Archive for October, 2008

Lock and Lock changed my life

Tuppa was never our household’s strong point.when we lived in Sheffield, we had these nasty little tubs with lids that had a habit of cracking. Whilst we did invest in some slightly higher quality recepticles, they didn’t last long, getting fried in a microwave at a Japan Soc food party.

Things didn’t improve much last year in Itabashi-ku. Just after we moved in we bought some 100 yen tuppa. The lids stopped fitting whenever anything remotely warm was put in them – but we never thought to do anything about it.

Thus, until now, I have been hesitant to take radish and carrot salad, fearful that it would escape its temporary unlockable home and run riot in my computer’s CD slot. I did not enjoy taking rice dishes to my work place, knowing that I may well end up picking the grains out from the bottom of my rucksack.

That has all changed now. Last week I made the Executive Decision to procure an entire set of the snazzily titled Lock and Lock series of food storage devices.

Our new flock of Lock n’ Locks positively encourage the creation of packed lunches. They hold our food with confidence, not a hint of hesitation when asked if they would like to host the day’s edibles.

Thus, I would encourage others who suffer as we once did to seek out a local shop that stocks them, and invest in the best tuppas you might ever own.

They will change your life. maybe.

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Autumn in the park

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The view from my jogging track. 500m mark.

For some truly beautiful autumnal (Japanese) pictures, I recommend you head over to www.Bastish.net.

(If you’re squeamish you’d better not look at the ones of the calf being born).

Kevin and Tomoe are truly remarkable photographers, and they provide me with a great deal of inspiration. It’s not just their photography I’m taken by though – their way of life has me spellbound. I often find myself reading their tales of organic living whilst on the commute home from work – the contrast between the tubes that run below Tokyo and the beautiful scenery of the Japanese outback could not be greater.

Kevin and Tomoe also run One Life Japan, and I would encourage anyone coming to Japan for a holiday and looking for something a bit more ‘authentic’ to take a look at what they offer.

Hhm. I seem to be a bit obsessed with this pig. I just can’t help but post another shot of her.

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The boy by the water

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Little Runners

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I was sitting in Kitanomura park at lunchtime, eating my carrot and daikon salad, whilst watching the children play.

I wondered what the view from my bench might look like at other times of year, so I tapped the screen of my iPhone once, and a few seconds later was presented with a whole collection of photos taken within metres of where I sat, including one of the very bench I was sitting on. Someone else was sitting on it.

It felt a bit funny.

The wonders of modern technology.

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The Pig Guardian

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She, and many of her friends, can be found guarding the footpaths of Komozawa Park

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Komozawa Stadium at dawn

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Global events

I’m not usually in the slightest bit interested in US elections, but this one’s got me excited. It feels like 1997 all over again, when Labour won a landslide majority, bringing them back into power after years of Tory rule.

I’ve been mightily impressed by what I’ve seen of Obama, such a refreshing change from the usual suspects. I’ve been thinking today how perhaps we actually needed eight years of the idiot Bush, to ensure that Obama got elected. I knew this cloud would have a silver lining.

I’m struck by the amount of truly international news there is at the moment. Elections, economic turmoil, Chinese food scares With my starting to teach again, I decided that I wanted to be a bit more in touch with world events that I have been for the past few years, in order to be able to discuss ‘stuff’ with my students. It’s been an easy change to make: I subscribed to the Guardian news feed on my iPhone, and set the BBC as my homepage.

I don’t find myself getting down about these things though. The global economic meltdown is pretty exciting in a way. I like the fact that there are calls for widespread change. It’s a healthy reminder that even the seemingly unchangeable can be changed if there is sufficient will. I see it a bit like a natural bush fire, clearing the ground for new growth. Obviously I’m not celebrating the fact that it’s hit some of my friends pretty hard (especially those with mortgages), but in the long run they’ll be fine. I like to see a big shake-up. Anything is possible. (Of course I’m probably slightly biased, having profited from a side-effect of the slump, that being Sterling hitting rock bottom earlier in the week).

I am saddened and shocked by the more ‘important’ news stories. For some reason, I don’t see these in the headlines. The many civil wars, the horrendous trampling of basic human rights, the killings in the name of some god or other. I was catching up with some BBC podcasts today, namely From our Own Correspondent. This long-running series provides a real insight into how Big News events are affecting people on the ground. It can be pretty harrowing, but I think is important for me to be aware. Being aware plays an important part in my maintaining my feeling of gratitude. And of course, it also shapes my actions.

Anyway, it’s time for bed. i have a date with Komozawa koen in about 6 hours. *Twinkle*s been in bed all evening with sickness and severe stomach cramps, poor love. I hope she’ll be feeling better in the morning.

xx

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Think I’ll take the next one

(part two)

What amazes me is how most of the time everyone does actually fit in when the doors close. Having said that this morning there was a whole leg sticking out of the next, which made the carriage look like some kind of hybrid centipede…

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My magnetic sweet tooth

Try as I might, I can’t give up unhealthy food. Since I decided to not eat Japanese processed foods, especially those containing a lot of sugar, I have been bombarded with presents in the form of some of the most delicious unhealthy foods one could hope for. We’re talking delicious caramelised biscuits, chocolate-cream packed buns, apple strudels, chocolates, sweet pastry pies. They come from all directions: visitors to our home, students, colleagues returning from trips away.

Oh, and from the convenience store at lunchtime. Yes, I’ve become addicted to trotting across the road at 1.30pm and buying a pack of 105 yen chocolate-coated peanuts. …which they didn’t have any of today, which is why I bought this box of white-chocolate almonds instead. Eaten in about 5 minutes.

I use the excuse that I’m jogging three times a week and need the energy / deserve it. What a load of rubbish.

