Sunday, July 29, 2012

Life in Japan: Income and Resident Taxes, NHI

This morning I head out to the local city hall to get signed up for National Health Insurance, which is the standard health plan here in Japan.

Before I do, if you plan to stay in Japan for a year or longer, here are some bills headed your way that it's best to save up for little by little so you don't fall out of your chair when you get them.

Resident Tax: Resident tax, around 10% of your income, doesn't kick in until you've been in Japan an entire year as of January 1st. So this year I'm off the hook, because as of January 1st, 2013 I'll only have been here around 5 months. However, on January 1st, 2014, I'll start to owe tax. You'll get your bill mailed to you in the spring or summer, as I'm hearing different months from different people, and it's normally broken down so that you can pay it off in four payments over one year.

National Health Insurance: For the first year, it's pretty cheap (I'll update this price after I go today if it's different), around $20-30 USD per month. This is because your monthly premium is determined based on your previous year's salary in Japan. So your second year it's going to shoot up to about 8% of your first year's income. At some point, I'll do another post at some point with more details on NHI.

Income Tax: Check with your employer. Most handle this for you before you get your paycheck, but a few don't, I've heard. If they don't you will be responsible for filing your own taxes.

Learn to Read Japanese: Firefox Furigana Add-Ons

If you’re a student of Japanese and have gotten into hiragana and kanji, you’re probably familiar with “furigana”. “Furigana” is the name for the tiny hiragana (alphabet) written above or to the right of a kanji to show how it's pronounced, which can vary depending on several factors. 

(Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons.)

Seen mostly in children’s books to help the little guys along, or for adults when a rare kanji is used, furigana are also found in textbooks for learners of Japanese. But what if you could add furigana above kanji in online text, any text, turning any Web page into an instant learning opportunity?

It sounds too good to be true, but as I learned today there are Firefox add-ons for just that. :D Here are two:

Ahahahahhaa… oh dear God, I spent over an hour trying to get this to work, with the teasing promise of “furigana anywhere online” driving me on. Remember the old “The princess is in another castle?” video game line? Imagine an add-on like that.

“Download this… and this… and this… oh, and this thing you’ll need to download to open the third thing, and oh yeah, you’ll need to have a special program to run this one, and another program to get the first special program to run, and I hope you're a coder because we're doing shell commands…”

The only reason I’m even mentioning this one is because I’m on a Mac and perhaps the install is easier on other platforms. No tips because I couldn't get it installed.

So, beaten, buried under downloads, and about to give up, I remembered that somewhere someone had mentioned a different add-on, this one called “Furigana Injector”.

I went. I clicked. I followed directions. All in all, three minutes later I had this beautiful Web page to look at!

This is an article about the World Cosplay Summit going on now in Nagoya, if you're curious. :)

Tips for Injector: When you install, it lets you set the level of kanji you want to ignore and not put furigana over. The lowest level leaves out the easiest 100 kanji.

However, if you'd like all kanji with furigana, you can change that once it installs. Open Firefox, go to Tools, Add-Ons, and then click the Preferences button for Furigana Injector. Erase all the kanji in the text box and then close the box.

On another note, the installation instructions say a little 振 icon will appear in your status bar, but I don't have one. Instead I go to the section of the webpage I want, right click, select "Inject" from the  振 dropdown menu, and give it a second. The "Inject Whole Page" option doesn't work for me, but I've read from other users that it may just be slow depending on what page you're on.

Injector doesn't play nice with the awesome dictionary app Rikaichan, meaning you won't be able to mouse over with Rikaichan after you've added furigana. Rikaichan will also tell you pronunications when you mouse over words, but I prefer the all-at-once "textbook" presentation of Injector, and will probably just do a run-through with Rikaichan for words I don't know before adding Injector to help me read through an article.

So it's not a perfect fit for a Mac, but considering what it does and that it does it for free, I'm quite happy with it. :D

Have you had experience with either of these add-ons or a different one? Let me know what you think of them.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life in Japan: Surviving the Wait for the Resident Card

Hi! I figure it can't hurt to start my first non-kimono post with a photo of me in non-kimono: how about an Avengers shirt? (Go Loki! XD)

I sometimes get asked this, but yes, I wear Western clothing most of the time. To tell the truth, I haven't worn kimono here in Japan yet but plan to start at the giant Kanto festival here in Akita the beginning of next month.

So, on to today's Life in Japan topic... surviving the wait for the resident card. My terminology may seem odd to those who were here a while ago, but the famed "gaijin card" system has been replaced as of this month as the Japanese government implements a new immigration system that will centralize all of the related information.

Either way, if you are planning to live and work in Japan here is a really important thing to know: the new resident card/old foreigner card is your key to all the important stuff. After you get your work visa, you will land, and in theory under the new system receive your card either on the spot at the airport (I've heard, but sure didn't happen with me!) or get a special stamp in your passport and get the card mailed to your address within a few weeks.

(Note: Be sure you write your new home address on the "address in Japan" part of the slip they give you on the plane before it lands. Do not put the first hotel you're staying at, the company you work for, etc. It needs to be your home address because that's where they're going to mail your card.)

