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    Saturday, December 30, 2006

    Prettification of TDM for 2007

    I recently got my hands on 100 business cards, each sporting a different photo from my collection. Some of them really work, whilst others just look silly. Anything to stand out from the crowd. Anyway, this got me thinking, wouldn't it be nice to have a bit of visual variety on The Daily Mumble? I know I already have a random image, but that's about half-way down the page... what I wanted was a random title - and now we have it!

    What do you reckon?

    There's only a choice of 22 images at present, one of which is selected at random every time you load the page. I'll probably make more as time goes by, but for now, I think this gives TDM a nice new feel for 2007!

    If you'd like a random banner on your (Blogger) blog, visit Freeyasoul Adventure for the code.

    Anyway, back to the plastic cakes.

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    Taking Control

    I've put another A4 poster on the wall today. It reads,

    "Don't let anyone else Define you or Confine you"

    I heard this quote this afternoon whilst making 2 litres of curry to keep me going for two days. I had my iPod on, and had been listening to a 1950's recording of the late Earl Nightingale, whom I wish I'd discovered some 10 years back. As that audio book came to an end, so the next one began - an audio book I wasn't even aware I had, and the name or author of which I have no details of. Still, his words grabbed my attention. Don't let anyone else define you or confine you. When digested along with the other lessons I've been learning, they have the full impact of that big digger thing that 007 drives into the concrete wall at the beginning of the latest, wonderful James Bond film.

    As I read this books, listen to these recordings, I note how it all feels right. Terrifying, but right. Most of it is common sense, we all know this stuff - but there is a huge gulf between being in the state of knowing something, and being in the state of doing something about it.

    It's not what happens to you in life that determines whether or not you achieve your dreams, it's how you react to what happens to you. We all know that, but how many of us truly take charge of our lives? I know that I haven't thus far.

    I've spent far too many years playing along and seeing where life is going to take me. I've been that boat out on the water with no destination logged into the GPS navigation system. What do you think the chances of me reaching my goals are if I have none?!

    This doesn't mean I have to chart out my complete course - I can't, because I don't yet have all the knowledge necessary to get me there. I don't know enough about sailing to chart the oceans - but I could probably get out of the harbour if I tried.

    I'm standing on the street somewhere in Roppongi (it's all up-market these days don't you know. The days of the Iranian chicken sellers are long gone...). I want to get to Tokyo Tower. Now, I don't know my way around that part of the city, and thus I don't know how to get to Tokyo Tower. But I can see it on the horizon, sticking up into the sky in its mini-Eiffel Tower-esque manner. If I keep my eyes fixed on the tower, and head in that general direction, even if I don't have a clue how to get there, I will get there. I can't NOT get there.

    And so it is in life. The only thing stopping me is me. The me who is letting others define me and confine me, even though they are not consciously doing so.

    I still can't quite get over the results of last week's name experiment. Astonishing. A mere change in attitude has resulted in me being able to do something I have never been able to do before. The next test is currently underway, with the writing of this essay. I am combining all lessons learnt thus far to get this done. It is working, in that I feel calm and relaxed about it; I know I will do a good job of it, and complete it well within the time limit. I will then turn my attention to my exams, which will also be fine.

    At first glance one might think that it is quite extraordinary that this kind of education, that is, teaching people how to think in order to make the most of life, is not taught in schools. The irony is, is that when we are young we are the most accomplished thinkers in the whole world, adaptable, positive in our outlook - anything is possible ("I want to be a doctor / vet / superstar) - it is only as we grow older that we regress, our patterns of thinking come to be stuck in a rut, which is of course but a grave with both ends open.

    Likewise with financial education. Do they teach you about loan companies at school? No. What happens on your first day at uni? You are offered a free camera if you sign up with Barclaycard. How bizarre, that such a vital life skill in barely touched upon at school!

    This journey really is absolutely fascinating. Having barely read a thing but text books all my life, I have so much catching up to do.

    Night Night xxx


    old school roof, shimoda

    Friday, December 29, 2006

    That cake's a fake!

    I'm currently carrying out some research into Western-style weddings in Japan and have learnt a shocking fact: the beautiful tiered wedding cake, which plays an integral part in over 90% of ceremonies in Japan, IS NOT REAL!

    "Real cakes are too expensive, and thus re-usable plastic models account for the vast majority of those seen in ceremonies today. In order to allow the cake to be cut, there is a narrow slot in the back of it, into which the knife may be placed. At the appropriate moment, the wedding director flicks a switch, releasing dry ice from the base of the cake, to make for dramatic photographs."

    I'm not sure I want to read on...

    [EDIT] When writing the above I completely forgot to mention that many weddings in Japan are conducted by 'fake' priests, the only qualification they need is to be a white male. Even I could do it.

    There's a story on the BBC about it here.

    For a far more detailed account of being a 'fake' priest, in addition to what I consider to be a sound defence of the practice (from a Japanese point-of-view), have a look at the .pdf document The Rise of the Chapel Wedding in Japan by Michael Fisch.

    Funny that I should forget to mention this when I first wrote about the fake cakes. I've known about the fake priests for a while and so don't really consider them to be unusual, but a plastic cake?! Mind you, when you bear in mind how big these ridiculous creations can be it's hardly surprising. I bet they've got earthquake proof steel reinforcement rods running through them too...



