Thursday, September 25, 2014


We did it again....
This one will be our last one for sure (?!) but now Ms. Salaryman Jnr. 2 has joined the family.

The first nine months of pregnancy is a general bee's nest of nervousness, but everything turned out well, apart from the men in the family now being outnumbered 2-3... 

In a year or so, things might get back to normal blogging I assume...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Getting a Japanese driver's license - Part III, passing the driving tests

Doing the right things or doing things right...
One of the first things that you need to mentally prepare yourself for when starting to drive at the school is that you will need to adapt to the Japanese way of training. For the theoretical lessons this does not matter much as the lessons are mostly one-way affairs with little interaction, and you can study as much or little as you like. As long as you pass the test you are fine. 

What I mean specifically with "the Japanese way of training" is that the Japanese generally put a much larger emphasis on getting the process right than the end results, especially in the beginning. When you start your lesson, every step of the process from the start of getting into the car to the actual driving will be decided and explained to you and if you do anything in any order other than the correct process (f.i. put on your seat belt before you lock the door etc.) you will hear it, and if it happens during one of the tests you will get points deducted. What is important to understand here is that you need to just suck it up and learn to do things in the exact order you are instructed, and keep doing it every time. Getting into an argument with the instructor as to why a tiny detail really does not matter will only frustrate you and the teacher. Their job is to teach you not only how to drive, but also, how to pass the driving test and the requirements of that test.

Be nice...
I think that this is common sense for most people, but I would recommend to always be polite to the instructors. If you find this difficult, pretend that they are policemen or any other person in authority you would behave in front of. The reason I mention it is that you can assume that the teachers will talk to each other about you, Japanese speaking foreigners are probably pretty rare, and getting a reputation as difficult will just make things more difficult for you. Also, keep in mind that at most schools, you will perform the tests supervised by the same teachers you have been training with...

Assuming you are something like me, your patience will be tested at times as the bulk of the Japanese students at the school will be university students who are not particularly mature, so the teaching style of the instructors is not generally aimed towards more mature and independent thinking people. Most of the teachers were friendly enough, but there were a few which were quite condescending at times. But I just sucked it up as making an issue out of it would lead to more problems for me than anything else. As it turned out, one of the teachers that I personally found more annoying and condescending was the one I had my final driving test under...

Passing the Test
The test at Level I is conducted inside the driving area of the school and is obviously quite basic. I cannot say that I have any specific advise to give here, except the above. The way the point system works was not completely clear to me, but you start out with a certain number of points and every mistake you make deducts points depending on the severity of the mistake. Serious mistakes such as driving on the wrong side etc. will immediately disqualify you. 

Similarly for the final Level II driving test, I have no particular advice. I started my driving test at a point some way from the school, were shown the route I was going to take and then observed as I drove. Thankfully the teacher provided instructions on when and where to turn so I did not have to think about the route. Similarly to the first test, some form of point system is at work here as well.

I am not sure if it is standard at other schools, but for my tests, another student was present in the backseat as an observer to make sure everything was done fair. Similarly, I was present during other students' tests, I just basically sat there and enjoyed the ride as nothing dramatic happened.

That is it for this time, coming up next: Hints and tips on resources for learning! If you have any questions, post it in the comments so other people can see if I bother to answer!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Getting a Japanese driver's license - Part II, passing the theoretical tests

(for the first part see here)

The Theoretical Test
Wow, that's smart!
To begin with, one thing that could be good to know from the beginning is that the Level I test is by far the hardest! The theory you learn in Level II I would estimate to be just ~20% or so compared to what you need to learn for the Level I test! Basically, if you pass the Level I test you can feel pretty confident that you are capable of passing the final test as well. 

The reason for this is quite easy. In the Level I classes they stuff you full with as much information on the hardcore rules and regulations of the road as possible so you can get the conditional license and drive out in the real world. For Level II, sure, there are plenty of details and rules that you will need to remember in case they show up on the final exam, but not like in Level I where they need to stuff you full with information to let you drive out on the roads without killing anyone (including yourself). 

