Thursday, December 30, 2010

No Docomo LTE smartphones until winter 2011: interim options

It's time for users of overseas phones to chime in and report which handsets have proper Japanese certification. Please also let us know the hardware revision, the date purchased, the carrier and country, and/or anything else you believe may be relevant for usage in Japan. You are looking for a mark either physically stamped on the phone or displayable through menu settings. It looks similar to the postal "〒". As comments come in, I'll append the information to this post.

I was hoping for LTE-equipped handsets to follow soon after Docomo flipped the Xi LTE switch to the "on" position this Christmas Eve, but commenter chokkan pointed out this is not to be. Via keitai watch, Docomo CEO Yamada intends to release LTE smartphones with the winter 2011 lineup.
Me and my ht-03a, overclocked to 614 MHz (ez-nightly271-cm-2708port kernel) and with a total of 141 MB RAM (110 MB real, 31 MB virtual), are probably set for the year. But I am sure a lot of you are looking for something newer and more powerful.

Either way we look at it, Softbank has many of the phones readers of this blog, er... desire, but Docomo has the more robust network. Unfortunately, Docomo infamously restricts unlimited data to their own handsets. No one has found a way around this. Even using a Docomo handset with the wrong settings can be expensive.

Fortunately, this is set to change in a few months, perhaps as early as April or May 2011, when Docomo says they will allow any phone on their network, as long as it is certified for use in Japan.

Until then, some readers are taking extreme measures. Reader Fuji Slider is using a Softbank HTC Desire HD on Docomo with a pocket wifi router after canceling the packet houdai plan. (chokkan also pointed out that in juggly's review of the Nexus S (J), the phone obviously has a Docomo SIM card, but my guess is that he is using wifi for data, not the FOMA network because wifi is connected in all screenshots.)

It is no secret within the expat community that the cost of unsubsidized handsets in Japan is often significantly higher than overseas.

For example, reader Brian is using a UK Dell Streak on Softbank and mentioned that the same handset can be purchased contract free in the US for about $400. For comparison, the pocket-busting Streak  costs 40,320 yen (1680 yen x 24 months) subsidized and with a 2-year contract or  93,120 yen unsubsidized from Softbank, which is nearly three times the cost of an imported US model.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Points to consider when purchasing an Android phone in Japan

I found via cyanogen's blog a recent blog post from Nick Kralevich, an engineer on the Android security team. Nick was defending the Nexus S from an engadget post that was freaking out (!!!111oneoneone) about the fact that the Nexus S was rooted on the same day as launch.
The Nexus S, like the Nexus One before it, is designed to allow enthusiasts to install custom operating systems. Allowing your own boot image on a pure Nexus S is as simple as running fastboot oem unlock. It should be no surprise that modifying the operating system can give you root access to your phone. Hopefully that’s just the beginning of the changes you might make.
This, along with recent developments regarding updates to and abandonments of handsets, has got me thinking on what are the most important aspects to consider prior to purchasing. The standard pre-purchase ritual involves the comparison of many specs, features, and numbers. This has been correctly pointed out to border on bullsh!t..

Given two handsets of roughly the same generation, by far the most important consideration is access to forthcoming system updates, whether it be through an OTA update from the carrier or through rooting and installing custom ROMs on your own. Apple doesn't have this issue because they control everything and cut the carriers out of the update loop. Google on the other hand has makers and carriers to consider. Until there is an Android user's bill of rights, there are absolutely no guarantees that carriers will continue to support handsets, even only 6 months to a year after release on their network, and even if google and the maker work together to create a firmware update for that exact handset.

So what are we to do? Here are my thoughts. Let me know yours.

Purchase Google branded Nexus phones

I've linked previously to a list of reasons not to purchase the Nexus S, and I tend to agree, especially given the lack of a micro SD slot and the lack of a dual core CPU. However, I disagree with the reasoning that it is essentially a Galaxy S. Yes, this is true, but it is a Galaxy S that will never be at the whim of a carrier with respect to updates. It is a Galaxy S that essentially ships with not only an engineering bootloader but also Google's blessing to use it in order to gain root privilege.

As long as the Nexus phones are physically capable of running the most recent version of Android, they will receive updates directly from Google. When they are no longer able, someone will compile a version optimized for it.

Now we just need to wait a few more months until Docomo allows us to use it. To use it now, other options include B-Mobile and Softbank. It may be difficult to purchase from Best Buy because they have blocked all japanese IP Addresses.

Purchase handsets that are proven rootable

(This comes with the caveat that you are purposely purchasing a phone with a known security flaw. The caveat comes with the caveat that there is no such thing as a phone without a known security flaw.)

