Lost your job in Japan? Don’t stress it

Losing your job is something that happens to all of us, but it needn’t be that stressful. Perhaps like me your contract simply ran out and university / board of education decided not to renew it. Clearly, if you weren’t expecting that and you’re not ready to leave Japan yet it’s quite a shock but there’s no need to panic and catch the next flight home just yet. Here’s my advice for what to do if you lose your job here:

The Visa problem:

If you’re Visa ends at about the same time your contract does, you might be tempted to think it’s all over. Faced with the same proposition, I considered getting a tourist visa, but I was dissuaded by everyone I spoke too. Most people advised me to get a McJob with some crappy eikaiwa company or other – just to get the working visa so I could continue to search for a better job. Don’t. You’ll inevitably have to change your Visa to another type anyway and you’ll just be tired and saddened from such a lame job.

A lot of recruitment companies will tell you that they cannot even consider you on a tourist visa and that they cannot possibly “sponsor” you to get a working visa – stay away from these companies as they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. “Sponsorship” of a visa means you have a contract, a university degree, and a short form to be filled in. It takes 2-3 weeks until you can officially work, but in the meantime most places I’ve dealt with will have you start on an “unpaid” training basis. If a company requires from the start that you have a working visa, they aren’t worth working for.  I am not sure about the option of getting a distance learning PhD.

I was also told by one major recruitment firm (Robert Walters – who I’ve heard nothing but complaints about from other friends by the way) that I would even have to leave the country to get or change from a tourist Visa – which was true until about 5 years ago when the law changed. That a top recruitment firm executive dealing exclusively with foreigners does not know about Visa law is quite shocking. Let me repeat:

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE JAPAN TO OBTAIN / CHANGE TO / CHANGE FROM A TOURIST VISA.Companies that tell you they cannot sponsor a visa, or executives that tell you a tourist visa is troublesome ARE NOT WORTH WORKING FOR.

You could also get married, which is what I will be doing at the end of this month; but since my fiance is Chinese it doesn’t especially improve my Visa situation.

The money problem:

You can survive quite easily on around 150,000 yen a month, possibly less if you’re apartment is super cheap. But since you have no income at all now you’re screwed right? Wrong; as long as you’ve been working for a year or more and paying into the official state pension – something which every employer is legally required to do – you are entitled to receive unemployment benefits should you lose your job because of situations out of your control. Having your contract not renewed is one example of beyond your control. If you quit yourself, you’re going to be in a more complicated situation and it could take up to 3 months to get any unemployment benefits, but this shouldn’t be an issue for most of you. You can read about my experiences on applying for unemployment benefit here.

If you have been employed in Japan, you are entitled to claim unemployment benefits should you lose your job, regardless of your Visa status

You can also try plying your trade and skills if you have any. For example, I can fix computers. Since I lost my job and put the word out that I was now repairing computers, suddenly a lot of work just came in – and of course, it paid. In a month, I made around 80,000 on little side jobs just fixing computers. A lot of these little jobs were from friends and acquaintances – so if you’re unhappy about receiving money from friends for services and time that you give them, you should probably re-evaluate how you value yourself. Your service is worth something, whether it’s a friend or not.

Get yourself out there:

I hate networking. Damn, do I hate networking. I’m quite a socially inept failure actually. But the truth is, almost all jobs are awarded to people who were introduced to the job by a mutual friend or acquaintance. In fact, all the jobs I’ve ever had in Japan (apart from JET) have been through mutual friends etc. Clicking on the [Apply] button on GaijinPot may make you feel like you’re doing something, but there’s a 1% chance that you will even get an interview and that’s along with 50 other applicants. Even if you don’t have that many friends, just let people know that you’re unemployed and looking for work and I guarantee something will come your way. For the past month I was incredibly lucky to be introduced to the owner of a tea-house in Gion, and I’ve since started working there part-time teaching them how to use Apple Macs and even teaching English to the Maiko-san! Can you imagine that kind of job being advertised? No, because most jobs aren’t! I’m also going to start work full-time from next week as a research assistant at Kyoto University, thanks to an introduction by my previous head of department! And I’ve been working part-time for the last few months in a datacentre, due to the fact that I emailed Terrie Lloyd (a highly successful entrepreneur and IT journalist) asking for advice – and he then immediately put me in touch with HR department of the IT outsourcing that he happens to be the CEO of.

