Welcome to Charles Wetzel's Japan Website

Click here for a brief explanation of what I do in Japan, and why I chose Japan.
September 29, 2012: Android Phone All Loaded Up with Killer Apps
Today I finally found a decent wireless Internet connection and was finally able to connect to Google Play (Android Market). The hotspot is downtown, near Komeda Coffee. Here are some screenshots of really cool things I downloaded onto my so-called "phone:"

Dink Smallwood HD, an Updated Version of a Classic PC RPG from 1997 ($2.99):

ASTRO File Manager (so I can browse/delete my files and also install APK files, something that Android really ought to be able to do by default):

Kabuto, a Japanese-English Dictionary with Over 200,000 Entries (freeware):
AIDE, a Java Development Environment and Compiler that Runs Directly on Android (no PC required to develop Android apps, in theory):
The New Testament Being Viewed in Adobe PDF Reader (note that I usually have to zoom in to actually read it):

So yeah...starting on Sunday, and finishing today, today was a big week for my first steps into Android. I have learned a ton about Android over the past week. In a few weeks, my Java programming course will start, and I fully intend to start writing Java apps using AIDE around that time.

Oh, and, according to my Nintendo 3DS pedometer, I have finally hit 4,500,000 steps:

My Mirach IS11PT PTI11 Phone
September 23, 2012: UDPATE 2: Android-Based Smartphone Acquired
Man, oh man. Today was a crash course in Android smartphones. I had been planning to buy a smartphone with Android OS for a while, with these primary goals in mind:
  • To use as a mobile development platform (most likely using the AIDE to write code in Java)
  • As a replacement for my old prepaid phone that got stolen
  • As a way to read PDF files on the go (I study lots of PDFs)
  • To carry out various other functions I'd normally be tied down to a computer to do

Well, I got a phone today that will accomplish those goals, and got it for a reasonable price. I decided even before I went out today that:

  • It absolutely had to have Android 2.3.3 or above (2.2 is the minimum system requirement for Adobe PDF Reader, 2.2 is the minimum requirement for Final Fantasy III, and 2.3.3 is the minimum requirement for AIDE, the Java-based software development kit)
  • It would be nice to be able to use it as a prepaid phone, too — kill two birds with one stone, hopefully, rather than buying two phones
Well, at Geo Amusement Developer, I found a used phone that met all of the above criteria. It was a mere ¥5,980, and had Android OS 2.3.4 installed on it, and was an au phone. au allows used Android phones to get prepaid service, something that representatives from Docomo and Softbank told me their services would not allow. Prepaid is the best option for me since a normal cell phone contract is so expensive in Japan.

So I took it to au and got it all set up. By the end of the day, I had spent quite a bit of money, but none of it really "wasted:"

  • ¥5,980: The phone
  • ¥315: Some necessary accessories (a new USB-based Micro SD Card reader and the two components necessary to charge my phone from my USB port, all from the ¥100 store.
  • ¥4,200: Installation fee
  • ¥3,000: 60 days of prepaid service
  • ¥1,500: An Indian dinner from the Saree restaurant and two McDonald's value menu items to celebrate

    Total: ¥14,995 (not cheap, but I don't feel I was ripped off)

Now, the first order of business is to get this phone working with Google Play. According to my sources, including the people at au, if I can just find a wireless hotspot that isn't locked/password-protected, I can access Google Play from there. So far, no luck at McDonald's and Lotteria, but I'm holding out hope.

In the mean time, I've investigated Google Play via my laptop, and I see lots of quality stuff. In addition to AIDE (for Java programming) and Adobe PDF Reader (for studying and doing leisure reading), I have found:

  • Dink Smallwood, a really cool RPG I used to play on the PC, beat in 2006 when I was living in a dormitory in Korea, and would love to play again.
  • Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy III
  • Numerous emulators
  • The Oregon Trail (an official version, but unfortunately the reviews are very, very bad — apparently the game tries to force you to pay real money during the course of the game just so your wagon party isn't killed off by various mishaps)
  • Lots of others

Prototype Sock Bat
September 23, 2012: Sock Bat Prototype
For the Halloween Party on 10/27, we're going to do arts and crafts, among other things. Kaori tasked me with finding a craft to do, and I found a plan on Parents magazine to make a bat out of a sock, with foam wings attached using a glue gun. Since we don't have a glue gun, I modified the design to have the wings attached to a chopstick that runs through the bat. However, to be honest, I think it looks mediocre, and would take young children far too long to complete and probably cause frustration, much like our clay ladybug project earlier this year... Maybe I need to find another craft. Oh well, at least I have something tangible to show Kaori on Monday to prove that yes, I have been thinking about the Halloween party...

September 22, 2012: I May Have Just Discovered a Way to Get Japanese Permanent Residency in Only Five Years Instead of Ten
Normally, a foreigner must live in Japan for ten consecutive years to get permanent residency. However, I just found a loophole where, in theory, I might be able to get it in five years. However, I will need to consult several immigration offices first before I do this.

Basically, earlier this year, Japan released what is called the "points system." Under the "points system," it is possible to get permanent residency in five years, not ten. However, in order to be eligible, the applicant must score 70 points. Now, take a look at the table below...

Yikes. That's really harsh. Okay, so...

  • If I finish a master's degree, I get 20 points.
  • I have over three years' teaching experience, so assuming that immigration recognizes that, I can get 5 points.
  • My income, while not currently 4,000,000 yen a year, is relatively close to that (currently between 3 mil and 4 mil per year). With a little bit of extra work, I could probably make that amount: 10 points.
  • I get 15 points for my age.
  • If I go to a Japanese grad school, I can get 5 points.
  • Eventually, I will probably pass JLPT N1. When that happens, I can claim 10 points for that.
So...drum roll here...I could theoretically score 65 points. Damn it. Five points short of the 70-point threshold I need.

Oh, but wait. Wait a second...

See that part of the rubric where it says "A patented invention?" 15 points! Holy cow!

It doesn't say what kind of invention it has to be. It doesn't say it has to be a patent in something useful, or that the invention actually has to be commercially successful. It just says "[a] patented invention." People patent all kind of silly things. Hats that dispense toilet paper. Glasses for a chicken. The requirement just says "a patent." It doesn't say what the patent has to be.

So...let's say that I "invent" something. Maybe I write some educational software and package it with a trendy injection-molded plastic something-or-other and patent it as a "learning system." Then I pay a few grand, hire a patent lawyer, and get the patent — ka-ching! 15 points! Total: 80 points, 10 points over the threshold

And then I could qualify for the permanent residency fast track and get permanent residency in five years instead of ten, which would be thoroughly awesome. It's all great in theory, but I still need to check with an immigration office on the following things:

  1. Is it possible to take advantage of the points system as an English teacher on a Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa, or do I have to be a researcher/specialist/technical professional/business manager?
  2. Supposing I'm allowed to enter the fast track, will I be able to count my already-accrued time in Japan towards the permanent residency, or will the clock start over?
  3. Is there a requirement stating what exactly the patent needs to be in, or is a patent in anything okay?
Obviously, I need to research this, because getting permanent residency five years faster would be absolutely, mind-blowingly awesome. Like leaving Purgatory five years early. Or getting parole five years early. I shouldn't get my hopes up, but I'd be a fool not to at least investigate this.

