Three months have now passed since my last blog entry. Facebook friends and Twitter followers will have also noticed that I have not been posting so frequently on those platforms either.
Whilst this has been partly a reflection of my schedule (having less time to post), it’s also been a semi-conscious decision.
Life has changed quite a bit these last few months. The big change of course has been the arrival of Ricky, who is doing really well. He’s growing so fast, developing new skills every week (he did his first tummy-time head-lift a couple of days ago!). He’s also had his nappy changed no less than 893 times, and has spent almost 120 hours feeding (and that’s pretty accurate thanks to the tracking app Twinkle and I use). He’s sleeping through from 8.30pm to 4am most nights, and looking very cute whilst doing so.
It’s hard to tell if there’s any character traits emerging yet – and I’m not sure what we’d be looking for if we were being obsessive – but his temperament (so far!) is generally calm and quiet (aside from when his digestive system is giving him grief as it does fairly regularly, not uncommon in babies).
He’s smiling now when we play simple games with him (tickling, touching noses etc), and seems to have grasped that it’s not just mummy who’s important, but that I am someone to be liked and laughed with/at (since 2 weeks ago).
We’re very excited to see him continue to develop, to see his personality emerge, to be his guides as he discovers the wonders of the world.
Another big change was around the same time as his birth – I switched my work pattern from carrying out multiple smaller video projects as Wild Tame Co., Ltd to joining a startup founded by friends – IMPACT Japan – (connected with TEDxTokyo). As a founding team member (although technically I’m a consultant provided by Wild Tame Co., Ltd; having our own business remains a core part of our life plan) I work out of the organisation’s new shared office, and am helping build the entire business / program from scratch. It’s a really interesting and valuable project supporting post-disaster Tohoku – you can read more about it here.
This shift of my resources was something that had been on the cards for several months. With Twinkle having left her full time job at the start of the year, Wild Tame was the sole employer of the family, providing video production / web streaming services to a number of Tokyo-based clients big and small.
My timing to enter the market (and specifically the SME/Governmental segment of that market) was not ideal – recent years have seen the web/ event video market become saturated, with some Japanese outlets able to charge ridiculously small sums for their services. Thus, whilst I was able to make enough to pay the bills, it was extremely time-consuming, and without capital available I was limited when it came to expansion options.
More importantly though, my heart wasn’t really in it. Yes, I was happy to be doing something somewhat creative, being my own boss, able to provide friends with employment, having a very flexible schedule, working from home …but ultimately, anyone could have done what I was doing.
I think that it was this realisation, coupled with the impending arrival of Ricky, that was the key to making me reconsider all that I was working 7-days-a-week for. Over the summer, Twinkle and I did a lot of thinking, mapped out various options, consulted with friends in relevant industries who had years of experience behind them. We listened, we thought, we developed rough business outlines, we scrapped them and went through the process again. We would settle upon a plan and keep that in our minds, and then see how we felt about our decision a couple of weeks later.
The most valuable part of this process was that it made it clear what we didn’t want to be doing (such as taking on investment and buiding our own creative agency).
Over time though, we found ourselves coming back again and again to something I knew in my gut – that a big part of our future was connected to my being some kind of performance artist. The successes I’ve had over the past few years with projects revolving around running, windmills and technology have been real highlights, indeed our greatest successes (bear in mind that Twinkle has been an important part of all of these behind the scenes). We see that these kind of projects also have the greatest potential in terms of enjoyment, creative contentment, self-improvement, health and the opportunity to travel; they are also the hardest to replicate in that they have to be original and are tied to my persona.
It was around the time of reaching this conclusion that I was approached by the IMPACT Japan team. I recognised the value in that project for the community (both in Tohoku and here in Tokyo), and saw that I was a good fit for the needs of a lean startup, being a jack-of-all-tech-trades. Having a repeat client that offered some flexibility (including flexible employment for Twinkle when the time is right, which is pretty soon) but a regular payment also gave us some security – something we’d like for the time being as this whole parenthood thing is full of unknowns!
Thus the decision was made.
Being in startup mode and having Ricky on the scene has meant that since October I’ve not actually spent any time on further developing my/our own projects (this is reflected in the lack of public posts). That’s OK. I needed some time to adjust to the new reality. However, with the new year, I feel it’s time to pick back up and put in consistent effort to make our dreams a reality.
So what does that mean in reality? Well, there’s plenty of practical steps to be taken, such as: get fit (not only for the marathon on Feb 23rd but also as fitness is a key part of my image of myself); spend time developing my contraptions (as I have done this week, see the video below); spend time thinking up, drawing, prototyping new ideas; instead of reading news sites read design, tech and art related sites; learn the basics of OpenFrameworks to at least understand the potential, buy a RaspberryPi and make something simple with it…
But hang on, where’s the time going to come from to do this?
That’s a question I asked myself as I was being inspired by Give It 100. Initially I was thinking of setting myself a whole bunch of mini-projects using that platform to keep me on track with each, but then I drilled down, and realised that the main habit I need to develop is one of actively tackling procrastination.
