Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Shibamata summer fireworks in Tokyo

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

On Tuesday 26th July 2011 I went to see the summer fireworks display at Shibamata, north east of central Tokyo. From the station I had to walk through a traditional street before getting to the park where the fireworks were to take place.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 1

I made it to the park by the river just before the fireworks started. The fireworks were very impressive – they went on for about 40 minutes, and the promotional material said that they were going to us 7000 fireworks. That works out at nearly three fireworks per second! This display was even more impressive than the Yokosuka New Year’s Eve fireworks display that I saw at the start of the year.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 4

Here are some of my photos from the event. I took about 200 photos using my cheap handheld camera. Many of the photos were blurry, but when you take that many, you are bound to get some good ones.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 2

The above firework explosion reminds me of those images that they get from particle accelerators when two atoms smash into each other.

The below sparks looks like stars in the night sky, but it is the final parts of a firework fading away.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 3

shibamata fireworks tokyo 5

They had some very intensely coloured fireworks. Here are blues and reds.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 6

shibamata fireworks tokyo 7

And a load of multi-coloured fireworks all exploding at the same time.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 8

A lot of people try to frame their fireworks photos so that they don’t get the spectators in the shot – but I like the look of the sillouettes they make against the bright lights. On the bottom right someone is taking a photo using their mobile phone.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 9

These fireworks left bright streaks across the sky.

shibamata fireworks tokyo 10

In these final two you can see someone speaking on the phone whilst the display takes place. Though with the noise of the music and the explosions I don’t know how any audible exchange could take place!

shibamata fireworks tokyo 12

shibamata fireworks tokyo 13

The display was completely free (if you didn’t want a designated seating position) and professionally organised so if you didn’t get to see it this year, I can recommend it for 2012.

How to find a Leopalace flat in Japan

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Leopalace is one of the largest flat/apartment rental companies in Japan. If you want a real self-contained home (rather than a room with shared facilities in a guest house) they are a good option to consider as they are happy to rent to foreigners, and have information and telephone help available in English. Usually the flats come pre-furnished (chairs, table, TV, fridge/freezer, microwave) so you can move in without having to buy too much.

I’ve lived in three Leopalace flats, two in Takamatsu and one in Tokyo and have had very few problems. Sometimes you can hear your neighbours, but fortunately most people in Japan are quite considerate about noise. When appliances or facilities have broken (e.g. air conditioning or hot water) Leopalace arranged for someone to come round and fix them for free.

They do have an English language website, which you should read to familiarise yourself with their different types of contracts and flats. Unfortunately there is no flat search facility on the English language website so if you want to find the best flats you need to learn how to use their Japanese language site. Much of this post will be tips for using the Japanese language site.

Leopalace contracts

There are three main types of contract at Leopalace.

  • Chintai – long term contract where you pay month by month. For many flats this means two years with an option to cancel the contract with no penalty after six months.
  • Monthly contract – you can sign from 30 days to 24 months and you pay in advance.

There are two types of monthly contract, the monthly plan (minimum 90 days) and the short term plan (minimum 30 days).

Leopalace costs

Leopalace’s prices are more simple and transparent than a lot of other Japanese rental companies, but that doesn’t mean they are simple to understand.

When renting with many private landlords you have to pay charges like key money (could be 2 month rent), and a deposit (which could be another few months rent). You don’t need to pay either of these for small Leopalace flats, but for larger ones you may need to pay a deposit.

I’ve rented on both the short term and the chintai contract so I can give you some examples of the costs.

Short term plan (30 day contract)

This was for a very small flat less than 30 minutes (walking and train) from Shibuya.

  • ¥115,200 – 30 days rent.
  • ¥28,000 – administration fee.
  • ¥9,970 – key change fee (this isn’t the same as key money, this is a fee for changing the locks).
  • ¥1,600 – Leo-net internet.

With the short term plan there are no utility bills to pay (they are included) or cleaning fees (that is included in the rent too). The total cost for 30 days was therefore ¥154,770 paid in cash before moving in.

Chintai (2 year contract)

This example is for the same flat. If you move from a monthly plan to a chintai contract in the same flat you don’t have to re-pay the key change fee, but I’m including the fee here to give an idea of the maximum total cost. Each months rent is ¥90,000 – cheaper than the ¥115,200 you pay if you rent for just 30 days.

First up, here are the initial moving in charges which need to be paid in advance.

  • ¥90,000 – first month’s rent.
  • ¥520 – first month’s environmental fee (some fee needed by the council – maybe to cover rubbish collection?).
  • ¥90,000 – second month’s rent – you need to pay the first two months rent in advance.
  • ¥520 – second month’s environmental fee.
  • ¥9,600 – Leonet for first 6 months.
  • ¥28,000 – Insurance/life support – This covers fire insurance, and the ‘life support’ service they provide if something breaks. It does not cover earthquake damage.
  • ¥72,410 – Guarantee fee – you don’t need guarantors with Leopalace if you are a foreigner, and you don’t need to pay key money or a deposit. You do however need to pay this fee, the purpose of which I’m still not clear about.

There are some optional fees like an ‘anti-bacterial cleaning fee’ which are optional, and in my opinion not worth paying.

That works out at a grand total of ¥285,200 to move in.

Here are the standard monthly fees after the first two months rent are used up.

  • ¥90,000 – monthly rent.
  • ¥520 – monthly environmental fee.
  • ¥500 – bank debit fee (for collecting rent out of your bank account).

And in order to move out there is a cleaning fee.

  • ¥29,920 – cleaning fee

This contract is for two years, but it can be ended after one year with no penalty. If it is ended before one year the extra charge is ¥85,500.

You need to be careful to factor in the initial and final costs into your calculation. In the case of this flat if I average all the costs over one year here is the breakdown for each month.

  • ¥90,000 – rent
  • ¥520 – environmental fee
  • ¥2,333 – insurance/life support
  • ¥6,034 – guarantee fee
  • ¥1,600 – Leonet
  • ¥2493 – cleaning fee
  • ¥500 – bank debit fee

So the average for each month if you stay a year is about ¥103,480. If you stayed for two years the cost would be lower as the one off costs would be split over two years instead of one.

On top of this you have to pay your utility bills (electricity, gas, water).

Finding a flat with the Leopalace Japanese website

If you’re still reading then let’s have a look at Leopalace’s Japanese website. Even if you can’t read any Japanese you can start to decode it using Google Translate or Google Chrome.

A useful tip is to print out key sections of the site, and as you decode them write on your print outs what the buttons / fields are for what. By doing this you can soon start to find good flats.

Leopalace main page

leopalace front page

  1. Search for chintai contract flats.
  2. Search for monthly contract flats (you usually get the same list of flats for chintai or monthly, these options just affect the price you see).
  3. Search by area.
  4. Search by train line.
  5. Keyword box – most useful for quickly looking up the flats once you have the reference number.
  6. Map of Japan. The number 6 is over the Kanto region which contains Tokyo.

So for our example select ‘monthly’ (2), choose the train line search tab (4), and press on the Kanto region (6).

Then select the Tokyo area (東京都). You’ll then get a screen with loads of train lines and the number of available properties in brackets.

Search by train line

leopalace train lines

There are two ways to figure out which train line is which. Either see if Google Translate/Chrome turns the train line names into something sensible, or type the name of the train line you want into Wikipedia, and on the Wikipedia page you are sure to find the Japanese version of the name. You can then locate it on the Leopalace site.

Let’s have a look for flats near the Yamanote line (山手線). It is the one in the red box. Then press the ok button (2).

You’ll now get a list of stations that have flats near them. I’ll select Tokyo and Ikebukuro stations (東京駅 & 池袋駅).

Narrowing down the search

leopalace flat results

  1. The left tab is for monthly contracts. The right hand one (in orange) is for short term plan rentals.
  2. Select how many months you want. The price is cheaper as the contract length increases. For the short term plan there are two pull downs here – one selects the rough number of days, e.g. 30-39, and the one below it selects the exact number of days.
  3. Minimum and maximum price.
  4. How soon you want to move in. e.g. in two weeks, in a month, in two months. The earliest date you can move in will be at least 8 days in the future. This is because Leopalace need time to arrange the flat cleaning, utility services, and maintenance.
  5. Type of flat. L=living room, D=dining room, K=kitchen. Most Leopalace places are 1K. Meaning there is a combined living/sleeping area and a small kitchen area.
  6. Many flats (particularly if they are not vacant) have discounted prices. The discounts can range from 10% to 50%. You can get some good deals if you aren’t too fussy.

leopalace flat results 2

  1. Floor area.
  2. Walking distance from nearest train station (note – do check which station it is near to – it is not always the one you picked).
  3. Building age.
  4. Floor plans and images.
  5. 2nd floor or above.
  6. Separate bathroom / toilet.
  7. Internet enabled (this could be any type of internet – so I recommend you make sure it has Leonet instead).
  8. Leonet enabled – the best kind of Leopalace internet, with a Lan socket in the flat. I have another post about setting up Wifi with Leonet.
  9. Parking.

Don’t be too fussy with any restrictions or you might end up with 0 results. You probably want to tick ‘Leonet’) and then maybe one other. The numbers in brackets tell you how many results you will be left with if you apply the exclusion.

To find out exactly where the flats are paste the Japanese address (I’ve hightlighted some of them in red so you can see where they are) into Google maps. If you use the Japanese address Google Maps usually gives an accurate location. If you use the romanised form of the address it might not even match the address to the correct region of the country.

