Susan Boyle gives me a break

Joseph on the ITV Chez Long thingy (UK)

In news that I’m sure will disappoint at least one Mumbler out there, my Susan Boyle Video has given me my first big(ish) break.

This evening I met with the producer of a very well-known podcast, a podcast which sees thousands of downloads every week. It’s a podcast I listen to and enjoy, and a podcast that I did always want to be on. It was also one of the inspirations for my own podcast.

As of next month, I’ll be presenting a new regular feature on the show.

Details will follow in due course.


This is really exciting news for me. As many of you know, I see my mid-term future as being in the media industry, whether that be podcasting, radio or TV. This is not for the sake of becoming ‘famous’ etc, but because I believe that I can make a big positive difference to the world through the media. I’ve always felt drawn towards this field, but until recently have not made any real steps to create a reality in which I am working within it.

It’s only having read stacks of self-development books and having listened to hours of biographies from Audible that I appreciate that there is no secret to fulfilling my dreams. It’s simply a case of taking positive steps, acting on acquired knowledge and accumulated passion to make them a reality.

Becoming successful in my chosen field is no different from becoming successful in, say, obtaining the right to remain in Japan – in that case I invested 5 years of my time in study, $40,000 in school fees and expenses, and a lot of time and effort to persuade *Twinkle* to marry me ;o)

I don’t believe in blind ‘luck’ – I believe that we draw things towards us that we need at a given time – but we have to be in the right frame of mind and give out the right energy to draw the right things towards us (and if the ‘wrong’ things appear in our lives, they are ultimately the ‘right’ things. e.g. having unreasonable demands made of you in a job might piss you off so much that it becomes a trigger for you to pick up some long-held dream of yours that until now you’ve neglected out of fear).

So it’s good to see that my plan is working. Whilst my podcasts may take up every waking moment I’m not in my day job, whilst they may not pay a single penny, and whilst the resulting mp3 may be judged by some as a pile of pants, it doesn’t matter. They are what I have to do now. They are the natural next step.

The alternative is for me to sit here and wait for the day I’m ‘discovered’ by Fuji TV.

It’s only too easy to sit on our dreams. I’m happy that there are not so many of those kinds of people around me; most I know are either happy in what they are doing, or they are taking steps to change those parts of their lives that they are not happy with. They do this year round too, not just at New Year.

Anyways, best get on with the editing. Watch this space for future announcements.

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!

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.

Plans for 2009

Meet your teachers: George and I warm up for our telephone English lessons

George and I at work

Just one more day of work at the office remains this year. Whilst I usually work alone on Saturdays, taking calls from those students of mine who are unable to call during the week, tomorrow the rest of the office crew will join me. They’ll be turning up in their casual clothes for the annual oosouji – cleanup – traditionally carried out at the end of the year in all homes and workplaces in Japan.

I’ve chosen to work much of my week off at a private school in order to scrape together the rest of the money needed for moving house – we’ve decided that we’ll definitely be leaving our apartment in February. With our current place being very old and not insulated in any way we’d rather not stay here. Had there been no costs involved in staying, we’d put up with it, but with a contract renewal fee of 180,000 yen (approximately £1000) it just doesn’t make sense. It’s an absolute con, and encourages us further in our mission to become property owners (to create a passive income, and provide a comfortable place for people to stay when visiting Tokyo / temporarily homeless. It’s partly inspired by dear John John who always had an open-door policy).

I’m really looking forward to my few days off work next week, as it means I can put some serious time and effort into working on the two web-based projects I’m feeling really fired up about. One is the online publishing company that we started last year, the other is a podcast which I’ve desperately wanted to create ever since I got back, but have been lacking in a podcast partner. I found the ideal person in the phone booth next to me at work. He’s crazy. Crazy George.

I’d also like to redesign The Daily Mumble – move it over to WordPress 2.7 – but that’s going to have to wait. I’m seriously considering using some paid holiday to work on this and the other projects.

