Valentines Day 2009

roppongi-hills-illuminations_1503

After work last night, I came home to find the house stinking of rancid steamed broccoli – we’d forgotten to put a dish of it away in the fridge before heading off to Saitama the previous day, and what with these spring-like temperatures it had rapidly deteriorated. Windows open, air purifier on full blast …soon it was safe to breathe, and safe to tackle the washing up.

An hour or two later I headed out to Shibuya to meet *Twinkle* for our Valentines Date. It’s rare for us to spend time together doing stuff that isn’t related to business, so for a few minutes we were at a loss as to what to do. Food seemed like a good idea. What to have? I checked the Hot Pepper app on my iPhone (a directory of eateries with discount vouchers) – it brought back a google map of the street we were on with pinmarks showing the restaurants in its listings – click a pin to see a photo of the place, a description, and access the discount ticket.

We settled on sushi, and spent half an hour or so working our way through a stack of plates. Very nice. Cheap too. (I couldn’t manage the ones with the 2cm squidlets lying on top though, it seemed to me horrendous that anyone could eat such little babies).

Back on the streets of Shibuya, we thought about what to do next. Karaoke? Cinema? Nice cafe somewhere. It was then that we spotted a bus about to depart for Roppongi Hills – a clear sign that that was where we were supposed to go.

I like taking buses in Tokyo. Going overground is a novel experience, and much like my journey back to the UK by train in 2007, provides one with a sense of the connections between points on a subway map. These days you don’t have to worry about how much to pay or where to get off either – use your Pasmo (or Suica) IC card for the former (one card is good for virtually all public transport) , and your GPS enabled phone for the latter.

Roppongi Hills is an incredible place. The main 53-storey Mori tower fills me with wonder – how can humans have made something so huge?! On the lower floors there’s a lot of fashion outlets, good cafes and restaurants, interesting architecture and a giant spider.

We decided to visit Niwaka to look at wedding rings. They have a beautiful range – I like a lot of their range, which is unusual for me as I’m not a very ringy person. They’re also more affordable now, with prices having been lowered in response to the economic downturn.

Having decided upon the designs that we’d like (when we can afford them), we headed down the road to the Starbucks-equipped Tsutaya for a coffee and planning session. Out came my notepad and pen, and I started to draw a spider diagram of the business I’m building.

*Twinkle* has a great mind for business. I must admit, I forget it sometimes, but she really has got her head screwed on when it comes to business plans. She pointed out some holes, suggested amendments and action steps, and encouraged me to push forward even though it may not be profitable for a couple of years – and will involve a lot of work.

At about half eleven we headed back home. Stopped off to pick up a DVD at our local Tsutaya, and once home created a home cinema out of all our bedding and the flat-screen panel given to us by my sister-in-law.

Must have been about 3am when we finally dozed off.

This morning’s been relaxing too. Cooking, talking. Looking down at empty plot of land next door feeling happy that construction has now been indefinitely postponed. Oh, my hyacinths are flowering too, giving off a wonderful scent.

We’re both off out now. *Twinkle* to meet an ex-colleague of hers who’s interested in starting an Amway business, myself to teach English in a book store cafe.

Oh, and this time we won’t be leaving any cooked broccoli on the kitchen table.

TTFN

Gaijin Bubble – Being a good husband – Taking action

himonya sunset _2475

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.

Last day of the year: Looking forward to 2009 and beyond

We’re back at *Twinkle*s parents for New Years Eve, as is the tradition when in Japan. This year I won’t be drinking, following a disastrous incident last time when I, along with *Twinkle*s two sisters’ British partners devoured a whole crate of beer between us – most of it went down my throat.

I feel it’ll be a nice quiet affair this year, with lots of food and some typically silly Japanese TV.

Cycling with my wifey

*Twinkle* and I have had a good day relaxing together. Following an easy morning spent watching Indiana Jones and eating tangerines (whilst tucked under the kotastu – a heated table which sits atop a pit in the floor for putting your legs in), we headed out on the family bicycles to LakeTown, the biggest shopping mall I’ve ever seen in my entire life. This huge development is located in the middle of a bunch of rice paddies here in Saitama, and even has its own (brand new) railway station. It has about 500 shops, and thus a huge variety – on the ground floor after passing a load of fantastically original restaurants (Disneyland-style decor, but more authentic), you’ll then find a fleet of shiney Toyota family saloons. There’s a gardening section, tonnes of cutey kiddies clothing stores, two large department stores, a cinema, a gym, three Starbucks, and a row of solar panels perched on the edge of the roof (which also serves as a car park).

camouflage phone

Camouflage phone

I usually loathe shopping centres, and only ever went to MeadowHall (MeadowHell) in Sheffield in desperation when I was in need of a Mac Genius. But LakeTown surprised me. They’ve done a great job of creating a ‘nice’ space. It’s actually fun to walk around the place, and it’s so big that you can walk around looking at your iPhone without bumping into people. It has sexy interactive floor guides, and Universal Design Toilets.

