New Blog!

Hey there! I've decided to continue blogging at a different blog. The MEXT archives and some of my travel posts will remain here, but I'll be moving some stuff over. Hope to see you there!

Monday, 27 February 2017

My Thoughts on the Karlie Kloss Kimono Debacle

I know I am hopelessly late (as always), but I really, really wanted to write about this. It's sort of related to my previous post on whether foreigners can wear kimono. Basically, while I was not-sleeping one night, I came across this article from someecards:

The main point of the article seemed to be that Karlie Kloss had culturally appropriated Japanese culture, as seen by this quote:

And her apology:

But when I was scrolling through the replies, I noticed that the Japanese people I saw didn't see anything wrong with the shoot. I think I saw someone who was 'half-Asian' tweeting about how it's a problem, but all the accounts that looked to be Japanese were generally encouraging.

So I thought, could it be that only her fans reply?  (If you want to read more, RocketNews24 did an article on it)

So I decided to check google some more. I didn't see any matome threads, but I did see a Girlschannel thread. Girlschannel is kind of like 2ch, in the sense that it's anonymous. There's also an upvote/downvote option (like Reddit) so you can see what people agree with.

And, in my opinion, they tend to be more critical than Twitter. Or at least that's what I thought when reading the reactions to Kouhaku. So anyway I chose a few comments that were reflective of what they thought (heavily upvoted) and/or repeated and translated them (not a literal translation)

This is the original post, which basically talks about how the shoot was criticised as discrimination and yellow face, and that Karlie apologised.

Users did not like the OP

These are the first three reactions, which are quite typical and were repeated in various ways throughout (there are like 450+ comments and I skimmed the first 300 but I screenshotted mainly from the first two pages because they had the most votes)

1. "I don't mind"

2. "Which part of this is discriminatory?"

3. "I'm more concerned about the sumo. Sumo wrestlers are supposed to have muscles even though they're fat."

And worryingly, some of the reactions are a little xenophobic in an unexpected sense (though I've seen this come up a few times in the Katy Perry and Boston museum incidents). This is comment number 5.

"I don't get it. What do you mean "discriminatory against Japan"? Japanese people don't get mad at such things. We're different from Korea!"

And I wasn't kidding about the sumo stuff (comment 22):

"More importantly, is that sumo a real sumo wrestler? If someone practices sumo wrestling [sorry can't find an elegant way to translate this] they should have more muscles and a cooler body"

Comments like this appeared quite a few times.

And someone brought up Katy Perry.

"This reminds me of when Katy Perry was criticised for her kimono-inspired clothes for some reason. As a Japanese woman I don't see any discriminatory acts..."

Well actually Katy Perry got mentioned two times in the first 100 comments.

"There was a group who made a fuss when Katy Perry added Japanese elements to her performance, right? Even though it was a beautiful performance and Japanese people didn't mind... Karlie came to Japan for this photo shoot and the other photos are beautiful.

As for yellow, I don't see it (lit' there are no other meanings') unless you're talking about the yellow and red writing."

And people tried to find reasons for the uproar.

"This is by Caucasians who don't like Asians, right? "Don't dress like Japanese because you're white" This apology is not for Japanese but for Caucasians." (comment 36)

"Is it because she was hit by yellow light so she appeared 'yellow'?" (comment 37)

Last comment that caught my eye (comment 96):

"This photo was taken in Mie prefecture, right? I'm from Mie and I find it sad/tragic that a photo taken in my hometown got criticised. Even though I thought it was really beautiful! I know Karlie apologised but I wish that she won't blame herself."

To summarise:

Japanese people don't see the problem with Karlie's photos. They're more concerned about the sumo wrestler.

My Thoughts Part 1

I actually find this very concerning because the gap between the "allies" of the Japanese and the Japanese is huge. They are seeing problems where the Japanese don't see any.

If this was framed as being specific to Japanese-Americans, I could understand the criticisms, but since it was framed as 'appropriating Japanese culture' (I.e. Concerning every Japanese person) it seems to have completely missed the mark.

