Buying a Keitai (Cell Phone) in Japan

mood: nominal

When I don't have my cell phone with me I feel somewhat bare, or naked. Not being able to connect to the rest of the world or have the world be able to connect to me is unerving to say the least. Since I'm here in Japan for a much longer duration then when I bought my last (somewhat girly) cell phone, getting a phone with a plan rather than a prepaid is a much better decision. I really had no idea how to go about it though. I had heard that in order to buy a plan while being a foreigner, you had to be able to prove that you were going to live in Japan for a set amount of time. To do this, most common was to present your gaijin alien registration card (same as the green card in the US). With this gaijin card you could be viewed by companies as having the normal rights and responsibilities as a Japanese citizen (such as being able to pay bills...hopefully on time). When moving to Japan the gov't asks you to register yourself and get the card within the first 3 months of your residence. To do so, you go to the city ward office for your area, or shyakusho, and fill out some simple paperwork.

Easy enough right? yea no not really. I had to request my host mother go with me to help translate as the workers who run the foreign residents section, speak no english. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense that the workers who deal only with foreigners on a day to day basis speak only Japanese, but hey... whatever. The paperwork was easy and took no time at all, the downside is they gave me a special receipt and asked me to return in 3 weeks to pickup the ID. This receipt probably won't allow me to get a cell phone but I figured I'd give it a try. Also while I was at the shyakusho I signed up for national health insurance. The country has something similar to the national health insurance Canada has but you do pay a bill for it once every 3 months of something like 3,000yen per month.

A bit uneasy, I attempt on 3 or 4 different occasions to try to get a phone with my gaijin card receipt. Surprise surprise, every time I failed. At school, I see other students picking up cell phones but not really giving me the details on how they made it happen. After a week of waiting and questioning, I finally found that if I presented my public health insurnace card/(large ass piece of paper cause Saitama is janky and doesn't issue insurance cards) then I'd be able to get a phone. Awesome.

So I rustle up a party of other students and make a quest out to Akihabara to purchase a fancy new mobile telephone.

So Lindsay, Ashley, and I, left school on the famous Yamanote line and rode a quick 30 minutes to Akihabara. They are study abroad students so they will only be attending Temple for one semester unfortunately. The term for students like me is JA student, reason being I matriculated and will attend Temple until I graduate. The slang term everyone has given JAs is lifer(kinda rude I know, they're just jealous). Since they refused to let me take a better picture for the site, they get stuck with the less appealing pic below.

So we exited the train station into what's called Electric town. This is what Akihabara is world famous for. If you are looking for anything electronics, or cutting edge, it can be found in electric town. If you're also into anime, cosplay, or other hobby related things (even airsoft), there is a multi-storied building here catering to your interests. The ever famous Gamerz building is also on the far right further down the street in the picture below. We chose electric town because there is so many choices of cell phone shops. It also has a high paced exciting atmosphere which I'm rather found of.

There are a few large companies serving the cell phone industry much like America. Soft Bank (formerly Vodaphone), AU by KDDI, Docomo, and a couple other small ones. When you enter a cell phone shop they have a section for each company (most shops offer all phones and services, not just one company) where the phones are physically displayed for you to fondle. It also lists featured, color options, etc. There are also a ton of phone choices to each company as opposed to the select few options we have in America. Below shows the AU section which is where I bought my phone from.

Picking out a phone is a difficult task to say the least. Each phone is so far beyond the capabilities of our phones in the states, that it's quite overwhelming and confusing. Features such as satellite navi, 2-4megapixel camera/vid cam, and full internet browsers come standard to each phone. Many phones also have new features such as full tv capabilities, video phone, and a function known as Saifu Keitei (which allows you to use your phone as a credit card, rail pass, and even to setup recording times on your DVR at home while out and about).

With all these features, one would hope that the plans to accompany these phones would be equally as awesome. Again, yea no not really. The majority of people in Japan communicate over email through their phones rather than talk, so plans are more catered towards internet bandwidth then to minutes. A normal plan of $40/mo may only have 120 minutes of talking time then another 15 yen per minute over that. A couple saving graces to the super expensive plans is that receiving calls is always free to you and AU and Soft Bank offer massive discounts (50% off) to students. I bought the most expensive plan available for students which without the discount was 11,000 yen/mo giving me 420 minutes of outgoing calls. In retrospect though, I'm finding I'm talking almost exclusively in email, and rarely am actually calling people (It's also against the rules to talk on cell phones in many places such as trains).

This is the amount of paperwork necessary to start up a phone plan in Japan. These people sure love their overcomplicated beaurocracy that's for sure. That large yellow-colored block of wood product you see there is my Saitama health insurance. Carrying such a large piece of paper around in my backpack is already giving me permanent back damage. It's ok though, I mean, I couldn't possibly expect Saitama to make a health insurance card, god forbid. Other things you need to start up the JDM plan is your student ID, passport, credit card (bills are auto-deducted from your acct), and a pleasant demeanor.

