Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Japanese and their unwritten rules of society

As in every country, there are a set of unwritten rules for behaviour. This section also contains small points often missed by the casual observer, as well as other potentially unexpected things.

Train Etiquette

  • Avoid talking on your keitai (mobile phone) while on the train as it's considered rude, and prohibited. The reason is because train companies are afraid that the signals may interfere with the pace makers of some passengers. If you must pick up, it's best to speak in a hushed voice and your hand cupping the receiver to prevent leaked noise. It's perfectly acceptable to be using your keitai for any other purpose (such as games or email).
  • On Hankyu trains, using your phone to talk on the first and last train is prohibited.

Gestures

  • When motioning for someone to come towards you, put your palm facing downwards and make a waving motion. Never use one finger - they use that to call an animal or to intentionally insult someone.
Bicycles
  • When overtaking or if someone stops for you, it's best to give a quick すみません (su-mi-ma-sen) to express your appreciation.
  • Ringing your bell repeatedly, or ringing it the loudest it can go is considered impolite. Do the latter only after gentle rings fail to budge the road hog.
  • In Japan, pedestrians own the road, followed by bicycles, motorcycles and then cars.
  • Lock your bicycle. Theft of bicycles are common in Japan even though everyone has one.
  • Learn to avoid metal drain covers, metal drain grills and yellow raised areas (designed for the visually impaired) when riding.
  • The drain covers are slippery, especially in the rain. If you do go have to go over it, make sure to ride straight over it without making any turns, or else the wheels will slip. On the other hand, wheels can easily be trapped when riding over the yellow raised areas and cause loss of control.
  • Keeping an umbrella on your bicycle is a good idea. Learning to ride one handed is also essential, although in some areas may be frowned upon by the police.
Response to salespeople

  • In Japan, the customer is God. When making a purchase, Japanese people normally don't respond to the cashier - the most they do is nod, and utter answers when asked questions. There is no need to say thank you although most foreigners feel uncomfortable with it. A quick ありがと (a-ri-ga-tou) or どうも (do-mo) should suffice.

When in the cold...

  • During the winter, Japanese people tend to keep their hands inside their coat pockets rather than their trouser pockets.

Bookstores

  • When buying new pocket sized books in Japan, the cashier will ask you if you want a paper cover for it. The purpose is to obviously protect the book from your hands when being read on crowded places like trains.
  • Secon-hand bookstores never offer book covers.

semi-automatic doors

  • In Japan, many automatic doors will only open when you tap a small pad on the actual window located on the area where the two doors meet. This is to prevent the door from opening every time someone walks past, and to save on air conditioning and heating costs.

When buying one item at a store...

  • When you buy a small item, such as bread or a bag of chips, the cashier may ask you if a "seal" is enough (セルだけはよろしですか? se-ru-dake-wa-yoroshi-desuka). In short, they are asking you if you want a plastic bag for your purchase. If not, they will place a small sticker on the item to indicate it has been paid for.
  • The word "seal" is a hold back from the old days when you would use a literal seal to stamp on the paper price tags, to indicate that an item has been paid for.
  • When buying a cooked food product, they may ask you if you want a pair of chopsticks (はし - ha-shi).

Eating out
  • When eating at university or city cafeterias, you are expected to bring your tray back to the counter. There will be specific areas where you can rinse the dish before placing them on conveyor belts for them to be washed.
  • Throw away wooden chopsticks and rubbish into one bin, and seperate reusable chopsticks, forks, spoons and cups into their separate areas.
  • Note that each cafeteria has different rules. Just follow the crowd.
  • A note on noodles: do slurp, but at a moderate sound level without leaving a mess.

Watches

  • Women will wear their watches with the face turned inwards, so its at the bottom of the wrist.
(Originally published on Sunday, October 16, 2005. This is the updated version.)

