Welcome to Charles Wetzel's Japan Website

  • Click here for a brief explanation of what I do in Japan, and why I chose Japan.
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    June 30, 2013: UPDATE 3: Mukade Video
    If you click the "Multimedia" button above, you can now view a 15-second video clip of me blowing on the mukade/centipede. He gets agitated and runs around inside the plastic container. I let him go after that, by the way.

    June 30, 2013: UPDATE 2: Wakuguri Matsuri Photos
    One of my junior high school students, Chisami-chan, told me that there was going to be a matsuri (festival) this weekend called "Wakuguri. I went there, arriving just 31 minutes before sunset (which was at 7:11 PM). I took the following pictures.

    Later, I wanted to find information on what the Wakuguri Festival actually is. I couldn't find any significant English information, so I did a search in Japanese. The Japanese version of Wikipedia contains an entry (the English version, surprisingly, does not). This is the Japanese entry:

    My translation:
    Ooharae (Great Purification) is an event for protecting against catastrophes that is held on the last day of the month (on the new calendar [the Gregorian calendar instituted during the Meiji Period, as opposed to the old lunar calendar] June 30 and December 31). It is an event of purification for removing sins that people have committed and uncleanness and making them go away; the one in June is said to be the "Nagoshiharae" (Summer Purification Rites) and the Ooharae in December, the "Toshikoshi no Harae" (End of the Year Purification Rites). June's Ooharae is also being called the "Natsugoshi Shinji" (Summer Purification Rites Shinto Ritual) and the Rokugatsu Harae (June Purification Rites). Furthermore, "Natsugoshi" is also titled "Natsugoshi [with different kanji]." And it is also called the Miyakuguri Festival and the Wakuguri Festival.

    I took this picture of some of the people and stalls precisely 30 minutes before sunset.

    The Front of Oomiya Jinsha Jinja (大宮神社神社)

    This straw rope ring has something to do with the purification rites, I know it. The "Wa" in "Wakuguri" is the character 輪, or "ring," that's why.

    Close-Up of the Ring

    A Stall with Multiple Koori Characters (氷)
    I suspect that they serve kakigoori (かきごおり), which is crushed ice flavored with syrup (much like a snowcone).

    Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) Stall

    One Minute Before Sunset (7:10 PM)
    I stayed a few more minutes, then went home. I didn't spend any money. I just got these pictures.

    If you haven't already, check below the mukade pictures. I added some interesting information on the mukade below those pictures.

    June 30, 2013: Mukade Pictures
    Fair warning...

    I caught the above mukade, or Japanese centipede, which I then photographed alongside a ¥1 coin, for reference.. Here are some interesting facts that my research on the Internet, my research in Kabuto dictionary for Android, chatting with Kaori, and my own experience have yielded:

    • The name mukade is written as 百足, composed of the kanji for hundred (百) and the kanji for leg (足). "Hundred legs"—the exact same etymology as the English word "centipede."
    • It is poisonous and has a painful bite. Kaori was bitten by one one time. It is recommended that one see a doctor if bitten.
    • They like bedding. Mine crawled out of my sleeping bag when I sat down on it, and Kaori's crawled out of her futon. I am not sure whether this is an urban legend or not, but they supposedly like body heat and try to crawl into a person's ears or nostrils, or even climb up onto the ceiling and drop down onto humans!
    • They tend to come out during the rainy season, or tsuyu (梅雨).
    • They can grow up to 20 cm long. This one wasn't quite that long.
    • They symbolize evil. Big surprise there.
    • I believe that this is the same species that Koreans dry out, bundle with rubber bands, and sell in markets for use in tea. I haven't verified this, however.
    June 25, 2013: Executive Rock, Paper, Scissors Version 1.0: Public Release

    Now it includes such amenities as a gradient blue background a la Final Fantasy VII, a special "help section" for British users, and even a GUI-based quadratic formula solver! Now, you can play the ultimate simulated high-stakes game of Rock, Paper, Scissors in style! This ridiculous, whimsical mini-project, weighing in at 284 lines of source code, is sure to have more features than you actually need!

    Click here to download the compiled classes and the .java source code files! It's only 10K zipped! To run it, unzip it and type java RockPaperScissors in either CMD.EXE on Windows or Bash on Linux. This assumes, of course, that you have Java installed on your computer (I have only tested it under Linux, but it likely works under other operating systems, as well).

    June 24, 2013: Executive Rock, Paper, Scissors Beta Version 0.95
    I just wanted to see if I still knew how to write basic Java code. It has been more than six months since the ITP 120 class, and I wasn't sure if I still could, even though I have regularly reviewed the commands I learned using Anki. So I sat down at my Fedora 17 Linux laptop and typed out 184 lines of code and compiled them from the Bash shell. This small game, with crude graphics using JPanel/DrawPanel and modal dialog boxes via JOptionPane, was the result. Nothing special, but at least I still remember my basic Java, which is good, I guess:

    Now that I have established that I can still do this, I should work on more Swing GUI components and writing something slightly more substantial. That's my Java goal for the rest of the year, basically. Unambitious, I know, but I have JLPT N2 in December, a full-time job, a job change, a move to another city, etc. ahead so I shouldn't be overly ambitious...

    The Envelope that I Sent to the J-Test Headquarters (the Nihongo Kentei Kyōkai

    The Back of the Envelope that I Sent to the Nihongo Kentei Kyōkai

    June 20, 2013: I Just Signed Up for the J-Test
    I have never taken the J-Test before. The J-Test is an alternative to the JLPT. Unlike the JLPT, the J-Test uses the same test to measure all levels from intermediate to fluent, so it is possible to compare scores from one exam to another (unlike the JLPT, which requires examinees to pick a level, with that test being tailored only to that level).

    I am not taking this for certification purposes. I am taking this strictly to know my own Japanese level, particularly listening. I find that tests like this (like the Korean Language Proficiency Test, or KLPT, which is also a language test with only one test that measures multiple levels) often show improvements over time and give me encouragement even when I don't feel any perceptible change in my ability. For example, with the KLPT (which is also a single test that measures multiple levels, much like this one), I scored 300 points (Level 3) in 2007. I didn't think my Korean had improved much, but took the test again in 2009, and surprise—I had gone up to 405 points, or Level 5. I then realized that during those two years, although the change in my Korean was agonizingly slow, it was occurring. I hope to get a similar initial benchmark and similar windows into my progress using the J-Test, which is of a similar format.

