31July2014

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13March2013

Happens more often than not

Posted by Roland under: Personal.

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6March2013

Oh, hello there

Posted by Roland under: JET; Personal.

I wasn’t even sure at first if I still had this place up. I felt like I paid the renewal for the domain/storage but because it was probably so easy to do (check this box, click this button, etc) it was quite forgettable. In any case, my web presence remains, albeit quite obviously neglected.

It’s not to say there haven’t been stories of interest, but most of the time it’s just better told on my Facebook page with fancy pictures to go along with it. Pictures are worth a thousand words after all. Most blogs I’ve been seeing from people nowadays have been mainly just of people’s meals, which really, is something that is now just better left to Instagram.

I haven’t been finding a lot of the inspiration to go out and blog about things. Even if I wanted to do a food blog, I don’t nearly cook enough or have enough fancy food places to make such a venture worthwhile. And while I feel this blog was supposed to be mainly for personal entries, my daily life isn’t nearly as dramatic as it used to be (or as dramatic as I self-perceived it). I’ve found (and unfortunately re-read a little bit) that a lot of my writing passion comes from those kind of moments. My life (for the better, I feel) has fallen into a routine. Teaching in Japan and having a stable life has been great, although there’s only so much you can say about teaching in Japan that hasn’t already been said (and even harder when you can’t take too many pictures of the students themselves).

But that’s a personal block that I’m going to try and get over. I’d like to try blogging again to just get back in the flow of writing and hopefully maybe some people out there will find what they read somewhat interesting. The reason we have so many people putting up posts about food they’ve had is because they have something they want to say and really don’t care if you like it or not. They’re taking time to put it up and then hey, maybe they’ll get an audience and some comments out of it. Nothing wrong with that. So I’ll go ahead, put up some posts, see what sticks, and maybe it’ll be for the best.


That being said, in regards to what’s going on now, I’m about a halfway through what has become a three year stay in Japan. I like to think of it as just one long consulting project. You’re here to do a job for a certain amount of time whereupon you’ll go back and figure out your next steps. But stay tuned for those posts of “what the hell will be those next steps” sometime later this year. Let me at least get to my two year anniversary later this summer.

Graduation season has arrived and the junior high students are almost on their way out. This is a group that I had over a year to get to know and am definitely closer with than with last year’s group (just because of time spent with them, last year’s group was perfectly fine too). It will be definitely be a different school without them there in April. But from the surprising number of last year’s students who came by just yesterday (high school has already started their break) I figure that some of them will still be stopping by through the next school year.

And as part of my efforts to get back to America more often, I’ll be taking a week trip back to SF during my spring break. No real plan, other than to enjoy life in a place where I don’t always have to pull out my dictionary to know what’s going on.

I may need a primer on what’s popular though (it took awhile for “Call Me Maybe” to make it over here).

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19August2012

Year Two, just as new as the first

Posted by Roland under: JET.

Applying for JET I had always had the expectation I would stay at least two years. Mainly because the whole first year would be me learning how to actually live and work in Japan while the second year would be my “actual” experience, that is I wouldn’t be focused on learning but more on actually doing. But as the second year has now started, it seems like there’s still plenty to learn, maybe to the point that this is going to be just as “new and exciting” as the first one.

The elementary English books, while still following the general pattern of last year’s books are still new lessons for me to experience so I’ll have to work out plans for them with teachers. I’m also hoping that at the junior high, now with a year of working the teachers there under my belt, there may be a chance to mix up the lessons with some new activities, aside from the usual lecture/review style currently going on. I also hope to return to putting up some activities on the English board, which I had stopped as the new first years showed up. It seems like this year’s group isn’t too bad at English though, so there’s some room for some activities to be done.

Aside from that there’s still much to be done in the community. There’s new JETs (five of them) to get to know and some long standing traditions coming up, such as the fall festival and the weekly English group. And of course, there’s still kendo going on, although it’s hard to get excited for it in the summer (way too hot!). Perhaps there’s room for one other activity to sneak in there this coming year?

And there’s the JLPT Level 1 test, which I had intended to take by this time, which I never really got full invested studying for. May be time to also dust off those books and actually get back into the studying mood?

Looking forward to whatever happens in the second year in Japan!

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28June2012

Commentary on Commentary

Posted by Roland under: JET.