HTC handsets in particular are always a good bet since there is a huge community at xda-developers focused on HTC handsets, but Japanese makers such as Sharp and Toshiba should be avoided until we know more about their offerings. The first Sharp handset, the IS01/Lynx SH-10B has a protected system partition and cannot be updated (so far) except officially. Officially, no updates are coming. The Sharp IS03 could easily have the same restrictions. To make matters worse, relatively few people with the skills and knowledge to defeat the protections are using the handsets because they are (so far) only available in Japan.

Demand information on update plans

We know this won't get anywhere because the shop staff know nothing. But the more people that are asking the better. We need to point out that access to updates is more important than megapixels or waterproofing. The best way to get concrete update plans is to wait to purchase until after the next version is announced.

We also don't know which carriers are going to be the best about updating. So far AU is 0 for 1 with IS01. Docomo is fairing a bit better, though they appear poised to abandon the ht-03a after just over a year. (Regarding the ht-03a, I think there are very few people who actually bought one. European carriers are still announcing updates, so it is possible that Docomo plans to update it.  期待しない方がいいけど。) Softbank may have the best update record - at least they have been advertising offering higher versions than Docomo.

Known rootable Android handsets available from Japanese carriers (12/24/2010)

Purchasing any other handset than these listed below could leave you without system updates.
  • Dell Streak (Softbank 001DL) [Not yet available]*
  • HTC Desire (Softbank X06TH II and X06TH)
  • HTC Desire HD (Softbank 001HT)
  • HTC Magic (Docomo ht-03a) [no longer available]
  • Samsung Galaxy S (Docomo SC-02B)
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab (Docomo SC-01C)
  • SE Xperia X10 (Docomo SO-01B)
*Overseas versions are rootable but unconfirmed if the same revision will be available in Japan.

Android apps for Japanese train search

Until now, the best free android app for train search in Japan was 乗換案内 by Jorudan. There are other apps, but these are just front ends for a browser search of google or goo transit. Recently, two new apps were released by ekitan and hyperdia. The hyperdia app, also named 乗換案内 is promising because it is the only one with an English localization, albeit a bit engrishy (for now).

Of course there is also navitime, which is a subscription service that adds navigation and maps, but as the google maps app continues to improve, there is little reason to pay for navitime. At present, about the only things navitime does that google doesn't is tell you which carriage to ride in for the easiest transfer and provide exit numbers with walking directions. I excluded the google maps app from this comparison because it is a bit too omoi (heavy) to fire up for a quick train schedule search.


I mainly use Jorudan, but am giving ekitan a try and am likely to switch to it because it meets my needs. Hyperdia is not quite there yet, but I expect it will improve quickly.

romaji input
integrated history
delay info
results display
notable feature
live (social delay info)
configurable defaults
gmail/twitter integration
Which is best for you?


Tested handset: ht-03a (Android 2.2.1); Compatible handsets according to dev: Xperia (Android 1.6); Version: 1.0.3(4).

The thing I like most about hyperdia is the configurable defaults, from the number of transfer stations to use (up to 10!), to the ability to automatically search 5 to 10 minutes in advance without having to manually specify departure time for each search. Hyperdia allows searching by arrival time to be set to default. The GPS function works extremely quickly in my opinion. Of course, many readers are sure to appreciate the English localization and the ability to search in romaji.

It is still in beta and will cease to function in February, though the dev includes the possibility of an extension. Presumably the reason for expiration is that they don't want an old buggy beta floating around, though they could still be considering monetization options. And it is buggy. It appears to be using an embedded browser to display results pulled from their servers. Leaving the app and returning often (but not always) causes the browser to reload, but the URL is malformed and the search fails. It also FCs sometimes. The app purportedly includes timetable search functionality, but I can't find this option anywhere, so I assume this feature is not implemented.

There is also a bit of quirkiness. The dev uses half the screen real estate to remind us the app will expire. To pull up search history, you have to click in the text box, which unfortunately brings up the keyboard, partially obscuring said history; a much better way would be dedicated buttons for history, like the other apps use. Where these buttons should be located, there are buttons for locating nearby stations by GPS. In my opinion, there is no need for a function to pull up arrival station by GPS, since if the station is that close, I'm walking. These two buttons could be consolidated into one and moved elsewhere allowing room for history buttons.


Tested handset: ht-03a (Android 2.2.1). Compatible handsets according to dev: Desire, Desire HD, Galaxy S, Galaxy Tab, IS03, Lynx 3D sh-03c, Regza T-01C, Xperia; Version: 1.1.0(20101221).

This app should have the folks at jorudan worried. It is surprisingly refined for something that just hit the market. It includes an extremely responsive auto suggestion feature that quickly predicts station names as you type. The transit result screen is excellent, including a refresh button and displaying quick links to each route, as well as a route overview that includes lines, times, prices, number of transfers, and the standard 安 早 楽 labels. After clicking through to a route, there is an option to mail or tweet the schedule, though there is only support for gmail and twitter. Overall, I am very impressed.

