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!

A peek inside our mansion

A few people have been asking to see our house – and today I finally got around to taking a few shots.

The view from the front door.

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Our flat is basically comprised of two rooms: a kitchen / dining room, and a living / bedroom. There’s also a tiny bathroom, and a separate loo, oh, and a balcony. The two rooms are divided by glass-panelled sliding doors, which we’ve only now started to close at night to keep the heat in the bedroom.

The table is an IKEA job, heroically carted back by my sister’s-in-law’s partner, Morris, when they they lived here. It’s also a wedding gift, for which we are very grateful!

The kitchen is basically everything along the left-hand side of the room.

The kitchen in all it’s glory.

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I spent quite a long time re-organising all this. Improvements include the removal of heavy / lethal plates from the cupboards above the sink, which *Twinkle* had to stand on a chair in order to reach! It’s now home to things like dish cloths, stores of spaghetti, and granny’s best china.

On the left is the gas stove, which we only use when our main hotplate (the induction range, to the right of the sink) is otherwise engaged. The induction range also serves as rice cooker, kettle, and oven (in conjunction with a saucepan of course!) and costs far less to run than regular hotplates (I took some meter readings last year). Why they are not more common I don’t know, such a fantastic technology. There’s a couple of companies that make them – ours is Sharp, distributed by Amway.

I’m particularly happy with the rack to the left of the sink, which in this action shot is stacked with stuff. This is our third attempt at getting the draining board sorted, having experimented with non-purpose built metal racks we had around the place. The purchase of this £10 basket thing from our local supermarket dramatically changed my emotional relationship with the kitchen.

The gas heater above the sink is unfortunately common in Japan. With no proper flu outlet the sticker on it instructs you to always have the fan on when using it – people have been known to die from carbon monoxide poisoning from these things. Because of this, we never use it for hot water, and have turned off the gas supply. Instead it’s just used for washing up with cold water (which for some reason doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Now, using hot water for washing up strikes me as being a bit wasteful!).

To the right of the induction range is the food mixer and water filter, and below them six plastic baskets which serve as our pantry. Each one has a theme: Baking, liquids, packs of mysterious Japanese ingredients I don’t understand, pasta etc, jams and hot drink supplies. To the right of that we have our sexy fridge, inherited from *Twinkle*s family. It now sports an Apple Sticker to help convince people it is cool.

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The latest and final bit of furniture I purchased from the local department store was this wooden shelving unit. I’d realised that the space in front of the glass door was ‘dead space’, something I don’t feel we can afford in this tiny place. This unit has turned out to be ideal. It’s nice to have the fruit on display, and to have the saucepans ready to hand – encourages me to cook!

One thing I find frustrating is not being able to put things into the wall. Like screws to attach racks and so forth. I try and make do though – here’s my homemade utensil rack.

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Looking back towards the entrance you can see the door to the loo (pictured below), which just about allows me to sit down without having to cut my legs off. The sticky-out-bit on the left is the bathroom.

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It’s a typical Japanese toilet in that when you flush it the water to fill the cistern first comes out of a pipe on top into a mini-sink (lid of the cistern) – a great way to save water as you can wash your hands with water destined for the loo.

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Typical Japanese bathrooms of this size are sealed units – one big piece of moulded plastic. Our water heater is traditional too. You have to turn the handle to get it started (to light the pilot), then wait forever for it to fill the narrow but deep tub (ours takes about half an hour to reach the half-full mark). The bath has two holes in the side: when full, the water is continuously drawn back into the boiler, reheated, and pumped back into the tub, to maintain a constant temperature. In Japan one washes outside of the bath using the shower, and then just uses the tub for soaking and warming (hhm, that phrase sounds a bit familiar… it’s one of the answers on the tests that my English students take) – the whole family take it in turns, thus it makes sense to keep it warm.

