Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day 5: Insurance

Monday, June 27th.

After a weekend of drinking and cataloging everything I possess, I met the insurance claims investigator. Many yen is coming my way.

He went over it, said it looks good, and then dropped some info.

Well, the insurance covers about $40,000... but that is just for a fire or if the room above me leaks water.

Theft is covered at $5,000. Son of a bitch! I have more than that in camera equipment alone.

There's no point arguing, it's all there in both fine print and large print.

But wait, it gets worse!

The next morning the insurance calls my real estate office and says that they doubt my claim! Holy crap, that's so slimy. Hmmm... not unexpected though.

I sent them this old video showing that I do indeed have a TV, computer, and $2000 leather racing suit in my place. Damn racing suit is borrowed, and I never even wore it on a bike.

There's more on day 6...

Read more of this saga at Day 1, Day 2, Day 5, Day 6, Day 12, and Day 16.

Day 2: Running Errands

Friday, June 24th.

What to do the day after having your apartment ransacked? No time for tears, it's time for errands! Remember, everything I own(ed) is gone.

Report my bankbook stolen. Luckily, I had my wallet with me at the time of the theft, but the thieves got a hold my bankbook and personal seal. The bank lady had me fill out a bunch of paperwork. There was a problem because I have moved so many times.

Today's story stays a little boring before it gets crazy.

Next stop was the free foreigner consultation at my district office. I live in Bunkyo-ku, an old and rather desirable part of town. Location in dark blue:

Nice old guy there. Probably used to questions like, 'Where can I find an English speaking hairstylist?' or 'Where can I buy maple syrup?' Instead I roll in with my story. You may have heard the rumors that Japan is a safe country. I think my case might be rare.

He figured the police will do their thing, but he checked with the district residents complaint office, and found nothing.

I'm out of this country!

Well, onto American soil at least. The American embassy was straight forward. The new passport will be here sometime soon.

An important errand came next.

Buy something to wear. Yeah, all my clothes are gone. Uniqlo 'dry' stuff is recommended for the homeless. Because it dries quickly. And I'm homeless.

Ok, so the last errand of the day is to meet the insurance investigator at the apartment. He needs to take some photos of my empty room, fill out the claim forms, and give me my 40 Gs!

I also want to get my shoes out. I will be staying at a friend's place for a couple weeks while he is out of town.

I get home and...

... the fuck?...

The lock has been changed again.

Keep in mind I live on a busy street, only 1 minute from the local police box (koban). Repeating yesterdays routine, I call my real estate agent and go to the police. Soon after, I'm back at the apartment with:
  • The same inept locksmith from the day before.
  • The local beat cop.
  • My real estate agent.
  • My friend T, who has a truck. We plan on loading my motorcycle and taking it to his shop. No, they didn't take my bike... but they got my bike keys!
  • The insurance investigator, a nice man who speaks English as well as I speak Japanese, so communication is no problem.

After a few hours of trying to get in, the insurance guy leaves.

The investigation squad shows up.

We tell the locksmith to decimate the lock.

I gave it a 50/50 that my shoes would be gone. Luck was on my side. Although the evening was long, it was mostly just waiting around for the damn locksmith.

I took my shoes and motorcycle helmet to my friend J's place, and T took the bike. Now is just a waiting game.

Or so I thought. In the next chapter, shit gets even stranger!

As for me, I'll be crashing at J's place while he is out of the country for 2 weeks. You did me a solid buddy! Money is ok, I have some savings in my account, am expecting a huge amount from my insurance settlement, when I can finally meet the claims investigator.

Stay tuned...

Read more of this saga at Day 1, Day 2, Day 5, Day 6, Day 12, and Day 16.

Day 1: Apartment Robbed

On Thursday, June 23rd, I left my apartment just before noon to go to work. Here's what my place is like, for the record:

I returned home just after 3:30pm. When I put my key in the lock, something was strange. I'd say having your lock changed on you is strange!

The story that I've refrained from going into on this blog is that my landlord and another landlord have a civil lawsuit going on over the ownership of some rooms. This shouldn't affect me until the case is resolved in court, at which point I would either be asked to leave or allowed to stay. This is how the world should work.