One of the catches of the student plans is you have to purchase one of the older CDMA1X phones instead of the new ultra fancy WIN phones. At first I was bummed, then immediately happy when I saw that the older phones still pwned America's options by far, then bummed again when I found that only the feminine colored phones were bi-lingual with an English option. Anyway, I picked out the phone that best suited me, finished the paperwork, and 4 hours later was on our way home.

I stood in the middle of the street like a hooligan for this picture (it's part of the main drag in Akihabara).

This is the phone I bought. Some of the other JA students have dubbed it the spiderman phone due to its sweet red webbed casing design. This phone came with a 2 megapixel camera, SD card slot, vid cam, led external light, satellite navi, internet, kanji dictionary, slew of normal functions (alarm clock, caldner, calc, etc), and probably a few other things that I can't read. The whole phone is in Japanese only and apparently loves kanji like no other cause there is little hiragana or katakana functions that I can actually read.

I'm overall happy with what it can do and moreso excited that I'm contactable by the world once again. I signed only a year contract with AU and got the phone for free so I think I did pretty well (especially with the 50% off everything deal). If you ever buy a phone here, go for Soft Bank or AU. If you're rich, then buy Docomo, they have some really advanced phones. For sure... I'm gonna go to Autobacs now, thanks for reading this post!

Mason on 01.27.07 @ 11:46 PM PST [link]

Midnight Tokyo Cruise

mood: interested

On the prior post, I shared my experiences with a Nissan automotive forum that I frequent (NICO). While I enjoyed a warm reception from the other users, I happend to also find another American which just happend to also live in Saitama (my prefacture). Not only that, he lived only 20 minutes away by train. Neal is a permanent resident here in Saitama with his wife/kids and works as an English teacher near his train station. He invited me out, after reading my post, to hang out and spit the shit about cars for awhile. We had a good time and he even showed me that we lived really close (5 mins) to a famous car shop by the name of Yashio Factory. The first time we went by, but it was closed, so we could only see the exterior. After a few hours and some good conversation, I headed home.

On the next friday, we met up again and decided to go cruising on the famous Tokyo Wangan and C1 loop. When I was younger I played alot of Tokyo Extreme Racer and got pretty familiar with the roads in the game. When playing though, I knew it wasn't real and thus assumed that the roads were made up just for the game. Turns out though, that the roads in the game were almost dead on to the real roads surrounding Tokyo. Needless to say, I was surprised and excited when we traveled through some of my favorite areas in the game. So before I get started into the detailed events of the night; I put together a short 2:46 video of us cruising the wangan and C1 loop freeways in central Tokyo. While by no means is it professional quality, it does give a look into the feel of driving the freeways here.

mmm that was fun. Anyway, back to the story. Before we headed out to the freeway we thought we might as well stop by Yashio factory again so I could take pictures of the outside this time. To my surprise though, they were still open! Even at 9pm! There were two mechanics working on something when I walked up and timidly asked for their attention. I tried to explain to them how famous their shop was back in the states and that I came to check it out. I also asked if it was okay to take some pictures and they agreed.

What was most surprising to me was how small the shop was. I had always imagined it a larger sized building with massive machinery. I guess their suspension pieces must have alot of the work subletted to other shops (for example the powder coating and whatnot). They do have one other location, but it's their older location where they only store their cars. We didn't stop by that shop this time since we were on a limited schedule. Rest assure though, at that shop, there is a sea of S15 Silvias all sporting their famous pink color paint.

A small showroom/slash office in the corner caught my eye and I asked one of the mechanics (which you can see in the below picture) if it was alright if wandered in. He said yes and as I walked in I saw a car celebrity sitting and surfing the internet in the corner. It was the owner! If you know anything about Yashio factory, or have ever watched an Option video, you know Okamura-san. I got to talk to him for a little bit and he seemed a little surprised on how we got there and in what car. Quick to jump to the opportunity, I asked for a picture shortly after our conversation and he said sure. big grin

OH Snaps! Excuse the redeye and grainy pictures, it was pretty low light and rushed. I thanked Okamura-san and soon left as I didn't want to take up anymore of his time. We then headed out to a gas station to fill up a bit on the Laurel. My previous notion was that you never pumped your own gas, similar to Oregon, but I guess that just depended on the gas station you visit. This one was closer to the normal pump in california (with the exception of the much higher octane ratings).

2,000 yen later we headed towards the onramp/tollbooth. Opposed to the bazillions of yen I spent in Yokohama for tolls last weekend, the wangan and C1 loop are much cheaper. You pay 700 yen and are free to drive it for as long as you want. So you could fill up your tank, pay your toll, and cruise for the whole night if you so desired.

