Friday, August 31, 2007

Call to Arms

As you may be aware by now, Japan will institute a fingerprinting system on all foreigners entering Japan from November 2007. This includes residents and tourists.

Not only is the justification for this system highly questionable, but it completely undermines the work foreign residents did to get the old fingerprinting system abolished some years ago, the records purged.

As such, I suggest foreign residents who may be considering international travel in November and December at least bring some attention to this issue the first time it arises at immigration. When the Gaijin Hanzai magazine was still being sold in Family Mart, we were encouraged not to go shouting to store managers who may have been ignorant or had little control over the situation, but to calmly hand over a letter written in Japanese explaining the reasons why Family Mart should consider removing the mook.

Japan Probe was very successful in this endeavor, as was Debito. As my Japanese skills are still not quite up to par, I am issuing a call to all JLP 1's to send possible letters my way, addressed to Japanese immigration authorities after fingerprinting is conducted.

Nothing inflammatory, nothing suggesting open rebellion. Just a simple letter stating that although you will comply with this law, it is only because you have no choice if you want to enter Japan; state a brief history of the fingerprinting situation in Japan and how it came to be abolished the first time around; why do you disagree with the present system, etc.

Thoughts?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Off Topic

I just think this is funny; chalk it up to being bored. Name that movie and I'll give you the name of a place in Japan that serves sandwiches without mayonnaise.

"りんごが好きですか? はて私は彼女の電話番号を持っています。 同じりんごどんな感じでっか?"

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Not Quite Iwo Jima



Ahh... Tanegashima and Yakushima included, there are so many islands to explore here.

This weekend (assuming I can find an open minshuku), I'll be taking the first ferry on Saturday over to Ioujima (硫黄島), a small island in the Mishima chain just south of Kaimondake off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture.

Both Ioujima and the famous WWII island Iwo Jima have the same kanji name, 硫黄島, "sulfur island", though if you've been following the news, you'd have noticed that Iwo Jima's pronunciation (though not the kanji characters) was recently changed back to its original, Iōtō.

Useful website for this island group

Unlike its charred counterpart, Ioujima remains on the active ferry route and is ripe for tourists. However, this island, and so many others like it in the Mishima and Tokara Islands, are so small that ferries are pretty infrequent: once or twice a week, and not always convenient departures for staying one or two days. As such, I'll have about 22 hours on Ioujima before the same ferry turns around and comes back to pick me up. If I end up stranded for the week, しょうがない.

Diving opportunites, two outdoor onsen fueled by a very prominent volcano, and so little space as to just relax and write. Maybe I'll discover a new favorite place to watch the sunrise.

Among the Yakisugi



Normally at the beginning of these little travel pieces I start out very poetic, praising the unique features of the area, and highlighting how much I benefited from the experience. Although I did enjoy staying on Yakushima, the hiking, the main feature, was subpar by my standards. Oh, don't get me wrong – the sights, the sounds, and the smells were all what I expected, and all quite extraordinary. But the quality of the journey, the terrain, and following the footsteps of the men of old, were not so enjoyable.

Yakushima (屋久島), as you may know, is one of the major islands off the southern coast of Japan. Just like Tanegashima (種子島), it's less than two hours from Kagoshima Port by ferry. And it's unique. As unique as any other island out here. Where Tanegashima is sandy and tropical, Yakushima is very much a wilderness, with rocky shores and trees thousands of years old.

I'm just recently starting to discover the wonders of these southern islands; there are three directly to the south, the Mishima group (Takeshima, Ioujima, Kuroshima), and a collection south of Yakushima, the Tokara islands (one that is supposedly the subject of the story Treasure Island).

But I digress, more on Yakushima...


The Cities

Miyanoura (宮之浦)

Miyanoura is the major entry/exit point to Yakushima. Although ferries do dock at Anbo (安房, to the south) as well, most traffic is in and out of this little coastal town. I'd highly recommend this as your major base of operations, for hiking or sightseeing - おみやげ stores (gifts), rental equipment (everything from tents to hiking boots), restaurants, grocery stores, and most of the tourist industry resides in Miyanoura.

