iPhone apps, Study, and Japanese TV

yamanote_tiltshift

Ahh, what a cute Yamanote train. Taken and (poorly) tilt-shifted on the iPhone.

Been a good day today. Finally updated www.iphoningjapan.com with a re-write of the Tokyo Metro app, now includes my take on using the Augmented Reality function. It’s very cool.

For those of you who don’t know what augmented reality is – it’s what they have in fighter jets and very high-end cars, whereby additional information is somehow projected onto the windshield, so you can keep on looking where you’re going without taking your eyes off the road / sky ahead.

This technology is now available for iPhone users (and on other Japanese handsets) – you hold the phone up and it will use the built in GPS and compass to figure out what you’re looking at, then overlay info from its database (cafes / stations / shops etc). Read more on iPhoning Japan.

There’s another app called Sekai Camera which uses the same technology, but also allows you to add your own ‘airtags’ – for example, I took a photo of a friend and placed it outside a shop in Shibuya (where we were), so from now on whenever you go there, they’ll be floating around. It’s still a kind of game at the moment, but the potential of these apps to majorly impact upon our lives (especially in places like Tokyo) is very exciting.

I’ll be posting about Sekai Camera later this week.

I also blogged about Koetan! – a fantastic voice-recognition Tokyo train route app.

Finally got Anki and iAnki (spaced repetition software for learning ANYTHING!) up and running – very excited about learning Japanese again.

Oh, had a meeting too about a dream like production studio myself and a friend would like to rent. It is a dream though.

Oh oh oh, and I watched TV for an hour too! First time in forever that I’ve done that. Used my dictionary throughout picking out unknown words – very beneficial.

Mind you, Japanese TV is absolutely terrible on the whole, and I can’t believe people actually pay so much for such limited choice, and such drivvle. It’s like paying US$200 (or whatever it is) per year for the privilege of watching 10 of the most mindless YouTube channels on Earth, whilst stabbing yourself in the eyes with red hot needles. I seriously wonder what people are thinking when they come up with some of the extraordinarily bizarre things you see.

Basically, I don’t really want to watch TV as I think it’s a complete waste of time (for me). It strikes me as being like pouring your life down the loo, but I do want to use it in my Japanese studies (thus my asking for recommendations earlier). You know, the average time spent in front of the TV in the UK is about 25 hours per week (and far more in Japan). Yes, I sit in front of my computer, but on the whole that’s productive time. I rarely find myself procrastinating these days as there’s just too much I want to do in the short time I have. I’m grateful in a way that Japanese TV is so awful as it means I’m unlikely to voluntarily indulge, instead only watching one of two things a week that are well-produced and help my studies.

Anyway, best go to bed. Don’t forget that we’re giving away free credit for use on www.hearjapan.com (Japanese music download site aimed at people outside of japan) to all listeners of the latest episode of Japanpodshow.com!

Oyasumi!

A week of important decisions and output

There is something about the corner of this 50-storey building that thrills me.

It’s so sharp. So determined to cut through the air. So confident. You can’t help but admire an attitude like that.

sexy corner

It’s the corner of a building bordering Hamarikyu Gardens, photos of which you’ll find below.

But before we get into that, I have a favour to ask of any readers connected with the University of Sheffield (my uni) – my kohai (person in class below me) Alice is a lovely girl, and has entered a competition to help promote the university. To win, she needs a decent number of views of a Youtube video she and several other of my kohai made – so please go and watch it – it’s here (don’t be fooled by the black opening) Thank you.

Podcasts

I’ve got podcasts coming out me ears this week.

First off, I’m really enjoying my private podcast (that’s the one that shows up to the right of the Daily Mumble). In particular, this one got some attention this week. It’s about my renewed determination to improve my Japanese.
Listen!

I’ve since restarted my personal Japanese podcast (feed links in sidebar of The Daily Mumble), and am using that to update my long-neglected Japanese blog.

With language study, I firmly believe that if one is meeting repeated failure due to a ‘lack of time’ etc, you have to figure something out that fits in with existing routines. This does for me.

I’ve also finally got the sumo video out, which underwent a major re-write following a private viewing for *Twinkle*!! This is not meant to be taken seriously.

(If you subscribe to Japan Podshow you’ll find this in the feed.

Then accompanying that, we have episode 11.5 of Japan Podshow. I don’t feel this is up to standard, and think this is mainly due to the fact that it was recorded outside of the studio where we were limited in what we could do. Still, that’s OK.

I drew the artwork on the Hibiya and Ginza subway lines, in case you were wondering. I do enjoy drawing elephants!

I just have to finish off the full interview with Nathan of Hear Japan for Making it in Japan – should be able to do that tomorrow.

I’m determined to start running again – and have run for the past two days, and will again tomorrow (GPS route with embedded photos of this morning’s jog here, courtesy of the iPhone).

I was happily surprised by how the iPhone handled this spider (which incidentally I blogged about this morning over on Dannychoo.com).