I’ve come to realise that procrastination has become a bit of a problem, and is holding me back from realising my full potential (something that is important to me). Whether it’s reading all the news on the BBC site late at night, or not putting something back where it belongs at home (leading to a messy environment and a messy mind), I see it occurring on a daily basis.
I’ve been aware of my tendency to procrastinate for many years now, and have sought to turn it on itself by doing other things that need to be done when I see myself avoiding some particular task (which I really don’t want to do). But, that in itself is not tackling the fundamental issue, and I see now that it’s starting to cause pain in my life (and is a pain for Twinkle at times too!). This is pain that is totally unnecessary.
So, I’ve decided to Actively Beat Procrastination for 100 days. Basically, whenever I sense that I am procrastinating, I will act to do the thing that I am avoiding.
Coupled with this I am going to Actively Not Get Distracted. When it comes to computer work, I am a multitasker, and frequently flit between emails and other work, usually having multiple apps open on multiple monitors. I understand that multitasking does have it benefits, but for someone like myself I think it does more harm than good (just laughing at myself as I’ve just caught myself attempting to update another wordpress site whilst writing this paragraph!).
Because of how easily I get distracted I don’t think it would be a good idea to use the 100 Days site – recording and uploading a daily video is an invitation to divert my attention! Instead, I’m going to use Audioboo to track my progress.
So there we go.
Well, I think I’ll leave it there for this update. Thanks for reading.
I first met Peyman and Mohamed at TEDxTokyo 2011 – they’d sent us a mail out of the blue asking if they could attend. Whilst we receive a lot of these kinds of emails (and can only grant seats to a limited number of them) there was something about the mail from these emirate brothers that stood out. Curious, we invited them to join us.
Peyman and Mohamed with Garr Reynolds at TEDxTokyo 2011
About a year later Twinkle and I worked with them on producing a pilot episode of a social TV series, Peeta Planet, which at that time was without sponsors. Despite their lack of experience in producing TV shows, knowing what they had already achieved in Dubai and spending time around them, I had a funny feeling that they’d actually manage to realise their dream.
Fast forward to 2013 and that dream is now a reality. Their first series, now showing weekly on Dubai One, has taken them to Singapore, Istanbul, Dublin, Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok.
It was whilst in Tokyo that they spent some time with TwinkleTame and I – first having a picnic under the cherry trees (hanami), and then carrying out a running art project in the shape of the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building.
Peeta Planet Minisode: Joseph Tame (mashup of our run in Ginza)
Peeta Planet: Tokyo (full episode)
TEDxTokyo followers may recognise some of the music – by Open Reel Ensemble, who appeared at TEDxTokyo 2012.
Peeta Planet – Meet Joseph Tame
Google+ Hangout whilst running Ginza
For some reason I was unable to join this hangout.
Having first worked together last year on the Otsuka Story video (which I’m happy to say is now featured on their new website) Artist Jean-paul Buquet and I teamed up to push the boundaries of stop motion animation, and are delighted to have completed our first in-house production.
‘A Short History of Communication’ – which comes ready-made with a wooly mammouth and some giant hieroglyphs – was made to showcase the different animation techniques we can now employ to help tell our clients’ stories (which don’t necessarily involve wooly mammoths).
The creative process behind this was an interesting one. Initially of course there was the scripting and storyboarding, something we work on as a team. JP has a natural talent for encapsulating complex ideas in a single image, and has been known to have anything up to three moments of genius in a single day.
Step two was building our studio. Whereas for last year’s Otsuka video we used a huge piece of paper for our canvas, this time we decided to go for a white board, due to the flexibility it brings. With that in place we then acquired the necessary cameras, lights and sound equipment, before starting to take photos.
The actual shoots themselves don’t take that long – I think we spent about two days with the camera on this. What does take a lot of time is the pre-production and post-production processes. In this case we were trying out a lot of new techniques, whilst simultaneously testing the waters with the new improved Final Cut Pro X (for which there’s been a couple of updates lately). Half way through we found our exiting edit machines were not up to the job, and so invested in a specced-out 27″ iMac (32GB or RAM and a 3TB Fusion drive certainly help!).
The narration was recorded in our ultra-dampened sound studio, photos of which will eventually be released.
The edit got a little complex towards the end, with over 4,000 image and audio files feeding in to various levels of compound clips. The process was often experimental (is it better to batch edit images in Photoshop before import, or apply crops etc in FCPX after import?) – but this mean that the process turned into a hugely valuable learning experience.
We’re very happy with the end result, and hope to be making more of this these for paying clients in the near future.
Fior those of you who prefer French we have a version just for you. Japanese to follow.
The increase in disparity between the name of this blog and the frequency of posts I get out is testament to two things: Twitter is a lot more sustainable than blogging b) I’ve never been so busy before!
When I returned to Japan from the UK back in mid-January, I found myself faced with a backlog of work. A fairly major project that I’d undertaken for the Tokyo-based childhood cancer charity The Tyler Foundation turned out to be more of a challenge than I’d initially anticipated. Not a bad thing, as in order to bring the required functionality to the new site I had to dive right in and learn about the inner workings of WordPress. Before this I’d never really ventured beyond html, CSS and relatively simple PHP. (Looking at the front end of the site you wouldn’t know it, but I’ve needed to make substantial changes to core files in order to extend the capabilities of WordPress whilst maintaining a simple admin interface).
