My New Place! Kokubunji in West Tokyo

mood: free

big grin Well homestay ended and my first semester at TUJ ended and now I'm free to move to my new place. In the last couple months at homestay I was researching for places to stay long term for after homestay. I e-mailed tons of people and researched for days until I finally came across a place in a section of West Tokyo called Kokubunji. My main priorities was a place that offered a parking spot, had broadband internet, and wasn't more then an hour by train from my school. Lucky Yours Corp. answered my call with this awesome place and I moved in a couple days after the official end of the semester.

That was several weeks ago though. Within two days of moving in I got Pneumonia and was immediately bed-ridden for the following 2-3 weeks with frequent visits to the ER and Hospitals. Which is my excuse for not posting anything for 20 or so days. BUT, I'm all healed now and thought it appropriate to share my new place as my first post from Kokubunji.

This is the front of the building from the street. This place is what is called a guesthouse. That means you have a private room but share larger community areas for things like cooking and hanging out. I specifically looked for one of these places so I would continually have the opportunity to speak Japanese. My fear of leaving the homestay was that I was going to get a place and never speak Japanese and thus slow down my learning of the language. Also this gueshouse doesn't require deposit, key money, gurantor, realtor fees, and other associated bullshit that forced you to place $3k+ just to move in.

Here is the front entrance.

To enter the building, instead of using a key, you use an ID proximity card. I put the card in my wallet and just swipe my wallet around the key pad and the front door unlocks and opens for me.

Here is what you see when you first walk in. There is an entry way where you take off your shoes and put on your indoor slippers. Those computers you see are the community computers for if you don't have a personal one in your room. The lit up room to your left is the entry into the dining and hang out area and kitchen area. The hallway to the right goes to rooms and to stairs to reach the other two floors. The door to the right is the 1st floor showers.

Here is my cubby where I exchange my shoes for my slippers.

This is looking from the hallway at the entrance. Those metal boxes are our mail boxes. You can see another housemate switching out his shoe in the cubby area. The small glass door on the left is to the reception area? Noone ever goes in there so I don't even know why it exists.

This is a closer look at the computers and the door into the dining room.

This is the dining room and hang out area. The high-def tv you see if for eveyones use and we have digital cable and some games. This area is pretty popular with alot of the housemates and I spend most of my time down here rather then in my room. Every night people cook dinner together and socialize/drink. It's pretty lively every night and keeps me from getting bored sitting and staring at the wall by myself. It's also a great opportunity to practice my Japanese as I probably spend 3-5 hours a night down here speaking it. You can also see into the kitchen from the dining area.

Closer look at the couches and TV area.

This is the kitchen after entering from the glass door. Those cubbies on the right (white) are personal cubbies for putting your special foods/spices you want to keep seperate from everyone elses. The large metal box thing in the back corner is where everyone puts the majority of their food stufts and whatnot. You can see the rice cookers, washing area, gas stoves, broilers, etc.

Here you can see the stoves a bit better along with the community freezers and fridges.

This is Rina, one of the other college students who lives in the guesthouse who happend to be downstairs at the same time that I wandered in with the camera.

These are Tomatos.

Now here we are back in the entrance room. This is the hallway to the 1st floor rooms. You can see the doorway to the stairs on the left.

Here is what the 1st floor showers look like. Yes they're community, it's the biggest downside of the place but I've gotten used to it. I've noticed the Japanese are really big on getting naked together (bath houses, shared shower rooms, sumo).

Alright! Let's walk upstairs to my floor (2nd).

Here is the washer/dryer (YES I SAID DRYER EFF YEA!) room on the second floor. I also use those sinks for shaving and brushing me teeth.

Here is the 2nd floor hallway looking at the stairs to the open door on the right.

And that brings us to my room, number 207.

First thing you see when you open the door. There is a small place where you take off your house slippers and then proceed into the room.

