Archive for March, 2009

Being more than just a (very well-trained) monkey

Cherry blossom budsSometimes I feel almost overwhelmed by the number and variety of possibilities that are open to me (and to anyone) here in Tokyo (read ‘on planet Earth’).

Having made a decision a couple of months back to reach out into the community and connect with others, I have been almost dumbstruck by the things I have seen being achieved around me.

The nature of the events I’ve attended means that most of the people I meet are those who are actively shaping their lives, choosing to bring about change, both major and minor.

As a result of meeting these people, my life now is very different from that of 8 weeks ago. Perhaps my daily routine is not all that different, but my thinking and relationship with my surroundings certainly is.

It is clearer than ever that I have what I would almost call a duty to make the most of my time here, to do what I love to help others (the first stage in The Big Life Experiment Age 31~ is the podcast and videos).

Again and again I’m struck by the fact that whilst unique, I am also no different from anyone else. At the end of the day, we are all human, we are all spirit, we are all living these lives that we have been ‘given’. No-one has been ordained by any ‘God’ to do anything, to be ‘successful’, no-one is superior or inferior. It’s just that whilst some people have chosen to spend their precious 24 hours doing some things, others have chosen to do others.

You know Gandhi only had 24 hours in a day as well. That’s the same as me. And you.

Tomorrow I will start in a new role at the company that I work for. This will see me positioned in the centre of office goings-on (a part of which is politics), having to deal with the idiosyncrasies of staff that have been there far longer than I have.

I’m going to use this as an experiment. An experiment in changing a culture. As it’s an experiment, I will be free to try different approaches, without fear of failure. There is no failure, just learning.

Some might say these are dangerous times to be sticking your neck out in, with companies looking for opportunities for reduce their labour costs, but I say that these are the times that demand exactly that – people sticking their necks out to try something new, different, better.

The only rule is to remain honest, and to retain integrity – that is, to act in accordance with what my gut tells me is right, and never stoop to lying to save face or ‘win’, no matter how embarrassing or difficult that might be.

If i didn’t do this, I’d be wasting my time. A trained monkey could do my job (trained in MS Office / telephone manners etc), but I have no intention of breaking the commitment I made when I accepted the job – both a legal commitment, and a personal commitment.

Oh, there’s one more rule, and that’s that I don’t take my work home with me. 40 hours a week is already a lot to be giving over to a ‘project’ that ultimately is not a key part of my overall plan.

My thanks to my friend Tom for helping me see the opportunity here. Much appreciated.

[EDIT] Blimey, this monkey is really struggling to come to grips with all his monkey duties.

… and of course I don’t mean that everyone at my company are monkeys, because they’re not. They all do a myriad of tasks at the same time, requiring far more than just banana-skin peeling skills.

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Saying RAAAAAA to life

SistersA week between Mumbles…. how about that?! I think Twitter‘s to blame. I wonder what the global impact of Twitter has been upon blogging? If my performance is anything to go by it’s not insubstantial.

Is this a good thing? I’m inclined to think it is, and it isn’t.

The nature of Twitter means it can be done on the road, no need to sit down in front of the computer – thus providing us with more time to do stuff out there in real life.

However, it also means that there’s less motivation for us to think things through. Big decisions get compacted down to a single line of text, responded to in kind.

For me personally, whilst I am now posting here less regularly, I’m not thinking that this marks the demise of the blog. Far from it. Thanks to Twitter, blogs are far more likely to be read – if you write something of interest! (I’ll have to figure out how to do that 🙂


With only a few minutes to spare before I head off to do my regular bit of voluntary work at the town hall, this post will also be a little twitter-like.

The pace has really picked up. For the past couple of weeks I’ve had every day pretty much fully booked, going from work at 7pm to meet someone / attend an event – weekends have also been filled with ‘stuff’.