As of tomorrow I won’t do it anymore. I managed to give up buying alcohol. I can do the same with chocolate. Given the rate at which it flows into my life by itself anyway there’s really no need for it.

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It’s a small, small world

Photographic entertainment is provided by yesterday’s Office Halloween party (sorry for the repetition to those of you who have already seen them in my site feed).

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For the past two weeks I’ve been looking for someone to do tandem learning with. That is, someone who will teach me Japanese in exchange for me teaching them English.

One might think that having just spent 4 years studying Japanese the last thing I’d want (or need) is more Japanese lessons. Not so. I didn’t put as much into my course in my final year as I could have done (a conscious decision that I don’t regret to split my energy between my course and extra-curricular activities), thus I failed to internalise a lot of the vocab I was learning.

I’d like to emphasise that this is in no way a criticism of our course, which was bloomin marvellous. If anyone wants to learn Japanese in the UK, Sheffield is the place to go, no doubt (n.b. I may be biased). But of course, you only get out what you put in, thus a lot of my course-mates have much better Japanese than me.

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Whatever, I’ve come such a long way, and am constantly delighted by the fact that I (of all people) have learnt to speak Japanese. However, I do tend to stick to the grammar patterns that I’m really familiar with, avoiding the use of complex structures. It was brought home to me just how far I’ve gone down this road when the other night *Twinkle* applauded my use of a complex pattern – it should be normal, not praiseworthy.

So I put the thought out there – I need a Japanese teacher – and tonight she presented herself (although I didn’t know she was a teacher until after we’d been chatting for a while).

She contacted me having seen my profile on www.findateacher.net, and requested a trial English lesson. We met at a subway station near my office and made our way to a nice little cafe. We chatted a bit more, with her explaining why she wanted to study English.

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Then she stopped, and with a mysterious look on her face said, ‘actually, I’ve got some photos to show you’. Confused, I took the envelope in her hand and took out the photos…

…and blow me down if it wasn’t Phil, my coursemate from Sheffield! I was stunned, and naturally clammering for an explanation.

She explained how Phil had been one of her first students shortly after she qualified as a teacher, when he was living in Tokyo a year or so back. It was only after she’d initially contacted me last Friday that she’d mailed Phil to ask if he’d heard of someone called ‘Joseph Tame’ who’d studied at Sheffield. Seeing that I was quite a bit older she assumed that we wouldn’t know each other …and thus was very surprised when Phil replied that he did indeed know me!

Spot Joseph

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So that’s how it went. We’ve decided to meet on a weekly basis for language exchange – my calls for a teacher have been answered. Thank you Universe!

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Autumn leaves

kami itabashi maples

I’m really glad I picked up photography again last year. The purchase of my Nikon D40x in July 2007, following years of making do with little Sony models, really turned things around for me – since then I’ve got enormous pleasure from composing and processing.

I’m now trying to make more use of some of the better shots in my collection of 23,000+. Photos are for being looked at, not just sitting on hard drives, thus they can now be seen decorating our walls at home, on the front of our business cards, and soon, in a series of 60 postcards I’ve having printed by moo.com. This time round is a trial to see what kinds of photos work as postcards. I’ll also experiment with mounting some. Those that stand out I’ll print our extra large and see if I can get them displayed somewhere.

One reason I’m doing this now is because the wife of one of my best mates suggested I do so, saying how much she liked my photography. Hearing that (second hand) really excited me, and got me thinking about just how important it is to give others feedback on their artistic (or similar) efforts.

It’s not that I’ve not done this in the past, I have, and continue to always try to do so, but I was struck by the scale of the impact that her kind words had upon my attitude towards my photography. Her few complimentary words truly inspired me – it’s important I bear this in mind when choosing to give feedback on others’ work.

Autumn is now arriving in Tokyo, something I always look forward to when in Japan. Just as with the spring time cherry blossoms, the autumnal maples often leave me dazed in wonder. I can’t help but take hundreds of photos in an attempt to capture the stunning colours that paint the parks.

It’s pretty therapeutic too, helping me to get back in touch with my natural surroundings.

Having recently discovered that Yoyogi park actually starts in Shibuya (and is not just in Yoyogi!) I’ll make an effort to pop in there soon when on my way to / from work at the private English school. Even if I only get a single shot that is worthy of publishing this autumn, it’ll be worth it.

It’s a shame I’m not inspired to take more photos during the week. Whilst sometimes I really get into looking at the urban landscape from odd angles (usually in search of patterns), at the moment that’s not where I want to focus.

Watch this space.

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Sometimes it’s best not not to think.

Last night I blogged briefly about the many things I’m up to now, and inferred that I was ok with doing so much.

Ironic then that the very act of writing that led me to a state of feeling pretty overwhelmed by it all!

I’;ve since remove the post although it will remain in the various feeds that it’s republished in.

Anyway, off to work now. Did 7.2km round the park this morning which makes me feel a bit better. Oh, and I’ve uploaded office Halloween party pictures to Flickr.

Offer: Reduced cost Lasik and place on Trailwalker Team 2009

*Twinkle*s laser eye surgery (‘Lasik’) has really turned out to be a great success. Whilst she was in a bit of discomfort for the few hours following the short op, by the next day she was doing OK (albeit not too fond of bright lights). A few weeks down the line and she’s feeling the full benefit of being able to see clearly again (without the irritation or cost of contact lenses / glasses).

For anyone thinking of getting it done, we recommend the place that *Twinkle* and her sister used, near Hibiya/ Ginza in a somewhat futuristic complex above a swanky shopping centre. I forget the name now – I can check when I get home.

The cost is about 173,000 yen. If you don’t have the money up front you can pay interest free over two years. If you mention our name (I think we’d need to give you a code) you’ll get a 15,000 yen discount (disclosure: and we’ll also receive a referral bonus).

The place has been doing great business lately through word-of-mouth referrals, and I must admit I’m not surprised given how straight forward and quick the whole procedure is.

