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    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Name that Root Veg

    Ok then, here's a little research project for you: what are these?

    They are labelled "Kogashira" in Japanese, and I have no idea what they are.

    Answers on a postcard, or in the comments section. :-)

    - EDIT -

    Thank you for the feedback, both to Bibi and to mum no.2 and her extended network. I now have compete cooking instructions which I'll be giving a spin in the next couple of days. Will let you know how it goes!



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    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    'Free' broadband in Japan

    One thing I've really enjoyed since arriving back in Japan is being able to watch online videos without having to make numerous cups of tea in order to pass the time they take to buffer. The throttled connections we had at university were probably amongst the slowest in the UK, slower even than my parents' broadband which runs off a remote rural exchange that continues to utilise highly trained rocket-propelled swallows to transfer packets of data.

    A recent survey showed that Japan's internet was the fastest in the world, something I can believe having seen adverts for services offering 160mbps connections. Ours runs at about 18Mbps.

    3G, as used by mobile devices, is also impressively fast. I regularly clock 1Mbps on my iPhone, which is about 30 times faster than the wireless in the university library back home... (tee hee)

    With the contract for our current broadband connection finishing at the end of the month we've been looking around at what's on offer, and have been pretty surprised by how generous the ISPs are. So generous in fact that we've found a deal that essentially means that we almost make money - just by signing up for the connection.

    With Nifty we get the first four months free of charge, then pay 6000 yen (£30) per month after that. However, we also get 20,000 yen (£100) in Sakura Store points (which we'll spend on the ink and stuff that we need to buy anyway, exciting huh?), thus by the time we move out next Spring we'll technically be 8000 yen (£40) better off for having signed up for it.

    I guess I do feel a bit warmer towards Sakura now. Maybe that's what they're paying us for.

    The only negative in all this is the downtime between contracts - up to two weeks without broadband. ...but as we've got an iPhone I don't really see this as much of a problem, and if we're desperate for a connection for our laptops we just need to stand outside Shibuya Station - the whole area seems to be covered by free Wifi.

    It's funny how Japanese technology is so far ahead of the UK in some ways (broadband etc), yet so far behind in others (web technology, such as that connected with online banking. You know, if you lose your password for your post office savings account you have to print out a form and send it to the customer service centre in Yokohama...!)

    Ho hum. Better go and tell the fridge what to order us for supper from the local supermarket.

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    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Photos from the local area, Saucepan Scenario and our Big Issue Friend

    Woke up early feeling a little sad today. I wasn't sure why, but I was sure I didn't want to feel sad for the rest of the day, so I quietly snuck out as *Twinkle* slept, and wandered the surrounding streets, camera in hand.

    Here's a few of the shots, interspersed with tales from today.


    Home grown aubergines outside our door

    homegrown aubergine_9565

    street cleaning_9623

    This evening I had an interview for an agency that's recruiting teachers for the ex-NOVA schools that were bought up by C-communication. I didn't know this until I reached the office - it had been difficult to ascertain exactly what the deal was when arranging the interview via email. It was all conducted in Japanese, and I really enjoyed it once I realised that it paid far too little for me to consider. CELTA was once again highlighted by the interviewers as one of the main reasons they'd contacted me in the first place - it's good to know that it has an impact in the real world recruitment.

    I'll email them tomorrow to let them know that whilst I can't teach for them, I'm more than happy to be a proofreader - boy could their website do with it!

    turtle_9620

    Made another beautiful loaf of wok-baked bread today, even if I do say so myself. We recently found 6 brand new jars of jam that were two years out of date in a friend's fridge and offered to eat them - they really are yummy yummy.

    names_9602

    Tonight had a bit of a cooking conundrum - how to get the lid off a saucepan? Two years ago we invested in a set of proper saucepans that should outlive us. They have an amazing ability to keep moisture in (means you can cook most vegees with just a few drops of water, boil an egg just by placing it on a piece of dampened kitchen paper - I thought that was a joke until I did it myself), but as soon as the temperature in the pan drops a vacuum is created, clamping the lid down.

    It's not normally a big problem: the lid will come off without much effort. But tonight I'd put too much rice into the pan, and for some scientific reason this made the vacuum extra-extra strong once I'd switched the gas off.

