The cure for hiccups

This is the cure for hiccups. Think it’s strange if you like, but trust me, it will not fail you. It’s never failed me.

Stare at yourself in the mirror. Then draw in a deep breath and hold it. Then draw in some more. Draw in so much breath that you’re practically trembling. All the while, keep staring at your eyes. Stare those bastards down.

Next thing you know, your hiccups will be gone. Very weird, but true.

I can’t remember how I came up with this, but after 30+ years, it’s never failed. I suggest you try it.



Speed up your snail mail

sokutatsuEveryone knows the internets are the fastest way to get things done these days, but sometimes you still have to rely on the post office. Recently, I had to back-and-forth some important documentation with extreme haste, so I made use of the post office’s 速達 (sokutatsu) express delivery service, and it really came through for me. Sokutatsu is explained in English as express mail on the Japan Post’s official website, but for some reason the English description varies wildly from the Japanese version, hence this write-up.

Just take your letter, postcard or package to the post office (you won’t need any special envelopes or packaging) and say 速達でお願いします (sokutatsu de onegai shimasu), or, “I’d like to send this by express mail.” The person behind the counter will then stamp a red band on the item you wish to mail, indicating special priority.

Just how fast is sokutatsu? In my case, I sent a letter to an address far removed from Tokyo; it arrived the following day, and when sent back on the day it was received, it was back in my mailbox the day after that. That’s pretty darn fast. To speed things up, I’d included a self-addressed stamped envelope (切手を貼った返信用封筒, kitte o hatta henshinyo futo) that had also been affixed with the sokutatsu stamp.

Express delivery service begins from 270 yen for a letter (domestic), with prices increasing according to weight. Click here for a list of prices (Japanese only).

Peperoncino-infused olive oil

I’m far from an expert cook, but I’ve banged around kitchens long enough — enjoying myself in the process, I might add — that I’ve learned how to whip up a tasty dish or two. I am also, as I have mentioned before, a cheap bastard.

It is the convergence of these two points that leads to this blog entry.

oil1I use olive oil like a mad fiend; sometimes the plain stuff works fine, but other times when I’m making a more savory dish, I want an olive oil that has a bit of kick to it. You could shell out an inordinate amount of money for an herb-infused olive oil at the snooty grocery store, but frankly I’d rather make it myself.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Hanamasa is your go-to spot for buying things in bulk, and for a lot less than you’d find elsewhere. The beer bottle you see here has been filled with extra-virgin olive oil from an industrial-sized, Hanamasa- purchased number, and filled with dried peperoncino, crushed garlic, lemongrass, bay leaves and rosemary. (The huge bag of peperoncino was also purchased at Hanamasa — I tear the things up by hand and toss them into pretty much everything.)

It doesn’t take more than a couple weeks for the flavors to soak into the olive oil, and it is friggin’ incredible. I use it to coat the frypan when cooking up meats or tofu, and also drizzle it over salad, adding vinegar, crushed black pepper, a dash of cayenne and several shakes of Pieffe brand grated Italian cheese blend to make a rocking good salad dressing. Yes, I like spicy food so much that even my salads are spicy.

If you like to cook, I’d recommend giving your own flavored olive oils a shot. It takes next to no time to do, and the results speak for themselves.

Tofu also pan-fried in spicy olive oil. 辛い!

Salad topped with tofu pan-fried in spicy olive oil. 辛い!

Discount shopping at Hanamasa

I’m a cheapskate by necessity. I don’t eat out much, and I scout around for the best prices when shopping.

With this On the Cheap category of the blog, I’ll be sharing some of the places that have allowed me to be the bitter, frugal little man I am, as well as where to find those “foreign” ingredients to let me cook how I did before I moved here.

First up is Hanamasa, a wholesaler that deals mainly with restaurants but is also open to the public. By far the majority of their stores are in Tokyo proper, but they have a couple stragglers in outlying regions such as Chiba and Saitama (Japanese-only store locator is here).

Hanamasa is mostly known for its meat (the store’s proper name is 肉のハナマサ, or “Hanamasa Meats”), from sliced and processed cuts to whole chickens and massive ¥6,000 slabs o’ beef. They also sell produce (though frankly you can find better deals at your neighborhood 99-yen stores) as well as wines and beer, randomly stocking up on import deals of the latter and running specials on them till I drink through their inventory. (For a while they were selling 500mL cans of various flavors of Oettinger, which as a beer is sort of blah but is still cheaper than, and a nice change from, the usual Japanese macrobrewed stuff.)

