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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaijin Bubble - Being a good husband - Taking action

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Sunset from our front door

The intense feeling of 'being a foreigner' is starting to fade. These past few weeks there have been several occasions when I've been out and about, and completely forgotten that I'm a member of the 2%(ish) minority population of non-Japanese residents in Japan.

Upon arrival back in Japan last September I often found myself thinking about how the Japanese person serving me at the supermarket might be perceiving me, or wondering whether I was being spoken to in deliberately gaijin-friendly Japanese at the bank. Having been away from the islands for over a year I found I'd regressed to those times when I didn't understand Japanese at all, when I perceived myself as a nail sticking out. I was very much in Japan, and I felt it keenly whenever I stepped outside the door.

It would seem though that after about 4 months I'm becoming acclimatised. The areas of Tokyo I frequent (mostly Gakugeidaigaku, Shibuya and Kudanshita) and those areas outside Tokyo I infrequent (Saitama to see my in-laws) are no longer overwhelmingly 'Japan', they're just 'home'.

I think part of the reason for this is I can now get by with very little effort in any of these places. Initially, going from A to B, buying such-and-such in such-and-such a shop required planning, thought, and conscious effort. Now I can walk and shop in these places without thinking. I usually use my time spent walking checking blogs, writing emails and studying Kanji. Unless I'm somewhere that will stimulate my senses (such as a park or an area of notable architecture/interesting people) I don't like to not be doing something else whilst walking.

I appreciate that this must seem a bit sad. Walking around eyes glued to the screen. But I don't see it like this. Not only do I get enourmous pleasure from following the antics of my friends, acquaintances and role models around the world, but I also give myself the freedom to use my time at home (when I would otherwise be checking blogs etc) to do things that are far more constructive. I'm the kind of person that can waste hours and hours watching mindless crap on YouTube - I know I have this weakness and so have created a web usage technique for myself that prevents my doing this - it's called using an RSS reader (NetNewsWire to be precise) on the iPhone. It discourages endless link-clicking, thus I limit myself to about 250 web-based stories a day (over half of which I only read the first line of).

Hmm, seem to have gone down a rathole there. The magnetism of the iPhone. It draws you in no matter how far away you started off. All Mumbles lead to the iPhone...

Anyway back to my gaijin bubble then, that thing that makes the difference between being in Japan surrounded by Japanese people and being on planet Earth surrounded by human people.

My gaijin bubble is thinning out. Gaps are appearing in its liquid walls. I'm finding myself interacting directly with the people around me without any awareness of there being any difference / barrier between us.

And it's awareness that's the key. When I recently spoke to someone about the fading of the film, I found that in that instant, just by voicing this 'fact', the film became even more translucent.

It's all my perception.

I know this. I've always known it, only a lot of the time I choose not to acknowledge it.



Recently I've been pretty down on myself regarding my Japanese ability. It was just before New Year that it hit me hardest. I'm not sure what brought it on, but it's likely to have been my experience at the office, as that's where I struggle the most with clear communication. Thus, New Year at the in-laws saw a pretty quiet Joseph, a passive participant. I surprised myself.

I decided to stop that this morning. I decided that I could speak Japanese, and that I was actually pretty good at it. It shouldn't have come as any surprise then when a couple of hours later I found myself watching Joseph explain to a colleague, in Japanese, the workings of the new database (new as of this morning when I completed phase one of the merger of my new Access database with an existing Access databases - the two miraculously agreed to talk with each other).

Hey, I'm not that bad at Japanese after all. I just thought I was pants. That's pretty cool. What else can I think into existence?

Ah yes, the problematic relationship with that colleague. How about a resolution? Hey presto! at 3.30pm it was solved, the problematic relationship made a 360 degree turn. It wouldn't have happened had I not decided that there was ultimately no problem between us.

I'm currently on my second listen of The New Psycho-cybernetics, which I'm finding very inspiring [what is psycho-cybernetics?]. I've Mumbled about it before, and I'll say again what I said then: there's nothing in this book that you haven't read in The Secret or any of Anthony Robbins' books. Nonetheless, I like the approach, and it motivates me to act. It's this book that has encouraged me to shift my perception of things like my gaijin bubble or 'lack of Japanese language skills'.




