京都 A Tale of Technological Troubles

Today I tell a tale of woe. A tale of that day when everything goes wrong. The day when you manage to break your laptop three days after arriving in Japan.

The Friday after I arrived in Kyoto, we had gone to Kamigyo-ku’s kuyakusho (ward office for my area) in an attempt to get our residence cards registered only to find that it was closed for a public holiday. In order to feel better about our failure to get anything useful done that day we were going to hit the hundred yen shops (a magical land of plenty), so I popped into my room to grab some money. As I reached over to grab some cash, I stepped back and caught the edge of my laptop with my foot. No crunch. No dying scream. Not even a whir. All seemed well. I left to join my friends. We couldn’t find the shop so I went back into my room to check where it was on Google maps, only to discover lines dominating the login screen. Lines shaking up and down the screen. My stomach dropped through the floor as I realised that I had unwittingly embarked on a journey to repair my own idiotic mistake.

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At this point you are probably wondering why my laptop was on the floor – I hadn’t yet got an extension cable for my charger and the floor was the easiest place to put it when charging. I have now learned that I should never EVER put my laptop on the floor. Lesson Number 1: your stuff is not invincible, you can break it. Be nice to your stuff.

At this point I’m panicking. I know a few things:

  • My laptop is the only way to access the internet and therefore contact my friends and family. (My phone doesn’t work yet and the last owner of my room was kind enough to change the default WiFi password to stop me from getting in.)
  • It is a public holiday. In all likelihood there will be no electronics shops open until Tuesday.
  • It’s probably just the screen that’s broken – I can vaguely see the login screen among the lines of doom.
  • I will now have to try to get this fixed in Japanese.
  • The maker of my laptop (lenovo) does not sell to Japan.
  • This is going to suck.

My options are thus:

  1. Phone parents and cry
  2. Try to get a monitor and HDMI cable asap so I can still communicate with the world
  3. Take it to a laptop repair shop (weirdly there is one at the end of my street, perhaps this was preordained. Perhaps I’m just an idiot)

I went through all of them in reverse order:

The repair shop said they would need to take it in for investigation because the hard drive could be damaged (cue more panic). Turns out that they asked me if I dropped it and I said yes because I have no idea what the word for ‘to step on’ is in Japanese (I now know very well – 踏む – fumu) and a dropped laptop is probably way more damaged than just a cracked screen. I decided I wasn’t ready to relinquish any hope of having the internet and resolved to return it after the weekend (the shop was shut for the public holiday all weekend anyway).

I then ran around town like a headless chicken trying to find its head, hunting for an electronics shop. Turns out google maps is not always your friend and will lie to you. Also the word ‘electronics’ can just mean a company that vaguely deals with electronics rather than an actual shop that sells monitors. You can try asking the workers in the convenience stores but they won’t have a clue. I eventually went to Kitaoji department store where they have an electronics shop on the top floor. Spent way too much money on a monitor (which is great for watching films on, so I found some silver lining) and returned to my room mildly relived.

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On the train to Kitaoji, I did what anyone that just arrived in a foreign country and broke their most important possession would do – I phoned my parents, cried and apologised for being an idiot. Turns out dad did exactly the same thing when he visited Tokyo on business. I think there is a family curse at work here.

On Wednesday (my birthday was Tuesday and I really needed to have internet access to arrange things) I submitted my laptop for inspection to the repair shop, having to attempt to understand the repair guy that they skyped in to explain stuff to me. Naturally this was all in Japanese. Thankfully Japanese words for technology tend to be pretty close to the English – screen is sukuriin (スクリーン)and ‘computer’ is an abbreviation of Personal Computer – pasokon (パソコン).

The lack of internet meant I was now having to walk to 7/11 every time I needed WiFi. My closest 7/11 is about 10 minutes’ walk away. Hardly ideal. (7/11 is great – the WiFi is free and you don’t have to register like you do at Family Mart or Lawson).

Though the shop said they would contact me in a couple of days I heard nothing for a week. I eventually went into the shop to ask. The girl at the desk was clueless and said to wait for contact from the repair guy. By strange ‘coincidence’ he calls me about half an hour after I get back. He explains that they would have to ship the part from overseas so I would have to wait. I explain in terrible Japanese that I really need it back in the interim for internet access (I used virtual router to get wifi on my phone – it’s a program that turns your laptop into a WiFi hotspot). I get laptop back the next day.

I decide that I can’t deal with no internet again when I hand my laptop back in so I make the trip to Yodobashi Camera, the gigantic electronics store near Kyoto station. There I managed to explain to a shop attendant that I needed something that would give me WiFi from an Ethernet cable without the need for online registration. Thankfully these adapters exist for people wanting to change hotel Ethernet into wireless. I got an elecom hotel wifi adapter, and I even got to choose the colour (red). You just scan the enclosed QR code with your phone and it automatically connects you. There is also a password that works for all devices. Mercifully there were instructions in English. I now use it as my main WiFi source for my room. It has a really strong signal even though I got the weakest one. It is tiny and just needs mains power and an Ethernet connection. It was definitely worth purchasing.

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My laptop went in for repair for a second time and it took them 4 days to fix it. Looking at it now you would never know anything bad happened. It probably remembers and is biding its time waiting for revenge. Perhaps it will crash out of my next essay or update half way through an important skype call.