September 21, 2012: My Plans to Pass DSST World Religions
I have just four weeks until my ITP 120 course (Java programming) starts. Once that starts, I won't have time to work on studying for the DSST World Religions exam. So my goal is to pass the DSST World Religions exam sometime in October (around October 17). That gives me four weeks. I have decided to allot 22 hours per week to studying for this exam. With four remaining weeks, that's 88 hours. Here's how I plan to break down that 88 hours:

  • 15 hours: reading the New Testament (I have already read the Analects of Confucius, the Shinto creation myths, the Bhagavad Gita [though I don't claim to have understood it], and although I haven't read the Old Testament, I have watched an entire series of lectures by Professor Christine Hayes at Yale on it, so I have a basic familiarity with it)
  • 14 hours: reading the rest of the Book of Mormon (not that it's the most influential religious work or anything, but it's relevant since there are so many missionaries here in the Far East, and besides, I'm already almost halfway through it and might as well finish it)
  • 10 hours: Do some brief research on the following religions, devoting about two hours to each:
    • African Traditional Religions
    • Baha'i Faith
    • Hinduism
    • Native American Religions
    • Sikhism

    Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Shintoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism are all religions that I have decided to devote more time to studying than just two hours, because they are more relevant to me (either being related to East Asia or my Judeo-Christian heritage). The ones on the previous list are neither Judeo-Christian nor East Asian, and therefore I will gloss over them more, because they are less personally relevant.

  • 6 hours: Attending the following worship services: a Christian worship service, a Jewish worship service, and a Muslim worship service (note that Shintoism and Buddhism aren't on the list, because I have already been to a few Buddhist worship services before as well as many Buddhist temples, and the Shintoists don't have regular worship services, though I have been to many matsuri)
  • 7 hours: Reading a short, 145-page textbook on Confucianism
  • 7 hours: Reading a short, 145-page textbook on Islam
  • 7 hours: Reading a short, 145-page textbook on Protestantism
  • 5 hours: Doing the whole World Religions DSST test prep book
  • 5 hours: Re-reading all my old notes
  • 12 hours: Whatever I feel I need more work on (likely coming up with a list of a few hundred important facts on religions for Anki)

    Total: 88 hours

    After doing those things, I can go in and take the DSST World Religions exam, confident that I will pass. That's the best I can do with the short amount of time I have, I'm afraid. Oh well.

    September 16, 2012: Photo Essay on My First Days in Asia
    I assembled a 2,030-word photo essay on my first days in Asia (1988 - 1990) complete with 20 photos (some of this content is also about the Netherlands and Europe in general, but most of it is about my family's 1988 - 1990 posting to South Korea and trips we took in Asia, including a trip to Hong Kong). Anyways, enjoy:
    My Early Life in Asia, and to a Lesser Extent, Europe: 1986 - 1990
    Normally I don't have updates on my Web site about my family or my life prior to 2006. But on rare occasions, I make exceptions to this rule, for an important family event or when the content is so closely-related to my present life in the Far East. Anyways, special thanks to my mom for scanning these photos and sending them to me on the other side of the world (she did this so I could show them to my student, Kana-chan, who had requested them; I decided to make a photo essay later).

    September 15, 2012: I Will Look at Android Phones Today
    I have decided to buy an Android phone for the following reasons:

    1. My prepaid Softbank phone was either lost or stolen (probably stolen).
    2. I would like an Android device to test the Android apps that I'll be writing in Java (especially when my Java Programming I class begins on 10/17 at Northern Virginia Community College Extended Learning Institute). Sure, I could use Eclipse's built-in emulator to do this, but it's better to have a real device. I can also write apps on the go with AIDE, which I think is a huge advantage (most of the good programs I have written in the past have been for portable platforms because when I'm on a bus/train/etc. and have nothing else to do, that's when I'm most likely to start programming something).
    3. I need a device to read PDFs on the go. I read a lot of PDFs, like PDFs with Japanese word lists in them, or PDFs on world religions, or that sort of thing.
    I'm going to go to Softbank and maybe some other cell phone companies and see what they have to offer me.

    UPDATE 1:
    A regular cell phone plan is definitely not going to be an option. Kaori had warned me that regular cell phone plans would be expensive, and man, was she right — over ¥9,000 a month was what I was quoted at Softbank for the minimum plan! That's over $100 a month! I had heard that cell phone service was expensive in Japan, but didn't quite believe it until today.

    I will check with some other providers, however. And I will also investigate the possibility of buying an Android phone and simply getting it set up with prepaid, and doing Google Play via my PC. That might be a better policy.

    September 9, 2012: Makgeolli UCC Contest Video
    I have been working on a video for the Korean Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries contest (to create a video extolling the virtues of makgeolli). Here's the result of my efforts. I know the video editing sucks and this video leaves a lot to be desired, but hey, I'm a beginner when it comes to video editing. I don't expect to win, but it was nice to create a tribute to my favorite alcoholic beverage:

    September 8, 2012: Just Got Back from Hikone Castle
    I just got back from my day trip to Hikone-jō. I will hold off on posting pictures and text about it, though, until tomorrow. Because tomorrow, I will visit Himeji-jō and possibly another castle or two, and plan to write a full essay on Japanese castles in the Kansai Region.

    September 7, 2012: Night Before the Shitstorm
    Starting tomorrow, my weekend is going to be insanely busy. I have two uses of the Seishun 18 Kippu left (in other words, two free days of unlimited train travel). I fully intend not to waste them, and fully intend to visit both Himeji Castle and Hikone Castle this weekend. I also plan to finish a video about makgeolli for the Republic of Korea Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries' contest.

    So tonight, I'm going to do the following:

    1. Do all the grocery shopping for this week. Put between 15,000 and 15,200 calories' worth of stuff in my fridge for the coming week. I'm losing a ton of weight these days thanks to this preemptive calorie counting.
    2. Finish walking at least 20,000 steps for today.

      Then, with all that stuff out of the way...

    3. Grab a bottle of makgeolli and maybe film a short video with it for the makgeolli contest video.
    4. Get some delicious food to eat with the makgeolli, as well.
    5. After taking a quick shower (quick shower, no soap or hair washing or anything, just a quick one to get the grime off of me), sit down and drink that makgeolli and watch the movie "Mongolian Death Worm." Apparently there's a cryptid in the Mongolian/Chinese Gobi desert called a "Gobi Desert Death Worm" that is 2~5 feet long and capable of spitting acid capable of coroding metal, and also killing people (though the existence of the worm has never been proven). For real. This is just a fictional movie, though.

      Then, when I wake up, it'll be time to get serious...

    6. Tomorrow morning, before noon: set out for Hikone Castle. There will be extensive train rides. I will bring all my makgeolli video-related materials with me and try to come up with all the scripts and plans for the video. Then I will visit Hikone Castle, take some pictures, and then when I come home, try to finish that makgeolli video.

    Last Tuesday, I found out that I had passed the test. Today, I got the official certificate in the mail (click to enlarge).
    September 6, 2012: Received My JLPT N3 Certificate in the Mail
    I got my official JLPT N3 certificate in the mail today. And in unrelated news, I found out (from my students and my boss) that Japanese people consider watermelons and strawberries to be "vegetables" (because in Japan, for something to be called kudamono [fruit], it must grow on a tree, with the exception of non-watermelon-melons).