I’ll get it done myself once I’ve gone a bit more blind.

Drop me a line if you’re interested.


Trailwalker 2009

Oxfam Japan have just sent out invites to participate Trailwalker 2009, and I must say, I’m tempted. It ties in nicely with training for the marathon etc.

Any takers? It’s an unforgettable experience!

(Click here for our Trailwalker 2007 mini-site)

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Exchange rates, and Running with technology

What’s going on in the currency markets? It’s absolutely mental!

During my Year Abroad, £1 equalled 233yen.

Today (45 minutes ago), £1 equals 162yen.

I was just doing the sums – my salary here is is worth £7000 more than it would have been worth a year ago (if sent back home).

This is great news for me, as it now means that, whilst I only have an average salary, I can pay back my debts at a rate of £1000 a month, something which until now I never would have thought possible.

I’m now in the process of resuscitating my long-neglected GoLloyds account, whereby I can deposit cash in any appropriate ATM here in Japan and have it show up in my British bank a few days later (minus fees of course).


In other news, I was up at 7am today for the first of my thrice-weekly jogs. I’m find it interesting how this time round, with the goal of a mini-marathon to aim for, I’m far more motivated when it comes to getting out of bed and heading down the road to the park. It’s not a chore, it’s FUN!

But I know that there may be some mornings when it’s not quite so sunny, or I’m not feeling so enthusiastic about heading out into the cold, and for that reason I’m looking for as many ways as possible to keep me going. Timing my laps was a start, but I knew I needed something more than that…

…enter RunKeeper for the iPhone.

Basically, this app uses satellite navigation to track you as jog your course. From the GPS co-ordinates it can then of course work out your distance and speed. It also makes a note of elevation too.

The results are initially displayed on the iPhone as a bar chart, each bar (where height = speed) being one minute of movement.

That’s all very well and good, but it’s still a bit disconnected from reality. Where it really comes into its own is where you finish your run and tap on Save. Two things happen: it saves your run to your iPhone’s history for later reference, and it then sends that data to the RunKeeper website, which places your route and stats on Google Maps.

How sexy is that?!

(Unfortunately I neglected to restart it after a pause for shoelace-tying up so the data on this screenshot is incorrect (I went further and faster!))

These are the kinds of uses of hardware, software and networks that I find really exciting. They can have a real positive impact upon my lifestyle, playing on some of my weaknesses (love of tech) to overcome other weaknesses (lack of extended dedication?).

Now all I need is an app that will sync with my camera to location-tag all my photos, then I think my life will be complete!

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The power of sliding doors

It may be dramatic, but it's not unusual. Here, a salary man has become wedged between the closing doors of a packed subway train. With this a frequent occurrance at this time of day, there are about 20 white-gloved staff lining the platform, ready to either push people on, or, as in this case, wrestle the doors back in order to release whoever or whatever is unfortuate enough to be caught in the jaws of their mighty pneaumatic grip.

(I waited for the next train!)

It’s only getting better

As of this week, I’m pretty much working seven days a week. It’s part of the self-imposed six month debt-repayment and moving-house program, which is due for completion on the 5th of March 2009. It’s step one of many steps in our Grand Masterplan, some goals of which include the paying off of all family debt and the establishment a perpetual charitable foundation that long outlives us.

Lofty goals perhaps, but it helps us to have them, as it does to have more concrete short-term goals too, like this six-month deal. Knowing that this routine is a temporary deal, a limited-time challenge, enables me to be excited about putting a lot into my full-time job and the various regular private English lessons I give.

Slowly managing to sort out things like insurance and savings plans. Tonight, a friend of ours who works for a large life insurance company came round to explain to me more about their policies, whilst at work I’m being enrolled in various pension / insurance schemes (which I am yet to fully understand). Yesterday, *Twinkle* and I decided which charities we’ll be supporting on a monthly basis (FoE Japan and Unicef). We’ve also started our 500 yen collection scheme – inspired by my boss Mr. D who saved 247,000 yen in one year without even trying (everytime you’re given a 500 yen (£2.87) coin put it in a special tin). Proper savings and investments as such will have to wait until the debts are repaid.

It’s a fun game to play, especially as we know that this is just phase one, and as the beautiful Stephanie Dosen sings, It’s Only Getting Better (not sure about the video!). I have this song as my alarm clock 🙂

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People in the park

A few more recent shots from Kitanomura park, Kudanshita.

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Joseph is online

(A blog I wrote a couple of days ago, and am posting now to celebrate our reconnection to the www this morning. Our new fibre modem has resulted in our actual (vs. advertised) download speed quadrupling to 24mbps, the fastest domestic connection I’ve had yet 🙂


It’s several years now since I decided to actively create an online presence. For a long time it was limited to my website, TameGoesWild, and this blog, The Daily Mumble. Not that many people knew about it, and I rarely talked about it. I seldom posted any personal stuff, fearful of criticism from the People Out There. I can remember trying to keep it a secret in my first year at uni, such was the embarrassment I felt when real-life friends referred to something I’d written.

The last 18 months has seen a huge shift in my attitude towards my online presence. As a part of the process of learning to trust my own judgement, and to not be hurt by the subjective opinions of others, I deliberately chose to write about things that mattered the most to me, such as the spiritual path I began to travel down last year. I remember at the time debating whether or not to mention the name Wayne Dyer, for fear of people accusing me of being brain washed by some American celebrity doctor – a fear I can’t help but laugh at now, given just how much I have been helped by his books. I still regularly dip into his take on the Tao, and often find that the one verse (out of 81) that he is focusing on is the exact one I need to hear.

