Showing posts with label electronics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label electronics. Show all posts

HOW TO: Use An Electronic Japanese Toilet

The high-tech Japanese toilet. That's what so many of you may have heard about Japan.

While others of you might be wondering why I'm writing this as a how-to. But considering how many blog posts I've seen by people who travel to Japan and inevitably get doused by one of these toilets, I believe a "how-to" is in order.

My first encounters with these toilets weren't much to speak of, except for the fact that I sometimes spent far too long trying to figure out how to flush, as I assumed if there was a panel with that many buttons, one of them must be the flush button. After desperately pressing them all and being surprised or nearly squirted, I later saw, embarrassed, a normal-looking handle on the back of the toilet itself, just like in the States.

HOW TO: Prepare for an Earthquake in Japan

It's still March 10 here in the States, but it's March 11 now in Japan. I hope we can all take a moment to remember those who have been affected by the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster and also support and help those still going through difficulties in any small way we can. Although my family has been going through a lot this past year, I feel it fades in comparison, and my mind sometimes goes back to that day and following weeks. It's not something I can forget. And my post last year at this time says it all really. 

I do want to share today's guest post with you from WaNavi Japan. If you're living in Japan or planning to move there at any time in the future, I recommend preparing yourself (and family, if applicable) as much as possible. Have an emergency kit. Stock some dry food and lots of water. Know where to get information, especially if you don't understand Japanese, so you can protect yourself (and your family). WaNavi Japan explains more about all this below.


Everyone knows that Japan is an earthquake-prone country, but the events of March 2011 made it much more real for many of us living in Japan or considering a move to Japan. It’s easy to think that since you can’t predict when or where an earthquake will occur, or what damage will result, you can’t do much to prepare for one.

This is not the case.

We can learn how to be prepared by seeing how Japanese society prepares and educates their citizens to respond to earthquakes.

Disaster risk management includes both planning for and responding to disasters. In Japan planning starts early -- young children are educated about how important it is to stay safe. They learn to hide under a table or cover their heads when the shaking starts or when they hear an earthquake early warning alarm.

When you feel shaking, try to protect your head and stay calm. Once the shaking stops, you need to get accurate information and respond appropriately. The more you know about the information sources available to you and what information you need, the more likely you will be able to stay calm and make the best decisions about how to react.

Important Information and Communication Tools

Japan Post to Ship Electronics with Lithium Ion Batteries Starting 2013

Shipping electronics with lithium ion batteries from Japan is a pain, to put it simply. You, as of now, essentially have two options, FedEx or DHL, which I explained in more detail in how to ship electronics with lithium ion batteries from Japan. This all came about when I tried to send an old laptop to my sister in the States and the post office, after accepting it initially, later called us and said we couldn't send the computer unless we took the battery out.

However, good news! Starting January 1, 2013, Japan Post will allow you to send electronics with lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries, as long as they meet certain requirements. 

  • Batteries must be in or attached to an electronic device (e.g. in a camera, or connected to a laptop, etc.) -- batteries cannot be packaged separately/by themselves, even if they're a spare.
  • Cell-type batteries (cylinders) must be less than 20 watts a piece.
  • Other batteries (usually rectangular), must be less than 100 watts and must have the wattage labeled on the outside of the battery/device. For reference, a Macbook Pro's battery is 60 watts.
  • You can't send damaged batteries or anything that might catch fire.
  • Batteries can't weigh more than 5 kilograms.
  • You can't send more than four cell-type batteries in one package. For example, if one camera has one battery inside it, you can send up to four of those cameras. If a camera has two of those batteries in it, you can only send two cameras. 
  • You can't send more than two other batteries (again, usually rectangular) per package. So if you want to send a video camera and a laptop that both use these types of batteries, you can send those two items together. If you have a laptop, video camera and a DSLR with this type of battery, you can only send two of those items in a package.
Please see the Japan Post website for the official press release and detailed information (unfortunately all in Japanese) about this. The detailed document has a list of countries that lithium ion and polymer batteries can be sent to, via air (first column) or sea (second column).

