Monday, September 5, 2016

Naha! Internet!

We've arrived, settled in and I've started working. Lots of things to write about, so I'm just going to summarize briefly.

We finally got internet! A 1Gb fiber connection straight into our apartment. The installation was far more involved than I thought; three people and a lifter truck that laid fiber from the nearest substation along the telephone poles to the building, then in through the telephone conduit.

Laying down fiber along the telephone poles, then in to the house.

Now we have a fiber connection in the hallway and a router for the network and IP telephone. I get about 350-400Gb/s to Tokyo from here, with 40ms ping time. Not bad for an island out in the Pacific ocean.

A view from work as I was leaving for home.

We got here Tuesday last week. A lot of our luggage was plants, since we couldn't send them with the moving company. We sent the larger plants by post. Amazingly, all but one seem to have not only survived, but are actually thriving in our new, little garden. My coffee plant already needs a bigger pot.

The apartment really exceeds our expectations. Airy and light, with high ceilings. Really easy to live in. We're in central Naha, with four supermarkets and one department store within easy walking distance, but the neighbourhood itself is very quiet. The tiny garden in the back really adds a little extra. Perfect.

Our things arrived over Wednesday to Saturday, with the stuff from Osaka delivered Friday. Now it's one week later, we've actually managed to unpack, assemble and install everything. We're still picking up a couple of storage boxes, a kitchen cabinet and a carpet for my desk next weekend. But other than that, we're all moved in.

Nice café just a stone's throw from the apartment. A bit expensive, but really good when you want to sit for an hour or two. There's power plugs, wifi and big tables for laptops and notebooks.

I finally got a standing desk. Adjustable legs and a big desk surface, and a high chair for sitting down without adjusting the desk. All from IKEA, and works perfectly. The only downside is that the surface is too thick for the clamp on my small vise. Have to find some solution to that. I also need a carpet to avoid floor damage.

My half of the bedroom. The standing desk works great, and the high chair is comfortable when I want to sit down.

We had a lot of paperwork to do at city hall — formally moving in, registering our new address and parking space, get certificates of residence, register an inkan, updating my residence card and My Number card and so on. I thought I'd spend the rest of the day chasing documents from counter to counter.

Instead the information desk took all our documents and directed us to a counter, where a clerk looked it over and told us "This looks fine. Welcome to Naha! It will be about two hours; if you like we can call you when it's done."

We went to lunch, came back two hours later, and after just a few minutes the phone calls and our number comes up. Everything was done. Simple. Easy. Quick. When I later went to the police to change the address on my driver's license the experience was much the same. No waiting around, no stress, no running in circles.

Naha city hall.

The weather is more pleasant than Osaka so far. It's cooler, and there's usually a breeze to keep the edge off the heat. We can normally keep the windows open instead of using the air conditioner. But it's very humid on the other hand; mould is a constant worry, and drying laundry takes forever. We got a dehumidifier for the bedroom this weekend; see if it improves things a bit.

And sudden rainstorms (called "squalls" here) are common. The first day here we had four quick rainstorms in succession — one with thunder — in between clear blue skies. I got caught out in one, and was completely soaked. It can go from sunny to wall-of-water in a minute or two. Twenty minutes later it's clear and sunny again. The weather forecast is not terribly useful here.

Naha monorail station in Omoromachi. There are several malls and other stores around in the area; great when you're moving in and need things for your new place.

The supermarkets have a whole separate section for things designed to kill insects. Cockroaches of course, but also ants, moths and other bugs. The apartment came with insect traps in every corner and mesh screens on every window. There is good reason for this; we've had a couple of cockroaches visiting us so far, and something has already taken nibbles off the leaves of my coffee plant.

Naha is hilly. It's also fairly hot during summer, with lots of rain, sudden squalls and high humidity. There's also a lot of traffic. Which all means it's not the ideal place for a bicycle. Nevertheless, biking has apparently increased the past few years, and it's not uncommon to see bicycles as well as bike shops in the city. I did bring my bicycle; we'll see how much I'll actually use it.

Student on a bike passing by while they were installing the fiber for us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

On our way

So, we're finally leaving for Naha. That typhoon I was so worried about? It has been very obliging so far. We feared it would head straight to Okinawa or Osaka, but instead it stopped on Monday morning, turned, and has been on a slow walkabout around an empty patch of ocean ever since.

Typhoon #10, from Saturday lunch up until Wednesday at 9:00.

Our things managed to leave Osaka in time for the planned delivery date, and our flight this afternoon should be right on time. Good typhoon, have a cookie.

Our biggest problem, believe it or not, has been the house-plants. We have a number of plants that we really like — my sort-of-bonsai and my coffee plant among them — but the moving company doesn't accept plants. They don't want people to complain if they die, and I can understand that. The parcel services accept plants — but only for corporate customers. Again, I suspect they just don't want the inevitable complaints.