Monday, September 26, 2005

leaving osaka: bank goodbyes

If you do plan to come back to Japan, you can keep your bank account open. If you have a standard account open, then you can keep them open without charge regardless of how long you keep it inactive or the amount of money in them.

Non-standard accounts are ones which provide additional services (such as an IC ATM card) as long as you maintain a specific balance with them. These will only be obtained if you specifically requested one.

The no charge policy applies to both private banks and the Postal Account service.

documents you need

If you opened your account using a hanko (seal), then you can close your account at any branch of the bank. Just being the hanko.

If you opened a sign account, then you will need to go back to the branch of the bank you opened with because they will have a copy of your signature on file there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

otaku special: gashapon

Although known as "capsule toys" in English, the phrase doesn't capture the true spirit and feeling behind gashapon.

Missing them is a virtual impossibility, as you will most likely pass a small vending box, where, after depositing the designated number of 100 yen coins, you turn the knob and a capsule drops out.

These things are much more than toys: they are collectors items, with rare ones fetching more than quadruple their original price. There are shops, websites and internet communities listing the newest collectable.

Gashapon comes in many shapes and sizes. While the vast majority of them are from anime and video games (especially those featured in visual novels), some collectable items include train sets and minature sword sets.

collecting them all...

To the unexperienced person, collecting gashapon is like playing the slots: totally random. Although that is certainly a way to do it, it's certainly a wasteful technique.

If you see a new gashapon series you want and you intend to collect the entire set, make sure you go into Nihonbashi within a month of seeing it. Many shops will be selling the entire set prepackaged, and they will be cheaper than if you were to gamble on getting all of them in one go.

Just remember that some are more rare than others, and so getting that particular one may be more costly than if you were to buy the set.

location, location, location

Most of the specialiased gashapon shops are concentrated on the Nanba side of Nihonbashi. If facing towards Nanba, it would be on your left, along with Gamers, Mandrake and Animate. There's an old building on the right, which is the wrong side to be on.

These shops will be selling gashapon and figurines only. With the gashapon, they will offer prepackaged sets along with a huge selection of individually packaged figures. The problem with the latter is that rare ones can cost a small fortune.

If you do insist on buying one or two individually to complete a set, but are not willing to pay the inflated prices for them, then you will have to go to dojinshi/used manga stores.

Some of them offer a small selection of individually packaged gashapon, which are usually much cheaper than the same ones being offered at specialised shops. You may also find a basket filled with gashapon and you will have to simply rummage your way through the selection - you will be surprised at the goodies that you can find there.

Mandrake also offers gashapon. Their Nihonbashi store has a very small selection on the second floor. Their Umeda store has a much larger choice though, and it maybe worth going there instead.

some shopping tips...

Like all things, shop to get a good price. Be wary of the large Super Capsule shop - they have three floors worth of selection, but their prices also are high.

There is more than one Super Capsule shop though - the other two are smaller, but for some reason have more reasonable prices.

The Yellow Submarine has three shops - one of them dedicated to gashapon and cards. This shops has a nice selection at reasonable prices as well.

There are other shops in small, quieter lanes in the same area, which will offer sets at lower prices than Super Capsule. The important thing is to walk through the smaller lanes, even though it may seem like there's nothing, and to go into the smaller shops.

what's an alpha?

Alpha is used to described the rarest gashapon in a series. You will not find alphas in a prepackaged set, and it can only be obtained by luck, or by paying enormous amounts of money.

what are different "parts" about?

If a series is particularly popular, gashapon makers will release sets figurines at different times. This is known as "parts."

For example, ToHeart saw the release of five different sets of gashapon. Each set, known as Part 1, Part 2, etc, contained different characters, or the same character in different clothes and poses.

ToHeart2 also saw the release of a Part 1, and a few months later, Part 1.5. The two were exactly the same, except Part 1.5 was released because demand for Part 1 exceeded supply.

price of gashapon

If bought from machines, they start from 100 yen and can go up to 500 yen depending on the series. The most common ones are usually sold at 200 or 300 yen though.