In the summer before my senior year at Berkeley I stayed in Berkeley for the summer due to an internship I had that was nearby. My two roommates at the time had other exciting plans that took them outside Berkeley so I had two new subletters who came in, it was a chance to meet some cool new people, so what could go wrong with that?

One of them had studied abroad in Europe and in the process came back to the States with a European boyfriend. He came to visit for a few weeks during the summer and was relatively nice. His English was fine, so he could make himself understood if there was anything he wanted to say. I didn’t talk to him too much but every now and then we would chat. Unfortunately, a lot of the time it would be some comment about America. One thing he loved to mention was too sweet everything happened to be. He always had something to say about American soft drinks. Once was enough to make your opinion known. Hearing it a few more times was a nice reminder, if not necessary. But hearing it all the time was just plain annoying.

The summer ended without incident when they left before school started. But in my mind, he stood as a large reminder of how annoying some visitors can be. There’s always going to be some commentary or opinions about how your home is different from somewhere else. But when you make an effort to say as much as possible how different things are, how annoying things are, how much things are better at home, that’s when I stop taking you seriously and wait for you to go back home where apparently it’s so much damn better.

I think from that experience I’ve always had aversion to making a lot of comments about foreign cultures (and obviously the one culture I’ve been exposed to most, Japanese). Admittedly, I went through a lot of my culture shock when I studied abroad in 2005 and I had a lot to say then too (although not always about Japanese culture, per se). But after being on the receiving end of it, I was aware of how damn annoying it can get. I would be more than willing to offer up my opinions if asked, but there’s no need for me to offer it up if the situation doesn’t warrant it.

So through a mixture of lack of surprise and just general self-censorship, I haven’t gone into too much detail about my reactions to my time in Amakusa so far. Really, most of it has been positive (I wouldn’t be staying for year two if I wasn’t) and honestly, angry feelings make for easier (and more interesting) blog posts than happy time ones. But having been part of the JET community and seeing what other people are doing, it’s no surprise that there’s a variety of opinions and feelings out there. And a lot of them seem to be reminiscent of that European boyfriend.

I’m not here to say people shouldn’t offer up their opinions. They definitely can, I just find it annoying when they show excessive ignorance. I think most people would be. But I think the JET program contains a lot of people who may fit into that type. It’s the nature of the program, taking a lot of fresh out of college graduates who may not have Japanese exposure (although this is becoming less the case as the requirements are getting stricter) and throwing them into Japan.

The problem with this is that 1) it’s not usually touristy Japan which is what most people know, 2) it’s not your study abroad experience, which is usually in a big city but more importantly is NOT a job, 3) making the switch to post college life is hard enough but having to do it in a new country doesn’t help.

Thus many come into JET with vastly different expectations from what they expect it to be. When the initial excitement wears off and culture shock starts to settle in, that’s when many people start to offer up their angry opinions.

I’m not a huge fan of cultural criticism because mainly it’s same stuff you hear over and over. Also a lot of it is made by people who make no attempt to understand why things are the way they are. At the surface, there are a lot of cultural differences to be found. But if you just take everything at face value and try not to understand why, you’ll end up just be frustrated at why things are different and fall deeper and deeper into a spiral.

But perhaps most alarming to me is how much people connect the issues they have with Japan and inevitably link it with the entire country/culture. Admittedly, there are bound to be some cultural differences that annoy people. But one of the big problems that seems to be popular among the JET population is blaming Japan for everything.

Your teacher is hard to work with at school? It’s probably not the culture, it’s may be because they’re just hard to work with in general as a person, not as a Japanese person.

The driving license process is so annoying and strict. Why are we so quick to blame Japan? Have you had an enjoyable easy time at your local DMV? Dealing with bureaucracy is never going to be easy.

Living far from the big city in an area with little to do? So are a bunch of other Japanese people all over the country. The whole country can’t be Tokyo, so don’t go around complaining that you’re not near it.

There will always be cultural commentary. I know I’ll probably end up posting some of my own eventually. But the problem is when the commentary becomes unfocused and turns out to be an entire unfocused comment on the entire country when the actual problem is much more localized than that. These are the people who may end up bitter and annoyed with Japan, becoming cautionary tales for future JETs as well as people who frequent message boards, quick to offer up their criticisms (rather than advice) about being in Japan.