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    Thursday, December 28, 2006

    Christmas 2006

    Well what a lovely Christmas. Just purrfect. I shall refrain from providing a detailed account, as alas, essays are a'bangin on the door, demanding attention.

    Essentially though, it went like this:

    Christmas Eve

    09:32 - Twinkle & Co. touch down at Narita Airport, make their way to family home just north of Tokyo. Simultaneously. I depart from my home for the same destination.

    11:00 ~ 23:30 Much fun is had at the family home, including the eating of Ducky Original Mince Pies, which must surely be the most heavenly in the whole world. Not only is there Christmas to celebrate (many of the family are otherwise engaged on Christmas Day, what with it being a normal working day in Japan), but also Twinkle's birthday. There are ten of us around the heated table. Amongst the many gifts I receive are numerous articles of clothing which I love. In less than three months Twinkle's eldest sister seems to have got me completely figured out - as revealed by this stunning gift with which I was delighted.


    I present Twinkle with her Strawberry birthday cake. It contains 3 large punets of strawberries, 3 eggs, half a cup of flour, 2 bars of chocolate and half a cup of sugar. It is cooked in a saucepan, using our very clever hotplate with a button on that says "Cake". It is a moderate success, a wee bit soggy. The four banana cakes I made that week were much more successful. Lesson: stick with bananas.

    Christmas Day

    08:03 Twinkle and I board a train bound for Izu-Shimoda, 4 hours south of Tokyo, to join Emmie and Russ and others for a traditional Christmas in their countryside retreat.

    Thanks to the Foreign Buyers Club (virtually free delivery across the whole of Japan) we have everything required to make it feel just like home, including a HUGE turkey. I recall the first time Russ and I stuffed a Turkey, back in 2002. That was quite a struggle, but over the years Russ's skills have clearly developed: he is now an absolute pro.



    Absolutely stuffed!


    A few stitches signal the end of the operation.

    In the end, the Turkey took over 6 hours to cook - I think it was about 9.30pm by the time we were ready for Christmas Dinner! That's not to say we went hungry in the meantime, oh no! The amount of food consumed that day was quite staggering. Oh, and the drink too...

    Emmie and Russ had one surprise up their sleeve with which I was absolutely delighted - a home cinema! DVD player linked to an overhead projector and hifi-system, with roll-down screen that had been cunningly (and unobtrusively) attached to the ceiling! This meant that we were able to watch some fabulous DVDs, including the BBC's Planet Earth, a classic episode of Channel 4's Phoenix Nights, Superman Returns (I nearly cried when he saved that plane load of people, I was so moved), A series of Unfortunate Events (great acting by those children), oh, and a FABULOUS Canadian circus troupe. I forget what they're called, but they were just great. All so theatrical, more an opera on a trapeze than an elephant on a beach ball.

    I was very happy. Good company. Good food. Good drink. And a very comfy cinema. What more could you ask for?

    Brussel Sprouts of course, and that's exactly what we had, specially shipped over from the UK, to really make what was the most delicious Christmas Dinner into the 100% genuine article. Christmas crackers were pulled, plates were stacked high, champagne corks were popped.


    Boxing Day

    12:00pm Get up!

    Getting up was followed by the Boxing Day Walk. Whenever I go down to Shimoda, Russ and Emmie always have some new local discoveries up their sleeves. This time was no exception, and I must admit I was pretty stunned by the HUGE open-roofed cave-type-affair which we found ourselves in. Fascinating rock formations, reminded me of my trip to Mars.


    Just up the hill from that was a natural sand-piste, begging to be skied upon (there was actually a place just acros the road that rented out sledges!). I did give it a go using my natural skis on which to surf, but within seconds of my arrival at the top a huge section of the sand dune began to break away and slide down towards to sea - scary stuff! I ran away as fast as I could!


    knackered, and sand-blasted!

    And before we knew it, it was time to come home. The holiday was only too brief. Essays and revision howl for attention, times passes only too quickly.

    Twinkle and I would like to thank Emmie and Russ very muchly for your kindness, t'was wonderful!

    The Christmas Gang

    p.s. one email in my Christmas inbox was from Google Alerts, which I have set up to tell me whenever people talk about me on the www, or as tends to be the case, when they steal some photos from TGW. This email informed me that a photo of some snow drops in mum and dad's garden has made it onto the Woodland Trust website, as a "wallpaper of the month". How lovely!

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    Sunday, December 24, 2006

    Happy Christmas

    Well golly gosh what a long day. It's 3.15am, I really must go to bed. Have been busy baking (very exciting, mega-successful culinary delights, at least they look mega-successful, will find out tomorrow and Monday). Listened to a couple of hours of an incredibly empowering audio-book. Life is just oozing opportunities.

    My cutey managed to get her plane in the end despite all the foggy chaos, and is now somewhere over Russia. I'll be joining the whole family for some jet-lagged birthday celebrations in the morning. Monday is the traditional Chrimbo in the south - the 6kg turkey is awaiting my stuffing-fist apparently.

    What a great year its been. I'm very excited about next year too.

    Oh, the podcast, www.ayearinjapan.com; I will be recording more episodes soon - just been so busy!