And not only that, it encourages (in a backhanded way) Japanese people to be more mistrustful of groups that they are wary of. The comments here only mentioned it a couple of times (and mostly against white folks), but in the previous cases, quite a few people were attributing the criticism to jealous Koreans and Chinese. So it's a trend (luckily a slight trend) that really should not be encouraged.

And if you think that the Japanese are just unenlightened about how they're being discriminated against, well, how condescending and White Mans' Burden-esque of you (general you, not to anyone in particular). The Japanese people are not being oppressed on this issue - there are Japanese articles on Huffpost and Buzzfeed - and to ignore their opinions is to look down upon them.

Which come to think of it I saw a comment like that (comment 70):

"This time, it's the people saying 'Discrimination against Japan' that are looking down on the Japanese and that's sad (laugh).

How rude lol. I don't care so don't use such excessive caution"

(Sorry the ending of the first part was a little hard to translate).

I really do think that there's a problem (and a lot of disrespect) to put words into the mouths of a group of people who disagree with you. Almost like the "alternative facts" thing. In my opinion, these criticisms should be much more specific ("this offends Japanese living in Western countries" rather than "this is an insult to all Japanese culture") if not discarded altogether because I really, really can't see the problem in this. At least not how it's currently framed.

My Thoughts Part 2

Part 1 was what I wrote on my Dayre, and quite a few people replied to me. From the ensuing discussion, I came to the conclusion that:

1. The problem was wrongly framed. If this was a casting issue, then I think a lot more people would have been supportive of it.

Personally, I would have liked a lot more details (for example, what was the vision the director had in mind, were they were working with tourism boards - Japan is really enthusiastic about encouraging foreigners to try kimono and yukata, whether there were specific Asian models who were considered but passed over for Karlie Kloss or if she was their first choice, etc) before I feel comfortable saying that "this is a case of discrimination in casting", but the whole "there was a problem with a casting" argument is still a lot stronger than the "this is cultural appropriation" argument.

2. Like I mentioned in my thoughts part 1, the people who were upset were mainly Japanese/Asian-Americans. But, this was framed as a problem for all Japanese people, so they naturally did not get it. I did wonder if I was the only non-Asian-American Asian who thought that way, but it seems like quite a few people think so, so I really hope that in the future, Asian-Americans don't make their opinions representative of all Asians.

I mean, even if you just say "Chinese", Singaporean-Chinese are different from Malaysian-Chinese who are in turn different from Mainland Chinese (and there will be differences between people in different regions) who are different from Hong Kongers who are different from Taiwanese and we're still talking about the same ethnicity here. It would be disingenuous to use one opinion to represent all.

Anyway, these are my thoughts. I'd love to hear yours!

Friday, 24 February 2017

Starbuck's Sakura Drink

Hey everyone! Guess who just moved and finally got wifi? (if you guessed "Eustacia", you're right, so have a round of internet applause)

I have so much to blog about - about the whole moving experience, about my new place, about my thoughts on the Karlie Kloss thing (I know, I'm late to that), but today, I want to talk about Starbucks and their yearly line of sakura drinks! I totally missed it last year, and when I saw a Starbucks on the way to city hall, I decided that I had to get myself a drink on the way home.

The store had a really cute board with places that have sakura trees, so I snapped a picture for reference later:

When I got my drink, I immediately took a picture in front of the black board, but I must have done something wrong because you can still see the counter.

Anyway, I got the sakura frappuccino, the sakura chiffon cake, and the chocolate pudding! I guess only the first two are sakura-themed, but I heard lots of good things about their pudding and I didn't get to try it in Dazaifu so I just couldn't resist getting a cup.

Everything was very neatly put in a pink bag. I haven't gotten takeaway from Starbucks before, but this is very pretty!

I waited until I was in the train before I started drinking this, so it was a little melted, but THE DRINK WAS SO GOOD. It was sweet but not too sweet (I liked the cookie drink and I do hope it comes back, but I had to drink water while drinking it because it was just too rich) and I finished half the cup before I realised what was going on.

And I saw this on the cup!

