Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tips in frugality: How I sent home 50% of my Japanese paycheck

At first, I, too was a retail slave.

I'm cheap and I love it. I want to clue you in on how I went from $10k in debt to almost double that in savings in two years. This here isn't new to anyone, just proof that most of you can make it work.

Why me? It all started with getting a job and jumping income levels. My close friend Zack, who is also my work neighbor, bikes to work everyday and I asked him why. This opened up a conversation about saving, investing, and MrMoneyMustache. Before I got used to a more expensive lifestyle, I sent home the difference in pay. After paying them off I had a new focus: the American stock market.

2 years later I'm on top of the building of one of the 
richest men in history. ON TOP!
Why you? Some things in Yokohama are cheaper than Seattle, and vice versa. Fresh ingredients and food are cheaper; alcohol is, too. Transportation is more expensive, but your company usually reimburses you 100%, which explains why biking is so profitable. Some of the changes are universal, other apply to only me or living in Yokohama.

How? Food. For a long while, I cooked for myself at least 4 days a week. I suck at cooking, and never really improved. Costco sells a 2-lb 4-pack of individually wrapped chicken breasts for $10. That's your main meat for 5 big or 8 medium-sized meals. A pot of curry is about $5-6, and you can eat it all week! I also dropped $20 every 2 months coffee beans and have avoided going to cafes (drip is $3.50 in Japan, yeesh!).
Timmmmm Currrrrrrrrrray!
Drinking. Luckily, Zack bought his tickets for the frugal train a few years before me, and is in the same mentality. We drink $1 beers outside of convenience stores before joining a party where they're $5. Another shortcut was when we did the low carb diets, buying a giant bottle of fizz and a 5th of whiskey. You get 12 x 50 cent drinks. More than enough to get loose off of $3 and 20g carbs!

The downside is the social invitations, though. My co-workers are older and generally want to go to nicer places. I work a different schedule, so I've taken all 3 opportunities this year to go to the $60 per person Italian dinner. However, Japanese people love to go out, and if you work the same hours as someone, you might go out a few times a week.

Transportation. Driving is expensive, and public transportation is treated like that crazy uncle that people invite because it would be cruel to tell him he sucks. If you live in the right area, though, you can either a) bike and cancel that gym membership or b) take the bus/train and use that commute to read or text all your stupid Buzzfeed Top 10 articles to your friends.

Most people don't think about it, but gas ain't the only cost to driving. Parking, insurance, and maintenance are fees you can equate to up to 20% of your income. My bike ride to work was 40 minutes and was a little under 6 miles away. You may or may not be as fortunate, but you might consider transportation costs in your next move. It might be worth another $200/month that you'd spend anyway getting to work!

Entertainment: watching. Porn is free, so let's cross that off. What people might not know is and, two sister sites that stream a boatload of high-quality content both with Japanese subtitles, and dubbed. There is minimal advertising, and the content works without an account. I just watched my childhood favorite, DarkWing Duck last night!

Movies and tv shows are a little different. There are tons of free sketchy sites, but I prefer the obvious Netflix, which doesn't work in Japan without a bit of sorcery. If you can't wait until June 2015, then you can get Strong VPN service to fool into thinking you're in the US. I've been a Prime Instant Video member for 3 years now, and their streaming tv and movie service has finally started taking itself seriously. You also need the aforementioned VPN service, but the selection is pretty good!

Entertainment: playing. I have paid full price for 3 new games in the last 2 years. Otherwise, I buy used. I used to buy new and preserve the case and then I started traveling a lot. That gets expensive, the shit gets shoved in a box and there's water damage and xyz, it's just not worth it to me.

Also, the disturbing trend of (American) companies releasing unfinished games means that paying full price is riskier than waiting until someone sells it on Craigslist (a week later sometimes!) Sometimes you get lucky and Dell decides to sell the game with a big ass coupon. I just got $25 back on the $40 Zelda: Majora's Mask remake.

Shoutout to PlayStation Plus for having monthly free games. I am sitting on 80 games, downloaded free after having the service for 4 years.

Utilities. I live in a tiny apartment in an old building, and that may be the hardest thing to control. I am still appalled that Ballardians pay $1400 for 2-bedroom apartments, but it's a nice place to live! One of the things I DO have control over is using a prepaid cell phone. I have a tablet and use wifi when I can (Starbucks and 7-11 in Japan), and otherwise have to top up my prepaid phone $30 every 60 days. Most of you probably spend $50 or so per month for the convenience. There are alternatives!

When I live in the States again, I'm looking to try Freedom Wireless, which looks to be either free or $20/month for a slightly limited smart phone. That kind of change is worth it for me.

Shopping: Amazon. I am an unabashed fan of Amazon, and it works just as well in Japan. I stay away from department stores, which in Japan are mostly women's clothing/cosmetics shops anyway. "Sale" means they're lying to you.

TL,DR; Cooking for myself, biking, drinking at convenience stores, using prepaid phone service, Amazon and buying used is what allows me to sock away dat sweet 50!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A second look at famous Japanese stuff!


Recently I went to a gaming expo called Tokaigi, and saw the kanji (Chinese characters that are the bane-cum-boon of Japanese learners) for Nintendo for the first time. That got me thinking about my first encounters in Japan with the companies I've known my whole life.

Let's start with Nintendo: 任天堂 "Trust heaven (to do what you need)." The first character is used for asking someone to do a favor 任せる (, responsibility 責任 (seki.nin) and your workplace senior 主任 (shu-nin). The second character, heaven, is also used for angel  天使 (ten.shi) and genius 天才 (ten.sai). The last character is used as an honorific for heaven in this case, though lots of people equate 堂 to luck.