What takes me to Hanamasa more than anything is that it deals in bulk, meaning you can stock up on a whole lot of whatever it is you’re after at a much cheaper price than the supermarket. Here’s a sampling of the things that are always on my Hanamasa list:

Tortillas (normal size 10-count, small size 20-count)
Salsa (if you see their Carlita brand salsa verde, get it, it’s awesome)
Refried beans
Vietnamese chili sauce
Bulk spices (much more cost-effective if you tend to cook a lot)
Enticingly large containers of jam and honey
Insanely large cans of things like tuna and tomato sauce
Frozen seafood and vegetables
Bulk coffee and tea (for example, 100-count “Ex Kobe” brand Ceylon for 350 yen)
2L bottles of jasmine tea, knockoff sports drink, etc. for 103 to 130 yen
Big bags of snacks (Kit Kat, etc.)

Regarding snacks, Hanamasa unfortunately no longer seems to carry large bags of tortilla chips, only smaller bags of rather dubious-tasting ones made in Belgium. (Why frickin’ Belgium?!) As for tuna in the large can, it’s actually quite a bargain compared to the wimpy-sized cans it usually comes in. I tend to buy the the large cans exclusively, draining and freezing the fishy chunks until I’m ready to use them.

Another nice thing about Hanamasa is that they tend to drastically cut prices when items have about a month left on their expiration date, meaning it’s not uncommon to find cans of refried beans for 98 yen and jars of salsa for 198 yen, which is pretty fantastic for Japan.

According to Tokyo Foodcast, Hanamasa runs a restaurant in Ginza called Carne Station with all-you-can eat and drink specials, which TF recommends. (Never been out there myself, so I can’t comment on it.) Hanamasa’s own web site lists several other restaurants they manage as well (Japanese only).

For more about Hanamasa and Carne Station in English, give the Tokyo Foodcast link above a click, and check out this informative post from now-retired blog My So-Called Japanese Life.

Writing the rirekisho

The following sample 履歴書 (rirekisho) and a blank template are available for download as Microsoft Word documents at the end of this walkthrough.

For ease of explanation, we’ll be looking at a rirekisho that’s already been filled out. Here’s what one looks like, split into two halves for ease of viewing. (Click any of the following images for a more close-up view. The red, circled numbers are for explanatory purposes and will not appear on the rirekisho itself.)

Now let’s look at each of the 6.5 sections (one of them bleeds over into the next column) one at a time.

Section 1 – Personal Info.

1. The date in Heisei
Dates on the rirekisho are rendered solely in the Japanese calendar system, wherein years are according to the reign of the emperor. ( has a handy online converter that will let you plug in the year to find its Japanese equivalent.) This field is for the 現在 (current) date upon which the rirekisho was filled out; it should be updated each time you submit a resume. As you can see, the date is 平成20年8月4日, or August 4, 2008.

2. Your name
The 氏名 (name) field tells us that this particular rirekisho is for a young woman named Jessica Smith. Notice that this is rendered as ジェシカ・スミス. Yes, Japanese name order is surname first, but don’t flip your name to match: putting Smith Jessica in big bold letters on your resume is only going to look strange. It would also look strange to put じぇしか・すみす in the ふりがな line above, so just leave that blank.

3. Name stamp
This is where the 印鑑, or name stamp, goes. If you have one, great — stamp it on a sheet of paper, scan it, and attach the picture to your Word template. Otherwise, just leave this field blank.

4. Personal photo
Yes, you must include a photo of yourself. This may be completely outrageous in your home country (it is in mine), but in Japan, it’s standard. The only explanations I’ve heard for the photo are that it lets prospective employers know it’s really you when you show up for your interview (!) and that it helps said employers remember which candidate is which when making their decision. As feeble as these explanations are, the fact remains that the photo is a necessity, and there are some rules to follow:

・The size should be (height x width) 36-40mm by 24-30mm
・It should be a professional, passport-style photo
・You should be wearing business attire (guys, that means dress shirt and tie)

Sitting down in a photo booth and taking the picture yourself is always a possibility; personally, I slapped some work clothes over a pair of shorts, gave the specifications to the person at the photo lab and had her take it for me. In any case, once you have your photo, scan it and attach it to the Word document.

