Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nagi Ramen in Tachikawa

凪, nagi, means calm, as in the calm before the storm.

4 down, 2 to go at the NY Ramen Square in Tachikawa. Today was Nagi Ramen. Best of the bunch so far.
  • The most animated staff. Very loud.
  • The best pork. Stewed in something, it was robust and perfect.
A tonkotsu ramen from Kyushu. Please study the instructions for ordering and eating at Nagi Ramen.

Step 3 says something about アニマル パンチ - animaru panchi... animal punch. I've got no idea.

The weekends at Tachikawa NY Ramen Square always have some random event going on. Today was some sort of slot car racing festival. Little children looked on as model car otaku feverishly assembled their tiny tiny cars.

Nagi was indeed the calm before the storm.

Ripe 'n' Dry Hokkaido Ramen (?)

Wilderness Nature Hokkaido brand Ripe 'n' Dry Soy Sauce Ramen.


"We want to design our way of life northern land Hokkaido. Seize the wind, and you will find it you are looking for. We would play in a forest and would catch the fish in a brook.

There are wilderness on the earth. There are wilderness on the earth. So we have to keep on protecting. Close your eyes and feel the sound. See, you can hear the voice from nature."




It's the time of year for fireworks. If you live in Tokyo, you can see a fireworks show on an given night for the next month or so.

I'd like to learn how to take good fireworks photos. But then I got drunk. It's kind of the thing everyone does. And watching the big booms through the viewfinder gets really old really quick.

Actually, I love these shots.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Getting a Driving License in Japan Part 3

I failed again!

I rode the course spot on, staying within the cones, driving over the bridge, stopping only at designated stop signs.

But at one stop sign my wheel touched the line.

Instant fail.

That's how it goes.

The other guy taking the test with me hit a cone. It was his 5th fail.

I'll take it again on August 5th.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting a Driving License in Japan Part 2

Well... I failed my driving test.

But my (temporary) loss is your gain! A gain of sweet sweet knowledge.

I showed up at the driving center at about 11:45 with the intention of watching some people take their test before me. Monkey see, monkey do, monkey buy big stinkin motorcycle.

There was no one there. It turns out I was the first one to go for the day. They gave me the next 30 minutes to walk around the course. I had already committed it to memory, so this was a waste. At 12:40 I donned my motorcycle jacket, helmet, and gloves. They handed me extra leg armor and chest armor to use as well. Completely covered in a hard plastic shell, I turned on the bike.

It's been 8 months since I rode, and that was on a 400cc. This was a 750cc Honda CB750. I thought I might rev it and do a wheelie or something mildly hilarious, but I did my practice lap just fine. I stopped in front of the "bridge" section, looked for approval from the judge, and went over it fine and dandy, like wasabi flavored candy. I stopped in front of the next part, a series of cones to maneuver through. No problemo. I stopped at the next section, riding over bumps while standing. Perfection is my middle name. I stopped at the end of a street and made a right turn. Then the judge told me to go back to the beginning. Why did I fail?

I stopped too many times!

You are only meant to actually come to a stop at the 2 stop signs and the signal light. Everywhere else just slow down, look both ways, and proceed.

I'll go again on Tuesday the 22nd. It costs 2950 yen each time you retake the test.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Getting a Driving License in Japan Part 1

Shake ya ass, it's time for more helpful tips involving paperwork and waiting in lines.

Converting an Overseas Motorcycle Driving License to a Japanese Motorcycle Driving License

This report applies to someone who:
  • Has lived in Japan for more than 1 year
  • Is American
  • Has a valid motorcycle license from America
It may be relevant for others. Let me address what I know about other situations first.

From scratch:

If you are getting a license from scratch, with no valid license from another country, you have to go to a driving school and take some tests. This isn't like in the States. I remember my driving school at age 15 cost about $100. Some High Schools have their own driving education courses. I don't know how it is now. I just remember, it was really easy for my Baskin Robins working self to get it done.

Back to Japan...

Driving school here costs about... are you ready... $3000. Just for the school. Do you get a free compact car with that fee? Nope. Crazy whack funky, people say you look like MC Hammer on Crack Humpty.

You've been here less than a year:

Get an International Drivers Permit. It's funny how easy this is. You get this paper pamphlet that is so cheap, but it works. You can drive on this for up to a year upon entering Japan. The expiration date doesn't matter. My permit said it expired December 2007, but since I arrived in Japan on June 2006, it wasn't good in Japan after June 2007. Please don't look at my past blog entries about motorcycle touring in the autumn of 2007. Ummm...

If you're from (insert Western country) and not America:

Some countries have agreements with Japan, and can just fill out a form to get their license. I've been told the reason that the US doesn't have this is that each State governs driving, so it's too complicated. Whatever... lucky Dutch.

Now... If you're like me:

Step 1 - Get a JAF translation of your license. You can do it by mail, but if you live in Tokyo, just go to the office. Bring:
  1. Photocopies of your Alien Card and License
  2. The application form (you can fill it out there if you want)
  3. 3000 yen
It takes about 30 minutes. There was no wait when I went.