This is what the main half of my room looks like. Yes I know what you're thinking, roomy right? I've been thinking of asking them for a smaller room as this one is way too big. In the upper-right corner you can see my A/C unit which is pretty much on all the time. That table where my laptop is sitting is called a Kotatsu and it's a Japanese style table that has a heater installed on the underside for use in the winter. Behind the table you can see my TV and $15 TV stand. Boy let me tell you what a joy it was moving that TV from Saitama to West Tokyo. On the wall you can see various vehicular posters. The biggest one being of a 77' Kenmeri Skyline which is sexier then sex. On the left of the room you can see my raised off the floor bed. Out my sliding door you can see my half of a balcony (left side).

Here is the opposite side of my room. On the right is my bookshelf housing such things as Jager (imported only $35 alll riiiight!!), my books for class, my video cam equip, other assorted books, and my collection of Option and Option 2 Magazines. On the left of the room you can see my personal fridge. You can also see the place where you take off your slippers from this view. The large doors there are the closet and then the upper doors are storage closet.

And finally, here is the view if I open my sliding glass door.

I've been here a bit over a month or so now and I really like the area. It's very green, hilly, and welcoming. It also has alot of great stuff in the area (which I'll show in a few posts from now) and the people are very friendly (for the most part). The housemates are awesome and always interested in hanging out and talking. I have a parking spot now so I'm one step closer to having a car here as well. All in all I see myself staying here probably for the next year or two. Oh also, It only takes 47 minutes to get to school instead of 2 hours...I can't explain the feeling of joy that gives me.

Also I wanted to talk about some stuff that may surprise some of you. I have always heard from people of how expensive Tokyo is and how, if you're a foreigner, things are so insanely expensive that you will end up spending double or triple the cost of what you spend at home just to live a normal life. This is completely not true. As with any city, if you're a stupid idiot, never research, and walk with your wallet out, you're gonna get ripped off, alot. For example, there are other students who started in my same semester who refused to listen to my recommendation to research who ended up on a smaller apartment with less amenities, same or maybe a little closer to school with no utilities, internet, or parking included, for $1200 a month on a 2 year lease and had to pay all the fees costing them around $4,000 to move into a place (of which they'll never get back, even upon moving out). That is what you call being dumb, and not looking around first.

Let me enlighten you what a little research can do. This place, with all utilities, internet, cable tv, parking spot, trash, etc...all fees, everything, with rent, $625/mo. No deposit, no lengthly lease. You can get it even cheaper too if you don't require a parking spot. I've seen some places, although very tiny and farther from central Tokyo, for as cheap as $300/mo. A 1-room apartment in my hometown of Sacramento with rent alone, not including utilities, is around that price. Makes you think that maybe this place isn't as expensive as you were told if you look around and learn how to do things first.

Anyway that's about it for this post. hehe I like my new place, it's awesome. I'm much happier now that I don't live in effing China 2 hours away from the rest of the world.
Mason on 05.24.07 @ 06:49 AM PST [link]

Getting a Car in Japan Part.1: Get your Japanese License A:Practice

mood: working

So now that I'm moving out of the homestay and am finished with my first semester, it's time to get cracking on what's really important, cars. This post is the first part of a many part series explaining the process of getting a car in Japan start to finish as I myself experience it.

So you've just moved to Japan and you want a car, what do you do? Well there is alot to consider, both in car choice and paperwork involved. First thing before all of that if you need to be eligible to buy a car. You can't just go hand some guy cash and start driving like in California, it's very strict and a long process, especially if you're a foreigner. To own a car you need a Japanese Drivers License, A registered parking spot in your name to prove you have a place to put it, and means to pay Shaken registration for the car you're planning to buy, and that's all before you even start shopping. That's all well and good but let's start with one thing at a time.

Before you can do anything you need a Japanese Drivers License. Now before you start thinking, "Ha Ha I have the 1 year international driver permit from AAA I'm ok." sorry no you're quite wrong. The Japanese disagree and the AAA International Driver's permit is only valid for 3 months upon entering the country, sorry. You might be able to get away with renting a car but certainly not buying one. If you intend to own a car in the country they expect you to show commitment by at least going through the process to transfer your license over.

