Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Japanese License Renewal, a Comedy of Errors

I set out from the hotel at about 1pm, plenty of time to make it back to Tokyo via the winding mountain roads. The weather was a crisp 18 degrees, and the recent rain meant that countryside Japan was as green as it gets. To top off the 'normal' beauty of this day, I came across... Butterfly Mountain?

Pretty cool! The route I rode through Nozawa and Shiga Kogen was spectacular. I highly recommend it (the 292 and 502, for those keeping track). The day was winding down, and I descended into Kusatsu Onsen, the most famous onsen town in Japan. I had no plans to stop, so I just continued down the 292 towards Tokyo.

But then the 292 split into a pair of 292s, and I missed the one heading towards home. No problem, I busted a sneaky right onto an alley with hopes of making a shortcut back.

I turned onto a one way road.

With a cop on it.

Oops, my bad. I know the drill; license, gaijin card, big smile and some broken Japanese. At the worst it's a 6000 yen ticket.

Scratch that, at worst, your license expired 2 months ago.

Yeah... so that happened.

The cops were actually kind of cool about it. In Japan your first license will expire after 3 years. I think I thought that it was 5, but honestly the only time I've looked at my driver's license was to show people what I look like with a skeazy goatee. After a few hours of paperwork, the cops said I could leave the bike there (Kusatsu is about 3 hours drive from Tokyo, 5 if you take a bus). They also tore up the wrong way ticket. Thanks bro!

The police station was right across the street from the bus terminal, and every 2 hours there is an express to Shinjuku. Convenient! That's what the cop said as he walked me over to the station. 'In fact, there goes one now'.

That would be the the 5pm bus passing us. That would also be the last bus to Tokyo for the day.

I thought about hitching, but the minute I made my sign, the sky opened up and it started pouring rain.

Which meant that the only option I had was to wait around until 6:40, take a bus to some crazy countryside train station, then take local trains all the way home. It's not that bad, just long, and I finally got back home after midnight.

My bike is siting in the police parking lot, a few hundred kilometers away.

How to Renew a License in Japan

Easy! Apparently I should have received a letter in the mail reminding me about the renewal. But even if you didn't get that, just go to the local driving center. No appointment needed.

All I brought was my gaijin card and my expired license. And cash.

You will spend the first hour running around to windows. Eye check, pay them, take a photo for the application, take another photo for the license, pay some more, then head up to the classroom. Now get ready for the fun! A 2 hour lecture. It was some guy just talking about how seatbelts are good, and drunk driving is bad. There is a test, with 30 something yes/no questions. But no one checks your answers. Feel free to play Angry Birds the whole time. Also a video with some comically bad acting. Then they interview a mom whose son was killed by a driver. Then you are done. Go get your license, it's waiting for you.

By the way, it cost me 5800 yen, which is 200 yen less than the ticket that the police tore up. So... I made money! Right?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Day 31: Apartment Hoops

July 24th, just over 1 month after I became homeless in Tokyo.

Here's where I rant about the hoops you need to jump through to get an apartment in Tokyo. Don't worry, it ends shitty!

So first off, recognize that you will be dealing with a lot of people. There are more players than you are used to if you are from America. Everytime I rented back in Cali, you just paid some dude 1st and last month's rent and you were good. Not the same.

Break it down!

Real Estate Company - Fudosan - 不動産

When you rent an apartment, you do it through a real estate company, rarely direct from the owner. These companies are everywhere, especially near the stations.

Management Company - Kanri Gaisha - 管理会社

The company that... manages stuff. Not sure, but they probably maintain the grounds and security and what not. If you, the tenant, have a problem, you go to the real estate company. I guess they go to the management in turn. Whatever. It's some dudes who take a cut.

Guarantee Company - Hoshonin Gaisha - 保証人会社

This is some old bullshit going on, so let me explain it. If you are a foreigner, or a woman, or young, you need to have someone co-sign your place. Fair enough. But they have to be Japanese, and usually rich, and usually a relative. If you can't pay rent, they are liable. Since most poor people don't have rich family, you can pay a guarantee company, like an insurance policy.

Owner - アスーホル

This is the guy who actually owns the place. He can take a backseat the whole time, and usually does. Just some guy collecting a check, maybe living in the same building. You don't deal with them directly. Sometimes the owner subleases to another owner, who then rents it out to you. This is the homeboy who get's your reikin as well. The no-explanation gift-money that only exists in Japan.

When I first started looking, I was yet to be homeless, and very casually expressed interest in a room in Higashi-Nakano, a few minutes train from busy Shinjuku station. I dragged my feet at all the expenses; the gift money, the real estate fee, the 2 month deposit. When I became homeless, I quieted the stingy little man inside and said, 'Whatever, I just want a room. I'll pay.' Money talks, bullshit walks.

So... first month's rent is $1000, yachin, 家賃. Fine. Deposit, shikikin, 敷金, is another $1000. Ok. $1000 for the real estate company, chukai tesuryo, 仲介手数料, and $1000 for the owner's gift money, reikin, 礼金. This is normal. Now, $500 to the guarantor, hoshokin, 保証金 (?). Not bad, I thought it would be a whole month's rent. Like I said, I don't really care, I just want to move. I'll think about all the cool stuff I could have bought with that cash at a later date.

Then came the hoops. My visa renewal had been OKed, but since my passport was stolen, I needed to wait for that to arrive before I could get the new visa. Also my Alien Card shows that I have overstayed my legal welcome in Japan. So the Alien Card is waiting on the visa stamp, which is waiting on the passport, which is waiting on the American embassy. And, I don't have a stable address, so I'm relying on my work address. A job that I am now on summer holiday from. Every one of these steps requires roughly half a day of riding trains and filling out forms. And every one of the aforementioned companies is confused as hell as to what is going on, so I'm trying to explain to them the situation on a daily basis.

Then came more hoops. All the aforementioned companies want proof that I can pay. The fact that I'm about to give them like $7000 up front isn't enough, they want my tax slips from last year. Proof of income. Which is normal, but remember, all my stuff was stolen. That includes paperwork. So now I have to go to my job and request some papers. More time. Oh, I have 4 sources of income. More time times 4.

I actually don't mind wasting time on this stuff. But in the summer, I go away for almost 2 months to work at summer camps, far away from Tokyo, and don't have internet. My dream was to get the ball rolling, then be able to move the day after I got back. I was working from 9am until 9pm, and didn't get cell reception anyways, so I was out of any sort of loop that might exist between all these people who want my money.

Then the waiting game. A week later, standing on the top of a mountain in Izu (only place with cell reception near my camp), I got word that the guarantor gave the go ahead. Later still, the management company decided that I was worthy. Then, a week after that, the owner himself chimed in.


No reason. Just rejected.

The place had multiple vacancies, so your guess is as good as mine. I'm trying to stay away from the 'He must be a xenophobe' angle, but I can't think of any other possibility. Fucking racist. Maybe?

So now I'm jumping through hoops, again, with a different room. And going back for another couple weeks of summer camp.

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