Finding Work in Japan

Nine months ago when I started this site, one of the primary subjects I planned on covering involved the trials and tribulations when finding work in Japan, while still living in Canada.  Although I haven't written anything about the subject thus far, it's time I start sharing some of the things I've learned, and some of the plans I have for future endeavours.

So first a little background:

I'm currently engaged to a great person who lives and works in Japan.  She's 100% Japanese and has an incredible grasp on the English language.  We'll be title="j2fi.net - Wedding Date Set">getting married on May 1st, 2008, and staying in Japan for at least the first few years after the wedding.  Because so much is involved in planning and preparing a wedding, and it would be very beneficial to have employment before and after the big day.  I also want to be living and working in the country at least six months beforehand, which gives me a December 1, 2007 personal deadline.  Just to add some fun to the equation, my primary employer of five years knows that I plan on leaving at some point, so we've arranged my last day with them to be July 13th, 2007.  This date was a few months earlier than I had expected ... but what fun is life without a little pressure?

Since returning to Canada from my last trip this past Christmas, I've been looking for work in Japan as well as devising some possible options that would grant me a little freedom in the country should I not immediately find work.  Since I'm still in Canada and writing about "Finding Work in Japan", it's clear that my current efforts have yielded little fruit.  But, like anything worth having in life, some things are worth trying harder for.

I am a computer programmer and database architect by trade, and I love the work.  Over the last two years I've been moving more towards database design and administration because title="j2fi.net - A ZetaByte By Any Other Name ...">I absolutely love data, and turning that data into useful information for people.  If I can, I'd like to find work in Japan doing the very same thing.

How To Find Employers:

As with everything in life, you need to know who to talk to.  There are five options available to most of us, and I have them sorted from most promising to least promising (in my own opinion, of course).


  • People you know.  This is the most promising option as it involves talking to people who know (and hopefully like) you for ideas on how or where to go during your search.  This may very quickly result in an ever expanding network of contacts of people who know people who know people, where you can always come recommended.  This can be perfect if you're not exactly sure what type of job you're looking for.  This method tends to work best anywhere in the world, not just asia.

  • Placement Companies.  Here you're dealing with professionals that will advise you, guide you, and match your skills and goals with the requirements of their contacts (usually for free).  This is perfect if you know exactly what you're looking for, but even if you don't, these people can help you determine what you want in a career.  One of the things I've recently learned is that you must really understand the local job market in Japan.  Some great agencies to work with are Panache IT Solutions and Robert Walters Japan.

  • Internet Job Banks.  One would think these are the perfect places to find work anywhere in the world.  However, with (potentially) the entire planet as an audience, employers often recieve too many resumes per offer.  That said, it's often a good idea to register with a few just to see what kind of jobs are available.  GaijinPot and title="DaiJob.com - Work in Japan (English)">DaiJob are two of the best I've found when looking for work in Japan.  Both sites offer pages in English.

  • Newspaper Classifieds and Company Web Sites.  Here you are essentially talking directly to the employers looking for people.  This is good because you are targeting a specific audience.  If the current job market has lots of offers for a few demands, then go for it.  If not, you'll be in competition with so many people that you'll feel as though you're wasting time.  Also, if you're looking to work for a Western company, many will not post any skilled positions in the local papers.  The Japan Times publishes their classifieds on Mondays.

  • The last option is to print out countless resumes and mail them off to companies, not knowing if they're looking for anyone.  This is usually a waste of time and resources unless you're in a market that typically has high turnover.


In the past six months, I've been working almost exclusively with internet job banks.  I have no idea how many jobs I've applied for from Sapporo to Osaka and everywhere in between, but it's clear that I'll likely not find anything this way.  99% of all employers want people to already be in the country and legally entitled to work.  This involves having a Work Visa, which can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to obtain.  Some employers will help people get the visas from the government, others will not.  So knowing ahead of time what the company will and will not help you with is important.

Also, when you receive a work visa, you are limited to work only for the position it's written for.  That is, if you were awarded a working visa as an instructor at a language school, you could not take that visa and work as a software engineer (though working at another language school would be acceptable).