I think this is a great development, especially considering how expensive it is to ship electronics with lithium batteries via FedEx and DHL. I only wish they would have implemented this earlier this year!

Many thanks to Tim for the heads up.

HOW TO: Use Your Dehumidifier in Japan

Forget what I said about it being relatively dry and pleasant around here... Today the humidity took a big jump with sporadic thunder and showers. So those dehumidifiers will come in handy after all!

Now that you know what type of dehumidifier to get, or at the very least, what to look for, let's talk about how to use it.

Unless, of course, you enjoy pushing buttons at random until the machine does what you want. No judgement here, I did the same thing for a while a few years ago! The joys of being functionally illiterate, right?

Here's a lovely picture with the English translations for your reference, and I've also added a chart below if you want the complete breakdown of each kanji or to copy/paste the words.

dehumidifier, Japan, how to use, Japanese, translation

A Guide to Dehumidifiers in Japan

Japan, dehumidifier, how to find, Japanese, compressor, desiccant, humidity

I don't know about you, but the last few days in Shizuoka have been on the drier side of things, for Japan at least. Still humid, but hovering around 60% during the day instead of 70-80% or so.

But that aside, we all know the humidity rises during Japan's summer season. And though you might use an air conditioner (either the air conditioning or dehumidifying function) if you have one, a dehumidifier 除湿機 (じょしつき, joshitsuki) can be a useful little machine, either to help take moisture out of the room for whatever reason (or the bathroom, closets, etc.) or to dry clothes, especially if you can't or don't hang your garments outside to dry or the weather is just, drowning your balcony.

If you can't read Japanese, going to the electronics store might be slightly overwhelming when trying to figure out exactly what you want (more so if the salesperson is trying super hard to convince help you pick something out in a mix of English and Japanese). So here's what you should know about these handy machines, including the types, advantages and disadvantages to each, and various important specifications, such as how much space it can effectively dehumidify or the wattage used.

HOW TO: Use an Air Conditioner in Japan

Given that we're in the height of summer now with the rainy season behind us, temps are soaring across the country and folks are suffering from heatstroke left and right, this might be a good time to look at how to use your air conditioner, especially as I've received several requests for this post. Of course, we should all be trying to do our best to save electricity or finding other ways to cool off, but now that we have a baby, I understand the importance of regulating the temperature somewhat (or else, we NEVER sleep at night due to a cranky, hot little one).

And if the heat and humidity are enough to actually affect you negatively, then please be careful and cool down as needed. It's crazy (in a bad way) to see how many people are falling victim to the heat, this year and every year.

Back to your air conditioner. Keep in mind that aircon makes and models vary -- some have only the most basic features and others a long list of options. I'm using our air conditioner remote as an example for this post, but there are remotes that differ to some extent. Some features might be called something else under different models, as well.

air conditioner, aircon, remote, Japan, Japanese

Internet in Japan: Broadband (High-speed) Options and Basics

Are you heading to Japan this summer? Wondering what you're going to do about internet? Needless to say, trying to sort through all the internet information can be, for many of us, a bit daunting, confusing, and to put it bluntly, a headache. I've attempted to cover the basics of broadband internet in Japan today, with some help from Chris Green of Asahi Net. Asahi Net is a leading internet service provider (ISP) in Japan and the June sponsor of Surviving in Japan. And, as usual, I would love to hear your thoughts, stories and experiences regarding internet in Japan in the comments!

Two Types of Providers

First things first, as this might not be the case in your home country: Internet services in Japan are typically unbundled services (cable internet is usually not), meaning that one company usually provides the line and the other establishes the internet connection (in other words, the internet service provider, or ISP is typically separate from the company who sets up the line and rents you the modem, although this isn't always the case). As for companies that provide the line and hardware, NTT East and NTT West are the main ones, though KDDI and some other companies also provide these services, often because they lease the line from NTT East or NTT West.