The Ekitan app handles search history different than jorudan. First, there is no integrated search history, meaning that if you search for a timetable for a particular station, that station will not appear in the history for transit searches or vice versa. (I seem to recall finding a way to bring up a timetable for a station that is in the transit search history, but the method is obscure, so obscure that I can't for the life of me remember how I did it.) Second, Ekitan saves actual station timetables for a preset line and direction. Depending on your train usage habits, this could be a convenient feature if you always take the same line in the same direction or could result in multiple entries for the same station. For example, the far right of the image below shows three saved timetables for Tokyo Station. Timetable history is limited to only 10 entries.

One of the downsides of this app is that querying for search results is on average slow, more than twice as long as the other apps it seems. The first time searching a timetable can be much, much slower. I suspect this is unrelated to the fact that my handset is technically unsupported. At the bottom of the screen, there is always a looping "working" indicator. I assume it is trying to load up an ad that is being blocked by AdFree. Settings are sparse, containing only an option for ordering results (speed, price, transfers), walking speed, and whether to use extra cost-incurring express trains for trips under 100 km. It also uses twice the RAM of the other apps, more than what google maps uses.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Openet and Allot Communications are your enemy

Via Wired, we have this presentation (PDF) from two companies that want you to pay extra for everything you do on the internet that doesn't include premium services from your mobile carrier. Take a look at these guys.

And take a look at what they propose.

Current Japanese Android handsets that fully support Google Maps 5

Google Maps 5 adds excellent new features, such as vector maps, 3D buildings, panning, tilting, and rotating, if your handset can handle it. Not only must you be running Froyo for full support (no rotation without froyo), but there are also hardware limitations.

Straight from Google is the list of current handsets that support all the new features, including panning, zooming, tilting, and rotating gestures:
  • Samsung Nexus S
  • Samsung Galaxy S
  • Motorola Droid
  • Motorola Droid 2
  • Motorola Droid X
  • HTC Incredible
  • HTC EVO 4G
  • HTC G2
As you can see, the only phone available from a Japanese carrier that is fully supported is the Galaxy S, which is only available in theory since it's sold out/on order/coming in half a year.

Partially supported devices that support panning, zooming, and tilting gestures only are:
  • HTC Desire
  • Sony Ericsson X10
  • LG Ally
  • HTC Nexus One
Both the HTC N1 and Desire have been updated to Froyo, so their lack of support for rotation is a hardware limitation. The SE x10 is currently running Eclair. I don't know if the hardware supports rotation. I know nothing about LG android handsets.

What does the ht-03a get for Christmas?

The above screen shot shows that it gets the ability to cache maps for offline usage and a new look for transit, which is a little disappointing. Don't get me wrong, offline maps is awesome, it's just that the other features seems so cool. I was really hoping for vector maps, but alas, I am am still downloading rasterized tiles.

I haven't had a chance to check out offline maps yet, but I did have a go with the new transit. It is indeed improved.

On the left is the results screen. I still don't like that it doesn't display what lines are being used. If you are in an area with a large number of available subways as well as JR, it really helps to immediately have an idea of the route. Here, we have to guess based on price. The first two results are using the Tokyo metro, while the third is probably using the metro then toei, or perhaps the other way around. It's even worse when you are at roughly equal walking distance from multiple stations.

On the right is what is displayed when clicking through. Before, this was the deal killer with google transit in maps because it took too long for the route to be displayed. Rather than clicking through to each one, I just used jorudan. Now, the screen on the right is displayed almost instantly, which is a tremendous improvement. (I don't think this is because of my phone's new found 15 MB of RAM, which will be most noticeable when returning to previously used apps, as opposed to displaying information for the first time.)

Google Maps has incorporated departure times in the the PC version for Tokyo subways for a while now, but I don't recall seeing it in the mobile version until now. (Admittedly, it could have been there all along and I just never noticed). Going back to the example of a station with a number of lines and multiple ways to get to the same place, Google Maps provides the fastest (only?) way to view schedules for all lines at once. Take Iidabashi for example.

Fragmentation of android, caused by both makers (hardware limitations) and carriers (OS limitation), is frustrating since the average person will probably never understand which handsets can do what and why their handset can't do what the other guy's can. But, even the stripped down version of Google Maps for android is really starting to improve.

Vector maps? We don't need no stinkin vector maps.

Friday, December 17, 2010

15MB extra RAM for ht-03a using T-Mobile bootloader and radio

I flashed the new SPL and radio that also came with the T-Mobile Froyo OTA giving myself an extra 15 MB of RAM. This post attempts to compile the background and links to the knowledge needed to do this safely. Because this is much more complicated than rooting with universal androot, and you can very easily brick your phone, this should not be done if you don't fully understand the process and aren't comfortable using the command line. While I believe someone may have created flashable signed zips for doing this, the recommended way is to use fastboot.

