Friday, August 27, 2004

Vacation Ending

I have less that one week to go of my month and a half vacation. It's going to be strange going back, kind of like starting from the beginning again. I will be back at the first schools I went to way back in May, and for the first time since May, I will be teaching something new. This was fine for the first quarter because most of the schools had something in mind for what they wanted me to teach, mainly self introductions. But this time, plans are much less concrete. Right now I think it would be easier working at a conversation school, but it would mean longer hours, and I am learning more and getting better experience working in the public schools. I'm also working on waking up earlier: back to my 6am schedule.

I got my new voter registration card in the mail this week. It surprised me that it actually got here though. They used the regular "First Class Postage Paid" post card that would be sent to people in the US, and where the address was located was less than clear. It gives me confidence in the Japanese Post. (Which I never had a reason to doubt: A postcard that I sent to a friend a few years ago while in Osaka arrived later the same day!)

I'm heading up to Yokohama today to hang out with Ai. She's leaving for Chicago next week to visit her host family and friends from when she studied there in high school for a year. But no pictures from me for a while because she has my camera phone's memory card to use in her digital camera.

Monday, August 23, 2004


Originally uploaded by noexit.

I finally went to find out what's wrong with me, in the lungs that is, and it wasn't as scary of an experience as I though it would be. In fact, aside from the sucking blood part (which they do just about anywhere) it wasn't bad at all. Of corse they did fulfill the expectation that Japanese doctors really really like X-rays: they did two X-rays of my chest. The waiting part was what I didn't expect. In a clinic in the US, if you walk in at 4:30 in the afternoon expecting to see a doctor, you'd better expect to wait a long time. If you walk into a hospital at 4:30 in the afternoon, you'd better start thinking on what you want on your delivery pizza (you don't want cafeteria food do you?) and clearing out the seats on either side of you so you can take a nap before you see a doctor around 2 am.

I however, walked in at 4:30 pm to the local hospital, signed up at the receptionist's desk, and they handed me a sheet of paper to write down my symptoms. I didn't even have time to get past writing down my temperature before I was called in to see a doctor.

The doctor spoke a little english, and thankfully knew all the technical works to describe what was wrong with me (the lungs that is). Since this is the first time for me to go to a doctor in Japan, I don't have the vocabulary to deal with describing things like that. After a few minutes, she sent me out to get a blood test and and some X-rays. After all that was done, carried my X-rays back to the waiting room and waited for my blood results. By 5:15 I was called back into the doctors office where she showed my my X-rays and told me that I have bronchitis. She prescribed me 5 different medicines for cough, getting the gunk out of my lungs, antibiotics, and who-knows-what-else, and by 5:30, I had all of these and was on my way.

So it all really beats the last time I went to a doctor in Bellingham. I drove around for 2 hours trying to find a clinic that would take new patients and was on my insurance plan. Finally I was recommended to this walk-in clinic where it took about 2 and a half hours to get out. Then we had to go to a drugstore and wait another 45 minutes to get my prescription filled. With Japan's national health care system, premiums are based on your income, and I can go to any doctor in the country, so It's cheap and convenient.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

History in Industrial Mess

I was lost riding my bike today through the industrial mess that surrounds the Nissan Research facilities and manufacturing plants just south west of where I live, when I noticed a large granite slab nestled between a factory and a small tree covered hill. This granite slab contained contained the words, "Site of Origional Drafting of the Meji Constitution In the Year Meiji 20 - AD 1887".

This is a interesting thing to find here, since it's in a place that now really has nothing, I wouldn't expect that there was much there in 1887 either. It is possible that whatever was here was blown up during the Pacific War, since this area was also a major center for shipbuilding and airplane manufacturing. The reverse gives a strong indication that this was the case. It lists the sponsors of the monument, and the a re-construction date of 1951.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


I finally have internet of my own. After almost three months of mooching off of someone else's unreliable wireless internet signal, I finally have my own. I signed up for 45mbps Yahoo! Broad Band (It's not really 45mbps unless you live right next door to the local NTT building. Since I'm 1.5km away, my speed is somewhere between 15 and 25mbps, still damn fast.) at the beginning of August, but since I didn't have a phone line, I to wait until NTT hooked it up. NTT is the former national telephone company that was privatized a few years ago. (But it was done so sort of like the US Postal Service or Amtrak, so it's not completely self reliant) Being a former nationalized company, it has many weird quirks, the biggest of which is that it costs about $740 to buy a phone line. This comes from an old system where they charged lots of money to give you a phone line so that they could use it build up their infrastructure. Now it is no longer needed, but if they were to stop charging this exorbitant price for new phone lines, they would also have to refund all the people that already own them, and that would bankrupt the company, so instead, you can rent a line, which, unless you plan on using it for more than 9 years, will save you money. (I think you can also buy phone lines second hand for quite a discount)

So they NTT guys came at 9am, and my modem was delivered at 11, and I had it set up by 11:15. The coolest thing about it is that I can also use it as an IP phone. You just plug a regular phone into the modem, and you can call anywhere in the world. Incidentally, calling the US at 2.5 cents a minute is cheaper than calling the person down the street (This is, again, thanks to NTTs high rates). I tried to call a few people tonight, but no one answered their phones, so I'll try later.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Sick and Snoreing

I've had a cough for the last 2 weeks, which I guess my neighbor has been hearing because she stopped by tonight to see that I had medicine and health insurance in Japan and that I was going okay. My coughing at 2am must be bothering her, but I don't really care since she snores really really loud, making it hard for me to sleep some nights for months.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


I really need to keep up with music. I was just listening to one of my favorite bands, Radiohead, and I decided to see if there were any dates coming up in Tokyo. There was, last week... This is the second time I've missed them here. I did a similar thing with U2 a few years ago. They were playing in Tacoma a few days after I was leaving for Japan, but I figured that they'd come to Tokyo too. Apparently it costs too much to get a venue for a big show like U2, so they didn't come. U2's next tour is rumored to start early next year, but they probably wont come to Japan on this tour either, so I guess I'll have to plan a trip to Dublin sometime next May. Darn...

