Friday, August 25, 2006

Living in Odawara & Minami Ashigara City

Photo of Ashigara Pass by Shawn Thir

Just where is Odawara you may be wondering, and where do they get those fantastic umeboshi from? Odawara is a city of 200,000 located near the Izu Penninsula in south-west Kanagawa Prefecture. We are one hour south of Yokohama by regular express train and 80 minutes south of Tokyo via the Odakyu line. The umeboshi are pickled plums in English, and if you love salty food, you have to try them. There are plum trees throughout the area and there is a plum festival celebrating this bounty in February. Odawara is also famous for kamaboko a kind of fish version of spam that many Japanese love. We have a fantastic castle with a moat, and cherry trees. You really should see it if you come to Japan. We also boast the largest shopping centre in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Minami Ashigara, borders Odawara and has about 45,000 citizens. All Japanese older than 4 know that Kintaro a famous fairy tale took place here. Minami Ashigara was voted as having the best water in Japan, and that is why Fuji Film chose this small city to make its` film (a water intensive process), and Asahi Beer built its` latest high tech brewery in our city. We are located in a pleasant river valley of rice fields, businesses and fantastic views of Mount Fuji.

Saijoji Temple in Minami Ashigara Photo by Ikumi Burns

Banking: Sagami Tribank is a good, reliable bank if you can find one near you. I have dealt with them for over a decade with no problems. They seem to have avoided many of the pitfalls that put larger banks under. The drawback of the Minami Ashigara branches are that there are virtually no English speaking staff. I have never met any, but there may be some. Some of my friends have used Citibank. With Citibank all banking can be done by phone in English including exchanging Yen to $ when the $ is low.Although branches are only in Tokyo and Yokohama, you can open an account by mail. You can also get acredit card that gives you Northwest Airlines air miles. Otherwise Daichi Kangyo in Odawara is good because they have some English speaking staff and a cash machine. It is located across from the fish market and has a red and white sign. The Bank of Yokohama near Odawara Station seems to be a good bank as well. Take it for what it is worth. I am not an expert on Japanese banking by any means. Back

Internet: There are internet cafes in Odawara but they come and go, so it is best to check at The Odawara Bulletin Board to see where they currently exist. You can get good service from various webservers in our area. I used to use So-Net--a Sony company, as it is cheaper than many for basic service. There is virtually no English support though apart from a very limited webpage. One plus with so-net is you can pay by automatic withdrawl with a credit card. I hate having to go and pay at the bank every month. I have never been overcharged.

Pat-net is good but expensive. They are not as foreigner friendly as So-net. Only one member of the staff seems to understand any English and his English is quite limited. They do not seem interested in getting or keeping the business of the expatriat population of the area. You can do better with So-net or some of the others. So-net seems to have support in English by Email, but one of our teachers had trouble when he tried to get English support over the phone, the woman who called him back only spoke Japanese. OCN comes highly rated but I have never used them. I don't know if they have support in English.

I don`t recommend OCN based on the fact that so many of my friends have had trouble getting hooked up--software conflicts and other problems. With so-net my wife was able to get things working by calling their service department and of course solving the problem while speaking Japanese.

Yahoo BB is good, plus you can call home for a discounted rate with their phone service. I like theirservice so far. I have now switched to Yahoo BB from So-net. Update: Overall I think Yahoo BB is the best for internet.though in 2006, there still is not a lot of English support. You will need a Japanese friend to help you get hooked up anddeal with problems. You might be able to get an English speaking staffer at Yahoo but I don`t guarantee that."Actually, there is an English application and support site forYahoo! BB. The support is unofficial, but not too bad. Main site ishere:"

Hotmail: I actually use a hotmail address for my business as I have found their antivirus software great. It doeslook a little cheap as an address but it sure is safe. I receive many files from all over the world as teachersapply for positions with our schools, and hotmail has saved us from many viruses. I used regular antivirussoftware plus my domain address before, and lost our computer. Nasty! I may change to Yahoo thoughas it looks a little more professional than hotmail. I don`t mean the quality, I mean the impression theaddress gives. As one reader wrote: "You look fly-by-night with a hotmail address."


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