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Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003


Doing the tango, mama-san misery and chopper care

Learning the tango

Today I found white and pink plum trees in full bloom in a local hillside cemetery.

But, while lifting my spirits it also filled me with horror to realize that winter will soon be over and I've so little done and achieved.

Whatever happened to all my resolutions of Jan. 1: restarting my magnus opus, finding a personal trainer, getting to grips with kanji?

One reader puts me to shame, being determined to make 2003 the year she learns the Argentine tango.

"Where can I find a class, preferably in English?" Mandy asks from Tokyo's Shinagawa district.

Well, there is a tango boom in Japan, with classes all over the place, but naturally enough, mostly Japanese-speaking. Best is if you call the Argentine Embassy in Moto-Azabu on 03-5420 7101; they're sure to be able to point you in the right direction.

As for classes in English, if they are in Japanese, or even Spanish, what better way to pick up a new language. Ole!

Mama-san misery

Mike in Nagoya is up in arms. He wandered not so long ago into a local but previously unexplored izakaya pub with some friends for a few pints and was landed with an eye-popping bill.

"The mama-san charged us each 5,000 yen on top of the drinks. We tried to make a fuss but some of the regulars got quite agitated."

This once happened to us in Kyoto; I was with my Japanese husband too. The bill came to near 15,000 yen for a few beers. I was horrified, but he said it was normal.

Basically the 5,000 yen was a service charge for allowing you to stay as strangers. This is why introductions are so important in Japan. If someone the mama-san knew had taken you there, no problem. But you just walked in off the street, unknown and non-Japanese at that.

Actually she was pretty open and trusting to let you stay. Try and think of it that way, and put it down to experience.

Teeth care

Mrs J. Kobayashi wants know if there are any dentists in Japan where you can go for cosmetic dentistry while paying for it in monthly installments.

"I know this is not covered in the health insurance scheme and I can't afford the amounts they charge for what I require," she writes. "I think ceramic caps done about 15 years ago will need to be done again.

"I have seen quite a lot of badly done dentistry," she continues, "and thought maybe you or a reader might know of a dentist who does good work and hopefully (am I asking too much?) speaks English."

Well, I can give you a good lead. Dr Jason Wong in Meguro trained in the U.S. and speaks perfect English. He does not accept hoken (Japanese insurance), but is marvelous, and well worth the private expense.

Call him and have a chat on 03-3473 2901. His practice is a ten-minute walk from Meguro Station.

More movers

Two recommendations for removals companies.

Kiran Kolhatkar moved from Nerima, Tokyo, to Calgary, Canada, in April last year, using Japan Express.

The company, he says, was excellent. "JE's estimators, packers were very good in their work. Their counterparts in Calgary were also very good. And they settled one insurance claim speedily."

Paul Hasegawa has words of praise for Nittsu.

"I searched a number of companies out -- speaking Japanese helps but one can probably do it without, since most international movers have English-speaking departments."

Nittsu was excellent, he says; very competitive with their estimate, and they do everything for you.

"They pack all of your goods, list them, and prepare the documents for shipping. They do forward some boxes and allow you to pack anything that you do not want them to handle (personal items), which is also nice. Then it is just a matter of putting a cost on the items, and having them sent to your next destination."

Paul adds that with regards to moving, it is good to visit one's ward office to get information for tax refunds.

"They have all the forms there, so it's easy. After that it is simply a matter of telling the immigration officer at the port of exit that you are leaving for good, and handing in your alien card."

Shipping out

Lisa Beretta will be leaving Japan in the near future and would like to return to Europe by ship, either a passenger liner or a mixed cargo-passenger ship, but not as part of a cruise.

This is not as easy as you might imagine, Lisa. The days when you could hop aboard any old boat (like British author Gavin Young, of "Slow Boat to China" and "Slow Boat Home" fame, are sadly gone. I tried to find a working ship (since some do choose to carry a few passengers) and was horrified at the cost: £3,000 from the U.K. to Buenos Aires

I suggest you try calling two of Japan's largest shipping lines; since they operate internationally, someone should speak English. Shoson Mitsui is on 03-3224 1212; Nippon Yusen at 03-3284 6001. At the same time, send out a call for help on www.linerslist.com

This organization, based in the U.K., is for liner buffs, and members are extremely knowledgeable. Check out their Web site, sign up and ask for advice.

If all else fails, how about a Japanese-style compromise? The Far Eastern Shipping Line connects Niigata on the west coast of Japan with Vladivostock in Russia.

From there you can take the Trans-Siberian Express back to Europe. Phone the company on 03-5541 7511 for more information.

For everyone's information, the new ferry terminal in Yokohama now serves only domestic routes.

Even if you want to go to Shanghai, you have to go to Osaka first.


Reader Chris Dix notes that Dr. Fred Shane, mentioned in Ken's "Quickies" section recently, has a new e-mail address: clarakct@fides.dti.ne.jp

Thanks. Chris.

Send your queries, questions, problems and posers, to: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

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