From stores, they can be as cheap as 100 yen and reach 900 yen. The more collectable and rare ones can fetch higher prices, but this is rare.

Friday, September 09, 2005

みそ汁 - miso soup

味噌汁 (みそ・しる), or miso soup is an integral part of any Japanese meal, yet there are so many variations on it that it can be bewildering to the initial onlooker. This article will focus on the fresh miso as opposed to instant, given that instant is a mere substitute for the real thing.

miso comes in different colours...

When looking at any selection of miso, you will notice that they more or less come in different shades. White miso tends to be a very pale yellow, "normal" miso is more of a hearty brownish or yellow colour, while the dark miso is a very dark brown. They all have different tastes and uses.

The white miso tends to be the more expensive of the three. They are usually sold for around 400 yen for a 500g container and can be even more costly depending on the brand. This type of miso has a very light taste, and is never made without the addition of dashi into the mix.

The "medium" type of miso is by far the cheapest one, and can be found virtually everywhere including in your local 牛丼 (gyudon) chain. It can be made on its own and has a light, yet distinctive flavour. The darker brown type is made from different ingredients from the yellow type, and both have distinctive flavours. Available from 400 yen up for a 1 kg box.

The dark miso is considered heavy, and tastes bitter. It is sometimes used for stews, although the taste can still be punishing. Also around 400 kg for a 1 kg box.

i want to buy!

みそ can be bought in any supermarket, while the instant type is even available in convenience stores.

but what do they put into it?

  • Wakame

  • This is basically a type of seaweed. You can buy it dried or fresh from supermarkets, as well as from 100 yen shops. In this case, buying from 100 yen shops will be cheaper than supermarkets which tend to showcase upscale versions.

  • Tofu

  • Although tofu may seem obvious, it is not as often placed in miso soup as one might expect. Nevertheless, it makes an excellent addition to the soup.

  • Fu

  • A hard bread like substance, it will soften out to a slightly chewy texture once placed in water.

    but...how do i eat it properly?

    Sip the soup, making a slight slupring sound. Use your chopsticks to scoop the contents of the soup out into your mouth. If you're having curry outside then you are given a spoon. Using the spoon as the scoop instead of chopsticks is perfectly acceptable, or you could simply break open another pair of chopsticks. Just don't use the spoon as a spoon when drinking the soup!

    variations on the soup

  • 豚みそしる Pork Miso Soup


  • Ingredients: yellow or white miso, dashi, onion, carrots and finely chopped pieces of pork.

    Making the soup is nothing challenging: it's a matter of trial and error, as well as your own tastes. If you like something stronger, put in more miso and/or dashi. For this type of soup, simply add the ingredients and boil until the carrots become soft and the taste of the pork is present in the soup - around 10 minutes.

  • けんちん汁 kenchin shiru


  • The ingredients are the same as above except no pork.

  • other variations


  • Of course, you can be creative and put many things into miso soup, such as straw mushrooms, fish and clams.

    instant vs fresh miso

    The taste of fresh miso is obviously better than instant. The time it takes to make instant miso is also the same it takes to make a bowl of fresh miso. In both cases all you need is hot water to dissolve the miso and heat the ingredients.

    getting homemade miso (like your mother made)

    You have to go down to your local shopping street - every place will have at least one store specialising in miso paste specifically. Look for the mounds of miso covered by transparent plastic sheets.

    Alteratively, you can go to the famous Kuromon Ichiba Market near Nihonbashi's Denden town, where you can buy from famous miso shops.

    Be warned though - like anything homemade or specialised in this country, it will be extremely expensive when compared to anything sold in the supermarket.

    and just a footnote...

    Besides soups, there are some types of miso which is eaten plain. However, these are not common and can be found in places like Koya-san, which specialises in this type of tasty miso.