    September 5, 2012: Plans for This Weekend and Also October
    First of all, I have decided where I'm going to go in October: Kyōto. I have only been to Kyōto once. That was last year, when I went there to pick up my cell phone which I was buying used from a German guy who was leaving Japan. Unfortunately, when all the cell phone business was done, I was unable to do much sightseeing since most major sightseeing locations were closed. However, on October 6 - 10, I will have a five-day vacation from work, which I intend to use to do the following things in Kyōto:

    • See either all of the various temples and so forth that are listed on UNESCO, or, if the list is simply too long to accomplish comfortably in the time given, pare it down to the Top 3 or Top 5.
    • Hang around the Nintendo world headquarters in Kyōto (yep, they're headquartered in Kyōto, not Tōkyō and get as many StreetPasses as I can from Nintendo employees (which count as "Special Miis" on Mii Plaza). Get lots of photos of Nintendo world headquarters, as well. This will work especially well since my vacation is actually not a holiday for most Japanese people — the Nintendo employees will be at work, allowing me to StreetPass them with my Nintendo 3DS! Hooray! This is going to be just as glorious as the time I "infiltrated" Square-Enix headquarters in Shinjuku and took pictures of their employee restroom, fire escape sign, and break room...
    • I can see the autumn leaves (紅葉, kōyō). Kyōto in the fall is famous for those.
    • I can visit Kōryū Temple, which sits on the alleged ruins of an ancient Nestorian Christian church from the 600s (though none of this has been proven conclusively).
    So those are my Kyōto plans for October. However, as for this weekend, I have a JR pass good for two more days of unlimited travel which I must use by September 10. I must use them this weekend or lose them, basically. So where should I go?

    Well, I definitely want to use them to visit sites in the Kansai Region. I figure I should soak in as much of the Kansai Region as I can while I'm living here, because who knows, I might wind up in another region and then I'd kick myself for not visiting all these important sites in Kansai when I was able to do so cheaply. So where will I use my last two free days of travel on my Seishūn 18 Kippu?

    • I should avoid going to Koyasan even though it's located nearby. The reason for this is that I intend to someday do the 88-temple pilgrimage on Shikoku, and since Koyasan is the start and end point for that pilgrimage, I will likely go to Koyasan both at the start and end of that pilgrimage. Since I'll already be visiting it twice, there's no point in visiting it this time around.
    • I should definitely spend either Saturday or Sunday visiting Himeji Castle. In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's close enough to go there and come back in a single day, but far enough away that it would be very expensive to visit without my special train pass.
    • I should avoid visiting the multitude of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nara for two reasons: 1) Nara is so close to Mie, it's a waste of my Seishun 18 Kippu. I should just pay regular train fare, and 2) there are so many things to see in Nara, I can't do it in a day trip; I'll need several days to see all the important stuff. So visiting Nara will have to come later. Perhaps next year.
    • So okay, definitely go to Himeji, but what else, then? I've already ruled out Koyasan and Nara. Ah! That's it! Hikone Castle has been nominated for a UNESCO World Heritage Site and might become one soon! It's close enough (and small enough) that I can do it in a day, just like Himeji.
    So it's settled. I'll go to Hikone Castle on Saturday and Himeji Castle on Sunday. I'll do lots of walking, burn lots of calories, and get lots of good photos. Then, in October, I'll do an extensive Kyōto trip lasting ~5 days. Nara and its massive number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Koyasan/the 88-temple pilgrimage will have to come in the farther future.

    For my two castle day trips which I plan to take this weekend, I intend to spend ¥0. My train pass will carry me all the way to the sites, and I will pack any food (or buy it with my weekly food budget). The point is to get out and do something interesting without spending any money, and to not let my Seishun 18 Kippu (train pass) go to waste.

    Yokkaichi Lutheran Church
    September 2, 2012: Christianity in Japan
    If one looks at an average history book about Japan, the name "Francis Xavier" will no doubt pop up. He supposedly "introduced Christianity to Japan" sometime in the 1500s. However, much like another man who, also on behalf of Spain, "discovered" the New World in 1492, Francis Xavier probably wasn't actually the first to accomplish what he has so often been credited as doing.

    Just as Christopher Columbus was not the first European to set foot in the Americas (this honor actually goes to Leif Ericson in the 900s), Francis Xavier was probably not the first Christian missionary in Japan. Not by a long shot. The first type of Christianity to enter Japan was likely Nestorian Christianity, an ancient version of Christianity that spread east very, very early on (probably entering Japan around the 400s A.D., interestingly enough, before Buddhism entered Japan in 552 A.D.).

    The evidence in favor of Nestorian Christianity having entered Japan in the 400s is not totally conclusive, but there are many signs. It was likely brought by a man named "Hata," a foreigner, who ended up starting a clan in Japan; according to the accounts I have read, he had attempted to live in both China and Korea, but Buddhists in both countries persecuted him, so he eventually ended up in Japan, and built a church in Kyōto which burned down in the 600s. On the original site of that church, Koryu-ji (a Buddhist temple) was later built.

    The number of relics and other signs proving the existence of Nestorian Christianity in Japan are fairly scarce, so it is not a 100% certainty that these events unfolded exactly as told, but here are some of the various forms of evidence that have been found:

    • A Nestorian Christian manuscript written in Chinese, currently held by a Buddhist temple.
    • Graves and other things marked with the cross in the area that the Hata clan lived.
    • Place names around where the Hata clan lived with Christian names (notably Uzu-masa, which sounds almost identical to the Aramaic "Jesus Messiah," apparently). I would consider this "evidence" to be a bit tenuous, though, because with thousands of different places in Japan, some of the place names are bound to sound "Christian" by pure coincidence. Same thing with the the crosses (considering that a cross is just two lines that cross each other, it is easy to see how this symbol could have found its way onto grave stones without any knowledge of Christianity).
    • Some sources I have read even go as far as to say that there is evidence that Prince Shotoku (an earlier ruler in Japan who built many public works for the benefit of the populace) was a Nestorian Christian, and that the Buddhist establishment later covered this up and claimed he was Buddhist, and that Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism) was strongly influenced by Nestorian Christianity (apparently a large amount of the Shingon texts read like the Bible). I do not find this so far-fetched, because Kobo Daishi had lived in China where Nestorian Christianity was, at that time, quite strong (when Marco Polo arrived in the 1300s, many Mongols and also a few Chinese were still Nestorian Christians).
    So...it is not 100% certain that Hata brought Nestorian Christianity from China to Japan, but there does seem to be a strong possibility. I guess that an important part of my DSST World Religions self-study here in Japan will be using my Seishun Jūhachi Kippu train pass to go and actually see one of these contested "sites of Nestorian Christianity in Japan."

    As for more practical matters, I located the Yokkaichi Lutheran Church (四日市ルーテル教会) today. It's a small building about the size of an ordinary house, but with a steeple, essentially. I was raised Lutheran (but am not currently a practicing Lutheran, more of an agnostic), but still, it looks interesting. I'd love to drop in on one of their services. From the pictures I've seen, it seems that it's not an expat church; almost the entire congregation is Japanese, with maybe only one or two Caucasian faces. I also looked at their pamphlets, all of which are in Japanese only, so clearly, this isn't an expat-centric church like Hong Kong's Church of All Nations. I must ask myself "Why did they convert?" I mean, there are plenty of larger, more well-known Christian denominations in Japan — the Catholics, the Presbyterians, etc. I don't think that those denominations are any "better" than Lutheranism, but I'm just curious why a Japanese person would want to convert to a Christian denomination that is virtually unknown in Japan with so many better-known denominations to choose from. If there were many foreigners at the church, then that would explain it (the Japanese people must have converted to the religion of their spouses), but since there don't appear to be hardly any westerners from the photos I've seen, I don't think that explanation holds water. I hope to find out the answer to this question when I attend (a) service(s) there in the future.

    It's very easy to get to Yokkaichi Lutheran Church. Just start out at the Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station and walk straight along the railroad tracks (on the right side) towards Nakagawahara (中川原駅) Station, passing the library on the way. When this Shintō shrine comes into view, the church is not far away:

    Keep following the railroad tracks. Eventually, it will be impossible to keep following them on the right side. At that point, simply look right — there's the church:

    August 28, 2012: JLPT N3 PASSED!!!
    See the image to the left for my score report (I copied this image from the official JLPT Web site — scores became available today). Well great. I passed the JLPT N3. I think I'll celebrate by making a special exception for alcohol on a weeknight, and watch the rest of the 1982 film called "Fitzcarraldo!" And stay up until 2:30! And update my résumé! Oh, the glee!