I didn't really notice it - I mean, I saw the staff as he wrote on the cup, but I just assumed that it was my order. It was a really nice touch.

Now on to the food:

The sakura chiffon cake was light, and the cream went very well with the cake, but I was reminded of why I don't like sakura tea that much. The sakura on top was basically a sakura petal picked in salt and that wasn't to my taste. The cream around the petal was salty too, and I thought it threw off the cake.

Next, the pudding which came in a really cute cup!

The pudding was very, very firm and very, very chocolaty. It's a fairly small cup, but I actually had enough about halfway through (and no, I did not eat the pudding and cake together) and ended up returning it to the fridge to be eaten another day. It was really good, though, and I would totally get it again (first, I'll get the other flavour).

If you're in Japan right now, you need to get the sakura-themed things. They're really delicious and like the sakura, only here for a brief period of time.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

5 Reasons to Visit Fukuoka

Recently, I was asked to talk about my 10 top reasons for visiting Kyushu. But perhaps because I'm moving from Fukuoka to Sasebo, I started thinking about all the good things about Fukuoka instead, and ended up with my top five reasons on why you should visit Fukuoka! I really think that Fukuoka is severely underrated as a tourist destination/place in Japan to live in. I love it so much and I always recommend people come because:

1. Fukuoka airport is incredibly conveniently located.

This may not sound like a big deal, but it has a lot more hidden benefits that you think. Fukuoka airport is located in Fukuoka city (unlike Narita, which is located in a DIFFERENT PREFECTURE), and it's only two stops (maybe 5 minutes) away from Hakata, the major JR hub and five stops (maybe 10-12 minutes?) away from Tenjin, the shopping district.

This means that getting to and fro your hotel takes very little time, and you can actually take a taxi if you want without spending your holiday budget.

Story time: once, I was in Tokyo and managed to get one of those later flights (i.e. After 8 am, which means I don't have to stay at the airport hotels). But even though I left for the airport early, I ended up having to run to check in, which left me annoyed with the location of Narita and Peach airlines.

Anyway, moral of the story is: this would not have happened in Fukuoka because the airport is so close by! (Haneda airport isn't as badly located but Fukuoka airport is still more convenient).

So if you're coming to visit Kyushu, start and end your trip from Fukuoka. There are direct flights (yay SIA) every day and trust me, you'll appreciate the convenience.

2. Fukuoka has an un-intimidating size.

Another true story: I moved to Fukuoka in March of 2013, after living in Tokyo for a year. When I went back during the summer (either August or September, I don't quite remember), I promptly got lost in Shinjuku station. That is how confusing Tokyo is (to me, anyway). There's the JR lines, the subway lines, and probably a few more that I've forgotten about.

On the other hand, it's fairly easy to navigate around Fukuoka.

Hakata, Tenjin, Fukuoka Tower and Marinoa City are all along the same subway line. And even if you have to change to a bus (for Marinoa City), that's only one change! Or you could take a direct bus from Hakata/Tenjin. Navigating around Fukuoka is a lot easier, in my opinion.

Plus the size of Fukuoka means that you can spend the morning at Nokonoshima:

Where there is plenty of nature (my dad and sis visited in January where none of the flowers were blooming and they still loved it). Take a boat back and walk (yes, walk) to Marinoa City, which is an outlet mall, shop to your hearts content, and then go back to Tenjin/Hakata/Nakatsukawabata (aka the city area) to eat yatai for dinner or whatever. All in one day.

3. Fukuoka has both mountains and rivers

This was actually one of the selling points when a teacher was talking about Kyudai (back when I was still at TUFS).

Because Fukuoka has both mountains and oceans, you can get the best of both worlds, especially in terms of food.

And speaking of food:

4. Fukuoka has AMAZING food

Hakata ramen is perhaps the most famous Fukuoka dish (Ichiran is from Fukuoka). But Fukuoka also has...


Yatai is basically street food, so if you're Singaporean, think hawker stalls before the government put them in hawker centres.