That's Neal, and no he doesn't normally have hillbilly teeth (although it'd be funny if he did). The second picture is the tollbooth and bathroom area where I took a quick tinkle. The C1 inner and outer loop wraps around the main sections of Tokyo. The offramps were for popular places such as Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Shinjuku. It's very popular on friday and saturday nights for modified cars to cruise around the loop (which takes about 20 mins to go around one lap) looking for other cars to race or mess with. There are also parking areas that are similar to our rest areas in America where cars will come meet and hang out. After we wandered the loop for awhile we went to the bigger of the rest stops and ran into a car meet moving into full swing.

This is the parking area shown above. Just like home, people stood in their little groups, cold as hell, talking about different car related topics. Near the back end (heh) of the parking lot there were some bathrooms and vending machines where you could buy hot drinks (coffee and cocoa). Many people also retreated to that spot for conversation since it helped shield against the wind.

While sitting in that area I saw a pretty zesty FD RX-7 parked and saw a guy and a girl walking away from it and towards the hang out spot. FD's and Skylines are my favorite cars as many of you already know, so I walked up to the guy and asked him if it was his car. Much to my apparent sexist surprise, the guy just pointed to the attractive Japanese lady and said it was hers. blush Shrugging off my embarrassment, I asked her a bit more about her car. Turns out among the many obvious hot mods seen below, she took out her twin turbo setup for a Trust TD-06 Single turbine.

Pretty nice huh? Girls here are on the same level as guys when it comes to tuning it would seem. Furthering that new discovery, I walked up to another guy and girl walking away from this R32

and I did the same thing, getting the same response from the guy (pointing to the girl that is). shocked Wow, that was her Skyline. Her car is actually an HCR32 but has an RB26 mated up to an RB25 tranny transplanted under the bonnet. Light tuning such as boost controller, intake, and exhaust followed suit. I spyed a top secret sticker on her engine and asked why it was there. Even more surprising, her entire car was put together by the famed shop. She also seemed to be active into the cruising/racing cause on several occasions she would follow a car out of the area full throttle and return minutes later to repark. (small sidenote: you can see the girl that drives the FD standing next to her car below and the girl who drives the R32 above).

Near the end of our time at the meet, an R34 parked and got out with his friend. A man in his mid thirties owned it and was friendly enough to talk to me about his car for a little bit. The R34 was much hevier tuned with his HKS turbines, Apex'i power fc, etc. etc.

The man seemed very surprised I was talking to him at all and asked what I was doing there. I explained I was studying at a school in Japan and was here for awhile and was in love with Japanese sports cars. He laughed and nodded to that then went back to talking about the car. While I don't speak Japanese that well at all, I think when it comes to talking about cars, my skill is much higher then when I talk about anything else. Knowing alot more adjectives, verbs, and nouns in conjunction with my desire to talk about the cars is helping improve my conversation skills.

After we were done talking with the nice feller, we jumped back into the Laurel and headed back towards the train station so I could head home. On our way though, we ran into that R34 again. I think he noticed it was us cause after the freeway offramp, he flexed on us pretty hard and launched his car at the light. It took no time at all for him to disapear from sight. The sound was also amazing coming out of that RB26 (which you can hear a bit in the video at the beginning of the post).

I liked cruising the highways quite a bit and am looking forrward to doing it again. This next week I'm starting the process to get my Japanese drivers license. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the post!
Mason on 01.20.07 @ 11:39 PM PST [link]

Yokohama Bridge Meet

mood: Excited

Every time I've come to Japan I've made a vain attempt to see a car meet or some night drifting. Everytime I fail. Either the language barrier, the lack of a car, or not knowing anyone with the same hobby led to never witnessing the nightime car culture in Japan. This time was different though. This time, Travis was able to show me the scene from his point of view. On our way home he made a few quick phone calls and lined up a small meet between his circle of car friends which would together leave over to a car meet and possible drifting.

Unfortunately, his R32's clutch pedal broke and we were forced to rough it in his race Toyota Hilux (oldschool 4runner in the states). We rolled up to a 7/11 not far from the Navy base and met up with his friend Ryo and his other friend with another HCR32. Ryo actually imported a car from America to Japan much like the swap of me imported a Skyline to the US. He was sporting a Roush Mustang (sorry if I'm mistaken, I don't know alot about Fords).

The funny thing is he mentioned paying upwards of 50k to get his mustang imported and legal to drive in Japan. People on the street were staring at it like it was some amazing sight. It was kinda weird seeing a car I see everyday in America stared at with such envy here. I suppose he would feel the same if he saw an American's reaction to a Skyline in the states.

Ryo decided to go home before we left due to girl reasons (being sleepy), so it left just us in the racing Hilux and the HCR32. We headed out through the streets of Yokohama and hopped on the expressway towards the Yokohama Bridge.