Most jobs are not advertised. Let people know that you’re out of work; and ask for advice from people in your field – you never know what like will bring you!

Clear out the house, and live on cheap beer:

Now that you have all this free time on your hands, why not use the time to clear out your house and give away / sell stuff you don’t need. I’ve been selling random bits on bobs on Yahoo Auctions and made a few thousands yen out of it. You’d be surprised what sells actually – old consoles, broken even, ancient ipods. There’s always someone who wants your crap. I’d suggest my own site, gaijinstuff.com too!

And finally, if you insist on drinking beer then lower you standards and start drinking the sub-100yen cans of fake beer like the ones featured in this post – 88 and 97 yen respectively from all good Gyomu Supa’s!

Got some job searching stories or advice to share? Please let us know about it in the comments! PS: Be a darling and click on the JapanSoc button if you found this article interesting / useful / laughable – thanks!


August Japan Matsuri – Frugal Living in Japan

Last months blog maturi about weird things in Japan was a huge success, with over 3.5 million entries* hosted by Gakuranman. This month I set the topic as Frugal Living Tips for Japan, and despite a lot of people being away for the holidays or evidently not having the first clue about how to live frugally – we’ve still rounded up some pretty stunning entries – so thank you to all who participated!

(*approximation. Actual numbers may vary.)


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Announcing the August Matsuri, Frugal Tips for Living in Japan

After last months astonishing matsuri hosted by Gakuranman on whats weird about Japan, I’d like this month to be a little more practical. It will be hard to beat what has been described as “the best matsuri, ever”, but let’s give it a go.

This month, I’d like us all to share our best frugal tips for living here in Japan. Those living here for the long term, please share a little of your insiders info and elite advice! If you’re not currently living in Japan and hence have no idea where the cheapest ramen place ever is located, please don’t feel left out though – you can still enter the matsuri with more general frugal tips that you think might also be applicable here in Japan.

So there it is. The only rule is try to stay away from writing about budgeting, as that was covered by a previous matsuri hosted by Tune In Tokyo, and as ever pictures are appreciated. You can enter through the blog carnival submission widget thing, by leaving a comment on this post, or by mailing me directly. Deadline is August 25th! Let’s doing happy useful blog carnival tip giving Japan!

Investing for Beginners

After lots of requests for information on investing while in Japan, I’ve decided to write a very basic introduction. This time I’ll be looking at managed funds, which is probably the easiest way to get a good return on your spare income with minimum of effort over a long term. Of course, there are other investment options – stocks, foreign exchange trading – but they require far too much effort and you’re just as likely to lose money unless you really know what you’re doing.

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Forget Budgeting – Do Conscious Spending

For this months blog matsuri on living on a budget in Japan, I knew I had to write something. I mean, would the frugalista ever be forgiven if he didn’t write something about budgeting? I can make my excuses about a favourite places in Japan perhaps, having only made it as far as Tokyo last week despite having lived here for 6 years! Surely, Billy of Tune in Tokyo is expecting something of me this month. But dammit, I hate budgeting. Writing down everything I spend and totaling up everything each day? Thanks, but I have a life. Limiting myself to spending less each month on something I love? Err, screw you, hippy. Saving 5 yen by going to a different 100 yen store that absorbs the cost of consumption tax themselves? Whatever, if you really enjoy counting pennies then go ahead, I will not be wasting my time accompanying you on your epic adventure to the ancient realm of scroogedom. I do, however, spend consciously.