The Benefits

ROM Memory Swap Total (KB) Total (MB)
Rooted old SPL/radio
Rooted new SPL/radio
Without swap, that is an additional 14.8 MB of real memory.

First, a few things you need to know before proceeding:

Perfect Secondary Program Loader

The ht-03a shipped with a "perfect" SPL that does not allow remote fastboot. Therefore, an interim engineering SPL will have to be flashed in order to use fastboot to flash the new SPL (1.33.0013) and radio. The new SPL is also perfect, but a version was modified for the Dream/G1 (1.33.0013d) that allows a few fastboot commands, such as fasboot erase system -w for a complete wipe. Fortunately, 1.33.0013d has been confirmed to also work on the ht-03a, a Google-branded 32B magic.

Even with the modified "d" version of the new SPL, you cannot remote boot a recovery image, flash new splash screens, flash a new recovery image (if for example yours became corrupted). You will have to flash an engineering SPL, do what you must, then reflash 1.33.0013d. Unlike flashing ROMs, flashing SPLs is not 100% risk free.

Amon_RA Recovery Recommended

I'm sure this will probably get some feathers ruffled, but I am leery of clockwork recovery and ROM Manager. As outlined here, this is not the developer's fault but a low memory issue. Perhaps this new SPL and radio will fix that, but the fact remains that there have been a number of instances Dream and Magic users getting stuck with no working recovery. With an Engineering SPL, this is no problem because fastboot flash recovery recovery-RA-sapphire-v1.7.0G.img fixes this, but with a perfect SPL, it will be much more difficult, as in making a goldcard difficult.

Another fact is that I have yet to hear of this ever happening with Amon_RA's recovery, and ezterry at XDA is suggesting to use Amon_RA. However, using Amon_RA means you can't use ROM Manager.

(NOTE: ht-03a users need "G" versions of Amon_RA)

Patched Kernel Required

If you are like me, you never cared about kernels. Yeah, you might have been interested in testing out some of the overclocked kernels but you were perfectly happy to use whatever the developers included with the ROM, which will likely be the most stable way to go but maybe not the fastest. Stability versus bleeding edge. For the time being, those days will be over. All of the cooked ROMs available right now will need a patched kernel that may or may not be included with the ROM.

I have no idea what is the "best" kernel. It will depend on what makes it the best for you.

Required Reading
Required Environment
  • Engineering SPL (I am using 1.33.2005. Many others are using 1.33.2009. IIRC, there might be issues with 1.33.2010 and CM, so 2009 is probably best.)
  • fastboot utility installed on your PC
  • Android SDK on your PC to allow you to use ADB (Perhaps this is technically not required but at this point of getting into your phone you ought to have it installed.)
What I did

The T-Mobile US Froyo OTA with a cyanogen kernel I've been running lately is by far my favorite ROM due to speed and stability. I've mentioned missing some CyanogenMod features, but when it comes to my phone, stability trumps the bleeding edge. So I 1) did a nandroid backup of my current ROM, 2) updated the SPL and radio, 3) restored the backup, 4) flashed the patched kernel, and 5) picked up where I left off with no loss of data on my phone. The actual work involved for me was about 10 minutes because I already had an engineering SPL and Amon_RA. I spent infinitely more time writing about this than I did actually experiencing it.

So far, all seems fine, but I'll need a bit of time to test. Wifi and GPS are working, and the phone does seem snappier. I haven't had a chance to see how battery life is. There are two choices of radio, or The former came with the OTA. The later is a newer radio. Depends on who you ask and where they live, which is better/faster/easier on the battery. For now I am using
  1. Rebooted to recovery and nandroid backup my current ROM.
  2. Followed ezterry's instructions on XDA
  3. Downloaded all necessary files and checked the MD5 sums against what was published.
  4. Mounted my SD card, copied the kernel installer to the root of my SD Card, and rechecked the md5 sum.
  5. fastboot flash radio radio-
  6. fastboot flash hboot hboot-1.33.0013d.img
  7. fastboot reboot-bootloader
  8. fastboot erase system -w
  9. fastboot erase boot
  10. Reboot to recovery and restore ROM.
  11. Flash kernel.
  12. Reboot normally.
  13. Pray ;-) (actually I used ddms watch all the boot messages)
  14. Play.
New v Old SPL/Radio

HBOOT Radio Context Type Security SPL Maker Fastboot USB
My choice
Froyo OTA
*fastboot erase allowed

Here are the hboot/radio combinations I've had on my ht-03a, beginning with the Docomo stock configuration. After that I used the same radio with an engineering SPL. This was prior to universal androot with no one-click option for 1.6 Donut; An engineering SPL was required to root. Finally, I'm back to a mostly perfect SPL but with an additional 15 MB of real memory.