    There are also many other types of miso out there - this article just covers the basics.

    うめぼし・・・すっぱーい! umeboshi...suppa-i!

    If you've never had umeboshi before, you're in for a treat.

    Try popping one of these small, salted plums into your mouth. Feel everything twist and turn as the sourness shoots through your mouth, your tongue leaping with delight, continuing as you navigate the pit - only ending when you swallow the soft pinkish red balls.

    Umeboshi is found in all supermarkets near the tsukemono section, where all salted and preserved vegetables are kept. As is the case in Japan, you can also find shops specialising for generations in only umeboshi which is fresher and supposed to taste better.

    The plums can be found in different salt concentrations, depending on your preference. The saltier the plum, the more suppai (sour) it becomes. The less salt, the more amai (sweet) it is.

    Salt percentages is clearly indiciated on the umeboshi packaging, or can be seen through the type of umeboshi. Those which are redder and seemingly softer contain more salt in them. The ones with less salt have paler shades of red or pink and look to be firmer.

    Umeboshi usually comes in a small plastic box containing around 12 to 20 umeboshi, or in a jar. Some will even come in plastic pockets, but those will be the budget ones. Prices will vary depending on the quality of the umeboshi, but expect to be paying around 200 yen for a cheap pack, while up to 400-600 yen for an expensive one. Prices can go even higher for premium types and are especially expensive if you buy at speciality stores.

    Although umeboshi can be kept without refigeration because of its high salt content, keeping it cold will keep it better for longer.

    You will often find umeboshi in onigiri or sometimes included on the top of rice in bento.

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    Mbags: A great way for sending books and magazines home

    Updated: February 27, 2008

    You'll probably come across the mbag sooner or later - they're designed to ship any printed matter in bulk. So if you've got a 500 meter stack of Shonen Sundays or just a whole load of books you may want to ship home, read on.

    The mbag is a bag - but you'll never actually get to see it. What you do is take your books to the post office in a box, and they'll pack it in the mbag for you.

    There are only a limited number of post offices that deal with mbags in Osaka. Ask any other one and they'll give you a very blank stare. The list is as follows:

  • 大阪中央局 (Osaka chuo youbin)
  • 大阪東局 (Osaka higashi youbin)
  • 大阪西局 (Osaka nishi youbin)
  • 大阪南局 (Osaka minami youbin)
  • 天王寺局 (Tennoji youbin)
  • 北浜局 (Kitahama youbin)
  • 船陽局
  • 吹田局 (Suita youbin)
  • 布施局
  • 几尾局
  • 堺局 (Sakai youbin)

    Check the prices carefully though. An mbag heavier than 25 kg will cost more to send compared to sending a normal parcel. Make sure you check the Japan post website out for the latest rates, although they haven't changed them in over five years now.

    Mbag rates: http://www.post.japanpost.jp/english/fee/intel/sal_mbags.html
    Parcel rates: http://www.post.japanpost.jp/english/fee/intel/parcel.html
  • Saturday, July 30, 2005

    バイト、バイト part-time jobs

    Working in Japan can be quite the gold mine, especially if you land a job in language or juku teaching.

    This article focuses on finding a teaching job. If your level of Japanese is high enough to work for real, local companies, then there are plenty of Japanese language material available on the internet. Alternatively, pick up a baito classified newspaper in front of convenience stores and train stations.

    Before even thinking of getting a part time job, make sure you have the necessary documents and papers: with the level of xenophobia rising and crime being blamed on foreigners, even if you are highly educated Japanese immigration do not take kindly to illegal workers.

    What you are applying for is known as a "permit to engage in activity other than that permitted by the status of residence previously granted". You will need:

  • Permission from your professor
  • Your Alien Registeration card - the temperory paper copy will not suffice
  • Fill out the application form available at the school or university

    If you're here as an individual, then you will need to get sponsorship from a company. The procedure there is similar, and it is all arranged for you.