    We battled for no less than 20 minutes to lift the lid off the pan! The vacuum was so strong there was no way it would shift. Banging it from the side as hard as I could made no impression on it, and pouring boiling water over it didn't help either. In the end we had to put it back on the cooker for a further 10 mins, and only then did it shift. Still, I thought it was a good advert for the pan's airlock feature.

    panda ride_9587

    I bought a beautiful Guatemalan wallet today in the little hippy shop in Shibuya. Ooh it is so lovely. Made me so happy.

    morning flower_9569

    After that we met up with our homeless friend who sells the Big Issue outside Shibuya Station. *Twinkle* befriended him a few months ago, and we often stop to chat with him. He's a really nice chap, used to own his own company. There's quite a large community of people that are trying to help him get back in his feet; we'll all meet up at the weekend to get to know one another.

    butterfly_9629

    Anyway, best get on. Got another trial lesson tomorrow, which I hope won't turn into a counselling session. I've been feeling a bit 'used' by doing these trial lessons, and am considering changing my part-time employment strategy.

    Ho hum, tatta.

    xxx

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    Monday, September 22, 2008

    The law of Brolly Attraction

    THIS MORNING as I was soaked to the suit by a leaking penguin umbrella
    I said to the universe (and to twinkle) I NEED A BIG WATERPROOF
    UMBRELLA.

    THIS EVENING someone came to my house, and having eaten White Rice
    said to me, IS IT OK IF I GIVE YOU MY BIG WATERPROOF UMBRELLA?

    Tomorrow I shall focus on one million pounds.

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Pace picking up

    I'm starting to get pretty busy now, with increasing numbers of private students contacting me through www.findateacher.net and www.nativesensei.com. In addition to that, the Shibuya school is throwing a lot more work my way - I have another full day of 1-on-1 tomorrow (thanks to Shari I'll be better prepared this time!)

    Today I was reminded of another benefit of teaching abroad - you're able to learn a lot about the culture your in from your students. I've been fortunate this weekend to be able to teach an advanced-level student for about four hours. In that time I've learnt quite a bit about Japanese financial institutes, which to my surprise I found completely fascinating.

    Had a great jog around the Imperial Palace with Tom this morning (about 5K) - we plan to make this a regular Sunday morning thing, which I'm very happy about. My knees didn't play up at all, although my left hip did go into granny mode towards the end.

    Other exciting happenings today: received a big box of vegees from *Twinkle*s mum via Pelican Express - it's quite a tradition in Japan for parents to send food parcels to their children in the cities, a tradition I'm very grateful of. Not quite sure what all the vegetables are mind you, there's some kind of rooty things that I've never seen before. Will have to ask *Twinkle* when she gets home.

    Feeling very grateful to already know my way around Tokyo, and not having to learn where everything is from scratch. I've been wondering, how did I managed to feel settled back in 2002 when there were so many unknowns?

    I'm also enjoying living in an area I've not lived in before. I've never felt terribly comfortable with Shibuya in the past - it's always been that place 'down there' full of people and blahhhhh. But now it's becoming my hub: I work there, our office is there, I pass through it when going elsewhere. It's not all that bad really. I'm starting to feel quite fond of it.

    I set about preparing for December's Japanese language proficiency test this afternoon. Bought a text book, went to the website to register ...only to find that I'd missed the deadline for this year! Silly me. Oh well, I'll still continue to study anyhow. I really want to improve my Japanese, I feel it's very important for me personally that I do continue to develop those skills, it makes such a difference.

    iPhone continues to be incredibly useful, starting to get to the stage of "what did I do without it?". 3G is very fast. The keyboard with its automatic error correction is fantastic - you can get about half of the letters wrong and it still knows what you mean!

    Right, best get on with lesson prep. TTFN

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    The hazards of being gadget boy

    It's not easy being such a big fan of technology. Take this morning
    for example: I got so absorbed in fiddling around on the Internet on
    my phone that I completely forgot that I only needed to go two stops.
    When I realised I'd gone too far I got off, crossed the platform and
    absent-mindedly got on another train... Which them turned out to also
    be heading in the wrong direction. In the end it took me half an hour
    to do a 5 minute journey!

    I'm now at school waiting for my student to arrive. There's a big
    procession passing by in the street below - respect to them as they
    refuse to let their spirits be dampened by the rain!

    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    It's all good

    I'm a big believer in Synchronicity, experiencing its benefits on a daily basis. It's taken me a while to reach this point, where it's no longer just something to smile or say 'wow' at, but actually a tool to be used when deciding which path to take.