One of the options I had considered for some time was to obtain a Working Holiday Visa, which is good for one year and we can do until 30, then find work while in the country.  While this seemed like a great idea on paper, it carries an incredible amount of risk.  The solution is not completely unworkable, but the risk involved is just too high considering I have a wedding to plan and pay for.

Over the next few months I hope to provide some useful tips, links and other bits of information for anyone that is looking to live and work in Japan.  There are several online that discuss things from an American perspective, but Canadians tend to have a different set of rules to follow.  Hopefully I can help provide some direction.

How To Save Lots of Money on eBay

I really like eBay.  The convenience of shopping for things that might not be readily available in my area is one benefit, and being able to score items for a decent price is another.  I joined back in 2002 and have made purchases for items ranging from a $3 copy of a Star Trek book I hadn't yet read and couldn't find anywhere, all the way up to the $1400 I paid for the notebook I'm writing this entry on.

So, after five years of bidding and selling (rather unsuccessfully, I might add), I thought I might share some of my experiences with how you can go about saving a great deal of money on eBay.

1. Know exactly what you're looking for, and the maximum amount you're willing to pay.  Then find that item and bid that maximum, knowing that you will not spend one cent more on that listing.

This lets you stay ahead of anyone that's going to raise the bid amount with the little $5 and $10 increases, unless someone really wants it and outbids you.  If I had a dime for every auction I had ever lost where the selling price was less than $5 above my maximum, I probably wouldn't be trying to save money with eBay purchases.

2. Make sure the auction ends during a time that you can't keep an eye on the last-minute bidders.

Finding a deal on a sweet cell phone or LCD monitor early in an auction is quite common, as most of the time these items really sell during the last 15 minutes on the auction block.  Everything leading up to those 15 minutes is just for people who hope the item slips under everyone's radar.  More often than not, the items I'm bidding on will end either when I'm on my way home from work, or when I'm in the middle of a very boring meeting.  By keeping myself away from last-minute bid increases, I prevent myself from going over my maximum (see above) and potentially paying the equivalent to retail for something that likely doesn't have a warranty, anyways.

3. Bid on the item you want before checking out the other auctions.

The world is often "first-come first-serve", so why not extend this to internet auctions, too?  By bidding on the first item you see, you can kick yourself 5 minutes later when another auction for the same item has free shipping.  Now you have the dilemma of bidding on this item as well and potentially winning two of the very same thing (which wouldn't be bad if they looked good in a pair), or using one of your two semi-annual bid retractions.  Use your discression here.  If the item you want is a popular thing, say ... a top-end Nokia phone, consider bidding on this second auction as well and hope fate will spare you the injustice of winning both items and paying a stupid amount on shipping for something you later found locally.  Otherwise, stick with the first auction and lose it in the closing minutes when you're unavailable to re-enter a bid.

4. Trust that sellers know what they're selling.

My favourite auctions are for electronics that come with pictures ripped right off the company websites and re-assuring words in all caps like "MINT" or "NIB" (often meaning "New, In Box").  If you happen to win these auctions and the seller has a rating under 20, you might find that "mint" actually refers to what happens to a chocolate mint left on the dash of your car in the middle of summer, and "NIB" actually means "Nothing Isn't Broken".  These auctions are usually characterized by final selling prices being less than the cost of shipping.

So there you have it.  The four basic rules to save lots of money on eBay.  You've probably figured out that I don't win very often, and since rules 1 through 3 have me losing ... well ... constantly (which is why I save lots of money).  I've never had number 4 happen to me, but I've met several people that have dealt with this.

If you have any suggestions for successful bidding on eBay, I'd be happy to give them a try.

History Channel's Promising "Universe" Series

With the onset of summer, new documentaries tend to be little more than repeats we haven't seen before.  Though luckily, the History Channel is premiering a new series entitled "Universe".

The premiere episode, "Secrets of the Sun" aired on Tuesday and was chalk full of interesting information about the star at the centre of our solar system.  What I enjoy most about these shows is that no matter how many documentaries are made on a particular subject, I can always learn something new and reinforce already learned information about the universe around us.

