Now I Can Tell Kids to Get Off My Lawn

While I may not have the right to vote in Japan, I most certainly do have the right to own land. This became a reality earlier today when Reiko, the boy, and I travelled to the bank to meet with the — now — previous owners of the property to formally sign all the documentation in the presence of a lawyer and transfer the remaining balance owed on the land from our account to theirs. We had paid 10% of the land value from our savings back in October when we first expressed interest, and this gave us a maximum of 90 days to finalise mortgage applications, find a house builder, and get the ball rolling to build a home.

Reiko has really put in 120% to ensure that all of the paperwork is correct and the builders can deliver what we're expecting.

The View from the South-East Corner facing North West

It may not look like much now, but there will be a small land-breaking ceremony this coming Saturday and construction will begin on the 26th. If everything goes according to plan, the house will be finished in late March and we'll be able to move in shortly after.

The View from the North-West Corner facing South East

The neighbourhood certainly looks to be a great one. It's close to a number of large parks that should keep Nozomi busy for years to come. A kindergarten, elementary school, and junior high school are all within a 10-minute walk. There are other families with young children in the vicinity. And, if that's not enough, there's 10Gbit fibre-to-the-home for those who wish to pay for it1.

My commute will see an additional 20 minutes added to each direction, but it's a small price to pay for such a nice place to live.

  1. While I'd love to have this kind of broadband connection, nothing on my home network could take advantage of it. Instead, I've opted to go for a basic package with a provider that'll allow for 1Gbit Internet, 30 TV stations, and a phone line all for about $55 a month

What's the Alternative?

John Gordon recently wrote a short blog post explaining that he can no longer recommend people make the switch from Windows to macOS when shopping around for a new computer. The reasons he cites are quite valid, from Apple's recent abandoning sprees on software, hardware, and business sense, to the high cost of entry for machines that have arguably mid-range specs. While I can agree that the average person may not be willing to invest a grand or two in hardware before investing even more money in applications that may or may not work as the operating system evolves year over year, it's important to ask one question: what's the alternative?

After months of investigation, I settled on picking up a 2015-era MacBook Pro and replacing OS X — as it was known at the time — with Ubuntu. I've been happy with this decision for the most part and have even gone so far as to contribute updates to drivers that allow people to get better performance out of their Bluetooth radio. I chose the MacBook Pro not because I wanted a quick way to jump back to the safe confines of Apple's ecosystem, but because the alternatives were just not worth the money.

When it comes to buying a computer, a person really needs to consider how they'll be using the machine. Will it be something you're looking at for more than an hour or two a day? Then it simply cannot have a low-resolution screen. Will it be something you'll type on a lot? Then the keyboard needs to match your hands just right. Will it be something you'll carry from place to place? Then it had better have a really good battery, or be light enough that carrying the ridiculously bulky charging adapter is slightly more bearable. Then there's the problem of the hideously awful touchpads that seem to exist on every notebook not designed in Cupertino and manufactured in China. I spent months looking for a good-quality notebook that met these 4 criteria and a few other details and always came away disappointed.

You can have a good keyboard or a good screen, not both. You can have decent expandability or good battery life, not both. You can have a fast processor or a thin formfactor, not both. Buying just about any product will require a person to prioritise certain features, but one expects the decision to be less painful the higher up you go in the product line.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 came very close to what I was looking for in terms of hardware, but was limited by 8GB of RAM and a keyboard that just didn't feel very good. Lenovo's T450s was also close, as it allowed for hardware swapping along with a mostly-acceptable battery life and decently-comfortable keyboard, but was limited by the screen's awful pixellation and colour fade.

As a person who looks at a glowing screen for 10+ hours a day and interacts with the keyboard almost exclusively1, any machine that cannot offer both solid typing and crisp text2 simply cannot become a tool I rely on.

So what are the options?

Dell does have some decent machines, yes. The screen's aren't all that great, and the keyboards feel cheap, but they'll do. The same can be said for HP, Lenovo, Mouse, and System76. Nothing from any Japanese manufacturer is even worth mentioning anymore, as it's all lowest-quality-highest-price plastic crap. Even Sony, once the pinnacle of amazing-screens everywhere, is barely worth a cursory glance at an electronics shop. Try as I might, there just hasn't been a compelling notebook from any manufacturer in the last five years — if not longer — that comes anywhere near what a MacBook Pro can offer in terms of screen quality, keyboard usability, battery longevity, and overall build quality. Yes, a person needs to resign themselves to the fact that the unit is ultimately a non-upgradeable appliance, but it's still the best-made appliance out there. And, if you're willing to go with a store model to save a few hundred dollars, you'll wind up paying the same as you would for a top-of-the-line HP or Dell that comes with an infuriating touchpad that you leave disabled 90% of the time.