My other client projects have continued alongside this, along with training for the Tokyo Marathon, meaning there’s been very little downtime.
The Tokyo marathon project is turning out to be quite an emotional experience, bringing about real change in my outlook upon life and what I’m doing here. I find it hard to clearly explain the process I’ve been going through in logical coherent paragraphs: there’s just this huge collection of interconnected thoughts relating to different aspects of the project. I’m in the thick of it right now – it’s hard to step back and get a clear view of where I am and what direction I’m really heading in.
Having said that, I feel the need to document some of these things, even if only for the sake of the film I’d like to make in the future. So here goes.
Running has come to mean much more to me than the pain-in-the-arse exercise that’s good for you, that it was before. Whilst I enjoyed running with Tom or in Ekidens, the training was a bit of a chore, and I had to force myself to put my shoes on and get out there.
Over the past few months however I’ve become fitter, and whilst I’m still relatively slow (5mins 30 seconds per km is comfortable over longer distances) I can now run 10km without much effort – it kind of feels like a warm-up. Not only that, it’s really fun! It’s only once I near the 30km mark that I start manifesting walls. Bear in mind that all of these distances assume that I’m not carrying a crazy broadcast contraption, which starts to hurt after about 10km!
I’ve been quite taken aback by the positive reaction to my 45km Hello Kitty run in Shinjuku-ku last month. (for example, Runkeeper were delighted with it, and invited me to write a guest blog for them on the subject which resulted in over 3000 hits in the following few hours).
Regardless of the fact that I painted a pretty picture with my GPS trail, the run itself was a real achievement for me. Never before have I run 47km / 28 miles (45km + the bits where I had to turn tracking off to do the eyes and nose), and never before have I actually dared think I could run that far. Google told me my planned route would take me up to about 38km: had I known it was going to actually take me beyond a marathon and require about 5 hours of running, I probably wouldn’t have attempted to do it.
The thing was though, by the end of it, exhausted though I was, I didn’t feel that I’d pushed myself to the absolute limit. Whilst my legs ached and my granny’s hip hurt, I wasn’t near collapse.
It was soon clear to me that the key factor in enabling me to run that distance was the technology. I’m not talking fancy shoes or robotic legs, I’m talking about the iPhone in my hand which I must have consulted hundreds if not thousands of times over the course of the morning. I’d previously plotted my route in Google Maps, and had to refer to that constantly to stay on course. With my mind focused on the image I was drawing, I wasn’t (for example) running along Nakano Road – I was running along the bottom of Hello Kitty’s chin. During the final 5km, had I not been so focused on her bow I’m sure I would have come to a standstill before reaching my goal. I had no choice but to run.
Having broken that psychological barrier (‘I can run further than a marathon!’) I’m much more confident about the actual marathon itself. ‘Oh, it’s only a marathon!’ (The reality next week will I’m sure be somewhat different, given that I’ll be carrying a fair bit of weight and talking non-stop for the duration).
Something else that has had quite an impact upon me is the book Born to Run.
Born to Run is… a book about the love of running – it is a book about regaining the joy that running can bring to your life, and about why running is more than just a way to keep your weight down and your muscles toned. It is a book about why we all should run, and why those of us who enjoy running what many consider to be insane distances love doing so. It is a book about why running is a part of our history as a species, and why running is truly a gift that was bestowed upon us as human beings….
Reading this book puts a whole new spin on long-distance running, and really encourages me to pursue it. The key seems to be to enjoy it, to have fun with your running – and that’s what I’m doing. I’m not particularly interested in running official ultra-marathons. Instead I’d rather find my own way to use this sport in a creative, exciting and original way. I have some ideas – they can wait until after the Tokyo Marathon is over.
So back to the marathon then: I must say I’m a little nervous. Somewhat ironically, actually running the distance is the least of my concerns. Even if I walk some of it I’ll get there in the end! (I’m more worried about the politics that accompany doing something so unusual at such a big event).
The press have been enjoying the story, with coverage in the Japan Times, on TUAW (which spawned a whole load of translations on other European sites), BBC Radio 5 Live’s Outriders and local TV station Tokyo MX.
[EDIT] The video has since been featured by Engadget.
[EDIT 3] We’ve truly gone global – CNN are documenting the project – look out for that video after the marathon!
This show went out live, so no chance to re-record if I got it wrong. I must admit I was pretty nervous – but despite that it was still a lot of fun. The presenters and crew were great, showing a genuine interest in what I’m doing.
I smile when I think of this, as I’ve been joking for about 10 years now about wanting to be on live Japanese TV – and therefore this week have realised one of my dreams! It’s never been a burning desire by any means, but I do enjoy performing / entertaining, and whilst (somewhat ironically) I dislike Japanese TV, I still see it as a good way to help spread amusement and laughter. Whilst a bit daft, I feel I stayed true to myself, which is important.
Moving on… The promo video we made in Shibuya has had over 10,000 views so far, which is pretty groovy. Doing far better than Susan Boyle!