    The next step, JLPT-wise, is the JLPT N2 (usually the minimum level required to work in a fully Japanese-speaking office). However, I am in no hurry. In addition to being a huge strain, if I pass the JLPT N2, I'll no longer be able to have one-on-one lessons at the YIC in Japanese for only ¥91 per lesson (once you reach JLPT N2, you're deemed "not in need of further one-on-one lessons"). I'd much rather spend my time studying programming. The small amount of time I study Japanese each week should be devoted to Anki reps, learning slang & Kansai-ben, and doing one-on-one lessons with Hagino Sensei at the YIC, not studying for the JLPT N2 just yet (though someday, I do aim to pass it).

    So what does the JLPT N3 mean? Well, it means I have a vocabulary of ~3,000 words. And my Kanji Kentei Level 5 pass in January certified me for 1,006 kanji. So basically I'm an intermediate in Japanese; most Japanese Major programs at US universities aim to have the students around JLPT N3 level at the time of graduation, so I'm approximately the same level as someone who graduated from an average US university with a degree in Japanese (which is NOTHING to be proud of because US-based Asian language programs have pitifully low standards). My certified Japanese vocabulary (3K words) is roughly half my certified Korean vocabulary (6K words).

    August 26, 2012: Trip to the Wedded Rocks & Futamiura Swimming Beach
    I took a little trip that cost literally ¥0, because I did it with the Seishun Jūhachi train pass that I had already bought for the Mt. Fuji trip. Here are the "Wedded Rocks" (Meotoiwa, 夫婦岩):

    This is an artistic representation of Meotoiwa. The art generally makes the rocks look much larger than they are; remember, the torii (Shintō gate) at the top is actually miniature. The rocks actually aren't very big, even though they look like mountains in the artwork:

    Praying Mantis (alive — I nudged him after this picture was taken and he flew away):

    I look hideous when I try to smile in bright sunlight. I took another picture in which I'm not smiling, but won't post it here (because it's so good, I want to incorporate it into the main logo for the site rather than wasting it here):

    Here is the main shrine. The Wedded Rocks are famous because it is said that Izanagi (the male deity) and Izanami of the Shintō religion inhabited these rocks. These deities are extremely important to the religion because their offspring was Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and the highest in the pantheon of Shintō kami, or gods. Her shrine is the Ise Jingū located only a few miles away from the Wedded Rocks. In this picture of the shrine dedicated to the Wedded Rocks, notice the prayer boards hanging next to the shrine. They are sold for ¥500 and people write prayers on them. When the new year comes, they are burned, because they are thought to have absorbed bad luck over the course of the year. Note the stone pillar with the words "百度石" engraved on it. That's the hyakudo ishi, or "one hundred times stone." When someone has a very urgent prayer, he or she can walk or run 100 times between that pillar and the shrine, and the kami will listen harder to the prayer! These stones are present at many shrines (man, I'm glad I finished reading the 145-page World Religions: Shinto: Third Edition" by Paula R. Hartz last week — it really helped to explain a lot of these things at various jinja even though the book is riddled with typos).

    Futamiura Kaisuiyokujō at Sunset:

    A Sand Dollar I Found on the Beach (left) and the Futamiura Boy Scout Lodge (right, of special interest to me since I'm an Eagle Scout):

    For reference, the Wedded Rocks are 1.4 kilometers from the station, and Futamiura Kaisuiyokujō is 0.5 kilometers from the station. Since I went back to the station in between treks, that was about 3.8 kilometers. Not really that much, but something, I guess.

    Overall, the rocks were kind of small. I do not believe Wikipedia's claim that the rope weighs "over a ton" for even an instant; my guess is that I could pick up that rope if I wanted. Or maybe shimenawa, or straw ropes, are just really heavy, because of the power of the kami or something... Whatever!

    August 21, 2012: I Just Signed up for ITP 120, or Java Programming I
    I just signed up for ITP 120 (Java Programming I) at Northern Virginia Community College. A whopping tuition fee of $581 for a single course (books not included). Well, at least now, unlike my full-time college days, I actually make enough money to be able to afford this without taking out Stafford Loans (although at the rate tuition rates are rising, and considering my salary is the same year after year after year, simple mathematics state that if these two factors do not change, I will one day be unable to afford community college courses even on a full-time salary — may that day be later rather than sooner). Thanks a million, U.S. government, for investing in your young people, by, I don't know, doing something to decrease tuition rates. NOT. Anyways, I digress.

    Java Programming I — my first official foray into getting the following two credentials which both require it:

    • An AS in IT
    • A Career Studies Certificate in Application Programming
    I'm hoping that by the end of the course, I'll have enough Java to write an app and sell it, probably for Android since Android apps are Java-based. The course is eight weeks long; I really hope I can rush through the main part of the course in three or four weeks, then spend the last four or five weeks focusing exclusively on my final project (which I can hopefully turn into a marketable Android app, available via Google Play).

    I guess I'm kind of proud that I signed up for this course, but shouldn't be too proud just yet. For six or seven years, I have allowed Asian languages to dominate my study schedule. I keep on putting programming on the back burner and saying "soon, as soon as my Chinese/Japanese/Korean gets better." My Chinese/Japanese/Korean never reaches the level that I want it to, and then the vicious cycle continues. Programming always gets blown off. Well you know what? Starting now, this trend has to end. Programming is the new priority. I want to spend at least 500 hours a year studying programming until I am employable as a programmer.

    Unlike Asian languages, programming is not a dead end based on a hopelessly high straw tower of "fluency." I am fully confident that if I study programming for a few years, I WILL be employable, even if it is as a poor self-employed part-time programmer. Asian languages, on the other hand — 10,000 hours of study wouldn't be enough. 20,000 wouldn't be enough. I don't have a "native ear," and I never will. The best I can hope for is advanced Japanese, which will probably take several more years of living here. And I'm not going to hold my breath for that.

    I will continue to study Japanese. I will continue to improve. But when all is said and done, programming needs to take priority. Unlike languages, there is no "native speaker" classification in programming. You can be black, white, yellow, or red, and be a great programmer. You don't have to start when you're a child (although I did, at age 10, with BASIC, so actually even if that were a requirement to be a good programmer, I'd meet it — I was writing full games with 12+ kilobytes of source code, graphics, the ability to save, etc. and putting them online for public download when I was 13).

    In 2008 and 2009, I made a brief attempt to reenter the programming world. I took C++ for Game Developers - Module I and did decently. I only got a B in the course, but I did feel I understood elementary C++ and I also churned out a cool, 501-line version of Dungeon! for Windows. In the next term (early 2009), I took a course on Computer OSes/Architecture, in which I got an A, and also a course in Web design. That was a brief programming renaissance.

    Unfortunately, when C++ Module II proved far too difficult and time-consuming, I dropped it in favor of easier courses that would allow me to get my degree 10x faster. And I reverted to BASIC programming. Big Apple Word Search, for example, was written in BASIC. Really, for three years, I have made no significant programming breakthroughs.

    I'll take Java. And I'll continue to push on and actually get some qualifications in programming. I'll start with going after the Application Developer certificate and work from there. Maybe this can be the start of a real programming renaissance. Not just a brief thaw in the Asian Languages Ice Age like late '08 - the summer of '09.

    There are Indian, Canadian, etc. IT engineers working in Japan right now who have zero Japanese skills. But they do have IT skills. I'm not going to become one of them unless I prioritize programming over Asian languages.

