Pass Your Japanese Driver’s Test in One Attempt

Need to drive in Japan more than the 1 year given to you by your International driving permit? Your going to need a Japanese drivers license.

You could face a fine of up to 300,000 Yen or up to 1 year imprisonment for driving on an expired permit.

This could take several months – so you better get head start my friend because the clock is ticking. Does 3, or 5, or 10 attempts sound crazy? Because the Japanese practical test often presents a challenge to foreigners.

As an American – it’s more work than simply swapping out a US license for a Japanese one, unfortunately. On the positive side, neither do you have to go through the process that locals go through which includes months of driving school, and likely thousands of dollars in training and fee’s. Yes – they take driver’s licenses very seriously in Japan!

The steps you will need to take will look something like this:

  • Setting your initial DMV paperwork appointment
  • Gathering the necessary information and documentation
  • Providing this information to the DMV, and likely a short interview in Japanese
  • At least one drivers training session with an instructor
  • Memorizing the route/map for your practical test
  • Taking a simple written test (true or false)
  • Taking a practical driving test on a track at the DMV
  • Filling out forms and paying fee’s

This doesn’t look very appealing. But it’s not as bad as it seems and it can actually be quite simple provided you do a few things the right way.

You will not pass the practical test without at least one driving school session.

I know what your’e going to say. Probably the same thing I said. “That’s crazy! I’ve been driving in the US for 25 years!”, well yes, but there are many little things specific to the test in Japan that a foreigner would never think of. Examples?

  • Examining the car before you enter it
  • How smoothly you are turning the wheel
  • Listening for trains at railroad crossings
  • Having your blinker on almost entirely through the course

There’s many more, and every instructor/prefecture is looking for different things. So what is a person to do? Most likely there is a nearby driving school (in my case, less than a mile away) which has the very SAME course as the actual test! This is a huge benefit to you. Most people recommend at least 2 hours of training, but i did it with a single 30 minute session.

I’m going to tell you how – plus everything else that I learned. But since this blog post got really long – I’ve created an entire page dedicated to the subject!

That way the rest of you don’t have to sit through all the boring details. Just know that if you plan to get a Japanese drivers license – it will take sincere effort, patience and preparation.

To view this post in its entirety, visit the dedicated page – How To Pass The Japanese Drivers Test in One Attempt.
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Challenges On Your Visit to Japan (And Navigating Them)

Before moving to japan, I had a handful of visits. And while navigating Japan for me was overwhelmingly magical, there was always a few tiny things which made for minor inconveniences which could have been easily avoided – if I knew in advance. So hopefully this Blog post comes in handy for someone with an upcoming trip to Japan, so that they have zero detractions.

Problem 1: Always taking shoe’s on & off
Yes, you do it whenever you enter someone’s home. But that’s not all. Many businesses, and restaurants with tatami mats will also require it (possibly offering you slippers). It can be a new task to deal with, so think about it in advance.
Solution: Slip on/off shoes. Maybe bring an extra pair of Croc’s for convenience.

Problem 2: No paper towels, only hand dryers
This one bugs me more than many of the others. I hate having wet hands! But for the sake of waste and conservation it makes sense.
Solution: Always bring a handkerchief, or small hand towel with you and keep it somewhere on your person. If you have a baby, those wet-naps will come in handy too. Your’e going to want to leave any setting better than when you found it (clean up your mess).

Problem 3: Having pockets full of change
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Your American dollars are not accepted here! So get used to paying in Yen. Oh by the way, any denomination less than 1000Yen (~$10) is a coin. That’s right men, break out that coin purse.
Solution: Force yourself to pay using as much change as possible in every transaction. And i’m serious, bring a coin purse / wallet with pockets.

Problem 4: No Garbage Cans / Recycling
That’s right, almost everything is either burned or recycled in Japan. I currently separate my garbage into 8, yes EIGHT different categories of trash (burnables, paper, cardboard, plastic, bottles, cans, styrofoam, non-burnables). It’s exhausting! So why is it so rare to see public trash cans, and how does everything stay so damn clean? Because you are responsible for your own trash.
Solution: Keep some plastic bags on hand. Convenience store trashcans are for things you buy there only. So be prepared to bring your trash with you, back to your car/hotel or wherever. Have a baby? Bring ziplock bags for those poopy diapers. Yep, nobody want’s them.