If you end up complaining so much about being in another country, perhaps your best choice will be to leave it behind and go back home.

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6June2012

Getting a Japanese Driving License: Misc

Posted by Roland under: JET.

(Note: The following is based on my experiences in Kumamoto prefecture, so if you’ve come here and aren’t going to be testing in Kumamoto, your experience with the license center in your area may vary. That being said, there is still much here that can be taken away for your own personal licensing adventure. Best of luck getting your license!)

Some random thoughts I have about the driving test:

- I ended up taking the test twice before I passed. That’s actually a relatively good number, as the average from what I gathered online is about three. There have been horror stories of people taking up to seven times to pass (and worse stories of people just giving up completely and driving without a license) but also those stories of people who have passed on their first time (which is more than you would expect). My first time I didn’t do any on-road preparation, only going with what I could get on the internet and from friends. I’m pretty sure I failed miserably because my proctor closed his testing notebook halfway during the test. My main problem was not getting close enough to the curbs for turns and taking my turns too wide (my left turns were especially too wide and far from the left curb).

Before my second time, I did two hours at a driving school with an instructor in the car and was able to get used to the pattern of safety checking/easing over before lane changing/turning. Once that became second nature it was only a matter of repeating the process on the testing course. I even had to take my second test during an especially rainy typhoon, where the only hiccup was the proctor reminding me to turn on the wipers before we left.

- Pretty sure there’s no foreigner bias. I didn’t expect any going in but I think the clearest sign of this was the fact that during my first test, I was grouped with a Japanese woman who had just returned from several years in America. For her, it was her fourth time taking the test. Either you can drive to pass the test or not, it doesn’t matter where you’re from.

- You’ll get to pick which car you want to test with, automatic or manual. Just note that driving in the automatic car means you’re only licensed to drive automatic cars.

- Bring a Japanese speaking friend if you aren’t comfortable with your ability. I didn’t find the Japanese to be so difficult and the staff was accomdating enough to explain things I didn’t understand but better safe than sorry. Most likely they will also let your friend ride along in the car too.

- Although the most likely scenario is you’ll be driving alone with your proctor with no other cars on the road, this does depend on how many people are signed up to test that day. For my first test, me and the aforementioned woman got in the car together, she went first so I could see how the course is driven (although it didn’t help me for my first test). Fortunately, she passed.

- Perhaps a more unlikely scenario which did happen for my second time, is that I had two proctors in my car with me. Not sure what purpose it served other than to add unnecessary stress, but only the one in the front seemed to be in charge of grading me.

- The major difficulty with this test is putting yourself in the mindset that you need to do all the safety checks while you’re driving when it’s pretty obvious you don’t. The best practice you can do correct this is to incorporate the checks in your day-to-day driving, even if you don’t need then either. It’s all about getting the pattern down so it’ll be second nature when you’re on the course and you don’t have to obsess over it to the point of distraction. I’d also recommend doing this for the lane changing technique, since you have to straddle the curb before you actually change lanes during the test.

- I read a lot of advice about narrating your every move or saying “hai” every time you check your mirrors/blind spots. At least in my testing experiences, both times the proctors said they really didn’t care if you say anything or not. When the aforementioned woman passed, she was relatively quiet. For my successful time, I was more talking to myself to make sure I got the checks down than being loud to emphasize to the proctor that I knew what I was doing. If anything, you should be obvious you’re doing your checks with head movement. In my opinion, it’s not that important to shout out everything you do, the driving should speak for itself. I can’t imagine it hurts, but being vocal is not something you’ll need to worry about when you test.

- Check if driving schools in your area will let you do a hour/two hour class to prepare for the test. Some schools will, some won’t. From my experience, one school in my area gave me free advice for the test but wouldn’t let me drive, while another let me set up an appointment to drive on their test course for a few hours with an instructor. Call around and see what you can find. Have your supervisor or a Japanese speaking friend do so for you if you aren’t comfortable.

- Bring your inkan (personal stamp). Don’t be the one person who passes the test only to realize they have to come back another day because they left their inkan at home.

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6June2012

Getting a Japanese Driving License: The Test

Posted by Roland under: JET.