Work too has suddenly become a lot busier, with the departure of a colleague leading to a whole new area of responsibility – and a whole new area ripe for improvement. As I’m taught the new systems, I’m finding myself constantly looking for ways in which processes can be streamlined – as with many SMEs in Japan, there is so much room for improvement. I like to work in an environment where people say things like ‘Hey! That might work, let’s give it a try!” instead of what is often heard in Japan, “oh, you’d have to speak to so and so about that …but we’ve always done it like this so I don’t think it can be changed”. I’m fortunate in that there is a degree of the former in my workplace.

PigeonThe bird table / window ledge I made last week (of which this isn’t a picture, this is a pigeon that was unimpressed by the cherry blossom) is now sporting a wealth of vegetation, with lavender, parsley and assorted flowers now bringing a great splash of delicious green to our bedroom / winter workspace. The birds remain happy, devouring all the food I put out for them. It’s not uncommon for up to 14 sparrows to be seen fighting over the seed. I was going to live-stream some video from it yesterday, but it seems the birds realised that – and boycotted the event. I guess they’re not happy with being paid peanuts.

My efforts to create a large network of friends in Tokyo continues to be a great success. This week I was fortunate to attend a party at the Appliya offices – Appliya being a rising star amongst iPhone / iPod touch developers. It was inspiring to hear about their culture of creativity, and to meet so many individuals who are doing what their passion inspires them to do. (I also got an interview for the upcoming podcast with Genkii, who were all over the news earlier this week with their 3D virtual world for the iPhone).

I also met up with Karamoon, an online acquaintance of several years who, until now, I’d never met. He’s working hard to bring about a Tokyo BarCamp [@tokyobarcamp – this is a very exciting project and I’m sure will be a great success. I’d encourage others interested in technology in Tokyo to attend, especially those who’ve not been to a Barcamp before now.

Cherry BlossomYesterday *Twinkle* and I hosted a little cherry blossom party – unfortunately we were a week early so the cherry blossoms that fill the entire glass-doored wall to our East were yet to bloom (although as can be seen it’s only going to be a couple of days before they do). Yesterday also so saw the Himonya Park Cherry Blossom festival take place – all around the pond were groups eating and drinking on the traditional blue tarps. There was dancing, a display by the fire brigade, food stalls, drumming, and a plant sale.

International boat race - the German / Japanese teamOh, and an International Boat Race: England vs. Germany vs. Japan! Germany, represented by our good friend Daniel, won by a mile. Well, by about 300 metres. England (me) were second, and Japan (our neighbours) took a relaxing detour around the fountain.

Last night I attended the sayonara (goodbye) party of a good friend @papadimitriou, someone whom in a very short space of time I’ve found to be a great source of inspiration. Whilst at the party we remembered that we were supposed to be taking part in the weekly podcast Japan Tech Talk – kudos to our host Robert in Nagoya for dealing with the drunken rabble that called in! [photo courtesy Andrew Shuttleworth]

The podcast is coming on. I’ve uploaded the first mp3 file – it’s not an episode in itself, just a kind of promo – although it’s real purpose is actually to establish the feeds and entry in the iTunes podcast directory. I’ll let you know what it is when Apple are done reviewing it.

The live-streaming marathon all went very well. I’ll be posting a video review of that once I, er, well, hang on, I think we need a new section…


MAC / PC CORNER

…manage to edit the video.

Don’t tell my old MacBook, but it’s soon to be replaced.

I say ‘old’, but actually the only old bit about it is the motherboard – virtually every other part has been replaced at least once during the last 18 months. I’m replacing it as a) the small screen makes audio / video editing difficult, and b) it just doesn’t have the power I need for editing videos – the other morning I spent a good deal of time editing a multi-track video in Screenflow, only to lose all my work when my macbook ran out of memory and panicked. Even editing RAW files from my Nikon DSLR in Adobe Lightroom has been causing problems lately, with regular hangs when processing those that I uploaded to Flickr yesterday. With over 20,000 photos in my iPhoto09 library, loading that takes forever too (just since the upgrade from 08) – meaning I’m reluctant to look at my photos.

Macbook ProMy new baby will be a bit of beast: the 17″ Macbook pro. I’ll be going for the default 4GB of RAM etc. They claim the battery lasts up to 7 hours – I’ll be putting that to the test when it arrives next month. My current MacBook will be passed on to *Twinkle*. She doesn’t seem all that thrilled, even though I insist that it’s basically ‘new’ due to all the repairs it’s had!