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Change your internet and get gift vouchers, or a Wii


Japanese internet is the best in the world, hands-down. But if you’re moving house or if you’ve had your internet contract for over 2 years, I strongly suggest you head to your nearest electronics store and change your internet provider. Having recently moved, we went into town to get signed up for some high speed internets. Since this is something we were going to be getting no matter what, I was eager to take advantage of any offer or campaign we could. We ended up getting 20,000 yen worth of BicCamera vouchers for signing up in-store for NTT hikari-fibre 100mb connection (the price is the same by the way, whether you sign up in store or phone them directly). The only catch was that we had to sign up for cable television for at least 3 months too, the first two months of which was free and of which the 3rd month cost us 6,000 yen; and the fact that we are locked into a two-year contract. Still, with the extortionate key-money and deposit we payed on this place you can be damn sure we’re not moving for at least two years. So after canceling the worthless cable TV today, we still ended up 14,000 yen in the positive – which we promptly used to buy a second-hand Nintendo Wii! We later found out that BicCamera was also running a similar campaign where you could just get a Wii instead of the vouchers, so I guess you might want to look into the deals a little bit more than we did.

Who is your current provider, and how good is it? Any plans to change? In my own experience, NTT hikari lines are by far the fastest – I had a Yahoo BB ADSL connection when I first came here, but the speed was pathetic and often it would just disconnect – I’ve only ever heard complaints from friends with regard to their BB connection too. I guess it’s pretty obvious when you consider that NTT brings a dedicated fiber-optic cable into your house while Yahoo/Softbank BB is essentially running through a standard telephone line. BB do seem to advertise better though – reminds me of the old days where any magazine you bought would have an AOL cd attached – carpet bomb marketing I guess you could call it.

Getting free stuff from stickers on beer cans


If you live in Japan, you may have noticed that most beer cans have a little sticker on them that you can collect, stick on a special flyer along with your address and a 50 yen stamp, and be entered into a draw or just get something for free. It’s not just beer either, a lot of the products here run special point promotions that involve cutting out the labels or barcodes to get free stuff, you just need to look at the packaging a bit. If you tend to buy a certain product then check the manufacturers website for current campaigns / promotions, you’ll be surprised how many they usually run. Before I start, let’s do a quick poll on how many of you have actually bothered collecting these things before.

[poll id=”2″]

What can you get for free or win?

Varies. In the past, we’ve got a cool little shopping bag from Pasco bread stickers that we use everyday now; some small bowls from another random bread company I don’t remember; I’ve had a couple of crates of beer turning up on my doorstep; 1000 yen prepaid gas cards from Gillette… But the real horde is yet to come – since my girlfriend started working in a bar last month, she’s been bringing home beer can stickers every night and we’re sending out a couple a week! I’ll guess we’ll know if was all worth it in the coming months. I’ll be sure to post here with updates.

Filling in the form:

Here’s a breakdown of the form you’ll need to fill out for those of you lacking in . Writing in romaji is fine. I’ve noticed that not all supermarkets tend to stock these special campaign flyers, so you may need to shop around a little. For beer stickers, most liquor stores will stock every kind of flyer.


Don’t forget to stick a 50 yen stamp (be careful not to waste an 80 yen one like I have before) and post it off.

You may also need to fill in how many entries you want. The key kanji you’re looking for here is “mai” 枚 and “kuchi” 口. MAI is the number of stickers you need per KUCHI, or entry. So, choice A may be 「24枚1口」(24 sticker for one entry) and choice B might be「6枚1口」(6 stickers per entry). You need to do your own math and write down the number of entries on the postcard if you are able to enter more than once on one flyer.


This Asahi summer campaign has four different choices of competitions to enter. Each one has a different number of stickers for one entry. If you really really want one of the products, you can also pay an extortionate amount of real money AS WELL AS collect half the usual stamps and they’ll just assume you won, but that’s a little ridiculous – the point is to get free stuff here.


This is for Pasco bread products, it’s actually an old photo and as I mentioned earlier, we got a good quality sturdy “eco-bag” from this campaign that we use everyday now. We didn’t even have to send this one off – just take it to a participating supermarket.

Final word:

If you’re a fickle shopper like me who doesn’t mind changing brands of coffee or bread everytime there’s a new promotion, you can get some really cool stuff for free. The stickers on the beer cans are always worth collecting even if you don’t drink alot – the actual stickers don’t have an experiration date, but the flyer does, so keep them stuck on your fridge if you don’t think you will collect enough in time. It’s also quite inexpensive but effective anti-retail therapy for those of you who like to shop to relax!

Please let me know in the comments if you’ve ever won anything off of these kinds of promotions, I’ll be very disappointed if you none of you have even bothered. Free stuff people, come on!