    I did the registration online and the furikomi payment yesterday, the deadline, and sent the remaining stuff (two photos, a xeroxed copy of my IDs and my receipt, and a copy of my application form) via the post office today. I plan to take this test at regular intervals from now on until I either get fluent in Japanese, or heaven forbid, quit learning Japanese. It is a much better measure of whether my Japanese has gotten better or degraded than my gut feeling.

    June 16, 2013: Just Got Back from Osaka Where I Hung Out with Josh Kwan and Angeline P.
    At sometime after 11:00 PM, I walked through the front door of my apartment after a great Saturday night and Sunday with my old friend from HKIS (Hong Kong International School), Josh Kwan. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Angeline P.

    Josh Kwan was one of my best friends back in Hong Kong (when I attended HKIS [Hong Kong International School]), right up there with Ted Cooper (who was, until recently, a programmer at a financial firm), Bill Marczak (who recently made the front page of the New York Times for his investigation into the Bahraini government using secret software to spy on its citizens), and Dan Chinoy (who grew up in China/Taiwan and speaks Chinese proficiently, and while in China one time, steered a small boat in the Yalu River close to the shore of North Korea and was warned by North Korean guards). Josh, like most of the HKIS crowd that I knew, has moved away from Hong Kong. He currently lives in New York and works for VMWare, a company well known for its virtualization software and its VMWare Player application. Anyhow, I hadn't seen Josh in 12 years, so it was great to catch up. He came to Japan on vacation with Angeline P., his girlfriend, who is very nice and intelligent, and has entered our HKIS alum "circle" (she has even met some of the old crowd, like Ted). It was a joy to hang out with both of them.

    Out of the eleven pictures I am uploading today, eight of them were taken by Josh/Angeline, so thanks to them for those. I took the one of the fugu (puffer fish), the ten-don (tempura on rice), and the meat platter.

    Click on any picture to enlarge it.

    This is Josh Kwan and I at a train station in Osaka. I took a bus from Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station to Umeda Station in Osaka, then the subway to Shinsaibashi, arriving slightly after 9:00 PM. I was still dressed in a suit because I had had no time to change after work (I had to work until 5:05 PM on Saturday, then pack for Osaka, then take the train out to the Kintetsu Yokkaichi Station, then board the bus, all by 6:00 PM—I did it, but with only a three-minute margin.

    We were hungry, so we went to an izakaya. We had beer and various types of Japanese food, and Angeline and I talked about Korea (she also lived in Korea, in her case, one year, spent studying at Yonsei, which was my school too, so we had lots to talk about). Josh's Japanese is pretty good. Angeline can speak some Japanese, too.

    Josh gave me lots of suggestions on breaking into programming, like being involved in open-source projects, networking (be careful at hacker spaces [places where programmers meet] not to seem too transparent about attending the hacker space just to network and find a job, or they might be unwelcoming—instead, lead with an interest in something not-for-profit [like TI programming or an open source project] so they can realize that I love programming, and am not just using the hacker space to land myself a job, etc.).

    Now, to the right, this is the fugu Angeline and I tried. Fugu is puffer fish. Puffer fish is extremely poisonous and eating it can kill, so it must be prepared by a master chef. Often, when people eat it, they feel the tingle of a bit of residual poison. I felt no tingle. Angeline felt a little bit of a tingle. The price was right—somewhere around ¥300, if I recall correctly, though I'm not sure that this is a food that one should try to get on the cheap... We were okay, fortunately...

    On the left is a restaurant owner, Yusuke, at a restaurant where Japanese people made contact with our group. The two people said the restaurant was extremely famous, and as for Yusuke, "Nihon de wa, shiranai hito ga inai," which means "in Japan, there aren't any people who don't know him." Not sure if that was hyperbole or if that was really true. I suspect the latter, though... Next from the left is Josh, then Angeline, and then me.

    We went and did karaoke. The room smelled terrible, like a brothel or something. However, it was a great round of karaoke. It seemed like with almost every song that was chosen, it was a favorite of everyone in the group. At any given time, two or three of us were singing, pretty much. We sang everything from Duran Duran's "The Reflex" to Van Halen's "Jump" to Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" to "I Was Born to Love You" by Queen. We stayed out until close to 5:00 AM.

    We sang for hours and drank beer. Then we went back to the hotel. I found a cozy spot on the floor and everyone slept until just before noon. We knew at that point that going to Nara was out of the picture for that day, but hey, there's always tomorrow, right?

    We had tempura. This was my ten-don meal, which cost ¥500 and contained seaweed, shrimp, and kabocha (squash/pumpkin) tempura, with tea on the side.

    Then we spent a lot of time in the electronics district. There were shops that sold all kinds of things. One rather large shop had basically just shelf after shelf of screws of all different shapes and sizes: long screws, short screws, metal screws, black screws, plastic screws, knobs with screws, etc. We also went to some music/game stores and hobby shops, and of course, several computer stores, where I scored a used NEC optical mouse for ¥200.

    This is a picture of Angeline and I trying our hands at "Taiko no Tatsujin," a game in which players beat life-sized taiko drums. We passed both an Anpanman song and a song from Neon Genesis Evangelion ("Cruel Angel's Thesis"). I find that "Taiko no Tatsujin" has a much shallower learning curve than DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). I was able to pass my first song on normal difficulty mode, which is much more than I can say for DDR the first time I tried it.

    We also went to a photo booth and made silly "purikura" pictures. I will upload a scan of these later. I got the idea from my 14-year-old student, Chisami, who likes to make those, and will probably enjoy seeing the purikura we made..

    Circles go from right to left, and they indicate when, where, and with how many drumsticks to beat the drum. A small red circle means to hit the drum on the drum head with one drumstick. A big red circle means to hit the drum with two drumsticks at the same time, on the drum head. A blue circle means to hit it on the side with one drumstick. A long yellow circle means to beat the drum repeatedly with both drumsticks. Interesting.

    Our last meal was tabehōdai (all-you-can-eat) meat. It was great.

    Me at the Tabehōdai Place

    We talked about all kinds of things. We discussed Josh's bike trip with HKIS through southern China (mostly Guangdong) in 1999. I was on a field trip to Xi'an at the time, but to be honest, I wish I'd gone on the bike trip instead (people can go to Xi'an and see the terra cotta warriors anytime, but a bike trip with one's friends through southern China, going 12~15 miles a day including through villages where everyone has the same surname, must be something). We reminisced about Wow Macau, our class field trip in the fall of 1998, too.