    I've been using it quite a bit this week, as people come into my life in somewhat unexpected ways. The private school I'm now teaching at part time has been a bit like that. It's an ideal environment for me to develop my confidence in. I'm being continuously thrown in at the deep end (that is, being put in situations that had I known in advance I would be put in I would have stressed about a great deal), it's sink or swim, and so far I've managed to swim pretty well. The manager seems to trust me a great deal, although I'm not entirely sure why as they barely know me (OK, so I'm giving them good reason to trust me now by doing a good job and being very communicative). I feel it was no accident that I met them.

    And again today. I attended a talk about detox diets - although it turned out it wasn't really about dieting at all, it was more about healthy living - a timely reminder for *Twinkle* and I as meals are something else we're thinking about as a part of our new life together. Anyway, the organisers of the event were keen to introduce me (the foreigner) to the speaker, a highly respected expert in his field, and I was happy to utilise my foreignness to make an impression. I mentioned that I was an English teacher, to which he responded by insisting that I teach him (I start with him on Thursday). That's not all that significant in itself, but it has got us thinking about how we might use my (developing) teaching skills to establish a mini-English school of our own. We have use of an office in Shibuya, and we have a network of potential students as represented by Mr. Detox. This would not replace my full-time job, just supplement it.

    In other news, I think I'll be joining a photography group. They only meet once a month, but are nice and friendly :-) Thanks to Stu for the tip-off.

    I'm keen to see as much of my friends as possible whilst I can, so tomorrow at 7.30am I'll be meeting Tom in carriage one of the train to the Imperial Palace - which we'll then jog around - start of the training program that will culminate with the 10K Tokyo marathon next spring (if we get in, it's always oversubscribed).

    Suppose I'd best get some shut-eye then. Nighty Night!

    Friday, September 19, 2008

    Do you recognise this man?

    I can't be the only one who is being stalked by this man - I've seen him several times since I got back, and I remember him from 2006/ 2007 too.

    Does anyone know anything about him? Is he a local celebrity like Hello Kitty Scooter Gran in Niseko?

    (Apologies for poor photo - iPhone will only take non-blurry pictures if it is embedded in a 23 tonne lump of concrete).

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    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    The Streets where we live

    Here's the stables I was twittering about yesterday, just along the road from our house. Am amazed by Google's coverage of Tokyo.


    View Larger Map

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    Joseph's got a job

    The days of unemployment are soon to come to an end. This morning I was the grateful recipient of a job offer from a man who, six years ago said, "If we were truly scraping the bottom of the barrel, we would probably hire [Joseph] again, but we would all have to be delusional to do so." (to see the reference in its entirity, and very exciting photos of me at work, click here).

    I'm very happy to be working for Mr. D again. He really is one of the nicest people I've ever had the fortune to be ruled over by. I take up my full time position on Monday 6th October.

    I'm also grateful to Shari, my ex-colleague who who knew of my situation having read the Daily Mumble, and made enquiries on my behalf that resulted in this happy conclusion. That's the second time I've got a good job through this web site!

    Thank you Shari!

    In the meantime, I've got more private work coming in. Yesterday I met a lady for what I thought was going to be a private lesson, but turned out to be a kind of interview for a part-time position at a small school in Shibuya. The flexible hours work well for me, and the pay's OK too.

    I was also offered a part-time job with a company that my friend Tom works for, Phoenix Associates. Based on my interview experience/ subsequent communication, and his feedback, I get the impression that they are very good people to work for (I mean, for one thing they all use brand new Macs).

    Knowing that I'll be working soon helps me relax. It's all very well being a house-husband (I quite enjoy the housework), but when there's debts to be paid and your wife is spending all day in the office, well, it feels a bit off.

    Ho hum. Best do the hoovering.

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    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Using an iPhone in Japan - where it falls down

    If you're not interested in the iPhone, don't bother read this - just click here instead.

    I got my iPhone 3G about four hours after arriving in Japan. Being gadget boy, I'd wanted it since launch day, but it would have been a bit daft to get it on a two year contract in the UK. Also, they don't come cheap, and I couldn't justify getting one just because I wanted one.

    But here I am starting a new life in Japan, and in need of a phone.

    Buying the iPhone in Japan

    The initial rush seems to have subsided, although stocks are still limited: we called our local Softbank store (having first phoned the Apple store in vain), and checked availability. They had 1 available, 16GB black.

    The sign up process is pretty lengthy. You have to read through a few pages of Apple's terms and conditions, then donate a kidney. It can be difficult for foreigners to get them as there's a credit check, and a two year contract (they don't want you skipping the country before paying all the monthly instalments). We decided that *Twinkle* would buy mine - far simpler :-) If you don't have someone willing to buy one for you, credit card is the way to go.