Also, if you’d like to enter one of the promotions but you don’t understand part of the flyer, feel free to ask away in the comments or mail me a picture of it to [help] AT [gaijinstuff.com] and I’ll see if I can clear something up for you.

Guide to Safe Torrenting: Mac OsX

I guess this a little off-topic from the usual money-saving strategies, but lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who have received letters from their Japanese ISP with regards to having downloaded something illegal from the internet. I’m not going to get into the legalities of downloading movies and software here; let’s save that for another post. I would however like to show you exactly how you can protect yourself from ever getting a nasty letter threatening to cut off your internet if you don’t leave those torrents alone.

The Theory:

Firstly, let’s look at the reasons why you’re getting caught, and then I’ll show you exactly how to set up your torrent clients to make you safer:

1. You downloaded from an evil peer: Torrents are a peer-to-peer network – that means that rather than downloading from a central server, your file is coming from 1 or more other people on the internet (usually quite a few). Believe it or not, there are evil companies out there that are paid by the RIAA and movie corporations to infiltrate the peer-to-peer torrent network and pretend to have the movie you’re looking for. They advertise themselves on the torrent network, and then you when you connect to them and attempt to download the movie from their computer, they record your IP address. Then it’s just a simple case of sending a letter to your ISP saying “IP address x.x.x.x attempted to download movie X, here is the proof”, and your ISP takes it from there. This is the single biggest reason you will get caught. What can you do? Don’t worry. There are kind people on the internet (hackers) who make lists of these evil companies and all their evil computers, and it’s pretty simple to use these lists to make sure you don’t ever go near one of those evil computers. Essentially, we can set your computer up to automatically get a blacklist of evil peers every day, and that’ll make you 99% safer instantly.

2. Your ISP is spying on you: You have a constant stream of data coming in and out on your internet connection. Your ISP can of course look at this stream of data, and can tell pretty much what you’re doing. If you’re downloading a movie via torrents, they can tell – they might not be able to tell what movie it is, but they can tell that your downloading it via torrents. This isn’t usually a reason to worry, as most ISPs don’t go around spying on their customers for fun – but if you’re constantly streaming an above normal amount of data, then they’re going to want to know why. If they flag you and find out you’re downloading movies, or even hosting your own high traffic web-server, you’re likely to get a threatening letter.

3. Bandwidth limits: You may have a 100mbit connection, but that doesn’t mean you can use all of it all the time constantly. If everyone did that, your ISP would go broke in a second. That’s why many ISPs in Japan and America are implementing certain limits that when you go over them will either automatically cut off your connection or set off a red flag for further investigation somewhere. In America these limits are ridiculous – something like 20gb a month in some cases. Luckily, this is Japan and the limits are actually quite reasonable, but you should be aware of them. My own ISP for instance – “OCN” – has an upload limit of 20gb per day, which isn’t really a limit at all. However, they did send me a warning saying that if I went over that limit, they would be consequences.

Even if the worst happens, and you get a warning letter, you still have 2 chances left (in most cases), so don’t panic quite yet.

How To Protect Yourself: Mac OsX

I recommend and will be teaching you how to do these steps with a native OsX torrent client called Transmission. It’s the fastest and easiest to use in my opinion, and it has all the functionality we need to make you 99% secure in your torrent downloads.

Once you’re installed and set up your download directory, go ahead and open up the apps preference panel. If you’d prefer a visual guide to this, there’s an HD video below of myself explaining the steps involved.

1. Click on bandwidth tab. You’ll notice you can turn on a limit for both upload and download if you need to, but you’ll have to find out your own ISP limits. If you’re living in Japan, chances are you don’t have a limit but I would still recommend setting one so you don’t set off any alarms. As my own upload limit is 20gb/day, I have my upload speed set at 200k/s, which is more than enough. If you are constantly downloading then I would really suggest you turn on both an upload and download limit, or you may find yourself racking up terabytes of bandwidth (at which point, it is pretty much non-profitable for your ISP to keep providing you with internet).