If you're in the mood, I believe there is a kayak rental store that allows you to go upstream towards the mountains; once you're clear of the semi-urban area, this would be quite a sight.

Onoaida (尾之間)

Onoaida, just a little over an hour by bus or car from Miyanoura, is another good base of operations. Be warned, however - there's not a lot here. Hotels in abundance, and a quality onsen, but restaurants, convenience stores, and shops of any kind are lacking. There is one supermarket, a bakery (ペイタ, Peita, very good), and a pachinko parlor, if you can believe it. If you do stay in this area, bring all the supplies you need from Miyanoura, and order meals at the hotel.




Jyoumon Sugi (縄文杉)



Jyoumon Sugi is a cedar tree located very far inland on the bigger hiking trails in Yakushima. The oldest cedar tree in Yakushima, Japan, and the world, estimated to be between 2,170 and 7,200 years old.

Although this certainly is worth seeing if you're on the island, don't expect fireworks; after all, it is just a tree.

This was one of the major qualms I had with the the trail leading here. If you're traveling from Arakawa, you're hiking on railroad tracks for the better part of two hours, and then on carefully placed wooden platforms leading up the mountain. While there's no doubt that these precautions are necessary given the tourists on Yakushima (including children), they take away from the journey. I want nothing but hiking boots owning the wilderness, my hands grasping for branches as they guide my body across a difficult terrain... the spiderwebs are the same, though - right in your face at an inopportune moment.

Height: 25.3 m
Circumference: 16.4 m

Along the trail, be sure to notice...

Wilson's Stump (the opening shaped like a heart if you get the angle just right)



There used to be a small town, complete with a middle school, in the middle of the mountain.




Access

From the Yakushima Youth Hostel in Hirauchi, there is a 5:02 AM bus (stops at major areas in Onoaida and Anbo) that takes you right to the Arakawa trailhead - one of the highest points accessible by car. From there, it's about a 3-4 hour hike to the Jyoumon Sugi. If you have enough time, there is a small peak about another hour away. The first bus going back leaves at 3 PM, the last at 5 PM.


Miyanouradake (宮之浦岳)

Miyanouradake is the highest point on Yakushima island, reaching 1936 m. Unfortunately, there's no possible way to reach the peak and come back safely before dark in a single day; if you want to see all of Yakushima, plan on camping out.

Access

All trails lead to Miyanouradake. It's almost the exact center of the island.


Onsen

Onoaida Onsen (尾之間温泉)

A small little onsen just off the highway, about a 15 minute walk from Onoaida. It also happens to be at the base of one of the popular trailheads. Not a bad starting point if you're intent from beginning at the base of the mountain, but I prefer taking a bus past the "boring" areas.



They have towels, but no soap. The bath is very hot, a little sulfurous, and more than relaxing. Perfect for coming off the trail at day's end.

Ohura no Yu (おふらの湯)

Don't even bother. Coming from Isso Beach, I was expecting a semi-luxurious onsen set in the wilderness, with full facilities. Instead, I find a run-down bathhouse a 20 minute walk from the highway in what could never be construed as a romantic area. The bath is small, no soap is provided, and the water doesn't feel even remotely onsen-like.

Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen

A great natural outdoor onsen on the rocky shore. Unfortunately it's only full as long as the tide is in (midnight and noon when I was there in August).


Beaches

Isso Beach and Ohura Cape





There is another beach near Nagata on the western side of Yakushima. During the month of August, you might be able to spot sea turtles coming ashore.

Access

Take the northbound bus about 25 minutes from Miyanoura. The bus stops right in front of the beach; watch for signs.


Accommodation

Yakushima Portside Youth Hostel
Probably your cheapest option in the Miyanoura area. It's an easy walk from the port, and as central as can be.

