Sunday, May 22, 2016


Ok. We are getting good at this now.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


This summer season has been the best for years....fantastic weather, great waves. If it could be like this everyday there would be no reason to ever leave this place. But it's becoming dark and the breeze has an edge to it now. The summer is gone and it's time to follow the sun and find another summer. Goodbye to my beach....until November.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Expanding the Empire

I've always had this desire...I have mentioned it before to some of those who know me, to buy a house with a big bag of cash. Imagine this. You see a property with a for sale sign hanging outside. So you take a stroll around the garden and then wander inside for a bit of a poke around. All looks OK so you say "I'll take it".You then whip out the aforementioned bag of cash (In my fantasy it's a black briefcase) and you say to the owner "here's the money, now get your shit out of here". Wouldn't that be soooo cool?. Like, who does that? Only billionaires and gangsters probably. Well I can now say that I have achieved this goal albeit in a somewhat different way than I had pictured it would go. Well this is Japan after all.

Buying a house has always seemed to me to be one of those unnecessarily complicated things. On one hand you've got a vendor who presumably wants to sell his place. On the other theres a willing buyer who has the money/finance approved. So why does it take so long to wrap up a deal? I realise we're not taking about buying some chewing gum here but seriously, whats  up with all the bullshit? Like, why do people need to involve lawyers? All these delayed settlements and conditional deals going unconditional and other assorted paper shuffling. In Auckland it's all the rage now to sign a contract  making the sale of your house conditional on you being able to find another house that you like and can afford. It's ridiculous. You can buy a car and just a few minutes later be driving off in it. Why not with a house?  Cars have the same issues as property ie, loans, mortgages, and paperwork for title. Car finance companies can have you approved and signed up in very short order and title searches and changes can be done over the counter at your local registration office. Security interests on vehicles get transferred and cleared quick smart. I just can't understand all the performance that goes with buying a house. 

Whatever. Back to the story. In April I went to Kameoka to look at a house that was a court foreclosure and was nearby the first house. I called in on our estate agent and asked his opinion on it. I duly put in my bid but it was too low so I didn't get it. In July Mr H sent an email saying he had a couple of listings that might interest us. So Shizuka and I travelled to Japan in August to have a look at what he had. The first one was very cheap but needed a lot of work. The backstory on this place was that an old couple had lived there. The husband had died a couple of years back and his wife went off to live with her family. In typical Japanese fashion they had simply closed the place up and walked away from it. The family had studiously ignored its existence for the next 2 years until some lawyer got involved and told them to sell it so he could sign off on the estate paperwork. The house was full of junk and needed a full renovation on the inside. While tempted to take it on, I just don't have the time right now.

House no.2 was even more interesting. According to Mr. H it was a holiday home for some guy in Yokohama and hadn't been used very much in the last few years. It was very clean and tidy and best of all had no junk to get rid off. Even the garden was tidy. Nice street, great views and a good price. It took me about 10 minutes to make a decision. Over lunch we told Mr H to hit them with an offer. We had our answer within a hour...we were on. Great. "When do we get the key?" I asked. "Ummm, well....ahhhh. this guy has to clear his mortgage and he's waiting on some money to come to him, so, probably one month or so, maybe". So even though I'm a cashed up red hot buyer and this house is empty and has a seller that wants off it as soon as, we've still got to go through the usual rigmarole and foot dragging that any ordinary Joe Blow has to. I wasn't too disappointed that point I didn't know how close this thing would get to my aforementioned bag of cash scenario.

The one month turned into 6 weeks so it wasn't until late September that we travelled back to Japan. The deal was scheduled to go down on Monday in Kyoto. We arranged to go to Mr H's office first were we signed our end of the sale agreement. On our way there we stopped off at the house to make sure that it was still there and in one piece. We found that in the intervening 6 weeks the weeds had flourished, some bees had established a home in the garden and that most irritatingly, some tosser had dumped a rusty old bicycle and a huge old computer printer and screen behind the house. The whole rubbish thing in this country does my head in. All the nonsensical "recycling" rules and regulations are an abject failure and a complete waste of time. This is evidenced by the fact that rural Japan is one giant rubbish dump of junked equipment and machinery. I can honestly say that one of the main reasons that I would not contemplate living in Japan full time is the ludicrous, pointless time consuming charade that everybody there goes through on a daily basis just to get rid of your household trash. It makes me angry just thinking about it. Before the hoots of derision and exclamations of disbelief start, let me say this....It's always the little things that get to you. Like bread. And the chopsticks issue. And the legal system. we went to Kyoto. First stop was Mitsui Sumitomo bank were Shizuka has the account were we had sent the money to. I had imagined that we were there to arrange a transfer to the sellers lawyer's trust account and that it would then be transferred to the seller after the lawyer had clipped the ticket on the way through. Not so however. Mr H explained that as the seller has a mortgage that he needs to clear it's going to be quicker and easier for all parties if we pay him in cash. It took the appearance of several large bricks of Y10,000 bills to convince me that he wasnt joking. Now if you walked in to my  bank in Auckland and asked for enough money to pay for a house they A) just wouldnt have that amount of cash available at such short notice and B) would probably call the cops. Not so here. They didn't bat an eyelid. The bricks of cash went into Shizukas gaudy Hawaiian "carrying all my everyday crap around" bag. It was a far cry from the black leather attache case of my dreams but, it was indeed a bag of cash. 

Next we walked across the street to the UFJ bank and got in the elevator to the 3rd floor. There we met the seller Mr. M and the lawyer that would act for both parties. His name was Mr Big. I'm not kidding. That is actually his real name and I have his business card to prove it. We all went into a small conference room that was freezing cold. This place seriously was like a fridge. A quick call had the bank staff scurrying around looking for the thermostat. That's another one of those little things I was talking about....the 25 degree difference between inside and out that you get in both summer and winter here is crazy.

Mr M was sitting across the table from me. He was clutching a small carry bag which was full guessed it. Cash. Mr Big explained to us the Mr M has 3 mortgages on this property and that with our cash plus his cash these would all be cleared right now. So we all laid out our cash on the table. Next thing your know is that the lawyer and the estate agent are counting these stacks of Y10,000 bills. It looked like a drug deal was going down. I so much wanted to take a picture of it but guessed that was quite inappropriate given the seriousness that was being exhibited by everybody else. Mr M seemed a bit tense as the money was being counted. When the count was confirmed he took all the cash out to the bank officer who deposited in his account and gave him a printout which said he was free and clear of all his debt on the house. He then had to stamp the sale agreement with his Hanko and the lawyer had to check it's authenticity by placing a semitransparent piece of paper over the top of the stamp and rapidly flicking it back and forth several times. It was just as amusing to watch as it was pointless to do. Why you need to verify his stamp when you have just taken a copy of his drivers licence is beyond me. Traditional I guess.