Leopalace flat details page

If you click on the flat image you’ll go to the individual flat information page. Here are some of the important areas of the page.

leopalace flat details

  1. Building/flat number. If you want to find the same flat again, or rent it, then it is very useful to have the flat number. You can put the number into the search boxes to quickly access it. With this number ‘32357-201’, the first part ‘32357’ is the building number. ‘201’ is the flat number. Using their usual numbering convention you can tell that this flat is on the 2nd floor.
  2. Prices for the various lengths of contract.
  3. Walking time in minutes from a station. The address is below so you can check which station they mean.

leopalace flat details 2

Further down on the same page are:

  1. The date when the flat is available from. If it is currently vacant and this date is only about 8 days away you’ll find that it will creep forward each day.
  2. The floor that the flat is on (2) and the number of floors in the building (3).
  3. Price details of the other charges – insurance, cleaning etc. Google Translate/Chrome do a reasonable job of translating these.

leopalace flat details 3

Then near the bottom of the page you’ll see a box listing any other flats in the same building that are also available. This can be very useful if you really like a building, as it will give you more options in case one flat becomes booked. You can also see if any of the flats have good discounts.

Signing the contract

If you visit a Leopalace office to arrange a flat or sign a contract I’d recommend you take a Japanese speaker with you. They do have English speaking staff in some offices like the Shinjuku one, but they might not be able to understand more complicated questions.

Although you don’t need a guarantor, they will want some emergency contact details. They may want one contact from your own country, and two from Japan. So come prepared with three sets of phone numbers, names, and addresses.

You should also allow 2-3 hours to arrange everything and sign the contract. There is a lot of paper work that needs signing, and a lot of details that you have to fill in multiple times on different bits of paper. Here is the image of all the paper work that we were given after signing a chintai contract. In there is a contract, Leonet information, life support document, a Leopalace manual, receipt, and probably more.

leopalace chintai contract

Over to you…

This post is certainly not a comprehensive guide to using the Leopalace website, but with the tips I’ve given you, some time, and maybe with the use of Google Translate/Chrome you may be able to find a good rental flat in Japan.

Hiring a car in Japan

Friday, July 8th, 2011

During my holiday to Okinawa I hired three cars; one in Naha, one on Tokashiki Island, and one on Ishigaki Island. This is an account of how I hired the cars, and what it is like to drive in Japan.

japan rental cars

Booking a car at a Japanese travel agent

Two of the cars (for Naha and Ishigaki) were booked in advance at a Japanese travel agents in Takamatsu. The travel agency was called KNT and I went there because a Japanese friend told me they were cheap.

japan rent a car brochure

If you want to book anything at a travel agent in Japan you will probably need to speak a reasonable amount of Japanese. There’s a lot of scope for things to go wrong if you aren’t fully understood, or if they don’t fully understand you. If you don’t speak Japanese you might be best off with trying to hire via one of the major car rental companies directly as they may have more English help available.

I wanted the cheapest, smallest car available, each for 24 hours. I decided to hire the cars from Orix Rent-A-Car.

I also wanted to have the cars delivered to myhotel and picked up from the hotel again. The lady in the travel agents was very nice and even phoned up both of my hotels to find out what parking facilities they had for collecting and leaving the car. One hotel had its own free car park. The other had a car park nearby which we’d have to pay to use overnight.

I paid ¥7000 for each of the cars. I was told that in Naha the car would be brought to the hotel, but that at Ishigaki I’d be collected from the hotel by the car hire company.

Naha rental car

In Naha at the agreed time I went to the reception of my hotel. The man from the car hire company appeared, but instead of bringing the car to us, told us that he’d drive us to the car. Maybe we’d misunderstood something the travel agency lady had said.

He drove me to the car hire company and in the office checked my international driving licences (this was before I got full Japanese driving licences), and alien registration cards.

international driving licence

Even though the ¥7000 charge included some kind of insurance, I agreed to pay another ¥525 for some add-on insurance. Not entirely sure what it was for, and if I’d been in an English speaking country I might not have bothered, but here I thought it was best to get all the insurance I could get.

japan rental car insurance agreement

He also gave me a brochure which had some reasonable road maps of Naha in it, and a ¥1000 petrol voucher which could be used at certain petrol stations.

I was told I had to fill the tank just before I finished with the car (Japanese for full tank is ‘mantan’). This car needed ‘regular’ petrol.

And I re-confirmed that I would be leaving it in the hotels car park overnight for them to collect in the morning.

Driving in Naha

The car was an automatic and it took a little while to get used to. If you are used to a manual then the main difference is that you don’t need to worry about the clutch. There is still a gear selector, but all you have to do is move it from ‘park’ to ‘drive’ to get going. There was a third pedal in the car which was for the ‘hand brake’. If you try to drive with the hand brake on then the car starts beeping.

The car had a GPS installed which was very useful as I drove to the North part of Naha to go to the Ocean Expo Park.

Driving on the express way

There is an express way that connects the North and South parts of Naha. Usually you would have to pay to use it, but when I went they were allowing it to be used for free. I still had to get a ticket though.

When you go to join an express way in Japan there are several different lanes you can use. There are ones that will allow you to collect a ticket, and there are ones for cars which have a smartcard payment box installed. These automatic lanes are labelled as ‘ETC’. Do not try to go through one of these lanes unless you have an ‘ETC’ card plugged into the ‘ETC’ unit in the car. The barriers will not open for you!

japan toll gate etc

If you are hiring a car you will probably have to go through the normal ticket barrier.

japan express way toll

The express way in Naha is modern and fast. There aren’t too many cars on it so you get a pleasant clear drive.

At the express way exit (remember don’t use the ‘ETC’ exit unless you have the card) I had to give the ticket to a lady who was on the toll booth. Normally you’d have to pay depending on the distance traveled, but as they were letting everyone use the express way for free there was nothing to pay.

Petrol stations

You will probably have to visit a petrol station at some point. With most car rental companies it is a condition of hire that just before you return the car you have to fill the tank back up. Occasionally (as happened to me on the small island of Tokashiki) I was charged an amount for the mileage I drove instead.

There are two main types of petrol station. Self service ones, and attendant operated ones.

japan petrol station

Before pulling in you should probably know where the petrol cap is and how to open it. The position of the handle isn’t always obvious. On one of my cars the handle could only be accessed by opening the driver’s door!

If it is a self service place just make sure you fill up with the right kind of petrol. Most cars are filled with ‘regular’ (レギュラー) petrol. If it is an attendant operated place then you should ask for a ‘mantan’ (まんタン), which means a full tank.

Keep your receipt. You might need to give it to the car rental company to prove that you filled it right up.

Japan car parking

There are three main types of car park system in Japan.

The first type has car parking spaces with a ‘lock’ that rises between the front and back wheels after the car is parked. The ‘lock’ will rise a minute or two after you park the car to give you a small amount of time to make any adjustments to the car’s position.

japan car parks 1

Usually each space is numbered and there is a main paying station for when you want to collect your car. Sometimes each space will have its own machine. When you want to collect your car you type in the number of your parking space and put in the required amount of money. The ‘lock’ will then lower and you can drive your car away. You may only have a limited time to do this so don’t wait too long! Do check the prices before parking – some can be very expensive. They often have different prices for peak and off-peak hours.

japan car parks 2

The second type is the barrier car park where you collect a ticket on the way in. On the way out you put the ticket in a machine and it tells you how much to pay. When you pay the barrier will open.

The third type is found in built up city areas where there is limited space. You will see tall windowless metal towers dotted about. There are the roulette car parks. You drive you car in through the door and when you leave the car will be rotated inside so that another space becomes free.

japan car parks 3

To get the car back there may be an attendant, or there may be a fully automated paying machine. You will then need to reverse your car onto the circular turning table which will spin your car around so you can drive straight out onto the road.

Returning the car

At the end of my Naha driving day I parked in the hotel car park. It was one of those car parking spaces where once you’ve parked the car a barrier rises between the front and back wheels.

As I wasn’t going to be around when the rental company man collected the car I left the keys at the hotel reception, and I also paid the overnight parking charge in advance. All this had been pre-arranged with the car rental company.

The next day when I came back from my day out the car was gone (collected – not stolen!).

Ishigaki rental car

An account of driving around Ishigaki is on this separate post.

Tokashiki rental car

The account of my Tokashiki car rental experience is on this page.

Full Japanese driving licence

I have some information about getting a full Japanese driving licence here.

Japan visa change of status and extension

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

If you are moving to a job which requires a different residency status from your current one, you will need to file a change of status application with immigration. This post talks about my experience of changing my ‘designated activities’ status (working holiday visa) to a ‘specialist in humanities / international services’ status. There is also information about extending your period of stay.

The most common changes for typical readers of my site would be ‘instructor’ to ‘specialist in humanities’ (or vise versa), ‘designated activities’ to either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities (for WHV people who are staying longer), and ‘temporary visitor’ status to either ‘instructor’ or ‘specialist in humanities’.

By far the most common one will be changing between ‘instructor’ and ‘specialist in humanities’ as the English teaching statuses are split into two. If you work at public school you will have an ‘instructor’ status, and if you work at a private conversation company (e.g. an eikaiwa) you will have a ‘specialist in humanities’.

Although the post is mainly about changing status, I’ll include information about making period of stay extension applications as that follows a similar process.

Making the application

To change your residence status you will first need a company willing to sponsor the change. In other words you will need to have a job offer from a company.

You will then need the correct paper work. You official process for a change of status of residence is detailed on the immigration website here, and you can also find the extension process details here.