    I bought a ticket back to Yokkaichi at the 7-Eleven kiosk for ¥2,500. At 7:45 PM, I boarded the bus and went back to Yokkaichi. It's too bad we couldn't hang out for more than two days, but those two days were great. I hope I don't have to wait 12 more years to see both Josh and Angeline again.

    June 11, 2013: Post-NOVA Business IT Career Studies Certificate Study
    Early yesterday morning (just after 1:00 AM on Monday), I returned to Yokkaichi from Tokyo, having completed the DSST Introduction to Business exam with a 455/500 (a very strong score). This was the last thing standing between me and the NOVA Business IT career studies certificate, my first real IT credential. Before this, I had completed individual IT classes and one IT exam, but this certificate, when NOVA sends it out to me, will be the first substantial IT credential that I have. Today, I have recovered a bit from that blitz (which included pulling an all-nighter with no sleep right before the test), and am now thinking about my next goal, study-wise.

    The first study goal is dead obvious: JLPT N2. I have about 173 days (~25 weeks) left until the December offering of that exam, as of today, and it is clearly the most important thing, study-wise, on my plate. Having N2 will dramatically increase my employment prospects in Japan. Assuming that it takes an additional 487.5 hours of study to be able to pass the N2 (I made a calculation regarding this several months ago and believe that's about how long it will take to prepare), that means an average load of 19.5 hours per week of study. I want to average slightly over 20 hours per week of study, though, so I want to add one more thing in there.

    I think this would be a great time to brush up on my Java programming (I have allotted 50 hours total to this task on my tactical schedule). If I brush up on my Java programming between now and December, then I will probably have enough Java to 1) enroll in NOVA ITP 220 (or perhaps an equivalent Java course at UMUC) without worrying about having forgotten all my Java programming, and 2) hopefully have enough Java to start learning how to really program apps for Android.

    487.5 hours for JLPT N2 + 50 hours of Java brush-up/additional study = 537.5 hours, which divided over the 25 weeks I have, is ~21.5 hours per week of study, on average, which is just busy enough to make a minor gain in terms of my surplus in the "time bank" — whereas I was 138.25 hours ahead, I predict that if I complete both these goals by December 1, I will be 37.5 hours ahead of my surplus as of yesterday (I will be 175.75 hours ahead of schedule, meaning a widening gap between the deadline and my expected finish date :-) ).

    So how will I know when I have brushed up on my Java enough? Well, when I have digested all the pages on the Swing GUI that I didn't fully digest during the course, and when I have written a program of at least 500 lines that is portfolio-quality that runs on a PC that is written in Java, and that program is an executable JAR (i.e. ending in .exe), then I will know that I've brushed up on my Java enough. That's the goal.

    June 9, 2013: My Trip to the Kantō Region (Tokyo and Utsunomiya)

    This weekend, I took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Utsunomiya (in Tochigi Prefecture), then a regular train to Tokyo. I accomplished secret business in Utsunomiya, ate Utsunomiya gyōza (the regional specialty), stayed in a capsule hotel in Tokyo, took the DSST Introduction to Business Exam in Tokyo, and then visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where I had a conversation with a WWII veteran who had been a pilot in the Imperial Japanese Navy!

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    I traveled to Utsunomiya for secret business. 
    This is my picture at the train station. It went all right. I can’t say yet whether it was a success, but I don’t feel I screwed up.

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    After the secret business, I had the Utsunomiya regional specialty, Utsunomiya gy
    ōza, at this restaurant.

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    This batch was made with authentic Tochigi Prefecture garlic chives. I mixed the sauce using soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil.

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    A man on the train had a dog-in-a-bag. I noticed it because the two gals standing near me kept saying “Kawaii!” and pointing to it...

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    I stayed at the ACE INN capsule hotel, which was only ¥2,835 after my initial deposit. The capsules were about 4‘x4‘x6‘ and made of wood; they were dimly lit and had no electrical outlets, so I had to charge my electronics/notebook out in the hallway. However, that price is pretty good for a night’s sleep in Shinjuku, so I guess I can’t complain, and I’ve never been one to reject a room for being too small! After flopping down on the futon in my capsule and sleeping from ~3:00 PM to a little after 8:00 PM (I was very tired then because I had forgone sleep [except train sleep] to get to Utsunomiya by 10:00 AM), I studied all night and took the DSST Intro to Business exam in the morning and early afternoon, passing with 455/500 (to prepare, I read The Wise Owl Guide to...Dantes Subject Standardized Test (DSST) Introduction to Business, as well as creating over 1,100 Anki flash cards, watching every University of New Hampshire Professor Ross Gittell Lecture on Intro to Business on iTunesU, and reading BUSINESS GUIDE TO JAPAN [and creating 70 Anki flash cards with the Japanese business vocabulary I learned from that], so the score was no surprise). Dirk Binder, the CEO of The Center for Advanced Studies, was my proctor; the exam was administered in his apartment! His pet cat literally jumped up onto the desk and stood between the screen and my face during the exam...and later in the exam, I could hear a matsuri going on outside... Dirk Binder was interesting to talk to, because he is an expert on opportunities to study at American colleges with branch campuses in Japan, something I plan to do soon. He used to be a professor at UMUC, teaching both American literature and freshman composition at UMUC mini-campuses in Japan. He now represents California State University, which has programs by which students can complete the first two years of their degrees in either Japan or India, then do the last two years in the US, allowing students to save money and also see if US higher education is for them (he noted that US bachelor’s degree programs are like a pyramid—many people enter as freshmen, but comparatively few people stay in all the way to graduation, so letting foreign students see if American higher ed is for them while still in their home countries is a good thing to do). He has lived in Japan since 1980.

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    Since the ACE INN was near Yasukuni Street, I decided to visit Yasukuni Shrine. This is me in front of the main torii for the Yasukuni Shrine. Yasukuni Shrine is notorious. It enshrines ~2,500,000 war dead from the 1800s to World War II. Sakamoto Ryōma, a famous samurai who was killed in 1867, is enshrined there, according to my taxi driver. The controversial part is that some war criminals are enshrined there as well, which is why Koreans and Chinese get angry every time a major political figure (like a Prime Minister) visits the Yasukuni Shrine.