Mr Big, who struck me as a bit of a nerd, asked Shizuka if NZ was close to Russia. Geographically and socially challenged it seems. He then presented us with his bill. It was quite reasonable but in typical fashion wasn't a round number. It was something like Y83,489. payable in cash of course. All we had was 10,000's. Yep...we needed change. 
Mr Big went out to see the bank staff and came back with a handful of smaller bills and COINS! Now we are counting coins on the table of the conference room on the 3rd floor of the UFJ Bank as we buy a house. I could not believe it. And then Mr H hands us the bill for his commission which is something like Y112,833. Once again we are counting coins and everyone is digging into their pockets for the 3 Y1 coins we need to wrap this up. It would never occur to any of these people to say "Don't worry about the pocket change...just round it down". Not only did I just pay for a house with a big wad of cash it also involved loose change.

After it was all over Mr M seemed more relaxed. He handed me the key and I asked Shizuka to ask him about a couple of things I wanted to know about the house. It turned out that he speaks very good English and I was able to chat with him for a while. He told me that he had bought that house when it was new, about 20 yeas ago. He had lived in it for 7 years with his wife and kids before he had to transfer to Yokohama for his job. Since then he had not lived in the house at all. Yes...He had been paying his mortgage for 13 years and had not spent a single night in the house in all that time. He came down to Osaka regularly for work and would always visit the house to do maintenance and gardening but always stayed in a hotel as his company payed for it. He told me he had just received an early retirement payout from his company which allowed him to clear the mortgage, but he needs to continue working. Talking to him I was once again struck by the terrible cost of buying a new house at the peak of the bubble economy. That house had  literally cost him about NZ$400,000 and after 20 years of paying for it he was walking away with nothing. I felt really sorry for him right then. He was a very nice guy and didn't seem at all resentful of the situation. I wished him well for the future and I hope that fate is kinder to him in the next few years.

So just like that, we now own 2 houses in Japan. Mr H says he will find us a tenant so I'm looking forward to the day when I can collect some rent from that one as well. There's a number of things I have to do before that happens...we have to pay the city their exorbitant connection fee for the water system and the water heater is dead (just like the last one) but at least there isn't a mountain of junk and furniture and personal belongings to get rid off. 

Except for that fucking bicycle of course.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Ideal Home

Sometimes people in NZ ask me questions about my experiences here. Just the other day one acquaintance said "What does a Japanese house look like? I can't even imagine it". He look slightly disappointed when I showed him a picture so I guess he was expecting something constructed entirely of rice paper and bonsai trees with a Zen garden full of Geisha's. If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be this....everything you know is wrong

Kiwi economics 1.01. 
Everybody knows that house prices only go up. Sure you get recessions and crashes which cause prices to dip for a bit but before you know it they're back up there breaking new records. The idea that a house could lose 90% of it's value over a 20 year period is something Kiwis find inconceivable. When I tell them that this is invariably what happens in Japan they just cant believe it. For us a house is so much more than just a place where you crash each night. As well as being a home, its a status symbol(sometimes), an investment in your future, a compulsory savings plan, a retirement fund, a legacy and most's a place to store and grow your wealth. As rising property prices are a surefire bet, home ownership is your ticket to financial success. If you can buy in an area that's soon going to be the next big thing that's as good as winning the lottery. You can bet your life savings on it...everybody else has.

Location, Location Location.
Next up for review is our concept of whats desirable. A "good area" is top of the priority list. Nice places have things like trees. Oaks and Pohutakawa's for established old money areas, Palm's for trendy new ones. Views are self respecting million dollar house is without a million dollar view. Tops of hills are good. Coastal is even better. Waterfront property? now you've really made it. If it's an apartment you want the highest floor possible. With a big balcony. Everybody loves a garden, the bigger the better. If you live on a 10 acre lifestyle block you will be the envy of all your mates. God knows what you are supposed to do with 10 acres but hey, you've got them. Privacy is very important. We don't want to live on top of each other. The best neighbours are the ones you cant see or hear.

House and chattels.
Further down the list you've got things like Sunny aspect, prestigious school zones, indoor outdoor flow, BBQ/entertainment areas, period features, garages, parking for boats/RV's/classic cars/horses and designer kitchens and spa pools . Historically listed and Heritage buildings are all the rage. Eco stuff is also catching on. Insulation, heat pumps and double glazing are becoming the new "must have features". So called "Do-ups" fetch more money than renovated houses as people hyped up on home makeover TV shows seek to stamp their personality on the property.

The rest.
Right down the bottom of the list tend to be things like proximity to work public transport, hospitals and transport links. While Yuppie types tend to want to live near the pubs and clubs in the city, they tend to abandon that lifestyle as soon as they grow up and get a clue. Or have kids.  Most people are prepared to travel to work in order to have that ideal house. The last thing you want is a bus stop right outside...think of all those car less losers loitering around. Nobody really cares too much if there isn't a supermarket close by. Age of the building is not very's all about condition. Builders brand names don't count for much.

Deal breakers.
Railway stations, busy roads, neighbours in close proximity, electricity lines, Ugly industrial buildings.

So there you have the rationale and thought processes that are behind probably 95% of real estate transactions in NZ

Just like the grammar, everything in the Japanese market is opposite.

Here, when you buy a new house the value goes only one way....down. If you are lucky the land will retain it's value but the building will be practically worthless in 20 years time. Forget about the property ladder. Here home ownership is more like an escalator to the basement. Unfortunately negative equity is a fact of life for many in this land. 
Convenience is linked so closely with location here that both words mean the same thing. I have been to good areas and bad areas in Japan but I'm buggered if I can tell one from the other. The presence or absence of trees or lawns indicates nothing. The most expensive areas tend to be the ones closest to train stations, schools and supermarkets. Views add nothing to the value of the property. Rusty old sheds and dirty factories are so much part of the landscape that they don't detract from the value. Like wise, tangled masses of phone and power cables hanging everywhere are not a consideration. Coastal land is unwanted due to the perceived risk of a Tsunami. Gardens are tiny are are used mainly for parking bicycles in. 10 acre blocks are called farms here. Privacy is non existent as in the most sought after areas people live mere centimetres away from each other. When they look for apartments they seek the lowest floor's that convenience thing again. It trumps everything. Balconies are just used for hanging out laundry and storing rubbish so nobody cares how big they are.