This past week has (not unsurprisingly) seen an abundance of blog posts containing reviews of 2008. I considered writing one myself, but decided that it'll be easier to get someone else to do that for me when I can afford to outsource the revamp of my website and the drafting of my autobiography :-) But still, I found other people's reviews pretty thought provoking. Some were in the form of meme's, encouraging the authors to not only list what they had achieved, but also to detail how they thought they'd changed over the previous 12 months (for example, see this one by my friend the talking orchid).


This got me thinking about how I've grown over the past 12 months. Of course, marriage has been the biggy for me, and I must say the last 4 months since the wedding have taught me a lot about myself that I didn't necessarily want to know. I'm fortunate to live in an age in which emotional intelligence is considered a great asset and not some feminine weakness, and thus I am encouraged to act on bringing my behaviour back in alignment with what I know is ultimately right, rather than what is merely considered 'ok' by society at large. *Twinkle* has no complaints, I've not been a bad husband, but I know I can be a better husband. There have been times when I have held my love back when I have (unreasonably) felt threatened or undermined by her behaviour. She deserves my love and support at all times, no exceptions.

I'm also glad I had a few 'serious' relationships before meeting her. I recall times when, if challenged, I would only be able to rest when my partner was feeling thoroughly wretched.

How horrendous is that?

However, whilst of course I am very sorry to have hurt my partners I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to learn in situations where the stakes weren't quite so high, thus *Twinkle* doesn't have to put up with all that kind of crap (it's not a path I recommend though. If possible just be perfect from birth).

Anyway, It's taken New Year to make me act on this one. It's only too easy to get into sloppy patterns of behaviour. Once in that rut one can forget what life was like when one was free, acting in accordance with high-energy spirit. The effort required to 'be nice' when one really doesn't want to be nice isn't actually an effort at all, as the benefits (which are soon felt) are so great they act like helium balloons, pulling you up. The only effort is in making that initial decision.

This reminds me of Wayne Dyer's work - he often speaks of high and low energy cycles. (There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is one I often mention - I reccomend the audio from Audible)

Going back to changes seen during 2008, I'm also happy to have seen a considerable progress in my dealing with fear, although I don't see last year as having been the real milestone - that's this year when I begin to act with courage in the light of firmer foundations. My self-image still needs considerable work. I'm far too fearful down on myself if I really want to realise many of the dreams I have.

Ironically, by stating these things I'm only making the situation worse. It's time for an end to 'recognising' things. Whilst recognition is the first step, it alone will not bring about any change.

OK. so let's make 2009 the year of Action Without Fear.

You might think it silly to have to label a year like that. But I'm greatly encouraged by such statements. I love words. I love quotes. I even have an online collection of them at http://thanks.tumblr.com (although I've not added to it recently).

I only have one excuse left now.

I haven't got time.

That's a load of rubbish too though. Look at me, I've just spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table mumbling.

Many of my goals are related to online ventures. In the past week I've taken positive steps towards establishing 3 of them, doing things like purchasing domain names, contacting web hosts, and building a prototype site.

I've also taken action towards resurrecting the student of Japanese within me, by sorting out my various Anki databases.

Today, I made enquiries about taking time off work in order that I can dedicate a day or two a month to making these things happen, and that's a distinct possibility.

I'm going to keep a record of action taken, and review it on a weekly basis. I need to do this to keep myself moving forward.

Anyway, I'd best be off to bed, I'm doing another photo shoot at the nail salon in Shibuya tomorrow night, and need to figure out what I'll be doing for backdrops.

tatta.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

A walk to work

The other day I decided to get off the subway one stop early and walk the last bit to the office. I took a few photos along the way as I circumnavigated the north-west corner of the grounds of the Imperial Palace.

Clever map thing courtesy of the iPhone & Everytrail (click to open walk in new window)


Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Geotagging

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Join me on my morning jog

As of today, I'm offering Mumblers the opportunity to join me on my morning jog. Yes, you too can come to Komozawa Koen, enjoy the sights of the running track, go faster, go slower, go uphill, go downhill ...and all without breaking a sweat. Courtesy of (what else but) the iPhone.

Courtesy of this amazing gadget and a new app, my runs (that's different from 'the runs'...) are now added to the social networking site EveryTrail. If I take any photos along my route, they are magically uploaded to the Google map in the correct location - I really don't have to do much to create the little show other than press 'Start' when I leave the house and 'Stop' when I get home (and 'Take Photo' when I want to).

This also shows speed, altitude, and the amount of sweat soaking my T-shirt.

