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Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Civilized) April 20, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:   Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Akihabara – For the Civilized)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-n9

Akihabara Electric Town is a well known tourist spot in Tokyo.  Its claim to fame would have to be the electronics shops, comic book shops, and video game shops.  The area is best understood when you look at the station itself.  There are two major train lines that form a cross.  This is the starting point for almost every visitor to Akihabara.  Looking at the map, you can see that most of the shops are located to the north-west of the station.  The south-west corner is still a good place to visit, and the east has recently grown in popularity.  The main street, Chuo-dori, is sometimes closed to allow people to walk freely, and to reduce crowding, but due to an attack that killed several people, this may not be happening anymore.  Thankfully, this area is still relatively safe.  There is no need to really worry about getting injured or having your money stolen, but as with any place in the world, just be careful.

The east side of the station has only one point of interest, Yodobashi Camera.  This is a large electronics retailer that opened in 2005.  It is their largest single building shop with 7 floors of electronics goodness.  There is also a restaurant floor and a golf centre with its own driving range on top of the main electronics floors.  It is very easy to spend a full day in this shop, hence the caveat to be aware of time.  The main floor comprises mostly of mobile goods, such as mobile phones and netbooks.  For most people, heading up is your best bet.  If there is anything you ever wanted, this is the place to go.  They can do duty free for many items, but be aware, that as with most shops, you usually have to spend over 10,000 Yen in order to get a reduction in taxes.  People must also be aware that almost all products sold will be geared towards Japanese people.  Finding goods with English menus will be difficult, if not impossible for many items.  Warranties are also limited to Japan, but this shouldn’t discourage you from purchasing something.  You can always find good things here.  For those looking for a great deal on a new camera, or PC parts, you may be in for a sad surprise.  Prices are not cheaper here.  Yodobashi is a major electronics retailer, so they do not always provide the cheapest prices, and you can always visit one of the other branches or even the other shops to get a comparable price.

On the west side of the station, you will find the true heart of Akihabara.  This is where the original Electric Town was located.  Unfortunately, due to the arrival of Yodobashi Camera, things have changed.  Many, if not all, of the small shops that used to occupy the central Electric Town has left.  Under the railway tracks, the ones that head east and west have almost all left.  The area is also undergoing renovations to “modernize” the area and bring about a cleaner feel.  When I first arrived in Japan, I was able to walk through the tight cramped corridors under the station and buy almost any piece of electronic hardware I wanted.  Switches, lights, cables, batteries and anything that used a battery was sold.  The prices weren’t extremely cheap, but very reasonable.  You could walk into the area, spend 20 minutes shopping, and have everything you needed to build your own radio or more if you had the talent.  Today, we can only see shops such as Laox and Ishimaru.  They are the last famous electronics shops in the area.  If you do go to Akihabara, you can usually skip both Laox and Ishimaru as they generally have the same electronics.  However, if you enjoy manga and anime, these shops do have various character goods for sale.  You can also head to Radio Kaikan which is the main centre for anime goods.  All of these shops are located between the station and Chuo-dori.

The area located between Chuo-dori and Akihabara Station is a very safe place for tourists.  You don’t have to worry too much about speaking Japanese, and the staff is generally friendly.  As you head farther away from the station, further east and further north, you will find the shops will speak less and less English.  The area bounded by Chuo-dori, the JR tracks, and Suehirocho Station in the north, is a very interesting area where you can somewhat experience the old style of Akihabara.  The area near the JR tracks still has a foreigner friendly feel, but one block north will present you with shops that can sell almost anything.  If you are looking for PC parts, this is the area for you.  You can see all of the various peripherals that you could imagine, but do be aware that many of them can also be found around the world.  Then, you have Mandrake.  This is a big black building that can be easy to find if you know where to look.  It’s the only big black building in the area.  This is similar to the same shop that is located in Nakano.  They specialize in the second hand trade of anime and game goods.  You can find various old video games, anime characters, videos, and costumes.  It can be a little scary if you venture into the wrong floor.

With all of this information, you could spend an entire day shopping in Akihabara.  It’s a nice place, but everything mentioned so far is quite tame.  In my next post, I will talk about the eccentricities of Akihabara and a little about the changes that have been happening over the last few years.

The Akihabara series continues with Akihabara – For the Eccentric and Akihabara – Redux.

Akihabara Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akihabara
Wikitravel:  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Akihabara
Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html
Official Site (English): http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/index.htm
Official Site (Japanese):  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/ja/index.htm
Free Akihabara Tours:  http://akihabara-tour.com/en/
Akihabara Map:  http://www.e-akihabara.jp/en/map.htm
Commercial Site:  http://www.akiba.or.jp/english/index.html


Renewing a License in Japan January 5, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Renewing a License in Japan” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-iO

After getting my driver’s license converted from a Canadian license to a Japanese one in 2007, I had two years to keep it until it expired.  The following post is information about my trip to the Driver’s License Office in Toyocho, to renew my license.  Do note that a lot of my information is almost exactly the same as Japanese Pod 101 by Daniel.

The first thing to do when renewing your license in Tokyo is to go to the correct License office.  When I converted my license from a Canadian one to a Japanese one, I had to go to the Samezu Driver’s License Office.  This time, I had three options.  If you are renewing after the first time, you can usually head to around 17 different locations.  Many of them are just local police offices where they don’t need many staff to help you.  If it’s your first renewal, you only have the choices of Fuchu, Samezu, and Koto (Toyocho), as they are the only offices that conduct long lectures.

