Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting a driver's licence in Japan

There are different rules depending on where you come from. I'm from one of the lucky countries, which means I don't need to pass a driving test. back in the old days when I got my first Japanese driver's licence, all I did was show my Kiwi one and fill out a form, take an eye and color test and pay money.

Things are different. Now we have to:

1. Get our licence translated by either the Japanese Automobile Federation or from the Embassy. The Embassy charges 9,990 yen for this service. JAF charges 3,000 yen. I went to JAF. On the website it says you need to show them your licence and they will take a photocopy and in about a week to ten working days a translation will be posted to you. So, I was surprised when they asked me to take a seat and wait a few minutes. 15 minutes later I had a translation in my hands. SCORE! they weren't busy. Thank you JAF.

2. Get a letter from the Embassy that proves you lived in the country for more than 3 months after you got your licence. I got my licence in 1990. This letter was free, but I needed to provide my passport number.

3. Take all my old passports (you know not to throw them away, right? My wife tossed her old ones!) to show I lived in Japan with a driver's licence for longer than a year. This way you won't be forced to drive for a year with an L plate. Not sure how they worked that one out as passports only have visas.

4. One tiny photo of 1 cm by 1cm. This will cost you 600 yen.

5. Someone who speaks fluent Japanese. 

And that's it for the paperwork (on the most part). The Kobe office is open only from 0930-1030 for foreign licence holders. During this time, you take a number and wait A VERY LONG TIME before you can enter the office and start clearing the paperwork.

You show the police officer all the paperwork and your licence, then you fill out another form and take that to window number 1, pay 2400 yen and they will put a stamp on it. Take that back to the officer. He gives you an eye test and a color test. In Japan green is blue, so say blue. In reality it is a bluish-green color but traffic lights are green (as in actual green but you will hear people on the street call them blue--this is only for traffic lights, every other green is green).

I passed those tests and then had to take a lecture and get a photo taken for the licence with around 250 other people. (Note: in Japan you can get a 50cc licence at the age of fifteen). I listened to the lecture (i.e. I did my best to keep my eyes open).

Next was the photo. I was last. They have a list on the board of all numbers (we all had numbers) and you stood in the line in the numerical order. One the board they had "gai" written on the bottom of the board meaning all foreign licence holders. There was only me. haha. So I waited and when it was time to get my photo, they questioned me on my name. It was spelt wrong in the Kana part. The lady who was checking noticed it and said, "Is your name plrerezusuzu?" I said, "No." She said, "I thought so, is it Pl RE SU A ZU?" "Yep." They changed it and that took another 10 minutes.

I got to the licence place at 0900. I left with my licence at 15.00
It's a full day with a lot of waiting involved. In the old days it took 45 minutes. In three years when I need to renew it will take about 45 minutes to renew and I won't need any forms.

Oh, and if you have a drivers' licence with a motorcycle licence or truck licence (like me) you will only get a car licence. if you want your truck and/or motorcycle licence, you MUST attend driving school and use their motorbikes. PS: If you can't lift the bike that's lying on the ground, then you can't get a licence for that size motor. Motorcycle licences are given according to a CC rating.

Friday, January 28, 2011

DVDs and region codes

DVDs. I have lots of them, well over a hundred, one day I will get around to cataloguing them but that is a post for my private anything goes blog, not this one. So, with all these DVDs I thought I would have a great time in Japan once my computer arrived. Why once my computer arrived? Because we all know that DVDs and DVD players are encoded with a region code (I think there are 6), plus they are also PAL encoded or NTSC encoded. My computer's DVD player is region free and as such it plays anything.

I know there are region hacks for DVD players but I've never tried them, there are also internal hacks, and there's no way in Hell, I'd try that. And then there are DVD rippers and burners where you can change the code. Bugger that. Talk about time consuming. I have a fast computer and fast software where I have backed up some of my DVD collection. A high quality burn takes a few hours, a low video quality takes 40 minutes (why would you want low quality of you are buying DVDs?), that's writing time I don't want to waste (you shouldn't use your computer if you are burning a DVD).

My TV over here has a built-in Bluray DVD player. I am not a Bluray fan but they won the DVD war and in Japan it is very hard to find non-Bluray players. And when you do they are all region 2. Most of my DVDs are PAL region 4 or NTSC region 1. NTSC is the standard Japan uses but the region for DVDs is 2. So I know all my DVDs don't play.

Then I remembered when I was first in Japan I was looking in a video store for a cheap region free DVD player. I found a stack of DVDs for sale at a cheap price $60 (this was like 9 years ago). I enquired of the clerk if they were region free. He said no. In Japan only region 2 (he was very blunt about it). But this DVD player was made in China, and my thinking at the time was that cheap products are built en mass and most likely these DVD players just have a sticker saying what region it was. So, I bought it. The wife was against the purchase. We plugged it in and I rocked while watching region 1 DVDs I had bought online.

