Mobile phone contracts in Japan are expensive!

When you are going to get a mobile phone contract in Japan you probably will be in for quite a surprise. Why? Well it’s pricy. At least when you walk into the next best mobile phone shop and want to set up a contract. But that is not what you should do anyways – more later.

I was used to paying about 10-15 Euros for my contract back in Germany with some free SMS, 1 GB Internet and a view included calls. In Japan though I had no other choice but to go for one of the main providers like NTT Docomo, Softbank or AU. Having been here before I knew already that none of those would accept the mobile phone I brought with me because it’s IMEI would not be registered in Japan. So I didn’t bother getting anything new before I headed here. I went the hard way, got an iPhone from Softbank and payed a fortune for it and the basic contract. Just to give you an example, apart from the phone itself, you have to pay at least 1000yen for the phone contract + 5000yen for unlimited internet (which is mandatory if you get an iPhone or equivalent smartphone) a month. And this doesn’t include any calls, and you are not allowed to tether and and and.

But be relieved, there is now a, no two other solutions!

New Providers are available!

Around 2013-2014 two new providers popped up with much more reasonable plans. One is B-mobile and the other is OCN Mobile One. Both of them use the same area network as NTT Docomo, so you will get a very good nation wide coverage. Whats more, you can use your own mobile phone you brought from your home country. Well there are a few things you have to consider, like 3G and LTE frequencies and off course that it is sim-unlocked, but apart from that, nearly all newer phones (especially iphones) will work in Japan.

About the available plans

Most of the plans those two providers are offering are basic data plans without a phone number, but since the end of 2013 they also offer the following plans with a call service:

B-mobile スマホ電話SIM フリーData

The basic fee is around 1560 yen a month but you will want to add at least 1 GB of high speed internet (340 yen). Otherwise you would be surfing with only 200kbps.

OCN Mobile 音声対応SIM

The basic fee is around 1600 a month for voice service + 110mb of high speed internet a day. Or you can get a similar plan with a 5gb/month option for around 2100 yen.

There might be other plans available by the time to read this post, so make sure to browse the websites and make sure you get the best offer!

What are the downsides?

Well, as you might already have noticed, all is in Japanese. As soon as you switch to English, the mentioned plans won’t be available any more. So you might want to get the help of a friend or Japanese colleague to get your contract set up. But considering the savings, its worth the hassle!

2nd downside is that those providers have no stores and you can order your sim-card or make changes to your contract only over the internet. (at least at the time when I wrote this entry)

But again, considering the savings, those are bearable downsides.

Good luck, and may the bargain with you!


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This is just a glimpse of what awaits you

This is just a glimpse of what awaits you

Tashiro Island is a small island located about 20km south of Ishinomaki in the Miyagi Prefecture. Usually there would be nothing special about this island. It is inhabited by just around 100 people, mostly fishermen, and does not offer any special culture heritages. The reason why this island is growing in its popularity is the fact that since around 2009 the population of cats on the island grow bigger than that of humans. Of course these cats can be considered as stray cats, but since the people living on the island take care of the cats, they have no illnesses and don’t have to worry about food. There is also a pet doctor located on the island that takes care of them. So this island is especially a must go for cat lovers.

How to get there

The ship leaving for Tashirojima

The ship leaving for Tashirojima

You can get there only by ship which leaves at a port in Ishinomaki (3 Chome-1-19 Kadonowakichō, Ishinomaki-shi, Miyagi-ken, Japan). The fare for the two-way ticket is about 2500yen and there is only one ship (the Marmaid) which can take you forth and back. From the Ishinomaki Port the ship leaves around 9.00 am and 12.00 am. The ship back leaves at 14.48 pm and 15.12 pm (PLEASE check the actual times here). Please be aware that the ferry leaving at 15.12pm is the last one back to Ishinomaki. After that, you will have to stay on the island which has no normal hotels, but one ryokan. You will need about 3-4 hours to enjoy the hospitality of the cats and explore at least the most important spots. Also you should know that the cats have their own will and fixed resting times. During noon, most of the cats will be sleeping, so it’s best to time your journey so that you can either go there before or after noon.

During Summer-vacation time (Obon), there are additional ferry leaving for Tashirojima.

Travel Route

You want to get off at 仁斗田 since it has the highest cat population on the island. You can either stay in close proximity to the port all day (many cats are here waiting for visitors), or you can take a walk to the “not yet famous” cat shrine which is located on the highest “mountain” of the island. (here) The story behind the shrine is rather sad though. It is said that once a Fisherman accidentally killed one of the cats living on the island while unloading his boat. He was so sad about it that he buried the cat on the highest mountain and build a shrine for it.