Upon arriving in Toyocho, you have to figure out what to do and where to go.  There are no English signs to be seen, so you are left to guess what to do.  The easiest thing to do is head straight for the information counter where they’ll instruct you on your first stop.  For me, it was “window 0”.  From there, I presented my renewal card, which I received in the mail, and my license.  From there, they print out a license renewal form.  I had to write down my name, address, birthdate, and phone number.  Incidentally, I didn’t add my phone number as I didn’t know what number they were actually looking for until later in the process.  After that was complete, I headed to the cashier’s booth, “window 1”.  4250 Yen lighter, I had my payment stamp and I was ready to complete my next task.  Rather than just rubber stamping the form saying I paid, they gave me a physical stamp which I had to moisten and affix to the back of my form.  Afterwards, I was off to “window 4”.

Window 4 is more of an area than a window.  This is where you choose your personal PIN number which is linked to your card.  You must choose two numbers, and they can be anything you’d like.  As Daniel mentioned, it could be the same number.  You’ll be given a “receipt” with your numbers on them and a barcode.  You should not throw this away.  You then head to a line-up which resembles entering a secured area of an airport.  You enter a door, from which you stand in front of an eye chart.  If you have glasses, they ask you to remove them and do some sort of test.  Since I had lasik surgery last year, this wasn’t necessary, although I had to inform them that I did have surgery.  They actual eye exam was simple.  Just look through the lenses for your eyes, and say which way the “C” is facing: up, down, left, or right.  It’s a Landolt C chart, but with only four options.  Once you are past “security”, you meet the inspector.  He will make sure you have your form filled out properly and stamp the appropriate locations saying you paid.

The next process takes a little more time for foreign nationals.  You line up and give your license and form to one officer.  He invalidates the old license by placing it in a small box which punches a hole through it, removing the IC chip embedded into the card.  From there, he does whatever paperwork is required.  In my case, he had to write my name, which took a LONG time as he probably writes English once a month, if at all.  He had to copy my Alien Registration Card information, including my visa information onto the form, which was then given to another woman who proceeded to input some information and print it out.  After checking that my name and address was correct, I was off to the photo “booth”.  At this point, they take the pin number receipt from me, take my photo, and instruct me to head to the second floor with only a small part of the renewal form left.  Note that this is your receipt saying you paid your fee and you went through all of the mandatory checks.

This is where things start to get boring.  On the second floor, they hand me a package of three books and an envelope.  They also instruct me on where my class will be held.  I believe they hold all classes on the third floor, in rooms 10 and 11, but don’t quote me on that.  Be sure to check with the person giving you the information.  I was in room 11.  By this time, I had spent about 15 minutes at the License Office.  I took my seat and waited for the class to start.  The class is two hours long.  The rough breakdown of the class is as follows.  15 minutes to instruct you on what you should have, what your renewal form should say.  The instructor pretty much went over basic procedures two or three times before he started the actual “lesson/lecture”.  I use this term very loosely.  He proceeded to inform us about the changes to the license structure, I think, and then showed us a video.  It was a heart wrenching video of what happens if you drink and drive.  The main character killed a little boy and severely injured his older sister.  He confessed after a few days and he was sentenced to five years in prison.  His wife had to apologise to the victim’s family, but they wouldn’t accept it.  She also had to get two jobs to support the drunk driver’s two children.  They had an older son who became a punk and disobeyed his mother.  In the end, the drunk driver’s wife killed herself and he was left alone.  The video itself has a serious message, but I had a tough time taking it seriously.  It felt like an after school special, or an in school version.  I’d hope that all adults know the consequences of their actions and don’t drink and drive.  After the video, we had a quick break to stretch and get a drink.  The last part of the lecture was a talk about recent statistics on accidents and deaths related to driving.  He also informed us to not use cell phones while driving, be attentive, and direct us to the important parts of the books that were handed to us before we entered the lecture.

Once finished, everyone rushed to the exit, unless they were half asleep, and up to the fourth floor.  This is where we could pick up our new licenses.  Since we had a two hour lecture, everything was ready for us.  Just hand over what’s left of your renewal form, pick up your new license and off to the card reading terminal.  Place it on the screen, enter your PIN numbers, and you are done.  Don’t forget to check that all the information is correct, but who really does that?

Please do note that many things are bound to change.  The window numbers themselves aren’t guaranteed.  The machines that I have described can change.  The floor where you pick things up, or take a lecture can also change.  The lecture itself will change as the statistics change, and what I have described is based on my poor ability with Japanese.  It can also depend greatly on who is giving the lecture.  They may feel seatbelts are more important, where another will talk about how women are bad drivers.  Mine decided that talking on the phone and highlighting defensive driving techniques were important.  I feel I have understood the basics of the lecture, but I am sure that many of the things that I described in the lecture portion could be wrong.  This is only a guide to give you more information on what to do and what will happen so that you aren’t worried if you ever have to perform this task.


JapanesePod101.com Blog:  http://blogs.japanesepod101.com/blog/2007/03/24/samurai-theologian-in-tokyo-drivers-license-renewal/


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