Problem 5: You don’t speak Japanese
In Tokyo many people will speak English, or at least some limited English., but beyond that – all bets are off. You are in another world, so you better come at least slightly prepared. Do yourself a favor and don’t perpetuate a bad stereotype for foreigners. If you try to speak some limited Japanese – odds are people will meet you half-way, or at least understand your intention and respect the effort.
Solution: Congratulations, you live in the age of technology which opens up a lot of possibilities. But you should still memorize all the common phrases you’d need on any foreign visit. Cell phone apps like ImiWa (Dictionary) and GoogleTranslate are FREE and helpful. Want to take the next step? Download some lessons at jpod101.com

Problem 6: Squatty Potties (..er traditional Japanese toilets)
Yes, you will occasionally see the old style Japanese toilets. If you’ve never had to use one… well, imagine yourself camping, and the position you’d assume in the woods. End of lesson. It could be a little confusing the first time you see one. (Which way do I face anyway?)
Solution:  Most establishments have Western style toilets, or at least an option. If you don’t see one initially, check the handicapped/baby changing bathroom, as sometimes that washroom is different. Odds are there is simply an alternate business (again, convenience store) that you can walk to where they will have a Western style toilet.
In the event of emergency: Sometimes waiting or going elsewhere is not an option. It’s not a bad idea to at least be able to use the old style commode! Make sure your wallet and other items are safely secured, face towards the flusher, and assume the position. After you’ve had to do it a couple times, it’s rather easy.

Problem 7: You have food allergies / Don’t like certain foods / Afraid of sushi
Don’t fear trying new things! Some things which are impossible to eat in the US, are quite edible in Japan (due to being prepared/raised differently). Having said that, some people have sensitivities.
Solution: Tokyo is an endless assortment of amazing restaurants of all styles. Even in the countryside you can find McDonalds, Denny’s, CoCo’s. etc. (although menu’s vary). If you have an allergy you should be able to convey that in Japanese perfectly. Especially seafood allergies, as most “stock” sauces/soups are fish based in Japan. Maybe pack some emergency snacks in your suitcase that will satisfy you. And the convenience store is your friend, and almost always has sandwiches and other very simple fresh foods.

Two (special) melons for $50 – serious fruit!

Problem 8: Expensive Food
I’ve seen prices on food that I never thought imaginable. An $30 melon? yep. You name it. But these are specialty cases. And with restaurants, you could pay any price. But you don’t have to pay a lot for a good meal.
Solution: It’s all about familiarity. For $5 i can fill up at a local Udon restaurant. Put down the travel guide, and talk to a local to find where to go. Supermarkets are loaded with freshly made inexpensive food (with sushi half-off after 6:30 – wow!).

Problem 9: You are arriving in the summer – or the winter
Japan is (stereotypically) humid in the summer, and can get quite cold in the winter depending on location. Ideal times to visit are during the spring or the fall.
Solution: Be prepared to sweat in the summer! Japanese are used to it, and have a great number of helpful things such as face / deodorant wipes to keep you feeling fresh and clean. For the winter I’d suggest layering of course, but stop by Uniqulo and get yourself a lightweight down jacket – it’s amazing how warm they keep you.

Learn more about some cultural differences I’ve noticed in my recent blog post – 6 Striking Cultural Personality Diferences

Hopping Trains

6 Striking Cultural Personality Differences

We’re all human, and share a lot in common. But now that I live in Japan, I can witness in person how culture works to mold our  personalities from childhood. If you transplant a person from one culture, and place them into another – unprepared, it could result in a fish-out-of-water experience. This is especially interesting to me as my kids were born in the US but now developing here.

While I see very subtle differences in Japanese and American culture on a daily basis, here are a few that jumped out at me early on:

1. Projection of Strength

In the US I’ve often felt as if to get things done, you must prepare to go to battle. Need a utility bill corrected? Start out nice – but be ready to ramp up the intensity. Need to convince a boss of something? Things might get a little heated. The appearance of strength is often interpreted as being passionate about something in the US. Not so much in Japan. Superior effort and service is the norm while maintaining order, balance and harmony in society as well as with your own emotions is expected. In short, being determined, persistent yet respectful, and showing great effort are how you will succeed.

2. Eye Contact

How shall I put this – it’s just different. In America eye-contact happens always, and is expected to show respect. In Japan having direct eye contact with a superior could even be seen as disrespectful. While I enjoy quite a bit of leeway here as a foreigner, I do feel a subtle difference. People are happy to engage me and connect – often after I extend a friendly greeting. If someone walks by me they might not make eye contact, possibly thinking I’m a tourist, don’t speak the language or most likely just nervous about an awkward encounter. But once I engage people, I’m often lavished with friendly conversation, attention and yes, eye contact.