Like many of the newer documentaries coming out, the show had a fluidity that made it easy to follow and incredibly enjoyable.  Spots with very respected scientists, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, were well placed and the animation was right inline with what I'd expect from the History Channel (a.k.a, the show is not a showcase for computer animation, but instead an edutainment platform).

I look forward to watching all the episodes released this summer, and hopefully we'll get to see some episodes regarding topics such as gravity, black holes, and the creation of galaxies.  I'd strongly recommend it to anyone that enjoys seeing more of the universe around us.

Who Are They Kidding?

Palm’ Foleo Mobile Companion

Sometimes I wonder how some products make it out to the market.

It seems that Palm has once again missed the mark with their latest product, the Foleo.  This device is dubbed a "mobile companion" and will connect to a Palm-based smartphone such as the Treo 680 or 700wx.  It comes with a 10" screen, a full sized keyboard, and has apparently been in development for the last five years.

I wish Palm would take a hint from the automotive sector and not release all of their concept devices.  This thing makes the Edsel look like a Mustang Shelby.

It's Palm's hope to bridge the gap between a notebook and a PDA.  But considering the size of the Foleo, I doubt anyone will seriously drop between six and seven hundred dollars on the unit.  When I first heard that Palm had a new device out that was between a notebook and a smartphone I was kind of excited.  I envisioned something akin to HTC's Advantage X7501 device with a 5" screen, WCDMA and GSM capabilities, and a great battery life.  Instead, we get what's shown in the image above.  A quazi-laptop computer running a stripped down verison of Linux that doesn't even have the same software capabilities of the smaller Treo.

So what the heck are we supposed to do with this?  Looking at the specs, the only good thing that comes with device is the Opera web browser.

Palm has cautioned users that the unit has not been tested with all smart phones, and can't guarantee that the Foleo would work with any specific device other than those made by Palm.  You know how tight deadlines can be for those 5 year projects.  Breaking from form, this unit does actually come with a WiFi connection in addition to Bluetooth, so this will allow people to use hotspots.  Of course, if an executive that reads and writes lots of lengthy emails is at a location with a hotspot, they would likely have a real computer to use.

Currently, Palm is trying to work something out with other vendors such as RIM, Symbian and Apple (should they ever open their platform).

Early adopters have also been warned that the Foleo will not be able to immediately view video clips, or work with high-end multimedia like you'd find at HomestarRunner or YouTube.  There is no video viewer planned for this release, or MP3 capabilities, either.  However, the company suggested that users who require these functions can find them on the Treo smartphones.

So to summarize, Palm is releasing a mobile-companion that has fewer capabilities than the $100 notebook to a very narrow market segment that uses the Treo over RIM's BlackBerry or other vendor solutions and expecting that, over time, us consumers will write the software and functionality into the platform much like we did for the first Palm devices 10 years ago.  The biggest selling feature for this unit is the 5 hours of actual usage, though anyone who would need to read or write emails for more than 4 hours a day probably doesn't use smartphones or wannabe hardware devices.

Final Result on the Foleo:  No Dice.

Yet Another SQL Battle

A few weeks ago I got into a bit of a debate with someone at my local coffee shop over effective RAID levels on a Consumer-grade NAS, and it seems that whenever we cross paths at the Starbucks we get into another heated discussion over the pros and cons of various technologies.  At first I had thought this guy was just a "punk kid" who fancied himself a "l33t user", but after some conversations I can see that he's not completely full of testosterone and itching for a war of words.  So I guess it comes as no surprise that I've almost started looking forward to these debates.

Today's argument centred around which SQL database is best used in certain environments.  Almost everywhere I've done work for, Microsoft's SQL Server has been the database of choice.  This platform is very mature, has great support, and a huge online community.  Often times, this is the database of choice for many organizations as it's easy to setup, deploy, and get programmers or administrators for.  There are some things that I wish it had (like a parallel cluster capability), but all in all, SQL Server can give an enterprise everything they need, and then some, for their database needs.