Japanese Spiders

After the run it was off to Hamarikyu Gardens with *Twinkle* and a friend visiting from Madrid. I blogged this photo too.

Hamarikyu Gardens Tokyo

Here’s a shot of Tokyo Bay from above, with Hamarikyu in the foreground (taken on the iPhone again. In fact all of these were).

Hamarikyu and Tokyo Bay

Also this week I met up with dear friend Paul P back in Japan for a quick visit, with CNet / Japan Times journalist friend Rick to discuss Augmented Reality apps (he might use some of the info I provided in a JT article next week), oh, and continuing to correspond with Ian the documentary maker regarding film-making. Who knows what the future holds.

The day job is going OK.

Eyes are tired though, and the Macbook needs to be seen to – the sound card seems a bit dodgy, i.e. all system audio turns into loud static pops after lengthy editing sessions. Not good. Just need to get to a time when I don’t need it for video editing all the time, like the beginning of November when Japan Podshow is done.

Things are good though. Exhausted, but excitement and motivation levels are high. Gotta make the most of the time we’ve got!

Joseph

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!

A new study set-up

My old study-setup

I’m very much an advocate of taking action to change one’s surroundings should they not be conducive to feeling at ease. For example, a friend of mine has been having issues at work involving smoke from an adjoining (smoking) room filling her office, but rather than just complain about it she went out and bought some plastic sheets and a couple of heaters, in order to seal the gap between above the partition wall and deal with the resulting lack of hot air that was blow through by the air conditioner. She is now going to be happier in the short term, and live longer too.

My new getting-up-at-6am routine is going really well – I love it, and manage to get a tonne of stuff done in the 90 minutes extra that I have each day. Studying Japanese is the main activity. This involves me going through my electronic dictionary’s history to review words I’d looked up the previous day, and transferring them to Anki and paper flash cards (sometimes an iPhone interface is just too distracting). I’ve also got a couple of text books to work through, oh, and I’ve restarted my Japanese blog.

It’s appalling how much I’ve forgotten since I stopped studying, so the entries you’ll find on there are more reminiscent of the stuff I was writing at the end of my first year at uni than what you might expect from a graduate. I’m not embarrassed about this. I know I can do better, and I know that given frequent practice I will do better.

I’ve decided to use my photos as the theme, writing about where / why they were taken. Simple, yet very personal to me. I like that.

It also prevents me from using the excuse that “I have nothing to write about”.

Another thing I’ve done to encourage study is buy myself a proper desk. The Japanese-style coffee table was doing my knees / legs no good at all, and left me in quite a bit of pain if I sat there too long. Thus, I popped down to the local department store and bought a fairly cheap table, and two metres of cloth for a table cloth. I love it!

The storage shelf thing that was in this room has been moved next door, although the two sets of stationary drawers remain close at hand under the two tables.

I’ve also decided to stop using my MacBook as a laptop at home. By plugging in an external monitor and keyboard it’s possible to use Mac laptops when they’re closed – I keep it under the desk out of the way.

There are a few reasons I’ve done this:

  1. It gives me more space on the desk for study materials;
  2. I don’t have to look at all the trailing wires emerging from my Macbook;
  3. My mind associates this monitor / keyboard with study / ‘work’ and not all the stuff I associate my Macbook with.

It really makes a big difference. I’m far more productive now I have a space designed for what I need to do. Kind of no-brainer really.

Anyway, it’s bath-time now, then muesli, then off to the office to continue work on the new website for students. I’m using Joomla in order to ensure that the site can be updated for many years to come by people other than myself. As with WordPress, I am staggered by the improvements Joomla has seen in recent years. A world away from the thing I dabbled with a while back!

Have a productive day!

Into the recycle bin

Busy bee, spotted on the way back from the exam.

13 hours into freedom

So, I spent much of the afternoon feeling somewhat lost, before deciding that what was called for was assertiveness. I need to move on. No point in lingering in some in-between state. It’s too easy to comfort oneself with the idea that change takes a long time. It doesn’t. It takes a split second. The time it takes to make the decision.

Thus, I’ve spent the last few hours sorting through four years of handouts, reams of notes, kanji tests, pink essays, green essays and blue essays, and selecting a few choice morsels to keep. Included in my archive for posterity are select examples of all types of homework from the language course over all years, some classic examples of the handouts we were given, and the results of all the essays I handed in for non-language modules. This means that thousands of pages have been reduced to one folder’s worth.

Here’s just some of the work that will be going in the recycle skip in a minute.

my degree

You know what though, I am absolutely staggered how much work we’ve done. The amount of effort that went in to some of those modules (especially in the second year) beggars belief. How did they get me to sign up for all this?!

I’m glad we covered so much though. Not just in terms of language, but history, politics, social issues. I remember when I first went to Japan I didn’t have a clue about any of this stuff. It helps, to know one’s context. Still a lot to learn though, stuff that can only really be picked up by spending several years living there.

It would be nice to be there now really. Having completed the course it kind of feels natural that I go back to Japan and be reunited with *Twinkle*. No such luck though – 3 more months till that (very) happy day!