    Goodnight, and a very Happy Christmas to you all.

    xxx love joseph

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    Saturday, December 23, 2006

    The Power of a Dream

    "Every amazing achievement that we see in this world is a dream come true."

    What does that tell me about the importance of dreams, goals?

    Could it really be the case that

    What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.

    Ahhh! Where's the sandpit?!


    Disaster averted

    Ahh, the wonders of the internet. What DID we do without it?

    It was thanks to the internet that I discovered that all domestic BA flights had been cancelled up until midday tomorrow - including the one that *Twinkle* and her family were due to take from Manchester to London Heathrow, where they would board their plane for Tokyo, in order to be back in time for *Twinkle's* birthday on Sunday.

    If they missed that connection, not only would *Twinkle* have had to spend her birthday in an airport and then a tube of metal, but our Christmas plans would have been off too.

    However, thanks again to the wonders of the internet, I was able to speak to *Twinkle*, and then British Airways, for virtually free. What did we do before mobile phones, before BT.com, and in particular, what did we do before Skype?

    The "I'm calling from Japan" line works wonders. Like a magic spell, it puts the person on the other end of the line into overdrive, makes them want to transfer you internally to what would normally be a premium rate phone number (50p per minute), in order that you pay no more than 1p per minute. They call up their colleagues on your behalf (thus avoiding the queue), and you hear them say "I've got someone on the line from Tokyo..." The magic bounces down the next line, continues to work its wonders.


    Approaching Haneda airport

    The outcome is that a note has been put on their reservation saying they'll board the flight in London - don't let someone else take their seats! Tickets have now been purchased for a train that will get them to Heathrow in time; in fact, they don't actually have to leave Sheffield any earlier than had they flown from Manchester, thanks to the time difference between the north and the south of England.

    What a blessing this internet thing is. Absolutely remarkable. I really don't know what I'd do without it.

    (Probably a lot more homework...!)

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    Friday, December 22, 2006

    Reindeer Fest

    Turned out to be a most rewarding party. About 30 people there, almost all of whom were Japanese. Ate, drank, played games (which would have been difficult even if I hadn't been drunk and having to use japanese...), met some REALLY interesting people; not only the chap who'd just got back from Egypt, but also Sho, who lives a couple of stops down the line from me. Now there is someone who is an inspiration: I will do my best to meet him again. He also happens to be a singer, thus tonight's Karaoke session was utterly fantabulous.


    Once home, I read about heavy fog blanketing the UK, 40% of Heathrow flights being cancelled etc. Decide to phone *Twinkle* who's due to return to Japan in a couple of days to warn her, and to remind her to buy me some deodorant. Can't get it over here as Japanese people don't sweat, due to being brought up on a rice diet. She's shopping in York, and doesn't seem to want to talk to me. Says it's a bad signal. "Sou nan ya" (really...) think I in my unfortunate Kansai manner, but continue to love her ridiculous amounts and thank my lucky stars that we met when we did; perfect timing. Still can't really get over the fact that I've met someone who is so completely lovely.

    Needs work on her international-telephone-call-from-boyfriend manner though. I shall have to spank her when she gets back, after she's spanked me.

    My super party present went down very well, the recipient, who I didn't know until tonight, was very grateful for the hours of work that went in to what was a unique gift. It drew quite a crowd. For reasons of national security I can't reveal here what it was, but I was mighty pleased. Its so nice to do special things for people, especially when they're strangers.

    Well, I'm tired, it's been a long (productive) day. Speech first thing in the morning, hurray!

    Raaaaaaaaaaa! I love life, it's so damn exciting!

    xxx

    Thursday, December 21, 2006

    I feel GREAT!

    This is ridiculous. I'm so ultra happy and amazing today that I can't stop laughing. I would wonder what the neighbour thinks, but it doesn't matter! Caw blimey, good job I woke up now, not 20 years down the line!

    I've made some wondrous wonders in the kitchen (like this HUGE pot of soup which is packed full of goodness and will feed me for the next three days), I've done some ultra crafty stuff with my mac having discovered this great creative program that was lurking in its depths, I've made 100 business cards, each one different from the other, featuring a different photo from my favourite everest photos (not as in mountain but as in ever ever ever), I've taken delivery of 6 CDs which have nearly made me fall over they're so exciting, I've read some fascinating articles in my current Japanese read-of-the-day, a magazine focusing on uni students... now I just ned to have a shower and get ready for the Christmas party I was invited to yesterday with a whole bunch of students who I met, funnily enough, for the first time yesterday. AND I remember the names of all the people who told me their names! And i STILL remember my own name.

    Crikey, life is so exciting my head's gonna explode!


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    Wednesday, December 20, 2006

    Self-talk, love and death

    Last night saw a classic example of Joseph reading the wrong thing at bedtime.

    I currently have 10 books by the bed to read. All written in English, most of them packed with positivity and wonderfulness. The book that is feeling the pressure of my little stick-on post-it book mark things is “What to say when you talk to yourself” by Shad Helmstetter. It’s really basic stuff, explaining the self-management sequence that plays a large part in determining whether we attain our goals or not. It goes: Programming > Beliefs > Attitudes > Feelings > Behaviour.