What most of you will need to do
  1. NOT follow these steps but use them as A Docomo ht-03a SPECIFIC REFERENCE for ezterry's instructions.
  2. If you are unrooted, root your phone and flash a custom recovery. clockwork is fine to start with.
  3. Download and flash an engineering SPL from recovery (e.g., 1.33.2009, though I have been using 1.33.2005). VERIFY MD5 SUM after download and after copying to SD card.
  4. Reboot to fastboot (power + back).
  5. Download Amon_RA recovery (NOTE: that the code in exterry's guide is specific to a dream ht-03a users need a sapphire recovery tagged "G". "cyan" refers to the color scheme, not cyanogen.) VERIFY MD5 SUM!
  6. Using the terminal, cd to the directory with the img file and fastboot flash recovery recovery-RA-sapphire-v1.7.0G.img which assumes you have added fastboot to your path (Instructions for mac/linux here. Windows users on their own.)
  7. Continue as I did.
  8. Restore your previous ROM and flash the "2708" ported kernel of you choice.
  9. Or follow these directions for CM 6.1 after rebooting to recovery.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AU officially abandons Sharp IS01: that was fast

I understand all the words in this "announcement" (quotes are the media's) but the real meaning eludes me, perhaps because it reads like one big excuse with no actual substance.
After careful consideration of the results of extensive investigation, we've concluded that, due to hardware design costs, operability, performance, etc., that it is not realistically possible to update [the IS01's android operating system].
Like I said, I understand the meaning but there really is no meaning. Well, I guess the meaning is thanks for buying, hope you enjoy.

Mr. Komugi put together a summary of IS01 hacking. I emailed him for clarification, but haven't heard back yet. Either way, while he can 1) flash a new recovery, 2) get busybox and 3) superuser permissions installed, as well as 4) setup swap space for virtual memory to increase performance, the NAND protection on /system has NOT been defeated. No flashing of ROMs. No Froyo. And you have to re-hack it every time you reboot.

You can keep track of progress here at the IS01 wiki. As of today under "rooting progress" (進行状況), ROM flashing (defeating NAND protection) is listed as not done. [ROM焼き (NAND保護の回避) 不可(進行中)] When it is listed as "可能" IS01 owners have reason to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Android 2.2 Froyo comes to Vodafone UK HTC Magic users

Just a quick note to pass on what I found via Vodafone UK has announced updates to Froyo for their HTC Magics. First it was T-Mobile in the US. Now Vodafone in the UK. What carriers, if any, will be next? More importantly, will Docomo ever remember that they actually used to sell this handset and called it the ht-03a?

Converting a foreign drivers license to a Japanese license

UPDATED throughout based on comments pertaining to 1) getting a driving record from the country that issued your license and 2) requirements for holders of licenses issued by countries exempted from the tests (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland). Everyone is required to get a vision test and translation of their license. US drivers are required to also take a 10 question test and ~ 1 km driving test.

Here is a technological tangent for your Tuesday afternoon: converting an overseas drivers license to a Japanese license (外免切替) primarily from the perspective of a US license holder. My motivation for posting this is that, first, a license is an accepted form of ID for getting a mobile contract and may be a preferred form, especially if you are trying to sign up with softbank and want to pay via bank draft as opposed to credit card but can't show a utility bill (because, for example, you live in a university dormitory). Next, while there is a lot of information in English on the web, much of it is either a bit out dated, which left me wondering how much of it was still correct, or being provided by companies that want to sell you something. Finally, I found the driving test to be much easier to pass than what I read on the web. But of course, I am a "good driver." (Aren't we all? Has anyone met someone who actually admits to being a "bad driver?")

Since I recently completed this process, I'll share my experience and time stamp it December 2010. Be warned though, the information regarding the driving skills check, which is required for US license holders but not for many of the rest of you, is already out of date because the Samezu testing course is under construction from now ("mid December") for the next five years. Yes, every US license holder in Tokyo is going to Fuchu in Tama for the driving part.

I'll start with the essentials followed by my specific experience. It will require at least two days to get a license if you hold a US license. I took the driving test with 8 other people. 4 failed, 2 of them using automatic transmissions. For at least 3 of the passing people (myself included) it was the first time to take the test.

What to bring on Day 1
  • Valid passport.
  • One 3 cm x 2.4 cm photo taken within the last 6 months, showing your head and shoulders on a plain background to be used internally by the testing center - this will not be the photo on your license. (The clerks at Samezu have a cutter that will crop the larger-sized photo used in the ARC.)
  • Alien registration card.
  • Valid foreign license with an issued date at least three months prior to entering Japan. Leaving Japan for three months and obtaining a foreign license is acceptable.
  • Translation of foreign license obtained from the Japanese Automobile Federation or your embassy. (Many embassy's may not provide translation services, including the US embassy.)
  • Bringing an expired passport is highly recommended if the date on your license predates your currently valid passport and required if your current passport does not indicate that you have spent a total of three months in the country that issued your passport. (For Americans who may or may not get stamped in and out of the US, I am told they will add up the time unaccounted for by stamps and assign that to time spent in the US.)
IMPORTANT: Renewal of your foreign license can reset time calculation

You must prove that you actually spent three months in the country that issued your license. I assume the J govt is trying to prevent people from grabbing a foreign license while on holiday and skipping the full-blown process which is an absolutely horrific and expensive experience to which you never, ever want to be subjected.