(Note: The following is based on my experiences in Kumamoto prefecture, so if you’ve come here and aren’t going to be testing in Kumamoto, your experience with the license center in your area may vary. That being said, there is still much here that can be taken away for your own personal licensing adventure. Best of luck getting your license!)

Getting to your menkyo center will vary by location. But for me at least, being in Kumamoto prefecture, we’ve only got one, which understandably is in Kumamoto City. The wrinkle here is that Amakusa to Kumamoto City is probably the longest commute possible within the prefecture. There may be other places that are technically physically farther away, but I believe those other locations have the luxury of using the Japanese expressway system. There’s no expressway linked up with Amakusa. The closest expressway exit from Amakusa is in Kumamoto City itself.

So yeah, the menkyo center predictably only being open Monday to Friday means that anyone coming will have to take a day off from work for the testing process. Amakusa City gives you a special day off to take your test, but any retakes (and more often than not, there are retakes) will have to be taken out of your own vacation days. This, plus the expense of having to go to/from Kumamoto City and pay for testing made me want to keep my number of visits to the menkyo center to a minimum.

The menkyo center itself is a pretty impressive building, at least compared to my experience with American DMV offices. Perhaps it’s because it’s the only one for the whole prefecture, which means everything has to be centralized into one location, but it’s about small airport terminal in its size. It has a cafeteria, which is a nice touch, and of course is dominated by the driving course behind the center. Testing for all kind of licenses, not just regular cars, happens here, so if you come early enough you can see buses, construction cars, taxis, etc. driving around on the course. Luckily, it seems the Kumamoto center has all those cars come in the morning and more often than not, the afternoon session may just be a few regular cars on the course at the same time (however, for my times, nobody else was on the course).

The first visit to the menkyo center requires you to get there pretty early because they have to do all the initial paperwork that day and it did take a fair amount of time. Bring something to occupy yourself with while you wait for the staff to come back. If all goes well with the paperwork, then you’ll take a vision test and a written test. You may have read things about the written test being super easy and I concur here. If anything, I almost psyched myself out because it was *too* easy and put the wrong answers down on a few problems. Just read the questions carefully and you’ll be fine, there’s no need to prepare anything for it, it’s all common sense knowledge. Failure here is a real sign that you shouldn’t be licensed for driving anyway.

Afterwards, you get prepped for the actual driving test. You’re told what course route is being tested that day (there are two they switch between) and then told when and where to be for the test. During the lunch break you’re allowed to walk on the course itself, which I highly recommend. Even though you can see the entire course from above from the building, I think actually being on the ground and seeing the distance and turns close up really helps. For many, this will be your first experience with the “crank” and S curve that will be part of the testing process (possibly the hardest skill related part of the entire driving test) so seeing how they work before driving is highly recommended. Messing up at those curves (hitting the crank curve poles with the front of your car, which represents hitting a wall or driving over the curb with your back tire because you took a turn too sharp) can land you with an immediate failure.

Assuming you don’t choke on your food during lunch, your next step is actually taking the driving test.

One of the test examiners will come up and introduce themselves and also what they’ll be testing on. They won’t give away any big details here on how they score, but rather the overall themes on what they’re looking for. They’ll want to make sure you’re a safe driver (doing your safety checks, signals, etc.), that you can legitimately operate the vehicle (basic maneuvers like turning and more advanced driving like the curves), and you’re also familiar with non-driving related things (such as checking around your car before you drive, looking out for hazards as you exit, etc.). The test is out of 100 and 70 points is passing. They’ll also let you know about some instant failures such as hitting the poles and driving over the curb. They will let you know that you can go backwards up to three times if you hit (but not run over) the curb before you fail. This is a real possibility if you’re not familiar with the curves. That being said, I wasn’t sure if this was a free pass (i.e. you lose no points) or if you lose points each time you do it, meaning if you have other infractions against you (such as not looking at mirrors, etc.) you actually have LESS than 3 times to back up. In any case, don’t stop going unless they tell you the test is over and want you to return early.

So here’s my rundown of what you should be doing for your test. There’s are a lot of information already out there, so I may just repeating what’s already been said, but at least for my experience, it has held true.