3. Driving Habits

I would say that in the US, there is a the bad stereotype of the asian driver. I have found that in Japan that people are generally excellent drivers, who are extremely polite and courteous of other drivers. This probably has something to do with the fact that they must spend $2000-3000 on driving school to become certified experts, and a huge investment of time to receive a license. The upside for them, is that generally traffic cops often tend to just leave people alone, at least in the countryside. Possibly being a great driver depends on everyone following the rules too, rather than the general chaos of the US. Rather than a friendly wave – you’ll see people waiting for each other, and bowing as a respectful thank you.

4. Straightforwardness

This extends into a number of areas, from the language itself to confrontations with others. Approaching something very directly can commonly be seen as rude, and the result is that in the language, you often hear people dancing around a topic, and decisions and issues often taking a surprisingly long time to get worked out. I’ve often thought – can’t we just ask directly? As with most things, there is a Japanese way to approach things, and often every angle must be considered.

5. A Process for Everything

There’s been a few times since moving to Japanese that I’ve thought, “without help, I could not have got this done”. Getting a cell phone, setting up a bank account, applying for a drivers license – things such as this, seem to take a ridiculous amount of time and old fashioned written paperwork. Japan is advanced in many ways, but there is a specific process for everything, usually involving a lot of paperwork. Make a mistake – you will likely be starting over. While I believe the attention to detail results in fewer errors and a clear result, the process itself can often feel far less efficient or overly complex. Cutting through the red-tape seems like a uniquely American ideal.

6. Looking Out for #1

There is a certain level of independence that Americans have, which wasn’t exactly clear to me until I moved to Japan. Not the kind of independence you might imagine (like, Yay – America – Freedom, Independence). I mean acting independently, the actions we take serving ourselves, but sometimes being only self-serving. The great positive side of this is our willingness to take risk and act alone, and make a big or even risky decision! Americans roll the dice once in a while, and I love this about our culture. Japanese tend to look towards the collective success and happiness of the group, whether it’s their company, their family or even group of friends. This cultural difference holds plenty of room for misunderstanding, simply because our approach to things can be so different.
That’s it for now. I know there are an endless supply of differences which make living in a different culture fun, interesting, at times frustrating – but mostly thought provoking and exciting.

Have you experienced an obvious cultural difference? Please comment and share!
Check out my post on Navigating Challenges on Your Trip to Japan

3 Types of Buyers to Avoid When Selling Your Posessions

With 46 days before moving, we rapidly scale back our possessions, reducing to critical-items only. It means selling off a lot, including a couple cars. We’re going this via a number of platforms… Craigslist, mobile apps, auctions and specialty websites. I have to say, I think we’re getting rather good at it. img_7529

At this point – initial messages of interest from potential buyers are coming fast and furious, and nothing really surprises me. (Although i did get one from a girl about my digital voice recorder asking if she could “catch ghosts with it”. My answer? Of course. Absolutely.)

There are a few messages which I believe to be big red flags, warning you to avoid business with some people. After all, your time is precious. Why waste it on someone who has immediately identified themselves as not-really-serious ?

When you get one of these messages, take notice;

  1. Their first message is “Why are you getting rid of it?”
    While this isn’t a 100% deal killer, it’s certainly not very classy right out of the gate. For one thing – it’s none of your business why i might be getting rid of something. For another thing, you are hinting that there may be some hidden information about the item. I don’t mind this question once money is changing hands, but as your first question – this gives off a bad vibe.

    RECOMMENDED ALTERNATIVE TO BUYER: Once you have met in person, looking at the item together and money is changing hands, I believe it is a fair question to ask. Other helpful questions might be… “Are you the original owner?”

  2. Their first message offers you 50% or less than your asking price.
    Hold on! I’m all about the bargain, and haggling, and being flexible with pricing. Actually I recommend asking for  least 20% more than your intended sale price. But what i’m talking about is a specific type of buyer.

    By offering half price immediately, they identify themselves as someone who is immature or inexperienced in business dealings. Not only are they showing lack of respect for your perceived value of the item, but they are basically saying: “I care so little about the nuances of this transaction, that I probably won’t even show up to buy it – at any price.” Will I sell for half my asking price? Sure – on occasion. But there is a correct path of negotiation to get there.

    RECOMMENDED ALTERNATIVE TO BUYER: Ask a seller what his lowest acceptable price is IF they are able to come and get the item immediately with cash in hand. There is value in a buyer who can take immediate action – and this can be used to an advantage. 