¥3800/night, meals not available
Website

Access
Walk out of the port and turn left. You'll see signs.


Yakushima Youth Hostel
The best cheapest lodging option. This hostel is just west of Onoaida in the middle of nowhere (a town called Hirauchi, 平内); I wouldn't recommend trying to reach it on foot. Once you do reach the main building, however, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised: rental cars, rental bicycles, internet access, laundry machines, a nice dining area, and plenty of room. It's well-maintained (almost new, I think). If you don't want to order meals at the hostel, there is a decent izakaya within walking distance that opens at 6 PM.

¥3540/night, meals extra
Website

Access
Take a bus south from Miyanoura or Anbo to the Hirauchi Iriguchi stop.


JR Hotel



A nicely placed hotel close to the shore in Onoaida. This hotel is modern, expensive, and boasts its own onsen.
Website


Iwasaki Hotel
A few minutes away from Onoaida closer to the base of the mountain. Probably the most luxurious choice in Yakushima (certainly the most expensive, anyway). This hotel is on the early morning bus route, and gives you a great view of the shoreline.
Website


Camping
Camping is a popular option on Yakushima, as most of the sights are more than a day's hike away, and you have to plan very carefully if you want to catch the bus.

Although you can probably pitch a tent anywhere without consequence, the authorities recommend setting up at designated mountain huts along the trail. There are no restaurants, vending machines, or running water faucets as far as I know.


Access to Island

Cosmo Line operates three Rocket jetfoils.
¥5,000 one-way, ¥9,000 roundtrip

Kagoshima (鹿児島) --> Yakushima (屋久島)

09:00 --> 10:50
12:20 --> 13:10
16:00 --> 18:45 (stops at Tanegashima)

Yakushima (屋久島) --> Kagoshima (鹿児島)

07:20 --> 10:05 (stops at Tanegashima)
12:00 --> 13:50
15:50 --> 18:30 (stops at Tanegashima)

A notice: there are no vending machines on this ship and it moves too quickly to allow you to step outside.


Toppy operates its own jetfoils, albeit at a slightly higher price than Cosmo Line.
¥7,000 one-way, ¥12,600 roundtrip

Kagoshima (鹿児島) --> Yakushima (屋久島)

07:30 --> 10:30 (stops at Tanegashima)
07:40 --> 09:45 (stops at Ibusuki)
10:20 --> 13:00 (stops at Tanegashima, arrives at Anbo port)
13:10 --> 14:55
15:50 --> 18:30 (stops at Tanegashima, arrives at Anbo port)

Yakushima (屋久島) --> Kagoshima (鹿児島)

07:00 --> 09:35 (departs from Anbo port, stops at Tanegashima)
10:00 --> 12:40 (stops at Tanegashima)
10:45 --> 12:30
13:40 --> 15:35 (departs from Anbo port)
16:20 --> 19:15 (stops at Tanegashima, Ibusuki)


Other Observations

- Be wary of centipedes (gejigeji, 蚰蜒); they may not be fatal, but could put parts of you out of commission.
- The center of Yakushima is almost like a basin for catching clouds; even in the non-rainy seasons, you might find yourself in the midst of a rainforest.

More pictures of Yakushima

Monday, August 27, 2007

Forgotten Differences

As I was reading over a particular passage of James Clavell's Shōgun this weekend, I stopped and pondered. In the book, the main character, the Anjin-san, the foreigner turned Japanese, comes into contact with his western friends since being separated in Japan months ago. The clash in cultures is astonishing for all, most of all the Anjin-san.

Although he still considers himself somewhat of an outsider, he has been doing his best to adapt to the Japanese culture. As a result, he has seen the benefits to parts of life that his native home had denied him: the regular baths, the practicality of sex, accepting what can't be controlled as karma, the value of life and death...