I've had a driver's license now for over 20 years but as far as the Japanese government is concerned, I've only had one for about a third of that time because the US state from which my license is issued prints a new issuing date on the license with each renewal. If you ever plan to get a Japanese license but haven't yet, confirm whether or not this applies to you NOW. If it does and you renew prior to converting it to a Japanese license, you may be required to remain out of Japan for three months or be subjected to the above mentioned horrific and expensive process *. To add insult to injury, you'll have to display that green leaf newbie sign on anything you drive for the first year as well. (if you convert a license that is more than a year old, there will be a note on the back stating you are not required to display the beginner's mark "初心者標識免除".)

* NOTE: Several commenters mentioned that a driving history can be substituted if the date on your license reflects the latest renewal and puts you afoul of the 3 month rule. US license holders will want to obtain a driver's "abstract" from their DMV. Depending on the DMV, some will issue them online. However, it will likely need to be somehow certified, so one issued online and printed at home is unlikely to suffice unless you can convince the US Embassy to notarize it, which they will likely not do since they can't be sure it is real. The best way would be to obtain one directly from the DMV in person, through a third party, or through the mail. Needless to say, it is best to convert your license after arriving in Japan but prior to required renewal.

Day 1 Procedure

You'll need to lookup the information for testing centers from your prefectural police department. Here is English information on license requirements (PDF) from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (J). While this is specific to Tokyo, the general requirements are applicable throughout Japan. As far as I can tell, holders of licenses from exempted countries must only do steps 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 (basically the translation and vision test), and this can be done entirely at the Koto testing center.

For US license holders, this is done at Samezu, because Koto only deals (as far as I can tell) with people exempted from the tests.
  1. Find the nearest JAF and obtain license translation, which takes about 30 minutes if they're not busy and costs 3000 yen.
  2. Go to nearest testing center ("rist" of testing centers from the NPA [J, excel] or google docs).
  3. This may differ between prefectures, but you basically get a number and wait to present your documents. If everything is in order, then you can proceed.
  4. Specify whether you will be tested on a manual or automatic transmission. (If you chose "AT" you cannot legally drive a car with a manual transmission.)
  5. Fill out application form
  6. Take a very quick vision test.
  7. Take a very simple 10 question knowledge check; 7 correct answers to pass. Questions are common sense like, is it OK to drink alcohol before driving?
  8. Schedule a driving test for the next available day at either 8:30 am or 1 pm.
You'll end up with a copy of the application form, an appointment card, an IC card (the function of which was never clear to me), and a few pages in English (perhaps other languages are also available) explaining what they expect you to do to pass the driving test.

What to bring on Day 2

For US license holders and everyone not from one of these countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

I did this at Samezu which is no longer possible. You must now go to Fuchu. There is no driving course at Koto.
  • Everything you brought on Day 1 except for the photo (because it is affixed to the application sheet).
  • The copy of the application sheet you were given on Day 1.
  • The appointment card and IC card you received on Day 1.
Day 2 Procedure
  1. Show up five minutes prior to you scheduled test time.
  2. Pass the driving test.
  3. Chose PIN for IC card on license.
  4. Have photo taken.
  5. Get license.
  • 3000 yen to JAF for translation
  • 2400 for Day 1 (and for each subsequent day if you fail the knowledge test)
  • 2100 for issuance fee (this is paid on Day 1 for people who don't have to take the driving test and on Day 2 for the rest of us. This becomes 2400 if you fail the driving test and must reschedule.) 
My experience at Samezu

I did the whole thing in two half days with zero preparation aside from reading the materials I was given during the first day. At the very least, I'd recommend people to check out this list of Japanese street signs (PDF) and be in general familiar with the rules of the road (such as no left turn on red). For me, there was no need to buy the study book, but I have several years of experience driving in Japan.

On the first day, I arrived at JAF in Minato-ku by 9:30 am, received the translation prior to 10:00, and was at the testing center in Samezu by 10:30. At the testing center, you wait first, fill out forms later, so immediately go to Window Number 26 on the second floor at the back of the building and get a number for the queue. If you don't get a number by 11 am, you'll have to wait until 1 pm to start the process.

You will become very familiar with Window Number 26. It is the busiest booth in the building. There is a sign that says so. I waited 40 minutes until my number was called, at which point I turned in all my documents and the clerk did a quick check before settling in to add up time spent in America since my license predated my passport and I didn't bring my old, cancelled passport.

