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.

Budding potential


The past few days have been tremendously exciting. Having made the decision to actively pursue my passion, which centres around podcasting but has various attachments (podcasting alone not being a sustainable business), I’ve found myself becoming increasingly excited. For the first time in a long time I can feel that passion, that excitement that comes when you commit to tackling a big challenge.

I’ve long wanted to get back into podcasting, ever since I made my first poorly-produced and almost embarrassingly crap podcast (which has now seen approximately 9000 downloads). The only reason I’m not embarrassed about it is because being embarrassed about it wouldn’t actually be helpful to me. Instead, I’m using it as a lesson in what not to do.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days doing research (learning that podcasts in themselves don’t really generate revenue was the first important lesson!) scribbling down ideas, transferring them to a business plan, talking about them with friends, and then scribbling down a whole load more ideas and adjusting the plan. I’ve been loving it. Today, sitting in a local cafe for a couple of hours I could barely contain my excitement as I came up with a bunch of ideas that magically tied the podcast-centric idea to the online publishing company that myself and two friends started setting up last year.

I see this project as being inclusive, supporting the non-Japanese community in Japan, and producing original, engaging material for people both local and abroad who have an interest in the country.

I also see it as being a lot of fun. And having a bit of a weird name that sticks in people’s minds. Oh, and time consuming.

The more I think about it though, the more I see how in a way a lot of what I’ve done up until now leads to this idea.

I’m also aware that this is not my ultimate goal, but rather the next big step I need to take.

Deciding to ‘grow up’ has been a helpful decision to make. Whilst it doesn’t mean changing my personality or abandoning the sense of wonder I feel on a daily basis as I go about life, it does mean that in situations where in the past I may have backed out through fear, I can now tell myself that it’s OK, and continue.

I mean, come on, there is no failure, there’s only learning.

Incidentally, now feels like an exceptionally good time for a new start as the first blossoms are appearing in the local parks. Spring is my favourite season, and often seems me walking around gazing at the emerging leaves and flowers in amazement at their beauty. Just writing about it brings a grin to my face. The thought of all that ‘potential’ held in the buds now forming, amazing.

Anyway, I’d best get to bed. Today’s photo by the way is one that you may be familiar with – it’s one of mum and dad’s gazanias, which are extraordinarily beautiful. One of my favourites.

Good night.

Time to grow up?

bogey changing belarus 05
Changing the bogeys – crossing the border from Russia to Belarus, Sep 2007. Photo taken from an adjoining carriage that’s also jacked right up.

Listening to Branson’s autobiography again today has really hit me hard.

That, and talk with my colleague George (who is rapidly becoming an entrepreneur extraordinaire) regarding several ideas for ventures here in Tokyo that is pushing me to face my fears and get on and do what I need to do.

I’ve come a long way I know, but I still see myself being held back by a big nagging doubt about whether I can suceed in business or not.

The balance between talk and action in my life is way out. Look at me now. I’m blogging, not acting.

Ok, so I’ve created a (yet to be launched) website for my venture, but I can feel myself resisting stepping forward and acting to do what’s needed in the real world. I tend to do things bit by bit, avoiding looking the plan in the eye, skirting the edges. I’ve built websites before, I can do that. They’re within my comfort zone, no matter what the content (within reason).

By going out there and interviewing people, networking in real life, actually producing something other than a website – this is outside of my comfort zone and the fear is only too apparent.

There’s never been a better time for action though. I’ve met someone who shares my passion for my idea, and will make a great co-producer. As of today I’m hooked up with a couple of entrepreneurial networks (via Linked in), and have been invited to speak at an upcoming event for the sake of furthering my idea / carrying out research.

We have no dependents, we can afford to take risks (within reason) – without some risk nothing will change.

I spoke with *Twinkle* tonight about this strong feeling that things have to change – her reaction was one of delight. ‘It’s about time you grew up’ – exactly what I’ve been thinking myself all week.

She has been concerned that Joseph would never grow up sufficiently to be a father – she’s not said this before, but I’m not surprised. I identify wholly with what she is telling me. (I hope you see the irony following my privious post.

It’s time I assert myself. Remain humble and eager to learn from others, but stop kowtowing to fear, and stop thinking that everyone knows better than me.

I desperately want to succeed in the business realm. I’m not motivated by money (although the need for money by those around me does motivate me to a certain extent). I’m motivated by wanting to create something amazing that makes a positive difference to others in some way, by the idea of doing what I love every day, being free to put my precious limited time towards what I consider to be the most important thing that I can put my time towards.

It really is time I grew up.

I’d like to express my thanks to my family, friends and Mumblers who have consistently expressed their belief in my ability to realise my dreams. I invite you to continue to stay tuned and see what happens here over the next 1, 3 and 5 years.

Ok. So let’s do it.

Initiating change

Wordle of Change

You know that space you often find yourself in when you wake up, that space where it’s just you and the remnants of your dream? You might not be aware of where you are, or to a certain extent, ‘who’ you are. By ‘who’, I mean who you are to the world around you. Who you are in the workplace, who you are in relationships, who you are within that complex network of friends and family that exists around you.