Expressways in Japan work very differently then Freeways do in the western US. Everywhere you go, it takes a toll. We probably spent $20 in tolls that night to drive to the bridge and back at at least five different toll booths. The expressways in Yokohama, as nerdy as it may sound, looked so identical to how they looked in the Japanese racer movies and Tokyo Extreme Racer video games I played when I was younger. It was a total trip to actually be on one just driving.

Once we approached the bridge, about half way through, it allows you to split off to a large parking area underneath it. You follow a large loop around that surrounds the total area of the lot. As we drove up all I could see was sexy car after sexy car. I must apologize though as my camera was mostly dead after the TAS expedition so I only got a few pictures. Below shows part of the parking lot with some of the cars.

The scene was also waaaay different then a meet back home. There was loud music playing from all over the place. Girls were dancing, guys were b-boying (if that's the proper term, I dunno), engines were being revved to redline non-stop, and the amazing thing was, the cops took it as normal. Cars were flashier, more people were there and talking with each other. Crews would roll in, show off their cars, then go park in a line. It seemed like a fantasy Fast and the Furious movie scene, but on crack. It was so surreal. Then, as I was wandering through the different cars, one of the navy guys asked me, " Hey a Lambo just rolled up, wanna check it out?"

Wow, I mean, wow. This was on a whole other level I never thought possible. When amateur car meets bring out lamborghinis, that's just unbelievable. It got weirder though. Another style of car culture there, the vans/scion looking things, had their own meet going. At that meet, there was this man dressed in all white with a white mask on who exited his car, popped his back with a sea of subwoofers blazing, then proceeded to pop'n'lock to the songs.

That was a little much for me so I walked back to the normal tuner cars and an immaculate bayside blue R34 Vspec parked. I talked with the Japanese owner a bit about his car and midsentence, a GTR only crew of about 10 busted into the parking lot with motors revving high with turbos spooling all up in my face like whoa. It pains me greatly that my camera died at this point, not allowing me to show you it.

I did get a quick pic of a 700hp RX-7 seen below

I also took a very short video of it shooting flames as it redlined.

I just about hit critical mass in my pants so it was about time to go. Travis also got word on the phone that the drifters were meeting at a convenience store somewhere in Yokohama. We jumped back onto the expressway with an S14 and that blue FD. The FD then did a series of drive-bys on our Hilux which was absolutely divine sounding.

We pulled into the convenience store to see another full parking lot packed to the brim with driftcars (s14s, to 180s, S15s, FDs, etc.). There were so many, they even had to park down the street and walk up to talk with the main group. I tried to get the camera to squeeze out a couple more pictures but all I could get was this last one.

Yea that S15 was hot. There was also a drift team by the name of "Team Sakura" who had a few members which obviously drifted pretty hard (drift damage all over the place) present and ready to go. After only a short wait, everyone left out of the area (sideways and loudly mind you) and headed out to the drift spot.

Most unfortuantely for me though, the cops arrived at the spot within minutes and broke it up. The drifters went to regroup but Travis and I were getting quite tired and decided to just come back another night to see more.

The next morning we planned to fix his skyline asap. While it took a bit longer then we were originally hoping, it finished up with no problems and he even let me test drive it!

Pretty much, this weekend kicked a lot of ass. First the Tokyo Auto Salon, then the car meet. Capped it all off with driving a skyline inside Japan for the first time. I'm looking forrward to the next time we head out, it's sure to be a blast!

I also put together a 72 picture gallery of the evening which you can view HERE. check out the pictures and let me know what you think.
Mason on 01.16.07 @ 11:43 AM PST [link]

Tokyo Auto Salon 07'

mood: holy crap~!

In 2005 I had my first taste of the Tokyo Auto Salon (TAS). Nothing before had ever caused me to express such elated feelings as did this particular show. First, imagine a car show you might've frequented once in the past (HIN for example). Then, take the level of cars inside that show, and double it. Once you have that, take the size of the show, and quadruple it several times over. Now you have an idea what TAS is like. This last saturday, I once again had the chance to visit the show.

Initially I had planned on going by my lonesome, but thanks to the helpful efforts of one Mr.Kearny, I was introduced to a naval feller by the name of Travis. Travis has been living in Japan for the past six years and had signifigantly worked his way into the car culture and scene down in Yokohama. His love of Japanese cars find it's place in the form of a Z32(300ZX). Tragically though, Travis and his Z32 met a horrible accident on the freeway and he was forced to buy a "old/boring" R32 Skyline for around $2500. His description and opinion of his Skyline would easily be considered borderline insane back in the states, but here, may be normal (I don't know, skylines still excite the poo out of me and I own one).

So my saturday started pretty dern early. I woke up at 6am to rush downstairs,shower and eat, then continue as quick as I could out the door and to the train station. A brisk hour and a half later I met Travis and his party of two others at Tokyo station at the entrance to the Keiyo line (way out to Chiba prefacture where the show was held). We exchanged pleasantries and continued out to the show. The show itself is held in a massive building which by my estimates was a total of 4 or more football fields with an additional stadium on the side not counting the outdoor exhibits.