The post office, on the other hand, has no problem with plants. We simply take the small ones in our bags, and send the large ones in the mail. Not the kindest way to treat the plants of course, but it's just for a couple of days. And we would have thrown them away otherwise, so if they die it's not the end of the world either.

I've changed the design here a little, by the way. I had a pile of custom CSS that was becoming impossible to maintain. Now I just use one of the standard templates. I'd still want to tweak the colours a bit, but this will do for now. Next up Okinawa!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Typhoons, Typhoons, Typhoons

We have had a very quiet typhoon season this year, with nary a single storm hitting the mainland or Okinawa. But now that our things are loaded on a freighter bound for Okinawa, and our flight to Naha approaches, this suddenly happens:

Typhoons #9, #10 and #11.

Yes, we suddenly get a traffic jam of three — count them, three — typhoons all jostling for space. Typhoon #9 is moving straight north towards Tokyo; Typhoon #10 is south of  Honshu and aiming southwest towards Okinawa (that's rare), and #11 is going on an odd clockwise tour of northern Honshu and Hokkaido.

All three are bad news, since they'll disrupt flights across the country. But #10 is especially worrisome:

Typhoon #10. Yellow dot is Naha, red dot is Osaka.

The moving company already informed us that the freighter will be delayed — they're understandably not going to sail through a typhoon — and we probably won't get our things on the 26th as planned. It'll mean a couple of nights with no mattresses or bed sheets, no kitchen stuff and no furniture. Or, more likely, another couple of nights at a business hotel.
If we even get to Naha, that is. If we're lucky #10 will veer south and off into the Pacific, but it might take a westerly course and landfall on Okinawa right around the time we're supposed to fly. In which case we won't make it there by the 25th to sign the apartment contract and register at the city office, and our tight, carefully planned schedule goes right out the window. No car in time for the start of my new job, for instance. The move could have started out better.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

All boxed up

It's midnight and the moving company will pick up our stuff tomorrow. We've finally finished packing. Our home has turned into a sea of boxes.

Boxes, boxes everywhere.

At least we have the good fortune to keep the apartment here in Osaka. We don't need to pack everything, and we'll still have some pots and pans, furniture, fridge and washing machine around when the moving company leaves. And a good thing it is, since we don't actually leave for Okinawa ourselves until the 24th.

We've been making a schedule of things to do during the move. Changing your residence is fairly easy, but there's a fair amount of paperwork involved. The crucial step is actually submitting the moving-in notification (転入届) at the city office and getting an official address. Everything else — get electricity and gas, register your name stamp, open a local bank account, buy a car, get internet — really depends on this one step.

It's not difficult; you just need a corresponding moving-out notification from your previous place, and a signed contract for a place to live. But there's a pile of things to do right after the submission, and the new appliances, our things from Osaka, and various company people will arrive in the middle of it; we had to draw a flowchart to make sure we could be at all the places we need to at the same time.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


There are many things I will miss from Osaka when we move. The month of August is not one of them.

Okinawa is also hot in the summer, but you don't get these 35°+ peaks, and there's always a breeze that takes the edge off the heat.

Osaka, on the other hand, gets wrapped in a blanket of stuffy, hot air that just sits there and slowly smothers you. You take a shower, but by the time you've dried off, you want to take another one.

Come to think of it, I'm not going to miss the winter weather either. I much rather have 15-20° and cloudy than 5° and chilly rains. Osaka is great, but the weather there really is not.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Best Laid Plans

We're back from Naha. We stayed at Wires Hotel, a small apartment hotel in the harbour area. Great place, and I can warmly recommend it. You have a kitchen and your own washing machine, and there's a large supermarket almost next door. We made our own breakfast — I brought a French press — and washed our used clothes almost every day (bring your own detergent). Extremely convenient when it's so hot outside.

Everything went swimmingly (literally — there's a small beach right in Naha) and we got more done even than we optimistically planned for. Except for one unexpected problem with the car, but even that worked out in the end.

Naha has a small man-made beach in the harbour, right outside our hotel. It's not big, but plenty enough to cool off, have a swim and get refreshed. There's a fair amount of parents and kids in the daytime, and young people hang around playing beach volleyball at dusk. It's about 30 minutes on foot or fifteen minutes by bicycle from our new apartment.

The most important thing is that we found an apartment. We got the contract, and we only need to sign and return it in the post. We get the house key once we arrive in Naha.  It's a 2/3 room (there's tatami room-style dividers if we want to use them) apartment in a very quiet, cozy residential street in the middle of Naha. We even have a small, shaded garden in the back. Route 58, the main road leading north to OIST, is just a couple hundred meters away, and the city center is within easy walking distance.

The living room and kitchen. Spacious, if a little tricky to furnish. Probably dining table on the left, couch on the right. Perhaps a cupboard on the far left wall.

The bedroom and workroom. We can add a wall down the center to make two rooms if we want, but we'll probably just keep it like this, with sleeping area in one end, and desks and bookshelves in the other.