When people ask me for advice on what computer they should buy next, I still ask the basic questions. What's the main purpose? How long will it be used for every day3? Who will be the main person using it? And then I make a recommendation. Sometimes it's for a tablet. Sometimes it's for a notebook. And in those instances where somebody is looking for a decent quality notebook, I'll recommend either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro … which then has its operating system replaced with whatever the buyer is most comfortable with soon after getting it home.

Ideal? Maybe not. But it's better than the alternatives.

  1. I have not used a mouse in over five years, and I have no plans on ever going back to those horrible things.

  2. Crisp Japanese text. Roman characters are tolerable with awful pixellation some of the time, but it's brutal when trying to read complex kanji consisting of 12 or more strokes.

  3. then multiply this number by at least two

Buying a Car In Japan – Option Three: Mazda Axela

In this, the third installment of our “Shopping for a Car” series, Reiko and I decided to head to Gifu Mazda to see what kind of offerings we could scrounge up there. Having still been impressed with the Nissan Tiida, and less impressed with the overtly masculine designs of the Honda-series models, we were a little skeptical about what we might find with the less-popular manufacturer from Hiroshima. Skeptical, that is, until about 30 seconds after we set foot on the lot.

This dealership pulls out all the stops when it comes to offering great customer service. From having a salesperson run out to the parking lot to meet us and show us a prime spot to park our car, to having an overly attentive group of people who know when to back off and let the customers touch and feel the merchandise. These people know how to treat the consumer.

Outstanding Customer Service

The service that Reiko and I experienced at Gifu Mazda was really second to none. At Honda, although a person met us in the parking lot and showed us to the showroom floor, he didn’t really seem all that “sales-persony.” His language was sometimes far too casual (a big no-no in Japan), and his facial habits put my wife off on more than one occasion. While I have little trouble with this, it’s a pretty big deal considering the amount of money that we’re going to drop on the purchase of a new car.

Gifu Nissan, while offering great service at the end, was very slow to pick up on the fact that Reiko and I were actually looking to buy a car. Perhaps not on the same day, but certainly in the very near future. Any Japanese salesperson that sees someone rolling into the parking lot with a 10 year-old vehicle should know well ahead of the fact that we wish to purchase a car before the next Shakken season rolls around. In our case, it’s August of next year. After arriving at the dealership, we had to ask someone to see a salesperson, and it was almost like we were bothering them with our very presence. Perhaps they thought that we wouldn’t be able to speak Japanese (since I’m obviously not Asian, and some people seem to think that Reiko is from Indonesia or Thailand), but our racial appearances shouldn’t matter so much. Heck, when you’re talking about the difference between a 2-million yen sale, and no sale at all, what difference does skin or languages have to do with anything? Money talks. That’s all a salesperson should need to say when dealing with people who may not have the same ancestry.

Rant aside, the service was completely different at Gifu Mazda. After helping us to a parking space, we were shown to the showroom floor where we were immediately met by a friendly and open salesman. Reiko had already done quite a bit of research on what models she wanted to look at before arriving, and even had the specific colours picked out. After a quick discussion, we were back in the mid-day heat to look at the most expensive of Reiko’s selections: the 2009 Mazda Axela.

Ravishing in Red

The Mazda Axela is a sporty-looking car with lots of power under the hood. The model that we got to examine up close was a nice 16-valve 2.5 liter model with all the bells and whistles that you’d hope to see in a 21st century car. Car navigation, dual climate controls (a.k.a. ventilation flanges), 8-speaker surround, power everything and plenty of space for everyone in the family (in this case, Reiko and I … and the salesman. After the standard practice of sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine running, the salesperson hopped in the back and suggested that we take it for a test spin.


This was the first time we had been offered the opportunity to check out the car completely before talking about money. Heck, Honda and Nissan didn’t even consider asking if we had wanted to test drive the Tiida, Fit, or any other vehicle we had received quotes on. Naturally, this would have been part of the second visit, but to be offered this within the first ten minutes of our arrival was quite a bit more than we had expected.

Suffice to say, we took this opportunity to give it a try.

Three other salespeople helped out by running up to the street to make sure that the coast was clear, and then we were off! For the next 2.2 km, Reiko and I were driving in comfort, while the salesperson behind us talked about some of the features and advantages the Axela had over some similar models. The car navigation kept tabs on our current location, the stereo sounded great, the ride was comfortable and, best of all, we had no trouble identifying the dimensions of the car while driving!