We also have another new Mac in the family (inherited from my sister-in-law) – an old iBook G4 (1Ghz/640mb) with a broken DVD drive. Having bought an external DVD drive for it I’ve been able to install Leopard – it runs no problem, although admittedly we’re only using it for the internet and iTunes. I plan to use that as our live stream server when the birds are feeling co-operative.

This means we now have a spare Toshiba laptop …which has just found a new home following an accident my friend had yesterday with a cup of water and their own laptop.

Anyway, I’ve long wanted to get into video production, but without a powerful-enough computer for anything other than the simplest of edits it’s something I’ve held back on. I look forward to branching out into this field with the arrival of the new one.


Another field I’ll be branching out into is singing jazz.

Yes, I know, I can’t sing (I’ll be making a point of this in our podcast).

Yesterday, one of our cherry-blossom guests, a chap in his early 50s, spotted my Samson Condenser Mic and became interested in what I was doing. Turns out he has a ton of studio gear, and regularly produces CDs for local jazz bands. For some reason he asked me to go along to the next session and see what it was like – and then (following practice) to record a song myself!

I’ve often wanted to be a singer, despite not being able to sing. I’d like to take lessons – but it’s not enough of a priority at the moment.

Oh, one final thing – I’m currently listening to Miracle In The Andes. It’s a powerful story. Shocking, gripping, inspiring.

Anyway, I’d best be off. Since I started writing this post I’ve actually cancelled my voluntary work, need to focus.

Incidentally, we have beautiful blue skies in Tokyo today, it is just glorious.

tarra.

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Livestreaming the Tokyo Quarter Marathon – Take Your Seats

This event is sponsored by Japan Podshow – launching shortly!

LIVE STREAMING VIDEO PLAYER

If I’m not streaming, the previous live-streamed video will play.

(Go to http://www.qik.com/tamegoeswild to see a live-updated map of exactly where I am. There is also a comments tab – click on that and enter your comment – I will read them all out at the end – when I’m running my Phone will vibrate to tell me you have commented.

iStreamingFinal prep is done. I completely redesigned the iStreaming hat. It’s now rock solid, and doesn’t interfere with my vision at all. It is secured with a length of trouser elastic, multiple safety pins, a Japanese bandana, with a hat over the top). My thanks to Nami for coming up with the basic concept for this new device).

It’s angle will be maintained by an adapted stand that I got with an iPod voice recorder, and no less than three Sponges of Speed, all of which are actually made of paper for added forward momentum. The iPhone itself sits in an elasticated Belkin armband case that has been cannibalised.

I shall be using the iPhone’s built in mic, which what with the iPhone being in the Belkin case will be fairly well sheltered from the wind. I tested it tonight – it works pretty well.
The iPhone will remain connected to a powerful eneloop battery throughout by a cable running under my shirt to my pocket (thanks to Steve for the recommendation).

I will also have a Mophie Juice pack Just In Case.

I will start broadcasting on and off from 7am JST, 11pm BST, 10pm UTC. We should be moving onto the start of the course at around 8am JST – the starting gun will be fired at 09:10am JST. We aim to complete the race in 50 mins max.

What could go wrong?

What I am going to attempt to do is highly dangerous and should not be attempted at home. Any number of things could result in catastrophic disaster:

  • The organisers may confiscate my iPhone due to broadcasting rules
  • The signal may fail. This is actually bound to happen at some point. If the stream is broken, the iPhone will buffer the video, and then continue to stream it from where it left off when it picks up the connection again. This can result in a delay of a few seconds, or even a minute or two.
  • It may rain. I never did get the umbrella hat sorted.

But these are necessary risks if we are to prevail. I face them with a brave heart and legs that are destined to run.

I’d like to thank everyone that has helped me in my effort. Special thanks to my friend and trainer Tom, my teacher Nami, and the army of Twitters / Tokyo friends who have supported me whilst seeing this for what it really is – a big bit of sillyness.