All in all, my spoken Japanese improved through negotiating with the IT people and for the majority of the ordeal I managed to keep my cool. I think the most important lesson is to not cry over spilt milk – all you can do is mop it up and carry on. That and never EVER leave your laptop on the floor.

京都 The Great Myth: Dining in Kyoto

Today I want to address one of the main stereotypes I heard about Japan when I was living in the UK. “Japan is so expensive!” people cried whenever I mentioned I was doing a year abroad there. I was worried, would I never eat out again? Would I be trapped in my room crying over overpriced ramen? Turns out this is totally a myth. You can eat out in Japan way cheaper than in the UK. In fact, it gets to the point that you feel like eating out is actually cheaper than cooking at home. In addition there is a huge range of restaurants in Kyoto – you can get pretty much any cuisine if you want it (though we have yet to track down somewhere selling Greek food).

Warning: this post might make you hungry, it certainly had that effect on me.

Let us go then, you and I, on an adventure into Japanese dining.

When you sit down to eat in Japan you are rapidly presented with a cup of tea (hot or cold) which is then refilled as often as you finish it throughout the meal, for free. I tend to judge a restaurant based on whether or not I like the tea – there is a huge variety. You can always ask for water (also free) if you don’t like it. In the UK this doesn’t seem to happen outside of Asian restaurants, which is a shame as tea costs basically nothing.

Japanese dining achieves new heights of affordability with the wonderful ‘Set Menu’ (定食 – Teishoku), which means that not only do you get free tea with your main, you also get miso soup, pickles and whatever else they’ve decided to give you. Compared to the normal menu items, set menus are usually only a few hundred yen extra (usually around £1.5o). This means that you can completely stuff yourself for around 1000円 (£5.40) and probably not want to eat much for the rest of the day (they are always very generous with the rice). Set menus can be found in almost any type of restaurant – not just those serving Japanese food!

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Thats right, almost all of these meals were under £10. I think the sushi was more like £14 but you get the idea. Also check out the tempura’d egg. The yolk was runny and everything. A lot of these restaurants can be found in the dining area below Kyoto station.

If you’re indecisive or fussy and won’t commit more than, say, £1.50 to a dish, Japan has the answer. That answer is Izakaya (居酒屋). The best way to explain izakaya is to say they are essentially pubs, but better (if you don’t mind one kind of lager). The cheapest izakaya have everything on the menu at the same price, usually around 280円 (£1.50). This means that all the food and drink is the same (amazingly cheap) price. The big beer and the small beer cost the same. The malibu mixer and the jug of warm sake cost the same. The gyoza and the chips cost the same. The questionable looking chicken gristle and the ‘camembert’ (think very mild, melty plasticy cheese) cost the same. This means that you can eat very well and get reasonably drunk for a very affordable price. I’d say we need these in the UK but I fear people would never leave.

A downside for non-Japanese readers is that you may end up with some odd dishes – izakaya have a lot of ‘things on sticks’, including but not limited to, chicken heart, chicken cartilage, chicken skin, chicken guts, as well as normal chicken. If you can’t identify the difference when ordering you may be in for a slightly unpleasant and unexpected snack (chicken heart is actually pretty good though). I don’t have many pictures of izakaya food because I was too busy eating all of it.

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Yes, that big beer was only £1.50. I will cry when I next buy a pint in London.

The izakaya I would recommend is Torikizoku, a chain found all over Japan – all the plates are 280円 and the service is really fast. A downside to izakaya (and a mark of their success) is that on the weekend you often find yourself queuing to get in – most have an electronic sign in system where you input your group number and wait for a space. If you don’t want to queue, go early (around 6 or 7), especially if you are a big group. After about 9 or 10 most people in the izakaya have settled in for a night of drinking and are unlikely to leave and make room for your group.

Even cheaper than the izakaya, if you aren’t drinking, are the conveyor-belt sushi places (回転寿司- kaiten-zushi) where the price of a dish is usually between 100円 and 140円. I would recommend Musashi Sushi in Sanjo for a fantastic sushi expeirence – they have so many different dishes and the conveyor-belt is always threatening to overflow with plates even when they’re busy. There is also Kura Sushi in Imadegawa Horikawa which gives you the chance to win a toy every 5 plates (I haven’t won yet, I think its pure luck).

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But what if I want a nice meal? By this I assume you mean expensive, as in Japan even the really cheap stuff is good – I’m fairly confident you bring shame on your family by producing bad food in Japan. In that case, then yes you can spend 円円円 on the top Kobe beef and top-notch sushi, but honestly, it’s not necessary.

I ‘splashed out’ on my birthday, and by that I mean I spent more than a fiver on dinner. We got the 6 course menu each, costing a whopping 2000円 each (£10.80) and it was fantastic. We were the only customers in this beautiful old town house sat at the black and red lacquered counter (the kind where it looks like you’re sitting on the floor but there’s a hidden pit for your legs) and all of the food was beautifully presented. I was so full by the end. I only took pictures of a few of the courses because it feels a bit weird taking pictures with the guy that made the food standing at the counter in front of you.

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I have a lot more to say on the topic of food so I will probably be writing more about specific places I’ve been to soon, but I thought that the view of Japan as ‘too expensive’ needed fixing. Though if you’re buying fruit in Japan be prepared to see a melon priced at £60.

Apologies if this made you hungry! If you have any ideas for posts, do let me know (anything you want to know about living in Japan?).