    The plans cost anything between about 5000 yen and 9000 yen a month, + phone calls: this pays for the device itself and the data plan. I don't like making phone calls (especially not at 20 yen a minute, which I discovered after a total of 3 hours on the phone) so that's fine for me, I'm just in it for the data. Calls to other Softbank / Vodafone users are free at certain times.

    You are given a Softbank (IMAP) email address. Personally, I like to use my own domain email address (...[at]tamegoeswild.com) so I've configured Google Apps to forward a copy of incoming mobile mail to Softbank (who then send an alert to the phone), and manually set the outgoing server to Gmail SMTP.

    Once you have the device, be prepared to fall in love. As Steve would say, it is absolutely gorgeous. I mean, really, it is the most beautiful piece of technology I have ever had the privilege to take care of. And the best thing of all? It Just Works. It's incredibly easy to use - I've not yet had to refer to the manual. It's simple enough for even a four-year-old to understand - yesterday my little nephew was able to figure out how to switch between applications in a couple of minutes.

    If you are an existing Mac user setting up your phone couldn't be simpler - just plug it in. iTunes will sync all your contacts, email accounts, calendars, to do lists, photos, music, videos, just like that. It may be a little more complex for Windows users but they should be used to frustration anyway.

    In the past I've always found it a pain to put data on mobile phones, and was also afraid that if I lost the phone, I'd lose my data. Here, all the data is safely stored on your computer / in the cloud, then synched to your iPhone either over the Internet or when you plug it in.

    Applications

    I won't go through all my apps because I'd be here all day. Just to mention one of my Japanese favourites - Ekitan: the entire national train timetable, live updates on delays, a cache so you can refer to searches when there's no signal, history of previous searches (for repeat journeys). And all with a lovely user-freindly interface. Yes, other phones can do this too - but not whilst oozing sex appeal.

    Other favourite apps are Safari, Google maps, Twitterrific, Air Sharing, Koi Pond (the fish eat your finger), the classic iPint (beer on tap - a good party trick), midomi (sing to your iPhone or let it listen to a song being played in a bar etc and it will tell you what the song is, with a link to buy it), NetNewsWire (RSS feeds), MyDelicious, Cro-mag, Facebook, Evernote.

    The GPS really is very handy. I use it to find places in Tokyo - watch myself on the screen as a little blue dot walking down the road. Also, my to-do list uses it so that I can tell my iPhone to put tasks in order of their distance from me (write to bank = 0m, buy eggs = 0.5km, buy ink = 4km, get post office book from *Twinkle*s parents' house = 32km). This is handy when one has a very long to-do list! (and is very nerdy).

    The web browser, Safari, is fantastic. Unlike most phones in Japan you're not restricted to made-for-mobile sites, with this you can view any website online (er, provided they're not flash-based!). I've used this countless times over the past week when on the move. There's so much information out there - it's great to be able to access it when I need it and not have to wait until I get home.


    I also like the fact that it has decent built-in speakers - I use it to listen to audiobooks just before I go to bed.

    Where the iPhone falls down in Japan

    Rather than just go on about how good the iPhone is (there's plenty of sites dedicated to doing so already), I thought I'd point out some features - or lack of features - that are specific to Japan.
    • My biggest gripe comes as the result of the iPhone being designed for a country that uses SMS, not email, for texting. Japan does use SMS, but it will only work with people who are on the same carrier as you. Here, email is dominant. Apple have tried to address this by having Softbank send an alert when you get new mail, but this is only a message on the screen - no vibrate and no sound. I hope they rectify this soon.

    • The mail program doesn't support eMoji, those little pictures people love to put in their texts. They just get scrambled. If the picture is core to the meaning of the message this can be a problem - you can read the message in Safari at the touch of a button, but it's a bit of a drag. 

    • The packages are way too expensive.

    • Visual voicemail doesn't come as standard. I think it's another 300 yen a month.

    • Battery life. Ok, so that's not limited to Japan, but it is still the iPhone's biggest 'issue'.

    • The camera is probably the most pants camera to have been mass-marketed this year. Emergency use only.
    It's early days though, with it only having been launched here last month. What a lot of users are doing is using it as a secondary device - with all my family here on AU (not Softbank) I'll probably go that way myself.