I hope we have a bit more coverage on the way. Fingers crossed.
I also have a hope that the huge amount of effort that’s going in to the project by myself, Steve Nagata and a group of friends pays off in some way. It would be wonderful if we can somehow carry the project forward to beyond the marathon, that it doesn’t just become a one-off that was a fun thing to do. Without any paying sponsors all of this is being funded out of my own pocket, and through the generosity of volunteers. (Nike Japan have however kindly provided my running clothes and Wahoo Fitness my heart monitor and ANT+ iPhone receivers. Virgin Earth Inc are generously allowing us to use their Aoyama TV studio).
The Tokyo Marathon Project is also serving as a means to learn more, first hand, about the power of social media to start a movement. I also find it beneficial to see the comparative influence of social media vs. mainstream media (TV, national newspapers). The interaction between the two is very interesting, with each jockeying for position in the struggle for public attention.
There’s another struggle going on behind all this – that of balancing time for myself/family with that of time for my clients / personal projects. It’s something that dominates my days, and has brought with it some tough lessons. I’m trying hard to get a grip on it, but it’s not easy (the lack of blog updates is a manifestation of this).
Overall though, there’s been a lot of positive developments over the past month. Let’s see where we can take things next.
Getting out of familiar territory really does help. The past three weeks spent in the UK and Spain have enabled me to become partially detached from the frenetic life I have in Tokyo, to take a look at the overall shape of things, to reconsider where my attention should and shouldn’t be directed. More on that later.
It has of course also given me a chance to spend time with my family, and friends – and it was that, more than anything else, that this trip was about.
This was our first time back in the UK since the summer of 2008. The funny thing was though, when meeting everyone again, it didn’t feel like that at all – It could have just been a few months. I think there were a number of reasons for this, including the fact that these days we can contact one another anytime at minimal or no cost (free mobile video calls now also possible thanks to a recent Skype for iPhone update), and also because now we’re all ‘grown up’ there’s far less change in our lives that there was say, ten years ago.
Unlike with any home visit I’ve done up until now, I found there was actually more change in my parents than there was in my siblings. Whilst the growing-up process can be pretty dramatic, I learnt that the ageing process can be too. Seeing mum and dad having to cope with the realities of growing old was quite shocking in a way – and this is despite the fact that they’re both actually doing pretty well.
Mum has an accident
Admittedly, things weren’t exactly ‘normal’ whilst we were there. Mum fell down the stairs just a few hours before we arrived on Boxing Day, breaking three bones in her ankle and heel. She now has an impressive mechano set embedded in her leg.
This meant of course that she was unable to cook, rearrange furniture, or ensure that all family members had what they needed. Instead, the pressure was on dad who, despite being in a lot of pain with a bad back and angina attacks, really rose to the occasion. Whilst the first pot of soup he made was somewhat unconventional, he went on to bake a fantastic fish pie, two tasty apple crumbles, a delicious risotto and some pretty good scrambled eggs. Let’s hope that his new-found culinary confidence continues to be nurtured and grow.
I mentioned that it felt like it had only been a few months since I’d last seen everyone – but that didn’t make it any less special. It was so good to spend time with my parents, my brother, his partner, my two sisters and oldest nephew, now age 7. Seeing him all grown up was wonderful, and both *Twinkle* really enjoyed the time we spent with him (and he also seemed to enjoy the time spent with my iPad!)
We also stayed a few days with *Twinkle*s sister and her partner, now living in London. We all get on really – I’m very lucky with my in-laws! There was time to see a few friends too in both Hereford and Bristol, including my old housemates, a college friend with a 3-day-old baby, and my old boss from when I worked at Wormelow Stores. I was able to see my best friend Jo a couple of times, once at home with a nice relaxing cup of tea and once in the freezing cold on the course of the Wye valley 10km New Year Challenge.
Twinkle, Morris, Yuki
Steiner Academy Hereford
Living just a few miles from the Hereford Waldorf School that was so much a part of our lives for so long, it seemed only right that I take a look at how it has changed since it became the UK’s first state-funded Steiner School, receiving £10 million in investment to turn it into the Steiner Academy Hereford.
Where we once lived in a caravan
Fortunately, my old Japanese archery teacher Shinji and his wife Niki still work there, so I was able to have a full guided tour in the pleasure of their company. I must admit, I was stunned by the transformation. I’d never imagined that the school which had always struggled so hard to keep going would one day be fully networked, have an underground biomass-powered fuel generator, and smartboards on classroom walls. A hall (standing where the old playground had been and that we’d lived in a tiny caravan in 1984 when there were only 30 pupils) with huge red velvet curtains, computer-controlled led lighting, a beautifully smooth wooden floor. I was also happy to see how ‘historical’ aspects had been preserved, such as the old stone arches and doorframes that dated back to when the original government-run primary school had been built way back when.
The barn being stripped – note the outline of the old blackboard on the far wall.