5. Birth date, age and gender
Our Mrs. Jessica was born 昭和56 8月3日, or August 3, 1981 in the Western calendar. Her age is in parentheses. The two options below are for 男 (male) and 女 (female), the latter of which is circled. The circle itself was accomplished by doing a screen capture of the document, trimming out the appropriate gender and putting a circle around it, all accomplished in glorious MS Paint.

6. Current address
Jessica is applying from overseas, so this field lists the katakana rendering of her mailing address, which is in English below. (If you’re applying from within Japan, your address will look as it does in Cell 8.) The ZIP code is next to the 〒 symbol.

7. Current phone number

8. Contact information
If you have a contact person in Japan (close friend, in-laws, etc.), place that information here. Otherwise, leave it blank. The 方 at the bottom corner stays as-is.

9. Contact phone number

Section 2 – School and work history

10. School history
This is the really odious part, where you list, in chronological order, all the schools you’ve attended since time immemorial. For whatever reason, a 入学 (entry) date is only required for high school — elementary and junior-high entries simply list the date of 卒業 (graduation). Because Jessica moved around a lot as a child, she decided to skip the line for elementary school altogether.

The method of notation in this section is rather straightforward, and uses the Japanese calendar system mentioned above. A few points of note:

・Some universities have multiple branch schools. In Jessica’s case, she attended the University of Washington at Tyler, or ワシントン大学タイラー校, where she enrolled in the 学科 (college) of Japanese.
・If you’ve attended some sort of educational facility and earned a certificate, note that here. As you can see, Jessica entered ABC Language School, where she earned a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. (See Section 3 for how this is rendered in Japanese.)

11. Work history
Jobs are also listed in chronological order. Any time you enter a company, list the company name followed by 入社. When you leave that company, use the stock phrase 一身上の都合により退社, or “Left the company for personal reasons.”

Section 2.5

Many of the points worth mentioning are in the company name. Whereas 株式会社 earlier appeared at the beginning of the names of companies that Jessica has worked for, here it comes after. Why? This company just prefers it that way. As for what 株式会社 means, it could be rendered in English as “Inc.” or “Co., Ltd.” or even “KK” (an appellation that more and more Japanese companies seem to be adopting). The point is, like the company name says, 油断大敵: lack of diligence is your greatest enemy. Take the time to make sure you’re getting the company information right. Not doing so could come back to bite you.

If you happen to still be employed while looking for a job, note this with 現在に至る, or ” up to the present.” The 以上 (finished) a couple lines down stays there to note that your school and work history is complete.

Section 3 – Accomplishments

12. Licenses and certificates
Yes, the very first thing listed in this field is that the applicant 取得 (received) a 第一種 (Category 1, or “normal”) driver’s license. And no, said applicant is not nuts for mentioning this. In a country like Japan, where so many people rely on mass transit, it’s not unusual that a lot of folks simply can’t drive. The Japanese note ownership of a driver’s license among their resume qualifications, and you should, too. You’d be surprised — it could nudge you ahead of another candidate.

The next thing listed in this field is a 資格 (certificate) for 外国語としての英語教育, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). If you happen to have that particular certification, that’s how you say it in Japanese. Also, Jessica 合格 (passed) Level 2 of the JLPT, or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. If you have no formal certification of your Japanese ability, or your skill level exceeds your current certification, there’s room to note that below.

Section 4 – More personal info.

13. Skills, reason for application, etc.
The first thing noted here is why you’re applying for this job. You can get creative, but feel free to use the stock phrase 営業経験を活かして、 [industry] の仕事にて活躍したい, or “I want to utilize my previous work experience and play an active role at a/an [industry] job.” (A quick linguistic note: the にてis a polite で, and there’s no need to use a 。unless separating two sentences.) If you feel you have relevant experience but not from a traditional work environment, just leave off the 営業 (work) part. If you want to emphasize skills over experience, substitute everything before the をwith 語学力, 計算力, or whatever 力 (lit. “power”) you have.

Next up is 特技 (special skills). This is your time to show off what you can do, so use it. Jessica lists Japanese first, and notes that through self-study and work experience, she feels (lit. “it can be thought that”) she’s gained a knowledge of Japanese at or above JLPT Level 1. She lists specializations in two areas of translation, which she separates with 及び, a much nicer-sounding version of と. Finally, she notes that she can use both Macintosh and Windows 版 (versions) of Office, and uses 等 as a way of noting she can do more without going into further detail. (Obviously, if applying for a technical job, you wouldn’t want to skimp on this part.)