Next month will see planning / work commence on a new website (and hopefully podcast) for the company – an idea long discussed but never acted upon, until myself and crazy George got all hyped up it a couple of days ago. I’m excited about that. Another great opportunity to be creative, learn a lot, and have something to show for our efforts at the end of the day.

It also happens to be exactly what I have long-envisioned doing.

I’m getting real excited about 2009. I feel it’s going to be a great year.

2008 has been a pretty spectacular though, personally speaking. I got married, graduated from uni, returned to Japan with a proper visa thus successfully completing a five year plan. I’ve started exercising regularly, I’ve got a fulfilling job, and earlier in the year I had some big successes in my work at the University of Sheffield.

I’ve continued to read, courtesy of Audible.co.uk.

I’ve also got my procrastination under control. This year, I learnt that procrastination can actually be used to increase one’s productivity. Realising this, I actively sought to make my procrastination the good sort. This not only resulted in me being able to get a lot more done in the limited time I had, but also relieved me of the feelings of guilt and stress that tended to accompany my procrastination sessions.

I think finishing uni helped too…!

Looking to the year ahead, I aim to make real progress in bringing the projects I mentioned above to fruition, in addition to working more to support *Twinkle* with the further growth of our Amway business. I will avoid doing overtime at the office, but instead be very productive in my allotted hours there. I will also work to be a less grumpy husband – when I’m tired I sometimes turn into a big baby. *Twinkle* is very patient, but she shouldn’t have to be.

I also plan to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and run a quarter marathon, an ekiden and a half marathon too. I want to run the Honolulu marathon in 2010.

I don’t really have any goals in terms of ownership – it’s experiences and personal development that matter, not owning ‘things’. (Having said that, I would like a Macbook pro and a mid-range Nikon DSLR, but I think they’ll have to wait until 2010).

I see the year ahead as being pretty intense, quite tiring, but with little stress – and a lot of fun and satisfaction. I see myself growing in confidence, being less concerned by the opinions of others, and more understanding of ways of communicating in these parts. I’ll be continuing to work on living in alignment with what is ‘right’, and resisting attempted coups by my ego.

Hmmm, it’s all pretty exciting really!

Phase 1 complete

Tremendous feeling of satisfaction tonight as, at the end of a long day at the office (8 hours + 7.5 hours overtime) I finally completed phase one of my project to digitise / automate as much of the teaching jobs admin process as possible.

For the past two months or so I’ve been working on my first ever MS Access database. It’s not especially complex – for someone who’s created databases before it would probably be very easy – it simply keeps a record of all our current jobs, and produces multiple reports detailing the status of the jobs in different ways for different staff.

For me it was a huge challenge. There’s been countless times when I’ve come up against a brick wall, unable to come up with the code that would make it do what I wanted it to do. In those situations I found the best thing to do was to think intensively about the different possibilities …then let go and sleep on it. I can recall several occasions whereby when I went back into the work the following day the answer was there, hanging in the air, waiting for me – PING! and it worked!

The past couple of weeks have been a little frustrating at times as other work has started to pile up, and I’ve been unable to put any time aside for making final tweaks to the database to get it from a sort-of-working state to a fully functional bugless thing worthy of putting real data into. Thus the overtime. It’s my own choosing – I could not do any overtime and continue along the gradual progression route, but it’s reached the stage now where I really want to make the switch.

For one thing, as of this week I’m responsible for managing certain aspects of jobs in progress. Thus, there’s a bit of self-imposed pressure to get this up and running asap so I don’t have to use the existing analogue recording techniques (paper and whiteboard). The switch has also necessitated the reorganising and renaming of a complex web of files too, something I started last week but was only able to finish tonight after a few hours on the job. ooooh you should see my hierarchical archives now, boy are they sexy!

So yes, tonight I feel good. Following a fair bit of testing I started using the database – and it works perfectly! I’ll continue to extend it over the next few months in order that it can help simplify tasks for more people in the office. The hope is that within a few months or so everyone is benefiting from it, being able to immediately obtain whatever data they need to get on with their jobs.

And now it’s time for bed.