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

cassette bomb

cassette bomb
Originally uploaded by noexit.

I saw these "cassette bombes" in a local 100 yen shop. They gas canisters used in table top burners for cooking certain foods the dinner table. I thought the name was particularly fitting since the manual to surviving in Japan that my employer handed out during training warned not to buy gas canisters at a 100 yen shop because they have a tendency to blow up.

Also, I got the beginnings of a dark room set up. I have a developing tank, and the chemicals to develop B&W film. I developed my first two rolls of B&W film, and they seem to have turned out well. I don't have a scanner or anything yet though, so I can't tell to well. My next goal is to find an enlarger so I can make prints. They are quite expensive, so I've been looking at Yahoo Auctions for used ones. Sometime soon, I also hope to go to some used camera shops in Shinjuku to look for one. Once I have an enlarger, I'll be able to make my whole apartment into a dark room, and start making prints. My friend Damon, who ran the defunct Japan Box that I had a link to, now runs a photography site, Lomo Box which is dedicated to a specific Russian camera that has a sort of cult following. It's also a good resource for cool photography stuff. So my next big purchase is probably going to be either an enlarger or a scanner. A scanner would be practical since I would be able scan negitives and upload them, but an enlarger would be a lot more fun. hmm...

Saturday, August 07, 2004

A Note on the Life Cycyle of Panda's

Japan has a reputation for being a very crowded country, with high population densities in very large cities, but the population of Japan is concentrated in a fairly small percentage of the land mass. There for there is ample opportunity to observe nature. Spending Summer in Japan gives you a unique chance to view first hand, the life cycle of the panda.

The panda, like the kangaroo, is born very small, about the size of your little finger. Because adult pandas don't have a pocket like kangaroos to rear their young. Instead, a baby panda digs a hole in the ground where it will live for the next 7 years.

During the 7 years it spends underground, a panda larva will gain an amazing 360kgs (800lbs) feeding mostly on roots and worms. After the 7th year of the larval stage, it is time for the full grown panda to emerge. It has to wait for the exact conditions before it's emergence. This usually happens at the beginning of summer, when after several hot days, the ground temperature reaches a steady 20°c (68°c). Once the full grown pandas emerge, they climb into the trees where the make calls to attract a mate before their two week adult life is up. Because the soil temperatures in different locations reach the proper temperature at different times, the time span that you can see and hear pandas in their adult stage lasts about a month and a half.

So if you plan on being in Japan for the summer, make sure you take the time to look for a few pandas. You'll be glad you did.

(This theroy on the panda life cycle comes to you from Ai in response to the question, "If pandas a born really really small like kangaroos, how do they survive without a pocket to stay in?)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

My Company

The company I work for is generally pretty good. For the most part I don't have to deal with them at all. They have a main office in Tokyo, which is where I was hired and trained (if you can call it training), and branch offices scattered throughout Japan. My brach office is in Yokohama, 25 minutes south of Tokyo. Generally, the only interaction I have with my branch office is when I send in my transportation claim sheet on the 25th, so I can get a refund on the $150 to $200 I spend on transportation every month, and my trip of the office on the last day of the month to drop off my time sheet so I can get paid.

I don't have the problems that a lot of people have. I never see my coworkers except on that one day of the month when I go to the office, and even then, the chance of seeing anyone I know is slim. This means I don't have to see people I don't like, but I also don't see the people I made friends with during training either. My real coworkers are the Japanese teachers at the elementary schools. If I don't like one of them, It doesn't really matter, because I will only see them 2 to 5 more time the entire time I am working there.

I have had only two problems with working here. The first is pay dates. They've never missed a pay date or anything, but the pay day is once a month, on the last day of the month, which would be okay, except that if there is a holiday, rather than paying the first day before the holiday like every other company I have ever heard of (in the US or Japan) the pay the day after. This means that if you don't have any savings (like me since I've just started working) you can't pay rent when it's due.

My other problem is trying to figure out insurance. With every other problem I've had, I just email someone at my office, and they'd have an answer for me within a day. But when I was concerned about the insurance plan that they had for us not including optical coverage, I got no response. Their plan which they say was subsidized by the company, cost me something like $65 a month and is from this company offering insurance to foreign teachers. But Japan also has an excellent national health care plan which I had last time I was in Japan. I remember that it only cost me $85 for the year when I was here as a college student. I asked my company about doing this rather than the plan they provided but got no reply. (When I say provided, I mean they gave me a form and said "Fill this out". I would then receive the bill for the whole thing.) Finally I decided to just get national health insurance. It's only going to cost $15 a month, which I can use anywhere, and any doctor or specialist without having to get a referral, and I don't have to pay up front and wait for a reimbursement like I would with the other plan. I will have to pay a deductible of 20%, but with as little as I'm paying, and the amount I expect to have to use it, it will be much cheaper. There is also a cap on how much you pay in deductible costs, so if you become seriously ill, you will not be stuck it thousands or even hundreds of dollars in medical bills.

When most people hear the words "National Health Insurance" they will inevitably thing of the horror stories they hear of Canada's system and think it never works, but Japan's system actually works, as do plenty of other countries systems.

So I'm finally getting some new contacts today. My glasses are old and bent out of shape, and now that I have insurance that will cover it, I will be able to see again.