Following this is 好きな学科, or subjects you enjoy. Just put whatever you like. This is followed by a space and 趣味, or hobbies. Reading books, watching movies and listening to music seem to comprise the Big Three of hobbies listed on rirekisho (including this one, where Jessica renders her watching of movies with the polite-sounding 映画鑑賞). If you can come up with something other than the Big Three, by all means do so. If you’re a guy and you can cook, that’s a conversation starter. If you own a Web site, I’d put that down as well.

14. Commute time
If you don’t live in Japan, or if you’re applying from inside Japan but from a location far removed from the company, just leave this blank. If you’re not sure where exactly you are in relation to the company, use Yahoo’s 路線情報 tool.

15. Number of dependents (excluding spouse)
Place the number of dependents next to 人. If none, insert “0.”

16. Spouse
Circle 有 if married, 無 if not. And yes, the next field gets even more personal.

17. Spousal support
Circle 有 if you support your spouse, 無 if you don’t.

Section 5 – Hopes and desires

18. Where, when and how much
This is sort of a gray area with no set definitions. The Japanese states, “If you have any particular desires regarding salary, type of work, work hours or work location, list them here.” If you know the company and know specifically which department you want to work in, type 勤務部署 and list it. If you don’t know, or have no preference where in the company you’ll be assigned, omit 勤務部署 altogether. Below that is 勤務地 (work location). Some companies run multiple branch offices; if there’s somewhere in particular you want to work, state that here.

Finally, there’s 給与 (salary). There are a couple different ways to handle this.

・If you know what you’re worth and that’s what you want, enter 年収[amount]万円以上であればと思っております. (Note the formal-sounding ~ばと思う form.)
・If you want to make as much or more as what you made at your previous job, use the phrase 前職と同程度(年収[amount]万円以上)であればと思っております. Substitute 現職 for 前職 if currently employed.
・If you’re going through a recruiter (who would likely be doing the salary negotiations for you) or you just don’t want to talk about money until you can do it face-to-face, use the phrase ご相談させて頂きたいと思っております, which basically means, “I’d like to confer with you about that.”

Section 6 – Legal guardian

19. Your guardian and you
Chances are extremely good you’ll be leaving this last section blank, as it’s only filled out in the event that you’re a minor (under 20 according to Japanese law). For completeness’ sake, the information requested is phone number, name and address.

Some employers request you submit a rirekisho along with an English-language resume. In cases such as these, it’s never a bad idea to make the HR person’s job a little easier and standardize your filename conventions. In Jessica’s case, her filenames would look something like Smith_Rireki and Smith_Resume.

And that’s it. You now know how to fill out a rirekisho. Here are a few MS Word documents to help you write one of your own:

rirekisho_sample, being the rirekisho we’ve just looked at, complete with the red circled numbers
rirekisho_template, a blank template for you to begin typing into.

Finally, don’t forgot to check out this previous entry which gives a bit more background info. on the rirekisho.

Know your rirekisho

These entries will show you how to write a 履歴書 (rirekisho), a Japanese-language resume and arguably the most commonly required document when applying for a job in a Japanese company.

I’ve tried to make this walkthrough as user friendly as possible, but by the very nature of the subject matter, I have to assume on the part of the reader at least a basic knowledge of Japanese. If you run into anything unfamiliar, copy-and-paste the term into an online dictionary like Yahoo Japan, or throw whole chunks of text into


The rirekisho is roughly analogous to the resume/CV, but there are some important differences. For one thing, there’s an incredible emphasis on past schooling — educational background usually begins at the elementary school level (though in actual fact, you can get away with beginning from junior high). In either case, be prepared to start digging up information on your old alma mater.

Before we begin, I’d like to bring up two things often said about the rirekisho:
・It must be handwritten
・You must buy a special form from a stationery shop or convenience store

These simply aren’t true. Not anymore.

Traditionally, yes, the rirekisho is handwritten (the rationale being that handwriting can give prospective employers an insight into their applicants). However, the advent of e-mail and online recruiting has changed that, to the extent that if you’re serious about finding a job, you have to be able to send your information electronically. This isn’t to rule out the possibility that you might encounter a hard-nosed employer who will demand your rirekisho be written by hand, but is it the norm? No.

As for the “special form,” rirekisho templates are in fact freely available for download. They are also, thankfully, rather standardized. The template offered here is your average, honest-to-goodness rirekisho.

If you’re still reading this and are ready for more, proceed to the next entry.