If you look at the link in this section for both the change of status and extension, you’ll see that the main difference between the two is that for an extension you have to provide ‘Documents certifying an annual income and tax payment’ whereas for the change of status you don’t. This makes the change of status simpler for you as you don’t have to go to city hall to get those tax certificates.

The paper work listed for a change of status to ‘specialist in humanities’ listed on this page is:

  1. Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization.
  2. Materials showing the business substance of the recipient organization.
  3. A diploma or certificate of graduation with a major in the subject regarding the activity of the person concerned, and documents certifying his or her professional career.
  4. Documents certifying the activity, the duration, position and the remuneration of the person concerned.

Here is the paper work I actually needed.

  • The application form for a change of status (for applicant)
  • Application form for change of status (for organisation)
  • Copies of the company registration and a statement of profit and loss of the recipient organization.

The first two are from this ‘Application for Change of Status of Residence’ PDF linked from the change of status page. That is 4 sides of A4, and pretty easy to fill in. You’d probably fill in the ‘applicant’ part and your company would fill in the ‘organisation’ part.

Maybe these 4 sheets of paper satisfied parts 2 and 4 of the list of required documents above for my application? Or it could be that Tokyo immigration is quite relaxed?

The ‘copies of company registration/profit and loss…’ consisted of a single sheet of photocopied A4 paper which listed the company name, gave a few details of the company profit, and had the company seal on it (photocopied – not an original seal).

And that was all I needed – 5 sheets of single sided A4 paper. The list of documents does mention needing a degree certificate, but I was never asked for mine.

Of course you need your passport and alien registration card as well.

Making the application

To apply I went to the Tokyo immigration centre which is located on an island near Tennozu Isle Station. There is a detailed description of how to get to the centre on the ‘Way Way in JAPAN! ’ blog. Or if you want the short version find the blue bridge near the station, and if you look North East you will see the Tokyo immigration building (highlighted in red).

tokyo immigration bureau

I went just before the Golden Week holiday, they were obviously expecting a lot of people as they had signs up asking people to avoid making any applications at this time if they could wait. I went in anyway, and headed upstairs to the application counter.

There was first a 10 minute queue to be seen by someone who had a quick scan of my documents. She seemed happy that I had the correct ones so she gave me a numbered ticket. It was about 2:45pm and I was given number 580. There were hundreds of other people in this area of the building. The current number on the screen was 325, so there were 250 tickets to go before mine!

It is good that they do a quick screening of your forms and documents before issuing you a ticket, as it would be terrible to wait for ages for your number to be called, only to find out that you are missing something obvious.

I had plenty of time so I had a walk around, and bought and ate some food. I was able to calculate the rate at which they were getting though the tickets. They had all 6 counters fully staffed and were getting through about 1 ticket per minute.

At 4pm they stop issuing new tickets for applications, but they will keep calling up the numbers until they have serviced all the tickets.

After about 3 hours 25 minutes my number was called! I handed in my forms, passport and alien registration card.

The lady on the counter gave me a postcard, and told me to write my address on it.

After I had done that she told me to sit down. After nearly 10 minutes (I saw her discussing something with another employee) she called me back up. She had stamped one of the pages in my passport with an ‘Application’ stamp, and had stapled in a leaflet explaining what happens next.

period of stay change of status leaflet

Here is the text of it:

A judgment on your application for change of status of residence will be made approximately within a month. Please be advised that it may take more time depending on a case.
When no notice is given after 30 days of the expiration of your period of stay, please visit the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau, and confirm the status of your application before 40 days have passed since the expiration date.
(Note) Those who applied for change of status of residence may extend their period of stay until the earlier of either the date when a judgment on the application is made, or the date when two months have passed since the expiration of their period of stay. Please be advised that you are recognised as an illegal resident and subject to deportation procedures two months after the expiration of your period of stay, even if a judgement on your application has not yet been made.
Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau

I only had about five weeks left of my current residency status, so I was keen to know how long it would take to get my results. The lady though it might be about three weeks, but she said it could take longer.

I then aksed about what would happen if my current residence status expired before I got my result. I don’t think she understood my questions, even after I tried to rephrase it three times. And I didn’t understand any of her answers. Don’t expect the immigration staff to speak good English. If you need English help before or after applying there is a help centre on the ground floor with staff that have a higher level of English.

Later when I got home I tried to decode the leaflet. I worked out that it meant that you could stay for up to two months beyond the expiry of your current period of stay *if* you were still waiting for a result. But that if you don’t get any result within 30 days of your period of stay expiring, you should visit them before 40 days have expired since the end of expiry of your residence status.

And very importantly – it stated that overstaying by one day from this two month grace period would cause you to become an illegal resident. Comment 1 on my Japan visa FAQ page will give you an idea of the kind of trouble you can get yourself in if you try overstaying by even one day.

Here is some official information about the special exception to the period of stay from immigration.

Application for extension of period of stay leaflet

If you are applying for an extension at Tokyo immigration here is the text of the leaflet that they are currently stapling into passports.

A judgment on your application for extension of period of stay will be made within the following period unless any special notice is given by the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau. Make sure to visit the office of the Bureau within the specified period. Please contact the Inspection Coordination Department of the Bureau if you cannot do so.
Please bring your (1) passport and (2) foreign resident registration card with you when you visit the office. A fee of 4,000 yen is required when your application is permitted.
Period of visit:
From **/** (month/day)
To **/** (month/day)
PERMISSION STAMP COUNTER No.A
(Note) Those who applied for extension of period of stay may extend their period of stay until the earlier of either the date when a judgment on the application is made, or the date when two months have passed since the expiration of their period of stay. Please be advised that you are recognised as an illegal resident and subject to deportation procedures two months after the expiration of you period of stay, even if a judgment on your application has not yet been made.
Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau

The dates given are about a month from the day you apply. The ‘special notice’ refers to them sending you the postcard that you filled in. So if you get the postcard you have to visit them before the date on the postcard. If you don’t get the postcard then you have to visit them between the dates on the leaflet.

They’ve made the English in these leaflets way more complicated than it needs to be. Perhaps they should ask some of those native English speakers in the waiting room to help them rewrite it in simple English.

Waiting…

After making the application you then have to wait. I’ve found that the expected processing times they tell you at immigration are usually the worst case times. There is a good chance that it will be done in about two weeks or less. A friend of mine went to Tokyo immigration late in the morning on Monday, and got the notification card on Saturday – less than a week!

You (probably) don’t need to worry about whether they will grant your change of status/application. If they accepted your documents, and you have a sponsoring company who wants you to work then your request should be granted.

Receiving the postcard

About three weeks later the postcard arrived! It would probably have only taken two weeks if it were not for the Golden Week holiday. Here is my postcard. As they had ticked the box to get ¥4000 of revenue stamps I was pretty sure that I had been granted the change of status.

japan visa notification postcard

If there is a problem with your application they’ll send you a letter asking for more information, or scribble something on the postcard, rather than ticking one of the revenue stamp boxes.

Visiting immigration again

I went back to Tennozu Isle Station, and walked to immigration again. I started queuing from 8:15am, and they opened the doors at 8:30am. First I went to the Family Mart on the ground floor to buy my revenue stamp.

4000 yen revenue stamp

I then went upstairs to the permission stamp counter. I waited in the short queue, handed over my passport and postcard, and was given a numbered ticket. The queue to get your numbered ticket opens at 8:30am, but they don’t start calling up numbers until 9:00am.

At about 9:15am my number was called. The lady handed my passport to me and showed me the page showing that my change of status had been granted and that I had been given a three year period of stay. They must have been feeling generous!

The application stamp in the passport had been marked as ‘USED’.

change of status application stamp japan

And here is a photo of a change of status sticker, as well as an extension sticker.

japan change of status extension permit

If you change your status the one year/three year new residence status starts from the day you collect your sticker. If you have applied for an extension to your current status the one/three year extension starts from the end of your current period of stay.

With my change of status granted I went back down to the Family Mart, bought another revenue stamp and went back upstairs to get my Japan re-entry permit (¥3000 for a single and ¥6000 for a multiple).

One year or three years?

A lot of people want to know how to get a three year residency status rather than a one year one. There are all kinds of theories floating around on the internet such as:

  • You need to have been granted several one year periods of stay before getting a three year one.
  • They want to wait for evidence of a history of having paid all your taxes before granting it.
  • The company you work for may play a factor.
  • The country you come from may influence the decision.
  • It depends on whether the immigration official is having a good day or a bad day.
  • They roll a dice and randomly select what to give you!
  • It depends on which immigration bureau handles your request.
  • The type of job you are doing makes a difference.
  • It depends on whether you tick the one or three year box on your application.

The truth may be in there somewhere, but no one really knows. For obvious reasons their criteria for deciding what length of stay to grant are secret.

I can however say that it is not always necessary to have been granted several one year periods of stay, or to have paid taxes before getting a three year period of stay.

I spent only one year in the country on a WHV (and I did no work – therefore paid no taxes – it was a pure holiday), and I was granted a three year period of stay with my very first application.

Lose ends

Don’t forget to get your alien registration card updated at your local city office within two weeks of being granted your change of status / extension. They will write the new details on the back of the card, and then put a clear holographic security sticker over the writing.

alien registration card updated

Teaching English in Japan FAQ

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Teaching English in Japan is a popular job for people who want to experience life in Japan for at least a year. This FAQ is made up of a mixture of 1st hand and 2nd hand information. Feel free to add your questions or corrections in the comments section.

teaching in japan

What qualifications to I need to be an English teacher in Japan?