    It’s terribly exciting to discover that one’s brain is simply a super complex computer that will accept whatever you tell it, if you tell it enough! A bit like an old fashioned cassette tape. Your ‘program for life’ is gradually recorded onto the tape as you grow up – to change that programming later in life you simply need to record over it with a new message. Alas, the original message was so well-recorded that you can hear the original voices in the background! But, if you re-record your new program time and time again, you will no longer be able to hear the original message – you have successfully changed your programming. This then changes your beliefs, which then affect your attitudes, which in turn determine your feelings, and thus ultimately your behaviour. It’s a simple program. It’s just a case of doing it.

    I’m going to be putting this theory into practice in January. An experiment, involving this book, messages tailored to my own needs, my darling mac, and my iPod. Might sound a bit daft, but I see no harm in trying. A bit of brainwashing never hurt anyone…

    Anyway, there I was, in bed at midnight, reading my Japanese magazines [I tried manga, as suggested by some people, and as encouraged by my discovery in the rubbish shed of a whole series of the huge weekly volume, ‘Jump’, but found the lack of sentences containing over 3 words very frustrating, give me a whole sentence anyday, complete with ha’s, ga’s and te’s etc] …when I decided to read just a bit more of the aforementioned inspirational book. Well, that was it. I was still awake at 3am, having spent two hours trying to make my brain shut down by listening to the lovely music on the Podgy’s Tokyo Talk [podcast] (Enigma on podsafemusic.com, I think not! Took me back though…), whilst playing solitaire on my ipod. I swear it’s programmed to make you lose every time.

    Thus, today I am somewhat knackered. I went through the speech I have to do on Friday with my private sensei from St. Paul’s Ladies Club, and discovered that nearly all of what I’m going to say is actually complete bollox. Well, we wouldn’t want to scare the teacher by actually talking sense for once now would we? Had a sort of mock-exam today too. That was funny, in a kind of woops-I’d-better-revise type way. Yesterday’s multiculturalism class was quite satisfying too; I managed to write a whole letter again, and, when requested to do so by the professor, give a mini-speech to the class clarifying the position of the Opium War(s) in the UK’s National Curriculum. Thus my use of Wikipedia the night before…

    The Society and Culture class was quite funny, if not hideously embarrassing at times. Not only was my trust in the authenticity of the Durex Global Sex Survey ridiculed by the lecturer, but my lack of research on Disneyland Weddings came under fire, with devastating results. Thing is, I’d found a photo of a Disneyland Wedding (see my Japanese blog for that) , and decided to use it as the theme for my mini-presentation on popular culture. It seemed to fit the criteria – fantasy taking over reality, living in a matrix-esque world where image is everything; look behind the mickey-mouse mask and there’s simply nothing there, no deeper meaning. Anyhow, this was all a bit last minute, so I didn’t really figure out exactly what my argument was beforehand. Instead, I simply put the picture on the OHP and started talking about how sad it was that marriage had come to mean so little that one ended up with Donald Duck reading the vows whilst Pluto yellowed the brides train.

    Following a few random comments from the audience I thought I’d managed to get away with it, that is, they’d been so bedazzled by the spectacle of Chip ‘n Dale trying to seduce the bridesmaids that they hadn’t noticed that I actually had nothing to back up my claim that it was a sham marriage. Boy was I wrong. It was at that point that Cameron, a fellow exchange student who I don’t know terribly well (nice guy though!), put his hand up and said,

    “I actually work at Disneyland, and I’m afraid you’ve got it a bit wrong…”

    The shiver that those words sent down my spine were worthy of belonging to a pod of peas upon their entry into the Findus factory. It could only go downhill from there. And it did. Like Disneyland’s Thunder Mountain ride. My lack of research was revealed to the world. I was shown to be a nikumpoop with no hypothesis and no hope for redemption. Tomatoes and eggs were thrown. I was booed off stage, it was terrible.

    Mind you, as soon as I sat down I just had to laugh at how silly I’d been to even attempt to talk about something without having done any research. It was perfectly OK though, this wasn’t being assessed, it was merely meant as a springboard for further class discussion. I must admit I really don’t take my studies here half as seriously as those in Sheffield. Might be something to do with the fact that none of the non-language modules count towards my final grade. It is wonderful though to engage in these discussions, without feeling the weight of academia on one’s shoulders. I shall enjoy it whilst I have the chance.

    There followed a fascinating debate about love in Japan – why do Japanese men believe in love, when Japanese women only believe in credit cards? One idea floated was that 2 generations have now grown up with parents who for economic reasons spend little time together. Thus, they have no romantic role models to look to. The men, who still have to go to work to earn money, dream of a Hollywood romance, whilst the women, after 5 decades of peace (i.e. husband always at the office), can think if nothing more fun than spending said money on a new outfit for their flea-sized dog (the latest craze). Controversial, perhaps, but it would explain the survey results. The other theory of course is that all of this is complete rubbish, that people in Japan believe in love just as much as they do anywhere in the world. I mean, they do have TWO valentine’s days after all (one for men to do the giving, one for women to reciprocate. The idea was to avoid those embarrassing situations where you find that both partners have bought each other an identical £5.99 box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray).

    Surely that makes them doubly romantic?