Fukuoka is famous for its yatai, and one of the few places where you can still find it (they've basically died out, except during summer festivals and those serve different fare). Even in Fukuoka, the numbers are slowly decreasing because of certain laws (or so I read online).

The only one that I've gone to is 小金ちゃん (kokinchan) because it's really good which means that I never bothered trying other places. Plus it invented yakiramen (fried ramen) so when I bring people to yatai, I just come here.

I'm not sure about other shops, but 小金ちゃん does have an English menu, so even if you don't know Japanese, you can still come (it's not that cheap though, so be prepared)

Yatai will magically appear at night so this is definitely a dinner place.

5. Ease of travelling to different places

This may apply more to living in Fukuoka rather than visiting it, but when I was living in Tokyo, I hated having to travel out. Or within, for that matter. Going to Tokyo Disneyland requires me to change trains at least three times. Going to Yokohama was the same. By contrast, getting out of Fukuoka is easy: just take a train (or bus) from Hakata or Tenjin.

I know that people on holiday are much more motivated to travel around, but wouldn't you prefer to have less fuss?

Possible day trips from Fukuoka (aka you leave in the morning and come back at night) include:

Yanagawa, the Venice of Fukuoka (and also the place of really good eel dishes) - spring is a good time to go.

Dazaifu, which is a famous temple area. It's famous for its plum blossoms (February) and has some pretty good autumn foliage too (October/November, depending on the year)

You can get to these places from Tenjin, and Nishitetsu has ticket sets too.

Huis ten Bosch, which I've probably talked about a thousand and one times.

Kokura, which has a really beautiful castle.

Mojiko, which has a really retro feel and is famous for its baked curry (baked banana curry sounds weird but it's actually really good!). You can fit both Kokura and Mojiko into the same day, or you can take your time and explore each place slowly. You can also take a ferry from Mojiko to Karato market (in Yamaguchi) and have lunch there, and perhaps go to the aquarium too.

Beppu, which famous for its onsen, including the "hells". My cousin did this in a day, but I would recommend you take your time and spend a night there (because there's Yufuin and other places to go).

Other places include Nagasaki City (my friends did this as a day trip, but I stayed overnight so that's the blog post I linked to), Itoshima (if you can drive), Karatsu (lots of history there) and a whole host of others.

If you want to spend a night outside of Fukuoka, then you have Kumamoto (both the city and the Nagasaki area), Kagoshima, and literally the whole of Kyushu.

For those of you planning to take the Shinkansen away, get the JR Kyushu Rail Pass. There's a northern Kyushu and "whole Kyushu" option so you can adjust based on where you're planning to go.

Possible Itineraries 

I've been linking to many of my old posts above, but here are some ideas on what you can do if you're planning a trip to Kyushu, starting and ending in Fukuoka

If you only have one day, then these are a few options

1. City-themed

Morning: Go to Canal City. On the way, stop at the owl cafe (you will pass it if you come from Nakatsukawabata station) and make a reservation! Enjoy your time at Canal City shopping, or explore Kushida shrine and the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum (you can cut through the shrine to get to the folk museum)

The owl cafe only serves drinks so don't plan to eat there.

Lunch: Choose between the Ramen stadium and Moomin Cafe. Both are delicious 😋

Afternoon: If you take the subway one station towards the airport, you'll reach Gion and you might want to go to Mochikichi to get senbei and matcha ice-cream (the ice cream is incredible). Take the subway one station in the opposite way and you'll be at Tenjin, with the underground shopping centre and Line store!

For dinner: Sushiro (at Tenjin) or Yatai would be my recommendation! If you like motsu (intestines) Hakata station (two stations from Nakatsukawabata, four from Tenjin) has a really good teppanyaki place called Tenjin Horumon.

Note: if you're planning to station hop a lot, get the one-day subway pass (620 yen)

2. Momochihama

Morning: Fukuoka Museum, which is right down the lane from Fukuoka tower (you can really just walk there in less than five minutes). If you're a fan of history and know Japanese, I think you'll enjoy the place.

Lunch: I don't really have restaurants that I recommend here, but if you come during oyster season, there should be an oyster hut behind Fukuoka tower.