So remembering this, I thought I would look in some video stores again and see if I can find the same type of cheap DVD player. No luck in the local stores, I needed to visit a big chain store but in my town there aren't any lol.

Yesterday the wife and I had just got off the train and were walking through the shopping street and we saw a lady selling all sorts of things, cd, dvds, radio players. I went to look at the DVDs as I want to get Resident Evil 4 (haven't seen it yet). The set up was a couple of tables covered with a sheet and heaps of stuff on them. including a made in China DVD player for $20.00. It was tiny. We bought it on the off chance it played region free like the last one. And it does.

Last night the wife and I and Wolf enjoyed Rise of the Lycans (again). Tonight we will enjoy Finding Forrester.

So if you are bringing a collection of DVDs over to Japan with you or you want to buy cheap DVDs online (like I do), then get yourself one of these players. They work a charm. Large video stores have them, I think.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Love lock

Koibito Maskai (AKA Lover's Cape) is about a ten minute bike ride from us. It is at the far side of a large grassed park where dogs (like Wolf) chase soccer balls and it faces the ocean. It is roped off by a chain link fence. On the fence are hundreds of padlocks and on those padlocks is a declaration of love.

A Google search didn't point me to any reason why they put padlocks on the fence but I suspect it is to lock their love to the beautiful ocean view. Apparently many couples would go there and watch the sun sizzle out in the ocean.

I did have other photos of the padlocks but they are unnamed and somewhere in my HD of 130GB of photos. I searched everywhere for them. If I find them I'll update this post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

At Customs

The company that was delivering our stuff to our house told us that once we get our items to customs it then takes an entire day to clear a container of goods. So we wanted to be at the port early and had booked a truck to deliver our goods to Customs House. We arrived and went to see the drivers. No one had been told and everyone was busy. I was getting pissed off but kept my mouth shut. 3 days earlier we were told the container was waiting. Now, we had this office guy telling us it was going to take hours to get the container. They didn't even know where it was. Somebody wasn't doing their job. So the wife called the delivery company and explained to them (they were waiting at customs) that it would probably be around 1pm before the goods arrived at customs. They were not happy and went back to Osaka depo. We were then told of the delivery in advance.

We then decided to go to customs and explain to them that there was a hold up. It didn't bother them, they were busy. At 9.30am the wife and I decided to get some late breakfast (we were up at 5am).

At around 10am we get a call from the port, "Hey, your container is on it's way to customs." WTF. We weren't complained. Straight away the wife called the delivery company and turned the truck around. We were still expecting an all day wait for customs but at lest things were getting underway.

A Customs official handed us a sheet of paper. On it they had drawn circles and triangles around items they wanted to open and scan. Total of 13 boxes out of 64. The delivery guys sorted out the boxes and laid them on the ground while they packed the rest. 
As soon as we were ready, customs approached us and started doing their thing. They abandoned the agent they were wife to get to us. Our stuff was scanned and that passed. they a lady (we had been dealing with her from the start) started to look though our boxes.

We had seriously wrapped all the things we consider important seriously well in paper and bubble wrap and tape. After about 20 minutes, the customs officer said, "mo ii wa. Owata. You can go now."

No papers to sign, nothing. We loaded up the truck and was out of there ASAP.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The hassle of getting your gear

Point number one: Get an agent -- they cost more than your plane fare but you'll be stress free and just waiting at home for your stuff to arrive.

Important note: we did not know this!

We left home at 0800. We got home 1900.

You see, shipping companies ALL think you are using an agent so they are unhelpful and fucking rude in most cases. The wife was stressing, we were sent to the wrong locations. And we were doing this on foot from the nearest train station. The first place took us an hour to walk there, then another 30 minutes to get to the next place. Kobe port is massive and we are not slow walkers.

We had a bill to pay for landing with was around $300 and we finally found the place to pay this and we paid, got the receipt and left for the next place. Short walk this time, only 20 minutes. At this place we were meant to get the location of our container with our household goods inside. They couldn't find it and told us we needed another paper. What paper? They weren't sure.

The wife made several phone calls and someone suggested we go to the Customs house and check with them.

Everyone is used to dealing with agents and they probably thought the wife was the agent helping out the foreigner to get his goods and she was a beginner so they decided to fuck around. Maybe, maybe not. I have no idea. But we ended up at customs.

We were sent to the wrong customs building -- but they were professional and helpful, especially once the wife explained we had no agent and was doing this ourselves. At first they told us not to worry about it, our agent will take care of all these details.

It was now 1630 and the place we needed to go closed at 1700. We called a taxi but it never showed up so we decided to go home and go to the next customs office the next morning.

The next morning we showed up at the right customs house and they were overly helpful. The other customs house we visited yesterday had called and informed them of our situation, so they were armed and ready when we arrived first thing in the morning. They saw our receipt and called the shipping companies -- who ALL bowed before customs. Especially when they took our money and didn't tell us about the delivery notice we were supposed to get. Turns out the delivery notice was already completed. So we were on step 3 of 5.