ISPs, called プロバイダ (purobaida) in Japanese, are the ones that get you an internet connection. There are many, many of these around the country -- some of the big ones include Asahi Net, Yahoo BB, OCN, So-net, @nifty, Biglobe, etc. Most only offer Japanese support, so if you're looking for English, you might find some helpful information here, or check out Surviving in Japan's June sponsor, Asahi Net.

You can sign up with NTT East or NTT West on your own and then sign up for an ISP separately, if you prefer, or, you can sign up with an ISP and they will pass your application to NTT East or NTT West directly. You may either end up paying two bills each month, or a combined bill, depending on which option you go with and the ISP you choose.

And this is another possible service that can help get you hooked up (all in English).

Main Types of Broadband (High-speed) Internet in Japan

Fiber-optics / FTTH (Fiber to the home)  光ファイバー

Fiber optics, or FTTH, as it's also called, is the fastest and most popular option for internet in Japan, with a max speed of 100 or 200 Mbps (or 1 Gbps for the au Hikari service), depending on your location, and thus service and line/wiring. There are two types of FTTH: family/home type and "mansion" type. The former is usually for standalone houses (and is more expensive) and the latter for apartment buildings with several units. The mansion type is cheaper than the family type and ADSL. 

One downside to FTTH though is that it's not available everywhere yet, so depending on where you live, you might not even have the option for FTTH. Also, if it's not already installed in the building (if you live in an apartment building, etc.), you will have to request permission (via a special form) from the owner to have a line put in.

Connection time, from the time of application, can take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, or possibly longer during peak season (March/April and August/September, sometimes around the New Year holidays as well). If you're hooking up the mansion-type service, then it will probably be closer to two weeks, and if the family/home type, four weeks. These are just in general though; there are always exceptions.

We've been using FTTH for the past three years and it's worked out really well. We had to have the line installed in the beginning, but I started the process a month before moving so we had internet when we moved in.

HOW TO: Ship electronics with lithium ion batteries from Japan

electronics, laptop, cell phone, ship, lithium ion battery, Japan

I recently tried to ship an old MacBook Pro and iPhone to my sister in the U.S. We took them to the post office, paid 8,000 yen, and went on our merry way. A postal worker called us later to say that they couldn't ship the items as they contain lithium ion batteries, which fall under the "dangerous goods" category. We asked about shipping by sea, but were told this was not an option.

This then led to researching various other options for shipping these items abroad, although in the end, the cheapest option is to ship just the laptop without the battery in it (it's dead, anyway).

However, we also discovered that although Japan Post says you can't ship electronics with lithium ion batteries overseas, another pdf on their site says that you CAN ship some electronics with lithium ion batteries, but only to certain countries, and only by sea (surface) mail (船便, ふなびん, funabin). Of course, the U.S. is not one of them (which would explain why we couldn't send the laptop and cell phone), but Canada, England, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and several other countries are. You can find the pdf here, although it's all in Japanese.

Also, you can send the tiny little wristwatch batteries by airmail through Japan Post.

So what are some other possible options for shipping your lithium-ion-battery-containing electronics from Japan? 

A Guide to Convenience Store Copy, Print, and Fax Services in Japan

In my last post, how to print in Japan without owning a printer, I mentioned a few places to print out your documents in Japan and listed two guides explaining how to set up a "net print" account with 7-11 and Circle K. However, some of the feedback I received prompted me to clarify exactly what services some of the major convenience store chains in Japan offer.

So the husband, baby and I drove around town visiting various convenience stores to confirm what their websites state they offer in the way of copy, print and fax services. I should note that not all stores will offer exactly what the website says (and the websites confirm this). While one 7-11 may offer all the services listed on the website, it's possible another one might not (please let me know after reading this post whether you've seen anything different at your local stores).

ALL of these places offer photo printing, so I have not explained them in this post. Photo printing will take up an entirely different post.

Below I've covered the details on copy, print and fax services offered at 7-11, Family Mart, Circle K, Lawson, and Mini Stop. And, to get the main features at a glance, I made a quick reference chart of each of the five convenience stores I've covered in this post.

As always, let me know if you've experienced anything different, or if there's something I missed.