The main one is to have a bachelor’s university degree*. This is needed to satisfy Japan’s visa sponsorship requirements.

* Unless – you qualify for a working holiday visa, in which case you probably don’t need a degree (but the requirements for a WHV vary from country to country, so you’ll have to check).

Many sites on the internet write that you need a ‘four year bachelors’ degree – but this isn’t true. What you need is a completed bachelors degree, the length of which may vary depending on what you studied and in which country you did your studies. For example in the UK we often spend 3 years on a bachelors degree, whereas the same subject may take 4 years in America.

The second main ‘qualification’ you’ll need is to be a native English speaker, although some companies don’t even that – some are happy if you can call yourself a ‘natual’ English speaker.

Do I need a teaching qualification?

No. Some companies will prefer it, some may even require it, but there are plenty that are happy to employ you with no teaching qualification.

Do I need teaching experience to teach English in Japan?

Again it is not necessary – but it would help if you have it. Some companies will insist on experience, others prefer people with no experience so they can more easily train them using their own teaching methods.

Do I need to speak Japanese?

No! English is usually learnt best if there is no Japanese used in the classroom. Unfortunately many Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) can barely speak any English so teach much of their classes in Japanese or Katakana. This is why the government needs so many ALTs – so that the kids can get exposed to real English. And also why conversation schools are so popular.

Japanese speaking ability will however be useful for talking to Japanese teachers/staff in the school, and it will make your Japan life easier in general.

Where can I teach English in Japan?

Most people teach in one of these places:

  • Public schools – for children aged 6-18. You will be employed by an ALT dispatch company or the JET scheme and then assigned to the school rather than applying to the school directly for work.
  • Eikaiwa – private English conversation school for all ages, from kids to adults.

But it is also possible to find jobs at:

  • Kindergarten – 3-6 year olds.
  • Private schools
  • University
  • Juku – private cram schools for kids. English classes here are usually taught by Japanese teachers, but a (very) small number of Juku’s employ native speakers.
  • Private tuition – in coffee shops and cafés for example. You won’t get a visa to do this though, so this is something you can only do in addition to you visa sponsored job.

Which teaching companies can I apply to?

Here is a summary of some of the larger companies. If you need visa sponsorship then the larger companies are your best bet. Many of them will also help you with housing if necessary. If you are already in Japan, with permission to work, then you could apply to smaller companies as well.

ALT jobs

  • JET – the government scheme. Good pay and benefits, but a very long application process. 35 hours per week. ¥3,600,000 per year (¥300,000 per month).
  • Interac – one of the largest private ALT dispatch company with positions all over Japan. ¥230,000-¥250,000 per month.
  • Altia Central – ALT dispatch
  • Heart – ALT dispatch, mostly in Kanto.
  • RCS – ALT dispatch in Kanto. ¥210,000-¥240,000 per month.

Conversation school jobs

  • ECC – 50% kids, 50% adults, group classes. Mostly in Kanto, Kinki, and Chubu. Good holidays, and shorter hours than many similar Eikaiwas. 29.5 hour work week. ¥252,000 per month.
  • Aeon – one of the largest conversation schools in Japan. Mix of adult and kids group classes. 38 hour work week. ¥270,000 per month.
  • Gaba – 1:1 English teaching for adults (some kids teaching opportunities as well). You can pick exactly when you want to work. Pay starts at ¥1500 per 40 minute class with a 5 minute break between classes. You only get paid for classes which are booked by the students.
  • Amity – children’s English group classes. Owned by Aeon. 40 hour work week. ¥285,000 per month.
  • Berlitz – Adults and kids classes. They have a mix of full time and part time contracts available.
  • Shane English School – teaches British English in the Tokyo area to group classes. ¥245,000 per month
  • Peppy Kids Club – kids group classes. ¥250,000/month.
  • Epion – collection of juku schools mainly in the Osaka and Kyoto area. Kids group classes. ¥200,000 if doing 5 days per week.
  • Nova – When Nova and GEOS when bust, many of their locations were bought by G.communication, which via Jibun Mirai Kyoiku is still using the Nova brand to sell classes. 8 40 minute group classes per day, 5 days a week. ¥273,000/month.

University jobs

  • Westgate – 3-5 month teaching contracts at Japanese University or college.

The best list of teaching job adverts is on the GaijinPot jobs page.

I read on [some Japan forum] that [English teaching company X] is terrible

It is interesting to read about other people’s experiences, but read them with caution – some companies are of course better than others, and there will always be people who have good experiences and others who have bad experiences at the same company. Of course the ones who have bad experiences are a lot louder and post about their experiences a lot more.

Also remember that some of the companies are much bigger than others. Just because companyX has 5 times more complaints than companyY doesn’t mean it is any worse. If it is 10 times the size then it may be much better on average!

What can I expect at the interview?

You will probably be asked in advance to prepare a 5-10 minute lesson. The interviewer or the other interviewees (if this is a group recruitment session) will pretend to be the students. You may well on the day be asked to prepare another short lesson with only 5-10 minutes notice. If you are applying to teach adults and kids they may want you to do a lesson for each. They want to see enthusiasm, clear simple English, and especially for the kids you will need to do lots of hand/body gestures to explain your lesson.

Some companies will give you a written test on grammar, spelling, and lesson planning.

And there will certainly be a face to face interview where they will want to know about your motivation for going to Japan, and for teaching there.

If you are being recruited from abroad they will always want to make sure that you aren’t going to get culture shock after a week in the country, quit, and go home. If you have been to Japan before, or spent time in other foreign countries you may have an advantage.

What factors should I consider?

Here are the two main questions you should consider:

  • Do you want to teach in a public school, or conversation school?
  • Do you want to teach kids, adults or both?

Having answers to these questions will very quickly narrow down the companies you will apply to.

How do I get a visa to teach in Japan?

You will either need a company to sponsor you, or get a working holiday visa. In order to get them to sponsor a visa for you they will have to offer you a job.

There are two types of company sponsored visa for teachers.

  • Instructor visa – for teachers at elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.
  • Specialist in humanities/International Services – for conversation school teachers.

Unfortunately having two types of visa makes it harder to switch jobs in Japan. For example it is easy to move from one eikaiwa to another as the visa type (more accurately residence status) stays the same, but to move from public school to an eikaiwa would require your new employer to change your residence status, which is extra paper work for them.

There is more information about visas on my Japan Visa FAQ page.

What are the different types of public school like in Japan?

It is hard to answer as there is so much variation. Like anywhere else there are good schools and bad schools, good kids and bad kids, and good Japanese teachers and bad Japanese teachers.

Here are a few generalisations though.

  • Elementary school – the kids will be very lively, enthusiastic and not shy to give answers in class. At this age they will respect the teacher so it should be possible to control them.
  • Junior high – during the first year of Junior high the kids will probably still have much of their elementary school enthusiasm in them, but by the 2nd and 3rd year their enthusiasm and willingness to learn will probably decline as the Japanese school system wears them down. Many schools will still have great kids, but some schools will have many kids that the teachers can’t (or won’t) control. Some of the kids in these schools may well cause trouble for you (refusal to work / insults) especially if you are female.
  • Senior high – May be better or worse than Junior high, depending on how academic the kids are. If it is a good school, and many of the kids want to do English at university it could be great. If they have long since lost interest in English it could be a nightmare.

On average children from the country side in Japan will be better behaved than city children.

Class sizes can be up to 40 children in Tokyo or other big cities. At country side schools, or more academic schools the classes may be smaller, or may be split into two for better learning.

Aren’t Japanese children some of the best behaved in the world?

Yes – they are probably better behaved than children from most other countries. The problem is that at public schools there is (usually) no proper discipline system. i.e. no detention, no lines, no sending kids out of the class, and no shouting at the kids.

Many JTE are unable to control badly behaved kids. This isn’t a problem in most schools where the kids are fairly well behaved, but if you get one of those schools with badly behaved kids and weak JTEs you may be in for a rough ride. You may be forced to try to discipline them yourselves, even if that isn’t officially your job.

This open letter to the Minister of Education on the Japan Times gives an example of the problems that some ALTs face.

If I ended up with a class of badly behaved kids and a powerless JTE what do I do?

Here’s some options:

  • Inform your ALT dispatch company of the problem and get their advice.
  • Raise your voice to scare the kids into behaving (Japanese teachers don’t usually shout at the kids as it shows a loss of control, but sometimes it is better to short than to let the classroom turn into a zoo).
  • Convince the JTE to take a more active role in disciplining the kids – e.g. have them sit or stand next to the worst ones.
  • Get any trouble makers to appologise to you. Either in class or ask their home room teacher (form teacher) to have them come to the staff room to see you at lunch time.
  • Speak to their home room teacher and get them to talk to the problem child.
  • Speak to the sports coach of the child – often the badly behaved ones are the sporty kids (e.g. the baseball boys), and their sports coach may be the only teacher they respect.

You will however have to be careful if trying to deal with these issues directly – this may well go against the contract between the ALT dispatch company and the board of education.

How do I get a job at public school?

You should either apply to one of the ALT (assistant languate teacher) dispatch companies such as Interac, or apply to the government JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) scheme.

Most ALTs are assigned to schools via one of these routes rather than being employed by the school directly.

The school year if from April to the following March, so much of the recruitment is for jobs starting in April. However recruitment does happen at other times of the year to replace teachers who have left.

Will I teach my own classes, or will I be team teaching?

It all depends on which ALT dispatch company you work for, the school, the teachers, the age of the kids, your teaching ability, and the contract between the dispatch company and the boards of education. You will probably fall into one of these categories, or somewhere inbetween.