    We also talked about this ridiculous suicide addiction – 27 out of 100,000 Japanese choose this ‘way out’ (vs., for example, 11 per 100,000 in the UK). It’s been in the news quite a bit recently, with children committing suicide “due to bullying” (n.b. this is the media’s take on events).

    It’s hardly surprising that kids think that that’s the way to deal with problems like bullying: what happens when some local government agency is investigated following embezzlement claims, or some school has been found to have been teaching the wrong curriculum for years? Why, the politician or head-teacher in the spotlight commits suicide of course! What a great example to set for children!

    When these same children see other children committing suicide, and then witness the full force of the media coming down upon the cause of that child’s suffering, they see a wonderfully effective way to deal with the cause of their own misery. Commit suicide and let the media do the rest!

    Then of course there’s the loans companies (booming business at the moment. You even have mini, unmanned “loan booths” in railway stations and motorway service areas. They’re quite private so no-one can see who the poor bugger is…). The bad companies (of which there are many) actively encourage their clients to commit suicide, having (unbeknownst to the client) taken out insurance against such a act. It’s a guaranteed way to get their money back! Thankfully, this year there’s new legislation being introduced to outlaw this practice, nonetheless, shocking stuff.

    Then there’s the biggest borrower of the lot – the Japanese government! It’s estimated that their debts amount to a staggering 18% of the entire world’s GDP! I think it must have been Koizumi's weekly session at the barbers that did it.

    What am I doing here anyway?

    Ah, the sushi, yes, that was it…

    [p.s. the negativity will end - when the module does!]

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    Tuesday, December 19, 2006

    Beautiful baby

    CONGRATULATIONS

    to Jo and Joe on the birth of Joseph Ben!

    Well done on making such a cute baby, and looking forward to meeting him at your wedding in the summer :-)

    xxx

    Friday, December 15, 2006

    Bright Red

    Following my one lecture today, I decided to go to Shinjuku Gyoen. Beautiful place, whatever the season, and so BIG! I hadn't been there in the "maple leaf season" until today - it was well worth it. Especially as *Twinkle* happened to be loitering amongst the trees...


    An attempt to mimic last year's classic from Chatsworth...

    (there's a few more pictures on my Japanese blog, and about 10,000 more on Flickr...)



    Only one week of uni left, then 2 weeks off for revision. Looking forward to that, I love learning Japanese, and wish I had more time to go through the stuff we learn at uni. I'm so determined to get the kanji readings under my belt this winter, if only the book would show up - maybe the boat sunk on the way over from California!

    Oh, if anyone would like to give me a Christmas present, they can do so at no cost to themselves - and VERY easily - simply click on any of the ads on this page - it really does generate an income, not much, but enough to cover the cost of the hosting for TGW.

    Unfortunately I won't be able to give anyone any presents until mid-January. Finances are so tight that its currently a matter of living on about 400yen (£2) per day - no exaggeration. You can imagine how delighted I was when the local greengrocer offered me as many bananas as I could carry for 50yen (25p) yesterday - he said he had too many and no-one was buying them! They're not exactly the sweetest, but they are filling.

    [EDIT: I think I may have discovered why they're so cheap: Mainichi News article]

    In a way it's quite fun living on next-to-nothing. Helps me to stay at home and revise! At least the rent and bills are paid ...and after all, if one never experiences the tough times, one can never appreciates the good times.

    Anyhow, it's bed time. Speak to you soon.

    xxx

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    Wednesday, December 13, 2006

    15, 30, or 45 Degrees? Office etiquette in Japan

    How can one remain positive when the first thing you see in the morning, upon turning your mobile phone on, is this:


    Another classic example of some Japanese-English translation gone slightly wrong! You would have thought that having been made by an international corporation (Sony) they would have thought to have asked someone in the London office to check over the English before releasing the phone...

    Anyhow, until recently I had no idea why my phone would be so cruel as to call me a reject when I turned it on. I mean, it should be grateful, for having the pleasure of carrying my soothing tones through its circuitry and out onto the airwaves. Turns out that there's a story behind these two words: Until not long ago, there was a scam whereby your phone would ring once, you'd answer it and say "Hello", but the line would go dead on you. If you were an idiot, you'd then call that number back to see who it was, and get charged your life-savings-per-minute for the call.

    Thus, this function was built into mobile phones such as mine, to reject these "hello" calls, hello reject. I'm intrigued to know how it actually prevents you from calling these scam companies back: does it have a powerful cattle prod subtly concealed within its casing to discourage you from selecting "call back"?
    ____

    A few miles further away from home: that Google Earth thing has suddenly got a whole lot more clever! There I was, just looking for some shot of the roof of the Arts Tower, Sheffield, as you do, when I spotted a funny symbol located on the roundabout by the uni. Click on it and Hey Presto! Live webcam showing the morning rain! How exciting is that?! Other locations have photos taken by the likes of you and me, or guides to certain parks and so forth.


    Live feed from Sheffield. Does not auto-refresh. Note building (currently under construction) to right of picture: that will be my home next year, it's the new university library.

    If you're reading this whilst in Sheffield, why not go down to the roundabout now with your wireless laptop, and see yourself on one of the world's most famous blogs?

