Computing in Japan

 

Ah, Japan! Land of the million button toilet, and computers you just canít understand. Hopefully, this section will assist in some way with your computer questions and concerns. If you absolutely have to have an answer, always remember COMSIG (AJETís computer interest group). As of this writing their web address was http://www.twics.com/~comsig/ .

Iím going to arrange this in three parts Ė hardware, software, and internet. Please remember that especially with computers things change more often than JETs change clothes, so if something seems odd with the information presented, it may simply be out of date. Thatís the problem with putting computer information in print....

HARDWARE

Hardware has all kinds of questions associated with it. Iíll arrange this in three parts Ė first, general notes. Second, computers (i.e. the box, the monitor, the keyboard). Third, anything you plug into a computer (peripherals).

The main question may be: can I plug my computer/ whatever into the wall? The answer for folks on 110 volt (US, Canada, et al.) is yes. The answer for folks on 220 (UK, et al.) is no. Although Japan is not the same as your home country, tolerances are such that in 90% of the cases it will work fine, and in the other 10% it wonít hurt anything, it just wonít work.

Second question Ė will my modem talk to the phone line? I havenít heard of a case where it does not. Just remember to check if you are using touch tone (the kind that beeps) or pulse (the kind that clicks). If you donít hear tones when you dial a number on your phone, youíre probably pulse. If you donít set that right (on your modem configuration screen) your modem wonít be able to dial any numbers.

OK Ė Computers. Hardware is actually kind of ugly, so bear with me. There are two kinds of hardware here, DOS/V and PC98. Well, OK Ė three Ė Apple is here as well. To my knowledge, Apple is the same across the board here and in the States. So you can all skip this section. OK Ė PC98 and DOS/V - everything about them is the same, except cables and the BIOS (donít ask). So, if you have a computer and you need to buy cables, make sure they fit. The only other time you need to worry about the difference is if you are buying a new computer. Basically, PC98 does not work with English operating systems. This means that unless you like using Japanese programs, you donít want it. It appears this option is not overly prevalent in new systems, but be wary.

Barring that difference, everything is exactly as you expect. Your local Best Denki (or whatever) will have all the add-ons you expect to go inside your computer, and many of them even have English manuals. For advanced users, motherboards, cases, cards, and memory all appear to be exactly the same as elsewhere. Which means the only problems you will experience you would have experienced at home. Monitors and Keyboards and Mice are as expected.

Oh Ė one other difference, just in case. Remember that video here is NTSC. So if you are from a PAL country (the UK, e.g.), and for some odd reason want to watch TV on your computer, the cards from home wonít work here, and vice versa. And if you were thinking about getting HDTV and using it with your computer (doesnít everyone have 500,000 yen to spare?), donít. Just donít.

Finally, we come to peripherals. This includes Scanners, Digital Cameras, MP3 Walkmen, Printers, and anything else you can find which plugs into a computer (I bet the new toilets do...). As weíve covered, the cables and electricity are not a problem. However, this is where our good fortune ends. Because usually you want the peripheral to talk to your computer, which requires software. And the software, most often, is in Japanese, which will either (a) not display correctly, or (b) not work. The first option is only a problem if you want to read what each item on the menu does, for example. The second will mean the hardware will not work.

You have a couple of options here. If you know what the hardware does, and feel comfortable playing with the buttons until what you want to happen happens, you can buy Japanese hardware. My scanner, for example, is made by OMRON, and has pretty pictures associated with most functions. It does what I need it to do. However, all of the menu items appear as dashes of various lengths.

If you donít like that option (and I donít entirely recommend it), you can buy products here which are made by foreign companies (Hewlett Packard, Sony, etc.) and download the driver you need. You might even be able to get the manual in English. This will take more work than you might like, but it does the trick. My digital camera is in this category. I downloaded the software I needed from the Casio website. Of course, you should check you can get the drivers before you buy the product.

Finally, and often most cheaply (assuming it arrives in one piece), you can use e-commerce (or a friend at home) to get what you need. However, remember that things do get broke in the mail, and returning something which doesnít work will be a serious problem. If you are inclined to go this route, a credit card is required for e-shopping.

 

SOFTWARE

Two parts to this - software purchasing (you all pay for all your software, right?), and recommended software.

Not a lot to say about software purchasing that hasnít been said above. As with drivers, Japanese software is flaky at best on an English system. So you can either buy English language software or use a Japanese system. Theoretically you might be able to use Japanese software on an English system, if you donít need to know what the menus or whatever say. I donít really recommend this, but itís your money Ė most likely you wonít break anything. So your options are to find a vendor which sells English software (I havenít looked, but Fukuoka might have such a place), or to buy internationally. Once again, this can be done over the internet, or by someone in the states. One word about buying software over the internet: I know now it is possible to buy software, download it, and go. However, I strongly recommend you get the media (CD or disk) when you buy software. Itís too easy to lose otherwise.

Recommended software is something of a tricky situation. I suggest if you are getting software for work, specifically Word Processing, either get what they use there (all my schools have Microsoft Word), or a program which can save files in the format they use (here again Word 2000 or WordPerfect 2000 usually do the trick). I believe both these products have optional Japanese language support.

The rest of the software which leaps to mind involves the internet. A web browser (Internet Explorer, Netscape/Mozilla, Opera) and email are probably the two key components (unless you use web based email...). Much as it pains me to say it, right now Internet Explorer is what I use, because it supports downloading web pages for reading later (it doesnít work well, but it does work). Outlook Express is the email software which comes with Internet Explorer 5. It allows you to work offline (i.e. write and read email while you are not connected to the internet), and has support for Hotmail (my web based email). It also has a Japanese language pack, which allows you to type and read Japanese email. One other program worth getting is adobe acrobat with Japanese language support (www.adobe.com). This program allows you to read the ubiquitous PDF files.