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    This is Hayashi-san. He was sitting on a bench at the Yasukuni Shrine. It took me a while to build up the courage, but finally, I was able to ask him if he had been a soldier, and he replied that he had spent a “long time” with the JSDF (Japanese Self Defense Force). I wasn’t asking about the JSDF. I had a classmate at YSKLI who was in the JSDF and was also once asked for my ID by a JSDF reservist when I accidentally trespassed into a private parking lot at night, so the JSDF is no big deal to me. What I really wanted to know was if he had been in WWII, so I said “This is a bit of an impolite question, but may I ask, were you in World War II?” He said that yes, he had had to serve in the war, that it was okay to ask him questions, and that he had flown airplanes with the Imperial Japanese Navy. He said “I will be gone soon, but even now, I can still hear the ‘Boom! Boom! [of guns and bombs].’” I replied, “It is good that there is peace now." After the war, Hayashi-san joined the JSDF, where he went “all around the Pacific, [including] Singapore, three times, and Australia.” He wishes he could sail again, but at his age, unfortunately, cannot. Hayashi-san has visited America; he has even been to Arlington Cemetery, which he says is analogous to the Yasukuni Shrine. I told him that my grandfather is buried there. I asked Hayashi-san if I could take his picture. I think he was flattered because he kept thanking me. I think Hayashi-san was pleased to meet me. He told me to come to the Yasukuni Shrine again in the future.
    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    A Mitsubishi Zero
    I asked the ladies at the front desk what they call that plane in Japanese. They answered that it is called the “Zero-sen.” No kidding, they call it a “Zero,” just like in English.

    Photograph from the Utsunomiya/Tokyo Trip
    This piece of artillery was used to defend Okinawa against the Allies. The men who were assigned to this piece of artillery died in the fight.

    May 26, 2013: The Week of 2013/5/19, in Review
    Well, I just had quite a feast. I started by drinking the remaining beer that I didn't consume last night.
    Then, I took ¥106 worth of ground beef and formed three beef patties, from which I assembled three cheeseburgers with Camembert cheese, ketchup, and mustard:
    ...then followed that up by mixing approximately half a 75-gram cup of blueberry/black currant jam with 450 grams of plain yogurt. The result was over a pound of delicious blueberry yogurt with a cost of only ¥147 (¥98 for the tub of plain yogurt, ¥98 for the cup of jam, of which I only used half):
    Finally, I made two ham & cheese sandwiches using more of that cheap TOPVALU brand Camembert (only ¥98 for four little blocks, individually wrapped in foil) and some cheap ham on TOPVALU bread (by the way, the cheeseburger buns were also TOPVALU, as was the jam and yogurt):
    So...I'm pretty full now. I have had a very busy week, and now that it is finally over and a new one has begun, I should summarize. The week started on Sunday, with a visit to the administrative scrivener (gyōseishoshi, sm). He said I couldn't return to the U.S. to study at NVCC, or I would lose my work visa. On Thursday, I went to the Nagoya Immigration Office and got a second opinion, and sure enough, the gyōseishoshi was right.

    I think that now, I can finally say here, on my blog, that I am planning to change jobs (I feel okay saying this on my Web site because Kaori and I have already come up with a job ad and it has been sent in to O-Hayo Sensei, so it's already possibly on the Internet, and it's no longer some big secret). I will probably change jobs in August. I was originally planning to go back to the U.S. to study, but since I recently learned I can't do that, I will have to find a new job immediately. Big Apple is all right and all (probably the best job I've had so far — nice boss, acceptable pay, relatively well-behaved kids, generally nice parents, etc.), but I want to find a job that's closer to Tokyo so I can attend UMUC classes on a U.S. military base there. And also so that I can have a more active social life (my social life in Yokkaichi is pretty much dead except for Friday mornings when I go to the International Center). And also so that I can work for a larger organization (I have a hunch that my continuous string of one-year extensions has something to do with the eikaiwa's small size).

    I think that my best bet for a next step is as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher). My Japanese isn't quite good enough to land an office job, yet (I will need JLPT N2 for that, which I probably won't possess, at least officially, until February 2014), so it's either ALT or eikaiwa again, basically, and I think I want to try my hand at being an ALT. I can see how a Japanese public school operates, I think my students will be marginally more likely to actually study what I teach them because there are grades riding on it, and there will be fewer workdays per year/work hours per day (which is good because I have a lot of stuff to study, and would really appreciate several hundred extra free hours per year in which to study it).

    From what I've seen, ALT pay is terrible, except for rare direct hires (via local Boards of Education [BOEs]) and JET (which only recruits outside of Japan, gee, thanks a lot). I will probably be taking a pay cut, maybe even a major pay cut. However, that is not the end of the world, because I have saved a great deal of money over the past two years and am now quite financially secure. I am confident I can still save a fair chunk of change, even as a low-paid ALT, because I am a master when it comes to living on a shoestring in Asia. Many years spent as a poor student while I put myself through YSKLI, CELTA, my associate's degree, my bachelor's, degree, etc. have taught me the real meaning of frugality, and even if I only average 200,000 yen a month as an ALT (since many of the lengthy vacations are either unpaid or paid at a lower rate), I'm sure I can still save upwards of a million yen a year, or if I'm paying for UMUC classes, certainly at least half a million per year. I remember guys on Dave's ESL Cafe smugly and arrogantly telling me that I was being naive when I said I thought I could save a lot of money in Japan, but guess what, I was right and they were wrong. Two years ago, I had a negative net worth and loads of debt, but look at me now — I have a positive net worth of nearly ¥2,000,000 and absolutely no revolving debt, so those naysayers on Dave's ESL Cafe can suck my...uh, never mind!

    I should probably discuss long-term goals, now. I found out an important piece of information at the Nagoya Immigration Office on Thursday (of course, I need to confirm this with another source). The piece of information was that I can start my own business in Japan and become self-employed if I have ¥5,000,000 in startup capital and an office space. I had previously believed that three years' management experience were also required, which is why I had previously written that option off, but the immigration officer in Nagoya assured me that this is not the case. With three years of hard work (or two years of hard work and some small loans), I am quite certain I can reach that amount and meet at least the bare minimum legal requirements to get a Business Manager/Investor visa and be my own boss. Of course, paying a lot for UMUC tuition might lengthen the wait time, so that is something to bear in mind. Another major concern of mine is that Japan may increase the amount of required startup capital. I mean, Korea doubled their requirement from 50 to 100 million won (and then nearly tripled it to 300 million won until foreign business owners complained). A friend trying to establish a business in China told me they require $150,000 in startup capital. So Japan's low ¥5,000,000 requirement is almost a joke — my guess is that with the more nationalistic government in power now, the high rate of inflation courtesy of Shinzō Abe, and the devalued yen, it will be no time before they close this loophole. That worries me. Life is full of uncertainty, especially when you're a foreigner...