    I note that, according to Google Earth, our house has yet to be built. If one is to believe the satellite picture that covers our area, we live in a car-park, or more specifically, in the back of a white van. Thinking of the size of our apartment, that's not a bad representation.
    ____

    *Twinkle* starts work for one of Japan's largest companies in a couple of weeks. It's going to be hardcore, with long hours spent doing what is going to be an exhausting job. One of the main reasons she's taken a post with this particular company is that in addition to offering a very good training program (vital for our future plans), they also have 3-year contracts available, thus providing a light at the end of the tunnel. The wages aren't to be scoffed at either - I should bloomin' well hope so too considering the demands that will be made of her. Whilst reluctant to enter the "job" market (why spend one's life trading one's time hour-by-hour, working to make money for someone else?), reality dictates that a) we need training and b) we need strong financial foundations for future business ventures.

    [N.b. I appreciate that not everyone works for the sake of money (think Steiner school teachers!); I'm focusing here upon those who still believe in the myth of the rat race.]

    I have another friend who has recently graduated and is soon to be entering a large Japanese corporation. When asked why they didn't take a fixed-length contract, they replied that they didn't know what they would be doing in 2 years, so it would be irresponsible to decide now. I see it as the other way around. I feel it's irresponsible to NOT make a decision. By saying "oh, I'll just wait and see what happens", they are condemning themselves to a future dictated by others. Essentially, they are surrendering control of their lives to the whims of a multinational corporation that at the end of the day only cares about one thing: its own profits.

    Having said that (he said as he donned his hypocrite hat), yesterday I was pretty shocked and sickened by the power of money over me. I received an email from a friend inviting me to apply for a job as a proof-reader for a Tokyo-based company. 35 hours a week-ish, with an annual salary of £26,000. The thought of earning that kind of money (I think the most I've ever been on is about £16,000) sent my brain into overdrive - how could I fit that in with my studies? Of course, after a few minutes I saw sense; but nonetheless, that initial attraction was pretty stunning. I mean, I currently live on less that 1/5th of that amount. Imagine how much I could invest for our babies' future educations in the space of just a couple of years.

    Anyhow, back to *Twinkle's" job for a sec. With her welcome pack, she received a "Manner Basic Book". Whilst of course I knew that Japanese companies did provide training on how to greet customers, I never quite realised how precise it could be...

    How to lead a client down the corridor, and how to operate a lift.


    How to serve tea.
    Remember this is a marketing company we're talking about here, not a cafe.



    How to greet clients (stand thus, say "Irasshaimse", bow, then back to upright position. Note how hands are held (right over left), including positioning of thumbs. This is important.)


    Degrees of bowing. Depending on seniority of person you're greeting, either go to 15, 30 or 45 degrees. I bet in the politician's manual it goes all the way to 360 degrees...


    Finally, how not to knock a granddad over on the street when on a bicycle. No, I don't quite see the connection either. Maybe the manual is sponsored by Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

    Well, it' now getting on for midday, and I have a million and 3 things to do. Feeing terribly excited about today, as like everyday it is a blank canvas, awaiting my crayola-laden fingers to splash it with colour and energy. RAAAAAAA for life I say, what a wonderful gift it is.

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    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Wonder Drug

    As you may recall, on Tuesdays I have my "Multiculturalism" class, focusing on Bradford, Chinese takeaways and Rastafarianism. The timing is such that I am guaranteed to feel sooo sleepy that I am almost in the land of nod as soon as I sit down. 3pm - 5pm is my danger zone, and this falls plop-splat right in the middle of this window of doziness.

    Hence last week's drastic action. Not wishing to go through that painful experience again of forcing myself to stay awake - head nodding forward every 30 seconds, bouncing on the desk and waking me up, oh how I loathe that, last week I went to class equipped, my stomach filled with a can of coffee, half a litre of Coke (of the cola variety...), and about 150ml of this terribly expensive wonder drug that I picked up from the convenience store just beforehand.

    The effect was remarkable. Wide awake throughout that 90-minute class, and the next. It was only about 6 hours later that I felt the slightest inclination to yawn. What on Earth those little brown bottles contain I don't know (and I don't think I want to know) but whatever it is, it certainly messes with your brain.


    To make sure it really was this drug that did the trick, not just the coffee and coke, today I cut those two out of my Tuesday diet, and made sure I was EXTRA tired before going into class. Then, I secretly unscrewed the top of the magic bottle, and downed in one the revolting contents.

    Well, it was like Eric Eating a Banana (although fortunately the turning-yellow bit didn't last too long). I was so super-awake and with it that I managed to write a hole 4 page letter to a friend, and take notes on all that was said in class!

    I have an idea that it wouldn't be very clever to take this stuff every day. Still, for occasional occasions of the occasional kind, where sleeping is not really an option, I highly recommend it. It's called "Chocola BB Light" - can be found with all the other energy drinks in the Konbini.

    * * *

    So yeah, been highly busy in a highly positive way of late. The trip to Kobe was great. Our friends, whose party it was, had hired out the entire 30th floor restaurant at the Portopia Hotel, situated on the incredibly large man-made island (you'd never guess it) out in the bay. Lovely night-view of Kobe tower and all.

