Hope at the Hilton

Last night I was very fortunate to be able to attend the 10th annual charity gala event in aid of Hope Japan, a non-governmental aid agency that works to provide safe drinking water to families in third world countries. It was held at the Hilton Hotel in Shinjuku – part of Hope at the Hilton Week.

I’d been invited along by John Janzen of FatBlueMan, whom I first met over Skype a couple of weeks back when doing an interview with him for episode one of Japan Podshow. John has been a supporter of the organisation for some time, and recently has written two songs for the charity, used in their fundraising campaigns (one of which we played on the podshow).

As well as providing live music at the event (alongside the excellent Secret Ocean), John had been asked to gather together a team of YouTubers who might be interested in making a trip to Cambodia later this year.

Every year, the charity takes a few top execs out to its projects in South East Asia or Africa to impress upon them just how important their work is, and how much of a difference the support of big business can make. Listening to two of the people who went out last year speak about their experience meeting a family whom we’d just seen in a video was quite moving …and it got me thinking.

This year Hope is going to be doing something different. Instead of sending some execs out there, they’d like to send a team of YouTubers – people with a different perspective on things and the know-how to use the incredible media tools that are now accessible to anyone as leverage to spread the word about their work.

The YouTubers around the table were Hikosaemon, ToLokyo, Claytonian, TokyoStormTrooper and TkyoSam.

Whilst I don’t see myself as a ‘YouTuber’, I am someone who is fascinated and excited by the potential of these tools that we have at our fingertips. I’m particularly interested in audio and video – it’s only now I have a really decent computer that video is actually a possibility (or at least it would be if I had a camera!)

Going back to the charity aspect: this is also something that interests me. And I know that this is one that I have to look into as John introduced Hope to me at exactly the moment that I was thinking deeply about the value and potential of creating an online community (which is my medium-term goal) – synchronicity.

So whilst I don’t yet know if I’ll be heading to Cambodia later this year or not, last night’s event did serve as a reminder that I do need to work charity into the reason for my doing all this.

Whilst geekery is fun, sometimes I do wonder what the point to it all is. If, ultimately, it doesn’t contribute to the overall good of society, then it could be entirely pointless. Just a waste of precious time. But put a valuable cause at the end of the road and suddenly there’s a burning reason to continue to push original material out there, to grow a community, to create a movement of sorts.

I tend to do a lot of my thinking and concluding when either talking with others, or writing, and as I sit here in the bookstore cafe just around the corner from Shibuya station, I can feel the tension rise in me (that’s Japanese-style tension, which unlike the non-Japanese tension is a very good thing). This idea is clearly in accordance with my core values, with what ultimately drives me to act – that is, making a difference.

Watch this space.

I’d like to say a big thank you to John for inviting me along, and I look forward to working together.


I’d just like to finish by briefly writing about a conversation I had with Danny Choo last night.

Danny Choo is most well known for his love of figurines, dancing around Tokyo in a stormtrooper outfit and his love of Apple Macs (he recently installed Mac OSX on a Dell Mini, something I can see myself doing in the future.. He has an which sees over 2 million unique visitors every month, and is usually the centre of attention at events such as Tokyo CGM.

But it wasn’t for any of those things that I first came to hear about Danny. It was rather due to his attitude towards life, as documented in a small corner of his website (which I can’t find at the moment, but I did find his story of why / how he learnt Japanese). I recall reading (following a random google search) what he’d written about self-actualisation, and agreeing wholeheartedly with him. At the time that served as another little prod to get me off my arse-of-fear and into action.

Meeting Danny last night confirmed something else about him that I previously guessed to be the case – he’s a thoroughly nice guy. He knows how to listen, and has a great skill of reading people. He is generous with advice on things that he is well versed in, and humble in learning from others in areas that he is not so familiar with. With all this in mind, it’s only natural that he should be as successful as he is.

We’re fortunate to have him here in Tokyo.

Anyway, I have a tonne of editing to do on episode two of the Podcast, and for some mad reason I’m actually going to start another mini-podcast this week too.

Exciting times. I hope I can sleep tonight.

Gaijin Bubble – Being a good husband – Taking action

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Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of ‘being a foreigner’ is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I’ve been out and about, and completely forgotten that I’m a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I’d regressed to those times when I didn’t understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I’m becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly ‘Japan’, they’re just ‘home’.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I’m somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don’t like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don’t see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I’m the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube – I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this – it’s called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone…

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I’m finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it’s awareness that’s the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this ‘fact’, the film became even more translucent.

It’s all my perception.

I know this. I’ve always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.


Recently I’ve been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I’m not sure what brought it on, but it’s likely to have been my experience at the office, as that’s where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases – the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I’m not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That’s pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn’t have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I’m currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I’m finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I’ve Mumbled about it before, and I’ll say again what I said then: there’s nothing in this book that you haven’t read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins’ books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It’s this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or ‘lack of Japanese language skills’.