This morning I was out of the house by 7am, inspired by *Twinkle* who had left at 6.15am to attend a (free) morning business seminar run by the owner of a famous izakaya (Japanese bar) in Shibuya.

It was a great run, really enjoyed it!
(Click here to view the following morning jog in full or click on the map or photos)

Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging

Time for a quick shower, shave, bento (packed lunch) making ...then work!

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Little Runners

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kitanomura children playing_0355

I was sitting in Kitanomura park at lunchtime, eating my carrot and daikon salad, whilst watching the children play.

I wondered what the view from my bench might look like at other times of year, so I tapped the screen of my iPhone once, and a few seconds later was presented with a whole collection of photos taken within metres of where I sat, including one of the very bench I was sitting on. Someone else was sitting on it.

It felt a bit funny.

The wonders of modern technology.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exchange rates, and Running with technology

What's going on in the currency markets? It's absolutely mental!

During my Year Abroad, £1 equalled 233yen.

Today (45 minutes ago), £1 equals 162yen.

I was just doing the sums - my salary here is is worth £7000 more than it would have been worth a year ago (if sent back home).

This is great news for me, as it now means that, whilst I only have an average salary, I can pay back my debts at a rate of £1000 a month, something which until now I never would have thought possible.

I'm now in the process of resuscitating my long-neglected GoLloyds account, whereby I can deposit cash in any appropriate ATM here in Japan and have it show up in my British bank a few days later (minus fees of course).




In other news, I was up at 7am today for the first of my thrice-weekly jogs. I'm find it interesting how this time round, with the goal of a mini-marathon to aim for, I'm far more motivated when it comes to getting out of bed and heading down the road to the park. It's not a chore, it's FUN!

But I know that there may be some mornings when it's not quite so sunny, or I'm not feeling so enthusiastic about heading out into the cold, and for that reason I'm looking for as many ways as possible to keep me going. Timing my laps was a start, but I knew I needed something more than that...

...enter RunKeeper for the iPhone.

Basically, this app uses satellite navigation to track you as jog your course. From the GPS co-ordinates it can then of course work out your distance and speed. It also makes a note of elevation too.

The results are initially displayed on the iPhone as a bar chart, each bar (where height = speed) being one minute of movement.

That's all very well and good, but it's still a bit disconnected from reality. Where it really comes into its own is where you finish your run and tap on Save. Two things happen: it saves your run to your iPhone's history for later reference, and it then sends that data to the RunKeeper website, which places your route and stats on Google Maps.



How sexy is that?!

(Unfortunately I neglected to restart it after a pause for shoelace-tying up so the data on this screenshot is incorrect (I went further and faster!))

These are the kinds of uses of hardware, software and networks that I find really exciting. They can have a real positive impact upon my lifestyle, playing on some of my weaknesses (love of tech) to overcome other weaknesses (lack of extended dedication?).

Now all I need is an app that will sync with my camera to location-tag all my photos, then I think my life will be complete!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Joseph is online

(A blog I wrote a couple of days ago, and am posting now to celebrate our reconnection to the www this morning. Our new fibre modem has resulted in our actual (vs. advertised) download speed quadrupling to 24mbps, the fastest domestic connection I've had yet :-)




It's several years now since I decided to actively create an online presence. For a long time it was limited to my website, TameGoesWild, and this blog, The Daily Mumble. Not that many people knew about it, and I rarely talked about it. I seldom posted any personal stuff, fearful of criticism from the People Out There. I can remember trying to keep it a secret in my first year at uni, such was the embarrassment I felt when real-life friends referred to something I'd written.

The last 18 months has seen a huge shift in my attitude towards my online presence. As a part of the process of learning to trust my own judgement, and to not be hurt by the subjective opinions of others, I deliberately chose to write about things that mattered the most to me, such as the spiritual path I began to travel down last year. I remember at the time debating whether or not to mention the name Wayne Dyer, for fear of people accusing me of being brain washed by some American celebrity doctor - a fear I can't help but laugh at now, given just how much I have been helped by his [audio]books. I still regularly dip into his take on the Tao, and often find that the one verse (out of 81) that he is focusing on is the exact one I need to hear.

I think the next step for me was signing up with Facebook, something I had resisted for some time. I'd tried mySpace and generally found it to be a complete waste of time ...and I must admit that Facebook didn't do much for me at first either. Now however, it plays an important part in creating and maintaining my sense of place in the world. Regular updates on my friends' activities gives me context. Living here in Tokyo with access to very few real-life friends would be much harder without my virtual (usually passive) participation in the lives of others.