    There was also the trip to the world's largest Fish market (which I plan to talk about in the next podcast), a night out at DisneySea (spectacular show on the huge lake sea), an hour spent goggling in the Apple Store in Osaka... and much more. I'm very pleased with how much I am learning - although most of it has nothing to do with Japanese!

    Very much looking forward to January 17th too - last day of uni for 11 weeks. Yipppeeee. Not that I don't like uni, but there's just so many other things I want to do at the moment.

    fliggeldy floggledy brains all over the place.

    Hmm, perhaps this is one of those side effects that's listed on the side of the bottle, you know, on the label that I can't be bothered to read...

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    Sunday, December 10, 2006

    A Beautiful Day

    It was indeed a beautiful day today.

    Both above the clouds



    and down here on the ground.



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    Friday, December 08, 2006

    The possibilities are endless

    Yo Yo Wiggy!

    Joseph's got great big tonsils today. Hurrah for whatever I've caught! It's turned absolutely freezing cold here now. The Kotatsu (heated table) has been in use quite a bit, as has the aircon-heater thing.

    Mmmm, so feeling pretty knacked, tiredness seeping through my bones. Nonetheless, the show must go on, and I have a Christmas party to attend in Kobe tomorrow, so tonight will see me boarding a night bus for the 9-hour trek west. I was going to come back by bus too, but now realise I have so much homework to do that I really need to get back to Tokyo ASAP. Considered taking the Shinkansen (bullet train), but at £90 it's a bit out of my range... to fly, however, is only £50, and only takes 75 minutes. And tickets can be bought at the convenience store down the road...

    I shall have to plant some trees when I get back.

    Life's really very exciting at the moment. To the extent that I'm being kept awake at night by the thought of all that is possible - if I only take a step towards it. And I will. Not in the "I will at some point" sense, but the I Will in the "I'm actually doing something to make that first step possible" type sense. There's quite a difference between the two, as we all know. It's very exciting, and scary.

    What's really scary, however, is realising just how much there is too learn out there! They say we only make use of 10% of our brain's ability; I'm not sure I even use that!

    I have come to realise that I have quite a bad habit, which inhibits my learning. To demonstrate this habit, please accompany me into room X108 at university. Its the fist day of term, and the room is full of Japanese students, members of a certain international society who wish to get to know me and my classmates.
    A: Hello! My name's Eriko! Pleased to meet you!
    B: Hello! I'm Joseph, from England, pleased to meet you too!
    C: And I'm Noriko, I come from Kansai, nice to meet you Joseph!
    B: Ah, nice to meet you! Whereabouts in Kansai are you from?
    Note that in that conversation I avoid using the names of the two girls who have just introduced themselves to me. Why is this? I'm afraid I may have mis-heard their names, and may make a fool of myself if I get them wrong. I tell myself, "I'm no good at names anyway, I'll just get by without".

    Of course, by resigning myself to the "Fact" that "I am no good at names" I'm making the situation far worse, by encouraging this habit I have of not bothering to remember them. I'm committing myself to a lifetime of nameless friends, which can have a big impact upon one's life (e.g. birthday cards tend to present a bit of a problem, lacking as they are in a vital word that follows "Dear").

    Now take this habit and apply it to life in general.
    "Kanji? Oh, I can't remember kanji. I've done alright without it so far."
    "Developing self-confidence? Oh, I tried that for a week and it didn't work."
    "Japanese cooking? Well, I can make curry-rice and miso-soup, and I've lasted this long, I might as well leave it to the missis, she's much better at it than me."
    "Learn how to retire by the age of 40? Ridiculous, how could I do that with my job as a Data Analyst? There's no point in me even bothering!"
    "Travel the world? I can't do that. I'm too busy. What would I do about the cat, someone needs to feed it?"
    ...and so it goes on. Enough of these excuses and you'll find that life really is passing you by. Just recently, I spoke with an old friend who I hadn't talked to for a couple of years. I told them my news, you know, about uni, meeting *Twinkle*, coming to Japan, starting a wee little translation service, setting the foundations for the future and so on, and then asked them what they'd been up to. They told me that they were still in the same old office job that they don't particular like (but pays well), and had bought a new car. And that was it. They then complained that nothing exciting ever happens to them, and that they wished that they could travel the world etc.

    Don't get me wrong, this person is a Very Nice Person, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm putting them down, but the thing is, unless they start making some changes nothing will happen! They are classic subscribers to the Rat Race ideology, not appreciating that the walls are only as real as they want them to be.
    ___

    As of the 17th January I have 11 weeks off uni. I know, shocking. One wonders how Japanese students manage to learn anything... They're on holiday for half the year, and then sleep through classes during term-time! Anyhow, I've been thinking about how best to utilise this time. Initial thought was to travel extensively, but thinking again, I feel that is somewhat wasteful. The fact is, in 5 to 10 years they'll be plenty of opportunity for travel, and it's not something that I'm particularly hankering after at the moment, having done quite a bit of it over the past 11 years. I mean, once you've seen Torquay, you've seen it all.