I've looked at other solutions such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, Oracle and DB2, and I'm not against any of them for certain situations.  DB2 is quite powerful when working with incredibly large databases (4+ Terabytes), and Oracle is pretty potent in its own right (though I've never used it in a production environment).  MySQL 5 can now do some essential database functions like stored procedures, triggers and transactions (a database that can't do this is not suited for any enterprise, in my opinion).  PostgreSQL works incredibly well on embedded machines and other solutions where a tiny footprint is necessary, and it can scale up just like any commercial package should the need arise (though I've never had to take a PostgreSQL database past 20 MB in size).

So back on the debate, we argued two of the solutions discussed here:  MySQL 5 vs. SQL Server (I guess from Versions 6.5 and up, since SQL Server has been able to do everything MySQL 5 can do and more since 1998).  My opponent, let's call him Ted, is working at a company here in Vancouver that had considered a move from SQL Server to MySQL.  They use eight databases across nine applications and three websites totalling 87 GB.  They also have a data warehouse of 60 GB.

Ted has developed several websites against MySQL since version 2 and feels that the platform is ready for a mission-critical environment.  He outlined how some of the initial tests had gone for the administrators during some stress-testing sessions and everything worked without a hitch (after a few datatype conversions, of course).  Using FreeBSD and the current MySQL 5 release, the old server that had been retired two years ago from running Windows2000 and SQL2000 was now keeping up with the newer boxes that have much more processing power.  I'm sure the DBA's were ecstatic with the results.

Unfortunately for Ted, his managers decided to keep SQL Server 2005 because they relied on stability, performance and the technical support.  Because of the amount of resources that would go in to converting their systems to MySQL, and the costs involved with keeping skilled staff on hand, the company decided that the risks during migration were just too high.

I had to laugh when Ted mentioned the "costs involved with keeping skilled staff on hand".  Not because it was funny in itself, but because it's something I've heard quite a bit everywhere I go.  A business has to be able to find people to run things and, for the moment, it's much easier to find Microsoft people.  There are relatively few DBAs that are highly skilled in Open Source, and that's a valid concern for any organization.  Of course that said, there are more and more people coming up all the time with the skills required to operate and maintain these systems ... but there just isn't enough of them.

Like with most of our arguments, we didn't really come to any final answer.  Both SQL Server and MySQL are solid platforms to develop against, and both have their strengths and weaknesses.  While Ted is vehement that MySQL would cost the company less and be a more enjoyable platform to work on, he actually does understand the business concerns.  For my part, I can see why he would want to move the organization to the open source product as their future needs could take advantage of some of the new features in version 5 (such as the parellel clustering that SQL Server lacks).

On a technological basis, I've been very impressed with the recent versions of MySQL and even with PostgreSQL v8.2 (despite the lack of business-level development I've done against the platform).  When you look at many sites with high technical demands, you'll see that most of them run some iteration of MySQL and the costs are much lower than you'd get with SQL Server (no cost-per-processor or client licencing structures).

The open source databases have become very solid.  When given the opportunity to choose between platforms, the decisions are often based on culture rather than the technology.  There is alot of Microsoft culture in the business world and many corporate types feel safer since they know they can't get fired (theoretically) for buying a Microsoft product.

As a personal disclaimer, I've been developing against various Microsoft platforms for the better part of 10 years.  I really enjoy working on SQL Server and have even earned a MCDBA to show it.  When I'm asked which platform is better, I usually default to the "it depends" answer ... because it does depend.  Each database has advantages in certain situations, and I'm not pompous enough to say one is better than the others in all instances.  The real strength of a database comes from the people that maintain and develop the solution.

Long-Term Real Estate Investing

How long would you be willing to wait for a plot of ocean-front property near Hawaii if you could buy the land starting at $40 US?  Ten years?  Twenty?  Ten Thousand?

Lo'ihi Development Co. will soon start offering oceanview lots that may not be realistically viable for above-surface residential complexes for a few millenia.  This is because the land that's being sold is currently a kilometer (about 3,000 feet) below the surface of the ocean.

Ya know ... I wish I would think of things this crazy once in a while.  Norm Nichols, co-developer of the online venture, assures people this isn't a scam saying "If you really think there's something here that you can't live with, nobody's forcing you to buy it.  It's meant to be fun."  This reminds me of a few other sites where we are enticed to buy entire star systems, or plots of land on various celestial bodies for relatively small amounts of cash.