I think the next step for me was signing up with Facebook, something I had resisted for some time. I’d tried mySpace and generally found it to be a complete waste of time …and I must admit that Facebook didn’t do much for me at first either. Now however, it plays an important part in creating and maintaining my sense of place in the world. Regular updates on my friends’ activities gives me context. Living here in Tokyo with access to very few real-life friends would be much harder without my virtual (usually passive) participation in the lives of others.

Recently I’ve been delighted by a spate of photo uploads by my friends from Camp Jened (New York) where I worked in 1997. Those were pre-email days for ordinary folks like us, but 11 years on Facebook has enabled us to recreate that community, to share our happy memories. This has promted me to re-evaluate the part that that experience played in making me who I am today, something I doubt I’d be able to do if working from my own foggy memories alone.

Then there’s Twitter. I forget when I signed up, sometime earlier this year. At the time I didn’t quite realise just what an impact this would have on me. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s basically a tool for micro-blogging, any one post (‘tweet’) having a limit of 140 characters (such as the posts top-right of the Mumble. There’s a great demo video on YouTube called ‘Twitter in Plain English’). Historically, the majority of users have been those into all things techy / internetty, but recent months have seen it move into the mainstream. It’s a powerful dissemination tool – the Obama campaign team caught onto this pretty early on and have used it to great effect.

But of course, without an audience, Twitter serves little purpose as a broadcast platform. Personally, I only know a handful of people who use it, and thus initially wasn’t all that inspired. But then I discovered Twitterific. This desktop app takes my Twitter posts and send them to Skype, where they become my status message, visible to all of my contacts.

…That’s was all well and good, but still, Skype isn’t exactly an everyday app for most users.

The breakthrough came with the Twitter app for Facebook. This takes your Twitter status and posts it to Facebook, thus making it visible to all your Facebook friends. So that’s one message posted in Twitterific being sent to Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Friendfeed, and any web-page you have control over (such as TDM).

But what next? It’s all a bit one-way.

Well it was, until the release of the new Facebook interface a few weeks back. What seemed like just another makeover has actually begun to fundamentally change my interaction with others. Unlike before, it is now incredibly easy to post comments on Facebook status messages. Thus, I can post reactions to friends’ daily doings with one tap of the screen, and of course they can do the same with me – and do. Suddenly, one-way broadcasting has become two-way communication.

There’s one final piece to the online presence jigsaw though – the iPhone (oh cripes here he goes again…). The new iPhone Facebook app is bloomin fantastic. It enables the user to have easy access to their network of friends wherever they are, to react to messages on-the-road almost in real time (depending on how often they’re bored on the train) Couple that with the easy posting of messages and photos to Twitter (using mobile Twitterific) and the publishing of (line-break heavy) blogs via email (which are then automatically reposted on Facebook), and your online-presence becomes an extension of your real life interactions.


I’m sure this all sounds like a complete nightmare to some people. Not only the idea of publishing your every action online, but also the idea of your friends being bombarded by numerous 140-character messages describing tonight’s pumpkin soup (I just remind myself that they can simply unsubscribe from your updates if they wish to)

I’m fascinated by just how much this has all come to mean to me. I guess in my current circumstances it’s not surprising that I am seeking to maintain established (distant) friendships, to reach out to as many people as I can from my relative isolation. It’s a bit of a lifeline really.

I’m also interested in how our shared online presence impacts upon our real-life relationships. So far, I’ve found it to have an immensely positive effect. On seeing friends, one can quickly move past initial catch ups, and get to the important stuff, or explore areas of life that might usually be hidden due to social norms. The Internet offers us the freedom to express ourselves in ways that might be frowned upon in real-life, thus we can discover shared interests that might otherwise never be discovered. I can think of several real-life relationships whose foundations are reinforced to a considerable extent by the things that I have learnt about them online.

An example of a relationship strengthened by an online presence could be that of the friendship I share with an ex-coursemate who is now working in a remote part of southern Japan. They often blog about their experiences, the challenges they encounter, the happy successes they enjoy. We were never particularly close at uni (although I always liked and respected them), but reading their blog fills me with admiration for what they are doing, and makes me feel enriched by the remote friendship I share with them. It encourages me to send good wishes their way, and to want to offer assistance to them should they ever need it.

Having said that, in the long term I’m not sure how much of a difference it will make. If I imagine myself meeting offline coursemates after a prolonged period of no contact, the feelings are similar to those connected with meeting my online friends. This leads me to think that perhaps ultimately, online communication can never have the same kind of impact upon relationships that even limited offline interactions can have. This I find quietly reassuring, as much as I love the online world, I know that ultimately it’s what I do in real life that matters.

After all, no amount of Status Updates will get the washing up done before *Twinkle* arrives home.

Tattaa.

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Yet another iPhone post

(if you’re not interested in it or Apple customer service, look away).

Two nights ago my iPhone suddenly had an emergency breakdown. Somehow the OS became corrupted, and the only way to fix it was to connect it to my mac and let iTunes try its best counselling skills.

The only problem was, iTunes couldn’t connect with it – just kept on asking me to enter the phone’s passcode …which I couldn’t do as the phone wouldn’t let me do anything except make emergency calls. Catch 22.

(For google reference, the error message read:

“iTunes could not connect to the iPhone “*” because it is locked with a passcode. You must enter your passcode on the iPhone before it can be used with iTunes”

This all happened when I was actually in the Apple Store on unrelated business (looking at new macbooks!), but they were so busy I had no chance of seeing the Geniuses (they’re the people who fix stuff), and the sales staff didn’t know what to do. I made an appointment for the following night, and using their in-store wifi started scouring the Apple forums.

Eventually I found out how to force the iPhone into recovery mode (connect to computer, open iTunes, press both buttons until Apple logo appears, then only release the top button, hole the bottom one until iTunes recognises it as being in recovery mode and restores it to factory settings). However, after it rebooted it just came up with another error, “The iPhone “*” cannot be used with iTunes because the information required for activation could not be obtained from the iPhone”. There was nothing I could do but wait until the following night’s appointment.