    Don't expect to be able to work legally once you arrive here. It will take around a month to a one-and-a-half months to obtain your Alien Registeration card, and another month to process your work permit application. Expect a wait of at least three months or more before being legally allowed to work.

    You should, however, start your job search from the beginning, as it will take time to get accepted.

    looking for it...

    The main source for teaching jobs would be in the Kansai Flea Market. Copies of the magazine are available for free throughout the region. In Osaka, you can obtain a copy at Kinokuniya, or download it off the internet from their website at http://www.kfm.to/ (link opens in a new window). New copies are printed weekly.

    The Kansai Time Out is a lifestyle magazine which costs 300 yen to buy. The articles themselves are pretty good, so it's certainly worth the money. There are relatively few classified ads, but the ones that are there tend to be quite good. http://www.kto.co.jp/

    The Kansai Scene is a free magazine available at centers of expat life. The website is usually kept up to date and features a free classified section: http://www.kansaiscene.com (link will open in a new window)

    different types of teaching jobs

    In Japan, there are three main types of teaching jobs:
    1) Teaching at a school
    2) Private students obtained via a company
    3) Private students individually found

    While the first one is self-explainatory, the second and third are a bit more difficult. There are companies in Japan which organise students and teachers to meet. In this case you are essentially working for the company, and they will pay you a pre-agreed rate per month. Such companies are listed below

    You can find your own students as well through private connections, advertisements, or web sites like findstudents.net. However, keep in mind that this web site is nation wide and relying on it for students is rather risky - the quality of teachers nor students are not screened and there is a high chance for mismatch. The website itself doesn't actively match students and teachers either, so it's a long waiting game, assuming you are ever contacted.

    average wage

    The lowest wage that is normally offered is around 1,500-1,800 yen for language teaching. Even then, you shouldn't accept those jobs even if the language you're teaching is not English. The standard is usually 2000 yen an hour, with the highest being 3,000 yen. Expect to start off at 2,000 yen and gradually find jobs which will pay you more.

    Some companies will pay you at the end of each month, others will pay you one month afterwards. If the company is using the prepaid coupon system, then they can afford to pay you month-by-month. If they charge students based on their usage at the end of each moneht, then you will receive your wage the following month (i.e. if you teach in June, you will get paid in July).

    transportation costs

    In Japan, it is standard for companies to pay for your transportation costs if any are involved. Do not work for them if they refuse to do so.

    Normally, they will pay for the full cost of your train or bus. Some companies offere a flat rate though, regardless of the distance or modes of transport.

    Some companies will offer a fixed rate based on the distance. Beware, as it may not cover all your transportation costs.

    Other companies will offer you all your transportation costs up to a certain limit. If the cost of getting to work exceeds what they're willing to pay you for getting down there, look elsewhere.

    Note there are techniques to minimise your transportation costs through purchase of cheap tickets from ticket stalls, monthly tickets or 回数券 (ticket books). Look at the train article On the train of train tricks for more information.

    companies which will match you up

    Here are a short list of a few companies present in the Osaka area:

    - Global Language
    The company here is decently sized, and covers most of Osaka. The person running the company is honest and provides a decent rate, with the potential to increase if you show high competence. He will first meet with you to discuss your experiences and ability, and if you are good then he will match you up with a student.

    This company pays you one month after.

    - khronos
    They are usually looking for quality teachers, so you would need a decent amount of experience. Their screening procedure is more vigrous than other companies, but they do offer the best service in the Kansai area.

    This company pays at the end of each month.

    Blacklist:
    - The Language Circle. Although they may pay you on time, they are certainly more primed to making money rather than servicing their teachers and students. Some of the tricks they have employed are:

  • Offering below the average 2,000 yen wage when they first make contact with you
  • Sending you to far locations, yet paying you the lowest possible transportation fee. For example, one teacher was sent from Osaka to Kobe, but was offered only Hankyu as transportation (which is much slower than JR).
  • Not offering to pay transportation costs at all

    The level of honesty is questionable, and so caution needs to be taken. If desperate, it would be best to use this company as a short-term, stop gap measure while looking for another job.