Afternoon: Fukuoka tower! And if you speak Japanese and made reservations, there's a cookie icing class (I can pass you the email)

Evening: head to Nishijin, which should be available by bus (or walk to Fujisaki and it's the next stop). Nishijin is near Seinan university and if I remember correctly there are a few historical sites too (guidebooks available at the airport should have more). You can find tons of restaurants, karaoke places, Don Quixote, etc here.

3. Best of both worlds

Morning: head to Noko port and take the ferry to Nokonoshima! You can spend as much time as you want there, and the food is pretty good. If you're going to the island park, do take note of the bus and ferry timings so you won't have to spend too much time waiting. Nokonoshima has a bunch of different flowers depending on the season.

Afternoon/Evening: When you're back, head to Marinoa City for shopping!

To eat: I recommend Kisuimaru (喜水丸) which has really good seafood dons and decent tempura, so there should be something for everyone.

4. If you have a car

Go to Itoshima. In the summer, I'd recommend Shiraito waterfalls, where you can fish (and eat the fish), have nagashi somen, and enjoy the cool water. On the way back, stop at the famous kakigoori shop.

During the end of the year/any other time, you could drive around like what my family and I did. We started with lunch at a kakigoya (we had a late start) and the oysters and other seafood was fantastic. We then went to the mataichi salt factory to see how salt was made and to have salt pudding, and then to Meoto Iwa to see the famous rocks, and basically just stopped whenever we saw something interesting. Itoshima has some breathtaking coastlines!

These four are what come to mind instantly, and if you combine them with day trips, I think you could easily spend a week here and not be bored. And of course, if you decide to tour the whole of Kyushu, you can probably spend one or two weeks here! I'll need time to prepare, but hopefully I can give a list of places I've been and what I recommend(:

If you have three days:

You could spend all three days in Fukuoka city, but if you have three days, I'd recommend taking at least one day trip. For example, if you're arriving in the morning, spending two nights and leaving at night on the third day:

Day One: Momochihama area (Option 2 above)
Day Two: Kokura and Mojiko
Day Three: City (Option 1 - so you can leave for the airport with the least amount of time)

If you have five days:

Spend a few days outside the prefecture! For example:

Day One: Fukuoka City
Day Two and Three : Head to Kumamoto (either the city or Mount Aso). Or perhaps go to Nagasaki.
Day Four: Dazaifu or Yanagawa, depending on what time you come back to Fukuoka
Day Five: Momochihama area

You can replace Kumamoto with Nagasaki, or perhaps just use days two, three and four for Kagoshima or something like that.

I will be testing out a roughly seven-day tour when my family comes for my graduation so I will report back after.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Church Farewell

I had my Church farewell party yesterday.

It's been four years, but it really feels like it passed in the blink of an eye (it feels like it was just yesterday that my friends and I were talking about how we didn't feel like fourth years and yet THAT WAS A YEAR AGO). So it feels strange to think that I won't be seeing them every Sunday.

Since it was a farewell lunch, I decided to make panna cotta for them!

What I didn't expect was that another member baked a chiffon cake and banana cake, and yet another member made zenzai. So we had a really awesome dessert selection yesterday.

Plus the usual afternoon feast:

During lunch, they surprised me by giving me a message (each person spoke for a while) and even sang a song for me. I really wanted to cry, but it's a good thing that I didn't because I was told that I'd have to speak after everyone ._.

Luckily, my stage fright wasn't too terrible so I managed to thank them properly. They've been wonderful and generous for the past few years, not only to me but to my mom and brother too. My family doesn't speak Japanese, and my Church doesn't speak English, but they've managed to make my family feel welcome every time they visit (my mom still talks about the time we went with them when they went to feed the homeless, and the lunch that they treated us to).

I'm really going to miss them. I can only pray that God leads me to an equally welcoming Church. (If anyone knows any Churches in Sasebo, please let me know!)