HOW TO: Print in Japan Without Owning a Printer

Japan, print, online, printer

My first months here in Japan I found myself needing to print things more often than I would have thought before arriving. I didn't have a printer (and still don't) and I would print things out at work when it was necessary to have something in paper form.

Sometimes though, it was a hassle. And I felt bad for using the printers at school for non-work related things. I wasn't really sure what other options I had.

Until one day when I was making copies at the 7-11 (convenience store) near my apartment. While going through the process of entering the information for my copies, I noticed a sign that said "net print" in katakana. Though I couldn't read everything at the time, it appeared that I could possibly print documents out here, at this machine, at my local 7-11.

I went home, typed in the URL and signed up for an account. Soon enough I was regularly printing my documents out at 7-11 with ease and didn't have to worry about doing it at work (although, let's be honest, I did on occasion. Especially when my co-workers were all in a meeting that I was not required to attend).

So, here are three places (that I'm aware of) you can print documents if you don't have a printer at home (I won't go into photos in this post, but you can also print photos at these places):

1. FedEx Kinko's - You can find these if you live in one of the following major cities: Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, or Kobe.

2. 7-11 - This convenience store has a "net print" (ネットプリント) service from Fuji Xerox. You upload a file to your account, go to a nearby store and print it out at the copy machine. This seems to be available in most, if not all, stores. Scroll down for a step-by-step guide on how to set up an account (a post is coming on how to upload and print the documents once you've set up an account). You can print pdfs from a USB drive also - but only PDFs and images, not docs (although it's usually better to print via pdf, to maintain the information in the document.)

I've received some criticism about this service (basically saying if you have a USB drive there's no need to make an account, etc.) I disagree. You can't print PDFs off USB drives at all stores, and what if you really want to print a .doc or whatever. It's easy to print or export as a PDF, though, too. But I see uploading it from your computer as much trouble as sticking it on a drive. But then you don't have to carry the drive. Or what if you're out and about and need to print something off your smartphone (has happened to me a few times)? You can upload on your phone and print it off at the store, easy.

Can't read the Japanese? I made guides below, and will make another for how to upload/print at the store. In the end, do whatever method will work for you, (although remember it won't work everywhere), but please don't criticize the (free) work I'm doing for others who might want to use this service. Thanks.

3. Circle K - A similar service to 7-11, but this convenience store calls their service from Sharp, "network print service" (ネットワークプリントサービス). They've only recently been implementing this, so it may not be available everywhere yet, but I'm sure if not it will be soon. Below you'll find a step-by-step guide on how to set up an account (a post is coming on how to upload and print the documents once you've set up an account).

A fourth option might include an internet cafe, if you're planning to visit one for an hour or two, but probably not the best choice if you want to quickly print something out.

Do you know of any other places to print out documents in Japan? Let us know in the comments!


How to sign up for a print service account with Circle K

Step 1 
Click the long pink button (アカウントを作成する) to create a free account.

Step 2 
This page explains a few things and lists the terms. Click "同意する" to agree and continue.

Step 3 
Enter your email address twice and click "通信" to submit. 

Step 4
This is the confirmation page. You'll receive an email with a link in it. Click on that link.

Step 5
After clicking on the link in the email you received, you'll arrive at the following page.

Enter your name and choose whether you want your login information to include a user number and name/password combo, or just a name/password combo (more secure). Then click 次へ.

Step 6
Enter your desired password (twice) between 8 and 32 characters. Then click 次へ.

Step 7
Finally, review the information and click 次へ to continue. Click the blue button on the left to go back.

Step 8
The final page to show up is the confirmation page, and you should also receive an email.

That's it!


How to sign up for a print service account with 7-11

Step 1 
Go to this page and click ユーザー登録する to create a new account.

Step 2
The next page shows the terms and some general information. Click 同意する to agree and continue.

Step 3
The next page briefly talks about the privacy policy (there's a blue link to it to read it). Click 承諾します (agreeing to the information listed) to continue.