School zoning does seem to have some effect on purchasing decisions as does proximity to work but all the other stuff that's important to Kiwis counts for very little here. Outdoor living is something that exists only in glossy housing company brochures and things like boats and camper vans never figure in the wish lists of the vast majority. 

As with most things here age means everything. The newer the house is the better. Old house's have little appeal. Old means rubbish and most people are of the opinion the the best renovations involve bulldozers. The brand name is also important. A Toyota house is better than a Panasonic house. Yes Toyota does make houses. And beds too. Bet you didn't know that! 

For Japanese the real showstoppers are upper floors in high rise buildings, old houses, more than 5kms from a railway station, near the coast, or up a mountain away from main roads and hospitals. 

So now can see how the two countries have diametrically opposed ideas when it comes to property and homes and how they are traded and developed. For Kiwis the house is a piggy bank that they live and play in and a place to be cherished and constantly improved. For Japanese its a  machine for sleeping in and storing your possessions and family and that will be discarded when it is no longer able to do that.

Of course all of the above is firmly based on generalizations and stereotypes and there are exceptions to these rules. But you get the idea....

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ooya san

So here I am. A Bona fide Japanese landlord. An Ooya san as they say here. According to most foreigners, landlords in Japan are all racist xenophobes who extort large amounts of money from you and who will throw you out on the street at the slightest provocation. Here's my take on this...  

The western countries all have legislation which prohibits discrimination against various minorities and gives protection from exploitation which all looks very well and good from the ivory towers of the people who dreamt it up but in reality its complete bullshit. What actually happens is that it forces landlords to waste everybodys time and to lie to people instead of telling them the truth. For example, I cant stand the smell of curry. Or Kimchi. Or marijuana. Anybody who habitually eats curry or Kimchi or regularly smokes dope has got sod all chance of renting a house from me. I obviously don't want someone who is a deadbeat no hoper with no money to pay the rent so I won't have any struggling artists or aspiring poets. Wannabe cult leaders and new age spiritual guru's are definitely out...look what happened at Waco Texas. I also don't want 27 people living in my 3 bedroom house. Kiwi's and Aussies overseas would have to be the worst offenders in the world for this. Just ask any landlord in London. I don't want full time party animals who will vomit on my tatami and piss the neighbours off. So that pretty much rules out all Western and Latin American foreigners under the age of 25. I don't want any Cats, Dogs, Rabbit's or any other animals inside. Nor do I want any people with "special needs" who will hack my house to bits in order to create the "modifications" they need for their lifestyle. I don't care that you are Gothic Bondage Dungeon're not screwing hooks into my ceiling. 

 In NZ I would need to lie to all these people about why they can't stay at my place because if I told the truth there would be a lot of Indians, Koreans, Rastafarian's, artists, poets, priests, cultists, antipodean backpackers, ravers, animal libbers and sex industry workers screaming about racism, sexism, ageism, fatism, speciesism (I might have made that one up) and just about every other -ism that you can think of.

So as you can see I've covered all contingencies by discriminating against people because of their culture, nationality, age, economic class, religion, sexual orientation and animal ownership status.  Is this all a bit discriminatory? Probably. (I like to think of it as equal opportunity discrimination though) Is it Unfair? possibly. Do I give a fuck? Absolutely not. It's my house and I'll damn well choose who I want to live in it. If I want to put "no foreigners" in my criteria then I will. I believe Its my right and its one of the reasons I choose to be a landlord in Japan...And to anybody who objects to it I say this to them...Grow up and buy your own house if you don't like it or go back home where it's your legally enshrined right to whine about it. Rant over.

Now having said all that I intend to be a good landlord, quite unlike the miserable old bugger I rent a warehouse from at home in NZ. He is the master of the fob off and the change of subject whenever the issue of maintenance comes up. If the roof leaks I will be onto that sucker quick smart. If the drains block I'll just call the plumber. The way I see it is the house is an investment and to protect that investment you need to do some maintenance on it. You also want to have a happy tenant who will stay there forever. If a tenant is late with the rent I won't sling them out straight away, as long as they communicate with me.

The tenant moved in about 12 months ago and has been good so far. She is a single mother of 2 boys in their early teens. She gets some kind of benefit from the government so doesn't work. They are all very polite and well mannered and have kept the place clean and tidy. One thing that does irritate me a little are the small dog's in the front yard. She kind of slipped that one past me. No sign of any Kiwis sleeping on the floor though.

 But most importantly, she pays the rent.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Property Ladder

Japanese love DIY. No, actually they don't. It's DIY stores that they love. On any given morning around 10AM Conan is packed with pensioners clutching small bags of seeds and larger bags of fertiliser. But while the gardening department is jammed with geriatric horticulturalists, the hardware and building materials aisles are eerily empty. The passion for growing weird vegetables in your back yard obviously does not extend to things like painting walls or building a deck. After all, nobody in this country does any maintenance on their house. Ever. The propensity of the Japanese to call in a professional for anything more challenging than changing a light bulb means that very few people have any useful maintenance items like say, a ladder. Which is exactly what I needed.

Our house is quite tall. Which means things like the roof and gutters don't get much love. After the "no sale - leaking gutter" episode, I knew I would have to do something about it and, while I was up there, trim the pine trees that were overhanging the roof. The problem was where to find a ladder long enough to get up to our stratospherically high roof. The answer came from our increasingly helpful estate agent Mr H. He knew a guy down in the village who had such a ladder, or hashigo as it's known here. The great thing about renovating houses in a foreign country is the vastly expanded vocabulary you will end up with. Just think of all those gaijin suckers paying good money for Japanese lessons...all you're going to learn there is useless crap like "Can you tell me the way to the station?" or, "I have diarrhoea". Wouldn't you rather be out and about, chatting with people and learning really great phrases like "Hey old timer, can I borrow your ladder?" AND, as a bonus, end up with free flowing, non leaking gutters. Of course you would. So anyway, H san the agent brokered a deal with the ladder guy. A six pack of Asahi beer was the rental for this prized possession. 