As you can see, it's a tid bit large. A hefty walk from the station brought us to that mecca of a building you see above. Upon entrance, a quick line, and a ticket check, you were on your way to enough JDM goodness to last you a lifetime. To give you an idea, below was an overview map of the three main display rooms.

Holy crap? crazy That's exactly what I said. Every possible car you've seen in DVDs, magazines, or heard about from overseas, was here at the show. Every famous manufacturer, was at the show. Car celebrities seemed to be every few steps and the displays of each booth or region were enough to cause a grown man to soil himself.

It's hard to really do it justice by showing you a few pictures here and there of my choice cars. There was enough to see that I was walking taking pictures pretty much nonstop. I went through two cameras, and 4 sets of batteries before I was done. To get the real feel of the stuff I bore witness to, check out it's very own section in the Gallery where I have well over 500 pictures of the event.

Aside from the gallery though, there are tidbits here and there I really must comment on. For example, this man above is one of my hereos. If you don't know who he is, that's alright, just know that he's a god among Mazda RX-7 fans and has a company which pushes out some of the most beautiful forms of metal known to man.

Next up is Top Secret's latest beast. Yea, it's a Supra all right, but with a fresh new front end design that would keep you guessing as to what exotic manufacturer it belonged to. I have no idea if they intend to sell it, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

Now this was amazing. It was a motorized cut-away of the Mazda Rotary Engine. While I don't have a video of it, and I'm sorry, try to imagine this display moving just as it would in an actual rotary motor. The rotor spun, the pulleys turned, it was about as zesty as they come.

What's Endless really doing with their lives? First they were coming out with the 6-pot upgraded brake calipers, and that was already overkill for street applications. Now, apparently that wasn't hardcore enough, since 12-pot seems to be the new hot thing on the block.

I'm not quite sure if I'm a fan yet or not, but Greddy is coming out with color options for their intercooler cores this year (so it seems). So if you want to color coordinate your intercooler with your kicks, but never could before, now you have that option. Who knows, I might sport the blue core on my future car.

This is an overview of a 1/3 of one of the main 3 rooms. Notice the large baloons above each manufacturers' booth. This is to help navigate through the see of automotive bliss to the specific maker of your choosing (there happend to be a random pig ballon in one of the rooms).

This is an image of the stadium where the famous heads from D1 such as Tsuchiya and Nomuken were explaining the upcoming 07' season of the grand prix. I guess if you continued on past this large room there was actual drifting taking place outside which I missed. plain

Ebisu circuit had a booth where they were handing out schedules and answering questions about their coming year's services. They had the bird's eye shot of their different courses which I took a smaller picture of. The Japanese label says "Driftland" which is where I intend to take my future car to later on this year. They offer a half day or whole day pass for under $100USD along with a slue of other services from driving lessons, to normal track days.

ARC (a company famous for their titanium parts) had this full on motor with weird as hell exhaust on dislay. It was a little strange but still quite amazing to see close up.

This girl totally wanted my number... yea.

This picture probably deserved more of a comment then any of the others. For some reason, unbeknownst to me (because I fail at reading Japanese), there was a normal Bicycle on display just hanging out next to cars. It had a stand with info in front of it just like every car in the place. It's probably's gotta be. Do you see that backpack installed in the front compartment? 1,000 yen says it's got naws hidden in there.

Nihon Auotmotive College or NATS for short was a new discovery for me. I talked to one of the representatives who explained a bit more about the school. It's a 4 year program where the first two years licenses you and teaches you the ins and outs of mechanics, much like our tech schools in America do. The 3rd year is then devoted completely to how to tune, modify, and customize cars properly and with good taste. The 4th year is then introducing you to the motorsports where you actually get driving lessons from famous drivers such as Orido and acclemate yourself to the racing world. If you're feeling a bit adventurous, try checking out their site and wander around a bit.

mmmmmmmmmmmm....R34's = hot man-on-machine love.

Here I am checking out the new line of bride seats. While they are expensive, they feel oh so nice an snug.

We arrived at the show around 10am and Didn't finish checking out everything till at least 5pm. And with those 6 full hours, we just lightly browsed what was to be seen, not even really check anything out indepthly. The show runs for three days (fri, sat, and sun) and is also held 2 more times this year in different cities throughout Japan. If you ever get the chance to be in Japan in early January, don't miss the opportunity to check out the Auto Salon (it's also only a measily 1,500yen).

After we collected our thoughts and finished developing a gang of blisters on our feet, we headed on our way home for a night of even more exciting adventure (which I'll touch on in my next post). Thanks for checking this out, and please take a look at the Auto Salon gallery for more pictures of the show.