The new hall
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind a little to the beginning of our holiday. In the days leading up to our departure were unsure as to whether or not we’d actually be able to go, due to the heavy snow falls at Heathrow that had basically seen the airport closed for two days. Checking the British Airways iPhone app just before going to bed the night before we were due to fly, we found that sure enough, we were going to be effected. Our flight would be delayed 6 hours, meaning we’d miss our connection to Barcelona. No big deal though – we just decided to postpone our 3 days in Spain until the end of *Twinkle*s time in Europe, in the New Year. The flights were changed at no cost, and we only had to fork out for a new hotel booking.
Dependence upon mobile broadband
Twinkle in Camden Town
Once in London we stayed with *Twinkle*s sister in Islington. It was whilst there that I learnt just how dependent I’d become on constant network connectivity. I needed money from the bank, but had forgotten my UK PIN. Usually I would have just googled the nearest bank branch, used my iPhone’s GPS to get me there… and whilst I did eventually manage to get it sorted, it was pretty difficult, I realised that these days I spend very little time preparing to go places before actually leaving the house. It’s only once I’m en-route that I’ll start looking places up. It really was quite a shock to me just how much of an impact it had on my ability to do what I wanted to do and go where I wanted to go.
The following day it wasn’t an issue as I had severe sickness and diarrhea, so didn’t leave my bed.
Connectivity was a problem again when driving down to the Avisford Park Hilton, about an hour south on London near my brother’s sort-of mother-in-law. We’d bought a road atlas, but it was so lacking in detail that it wasn’t any help at all. Pinching the pages didn’t change the scale, and there was no gps button to tap to show us where we were. Whilst we did find the place in the end, it was pretty stressful. (Luckily we had a brand new Vauxhall Corsa that at least meant that driving was a moderate pleasure!). Later on in the holiday, whilst in Spain where I couldn’t use the mobile broadband mifi that I’d subsequently picked up, I learnt to cache all the required google maps on the iPad and iPhone prior to leaving the wifi-enabled hotel room.
Twinkle and Pepe on Bognor beach
Waking up on Christmas Day at the Hilton was lovely. Hanging on the door knob was a stocking from the hotel manager, containing chocolate, tangerines and a card. There was the usual full English breakfast cooked to perfection, and following that, a stroll in the grounds (the temperature was about minus 5!) The rest of the day was spent with my brother, his partner and her family in a converted boathouse on the beach in Bognor Regis. It was all a very relaxed affair, and came complete with a Doctor Who Christmas Special.
Having visited a friend who lives on a large house boat (a lot larger and more comfortable than I had previously imagined), we headed up to Hereford (via the castle at Arundel) – it was around lunchtime that mum then decided to hoover the stairs in a pair of non-grip slippers and subsequently broke her leg. We visited the next day following her operation. Whilst somewhat groggy she was in good spirits, and seemed to be positively enjoyed the complete lack of housework needed whilst a patient at the Hereford General.
It’s a tradition at the Tame household to celebrate the family Christmas on New Year’s Day, as this also coincides with dad’s birthday. Mum was now home from hospital and doing pretty well. We did all the usual: eating, drinking, sitting around talking, playing Racing Demon (I think Emma won).
Twinkle and I making ourselves useful – stacking firewood
I found a huge block of ice in a waterbutt
…and carved some holes in it to make a handy mask
I had a fair bit of work to do whilst in the UK too
Wye Valley New Year 10KM challenge
When visiting my friend Jo she’d mentioned that on January 1st there was an annual run around the lanes of Herefordshire that she’d be participating in. Starting at Hereford Rowing Club it took an undulating route around Breinton (where we’d lived for a year or so, surrounded by cider apple orchards, back in the mid-1980s. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to get my running off to a good start for the year, so on the day I paid my £12 and joined the 250-or-so runners at the start line.
That was a tough race! I’d never actually run a hilly route before, and was only accustomed to the flat streets of Tokyo. However, spurred on by the sight of people carrying far more weight than I was overtaking me, I pushed myself, and in doing so achieved a new personal best for 10km.
Jo and I prior to the race
Photo by Twinkle
I subsequently went on a number of runs along hilly routes, and found, to my surprise, that my average times were generally some of my best ever. Was this because I was unable to use GPS to pace myself? Or was it that the downhills enabled me to run so much faster that the uphills were soon cancelled out?
Well, whatever, I absolutely loved running those rural routes, and hope to have the chance to run in more diverse locations over the coming year.
Hereford hasn’t changed much. Here’s a video shot when walking over the old bridge over the river Wye… as you can see it was pretty damn cold!
Spending time with *Twinkle* / The Barcelona Trip
It was the first time since our wedding that *Twinkle* and I had spent so much time together on a constant basis …and what a pleasure it was. Waking up next to her and not having to think about going anywhere by any particular time. Driving with her navigating (OK, so that was a bit stressful at times!), visiting places, going for walks …I loved it. Our few days in Barcelona were a highlight. She’d already visited once, some 7 years ago, and so already knew here way around the city to a certain extent.
The hotel was great, with our room upgraded to a top-floor suite after we emailed to tell them it was our honeymoon (which technically it was, albeit a little late). A queen-size bed, walk in closet, and a jacuzzi with a huge window that could be opened to give us a view over the city whilst soaking.