    So I guess I'll have to chart some kind of a middle path that keeps both options open — finishing my UMUC degree so that I can land a job as an IT guy/programmer in a few years (if self-employment becomes a non-option for the aforementioned reasons) also keeping enough money in the bank so that if the Business Manager/Investor requirements don't change, I'll have enough startup capital to start my own small educational software/language services business. I guess the key is to keep my options open right now — continue to push forward academically, but mainly focus on the cheap things (JLPT, DSST exams) for now, rather than the expensive things (UMUC classes), until I have more information. That seems like a good way to hedge my bets.

    Page 649 Photocopied from the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (出入国管理及び難民認定法, Shutsunyūkoku Kanri Oyobi Nanmin Nintei Hō).
    May 19, 2013: Consultation with an Immigration Lawyer, and Why I Will Probably Have to Put my Plans to Study in the United States on Hold
    Today I met with an immigration lawyer. I will not write in this blog his name or where we did the consultation because I think that some of the things he told me were in confidence, and I don't want to hurt his career or reputation. He seemed very competent and whenever I mentioned a law or visa category, he either knew the answer off the top of his head or knew where to find the answer in his pair of immigration law books. I will divide the things he told me into "good news" and "bad news." Unfortunately, the bad news seems to outweigh the good news at present (based on what he told me today, which I plan to confirm at at least one immigration office, I will be unable to return to the US to study this year).

    So, I will type up the bad news first:

    • If I am not employed for three or more months (regardless of whether I am in Japan or in a foreign country), my visa will be canceled, in principle. I had previously assumed my visa would only be canceled if I spent 90 days unemployed in Japan, but it turns out that this applies to me wherever I am on the planet. I'm glad I checked with an immigration lawyer before enacting my plan to study at NOVA in the United States from August to December... Because had I not consulted an immigration lawyer on that, I would have returned to Japan early next year with a nasty surprise — "VOID" stamped onto my work visa... And of course, this would have a cascade effect — even if I were able to re-obtain a work visa, the clock on getting permanent residency would reset back to 10 years (I currently have less than eight remaining, so this would be a two-year step backwards).

      However, if I am engaging in the purpose of my visa and spend 90+ days outside of Japan, that is okay. For example, if I work for a foreign trade company and they send me to China for four months, I will retain my Japanese work visa because the work I am doing in China is related to my visa status. However, quitting my current job to go and study at NOVA won't qualify.

      Now, with a crafty smile on your face, you might be saying "Well, what if you study in the US for 89 days and then fly back to Japan just in time?" No, that probably wouldn't work because it is virtually impossible to find a job in just one day, or even ten days. I would be able to land in Japan with my work visa status intact, but my visa could be cancelled in short order.

    And now, for the good news:

    1. It turns out I was a little bit wrong about how the immigration offices calculate time accrued to permanent residency (eijūken). They calculate it based on the current date minus the date I first landed in Japan, not my total days spent in Japan. In other words, I should go ahead and take as many trips to foreign countries as I want, because they are not counting against me. A day spent in America, China, or Korea is just as valid as a day spent in Japan (unless, as the immigration lawyer noted, I spent 6+ months per year outside of Japan, in which case it does hurt me). I arrived in Japan on March 7, 2011, so I will be eligible to apply for PR on March 7, 2021, regardless of how many vacations I take to Mongolia, Russia, Svalbard, etc.

      There are two positive outcomes of this. First of all, I am slightly closer to permanent residency than I had previously thought (that vacation to Jeju-do will not be subtracted from my ten years, nor will my visits to the US be subtracted, so I am actually over 22% of the way there, not 21% as I had previously thought, oh joy). It also means I'm free to take as many international trips (provided that I'm not unemployed) as I want, within reason.

    2. Three-year extensions are sufficient as a platform from which to apply for eijūken. A five-year extension is not a prerequisite (even though it says "maximum period of stay" in the law books, the immigration offices are accepting three-year periods of stay as sufficient for PR applications). I had already heard this from some immigration offices, but it is still nice to hear this again, because I seriously doubt I will be getting a five-year extension anytime soon, if ever.
    3. I can freely change amongst pretty much any of the 27 visa categories without resetting the clock. I had heard this before from the immigration office, but it was nice to have an immigration lawyer confirm it. Basically, during my ten years in Japan leading up to the day when I step into the immigration office and apply for PR, I can change freely between my Specialist in Humanities/International Services status, Instructor status, Engineer status, and Student status, not having to worry about the "clock" being reset.
    4. Provided that my next employer is reasonably large and stable, I will probably get a three-year extension next year. Basically, what the immigration lawyer said was that "in principle," English teachers get three-year extensions by default. English teachers are not supposed to get one-year extensions, in principle. He said that it is actually fairly unusual for an English teacher to get a continuous string of one-year extensions like me, and the immigration office has probably been giving me these because of a specific reason (he specifically mentioned being arrested as one of those reasons, but since I haven't been arrested in Japan, that can't be it). I mentioned that my workplace is very small and that it's just me and my boss with no other employees, and he said that was probably the reason. He showed me one of his law books where it had Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa holders divided by category, with Category 1 being the most desirable and Category 4 being the least desirable. The criteria were based almost exclusively on the size of the company, so I am likely Category 4 now (i.e. the least desirable). He seemed to think that if I worked for a company that was "antei" (stable) and had been in "keizoku" (continuous) operation for a long time, that I would have a very high chance at getting a better extension next time, because three-year extensions are the default, in principle, and they will usually give three-year extensions to English teachers unless there is a reason not to do so.
    5. If I were ever to become severely ill and needed to be hospitalized for a long time, I could be "unemployed" for longer than 90 days and still keep my visa status, in all likelihood. He specifically mentioned this case as one in which the "in principle" part of the 90-day rule might be invoked (the immigration lawyer actually mentioned two exceptions: getting sick, and a husband having to help his wife care for a newborn baby).

