The BBC always rings twice

I’ll hopefully be on the BBC’s excellent Ouch Podcast next month, recording this coming Monday (just before the symposium at Sheffield uni) via skype.

If you know of any interesting disability-related news stories connected with Japan I’d be grateful if you could leave a comment below. I have a few, but any personal tales would be good to hear.

I’ve also just learnt that the program I starred in a few years back, Body Hits, has now been broadcast in South Africa too. It still hasn’t made its way here though, thankfully.

(What Year Abroad Project?)

Just what the sensei ordered: A Mini-Crisis

Of course it’s good that the current mini-crisis comes now, not in about ten week’s time at the end of the semester, or in October when my final year begins and I realise how far behind I’ve slipped.

The past week has been a real shocker. Lectures going way over my head. Grammar classes in which I’ve just burst out laughing when asked for the correct answer to the multiple-choice question – I could barely move my eyes across the page at the speed that the explanation was read to us, let alone process the new knowledge. We averaged one new grammar point every four and half minutes in that class.

The translation class was an utter farce, and I, along with another ‘serious’ student have quit – imagine spending 3 hours a week trying to get a group of 6 of the most indecisive, nervous people on the planet to decide how to translate “Main Street”. You might think that would be quite easy, but you’d be wrong. This is Japan, where no group of people can make any decision without resorting to after-work trips to the local drinking den for fear of upsetting the harmony. It’s a painfully frustrating process to be a part of, and one which in our case was ultimately decided with a round of paper scissors stone – have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous? As Glenn commented afterwards, they must have huge paper scissor stone games in the Diet (parliament). The decision to quite that frees up about 8 hours – 3 of which were class time, 5 of which were homework, which incidentally is not actually checked by the teacher as they ‘didn’t quite get around to it’.

I usually have nothing but praise for Rikkyo University, but academically speaking, this class is a bit of a joke.

My kanji knowledge has slipped to an appalling level. I won’t tell you which character I had to look up in the dictionary the other day. I am grateful to one of my Sheffield classmates for advising me on how many we should be comfortable with by the time we get back in September (1500 – they having been advised by the chap who runs our course). The thing is, I just never have to write kanji. Well, rarely. My reading is improving, and my recognition’s not all that bad, although I remain the worst in the class (which is admittedly quite a high-level class), but when it comes to writing, I lack the confidence to try out the strokes I think they may be made up of.

I’d like to point out that I do not believe that this is any reflection upon Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji – I use that knowledge every day, but no number of imaginative stories can compete with the destructive power of a lack of use.

I will use Japanese at home too. I have slipped.

The biggest problem is that I tend to feel that “there’s always time”, when ultimately, the only time is NOW. Take my Year Abroad Project as an example. Oh yes, there has been plenty of time, a whole year in fact. And now the deadline is just around the corner.

We recently spent the evening with a very successful business woman, who also happens to be a very good friend of ours. She really knows a thing or two, and has the wonderful gift of being able to inspire people, giving them the strength to reach deep down inside someselves to those energy reserves that they do not usually like to draw upon for fear of failure. Every single one of us has huge potential, but only a few of us choose to draw upon that potential. I have been struggling with this one a good deal this year. The last few weeks I’ve been on the rocks, after the incredible high I experienced late last year and early this year. I know that I can reach a stable plateau again, one that offers a clear view of the world, a firm footing, and the inspiration to proceed to ever higher levels. In a bid to regain the lost height, I’ve once again been listening to some inspirational audio books, and looking at the examples of others.

And you know, once you decide to do something, even if you don’t know how you are going to do it, things will start falling into place. Bridges will appear from nowhere, a path will materialise. And so it is in this case. This morning, I received a wonderfully inspirational email from my sensei. My God, if that teacher can do all that they are doing and not collapse under the weight, then I can certainly learn the kanji!

I am still occasionally surprised by the way things work out. It’s something I’ve been trying to work on, I believe it is far far more beneficial to always assume that things will work out. I know I’ve come a long way since my reactionary early 20s. I recall deliberately muffling my anger, refusing to show any emotional reaction to the harshest of news, where previously I would have exploded into a thousand pieces of anger and frustration. As a result of this conscious decision, which I seem to recall was actually a deliberate attempt to wind my ex-girlfriend up, (this was the 2.5 year relationship which towards the end of we had written on the bedroom wall, in marker pen, “If we are not happy living with each other in two months we will split up” – now there’s positive thinking for you!!!), I no longer have these great emotional reactions. I don’t need to suppress anything. I just try and accept what has happened, and figure out what actions I will take to make the most of the new situation.

Naturally, there’s still a long way to go, and of course ultimately there is no end to the path. Kind of ironic that. So many of us (myself included of course) spend our whole lives trying to get to a place that doesn’t exist. I find that one a really tough one to work on, as so many things in our lives are designed with a goal in mind, reaffirming the (false) notion that such a thing exists on a larger scale: think my degree, think cooking a meal, think walking a 100km route – they all have their ends. Not so in the journey of life.