This being Japan, I was kind of expecting it to take a long time to sort out. Everything here seems to involve endless form-filling – you even have to provide a notarised copy of your birth certificate in order to buy a loaf of bread. (OK, slight exaggeration, maybe.) One problem I saw was the fact that the phone is registered to *Twinkle*, and she was unable to come to the store.

What happened then really surprised me. The chap listened to my story, quickly tested the SIM card in another iPhone (it was fine) …and then reached into the drawer behind him, pulled out a brand new iPhone and handed it to me.

“Is that OK?” he asked.

“Erm, yes!” I said, with a big grin on my face.

“Oh, if you could just sign this receipt to say that Apple will pay that’ll be it”.

And that was it.

Having left the store, it was simply a case of plugging the new phone into my Macbook and leaving it for 30 mins as it restored all my settings (and 15GB of emails, contacts, photos music and apps), resulting in a brand new phone that was identical in content & settings to my old one.

Now THAT is what customer service of the future should be like. It was even accompanied by the happiest music one could hope to hear, wafting up the stairs from the live concert on the ground floor.

Of course, there are reasons why this all happened so quickly and without any fuss. For a start, they were incredibly busy, and the guy was desperate to get through the queue. For a second thing, they already had all my details to hand, as when I made my appointment I’d logged in with my Apple ID.

Still, I thought it was all bloomin marvellous, Yet another excuse to give my money to Apple.

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Living Goldfish Earings

Just met this chap in Shibuya sporting the most unusual earrings I've ever seen – two mini goldfish bowls, each with three living (and no doubt somewhat confused) goldfish in!

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Lap time

Really enjoying this jogging thing. It started out as a weekly Sunday
morning meet up with Tom, but now I've found the Olympic park I'm
going three times a week.

Unfortunately Tom was unable to make it this morning, but I went along
in any case and joined the many men, women and children, young and old
for a few circuits. There's some big school meet going on in the main
stadium today, so there were hundreds of teenagers running about the place too.

I started timing my laps for the first time this morning. Each lap is
2.1km, so as you can see I'm not exactly a lightening Bolt yet, but it's early days (and i'm more interested in endurance)

As soon as we get the Internet back I'll download that exercise app for the iPhone. It uses gps to track how far you've run / average
speed etc.

It's good having next year's quarter marathon to train for, but I was also thinking I'd like to challenge myself to run a full marathon too, perhaps in a year from now. I know I'll have to do quite a bit of work
for it as my right knee still gives me grief sometimes (that's one reason I stopped this morning after 9km), but still, I've never
thought of myself as a runner, or someone who could run a marathon –
it would be good to challenge that belief.

Anyway, on with the day.

(post, unnecessry line breaks and screen shot courtesy of iPhone)

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Refuge

It’s early Saturday evening, and I’ve just finished work. It’s been a productive day. In between today’s phone calls from students located all over Japan (the majority of whom were training as maritime navigational officers) I’ve been plodding on with the Access database – it’s coming along nicely, and makes for satisfying work. Hopefully I can start testing it by the end of next week.

I’ve been feeling a little homesick recently. It was sparked by a photo of the valley in which I grew up appearing as my 15-min desktop background. Having been so involved in getting set up here in Japan I’d not focused my attention on England for some time. But the picture brought it all back. I think it was especially poignant as the photo included the wedding venue, that being the wedding which saw many of my most precious friends and relatives gather to share in our marriage ceremony, and demonstrate their faith in us as a couple.

And now they’re all elsewhere.

It wasn’t just the people though, it was the landscape. I knew that the lack of rolling hills in Tokyo would be perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with, so I’m not all that surprised that I feel like this. In fact, expecting to feel like this no doubt only served to ensure that I would feel like this!

Still, I’ve been actively trying to combat this in what ways I can by visiting as many green spaces as possible. As I blogged the other day, there’s a beautiful park just down the road from the office. When I mentioned to my colleagues that I’d been there, a lot of them were amazed I’d gone so far: it’s a 6 minute walk from the office (I timed it!).

I’ve yet to explore the whole park as it’s so big, but what I have seen of it, I’ve loved. Looking at it on Google Maps, I can see that in the spring it’s a very popular spot for cherry blossom parties – if you zoom in you can see everyone on their blue tarpaulins! (The park is just to the south of the red marker).


Click here for a bigger version

Here’s a few photos I’ve taken over the past couple of days. Not all that remarkable …but they were taken in central Tokyo.

kitanomura park_0142

kitanomura park_0141

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The park is home to thousands of spiders – here’s one I very nearly walked into!

kitanomura park_0145

This poor dog was having quite a job keeping up with the little girl on roller blades!

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purple flowers_0101

So yes, these little outings into nature do help, as does the fact that we actually live right next to a park ourselves, where the main sound we hear is running water and birdsong.

Anyhow, although I’ve got a lot to talk about, I’d best be off. My sister-in-law’s birthday today.

Our Internet is being reconnected on Monday after a three week break so I should be able to get back in to blogging then. The ISP said they couldn’t just switch it back on their end when the contract was renewed as we needed a different type of modem, which arrived yesterday, and is identical to the one we already have!

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Lunch in Kitanomura park

I've just found a beautiful, big, moat-surrounded park not three
minutes from the office here in Kudanshita. I can see this quickly
becoming one of my favourite spots for reflection and relaxation 🙂

Olympic park

Subway

I call it Pencils

Internetless

I'm missing blogging. There's a lot going on that I'd like to share –
events, people, thoughts, feelings, and a lot of photos.

My desire to blog grew stronger on the way home tonight as i checked
my rss feeds on my iPhone – a lot of my blogging friends have been
very active over the past few days.