Step 2 - Go to the License Center. Tokyo has 3. I went to the one in Samezu, was told I was missing some documents, then went to the one in Fuchu. The Samezu place is a madhouse. After waiting about an hour, they said that I needed something from the California DMV. Some sort of certificate of driving record. They showed me an example, it was printed off the internet. I called the DMV, and they said that I can't access this online, and it would take 4-6 weeks to get by mail. When I went to the Fuchu center (which is a 15 minute bicycle ride from my house!) they asked for it, but a simple ありません (don't have) was sufficient. Here's my day at the driving center in Fuchu.
  • 12:30 - I arrived with my Passport, current valid CA driving license, expired 2002-2007 CA driving license, my Alien Registration Card, Translated License from Step 1, two 4cm x 5cm photos (every train station in Japan has a photo machine for these), and money.
  • 12:31 - The information desk sends me to Counter #1
  • 12:35 - Counter #1 says "No" and send me to Counter #3
  • 12:40 - Counter #3 says "No" and send me to Counter #31 on the 3rd floor
  • 12:45 - This is the Foreign License counter. They speak English. I hadn't registered my new Visa with my city office yet, and they told me I have to do that. But the stamp in my Passport was enough. She asked for that mysterious driving record from the California DMV. I said I didn't have it. She also wanted my old passport, which I have no idea where it is. She seemed fine with just my old expired license. The thing is, you have to have been in the issuing country of your license for at least 3 months after getting it, so they will check all your visa stamps and expired documents. I'd only been to Europe twice and China once, so it was easy to explain. This step is a big your mileage may vary type of thing. There were only 2 other people translating their licenses here, so it was very laid back and friendly. The big center in Samezu had about 50 people waiting. Just FYI.
  • 1:00 - The license conversion people are on break from 11:00 to 1:00. At 1:00, I gave them my application forms which they will make for you (I had one for a bike, and one for a car), my 2 licenses, my passport, and my Alien card.
  • 1:08 - They asked me to explain my travels in England in 2002. Just how long I had been there. This goes back to that 3 months thing. I have read of people with dozens of entry stamps from around the world having to explain each and every trip. Make a spreadsheet explaining all of your visa stamps in order if you have a lot of them, this could save you a lot of time if you are some sort of jet setting playboy or something.
  • 1:20 - Sent to Counter #1 where I paid 2950 yen (about $30) and took an eye test. They stamped my application forms and sent me back to Counter #31
  • 1:25 - Take the Knowledge Test. It's really hard. 10 true or false questions. I remember a couple. "It is important to follow rules and signs on the road, true or false?" "It is OK to exceed the speed limit if traffic is light, true or false?" "On National Expressways, the passengers must wear saftey belts, but the driver doesn't have to, true or false?" You need 7 out of 10. It's in English. If you fail, please don't pursue a license. Or a purpose in life. Chances are if you fail this you probably can't drive because you are blind from jabbing a chopstick in your eye when you were learning how to use them.
Thats it, you make a reservation to come back a few days later to take the driving test. I take mine on the 17th. A nice Japanese man saw me looking over the driving test course and told me, "Manners are more important than skill." I have a course map and have been committing it to memory. The only "skill" parts are driving over a balance beam (!), going around cones, and going over train tracks. People who fail fail because they don't bow at the right time, or touch the rear view mirrors in the wrong order.

Stay tuned for my (either happy or sad) report of the driving test. がんばれ!!!

If this guide is helpful to you, please leave me a comment.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Samurai Ramen in Tachikawa

Samurai Ramen

My weekly foray into the Tachikawa NY Ramen Square took me to Samurai Ramen. Very similar to Shodo Ramen in Kawagoe. Skinny straight noodles and super creamy soup. There are some giant pots of spicy pickle to put in the ramen if you want. Be careful here.

They will ask you how you want your noodles.

固め (katame - firm), 普通 (futsu, normal), 柔かめ (yawarakame, soft) are your standard answers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tanabata Festival


Every year, on the 7th day of the 7th month, we celebrate Tanabata.

It's very colorful.

The tradition is to write your wishes on a piece of paper and hang it from some bamboo. As always, reading other people's wishes is a good time.

"Save the earth... peace out"

Her scribbles are her wish. To us, it's just lines on the paper, but in her mind it has meaning. Profound.

"Please no hangover tomorrow." The smartest, most well thought out wish I've seen.

He wants the perfect run in an upcoming Honolulu marathon.

Some people I met.

That's the hottest Snow White I've ever met.

You can see why I still teach children in Japan after 2 years.

This guy... I've seen him before in Shibuya and Harajuku and Yoyogi. Peep the earrings... those are live fish. Who remembers the scene from "I'm Gonna Get You Sucka" where the pimp has goldfish in his shoes? Anyone?

The burger chef.


Nerdy foreigners in traditional Japanese clothing...

There were maybe 50 people taking photos of these little girls. It's blurry, but the one on the right is holding a massive hamburger. From the burger guy above. I was gonna get one, but they covered it in mayo.

There's plenty to spend money on at festivals. This is a bag of helium that gives you a "Dokiri" voice.

Making the crazy popular burgers.

My (first of many) dinners.


You can buy a giant beetle for 1000 yen (about $10)

There was a back alley with at least 4 fake tattoo shops.

Bananas covered in... something.

My 七夕 wish? I hope I can go to a lot of festivals this year. My other wishes are not suitable for writing on the internet.