Sunday, August 29, 2010


Laundry is problematic. On one hand, we want to travel light, but on the other hand we don't want do spend our vacation doing laundry. We carry about six days worth of clothes. The hotel or ryokan may have a washing machine, but there is almost always a queue, especially in the evenings.

Most washers and dryers are similar to those in the west, except they are usually smaller. The dryer's lint trap is a plate shaped screen in the back of the drum. Be sure it's cleared of lint. Depending on your clothes, it usually takes at least two runs through the dryer, and if it's plugged with lint it will take longer.

There is almost always a laundry detergent vending machine in the laundry room.

One place we stayed at, Hotel Area One in Kagoshima, has a washing machine and dryer in one. You don't have to add soap either, as it's fed in from a tube. The strange thing about this washer is that it locks your clothes in until it's done.

If your place of lodging doesn't have a washing machine, an interesting thing to try is a local coin laundry. You can get a taxi ride from your hotel or ryokan. It might be best to take your clothes in a trash bag, rather than your suitcase, so your hosts don't think you're skipping out on the bill. Your hosts may also be able to recommend a near-by laundry. Sometimes coin laundries are located in covered malls and you can go shopping if it's not too late. You may also meet interesting people. While your clothes are in dryer you can study Japanese by reading the signs the signs on the walls. Try this one:

If you do wash at night and your place of lodging has a curfew, make sure you get back before the front desk closes.

Here is some useful vocabulary from Jim Breen's dictionary.

洗濯 【せんたく】Laundry
洗濯石鹸 【せんたくせっけん】Laundry soap
洗濯機 【せんたくき】Washing machine
コインランドリー (n) laundromat; laundrette
洗濯ばさみ 【せんたくばさみ】Clothes Pin
1000円札をくずしていただけませんか。 Could you change a Y1,000 note?

I especially like the word くずす - literally crush or destroy. Used here to mean "make change".

One way to stretch out the time between having to do laundry is to do it in your room. This is one reason to pay a little more for a room with a bathroom (some minshiku and ryokan have community facilities). Often the bathroom will have a clothesline in the tub/shower. You may want to bring your own line and some small plastic clothes pins or buy them at a 100 yen store. We travel with little packets of Woolite and wash clothes in the sink. This is why we wear synthetics almost exclusively. Although wool and cotton are comfortable, they take forever to dry, especially if the weather is humid.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coin Lockers

As you travel you'll probably need to be carrying some luggage. When you arrive at your destination before check-in time, or you stop at a city en-route, what do you do with your luggage? The answer is to find a coin locker. Almost every train or bus station has some. They are easy to use. They come in various sizes. Just put your bags in, close the door, insert the indicated amount of money, and lock the door, taking to key with you. Just don't lose the key!

Finding coin lockers can sometimes be tricky as they can be located in obscure, low-rent areas of the station. You can ask a station employee, information desk attendant, or a passer-by who doesn't look to be in too much of a hurry: コイン ラカー は どこ ですか。Sometimes if the station is very small, for example, Juuniko Station on the Gono Line, there may be no lockers, but there may be a shop nearby that will hold you bags all day for a few hundred yen.

Airline type carry-on cases work pretty well, but may not quite fit in some coin-lockers. Even though the cases are basically soft-sided, many have some rigid pieces in the wheels or the extending handles. In most cases a 21 X 14 X 9 inch bag will fit into lockers designed for carry-ons, but in a few cases, the bags didn't fit and you'll have to pay for a larger locker. Don't give up to quickly on the smaller locker, though. Sometimes you can insert your bag horizontally, then rotate, applying some topological gymnastics to get it to fit.

Most lockers take 100 and 500 yen coins, so you'll want to make sure you have plenty of change on hand. In Tokyo I've seen large blocks of lockers that use Suica contact-less stored value cards. Someday we might all have to learn how to get a Suica card if the old-fashioned coin lockers become too scarce.

In large stations, it's possible to lose your locker. Tokyo Station has three central exits on each side, so sometimes it's not good enough just to remember that your bags are in the lockers by the central exit. Tokyo Station also has lockers on multiple levels, making it even easier to lose your bags. Since the lockers are almost always indoors or underground, marking the location with you GPS won't work. You could take a picture of the location, but above, you see a photo of us closing our locker, only to require the help of a police officer to find it again. I think the best way is to acquire a map of the station - these are available on pamphlets and fliers on racks or at information booths - and mark the location of your locker on the map. Another good location for 3D station maps is the Internet, but you generally have to print the map out before you go.

Finally, I don't believe it's permitted to leave your bag overnight in the locker, so include a trip back to the locker before heading to your hotel or other final destination.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nihongo on Ubuntu Linux

To read and browse Japanese on Ubuntu Linux, you don't need to do anything. The Japanese fonts are already installed. To be able to enter Japanese text it's a little more tricky. On newer versions, Ibus is the way to enter text with languages other than English. On the web you'll see lots of references to Scim - don't use it. It's obsolete. Ibus should already be installed. If not, get it from the Ubuntu Software Center.

You will need "Anthy" input method for Japanese. Get that from the Ubuntu Software Center.

The next step is to configure Language support under System, Administration. Click Install/Remove Languages to add Japanese. Then go to "keyboard input method system", select "ibus", and close the window.

Now start Ibus. That's under System, Preferences, Ibus. It will prompt you to start the Daemon - you will do this every time you log in, unless you edit the .bashsc file as indicated. To do this, copy the text, paste it into Gedit, and save it as .bashsc in your home directory. Be careful that you aren't overwriting an existing .bashsc. If there's already one, add those lines to it.

Once you've started Ibus the Preferences dialog will appear. Click the Input Method tab and Select the Japanese input method "Anthy" (It's got a little crown icon). Click Add, then click Close.

Now open a text editor or browser and put the cursor on a text entry area. You will see a keyboard icon in the top right tool bar and a strange white square in the lower right of your desktop. Click the keyboard icon, and click the Japanese - Anthy from the drop-down menu. Now the strange white square will become a bar that shows the Anthy options. A hiragana あ is displayed so now you can type hiragana and kanji. Click the あ to select katakana when you need it.