Level II also includes useful practical information such as first aid, regular car maintenance and stuff which is good to know.

For all the theoretical tests you need to pass 90% of the questions. In Level I there are 50 text question allowing you to get 5/50 wrong and still pass but any more than that and you're out of the game. Time was not an issue for me, but for those more methodical (read slower) I think it was around an hour for both tests.

All the questions in both Level I and Level II are in the form of statements and answered with "False" or "Correct" with no need to write any explanations or have any writing ability in Japanese. A sample question could be something like "It is permissible to park at an steep uphill slope but not allowed on a steep downward slope". 

For Level II (final exam) there are 90 text questions at 1 point each and 5 illustrated questions asking you how to behave in certain situation based on an illustration and written explanation. Each of these questions contain 3 sub-questions which you all need to get right to get 2 points (2/3 for an illustrated question gives 0). In total, you need to get 90 points our of 100 to pass.

For the Level I test, the school I took it in could give me the score, not that I cared that much as I was relieved just to pass it (46/50!). For the final Level II test at the license center I did not see the actual results, just that I had passed.

How to Study for the Tests
This is really individual as people learn in different ways, but basically what worked for me was 1) Listening quite attentively to the lectures and 2) Doing tons of practice questions.

I basically did not open the book after the lectures more than to check-up on a particular question that I needed to find out the why's and how's around. In hindsight, I would have purchased an English instruction book to supplement the Japanese one as reading Japanese takes quite a bit more concentration for me compared to reading English. But at the time I did my tests I was not aware of any English books. But fear not, in the next post I will point you in the right direction where to find the stuff.

In the end, what worked for me was doing practice questions again and again, looking up the answer to all the questions that I got wrong and step by step build up the necessary knowledge for passing the test. Having the lectures relatively fresh in the head also help quite a bit.

How to Pass
This is quite simple. Do the practice questions, do plenty of them and when you think you are starting to get ready, do a few complete tests (i.e. 50 questions for Level 1 and 100 questions for Level II) without looking up the answers until you finished the full test. If you manage to get ~95% correct answers I would say you have a fair chance at passing. If you are struggling between 80-90% you can always try, but chances are that you fail. 

Remember that the official tests are fresh from the authorities and might differ slightly from the test questions, so safest to make sure you can pass with some margin.

I passed both tests on the first try, but have the feeling that I got lucky on the Final test as there were quite a few "new" questions that I never had seen before. But if you have done your practice questions you should feel pretty confident.

That is it for this time, coming up next: Tips for passing the driving tests! If you have any questions, post it in the comments so other people can see if I bother to answer!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Getting a Japanese driver's license

Only if you got a license!
Work and managing the offspring has taken a lot of energy away from my blogging again despite my intention to somewhat revive the blog. In any case, I will keep it going with low maintenance.

This time I actually thought to post about something that might not be particularly funny, but could be helpful for some people as the information out there is sparse to begin with: how to get a Japanese driver's license. 

As you probably have figured out, I recently got my Japanese driver's license. How to get a driver's license here in Japan differ a bit depending on whether you already have a foreign license or if you are starting from scratch. If you already have a foreign license and are trying to figure out how to get a Japanese license this post won't be much help. But if you happen to be in a similar situation as me it could perhaps be helpful: A) No previous driver's license or driving experience B) Good Japanese ability (hearing and reading).

In my particular case I have spent my life mostly in larger cities with good infrastructure and no real need for a car or driver's license. Living in central Tokyo, a car might be more of a hassle and cost than actually helpful. However, since the Salaryman family moved out to the suburbs and started to grow in size the convenience of having a driver's license combined with the fact that Mrs. Sunshine does not particularly like to drive gradually pressured me into getting a driver's license.