Wow! What a place Barcelona is! I was absolutely captivated by the architecture, The incredible cathedrals, ye ancienty narrow alleyways with 6-storey buildings rising up each side, decorating them with laundry. The ridiculously imaginative and outrageous works of Gaudi, including the crown jewel – the Sagrada Familia.
That was just STUNNING! Whilst the outside is pretty impressive with those huge towers, it does look a bit like a construction site, what with it being a construction site and all. But once inside …jaw-droppingly amazing. An impossibly high ceiling supported on Mines of Morior-style pillars, featuring ridiculously detailed decorations, surrounded by beautiful stained glass windows, and a breathtaking source of light directly above the alter (is that to be the base of the final Terry Gilliam style tower that’s not yet built?)
I was really blown away by that. Whilst in Europe we have a lot of stunning architecture, it’s either been there for decades (or centuries), or it’s made of modern-day materials. To see such a building as the Castelle Famille being built of stone in the 21st century is, I feel, pretty unique. What’s also good is that thanks to tourists they have a constant stream of income to pay for the construction to continue.
Twinkle and Pepe above Barcelona
At the famous park designed by Gaudi – Park Guell
Another memorable attraction was the ropeway from the docks to the park that sits on the coastal hill overlooking the city.
Unfortunately my camera batteries died at the end of the first day, and despite my obsession with chargers and cables I’d neglected to bring anything that could rejuvenate them (and my camera, the D7000, is too new to yet be supported by the generic chargers that i found on sale in the largest department store). So, it was back to the iPhone.
The Flight Fiasco
It would be unfair to *Twinkle* to not include the story of how I ended up going to Spain without her, carrying only my passport and wallet, whilst she struggled through airport security with all the hangbaggage.
We were a little late in arriving at Heathrow Airport for our flight to Spain, so when I got off the shuttle bus from the car hire compound to the terminal I neglected to check that I had all of my belongings. It was about ten minutes later that I found that I didn’t have my wallet, which contained over £200 and all my cards. Telling *Twinkle* to wait for me, and with only 30 mins until the gate closed, I ran off to the car hire desk. About 15 mins later I had managed to retrieve my wallet (with all contents) – thank you National Car Hire for your quick and kind response.
However, when I got back to where I’d left *Twinkle* with our substantial amount of hand baggage, she wasn’t there. She had done exactly as she had told me she’d do – moved on down the building to where you enter security. Now for some reason I can’t explain, I totally forgot that my iPhone was perfectly capable of making phone calls in the UK (albeit for a price), and so rather than call her to see where she was I went on to security by myself, using a different escalator from the one that she had indicated she’d be using.
There was no sign of her at security, so I assumed she’d continued to the gate (which was a ten minute walk from security). Arriving there I asked if she’d gone through – no she hadn’t. I now spied a payphone and called her – she was still waiting for me at security! I explained the situation to the boarding gate staff, and was told that she had no chance of making it in time. She’d have to get a later flight. What was worse though, I couldn’t wait for her. The one piece of checked-in-luggage we had was in my name. It was too late to get the luggage off the plane, and the plane couldn’t leave with unaccompanied baggage on board. I had to fly.
As you can imagine, when I called her a second time to tell her that I was leaving without her and that she’d have to struggle through security with all our luggage (including a whole bunch of electronics that would need unpacking and x-raying at least twice), she wasn’t best pleased. It’s not often I’ve seen her furious, but furious she was, and let me know this in no uncertain terms down the phone. I felt terrible as I sat on the bus that was to take us across the tarmac to the plane. I had been mightily stupid.
It was only when I landed in Barcelona a couple of hours later that I realised that I could use my iPhone in Europe no problem (provided I was willing to pay), and gave her a call. Still furious, she told me that she’d had to buy a new ticket for £117, and having no British money on her had had to use the euros that she’d bought with her collection of two hundred 500yen coins.
Whilst very embarrassed, I was also kind of glad that she was more than happy to hit me damn hard upon arrival in Barcelona, 4 hours after the initial scheduled arrival time. The abuse continued on the bus to the hotel, where it was paused as we made like we were the honeymoon couple we’d reserved the room as (we didn’t have time for a honeymoon in 2008), and then gradually lessened over the course of the next 12 hours.
I admit that travelling with me can be tough. I admire *Twinkle* for having the stamina to do it.
Back to the UK
We returned to England on Jan 5th, with *Twinkle* continuing directly to Tokyo. I was to stay for another week at my parent’s house, catching up on work, creating my very special rig for the Tokyo Marathon, and keeping an eye on mum and dad as they got used to the new dynamic (featuring mum with a leg in plaster).
And that’s pretty much what I did. I spent the mornings running or catching up on odds and sods, and then afternoons and evenings working on the website for www.tylershineon.org (yet to be completed, but we’re getting there).
Click the panorama below for a larger image
Unfortunately I didn’t get to do many of the things I wanted to do for myself, which mainly involved writing, planning, finishing up personal projects that were put on hold last year. In fact it’s only now I have 11 hours to myself in splendid isolation 37,000 feet above Siberia that I’m able to document our holiday.