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Beppu Onsen Amusement Park's Crowdfunding Campaign

I don't know if you've heard of it, but Beppu is planning to build an onsen-themed theme park! (Yet another reason to come to Kyushu). You might have seen the youtube video:

The amusement park is going to be called「湯〜園地」(yu~enchi - which is a homonym for the word meaning "amusement park") and to get it off the ground, they've started a crowdfunding campaign! It's on Campfire and since the whole page is in Japanese, I thought I'd translate the rewards to English for those of you who are interested.

Individual Courses

Thank 湯 (thank yuu - they all have puns) 3000 yen course:

- Thank you mail
- name in end credits of the memorial video.

蒸しべっぴょん 5000 yen course:

- scented mushi beppyon (蒸しべっぴょん) - It's basically a scented stuff toy of the Beppu mascot. Although it's modelled after a popular dish, the page wants you to know that "this is not edible".
- name in end credits (of a memorial video)

July 29th, 30th, 31st Entry ticket 8000 yen course (limited to 3000 people):

This is actually separated into three different courses, but the only difference is the date. Basically, you get

- a ticket in the shape of a towel (and you have to bring the towel to get entry)
- name in end credits

If you're planning visit Japan in July, you might want to get this.

And if you have 300,000 yen to spare, you can get:

- one year's free entry to any onsen in Beppu that is managed by the city. There are a total of 17 different onsens, but it doesn't include entrance to the amusement park (although if you can afford 300,000 yen, you can probably afford an additional 8000 yen too.
- name in end credits.

If you don't want your name in the end credits, you can choose this option and just get a thank you mail:

There is a minimum of 3000 yen, but no upper limit. If, however, you choose to donate more than 3,000,000 yen, you have to deposit the money directly into their bank account and they'll need you to let them know that you'll be doing so ahead of time.

Company Courses

If you're a company and have 1,000,000 yen to spare, you can get:

- 1 minute's worth of fireworks on the 30th of July.
- your name announced as a partner
- special viewing seats
- name in end credits.

But if you only have 500,000 yen to spare, you can get:
- 一番風呂の権利: Basically, you get to go in one hour earlier than everyone else on opening day and enjoy the amusement park without having to deal with the crowds. You can bring up to 5 friends with you too.
- entry on one of the three days in July (they didn't really talk about this in the "notes", but I assume this goes hand in hand with the first perk)
- name in credits

And this is a 1,500,000 yen course:

- どこでも別府温泉権: They will deliver the onsen to you and turn your house/the location you choose into your own private onsen.
- name in end credits.

And for the one lucky company with 100,000,000 yen to spare, you get:

- to get the whole park for August 1st
- name in end credits

The campaign lasts for another 59 days, so if you want in, you should move fast. I'm kinda tempted to join but I wouldn't know what to choose. Perhaps one of the entry courses?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Morita Akemi Sensei's Kimono Class (入門クラス)

On Saturday, I had my final kimono class. I don't think I've mentioned it here (oops!) but since April of last year, I've been taking lessons on how to put on the kimono myself from Morita Akemi (森田 空美) sensei. Morita sensei is based in Tokyo and her kimono coordinates have appeared in magazines like Waraku (和楽). She's also written several books about kimono.

Sensei and I (I covered my classmates' faces with stickers because I haven't asked them about the blog)
Morita sensei's method of wearing kimono uses a minimal amount of 腰紐 (koshihimo - a thin sash) and 伊達締め (datejime - a slightly thicker sash) and absolutely no elastic products. That means that the kimono is extremely comfortable to wear, and you can even eat in it (that was a huge difference from my 成人式 (seijinshiki - coming of age ceremony), where my furisode was so tight that I couldn't eat!). And since I really like kimonos and have been gifted a few, I thought that I should take a course on how to wear them.

Since I have absolutely no experience, I took the introductory class (入門クラス), which costs 91,000 yen for 6 lessons - in other words, one lesson every two months. I also got this textbook:

The lessons are pricey, but they are extremely worth it. Morita-sensei is a really lovely and kind teacher. Did you know that I actually planned to wear a kimono to my cousin's wedding, but when I showed it to Morita sensei (I was lucky enough to have a lesson about two weeks before the wedding), she told me that my obi was a fukurou obi. It's longer than a Nagoya obi (which is what we learnt to tie in class) and uses a different method, so she invited me to stay for the more advanced class for free so that I could put it on myself!