I would say (to little opposition, I hope) that 21st century Japan and Europe are more closely related in culture than 16th century Japan and Europe. And yet... some of the values instilled in Japanese youth remain. Many believe that it is better to die honorably than to live a life of shame, and commit suicide (albeit by different methods than seppuku). The practicality behind sexual pleasure (as recreation). Patience behind your emotions, keeping a veil over your true feelings.

Therefore, I can somewhat relate to the Anjin-san, as he is exposed to his "true" culture for the first time in months, after having been "Japanese". I may not be surrounded by true bushido-serving Samurai warriors and the caste system before the Shogunate, but I'm wondering just how revolted, upset, or plain confused I may be when I return home for good and encounter parts of my culture I find to be inferior.

I take so many things for granted here - ignoring the impact I have on other people - and completely forget that this reality is new for me, a part of me now, but not always. I never thought it would be like that, living in a strange new place, but I guess some blend, others reject.

If only I could remember...

There are places in this world where you can't walk around the corner, strip down, and settle into a hot bath fueled by volanic veins, showing no shame about your nakedness.

There are places in this world where people do not eat raw fish on a regular basis; in fact, some consider it disgusting, even unsanitary.

There are places in this world where mountains do not dominate the horizon, the earth doesn't move, and the sky stays clear in July.

There are places in this world where there is a different standard on polite behavior; people do not bow to show respect or humbleness; store clerks can get by by speaking nothing more than a grunt.

There are places in this world where trains run late.

...

Incidentally, as I read further, this book is definitely not making me feel any sort of sympathy or compassion for the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who try to "save the heathen Japanese souls" in modern times. I guess that's the one thing that really hasn't changed; even after 400 years, religious sects just can't leave well enough alone. They never could. At least now they're responsible for fewer wars.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pablum

I apologize for not posting any substantial writing as of late - I know I gave you a few entries, but it's not exactly the poetry I had hoped for. Give me some time, and I'll deliver some nice commentaries.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Last Samurai Tour in Kyushu



You've all seen the movie I'm sure (nothing to do with this), but who was Saigō Takamori (西郷 隆盛)? What influence did he have on the Meiji Restoration period? Was he truly the last samurai in Japanese history, embodying bushido and the traditional values of 日本?

As I'd like to use my experience in Japan to show others this wondrous land, I am offering a tour in my area. Join me as I show you around the hometown of Saigō Takamori in beautiful Kagoshima and explain the history of his rise, rebellion, and eventual suicide at Shiroyama. If desired, we can also tour Kumamoto Castle, once besieged by Saigo and his followers, and Amami Oshima, where Saigo was briefly exiled.

Come experience a side of Japan most tourists rarely see; Kyushu is rich in natural hot springs, history, and small towns having a unique culture. Contact me for details.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ball of Fire



Amazing story out of Naha, Okinawa; apparently 165 people were able to escape just seconds before their airplane burst into flames. No one was even injured.


A China Airlines jetliner exploded into flames Monday as it parked at Okinawa's Naha airport after arriving from Taiwan, but all 157 passengers and eight crew members aboard escaped unhurt moments earlier, officials said.

A China Airlines jetliner explodes into flames shortly after landing at Naha airport Monday morning. Below, the Boeing 737-800's shattered remains sit on the tarmac after the fire had been extinguished. Everyone on board managed to safely evacuate. RYUKYU SHINPO / KYODO PHOTOS

Police said terrorism was not suspected.

The passengers — including two infants — and crew members fled the Boeing 737-800 on inflated emergency slides before the plane burst into a fireball, transport ministry official Akihiko Tamura said.

The evacuation was completed within 90 seconds after the captain ordered passengers to get out of the plane, he said.

Nobody was injured. Two passengers — a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong and a 57-year-old man from Taiwan — were taken to a hospital because they were not feeling well, and not because of specific injuries, officials said.

An engine fuel leak is the suspected cause of the fire, but China Airlines is still investigating, the officials said. The National Police Agency said terrorism was not suspected.

Tamura quoted China Airlines officials as saying the fire started when the engine below the right wing exploded.