Ok, so how do you do that? Well, before leaving the US, go to the DMV and request a Driver's License history report that shows the date of issuance and that the license is still valid. If you didn't do this you get to go through a 1-2 month hell with the DMV like I did. Next step is to take that piece of paper and your US Driver's License to JAF (Japanese Automobile Federation, the J-version of AAA) and have your License officially translated into Japanese for a slick 3,000yen fee. They'll take a look at the DMV paper and also note on the translation your issuance date and that it's valid. With your new translated papers you can go take the tests at your city ward's DMV to start the transfer process. Sounds easy right? Wrong.

There are 3 tests required of a US National in order to get his/her License. First an eye test (easy). Next is a 10 question written test similar to the written test in the states. You read a small 20 page pamphlet and you'll pass fine. Be happy cause the written test is gobs harder for the Japanese citizens. The last thing to do is take a driving test on a closed course. This is where it gets hard, the test is so strict and so difficult where you can't make a single mistake, that the average fail rate before passing is 3 or 4 times.

A way to really add to your chances of passing if get some real practice on Japanese streets and memorize the order in which you have to do things for the test. This is where this post comes in. Driving Practice. I've been driving with Neal in his Laurel through the streets from time to time to try to get comftorable with driving in Japan. In my last days before leaving my homestay, we went out for some more practice. I made a video of our experience so check it out! wink

Good times.

We did some short driving practice around Soka and Yashio before heading out to the freeway. After a humorous gas fill-up, we were well on our way.

We did the usual runs we do on the C1 and Rainbow bridge. I got a chance to really get a feel for what it's like on the Japanese freeways and really got to feel comftorable with the environment.

Here is a view of the city from the Tetsumi parking area. There are several parking hang out spots throughout the Tokyo freeways, Daikokufuto being the most famous and popular. Tetsumi is smaller and always our first stop on a run of the freeways.

Very zesty STI just hanging out.

While driving we met up with Masa who followed us to Tetsumi to hang out. Another friend of Masa's with the Aristo met with us as well. His car has curtains in a house. It's part of the whole VIP style thing.

You should know by now my car posts are dominated with Skylines.

After awhile we moved from Tetsumi to a new parking garage area to meet with the blue R34 guy who I talked with on one of my first nights out. He saw his car in the video and on the site and wanted to talk to me again so I met up with him here.

Masa's car and some other people.

The blue R34 making me cry with its pure beauty.

You can see the group chatting away in the background.

This was a friend of the R34 guy, very zesty as well.

In order to make it home to start the move to the new place the next day, I had to leave earlier then I woudl've liked. I got alot of practice in though and I think after one or two more outings I should be ready for the actual driving test. shocked
Mason on 05.03.07 @ 08:07 PM PST [link]

Last Meal at Homestay. Let's Make Gyoza!

mood: enthralled

So finals have ended and I made it through. I pulled off a 3.77GPA and made Dean's List this semester and it's time for some celebration. My last night in the homestay before making the final move to my new apartment has arrived and it's time for my favorite food, Gyoza!

My Japanese mom has taught me to cook several things throughout my stay here in the house and of those, my favorite is Gyoza (potstickers I think it's called in America). It's delicious beyond compare and quickly finding it's way to my top 3 favorite foods of all time. Don't be fooled though, it's only this good if it's homemade. So without further adue, please watch the video I put together of me cooking on my last night. razz

Man this stuff is great. Now that you've seen the video, you should try making it. If you have an asian supermarket in your town (If you're in my hometown of Sacramento you most surely do), you can find the Kawa(skin) required for making it which is the only ingredient you can't normally buy at a US supermarket. The best part if the entire 150 piece meal costs about $15 to make. You pretty much need the skin, meat, negi, salt and other seasonings, cabbage, and you're done!

You also need a flat pan griddle such as this. A little oil and a cup or do of water.

It's so easy to make and so awesome you have no idea.

mmmmm delicious.