Unfortunately, your work visa is not proof enough of your intent to stay in the country for most companies: to get a cell phone, home Internet, or a bank account, you will have to wait for your resident card to show up. In the meantime, you will need to make sure you can communicate with your family and friends, have enough cash to get by until your first paycheck, and keep up to date as needed with online banking, etc. back home.

Here's how I've handled it while waiting for my first paycheck and resident card:


Rather than carry around huge amounts of exchanged yen or traveler's checks, I exchanged just a few hundred dollars and put everything else on my Visa Plus debit card. I was able to use it at hotels, the train station, convenience stores, department and grocery stores, and even a small local bicycle shop. The only places I haven't been able to use it are the various hundred-yen shops (dollar stores), which will get their own post at some later point due to their awesomeness.

When I needed cash, I went to any of the post office ATMs, which for a few years now have apparently been required by the government to provide English-language service and the ability to withdraw from banks overseas. My bank charges 3%, if I remember right, for the privilege, but I only did this a few times to get out large amounts for rent, security deposit, etc.


You can buy a prepaid cellphone, but given the ridiculous rates I was seeing (90 yen, around $1.15 a minute) I'm sticking with manga cafes and free Wi-Fi spots where I can find them to send email and such. Manga cafes will also get their own post down the road, but long story short you can buy set blocks of computer time, which will get you a computer with Internet access, usually in a small cubicle of your own and free drink bar. I'm paying 800 yen for a two-hour block at my local manga cafe.

Keep in mind manga cafes are virtually silent places, so while online chatting, surfing, and email is good you're not going to be able to video chat with anyone.

If you're staying in a hotel for awhile, you can ask at the front desk if they have Internet in the rooms. You can ask "Heya ni Intaanetto...?" "In the rooms Internet...?" (hey-yah knee in-tah-net-oh), trailing off at the end, and you should get an obvious yes, or no, or they might say they don't have wireless but they have a cable, which is what happened with me at one. "Wireless Internet/WiFi" is musen - moo-sen 無線 tacked on front: Musen-intaanetto.

You can ask if it's free too: "Muryou 無料 desu ka?" - Moo-ree-yoh des kah? "Is it free?" Again, the reply should be simple to follow, either a "Hai," (Yes) or a complicated explanation that involves apologetically showing you the price. That's also a handy phrase when asking about breakfast buffets, shuttle buses to the airport, and so on.

If you can get hooked up in your room, there's always Skype, which is of course free as long as you're dialing computer-to-computer.

Anyway, feel free to ask if you have any questions about this stuff! I hope to make these Life in Japan posts useful so let me know if there are topics or things you'd like to see covered. :)

I'm Here! and Department Store Yukata Shopping

Yes, I made it! Thanks for all of your well-wishes and messages! :D

While I'm waiting for my resident card, the level break that unlocks the mighty Cell Phone, Bank Account, and Home Internet, I'll be posting sporadically for the next few weeks.

I think, after emails and messages from y'all, my readers, that I'll do a 50/50 split where when I post one thing about kimono, etc., I'll post a separate one with tips and observations about life living in Japan, under the super-creative header of Life in Japan. ;) That way it'll be searchable for those who are interested in seeing past ones, but also obvious for those of you who would like to skip the non-kimono stuff. :)

Today's photos are from national-chain department stores here in Akita (the first one I've already shared on Facebook, but can go into more detail here).

This is a set-up advertising summer yukata, the simple cotton kimono worn to firework shows and summer festivals. Most department stores will have a temporary yukata corner set up this time of year, and those with year-round kimono shops will set out a ton of yukata.

Yukata are the only type of kimono still worn by most women in modern times, and a smaller number of men. The two on the right are for women, and the one on the left is for a man. From what I remember the prices were around 15-20,000 yen (~$200-240 USD) per yukata. The obi on the middle one is a heko obi, a soft, floppy and often translucent obi you tie in a simple bow in the back: it's the friendliest for yukata newbies. :)

The modern young woman's yukata ensemble allows for lots of cute touches, like these flower hair accessories sold as large, simple flowers or bright, fun versions of the traditional dangling hair ornaments called hana kanzashi. Prices were between $10-$40 USD.

Pretty, feminine fans for the ladies...

Masculine colors and patterns for the gentlemen. I think they all were around $20-40 USD?

Men, if you're reading, you too can use a fan in Japan without ridicule as fans are seen as normal for both genders. :)

In fact, riding the bullet train up to Akita, I was actually sitting across from an older man, very down-to-earth and tough-looking, who would occasionally get out a fan like those above and fan himself as he looked out the window.

For either gender, you can use your fan everyday, in Western clothing as well. Waiting on the bullet train in Tokyo, I saw several ladies fanning themselves as they stood on the platform. I carry mine with me everywhere this time of year!

Regarding the prices, don't let these scare you away if you're thinking of buying a yukata. Department stores are the most expensive places to shop for them, and you can get much better deals at lower-end stores like Uniqlo, resale shops, or online at places like Rakuten. :)

Here are some sets over on Amazon, too!