Mr H came by the house the next morning in his car and drove me down the hill to the hashigo man's house. I don't know if he had mentioned to the old boy that his ladder was going to a foreigner and that it might be used for foreign purposes, like robbing a bank or buying drugs. He did look rather surprised to see me but seemed happy to overlook the possibility of such criminal intent when he saw the cans of Asahi. Next up came the issue of now to get the ladder back to the house. While the distance from here to there is less than a kilometer, it is all uphill. Japan is certainly a mountainous country and our street has a similar gradient as the north face of Everest. Mr H offers to help me carry it all the way up. Now this guy is in his 60's and to top it off he's wearing a nice suit and tie. I don't want to risk him getting injured/having a heart attack and I certainly don't want a ruined suit jacket on my conscience. I tell him that we need a suitable vehicle. His car is a very sensible and boring Corolla sedan. In White. Not very suitable for the task at hand. Now if this was back home in Auckland I could call on a number of vehicles for this job. Like a Mercedes Benz 500SL convertible, which is just as unsuitable but WAY cooler. Or a Like A Toyota Hiace van. Yeah, that would do. This being Kameoka however I'm stuck with a very sensible and boring Nissan Tiida sedan. Also in White. On the face of it both cars seem very similar in their unsuitability but my Tiida has a hidden is an ex rental car. 

It is an indisputable truth that rental cars are vastly superior to ordinary cars. These vehicles can do stuff that just isn't possible with your own car. For example, did you know that all rental cars are brilliant for off roading? They are also perfect for street racing, burnout competitions and gravel road rallies. Their engines rev higher and their handbrakes provide more stopping power but, most importantly, they can carry all sorts of items on the ladders.

I tell Mr H to go ahead and do whatever he should be doing today and hike back to the house. A quick rummage around in the loft comes up with some old curtains and some rubber straps from the Kei truck cover. I jump in the Tiida and roll on down to the village. I notice that Mr H and the ladder owner are still there. Obviously they want to witness some gaijin craziness. When you're 80 years old and live in the boonies anything passes for entertainment I guess. I throw the curtains on the roof as padding and set the ladder on top. Next I take the straps and tie them to the ladder. I then open each door and lead the straps inside the car. Closing the doors holds the strap in place between the roof and the door frame. I hear the old boy utter an "AHH!!!" and turn around to see him nodding in admiration. Mr H is looking a bit concerned however. "Are you sure this is safe?" he asks. "As long as I don't go on the Highway" I reply. I give the old boy the thumbs up and cry "Kiwi Style" as I drive off. Looking back in the rearview mirror I see the pair of them watching me intently. I am silently praying that the ladder stays put...if it falls off they will talk about nothing else for the next 5 years. I make it around the corner and out of sight. The ladder wobbles a bit but stays on the roof. 

A couple of days later I return the ladder. The old guy is sitting in his kitchen when I knock on his door. "Hashigo arigato" I say to him. "beeru arigato" he replies to me. I take the ladder off the roof of the Tiida. He looks at me and grins. "Giajin style" he mutters to himself

Another local legend has been created.   .

Thursday, October 31, 2013


So here were are about to become landlords. Hello that unearned income I have always dreamed about. Japan blogs are always full of foreigners moaning and ranting about how Japanese landlords are all racists and thieves, all of which sounds pretty good to me. Around this time I came to learn a couple of new words which are shaping up to be my number one favourite words in the whole Japanese language. The first one is "Reikin". This literally means key money. When I first heard of it I thought, no way, surely nobody gets away with that old scam anymore. Kiwis would tell you where to stick your house if you demanded key money from them. Not here it seems. For us it means a nice little Y100,000 present. The other word is "Shikikin". This means bond money and is a concept I am familiar with as it is common practice everywhere. In theory the bond is refundable when the tenant moves out provided that they have not damaged anything in the house. In practice it seems that this almost never happens and that the Shikikin is just another present for the landlord. That's another Y200,000 thank you. Add to this one months rent paid in advance and the fact that some landlords also require a guarantor and you can start to see why there is so much wailing and gnashing of teeth around this subject. 

But before we can book the holiday to Hawaii with the proceeds of these cash presents we must deal with the not so insignificant problem of lack of water. Anyone who knows anything about Japan knows that it's not a desert country. It rains plenty, especially here in the Kyoto mountains. There are more streams and rivers and lakes than you can shake a stick at around here. So how can water be a problem you ask? well, The whole problem revolves around geography, history and economics with a dash of politics thrown in for good measure.  

The history part has to do with the legacy of the by now almost mythical "bubble economy". The condensed version of the bubble time goes something like this....From the mid 1980's to the early 90's the export led economy boomed. Land prices in the big cities went through the roof. Wages and inflation soon followed. Property speculation was all the rage, the stockmarket was a quick and easy way to get rich and life was one big party. Until some bigwig at the bank of Japan noticed that things were getting out of hand and got together with the government and the banks. Before you knew it there was a capital gains tax of 30%, tightened credit and higher interest rates. The economy faltered, the stockmarket crashed and the land price bubble went POP. Hello the "lost decade".
This whole area is an unfinished product of the bubble economy period. The Subdivisions that sprung up on the sides of steep mountains to the north of Osaka were far away from any train stations or highways. The rationale of the developers was that if the houses were built the city would follow up with the infrastructure. As their was no existing roads or water supply the development companies had to create them from scratch and each individual subdivision had it's own water system built and run by the separate development companies. Land was surveyed, roads and pipes laid, electricity poles erected and foundations built. The first houses went up around 1992 and people had started to move in to them when the bubble burst. Suddenly there was no demand for these developments and as the customer base dried up the development companies went bankrupt one after another. Today most subdivisions in this area have only about 40-50% of the houses that were originally planned to be built. Of the houses that were completed, many of them are now empty as mortgage foreclosures and the lack of transport infrastructure caused people to leave.
So that is the story of Hatano-Cho and of many of the areas on the fringes of the big Japanese cities.

Now water is readily available in this place. It's clean and fresh and plentiful. All you have to do is distribute it to the houses. The local water schemes consisted of wells with reservoirs, pumping stations and networks of pipes. Once the developers had gone bust there was no one to administer or maintain the systems. The local government bodies were unwilling to take over and so evaded the responsibility and it fell to the local residents to form committees to run their own schemes. This they did successfully for 20 years but eventually the ageing locals decided that they didn't want to maintain the ageing systems anymore.  

This area is politically part of Kameoka city despite the fact that it is separated from the town by a fairly substantial range of mountains. It is actually closer and easier to access from Nose town which has a city water supply but that is in Osaka prefecture and so may as well be on the moon because the chances of some common sense cross border co-operation are less than zero. Hatano-cho may be the most unloved and ignored outpost of Kameoka city but no city bureaucrat worth his salt is ever going to cede an inch of territory or control to his neighbour. So a few years ago all the water committees got together and asked the city to build a pipeline over the mountains and connect the area to the water grid. This was duly done but there was a catch...everybody who wanted to hook up to it had to pay a connection fee of Y1.2 million. There was a lot of dissent over this among the locals but the upshot has been that the local system was decommissioned in May 2013, the city system is in place now and there is no alternative. Unless you are a Kiwi and can think outside of the Japanese square, but that's another story.