    Things that were neither good nor bad:

    1. Don't use the Yokkaichi Immigration Office. Don't even use the first floor of the Nagoya Immigration Office. Use the second floor of the Nagoya Immigration Office. They provide the best, most competent service. However, I am unlikely to be near Nagoya for much longer, so I guess it doesn't matter much, since I just received my extension last month and won't likely apply for an extension in these parts ever again.
    2. There are a couple of law books that have very detailed information on visas (written in Japanese only, of course) that I would be wise to get my hands on. He photocopied some stuff from one of them, but I might want to invest in the actual books themselves. No second-hand source is better than the actual law books themselves, right?

    In conclusion, there are two things I need to do. First of all, I need to check with at least one or two other authoritative sources (other immigration lawyers or immigration offices, preferably) to make sure that my proposed study trip to the US won't work. And second of all, if they agree with this immigration lawyer, then I will have to find new employment in Japan as soon as I finish up at Big Apple (without waiting or going back to school full-time). This means I am almost 100% likely to become an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher at a public school), if this scenario plays out, both because there is a minor hiring surge of ALTs in the early Fall, and also because it will probably be a better fit for my study-intensive schedule than eikaiwa work. The good news is, ALTs only work about 80% as many calendar days as I do (~200 days per calendar year versus the 249 days per calendar year that I currently work), and those days generally entail fewer teaching hours, so I will have a lot more free time to study. Possibly hundreds of extra study hours per year.

    There is also one more silver lining regarding not studying in the US this fall (well, presuming that my consultation with another authoritative source yields the same results as this one). Had I gone to the US to study this fall, my savings, which I have worked extremely hard to get for the last two years, would have been nearly totally depleted. However, if I stay in Japan and work instead, they will continue to increase at a meteoric rate. I could easily have ¥2,000,000 in the bank by the end of this year (studying in the US probably would have depleted it to less than ¥1,000,000 by the end of this year). I will have enough money that I can start investing some of it in things that yield good interest rates and dividends. Within the next year I could potentially have a larger PNW (personal net worth) than ever before (yep, even bigger than when I set out for Korea in 2006 with over $20,000 in Bank of America, meaning that this Asia venture will have finally turned a net profit, albeit a miniscule one).

    Of course, with increased cash comes decreased time to study. But I think that, thanks to my massive, insane NOVA blitz in February, March, and April, I am now to the point where it may be feasible to finish my BS in IT and JLPT N2 by the time I'm 29, without any special study breaks in the US.

    And as for other news, my StreetPass number reached 4,000 on my Nintendo 3DS. Rina, from Mie-ken, was the 4,000th StreetPass. That was a minor highlight of today, I guess.

    My spring semester grades were finally officially released. Note the cumulative GPA, 3.837, with 49 credit hours in. The ITE 115 'A' doesn't even come close to expressing how awesome I was in that course. My final percentage, thanks to extra credit and just generally kicking ass, was 104.2%. In ITN 100 (Intro to Telecommunications), however, I had a more modest 97.6%, because that was a tougher course.

    My ¥980 Sega Saturn, which I bought near Tomida Station last Friday at 11:54 PM...

    This is the CD case for Mahō Gakuen Lunar!, a game that has never been officially released in English. I am a devoted Lunar fan, having beaten Lunar 2: Eternal Blue and also having bought and played quite a bit of (but not yet beaten) Lunar 1. I have been playing the Sega Saturn version extensively over the past week, but have been somewhat disappointed because there are no items or equipment, and the story seems much more lighthearted and less serious than the previous installments. Although the battle system allows characters to be moved around to various parts of the screen in a tactical fashion a la Lunar 1 & 2, this ability is worth naught because any playable character or enemy can easily cross the entire screen in one turn. However, I will keep playing (and hopefully finish) it and then post another update. Maybe I'll start liking it better the more I play it. At least it's helping my Japanese.

    Other Mahō Gakuen Lunar! Screenshots, Taken on My HDTV:

    May 10, 2013: ITE 115 and ITN 100 Grades Finally Released
    It's Friday night and I'm sipping a beer and getting ready for the weekend, which will only be slightly less insane, in terms of hours spent studying/working than the workweek. I am so busy these days. Though I completed ITE 115 and ITN 100 at NOVA a while ago, the grades weren't released officially into the grade book until a day or so ago. Rather than taking time off, I immediately launched into preparation for the DSST Introduction to Business exam. This exam is the only thing standing between me and the NOVA Business Information Technology career studies certificate.

    At the same time, I need to start studying hardcore for the JLPT N2. That is, bar none, the most important certificate for my job hunt in February/March 2014. If I have time after all these things, I'll go after the Associate of Science in Information Technology degree from NOVA (if I play my cards right, I'll be free starting in mid-August and can take a full term at NOVA). I have decided to drop the Application Programming career studies certificate from my lineup this year because I don't think I'll have enough time to do that and the other things I have planned, which are quite frankly more important. That's okay. If I need a programming credential, there are plenty of on-demand vendor certifications like SCJP (Sun-Certified Java Programmer) that I can take after December 2013.

    Anyways, for the next three or so hours, I'm just going to relax, drink beer, play Mahō Gakuen Lunar! on my Sega Saturn (which I got for a mere ¥980), and maybe watch a movie. Oh, and take a nice, warm shower.

    April 28, 2013: The Types of Work I Might Be Able to Get in Early 2014
    On April 17, I got my visa extension — once again, just one year. I wasn't particularly happy with my third consecutive one-year extension, but I have since moved on from "This sucks!" to making actual plans with this new information. My boss and I came to an agreement a while ago that I would probably work for her until sometime between the end of August and the end of October (i.e. until we find a new teacher), and then I would go back to college as a regular student (and then I would launch a new job search after completing some credentials there). Check out this job posting from GaijinPot; this is the kind of thing I might be able to do in the future:

    Now, this is the type of job I might be able to land early next year when I go job hunting then (it is a technical proofreader position paying over ¥300,000 per month). The requirements are that I must be an English native speaker, have strong Japanese skills (N2), that I have some knowledge of C/Java and other IT stuff, and I must be either a US or Japanese citizen (for security clearance purposes). I am able to meet all of these requirements right now except for the Japanese language requirement (I am only N3). I have taken courses in college in both C++ and Java, I meet the citizenship and native language requirements, and my Japanese is only one level away from being that which they require. This is the kind of job that I could conceivably do starting early next year, once I have JLPT N2 in-hand (and with some help from the AS in IT and the IT certificates that I plan to knock out at the end of this year).