Thanks also to Kamasami Kong of the Tokyo Metpod for following the story, Bhasker at Qik.com for publicising it, and Steve at www.tuaw.com for ensuring that the story reached readers all over the world.

GANBARIMASU!

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Live-streaming the Tokyo Qtr Marathon: A video response to my critics

Tame Talk TV Episode 001: Response to the Streaming Marathon Critics

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Livestreaming the Marathon hits the headlines

picture-6The folks over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, a very popular site focusing on all things Mac, have just posted my story.

There’s going to be a lot of eyes to carry on my head.

Yikes.

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iPhoning Japan Presents: Live-streaming the Tokyo Marathon with an iPhone strapped to my forehead

marathonstreamingtest007iPhoningJapan.com is delighted to bring you the most epic iPhone challenge yet seen in the world (probably).

Joseph Tame, known for his addiction to his iPhone (a.k.a. ‘my baby’) is going to attempt to complete the Tokyo quarter Marathon in record time whilst carrying 30,603 pairs of eyes on his forehead. This epic feat has been made possible by months of training, an Apple iPhone, Qik.com and a new invention of Joseph’s, which he calls ‘A Modified Hat’.

He will be joined by his trainer, Tom Kobayashi.

35,603 people applied to run this epic race across Tokyo – only 5000 got in: Joseph and Tom were two of the lucky few.

Knowing how disappointed the unlucky unfortunates must be feeling, Joseph vowed to make things right. He decided, he’d let them run with him.

The full story of this epic adventure will be featured on the new podcast that Joseph co-produces – Japan Podshow.

To get live alerts via twitter of Joseph’s progress & broadcasts, be sure to follow him @tamegoeswild.

Exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of this epic challenge is also available on YouTube.

Be there and submit your comments as he runs to make his iPhone vibrate – he’ll know he’s carrying your eyes and your hopes too.

(This post is a crosspost from http://wwwiphoningjapan.com)

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Firing on all cylinders

Streaming the marathon

My running the Tokyo quarter marathon whilst streaming live video seems to have caught people’s attention, with two major US websites now offering to promote it, and another Japan-based media organisation interested in interviewing me tomorrow.

I’m raising money for Oxfam Japan.

This has all come out of the blue. I think the idea was a joke at the office at first, but has refused to be forgotten since.

That’ll all be featured on http://www.iphoningjapan.com, although I’ll be cross-posting here,

Meanwhile, there’s been a storm of attention around http://www.japanpodshow.com, which hasn’t even started broadcasting yet. The number of emails and Twitter messages I’ve received wishing us at Pokya the best / offering to help out has been pretty overwhelming. Nope. No pressure.

Japan Podshow

Once again astonished by how, if you just make a move, take a step out of your comfort zone providence moves too.

I also took part in an hour-long live podcast tonight, talking about the iPhone, social networks in Japan and their impact on our lives. I have a way to go yet before I’m Andy Ihnatko.

I also took part in the Smart Phone showdown at the PInk Cow (Shibuya) – streaming the event live from two iphones whilst using a third to try and twitter that the stream location was going to change due to battery issues.

Friday I attended the third Tokyo CGM (consumer generated media) hosted by Danny Choo and Andrew Shuttleworth. What an experience that was. Imagine finally meeting a whole host of people whose stuff you’ve been reading for months (or years) but have never seen in the flesh. It was pretty incredible. I’d love to blog about that more, but will save it for the podcast.

The twitter network we have here in Tokyo (and of course beyond) has proved to be an invaluable tool, and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone setting up home in Japan (who is that way inclined) to use it’s amazing power to connect to others. A lot of good things have been coming my way through Twitter.

You can follow me

Anyway, I’ve got videos to edit so I’d best get on. Volunteer work at the local city hall tomorrow (work on their website) then hopefully getting much of the first podcast in the can (my second beautiful Samsung C01U USB Condenser mike arrived today, just 24 hours after ordering it online). In the evening I hope to visit the studios of the Tokyo Metpod, then a goodbye party near the company for a couple of colleagues.