What I find positively amazing is that some people actually make enough with these ventures that they only need to work part-time, if at all.  Though unlike some of the other sites, Lo'ihi Development lets you know that this is a parody up-front.

Scientists don't know how long it will be until Lo'ihi will break the surface of the Pacific Ocean.  Some say ten thousand years, while others say never.  So if you've ever wanted to leave something worth absolutely nil to family after your passing, perhaps a few acres of land on this submerged volcano would be a nice parting gift.

Dell's Desperation, or Smart Business Plan?

In a move that's viewed as a major departure from their direct sales strategy, Dell will start selling their Dimension-line desktops at Walmart stores in June as part of a "global retail strategy to provide customers with more options."  Keeping with these options, Dell is also giving American buyers the option to have the Linux variant Ubuntu 7.04 pre-installed on some of their systems.

I guess Michael Dell wasn't too happy when he returned to the company earlier this year after a seemingly abysmal fourth-quarter profit.

What I find interesting is this Ubuntu offer.  By having a system configured with this OS, a customer could easily shave a hundred or two off the cost of their PC.  Of course, that said, the OS will only be offered on three Dell products, and only in the US for the time being.  But this could be a pretty big boost for the incredibly user-friendly Linux variant.

I've tried a few Ubuntu flavours over the years.  Not for a primary computer, but mainly as a "where are they now?" kind of test.  Aside from understandably limited hardware support, this is an operating system that I would feel comfortable giving my parents.  But this does make me wonder if Dell is going to make a real effort at the retail market again.

Last year, the company had opened two retail stores in New York as a test to see whether they could compete against other mixed-market (direct and retail) providers such as Hewlett-Packard and Acer.  There was even a time when Dell PCs were sold at Best Buy, Costco and Sam's Club ... though that ended in 1994 with Dell citing low profit margins on the business.  So I wonder how different things will be at Walmart, where commercials show that happy face happily knocking a few bucks off the price of products ....

The only positive factor that I can see with this move is that now potential customers can try before they buy.  One of the biggest issues I've had with Dell products (aside from their shoddy construction and horrible habit of self-destructing 14 days out of warranty) is that we can't really see what we're buying until we get it.  We can't see if the notebook will fit our hands properly.  We can't see just how big and obtrusive that XPS case is.  We can't see that their definition of "Wide Screen XGA" is actually just Wide XGA (give me numbers on your site, Dell.  Your descriptions suck.).

Well ... now we can.

June 10th is the day Walmart officially starts selling these things there.  I wonder if any of the M-series notebooks will be available or on display.  I've always wondered what the M1210 actually looked like.

Not that I'll ever own another Dell.

.NET on Symbian!

Just the other week I was thinking to myself how great it would be if I could write a blog entry on my phone and upload it either through a GPRS connection or an open WiFi connection that I might find.  What a great app this could be for anyone running a Symbian powered mobile phone such as a Nokia N80!

The primary language for Symbian OS is Carbide.c++.  This is a great little language for people that can work in it alot, but unfortunately for me, it's not something I've had the opportunity to really work with.  So it came as a bit of a surprise when I learned that RedFive Labs has made available a .NET mobile framework for the S60 Symbian devices.

For the last few years I've been working extensively in .NET, with most of my work being done in VB and only a few projects requiring C#.  I have worked a bit in Java and some other languages, but my fundamental skillset is with the Microsoft platforms (for now ... I'll likely be using more and more Ruby on Rails as time passes).  This will now provide a great bridge to empower programmers like me to build apps in an ever-growing market.

A large portion of Japan's cell phones use Symbian and I'm always seeing positions for mobile programmers on job sites like GaijinPot.com, so hopefully this can be another avenue of opportunity as I make my way into the Japanese market.

I've yet to test this framework on any S60 devices (since I just downloaded the Community Technology Prefiew of the framework today), but I'm looking forward to what this framework can provide.  According to the RedFive press release, Symbian devices should operate with the same performance under this framework as they would under any other program written in Carbide or J2ME language.