This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it’ll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography 🙂 But still, I found other people’s reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme’s, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they’d changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).

This got me thinking about how I’ve grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn’t necessarily want to know. I’m fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered ‘ok’ by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I’ve not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I’m also glad I had a few ‘serious’ relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren’t quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn’t have to put up with all that kind of crap (it’s not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It’s taken New Year to make me act on this one. It’s only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to ‘be nice’ when one really doesn’t want to be nice isn’t actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer’s work – he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention – I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I’m also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don’t see last year as having been the real milestone – that’s this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I’m far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I’m only making the situation worse. It’s time for an end to ‘recognising’ things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let’s make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I’m greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I’ve not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven’t got time.

That’s a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I’ve just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I’ve taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I’ve also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that’s a distinct possibility.

I’m going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I’d best be off to bed, I’m doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I’ll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

Thought on New Years resolutions

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Ri-kun on the tatami

I finished reading Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” this evening. [Wikipedia] [official site]. The New York Times accurately described it as “much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech, and the bulk of it is devoted to laying out Mr. Obama’s policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq.”

Whilst it might sound like it would be a right yawn for someone like me who has little interest in politics, I liked it a lot (although admittedly, I did fast-forward through some chapters that in which he talked in detail about the US political process). It served to give me a feel for Obama as a person, and I must say, he seems to be a bloomin’ nice chap. I also found myself thinking that I’m like his wife, Michelle, in some ways.

I’m now listening to ‘Tribes’ by Seth Godin, which focuses upon marketing in the age of Twitter and Facebook. It’s received mixed reviews, with some people noting that it just reads like a load of blog posts, that there’s nothing new in it and that it lacks depth. All true perhaps, but that doesn’t bother me. As someone very much interested in the uses of social networking services in marketing / creating communities / building businesses, I find it fascinating – and inspiring too. There’s a fair amount of inspirational stuff in it that can be found in many other ‘You can do it’ books – but I need to hear this.

I am an ideas person, but I fear putting my ideas into action. Ideas for a publishing company. Ideas for a Penguin business. Every day, lots of ideas.

I think much of this fear stems from a fear of what others may think of me, a fear that is utterly ridiculous and serves no useful purpose in my life – it only holds me back. It kind of p*sses me off really.

I know I’ve come a long way, but I could do so much better. The fact is that those people who really know me know that I’m a good, trustworthy person – with flaws. Thus, they forgive me my errors in judgement and continue to support me, in return for my support and love of them. I don’t need to fear losing those who are precious to me (they include all of my friends).

But what of those who think I’m stupid, misguided or deceitful, and then treat me with contempt? I’m scared of being treated with contempt.

But that’s ridiculous. Looking back over the past 15 years or so, I can’t think of a single occasion when someone important to me has treated me with genuine contempt. Why do I even entertain these ideas? I’m a good person, I know I am, and I don’t need to have these fears.

These past few days I have begun mulling over my New Year’s resolutions for 2009. One that I’ve been considering is ‘Action without Fear’.

Crikey. That’s a bit scary.

The thing is, there’s no point in making such a resolution unless I act on it. That will require a conscious effort on a daily basis. I think if I do adopt it, it will need to be classed as an ‘experiment’ limited to a period of say, 3 months (long enough to see tangible results?), with regular progress reviews built in. You might think that overkill, but when it comes to things that are uncomfortable and require self-motivated/self-enforced persistence, I need to use all the tools available to me to succeed. (Look at me with my iPhone and Jogging schedule).

I also recognise that I need a tangible goal to aim for. It could be having my photos on public display, generating a certain amount of income from Amway, registering a certain number of artists with Three Seeds – it could include all three, and of course more.

I think ‘change’ will be the key word for 2009. I, like everyone else on Earth, am afforded the opportunity to change almost any aspect of my life every single day, yet I fail to appreciate that most of the time. I subjugate myself to the status quo – it’s easier that way.

But that’s not good enough! I have a responsibility to be the best that I can be.

No, I shouldn’t need a New Year to make changes, but I don’t feel strong enough to act alone at the moment. The calendar will be my ally.

Anyway, it’s time for bed. We’re having our Christmas Day tomorrow as it’s a national holiday (emperor’s birthday) – everyone is able to gather at the family home just north of Tokyo. Excited!

Overly content?

A reoccurring theme for discussion in my head is one that revolves around being content.

You see, I believe that it is important to be content with today’s life, because there is no tomorrow. And thus, I generally feel very content.

Yet, I can feel that this feeling of contentness is perhaps holding me back, in that I lack serious frustrations with my lot today to motivate me to push myself forward.

I have small motivations – for example, an inability to communicate my thoughts on the new database with my boss has pushed me back to study …yet I feel I don’t feel a general discontent with my situation in general.

Perhaps I’ve thought and felt myself into a corner.