This is one of the most comfortable flights I’ve yet taken to Japan. Whilst I’m in economy, when checking in last night online I deliberately chose a window seat in a row of three in which there was already someone checked in in the aisle seat – leaving the seat in the middle empty. The seat in front was also empty. The plan worked, and thus I’m able to put stuff on the chair beside me, and use this 17″ MacBook Pro – something I can’t do if the seat in front is reclined. Cunning huh?
We’ve been in the air about 7 hours now I guess. Dark outside, our flight from West to East cutting short the daytime short, and the moon, which previously lit up Scandinavia, has now set. Must be about about 1am local time, so I guess it’ll be another couple of hours before we see the sun rise.
Looking back, looking forward
Whilst in the UK I did have a chance to do some reflection and thinking. Looking back, the last 12 months has been pretty tremendous, with my moving from full time employment (that, whilst it taught me a lot, I didn’t really enjoy), to a freelance model (which has seen me busier than ever, but doing what I enjoy). *Twinkle* has been able to move from a typical Japanese-style company with little flexibility and no future to the family-owned business courtesy of our brother-in-law, so we both now feel we have a greater ability to shape our lives.
I also celebrated my 33rd birthday whilst in England
There’s no sense of having ‘arrived’ anywhere yet, and now more than ever we’re both keenly aware of our desire and indeed the need to build our own business, something that allows us to live the lifestyle we’d like (i.e. so that we can move to another location without having to find new jobs).
I’m aware that I took too much on last year, and so will now be more careful when allotting time to third party projects. *Twinkle* and I need to spend more time together, with that time being quality time relaxing, doing nothing, leaving space for our natural creativity to grow. A former employer of mine expressed concern that I don’t ever have any downtime (very true), that I’m always multitasking, that my brain is constantly taken up with tasks. This is not good. He’s helping me to appreciate that my brain needs rest periods, and that without them the times when I am working, I’m not functioning to my fullest capacity. In in those times when the brain is let free to wander, to explore, to drift in and out of nothingness and somethingness, that it is at its most creative.
I take this seriously as one of my concerns of late has been what I perceive to be the stifling of my creativity. Idea creation has become harder, forced. It’s a process I need to reverse, and one I think I can reverse with a little care to leave space in my schedule for downtime.
Whilst in England I spent some time with an old friend who lost her partner to cancer. He’d always been a hard worker, putting 110% into everything he did, and rarely taking time off. Unfortunately, it was not long after he retired that he became ill, and the holidays and relaxation time they’d long talked about taking were no longer an option. ‘You’ve only got now Joseph. Don’t waste this precious time you have together”.
And she’s right. One thing I’ve been reminded of through this trip is how fortunate I am to be married to *Twinkle*, to be in a partnership with her in life. It’s a relationship to cherish, and a relationship that deserves more attention that it received last year.
We’ve started booking some time off together. We’ll go places at weekends (something we’ve never really done before), we’ll eat out (likewise), we’ll just enjoy one another’s company.
Another area for improvement this year is Japanese. This has suffered hugely in the past 6 months, and I’m really quite ashamed of how bad my spoken japanese has become. I’m sure I’ll be able to pick it up again pretty quickly – but I need to put the time in. The daily study routine resumes Monday.
Long term… this requires more thought and discussion. We’re going away for a weekend at the end of the month to a hot spring resort, Planning for the next few years is top priority, after relaxation and fun.
Anyhow, I think I’ll leave it here for now. I need a break from the screen – and have about 1000 photos to start editing before we hit the tarmac at Narita!
Looking back at the past month of entries on my blog, I see that I’ve completed neglected to talk about how things have panned out since I left White Rabbit Press at the end of June. The reason for that is simple – I’ve been extremely busy with new projects, and have not really not had any downtime.
I’d like to start off then with a brief summary of what I’ve been up to since my last proper check in.
To start off, we had the Mount Fuji climb.
I documented the entire adventure though tweets, audio recordings and videos on the various social channels, so I won’t go into detail here. But in brief: this went really well. The weather was perfect, being warm and with relatively clear skies. I picked up the brand-new 10-seater minivan early in the morning, luckily remembered how to drive (after a 2-year break), picked up the other 9 team members, and headed out on the two hour trip to the 5th station of the Yoshida Guchi trail.
. It was around lunch time when we finally got our feet on the ground and started the long trek up.
Last year, we’d climbed at night time, and in appalling weather conditions, making for a pretty bad experience. This time, thanks to the fact that it was a day climb and that the weather was good, it was an entirely different story. It was an absolute breeze to reach the 8th station where we’d then spend the night – I could hardly believe it was the same mountain, it was that easy.
The staff at the 8th station were pretty surprised by all the technology that we were carrying: iPhone, Cerevo live-streaming camera, iPad, 17″ MacBook Pro, DoCoMo wifi dongle, Canon HD camera and live-stream USB converter, multiple batteries, solar panel charging kit…!
I used all of this technology to tweet, livestream (via Ustream), upload photos, audio and videos as we climbed. Of course, at the end of the day the quality of the output was to a certain extent limited by the speed of the data connection (and lets admit it, whilst it’s pretty reliable it’s not exactly fast up there!)