So, to enter the sacred halls of landlordship we have to fork out Y1.2mil to connect the house with water. But wait, there's more. That doesn't include the actual hooking up the pipes and so on. That's another Y300,000. Plus the fact that the water heater was pronounced dead in August 2012. This one I didn't mind so much...that heater sucked. Who uses kerosene to heat water these days? It's a stupid idea and I was happy to see it go along with it's tank and blue plastic containers that cluttered up the hallway. A brand new Rinai LP gas system set us back Y200,000 and well and truly scuppered the Hawaii plan.

The water heater installation was the usual Japanese circus of technical experts, wads of cash, excruciatingly detailed instructions and, as usual, unbelievable punctuality. As I was staying in the house that night I asked the gas company man to open the meter so I could have some hot water for the next 3 days. This sent him into the standard "no can do...youre not signed up as a customer" line but with a bit of arm twisting he agreed to leave it on if I promised to pay for the gas I used before leaving for NZ. That evening as I stepped into the shower and turned it on, I was keen to try out my new water heater and I have to say it worked great...for about 30 seconds, at which time it instantly went from hot to freezing. A call to the gas company at 5.30PM had them promising to be there soon to sort it out. At the time I did not know that their depot is on the other side of Kyoto...about an hour and a half's drive at the best of times. This was now peak traffic hour and it was nearly 8.00PM by the time they showed up. I've said this before... Ain't no way any NZ tradesman would do this. As it turned out, all that was needed was to reset the meter which took about 2 Min's. Off they went leaving me feeling a little bit guilty about extending their working day by about 3 hours but then I figured that hey, this is Japan. Cest la vie.

And so onto the next water related issue...the drains. Drains are one of those things that the old adage "out of sight - out of mind" applies to. As long as they do their thing, who cares about them. I hadn't really given them much thought until while testing the shower I noticed that it wasn't draining well. Great. The next morning lead to an thorough investigation in the the drainage system. Luckily a bit of spade work had the drains cleared in short order but I was quite amazed at how the grey water, ie the washing machine, sinks, shower etc, just runs out in to the open culvert on the street. Pretty third world if you ask me.

It's all glamour being a property tycoon let me tell you.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Adventures in the Real Estate Trade

Some of you regular readers will recall that the original purpose of this blog was to document our adventures in the Japanese housing market. I will admit to being much remiss on this front. So to make up for this negligence here's the story so far..... After deciding that we did not want to live full time in Japan, Shizuka's instinct was to sell the house. I was more in favour of renting it out but the thought of a quick profit is always enticing so I went along with it.

We had talked to a local agent in Kameoka around the time we finished the renovation project. He was a very quiet unassuming fellow and we sort of wrote him off as being not so interested in marketing our house. Once back in NZ Shizuka did some research and found an agent in Nantan. Our salesperson took some good photo's and had some enquiries but none of them really lead anywhere. She called when I was in Japan with news that she had a customer who wanted to see the house. This was the day after the Typhoon/tree falling incident and Shizuka told her not to bring him as the place was a mess of broken trees, broken roof and broken car. She decided to ignore that advice and proceeded with her viewing. The results were entirely predictable with the customer taking one look and running for the hills. As the months went on she seemed to lose interest and once the sole agency agreement expired we decided to find someone else. 

Next up we contacted Century 21 in Kyoto and were assigned a super enthusiastic sales guy. He quickly had some ads done and before long he came to us with an offer from an interested buyer. The offer was conditional on the buyer obtaining finance which we figured should not be a problem. Done deal. Or so we thought... What happened next was yet another lesson in how frustratingly senseless and inflexible the bureaucracy in this country can be. Here is our understanding of what ensued. 

The potential buyer was a widow who lived locally in a rented house. She had been given notice by her landlord and had to find somewhere to live quickly. Her son was a policeman and had agreed to help her buy a house by becoming a co borrower with her. They had seen the add for our house, contacted the agent, arranged a viewing, then a second viewing and had put the offer in. Next the agent had the contract drawn up and everything was a go. The buyers then dropped the bombshell that they had no money and would be seeking a 100% mortgage from a bank. At that point both the agent and ourselves thought that this was not necessarily a show stopper, after all, Y5,000,000 isn't exactly a lot of money. The son has a good job, good credit history and has no dependants so has some chance of pulling this off. A week went by. Then news that they had been approved by the bank and that there were just a few formalities to be observed around the usual paperwork that plagues the average Joe in this land. The buyer had to supply his Koseki (Family register certificate) to prove his relationship to his mother and his Juminhyo (certificate of residence) to prove he actually does exist and has a place of residence along with proof of income and the other various things that one needs to obtain a mortgage. And this is the point where we depart from reality, or at least my version of it. The policeman's Juminhyo had his registered address as his police barracks. Apparently some cops live in accommodation supplied by the police department. This address was in Shiga Prefecture. Our house is in Kyoto Prefecture...right next to Shiga. The bank refused to advance the money unless he changed his registered address to the house he was about to buy. The principle being that if you want to borrow money for a house you have to live in it. The cop didn't think that was a problem... who's going to know if he actually stays there and as long as he pays the mortgage who really cares? Well it turns out that his employer cares. When he approached his boss at the Shiga Police for permission to change his residence to Kyoto he was told bluntly that in Japan, a cop (or a junior one at any rate) must reside in the same prefecture that he is employed by. And just like that, our deal was dead in the water. The widow was gutted, the cop, bewildered and the agent irate that these people had wasted so much of his time. The cop asked for some time to try a finance company but the agent told us that the only kind of lender that would finance him was exactly the kind that police  were expressly forbidden from having dealings with.

 I could not believe that A) the bank could be so inflexible, B) the agent had not qualified the asked them how they were going to pay for the house, BEFORE he went through the whole process and C) the buyer's embarked on their search and signed a contract without having first talked to their bank.
This last one, I was about to find out is exactly what everybody here does. Where I come from people look at adds for property, talk to some agents, maybe go to some open homes but before anybody signs any contracts they talk to their bank and find out whether they can actually follow through. 

Anyway.....Century 21 man soon has another potential buyer for us. This guy tells us he wants to buy the house, puts in his offer which we reject and then proceeds to negotiate hard. Back and forth we go for a few days until we reach an agreement. He then informs us that before he will proceed he wants to check that the street can get high speed internet coverage and that it's in the right school zone for his kids.  As usual it's ass backwards from the Western norms I am used to. Why the fuck would you not do all this before you start making offers? So I wasn't really surprised when he pulled out of the deal because, yep, it's too far from his kids' school of choice.