The passengers included 23 Japanese nationals. One of the cabin attendants is Japanese.

The plane departed Taipei at 9:23 a.m. and landed at Naha at 10:27 a.m. The fire broke out at 10:35 a.m., according to airport officials. The fire was put under control at 11:37 a.m., firefighters said.

According to the transport ministry, reports from China Airlines as of 5 p.m. said a ground crew member spotted an oil leak on the engine at 10:32 a.m. when the plane had stopped at its assigned spot in the parking area.

He immediately reported the leak to the captain and requested that he order an emergency evacuation.

The control tower spotted smoke at 10:34 a.m. and immediately dispatched firefighters.

A 28-year-old male Japanese passenger who was aboard the plane said he saw smoke as he was retrieving his carry-on baggage, and added the plane exploded into flames two to three minutes after he and his wife escaped.

By the time the fire was extinguished, the fuselage had collapsed.

NHK showed footage of firefighters hosing the evacuated plane with fire retardants as flames and black smoke billowed from the fuselage.

"After the plane landed, there were flames, and I heard explosions a few times, then saw black smoke," airport worker Hideaki Oyadomari said. "We felt the hot air coming our way."

Several passengers interviewed by NHK said they were suddenly told to use the emergency slides to evacuate as they were preparing to get off the plane after what appeared to be a routine landing.

Taiwanese Civil Aeronautics Administration head Chang Kuo-cheng said authorities have ordered China Airlines and its subsidiary, Mandarin Airlines, to ground their 13 other Boeing 737-800s pending a thorough inspection.

"If there was fire, it might have something to do with an oil leak," Chang said, noting the exact cause has not been determined.

The Okinawa fire is a setback to China Airlines, which in recent years had improved on a troubled safety record among international carriers.

A Taipei-Hong Kong China Airlines 747 crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff in 2002, claiming all 225 people on board, and some 450 people died in China Airlines accidents during the 1990s.

In Tokyo, a liaison office was set up at the prime minister's office in connection with the accident, and the transport ministry's Aircraft and Railway Accidents Investigation Commission dispatched four inspectors to Naha.

China Airlines' checkered record
China Airlines has suffered four fatal accidents in recent years:

April 1994 — A China Airlines Airbus jet crashes in Nagoya when it stalls during an aborted landing. Only seven of the 271 passengers and crew survive.

February 1998 — An Airbus carrying holidaymakers back from Bali, Indonesia, crashes and disintegrates at Taipei airport, killing 196 aboard and seven on the ground.

September 1999 — An MD-11 crashes on landing in Hong Kong. All but three of the 315 passengers and crew survive.

May 2002 — A Boeing 747-200 bound for Hong Kong with 225 passengers and crew on board crashes into the sea shortly after takeoff. There are no survivors.


Source:
China Airlines jet burns up at Naha; all safe

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Japanese Fairy Tales

I was just thinking about the way different cultures raise their children - the values they impart, the stories every one of them know from when they listened in their bedsheets. I grew up with Rumpelstiltskin, so do the Japanese have a story about a funny little man in a suit and a pointed hat who liked to play games with ladies seeking royalty? Probably nothing so specific, but I found the parallels to be very interesting. Take a read:

Japanese Fairy Tales

Surfs Up



I'm sitting in the waiting room at the jetfoil port on Tanegashima (種子島). All I can think about is "had we but world enough, and time." Coming to small islands like this one was a major appeal when deciding between Kagoshima and Tokyo – I'd enjoy it even more if I were visiting an island small enough to navigate in a day, to walk from shore to shore on a nearly deserted piece of land (incidentally, I will be doing that in the near future on Ioujima, population 120, I believe).

Surfing

Tanegashima is rich in culture and history, but the major appeal for tourists by far would have to be its waves. Surfing the clear waters overlooking the sandy beaches. During the summer, I guarantee you can not go outside without at least catching a glimpse of a surfer on his way to catch the hide tide.