But it's going to have to wait. Our ISP is not due to reconnect us
until next week, and attempts to attach our wireless transmitter to
next door's modem failed (but we're grateful for the offer).

I am able to connect at work, but the one hour lunchbreak tends to fly
by so fast that by the time I've dealt with email it's time to shut
down.

Makes me aware of just what an important role blogging plays in my
feeling a part of the whole.

Anyway, this iPhone needs a rest now (having been used for over three
minutes…).

I'll be back.

Between buildings

As seem by my phone, from our office balcony.

My new job

Starting a full-time job has been a funny experience.

The first couple of days left me feeling somewhat stunned.

The commute to work is not exactly relaxing. The train gets so full you have those white-gloved station staff pushing you on. Wedged in by salary men, nose pressed up against the glass.

I’ve sorted out my timing now though. The trains arrive every 2 ~ 3 minutes, and some are a lot less crowded than others.

It’s also felt funny being paid to be in a certain place for 9 hours. Due to having done the job before, my initial training didn’t take all that long, and I didn’t have much else to do (things get busy from the end of the month).

So I decided to tidy the office up. Moving desks to re-route wiring, finding old bits of office furniture to help arrange documents, going through shelves of old telephones and computer parts to put them in some kind of order.

Having seen me do this, on the third day I was asked by my manager if I would like to tidy up their lesson-management system, which currently takes the form of bits of paper, disjointed databases and whiteboards. I was asked to create a new database.

I told them that I have never created a database before, and I have no knowledge of Access or SQL, but they have been very generous and told me to take all the time I need to learn these things. They’ve offered to buy me textbooks should I need them. I’ve also been allowed to use my own Macbook to build the database – I think doing it all in Japanese would add unnecessary confusion.

I’ve now installed Windows and Office, and having created all my tables am now learning about creating queries.

I’m really enjoying this challenge. I’ve long wanted to be able to build databases, but haven’t had the time or motivation. Here, in between teaching English over the phone and marking reports I’m being paid to learn – great stuff!

Anyway, best be off, lunch is nearly over.

tattaa

p.s. lots of other stuff going on too but no time to talk about it!

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Third anniversary

We're sitting at the kitchen table, eating third anniversary curry.

Happy anniversary us!

(insert appropriate photo of happy couple)

Our first professional engagement as a couple

The lack of broadband at home has finally driven me out to an Internet cafe. I would just use our iPhone, but it’s a bit tedious when it comes to long texts, and also I needed to use Skype …although now I’m here I find that you’re not allowed to talk in this place. Oh well. I could talk via Skype on my iPhone, but need a wifi network for that.

Anyway anyway, with time ticking by I need to be brief. Not only am I paying by the hour for this connection, but also I’m starting two new jobs tomorrow, one of which requires some prep.

The Hanpane Rally 2008 (“Volume 1”) was an unforgettable experience for *Twinkle* and I. It had been organised by a group of about twenty people in their twenties looking to promote the idea of young people going into business for themselves – *Twinkle* was the main co-ordinator, reporting back to a couple of people in their 40s who took overall responsibility.

*Twinkle* first mentioned it to me a couple of months back, something about a rally at which we’d be MCing. She sounded pretty relaxed about it so I didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward to last night, 6.30pm. We’re backstage at Nakano Zero Hall, an audience of over 550 filing into their seats out front. I’m crapping myself as I try and learn my lines (in Japanese) for our introduction, lines that we’d only written a few hours beforehand but not had a chance to even glance at due to frantic last minute prep. Hair cuts, clothes shopping etc. I hadn’t quite realised just quite what an undertaking this was until the last minute when reports came in of the number of tickets sold. (I was pretty shocked when we arrived at the hall an hour beforehand -the audience were already queuing outside the front door).

Things got even more stressful when the DVD player that was being used to project our videos onto the big screen crapped out at the last minute, and calls went out for a laptop. Macbook came to the rescue – there followed an intense five-minute crash course in (English) Mac basics for my friend, whilst I simultaneously tried to think what alerts might pop-up on screen during the show (calendar reminders, backup programs etc), and rehearse my lines.

It was all pretty surreal. I made a half-conscious decision that none of it was really happening, as if I really thought about what I was going to be doing I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk at all.

But there was that part of me that also knew that everything was going to be absolutely fine.

And it was.

*Twinkle* had written a bloomin’ good script. It was very natural, very her, very me. She was the serious MC who knew everything, and I was the comedic husband who feigned ignorance. Despite the fact that we hadn’t been able to learn our lines (and thus were overly script-dependent), it (apparently) came across as being pretty natural. The audience seemed to warm to us right from the start, with*Twinkle*s professional delivery of the long narratives, and my insertions of odd bits of English and overly casual Japanese (and multiple mistakes). We got quite a lot of laughs, and a lot of people later remarked on just how well we engaged with the audience.

It’s a shame we didn’t have a chance to listen to the main speakers – we were too busy backstage learning our lines for the next section.

The two hour set flew by, and before we knew it I was telling everyone to get home safely. …The relief was immense. We’d done it.

The after party took place just down the line in Koenji, in a mad little Japanese restaurant populated by sailors. Our guest speakers served to further dismantle my old prejudices against millionaires, all being the nicest, most interesting and engaging people you could wish to meet. They were inspirational too, with stories of Scottish adventures, business challenges overcome – and books published from personal blogs.

The thing that struck me most about them was the fact that they were really no different from anyone else I know. I find this very exciting as my family are all waiting for us to become very wealthy. That’s one of our goals, not for the sake of being rich and owning ‘stuff’ or having a high status, but because we want to help as many people as possible, and another way we can do that (apart from giving our time and energy and love to friends, family and others) is to become wealthy, and then distribute that wealth.