Recently I've been delighted by a spate of photo uploads by my friends from Camp Jened (New York) where I worked in 1997. Those were pre-email days for ordinary folks like us, but 11 years on Facebook has enabled us to recreate that community, to share our happy memories. This has promted me to re-evaluate the part that that experience played in making me who I am today, something I doubt I'd be able to do if working from my own foggy memories alone.

Then there's Twitter. I forget when I signed up, sometime earlier this year. At the time I didn't quite realise just what an impact this would have on me. For those who aren't familiar with it, it's basically a tool for micro-blogging, any one post ('tweet') having a limit of 140 characters (such as the posts top-right of the Mumble. There's a great demo video on YouTube called 'Twitter in Plain English'). Historically, the majority of users have been those into all things techy / internetty, but recent months have seen it move into the mainstream. It's a powerful dissemination tool - the Obama campaign team caught onto this pretty early on and have used it to great effect.

But of course, without an audience, Twitter serves little purpose as a broadcast platform. Personally, I only know a handful of people who use it, and thus initially wasn't all that inspired. But then I discovered Twitterific. This desktop app takes my Twitter posts and send them to Skype, where they become my status message, visible to all of my contacts.

...That's was all well and good, but still, Skype isn't exactly an everyday app for most users.

The breakthrough came with the Twitter app for Facebook. This takes your Twitter status and posts it to Facebook, thus making it visible to all your Facebook friends. So that's one message posted in Twitterific being sent to Twitter, Skype, Facebook, Friendfeed, and any web-page you have control over (such as TDM).

But what next? It's all a bit one-way.

Well it was, until the release of the new Facebook interface a few weeks back. What seemed like just another makeover has actually begun to fundamentally change my interaction with others. Unlike before, it is now incredibly easy to post comments on Facebook status messages. Thus, I can post reactions to friends' daily doings with one tap of the screen, and of course they can do the same with me - and do. Suddenly, one-way broadcasting has become two-way communication.

There's one final piece to the online presence jigsaw though - the iPhone (oh cripes here he goes again...). The new iPhone Facebook app is bloomin fantastic. It enables the user to have easy access to their network of friends wherever they are, to react to messages on-the-road almost in real time (depending on how often they're bored on the train) Couple that with the easy posting of messages and photos to Twitter (using mobile Twitterific) and the publishing of (line-break heavy) blogs via email (which are then automatically reposted on Facebook), and your online-presence becomes an extension of your real life interactions.




I'm sure this all sounds like a complete nightmare to some people. Not only the idea of publishing your every action online, but also the idea of your friends being bombarded by numerous 140-character messages describing tonight's pumpkin soup (I just remind myself that they can simply unsubscribe from your updates if they wish to)

I'm fascinated by just how much this has all come to mean to me. I guess in my current circumstances it's not surprising that I am seeking to maintain established (distant) friendships, to reach out to as many people as I can from my relative isolation. It's a bit of a lifeline really.

I'm also interested in how our shared online presence impacts upon our real-life relationships. So far, I've found it to have an immensely positive effect. On seeing friends, one can quickly move past initial catch ups, and get to the important stuff, or explore areas of life that might usually be hidden due to social norms. The Internet offers us the freedom to express ourselves in ways that might be frowned upon in real-life, thus we can discover shared interests that might otherwise never be discovered. I can think of several real-life relationships whose foundations are reinforced to a considerable extent by the things that I have learnt about them online.

An example of a relationship strengthened by an online presence could be that of the friendship I share with an ex-coursemate who is now working in a remote part of southern Japan. They often blog about their experiences, the challenges they encounter, the happy successes they enjoy. We were never particularly close at uni (although I always liked and respected them), but reading their blog fills me with admiration for what they are doing, and makes me feel enriched by the remote friendship I share with them. It encourages me to send good wishes their way, and to want to offer assistance to them should they ever need it.

Having said that, in the long term I'm not sure how much of a difference it will make. If I imagine myself meeting offline coursemates after a prolonged period of no contact, the feelings are similar to those connected with meeting my online friends. This leads me to think that perhaps ultimately, online communication can never have the same kind of impact upon relationships that even limited offline interactions can have. This I find quietly reassuring, as much as I love the online world, I know that ultimately it's what I do in real life that matters.

After all, no amount of Status Updates will get the washing up done before *Twinkle* arrives home.