The big round thing with the pipes coming out the top is our bathroom water filter – our non-filtered tap water is quite heavily chlorinated, and tends to leave me feeling like I need a shower after I’ve had a shower, not to mention gives me real bad dandruff (and smells!). When I first heard that such a filter existed I thought it was utterly ridiculous and a complete waste of money, but now wonder how we managed without. (disclaimer: that too is distributed by Amway, in which we have a stake 🙂

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The ugliness of the space below the sink beside the door left me feeling pretty negative towards that whole part of the house. I resolved to fix it by hiding the sealed up-air vent and waste pipe by buying some white cotton and double sided fabric tape – hey presto, a lovely little curtain!

The other area I set out to improve was the rubbish bins, located to the right of the door.

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I bought a new bin for raw-rubbish, and then divided the bin to the right into two (one for plastics, the other for non-burnables). Note that below the bin on the left is a little space – this is actually another mini-bin on its side which I use for putting in recyclables like cans and glass jars. Recyclable paper is kept in the bag on the right.

I’m a bit shocked by how much pleasure sorting out the bins gave me.

The other side of the kitchen / living room is *Twinkle*s office. When working there she uses an IKEA chair as a desk, and sits on a cushion on the floor. Having said that, recently she has been using my Mac more and more, so often uses my desk in the next room instead.

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The bookshelf is from IKEA. The curtains are all handmade by *Twinkle*s sister, a designer by trade.

Welcome to my office

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This then is where it all happens. My office / our bedroom.

The table is from IKEA again, only about 2500 yen. The additional LCD (a generous gift from my other sister-in-law and her husband) is used for looking sexy, watching movies and when I’m attempting to multitask.

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It looks a bit of mess from this angle, but usually I don’t notice the cables. The printer is kept out of site below the table – possible due to it being front-feed. This was left to me by dear John John. There’s also a flatbed scanner there, but it’s only used now and then so doesn’t warrant a permanent position on top of anything.

To the left are my six little stationary drawers, bought from the local supermarket. They just happen to fit perfectly in the wooden bookshelf that is on it’s side.

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Our second IKEA bookshelf is used for all my documents / household records etc. The files were only 250 yen for a pack of five from IKEA.

The opposite side of the room is taken up with traditional built-in cupboards.

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This is where the futons live during the day. I’ve also bought a load of plastic drawers, each one labelled with what’s in it so *Twinkle* can find stuff after I tidy up. Whilst most have (homemade) purple inserts, I’ve given a couple of them different colours to help *Twinkle* find what she’s looking for quickly 🙂 (the ‘Temp Capsule’ is for those clothes which have been worn once, but are not dirty enough for washing, but not brand-spanking clean either. Separate from the laundry basket, it’s kind of temporary storage, gets sorted through when I do the laundry).

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Our hanging space is limited – just that in the top-left cupboard, but that’s OK as my suit a few shirts are the only things that can’t be left in a drawer.

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The shoe-rack, which was by the front door, is now in the cupboard. Whilst this may seem like a waste of space, it’s actually helped a lot as we can now use all the space above it (up to the ceiling) and behind it to store things like my rucksack and extra bedding for guests – space that would otherwise go unused.

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Finally, meet our washing machine (also a gift from Y & M). As is often the case in small apartments, it’s outside, on the balcony. It doesn’t seem to mind. It’s cold-water only, and works a treat. After living in Japan the first time, I was left wondering why we waste all that electricity back home by using hot water to wash clothes.

And that’s it.

Guests always welcome. Bring clothing suitable for expedition to north pole.

My dad plays God


Photo courtesy of John Dinnen

He’s back on the stage, this time playing God in a ‘Modern Mystery Play‘.

Not quite the image I was brought up with – shows how times change 🙂

The reviews are now coming in, and by all accounts it was a sterling performance. 

Well done dad. 

Goodbye to England, and Hello to my sister

Here we are then, all set. My big bag is now down to 23kg, my two carry on bags about 500kg each. I’ve checked in online – seat 40k, just behind the right-hand wing, by the window.