There are more beaches than I could count in three short days. If you're staying near Nishinoomote City (西之表, northernmost city and major jetfoil port), there are two a 20-minute bus or car ride away.



Kanahama, to the south, is a great beach for catching the sunset. Although it's right alongside the highway, the crashing waves overcome any sounds those primitive vehicles might make. If you are surfing or swimming, though, be on the lookout – parts of this beach are rather rocky and dangerous. There's a perfectly clear section near the stone steps, but the better waves seem to be crashing against the rocks.

Access

From Nishinoomote (西之表), take the southbound bus for the Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC, 種子島宇宙センタ). Stop at Takamatsu (高松) after about 20-25 minutes. Or, you could walk it in about 75 minutes – not recommended with a surfboard.




Speaking of which, Tanegashima is home to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) running the TNSC, located on the south side of the island. I swear, if I had known I could have been working at this branch, I would have pursued my degreed career a little further. Let me make this simple, because it's not rocket science: this is paradise. Beautiful beaches, tall rock faces, huge waves (on one side, the other is good for families), snow cones, and if you happen to look back towards land, there's a beautifully tended garden for your feasting eyes, though one that happens to have full-sized rockets scattered about.

If you do want to stay indoors, be sure to take advantage of the space museum (at the bus stop, free), or trek over to the control center (Mon-Fri, 8-5). Although you're not allowed near any of the launch sites, there are two observation points giving you a clear view. Check the press releases for the launch schedule.

Access

Take the southbound bus all the way to the end, about 100-120 minutes from Nishinoomote. If you're not staying in the area, be sure to catch the earliest bus to give you as much time as possible; the last bus going back leaves at 3:22 PM. Buses run about every two hours, beginning around 7 AM on weekdays and 9 AM on Saturday and Sunday.


The best beach for sightseeing and relaxing would have to be Urata on the northern coast. Unfortunately, I don't believe any buses go there.

More info on the beaches of Tanegashima


History



Tanegashima was the first place in Japan that was introduced to firearms. On August 25th, 1543, Portuguese merchants sold what was essentially a prototype to the Japanese on the small southern island. This design was soon replicated by Japanese metal workers and produced en masse.

When I first arrived in port, you could say I was a little startled to hear the sounds of rifles being fired less than 100 meters away. To commemorate the arrival of firearms in Japan (although I don't exactly feel the introduction of machines of death is worthy), apparently men dressed as Portuguese soldiers reenact the demonstration of the weapons to the Japanese Lord on Tanegashima. There is also a "fire arm festival" held every August; this year, August 19th.

To see replicas and antique guns from the 16th century, be sure to visit the Tanegashima Development Center in Nishinoomote; only 420 yen to enter.


Accommodation

Miharuso
This ryokan may be a little old, but it's very close to the port and a good northern location. There's a rental store with surfboards just a minute's walk east. Be sure to try the fried flying fish for dinner - a local specialty, as the fish only live on the island just west of Tanegashima.

¥6300/night with meals
Website


Tanegashima Iwasaki Hotel
This hotel is way too expensive, and well worth it. Walking distance from the space center, and with its own private beach. Perfect.

Website


Access to Island

Naturally, there are only three ways to get here - airplane, jetfoil, or swimming.

Cosmo Line operates three Rocket jetfoils.
¥4,700 one-way, ¥8,100 roundtrip

Kagoshima (鹿児島) --> Tanegashima (種子島)

08:00 --> 09:35
12:00 --> 13:35
16:00 --> 17:35
17:00 --> 18:35

Tanegashima (種子島) --> Kagoshima (鹿児島)

07:00 --> 08:35
08:30 --> 10:05
10:10 --> 11:45
14:30 --> 16:05
16:55 --> 18:30

A notice: there are no vending machines on this ship and it moves too quickly to allow you to step outside.