If there are any special projects you do which require special software (art, music, et al.) I recommend bringing the software from home. Usually these packages are too expensive to mess around with language or support problems.

INTERNET

And finally, we come to the reason many of us use a computer. The internet. Good for what ails you. Email, information on everything, etc. To cover everything would be impossible, so Iíll try to cover the bases as follows: service providers, email, shopping, and information. Of course, the internet changes even faster than the rest of computers, so donít hold your breath that this info is up to date.

First and most important is getting online. If you have a computer at school, thatís a great place to start. Be nice, though, or youíll ruin it for everyone else. Remember budgets are limited and your time online may cost a lot of money. Thereís also internet access at the Kencho, but bring lots of phone cards. If you are using this option, be sure to disconnect when you type your letter. Use cut and paste to grab email, type your response to it, then connect and send. This saves a lot of money in the long run.

Of course, preferable to all that is having access from home. Almost any computer can access the internet, so if you arenít doing a lot, buy an old one (the laptop this is being typed on was bought used for the equivalent of •50,000). What you need is a computer, a modem, and a service provider. The service provider gives you a number to dial in to, a username, a password, and an information sheet. All of these are important. First off Ė major service providers. I nipped this from Ryan Olsenís pages -http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Field/6511/aet/misc/cij_faq.html

Given NTT's astronomical phone rates, your first concern is proximity to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or availability of a special nationwide access system. Using a local Japanese provider is often the cheapest option. Japanese ISPs will generally work just fine with an English computer system set up for PPP dialup access - using one does not require a Japanese-capable system. You can find current lists of ISPs in ComLink (see below), or in the back of Internet Magazine, a monthly Japanese publication. Of course, you'll have to be up to speed on your Japanese to deal with a Japanese ISP.

If you don't speak Japanese well and/or you anticipate needing extra help setting up your connection, you should consider using a provider which offers English language support. TWICS, Global Online, and ASAHI Net, three major domestic Internet Service Providers (ISPs), offer English language support and have provisions for access from pretty much anywhere in the country. GOL's All Japan Access program allows you to circumvent NTT entirely, TWICS uses a packet switching network called Tri-P, and ASAHI Net just has a lot of dialup points. In addition, TWICS and ASAHI Net both offer offer discounts to JET Program participants. Call the following numbers for more information (all in English):

TWICS -03-3351-5977 / 03-3351-8244 (online signup - login as "guest")

Global Online (GOL) -03-5341-8000 / Fax 03-5330 9381

ASAHI Net 03-3666-9388

Nihon Telecom (0088), an alternative domestic phone company, has recently launched a program called InterAccess by which you can use 0088's lines at a flat rate of no more than 10 yen a minute, any time of day, to access a participating Japanese ISP (whose online charges are then extra). Call them toll free in Japanese at 0088-22-3637.

If you are a member of a major online information service such as CompuServe, AOL, or Microsoft Network, you should ask them about access points in Japan. These services are often a good option for beginners, since they usually provide pre-configured connection software for your computer. There may be special connection surcharges for Japan.

I think that about says it all for larger ISPs. In Saga, we have one other option, which is EduQuake. This is a function of the school system, and as such has a few problems, one of the biggest of which is a firewall which blocks many things. On the information sheet which comes with EduQuake, the proxy address is given as proxy.saga-ed.go.jp port 8080. Plug this into your internet options to get things like shopping to work correctly through EduQuake.

Okay Ė on to email. Web based email seems to be a popular option here, and is good for any number of reasons, not the least of which is how often ALTs are in faraway places. As I noted before, hotmail (www.hotmail.com) has the ability to work with Outlook Express so you can work offline with it. This is very useful if you like to take your computer to school (as I do). Other mail providers include www.yahoo.com, www.mail.com, www.youpi.com, etc. Some of these will also give you the ability to download your mail. eo.yifan.net is one example. Look for "POP3" Ė this is what downloading mail is called (well, one of the names, anyway). With email you can download, you do not need to be connected to the internet to read (and reply to) email.

The first, last, and only rule with shopping on the internet is the credit card rule. If you donít have one, you arenít going anywhere. I use a debit card through my bank at home which allows me to avoid the monthly bill problem. Of course, if you brought a credit card youíve probably already taken care of this. Anyway, shopping is easy, effective, fairly cheap, and fun. So Ė on to the good stuff. Iím just gonna list sites and what they sell.

 

www.amazon.com Books, Music, Movies, Auctions

www.onsale.com Electronics, Computer Equipment

www.cdnow.com Movies, Music

www.bn.com Books, Movies, Music, Coffee

www.800.com Electronics

www.ebay.com Auction site. Use at your own risk. You name it, someone is selling it.

www.expedia.com Airline tickets

www.travelocity.com Airline tickets

shop.starwars.com Star Wars toys, posters, clothes, etc.

 

 

Finally, we come to information. All the tidbits you really need to know, but were afraid to ask. Or just didnít know where to ask. First off, general information. News can be gotten at www.cnn.com or www.msnbc.com. Most newspapers are on the web Ė go to yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and look for your favorite paper (yes, the Kalamazoo Gazette is online). For reference, www.britannica.com will cover almost anything. To find web sites, www.yahoo.com or www.altavista.com can help. I like www.about.com due to the volunteers they have helping out.

Closer to home, we have www.japantimes.co.jp, www.yomiuri.co.jp (which has the pera pera penguin Japanese lessons online Ė a great learning tool), www.kyushu.com, www.fukuoka-now.com, and, of course, the Celtic Heart homepage (www2.saganet.ne.jp/celtic/).

This document will be online at http://members.xoom.com/david_barber/japan/compute.html Ė hopefully it will be updated periodically.