Anyway, action is necessary if I am to avoid disappointment re. my degree.

Steps taken in the last couple of days:

  • Have written to the people who provided us with the money to start our translation business and requested details of how we may return it to them as we are not in a position to devote the necessary time to starting another business at present. They replied and told us we can keep as long as we spend it by July 2008. Thus, huge weight off my shoulders there.
  • Have bought a proper electronic dictionary, reduced from £240 to £120 (due to release of new model I think, which has a colour screen etc). The Sharp Papyrus – I’ve seen it in action – it’s mightily impressive, and has the vital handwriting recognition function I so desperately need for looking up kanji. Ultimately, good though the Nintendo DS is, it’s not designed to be a dictionary. Whilst the hand-writing recognition function is handy, the lack of a keyboard has proved to be frustrating, and I fall behind in class. I’m selling it on Amazon (dictionary sold separately). …OMG! I was going to link to it on Amazon, but it’s already been sold! I only advertised it 20 minutes ago! Well, that’s most of the Papyrus paid for!
  • Have bought a notebook to start writing blog entries and stuff in, in Japanese, by hand. I will then photograph the pages and upload to my Japanese blog. There’s no point in me typing, it’s my written Japanese I need to work on.
  • Have stopped buying comfort crap from the Konbini, and instead am buying comfort fruit whenever I feel the desire to snack.
  • Have stopped carrying money around with me when I know I don’t actually need any. This has already saved me 210 yen (which would have been spent on a scone). This is in a bid to prevent retail therapy, which is intricately linked to the learning process.

Anyway, all talk and no action won’t get anything done.

This learning a language business is bloody difficult, but we shall prevail!

love, joseph

A year of resistance

The resistance I have to writing my project for Sheffield University (that’s the one that we were told about a year ago, and the deadline for which is now just a couple of weeks away, and the one for which I have done virtually nothing) is pretty remarkable. You see my walking around in circles like a caged zoo animal, brain not really functioning, fearful of having to deal with the comment tags that were appended when the draft was looked over by the sensei. I did manage to get a fair bit done yesterday – translate the questionnaire, insert missing statistical figures etc, but only because these didn’t really require any thinking.

However, today I WILL finish all the pre-interview work, and write a summary of what the bridal planner told me when I interviewed him last month.


I would like to recommend a few of my friends’ websites.

The first, The Home Sensei, is aimed at private English language teachers based in Japan. My friend, Shari Custer, with whom I worked in Tokyo over the winter of 2002~2003, has been teaching for almost two decades, and has a wealth of experience in lesson planning, and also has experience writing text books.

Whilst I now find my conversation classes pretty easy, there are still times, with some particularly reluctant students, when I really struggle. This has caused me a lot of stress – thus I was delighted when I received an email from Shari telling me about her new site where she was posting a lot of her lesson material.

I’ve found it to be very helpful, inspirational and reassuring. I highly recommend it should anyone find themselves struggling for ideas as to what to do in their next private English lesson.


The second site I would like to recommend is also penned by Shari. This is her personal blog, “My So-called Japanese Life”, and offers a superb insight into what life is like for a Westerner in Japan. Shari has a knack of really hitting the nail on the head when it comes to discussing such things as ‘The REAL Japan’ – have a look at her recent blogpost on that very topic and you’ll see what I mean.

I find her blog to be very informative, and also a great inspiration, something to aspire to.


The third site I would like to recommend is that of a classmate of mine from the Hereford Waldorf School days, Billy Salisbury – a.k.a. the Undercover Hippy. Those of you who heard Episiode 1 of my podcast series A Year in Japan will have heard his classic, “Money Money Money”.

Anyway, Billy has just launched his new website, check it out at www.undercoverhippy.com

I thank you.

Assuming a new role

Wow. Things really are rollercoaster-esque at the moment.

It’s good though. It’s a result of being forced out of our comfort zones in a bid to better ourselves.

One major factor is *Twinkle*’s new-found confidence, the coming into bud of which is an absolute delight to behold, whilst also being shit scary. It often happens this way though, when a partner trades their old role in for a new, far more powerful one. The power struggles are almost comical at times. I’m trying hard to adapt to the situation, and I know we’ll get there. It’s good for me to be made to feel inadequate, I mean, I can’t always be wonderful at everything can I?

It would be nice to live in a slighter bigger house though, to allow for our two egos battling it out.

There’s the challenge of uni too – I note from my friend’s blogs that I am not the only one finding this semester the toughest yet ever (and we’re only 8 days into it!). I’m just grateful I don’t have know-it-all classmates, and that all teachers at Rikkyo are so damn nice.

I am gonna get through this, and I’m gonna do well. This is all good. No pain, no gain.

Oyasumi