- The test begins before you enter the car. When you’re on the platform getting ready to go into the car, you’ll need to do a safety check around the car. This means going to the front, looking at the front, looking under the car from the front, going and looking around the left side (the side facing the platform), looking at the back of the car and looking under the back of the car. But before you step out onto the right side of the car, look both ways before stepping into the “busy street”. A lot of the test is a mind game to see if you do safety checks, even if you know in your mind you don’t really need them. After you confirm the “busy street” is safe, check the right side of the car and then get inside.

- Get the car ready for driving. Lock the door. Adjust your seat. Put on and adjust your belt. Confirm the parking brake is on. Confirm the car is in park. Adjust your rear view mirror. Check the side mirrors are okay (my car didn’t have a way to actually adjust them). Pump the brake to see it feels right. If all is good, get permission from the proctor (or if they offer it to you), press the brake down and start the car.

- With the car started, remove the parking brake, place the car into drive, and then hit your right signal. Before actually moving though, do a check around the car. Do a check over your left shoulder, check the left mirror, check the rear view, check the right mirror, then check over your right shoulder. If all is good to go, then you can get moving.

- For normal driving, you should be close to the left side; I’ve heard your left tires should be within 1m of the left curb. When in doubt, err to the left.

- Changing lanes: If you’re going to the right lane, check your rear view mirror THEN hit your right signal. But don’t go into the next lane right away. Rather, get close to the right side of your lane (within 30cm), wait for three seconds (if you have the space to do so), check over your right shoulder and then move over into the next lane. Same goes for switching to the left lane (obviously doing everything for the left side). Your signal is going to be on for a while before you actually do a change, which is the intended effect. Be smart about this though. If you know that you have turn coming up in a short distance after the lane change, you don’t have to wait three seconds exactly (and miss your turn). As long as you aren’t making last second swerves and doing all your safety checks, you should be fine.

- Turning: Left turns were part of what made me fail my first time. What you need to do for left turns is get really close to the left curb (within 30cm) for a set period (within three seconds is best) before you get to the turning point. In theory, this is to block bicycles/motorbikes/scooters from sneaking up on you on the left. So when you know you have a left turn coming, you’re going to do a similar process to a lane change. Start this well before your turn comes up: Check your rear view mirror, hit the left signal, check over your left shoulder, then get even closer to the left (you have been driving within 1m of the left this whole time, right?) and drive close for 3 seconds or so. Before you make your turn, check for oncoming traffic from the right and do another check over your left shoulder, then turn, making sure you don’t take the left turn too wide (you may be tempted to do so, like me, because you’re really close to the curb) but also make sure you don’t take it so tight you run over the curb with your back tire (instant fail).

Right turns follow the similar process, although they’re not as difficult by nature due to left side driving. Also, in theory, bikes shouldn’t be sneaking up on your right anyway. But I did the same process as I did for my left turns (rear view check, signal, get close, then re-check before my turn) and I can’t imagine it would hurt. You can’t lose points for being too safe.

Know what lane you want to turn into and aim to end up on the left side of it. If for some reason you end up too far on the right (or god forbid, part of the wrong lane), slowly ease into the left side of the target lane. If you swerve abruptly to get back into the left side, it’s more of a point penalty than easing in (10 points as opposed to 5).

If you come across a turn with an obstructed view to your sides, slow the car and slowly inch forward, arching your head forward as you look to your left and right to ensure everything is safe. If you’re making a left turn, make sure to do a left check over the shoulder before you make your turn.

- Turning into a multi-lane road: Always try and turn into the left-most lane when turning into a multi-lane road. The only exception for this would be if you know you have a right turn coming up right after you turn into the multi-lane road. This means the distance from when you enter the multi-lane road to your right turn doesn’t give you enough to time to do your usual lane changing process (complete with checks and all). If you have enough time to do your complete set of lane changing checks, then turn into the left lane first THEN shift over to the right for your right turn.

- Speed: As I said, you can’t lose points for being too safe. But, unfortunately, driving too slow or stopping unnecessarily is unsafe for purposes of this test. You’ll be tempted to drive very slowly to make sure you get all your checks in and stop before turns where there’s no stop sign/light. Try to average 20/25 for most driving, you may be asked to get to 35/40 for long straightaways (even if they don’t ask, it doesn’t hurt to speed up to at least 30 if you have space). Obviously you’re going to take turns slow (don’t speed through them) and I believe for the crank and S curve, there’s no minimum speed requirement, so go as slow as you like (I think short of completely stopping for too long into the middle of the turn).