    Will I be able to become a programmer next year? No. Even if I could find somebody to hire me, without a bachelor's degree in a technology field to clear the visa red tape hurdle, I wouldn't be able to do the job legally. However, jobs like the one above (proofreading, office work, etc. that can be considered "Specialist in Humanities/International Services" even though they deal to some degree with technology) are fair game. I think I might be able to land such a position early next year if I really work on my credentials this year.

    So what are the benefits of a job like this? Well, first of all, it would put me in an environment where Japanese knowledge and use were encouraged, not discouraged. My Japanese would get better as a result. I would also be exposed to, and gain experience in, IT stuff, which wouldn't hurt for becoming a programmer later on. Oh, and the salary is approximately ¥50,000 per month more than my current one, meaning I could save an extra ¥600,000 per year. Nice.

    So when next year rolls around, and I have finished up at Big Apple and have done extensive extra study (I am increasingly leaning towards being a full-time student in the United States for 3~5 months), I could definitely go for a job like Technical Proofreader, office worker at an import/export company (that I am trilingual in English, Japanese, and Korean would be a major asset, I think), etc.

    If I fail to find such a job, all is not lost. I am extremely well-qualified now for most ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) positions — with my bachelor's degree, my CELTA and CTEYL, my nearly four years of legit English teaching experience, JLPT N3 (hopefully N2 soon), my valid work visa, etc. I am in a very, very good position to land an ALT gig. As an ALT, I would only have to work about 200 days per year (currently I work about 250 days a year). With all those extra days, I'd have lots of extra time to study IT or Japanese. Of course, ALTs get paid slightly less than I currently do, but it's time that's the scarce resource right now, not money. I have plenty of money now.

    I have scrapped the freelancer idea for two reasons. First of all, with only 6~8 months between the end of my current job and my next visa renewal period, I simply won't have enough time to build up a big enough client base to be making at least ¥200,000 of steady income per month. Second of all, when Immigration took nearly six weeks to process my extension request, I realized something — I could apply two months before the deadline (the maximum), get rejected with only two weeks left on my visa (due to the freelance work being in the "iffy," "maybe yes, maybe no" category), and have only two weeks to line up another job (unlikely to happen in May) or face having to leave Japan and losing all my progress towards eijūken. I'm not willing to take that risk. So for now, I am scrapping any plans to go freelance.

    Now, the last bit: Should I return to the United States to study at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) for a few months and finish off my AS in IT there, or should I stay in Japan and work some kind of temporary stopgap job and pursue the exact same qualifications, but online? Well, I would prefer to do the study in the States, if possible. I wouldn't have to work and could devote more time to studying. Although the plane ticket would cost extra versus if I did the study in Japan, I would save money on food (food is cheaper in America), proctor fees (no need to have a proctor for brick and mortar classes), textbooks (the library and other students' textbooks), and software (use the NOVA computer lab). Plus, I might be able to work a bit in the US and raise enough money to start a Roth IRA account, something I'm not currently able to do using just my Japanese salary.

    However, what will ultimately determine whether or not I go back to the US to study for 3~5 months is the same thing it always is: visa red tape. I'm worried that A) they will cancel my work visa in my absence or B) it will reset the clock on getting permanent residency back to ten years (I am at less than eight years remaining right now). I will need to check with multiple immigration offices on these issues.

    April 13, 2013: UPDATE 2: The Sakura Along the Jūshi River and This Morning's Earthquake
    Today, I decided to do some hanami (Ԍ, or flower viewing) at the Jūshi River Sakura Avenue (\l̍, Jūshi-gawa no Sakura Namiki), which is a famous cherry blossom spot in Yokkaichi with over 600 cherry trees along the Tomida River. The first week or so of April is the best time to do hanami. The Sakura Matsuri (Ղ, Cherry Blossom Festival) was actually last weekend, but I didn't go because it was raining, and because I had to take an ITE 115 test on Sunday. Fortunately, there were still a few cherry blossoms left on the trees when I went a week later. I also got some yozakura (, night cherry blossoms) shots as per the recommendation of Tai-san, my student who is a cardiologist, who has also gone and done hanami this year. Here are the five best photos I took, with the earliest one having been taken at 5:37 PM and the latest one having been taken at exactly 7:00 PM (the yozakura shot):

    I walked the entire Jūshi-gawa Sakura no Namiki on both sides (except where one side was inaccessible). That's one more thing I can cross off my Yokkaichi to-do list.

    On the way home, I discovered, along Route 1, the most incredible used video games store I have seen, perhaps in all my time in Japan (and that includes Akihabara [Ht] in Tokyo). This place had entire stacks of Super Famicoms and Sega Saturns. The Sega Saturns were retailing for a mere ¥1,480 a piece ($14.97 at the current exchange rate, not bad). They had lots of obscure used games that I have been looking for like Mahō Gakuen Lunar! (@wiI) and Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I will definitely have to make a return visit there at some point to stock up on this stuff that's hard to find outside of online auctions (except in this case, I won't have to pay shipping & handling or deal with sellers who cancel a foreigner's bid, which has been known to happen occasionally).

    The whole apartment building shook this morning. There was an earthquake at 5:33 AM, that's why. It was a 6.3 in Hyōgo Prefecture (Ɍ), but here in Yokkaichi, it just rattled my building enough to wake me up for a minute or so. 23 people were injured, mostly in Hyōgo, and some trains were delayed. One bureaucrat made a mistake and sent out notifications of a North Korean attack to 87 different airport offices! Anyways, this morning's earthquake was a reminder that this area can have earthquakes, too. Normally, we don't get earthquakes in Yokkaichi, but sometimes the Kansai Region (֐n) has had big earthquakes before, like the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 that killed ~6,400 people. I certainly haven't felt anywhere near the number of earthquakes I used to feel in Taiwan, though.

    April 13, 2013: Photos from the Last Couple of Weeks (Hikaru's Lessons, etc.)
    I haven't made many updates lately because I'm so busy with ITE 115 and ITN 100 at NOVA, as well as my job. I have been teaching Hikaru. Ever since he stopped attending an English kindergarten, he has been speaking English less and less. So his mother decided to put him at Big Apple, and decided to have me teach him — but the idea was that rather than me teaching him English, that I would just do arts and crafts and games with him, in the hopes that he would see English as "fun" and want to resume it again. And arts and crafts, we did! Here are some photos of some arts and crafts we did (in addition to the origami shuriken and the toilet paper tube Easter bunnies we already made):

    For his third lesson, we made this chick magnet (LOL). The kid has to trace his/her hand on a sheet of yellow paper, cut it out, etc.