After that our sales guy seemed to wane. . around that time he was the one involved in the great agent - builder face off. He had been sending us weekly reports on enquiries but these became fewer and farther between and suddenly stopped. A call to his office yielded the helpful revelation that he had left suddenly due to an unspecified illness....reading between the lines we got the impression that the illness was of the mental variety. His replacement left us in no doubt that he was not in the least bit interested in inheriting our account.

We had taken out an add on a website where owners advertised their own properties. It is becoming more popular to do this in NZ but Japan is a bit behind in this trend. We got one hit from a man from Tokyo. He was retiring soon and was looking for a place in the countryside. He had looked at the photos and decided that it was exactly what he wanted and wanted to send us the money straight away. By now we have become pretty cynical about Japanese house buyers and told him that we would not enter any arrangements until he had got all his ducks in a row. We arranged for him to come and see the house while I was there but he postponed the day before and did not come to see the house until after I had flown back to NZ. It seems the day he arrived it was raining and that he was alarmed at the fact that one of the gutters was leaking onto the ground due to a twisted bracket. This he deemed to be a huge problem and consequentley he would not buy the house. We did not even bother to point out to him that a new bracket would cost about Y100 and take all of 5 minsutes to fit. Reason and logic has no place in the mind of the typical Japanesehome buyer.

So, while in Kameoka in summer 2012 I went to see the Agent we had talked to first. His quiet, understated way had put us off before but I figured that it was worth a try. The bigger agencies had shown us that they weren't interested in the more challenging cheaper properties so I thought that a small local agency might be a better bet. He suggested that renting the house might be a better outcome for us and I quickly came to the same conclusion. He explained to me that Japanese people just don't have the experience that westerners have with property. Most of them will only ever buy one house in their lives...usually a new one from a development company. They just don't know how to go about the process hence the time consuming, ridiculous, back to front way most of them approach it. That made some sense to me. I told him to go ahead and try to find someone to rent the house. Within 2 months I was back in Japan preparing the house for the tenant he had signed up for a 2 year lease.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Filling Up

If you drive at all in Japan you will at some point have to buy petrol for your car. Where I'm from gassing up the car is a pretty mundane experience. Here however, refuelling is one of those "only in Japan" activities that really must be seen to be believed. 

There exists here two types of petrol station. The first is the fully automated "self service" type which is fairly common throughout the world while the second is the "full service" type that has largely disappeared from the western world. Even when you do find one in NZ it usually consists of a greasy teenager sauntering around the forecourt in a HiViz vest saying "you allright there mate?" If pressed they will pump the petrol for you but that's about all you will get from them. Contrast that with the experience I had recently at a ESSO station in Kameoka. 

As you drive on to the forecourt you will see a group of people in red overalls directing you where to park. Once you have stopped one will approach you and ask what you want. You just roll down your window and yell "MANTAN". What happens next is like watching a Formula 1 pit crew at work. All the aforementioned guys in overalls swarm all over your car cleaning the windows and mirrors, emptying the ashtray and taking away any rubbish your hand over to them. You will be handed a damp cloth for you to wipe down your dashboard. One of them will take your credit card or cash and place a small vinyl banner on your mirror. This is to tell the guy actually pumping the gas what grade of fuel you want...regular in my case. The pump operator will fill you up while the cashier man will swipe your card or fetch the correct change for you. This is all done with great enthusiasm and speed. You don't even need to get out of the car at any stage. Once you're fuelled up, the crew will ask which way you are heading and will then run over to the roadside and guide you out on to the road, sometimes even stopping traffic so you can ease on into the flow.

It's all very amusing and thought provoking for foreigners used to the indifferent staff and lacklustre service that they are probably used to. One other notable thing here is that the price of petrol can vary wildly from one station to the next. Just driving down the street a few hundred metres can see a Y10 per litre spread.  It also amazes me that, for the first time ever, petrol is actually cheaper in Japan than it is in NZ. The downside to gas stations here is that they only sell Gas and Oil...if you want an icecream or a pair of sunglasses you are out of luck!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Zero Inflation

Just got back from a week in Japan. The recent announcement by the bank of Japan that they are going to jump on the "let's debase our currency" bandwagon that the rest of the big Northern hemisphere economies are on is certainly good news for those of us in the South. In the space of a week The NZD went from Y78 to Y84! For the first time ever, I found Japan to be a cheap place to visit. Also interesting is the absolute lack of inflation for the last 12 years. I bought a ticket for the Nozomi Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo for Y14,050. The last time I did this same trip was 2001 and the price then was.....Y14,000. Amazing. Same thing with a glass of beer in Namba...Y500 then, Y500 now. To really gauge this in international terms consider this. In 2001 a beer in an Auckland city bar cost NZ$6. Last month I ordered a beer on Ponsonby road and nearly fell over when told the cost was NZ$9. Y500 is exactly NZ$6. Drinking in  Japan is starting to look like a bargain at this exchange rate. I have noticed this with all sorts of things. Even filling up the car was cheaper!  No wonder Osaka is full of Chinese tourist's buying everything in sight. Thanks Abe san!!! Now the interesting thing will be what happens to prices as soon as the BoJ cranks up the printing press. I get the feeling that after 20 odd years of price stability Japan is about to learn all about inflation.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Flat out in Fiji

Vuda Point, Fiji Islands July 2012
So....other than analysing the political and economic climate of Fiji here's what we did.
Boat parking Fijian style

Vuda Point marina is a strange looking place. It's basically a big concrete lined bowl full of yachts. There are no pontoons between the boats and to get in and tie up you need to wedge your boat tightly between 2 other ones. Fenders are a must and everyone on the adjacent boats looks on nervously, fearing for the paintwork on their hulls as you squeeze on in. You then leap from your bowsprit on to a rickety wooden platform attached to the seawall and attach two lines to the wall. Your stern line is grabbed by a big guy in a small dingy who then runs it out to a mooring buoy in the middle of the bowl. This place is supposed to be a "hurricane hole", a safe place to park your boat when a tropical cyclone blows in. Looking at the tall seawalls, the narrow channel at the entrance and the chains lying all along the dock I can believe it. We arrived here in the evening and after stowing our gear onboard we headed for the marina bar. The great thing about Fiji right now is that their currency is low against just about everybody Else's  and things like a beer at a marina are not that expensive. There are 2 types of beer made here. Fiji Bitter, which we knew from experience is fucking horrible, and Fiji Gold which is actually not bad and in this heat very drinkable. It's 9PM and 27 degrees which was a welcome change from Auckland's winter weather. The problem with this place, we found out a bit later that night, is that there is no breeze to keep the temperature down and the mosquito's away. Our cabin is fitted with a fan which was a good thing. Once switched on it sounded only slightly less noisy than a helicopter taking off which was a bad thing. So you are faced with a choice of sweating like a pig in silence or listening to that racket but at a comfortable temperature. In the end earplugs came to the rescue....thanks Air NZ!

