Thursday, October 18, 2012

International Remittance, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Ordering an International Remittance and Ordered an International Remittance. . . Only to Learn Why I Was So Worried in the First Place

Before I began work in Shirakawa I was told that, in addition to the usual team-teaching work at junior high, I would be acting as “main teacher” at an elementary school. My first thought upon seeing those words was something along the lines of “I did NOT sign up for this shit.” The JET program, as I understood it at the time, entailed assistant teaching to mainly junior high and high school students. Even if I were to work at elementary, it would still be in the role of an assistant, and not, you know, the person responsible for designing entire lessons in a subject I’ve never taught before to a kind of audience I’ve never taught before in a language that I’ve barely even spoken, let alone used for giving detailed instructions.  

God, listen to me whine. I needn’t have worried. My elementary school has actually proven to be nicer than my junior high school. The staff is friendlier, the students are more enthusiastic (which is saying something, since my JHS students can be pretty damn enthused, at least in the lower grades). . . hell, even the building is nicer, which is to say it appears to have been built in this century, as opposed to sometime during the Allied occupation. Yes, my work at elementary is far more involved, but that’s largely a good thing. I have more freedom to experiment and have fun, and because I teach all the grade five and six sections at my school on a single day, I never end up sitting around the office waiting for something to do, like in junior high.

That is, except on days like today. Occasionally, there are days in which I’ll end up not teaching any classes at all, because of teachers meetings, school trips, and the like. Since my elementary school is generally nicer than my junior high, these days basically amount to being in-office holidays.  I can sit back, study Japanese, prep for the next weeks classes or Eikaiwa (more on that another time), catch up a bit on my favorite blogs. . . hell, I can even write a blog post of my own for once!

I can also finally go the damn post office during banking hours! Which leads to the main topic of this particular post. . .

Even though I’ve now been in Japan for over two months, I haven’t sent any money home until today. Part of the reason for this is my reluctance to use Japanese for, well, anything really. But another part of it is, like I said, the damn postal bank hours: 9 AM – 4 PM (I’m usually at work by 7:45 AM, and leave work at 4:30 PM).  Fortunately, today I had a basically free day and a vice principal cool enough to let me leave work for a while. So, at long long last, I drove down to the post office and ordered my first international remittance. 

And then I remembered why I put these damn things off all the time.

First, I stopped at the 7/11 and took out 80,000 yen from the ATM. Then, I went to the nearby post office or yuubin kyoku (郵便局) and requested a direct remittance to a bank account, kouza ate soukin (口座あて送金). The first hint that I’m a complete idiot who can’t do anything in this country came when the clerk, or tennin, asked if I wanted to deposit to a yuubin or post office bank account—not only had I failed to specify that I wanted to make an international remittance or gaikoku soukin (外国送金), but I also failed to recognize the word yuubin (though, in my sort of defense, I heard yuuchin, which is not an actual Japanese word according to my dictionary). After the clerk saw that I had written gaikoku in my notebook and realized what I wanted, he directed me over to the banking section. There, I took a numbered ticket and waited for my number to be called, as is the norm in Japanese banks. After five minutes, I was called up, and after a bit more confusion, I was finally given an international payment application and declaration form for payment to an account, or kokusai-soukin-seikyuusho-kenkokuchisho(kouza-ate-soukin-you)(国際送金請求書兼告知書(口座あて小送金用))—note that I’m not 100% sure about that transliteration. I also had to present photo identification; I used my residence card, but a passport works too. I then took a few minutes to fill out the form:

A sample remittance form.   
I then handed the form back to the clerk, along with the 80000 yen I wanted to send back to Canada plus a 2500 yen service charge. That’s when the fun began.

After waiting for about twenty minutes, I was called up to the desk and asked about the bank code I had entered. I had done some research online on how to perform international remittances, and I found out that one of the pieces of info needed for direct-to-bank account transfer was the bank’s international routing number. I asked my mom to talk to my bank (Royal Bank of Canada) about this, and they gave her Royal Bank’s so-called swift code.  Well, this is not what the post office is asking for. In the section marked account number, I had written down the three digit branch/institution number, followed by the five digit transit number, and finally followed by the seven digit account number—this was how I had always done it in Canada (note that different banks and countries may have different numbering systems). In the section marked Bank Code I had written the swift code. As it turns out, I only needed to write down the account number in the account number section (I know, who’d have guessed?). The Branch Number followed the Transit Number is what goes in the Bank Code section. The swift code is not needed anywhere in the form.

Fucking swift code. . .

So, after making the necessary corrections and stamping them all with my hanko (which is basically a stamp which acts as a personal signature for official documents in Japan), I waited for another fifteen minutes before being called up again to hanko some other corrections I had made on the form (this was made even more tedious by the fact that I had to stamp all four copies of the damn form everywhere a correction was made). Then I sat down, waited for five more minutes, and was then asked to come up and stamp a few more places that I had missed the first time. Fifteen or so minutes later, I was called up again and informed that Royal Bank would charge me 10 dollars for the international remittance. Alright, fine. Another ten minutes, and I was called up to enter the equivalent amount of Canadian funds (~$970) into which my 80000 yen would be converted, along with appropriate Currency Code (CAD for Canadian dollars). Ten minutes later, the clerk (who, to be clear, was really nice through this whole process) finally gave me copy of the remittance form along with my residence card. Plus, as a final gift, and to remove any doubt in my mind as to whether everyone at the post office thought I was a complete fucking moron, I was provided with Japan Post’s Guide to International Remittances:

And just to drive the point home, they made me roll this into a cone and wear it on my head as I left. True story!
The remittance will take 4-6 business days to clear, so I should know by Friday of next week if my money has made it safely home. I'm sure— I hope— there will be no problems with the transfer between now and then. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

So. . . my gas was cut today.