    At least the 3G network is reliable - it really is super fast. You rarely find yourself waiting excessively for it to load. I also love the fact that it has Wifi - at home (or at friends' houses, or where's there's public wifi) it automatically switches from 3G to the wireless broadband connection, thus not costing a penny in data transfer.

    he introduction of 'Genius' with the latest version of iTunes is very welcome, and over the past couple of days I've been delighted to find some 'new' music that I never knew I had. Great stuff.

    I find it really exciting to be able to use these new devices, and also to think where they might go in the future. I won't be buying any more gadgets for a long time - perhaps next year I'll get a Nikon DSLR with video function and in-built GPS (in the D700 line).

    Incidentally, a good side-effect of my having an iPhone is that I spend a lot less time in front of my Mac. Being able to deal with emails on the road when I have a spare few minutes here and there means I don't come home to a pile of stuff to wade through, and consequently don't get distracted by browsing the internet - so the iPhone is pretty good for our relationship too! 

    Anyway, it's just flashed up a reminder that I need to go to the toilet. According to the GPS system, the loo is located about 4 metres south-west of this cushion, and I have a date to be there by 12.34pm. Best be off.

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    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    My first loaf of wok-oven bread

    Not bad eh? Let's hope it tastes good too!

    Himonya Matsuri

    Seems that the mini-procession yesterday was just a warm-up for today's festival.

    himonya matsuri_9512
    The chap with his back to us is hitting two sticks together to keep the team in time

    himonya matsuri_9543
    I like the contrast in this one

    himonya matsuri_9554
    Check out the little kiddies hitting the big drum

    More photos on Flickr

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    Married Life: Day 9

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

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

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

    making bread in a wok
    twinkle and homemade bread_9486

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    twinkle_9480

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

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

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

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

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

    TTFN

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    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    The procession - from behind

    A few photos taken today on the streets around our house

    himonya matsuri_9464

    himonya matsuri_9470

    himonya matsuri_9473

    *Twinkle*s off to Kansai for a few days. It's going to seem quiet around here...

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    Friday, September 12, 2008

    The first 7 days

    I had grand plans to document my arrival back in Japan both on this blog, and on a podcast. It's not going to happen though - at least not yet.

    I've found it a lot more difficult to settle in than I'd anticipated. One main stress factor has been money - or lack of money. Things are very tight, and with payday still at least 6 weeks away (once I have a job that is), it looks like things won't be getting easier anytime soon. I find it difficult to relax when I have no income. We should have enough to survive on though, it'll be OK.

    The main goal of the next six months is to earn as much money as possible to pay off our debts and move house, without the relationship suffering too much. This means that my creative projects (such as a new podcast series and further development of Three Seeds Publishing) will have to be put on hold. It's a shame, but I feel it's a necessary sacrifice in order that we can keep these difficult times as short as possible.

    Having said that, things on the job front are looking promising. I have been the beneficiary of a lot of help from two friends in particular - my ex-colleague Shari, and my good friend Tom. Without them I think I would be feeling a lot more desperate! Thank you both. I'm also grateful to my potential employers for their understanding of the situation.

    At least the house is now in order. For a while there it was all cardboard boxes, difficult to find anything, difficult to relax, but I've got it sorted, everything in its place. I'll take some photos soon.

    I will also post about what *Twinkle* and I have been going through, perhaps at the weekend.

    Right, time for lunch.

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    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    Japan from above

    A few more photos from the flight:

    First sighting of the Japanese coast (near Niigata)

    view from the plane: First sighting of Japan (the coast at Niigata)

    view from the plane: First sighting of Japan (coastal city near Niigata - or is it Niigata?)

    A lot of people tend to associate Japan with skyscrapers. However, about 80% of the land-mass is mountainous (that's mini-mountainous on the whole). Here's a couple of shots of what I consider to be 'typical Japan'.

    view from the plane: Typical Japan

    view from the plane: Typical Japan

    And finally, Japan from ground level: the lake in front of our apartment.

    himonya park_9434

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    England from above

    Thought I'd post a few photos from the journey: First up is mum and dad through the train window at Hereford, Pepé at Heathrow Airport, and my last look at England.

    goodbye parents_9396

    pepe at heathrow_9402

    view from the plane_9403

    view from the plane: Scandinavia from 33,000ft

    Scandinavian islands - not a bad shot considering it was taken from 33,000 feet

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    Monday, September 08, 2008

    My first few days in Japan - a quick update

    So much to write about, so little time.

    It's all good.

    Last week I sent off an email to a training company that a friend of mine works for (it was actually wanting to work for them that promoted me to take the CELTA course). Today I had an interview, and I believe I'll be offered a contract in the next few days. Great news!