Mason on 01.15.07 @ 12:29 PM PST [link]

Laundry and Heating

mood: mildly confused

Before leaving I made a point to do extra shopping to get a full 2 weeks worth of clothing. A good idea I thought because it would give me time to figure out how to use their washer machines and dryers. On my previous extended stay to Japan I owned the washer machine depicted below (it's quite bootsy I know):

At that time my Japanese skills were even worse off then they are now, especially when it came to reading. I tried several combinations of button mashing in a hopes to clean my clothes but ultimately failed in my attempts. I eventually had to put my clothes in the tub, fill it with water, add detergent, and go to town with my feet like I was a wine vineyard slave. I Had a fear of repeating this mode of cleaning in the future so I turned to my host mother to teach me how to use her washing machine.

Now in Japan, it is very uncommon to use dryers. A family may have a dryer in the house, but from my understanding, it's only used for emergencies and not for everyday loads. The social norm here is to wash your clothes in the machine, then put it out to dry outside in the open air or inside in your room.

As you can see above, this is my first load of shirts put up to dry in my JDM room. I'm not quite sure how these are supposed to keep from wrinkling but I've been assured it won't happen. How? maybe something in the Japanese air, I'm not too sure (more likely I just misunderstood what she was saying when answering my question).

This is my current washing machine. As you can see, it's uber deluxe versus its POS predecessor. I guess from what she was telling me and what I was reading, it has an integrated dryer function which is available for use. One specific cool function about these Japanese washing machines is it can tell how much of a load you've put in it, and adjust its levels accordingly. I simply pressed the on button, then start, and it felt out the load, then set it to the appropriate level and informed me on how much detergent to put in. shocked

Even though I was told air drying would be ok, I consulted the previous homestay student, who thankfully speaks in English, on ideas for keeping out the wrinkles. From his advice, I decided to use my room's space heater to blow warm air unto/onto my shirts and unmentionables.

My space heater I thought ran off of hopes and dreams but earlier this evening my host mom pulled out this cannister of liquid type stuff from the port on the top. I asked her what it was but all I could get was a, "gasoline jyanai" (not gasoline). For now I'm going to guess it's magic Japanese fluid that flows from the rivers of mystery that so many other things come from in this country. An interesting note I learned in regards to the heater though. I guess it's unusual for houses to use central heating and air unlike in the states. From what I was hearing, it's more normal to just use a space heater when occupying a room or communal area (such as the dining room). I think it has to do with their cultural norm of conserving energy. Lights in hallways also are on motion sensors instead of switches which turn off after about 10 seconds and everybody in the house always turns off their room's light even if they leave the room for only a moment.

I'm adjusting the best I can to the air dying experience but I'm dreading the first day of wearing clothes without dryer sheet softners.

Also, check back this Saturday (my sunday) cause I will be heading out to the 07' Tokyo Auto Salon and will be putting up a gallery similar to my 05' Tokyo Auto Salon gallery. It's sure to be packed full of JDM car goodness.
Mason on 01.10.07 @ 10:00 AM PST [link]

Busy busy busy

mood: Excited

Man oh man have I been busy. Yesterday was my first free day where I was able to catch my breathe. I had the time before having to go to school so I thought I'd update the world on what's happend so far.

The morning after the last post I hopped onto the bus at the hotel and went to the SFO international terminal. I was pretty early so I had to sit and wait for a couple hours for the ANA check-in to open up. Once they did at 8am I checked my baggage with no problems (thank god cause we were afraid of the weight distributions on the bags). I proceeded to go get my money changed out at the currency exchange station. They gave me a fantastically shitty rate of 106yen->$1 even though the current trading rate is 120 to the $1. My mood on that was quickly changed when I had my first ever good experience with the TSA. Not a single person in line first thing in the morning on a weekday so it took me all of 15 seconds to go through international security check; must be a new record. Once I got a chance to sit down in front of my gate and relax it started to feel a bit more real.

An hour or two passed by and I boarded the plane and found my seat near the front. I flew on ANA (All Nippon Airways) and found it to quite refreshing. The seats were roomy, power supply was available for the laptop, personal tv screen with a bazillion channels and movies i could start to watch whenever I wanted, and the food was tasty and well timed. It's probably the easiest trans-pacific flight i've ever had (this being the 5th). I would highly recommend them and intend to fly with them again.

Once I arrived at Narita in Japan things continued to go smoothly. I got off the plane and walked through a series of hallways with welcoming ads that eventually lead me to the immigration lines. Again, lucky me, no lines what so ever. I was the first in line for the foreign passport section. The officer reviewed my 2 year+ visa and stamped me away. I went downstairs and picked up my baggage at the carousel and continued on through customs (who didn't even bother looking at my ish, just waved me through). After customs, I walked down into the main terminal of Narita. TUJ gave me directions on a piece of paper on how to reach the meeting point (where I meet my family). I bought a bus ticket and sat down outside to wait.