Why So Many Cameras?

One of the things that I really don’t like about many of the newer cars is the number of cameras that each model comes equipped with. Cameras to help you park. Cameras to keep tabs on the curb. Cameras to check if you can safely change lanes on a highway. It’s ridiculous! For 100 years we were able to park our cars without the aid of cameras, and now so many people are relying on a silicon set of eyes to help them do something that is perfectly possible with our mind’s eye. How hard is it to properly identify the dimensions of a vehicle you regularly drive?

Wait … after living in Vancouver for half a decade; I know just how difficult this can be for many people. That said I strongly feel that if you can’t determine the size of your car or truck, then you don’t deserve to drive it. People with this problem can either get a different car, or get off the road. When I see a car changing lanes ahead of me, the last thing I want to worry about is whether they’ll run someone else right off the road. When I park my car at the mall, I don’t want to worry about whether people will drive into the side of my car because they’re too busy focusing on only one mirror rather than all three.

Rant aside, with the Mazda Axela, Reiko and I both agree that cameras on this vehicle would be a stupid waste of money. It’s very easy to know where the edge of the car is at all times, and there’s more than enough visibility with the wrap-around windows that come standard on most every car.

Essential Accessories

After getting back to the dealership, we started discussing some of the options and accessories that we’d like to see in our car. Although it was a sporty model we had test-driven, Reiko and I opted to go with a sedan-styled car. Naturally, we asked for the navigation system (which we have both desired a couple of times in the last few weeks while making our way around unfamiliar places in Gifu and Aichi prefectures), rear spoiler, keyless operation, 19” chrome rims, 24-valve V6 with 6-speed manual transmission ….

Oh wait … that’s what I wanted, not what we decided to get a quote on.

Seriously, though, Reiko and I did opt to go with a sedan-style design as it offered greater visibility behind the car, though it does cost us a bit in storage space. We will definitely go with a car navigation package to reduce the stresses and unnecessary frustration that sometimes comes with going to new places in Japan by car, and we might just get some decent speakers, too. Although I would like to see some of the sportier accessories included, we might need to hold off on those as the base price for the Axela is just a bit higher than we had planned to spend for a nicely equipped new car. Perhaps if I can get my hands on a few hundred thousand Yen, then we can go for the fog lights, multi-color dash display, fully equipped steering wheel and 17” wheels. I know that Reiko would be just as happy driving on 15’s, but the 17’s look so much nicer and make the ride all the smoother.

The Bottom Line

After getting our base model all priced out, we’re looking at about 700,000 Yen more than we had initially budgeted for. The car is almost 3-million, but comes with a really nice warranty system and is designed in such a way that both Reiko and I would be quite happy driving it. One interesting thing to note is that Mazda offers a Buy-Back option on their leases. We can have the car for about 44,900 Yen a month for 60 months (with a 500,000 Yen down payment) and, so long as the car is worth more than 610,000 Yen at the end of the five years, they’ll buy the car back for the full value it’s worth. That said, if the car is worth less than 610,000 Yen for whatever reason, then we’d be out some money if we decide to return the car. At that point, we’d likely just buy it outright and then look at getting a new one if we were in the market for two cars.

After leaving the dealership, Reiko was ready to buy the car right then. However, she’d like to have her father come with us when we do sign the paperwork to make sure that we’re not being suckered into anything that is not necessary. Depending on how well this Mazda dealership performs this month, we might just be able to score some extra discounts: September and March are the two “performance months” were the different dealerships try to out-perform each other for incentive bonuses.

And why not? The service was top notch, and the car was quite a looker. Regardless of whether we go with the blue or the red, I know that Reiko and I will say the car looks good for years to come.

What do you think of the Mazda line? They’re not too popular in this part of Japan thanks to the proximity of Toyota, but they certainly know how to design sexy cars that inspire excitement.

Zoom Zoom…

title=" | Buying A Car in Japan - Option One: Niisan Tiida" href="" target="_self">Read Option One (Nissan Tiida) here.

title=" | Buying a Car in Japan - Option Two: Honda Fit" href="" target="_self">Read Option Two (Honda Fit) here.

Buying a Car In Japan - Option One: Nissan Tiida

Cars in Japan are so affordable. This was my thought as Reiko and I looked at the pristine models in the showroom of Gifu Nissan this past weekend where we started the search for our first family car.

In Canada, it's quite normal to see one price, buy a car for another, then quickly discover that the real price is some third number that is anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (cash) on top of what you were expecting to pay. Why the huge disconnect in Canada? Because tax is a deal killer. Because Freight and EDI are deal killers. Because delivery charges are deal killers. So, until you actually sign the contract saying you'll buy a particular car, you have no idea how much it will actually cost, aside from the knowledge that it will be no less than $4000 more than the amount listed on the contract.