    This means that I won't be taking up the contract with the English school that offered me a post a couple of months back (which in addition to looking pretty dull, also happened to pay about a third of what I'll be getting in the new job).

    Today I also received a call from the agency that got me my first two jobs on Japanese TV back in 2007 - I'm in the running for a role that will require one day's work - and will pay £940! I'm a long way from being selected, but hey, you never know. It's nice to be at stage 2 at least!

    I've been really busy trying to sort the house out. You wouldn't have thought that it would take that long to tidy up a 30m square apartment, but it does when you have this much stuff!

    I'm loving my iPhone. It's an incredible piece of hardware - and the apps you can get for it are equally stunning. A must for anyone in Japan is Ekitan - the entire Japanese train timetable, updated every minute. This is nothing new - any phone with Internet access will have this, but the way the iPhone presents it actually makes using it a pleasant experience (I don't like the text-heavy versions on most phones, find them pretty unusable). The iPhone saved my bacon today when going to my interview. I was late, and had to use it for checking alternative train times, reading Word documents (my application and CV) checking info sent by the interviewer (email) and looking at the map on the company website - and double checking it in Google Maps. The thing that struck me was just how easy all of this was, much simpler than using a computer, and all in the palm of my hand.

    Anyway, I'm sure you'll hear more about my iPhone in due course!

    I may start posting Mumbles and photos from it (by email routed through Flickr), as it seems the only spare time I have at the moment is when on trains - or when ignoring the washing up that needs to be done before *Twinkle* gets home.

    (I'm also updating Twitter / facebook / Skype from my iPhone - sometimes including links to photos I upload on the road. See top right of TDM).

    Oh yes, I have a lot to write about re. *Twinkle* and I and what we're going through. It's almost surreal how everything is different now.

    Ok, best do that washing up.

    xxx

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    Sunday, September 07, 2008

    Hello from Tokyo

    hello hello, brief update from amongst the piles of *stuff*.

    It's so good to be back with *Twinkle*. Things are better than ever. Interesting how marriage has changed the relationship (in a good way).

    We moved into our new apartment. It's small, and suffers from damp, although that should improve once the heat passes. Good location (very close to city centre), next to a big park so we have a nice green view.

    We'll move as soon as we can afford it though, as we're told it's absolutely freezing in winter.

    I've applied for my gaijin card and health insurance, bought my iPhone. It is as lovely as I thought it might be. Strokey strokey.

    Have a job interview Monday which I'm looking forward to. Need to get down IKEA too and get some bookshelves, I'm not too good at living in such a messy environment.

    Been feeling a bit shocked at being here, keep on having to remind myself that it's not just for one year this time. Really looking forward to feeling settled.

    xx

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    Friday, September 05, 2008

    Live from 33,000 feet above Siberia

    view from the plane: Scandinavia from 33,000 feet

    A photo I took a while back, showing somewhere in Scandinavia from 33,000ft

    Seat 40K.

    It's been a good flight so far. The LHR Termonal 5 experience lived up to expectations - all very convenient, and no stress whatsoever. The only tiem I felt uncomfortable was when waiting for the gate to ppen, As expected, theer were quite a few Japanese people waiting with me. It felt odd to be in a Japanese speaking environment. Kind of disconcerting. I guess there might be a bit more of that when we land.

    I'm really impressed with BA's in-flight entertainment, It's the first time I've ever been on a plane where you have a choice of over 200 movies / TV programs ? Radio shows (including 'I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue'), all on demand, You can pause them whenever you want, rewind if you miss a bit etc - how they provide that for hundreds of passengers simultaneously I don't know. There must be a very big computer on board somewhere.

    I'm also really struck by the fact that we're actually flying. I mean, this plane is huge, it must weigh a tonne (or two)! I just find it incredible, looking out of the window beside me at the two huge Rolls Royce engines strapped to the bottom of an enourmous wing, that we've been able to create such a big, complex machine that is capable of staying in the air for so long, travelling at such speeds (600mph ish), transporting so many people in such comfort,

    Pepé is pretty impressed too. It's his first time on a plane. He likes the view. It must be about midnight 'local' time (7.30pm GMT, 3.30am JST), so it's virtually piytch black. But there's still two sources of light, the first of which is the stars twinkling brightly. For a time I had my face pressed against the window, trying to mak eout the constellations. Not much luck there, but I did see a shooting star.That made me smile.