    August 15, 2012: I Just Came Back from Climbing Mt. Fuji
    I have written a detailed essay about my <31-hour-ankintan (Japanese slang term for "cheap, close, and short-duration trip"). I have also snapped many pictures. When I wake up, I will type up the essay and pick out the good photos and put captions on them. Then I will put them on this site in the form of my first Japan "Photo Essay." However, for now, I am exhausted and just want to sleep. Expect the photo essay online by 5:00 PM Japan time.

    The photo essay is now available. It has 2,264 words (i.e. over nine pages) and 20 pictures! Please click below:

    Climbing the Fujinomiya Trail of Mt. Fuji

    August 11, 2012: Update from the Last Two Weeks (Tsubaki Jinja, Gaming, Japanese Classes, Yokkaichi Matsuri, and the Bat)
    It's time that I release my 20 best photos from the past two weeks. I've done quite a bit in the way of interesting stuff over the past two weeks, but have repeatedly held off on posting (mostly because I was too busy). First of all, on Saturday, July 28, I made it my mission to reach Tsubaki Shrine. One of my adult students, Tai-san, had told me that Tsubaki Shrine wasn't that far away, and that he had biked there. Since I wanted to do a long walk to burn off some calories, I decided to try to walk there, so I consulted Google Maps. It didn't appear to be too far away, so I tried to go there. However, it turned out that whereas I had typed in "Tsubaki," Google had not been able to find a Tsubaki Shrine in my area, and spat out "Tsubaki-gishi" Shrine. I didn't realize this until several hours later. However, I still wanted to reach Tsubaki-gishi Shrine, at least, to have something to show for my troubles (because the round-trip journey is 17.2 kilometers — nothing to sneeze at). I eventually reached the shrine. Here are some things from on the way...

    Here's a peculiar sign I saw en route to Tsubaki Shrine. What puzzles me is why a business would have its ONLY sign in ONLY English. Barely anyone in Yokkaichi can even communicate in English... Seems like an interesting marketing strategy to have the prices for the services on the front of the building specified in only English. I wonder why they did that.

    They made a sign that says "No Gun Hunting..." ...but they didn't say anything about grabbing animals with my bare hands!

    ...which is exactly what I did (the frogs were not harmed, merely, uh, "re-arranged").

    Another Frog Near Some Rice Stocks

    Above, that might be a terrace farm. Not sure. Finding out would have required fording a stream and climbing a concrete wall.

    The sign, translated, says:
    The river to which the fireflies have come home,
    Making a village of fireflies that spreads out into Kawashima Town, where fireflies dance,
    In the summer sky they fly,
    Fireflies of friendship

    ...I did that without using a dictionary, yippee! I guess my Japanese is improving...a bit.

    Bamboo Grove

    A Caterpillar

    A Panorama of Rice Paddies Between Kawashima Town and Sakura-eki

    A House Near Sakura-eki and A Rice Paddy, with the Moon Above

    Some people helped me find directions. They had this odd cactus with tentacle-like protrusions. This is one of them.

    Tsubaki-gishi Jinja Sign Just Before Nightfall

    The Torii of Tsubaki-gishi Jinja, which was, by the way, just an ordinary neighborhood shrine (no doubt paling in comparison to the real Tsubaki Jinja).


    Another feat of the last two weeks was finishing Zelda: Link's Awakening DX on Nintendo 3DS. I have beaten the original B&W Zelda: Link's Awakening before (for the first time during the summer of 1998 when that was the only version available), but had not played it in color before this playthrough. Overall, the game was still great, but in my opinion, the colorization was poor except for cutscenes like the one above. First of all, the color beige does not belong in a color game (a lesson Nintendo appears not to have learned from the first Zelda game), at least not in the quantity present in this game (like on the overworld). Second of all, the game could have had a much larger, more interesting color palette if only Nintendo had cut off backwards compatibility with the old Game Boy. This wouldn't have been a problem since original Game Boy owners could simply buy Zelda: Link's Awakening (the old B&W edition) and enjoy the same game, just with B&W graphics. This always goes down in my mind as one of Nintendo's blunders. Nevertheless, at its heart, it's a classic, and the DX version, although not possessing very good graphics, is still the best version available (at least officially).

    This is where the beige rears its ugly head (see the bottom of the screen). In this scene, I am opening the Windfish's egg.

    Another feat of the last two weeks was beating Where in Europe Is Carmen Sandiego?. I learned all sorts of interesting things about East & West Germany, East & West Berlin, Leningrad, Czechoslovakia (currently behind the Iron Curtain), the Irish Pound, and more, as I played through this 1988 game.

    Getting the Super Sleuth rank is indicative of having caught Carmen Sandiego. However, it is possible to reach Hall of Fame status with 80 cases solved. I'm not actually sure if I'm going to do that though, since the game gets boring later on, and since much of what I'm learning in this game is obsolete and no longer pertains to Europe, as noted above...

    This week, I signed up for Japanese classes at the Yokkaichi International Center. I have had one class with Hagino Sensei, which I think went all right. At 91 yen per lesson, the price is right.

    I also attended the Yokkaichi Matsuri. For pictures of the festival, see the previous year. Little has changed. Above is a picture of some 1960s antique electronics out on display. The fan was still turning!

    Bat, Mummified

    August 9, 2012: Plan to Climb Mount Fuji This Weekend
    I have to climb Mt. Fuji, I mean, how can I say I have "experienced" Japan if I haven't climbed it? I have a five-day vacation starting Saturday, and fully intend to climb Mt. Fuji. And while we're at it, I should also plan the remainder of my five-day vacation, since Mt. Fuji will not take up the full five days. Here is my itinerary:

    • Saturday: Spend the morning packing for Mt. Fuji and finishing up my backlog of study from the week, and coming up with a detailed plan for the next week. Then, travel out to Fujinomiya or a place close to Fujinomiya.

      Spend the night at a hotel, capsule hotel, youth hostel, or something like that, making sure to get up briefly just before sunrise to snap a picture of Mt. Fuji during sunrise. Then go back to bed.

    • Sunday: Wake up at about 7:00 AM and try to reach Mt. Fuji by about 9:00 AM. Supposedly the hike to the top by the Fujinomiya Route takes 4-7 hours and the descent takes 2-4 hours. I'm a fairly good hiker, having easily done the 19.2-kilometer route of Halla-san while hung over and on three hours' sleep in South Korea, so I'm going to assume that my hiking time will be ~5 hours up the mountain and ~3 hours down the mountain. If I leave at noon, I should reach the peak at around 5:00. Then I can hang around for a while and take photos, and then begin my descent while it is still light out. The whole point is to avoid having to spend the night on the mountain, because 1) the huts are probably completely booked since Obon weekend is the most popular time for Japanese people to go climb it and 2) because they're horrendously expensive, and 3) because it's illegal to camp out on Mt. Fuji (although I'm not sure if I'd even want to, since according to my calculations, temperatures on the weekend I go there will range from 36.882 degrees Celsius at the peak during the day to 25.882 degrees Fahrenheit at night (i.e. more than 6 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing). I should arrive back at the base of the mountain at approximately 5:00 PM, and hopefully be back at Fujinomiya Station to catch the train by 7:00 PM; I will arrive back in Yokkaichi around 23 minutes past midnight, according to this plan, or perhaps earlier if I move faster than my very liberal time estimates (for example, if everything goes very smoothly (doing the mountain in the minimum 6 hours, getting between Fujinomiya and Fuji-san in only one hour instead of two), I might make it back to Fujinomiya Station as early as 3:00 PM instead of 7:00 PM. 7:00 PM is pretty much a worst case scenario estimate (slow going up the mountain, slow transport in and out), and quite likely, I will actually arrive back in Yokkaichi before midnight — but if I don't, I can still at least catch the last train to Yokkaichi.