An hour later I was called back and instructed to do the vision check, pay the 2400 yen fee at window number 10, just below on the first floor, and come back to Window Number 26. (DO NOT go to window number 25 and attempt to pay the application fee if it is between 11 am and 1 pm because there is a chance that it will be staffed by a clueless person that will tell you that you must wait until 1 pm to continue. This is not true.)

The vision check and detour to window number 25 took about 10 minutes. Not long after returning, I was called in to take my knowledge test in the room behind Window Number 26. As I walked in to the testing room, there was a guy who had just failed and was being admonished for not studying and wasting money since he'd have to pay the fee again next time he took the test.

The format was simple: There was a statement and you hit a "yes" or "no" button on the touch screen computer. "It is OK to drive after consuming small amounts of alcohol and prescription drugs." "No."

I didn't fail.

Honestly, I don't remember what the rest of the test consisted of, but there were tricky questions that attempted to confuse. Frankly, I understand why people spend so much money on driving school here. It is not to learn to drive but learn to pass the test, which is similar to the format of the USCG captain's license tests.

Next, it was on to station number 9, which is the registration area for the driving test. There were three slots still available at Samezu, two at 8:30 am, one at 1 pm. I chose the 1 pm slot. At this point, I received the IC card, appointment card, and the English study sheet.

Day 1 time at Samezu: 2 hours 15 minutes
Total testing time (vision, knowledge): 10 - 15 minutes
Casulty rate: Probably very low though did see one person fail.

On the second day, I got there a bit early at 12:30 for my 1 pm test. Prior to taking the driving test, an examiner detailed the course, though you do not need to memorize this because the examiner will tell you where to go. However, you need to know the Japanese for right, left, straight, and traffic light, as well as the numbers 1 - 20. ("Go right then proceed straight to number 3."). You will be asked to ride in the back seat while another person takes the test. If you are the very first person to drive, then you won't have the benefit of watching someone else go through the test first.

The examiner also explained in detail what we needed to do to pass, as well as what would cause us to fail. Not stopping at the line at stop signs and flashing red lights, running over a curb (and keep going), driving on the wrong side of the road, cross a yellow line, hitting something, running a red light/stop sign, i.e., the big stuff would fail you immediately. There will be other cars on the track at the same time.

Try not to get too nervous and do something dumb. Imagine the course is a real road.

To pass, do everything you would normally do (for the most part). Signal, check your mirrors and look over your shoulder when changing lanes. At a stop sign, look right, then left, then right again. Drive in the far left lane on four lane roads (two lanes each direction). On the (very) tight S curves, it is OK if you hit the curb as long as you back up (safely) and complete the turn without completely running over the inside curve or hitting the outside barriers that are simulating a wall or building.

The examiners don't care what you do with your shifting hand when not shifting, nor do they care if you put it in neutral or engage the clutch when stopped. When turning right from a two-lane road onto a four-lane road (two lanes in each direction), you may turn directly into the far left lane. You do not have to shout out stuff line "migi yoshi!" nor must you exaggeratedly sight out each stop sign, curve, or pylon with you finger.

On one of the outer straightaways, you will be asked to accelerate to 45 km/h. Aside from that, just go slow. In fact, you can't go too slow. Someone driving the AT car in front of me was going so slow that I caught up to them not even halfway though the course. This was mainly because they had, for unknown reasons, stopped at a green light. For about 15 seconds. They finally decided to go just before the light turned yellow, leaving me to wait out the long red light. I caught back up in the S-curves where this person came to a complete stop, again, in the middle of the "road." This person finally entered the S curves and drove them excruciatingly slowly.

This person passed and I resisted the urge to use the horn.

If you fail, your reward is to leave immediately after making another reservation and paying another 2400 yen. If you pass, you'll be there for another 3 hours while everything gets processed (until around 4 pm for the afternoon session) but you only pay 2100 yen.

Day 2 time at Samezu: 3 hours 30 minutes
Total testing time (driving): 5 - 10 minutes (time it takes to drive 1200 m with a very slow car in front of you.)
Casulty rate: 50% (4 of 8 failed; 2 passed AT, 2 passed MT).
First time pass rate: At least 75% of those who passed (confirmed with two of the three other people that it was their first time to take the test. One person had paid money for practice sessions.) 37.5% - 50% of total (3 to 4 people / 8 people total)


JAF foreign license conversion page (J)
JAF foreign license translation application (PDF E and J champuru)
JAF metro Tokyo location map (google map)

Tokyo police department information page (J)
Tokyo Police conversion information (PDF; E)

Prefectural testing centers
Links to all prefectural police departments (J)
List of all testing centers in Japan (as of 2008) (J) or in Google Doc format
Referring page (J) for the list of testing centers (for when the above link dies next time the file is updated since the NPA thoughtfully put the year in the file name). Click on link called "各都道府県警察等の運転適性相談窓口".