Toppy operates its own jetfoils, albeit at a slightly higher price than Cosmo Line.
¥5,100 one-way, ¥9,600 roundtrip

Kagoshima (鹿児島) --> Tanegashima (種子島)

07:30 --> 09:05
07:40 --> 10:50
10:20 --> 11:55
13:00 --> 14:35
15:50 --> 17:25
16:50 --> 18:25

Tanegashima (種子島) --> Kagoshima (鹿児島)

07:10 --> 08:45
08:00 --> 09:35
09:45 --> 12:30
11:05 --> 12:40
15:30 --> 17:05
17:20 --> 19:15


Other Observations

- There are stray cats everywhere on this island. Reminded me a lot of being in Rome.
- In addition to cats, I don't think I've heard the crickets in more abundance. Maybe, being on an island, there are fewer spiders than on the mainland, and the insect population can thrive.


More pictures of Tanegashima

Friday, August 10, 2007

Obon

National holiday week coming up in Japan, and I have five days off. I'll be checking out two of the southern islands, Tanegashima (種子島) and Yakushima (屋久島) - might even try a little surfing if it's not too crowded. Peace and love. Will report when I get back, including my probable hitchhiking experience.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Trans-Pacific Transfer

I had been meaning to post this information for a while, but have been lagging since I relocated. Of course, I have my particular choice when choosing wire transfer services, but I welcome other people's suggestions and opinions. So the fact remains...

How does one send money back home?

Well, there are many methods, not all of them painful.

1. If you have someone you can trust at home, you can just mail them an international money order (obtained from your post office) and have them deposit it into your account. If you're close to an exchange office, you have the option of sending Japanese Yen or your home country's currency.

2. Wire transfer services. There are a few companies servicing Japan and the US. My personal choice (and the fastest method I know of) is GoLloyds. GoLloyds sets up a dummy account for you in Tokyo, which acts as an intermediary between your Japanese and foreign bank accounts. You then transfer your money from your account using a furikomi (振込み, see below), which will deposit it into your GoLloyds account. GoLloyds can then send this money abroad. Very fast.

Unfortunately, the prices do add up. GoLloyds charges a ¥2,000 fee, your Japanese bank might charge a small fee, and your foreign bank will no doubt add a little extra.

You also need to be able to interpret the kanji to send a furikomi transfer. GoLloyds really helps in this regard, by giving you a letter in both Japanese and English stating what needs to be done. If in doubt, you can just hand this letter to a bank teller and ask for help. Although the procedure varies slightly by bank, you might expect this on your ATM:

1. 振込み (furikomi)
2. 確認 (confirmation)
3. Insert cash card and/or bank book
4. Enter pin
5. Enter amount of money to be transferred
6. 確認

7. If this is your first transfer, don't bother; however, if you've done a furikomi transfer before, the bank can provide a card detailing the receiving account information, and eliminating the need for extra steps. Be sure to ask for this card if you're going to make many transfers. If you don't have a transfer card, select 振込みカードを使わない (furikomi kaado o tsukawanai)

8. Enter your home phone number
9. 確認
10. Choose the payee's bank from the list on the screen. To do this you have to know the bank's name in kanji. Select the bank's name and then choose the branch. From the chart, you have to select the first hiragana letter of the branch name.
11. Now choose the type of the account
12. 普通預金 (futsu yokin) ordinary account
13. 当座預金 (toza yokin) checking account
14. 貯蓄預金 (chochiku yokin) thrift account
15. 確認
16. Payer's name
17. 座名義人の名前で振り込む (koza meiginin no namae de furikomu). This is for sending money to the payee using the account name of the cash card you are using. This usually means that you will send the money in your name.
18. Confirmation screen
19. 確認
20. What type of transfer, denshin or bunsho?
21. 電信扱い (denshin atsukai) means remitting money by wire. This is faster than a mail transfer, usually arriving the same day, but more expensive.
22. 文書扱い (bunsho atsukai) means mail transfer. It takes longer, perhaps a working day or two, but is less expensive than a wire transfer.
23. 振り込みカードを作る, make a transfer card (furikomi kaado o tsukuru)
24. 振り込みカード不要, don't make transfer card (furikomi kaado fuyo)
25. Final step: would you like to make another transaction now?
(ア)継続する (keizoku suru) Yes I'd like to continue.
(イ)終了する (shuuryou suru) No, I'm finished.
26. 確認

(Thanks to this source)

If you'd like to sign up for GoLloyds, here's the link.