It doesn’t really matter to us that our MCing was at times pretty unprofessional.It doesn’t matter that I stuffed up my lines and pronounced words incorrectly. We learnt so much through the experience – not just about MCing, but about each other. I respected *Twinkle* enormously beforehand, but last night found myself in awe at her ability to deal with it all in such a cool manner, and to be so confident in what she was doing.

But actually, in reality, last night’s event wasn’t really all that much of a big deal. OK, so it’s the largest group of people we’ve addressed live, …but they only numbered about 550.

It’s what the event taught me about *Twinkle* – by seeing her pull together an event like that – and us about Us as a couple that I find so exciting.

She was bloomin amazing. Co-ordinating so many people, not only on the day but over the past couple of months, and then making sure everyone knew what was going on in the hours leading up to it whilst simultaneously learning her lines. I couldn’t have done it. 

And it wasn’t just that she did it, but that she did it without getting stressed.

This was our first professional engagement together, and it’s shown us that whilst as individuals we are pretty good at what we do, as a couple working together towards a shared goal we have enormous strength. It’s also taught me what fun it can be to work with *Twinkle*.

Today we’ve talked about our marriage quite a bit, about just how much of a blessing it has been.

We’ve been told that following last night’s performance we’ll be called upon again for future events like the Hanpane Rally. I find this very exciting as public speaking is something I enjoy a great deal, and any opportunity to further develop the necessary skills is welcome.

Anyway, I must get out of here. I’m over my hourly limit and now paying by the 15-minutes!

Start my full time job in 10 hours – Ganbarimasu!

xxx

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Sunday morning, 7am

These days make me feel so happy and fortunate to be alive. Last
night's event was something I won't forget, although I think I'll
remember it more as some kind of mirage as all throughout it I
couldn't quite believe it was happening (if I had believed it I would
have panicked!). I'll write more about it later.

I'm now on my way to meet Tom on platform 3 at Naka Meguro, from where
we'll get the subway to the emperor's somewhat large front garden.
It's a beautiful morning for jogging. I've just been doing some
stretching by the fountain in the park outside our house – surrounded
by people in their late sixties doing the same (only they do it
without groaning with effort).

Recently I've been listening to Stephanie Dosen quite a bit. She's a
folk singer with a beautiful voice, thoroughly reccomend her.

Anyway, I'm at Naka Meguro now, must dash!

Twinkle Twinkle

Just had our hair done, nervous excitement on the rise as we learn our
lines.

IBC – Inflammatory Breast Cancer

As the number of people I know or know of who have been diagnosed with or who have died from cancer increases, so the idea that it’s only something that affects other people fades away. My attitude these days is very different to what it was ten years ago.

Today I was sent a link to a video about Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which accounts for something between 1% and 2% of all breast cancer cases. I’d never heard of it, nor had *Twinkle*, and as the video explains, as there’s no lumps involved it’s often not detected, or mistaken for something else.

If you have breasts or know someone who does you might want to take a look at, just to be aware.

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Laser eyes, the work, the friends and the MCs

You find me sitting in the waiting room at the Shinagawa Laser Eye Clinic in central Tokyo. …feeling queasy. *Twinkle* has just been taken up to the 15th floor to have her eyes done, leaving me in the big waiting room on the floor below, stuck in front of a TV showing an instructional video on what’s going to be done to her. I find it positively terrifying, but try and reassure myself by thinking of all the people we know who have had it done lately, and how they could ‘see’ immediately after the op, and made full recoveries within a day or two of being fried. It’s pretty affordable too (about £700 paid interest-free over two years) – well worth it considering the difference it will make to her daily life.

Anyhow, I need to try and take my mind off it, so let’s talk about something else.

Mr. Joseph the Teacher

I’ve had a fair bit of part-time work since I got back to Japan. The vast majority of it has been through the English school in Shibuya, where most classes are taught one-on-one. Many students are there to learn English for a particular purpose (usually a business trip to the US/ Australia etc); this makes lesson planning and execution a lot easier (especially with the additional ideas and support I’ve received from my friend Shari). I also have a couple of private students I meet in quiet cafes. Also, today I had a successful interview for a long-term part time contract teaching weekly group lessons at an American firm’s Tokyo office.

My full-time job starts Monday; looking forward to that.

Joseph the househusband

Outside of paid work I’ve been pretty busy with housework and ‘admin’. With our marriage came the need to change *Twinkle*s details on accounts of all kinds, then there was the house move, changes in insurance policies, a new Internet contract, misplaced tax bills, lost bank books, forgotten online banking passwords and so forth. When I finally received my gaijin card (foreigner’s ID card) I had to update all my accounts with the new address. There’s not much left to do …just need to get my Japanese driver’s license I think.

I find sorting these kind of things out really satisfying. Perhaps it’s the control freak in me, wanting order in my life. I like to have a clear picture in my head of what policies we have where and what’s due when – it enables me to get on and concentrate on the important stuff.

The house is also starting to feel comfortable. Latest additions include a plant, and 2 x 780yen plastic stationary sets of drawers. They have CHANGED MY LIFE. I now have a whole drawer dedicated to pens, and another to scrap paper, with the other four also having their own unique role. With the arrival of the drawers, so we see the departure of the living out of boxes (except for the other cupboard.

I’ve also cleared out all the salad crops from the tubs on the balcony, except for the aubergine plants which are still producing. Bought ten tulip bulbs and look forward to planting them and watching them shoot. I’d like to plant some winter crops too – any ideas dad?

I’m getting better at making bread in the wok, although still need to experiment a bit more to get it good and crusty (by applying water and flour to the surface) without deflating it post-rise. I’m also enjoying making simple things like fruit salad (little known in Japan) and potato salad. Nothing too ambitious, but very healthy, tasty, nutritious and rewarding nonetheless.