The Universal Design Toilets
LakeTown Loos

What more could you ask for?

Chopsticks display

How about this for a chopsticks collection

I guess that's why they say it three times

We didn’t go there to shop though – in fact all we picked up was five pairs of slippers for the family feet (it’s blooming freezing at the mo). Instead, we spent several hours in a cafe making plans for the Tokyo Tame family’s next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years. We discussed moving house (and changed our minds once again), when the children are to be born (I guess that’ll be a guideline then), specific financial goals and more detailed goals regarding our careers. We also made promises and plans regarding use of free time.

For recharging your electric car

Electric charging station at LakeTown shopping mall, Saitama Japan

It’s really exciting to think that we can, to a certain extent, shape our own futures. The value of goal setting and future-life planning is something that we both heartely believe in, but don’t do as often as we could. This is the second year though that we’ve taken time out to make these ‘big plans’. Whilst we didn’t necessarily hit all of our targets for 2008, merely having them in mind throughout the year helped us make a lot of small decisions along the way (will this take us a little closer to our goals?).

Lucky bags on offer at LakeTown shops: Pay up to 15,000 yen (£60) for a bag, the contents of which are a mystery until after you’ve paid – hugely popular in Japan.

List of lucky New Year bags available at some of LakeTown's 500 outlets

We’ll be printing our list out and hanging it somewhere where we often see it.

On the way home from LakeTown we were fortunate to get a great view of Mount Fuji, some 100+km to the South West of Koshigaya. It’s a shame we weren’t crossing that bridge a little earlier, but still, there was enough light remaining light to cause me to gasp and shout “Mount Fuji!” when I first looked to the West.

Mount Fuji from about 100km+ (this is what happens when you shoot in low light on ISO 1600 with a Nikon D40x!)
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Mumbai, my job, and babymaking

I don’t think I could ever get bored with life. There’s just too much going on.

For a start, there’s events in the news. I don’t follow the news religiously, but I have recently subscribed to the Guardian feed on my iPhone – I scroll through the headlines on my way home to keep abreast of world events that my students may refer to. It’s not entertainment, but it does push me into a different space, changes the context within which I live. Things today are different from how they were yesterday.

I’m finding it difficult to put the horrific events in Mumbai into context, as I have not known this sort of thing before outside of Hollywood movies.

Then there’s Bangkok airport, temporary home to my friends Catherine, Stew and Annie. They tell me they’re safe at least, which is a relief. My brother-in-law, Leigh, who lives here in Japan is also stuck out there – I reckon he’s secretly happy to be able to extend his business trip into a holiday (Leigh is quite an inspiration for me, having come here a few years back for the first time with nothing, and having established his own successful football academy has now created a second company that is contracted by Nike to provide coaching clinics throughout Japan).

A meeting was held at work today. There are big changes afoot in our office. The departure of a fairly central employee has prompted a major overhaul of the way the business is run. Whilst I was initially hired to search for / interview / place new teachers, it’s now been decided that my ‘talents’ are needed elsewhere. Whilst initially surprised as the announcement, I soon realised that this was a very good thing.

My new roles suit me down to the ground. I have several.

The first is teaching English over the phone. As as far as I know we are almost unique within the industry for offering this service. Whilst it can be quite exhausting (8 students per hour) I find it pretty enjoyable – it helps me practice my communication skills – I get to play the game “How quickly can I suss this person out and connect with them?”. I feel really good when it’s clear the students have enjoyed talking with me.

My second role is that of The Cleaner. We’re not talking dusty shelves or dirty carpets (a little old lady comes in everyday to do that. She always asks me if I’ve got over the cold I had last month), we’re talking stripping down and cleaning out the old systems/ workflows, and rebuilding them using a lean model. We’re talking clearing out data archives, transferring operations currently carried out manually / using real paper to semi-automatic self-cleaning databases.

I love this kind of thing. It’s kind of funny, but at the same time sort of expected that a job be created especially for me that involves my doing what I love.