If you’re approaching a turn and there’s no stop sign/light (also assuming no cars coming your way), you’re going to have to balance doing your checks with moving forward. If you feel unsafe, play it safe and stop to do your checks. I’ve heard that you have about five seconds of unnecessary stopping time before points start coming off. Still, if you can manage moving slowly a bit while you do your checks, do so. Obviously, if you do share the course with other cars and cars are coming towards you, it behooves you to stop.

- Stop sign/light: Stop with your front bumper as close to but still behind the stop line as possible. For a sign, wait three seconds, doing your necessary checks before proceeding. If you’re going straight, check ahead to your left and right before moving. At a light, don’t move right as the light turns green. Do your checks first and then proceed.

- The crank: A section of the course with two sharp turns. It’s narrow so you have to be extra careful here as there is a chance for instant failure in this section. This is very much a skill section and you may have problems dealing with the testing car, especially if you drive a different style (like kei) car. The best advice I can give is to take it very slowly. There’s no penalty for going slow here. Get as far to the left as you can before making your right turn (and make it tight!) to clear the first set of poles. This is so you won’t hit your back tire against the curb as you try to navigate your car over. For the second turn, you’re going to want to be on the right side so you have space to make your left turn over.

If at any moment you feel like you’re going to hit the poles or you feel yourself hitting the curb, get ready to back up. However, before you actually go back, do a check over BOTH left and right shoulders, then put the car in reverse and move your car to a better position for the turn.

- S curve: This is a lot easier than the crank in my mind, just because the turns are not as sharp and there are no poles to worry out, so you don’t have to obsess over the front of the car. Again, just take it slow and make sure you’re on the right side before you slide over to the left for the first turn. Vice versa for the second.

- On road obstacles: If you find an obstacle on the road (such as cones or a broken down car), treat it as changing lanes. You don’t need to go all the way over to the other lane if the obstruction only takes up half the lane, but you’re going to have a distinct set of checks for both avoiding the obstacle and another set for when you return to your original lane. Start your checks/signal for the return right after you pass the obstacle.

- Finishing the test: You’ll be directed back to where you start most likely. As you approach your return lane, turn on your turn signal facing the curb when you’re about 5-7 seconds to parking the car. Ease into your spot. Ideally, you’ll want to be within 30cm of the platform and within 30cm of the pole they ask you to stop at (either ahead or behind is fine, so you technically have 60cm to work with).

Press the brake, put the car into park, pull on the parking brake, and then turn off the engine. Doesn’t hurt to push the seat back all the way as well. Before you get out of the car though, open the car door just a crack and then look to both sides. Again, this is part of the “safety check”, even if you know there’s no one within miles.

Once the test is done, you’ll be brought back to the office to await the results of your test. You may or may not know how the test went already based on how the proctor reacted during/after the test. For my first time, he closed the notebook he was taking notes on halfway, in retrospect, a clear sign that I had already way too many marks against me. My second time, he asked where I practiced driving, as it was the same guy from before, so he clearly knew that something had to happen to make my driving immensely better.

If you fail, you’re given a brief rundown from your proctor about what went wrong and what you can do better. Some proctors are more forthcoming than others. I’ve heard stories of proctors that don’t like giving up too much information (their answer being just go to a driving school if you want to know that much), but it never hurts to ask if you have questions. You’ll then be given the testing forms to prefill out for next time when you return for your retake, which you don’t need a reservation for (just show up before 11:30 that day and ask for a driving test retake).

If you pass, you’ll probably still get a few words of advice from your proctor but then the center staff will help you get your license printed within the next 1-2 hours. At that point, you can bid goodbye to the menkyo center, unless for some reason you’re in Japan long enough that you’ll need to renew your license. Another blog post for another time, that is.

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6June2012

Getting a Japanese Driving License: Paperwork

Posted by Roland under: JET.

(Note: The following is based on my experiences in Kumamoto prefecture, so if you’ve come here and aren’t going to be testing in Kumamoto, your experience with the license center in your area may vary. That being said, there is still much here that can be taken away for your own personal licensing adventure. Best of luck getting your license!)