While I can't put on a kimono in 15 minutes, like sensei can, I can finally put it on myself! Of course, things tend to go much smoother with sensei around, but at least I can get the basic shape right. And by the way, this is my kimono at the final lesson:

Sorry this photo wasn't very flattering hence another sticker
The kimono and obi were both presents from some really generous people! The 帯締め (obijime - braid around the obi) and 帯揚げ (obi age - cloth that is not very visible in the picture) are actually too formal for this kimono, but I didn't manage to find appropriate ones in time, so I'm really sorry for that.

And this is the back:

Apart from how to put on a kimono, sensei also gave us advice on how to coordinate the kimono and when to wear certain types of kimono. One really fun part of the lesson is seeing which kimono she's wearing and listening to her talk about it.

In fact, she had a special lesson in October where a kimono shop was invited down and their wares brought out. Those that wanted new kimonos could get a coordinate picked by sensei (which is really magazine worthy), and those who didn't could bring their old kimonos and get sensei's advice on what would go together. I almost bought a new obi, because I don't really have obis that match the kimonos that I've been given, but I ended up not getting them because of the lack of cash. Still, I was impressed by the lack of hard-selling or soft-selling during the lesson! (No one gave me any grief when I changed my mind)

There are actually two more courses, and I was initially planning to take the next one this year but I ran out of money. So I'll be taking a break from kimono lessons this year (and doing something that doesn't cost as much) and will hopefully continue next year!

If you're a fan of kimonos and own a few and you live in Tokyo or Fukuoka, I highly recommend Morita sensei's lessons! This is really the most comfortable way of wearing kimono that I've tried, and if you want to wear kimono more often (she recommends to the theatre, out to town, and just about anywhere — even a plane!), then you should look for the most comfortable way to wear it.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

How I Got My Driver's License

It took me four months but I finally got my driver's license! I haven't really blogged about it because it's a slow process but now that it's over, I thought I'd share about the whole thing in case anyone is thinking of getting their license here too.

There are basically two ways of getting your license here:
1. From a driving school
2. From a driving camp.

A driving camp is basically a two to three week intensive course. A lot of them offer guarantees for getting a license and they're also cheaper than a driving school, but I wanted to take my time and make sure that I had actually mastered everything, so I chose a driving school.

Learning from a Driving School

The school I went to was Meinohama Driving School. I chose them for two reasons: firstly, it was near my house and secondly, I heard that they were very strict and produced really safe drivers. Prices start from 303,100 yen for an automatic license and 319,500 for a manual license. If, however, you end up taking extra lessons (like me), you'll have to pay an extra 5,500 yen per lesson. (all prices include tax)

The course basically has two stages and I took roughly two months per stage.

Stage 1 was the "indoor" course and basically consisted of a minimum of 15 practical lessons and 10 theory lessons. Each lesson is about 50min long. This part of the course is to teach you the technical aspects of driving - how to switch lanes, turn a corner, reverse, avoid roadblocks, etc. I actually took 18 lessons to get the hang of everything, because I was learning to drive a manual car and the clutch gave me so many problems.

My sister is actually taking driving lessons in Singapore right now, and she told me that she's driving on the road from the start. I actually prefer the system here, because everything in this stage was done in the school's driving compound. So I didn't really have to worry about other drivers (apart from the other students) and could focus on the more technical aspect.

To graduate from stage one, I needed to first past a 仮テスト (kari test) which is basically a theory test that makes sure you were paying attention in theory class. The passing rate is 90% and luckily, I passed it on the first go.

The test to graduate from stage one is called 修了検定 (shuuryou kentei), but I'm not sure if it's a standardised name. The test consists of a practical portion (we have to drive one of three possible routes, but the examiners will be giving directions), a theory portion and a physical test. The physical test is basically to make sure you can stretch your arms and that you can see well-enough. Since I have to wear glasses, this means that me wearing glasses is a condition for driving.