Fall has arrived in Shirakawa, and with it come both typhoons (there's one scheduled to hit Fukushima this weekend) and plummeting temperatures. So what could be better than waking up after a long, cold night to find that there's no hot water coming out of your shower?

Things like this are an annoyance in one's home country. In a foreign country, they're terrifying. Not only did I have no clue what was happening-- was my bill somehow not drawn out from the bank? Was there something wrong with the apartment building itself?-- I had no real way of even directly finding out what was wrong; it's not like I could pick up the phone, call the utility, and have any hope of either getting my message across or understanding them in return. I had no choice but to send an email to my supervisor, who (as I would learn later) just happened to be on holiday. Wee.

I spent all morning in a state of near panic waiting for a reply from my supervisor, but none came. I was so messed up today that not only was I late for one of my classes (which. . . bad), but I actually cut off one of my JTE's while I was driving to work! Fortunately, it was two of my JTE's who ended up helping me out of this mess. They talked to the board of education, and they in turn managed to get my gas reconnected. It was the weirdest thing; the gas company, no doubt after seeing the continuous consumption of hot water from room 201 of Castle Eight, reached the obvious conclusion that there's no-one currently occupying room 201 of Castle Eight, and shut off the gas.

In any event, I've got hot water again. But now I'm worried that other utilities have made the same mistake as the gas company, and that I'm going to wake up on Monday morning with the power cut off.

Japan. It's a gas.   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Man, I suck at this.

Sorry for taking so long between posts. I honestly just haven’t had that much to write about – or rather, what I did have to write about I didn’t want to right then, if only because I didn’t want to think about it right then.

Anyway, you know how I was saying in my last post that I didn’t want my blog to devolve into just a catalogue of cool stuff I’ve been doing? Well. . . forget that, at least for this post. Here are photos of my rainy weekend trip to the Aizu Wakamatsu samurai festival. It’s not much, but it’s something for now. I hope to go on more trips as I get more comfortable with, well, everything, and I’ll also start doing posts on various aspects of life in Japan, like driving, the typical school day, etc. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Look at me! I'm a narcissist!

I was originally going to write a post about writing a travel blog whilst maintaining emotional and thematic depth, and not merely descending into a list of "things I did", a la the Newfoundland posts (which I still haven't finished for precisely that reason). I still intend on writing that post.

But for now, fuck that.

'Cause food.

Specifically, I'll be talking about the food that I've cooked or otherwise prepared at home, and not restaurant food or pre-packaged combini food. Since I have been in Japan for nearly a month, I'm sure you'll find it no shock that I've prepared a full three distinct dishes at home. The first, shown above, is my typical breakfast: a bowl of cereal with milk, yogurt, and fruit. I did pull one variation on this formula: once, when I forgot to buy milk, I went to a nearby vending machine and bought chilled cafe au lait ('cause you can do that here) and used it as my milk substitute. I leave it up to you to decide how it went.

Next, of course, is spaghetti and meat sauce, here shown in the process of becoming awesome. It took a shockingly long time for me to even buy cokware, let alone start cooking. Part of the problem was that my apartment came furnished with and induction stove. The principle behind these stoves is pretty interesting, at least for people with a physics background. Basically, the stove consists of a wire coil, through which flows a very rapidly oscillating current. This current, in turn, creates an oscillating magnetic field. This oscillating magnetic field, in turn, creates rapid vibrations in any magnetic object, like a pan or pot, placed above the coil. These vibrations then cause said magnetic object to heat up. The result is that the cooking vessel itself if heated without any heating of the stove surface.

Which is all well and good until you try to use it on a non-magnetic pan. Then it's fucking garbage.

Yes, of course, I bought the wrong pan. But not before I bought a whole bunch of meat to cook on that pan. And of course, I only realize its the wrong pan after I lose the damn receipt! Which is not to say that I'd wanna try returning a product with my Japanese as it is. . .

Anyway, it all got fixed, I have a ferromagnetic pot and pan, and now I'm cooking. . . occasionally. This lovely dish consists of a Neapolitan sauce with minced beef, fried onions, and few drops of extra virgin olive oil, 7-Eleven brand parmesan (I know. . .), served atop spaghetti noodles. For my next attempt, I'll try adding eggplant and garlic, assuming I can even find garlic in this backward godforsaken--

Ooh! Bacon!

That's right! Two slightly overcooked land-of-the-rising-sunny-side up eggs with three slices of bacon and Hokkaido-buttered toast. And the best part? I cooked this an hour ago! Now breakfast's for dinner!

(I now calmly await the arrival of a brutish man, brandishing his own belt as a weapon, who will sternly inform me that breakfast is, in fact, not for dinner).     

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ooh! Earthquake!

You know what? I'm really starting to like earthquakes!

I've experienced three so far in Japan (one in Aizuwakamatsu, two in Shirakawa-- one just a couple of seconds ago) all at night, and all (obviously) of minor intensity. Of course I'll be singing a different tune when a magnitude 6 quake hits, but for now, I'm enjoying the little quakes I've felt so far. It starts off with what sounds like a gust of wind, or like someone slammed a door. Then the apartment starts to gently rock, almost like a cradle. Since I'm typically in bed when the quake happens, this is quite welcome.

On a completely unrelated note, after 2-3 weeks of working with a trio of kids from my junior high school on English speech practice, we finally went to the district speech contest. All the students won prizes, and one got first prize in her category. Another student was doing brilliantly until a cognitive slip-up resulted in him basically repeating a whole paragraph. I was actually really pissed off-- not at him, but at the fact that all his hard work was basically fucked up by an accident followed by a moment of panic. Anyway, he still managed to get sixth place (out of 21 in his category) which shows just how well he did.

Congratulations to all three!