Sleep is next year. Gripped by nervous excitement.

Joseph

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A new bird feeder

birdnuts_7982
Following on from my last post: having packed my rucksack with Macbook, clothes and shoes for work, water and stuff for my Japanese lesson, I realised it would be daft to try and run like that. Carrying so much weight would not be easy, and would probably leave me with mightily sore shoulders.

So, instead, I decided to run across the south of Tokyo to the bay area, or more specifically, to Rainbow Bridge, from which I thought I might be able to get a mighty fine view of the area.

I left home at 6.30am, and arrived an hour later – only to find that the bridge opened to pedestrians at 9am! It took me another hour to get home, but I made it in time for a shower / change and then off to the office for a 10am start.

I really enjoyed the challenge. But you know, I’m struck by how small Tokyo really is. Shinagawa is, in my mind, miles away, somewhere that is somehow in a different realm, access to which is only granted by train or subway. But my jog gave me a concrete sense of the relationship between our home and Tokyo Bay. It makes me feel that I have somehow tamed that section of the city, that it can’t overwhelm me, as I’ve seen it for what it really is – and it’s not scary.

I shot a number of videos whilst jogging which were live-streamed to http://www.qik.com/tamegoeswild. One thing I discovered is that the iPhone Mic is susceptible to wind noise, and that’s something I’ll need to get sorted for the race next week. I bought a jogging hat today and will try and modify my iPhone arm-band so as to accommodate it and the extra battery, and attach to my new hat.


Today I’m taking the day off the day job to work on other stuff. I find it difficult to work in untidy surroundings, so utilised productive procrastination to tidy the whole flat, do a load of washing up and wash all the bedding.

A couple of days back I bought a couple of plastic bird feeders – but they were a bit pants really as they had to hang on the edge of the 40cm-high railings outside the window, not giving the birds anywhere to stand as they ate. However, this morning at about 7am I heard a few birds pecking away at the ultra-small window sill – they’d been throwing the food out of the bowls onto that.

This inspired me to think about creating a proper windowsill …and that’s what I did. I picked up some cheap wooden racks at the local department store, sawed them in half and then nailed them together, and slotted them into place between the existing mini-windowsill and the metal guard.

And this is the result.

3347731845_2844be6881

All part of the ongoing (yet already successful) effort to make home home. Mum and dad have an incredible number of birds at their feeders in Orcop – the photo at the top of this post was taken from their conservatory – and I’d like to continue what I think of as an English tradition. It also only strikes me as fair. We’ve destroyed so much of the natural habitat of birds that I think it’s right that we try and make their current lives as pleasant as possible!

Good timing too, what with the approach of Spring!

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Running across Tokyo to get to work (probably)

Run Run as fast as you can!

Just a quick post tonight, to tell you of my plans for tomorrow morning.

After work tonight I visited the ‘citizens’ centre’ just down the road from the office, and asked about local gyms. Apparently there’s a council-run place in Kanda, about 20 mins walk from the office, and about 16km from home. That should be ideal.

The plan then is to run from home to Kanda, get there at 9am, shower & change, then get to the office for 10am.

Of course this means I’m going to have to run with a rucksack full of work clothes (including shoes), and my Macbook, and some stuff for my Japanese lesson in the evening. I think it’s going to be quite a challenge – and I may not make it!

All this is in aid of training for the Tokyo Quarter Marathon next week.

I’ll also use the opportunity to test out live streaming video from my iPhone using the new Mophie juice pack I picked up today. It’s an amazing device, doesn’t look like a battery at all. Very sexy. I’ll do a review of it in a week or so on http://www.iphoningjapan.com.

The videos will be here. I’ll need to use my gps sometimes to find my way so it won’t be a continuous stream.

Just trying to figure out how to attach the phone to my head for the marathon. I think it’ll be a case of modifying the armband strap I had so I can attach it to a baseball cap. I’m going to look pretty silly with an iPhone strapped to my head but I doubt I’ll care when I’m doing the run.

Best get on with the prep.

p.s. Smartphone Showdown is being held at The Pink Cow this Thursday! Yay for mobile obsessives!