Feeding

Please do not feed the cats yourself. The people of the island feed them at regular times, and you will notice that when you try, some of them are so full that they will reject your offering. Well, that said, it is impossible to not give them anything in order to thank them for their hospitality. So you can actually bring along some cat food and hand it over to the inhabitants by putting it into the cat-food-barrel-covered-with-half-a-buoy located in the port in front of the train station like looking building. If you can’t restrain yourself from giving them something yourself, please use cat food and not half of your rice ball, and make the portions small enough.Well it is actually a good idea to have at least some cat-food with you, so that if you decide to take a lunch break, that you don’t have to look into those sad eyes for the whole time 😉

Playing

Feel free to bring you cat toys along. The cats will be gratefully accepting your offer to play. Well, maybe you wont be able to take them back home… last time I brought 3 things. One was forcefully stolen and another one was lost in action 🙂

Your own food

There are no restaurants or convenient-stores on the Island! Make sure to bring something for lunch yourself. Drinks can be bought from a few vending machines, but the choice isn’t that great, so better bring something along.

What else

During summertime the Island is also inhabited by thousands of mosquitoes. Make sure to bring along your high quality anti-mosquito spray. Otherwise you will end up like the black-haired cats, called mosquito-buses. Well you will understand what I mean when you go there 😉

Gallery


I am regualry getting asked, what are those things on your feet? Socks? Shoes?

So what are those?

Well they are shoes, sort off, sport shoes to be precise with a rubber sole. But that’s where the similarities to normal shoes end. The shoes I am wearing are minimalist running/fitness shoes. There have been a lot of types of minimalist shoes in the past few years, but what separates the Vibram FiveFingers from the others is that they have separate pockets for each toe. Vibram who is a specialist for rubber soles plays it’s best cards and provides very thin rubber soles with great feeling for the ground, but still providing protection against injury.  The most important thing is though that because of the toe pockets and the very flexible sole, it almost feels like you are walking barefoot or to be precise with socks on your feet. If you use them regularly you will notice a great increase in the strength of your feet (muscles will increase, you will be able to move your toes nearly as good as your fingers). This increases your overall balance and it also can decrease your risk of getting a flat foot or a splayfoot. That though depends on your feet condition before you start using them. I too don’t have too health feet either. I was told I have a nearly flat foot and must wear insoles to avoid getting back pain. Well I got the insoles but hardly used them. Instead I am wearing my FiveFingers on a daily basis for over 3 years now, and I can say that my foot flatness has decreased. Probably because I build up enough muscles to countermeasure the loose ligaments that cause flat feet.

Why do I wear them?

Well I actually like walking barefoot as much as possible. I like to feel the ground I am walking on and as I already elaborated it increases your overall foot fitness. Thing is though there are many locations where it is impossible to walk without shoes and also some occasions where it is inappropriate not to wear shoes. The reason why I hardly wear other, normal shoes now is that the FiveFingers are so comfortable that every time I slip into normal shoes, I feel like having concrete around my feet. The are as close to barefoot as it can get with shoes on.

Isn’t it kinda embarrassing to wear them?

Well of course I get strange looks from people, but here in Japan it is usually just because people are curious and not looking down on your “fashion unawareness”. I get asked by people if these are shoes and where I got them and how it feels…unfortunately though, because Japanese are rather shy (you wouldn’t imagine that with the harajiku-fashion) even though they might try them on, hardly any of them would wear them in public. They are too different, too outstanding. What a shame. Well I stick out anyways, so I don’t have a problem with that anymore *g*

Do you need socks to wear them?

You can where them barefoot or w

ith 5 Finger Socks. Sine the shoes are machine washable up to 40 deg, I prefer doing it barefoot style during the summer season and then with socks during spring and autumn. If you wash them regulary there should be no problem with smell. Just let them dry properly and clean your feet before using them (well that should be obvious anyways)

What is my size, where can I try them on?

VIBRAM FIVEFINGERS KOMODO SPORT

So, where do I get them? Well the best way is over the internet. You have the biggest model choice and the prices are the same as in the shops. Well if you live in America, you are lucky. There are countless shops that sell FiveFingers over there, but here in Japan or back in Germany you will usually not find any shop that sells them. So the best possibility is to find a no-cost-return offering online shop and after measuring exact size of your feet order 2 or 3 sizes and try them on. In contrary to normal shoes you don’t need to add an additional cm to the measured size since the shoes are flexible enough to move with your feet. The tighter the better. Once you found out your size it’s very easy. Every model, at least the Japanese and European models, apperently not the American models, have the same size for each design. So if you got a EU43 in the Komodo-Sport an Bikila in EU43 will fit as well.