    I wanted to do an Earth Day-themed lesson. So I downloaded some pics of poison dart frogs from the Amazon Rainforest. Hikaru and I made origami frogs and colored them like poison dart frogs. Then we played a game in which we raced to the finish line (these origami frogs can jump if pressed on the back end and released). Good idea, eh? I am pleased to announce that Hikaru has started speaking more English again since these lessons have started.

    This is some "beef stew" given to me by Tomiko, one of my adult students. She works at the Ishikawa Steakhouse. I would not describe the beef as "beef stew," but it was still extremely delicious and I would definitely like to eat at her restaurant sometime. Tomiko-san is cool. She is the gal who one time gave me a bottle of sand from the Sahara Desert.

    Still believe in the "hard-working Asians" stereotype? Look no further.

    This is R-kun's quiz (his full name is a secret to protect his privacy). This kid is an eighth grader who has had access to the word list on which this quiz was based since December (it's just a spelling quiz in which they have to write the word, presented to them in Japanese, in English). The right answers to this quiz were:

    1. amusement park
    2. drive
    3. feel nervous
    4. date
    5. promise
    6. first love
    7. girl

    As I went to my Japanese lesson at the Yokkaichi International Center on Friday, I got to see these amazing machines (there were two of them), similar to tanks, plowing through the local river...

    Well, I'm chillin' tonight. I aim to finish my ITE 115 and ITN 100 courses within the next nine calendar days. Right now, I'm having my Friday night drinking sesson, which I expect to last about three hours. I plan to write this update, drink wine, eat pizza, gyōza, and a sandwich, watch either an episode or two of a certain American drama, or a movie, and also do something uniquely Japanese (TBA)...

    April 9, 2013: Only 7 Years, 364 More Days Left
    I have been living in Japan since March 7, 2011 according to my gaikokujin tōroku shōmeisho. However, I have spent roughly one month outside of Japan since then, so it was not until this morning at 11:55 AM that I passed the two-year mark in terms of days spent actually living in Japan. And those are the days that count towards permanent residency. I am now no longer 8+ years away from being able to apply for permanent residency. I am now 7 years and 364 days away from being able to do that (assuming the law doesn't change). I'm 20.02% of the way there, according to my JavaScript countdown. That's a major milestone. That's more than 1/5.

    I'm still waiting on my visa extension, unfortunately (I have been waiting for over four weeks, which is a longer-than-average wait time). I'm really hoping they'll give me a three-year extension this time, but kind of doubt it given that the Mie JETs Web site says "the success rate [for this] has dropped a lot [at the Yokkaichi Immigration Office]" and that Joshua (the former teacher) and Kaori (my boss) have both told me that this immigration office has never (to their knowledge) given any of the Big Apple International School of English teachers a three-year extension.

    The aforementioned information may make my chances of getting a three-year extension this time seem close to 0%, but I estimate my chances at closer to 30%. This is why: How do I say this delicately? Most English teachers are morons when it comes to immigration law. They say things like "oh, I don't know what kind of visa I'm on" or "I think it's a business visa" or "I don't know, my employer takes care of that." They don't research the laws or the options, which is really idiotic considering that the visa (technically not the visa, but the zairyū shikaku, or Status of Residence [SOR]) is the sole legal basis for us being in Japan, our sole foundation for having any rights or privileges at all. But I digress. These immigration-ignorant English teachers submit their visa applications without supporting documentation like JLPT scores that might otherwise help them get a better extension. Some don't even write "three years" in the desired extension length box. When someone doesn't even make a minimal effort to ask for a three-year extension, why should the Immigration Office give it to him or her? Many English teachers also just work here for one or two years. I'm going into my third, so since I'm clearly longer-term than the average English teacher, my chances are slightly higher than other English teachers in my area, in my opinion. However, I'd still estimate my chances at no more than 30%.

    I'm on pins and needles here, because I really need to know what kind of extension I'm going to get. It affects what kind of job I'll be doing down the road, like in 2014. What I can do in 2014 will be dictated by my visa extension length.

    • If I get a one-year extension: my only realistic job choices for 2014 will be as an employee, not as a freelancer in or near Tokyo. In this scenario, I would not have time to build up a sufficiently large client base to become a freelancer in Tokyo. Possible jobs I could land in early 2014 before my one-year extension lapsed, allowing me to get another extension:
      - An ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) at a public school
      - A Japanese-using office job of as-of-yet-undetermined nature
      - An eikaiwa teacher again (a distant third choice)
    • If I get a three- or five-year extension: my options will be much wider open. I could do any of the jobs listed above, but could also have a realistic shot at becoming a freelancer. By "freelancer," I mean "a guy who has a number of part-time and self-employment gigs in Tokyo and the Kantō Region in general, including English teaching, translations, proofreading, and whatever else comes my way." That's what I'd really like to do, honestly — diversify (not put all my eggs in one basket) and try out other things. However, it would probably take months or even a year or two for my client base to ramp up to the point where I'm making the ¥200,000 per month required by the Immigration Office to keep extending my visa.

    So basically, in a nutshell:

  • One-year extension → ALT, eikaiwa teacher, or worker in a Japanese office → passing JLPT N2 would be helpful for these goals, especially the last one
  • Three-year extension → Freelancer → JLPT N2 is less important/relevant and I should work on skills that'll actually make me a better freelancer (Japanese casual conversation/listening comprehension skills, IT skills, money skills, etc.) rather than focusing on JLPT N2

    I am also considering (though still undecided) returning to college full-time at some point and finishing off that AS in IT (and knocking out a significant chunk of my BS in IT and maybe some certificates). I might go back to the United States for a matter of months to do this (I emphasize, I am undecided on this). A three-year extension would give me plenty of time to do this. If I just got a one-year extension, though, I probably wouldn't be able to spend enough time in the United States to justify the study-abroad-in-my-own-country trip. Whether I can do this is also determined by how many months I can spend outside of Japan without resetting the clock on getting permanent residency (I will need to consult both immigration officers and immigration lawyers on this).

    So...I just wish the Yokkaichi Immigration Office would make up their minds quickly and issue me an extension, preferably for 3 ~ 5 years. I'm trying to make some major career decisions here.