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How being able to speak Japanese has changed my life in Japan

KanjiI’ve been wanting to write this little post for some time. It’s not aimed at people who are perfectly happy not using Japanese whilst living in Japan (which I think is perfectly OK). It’s aimed at those considering studying Japanese. My hope is that it provides at least one person with a little inspiration.


It’s perfectly possible to live a very happy life in Tokyo without using Japanese. Our dear friend John John managed it for 30 odd years, and never seemed to have a problem (although he did have a lot of bilingual friends willing to help out when his VCR went kaput !). I also lived in Tokyo for about a year with a very limited Japanese vocabulary. Those were happy times, and I don’t recall feeling frustrated at not being able to speak Japanese.

My Japan-related History 2003-2008 in 6 short paragraphs

Prompted by the expiration of my visa (with no hope of a renewal) and a huge amount of debt, in 2003 I left Japan and returned to the UK.

I had a simple goal: to be back to Japan within five years with a university degree that would allow me to obtain a work visa (I’d previously bought a degree off the internet for US$300 but was laughed out of Otaru Immigration office).

Once back in the UK I applied to do a foundation course – with virtually no qualifications to my name and having been out of education for 7 years I needed to learn how to learn again. One year later that was complete, and I received an offer from the University of Sheffield to study Japanese at the highly respected School of East Asian Studies.

Graduation 2008There then followed 4 really tough years of study. We started off with about 50 people in our class – 16 of us made it though to the end (above, with Nagai sensei and Kitaka sensei. Note my appallingly cheesy grin). Though though it was, it was bloomin’ marvellous, and I would recommend the course to anyone.

Last July I graduated on a Tuesday, got married to my daringu *Twinkle* on a Friday, and returned to Japan shortly after that upon receiving my spouse visa.

It took me a while to settle back in. Having rejected a job offer from GABA that I’d secured over the phone from the UK I was unsure as to what I would do for a while. Also, I’d not used my Japanese for a while and seemed to have forgotten an awful lot. It was an uncomfortable yet exciting time.

Graduation, July 2008

Being able to speak Japanese and the impact it has upon my life

It’s now just over 6 months since my return. For reasons given in my previous mumble I’m now feeling very much at home. But there’s another reason I feel a lot more at home now that I didn’t go into in that post, and that’s my ability to speak Japanese.

Why? Simply put, it gives me more choices in how I live my life.

As I sat in the meeting room above the local gym, I had a little out-of-body moment. There I was, sitting in a room of local Japanese grannies and grandads, participating in a meeting to discuss how our local park should be run.

Wow! This is pretty cool! I thought. Six years ago when I used almost nothing but English in Japan I wouldn’t have been able to participate at all. I wouldn’t even have had the choice.

At work too I’m now using more and more Japanese. As my English telephone conversation classes peter out (it’s the end of the season) so I’m doing more work on creating marketing materials. This means working with the sales team, none of whom speak much English. In meetings with my (Japanese) boss I now find it far more natural to use Japanese – wow, I’m doing business in Japanese! OK, so I make a tonne of mistakes and my keigo is going through one of those non-existent phases – but it doesn’t matter. The important thing is I can communicate (and I’m continuing to study before work to help fill the 3 billion cubic metres of room for improvement).

Yesterday, I decided that I wanted to spend some time with a friend of ours who was made homeless a couple of years back and now sells the Big Issue outside Shibuya Station (East Exit, Ogura-san). He’d not been there for months, but yesterday, in accordance with what some call coincidence, he was there as we dashed to change to the subway. I quickly arranged to meet him after work, and last night, I did. I’ll talk more about what happened on the podcast, but just to say it was an enlightening experience – and something that could never had happened had I not learnt to speak Japanese.

I can sort stuff out at the bank by myself, I can run errands for *Twinkle* (where previously I would have had to get her to run errands for me). I can volunteer to help at the local city hall, I can speak with non-English speakers at parties and bars… I can do anything that I couldn’t do before due to the language barrier.