  3. Their first message is “Whats wrong with it?”
    There are many ways to get more detail from a seller. This is not one of them. If there was something wrong with it – I would state that clearly in the description. So when you ask this as your first question, you tell me that you don’t believe or trust my description. Not the best foot to start out on, right? This kind of attitude reveals a personality that will agree with you on a price, and then “find some problem” with the item in order to try and reduce their cost later on. Always try to agree on a set price before the buyer comes to get it.

    RECOMMENDED ALTERNATIVE TO BUYER: Engage in conversation and ask for additional descriptive details. Ask specific questions. Are there any visible scratches? Does it power on normally? When was the last time you used it?

A note about selling all your possessions:
As the seller you have the ultimate power, the power to say “no thanks”.  You will be surprised to see how quickly some people’s minds will change when you are willing to walk away from a sale. Never feel pressured into giving things away . Sometimes you will sell things for a bit less than you would have liked. Sometimes what you get will surprise you. But overall, this can be a profitable and fun venture for you!

Happy selling!

 

10 Magnificent Yard Sale Tips

Moving… everybody loves it right? Now supersize-it and make it international. It goes without saying that having as little as possible, essential possessions, is the way to go! After all, how much do we really need? Just re-buy it. What is worth the cost of shipping it overseas, or long term storage? Some mementos and family heirlooms worth keeping – yes. But slimming down can be very liberating. It’s human nature to build-up, tear down, and start over.

Getting started with a big, fat yard sale helps a lot.

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Having done these a few times now, there are a few suggestions or “rules of thumb” that I’d like to pass along.
And so so I present to you my…

10 MAGNIFICENT YARD SALE TIPS

  1. PREPARE READABLE SIGNS
    Yes I know it sounds obvious, and then you have Craiglists and other ways to advertise. But if you live in an area with foot traffic, the good old fashioned sign will be your best source of traffic. Try BLACK text on YELLOW paper, or BLACK text on HOT PINK. The signs must both pop-out and be readable. Attach paper to cardboard backing so you
    can re-collect and RE-USE them multiple times. Nobody wants to make signs twice! And it should be obvious WHICH house you are at from a distance – use balloons, or anything visible!
  2. ELIMINATE UNWANTED PATRONS
    Ok this isn’t 100% possible, but you can limit the number of non-buying people taking your time.
    EXAMPLE: Jewelry is a very HOT ticket item in our area. If you don’t want people pounding on your door hours before the garage sale starts – simply don’t advertise it! Especially if it’s just a few pieces of costume jewelry. Advertise accurately.
  3. TO PRICE OR NOT TO PRICE
    This one is debatable, certainly. But who wants to put price tags on everything? Live in the moment. As you gather your items the day before, you should have some idea in your head. Communicate the items that matter to your helpers.
    Also, why limit your negotiating ability by setting a price in advance? Nobody will pay asking price anyway.
  4. CHANGE AND MORE CHANGE
    I’m talking at least 100 in 1’s and some rolls of quarters. 10’s and 5’s. It all depends on what you have to sell. But yes, if you don’t have change – people will use this to their negotiating advantage. Write down how much you are starting with somewhere! Keep your change in a secure, portable location like a satchel with a buckle/snap.
  5. LET NEIGHBORS KNOW WHATS UP
    Why? Because yard sale patrons are in a rush – to get to the next yard sale. That means they will double-park (probably in front of your neighbors driveway), make noise, and leave some sort of mess to clean up. It’s just simple courtesy to keep neighbors in the loop. They might even be your best customers.
  6. PREPARE FOOD IN ADVANCE
    You probably won’t have time to take a break for lunch – especially if it’s during a wave of buyers. Make easy-to-hold, ready to eat snacks you can have at an arms-reach. And don’t forget to set the timer on the coffee maker the night before – if you need it like I do.
  7. LEARN TO SAY “NO THANKS”
    Everyone likes to haggle for the lowest price. This is fine and expected. You want to get rid of as much as possible, right? But there will always be those who want everything free and offer a dollar for that prized possession. For things you really care about, you don’t have to give it away. Being ready to say NO THANKS always gives you the upper hand if it’s something you are willing to hold on to.
  8. THE TREND IS TO BUNDLE
    I’m as guilty as anyone. The best way to get a good deal at a garage sale is to make a pile and get a discount on a bundle of items. Just be aware of this technique. It’s in your benefit to get rid of a lot, but make sure you SEE every item, and spell out the original cost of each item, out loud, before applying your discount. Never apply a discount before they are completely done shopping.
  9. BE WATCHFUL OF THIEVES
    It sounds ridiculous right? Who would steal from a garage sale? It’s almost comical, but it’s pretty common. I’ve had people attempt it on me multiple times. I think maybe that they think it is justifiable because it’s low-cost, or nor a real store… or something. It is not OK. Beware of people putting things inside of other things, and trying on items and… leaving them on!
  10. THINK OF EVERYTHING – WITH A BUDDY
    Yes, this is impossible – but try to imagine different scenarios. If someone needs packing material, or a bag to carry their stuff, do you have it to offer? If someone asks you to hold an item for 2 hours – what will you say? If they need help carrying something to their car – is this something you are willing to do? Who will watch over things when you need to use the restroom?