Step 4
Next, you'll want to fill in your information, including name, name in katakana, phone number, email address, a user id between 3 and 16 characters, how you heard about the service, and if you want to receive emails from them or not. Once you've filled it all out, click the button on the far left to continue.

Step 5
Check over the information to confirm it's correct and click the button on the left to submit.

Step 6
You'll see the following page next. Check your email and click the link in that box. Proceed to step 7.

Step 7
Choose a password and type it again in the second box. Click submit to continue.

Step 8
Confirm the information.

Step 9
You're finished! Now click the button to return to the main page to login.

Smartphone Applications for 7-11 and Circle K Print Services

Both printing services for 7-11 and Circle K have free apps you can use to upload files (documents and photos) directly from your smartphone. The apps are Japanese-only. For the iPhone/iPad apps, you must download through the Japan iTunes store.

"netprint" is the 7-11 app, available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows phone. More on netprint mobile services here (Japanese).

"ネットワークプリント" is Circle K's print service app, available for iPhone, iPad, and Android. More on those applications here (Japanese).

Next up: How to upload and print the documents via these services.

Do you know of any resources for printing in Japan without owning a printer? Let us know below!

More Resources to Find a Laptop with an English Keyboard

You may already know the difficulties in potentially locating a laptop with an "English" keyboard in Japan, and if you don't, I recommend checking out HOW TO: Find a laptop with an English keyboard.

Reader Emelyn recently wrote in with four additional resources to find the somewhat elusive English keyboard in Japan (thanks Emelyn!):

Japan Goggles translates kanji from images

I'm sure many of you know well the frustration of trying to decipher labels, signs, and the occasional menu in Japan. Even if you come to Japan knowing a good number of kanji, unless you know all of them, you may still occasionally run up against characters you've not seen before and wonder how to read with the rest of the kanji you do know.

Nowadays, smartphone apps seem to be the common tools of choice for "surviving" as an expat in a foreign country - and there are so many useful ones for various tasks. I previously wrote about 8 survival tools for living in Japan, including a few of my favorite iPhone apps (ShinKanji, Katsuyo, Kotoba, etc.), and I've also written about the Google Translate app, available for iPhone and Android.

In this post I introduce an iPhone/iPod Touch app to include in the "survival tools for living in Japan" - Japan Goggles. I think it has a lot of potential for anyone who can't read Japanese fluently, and possibly for regular use when out and about (when reading comprehension often is even more critical).

HOW TO: Use hot/warm water in a Japanese washing machine

I recently discovered a cool trick with our washing machine (sadly to say it took me this long to discover it). My first washing machine was bought from a secondhand shop, oldish, and didn't have this function, which is probably why I hadn't figured this out until now. And when I say function, I'm talking about the ability to pump water from the bathtub into the washing machine.

Considering that Japanese tubs, お風呂 (おふろ, ofuro - "o" being the honorific prefix), tend to be deep (but not long) and hold a significant amount of water, it would make sense to reuse all that water, right?

Many washing machines (though not all), have functions to allow you to pump all the leftover (presumably still mostly clean) water into your washing machine for a load of laundry. If the idea of reusing that water for clothes grosses you out, keep in mind that the pump heads actually contain filters. Some models even contain activated charcoal filters, so you could practically drink the water, really (though these are much more expensive - and no, I wouldn't recommend drinking the water).

My husband and I rarely use our tub, with the exception of an occasional soak; we find it a bit hard to justify using all that water and prefer shorter showers. Though once I realized we could pump water from the tub, I immediately thought I could use hot/warm water for the occasional load of laundry, such as towels or linens. Our washing machine, like many, only uses cold water to wash and rinse, which I don't mind most of the time but have wished at times for the capability of a hot water wash for certain items (I would imagine if you used cloth diapers for your child this may come in handy as well). So if you're like me, and would at least like the option of washing with warmer water, definitely check out your washing machine.

*That isn't to say that you can't just go to a local laundromat (if the machines use hot water - some do and some don't from my experience), but I know I prefer to do as much laundry as possible at home without having to lug it around.