    This company pays the month after.
  • 大阪弁やで! it's the osaka dialect!

    大阪弁 (osaka-ben), or the Osaka dialect is one of the most defining points of the city. Even while the central government pursued a policy of teaching "standard" Japanese (which is the Tokyo accent), Osaka people steadly stuck to their dialect - partially out of pride, partially out of the ever ongoing rilvary between Osaka and Tokyo.

    Although the standard dialect is used everywhere, the Osaka dialect is an inseperable part of life here.

    There are two main defining points of the Osaka accent:

    1) The intonation of words and sentences
    2) Unique words to substitute the ones used in "standard" Japanese.

    Since it's not possible to discuss part one using text, only part two will be covered here.

    ~へん

    へん (hen) is used in several contexts. The most common usage is to replace ない. For example, instead of saying 知らない (shi・ra・nai - I don't know), it would be turned into 知らへん (shi・ra・hen).

    へん, when used to say "around here" is not Osaka-ben. For example, このへんに is standard Japanese as well.

    ほんま?

    In order to say "really?", in the standard dialect you would say ほんと?(honto?) or まじで?(majide). In Osaka, it's replaced by the shorter ほんま?(honma?).

    そうないや

    This phrase can express "oh really?" or "I see" depending on its usage. In standard Japanese, we would use the more common そうですか?(sou desu ka?) or そう?(sou?), but this phrase is truly an Osakan creation

    なんでやね!

    There is simply no English equivalent for this phrase, nor is there one in the Tokyo dialect. Depending on its usage, it can be used to say "what the heck!" or "oh come on..."

    For example, if you ask a friend a question and he gives you a weird or stupid answer, then なんでやね (nan de ya ne) can be used. Traditionally, it is said during a comedic situation, although there are so many uses that one would need to come to Osaka to experience the full range.

    なんでやね is without a doubt, one of the most distinctive Osakan phrases out there.

    なんぼ?

    Normally, when asking "how much" the phrase いくらですか (ikura desu ka) would be used. In Osaka, it's also possible to use なんぼ (nanbo) which also means "how much." Non-Osakans would probably give you a blank stare, so using it in Tokyo would mean confusion.

    ありがとうございました!

    Although most people overlook it, the intonation of this phrase will clearly identify if a person is from Osaka. Usually the ました part will rise in tone. Also, in Tokyo shop people will just simply say ありがとうございます, omitting the ました part.

    ~やで

    やで (yade) is normally added to the end of some sentences in order to put emphasis. There are no set rules though, and usage will have to come from absortion.

    For example: 時間はないやで! (じかんはないやで! ji kan wa nai ya de!) I don't have time!

    まいどう!

    Maido is used by shopkeepers in place of いらっしゃいませ (irasyaimase), which is used to welcome customers. Although you will have more luck hearing the phrase used by the older generation and in older shops, it is still quite common - used even in the fresh fish section in supermarkets.

    おおきに!

    Okini is a shopkeeper's way of saying thank you, in place of ありがとう.

    ~わ

    People with strong Osaka dialects will probably end many of their sentences with わ(wa). While in the Tokyo dialect ending a sentence with わ is for female usage only, you will find that men also use it in Osaka. The main difference is than men will end the わ using a low tone, while women will end up with the tone going up.


    ちょう
    あかん
    ~や

    meet me at big man

    Umeda and Tennoji are considered the two main centers of Osaka - Umeda is for the North, while the south relies on the more grimy Tennoji.

    In Osaka, a main point for meeting is "Big Man," otherwise pronounced "biggu mahn" (ビッグ・マン). It's the large screen in the Hankyu building, right beside Kinokuniya. Although there is a newer "Co-big Man" on the other side of Kinokuniya, the original Big Man remains the meeting point.