Tokyo testing centers
Samezu location map (google map)
Fuchu location map (google map)
Koto location map (google map)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CM 6.1 Stable released for ht-03a

If anyone is interested, a stable version of 6.1 is out. Normally, I would have already installed it but I've been very happy with the speed of the TMUS CM6 Remix. There are a number of features that I miss from CM 6.1, however so I'll probably give it a try.

I usually do a full wipe via fastboot before flashing different ROMs, but I'm hearing a lot of reports of success flashing between CM 6 and the Remix ROM without wiping. In fact, I am beginning to wonder if wiping was the reason my APN got reset while many other commenters had not issues. (For example, if someone didn't wipe and flashed on top of a ROM with bizho set, perhaps nothing was changed. But when I fully erased my phone and flashed a ROM with the mopera APN listed above the bizho APN...)

I unzipped CM6.1 stable and confirmed that the bizho APN is listed above the mopera APN.

CM 6.1 stable can be downloaded here. To install, first do a nandroid backup of your current ROM. Next, if your current ROM is based on Android 2.2 Froyo, don't wipe anything but flash CM 6.1 directly on top. If all works fine, then no need to do anything else. If the phone is slow, laggy, boot loops, or you get lots of FCs, then you'll have to wipe and do a clean install. Also, not wiping can sometimes result in duplicate contacts. If you notice this, you'll have to wipe and do a clean install.

An afterthought...

I know a lot of you are interested in using the new SPL and radio that came with the US T-Mobile official Froyo release because it gives the phone an extra 15 MB of RAM, which in the context of this device is absolutely huge. People do have it working with CM 6 or with the official ROM, but I've been waiting for a the next stable release of CM6. Now that this has happened, I'll keep an eye on how the work proceeds.

For anyone wanting to do this, here are some issues you should be aware of:
  • This is not nearly as simple as flashing a new ROM, if anything does wrong, the phone will be bricked.
  • A patched kernel is needed.
  • You won't be able to use 99.9% of the current ROMs
  • If you decide to go back, it will be a bit of work because the SPL is perfect (good thing I still have my goldcard).
  • You'll lose the ability to fastboot, meaning you can't remote boot a recovery in the event your recovery gets erased, which is something that has been known to happen with ROM Manager/CM6/clockwork recovery
  • There is a hacked version of the SPL that allows the fastboot erase command to do a full and proper wipe but it was "modified with HTC Dreams in mind." The modified SPL is 1.33.0013d.
  • Probably something else I'm forgetting.
What I really want to see if a release of CM6 specifically for the HTC Magic (right now it is for the Dream and Magic) that uses the odex'd apks and comes with a proper kernel for the new radio/SPL. I am pretty sure that I'm not the only one, so I can imagine something showing up soon. I'll let y'all know if I hear anything.

I am also waiting to hear the details of Android 2.3 Gingerbread to find out what bits of it, if any bit of it at all, will be useable on the HTC Magic.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Best customer service response ever

And I'm only being half sarcastic because I got a reply back almost immediately after submitting a crash log via their support site. They had already reproduced the problem.
Good day.
Thank you for using XXXX digital microscope.
We have tried to duplicate the problem that you sent to us, and we found that the problem happened one time. We apologize that we are not able to solve this problem in a short time.
But we would like to suggest you to use the "parallel" in the Mac, so that you are able to use our software XXXX2.0 for PC, which with more functions to select.
Here is the link to download our XXXX2.0

If you have any further question, please kindly contact me at anytime.
They basically mean to say that they've reproduced the problem and are working to fix it but in the meantime, a work around is to use a virtual windows install with their windows software. But somehow it just doesn't come out quite right.

I've removed the company name because it is really a good product and I expect they'll have a fix shortly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Current and future versions of CyanogenMod now safe for Docomo users

The guy who runs let me know this had been fixed. It only affected ROMs being compiled for the last 2 weeks in October. All November nightlies should be OK. CM 6.1 rc1 IS NOT OK and should not be used if you are a Docomo customer unless you edit the apns-conf.xml file prior to flashing.

The fix was provided by Takuo Kitame, who is responsible for the Japanese translations in CM, who had this to say when he fixed the error on October 29th (short and sweet):
APN: change order of 44010.
"" should be below the "" because it's too expensive.
This timing was too late for me because I'd already been charged by then. Ironically it is the same day I flashed back to the safe TMUS CM6 remix. Unfortunately for Apiddo and any others who will pay an extra 4200 yen in November, the word didn't seem to get circulated in English. Maybe I need to start following these guys on twitter (even though I don't want to use twitter). All subsequent nightly builds will have the correct order and shouldn't be a problem for us.

The take home message is to be careful with APNs and consider yourself lucky that your carrier doesn't charge you the full packet rate for these types of snafus.

And one final thought: I still don't understand what the purpose of having included.