It’s been a really ‘full’ day. It’s featured a lot of packing and repacking, backing up data, eating, thinking and feeling funny. And a final visit to our wedding oak, which is doing well in the Millennium Wood.

This morning, mum No.2 and her daughter (old school friend) came round to eat cake and say goodbye. That was very much appreciated.

I’m very excited, but nervous too. My schedule for the first couple of weeks is already pretty jam-packed – the result of a long wait (of 13 months) by *Twinkle* to have me back in the country.

I think I’m more prepared for this trip than any other before now. I have a clear picture of what needs doing when. The reality that awaits me is already a reality in my head, based on my knowledge and experience of the places I need to go, the people I need to see, the things I need to do. There’s not much by way of unknowns, just lots of knowns – in a new context.

I’ve enjoyed being around mum and dad today. They’ve been very well-behaved, and supportive of me in my state of change. Thank you both. Dad has also written a little card for me with some things to keep in mind. I’m touched by how appropriate it is, and will carry it with me, referring to it when need be in Japan. Mum has also helped me a great deal, as mentioned below. Thanks mum.


Today has been a very unusual day, in that as well as my preparing to leave for a new life in Japan, I have spent a good deal of time getting to know my sister, Catherine. Catherine, who bravely battled against a complex mental illness, committed suicide at the age of fifteen – I was three at the time. I remember virtually nothing of her life or death, but have always felt close to her. I’m told that we were close. I’ve long known that at some point I would need to form a new relationship with her.

The timing may seem strange, but it was only last night, during a coaching session, that it became apparent that it had to be now. I won’t be back here for a long time, and this is the place where her belongings, letters, and the diary in which she write of her feelings during her final few months, are recorded.

I read them all, and made digital copies of those that struck me as especially important, in order that I can think on them more in Japan. I also packed the blanket that she made for me, and from which I couldn’t be parted as a child. I had been planning to leave it here in the UK.

Catherine really was very brave. The letters of condolence from people who worked with her were full of praise for her friendly, caring, thoughtful manner. But behind her smile there was a huge battle taking place. It’s only today, reading her diary and talking to mum for a couple of hours that I have started to get an idea of just how hard life was for her.

Catherine lives on in all of us siblings, and in our parents too. I’ve long felt supported by her, and I hope that through the work I’ll be doing over the next few weeks, I can start to feel settled in my relationship with her.

I’ll do my absolute best to make this new life something wonderful that benefits all those that know me.

A CELTA weekend, and Family Planning

So this is what a CELTA weekend is like then: study, study and more study (and a very enjoyable 3-hour trip out to the Peak District to see friends – thank you!)

It’s been fun though. You know, I think I’m actually starting to get my head around English grammatical terms, after 30 years of being frightened of them (yep, right from birth). Did you know that a preposition is a word (or group of words) that is used to show the way in which other words are connected? I didn’t.

Spent a good few hours on my first assignment too – language analysis. I find it strangely interesting.

Today I’m creating my lesson plan for tomorrow afternoon, a 40-minute class teaching listening skills. My theme: “Mysteries of Everyday Life”. Looking forward to it. 🙂

Joseph and Twinkle do purikura

Spent a while on the phone to my darling in Tokyo today. Crikey I think I’m rather in love with her. Anyway anyway, we’ve set aside a weekend soon after my arrival to make some life plans / family plans together. What we would like to achieve in life both individually and as a family, when we’d like to have children (being conceived in Paris so I’m told), that sort of thing. Once that’s done we’ll look at what we need in order to accomplish those goals, how we need to improve (or bring in outside help) to achieve them.

Of course we’ve both done this as individuals several times over the past couple of years, but this will be our first family plan as such. It’s very exciting!

Caw blimey, I’m going to be living with my cutey by a big pond ten mins from Shibuya in four weeks!

I love life.