Vuda point Marina
Morning brought clear blue skies and hot sunshine. Looking round at the flags hanging off the yachts I can see that Kiwis are well represented here. Lots of Aussies and Americans too with a handful of Europeans, Canadians and the odd South African thrown in. And then, right at the opposite end of the marina I notice a tiny yacht named "Dolce" with the home port of Shizuoka on the stern. "Look" I said to Shizuka, "some of your crowd have made it here all the way from Japan!"

We headed to the nearest town for some supplies.  The marina has 3 taxis that are approved for the use of the visitors and they have standard fees so nobody gets ripped off. Our taxi driver was a friendly young fellow called Abdul who told us that he was trained as a plumber but makes better money driving the yachties around. Lautoka is Western Fiji's main commercial port and is dominated by the Sugar Mill with it's plume of smoke. There are large numbers of decrepit trucks piled high with sugar cane from the plantations of the interior. The whole town smells of sugar and diesel fumes and the air is thick with dust. It's a scruffy town but it's a lively place. The Supermarket was packed full of people dressed in very colourful clothes. After a few minutes cruising the aisles I noticed a curious thing. I'm used to supermarkets being packed full of stuff and for that stuff to be arranged logically in various departments. Not so here. I had grabbed some bottled water from the water department but 3 aisles over I came across another water department and then closer to the checkouts yet another water department. It was the same story with instant noodles....the same packets of noodles but displayed in 3 different locations. I guess they are trying to hide the fact that all they have to sell is water and noodles. If they put them all in the same place, it would be obvious but the way they are scattered throughout the store give people the impression of variety and choice. Next stop was the liquor store for some beer. While queuing up to pay for it, an old man very politely asked me for a dollar. Without really thinking about it I handed him a dollar coin. He thanked me and then left quickly. Right then I felt someone tapping my shoulder and turned around to find a Fijian woman behind me. "Don't give people money like that" she said. "That guy has big land in Nadi...he doesn't need money". The Indian liquor shop assistant agreed with her telling me that tourist's giving money encouraged people who are not poor to try their luck. I said that I thought he was very polite....unlike the beggars I have encountered in America. They were both rather startled by this statement. "There are beggars in America?" asked the Indian guy. I told them of my days in Tucson, Arizona where just about every convenience store car park has a panhandler with a hardluck story. They were both amazed to hear this information. As we were paying for our groceries, Abdul, who had been waiting outside in the car, came into the supermarket and started packing our stuff into bags and carrying it out to the car. What service! 
Lautoka Sugar Mill...smoggy but sweet!
Lautoka traffic jam
We then went to the Vodafone shop to buy a SIM card for my iPhone. The last time I tried to do this was in Osaka a couple of years ago and which lead to me wasting half a day getting nowhere with that simple task. Fiji is a third world country but it blows first world Japan away when it comes to being integrated with the rest of the world. We stood in a line for quite some time as everybody in that town had decided to buy a new phone or buy some credit for their old phone that morning. When we eventually got to the counter, it took less than 5 minutes to get hooked up with a new SIM and phone number. No stupid inkans and forms to be stamped. Just show your passport, pay the money and you're good to go.

By the time we got back to Vuda point it was early afternoon and stupidly hot in the marina. We decided that even though there was no sailing wind we were heading out to the islands. We loaded up the supplies and fired up the engine. Our destination was to be Mololo island and the cruiser's hangout of Musket Cove.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Benevolent Dictatorship

Lautoka. Fiji Islands. July 2012
July brought the opportunity to escape the wind and rain of NZ. Captain Shane had managed to sail his yacht "The Dealer" all the way from Auckland to Tonga and then on to the Fiji islands. Phoning from Vuda point marina near Lautoka, he said "Why don't you guys come up here for a week?" Shizuka is always keen for a tropical island holiday and I was keen for some sailing and swimming in warm water so tickets were booked and we checked in at Auckland international Airport for the 3 hour flight to Nadi.

We have been to Fiji before, in 2003, when we stayed in the south of the main island Viti Levu. To be honest, my impressions of the place were not good. It was like a 3rd world country with highly visible poverty and run down infrastructure everywhere you went. In the countryside some people live in really primitive conditions. Add in some obvious ethnic tension and you get a depressing image of what should be a paradise. Think Africa rather than South Pacific.

Fiji has an interesting population mix. The indigenous people are melanesian and have that relaxed island way of life. Fijians are friendly....almost disconcertingly friendly. They are very helpful to the tourist's and most of the resort or hotel staff are Fijian. Just like the Polynesians, they make great rugby players and they like to eat and drink and sing. You won't find a more chilled out, laid back people. When the islands were part of the Empire, the British imported thousands of labourers from India to work the sugar plantations that are still a major export earner today. Indians are generally hard working and ambitious and before long had became established in commercial sector of the economy. Indians also tend to be very astute with money and don't encourage their children to marry outside of their own culture. Fast forward a hundred years and the Indians have thrived to the point where the demographic is split evenly between the Fijian native and the Indian communities. They live side by side fairly peacefully but you wouldn't really say they are integrated. This has caused a lot of friction between them as the Fijians hold most of the land while the Indians own most of the businesses. Democracy has lead to ineffective governments as no one can obtain a clear majority. Corruption was rife and there have been several military coups as the mostly Fijian army has stepped in when ever they felt threatened by an Indian controlled government.

 Before the 2006 takeover Fiji was a divided, under performing nation which had never lived up to its potential. Now, from my own experiences, I would say the country is on an upward course and things do look like they are improving. Of course NZ and Australia have played their role to perfection, moaning and complaining bitterly about martial law and subversion of democratic process and censorship and all that other crap that politicians do when they see their counterparts in other countries unceremoniously booted out of power and privilege. The press also howled and bitched to the extent that some of them were deported and told not to come again. Fiji, as one of our closest neighbours, has always been aligned with NZ but our government's sanctimonious behaviour has caused a rift. This is something that hasn't escaped the notice of China. Eager to purchase allies and influence in the South Pacific, the Chinese have wasted no time in replacing NZ and Australia as Fiji's best friend. China's "soft power"  is very visible on the streets of Nadi with a notably expanded Chinese community and on Lautoka's commercial wharves which are piled high with containers filled with Chinese goods. From the Chinese fishing boats in the harbour to the Chinese funded development projects there's no doubt about it...China is Fiji's new BFF.