Ok! Now you’re ready! Go get rid of some junk – i mean… valuable antiques! Have a good tip, or a funny yard sale experience? Leave me a comment.

What is the first step ?

The first step is the decision.

Once the decision has been made, and the psychological switch has been flipped – we’ve entered the planning mode.

I won’t lie, the reality takes a little while to sink in. Wiping the slate clean – starting fresh somewhere entirely new. Thinking about everything that needs to be done can be overwhelming. For us… living in a house with kids, one in preschool, and 3 cars, and multiple jobs and a house full of accumulated stuff – where does one even start with preparing for an international move?

When eating an elephant take one bite at a time. – Creighton Abrams

It’s important to break the pieces of such an endeavor down into small, achievable pieces. More than that, it’s important to maintain a clear and positive state of mind and live in the moment while completing each steps, with each one bringing you closer to the final goal.
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For those considering such a transition, my recommendation is to:

    1. Start with a date. Mark the calendar. Now you have a timeline. There is an end to your time here – no matter how distant it might seem. One trap I could see falling into, is letting this seemingly distant date make you think… “Hey, I’ve got plenty of time!”. Because let me tell you – that date will arrive faster than you think.
    2. To combat this way of thinking, you’ve got to have  some short term goals. Monthly, and preferably weekly or daily. Get this up on a calendar and post it UP at EYE LEVEL where you are forced to see it daily. Want to rely on your cell phone? That’s your choice. But I don’t recommend it.  I’m a fan of big changes to my current life, which remind me that the date is coming – and force me to consider things differently, every single day – outside the normal daily grind.
    3. Start consolidating. I’ll go more into this later – but it’s time to start thinking about what you really care about. Is anything worth saving? Is anything work paying $2000+/YR in storage? Maybe you have a place to store things with family. Regardless, if you are anything like us, you probably have a ton of things you don’t need. Don’t get stuck having to scramble at the end. Craigslist, Ebay, Selling Apps and even a big fat Garage Sale (or three) can be your friend!

The Pre-Blog History

You may be asking, “what is the point” of this Blog. Let me try to make a long story – short;

As a kid i always had some curiosity about other cultures, especially Japan. But it wasn’t until I was an adult, around the age of 25, that I took my first Japanese language class on a whim (at SBCC), and really enjoyed it. I ended up making few language partners who became life-long friends and further engaged my interest in the language and culture.

Then the trail kind of goes cold for a while. I had quit my job in technology, and went back to school for audio & video, and chased the dream of a career in the music industry. After going on to help make many amazing records, and still being quite broke – i met my future wife, who at the time had been living in the US for about 5 years.

Fast forward a few years, and we we’re married, with me in marketing as my primary career, with plenty of time spent with her amazing family in both the US and Japan.

Fast forward a few more  years – Ive got two kids, and my Japanese language skills are still basic. But with a few Japan trips under my belt and a love for the Japanese countryside, the people, and the culture – the decision was made to move. Will my language skills ever be passable? Will my kids grow up truly bilingual? When will they pass me up? There are many questions .

The decision to move;

Seeing my son as a toddler enjoying the pristine countryside on a Japan trip, rather than having to prevent him from touching everything (like on a walk through Los Angeles) was certainly thought provoking. Yes – having a support system of family, rather than always “going it lone” in LA was a factor. But the “Aha!” moment was probably when seeing our son play at a Japanese pre-school, and how happy, and healthy he looked – It really got our brains working.

As humans we’re always looking for “what’s next” or the next challenge to overcome. Knowing that raising two kids in Los Angeles was not what we wanted for their younger years, we’ve opted for something different. Selling it all and starting over. The rest is details. But like everything – it all starts with making the decision.

I hope that you follow along with our experience.