We’re pretty much completely vegetarian at home now. We might get a bit of chicken in when guests come to visit, but other than that we feel really good without any meat. I’m really grateful to *Twinkle* for being so accommodating (although it hadn’t been a request of mine).

Joseph’s foreign friends

I’ve really enjoyed having quite a lot of contact with my friend Tom (who lives pretty near us in Meguro-ku) – I can see the weekly Sunday morning jogs around the Imperial Palace becoming a long-term part of my routine. They’re almost therapeutic. It’s good being in phone contact with Stu as well – our schedules at the moment mean that I’ve seen a lot less of him than I’d like to have done. Hopefully we can work something out so we can ensure that life doesn’t get in the way of communication.

That’s something I missed in the UK – male (and to a certain extent female) friends whom I could talk to about pretty much anything. I think perhaps it’s being in Japan that has enabled me to develop these friendships which otherwise might not have come to much, as I’m usually much more inclined to hang out with and talk to women. Here, we have shared challenges / experiences, and I think it’s these that served as a foundation upon which the friendships have been built.

I’ve found that marrying *Twinkle* has led to a stronger sense of kinship on my part towards both Tom and Stu, both of whom have Japanese wives. Whilst our relationships are all very different, we all have our challenges at times, and it helps to be able to share these things.

It’s only in writing this now that I appreciate just how much it means to me to have foreign friends in Tokyo. Last week, *Twinkle* and I visited two young ‘old colleagues’ of mine from the place of work I’ll be returning to next week after six years away. I’ve not seen them in years, although I must say that due to the communication we’ve had via our blogs it didn’t seem like a case of ‘long time no see’ at all. Alongside pizza we were treated to Shari’s delicious homemade hummus. I tell you, it was fantastic, the genuine article, certainly didn’t expect to find myself indulging in that here in Japan.

Anyhow, food aside, it was lovely to spend time with them and chat about this and that. They are the kind of people in whose presence it is hard not to feel relaxed (something which no doubt plays a part in their popularity as teachers); it felt good sharing ‘stuff’ with them, and I wondered to what extent our all being foreign played a part in creating such an atmosphere.

Ogura san, our homeless friend

I’m continuing to work on extending my social circle, which is currently distinctly square shaped. I’ve joined the Vegan Runners Club and Toastmasters, so should be giving them both a shot later this month. *Twinkle* and I meanwhile have been trying to open up our house a little more, now it’s relatively organised (only one cupboard left to go). We’ve had a few visitors, including our homeless friend who sells the Big Issue in Shibuya, who came to supper the other night accompanied by another member of his support group of which we are members. As I mentioned in a previous post, he’s a really interesting guy – now in his 50s, he owned his own company until someone else’s business for which he had acted as a guarantor went belly up, resulting in him losing everything overnight.

Business, income, house, wife and child, all gone, just like that.

He often says that he can hardly believe that he’s now homeless. He never even dreamt of the possibility. It’s unfortunate that in Japan homeless people have the odds stacked against them: in addition to the discrimination they face, with no fixed abode they are not entitled to government assistance. Without government assistance it can be hard to find work that will generate an income sufficient to maintain a small home – it’s a vicious circle.

He’s now working to set up an NPO to support people like himself. It’s hard though. Whilst Big Issue sales might generate enough for him to afford to stay in an Internet cafe overnight, it’s not enough to lift him out of the hole he’s in, thus his ability to move forward is hampered by a need to provide for today.

Despite all this, he’s incredibly positive, with a similar outlook upon life as myself. We’re working to try and promote the work he’s doing and hope to have him speak at an event that we’re organising for next month.

Ogura san can be found most days on the East side of Shibuya station.

MCs *Twinkle* and Tame

Speaking of events (and as mentioned before) *Twinkle* and are scheduled to MC at a meeting for 500 business-minded people in their twenties on Saturday. The aim is to encourage them to pursue their dreams (whatever they may be), and not just follow the crowd into jobs in which they have little interest, but feel they ‘ought’ to take. We have a few fairly high-profile speakers lined up whose names I forget. There’s a nice article on one of them in this month’s ‘Free and Easy’ Magazine featuring him camping in the Japanese outback, Ray Mears stylee.

I’m a bit nervous about that, as it’s all going to be in Japanese, and I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say or do.

Whether we will end up MCing or not I’m not quite sure. Since beginning this blog 5 hours ago we’ve returned to *Twinkle*s family home, and her eyes are now causing her an awful lot of pain follow the surgery. Thankfully she seems to be sleeping now; hopefully she’ll be feeling better by tomorrow morning.

iPhone Update

The iPhone remains my darling. The new Facebook app is absolutely fantastic, taking advantage of the iPhone’s distinct characteristics and putting on a pretty slick show, a great example of what a mobile app can be. I look forward to the other apps I have also being updated to more reflect rhe iPhone style rather than just feeling like ported versions of apps for other platforms.

It’s also proving its worth whilst we have no broadband. For example, without the iPhone I wouldn’t have got the job that I got today. That’ll more than pay for the monthly contract.

However, I do find the iPhone’s lack of an audio / vibration alert for new emails to be a bit of a pain, especially when *Twinkle* and I are carrying out a text conversation. Thus, I’ve bought a second mobile which does make a noise, and which also happens to give me free calls and sms to not only *Twinkle* but to all of my in-laws, and vice-versa.

When will Japanese carriers allow SMS to be sent cross-network me wonders?

My new phone basically uses the same OS as my old mobile, so hasn’t required any brain power to make it work. I’m very impressed by the new predictive text function though, just amazing. Shame the iPhone can’t match it when it comes to Japanese.

Anyhows, that about sums it up for now. As you can see, we’re pretty busy, but things are good, very good.

oyasumi xxx

[EDIT] Happy to report that the patient has just woken up and CAN SEE! They were right when they said it would just be painful for a few hours – what an amazing thing the human body is!

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