    The second (occasional) source of light is the cities of Russia. Under a thin klayer of cloud about 9km below us, they glow like luminous marshmallows, (big luminous marshmallows).

    During the trip to Heathrow by train and bus, I went through my thoughts about Catherine following yesterdays reading and talking. That coincided with the train passing through Oxford where my younger sister lives, and I was suddenly overcome with sadness at the thought of leaving my family.

    It's not as if I see them regularly in the UK (I only saw my siblings maybe twice or three times a year when at uni), but when I do see them, it means a lot. Thinking about the loss of Catherine, and the fact that I won't be able to see my brothers, sisters and parents for some time was very upsetting. I've not felt like that on previous trips to Japan as they have always been for limited time periods, but what with this trip being open-ended, well, it changes things.

    The closer we get to Japan though, the more that reality creeps in. The thought of walking down a Tokyo street or riding on a Tokyo train with *Twinkle* fills me with happiness - is it really going to happen later today?! I'm also looking forward to going to bed and sleeping on a comfy futon (with *Twinkle* ;-) - I fidn it hard to sleep on planes, wven when I'm as sleepy as I am now.

    Anyway, I think I'll sign off for now. Time for a bit more in-flight entertainment.

    xxx

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    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Goodbye to England, and Hello to my sister

    Here we are then, all set. My big bag is now down to 23kg, my two carry on bags about 500kg each. I've checked in online - seat 40k, just behind the right-hand wing, by the window.

    It's been a really 'full' day. It's featured a lot of packing and repacking, backing up data, eating, thinking and feeling funny. And a final visit to our wedding oak, which is doing well in the Millennium Wood.

    This morning, mum No.2 and her daughter (old school friend) came round to eat cake and say goodbye. That was very much appreciated.

    I'm very excited, but nervous too. My schedule for the first couple of weeks is already pretty jam-packed - the result of a long wait (of 13 months) by *Twinkle* to have me back in the country.

    I think I'm more prepared for this trip than any other before now. I have a clear picture of what needs doing when. The reality that awaits me is already a reality in my head, based on my knowledge and experience of the places I need to go, the people I need to see, the things I need to do. There's not much by way of unknowns, just lots of knowns - in a new context.

    I've enjoyed being around mum and dad today. They've been very well-behaved, and supportive of me in my state of change. Thank you both. Dad has also written a little card for me with some things to keep in mind. I'm touched by how appropriate it is, and will carry it with me, referring to it when need be in Japan. Mum has also helped me a great deal, as mentioned below. Thanks mum.




    Today has been a very unusual day, in that as well as my preparing to leave for a new life in Japan, I have spent a good deal of time getting to know my sister, Catherine. Catherine, who bravely battled against a complex mental illness, committed suicide at the age of fifteen - I was three at the time. I remember virtually nothing of her life or death, but have always felt close to her. I'm told that we were close. I've long known that at some point I would need to form a new relationship with her.

    The timing may seem strange, but it was only last night, during a coaching session, that it became apparent that it had to be now. I won't be back here for a long time, and this is the place where her belongings, letters, and the diary in which she write of her feelings during her final few months, are recorded.

    I read them all, and made digital copies of those that struck me as especially important, in order that I can think on them more in Japan. I also packed the blanket that she made for me, and from which I couldn't be parted as a child. I had been planning to leave it here in the UK.

    Catherine really was very brave. The letters of condolence from people who worked with her were full of praise for her friendly, caring, thoughtful manner. But behind her smile there was a huge battle taking place. It's only today, reading her diary and talking to mum for a couple of hours that I have started to get an idea of just how hard life was for her.

    Catherine lives on in all of us siblings, and in our parents too. I've long felt supported by her, and I hope that through the work I'll be doing over the next few weeks, I can start to feel settled in my relationship with her.

    I'll do my absolute best to make this new life something wonderful that benefits all those that know me.

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    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    Opening of Steiner Academy Hereford


    (the narration starts about half way through the video. More videos here)

    Just a quick note to say how happy I am that. following years of negotiations with the government, on Monday, the Hereford Waldorf School became the Steiner Academy Hereford - the first Steiner school in the UK to be funded by the government.

    I went to the Steiner school (also known as the Hereford Waldorf School) from the age of 7 to 16, as did my sister. Dad taught there for a few years but had to leave due to financial difficulties - with no state funding teachers could only be paid in peanuts (as my older sister knows only too well - she's just completed 8 years as a teacher at the Bristol school).