  • Full responsibility for teaching – you will plan the lessons, and run the entire class from start to end without any input from the Japanese English Teacher (JTE). Their only role will be to handle discipline and safety issues.
  • Team teaching – you and the teacher may jointly plan the lesson in advance, and will both teach it together.
  • Human tape recorder – The JTE will teach the class and you will be called on once in a while to give the correct pronunciation of some words or phrases.

Here are some generalisations, but individual experiences will greatly vary.

  • Elementary schools often involve team teaching, and Japanese may be used for parts of the class.
  • ALTs from private dispatch companies will probably have full responsibility for teaching the class for junior / senior high.
  • JETs may well be team teaching for junior / senior high.

What is the English level of the Japanese students and teachers like?

In general, very poor. Japan consistently comes out near the bottom of world English proficiency surveys. For example by looking at the 2010 data of the TOEFL tests you can see that Japanese native speakers are near the bottom of the list, only beating speakers of languages such as Bambaria, Kikuyu, Khmer, Kurdish, Lao, Uighar and Wolof.

When compared to ‘English as a foreign language’ (EFL) speakers from developed countries the Japanese are pretty much at the bottom. Their English skills are below other East Asian countries such as China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Of course Japanese is a very different language from English, but then so is Chinese and Korean, and these other countries are higher on the English league tables, despite not being as rich (per person).

Here’s a summary of some of the factors that contribute to the poor English speaking ability of the Japanese:

  • Many Japanese people aren’t interested in learning English. They have no plans to ever leave the country, or even their own prefecture, and don’t plan to make any English speaking friends.
  • Japanese is a very different language to English in terms of pronunciation, and grammar rules.
  • The way it is taught at schools by the JTEs is very borning, relying on grammar and translation rather than practical speaking and conversation.
  • JTEs often teach English using Katakana, so the children are taught the wrong pronunciation for words from the very start.
  • JTEs often give the kids the answers and expect them to remember, rather than asking questions and making them think for themselves.
  • Most Japanese people have very little interaction with foreigners, and so don’t have many opportunities to use any English they may have.
  • The average English level of the JTEs is low for the factors above, and also because many of them haven’t done a full English degree at University level. To become an English teacher they do a mixture of English modules and teaching modules. The mixture depends on what level they want to teach at (for example to teach at senior high school requires a higher amount of English modules than teaching at junior high). The total amount of English they are doing is less than foreign language teachers of other countries would do. For example to be a French teacher in the UK you would do a 4 year French degree, spending one of these years in France, and then do a one year teaching qualification after completing your French degree.
  • Many Japanese people (and also many JTEs!) have never been to an English speaking country. Even at senior high school you will find many JTEs who have never spent time in an English speaking country – even for a quick holiday.

What is an Eikaiwa?

An eikaiwa is a private English conversation school. You could be teaching adults, kids, or more usually both. In general you will teach group classes of up to 8 students, but you may be doing 1:1 classes as well.

Eikaiwa usually have standardised lesson plans and teaching methods that they want you to follow.

You will be teaching mostly in the evenings and weekends as this is when the kids, and business people are out of school/work. There will probably be afternoon classes for house wives and students.

This cartoon on YouTube has a funny (but maybe quite accurate) depiction of some of the characters you might meet in lower level English classes.

A Day in the Life – English Conversation School in Japan

And this mini-series on YouTube gives a humerous perspective on life in an Eikaiwa.

OMG! Best Eikaiwa Ever! part 1 (there are 4 parts)

And finally you may want to watch this 8 part series called ‘English Teachers‘. A bigger budget mini-series about life in a fictional eikaiwa.

How can I get a teaching job in Tokyo?

First remember that Japan isn’t all about Tokyo. In fact many people have amazing experiences in other cities, or country side area. In the country side you’ll find that people are friendlier, the kids are better behaved, and you’ll get to see more of the real Japan.

But if you really want to come to Tokyo then your best bet might be an Eikaiwa or ALT dispatch company that specialises in the Tokyo area (see the list above). Even then Tokyo is large so don’t expect to be in a Yamanote line location.

With JET you have no choice where you are placed, and with Interac you have a bit more say, but not enough say to insist on Tokyo (unless you are already in Tokyo).

Eikaiwas are a good bet if you insist on being in Tokyo or a big city, as their teaching locations are manly in the cities, near the busy train stations.

Public schools are obviously scattered all around Japan, so if you want to teach in a public school you should try to be more flexible with your location.

If you really want to be in Tokyo you might have the most success if you apply for jobs whilst in Japan. Is this allowed? Technically not – you aren’t supposed to job hunt if you have a temporary visitor permit. But as long as you don’t tell anyone at immigration when you enter the country, and have an onward ticket so they can see you have an intention to leave, you can get away with it.

Will I have to sing and dance for the kids?

If you are teaching elementary level kids then there is almost certain to be some singing, acting, and dancing in your lessons – you may end up becoming what some people refer to as a ‘Gaijin Clown’, whose job is to entertain the kids more than teach them. If you don’t want to do this then stick to teaching older kids or adults.

How has the huge earthquake of March 2011 affected the job situation?

If you are in Tokyo there has not been an easier time (in recent years) to get a teaching job than the months after the earthquake. Many foreigners either quit their jobs and went home, or decided not to renew their contracts. Others who were due to arrive in April decided not to come – the disaster happened very close to the end of the school year, so the timing was terrible for companies that recruit in April-March cycles. I’ve heard the word ‘Flyjin’ used to describe the people who left suddenly.

Many ALT dispatch companies and eikaiwas have been left with severe shortages of teachers, so they have desperately been trying to recruit since. I’ve personally spoken to recruiters at four eikaiwa companies who have told me about their large teacher deficits, and I have heard via a friend that the same situation exists at one of the major ALT dispatch companies.

Obviously to recruit a large number of extra teachers on top of their usual recruitment needs has been very difficult, and they have had to reduce standards to get people in the door.

The recruitment situation is starting to get back to normal as of June/July 2011, but I know that there are still shortages at some companies.

This is the case in Tokyo, so the situation may vary in other parts of the country, especially those directly hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

How will I get a flat / place to live?

Many teaching companies will offer to get you set up up in an individual or shared flat / room / house. They will then deduct the rent from your salary.

The advantage of this is that you don’t have to find a place yourself, and your initial expenses will be less as you probably won’t have to pay deposits / key money etc. The disadvantage is that your place might not be that good, it may be over priced, and if you leave your job your company might evict you.

If you prefer to find your own place you can try the following companies:

  • Sakura House – flats, guest houses and dormitories in Tokyo. They rent exclusively to foreigners.
  • Leopalace21 – they have nearly identical looking small flats all over Japan. They are happy to rent to foreigners, you don’t need a guarantor, they don’t charge key money and they have short term and long term contracts available. If you are signing a long term contract you will however need about three months worth of rent from day one, to cover the first two months of rent, the deposit, and other misc fees. I recommend working out how to use their Japanese site as this will allow you to properly search their range of flats. I have a guide to using the Leopalace Japanese website here.
  • Oakhouse – guest houses in Tokyo and Yokohama for foreigners.
  • Apollo Properties – in Osaka and Nagoya.
  • JTB Homestay – if you want to live with a Japanese family.

Do I have to pay taxes?

Yes!

There are a variety of different taxes you will have to pay. Income tax will usually be taken straight out of your salary at a rate of 10%.

You will have to have some kind of health insurance.

If you are in the country for over a year you will need to be on one of the government’s health insurance programmes – either the employee health insurance scheme, or the national health insurance (NHI). If you are on the employee health insurance scheme the premiums will be deducted from your salary. If you are on NHI you will have to pay the premiums separately.

The employees insurance combines health and pension. Your employer will contribute 50%. About ¥10,000 will be deducted from your monthly salary for the health insurance and about ¥20,000 for the pension. You can get some of your pension payments back if you leave the country, but you’ll have to do some form filling to get it.

If you sign up to the NHI instead you will end up paying about 10% of your salary after the first year for the health insurance. For the first year you will pay a much smaller amount (about ¥2500-¥4000) as the premiums are based on your previous year’s pay (which would have been 0 as you weren’t in Japan!). If you delay joining the NHI (and you weren’t previously in the employees health insurance scheme) you may have to make up back payments for the time you were uninsured.

If you are on the NHI you are in theory supposed to join the national pension scheme as well – but many foreigners who are only going to be in Japan for a few years don’t bother.

If you are in the country for less than a year you might get away with private health insurance, but with this you’ll have to pay for any bills in cash, and claim it back later which can be a pain. Be aware that if you are on private health insurance and switch to NHI you’ll have to pay the back payments.

And you will have to pay resident’s tax / local tax. This catches many people out as you pay in arrears the year after you have lived somewhere. It could be about 7-9% of your salary and you pay direct to the government via the city office, or bank, in four instalments.

Therefore it is very important that if you are intending to spend several years in Japan you don’t spend all your money as you earn it. In the first year you need to save up so you can afford to pay the tax that you will be charged later on.

Read this tale of despair on GaijinPot for an example of someone who hadn’t planned for his resident’s tax bill!

How long do most people spend in Japan teaching English?

Most people spend between 1 and 3 years in Japan before going home. People either tend to burn up after that, or they enjoy it so much that they move into a management/training role at the teaching company, or sometimes marry a Japanese person and settle.