So the most important part is to measure your feet size from heel to the longest toe (btw. people with longer small toes than the big toe might not have the best feel in FiveFingers). Remember, you don’t need to add anything to that result.

The next step is to have a look at the conversion chart (here the German one: http://www.vibram-fivefingers.de/vibram-fivefingers-groessen) . You have too look for your feet size (for example in my case 27.1mm) in the chart and read which EU size you will need. So if you look at the following chart, my feet are too big for a 42 and there would be too much space in a 44, but with just 2mm space the 43 is best. So know you know your size, choose your design and try them on. Ah and even though I said, the tighter the better, don’t order them in a smaller size than you actually need. This will cause your toes touching the front and maybe even cause inflexibility and pain.

Where should I buy them?

Well as I said, if you live in America, go into a shop that sells them, try them on, find your size and maybe order the model you want if not available. For other countries I recommend ordering them over the official Online-Shop or resellers (international:  http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/ – Germany: http://www.vibram-fivefingers.de/ – Japan: http://www.barefootinc.jp/ ). Do not order them over eBay. Vibram forbids selling FiveFingers on eBay, which means they are either fake or fake. And when you find a shop that sells them for less than half the price, make sure that it is an official reseller. Everything below 70% off the normal retail price is deemed to be a fake.

Which model should I get?

For starters I would recommend getting one of the cheaper models which are good for fitness and casual. The more expensive ones have more cushioning are a little heavier but will provide you with more protection for running. At the moment I Am wearing my EL-EX and they are the best I have worn until now even though they are the cheapest. The heel has a bit of a hard seam, but a bit of soft tape will countermeasure that small flaw. (which might not occur to everybody depending on your heel shape) The other models I am owning are the ones I started of with, the KSO in black, than I got the Komodo Sport which was very good until it started wearing out after just a year and then I got the SPEED LR  for rainy weather and winter season. The last one looks very fasionable but it requires to be greased (real leather) after each wash and the leather is not durable so I already got a hole at the edge where it is glued to the rubber sole. So as I said, start of with a cheap model, KSO or EL-EX and then decide if you like them enough to spend more money or not.

Anything I need to know when using them?

Yes, a very very important thing: Do not put them on and start running straight away! Your feet are not used to that abuse, and you won’t notice it that something is not right until the next day or a few days afterwards. You will have to build up your muscles first and get flexibility into your feet by wearing them for a few weeks. Then when you finally think you can do it, don’t go the full distance you are usually runinng. Slowly increase the length starting with just 1km and wait until the next day to see if that wasn’t too much. Think of it as additional workout and not as exchanging your running shoes.
In my case, I couldn’t wait to do some barefoot runs, so I went 2-3km the first day straight away. Running was great, it felt completly different, but the next day, next 2 weeks, my feet and carves hurt like hell. Even after that I probably asked to much of my feet and now have trouble with a joint on my left feet. So really, start slowly.

Btw. the more people  wear them, the less embarrassing it will be wearing them 🙂


Well, this was actually more than 2 years ago, but I consider it worth posting anyways 🙂

In August 2011 we visited my parents in law in Japan. It was the first visit after the big Earthquake and Tsunami and Nuclear Accident. But before we went to Furukawa in Miyagi we traveled a bit around Japan since we had the chance to get a Japan Rail Pass for both of us. So we decided to travel to the Osaka region together which I had visited alone before. Of course we also visited Kyoto and Nara, but before that we made a day-trip to Miyajima close to Hiroshima.

Miyajima is famous for its shrine with the big wooden gate on the shore. The shrine itself is located on a small island close to Hiroshima. This place is definitely worth a visit if you have the chance. If you also have the Japan Rail Pass, there are even ferries operated by JR that you can use for no extra charge.

Apart from the shrine there is also a relatively big mountain on the island. We only had a manga-map that made everything look so tiny and easy, so we actually decided to go for the top… but what we didn’t know, the top was not the top of the mountain we were able to see from the shrine. I wouldn’t recommend doing this without being prepared. It’s quite hard. Nothing compared to Mt. Fuji of course, but it was over 30 deg, and in the end we were running out of daylight time. The ropeway on top of the mountain wasn’t operated, so we barely made it back to the ferry. You should at least calculate 4 hours for the climb and 1-2 for the way back down. Or you can do it properly and take the rope way when it is operated 😉 Anyways, the view from the top is worth it.