Finding a School
The first thing you need to do is find yourself a mighty fine driving school to enroll in. The cost might vary depending on the program you select, but should be a little above or below 250,000 JPY for a standard plan. There probably will be a number of plans available depending on speed, flexibility etc., but I picked a standard plan in which I could take the lessons at my own convenience and pace.

In my case it worked relatively well as my current job gives me quite a lot of freedom, but taking a driver's license while working as a regular Salaryman might be next to impossible to do unless you are ready to dedicate all your weekends over several months to driving school. The school I picked was located relatively close to the Salaryman family base camp and offered convenient bus pick-up services. If you are not confident enough in your Japanese abilities to take the lessons in Japanese I can't really help you much. I know that there are a few schools in central Tokyo that offer English classes, but to me that was not even an option as it would be too time consuming to add a commute to the time I needed to dedicate to the lessons. It probably is more expensive as well, in any case I do not really know.

Getting Schooled
The path to the driver's license here in Japan is divided into two parts, conveniently titled Level 1 and Level 2 (第一・二段階). Each part consists of ~15 hours of theoretical lessons and ~15 hours of driving lessons, if I remember it correctly there is a little more driving in level 2 compared to level 1.

Passing level 1 gives you a conditional driver's license which lets you out on the streets to practice driving on real roads so the first part is much more focused on traffic rules etc. (more on that later).

Handling it Theoretically
The theory lessons could be taken in any order (basically) and my school had all the lessons rotating throughout the week at different times of the day so you had at least 1-2 chances each week to get the one I wanted to take. As I have little free time to waste at the school, I generally tried to take as many classes as possible in one visit and could often time in 2-3 theory lessons each time I went to the school. It got a bit harder as I was finishing up most of the theory classes as I often found myself having to go to the school to pick up a "stray" lesson at slightly inconvenient times.

The theory lessons were actually quite good, at least at the school I went to, the teachers obviously knew the routine of doing the lectures and pointed out the things that were essential to remember for the tests. If you can follow the news on Japanese TV your level should be enough to follow the classes, obviously there is a lot of new lingo you have to learn but that is also true for most of the Japanese students as well.

Driving lessons
The driving lessons were quite straightforward with the Level 1 lessons taking place in the school driving course (or whatever it's called, you know what I mean). The focus is on the basics of driving. After you have passed the Level 1 exams you get the conditional driver's license and the lessons mostly move out to the real streets together with the instructor. Again, nothing particular to mention here as the focus is very much as you can imagine.
...course like this (random school)

For the actual driving lessons you will need a certain level of command of Japanese, but it could be much lower than for the theoretical lessons as the instructor can "dumb it down" as you would be the only person he/she needs to make understand. 

Bring on the Tests!
My school had quite an annoying amount of tests and I am unsure on whether other schools do it the same way or not. In any case I had to through the following test:

Level 1
1. Level 1 theoretical qualification test - A test done alone on the computer without strict supervision to see if I was up to the level that I had a chance to pass the real test, passing this allowed me to take the formal test
2. Driving test - Relatively simple driving test, cannot for the life of me remember any details, but the basics
3. Formal Level 1 theoretical test - Done a bit more formally as the results need to be reported to the local authorities, only allowed to take by those who passed both previous tests (driving tests were done before lunch, the theoretical in the afternoon)

...after passing the above tests I got the conditional driver's license. Then it's back again doing theoretical and practical lessons until that is finished up and you can again do the tests:
Just like me!

Level 2
4. Level 2 theoretical qualification test - Again, the same as the one for level 1, basically a filter to see that you are ready to take the real test
5. Driving test - Again a driving test out on the real roads, nothing too exciting, driving from point A to B doing things the right way while following the route the instructor points out
6. "Are you really OK?!" Test - I think this test was unique for my school, but this was the most annoying test of all, after passing the driving test we were given a random theoretical test to do, if you passed it was great but if you failed, you had to stay and study a few hours more, did not matter in any case since it was not a formal test
7. REAL Theoretical Test - With the graduation document and conditional driver's license in hand I could take the real test at the prefecture site, very formal and strict supervision, after passing this I got the real actual license
8. Random Testing - This did not happen to me, but apparently sometimes people are picked out to do a driver's test again at the site to check that the level of skill really is adequate, as far as I understand it this would not impact getting the actual license, but is done to measure the level of the schools. It did not happen to me in any case so seems rare