Digital TV in Japan and setting up the digibox

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

On 24th July 2011 Japan will switch to digital TV. During the build up they put a message in corner of the analogue channel saying ‘Analog’ in katakana (アナログ), and at the bottom of the screen was a reminder that the analogue TV will soon be switched off. By moving to digital you can get access to of extra Japanese TV channels of variable quality.

japan tv channels

Here is a notice that was put through our letter box reminding of the digital switchover. On the back they even had a helpful map telling you which direction to point your TV aerial in.

japan digital tv switchover notice

With this in mind I thought it was about time that I installed the digital TV box that had been left in my flat by Leo Palace. It was brand new, in its box, and complete with installation instructions fully in Japanese. Fortunately the pictures were easy to follow.

Here is the box which I successfully opened…

japan digital tv digibox 1

To reveal a black digibox, some cables, a remote control, batteries, and some instructions. The first thing I had to do was to insert the conditional access card into the digi box.

japan digital tv digibox 2

Then I plugged in the cables and connected them to the TV.

japan digital tv digibox 3

Here’s the remote control. As well as controls for the digibox you can programme it to adjust the volume, and switch on/off your TV. This was the hardest of the steps as I couldn’t work out what the instructions were trying to say, but with a bit of trial and error I got it working with the TV.

japan digital tv digibox 4

Next I turned it all on, switched the TV to the AV channel, and pressed the button to start the channel scan.

japan digital tv digibox 5

After scanning it got about 12 channels. Some are ‘proper’ channels with a channel number, and some seem to be supplemental channels that don’t get a proper number. Here is a list of the channels I got, along with a link to the Wikipedia page of each. The channels you get will vary from area to area.

Number Channel Name Details
1 011 NHK G NHK General TV from Japan’s public broadcaster.
2 021 NHK E 1 NHK Educational TV
023 NHK E 3
3 031 tvk 1 TV Kanagawa – local station.
4 041 NTV Nippon Television
5 051 TV Asahi You can visit the HQ in Roppongi.
6 061 TBS 1 Tokyo Broadcasting System. The hardest working man on TV – Monta Mino, does the breakfast show.
7 071 TV Tokyo 1 Specialises in anime.
8 081 Fuji TV Variety, drama, news, TV, sport
9 091 Tokyo MX1 Tokyo Metropolitan Television
092 Tokyo MX2
11 111 イッツコムチャンネル (jp)
112 イッツコムチャンネル
12 121 OUJ Open University of Japan

Here is the main menu screen. Selecting the first option brings up the TV guide.

japan digital tv digibox 6

This is the TV guide, which is fairly self explanatory; you scroll through it to see the programs and can jump to any of the channels from here.

japan digital tv digibox 7

In my case, I just turned the TV off.

Japan visa FAQ

Monday, May 30th, 2011

There is lots of official and unofficial information about visas for Japan. The aim of this page is to share a bit of my *unofficial* knowledge on the subject, and help you to understand the official guidelines (i.e. the information issued by the Japan immigration, and Japanese embassies).

Always trust the official information rather than unofficial information (don’t trust me for example), but be aware that sometimes there is a difference between the ‘official’ information, and what is actually possible :)

What is a visa?

A visa for Japan allows you to be given a specific status of residence in Japan at the airport – as long as immigration allows you to enter the country. Which they probably will as you have a visa and so have already been checked out by the Japanese government. There’s no guarantee though, even with a visa you can be sent back home after reaching the airport in Japan.

http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/system/

This is what a visa looks like when stuck inside a passport.

japan visa working holiday

Do I need a visa to come to Japan?

This depends on what you want to do in Japan and what country you are from. If you are just coming for a holiday and are from a Western country then you probably don’t need a visa. If you are coming to start a pre-arranged job then you will.

http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/

If you come to Japan as a tourist under the visa waiver scheme you will get a ‘temporary visitor’ status of residence. If you are in Japan on the visa waiver scheme your ‘temporary visitor’ status isn’t a visa – you never had a visa! That’s the whole point of the ‘visa waiver’. Here is the landing permission stamp for a temporary visitor.

temporary visitor landing permit japan

So when most people say they have a touist visa, they usually don’t… unless they are from a country that requires them to get an actual tourist visa before visiting. In which case they get a temporary visitor visa before going to Japan which then gives them a temporary visitor status of residence.

How can I get a visa?

Again the official information at http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/ is a good place to start, but I’ll give you a summary. Here are some of the main types of visa.

  • Work visa – you will need an employer in Japan to sponsor your work visa. They will file much of the paper work for you, but you will have some paper work to do as well. Your visa will give you permission to work in a specific industry (e.g. in the public school system, as an engineer etc). Even though you need sponsorship from one company the visa does not tie you to that company, only to the particular industry for which it is granted.
  • Working holiday visa – if you are young enough and from one of the countries that has a reciprocal working holiday visa scheme with Japan then you may be able to get this type of visa which allows you to stay in Japan for an extended time and work with no employer sponsorship necessary. If you qualify for this visa it is a great scheme as it gives you a large amount of flexibility in who you work for, what type of work you do, and how long you can work. This is one of the most relaxed visas you can get for Japan. I wrote about my experiences of getting on on my working holiday visa for Japan page.
  • Student visa – if you are going to study in Japan your college / University can arrange your student visa, which gives you the potential to do a small amount of work if you get permission.
  • Medical stay visa – you can get permission to stay in Japan for extended medical procedures – you’ll of course have to have the money to afford the treatment.

There is a list of all 27 types of visa, along with basic explanations on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs webpage.

http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/long/

The Embassy of Japan in the UK has more detailed explanations of some of the 27 visa types.

http://www.uk.emb-japan.go.jp/en/visa/visa-work.html

How long will my visa be valid for?

The visa is valid between the dates printed on the visa (which should be glued in your passport). It will be invalidated the momement you enter Japan*. The immigration inspector will stamp a big ‘USED’ on it (see the visa photo above) to highlight that you visa is no longer valid!

* Unless you have a multiple entry visa which some business travellers are able to obtain, or a transit visa. Note a multiple entry visa is not the same as having a normal single entry visa which a multiple re-entry stamp. So if you are coming to Japan to do a normal job (such as teaching English) put the multiple entry visa out of your mind – you won’t need or get one. You’ll have to buy your re-entry permit once you get in the country.

http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/procedure/validity.html

My visa says ‘For stay of 1 year’ but it is only valid for three months. Why?

The dates refer to different things. The visa validity is the time period of when you must enter Japan. The ‘For stay of x years’ is how many years you can stay in Japan from the day you enter the country.

But if my visa is now invalid how can I stay in Japan?

Because as well as invalidating your visa the immigration inspector will put a ‘Landing permission’ sticker in your passport stating your residence status, and the validity of your residence status. The example landing permission sticker below says that the status is ‘designated activities’ (which you get if you enter on a working holiday visa) and the validity is one year from sometime in 2010, to sometime in 2011.

designated activities landing permit japan

It is this residence status that allows you to live, work and stay in Japan. The visa just allows you to get the residence status.

This is where people get confused, and why they find it hard to understand the official infoarmtion. If you understand the difference a visa and a residence status you should be able to understand the official information from immigration.

If the residence status if the important thing, why does everyone keep referring to visas?

Because visa is a nice short word whereas talking about landing permissions and residence statuses is more convoluted.

Most employers, people on the street, and the contributers to Japan discussion forums will talk about visas when they may be referring to either visas or residence statuses.

There’s nothing wrong with referring to your residence status as a visa to employers, friends and family as it makes it easier for them to understand. If you talk about your residence status they’ll probably just get confused.

But when you want to understand the official immigration guidance it is very useful to understand the difference.

Can I come to Japan without a visa and find a job?

Officially no. But people do this all the time.

The main advice I’d give you if you want to follow this route is: don’t whatever you do tell immigration at the airport that you are coming to Japan to look for a job! They might send you straight back. Tell them that you are here on holiday, make sure you have a return / onward plane ticket to keep them happy, and then try to find a job once you are in.

If I come to Japan without a visa and am offered a job do I have to leave the country to get my visa?

No you don’t. You don’t even need a visa – you need to change your residency status.

There is some old information that keeps being repeated on internet forums that you have to do something called a ‘visa run’ to South Korea to get permission to work. You don’t. The change of status can be done from within Japan.

All you need is for immigration to change your status of residence from temporary visitor, to one of the statuses that allows work.

As you aren’t officially supposed to be looking for work on a temporary visitor permit they have a special disclaimer in the ‘change of status’ rules. It says that a change of status from a temporary visitor status will only be allowed if due to ‘unavoidable circumstances’.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/02.html

Fortunately for the large number of people who do this every year, getting an English teaching job whilst in Japan appears to satisfy their ‘unavoidable circumstances’ criteria.

How can I extend my visa?

You can’t. It is invalidated by immigration when you enter the country.

But you can extend or change your residence status which will allow you to be in the country for longer.

If you are staying in the same job or same industry your employer will have to give you the paper work to allow you to file an ‘application for extension of period of stay’.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/03.html

If you are starting a job in a different industry from that which your residence status allows you to work your new employer will have to give you the paper work to allow you to file an ‘application for change of status of residence’.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/02.html

Here are the passport stamps for successful change of status, and extension applications.

japan change of status extension permit

Can I stay in Japan while my application is being processed?

You may end up in a situation where you current permission to stay in the country is about to expire, and you are just about to submit your application for a change of status, or extension.

As processing can take 2-3 weeks, or sometimes more, you may be worried about being left in a state of limbo whilst you wait for the results.