Thank God it doesn't work like this in Japan.

Yellow Plate vs. White Plate

Japan, like most countries, has several different options when it comes to insuring a car. The main consideration that we've had over the last few weeks was whether we should get a Kei-Plate (car with a yellow licence plate), or a White Plate. With such a stark difference between the two kinds of offerings, I've been leaning towards the more expensive white plate, while Reiko has been considering the yellow.

The advantage of a yellow plate, aside from the 50% savings in car insurance, is that parking your car at a crowded shopping mall is quite simple. If there are no more "small car only" spaces, you can easily park under a normal-sized vehicle. The disadvantages of such a car, however, is that they are not the most comfortable for non-Asian passengers and the engines really don't like going up mountains with more than 100 kg of combined passenger and cargo weight combined. While this might not be too much of a problem for people who often drive alone, or stay out of the mountains, it's not something that would be too suitable for Reiko and I.

Interestingly enough, it didn't take too much convincing to prove that a white plate would be superior to a yellow. Another disadvantage to the smaller Kei-type cars is that there is very little space between the driver and the door. This means that should the vehicle experience some sort of collision from the side, the passengers nearest the door would have very little protection or means of escape. This is not so with the larger cars.

The Nissan Note

One of the first cars that Reiko spotted in the Nissan showroom was the newest model of Note. This car has received quite the reception since Nissan introduced it not too long ago and, despite its relatively attractive appearance, it's not something I'd want to invest the money in. This isn't because of any safety reasons, or because of fuel efficiency, though. Instead, I have a problem with this car for the very same reason I have a problem with Toyota visually uninspired Vanguard: the commercials.

The Nissan Note sells itself on TV with the help of animated 'toons who remind me quite a bit of the Dire Straits characters from the mid-80's. However, rather than being cool, these super-feminine males are annoying and repulsive. Selling a car with the aid of these characters is about as appealing as sitting next to Gilbert Gottfried on an over-crowded AirMexico flight from Japan to San Francisco to Peru then back to Japan.

No, thank you.

The Nissan Tiida

From the moment I saw the dashboard, I knew this was the car that I would want to go home with. Naturally, the visit was just a "fact-finding mission", but that's beside the point. The Nissan Tiida has a very attractive dash, loads of features, and looks great in red. All the things a person like me could possibly hope for in a vehicle that's not a Porsche 911 Boxter Turbo with the Premium Platinum Package. The seats could go back far enough for me to be comfortable while driving, and the trunk is large enough to hold almost everything we could possibly put in it for the time being. What I really like about the Tiida, aside from the dashboard, is the overall design of the car. Not too curvy, and not boring in the least.

For the last few years, Japanese cars seemed to have fallen into a bit of a rut. Regardless of whether it was a Toyota, Daihatsu, Suzuki, Nissan or Honday, they all looked the same. Then 2007 came along and things started changing. The 2009 Tiida that Reiko and I looked at looked and felt great. So much so that I wanted to take it out onto the highway to see if it could really push it up to 200 km/h. Unfortunately, this wasn't possible.

The Bottom Line

There were lots of options that we considered with the car, but the only one Reiko and I had trouble with was the car navigation system. Do we want it? Can we go without it? Is it wise to drive around unfamiliar towns with paper maps that haven't been updated in weeks when we could have the most current mapping information available for those three days a year when we actually need it? It wasn't an easy decision.

To that end, we wound up getting two quotes on the Tiida. To get the model with the Car Navigation system (the Tiida E-ATx) it's 1,885,962円. To get the model without the Car Navigation system (also a Tiida E-ATx) it's 1,721,662円. That's quite a difference in price.

To top things off, we were presented with the standard options to finance or not-quite-lease the car over a period of three years and, I must admit, the price was well within range of what we can currently afford to pay. That said, financing a car makes it awfully tempting to upgrade quite a few components while reassuring yourself that it's "just a few thousand yen more each month."

Reiko and I have yet to decide on which car to actually buy, and we still have a few more dealers to check out. We've both had our eyes on a Honda Fit, and I had the opportunity to ride in one back in Canada before moving to Japan. The ride was smooth, and there was plenty of room for three full-sized Caucasian males. Any car that can easily handle that much mass would be a good fit for a family that's just starting out.

Have you bought a car in Japan? Is there anything I should keep a lookout for? I'd love to hear your comments.

External Links:
Nissan's Tiida Page (Japanese)
Nissan's Note Page (Japanese)