One of the fun parts for car driving JETs who stay the extra year is that they inevitably have to get their hands on a Japanese driving license. JET recommends everyone get an international driving license in their home country (and if you’re reading this now before you leave for JET, I concur, even if you don’t plan to drive cause YOU NEVER KNOW). Unfortunately, the international license is only good for one year. And no, you can’t just simply go back to your home country and ask for another one, you can only use one international license during your visa period, after it’s used up, it’s time to get a Japanese license.

Depending on your country, this can be a very simple process. Some countries have agreements with Japan in that they’ve exchanged driving information so Japan knows what goes on with their testing processes. In this case, all you need to do is show up with your home country license at your local Japanese licensing center (menkyo center, in Japanese) fill out a few forms, pay some money, and leave with Japanese license in hand.

Unfortunately, America is not one of those countries. The main point here is that every state has different licensing rules (thanks a lot, states’ rights) so its hard to get a country wide agreement because Japan would have to review every state’s licensing process. Canada has an agreement with Japan now, but not after several years of reviewing each province’s data to get to that point. I can only imagine how long it would take for anything to get done with states in America. Considering how DMV bureaucracy works, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

One thing that can be taken to heart is that the process of exchanging your foreign license for a Japanese one (don’t worry, you don’t have to hand over your home country license to them) is that it’s a lot easier than the route you would have to take if you were starting off getting your license in Japan. As has been vaguely described to me, there’s a lot of driving school involved which takes plenty of time and money. I also think you may not even have to drive on the test course at the menkyo center and your testing takes place at the driving school (as a sort of “final exam”). In any case, it seems like a very difficult process regardless and thankfully you’re not starting from square one if you have your home country license in hand. The license exchange process is (in theory) a lot quicker and the driving test you take is a simpler version of the normal licensing test (no parallel parking, reversing, 3 point turns, etc.).

For me however, the problems started with just getting my paperwork in order to even think about applying for a Japanese license. There’s a whole mess of documentation you need to get straight before you head off to the menkyo center. Translation of your foreign license into Japanese, a residence certificate from your local city hall. Most of it wasn’t so bad. The hardest thing you have to prove (which for some, will be very easy) is that you were in your home country for three months after you got your license. This means the license issue date. So you could have been driving for so many years, but if your license says April 2011 on it, they want some proof you were in your home country from April to June 2011.

One would think your passport would be sufficient for this. I can’t speak for other countries, but American passports do not work for this. I think the sticky point here is that you dont get a stamp for when you return/leave the US. You would think the Japanese entry stamps would be enough, but an argument that’s not worth discussing here because it’s not going to change the way the menkyo center thinks anyway.

So for your physical presence test, the simplest thing would be to use a university transcript. Most JETs are fresh out of college, so this isn’t usually a hassle. The hardest part is getting an original copy (can’t just print an online version here in Japan) but if anything that just takes some extra money and time. However, yours truly decided to wait several years after graduation so my university transcript would not fall in the three month period after I got my renewed license.

In my initial discussions with the menkyo center, they were big sticklers on any document I submitted being an original copy. That meant I couldn’t just print some form online, no matter how official it looked. This usually means there needs to be an original signature, seal, stamp, etc. on whatever you try to submit. That being said, when you make your initial appointment with the menkyo center, you’ll usually have to run down the checklist with them, so if your Japanese is good enough (get a friend, if not) you can describe the document to them and they’ll let you know if it’s good or not.

For those reading who may be in the same situation, there are several things you can try.

1. Usually the recommend non-university transcript route is to get an official driving record from your home country. Getting one from California was pretty difficult though so I didn’t fully commit to this route, but your state/country may be easier.

2. It didn’t work for America, but supposedly some countries will write you a letter stating you were in your home country for such and such a period. This kind of request should go through your country embassy or consulate.

3. A rental agreement will usually suffice, as long as the dates are clearly stated.

4. Supposedly utility bills with your address and dates of service can work too.

5. I went with getting a proof of employment from my previous job which said I was an employee of the company from X to Y, with the dates encompassing the three month period. I even got them to do it on official letterhead, with the signature and saved the envelope too. When you bring the proof over, any little bit of evidence helps.