This meal was my last with the family, sad times. It was great overall and I'm glad I did it. Homestays are really hard but if you can handle it, they're well worth it. If you ever have the chance, do it.
Mason on 05.03.07 @ 07:18 PM PST [link]

Outing to a Restaurant with my Homestay Family

mood: delicious

So my homestay is coming to an end pretty soon along with my semester. It's been alot of good times and alot of hard times. While going through it I cursed the country's name non-stop, having been through it, I can say that the homestay was worth it. Sure the 2 hour commute made me want to cut myself and sure the not being able to talk unless it's in a foreign language got difficult at times, but doing it the hard way is the best way and I feel I've learned alot.

smile When I stop and look back on my first fews days I just now realize how much I've learned. My ability to speak has jumped dramatically thanks to having to speak it non-stop on a daily basis at home. It's given me a great base for learning this language that I think will give me a real fighting edge. I've also learned alot of the small nuances and pieces of the culture and family life which I couldn't attain any other way. I also made a life-long bond with my Japanese family which is priceless. I'm really appreciative to all the family has done for me. But..I am really glad to finally stretch out on my own without being pent up by rules and family life and get to enjoy living on my own and being able to own a car again.

Before leaving my host mom thought it'd be nice to round up the entire family and go to a restaurant. Great Idea I thought! Even the grandpa and grandma were going to come. I've been living here for 4 months and have never talked to the grandpa ever. He walks into the room mumbling, gets some tea, and goes back into his room everyday. He likes to keep to himself in his room and read so I never got a chance to know him or even what he did for a living before he retired. But luckily tonight that'd change.

Oh Boy! Let's pack in the car! big grin

We went to yaki tori? I'm not sure of the name I don't remember. It's sort of like korean barbeque where there is a grill in the middle and you put strips of meat on it to cook then the community of people use their chop sticks to grab some meat then dip it in different flavorings. There's also delicious frosty beverages and vegtables to be had.

So here is part of my family at the table. From left to right we have Ryuta, the 10 year old youngest of the family, Kenta, the 21 year old oldest son in the family (also same year college student as me), Grandpa, and Grandma.

Here's some meat cooking away on the grill while I chow down on some 'salad'. And by salad the Japanese think it's necessary to add mayonaise. In fact, if they could, they'd add mayonaise to everything (even pizza, it's quite popular...unfortunately :crysmile.

Here is some of the flavorings you put on the meat. This is a negi and salt mix (negi is Japanese green onion, sort of).

Here I am harrassing my host mom as I'm known to do from time to time. As usual she looks unimpressed and shortly after, scolded me. A small sidenote, a big social no-no is to shake your leg nervously, it's a sign of poor self-control. I do it constantly at the dinner table and get yelled at daily for it.

Here is the rest of my family. On the right we have Arashi, the middle son of 14. On the left we have the Mom. Thumbs up for delicious food! Unfortunately the last son couldn't make it cause he lives like 3 hours away going to college in Chiba.

A nice pic of Obasan and Ojiisan (grandma and grandpa) that I took. Turns out he worked for JR (Japan Railways) for 30 or so years and started shortly after the end of world war 2 around 1948. This guy is oldschool as it gets. Nice man though, just have to really try to talk to him. The grandma on the other hand loved to take opportunities to talk to me and always expected me to understand perfectly and respond accordingly which didn't always happen. She also made a habit of making me a cup of hot tea in the morning and laughing at the mom when she scolded me for whichever overly-foreign thing I was doing. A thing I after-the-fact like about the family is they always treat me like one of their own. So that means whenever I'd do something unjapanese or a faux pas they wouldn't ignore it, I'd get scolded till I did it right to help me learn how things were done in their culture. Believe it was WAY frustrating at first as I didn't understand why I was being yelled at. The first month was really hard till I learned to talk enough that I started being able to converse with the mom to understand what was going on.

One of the only big things in Japan is their beer. While I'm not a big fan of most of their food, their beer is my favorite. And the sizes are to my liking.



and Relaxing...

The dinner was delicious and I had a good time. We headed home after eating our fill and I continued to study for finals. While I was studying though I heard something from downstairs so I thought I'd investigate and take a picture.

The Grandma is playing a Samisen (spelling?). The Samisen is a traditional instrument which You've probably heard if you've ever seen a samurai film. She usually practices at night to give the house a very Japanese feel to accompany my studying.
Mason on 05.03.07 @ 06:52 PM PST [link]