That is it for this time, coming up next: Tips for passing the tests! If you have any questions, post it in the comments so other people can see if I bother to answer!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Aligned Family

Dungeons and Dragons Alignments applied to our family:

Mrs. Sunshine - Lawful Good
"A Lawful Good character typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty"

Mr. Salaryman - Neutral
" A farmer whose primary overriding concern is to feed his family is of this alignment"

Little Ms. Sunshine - Lawful Evil
"A Lawful Evil character sees a well-ordered system as being easier to exploit, and shows a combination of desirable and undesirable traits"

Salaryman Jnr. - Chaotic Evil
"A Chaotic Evil character tends to have no respect for rules, other people's lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shotgun Meeting

...a quick business advice...
Bringing a certified legal rep to a meeting is the same as bringing a shotgun to a meeting. It will be difficult to speak one's mind...

End advice.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Review

One of these is mine...
Earlier in the week we went to see a performance put on by little Ms. Sunshine and her Kindergarten class. In case you are thinking of going, here comes a review for you to make you informed consumers:

The props were amateurish and looked like they had been reused a hundred times, costumes were limited to stupid paper hats and looked like they were made by small children.

Over half of the performers did not sing when they were supposed to and several completely ignored it and wandered about aimlessly instead. The ones that actually sung were completely out of tone.

The dancing numbers were completely out of synch, that is, for the few performers that actually bothered to try and dance.

The only redeeming feature was that the piano playing adult actually could tinker out some simple melodies.

All in all, it was a horrible performance which I cannot recommend to anyone. For lovers of fine art this was an insult of a performance.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Future of Entertainment is here!

The future of gaming, in the past!
When think of it, it strikes me as a little odd that I haven't really posted more on the topic, but the truth is that I am a gamer. Not the obnoxious type who loves Japanese Role Playing Games though, and I embrace the fact that it is practically a waste of time! I do not play games to grow as a person or challenge myself, I do it because it keeps me entertained for a bit and a happy Salaryman is a good Salaryman. Playing computer/video games is by far my favorite way to entertain myself and has been from when we got our first Spectrum ZX81 home computer. The hour between when the kids and Mrs. Sunshine fall asleep until I go to bed is my gaming time and when I can relax a bit from all the other stuff.

So, for me as a gamer, the recent launch of the Playstation 4 is a big event (and yes, I am somewhat of a Sony PS fanboy, screw xbox!). Probably due to the delayed launch in Japan, almost four months after the US launch, I could order my Playstation off the Sony online store just a week before the launch and got it delivered before lunch last Saturday without having to stand in a line or camp outside!

The thing about new consoles is that usually they are crap when they come out. The user interface and features are not fully implemented and the first wave of games are usually junk. However, I tend to forget this and get swept up in the excitement only to be disappointed that things are basically the same, only with a little prettier graphics.

As I was checking through what the new and improved Playstation had to offer, I found the Playstation streaming TV stations. Basically it’s meant for people to show what they are playing and give their fantastic commentary while doing it. But when I checked it out the number one watched show was that of an American family sitting in front of their TV, having the Playstation camera film them while they are sitting around reading the comments that people wrote to them. Occasionally the overweight lady would flash her boobs, whipping the commenters to a frenzy of “do it again!”, “more” etc. while the guy kept drinking his booze. After a few minutes a younger woman that looked a bit like Ms. American teen pregnancy joined the group in the sofa and also started into the screen while people wrote “you new girl, show your boobs too!” and similar comments at a breathtaking pace.

The whole thing was mesmerizing. I could not stop watching. It was like Youtube with even lower production values and completely devoid of any point. This is the future of Entertainment and again I felt at peace with my purchase.