After passing this test, I got my 仮免許 (kari menkyo) or temporary license, which allows me to drive on the roads for lesson or examination purposes and only if I'm accompanied by a qualified instructor.

Stage 2 is the "outdoor" stage and this consists of at least 19 practical lessons and 16 theory lessons. Luckily for me, I did not have to take more practical lessons. The practical lessons are basically for you to learn how to drive with others, and involves things like planning a route, driving on a highway (this was a special 3 hour lesson), and well, everything I learnt in stage one, but now at a higher speed and with lots more people. I actually forked out more money to be able to attend the last few lessons, and I used that to practice driving at night. I also managed to practice driving in the rain a few times, which I'm glad happened because if my first time driving in the rain was all alone, I'd be rather panicked.

I thought the theory lessons in stage two were more interesting as well. There was about three hours spent on first aid, which means that I'm supposed to know how to perform CPR, and there was one lesson on how our personality affects our driving. We actually took an OD personality test the day we entered the school, and that lesson was teaching us how to interpret the test results and how we could use that to make sure that we drove safely.

To graduate from stage 2 and the school, I had to take another 仮テスト and then pass something called a 卒業検定 (sotsugyou kentei). Unlike the previous exam, this was practical-only exam.

How I Studied Driving Theory

After I graduated from driving school but before I got my license, I had to go to the Fukuoka Driver's License Test Center and take one more theory exam. But before I took the test, I did a lot of practice using Musasi

Musasi is basically where you can practice all the past year questions online. The school did give us actual workbooks, but I preferred to use the online one and I really think that this was the reason why I could pass all my theory papers in one go. If your school has this program, I highly recommend you take full advantage of it. Apart from past year papers and letting you practice by subject, they also have a section with questions that are commonly answered wrongly, and I found that to be very helpful.

Final Theory Exam and Getting my License

I got to the test centre at 8 am and the first thing I had to do was to pay money to take the test (1,700 yen if I remember right) and then submit all my documents. You also need a piece of ID, so don't forget your gaijin card or student card or something like that.

And about the time: They actually open at 8:30 (and stop taking applications at 9 am) but my school recommended that we reach there earlier. I think it affects your number, but there wasn't really much benefit other than that.

After I paid, it was time for the test. Apparently, there were about 140 people the day I was there, but the person-in-charge said that during March, which is like the peak month, there can be as many as 400-500 people. The test took 50min and the results were released about 20min later (they also took 10min to brief us on what happens next so there was only 10min of waiting). The results were released via numbers on a board, so you have to remember your own number. Oh, and if you fail, you have to take the test again (last year, there was a guy that took it 10 times, according to the person-in-charge), which is another 1,700 yen.

So after we found out the results, they had us do a simple mobility test and checked our eyesight. After that, we had to pay 2050 yen to make our license.

And to 'pay', we basically have to buy these 'stamps' and then hand them over to the policeman that was there (and get back another document). We confirmed the details of our license were correct, went to take a picture and now it's the lunch break!

After the lunch break, we basically watched this video that stressed that:

Speeding is dangerous and you will die.
Illegal parking can block roads for ambulances and someone will die.
People are forever overestimating their abilities and that's how accidents happen and people die.

By the way, Fukuoka is the 9th most dangerous city. First is Aichi, second is Chiba and third is Osaka.

And then a presentation on safe driving while we waiting to be called to get our license. And an update on recently changed laws too. I actually kinda like that the theory aspect of driving here focuses very heavily on being considerate for others, rather than assuming that others will notice you and you only have to do the basics.

I was told that I would probably get my license around 2:30, but I got it around 2 pm. Which is really good because during peak season, it can take until 4 pm or later. I'd share a photo, but the ID photo is really terrible and I'd have to censor everything so there's not much point in uploading it.

So that's basically how I got my driver's license. This first year is going to be pretty important (if I commit three infractions, I'll get sent to a revision class, and if I make another three more, I have to retake the driving test), so I guess I'll be driving very cautiously for the foreseeable future. And hopefully I'll be driving safely forever.