    Steiner schools are becoming increasingly popular in Japan - a very good thing if one considers the pressures that students are under in the state system.

    To learn more about Steiner education visit the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship.

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    Dear Diary

    I have kept a regular journal for over 20 years now. I started writing on Thursday the 28th of July 1998, when I was age ten.

    In Feb 2002 I began to write the Daily Mumble, whilst continuing my series of what was by then 50+ diaries detailing almost every day of my life for 14 years.

    These days my writing is all done on the keyboard. Whilst it's convenient and 'futureproof', it does lack the interactive nature of real notebooks.

    Here's my first ever diary entry dating back over 20 years:

    "Today I woke up at about 8.00am, looking out the window I saw that it was a misreble day. We got our Rabbits 13 days ago, today was one of the days we had to clean them out on, so eventuly I got around to doing that.

    In the evening we set up a puppet show called "Whinnih THE Pooh', but in the end we didn't do it due to Jessie moaning.


    The following day I describe going to the Jones' and playing a game where we had to lock each other in the barns, then started playing a boring game where we had to steal each other's codes.

    The day after that I finished making my sugar paper tree at about 2.30pm, and went to see my rabbit, before making a cake with bright pink and green icing, 'it looked horrrible'.

    It's a precious gift I've given myself. I just wish I'd started 5 years earlier!

    Night.

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    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Coming soon to a club near you: My driver's license

    This is really weird.

    I just found out that my driver's license is being used as an example of acceptable proof of ID on a poster at a club at Arlie Beech, Australia, and I'm assuming other clubs too. My friend who went there recently has just sent me a photo of it - shows my current address, date of birth - and of course, my face!

    How on earth did they get hold of it? I don't remember ever having it stolen...

    Weird.

    [EDIT]

    Idiot that I was, when, about 6 years ago I added a page to my website about my epilepsy, I chose to includ a small photo of my licence. Just checked it against the one on the poster at the Australian club - it's identical.

    Needless to say, I've now updated the page in question! Let that be a lesson to me!

    Monday, September 01, 2008

    Meeting with my past

    It was good to see my brother and his partner in Devon. There hadn’t really been time to catch up at the wedding; it was important we do that before I leave. I’m so glad I made the trip down there.

    Likewise with my older sister, whom I met up with here in Bristol at lunchtime. I’m so proud of her doing what she’s doing.

    Tonight I’m staying in Garfield Villa, the house I lived in for over a year following my return from Japan in 2003.

    It’s funny being back here. The house and its lovely occupants take me back to that time.

    I find myself becoming the person I was then. If you’d asked me yesterday if I was very different 5 years ago, I would have said no, not really. But ask me tonight, and the answer is a definite yes, I really have changed.

    I actually find it quite disturbing to come face-to-face with the Joseph of five years ago. He’s a bit of an egotistical twat, to put it politely. He was a Joseph who cared a lot about the opinion of others, and actively sought to entertain. I feel he lacked confidence in himself, and sought to hide behind a mask of humour - and enjoyed being seen as a boundary pusher.

    This was also the Joseph who desperately wanted a girlfriend, and actively sought a partner using dating websites, and getting close to friends’ friends. He had quite a few disastrous ‘encounters’, all of which become anecdotes told at parties, the bearded farmer one being the most famous.

    I’m not ashamed of that Joseph: it was a necessary part of my growth, but I do feel uncomfortable taking on that character now. Reflecting on what happened tonight, I can clearly see just how much I have changed since 2003, how my internal reactions to identical stimuli (separated by time) are very different.

    So in a way, it’s comforting. It’s comforting to know that there has been change. But I also feel badness inside that I wasn’t able to assert myself.

    It’s also made me wonder what would have happened had I not gone to university, had I not started work on my spiritual life, had I not met *Twinkle*. I think for me, the act of physically moving to different places and meeting many different people, being exposed to different ideas, has contributed an awful lot to my growth. So that begs the question - does growth now take a back seat to financial necessity and the comfort of routine?

    Of course not. But I feel that the end of this era of regular ‘forced change’ does mean that I will need to now put in a good deal more effort to actively continue learning and growing. Yes, I think the challenges of living in Japan as a foreigner will to some extent provide fuel for further growth as a matter of course, but that won’t be enough. It’s important that I continue to engage with life on a daily basis, and not get complacent.

    I find that idea exciting, yet scary too. Thursday really is a big day. It’s not just a flight to Japan, it’s the start of what I think will be one of the most challenging periods of my life to date.

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