Yesterday evening I turned it on again, but their show was gone and it felt empty… 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Help! My Children are Japanese! Episode I

Typical Japanese children
The Salaryman family live in our little housing community in the outskirts of Tokyo in an area populated almost exclusively by Japanese. I have seen one white British guy on a few occasions who lives somewhere in the area and our neighbor with a Chinese wife, but that's basically it.

The environment that little Ms. Sunshine and Salaryman Jnr. are growing up in a typical modern Japanese one, but I was anyway hoping that they might grow up with a little broader view of the world than most Japanese kids. However, it seems like my hopes were futile and in this fantastic brand new series I will document the key moments where I have come to realized that my offspring are Japanese...

A few months back I was sent back to the old country for business and since my visit was for a few weeks and the home office very accommodating and helpful, I decided to bring the whole Salaryman family over as a team-building exercise. Some of Mrs. Sunshine's main concerns were the lack of proper Japanese rice in Sweden and the lack of a bath tub in the apartment we were going to stay. I swiftly ignored her concerns with a casual "they're kids, they'll eat whatever cheap rice we put in their feeding through and won't even notice!" and "they'll be fine without a bath, they have strong Swedish genes in them!".

I think it goes without saying that I was wrong... Terribly wrong...

We first tried with regular non-sticky long corned rice but that was met with a frowned nose and refusal to eat by little Ms. Sunshine and Jnr. Salaryman throwing the rice all over the room except in his mouth. Next, we tried with jasmine rice which I sheepishly thought might be received a little more favorably, but again frowning faces and rice ending up all over the room. Finally relenting, we resorted to buying expensive "sushi rice" which was the only thing we could find in the area where we stayed. Annoyingly for me the kids launched into that as hungry wolves while Mrs. Sunshine gave me a "told you so" stare.

That's not to mention the struggle to get the kids in the shower after the dinner. The screams of terror, fear and desperation that we had to endure every day during shower time we have not experienced since that time. After a few days of going through this I was starting to despair and went to a local toy store and luckily found (despite it being off summer season) a small inflatable pool that would fit into the shower room. 

Again... With the inflatable pool inserted as a poor bathtub substitute, the kids turned from miserable hellions to smiling angels, happily giggling away and again cooperating all of a sudden. Of course, while I got the "told you so" stare again from Mrs. Sunshine...

I should just have the bathtub physically removed from our house, after a few years they should been weaned off it!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Top 3 Most Annoying Kid's Shows in Japan - Number Two

You might have thought that things were bad enough with Happy Crappy, but believe me, there are worse things out there... Today we have reached number two of the most annoying kid's shows in Japan on my list.

2. Anpanman
Almost like the Justice League

It might be that I have lived in Japan so long now and have been exposed to so much Anpanman, but my feeling is that this character is by now relatively well known even outside of Japan? I might be wrong, but for those of you who are not familiar with Anpanman, it is a picture book turned cartoon show starring mostly characters made out of some form of bread. The lead character Anpanman is a superhero flying around helping people and fighting his archenemy "Baikinman" (Bacteria Man) who cooks up various devious plans to destroy all that is good. If I tune out and don't think about it the show is not that bad. It's pretty standard fare with Anpanman, together with his friends, helping out someone and thwarting the plans of Baikinman. Baikinman is not completely evil either but more mischievous.

To call the show "annoying" might actually be a bit wrong as I find it a little more disturbing than annoying... The premise of the show with a superhero who is made out of a Japanese sweet bread is odd enough, but that Anpanman sometimes takes pieces of his own head to feed friends in need and that when his head gets dirty (Anpanman's own Kryptonite which makes him lose his powers) his baker Overlord Mr. Jam just bakes up a new head which promptly replaces the old head is bordeline grotesque... Not to mention that most of the characters in the show are based on something edible, little Ms. Sunshine is especially fond of Hamburger-Kid for some reason...