2. Click on peers tab. On the part that says “encryption”, check both boxes for “prefer encrypted peers” *and* “ignore un-encrypted peers”, all your torrent traffic will be unidentifiable by your ISP. Your outgoing traffic is automatically encrypted by Transmission, but by setting these you will ensure everything coming in is too.

3. On the bottom of the same tab it says “blocklist”. You’ll need to download a list of bad IPs before you can turn this on, so go ahead and click on “update” button. It may take a few minutes. Then enable the other two checkboxes for “block bad IPs” and “update weekly”.

Congratulations, you’re now safe! Happy torrenting, and good job on choosing OsX!

If you’re using windows and you’d like a video walkthrough too, let me know in the comments and I’ll put one together. The steps are basically the same, but Windows requires some extra software to do the bad-peer blocking so it gets a little more complicated.

Purchasing Value: The iPhone in Japan

As I mentioned in a previous post on why 100 yen stores are not always the best choice, I am not adverse to spending money if I am getting value. For me, the iPhone represents an enormous amount of value, especially as a foreigner living in Japan, when compared to other mobile phones on the market. It has oft been touted that Japanese mobile phones are the best in the world, years ahead of their foreign competitors – but sorry, this just isn’t true anymore.

Previous Phones:

I’ve been with Softbank since I first came to Japan 6 years ago – for the simple reason that their models have always had their interface available in English. This is of course a huge boon for anyone new in Japan who hasn’t yet got the language down (good luck if you’re in that situation by the way, it took me 2 years before I finally felt like I could actually communicate competently). I can’t remember the exact models, because they were fairly bog-standard keitai that make phone calls and that’s about it. I believe they had calendar functions too – but since they didn’t sync with any of my computers I really couldn’t see the point in maintaining two separate calendars. Wouldn’t be great if my keitai could use my iCal as it’s data source? My last keitai had a TV too – I think I tried it once or twice, but the reception was horrendous and who wants to watch daytime J-TV anyway?! In short, they made calls and sent text messages. I never sent Japanese text messages though as typing in Kana on those models would require learning an entirely new keyboard. No thank you.

What value does my iPhone give me?

Easy Kana entry, Romaji style:

img_0004Essential for any foreigners who can’t be bothered trying to get used to the dingy and awkward keitai keyboards, the iPhone has a full size Qwerty with kana entry in Romaji, just the way you would enter it on a computer. Add in predictive text and full sentence Kanji changing and suddenly you’ll quite capable of mobile communication in Japanese! Wonderful!

All the news I could ever need:

img_0001Only minutes after we had moved in a few weeks ago, a woman came to our door trying to sell us a subscription to Yomiuri. I told here I read all my news on the internet and my iPhone, and she said I would be the death of the newspaper industry. I didn’t have the heart to tell her how true that was – newspapers simply don’t have a future in the digital age. Even the New York Times has calculated it would be cheaper for them to go entirely digital and give all their subscribers an Amazon Kindle than it is to continue printing on paper.

Rather than being fed a selection of news articles that are of no interest to me, I get all my news delivered to my iPhone RSS Reader from my personal selection of major new sites and personal blogs. I get job listings, news from home, news from Japan, new blog comments, cute lolcat pictures, political satire and my favourite web comics – I get whatever I want. Easy, simple, free.


img_0005Oh sure, your keitai has GPS too does it? Do you know how to use it? Have you even attempted too – or not because it’s all in Japanese, runs slowly in Java and requires about 5 clicks to open it through some ridiculous application menu structure? Thought so… In one click, I can find out exactly where I currently am in Japan with the interface of google maps that I’m used to using on the computer anyway. I can search for another location easily in both Japanese and English, and get perfect directions there for either walking, by car/bike, or by public transport. For most place, I can even get a street-view of the place so I know exactly what to look out for when I get there. I have to honestly say that living in Japan and having my iPhone has made getting around so incredibly easy, even if all the other value added features disappeared it would be worth it for this alone.