Speaking of *Twinkle*, it gives her greater freedom too. I don’t want there to be a language barrier between us – statistics show that intercultural couples are far more likely to divorce than others, language difficulties being one of the causes. I want her to be free to choose to use the language that most suits her feelings. I want to be friends with her friends, to communicate with them on the same level as she does. I want to be able to do stuff with her that requires Japanese language skills. I don’t want to be a husband who needs constant translations and explanations, or whose input needs to be translated back for others.

(I’ll repeat here that I’m not having a go at people who don’t speak Japanese. I don’t see Japanese speakers as being in any way ‘superior’ to those who don’t. We’ve all made our own choices and we all have our own priorities, and the way we lead our lives is entirely up to us)

Life is hard enough as it is without an optional language barrier making things more challenging.

And for me personally, I have another big reason for learning Japanese: for our (as yet not-conceived) children. I feel it is very important for me that I be able to communicate with them in their native language (which is likely to be Japanese). Yes, I’ll probably be using English with them a lot of the time as well, but I never want to be in a situation (probably later on in their lives) where I can’t understand what they are trying to tell me, or where I can’t respond in Japanese if the situation suggests that that would be best.

Take away all the benefits I feel on a daily basis, and that alone is enough.

So, no matter what the time and financial costs, if you are considering learning Japanese, I’d say go for it! The pay-back is potentially so enormous that it will dwarf the initial investment.

And of course the good news is, if an idiot like me can learn Japanese, anyone can!

頑張りましょう!

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Making Meguro Home

Himonya Pond

I’ve been feeling a lot of gratitude for our home this week. I briefly mentioned this at the beginning of my last post, but since then time and time again I’ve found myself stopping, looking out of the window at the park and saying, “Wow. We are so lucky.”

The signing of the new two year contract last week got me thinking that now we officially live here, we should make an effort to connect with the local community. I think in a city like Tokyo it is only too easy to live totally disconnected from one’s surroundings, and to a certain extent that’s how it’s been for us since last September. I’ve not made the effort to get to know others or to make myself known. I’ve been an anonymous customer in the supermarket, just another person rushing through the park on their way to work.

Himonya park, with its large pond and temple on an island, little petting zoo, horse stables and baseball ground, is very much the centre of our community. It’s a place where festivals are held. Where people gather at 7am and exercise together. Where teenagers hang out in the evenings.

himonya-park_9436(Our apartment is just behind the trees to the left of the fountain!)

It’s always immaculately clean, thanks to the team of volunteers who sweep it every morning. I didn’t know who they were. They just did it for us. I also didn’t know who it was who managed the compost area just below our balcony. I didn’t know who was responsible for monitoring the water quality either.

It struck me that we should find these things out, and contribute to the upkeep of the park ourselves. After all, we benefit from the birds, from the wind in the trees, from the dappled sunlight on the wall, from the sound of running water, from the smell of blossom (not car fumes), from the luxury of being able to look out of a huge window and not see another building. I’ve lived in many houses in Tokyo, and until now I have never had a view that wasn’t that of other buildings (ranging from between 30cm and 10 metres away) .

Shrine(The shrine on the island in the middle of the pond)

Thus, when we received a notice through the door that the Himonya Park meeting was going to be held in the local gym, I jumped at the chance. Two nights ago, I hot-footed it from work, and, arriving 45 minutes late, slipped into the back of the 3rd floor Meeting Room.

There were about 20 there, about three quarters of whom were over 60. At the front behind a trestle table sat three men, representing the various authorities responsible for the maintenance of the area.

To the side was a fourth man in a suit. He seemed a bit out of place. I soon gathered that he was from the water company which was responsible for the community emergency toilet facility that would be set up in the case of an earthquake. I’d missed the beginning of his section so wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but clearly the local people were angry with him, and he was doing his best to be humbly apologetic.

New Year

(Burning New Year decorations)

Many of those attending took part. The manager of the petting zoo helpfully reminded us that horses are not humans and can bite. A young woman complained about the growth of weeds in the flower bed near her home, and was encouraged to join the park club which meets on a regular basis to tend to the flowerbeds. There was also a good deal of discussion as to what to do regarding the recent spate of thefts of plants – the consensus was that not much could be done but remain vigilant – or plant cacti!