Update August 9th

I completely forgot to mention the most convenient method of banking in Japan - having a Citibank account. Citibank allows you to keep different portions of your account in different currencies (meaning you can essentially play the currency market within one bank); as a result, you can set aside some money to be withdrawn in the local currency if you're traveling somewhere with Citibank ATMs, and it functions as well as any American bank in transferring funds to pay off your credit cards. Unfortunately, the ATMs aren't so convenient in Japan, but I have seen them in Osaka, Fukuoka, and Tokyo.

Citibank Japan website

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Japanese Pensions (厚生年金)

Word of the day... wanderlust

A very strong or irresistible impulse to travel.


Take note - this entry does not apply to contract employees in the Japanese eikaiwa industry (although if you've been with any company long enough, you might start making pension payments).

If you are living in Japan and working with a private company - IT, proofreading, some English companies, recruiting, etc. - you might have noticed this kanji appearing next to a ¥20,000~30,000 deduction on your paycheck: 厚生年金. Welfare pension, or kousei nenkin, is paid with 17.135% of your average monthly salary.

As a matter of reference, some other common deductions are:

健康保険 (health insurance)
雇用保険 (unemployment insurance)
所得税 (income tax)

To those of you unfamiliar with the word, a pension is:

...a fixed amount, other than wages, paid at regular intervals to a person or to the person's surviving dependents in consideration of past services, age, merit, poverty, injury or loss sustained.

Required by law, you pay a fixed amount every month to be set aside for you. In the event of retirement, disability, or other circumstances, this money can be withdrawn and used to stem the tide. If you stay with one particular company long enough, this amount can be quite substantial.

But what of the foreigners living in Japan, who probably won't be around at age 65 to claim their pensions? If you are leaving Japan for good, and have deposited pension payments for at least six months, you can make a claim with a tax agent and have the lump sum deposited in your bank account (minus fees, of course).


Under the Employee's Pension Insurance Plan (Category 2 employees), payments are calculated by multiplying the average monthly standard remuneration by the rates shown in the following table, according to the insured period.

Insured period Rate
At least 6 months - less than 12 months, 0.5
At least 12 months - less than 18 months, 1.0
At least 18 months - less than 24 months, 1.5
At least 24 months - less than 30 months, 2.0
At least 30 months - less than 36 months, 2.5
36 months and over, 3.0

For Category 2 insured persons, 20% income tax is imposed on the payment for Lump-sum withdrawal payment. Claims for this tax refund can be made at the tax offices before leaving Japan by submitting a 'notification of tax agent' form to the relevant tax office (usually where Alien Registration is registered) and designating an agent. An eligible tax agent is required to be resident in Japan. When the lump-sum withdrawal payment is made, a notification will be sent, which needs to be sent to the tax agent to claim for tax refund on behalf of the claimant.

How to claim redemption
The claim form can be collected from your nearest Social Insurance Office or pension section of your ward office. Before leaving Japan, in addition to this form, you would need your pension book (nenkin techo), which has your pension number. It normally takes a few months after the application is made to receive your refund of contributions, which is paid by direct deposit into your bank account.


More information on pensions
Link to PDF forms


Naturally, I'm still working out all the specifics, but if you've been with a private company in Japan for a year and now have to leave, make sure you take care of this first.

Soga Don no Kasayaki (そがどんの傘焼き)

Umbrella-burning Matsuri in Kagoshima; July 21st, 2007. Held at nightfall in front of the Museum of the Meiji Restoration.