Fortunately the amendments to the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act that were passed in 2009 clarrify the situation. You’ll see that a special excemption has been put in place that allows you a two month grace period beyond your current period of stay expiration if you have to wait for a result.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/newimmiact/koumoku7_english.html

The information on that page is a bit basic, but when you make the application (change of status / extension), you will get an ‘Application’ stamp in your passport with a reference number.

change of status application stamp japan

They should also staple in (or give you) a sheet of paper with some information. This piece of paper states that you can stay beyond your period of stay if you are waiting for a result, but that you must contact immigration if you haven’t had your notification within a certain time. It also makes it clear that this two month period is a hard deadline. If you were to stay for two months and one day without getting a result you are now an illegal resident and subject to deportation!

My period of stay expires on 4th May, can I leave on the 5th May?

Yes – But only if you want to be regarded as an illegal resident, banned for re-entering the country for five years, and possibly be interrogated, jailed or fined.

Don’t overstay by even a day – it is not worth it!

My landing permission says I can stay until the 5th July 2011, but my alien registration card expires in 2015. Can I stay until 2015?

No! The date that counts is the one on your latest landing permission / status change / extension sticker that is in your passport. The expiry date on your alien registration card is the date when you need to renew the card, and does not have anything to do with your permission to stay in Japan.

I have accidently overstayed in Japan, what do I do?

If you want to avoid being deported you should hand your self into immigration and tell them you want to leave voluntarily. They have the option to allow you to leave with a ‘departure order’ rather than being deported. Read their information on departure orders carefully to understand the consequences.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/taikyo/syutukoku.html

And read up about the deportation process so you know what the other option is.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/t_main.html#taikyo

Can my employer cancel my visa / residence status?

If you are still in your own country, have accepted a job, and have submitted the visa application then your employer can cancel the visa application.

If you have entered the country and got your landing permission then there is nothing your employer can do to cancel your residence status.

As you have your landing permission you can work for whoever you want (subject to the conditions of your status of residence).

Your employer can not cancel your issued landing permit / status of residence. Only immigration can cancel your residence status.

I have six months left before my residence status expires. Do I have to work?

If you have a normal work visa then you aren’t officially supposed to be unemployed for more than three months. Immigration can technically invite you in for an interview and cancel your residence status. However I don’t know how often they actually do this.

See the question “I heard that my status of residence would not be revoked even if I fail to engage in my intended activity relating to my status of residence for three months because of “justifiable reason.” It is true?” on this page.

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/zairyuu/qa.html

If you have a working holiday visa then don’t worry. You don’t have to work at all. You can just have a holiday for the entire duration of your stay. The permission to work with the WHV is there to support your holiday. If you don’t need the money then you can just relax.

What is a re-entry permit?

If you want to leave Japan without cancelling your status of residence (and losing your right to work) you’ll need a re-entry permit.

japan single reentry permit

Information about the application procedure is here:

http://www.immi-moj.go.jp/english/tetuduki/kanri/shyorui/06.html

It can be issued on the day, and it will take about 30 minutes as long as there isn’t a huge queue! You can either buy a single re-entry permit, or a multiple re-entry permit. I wrote about getting a re-entry permit here.

Where can I find information about coming to Japan to study?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a good website about studying in Japan. Here is a direct link to the immigration part.

http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/toj/toj04e.html

Where can I find more about the working holiday visa?

You can read my own working holiday visa account, but a good general resource is the official Japan Association of Working Holiday Makers page. It has links to all the individual Japan embassies where you can get country specific information about the programme.

http://www.jawhm.or.jp/eng/

Is the information on this page accurate?

I’m not guaranteeing anything. You should use your own judgement.

However as I have provided (where possible) links to official Japan government sources you can read the accurate official information yourself and make up your own mind.

Useful official links

Official visa information – http://www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/
Study in Japan – http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/en/
Working holiday – http://www.jawhm.or.jp/eng/
Good general info from the Japan embassy to the US – http://www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/english/html/travel_and_visa/visa/faq_new.htm

Comments / corrections?

If you have further questions or comments do leave feedback below. I’ll update the article with any corrections or new questions I get.

Buying a SoftBank prepaid phone

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

SoftBank offer a range of prepaid phones aimed at people who are resident in the country for a short time. SoftBank is the phone network that is used by the majority of foreigners in Japan, so if you are intending to make calls or send messages to other foreign friends it is probably the network you should be on.

buying prepay softbank phone 1

Before going for the prepaid deal you should see if a contract would be cheaper. For most people who make regular calls, or who are going to be in the country for more than six month, SoftBank’s White Plan is probably going to be much cheaper. You can read more about SoftBank’s short and long term plans on these links.

Both deals are for Japanese residents only – you’ll need to show your alien registration card to sign up. The prepaid plan is not officially for tourists (although I have heard on GaijinPot of a few tourists who have somehow managed to get one). If you are a tourist and you want a phone you’ll have to hire one for your holiday from another company.

Getting a prepaid SoftBank phone

To get your prepaid phone you should first read in detail about the prepaid service so you are sure that the White Plan wouldn’t be better for you. Then go to a SoftBank shop. They have a list of shops with English speaking help if you need it.

I went to the SoftBank shop in Shibuya. The Japanese English speaking guy I spoke to first told me that there was only one model left in the shop, the SoftBank 731SC .

It is their most basic model at only ¥2079. I asked him if there was a digit missing in the price as it seemed very cheap for a Japanese phone. But no, that’s the price. It is very basic but has most of what you’d need. It makes calls, sends SMS, MMS and email. Has a 1.3MP camera, can play music, and is quite small.

He gave me a ticket, and I had to wait until my number was called. At the counter was a Japanese lady who spoke English. She went through the steps for buying the prepaid phone.

After convincing her that I didn’t want to go on the White Plan she checked (and scanned) my Alien Registration Card and also my Japanese driving licence. Their website lists the types of ID that are acceptable. One restriction is that you must be eligible to stay in Japan for at least 90 days after you buy the phone, so if you are in the process of extending your residence status you might have to wait until the extension is approved.

I didn’t have to fill in a form, she was able to get almost all the details off my IDs. I did have to tell her the Katakana spelling of my name, and also pick a 4 digit pin code. One extra detail they need is a landline number in Japan, so make sure you have a friend’s, employer’s, (or made up), Japanese landline number to hand. I was told that they won’t call it, but that one is needed for the application. A mobile, or foreign number won’t do!

You get to pick the last 4 digits of your phone number as well – as long as they are available which is a nice touch. One thing to be aware of is that the prepaid number is not portable to their contract White Plan service. If you decide to go onto contract you will lose your number.

In the shop they set up the phone for me by inserting the USIM card and the battery. They also changed the phone language to English.

buying prepay softbank phone 12

The cost for the phone was ¥2079 and then I had to pay ¥3000 for my first prepay card. The credit on this is valid for 60 days from activation. For full details of all the costs see the SoftBank prepaid site.

This phone doesn’t come with a charger in the box. If you already have a SoftBank charger it will probably work with this phone. Or you can pay ¥1155 to get a compact charger like this.

buying prepay softbank phone 5

If you are only ever going to be charging your phone from your computer rather than a mains socket you can buy really cheap charging cables from many ¥100 shops. Here’s an example of such a USB charging cable.

buying prepay softbank phone 6

With everything paid for the phone was mine and I could go home.

Setting up a SoftBank prepaid phone

As they had already installed the USIM and battery in the shop there were only a few more things left to do to get the phone fully activated.

But first, this is what is in the box. There are some manuals and leaflets – all in Japanese, but with an English quick start guide.

buying prepay softbank phone 2

Here is a closer look at the manuals. On the left is the SoftBank prepaid card. On the back of it is a silver area that you scratch off to reveal a code that allows you to top up the credit.

buying prepay softbank phone 3

It is well worth reading the SoftBank prepaid service guide (online) before setting things up as it has a clear explanation in English of what to do.

The first thing to do is to call the automated service number 1400 and change the voice guidance language to English.

Then you can call it again to add your prepaid credit. This number is supposed to be free to call but after adding the credit I called it again to check how much credit I had and it said that I had ¥2977. This is ¥23 less than the credit value – they make a small charge when you do a top up by phone (Update: the amount is now ¥24).

Setting up a SoftBank unlimited messaging

The next thing to do (if you want it) is to apply for the unlimited messaging service. This will cost ¥300 every 30 days. This ¥300 is deducted from your prepaid balance rather than being an extra ¥300.

You can either setup the messaging via their My SoftBank online site or from the phone direct. I set it up from the phone. The UI is a mix of Japanese and English. Sometime you have to go through the first level Japanese screen in order to get the option to switch to English. Just go through the options and you’ll find the English setting.

setup prepay softbank phone email 8

You can pick your personalised SoftBank email – the default one consists of random characters. Once you have set it up you’ll get a message sent to your phone confirming your new email.

The one problem with setting it up via the phone is that you will use up some of your prepaid credit. The smarter option is to set it up online for free. You can access My SoftBank via this link.

You’ll first have to find your password by clicking on the ‘Forgotten password’ link. It is in Japanese so if you don’t undertstand the page use Google Chrome to translate it or read this guide. You’ll need to enter your phone number and PIN code and then the password will be sent to you.

With the password you can log on, and if you find the mail button (it has an envelope icon near it) you can change the page to English. From here you can change your email address and modify some other mail related settings.

mysoftbank mail settings

SoftBank 731SC

The phone itself is very basic, but perfectly usable as a phone and messaging device if that is all you need. Here is the main menu.

buying prepay softbank phone 7

And this is a screen shot of the messaging application where you will no doubt be spending much of your time.

buying prepay softbank phone 13

Although the phone can play music the headphone port is a non-standard SoftBank slot rather than a normal headphone jack.