 So the army set out to do what was good for the country and wasn't prepared to listen to any dissent or opposition. For this they were roundly condemned and isolated by the western world. The people who actually live in Fiji see it a bit differently however. Of all the people I have asked, Indian and Fijian, here in NZ or in Fiji itself , all have said that they approve of and support their military government and all agreed that they are better off for it. Corruption is under control, foreign investment is increasing, tourism is growing, living standards are improving and people actually seem to be happy. Military government has worked for Fiji.

There's an interesting conclusion to be drawn a country that's split right down the middle, be it on ethnic, religious or ideological lines, democracy will produce ineffective, impotent governments. This is bad for a country. All the developed democratic countries now produce mediocre governments who are unable and unwilling to make real progress. In Fiji I see a genuinely popular government that makes things happen. At the same time I see NZ and Australian governments moralising and condemning, while all the while they do nothing to halt our own decline. If Commodore Frank arrived in Wellington with a gun and threw out all the useless riff-raff that inhabit our parliament I don't think I'd be at all unhappy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My New Truck

Heres my new truck. It's a 1996 Mazda B2600 4x4. When I got it it was totally stock standard but since then I've given it a 50mm body lift, 33inch x 12.50 tyres, cranked up the front torsion bars, fitted a boom box and some spotlights, replaced the factory seats with some half leather MX3 sport seats and tinted the windows. BLING!!! Not only does it look the does the biz offroad too. Do you like it???


Surfers Paradise. Queensland. June 2012
Australia. It looms large in the lives of most Kiwis. Everybody in NZ knows someone living there. There's hardly a person in the whole country that doesn't have some family member who lives in OZ. My own sister is in Melbourne. Not surprising then that Kiwis go to Australia a lot. It's easy...a 3 -4 hour flight, cheap airfares, cheap accommodation when you crash with the relatives and all that great weather and sunshine. And then there's the fact that we can stay there permanently if we want to, something that around half a million New Zealanders have chosen to do. For sure the mining boom in Australia has lead to many great opportunities for Kiwis and there are plenty of stories floating around about six figure salaries and great lifestyle opportunities. But....I've never really got the whole "lets move to Australia thing". I've visited a number of times but never really understood what the draw was for so many Kiwis. The last time I was in Australia was 2003 and I left with the same impression that I had always had...nice to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. This year was different however. Maybe it was something to do with the fact that I was accompanied by a Kiwi who now lives in Brisbane and another one who wishes he did. Possibly it was the 20 degree midwinter sunshine that did it. Either way when I flew back to Auckland at the end of the week I found that my position on Australia has changed somewhat...

It's not financial. It seems to me that when you boil things down there's not really a lot of difference between average Kiwi Joe and average Aussie Joe when it comes to money. If you are a super specialised highly skilled geo-tech consultant in the mining business or something like that you will definitely be ahead but if you are a taxi driver in Sydney it's not so much different. Some things are cheaper but some things are dearer. Housing in the big cities is just as ludicrously expensive as in NZ and my trip to the supermarket in Surfers paradise seemed to cost me just as much as it would have at home. It's not political. Australian politics and system of government is even more perverted and absurd than our own one in NZ. It's not commercial. Setting up a similar business to mine in Australia is an exercise in jumping through hoops and dealing with enormous amounts of ridiculous bureaucracy and pointless red tape. In fact, for me, the most compelling reason to move to Queensland is that they seem to have maintained its social standards and cultural identity while New Zealand has gone so far backwards

The gold coast is not doing so well financially these days but the overall impression I got from talking to the inhabitants is positive and optimistic. Standards are being upheld and most of the people I saw in Queensland still seem to have some pride in their country, city, culture and even their personal appearance. The people there are mainly European Australians and Asians the vast majority of whom were well dressed and moved around with a real sense of purpose. By contrast, a trip around Auckland seeing the large amounts of badly dressed mongrel deadbeats sloping around without any visible purpose leaves me with the feeling that we have lost our culture, civic and national pride. Downtown Brisbane is clean and tidy with great infrastructure and a real go ahead atmosphere. By contrast, in NZ the merely proposing to do anything constructive unleashes a tsunami of dissent, dispute, protest and acrimony. In the beach side village of Piha the community was split over the issue of a tree branch which had grown over a footpath. One side wanted the tree pruned as it has become a safety issue. The other side argued that the tree had been there for years and that the road should be altered. The tree huggers were the most vociferous of course and forced the local council to spend tens of thousands of dollars on feasibility studies and proposals to re-route the road and build a new footpath in a manner that was environmentally sound and culturally sensitive. This farce dragged on for months until one night an anonymous person, in a stunning display of common sense, simply cut the branch off with a saw. End of problem.  Somehow I just cant see that nonsense happening in Queensland. It certainly wouldn't happen in Tokyo or Shanghai. 

The other thing I like about Queensland is that it expects it's immigrants to assimilate and integrate more than we do. Everybody we encountered in the Gold coast and in Brisbane spoke good English no matter what their job was or what country they had come from. In Auckland there are now large sections of the community that are unable to communicate in English. Going to a supermarket or bank in South or West Auckland is like a visit to the UN headquarters. Here it has been decreed that it is unreasonable to expect an immigrant to learn our language and that it is us who must make the effort.  The same thing goes for fair and reasonable behaviour. I recently had a customer who had immigrated to NZ from India and in the time honoured tradition, as soon as he had obtained NZ citizenship, he promptly departed for Australia. This abuse of NZ as a gateway to Australia is common among third world immigrants. This particular Indian found life in Brisbane a bit harder than he had imagined and so after one year returned to NZ. When I asked if he did not like Australia he replied that "Australia didn't like me". It didn't take me long to find out that I don't care for him much myself. When dealing with him I found him to be underhanded and untrustworthy. While he may find it easier to get away with that approach here by claiming cultural differences, Australians tend to be less afraid to enforce first world standards on third world people. In that respect, Japan is similar....if you plan on living there you will have to fit in and don't expect the locals to bend over back wards to accommodate your culture or traditions. NZ has imported tens of thousands of third world people over the last 20 years and has done bugger all to ensure that they fit in with the existing culture and traditions. On the contrary, we have been browbeaten by successive governments and special interest groups into accepting without question their cultures and traditions no matter how incompatible they are with our own.

I am not under any illusion that all of Australia is the same. Sydney, as far as I can see is not much different to Auckland and has all the same problems and ills caused by all the same stupid policies and attitudes. And the same crappy winter weather. I wouldn't contemplate moving there for a minute, but as for Brisbane...I think I'm starting to get it.