      The end result of all this will be that I will climb Mt. Fuji without having to lodge on the mountain (saves a load of money), I will need to spend only one night in any lodging establishment PERIOD (near the base of Mt. Fuji), and I will only use up two days on my Seishun Jūhachi Kippu, leaving three more days of free unlimited travel on JR Trains. Very much a budget trip. And I should get photographs of Fuji-san at both sunrise and sunset (albeit not from the peak, but from the foot of the mountain), as well as me on the peak of Mt. Fuji in broad daylight (and since I will be up there only during daylight hours, the temperature should stay around freezing or hopefully slightly above freezing most of the day).

    August 6, 2012: I Have Caved
    Today, I did something I had sworn up and down that I would never do — I took a brick-and-mortar Japanese class.

    From the time that I started learning Japanese (when I was a middle school student) until this morning, I had never once learned Japanese in a regular classroom environment. I had been taught one-on-one by various Japanese people outside of schools, and had even taken an ONLINE college course in Japanese, but had never actually sat down in a classroom and been taught Japanese by a Japanese teacher in a classroom. That changed today.

    Originally, I didn't go to Japanese classes simply because it wasn't an option. My high school, Robinson Secondary School, felt that Latin was more important than Japanese, so it offered Latin and not Japanese. I would have taken Japanese had it been available, but it wasn't, so I didn't. I ended up teaching myself hiragana and katakana during eighth grade and high school, as well as some vocabulary and grammar, since no Japanese classes (or even Chinese classes) were available at my "one of the best in the country" high school of over 4,000 students that felt that Latin and football were oh-so-much more important than offering Asian languages to prepare students for the 21st century.

    Later, it became an issue of cost. I wanted to attend Japanese classes at NOVA, but I was trying to save my money for my study abroad in Korea. When I was living in Korea, I considered taking Korean classes at a hagwon, but at that point, I was so deep in debt, I had to cut out virtually every optional expense.

    Eventually, I got the point where I was proud of how far I had come in the Japanese language without a class. I passed Kanji Kentei Level 5. I may have even successfully passed JLPT N3 (results pending until September). That's respectable. Without a bona fide classroom environment, I raised myself up to intermediate (at least on paper) with over 3,000+ words (assuming I have passed N3, results pending) and 1,000+ kanji.

    So why did I suddenly decide to take a class? Well, in one word, "listening." I have come to realize that I simply lack the willpower to study listening comprehension on my own. I come up with grand plans for this and that, but then never execute them. I have plenty of discipline when it comes to methodically adding kanji or vocabulary, and when I really need to, I can summon the motivation to cram grammar, but I dread listening comprehension practice, so I never end up doing it (besides flipping through random TV channels, something from which I have seen virtually no noticeable improvement in the long run). So I caved. I decided that yes, I do need a class. Because whereas my Japanese speaking, reading, and writing are all almost on par with my Korean, my listening still lags behind my Korean listening — I suspect this has something to do with the fact that I spent ~1,500 hours in the classroom listening to Korean teachers drone on.

    So...it's official. I've taken my first Japanese class. I am no longer a guerrilla, improvising and learning Japanese "outside the system."

    So where did I take it, and what was it like? Well, this is a short summary:

    • The Yokkaichi International Center, located just behind City Hall, offers Japanese lessons for an extremely low, nominal fee. These classes are available only to people on medium- or long-term visas (one-year duration or longer). The student pays 2,000 yen (a one-time fee) and then can buy a card for 1,000 yen that allows the student to pay for 11 lessons. Do the math. That's ~91 yen per lesson, or slightly over $1 per lesson. And the YIC even has extensive textbooks and CDs, so there is no need to buy materials. The cost is so low, it's worth it to join just to get free access to all the Japanese resources. Hell, it's worth it to join just to get access to Minna no Nihongo for free (a single Minna no Nihongo book costs more than the cost of joining the YIC Japanese Circle Program). Of course the facility has to be paid for somehow — I pay out ¥5,565 yen a month in city taxes and ¥91,000 yen per year in Mie Prefecture prefectural taxes, which go to fund various government projects like this... So since I'm already paying, I might as well benefit from what I'm helping to pay for.
    • The classes are one-on-one, taught by volunteers. They are not professional Japanese teachers, but for 91 yen per class, the price is right. My teacher today was Hagino Sensei, a retired guy who lives in Kuwana who used to work for a travel company. He seems fairly nice, and has been on more than 100 trips worldwide, and most importantly, speaks clear and easy-to-understand Japanese. Today, we worked on JLPT N3 listening comprehension CDs (although I may have already passed this exam [results pending] the listening section was not easy, so I agree that this is an appropriate level to start at). One of the words he taught me, tairyō (meaning a "large quantity" of something) I actually heard later in the day when two of my students at Big Apple were talking to each other.
    • We are allowed to have one of these one-on-one lessons per week. There are also JLPT preparation classes on the weekends. On Sunday, there is a JLPT N2 preparation class that I am welcome to join. I think I might join it (extra Japanese exposure is usually good), but should not rush to take the JLPT N2, because...
    • ...if I pass JLPT N2, I will become ineligible to take all these classes, except for the N1 prep class. So I shouldn't rush with regards to N2 unless I'm really feeling like a pro at Japanese.
    So, yeah, I folded. I threw in the towel. I am no longer some rebel learning Japanese "outside the system." I have traded in my bragging rights to having "learned all my Japanese outside the Japanese classroom environment" for a hopeful increase in my listening comprehension skills. I have broken the taboo.

    ...however, I will note that provided that I passed JLPT N3, I still have some bragging rights. If I passed that exam, I can always brag that I reached N3 and Kanji Kentei Level 5 without a single brick-and-mortar class. That's worth something.

    In conclusion: I decided that it's better to lose my bragging rights and make the next quantum leap in my listening comprehension skills than to retain some bragging rights and not make that quantum leap. I think this was a wise decision. I guess it is somewhat embarrassing to acknowledge that I'm not as self-motivated and disciplined as I had previously thought, but oh well.

    July 27, 2012: Kabuto Mushi
    I found a kabuto mushi (literally "helmet bug," a type of rhinoceros beetle indigenous to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) while walking through the local shintō shrine en route to buy beer at the convenience store. It was turned over on its back and flailing its legs, giving me an opportunity to catch it. Once back home, I snapped some photos. Because I love to take pictures of new and exotic wildlife (recall my previous photos of moray eels, puffer fish, macaques, etc. that I have found in the wild). I currently have the kabuto mushi in a small tank. I will either release it soon, or bring it to Big Apple and let the kids observe it. Not sure which, yet. Either way, Mr. Kabuto Mushi will probably be free by tomorrow night.

    I decided to release it. Sure, I could have brought it to work, but it's not like Japanese kids have never seen a kabuto mushi before. I think it's a very common classroom pet, here. There has even been a kabuto mushi exhibition at Kayo Mall before... That, combined with the fact that most of my students today are girls who may not appreciate a big bug, contributed to my decision to just let it go (before I accidentally kill it by underfeeding it or that sort of thing). I released it in my backyard:

    July 22, 2012: Chiyozaki, the Wakamatsu Yūsuzumikai Matsuri, the Sea Turtle, and More: Fair Warning: Multiple Pictures of Decomposing Animals

    Today, I walked 50,851 steps according to my pedometer. That's approximately 25 miles. In one calendar day. That's almost like a marathon (except that I walked it). I had quite an adventure that took many unexpected twists and turns.