To lock the phone you hold the middle navigation button down, and the all important manner mode (very important in Japan!) is the button on the lower right.

Japan re-entry permits and embarkation / disembarkation cards

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

This page is about Japan re-entry permits and the embarkation / disembarkation cards that you have to fill in when you enter and leave the country. Both are closely linked together so I’ve put this information in one larger post, rather than two smaller ones.

Re-entry permits for Japan

If you have a visa (residence status) to be in Japan and wish to make a temporary trip out of Japan you will need to get a re-entry permit in order to re-enter the country without losing your residence status.

japan single reentry permit

If you leave Japan without a re-entry permit then your residence status/period of stay gets automatically cancelled so it is very important to make sure you remember to get your permit.

Note: Re-entry permits only apply if you have a visa for Japan. It does not apply if you are in the country on a visa waiver scheme and have a temporary visitor landing permit. If you have a temporary permit you can just leave the country and when you come back you will get a new temporary permit (as long as immigration let you in that is!).

How to get a re-entry permit for Japan

To get a re-entry permit requires a simple visit to your local immigration office. You can find the official application details and a copy of the application form on the immigration website.

I went to the Takamatsu immigration office where I first had to sign in at the door. Then I went to the 2nd floor to buy a revenue stamp. If you want a single re-entry permit it will cost you ¥3000, or if you want a multiple re-entry permit it will cost ¥6000. I bought a stamp for a single re-entry permit. In Japan they have this system of paying for revenue stamps in a different location to making the application so that no money changes hands when the application is made – this is to stop bribery attempts. The same revenue stamp system applies if you get a Japanese driving licence.

japan revenue stamp for single entry permit

I then went to the 8th floor where the immigration application office is. In there I collected the application form and started filling it in. A man who spoke very limited English gave me a bit of help. I then handed it in along with my alien registration card and passport.

The questions on this form are asked from the point of view of your stay in Japan, which may not be clear from the English translation.

  • ‘Period of Stay’, means how long your period of stay in Japan is (e.g. 1 year), not how long you are going to leave Japan for.
  • ‘Purpose of travel’ question is referring to the purpose of travelling out of Japan, not your purpose for being in Japan. You don’t have to worry about being exact on the expected date of departure and re-entry. They just want a rough idea, it won’t cause you problems with immigration if you change your mind later.
  • ‘Expected destinations’ is where you are planning on travelling outside of Japan.
  • Leave occupation blank if you have no job, and the name in chineese characters can also be left blank unless you have a Kanji version of your name.
  • If you are in the country on a working holiday visa the status of residence is ‘designated activities’.

I had to sign this application form, and also the form onto which the revenue stamp was stuck.

I then had a five minute wait while they processed the application, they then gave me my passport and foreigner card back. My passport now had a re-entry permit stuck in it. The expiration date of the re-entry permit is the expiry date of your current period of stay, or a maximum of three years from today (whichever is earliest).

They also gave me a new embarkation/disembarkation card to use for my trip out of Japan. You’ll need a new one of these cards for each trip out of Japan – you can pick them up at the airport at immigration if you lose yours, or need a new one.

If you change/extend your residence status then any re-entry permit that you already have will be invalidated. Therefore you will need a new one if you want to make a trip out of Japan.

Differences with Tokyo immigration office

Most of you probably won’t be going to the Takamatsu immigration office, more likely you’ll go to the Tokyo one. Here are a few differences.

At the Tokyo office (the one near Shinagawa on the port island) you don’t have to sign in. You buy the revenue stamps from the Family Mart on the 1st floor (or ground floor – if you aren’t used to the Japanese floor numbering system). The re-entry stamp counter is on the 2nd floor, and after handing in the application you’ll be given a numbered ticket so you know when to come up and collect your passport.

Japan embarkation / disembarkation cards

embarkation / disembarkation card for foreigners

When you first arrive in Japan you will have to fill in an embarkation / disembarkation card for foreigners. It looks like this and will probably be given to you on the plane.

japan embarkation disembarkation card for foreigner

If you don’t get given it on the plane you can pick it up before going through the immigration counter in Japan.

It is in two parts. The disembarkation part is on the right, and the embarkation part is on the left separated by some perforations. The disembarkation part refers to your arrival in Japan. The embarkation part is for when you leave Japan for the last time on your current visa or temporary permit.

If you are a tourist you will only ever deal with this type of embarkation / disembarkation card.

Before going through immigration on arrival in Japan you must fully fill in the right side of the card. You can also fill in most of the details on the left side (but leave the flight number blank until you know for sure which flight you are leaving Japan on).

The immigration inspector will detach the right side of the card (the disembarkation part) and will staple the left side into your passport – probably on the same page as your landing permit that states how long you may remain in Japan.

Then when you come to leave Japan the immigration inspector will remove the embarkation part of the card from your passport – which must at that point be fully filled in with your departure flight number.

embarkation / disembarkation card for reentrant

If you leave Japan with a re-entry permit then you will also be filling in this card.

japan embarkation disembarkation card for reentrant

You may note that the embarkation and disembarkation parts are the opposite way round. When leaving Japan with a re-entry permit the immigration inspector takes the right side of this card (the embarkation bit) and staples the disembarkation part into your passport. When you re-enter Japan he takes the left side (the disembarkation part).

When you leave and re-enter Japan on a re-entry permit the embarkation part of your original embarkation / disembarkation card for foreigners is not touched. It remains stapled into your passport.

Examples

Tourist (no visa)

–> Enter Japan – disembarkation card for foreigners taken. Embarkation card for foreigners stapled in passport.
<-- Leave Japan – embarkation card for foreigners taken.

Entering Japan with a visa and leaving once

–> Enter Japan – disembarkation card for foreigners taken. Embarkation card for foreigners stapled in passport.
<- Leave Japan temporarily – embarkation card for re-entrant taken. Disembarkation card for re-entrant stapled in passport. -> Return to Japan – disembarkation card for re-entrant taken.
<-- Leave Japan (cancelling visa/residence) – embarkation card for foreigners taken.

Entering Japan with a visa and leave multiple times

–> Enter Japan – disembarkation card for foreigners taken. Embarkation card for foreigners stapled in passport.
<- Leave Japan temporarily – embarkation card for re-entrant taken. Disembarkation card for re-entrant stapled in passport. -> Return to Japan – disembarkation card for re-entrant taken.
<- Leave Japan temporarily – embarkation card for re-entrant taken. Disembarkation card for re-entrant stapled in passport. -> Return to Japan – disembarkation card for re-entrant taken.
<-- Leave Japan (cancelling visa/residence) – embarkation card for foreigners taken. If you haven’t picked up the pattern, the disembarkation part of the card is always taken by immigration when you arrive in Japan, and the embarkation part is always taken when you leave Japan.

Veggie ramen at Kagetsu

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Once a year the ramen chain Kagetsu produces a limited edition veggie ramen dish that is served for only a month or two. This year’s 2011 vegetarian ramen started in April, and it is delicious! As well as the ramen they have also produced a vegetarian gyoza side dish.

kagetsu veggie ramen 1

To try it visit your local Kagetsu quick before it is over. They are heavily promoting this dish right now with flags, posters and staff t-shirts. My local Kagetsu looks like this, and your local one probably looks similar.

kagetsu veggie ramen 2

To find your local one you can look at the Kagetsu ‘Shop List ’, which is all in Japanese, but if you can’t figure it out Google Translate may be of some help.

When you go in you’ll need to pay for your food and drink using one of these machines. You don’t pay the staff direct for your food.

kagetsu veggie ramen 3

Put your money in first. The machines takes coins from ¥10 and above, as well as ¥1000 notes. It doesn’t take larger notes so make sure you have enough change. On this machine the buttons for the veggie ramen and gyoza are on the second and third rows at the very left. The veggie ramen are ¥750, and the veggie gyoza are ¥300. The drink buttons are on the bottom right. It is fairly obvious from the photos on the machine. For each button you press you get a paper ticket, and when you have paid for all your food you hand the tickets to a member of staff and sit down.

They have table seating areas for groups as well as benches for people who are eating by themselves. There are various condiments on the table (soya sauce, chilli sauce, dashi, etc). If you are vegetarian make sure you don’t put the fish sauce on your food.

kagetsu veggie ramen 4

The lady in all the promotional leaflets, posters, flags and t-shirts is 未唯mie, a Japanese actress and singer. The advertising for this veggie ramen is aimed at health conscious women, rather than vegetarians. These veggie ramen dishes are much lower in fat, and higher in vegetables than traditional ramen, so the advertising pitches them as a healthier option.

After a short wait the veggie ramen and gyoza arrive. First here is a close up of the ramen. It contains about 30 different kinds vegetable! It also contains some kind of algae that is meant to be good for you. It isn’t obvious from the photo, but under all those veg are thin green noodles (the ramen). You can eat the noodles and veg with your chopsticks, and there is a spoon for the soup.

kagetsu veggie ramen 5

And here are the vegetarian gyoza. Like the ramen these are delicious. One tip – I recommend separating the gyoza when you get them otherwise they tend to stick together when they cool down.

kagetsu veggie ramen 6

Both dishes are really tasty, and it is just a shame that they don’t keep a veggie ramen dish permanently on the menu. Most people who were coming into this branch of Kagetsu seemed to be ordering this veggie dish rather than one of the usual meat ramen dishes.

Make sure you get to eat your veggie ramen before it is gone!