6. I hear a tax return could also work. It didn’t work in Kumamoto (I asked) but this can vary by location.

I would also recommend getting a translation of the important parts of your document, just so the staff at the menkyo center have an easier time understanding what they’re looking it. They probably could read it without the translation, but nothing wrong with speeding up the process.

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18May2012

In with Spring

Posted by Roland under: JET.

For all the complaints that I had with the hot summers (humidity stinks) and the cold winters (although there was really no snow fall this year), when spring comes around to Japan, you can’t help but love the weather. They say that with June the rain showers will come so we might have to retreat back indoors again a la winter, but at least you don’t need the heater/kotatsu/many layers of clothes to get through the days.

The new school year is starting up rather well at the various schools. New first graders are pretty much as adorable as advertised, even though I don’t get a chance to work with them too regularly. But at least they seem the most excited by my presence, which pretty much confirms my belief coming into JET that I would do better with younger kids than older ones. As for all the other grades, they’re slowly growing into their new roles at their new grades. The biggest evidence of this is for the new 6th and 9th graders, as they’re now the leaders of their elementary/middle schools. And for the new 7th graders at the middle school, now back at the bottom of the pecking order (from the top of the elementary) seems to have made the desired effect (that is, taking them just a peg down). For myself, now that English is a serious subject (tests and grading!) I’m honestly surprised to see how good some of them are at English…it could be that they’re just good at studying, which is fine. It’s a big step forward for a lot of them. There have been a few embarrassing moments when I had to explain myself to the middle school teachers why they were deficient in a few basic English areas (alphabet, colors, etc.) but other than that, I think the impact of having two extra years of English, as non-serious as they may have been, does have some impact. The early grades are promising, but let’s see as we start moving into actual sentences and grammar points.

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22March2012

Graduation

Posted by Roland under: JET.

Spring is the season of cherry blossoms and while they usually get associated with the new school year (which starts around April) and recently graduated students starting at their new schools but if the cherry blossoms bloom early enough, they can also get associated with graduating students leaving their schools as well.

One of the frequent thoughts I had in my mind when I was watching my junior high get ready for the graduation and especially during the actual ceremony was that I really had no memories of my junior high graduation. Basically, graduation is a big deal in Japan. In the week or so leading up to graduation, there are a lot of rehearsals for various parts of the ceremony. It’s high on ceremony and speeches so there is a strict procedure on how to do almost everything. Of course, in the Japanese tradition, there’s a lot of bowing and doing things in formation. Possibly the best examples of this are when the other students have to turn and face the procession of graduating students as they enter/exit but also do so in formation all together. There’s also a right way to bow, which needs to be done in time with everyone else (a count of 1-2 to bow, then 3-4 to get back up helps with this). And of course, there’s a good amount of singing, the school song, a song from the students to the graduating class, and from the graduating class to everyone else as they also recount their years in school.

The rehearsals did get a little intense, which helped me recognize how much more meaningful Japanese graduations are. You couldn’t always count on the students to not be at their most enthusiastic/emotional for practice so there were a few calls for to basically sing louder, better, etc.

Knowing the students that we were working with, I fully expected everyone to do their best at the actual ceremony, which did happen to be the case. But, for it being my first graduation, it definitely surpassed my expectations. There’s the slow procession of graduating students as they file in, the distribution of diplomas to everyone (again, with a strict procedure to be followed on how you get on stage, receive the diploma, and descend), speeches from the principal, the PTA president, the parents, and the aforementioned singing. I think the moment that the house was brought down for everyone was when the graduating students got on stage to sing their song, only to break into an interlude in the middle and start to recount their school experience, from coming in, to school trips, club activities, festivals, and so on. A few students started to break down during this part, which made it hard not to tear up yourself.

After the ceremony, the students went back to their homerooms to give speeches to their parents to thank them for their support (during this time, everyone else is cleaning up the gym). But, once the speeches are finished, the graduating students go through a procession from the homerooms to the school exit (for the last time). But along the way, everyone else, students and teachers, are lined up on the route there to offer encouragement and say goodbye one last time. Inevitably, the graduating students will get presents from someone, usually a representative from a club they used to be in or just another friend, which makes it one last big emotional time for everyone as they’re making their final exit. Students will linger around outside for some final pictures with their classmates, some of them who have been classmates since elementary. But eventually, everyone will start to disperse and go back home with their parents, bringing an end to graduation finally.

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