I called my real estate agent, told her the problem, and she called a locksmith. Meanwhile, I went to the police. They said that since it is a civil matter, there is nothing they can do.

It's now 5:30pm, and the locksmith arrives. Dude doesn't have very good tools, and he struggles with the lock. For over 2 hours.

And now the story begins. I made a video:

Completely cleaned out.

Everything I own in this world (apart from the shoe closet) is gone. Cameras, computers, TV... but also things like my toothbrush, dirty socks, and English books.

Completely cleaned out.

Back to the police. This time they take notice. CSI Japan comes down and lifts footprints. I fill out a lot of paperwork. The police give me a number I can call to check the investigation. And at 11pm, I walk away from my Tokyo apartment, sweaty work clothes on my back.

Thus ends day 1. A local friend gave me a floor to sleep on for the night.

Am I leaving anything out? Oh, the suspects. Of course the guys that are fighting the civil lawsuit with my landlord are on the top of the list. But no one can get a hold of them. My hopes are that they just figured they have a right to the room, and moved my stuff into storage.

Coming up on day 2... no answers, more questions!

Read more of this saga at Day 1, Day 2, Day 5, Day 6, Day 12, and Day 16.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Apartment Hunting

I've been checking out some spots to move to in Tokyo. Now, I live on the north side of the Yamanote, near Sugamo station. My spot is cool, in a brand new high-rise building, and only a few minutes walk from my primary job. But for reasons I won't go into (yet) I want to move. Actually, I was told that I need to move, then assured that that was not the case by my lawyer. Again, I won't go into it (yet).

Before you watch my videos, let me warn you that these are just boring videos of me looking at apartments. They are only like a minute long each, so I don't feel bad for wasting anyone's time.

Let's go the order I saw them. First up is one in Nishi-Ogikubo. Maybe 10 minutes from Shinjuku by train. It's small, and I instantly realized that it is important to be very specific when looking for a place. You don't just look them up on craigslist, you have to be shown the apartments by a real estate agent, who gets a one month cut if you decide to rent. By only specifying "good price", I got shown some real dumps. But the price was low.

Next is another in this part of town. These are pretty small, in old buildings, with little sunlight. By the way, both of these run about $500 a month.

Next up is a spot about a minute from Nakano Fujimicho station on the Maranochi subway line. It's a few minutes from Shinjuku, but you have to transfer. Bonus, it's above a pachinko parlor!

Same building, corner room. I dig the loft. These spots got for about $700. Plus moving costs, which I'll explain later.

My friend, who is a real estate agent, introduced me to some places around Higashi-Nakano. I really like this area. It's close enough to walk from Shinjuku, meaning I can drink until 2am instead of running to catch the 12:30 last train. This apartment was reformed in 2007, meaning the bathroom is pretty kick ass. You'll pay an extra $100 a month for the reform though.

As you can see, these rooms are pretty big. Around $1000 a month. Next up is the same building, but this room wasn't reformed. Bonus! My friend learns about American humor!

"It's no joke! It's serious problem!"

So there you go, some places for rent in Tokyo. Now, you may be thinking that you can afford to move into one of these. Slow down there money bags! There are a few extra charges before you get the key. You've got 2 months deposit. Then you've got 1 or 2 months key money, which is a nice way of saying extortion from the landowner. Yeah, you just give them a ton of cash for no reason, except that you have to. That's the reason. People just do it. Oh, that real estate agent who showed you the place, they get a month out of your pocket. Then there is mandatory fire insurance for about $200 for 2 years. Oh, and you have to pay the normal rent for the first month.

So a $1000 a month apartment is gonna run you around $6000 just to get in the door. Welcome to Japan.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Motocross Riding with KTM Japan


Yes, yes we shall. Let's dancing!


When some of my students asked me to come along for a weekend of riding KTM bikes in the dirt, you know I jumped. And it doesn't hurt that they just happen to be KTM mechanics. Cause I rode these bikes hella hard! Not hard like, "Dude was pulling off some sick stunts and barreling through mad crazy terrain," but hard like, "Dude kept crashing into trees and shit, all the while red-lining the engine in 1st gear."