    Me at Chiyozaki Beach
    Chiyozaki has what is one of the closest tourist beaches to Yokkaichi. There is also Shiohama and Kusu Beach, which are closer, but they are not tourist beaches. They are covered in litter, and in the case of Shiohama, right next to an industrial plant. Barely anyone goes to those beaches. Chiyozaki actually has a fair amount of people, some of which are swimming, and even a lifeguard and facilities near the beach for swimmers. At 290 yen from Yokkaichi Station to Chiyozaki, it's not a bad deal. I actually ended up walking home from Chiyozaki, but it took several hours, so I would not recommend walking between Chiyozaki and Yokkaichi. Because it's 9.1 miles away according to Google Maps.

    Chiyozaki seems to be somewhat agrarian. There are rice paddies, eggplants, lettuce, etc. And onions hanging out to dry on people's houses...

    ...and vending machines that sell fresh produce. Like an unmanned farmer's market. They operate on the honor system — even though you could pay the money and take all the vegetables in the compartment, you're on your honor to take just the specified amount. I guess that makes sense, since it'd take a real lowlife to rip off an automated farmer's market. See the item in the second row on the right? That's a kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin/squash.

    Here we go. The entrance to Chiyozaki Note the overturned boats in the parking lot. This is an actual beach that people go to for recreation, not some polluted industrial plant beach like Shiohama or Kusu Beach

    The beach has some facilities where surfers and swimmers hang out. Note the guy directly to the right of the Coca-Cola vending machine: he is doing the "surfer stomp."

    I have often seen cuttlefish bones on the beach, both in Japan and in Taiwan. But this is probably the first time I have seen a more-or-less intact squid mantle on the beach.

    This man is flying a powered parachute over the beach. Powered parachutes are pretty much the cheapest type of powered, heavier-than-air aircraft. On average, they get about 12 miles to the gallon, according to my Wikipedia research, and usually cost $5,000 for a one-seater or $10,000 for a two-seater. Wow, an aircraft I could actually afford to buy. Don't know where I'd put it, though.

    While walking the 9.1 miles home, I passed the Wakamatsu Yūsuzumikai Matsuri. It was held at a Shintō shrine. Unfortunately, the people handing out free fans and other paraphernalia didn't seem to actually know which kami-sama (god) the festival/shrine commemorates. I guess the matsuri is largely just for fun.

    There was dancing and music. It was pretty small-scale. The women and girls wore yukata.

    Another Picture of the Wakamatsu Yūsuzumikai Matsuri

    I have always wanted to see a sea turtle at the beach. Just not this way.

    I blurred the picture because a decomposing sea turtle being consumed by maggots and other bugs is so nasty, I wanted to spare my readers from the fine details. Sea turtles lay eggs on the beaches of southern Japan. Unfortunately for both the adults and baby turtles, light pollution is a serious problem. Sea turtles instinctively head towards the brightest thing they can see (before mankind came along, this was usually the ocean, reflecting the moon). However, now, they follow lights made by humans, get lost, get hit by cars (as I suspect this one did, given the broken shell), etc. This is just one reason why many species of sea turtles are endangered.

    At least with this sea turtle, I didn't have to worry about the ethical dilemma of harming a sea turtle by using flash photography...

    Oh, and by the way, from now on, I'm not going to bother to italicize non-English words. It's a royal pain in the ass to italicize every incidence of "Yokkaichi" or "matsuri."

    July 21, 2012: Re-Embarking on a Degree in IT
    As I posted last week, I have talked to my guidance counselor at Northern Virginia Community College about entering the Associate of Science in Information Technology (AS in IT) program there. I plan to complete this right here in Japan, using distance education (although at some point in the relatively far future, I might go back to the US for a short time and knock out a few brick-and-mortar classes, but that isn't for at least another year, probably).

      Here are the courses I still need to get in order to finish an AS in IT:

    • ITE 115: Intro to Computer Applications & Concepts: 3 credits
    • ITN 100: Introduction to Telecommunications: 3 credits
    • ITE 170: Multimedia Software: 3 credits
    • (ITP 100: Software Design: 3 credits) <-- Depending on transfer credit, *might* not be necessary
    • MTH 271: Applied Calculus I: 3 credits
    • ITP 120: Java Programming I: 4 credits
    • ITD 256: Advanced Database Management: 3 credits

      Total Additional Credits Required for an AS in IT: 19 (or 22 if I am forced to take ITP 100)

      Requirements for Optional (but very easy) Certificates:

      Application Programming (certificate):

    • ITP 100: Software Design: 3 credits <-- Satisfied during the course of the AS
    • ITP 120: Java Programming I: 4 credits <-- Satisfied during the course of the AS
    • ITP 220: Java Programming II: 4 credits

      Total Additional Credits Required for a Certificate in Application Programming (beyond the AS): 4

      Business Information Technology (certificate):

    • BUS 100: Introduction to Business: 3 credits <-- Satisfiable with just self-study and a DSST exam
    • BUS, IT, or AST Elective: 3 credits <-- Already satisfied (I took ITE 221 in '09)
    • ENG/CST Elective: 3 credits <-- Already satisfied (I took ENG 111 in '08)
    • ITE 115: Intro to Computer Applications and Concepts: 3 credits <-- Satisfied during the course of the AS
    • Social Science Elective: 3 credits <-- Already satisfied by a number of CLEPs and ECEs that I've taken

      Total Additional Credits Required for a Certificate in Business Information Technology (beyond AS): 3 (which can all be tested out of, so I would be a fool not to get this certificate)
    So what does all this mean? Let's look at the investment I'd need to put in to finish these credentials:

    If I get transfer credit for ITP 100:

  • Credits needed: 26
  • Total money required: ~$3,500 (20 credits taken at NOVA [the rest gotten through DSST and CLEP] * $145.25 per credit hour = $2,905, then add in another $595 for tuition increases, books (gotten cheaply through Amazon or eBay or whatever), proctor fees, etc.
  • Total time required: ~1,170 hours (slightly over two years assuming I can muster 10 hours per week for coursework)

    If I don't get transfer credit for ITP 100:

  • Credits needed: 29
  • Total money required: ~$4,000
  • Total time required: ~1,305 hours (a bit more over two years)

    Either way, financially, that is quite easy to swing since I already have much, much more than that saved in the bank, thanks to tight budgeting and hard work. I have had my student loans completely paid off since October of '11, as well. This would not be a major financial struggle, but I estimate it will take a large bite out of my time.

    So, in terms of deciding upon my courses to take this fall, what will give me the biggest bang for my buck?

  • Passing DSST Introduction to Business: It is very, very cheap to take DSST exams, and if I pass this one, only ITE 115 will stand between me and a NOVA certificate in Business Information Technology. I'd be crazy not to make this test a priority. That's the lowest-hanging fruit, seriously.
  • ITP 120: Java Programming I: This is an extremely crucial course to take early on. It will advance me towards both the AS in IT and the Application Programmer certificate, both of which require this course, so it is a fairly obvious choice. Furthermore, empowered by my knowledge of Java, I can write Android apps and sell them for extra cash/add them to my programmer portfolio.
  • ITE 115: With this three-credit hour course, I will both knock three credits off the AS and knock 3 credits off the Business Information Technology cert. Not a bad deal.

    It is pretty clear that the above courses are the first three I should take. ITP 100 should be added to the above list, too, but only if I'm unable to have that requirement met through transfer credit.

    Once those courses are done, I will have finished a cert in Business IT. Then, I should take ITP 220 (to put the finishing touches on the Application Developer certificate). The soonest I could take ITP 220, however, would be the Spring '13 semester. However, after that, the order in which I take the courses becomes much more non-linear, and I can take them in pretty much any order (no more low-hanging fruit).