We were sent to the original Customs office to get a letter of permission to move the items from the shipping port to the customs building for checking none of the seals are broken. That will happen this Tuesday as Monday is a public holiday.

Also on Tuesday our stuff will arrive at the other customs office for scanning while we are filling out forms. The people we arranged for delivery will be helping us as customs can't touch a single item. This will clear step 4 and 5 and then the stuff gets delivered to our house.

Here's the steps you need to follow:

1. When Bill of Lading arrives pay the Lading fee this can be done directly into the bank. The bank and account number will be on the Bill of Lading.

2. Get the delivery note if one exists. If you are bringing a full container there will be no delivery note. Anything less than a full container you will get a delivery note. We used a half container, but our stuff is the only thing in the container so it is considered full.

3. Get permission from Customs House for inspection of seals.

4. Get driver to take the container to Customs (this will cost you a hundred bucks as only one company can do this container delivery without hassles or hold ups).

5. Customs inspects and x-rays items.

6. Hopefully you don't have to pay anything. Customs gives you the cleared items forms. You sign.

7. Driver takes your stuff to your home.

8. You spend HOURS setting up your house.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Akemashite Omedetougozaimasu

Last night was New Years Eve and we celebrated at home with Wolf. So, this morning Ami and I visited two local shrines. The first one was Nagata Shrine and it's purpose is good business and good luck in your work. It was crowded.

This was the entrance once we go off the train. The streets were closed to traffic and both side of the streets were lined with shops selling food, usually hot food.

It was a bit of a walk to the shrine itself and the streets were crowded. We jostled for space and made it past the entrance gate and into the shrine.

Nagata Shrine is home to several gods: business, work, and the seven gods of luck and happiness.  You need to pray to each one in turn, usually throwing in a five or ten yen coin.

But before you can do that, you have to wash your hands at the entrance, so you are not throwing dirty money (!)

The cold water flows from bamboo sticks and the water falls into a concrete bowl and is recycled. You need to catch the water as it falls and wash your hands. Then you get to dry your hands on your jeans as there is no towel for this purpose. :)

It didn't long to get to the main temple and toss in 10 yen, clap my hands twice and request luck this year in business and employment.

On the way out, we stopped at the seven gods of happiness and prayed. I said, happy new year (Akemashite Omedetougozaimasu) and wished the wife a good and happy life together.

Then we saw this statue with money on it -->
I think the idea is to balance a coin on the statue and then make a wish. I think this is just giving money away (shrines make a lot of cash in times of financial hardship).

Ami wanted to buy a good luck charm there (omamori), but I didn't feel anything for that shrine so I said no. And then we decided to go home. On the way to the station, I bought a hot dog on a stick and the wife bought Takoyaki (Octopus balls):

At the station the wife said she wanted to go to the other shine as well. This shrine is called Minatogawa, and it's god is one that grants wishes. Now, I thought the other place was packed but Minatogawa was chocka:

Talk about packed. 

It's usually like this at midnight on New Years Eve. 

It took ages to get through the entrance, and past the food stalls (that weren't doing much business). When we got there, we beat the rush -- apparently -- as when we left there was a long line several people wide around the block.

After we reached the front and tossed in a 50 yen coin and made a wish, we walked over to the omamori stand and bought a good luck charm. It's a small bag with a picture on it, usually of an insect. You are not supposed to open it and look at the picture, but 13 years ago I wanted to see if anything WAS inside and I opened it up, unwrapped the paper and yep, there was an insect drawn. What kind it was I don't know plus it looked like a sketch that was rushed or done by a kid. So I know not to open them now. It's meant to be bad luck if you open it. You should also return the omamori to the shrine you got it from one year later and then buy a new one. I kept mine for 8 years. Worked well. Now, I have a new one. (sorry no photo)

Friday, December 31, 2010

Wolfies first time outside

I know this blog  is meant to be about Japan and it is intended to be, but having Wolfie with us, little exploring is happening. Tonight is New Years Eve, and most people are at a shrine (for luck and fortune) or a bar (trying to get laid). We have Wolfie with us and he can't travel to a shrine this year, we have decided to stay home and welcome the new year with our hyper dog.

We did have dinner with a couple of good friends. The meal was fantastic and well priced. We got there at 4pm so we could get a table without a reservation (lol). It's a good place and the staff are very good. They had my favorite beer, Sapporo, and I downed several :)

Here is Wolfie's first experience of the outside world. We are debating on whether he knows it is the outside or does he think it is just a big-ass room. He is also starting to understand games as well. In the past (yesterday) he would just charge at me, teeth barred and we would play wrestle (ignoring WWE warnings). Tonight, just before I wrote this blog post, we played and he started off by ducking and diving, darting here and there, getting close to me and when I move he darts back. When he was ready: he sprinted at me, teeth barred and ...boom... game on! I wonder who has more fun, him or me.