Our machine came with an extra hose for pumping water, which we connect to a special valve at the back of the machine. The actual "pump" on ours is electronic and internal, and all we do is press a couple buttons, throw the pump end in the tub (with enough water for the chosen wash level), and let it do its thing. Some washers may have an external pump that is on the filter end of the hose. The easiest way to check if your washing machine is capable of pumping water itself is to just look for an extra hose valve on your machine (typically on the top, towards the back). If your machine came with a hose, it's quite likely there will be a valve somewhere. You can also look at your machine's manual, for something like "お風呂を使う."

The valve typically has a cap on it to match the washer, so you'll want to look for possible openings

The buttons and descriptions towards the front of the machine may also indicate the machine has the ability to automatically pump water. Look for お風呂水 anywhere (the newer Panasonic models with this function all seem to have this written somewhere so it's possible older ones might as well) or お湯取, literally, "to take hot water."

If you've checked out your washing machine and can't find any extra hose valves, or your machine didn't even come with an extra hose (if you bought it new), no worries! You can buy an incredibly cheap hose (給水ホース, きゅうすいホース, kyuusui hoosu OR バスポンプ用ホース, basu ponpu you [o sound] hoosu) and water pump (バスポンプ, basu ponpu) that you basically set up to fill the washer with water before you start it. I suppose you could always just carry water over with a bucket, but... not sure why you would want to if a handy dandy pump can do it for you. Then again, it would be a great arm workout.
Bath pump

You can find water pumps and extra hoses almost anywhere - home stores, electronics stores,, etc. You can buy them separately, or together in a pack, and the prices range anywhere from 500 yen a piece, separately, up to 8000 yen or more in a package, depending on what you want/need.

Couple things to keep in mind:

*If your washing machine is located outside or nowhere near your bathtub, the hose probably won't be long enough to reach.

*When using the external pump that you plug in, make sure you follow the instructions carefully so you don't get electrocuted. If you can't read them, try and find someone who can translate them for you so you are 100% sure of how to use that particular model. (Though what I've listed below is pretty standard).

*Check your pump manual to see if there's a temperature limit at all. It's possible some might only be able to use water up to 45 degrees Celsius or so.

how to use hot or warm water in a Japanese washing machine

1. If your machine has the extra hose valve for pumping, attach the hose (properly, so it will work and won't leak all over the place).

Make sure it's tight! I need to dust off our washer...

If you cannot attach the hose to your machine, then you'll want to follow the instructions of the external pump and hose you bought, though basically you'll drop one end in the washing machine (unless it has a faucet attachment some kind of stand to hook to the side of your machine) and the other end to the filter head of the pump. (You'll want to plug in the electronic base with the on/off switch as well).

2. Carry the end of the hose, with the pump, to the tub, and place in the water. Make sure the hose is stretched rather straight - you don't want any bends, curves, or kinks, as this makes it difficult to pump the water into the machine.

No bends, kinks, etc.
3. If your machine has a pump, then choose the appropriate settings. In our machine's case, I turn it on as I normally would, choose the wash and water level settings, and then press the お湯取 button once for a hot water wash cycle (press again for rinse, and again for both). If the first option is lit up (in this case, 洗い (あらい, arai), then the machine will pump the hot water into the machine for the wash cycle. If the second option is lit up (すすぎ, susugi), then the machine will pump more water from the tub for the rinse cycle. If both are lit up, well, then both cycles will use the hot water. If neither, I'm sure you know the answer to that one...

After that, I shut the door and press "start." If you use an external pump, you'll probably need to fill the machine before you press start (as you'll need to close the lid, of course). I believe some or most pumps come with some kind of water level sensor, as well, but you'll have to check the pump you buy. For anyone out there who uses an "external" bath pumps, feel free to share your own experiences in the comments, as I have never used one.

Oh, and you'll want to be careful when taking the hose out of the water and disconnecting it from your machine, if applicable - the water tends to spray around if you don't drain it. At least, it seems to spray me, even after I thought it was completely drained...

translate text AND speech with Google Translate app

Today I'm pretty excited to talk about an iPhone app (which also happens to be an iPod touch/iPad app, of course) that Google just introduced as a native app for these devices, versus in the browser, which, until now, has been the only way to use Google services on these devices (so of course, still is for various other services).