Within a half hour the bus arrived and I ventured oboard to my seat. At this point, the same thought went through my mind ..."oh shit, I'm not in America, I'm in Japan". This emotion is really hard to describe if you've never felt it before and it's exceptionally strong if it's your first time feeling it. I spent the majority of the 2 hour bus ride into central Tokyo staring out the window with wonderment. Within minutes I spotted more hot cars I've wished to own then I could count in a day back home. Once we arrived at Miyako Hotel (the designated meeting place), I eagerly disembarked the bus and a Japanese girl holding a small Temple flag simply said to me, "Temple?". I answered, "yes" and she took me inside to a circle of easy chairs in the main hall of the hotel. Two other girls also from Temple were inside to greet me and take my name down. Yuka, one of the girls, checked me in and asked me to wait. Two other tired looking students who also arrived on the same bus were loaded into a taxi and sent to the dorms. She came back and said my family had yet not arrived so please wait. (by the way if I didn't mention before, I am staying with a host family for the first semester and not the dorms)

After the inital shock of finally reaching my destination wore off, I learned a bit more about the 3 girls. They all spoke english pretty much perfectly and were students of Temple themselves. They worked with the OIS (Office of Inernational Students) and were asked to meet all the incomming JA (Japanese Admit [me]) students. They mostly spoke to eachother in incredibly fast Japanese giving me little chance to understand much more then a few words here and there. Every once and a while they would stop, ask me a question in English, then continue back to their conversation. I listened as intently as I could but couldn't get a whole lot of it translated in my head.

Another hour passed by and Yuka told me she was worried why the family hadn't shown up yet and asked me to find their phone number for her. I gave it to her and she called the family. Turns out Temple made a small clerical error on the paperwork they sent the family on what date I was arriving. No big deal though, as the mother immediately left to come meet me from her house. Relieved that I knew what was happening, I left the hotel on my own to find a small convenience store. By the time I got back the mother had arrived and I stumbled horrendously to make a simple introduction in Japanese, "Haji-..Haji je....Hajimemish-". The girls tried to help me and as soon as they started I finally spat out what I had said a thousand times back in Japanese class, "Hajimemashite Mason desu, dozo yoroshiku."

Once I finished thoroughly destroying my confidence in speaking their language, I said a quick goodbye to the girls and then left with the mother for the train station. Now in the profile TUJ gave me, they noted that intermediate Japanese was required and that they spoke Japanese at home. This had mulled over in my mind prior to now but really didn't mean much until she started talking to me only in Japanese. I opened my mouth to reply only to stop and realize I couldn't communicate. I have had experience with conversation in the many other times I've been here but it had gotten rusty since I hadn't been back for 2 years. Like switching gears in a half-dead transmission, I jogged my memory and swapped languages. All was not lost and it came flooding back to me pretty quickly. I first made small talk then moved to more detailed questions about the house, her sons, etc.

Kiyomi-san (mother) was as friendly as a poor lost gaijin could possibly hope for. She seemed genuinely worried for my well being and interested to help me ease into my new life. Kiyomi-san's house is in Saitama which was a good hour and a half by train north of central Tokyo. Being in the trains flooded me with my memories of previous trips. If there is one thing I think foreigners remember about their stays in Japan, it's the look and feel of the train systems. Nothing is quite like it. Once we arrived at what seemed to me a boonies stop called Sengendai off of a local train line, she motioned me to get off. The station seemed much more remote then what I'd normally seen but wasn't without it's own charm. Clean as one would ever want and far from overwhelming in size, it seemed more homey then what I was expecting. I took a quick moment to soak it all in, then continued on our way out of the station and into the suburbs of Saitama.

After about a 1.5 mile walk her son Tsuyoshi met us and greeted me. He helped me with my bags into the house and formally greeted me surprisingly in English. He then helped me upstairs to my room where they then explained to me what time to wake up for breakfast then said good night to me. note: the below pic was taken the next morning, not that night

My room wasn't small at all from what I was prepared to deal with. I slumped my stuff down and in quick order went to bed.

If you've even been abroad, you know what I'm about to talk about. When I go to sleep here, I dream like I'm still at home, and while dreaming, I forget where I am in real life completly. So, the next morning, I woke up confused as all hell. After about 30 seconds of a mix of disorientation and fear, I realized I was in Japan, and was left with lingering feeling of apprehension. I dressed myself and walked downstairs into my new living room.

I was directed to sit down and a barage of Japanese came flying at me. Picking the words or phrases I understood, I answered to the best of my ability and had breakfast presented to me. At that time I got to meet the two younger sons Arashi(15) and Ryuta(10). I talked with them (sort of) for about an hour and was taught proper ettiquette for beginning and ending meals (Itatakimasu- say when starting / Ochiso sama deshita - say when finishing). I was then shown the shower and operation of it and left to my own devices.