    In Tennoji, meeting in the turnstyle area of JR Tennoji is common. It might be best to confirm which turnstyle exit they will be coming out of, as the station is rather large.

    大阪城は大好き Osaka-jo: symbol of Osaka

    大阪城 (Osaka-jo) continue to stands proud as it keeps watch over Osaka. Despite being a virtual recreation of the original one (which was virtually destroyed and rebuilt several times), it still stands as an impressive symbol, a testiment of Osaka's power.

    Prior to being rebuilt in the 1930's, the area around the present castle was a park called Otemae Koen, which explains why the schools and road around Osaka-jo is still called Otemae.

    Besides the museum inside the castle, the park around the castle are very well kept and makes a comfortable stroll. During the plum blossom season, the plum blossom section of the park is filled with reds and whites. During the sakura season, the entire park springs of a gentle, faded pink. There's always something different to see all year round, and the atmosphere is always changing.

    The park looks better at night, with Osaka-jo generously illuminated. The park and immediate area around the castle complex are popular with lovers, so remember to bring your significant one if you get the chance.

    On Sundays and public holidays, there are many street performances throughout the park, but most noticibly around the castle's surrounding area. These ranges from magic shows to juggling and all out shows, but it's always a nice way to get in tune with Osaka's unique nature. The evening will have the highest concentration - from 5:00 ot 6:00 onwards is a good time to go.

    Osaka-jo is accessible by the JR loop line (JR環状線)at Osaka-jo koen (大阪城公園駅) station. There is a similarily named station on the JR Tozai line called Osakajo kitazume (大阪城北詰). This station is a distance away from the actual park, so it's best not to take it.

    Alternatively, it is possible to walk to Osaka-jo from Umeda. Although it may seem like a mean feat, it really isn't that far - it will take around 20-30 minutes at most. Walking there you can pass Naknoshima island, where you can see the Osaka City Hall and the Nakanoshima Library - both structures built during the Meiji Restoration and which survived the war. You can also pass by a 500 yen unagi-don shop, along with NHK and TV Osaka.

    Osaka-jo was also featured as "Hanshin-jo" in Tsubasa, a manga (and now NHK anime) written by CLAMP.

    A walking map along with sightseeing spots will be provided here in the near future.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2005

    みんなのヨドバシ・カメラ! everybody's yodobashi camera!

    It will one of the first things you see, and one of the things you will always remember in Osaka: Yodobashi Camera.

    With its catchy jingle, Yodobashi is smack in the middle of Osaka and virtually impossible to miss. Every JR train that pulls into Osaka station will catch a glimpse of it at the side, as the massive twelve floor complex stands out pretty well.

    The building stands on what was, until recently, JR West's headquarters.

    The same structure combines fashion shops, restaurants, cafes and parking:
    B2f - Food court and supermarket
    1F-7F - Comme Ca Store - bontique fashion store
    5f-8f - individual fashion stores
    8f - upper scale restaurants
    9f-12f - parking

    Yodobashi Camera itself spans from B1F to 5F, and shares part of the floor with the above stores.

    Unlike it's name, Yodobashi offers far more than cameras, and is probably one of the world's most comprehensive electronics stores. Besides the usual assortment of stereos and games, they also offer related accessories and services, as well as more unusual products like karaoke machines, DJ mixers and bicycles.

    No matter how famous the store is, the vast majority of staff will not speak English. To communicate, simple questions will have to suffice.

    yodobashi points

    The point card here is worth getting, even if on a short-term stay. The card itself is free - all you need to do is fill out a simple application form at the cahsier, and then you will get your card immediately. If they don't ask if you want a card, then indicate that you would like to obtain one.

    You earn points based on the percentage price of the product. Points on a product are offered in the following increments: 10%, 13%, 15%, 18%, 20%. The percentage points are indicated on the price label. For example, if you're buying a 17,860 yen hard disk offering 18% points, then you will get 3,217 points.