    July 17, 2012: The Last Day of the Term for the Big Apple Korean Class, the Day After Umi no Hi
    This will be a short update. I will just post a couple of nice photos, taken on my new Fujifilm camera that I bought on Sunday for 6,780 yen.

    Here I am, teaching a Korean lesson to Yumi-san and Kaori-san. Yep, that's right, I teach a Korean class with multiple students! Click to zoom in on the picture. Note that this is the last day of the term (whether Yumi will continue or not is TBA, but another person, Akie-san, is interested in taking the course).

    Yesterday was Umi no Hi (Ocean Day). A tiny minority of Japanese people (i.e. those who aren't totally burnt out from work or school and just want to flop down on the nearest futon or floor chair) give thanks to the ocean.

    July 13, 2012: Breaking into IT
    First of all, if you are Kaori or one of my students, don't worry. I am not planning to leave English teaching for at least another couple of years. So don't worry. However, eventually, I would like to break into IT. I want to eventually do IT work in Japan, someday.

    The first questions are:

    • Is it feasible?
    • Are there actually any jobs for a westerner like myself?
    The answer is a resounding "yes." I checked on Daijobs.com before I went to work, and there were over 200 jobs listed under "Programming" alone.

    So the next question is this: Are any of the jobs entry-level or near entry-level, or are they all senior or executive level? Well, fortunately, the answer is "a few actually are entry-level or staff-level." I have seen such ads with my very own eyes. So yes, it appears that working in IT (and specifically, programming) in Japan is at least theoretically possible.

    So what steps do I need to take to make this a reality?

    1. Scour Daijobs for an extended period of time. Write down the basics on all the jobs that A) I could become eligible for in less than three years' time and B) that I would be willing to do (for example, I am NOT willing to take a job that requires me to move to Singapore or China since that would interfere with my residency in Japan). By analyzing several hundred Daijobs ads, I can eventually get a feel for which skills and credentials are in demand. I also need to carefully scrutinize the requirements for an "Engineering" visa (programmers and other IT workers work in Japan on an engineer's SOR). [UPDATE] I did quite a bit of research on the Engineer visa. Sounds like it isn't really all that tough to get. Some sites made it sound like all that was required was a university degree, but most sites seemed to say that it was either ten years of experience (not feasible for me), an MOJ-recognized industry certification (possible), or a degree/diploma in the field (quite possible). At least a couple of sources seemed to say that a college diploma (internationalese for "associate's degree") was acceptable. I went to Gaijinpot and more or less confirmed these things. So yes, if I want to become an IT guy in Japan, I should get at least an AS in IT, and maybe a BS. That's all right. I had already kind of figured that might be necessary, if not for the visa, just for the skills.
    2. Although I am typing this out as "Step 2," it should actually happen concurrently with Step 1. Start teaching myself a useful, marketable programming language for a platform that people actually use (maybe Android or iPhone) and try selling some apps. If this proves lucrative and I'm able to gain a decent income for myself by doing that, perhaps all the subsequent steps will be unnecessary. Because that would be my dream job — writing apps for a living. Particularly edutainment apps.
    3. If the app business has not really taken off, work on getting myself some credentials. Currently, I am looking at three different degree plans and one certificate as possibilities to get me started. These are:
      - An Associate of Science in Information Technology from Northern Virginia Community College (I have consulted a guidance counselor tonight and we figured out that I am 19~22 credit hours away from such a degree; according to my own calculations of 45 hours of study per credit hour, that's 990 hours, maximum, to finish an AS in IT)
      - A BS in Computer Studies from UMUC (available in Japan, complete with brick-and-mortar courses taught on US military bases)
      -The "Application Programmer" certificate from NVCC — 11 credit hours (however, only 3 of those credit hours are not included in the AS in IT degree, making this certificate a perfect halfway point to the AS in IT)
      - There is also a master's program at a university in Kobe, Japan that is in IT, taught in English.

      Basically, if I fail to launch my own self-employment app gig, I can do one or more of the above to get credentials to enter the IT field in Japan. Of course, I should also be willing to consider picking up skills that are not part of a degree plan (extra programming languages or other technologies, for example), or maybe even forgo any sort of extra degree and just focus on specific skills, if that's what the market wants. This is determined in Step 1.

    4. Then there will be Step 3, the experience phase. I think this will be the toughest phase, because unlike the academic credentials, which are relatively easy and fun to get, the experience phase will require me to get actual work experience. Of course this is a Catch-22 situation since most jobs expect an experienced worker, which as a beginner, I, by definition, won't be. Here are some potential options to get that experience:
      - Online, working cheap as an outsourced worker while I hold down a teaching gig in Japan, after finishing my IT credentials
      - As a self-employed worker developing apps for Android Market or iPhone or that sort of thing
      - Working on a US military base in an IT job that requires a US citizen
      - An internship in Japan
      - An internship or job in a third country (I will have to check with Japanese immigration to see how long I'm allowed to remain outside of Japan before it begins to interfere with my permanent residency application — if I can be out of the country for six months or more, that may be enough for some decent internship experience)
    5. Once I have the necessary skills and experience (I will figure out how much of these I need in Step 1), I can proceed to land a real IT gig in Japan. This will either be working for someone else for a decent salary (at least 200,000 yen a month and probably much more) or working for myself as an independent app developer (if I am making 200,000 yen or more, I can probably register my own company and attach it to my visa if I can pass the company off as "Specialist in Humanities/International Services" (quite likely since I want to program edutainment, especially language-learning edutainment).
    So...maybe I can do this. Maybe I can make this work. Maybe I can enter the IT field before I turn 30. I'm not sure yet, but maybe.

    July 11, 2012: Yamaimo and Tororo
    Last night I went to a bar with the purpose of practicing my Japanese. Perhaps I should do this more often. Here are some photos and anecdotes. Most notably, I tried yamaimo. After the 999 yen I spent on nomihōdai, the three types of yamaimo dishes were 480 yen.

    This is yamaimo. Literally translated, that is "mountain potato." In the dictionary, it is listed as "Japanese yam." The taste is more similar to a regular potato than to most yams I've had, but it is crunchier than a cooked potato.

    This is fried yamaimo.

    On the left, we have tororo. This is made from yamaimo. On the right, we have yamaimo no tanzaku (strips of Japanese yam).
    The TV was playing. I asked Rikiya, the bar owner, who some of the celebrities are. The extremely cute girl I keep seeing on TV whose songs are annoying but catchy is Kyarii Pamyu Pamyu. She sang the song "Tsukema Tsukeru" which means "Attach False Eyelashes." Tsuke means "false" or "attached" and matsuge means eyelashes. Noted. Like I said, a very annoying song, yet hard to get out of one's head.

    And that creepy, obese "new half" (Japanese for "transgender") who is on Japanese TV ALL THE TIME — that's Matsuko Deluxe. I asked Rikiya why they have her on TV, and he said that she's atsukaiyasui/ijiriyasui, or "easy to deal with" (since she is not attractive in any way, shape, or form, men on the show are able to have more frank/honest conversations with her than they would be able to if the "new half" in question were beautiful). Okay, I guess that makes sense.

    July 1, 2012: I Probably Passed the JLPT N3
    The Language Knowledge (Characters and Vocabulary) section was dead easy. I probably almost aced it. The Language Knowledge (Grammar) and Reading section was not so easy, but I think I still got the majority right; ditto with Listening Comprehension. I think that as long as I meet the minimum pass marks on the latter two sections, the former will buoy me to a pass. Of course, I'm not 100% sure. I'd say I'm 80% sure.

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