I don't really wanna talk about it that much; let's just say it was a really cold and slow experience. I finished getting ready and Kiyomi-san handed me directions left from the previous homestay student on how to get to Temple in Azabu, Tokyo. She lead me back to the Sengendai train station and with a worried look said goodbye to me. I confidently told her "daijobu desuyo, wakata."(it's ok, I understand) and left on the trains to Temple. I hopped 4 different train lines to get to Azabu and over 2 hours later I walked onto the streets of central Tokyo once again. I looked down on the directions to find he failed to tell how to get from the station exit to the actual school but DID mention it took approximately 8 minutes to get there by walking. poop. The next half hour was filled with walking half a block, then asking someone for directions, not understanding their repsonse beyond the direction they were pointing, then doing it again. Alas, I finally made it to Temple and with a relieved sigh, walked up the stairs and into the main Azabu hall.

From then on started the next several days of orientations and introductions of students and faculty. The days were filled with nonstop activity. Wake up, go to school by train, listen to orientations, go home, eat dinner with family, practice conversation with family, go to bed. Ending on saturday night I started to feel more ease on my current situation and more comftorable with talking with my family. I reasserted my efforts in learning the language and ardorously challenged new nouns, verbs, and adjectives at every opportunity. My previous nervousness resided and excitement took its place.

Sunday (yesterday) was my first free day where I didn't have to go to school. I took this opportunity to relax at home till much later and practice more conversation. Luckily for me, Steve, a previous homestay student from 2 semesters ago came by to visit the family and help translate some things for me (such as rules of the family). Steve is in town for a week or so for some interviews for jobs here in Japan. Later in the day I left for Shinjuku to meet my good friend Ikuta. I had met Ikuta 2 years ago and on my last trip, hung out with him practically everyday. We kept in touch over the internet and my other friend Nick, who had accompanied me on the last trip, came to Japan last year for 3 months and spent alot of time with him. We did some shopping for TVs (I need on to play my new wii DUH), and cell phones..or as they call them here keitai. He helped me collect a bunch of packets from the different cell phone companies with explanations of phones and service plans in english for me to later study (which I'm currently doing while I write this). We went to a restaurant he frequents and got some food and had a good time.

Now that finally brings us to today. Today I woke up late and went to my verrrry last orientation and came home to eat dinner. Tomorrow is the first day of classes for me and I'm very excited. I'm also in the morning going with Kiyomi-san to the city ward in koshigaya to apply for my Alien Registration Card (that'll allow me to stop carrying my passport and be able to get a keitai) and National Health Insurance card.

I also took some time today to put together a chronologically ordered gallery in the gallery section which starts in my room and walks through my house and neighborhood. It'll give you a good idea what my new living arrangements and area are like. You can view that gallery HERE or you can just click on the Gallery button on the left and find it there.

Anyway, thanks for reading the lenghtly beginning! Ganbatte! (hope I spelled that right...) satisfied
Mason on 01.08.07 @ 10:10 AM PST [link]

Hotel Room..

mood: nervous

So here I am sitting in a shitty travelodge hotel room 1 mile north of SFO airport less then 12 hours from boarding the plane to Japan and I'm nervous as hell. I've been to Japan before, 3 times actually, but this time is much different. The idea of leaving my home country for years at a time is very disturbing. Many people have been calling me lucky and saying how much fun it's going to be but I can't help but think of America.

After about a month you really start to miss the little things you never realize are even there. Getting a burger at a restaurant and having it taste like a burger. Hanging out with friends you've known for years on the weekends. Hell, speaking your language and having people understand you. They all go away when you leave, and it really starts to eat at you. It's more than that though. Everything is so incredibly different; it's like a sensory overload 24/7. You go outside, streets looks different, go into a convenience store, you dont recognize any of the foods, go to a magazine stand, you dont understand what you see, watch the news, you hear almost nothing of news from home. It's alot like being in a dream world you can't wake up out of.

I remember on the longest stay I had there prior to this one (a mere 3 months), just about the 2nd month I started dreaming like I was living my life back home. Problem is, when I woke up, I'm not home and it gives an unrelenting feeling of homesickness.

Who knows though, I might just be nervous. Hopefully it wears off in the first few days I'm there. One thing is for sure though, I've been preparing for this for a long time and I'm more than ready to go and work my hardest. I'm not one to give up cause im scared so I intend to see it through no matter how hard it gets.

As for the next 12 hours, I'll be watching Bleach and putting music into my mp3 player to be ready for my first 2 hour commute home by train. I have alot to look forrward to. Lord I hope my host family isn't a bunch of psychos. anyway, good night and I'll have pics of my leaving wednesday. wish me luck!
Mason on 01.02.07 @ 02:49 AM PST [link]