    No, instead I think I should do something a bit more constructive with my time. First off, there's the kanji. I finally managed to locate a copy of the out-of-print Remembering the Kanji Vol. II (in San Francisco, hurray for the internet...! New edition out in the Spring), that should arrive shortly, along with a tonne of books and CDs that I've bought off Amazon at ridiculously low prices. They form the backbone of part 2 of my holiday program - developing self-confidence (I just had to ask Twinkle what the word for "confidence" is in English, only remembering the Japanese. I like it when that happens, although would prefer it if it occurred with words like "circumcision" rather than "confidence"...).

    Part three of the haru-yasumi (spring holiday) program involves doing voluntary work for a organisation whose motives I believe in. One of these is the consular section of The British Embassy - the folks who help out gaijin in Japan, when given a ten year gaol term for daring to speak on the train. I've sent them my CV and a covering letter, explaining my motives. I don't expect a reply - but if you don't ask you'll have even less of a chance!

    If that doesn't work out, then my other choice is a certain charity; I'd like to offer my services for a few days a week, in order to spread the word about what a wonderful job they do. This way, I can gain some experience in a Japanese work-environment, whilst being surrounded by like-minded charitable individuals who are keen to do more to alleviate the gross inequalities seen in this world.

    That's the plan anyhow, we'll see how it pans out.

    Well, I must be off now. Bag to pack, books to read, life to live!

    RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

    xxx

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    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    The Streets of St Petersburg

    A good friend of mine from Sheffield University is currently on his year abroad - in Russia.

    Reading his blog tonight, I almost fell off my chair. Sounds like life in St. Petersburg is a wee bit different from that in Tokyo...

    Firmin's Travels

    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    It's a Girl!

    CONGRATULATIONS
    TO YOU BOTH!


    Well done T&M - 大変よくできました!

    I must say I am absolutely delighted at the news, big smiles all round.

    That's three of my bestest friends/couples all pregnant now, and my sister!

    Maybe there's something in the air. Had best be extra careful eh, it might be catching!

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    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    What is happiness?

    I'm struggling for an answer here. Suggestions welcome.

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    Overcoming Fear

    Wow. The battle against the fear continues to rage. Of course, I don't expect to one day wake up and no longer feel afraid, but I would like to reach the stage whereby I can do as I wish depsite the fear.

    The focus has shifted from the Kanji to other matters. For the past few months Twinkle and I have been learning about an industry that we can see providing us with a secure passive income, which we can eventually pass on to our children. It's ethical, it's environmentally friendly, it's got very firm foundations, a great track record and is fundamentally fair; we also know of many people who have overcome their own fears to make it work for them, thus have seen first-hand what potential it holds. I first discovered this industry 7 years ago, although at that time I was unfortunate in that the company with which I was dealing was not fundamentally fair and had a poor training program. It left a bitter taste in my mouth.

    This year I have learnt that in any industry, you will find companies that range from very bad to very good. The company that I was affiliated with 7 years ago was unfortunately at the bottom of the pile - unlike that which Twinkle and I are now investing our time in. In recent weeks I've come to take it for granted that it holds the key to our future, it's simply a part of our lives. My doubts have been quelled, there is nothing to fear.

    So why do I still feel this fear? Well, the thing is, is that everyday, through reading various 3rd-party books (not necessarily strictly related to this industry), I come to realise that ANYTHING is possible. I Can Do Anything I Want (ok, within reason. My psychic powers have yet to reach the stage where they can induce a nightmare so strong in George Bush that he voluntarily cuts his testicles off and declares world peace, offering free massages to all iraqis). How terrifying is that - the idea that you can CHOOSE whether or not you succeed?!! The people with which we work are so positive in their thinking that things really happen for them - and everyday I come to feel more and more that I too can be successful in whatever I choose. I mean, look at the success I've had with the kanji since my little crisis last month (which saw me turn over a new leaf so to speak), it's really been astonishing. All I need to do is BELIEVE I can do it, follow through with that belief and Hey Presto! It happens!

    Thus, what I now find holding me back is not a lack of belief in the business we're starting; it's just a lack of belief in myself, and a fear of the outside world. I wish that there was an anti-fear pill I could take, because if such a thing existed, I know I'd be flying (ah, haven't they already invented that drug...?).

    I need to find more courage, and ban all negative thinking from my brain. It's coming, slowly. Twinkle is a huge inspiration.

    My thinking on capitalism has also changed somewhat. I no longer regard it as evil, period. Essentially, it's a system, and as in any system there are players with good intentions, and players with bad intentions. There are players who see it for what it is (perhaps a cog within an engine that powers one of the many planes of our reality and being), and there are players who become so involved in the system that they fail to see that there is anything else outside of it, they lose sight of the fact that life has a far greater meaning beyond material wealth. No shopping = no meaning.

    I wish to use the system to address the material side of my life, by redistributing material wealth in a fair way, to help those around me who need help, whilst never losing sight of the fact that it is nothing but a way to live day to day in the material sense, that there are far more important things in life than big houses and TV screens. I am not religious as such, although I do believe in 'something', and it is my intention, when I do not need to devote so much time to studying Japanese, to looking for some pointers which may help me understand a little more why we are here, what the point of it all is.

    ...I can't afford to live a half-life, kept back from fulfilling my dreams by my own fears! I will tame this monster! It may still live in me, linger in my stomach, but I shall not allow it to rule over my every action!

    So when am I going to write that book then?

    Would you buy it?

    xxx

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