Yeah, my first experience doing motocross was, to put it bluntly, a challenge. Everyone riding here was a seasoned vet. In fact, the Japanese motocross champ himself was here to give pointers. Serious riders. It was my first time in dirt ever. Challenging. But fun.


Before coming, I thought this would be rindo touring. Rindos being fire roads in the mountains. Shit that I can ride at a snails pace on the road bike, upgraded to high speed on a proper offroad bike. But no, it was singletrack motocross, in the rain and mud.

What I learned:
  • There are 2 tricky aspects to this, the uphill and downhill
  • As for the downhill, you can pretty much just go. It's a nerve thing. The bike can handle it if you can.
  • On the uphill, in muddy conditions, you need a bit of skill. Lots of speed is needed, if you slow down the bike will just slide out from under you. But too much speed and the rear tire will spin out. So you have to alternate between full power until the rear wheel starts to slip, and low power until the read tire is back in line. At least thats what was explained to me.
  • It's tiring. After crashing a dozen or so times your energy will be gone.
  • Standing on the pegs is an important skill. I rarely stand up while riding on the street. It feels really awkward. But, motocross riders are almost never seated.


The weather slowly became worse and worse, with the second day getting the blunt of the seasonal typhoon weather. Anyways, I filmed my first ride with my helmet cam. It's over an hour of some pretty boring footage. Here's the last 9 minutes. This amazing video features me being out of breath, speaking broken Japanese, and a camera lens all fogged up and blurry. What it doesn't show is how steep these hills were. They were pretty steep. The helmet mounted camera makes everything look flat.

After watching some more "first time" videos on the internet... damn, I had it rough. Dudes are riding around in meadows and what not.


The boss split after we set up the event tents on the first day, and came back a few hours later with about 30 fresh river fish. Grub!


Everyone was eating and drinking, then riding around all drunk in the hills. Fun times on a closed circuit.


Bonus... onsen!


Oxfam Trailwalker Charity Event

Charity time!


Back in May I took part in a team charity event by the name of Oxfam Trailwalker. Teams of 4 raise a bunch of money, then hike 100km from the Pacific to the base of Mt. Fuji. That's my team above. We dubbed ourselves the "Oxfam Ramen Walkers". I may have influenced that title. We had another team as well. 8 friends about to walk for a couple days.

To be honest, I was originally in it for the walk. I have mixed, often pessimistic views about charities. But enough of my negative views! Oxfam raises a lot of funds for research and aid in impoverished communities around the world. Our 2 teams raised a lot, maybe close to $10,000. Word.

Like I said, I was originally in it for the hike.


Was being the key word. 100km is really far. I'll go on record now and say that it sucked, walking for 40 hours straight.


I don't know, but maybe 70 or 80 teams took part. From the get go, some teams take off running, finishing in less than 15 hours. Our other team did just that. They took off almost immediately after the start, though they only finished a couple of hours before us. Later dudes!


Nice hike... if it had been broken down into 30 or 40 kilometer trips.


So here's my team, the Ramen Walkers at the 50 mark. There was a marker every half a kilometer, so this means we are a quarter of the way. As you can see, spirits were high at this point.


At about the half way point shit got real old real fast.


As you can imagine from a slope called mugonzaka. No-talking-hill, as it translates to, is a place where even the chattiest of girlfriends will finally shut up for the next 6 hours.


The view from the top is nice. Made un-nice by my shitty iPod camera. Looks good on the iPod screen though.

We held up pretty well, I have to say. After a grueling physical challenge like this, friendships are bound to be tested. But after taking some Japanese oxycontin, finishing was no problem.


You can see our team's donation page at this link. Thanks to everyone who helped out!

To my team, sorry if I became a bit of an asshole later in the hike. We all have our coping mechanisms, and mine is to get really cynical and sarcastic. But standing on the top of that last hill, watching the moon set over Mt. Fuji made it all worthwhile.

Tokyo Raw

Raw Chicken


Raw Horse


Raw Deer


Raw Emu


(the iPod camera sucks)