It has been exactly 2 years since I last wrote anything on this blog. A lot has happened and I was too busy to update this blog with anything new. It’s not that I didn’t want to, since I was told that actually sometimes visit my blog, but taking pictures is one thing, sorting them out and writing a blog entry is the other. Well anyways, I decided to take the time and update the blog starting with my return to japan 2 years ago and if I don’t loose patience I will hopefully manage to update it up to today.

So what happend until now? Well in short:

2012/5 moved to Japan
2012/6 began working for Alps Electric as IAP Member and mechanical design engineer in the automotive division
2012/8 climbed mount fuji with the other IAP Members as kind of a field trip
2012/9 had the final language training in Tokyo (I didn’t had the other 2 trainings since I was kind of out of the row employed)
2012/10 bought my own car with a bit of help from my wife and her parents – Lancer Evolution 6
2012/11 got my car – yes it takes up to a month in japan for the “delivery”
2012/12 passed the JLPT 4N and visited Germany during Christmas with my wife
2013/02 someone decided to ruin my “day” and crashed into my car at a red light
2013/03 many visits to the doctors since my back didn’t stop aching
2013/05 finally got my car back, all back to normal, maybe even better with new half a new trunk and repair cost (that luckily didn’t have to pay myself ) of 780000 yen.
2013/06 more visits to the doctors and new rims for my car *g*
2013/07 trip to the Japanese sea (Yamagata and Niigata)
2013/08 one more time to Yamagata since the weather in July wasn’t that brilliant
2013/09 can not recall anything
2013/10 a nice autumn
2013/12 visited Germany again during Christmas
2014/01 snow, snow and more snow
2014/02 the winter doesn’t end…
2014/03 still to cold to do anything
2014/04 finally it wasn’t freezing inside our apartment anymore
2014/05 got my extension contract at alps (another 1 year and 3 month – to get me into the same renewal perioid as the other IAP Members)
2014/06 not much, a bit mountain climbing and a bit of tweaking my car after a very long winter (new suspension)
2014/07 hot summer
2014/08 visit of a friend of mine

today – slept and woke up early and decided to be productive 🙂

How is work?

I will probably elaborate on this later in other posts, but just let me say this: the Japanese economy is only functioning because the Japanese life to work. What usually should be done by at least 2 has to be managed by 1. If the younger generations ever decide that they don’t life to work but work to life the economy will crumble.
Since I was able to communicate with my colleagues in Japanese and made the huge mistake and asked for work so that I can do learning by doing (I hated sitting around and trying to read all Japanese work manuals), they decided to give me my own project. Well I have to say at the beginning the customer requirements weren’t very challenging and it was probably a good project to begin with, but it turned out to be one of the most challenging projects in the Alps automotive history. No I am not exaggerating, even my superiors didn’t always know what to do how.
So many hours of overtime. Many. And always the pressure that the project has to be finished on time. Well I was new to the company so I did want to do things properly, but since I didn’t know what I was doing and the customer changed the design up until the last day I had a hard time.
Well, in the end I managed it, everything was a bit behind schedule, but still within the limits. But I had to pay for it not only with my time, but also with my health.

How am I?

Well not so good to be honest. Everything got worse with the car accident. The impact was quite a thing, though fortunately nothing was broken or obviously insured. So I was sent home with a light (……) and told that everything will be fine in a few weeks. Well it wasn’t, now after nearly 1 1/2 years I still have backache especially during night, my arms and legs also feel numb and hurt. I visited all the doctors here in Furukawa… physicist, neurologists, internists and finally psychiatrists, but none of them could do anything about the pain. I too don’t know whats the cause anymore. Well there was the accident and the car was nearly wracked, so the impact was quite big, but maybe there was also the conflict between my “work to life” and the “life to work” philosophy of my colleagues and superiors. I didn’t like to do long hours, especially when I had other plans but was asked 5 minutes before leaving if I couldn’t do this and that until… today. And there was always this constant pressure that I have to do… I now know better though. So in the end its probably a combination of a burnout and the accident. I am already taking quite a few happy pills, and I have to admit that they helped regarding the burned out feeling, but the pain, probably caused by the accident doesn’t go away.
Next is the pain clinic… lets see if they can help.

Anything else?

Yea, apart from my health condition life has been rather good here. Everything is new and exciting. But since I want to elaborate on this by showing pictures I’ll keep the details for now.

So, write you soon… hopefully 🙂



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