Wrestling with Big Issues

This morning, a few minutes from home, we saw this:

sumo wrestlers practicing
These guys are in town practicing for the July Grand Tournament in Nagoya.

“Now there’s something you don’t see every day”, I thought. But then I looked around and saw the general public completely unfazed and I realised that, in Japan, perhaps it is.


EDIT: In an even more surreal encounter, on Monday I saw two sumo wrestlers get into a lift at our local shopping mall. I wonder whether 10 persons or less still applies?

Uncrossable Crossing Closes – Nerds Get Emotional

Today is an historic day for Nagoya train nerds. The Atsuta Jingu Mae level crossing is permanently closing, and little wonder too. It crosses 8 tracks (4 JR tracks and 4 Meitetsu tracks) carrying a total of 1,300 freight and passenger trains per day. This means the crossing is open for an average of only 1 minute 14 seconds in every hour.

Other peculiarities that have train nerds foaming at the mouth are the pulley-operated rope barriers that are manually lowered and raised by station staff, and the island in the middle where one can end up marooned when both halves close at the same time.

Jingu Mae Crossing
Jingu-Mae Level Crossing. Source: This blog.

Rainy Season Precipitates Precipitation

We’re a couple of weeks into this year’s rainy season, which will last until mid-July. Although it doesn’t rain every day, the weather is generally wet, humid and muggy. Typhoons usually start rolling north-easterly towards the archipelago at the end of the rainy season, but this year we’re getting an early visitor. At midnight tonight Typhoon No. 4 will pass over the Tokai area. Winds in the eye of the storm are currently gusting to 126km/hour. Typhoon No. 5 is hot on its heels, and is currently expected to arrive around Friday, although whether it will come by this part of Japan remains to be seen.

Today our eldest son was sent home from Nursery School early, much to his surprise and delight. We’ve shuttered the large windows at home and are hoping for the best with regard to this year’s rice crop that has just been planted.

As you can see, typhoons are numbered rather than named in Japan. This helps avoid the feeling that one’s close friend (who happens to be called Katrina or Tracy) might be somehow responsible for misery, death and destruction. How thoughtful.

Typhoon No. 4
Typhoon No. 4. projected course. Source: Yahoo! Japan

Kei Cars and 30km per litre

Since I seem to be on the theme of cars recently I have another automobile-related post for you today, this time at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Japan has a special category of light vehicles called kei-jidousha (軽自動車) that are cheap to own and operate. When I was previously living in Japan (before I had kids) I owned one of these. To give you an idea of its size, when sitting in the driver’s seat I could touch all four corners of the interior roof with my left hand! They are perfect for short commutes and as a daily runner.

To qualify as a Light Vehicle, cars must have an engine size no more than 660cc and maximum power of 47kW, as well as meet certain physical size restrictions. These small cars are identified by yellow number plates and qualify for lower stamp duty on purchase, lower highway tolls, lower road tax, lower insurance, and lower vehicle inspection fees (weight tax component). Being so small, they also result in lower human survival rates in crashes. As we were told in one of our orientation seminars when first arriving in Japan, “If you get a kei car, and you have a highway accident, don’t expect to be able to use your legs again.”

There is even a category of ute known as a Kei Truck. My parents-in-law use one of these midget utes around the farm.

Of course a huge advantage with Kei cars is that they are fuel misers. Suzuki are currently advertising a new model that achieves over 30km per litre of petrol. Our Camry back home would go about 7.7km by comparison. (Incidentally, I like the km/litre metric that is used in Japan to measure fuel consumption. It’s much easier to calculate running costs compared to Australia’s litres/100km metric.)

Kei Car
Japanese light motor vehicle.

You bought what?!

Yesterday my father-in-law made a stealth purchase. He didn’t tell Nicewife or I about his plan. He didn’t tell his wife either. He just casually rocked up at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon with a Porsche, parked it, and went inside without any comment.


Thanks to the fact that older cars rapidly depreciate in Japan he bought this 1992 Carrera, with only 66,000km on the clock, for a fraction of what it would have cost in Australia. At least now the question of whether or not he’s in the midst of a mid-life-crisis is well and truly settled.

Radioactivity is Wife in Japan

In an attempt to make nuclear radioactivity easy to understand, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has got itself in hot water over a poorly-conceived analogy it published on its website. The analogy was presented as a cartoon of an angry wife, with text drawing the following comparisons:

  • The angry wife is the radioactive source.
  • Her animated state is radioactivity.
  •  Her screaming, angry voice is the radiation itself.
Radioactive wife
Cartoon Comparing Radioactivity to a Not-very-Nicewife. Source: tv-asahi

After garnering a little too much attention the cartoon was taken down yesterday.

Cheaper Coffee

I’ve posted in the past about my dislike of paying $5 for a cup of mud-like filter coffee, and I’ve been actively seeking better alternatives. Today I bought a small filter coffee at Maccas for just 100 yen. After I paid they said they could also do me an Iced Coffee for free. So that’s two coffees, one iced and one hot, for around $1.30 in total.

Coffee still takes like mud, but at least it’s reasonably-priced mud.

Two coffees for $1.30. I’m lovin’ it.

Prepaid Data SIM Cards

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get prepaid SIM cards in Japan on a tourist visa. They are quite hard to find and there’s little information available in English, which is why I thought I’d write this post. Having data on the go is indispensable if you plan to take a smartphone and laptop with you on your trip. There is very little free public Wi-Fi in Japan and the ability to check your e-mail, find your location and map out train routes with Google Maps, and book hotels on the move is a huge advantage.

I bought a 6-month prepaid u300 b-mobile data SIM for 14,900 yen. I’ve since recharged it online for a further 6 month period for the same price. There are no additional usage fees to pay. B-Mobile uses NTT Docomo’s network which has possibly the best coverage in Japan.

I use this SIM in my Australian unlocked iPhone 3GS to access the net on the move. I use a USB cable to tether with my laptop and use this connection when I’m working away from my desk. Uploads and downloads are unlimited but are speed-restricted to 300kbps. That’s fine for e-mail, maps and basic web. It’s not fast enough for Skype (even audio-only) or web video. If you want faster access you can buy the b-mobile 1GB定額 which gives you 1GB of data without a speed limit.

In Nagoya you can buy b-mobile SIMs at Bic Camera (just outside Nagoya Station) or at some of the many small electrical retailers around Osu-Kanon’s Akamon Street. The SIM card I bought required activation by making a simple phone call from a separate Japanese mobile (which you can ask a friend to do for you). However, I’ve noticed that they’ve just released a new product for travellers that doesn’t require activation and they’ve finally put up some information about it in English.

B-mobile SIM Package. This is the 6-month prepaid version.
b-Mobile SIM
The actual SIM card.
b-mobile speedtest
Speed is limited to 300kbps. Here’s my speedtest.net result from my tethered laptop.

Earthquake Hat

This is ID’s earthquake hat. It’s a compulsory purchase for all children attending his nursery school. I can’t imagine how the teacher would get all the children in the class to don these during an actual earthquake, given the generally short duration of earthquakes and the associated panic they tend to cause. But the photo attests to the fact that at least he wore it once, and that it, evidently, makes him happy.

Earthquake Hat