Someone else wanted to know what had happened to all of the turtles,  “There used to be hundreds of them!”. He was placated by the news that they hibernate.

Futon airing

The meeting wound down after an hour or so, and as people got up to leave so I approached the chap who had asked for park club volunteers. I explained who I was and where we lived; he was delighted that I was interested in helping. Making a note of my contact details he promised to be in touch. The next big event they need help with is the cherry blossom festival in a few weeks from now.

Since that evening, my relationship with our neighbourhood has changed: just making a little effort to connect with the place has made me feel more at home than I did before. Walking the streets I feel I now have an interest in looking after them, in saying hello to people, in supporting the local shops. I feel welcome, a valuable part of the community – and all I’ve done so far is attend one meeting!

I’m looking forward to opportunities in the spring and summer to really help out and get to know people. If we’re going to live here for at least another two years, it only makes sense to connect. Tokyo can be a pretty anonymous place, but this week I’ve learnt that that doesn’t have to be the case.

(all of the photos in this entry have been posted in previous Mumbles. My apologies for the repetition, but I thought they illustrate my thoughts quite well!)

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Woken by the warmth of the sun

First Ume

Not a great photo, but one of the first blossoms I saw this year.

It’s been a super-productive day today.

It started on a really positive note, with the warm sun streaming through the trees, through the glass doors that make up a whole wall of our bedroom, and onto my face. It made me realise just how fortunate we are to be living here – and living here legally too what with our new contract having come into effect yesterday.

At about 9am Twinkle and I headed out, she for work, me for Naka-Meguro for a couple of hours of voluntary stuff at the city hall – providing feedback and suggestions for a section of their English website. I enjoyed that, and it gave me a good opportunity to stretch my language muscles (although they couldn’t strain so far as to give a coherent description of RSS. I’ve found that both here and in the UK people who don’t visit a lot of websites often have trouble getting their heads round the concept, which is kind of understandable. In the end I just borrowed a lan cable and demo’d my MacBook’s RSS reader. That worked!).

Following that there was the really exciting changing-of-address thing at the post office, the returning of a video, the long-wait-to-not-get-served-at-the-overly-busy-Softbank-store*, and the paying of multiple bills at the convenience store. On the way home I stopped off at the little local tofu-makers for the first time ever, and had a nice chat with the owner who kindly went through all the names of the different kinds of tofu with me.

(*Softbank have just launched an ‘iphone for Everyone’ campaign, which sees subscribers to a 2-year contract getting a free 8GB iPhone. My friend bought one today – I don’t think *Twinkle*s that far off doing so either)

I was also able to listen to 6 short podcasts – 3 episodes of J-Wave’s Power Your Morning, and three of Takumi Yamazaki’s Takuraji (both highly recommended for Japanese listening practice, being short, easy to digest and interesting).

This afternoon I actively used productive procrastination to tidy the house and make a great lunch, then get on with working on illustrations for a new website (using permanent marker and watercolour pencils, a scanner and photoshop) – I’m very happy with the results. I now know I will publish a picture book within two years.

I then spent a good deal of time faffing around with code, affiliate accounts (thus the links to Amazon on this blog), and setting up / linking new social networking sites for the podcast. I’m pleased with the results. I also fired off a few emails to prospective interviewees, and am delighted to have received a positive response (just a few minutes ago).

I also read a little more of Branson’s new book, Business Stripped Bare: Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur.

The only unfortunate thing that did happen today was this evening when I accidentally ran the bath without turning the water filter on (we turn it off when washing the bathroom as that’s one thing that the bonus chemicals are good for!). Going into the bathroom I was hit with the smell of chlorine, and sure enough my skin is now about as dry as a hair-dryer in the Sahara dessert.

Right now I’m listening to Dick Gaughan, whose album ‘A different kind of love song’ was the first one I ever owned (copied from my brother actually). Hauntingly beautiful. Handful Of Earth is another of my favourite albums.

OK, bed time now. Night night.

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