My third role, and this one’s a little more long term, is to revolutionise our web presence. We need to embrace mobile platforms, need to harness the power of these new technologies that will allow students to study wherever they happen to be – I can’t help but think how effective iAnki is in giving me the freedom to fit study in with my everyday routine, with no significant additional impact upon my schedule (it’s really working by the way. Amazing program).

I find this all very exciting – I’m going to get paid to learn about and experiment with new systems that I have a natural interest in already. The only difficulty is in fitting all this in – there’s only so many hours in the day. Thus, I’ve been given the go ahead to work overtime whenever I wish too, paid at overtime rate. This is great, just what we need as we save up more money to move house. I’ll start tomorrow.

This evening I met up with a bunch of boy-mates for a ‘boys night out’. All eight of us have Japanese wives. Except for me, everyone had been married for several years.

At one point the conversation turned to baby-making. “Oh no, you’re not having to go through that are you..?” said one boymate to another. “You’re lucky” they said to me. Sex is still for fun for you, right? For us, it’s just a job, only to be done when the wife is ‘on heat’.”

It all sounded a bit mechanical.

I wondered if that would be *Twinkle* and I in 2 years. I hoped not.

Anyway, it’s now 1.15am. I need to get these photos processed before work tomorrow. TTFN

Married Life: Day 9

When in the past I’ve asked newly-wed friends if marriage changes things, most of them have said ‘sort of but not really’ or ‘no’, having been living together before the marriage for an extended period of time.

It’s my experience that it changes everything. But then, our marriage occurred in rather unusual circumstances, and so the changes I feel can not necessarily be attributed to the act of marriage itself.

Unlike most couples I know, we married after not seeing one another for 11 months. After we married, one of us moved half way around the world to join the other. We then moved into a new apartment together – not the first time we’d lived together, but the first time we lived in a place that had more than one room (it has two), allowing for us to be a little more expressive without fear of being squashed between walls (i.e. we can hide from one another if need be in the other room, separated by a frosted glass sliding door).

making bread in a wok
twinkle and homemade bread_9486

It’s been exciting. Fascinating. A bit scary at times. Everything has been up for discussion.

I found myself feeling moved by *Twinkle*s concern for me, her wanting to hear my take on things, her concern for my feelings, and her willingness to compromise. It’s not that she was never willing to listen or compromise before, but I felt that now she was taking it to a whole new level.

I wondered, was this the result of conscious effort on her part, because we were now married?

When I asked her, she said no, she was just being the same old *Twinkle*, but then she said to me, but you’re making a special effort, aren’t you?

I laughed at that – I was just being me! Then we both laughed. It would seem that if indeed neither of us have changed the way we act towards one another, what’s happened is that marriage has either changed the level of appreciation of the other, or it has changed our perception of what is a ‘normal’ level of care to show towards the other.

There’s a strong sense of responsibility that we both have, responsibility to make it work. The wedding left us feeling that a lot of people were investing in us, believing in us, were with us, giving us strength but also helping us appreciate what a big commitment it was that we were making. Now it’s time for us to act on that.

I think one of our most important roles is to help the other get through the difficult times. I’ve been struggling with self-doubt and a sense of insecurity re. my potential work. *Twinkle* has been doing a wonderful job of helping me see the ‘reality’ of the situation, that is, reinforcing what I know is the case anyway (that I will do very well in my work), and helping me take action to make abstract job prospects into concrete appointments with students.

twinkle_9480

Likewise, *Twinkle* sometimes gets discouraged in her work, and then it’s my turn to bring her back to a bright reality, where she is capable and doing the right thing. (It’s also my job to make sure she gets out of the house on time in the morning).

The fact that we are now married means that long term plans have become a lot more meaningful. In fact, planning in general. We’ve spent several hours this week sitting at the kitchen table making our short, medium and long-term plans. It’s a fairly long process, and is often hijacked by actions that need to take place now before the planning can proceed further (e.g. contacting the phone company to find out what my new phone contract will really cost on a monthly basis).

There’s also a lot of secretary-type stuff to do (I’m definitely the secretary around here). Things like setting up savings plans, sorting out various insurance policies, creating budgets. I had thought that all of this could be done in a single day, but with documents missing and uncertainty as to what current arrangements are it’s taking a lot longer. For me, this is all a part of the marriage package.

So to sum up, it’s all good. An exciting adventure – can’t wait to see where it leads us next!

Anyway, I am now going to attempt to make a loaf of bread in the manner demonstrated by my daringu wifey last night.

TTFN