Depending on how my testing goes, I might just have a few applications that can enable people to update their blog from anywhere their mobile phone has signal.

How Much Is the Internet Worth To You?

How much would you pay for a 3.0 Mb/sec DSL connection?  $50?  $100?  $300?

Telus Wants $2 a Gig


This is the question that some families and many net users will be asking shortly as Telus seems about ready to start charging for usage past their monthly limits.  The bandwidth limits are nothing new but, unlike Shaw, Telus has never made a real fuss over people who have excessive amounts of traffic.  In the last three years my monthly transfer has been between 140 and 210 Gigabytes.

Shaw used to suspend my service when I was 10 GB over limit, while the worst Telus has ever done was send me an email asking that I slow down.

I share my internet with a few others and two of us are heavy downloaders.  The situation is the same for two of my neighbours who have kids between the ages of 14 and 20.  The advantage that I have over my neighbours is some centralized network storage that allows the people I share with to enjoy some of the same things that we all download.

So why the sudden change?  Well, after a quick discussion with someone at their customer service centre, it seems that a very high number of users are moving more than their allotted bandwidth.  So, in an effort to both bring usage down to managable levels and make a buck, Telus has decided to start charging for excessive usage.  And to think, I just got my connection issues solved ....

So it looks like many of us will soon be asking ourselves just how much some of our activities are worth.  Come the end of the month, would we really want to risk paying $2 to download episodes of Daily Show or Colbert Report?  Would we be willing to pay that rate to play online games such as Pangya or some MMORPG?  Just how badly do we want to download that new album that's available?

It might be time to start looking for open WiFi connections again ....

200 Posts!

I'm impressed.

After 200 posts, this site has gone from being just a small pet project to something I look forward to updating daily.  In October of last year j2fi.net started on a small Synology DS-106 NAS device, and was replaced by a proper webserver shortly after Google and Yahoo started hammering that little box like a loan-shark teaching a dead-beat why it's good to always pay your debts.

At first this was supposed to be just a small site for family and friends to come and check out the image galleries.  While travelling I would put up posts on my events and pictures from the day.  And, of course, when something in the news bugged me I would try and rationalize it in some form here.

That was the idea, anyways.

While much of this is true, I've also stretched to discuss things like network storage devices (which seems to be the key draw to this site according to my reference data), SQL Server, space technology and other scientific tidbits, interesting documentaries and just about anything else that tends to make this site appear to have no common theme ... something we're warned about when starting a blog.

Regardless of all the rules and suggestions that I've read in the last eight months regarding the do's and don'ts of blogging, I enjoy the diversity of this site.  From educational discussions to complete rants that often make me appear completely irrational (until someone corrects me), j2fi.net has allowed me to express my tiny voice along with the millions of others that grace the internet.  While I doubt there will ever be any great truth written on here, I hope that some people can find value in what I have to offer on various subjects.

But this is what blogs are really for, right?  It's our inherent need to communicate with others that drives us to start these pages.  Some people have multiple blogs, each focused on a particular subject.  These people often have a great deal to offer and share, which explains why their net traffic is so incredibly high.  The remaining millions have sites with no particular focus, but instead covers a range of ideas, thoughts, prejudices, insecurities, and everything else that makes us who and what we are.  This is the power that lies within blogs.

For the last decade, I've been communicating with people all over the world through IRC.  A text-based real-time chat application that allows users to discuss things in channels, or individually.  What's great about this is that I've learned quite a bit about the world around me.  The people that make up the various nations all around the world.  I've learned that people in Germany are no different than in Canada.  People in the middle-east are just the same as you and I.  No matter where we come from, we all have similar fears, needs and desires.

Our blogs are like static pages of who we are at a point in time.  Like the paintings found on cave walls, what we write will be our personal impression on the world.  In a thousand years, our texts will still be found in an archive on some ancient optical disc.  A future generation will look back and identify with what we have to say on some rudimentary level.

We are a social creature with a deep desire to hear and tell stories, be they personal or professional.  So this blog, like the millions of others, is my attempt to tell the world "I am".

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