I woke up in just such a space this morning. I was unconscious of the fact that my physical body was at my parent’s house, unconscious that I was about to get married, unconscious that I have things I need to do today.

I opened my eyes, and seeing the cupboard beside my bed, so I became aware of where I was. With my location established, so my place in the world began to come back to me. There was the wedding. There was *Twinkle*. There was Joseph, in Orcop.

However, this morning It took a bit longer than usual to fit into the self-constructed id, and I found myself putting an arrest upon ‘reality’s creep’.

Hang on a sec, I thought, I don’t have to be this person, I don’t have to fit into this world that is a construct of every day of my life up until now.

I could change everything, now.

I could leave everything behind. Walk out of the door and start a completely new life. Go and live in Siberia (would have to take a wooly jumper).

A few moments later I’d had an opportunity to think about what I’d like to change in the reality I’ve constructed, and decided that actually, there was nothing I would change, and I am very happy to continue along the current path I have chosen.

However, this brief period of time spent in that space free of earthly concerns reminded me of the immense potential we all hold (those of us that are fortunate to live in ‘free’ societies), a potential for change. If we don’t like our lives in any way, we can choose to change it, completely, with a single decision that could be made in a split second. We are only bound to our current situations by our own self-imposed limits, limits that give us an enormous sense of comfort by placing scary (limitless) possibilities out of reach.

I like crossing boundaries, I like big change. I like having the freedom to choose to act independently of a personal daytime reality, the reality that becomes our identities in the morning.

I think, in a way, this is one reason why I enjoy living in Japan. In Japan my id is far from concrete. I have good friends, but they are few (I can count them on one hand), thus meaning that I am free of any history when stepping out into the world. I’m free to be who I choose to be that day, with far fewer self-imposed restrictions. Just guided by what feels right.

It’ll be interesting to see if the reality I create in Japan comes to mirror the reality I have in the UK. I suspect that it might, but it will be far more limited. I’m going to have to make quite an effort to form the kind of networks I have here in the UK. That’s something I’ve not been too good at in Japan in the past. I’ve tended to keep my world small, revolving around a few close friends / my partner. I know I need to reach out, especially to the foreign community in Japan. With two notable exceptions, I’ve resisted that in the past.

Perhaps it’s time for some massive change there.

From the train: Nuclear Drivers and Being the Change

I’m on the train back to Sheffield. It’s been a pretty easy journey, relaxing. For the first leg I was on a rail-relacement bus. I sat at the front as I often do on buses, provided they have seat-belts. Next to me was a chap in his 40s. Pretty scruffy, stinking of cigarettes.

“This bus journey is costing me £400” he said to the driver, clearly pretty pissed off. “I’m a truckie – got a load of nuclear waste to take to Germany tonight, have to be at Dover by 10pm. I’m gonna miss that ferry because of these engineering works – you have no idea how much trouble that’s gonna cause. They have to make special allowances for me, have to make sure I’m on the deck – it’s a nuclear load you know”

The bus driver mumbled something about the train company working to upgrade the track.

“Yeah, well, it’s just not good enough. I’m gonna make sure this rail company gets all the bad press it deserves.”

Well, that’ll certainly help, won’t it?

Things were quiet after that. Just the guy at Stockport who seemed suicidal in a manic kind of way. Thankfully he didn’t jump in front of the train – just banged repeatedly on the door until it opened.

I’ve been reading more of the Be The Change. I tell you, if you have any dreams of starting any kind of movement or company to bring about positive change, this book is a must. It is so inspiring. You can’t help but feel “Why not me?” after reading this book.

The other message that comes out of it’s butterfly-adorned pages is that it is vital to follow your passion. You also need to have a laser-like focus; seek advice as widely as possible; have a plan that is set and followed, yet flexible; get a great team around you.
If you have these things, you can’t fail in whatever you do.

I’m struck by what these people have achieved. They have touched the lives of billions. They are incredible – and yet at the same time they are no different from Joe Bloggs. Indeed, it’s that message that is one of the loudest. These folks don’t have buckets of money, they aren’t nuclear physicists, they don’t necessarily have any clear idea of what they want to do at the outset – but they do find their passion, and follow it.

Mind you, if I look around, I see people like that everywhere, doing amazing things (be they small or big amazing things) on a daily basis, making a difference. I bet if I interviewed a sample of my friends and acquaintances (and mumblers) I’d be able to fill a book that was just as inspiring, in its own way.

All of this keeps on leading me back to my new life with *Twinkle*. Just can’t get her out of my head. This new partnership excites me so much. Scares me too. So much change, so much opportunity – am I going to be brave enough to step outside of my comfort zone and follow my heart? It would be far easier to just settle for something that doesn’t stretch me too much, but I think long term that would be quite painful.

Ho hum.

Just pulling into Sheffield Station, must dash.