Other tech giants: Hitachi 日立 "Rising sun." The first character, sun, is used anywhere and everywhere and has a variety of pronunciations. The second character 立 also means to stand, and if you add water, it means to cry 泣, which I always thought was weird.

Toshiba 東芝 is a merged word of Tokyo Electric 京電気 and Shibaura Electric 浦電気, both of which are place names.

Fujitsu 富士通 "The road to (Mt) Fuji." I'm just guessing here, but the road part could be a reference to the company's many mergers. I used a rather unstable Fujitsu PC at work, and called it a 不実, which can be read the same way, but means "not true."

Mitsubishi三菱 "Three diamonds." Not as clever as we hoped. But the company makes both electronics and cars, which is a great bridge to the subject of car makers!

Modern Toyotaトヨタ is written in Katakana, but the original kanji was an alternate reading of the family name 豊田, "bountiful field." The family name was Toyoda, but the same characters can be read Toyota. This actually brings in a really interesting cultural dynamic.

this man is standing in his toyo-ta
Introductions are particularly important to have your eyes and ears on, as people exchange names, pronunciations and spellings of their names. 黒川 can be read Kurokawa or Kurogawa. "Black river," if you're wondering. In addition to the above example, the ridiculously common bi-gender first name Yuki can be written 有希, 優希, 勇気, or a few dozen other ways.

Back to cars, Subaru スバル refers to the Seven Sisters constellation, though only 6 are visible. I guess the merc sister is busy mercin' fools in the jungles. Mazdaマツダis both a family name, and also credited toward an old Persian god. It's worth noting that a lot of the Japanese car models have way more epic names, like the Corolla Axio, the Ceres and the Regius.

Honda本田 and Suzukiスズキ are also boringly and blatantly named after their founders.

Nissan is written 日産, which is short for 業株式会社 (Japan Industries). A neat secondary meaning is "made by the sun," and we're not talkin just helium, folks!

As a person who's studied enough Japanese to start reading things at first glance, I've done an increasing amount of double takes as I realize THAT'S how they do it in good ol Japan. By the way, I am well aware that I used the word cum in a sentence. What companies did I miss?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

久しぶり!Long time no post! p2 Tokaigi闘会議

Any event at Makuhari Messe is gonna be a good one!

Tokaigi is a meeting of nerds who love video games. There are multiplayer events for PC, arcade, 4 generations of Nintendo and Sony home and handheld consoles, in addition to demos, quizzes, history and of course COSPLAY. Surprisingly, there weren't a lot of mobile games, and there were still a lot of females. I'd say at least 30%, and they were normally dressed. This is a shock to me, Tokyo Game Show is like 90% male, and the cosplay is mostly sexy females and awkward male photographers asking them to spread their legs and bend over and stuff. One after another.

Puzzle Dragons: Mario Edition

After playing a new puzzle-dragon Mario game, we went to the Nintendo graffiti wall which my friend Wai-Ming decided was too heavily Nintendo. My contribution was Darth Goomba to match my Star Wars shirt that I wore. Unfortunately my Zelda shirt wasn't clean that day :( .

We showed up too late to the Nintendojo (任天道場) which marked the first time of seeing the kanji for Nintendo (任天堂), which means something like "Trust luck to heaven." I think that's pretty accurate. They were doing oldschool gaming sessions with SNES Mario Kart and newschool Wii U Mario Kart 8. There was also a Nintendo quiz, which I'm pretty sure would have been amazing to do in Japanese, but alas!

Then, there were cosplay props lying about, for people to go nuts. TGS is just too crowded to have room for this kind of stuff.

Since I was in Chiba, I got the chance to meet up with some of my previous students from Tokyo U of Science, and then go to my favorite ramen restaurant in the world: Menya Koji (柏駅の麺やこうじ). They have this sharp, spicy garlic that I've never seen anywhere else. Don't plan on kissing anyone or giving any speeches for at least a week!
Tsukemen. Always and forever!

This is the only place you'll SEE this!
My tabulation left on a game called
Booby Show (no demos were available :) )

Friday, February 6, 2015

お久しぶり!Long time, no post! p1

I have slipped into work-and-play mode to the extreme! If I'm not at school, pretending to be a teacher, I've been seeing the sights of Japan! One day, a friend visiting from Korea wanted to see the towers!

There's also a Studio Ghibli store at the base!

There it is: Sky Tree! 634m tall, and the second tallest THING in the world, Japanese people will tell you to that Sky Tree is a must-see if you're visiting Tokyo. The area around the base is called Solamachi (空=sky町=town), though I am disturbed by the "l" instead of "r" in sola. Ahh well, maybe there's a hidden reason. But I digress! The tower is just a part of the background to most places in Tokyo, and I hadn't seen it up close until just's HUGE, but it doesn't feel as tall as it really is. Still a wonderful part of the TKY experience.


The same night, we walked through a CRAZY-COLD Daimon/Hamamatsucho to see Tokyo Tower. You're not forgotten! 

A few days later, I went with some good friends to the Yebisu Beer Factory and learned some shit. Then I drank some shit! The tour is roughly 20 minutes long, 500 yen, and you get two glasses of fresh, smooth beer at the end. Afterwards, you can purchase an American pint of one of six flavors for 400 yen. While there, we met a young Japanese couple and ended up staying an extra few hours chatting in the language. You can figure that anyone else that has time to drink at noon on a Wednesday is gonna be chill.


At work and in your personal life, how many accounts do you have that require a login?

Dudes. Chicks. Calm that consumer rush. This is a hard one, cause I try harder than the average Joe to be frugal and not financially wast...