    Points can be used in place of cash with your next purchase. When buying something next time, they will ask you if you want to use your points . One point equals one yen.(ポイント)

    Note that using a credit card will lower the percentage of points you get. If you notice, on the price label there are two point percentages - the lower one is the one given for credit card purchases.

    For products like books, much lower points may be offered: perhaps as little as 2%.

    And yes, you can specify the number of points you want to use in future purchases.

    the place can get confusing...

    Yodobashi often places the same product in different parts of the store. For example, blank CDs can be found on both the basement, and on the third floor. There will be more selection if one goes to the section which the product belongs to - so the computer floor to find a huge selection of blank CDs and DVDs.

    and it may not be the cheapest either...

    Despite the hype over the prices, not everything is cheaper. However, the price difference compared with Den Den town (Nihonbashi) shops may only be several thousand yen. Yodobashi's other competitor, Bic Camera, usually has the same price as Yodobashi. When making a comparison, consider the following:
    • The overall price

    • The number of points that could be earned at Yodobashi

    • The cost of transportation to each store
    and a summary of each floor

    B1F - Computers and Digital Cameras

    Including computer software, memory cards, printers, electronic dictionaries and computer accessories. Networking equipment is also located here.

    1F - Mobile Phones and Broadband

    This floor boasts huge stores from all four keitai companies, broadband sign up counters and Yodobashi's PC repair center.

    2F - Camera and Watches

    This floor concentrates more on traditional, professional grade cameras. Casual use digital cameras are better represented on B1F. The latest watches can also be found here.

    3F - Audio and Visual

    The label encompasses a large array of different products. You will find the newest Plasma and LCD TVs here, along with the more tradition CRT sort. DVD and HDD recorders can be found here, along with the ultra expensive Blu-Ray recorder. TV antennas and cables, LCD projectors, professional sound systems and video editing equipment are also available.

    This floor is good for music players, including MDs and MP3 players. While MP3 players can been seen elsewhere, this section is the main area.

    Noise cancellation headphones are easily found in the headphone section, while a large selection of the newest CDs and DVDs are over in it's own section.

    Just in case you wanted it, karaoke machines can be found near the car navigation systems. Musical instruments and music mixing equipment (especially for DJs) are right beside it.

    4F - Bicycles, Games and Toys

    You will find gashapon vending machines here, but they're not always up-to-date. However, the gaming section contains the newest consoles, games and related accessories. Gaming magazines, as well as otaku related publications can be bought. Plastic models of anime characters are here as well.

    The latest plastic models from Hasegawa and Tamiya, along with the newest Gundam models are also here. Paints and glue are also sold. Right beside it you can find replica air guns, ranging from your typical pistol to shot guns, and even authentic sniper rifles.

    There is also a small train replica section, where you can buy tracks, models to create train scenery and cast-die metal trains, authentic to the last detail.

    The toys section has children's toys, and also costumes from Cardcaptor Sakura, Pretty Cure and Fugashi Hoshi no Futago Hime.

    Trading cards can also be found in a small counter by the left exit (assuming you are facing the cashier area).

    The bicycle section is outside the games section. Bicycles here tend to be upper scale and may not be the best place to buy it, although the point card and system are valid here.

    things which are under lock and key...

    When buying a product, you will either take an empty box to the counter or you will have to ask for it directly. For example, when buying a hard disk you will use the box technique, but when buying a Playstation 2 you will need to go directly up to the cashier and ask for one.

    internet!

    The Yodobashi Umeda website has more information on the complex, including restaurant lists:
    http://www.yodobashi-umeda.com

    The main Yodobashi website is searchable for products, and also shows how much stock there is. All searches are done in Japanese though:
    http://www.yodobashi.com

    And you can hear the Yodobashi jingle here!