We have a garden! True, it's so small that I need a fish-eye lens to capture it, but it's still much better than what we have here in Osaka. Mostly shaded and cool. Coffee-chan will feel right at home.

We ordered a refrigerator and washing machine at the local Kojima/Bic. To our surprise, this kind of thing is actually cheaper on Okinawa than on the mainland. We checked the Bic Camera online store, and we got the fridge and washing machine for slightly less than what just the refrigerator costs online — and that includes a ten-year and five-year warranty, something you normally pay extra for.

That's been our general impression, by the way: the overall price level is quite a bit lower in Naha than in Osaka. A typical 700-yen lunch in Osaka will cost 500 in Naha.  Or it costs 700, but you get a soft drink, an extra side dish and a dessert. A taxi to the harbour area costs only 500 yen, and going through all of Naha to Urasoe city costs around 1000.

Naha looks and feels very different from Osaka.

We'd spent over a month agonizing about what model car to get, and didn't decide until right before we went to Naha. The plan was to find an apartment, then order our car. The car that we would park in the bottom-floor parking space. The very low-ceilinged parking space. The car we wanted (a Suzuki Ignis) is 2cm too tall to fit, and we're not going to change apartments just for a car.

So, back to the drawing board — and in a hurry, since I need a car for work so we had to have this sorted out before we left. We'd looked at some other models as well of course, so we weren't starting from scratch.

There's a number of big used-car chains on Okinawa, and we spent a day looking at possible vehicles. Problem is, none of them had the features we wanted. Side airbags and collision avoidance systems are not standard on small cars here and many people don't add them. I'm bad enough at driving that I want a rear-view parking camera. For small, inexpensive cars the actual price difference between new and recent used isn't all that large.

Toyota Aqua. Picture from; we can obviously not take pictures of our own car yet. Ours is dark blue, and has a few other small differences as well. It should get me to work no problem.

In the end we went the safe route, and ordered a Toyota Aqua. It's the hybrid little brother to the Prius, and one of the best-selling cars in Japan the past few years. It's compact, inexpensive, reliable and economical. But the luggage space is small and the rear seats are cramped. Also, if you really enjoy cars I suspect this is about as exciting to drive as watching drying paint.

A new Aqua is about 400k yen more expensive than a similar 3-year old model. But we would not get the side airbags, collision warning and auto-braking system or the other options we wanted, and we'd not get the full warranty period or the cheap prepaid service plan. That's well worth it for us.

Asahibashi monorail station, Naha.

Now that we have a place to stay, a car, and the most important appliances, we can finally plan the move. So we're running ragged figuring out what to do, what to bring, what to buy, and what can wait until we're in Naha.

Closets and cupboards, internet subscription, certificate of residence and address changes, moving houseplants, driver's license and residence permit exchange, gas and electricity... It's good in a way; there's just so much to do that you give up trying to panic and have to focus. We'll finish all the important things in time, no problem. The rest can wait.

Monday, July 25, 2016


No not scouting as in young people in matching scarves. We're going to Naha tomorrow to look for a) an apartment; and b) a car. Surprisingly, the car is the more difficult part of the process.

We'll rent an apartment of course.  We need something fairly quickly so we can start moving next month. We don't need perfection, just something good enough. After all, if we realize the apartment is too small, the area is inconvenient or something, we can take our time and move to a better suited place next year or so.

We have a couple of candidate apartments, and appointments with the real estate agents. In fact, we're looking at the most promising place tomorrow right after we arrive. Hopefully we'll decide before the end of the week, and if we're lucky we could get access to our choice by the start of August. In that case it's possible we could actually get our things to Naha even before I start work.

The car is more difficult. We've realized that we do need a car in Okinawa, no matter what. But what kind? Neither of us has ever owned a car before. We've been asking around among friends and relatives, and the range of advice we get is absolutely ridiculous. Most of it is frankly just a reflection on their own interests, and not really relevant to our situation.

"Mercedes is great. Get one".  Good advice if you are wealthy and retired. Not so much for us.

"50km on heavily trafficked mountain roads is easy on an electric bicycle!" Ehhmm, no.

"You need a 2l engine at least. With a turbo." If cars are your hobby perhaps.

One thing everybody agreed on: Don't get a kei car. They're small Japan-specific cars with severely limited size and engine power. They're popular on Okinawa for instance. But they're really only good for short-distance travel. On highways they're too unsafe and too slow.

Another common opinion was that if we get a small car, get a new one. They're inexpensive, so fuel and maintenance is a big part of the cost.  The total cost of ownership won't change much whether you get a new or a used one, and give you greater peace of mind. If we'd get a larger car, on the other hand, a used one is better value.

The sum of the most sensible advise we got is: Consider your everyday needs only. Decide how much you're willing to spend. Then, pick the car that will give you the most satisfaction, not just the most value.

We'll pretty much follow that, I think. But of course, I like technology and Ritsuko is very particular about design, so to maximise satisfaction I suspect we'll get something a little more showy than we strictly need.