated wore pants or shorts underneath their costumes, some did not. See if you can spot the Zap-like festival warned though, you might not like what you see. 

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Yebisu Beer, the Museum

Yebisu is one of several popular brands of pale lager available in Japan owned by the large conglomerate, Sapporo Holdings. 

A friend recommended checking out their museum in Ebisu. So naturally, being the wanderlust Wisconsinite beer-lover that I am, I rounded up a group of friends (Yuko, Chappy, and Mari) and headed to the museum on a sunny, Tokyo afternoon in June. I wanted to check it out for two reasons. First, I heard it was cheap (500 yen admission). And secondly, (as any good tour should) it includes beer. Solid. You don't need a reservation, even on a Sunday, but you might have to wait up to 20 minutes for the next tour to start. 

The tour is all in Japanese but they do have an English pamphlet you can read.

Ebisu Garden Place is a pretty neat area to hang out in. Lots of shopping and good restaurants. First we stopped for lunch on the 33rd floor of the Ebisu Garden Place Tower at a Japanese-style restaurant. Nice view, no? The food wasn't bad either. I had tonkatsu (breaded pork chop). Delicious.

While waiting for the tour to start, we hung out. Apparently, the girls were still hungry. Good thing Yuko makes a good dessert. 

The tour was actually pretty decent. They gave a great history of the company which you can read about here
But I was a little disappointed that they didn't go into more detail about their brewing process. What can I say? I like science, especially the science of beer. 

And of course at the end of the tour we got our beer. And played an intense game of rock, paper, scissors with the other tour members for more free beer. Mari, Yuko, and I all struck out in the first round when we all flashed paper. D'oh! If you go, and you go in a group, be prepared, have a strategy and you might just win more free beer ;-)

Overall, I would give the Yebisu beer tour a 6/10 because its cheap and the history of the company is fairly entertaining.  But honestly, I am holding out for a Japanese beer tour with a healthy explanation of the brewing magic. :-D 

Thanks for reading! 

Tokyo John Bull

French Restaurant, Tokyo Station

French, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet near the Tokyo Station Shinkansen Entrance. This is hands down my favorite spot for lunch. It's pretty reasonably priced at 1300 yen per person. But more than that, the view, the food, and the atmosphere are worth it. 
My buddy Maru pointing at the 25th floor of the Asahi Seimei Building where my favorite restaurant is located: Tokyo John Bull. Tokyo Station Shinkansen Entrance is across the street on the left. In the background you can see the JR Yamanote line bridge. 

The other day we headed to Tokyo John Bull restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is located on the 25th floor of the Asahi Seimei building, on Eitai Dori, at the north side of Tokyo station. Here it is on the map

The food here is great. Fresh fruit. Coffee. Soup. Baked fish. Tempura. Grilled Chicken. Delicous Japanese style curry. Fresh salads and breads. and of course, excellent French dessert. Did I mention it's all you can eat? :-D

For lunch they usually have an elegantly dressed pianist on the white baby grand. When we went, this beauty was playing some Beatles, "Piano Man" and bunch of other great classics.  As you will see in the video below, the staff is pretty cute too. Contrary to popular opinion, I did not knowingly capture the waitress on camera, or I should say, I didn't knowingly capture her back...side. Sorry Miss. 

If you get a chance go check out Tokyo John Bull. Drop me a line and let me know what you think. 
Bon appétit!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sending money from Japan to the US

Check out my updated Post on Wire Transfers

Citibank Japan versus Shinsei Bank

One of the issues that comes up for new residents in Japan is how to send money back home to the States. For me, I must pay student loans State-side. Since there is little, helpful information on the internet I thought I would start a post to document my experience with Japanese banking and foreign currency transactions. Two of the more gaijin (foreigner) friendly banks I have discovered thus far are Citibank Japan and Shinsei Bank. I currently have an account for each. 
While you will need a passport and foreigners card (外国人登録証明書 gaikokujin tōroku shōmeisho)  sign-up for a new bank account, they do not require a Japanese hanko (registered seal) which traditional Japanese banks will require and which can be a bit of a hassle to get. 
**These are good banks if you are a foreigner and in Tokyo because these banks have many branches here and a few branches have English speaking staff. Outside Tokyo, I do not know. 

Below, I am including the screen shots of a recent transaction I had using Citibank Japan to send my paycheck to my US bank account. I use USAA in the US because they have free incoming transaction from overseas. (My credit union charges $40 for incoming overseas Keep in mind also that my current employer Berlitz has a special deal with Citibank called Citibank at Work where I can receive free overseas wire transfers for a year. (This pdf is for University of Tokyo employees, but its similar to the program Berlitz has with Citibank). They usually charge 4,000 yen for overseas remittances (foreign transaction fees from Citibank Japan accounts to foreign bank accounts). 

So for about a year I will continue using Citibank Japan, after that I will have to find a better solution as I will no longer receive free wire transfers (remittances) home. 

Here is what my remittance looked like yesterday. 
I sent home 250,000 Japanese yen at a rate of 80.55 Jpy for 1 USD.
Divide 250,000 yen by 80.55 and you get $3,103.66 USD. Since my transaction is free, there is no remittance fee. 

Here is Citibank's listed exchange rate at that time:

**Note the definiton of TTS and TTB: TTS is Yen to foreign currency rate and 
TTB is the rate from foreign currency into Yen. I am concerned about TTS.

Looking at Shinsei's listed exchange rate at the same time/on the same date for their Standard Customer plan:

You see the TTS is different. So I do the quick calculation to see how much it comes out to in USD.            250,000yen/80.04 (exchange rate, TTS)= $3,123.44

Compared to Citibank's $3,103.66, that is a difference of $20. However, Shinsei also charges 4,000 yen for the transfer so: 250,000 yen - 4,000 yen= 246,000 yen. Then divide 246,000 yen by 80.04= $3073.46 (net deposit in USD).

$3103.66   - $3073.46 = $30.20 (my net savings using citibank Japan to transfer my funds) 
Might not seem like much, but multiply that by 12 months a year and I will receive an extra $362 in my US bank account this year and pay off those pesky student loans just that much quicker. 

To summarize, with the Citibank at Work program I will receive an extra $362 transferring my money through Citibank Japan. However, you can see that Shinsei gives the better rate. If I did not receive the free remittances from Citibank, Shinsei would be the better choice ($20 per month better than Citibank Japan, or $240 over the course of a year).
So next year, when I no longer receive free remittances (overseas wire transactions) from Citibank, I will probably use Shinsei to get a better exchange rate on my transfers. That is, unless I find a better way to transfer. I would love to hear from others in a similar situation. Comments/questions welcome. Thx for reading. 

****UPDATE August 2012****
Some friends recommended Golloyds (online registration possible) for remittances, so I did a quick comparison showing the amount in dollars you can receive from each bank: Golloyds, Shinsei, and Citibank. I did these calculations after deducting the various fees for each bank. Golloyds (2,000 yen) Shinsei (4,000 yen), and Citibank (4,000 yen). 

This is what I came up with: 
250,000 yen at Golloyds becomes $3,081, $3,091.23 at Shinsei, and $3,067.33 at Citibank.
Shinsei seemingly comes out on top...assuming there aren't some undiscovered fees from intermediary banks they may or may not use to make the transfers. 

As of Wednesday May 30th at 21:58. The TTS exchange rate (Yen to Dollar) is Golloyds 80.48, Shinsei 79.58, Citibank 80.20. 

You can check the current exchange rates for these three banks below.




***Update December 2012***
Now keeping tabs on the biggest bank in Japan Mitsubishi UFJ. Here is the link