Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Last JLPT

I retake the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level N1 every year or so. I took level 2 many years ago, but I've never passed N1, the highest level. Honestly, the main reason is that I don't really study for it. The N1 is mostly useful for job hunting or entering university (neither of which apply to me) so I'm just not very motivated.

As it happened, the Naha Marathon was right on the morning of the JLPT. Spent half an hour watching the endless stream of runners passing by as they ran through the city center.

So why do I do it? In part I want to "catch them all". I have all the other levels, and getting the highest one would give me the complete set. But it's also a nice day away from home. I go to some area I'd normally wouldn't visit, have lunch, mill about with hordes of nervous people — mostly young, almost all from nearby Asian countries — then take a relaxing walk on the way back home.

The Convention Center is a really pleasant facility. Most of it — the park, especially — is open to anybody when there's no event happening here.

This year the test was at the Convention Center in XXX on Okinawa. It's a nice parkland area right next to the sea, with a beach and a marina, well worth visiting for an afternoon. The N1 test was in a single, huge room with over 200 seats. The echoes made the listening portion more challenging than usual, but it was bright and airy so not bad overall.

Part of the test hall. Bad shot; sorry about that.

The results came a couple of weeks ago. And I passed.

To be sure, I didn't pass by a lot — 103/180 points is only 3 points over the limit — but still. To nobody's surprise, my reading score was very good (I love reading, after all). The listening was also quite good — it had better be, living here — while the grammar score was lousy. I'm sure all my old language teachers would nod in recognition.

What does this mean? On one hand, I now have all the JLPT levels. On the other, I no longer have any motivation at all to study grammar in the future. And I no longer have a yearly excursion to some random area to look forward to. Maybe it's time to start studying for the Kanji kentei :)

Just a house. It's not notable, it doesn't appear in any guidebook or anything. But it is pretty neat, and I would never have seen it if I hadn't sat the JLPT nearby and walked back.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Sweden does not make it easy to renew your passport. The rules are simple: you need to apply either in Sweden or at your nearest embassy; and you need to pick it up in person at the embassy or at a consulate. Simple.

Welcome to Tokyo.

But we live on Okinawa, so I need a round-trip flight to Tokyo (15k yen). And they process applications only on weekday mornings so I need a hotel room (10k) and a vacation day. The passport itself costs almost 20k yen[1]. I have to pick up the passport in person[2] so a few weeks later I have to visit Tokyo or the Kobe or Fukuoka consulates all over again. Another round-trip flight and another day off work. At least I can stay in our apartment in Osaka instead of a hotel if I pick it up in Kobe.

Tokyo. We were lucky with the weather; it was generally sunny and 15-18 degrees while there. The week after it was apparently snowing.

The total cost of my Swedish passport becomes about 60k yen — 5000 SEK or 550 USD. Swedish passports expire after only 5 years, and foreign countries often require at least 6 months validity to enter the country, so I get to do all this again in about another four years.

What to do? Accept the inevitable, and make lemonade of the lemons that the Swedish government has handed you. We take a short winter holiday in Tokyo: go shopping, see a show, eat well and often, and generally enjoy ourselves over an extended weekend.

"Little Tokyo". A fun performance and good music!

We went to see "Little Tokyo", with and by Miyuki Nakajima. She's a singer and songwriter with a large and enthusiastic fanbase, and every few years she writes and produces a musical instead of her regular concert tour. The storyline is often convoluted and a bit difficult to follow, but you really mostly see them for the music anyway.

It was especially fun this year as "Little Tokyo" had a storyline that was actually easy to follow (without spoiling anything, it involved infidelity, ghosts, and animals turning into humans — very kabuki-like). The atmosphere is relaxed and the actors all seemed to enjoy themselves on stage. We had a lot of fun.

Runners along the Imperial palace course. The weather really was great.

I still enjoy running. Nowadays I try to run 4-5 times a week, for a total of 40km. Tokyo is a good place to run — it's largely flat, and has a lot of parks and other areas to run in. By far the most famous and popular route is the 5km circuit around the Imperial palace in the heart of Tokyo.

Imperial palace running course. Yes, those people are all running. Not a great picture — it's difficult to take a good picture while you're running.

How popular is the course? It features in guidebooks and in travel sites. The route has distance markers and permanent signs reminding runners about the rules (run counter-clockwise; keep to the left; be mindful of pedestrians and bicyclists). Running clubs set up camp on the open area at the south-east corner with drink stands, timers and baggage drops. Run stations (rental lockers and showers) is a thriving business in the area.

The outskirts of the Imperial palace is popular for all kinds of activities. Here a couple arriving for wedding pictures. If you run here you do need to be careful.

And for good reason. It really is a very pleasant course. The basic course is almost exactly 5km — short enough for beginners, and if you want to run longer you can either extend the course or run it multiple laps. There's not a single stop-light, and the course is meandering and varied, with a gentle slope up toward the north, then a fast downslope south. And as you run you have the Imperial palace grounds to your left, and central Tokyo defiling past on your right.

The moat by night. Not bad for a smartphone shot.

In all we spent three nights in Tokyo. We did a fair amount of shopping — I got three new books at the Maruzen store just northwest of Tokyo station; they have fairly good mathematics sections in both Japanese and English. We ate well, walked a lot and generally had a good time.

Also Tokyo. That's actually quite a cool bike.

1) If you apply in Sweden it only costs 350 SEK, or about 4000 yen.

2) Sweden — unlike almost every other country I know — doesn't send passports by post. It has to be picked up on site, in person only.