Aside, it occurred to me the other day to wonder why taxi don’t all carry iPhones. We tried to order a taxi to take our friend from our place to the station last week, and after explaining our full address and postal code they still didn’t have any idea and actually wanted directions to the house. Was the biggest taxi company in Kyoto actually using a paper based out-dated map? Do they even know of the existence of Google Maps, because if they had it could have given them an exact and correct position with the address we gave, in seconds no less. I was truly shocked. I really wanted to say, “get a damn iPhone, you’re a total failure as a taxi company if you don’t know where stuff is!”. We eventually had to go outside and find the nearest apartment block with a name that was actually on their map. Update: For the first time in my life, a Japanese deliver man got angry with me this week because he couldn’t find our house. How much simpler would his life be if he had an iPhone?

The Internet. The REAL Internet:

img_0006Whoever thought of having to make a special separate version of the internet just for mobile phones should be shot. My students claim to use the internet on their keitai all the time, but what they’re actually using a minuscule subset of the real internet that has been pre-programmed into their bookmarks, and it frustrates me no end to tell them to visit a site for homework only have to have them say they couldn’t view it. The iPhone on the other hand does not need to view mobile internet pages because it can view normal internet pages, and the touch interface is such that navigating a regular size internet page is really rather intuitive and natural. The power of just being able to look up anything at your fingertips is pretty much un-describable… wait, no, I can describe it – it’s pretty damn cool.


im_for_skypePrearranged to talk to your folks back home but can’t get back to your computer? No worries, just fire up Fring, an iPhone application that lets you talk (no video chat mind you) on Skype and numerous other chat and IM services. Update: Skype also now has an official client for the iPhone, which you might prefer if you only use it and don’t need the additional IM services that Fring offers. Frugally speaking, this means you can now make international calls at local rates using your Skype credit

Of course, they’re a ton more features I have even begin to touch upon – the fact that it’s the best iPod yet, the app store, integration with iCal and address book, the ability to fetch emails from your yahoo/gmail/regular mail accounts… frankly I don’t see how you can afford to live without an iPhone.

Rent a house, not an apartment – a cost comparison

tinyapartmentApartments in Japan are ridiculously tiny and astronomically expensive. If you can afford to spare an extra 20,000 or 30,000 yen a month I really recommend you look into renting a house when your lease is next up. Initial moving-in costs like key money and deposit are similar to an apartment. If you can get a friend to move in with you you’ll find the cost per person is actually less per month than you were paying for a rat-cage apartment, only you get a whole lot more space – and if you’d rather live alone you’ll be paying only a little more for a lot more space.

The house may be a little older than a similar priced apartment, but a home is what you make of it. You may also find you have free parking with a house, so it’s definitely a cheaper option if you’re currently paying for a separate parking space like I have in the past. You’re unlikely to find a house in the central city area if that’s a big point for you; but you’ll also find life a few kilometres out of the centre is a lot more peaceful and relaxed.

Cost Comparison:

Here’s a breakdown of the situation for my current house and previous apartment to give you a ballpark idea.

Location – central Kyoto, 5 minutes from Hankyu Omiya station
Rent: ¥ 50,000 / month + ¥5,000 parking fee for motorbike
Deposit + key money: ¥ 150,000
Size: 8 mat main room, tiny kitchen/genkan area, low ceiling bed sized loft space for sleeping, small veranda.
Notes: annoying landlord lives next door; wall to next apartment very thin

My Current House:
Location – North Eastern Kyoto, 5 minutes from Demachiyanagi Keihan station. Next to Kamogawa river.
Rent: ¥ 65,000 / month
Deposit and key money: ¥ 200,000
Size: 10 mat bedroom, 8 mat bedroom, 10 mat living room, 8 mat kitchen, 8 mat low-ceiling loft for storage, separate bathroom and toilet, 3 verandas, parking space for one car (or many motorbikes!)

I’m currently living with my girlfriend who is still a university student, so the house is big enough for the both of us and I’m able to pay all the rent myself to save her some money towards tuition. We also currently have someone renting one room for a nominal amount of rent, and it doesn’t feel cramped at all. As for getting into the very centre of town, it only takes about 5 minutes longer than when I lived in the apartment due to Japan’s awesome public transport – and truth be told, there’s a lot more to do out of town than in!

Do you rent or own a house in Japan? Let me know in the comments about how much it cost you and much cooler it than the apartment you were crammed into when you first came to Japan! If your still living in an apartment, what’s holding you back? Is it big enough for you?