Reflecting on the livestream aspect of the adventure, I don’t see it as being all that successful. I made a poor decision to not broadcast constantly, and I also neglected to involve the audience to the extent that I should have done. It was very much a one-way thing, and lacked the ‘challenge’ aspect. Also, there was the time problem- we were to reach the summit at 3.30am! Still, to be honest, I don’t mind all that much. It was a learning experience.
I’m very grateful to have had the support of NTT DocCoMo and Cerevo.
Having slept for a few hours at the fantastic mountain hut we got up at about 2am, and made it to the top for the beautiful sunrise.
We also recorded a very special music video on the rim of the crater – more on that in due course…
The Japan Times published a story online and in print about ustream and my use of it on the morning of our descent.
This climb of Mt. Fuji is something that I won’t forget – thinking about it now brings a smile to my face. The reason for this is not necessarily the beautiful view, the fun that I had with the technology, the good weather or the tasty curry at mountain station 8, it’s the people that I went with. It’s the interactions with them, the sharing of the challenge, the friendships that grew stronger through the experience – these are the things that ultimately matter.
It’s the same with the next mini-project I was a part of: the official Twitter Tweetup held on July 23rd.
With Twitter’s crazy success in Japan, the demand for tickets far exceeded the supply – only 400 would be able to attend. As with most things round here it was a case of knowing the right people. For me, that person was @mikamika59, an employee of Digital Garage, the company that runs Twitter here in Japan.
I first got to know her following the Tokyo Marathon – she sent some very kind messages during the run. We subsequently met by chance on a bridge in Roppongi, and then went on to work together at TEDxTokyo – she was my co-host for the Ustream live stream.
Thus, when it came to the Tweetup she asked if fellow tech-otaku and good friend Steve would manage their official stream of the event.
I happily accepted, and on the night worked with montomos as a presenter. Part of the deal was that I got to interview Twitter CEO Evan Williams.
Really enjoyed that – apart from the first 5 minutes in which I died on camera. I mean, it was really bad. I’m trying not to think about that. Luckily it wasn’t recorded, and only about 80 people were watching the stream at the time.
The following day it was off to @invisibleGaijin‘s to shoot a couple of short videos for a friend – his daughter wanted to enter a ukulele video competition.
Unfortunately on the way home from the shoot I twisted my ankle, and subsequently was unable to walk for a couple of days – this was a big shame as the following day was our 2nd Wedding Anniversary 🙁 Still, despite my being an invalid we had a nice time staying at a hotel in Asakusa – got a free upgrade to the best room in the hotel after I discovered and complained about a toothbrush in the bathroom that had already been used!
A week later I was on the 36th floor of a certain Japanese corporation, the name of which I cannot reveal here for reasons of rabbit security. There I was dressed in my bunny ears giving a presentation about the Tokyo marathon. It went down very well, despite my pretty bad Japanese and the fact that my keynote file completely disappeared off my computer an hour before I was due to give it. Bizarre.
All of the above has no real connection with my work, although I’m sure some of it will come to influence what I do in the future.
When it comes to work, things have panned out pretty well. I’m working freelance as a digital media producer / consultant. I have two clients at present, one a friend who has established an international education foundation (more on that in due course), and the other, my brother-in-law’s company, Total Football. Leigh (my wife’s sister’s husband), a professional football coach with 20 year’s experience, established the company in 2007 to run coaching sessions across Japan in collaboration with Nike Japan. We have ties with international level teams such as Manchester United – this coming weekend we’re running a couple of coaching sessions with coaches from FC Barcelona. Leigh himself is becoming known as the face of youth football in Japan for Nike. He’s currently in Holland having been invited by the Dutch FA to attend their elite training programme.
The company is now looking to take itself to the next level: *Twinkle*, with her experience over the past few years in many areas of business, is now in charge of everyday operations and expansion. I’m working with them to help develop a new marketing strategy. There’s huge potential here, and our job is to see that it’s realised.
The amount of work involved in both of these projects at present is such that I’m working pretty much 7 days a week. Still, the fact that I have the freedom to choose where and when I work is a huge bonus. I feel I have a degree of ownership with both projects, and this motivates me to push for big successes. I’m also learning a hell of a lot in the process of carrying them out.
Our affiliation with Nike is motivating me to think more seriously about sport – running in particular. I’ve been fortunate to be able to meet the head of marketing for Nike Running, and hearing how active he is in the sport himself (multiple marathons etc) inspires me to push myself to get back into it. I’m actually really missing running – my foot has not yet fully recovered from the accident I had just before our wedding anniversary. Last weekend I bought new running shoes, an armband for my iPhone, oh, and I finally figured out how to use the Nike+ app on the iPhone (the key is to buy the Nike+ widget thing to put in your shoe – the one I had before that I thought was broken was actually just a piece of filler-foam!)
This kind of leads into thoughts regarding my long term plans. Thoughts that are influenced by videos such as this one:
Hello. I'm Joseph, Tokyo-based fouder and Creative Director at creative agency/video production house Wild Tame. I'm also known as a runner with an experimental tech streak, father of two, husband of one.
This site documents my personal journey through life.
To learn more about me and my adventures in tech please visit my main site at http://josephta.me