The other annoying thing, which is not directly related to the show, is the extent in which Anpanman permeates the life of people like me with small children. Everything is Anpanman: clothes, toys, candy and even the Kindergarten uses Anpanman characters for decoration and in their games (certainly without paying any licensing fees, those thieves). 

Sexiness: Nothing. 0 out of 5 stars
Pointlessness: The show usually does have some form of point and a story to tell so this is not where I find this show the most troubling 3 out of 5 stars.
Characters: This is where things start to get disturbing with Curry Bread Man, Cream Panda (a pun on "pan" which means "bread" in Japanese), Infant Baby Man etc. -5 out of 5 stars
Total Score: I give it 1 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Top 3 Most Annoying Kid's Shows in Japan - Number Three

As you can imagine, I am nowadays more often than not exposed to Japanese kid's TV shows. There are shows that I might not find particularly entertaining myself, but which I recognize as reasonable entertainment for the kids. For instance, the kid's shows on NHK are of reasonable quality and even if they become a bit grating upon the 103rd time of watching I do not actively hate them (thinking of the Wanwan show, With Mommy (おかあさんといっしょ), Play in English (英語であそぼう) etc.). But there are shows that I am more actively annoyed by and will list them here in the hopes that some of the annoyance will rub off on you.

So, I will present the Top Three Most Annoying Kid's Shows in Japan for your education and as a possible warning for those with small children considering a move to Japan... Here comes place number three with the rest to follow!

3. Happy Crappy
Yep, it's Crappy Alright!

The name is great, I give them that much. I admit that I actually have no idea why they have chosen the title of "Crappy", there might be some meaning in Japanese of this that pass completely above my head (Ok, I guess it could be "Clappy" but "Crappy" is way more suitable here). Happy Crappy is shown on the cable channel Kid's Station and I see it as a little flashier and fast moving version of the NHK kid's shows. Basically a lot of singing, some English and stupid characters. In fact, the stupid characters are what annoys me most with this show. Not only the cute mascots, but also the guest characters in the form of the odd robot man, the Power Ranger like things and the most annoying jungle characters. I admit that I feel that I have not yet adequately conveyed the awfulness of this show, but the below opening theme might convince you?

Sexiness: Ok, this is one of the few areas where this show wins, the host girl looks a little sexier and sluttier than in most shows, but it's still only degrees in hell. 2 of 5 stars.
Pointlessness: This is where this show wins, I am not sure if they want to sing songs, tell stories or what they want to do. Thankfully the offspring seem to feel the same way as they are not too attached to this show. 1 of 5 stars.
Characters: Awful... Plain horrible, just see the picture and watch the video if you are not convinced...
Total Score: I give it 1.5 out of 5 stars

My advice is to avoid at all costs. Usually you can just switch to a recorded NHK show and the kids will thank you for it without putting up a fight. That is the only redeeming quality of this show.

Monday, February 10, 2014

I'm back!

How can it be?!
I have given it long a thoughtful consideration and have decided to once again revive the blog! However there will be a slight shift in focus as I still cannot really write that much about work. Instead I will focus a little more on the perils of being the father of small children here in Japan, something of which there is plenty of craziness involved.

As little Ms. Sunshine and Salaryman Jnr. now have grown to considerable size (for a 4 and 2 year old anyway) and started develop, what I interpret as , personality, and in the broadest possible meaning of the word, interests, means that I am from time to time exposed to their interesting world.

Also, to our great surprise, the little critters have also started to actually sleep at relatively reasonable hours at an almost (!?) predictable time, this has also freed up a little time when I don't need to try to entertain/sedate a rowdy offspring and can instead write blog posts in poor grammar for your entertainment.

Hopefully some of my former readers will at least find something mildly interesting in this new direction and those who are not probably have moved on to bigger and better things anyway in this nasty harsh post-blogging climate. I thought about changing the name of the blog, but since I am still something of a salaryman (although it could be argued that I left that behind me) and "The Adventures of a Foreign Father in Japan" doesn't really sound that great...
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