Which service?

Google Translate

I remember watching a video a month or so ago demonstrating translation technology that allows speakers to speak sentences in their chosen language, and have them automatically translated to the listener's language. It was an interesting concept, and worked quite well in that demonstration - no doubt this will improve in the future.

Press the microphone next to the input field to speak

A guide to heaters in Japan

Considering I wrote about some ways to winterize your apartment or house in Japan a few weeks ago, this week I want to talk about heaters. Again, most homes in Japan aren't equipped with central heating, so people typically rely on space heaters and similar items. Now, we all know that wearing some extra clothes and warm fleece is a good way to avoid turning the heat all the way up, but most likely you will need (or desperately want) a heater at some point.

And, just to note, I am not an expert on heaters, so if you are curious about how a heater works a certain way, go ahead and google that.

Also, most of the heaters below have timers and auto-turnoff options in addition to running constantly. They also often have automatic shutoff features such as if the heater fell over.
*Keep in mind another way heater might be written is 電気ストーブ (denki stobu).
*The word used for "heating" is 暖房 (だんぼう, danbou).

A guide to heaters in Japan

Moving to Japan? Read this first

My days of packing for Japan were quite stressful, and my questions endless. I bombarded everyone I knew in Japan with a constant stream of questions (yes, worrying a little too much). I had NO idea what I needed or didn't need, and only few of my questions were every truly answered. I googled, read forums, bought books, and still found myself wondering even more. So, to anyone like me frantic for some answers, and to anyone about to embark on your own journey to Japan, wondering what in the world to toss in your suitcase, this list is for you.

You may also want to check out Packing for Japan Q&A for further information.

HOW TO: Do a furikomi (bank transfer)

I’m going to assume you already have a bank account in Japan. And perhaps you signed up with GoLloyds to transfer money to your bank accounts in your home country, or you made some online purchases, or even have a bill that needs to be paid by furikomi (bank transfer). So now you are at the bank, panicking in realization that the stupid ATM doesn’t have a “transfer” button in English (usually only withdrawal, balance inquiry and deposit). I’ve been there, too.

make life easy – 8 tools for surviving Japan

This is not a post about learning Japanese. Nor is this a post filled with exuberant, detailed reviews of the following tools. However you WILL find some awesome e-tools to help you survive your first year (or two, or more) in Japan - unless you are super smart and have already mastered the language or have some super-ability to achieve fluency in less than a year. Even though I had a year of Japanese under my belt before coming to Japan, I instantly realized that I needed reference tools. And I didn’t want to carry around bulky dictionaries or cultural guides that everyone offered me. This is the age of e-books after all – I should be able to do everything on my computer or smartphone.

The following tools became imperative for communicating and trying to do simpler tasks without asking my co-workers to help me with everything. Hopefully they’ll be of some use to you as well (if you aren’t a Jedi-master of language learning).

Top 8 Survival Tools for Living in Japan (without much Japanese)

how to find a laptop with an English keyboard

Japan is known for its electronics. The name brands familiar around the world: Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, etc. So finding a computer in Japan should seem like no problem. And really, it's not. At least not if you are OK with using a Japanese keyboard. Are Japanese and English keyboards really that different? Actually yes, they are. If you've ever tried using a Japanese keyboard for writing (typing), you'll soon realize just how impractical it is. The enter/return key is usually shaped like an "L" on a Japanese keyboard, with an extra button in between, making that conditioned reach over with the right pinky futile. Or the fact that the semi-colon and apostrophe requires extra button pushing, instead of the gentle one-finger tap. Even just writing e-mails can be a pain, and whenever I use Japanese computers, sometimes I grow lazy and just keep typing the keys that substitute those on the English keyboard, ending up with something that is sometimes undecipherable.

So what to do? In my hunting the last few days, here's what I've discovered.