Tattaa.

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Yet another iPhone post

(if you're not interested in it or Apple customer service, look away).

Two nights ago my iPhone suddenly had an emergency breakdown. Somehow the OS became corrupted, and the only way to fix it was to connect it to my mac and let iTunes try its best counselling skills.

The only problem was, iTunes couldn't connect with it - just kept on asking me to enter the phone's passcode ...which I couldn't do as the phone wouldn't let me do anything except make emergency calls. Catch 22.

(For google reference, the error message read:

"iTunes could not connect to the iPhone "*" because it is locked with a passcode. You must enter your passcode on the iPhone before it can be used with iTunes"



This all happened when I was actually in the Apple Store on unrelated business (looking at new macbooks!), but they were so busy I had no chance of seeing the Geniuses (they're the people who fix stuff), and the sales staff didn't know what to do. I made an appointment for the following night, and using their in-store wifi started scouring the Apple forums.

Eventually I found out how to force the iPhone into recovery mode (connect to computer, open iTunes, press both buttons until Apple logo appears, then only release the top button, hole the bottom one until iTunes recognises it as being in recovery mode and restores it to factory settings). However, after it rebooted it just came up with another error, "The iPhone "*" cannot be used with iTunes because the information required for activation could not be obtained from the iPhone". There was nothing I could do but wait until the following night's appointment.



This being Japan, I was kind of expecting it to take a long time to sort out. Everything here seems to involve endless form-filling - you even have to provide a notarised copy of your birth certificate in order to buy a loaf of bread. (OK, slight exaggeration, maybe.) One problem I saw was the fact that the phone is registered to *Twinkle*, and she was unable to come to the store.

What happened then really surprised me. The chap listened to my story, quickly tested the SIM card in another iPhone (it was fine) ...and then reached into the drawer behind him, pulled out a brand new iPhone and handed it to me.

"Is that OK?" he asked.

"Erm, yes!" I said, with a big grin on my face.

"Oh, if you could just sign this receipt to say that Apple will pay that'll be it".

And that was it.

Having left the store, it was simply a case of plugging the new phone into my Macbook and leaving it for 30 mins as it restored all my settings (and 15GB of emails, contacts, photos music and apps), resulting in a brand new phone that was identical in content & settings to my old one.

Now THAT is what customer service of the future should be like. It was even accompanied by the happiest music one could hope to hear, wafting up the stairs from the live concert on the ground floor.

Of course, there are reasons why this all happened so quickly and without any fuss. For a start, they were incredibly busy, and the guy was desperate to get through the queue. For a second thing, they already had all my details to hand, as when I made my appointment I'd logged in with my Apple ID.

Still, I thought it was all bloomin marvellous, Yet another excuse to give my money to Apple.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Laser eyes, the work, the friends and the MCs

You find me sitting in the waiting room at the Shinagawa Laser Eye Clinic in central Tokyo. ...feeling queasy. *Twinkle* has just been taken up to the 15th floor to have her eyes done, leaving me in the big waiting room on the floor below, stuck in front of a TV showing an instructional video on what's going to be done to her. I find it positively terrifying, but try and reassure myself by thinking of all the people we know who have had it done lately, and how they could 'see' immediately after the op, and made full recoveries within a day or two of being fried. It's pretty affordable too (about £700 paid interest-free over two years) - well worth it considering the difference it will make to her daily life.

Anyhow, I need to try and take my mind off it, so let's talk about something else.

Mr. Joseph the Teacher

I've had a fair bit of part-time work since I got back to Japan. The vast majority of it has been through the English school in Shibuya, where most classes are taught one-on-one. Many students are there to learn English for a particular purpose (usually a business trip to the US/ Australia etc); this makes lesson planning and execution a lot easier (especially with the additional ideas and support I've received from my friend Shari). I also have a couple of private students I meet in quiet cafes. Also, today I had a successful interview for a long-term part time contract teaching weekly group lessons at an American firm's Tokyo office.

My full-time job starts Monday; looking forward to that.

Joseph the househusband

Outside of paid work I've been pretty busy with housework and 'admin'. With our marriage came the need to change *Twinkle*s details on accounts of all kinds, then there was the house move, changes in insurance policies, a new Internet contract, misplaced tax bills, lost bank books, forgotten online banking passwords and so forth. When I finally received my gaijin card (foreigner's ID card) I had to update all my accounts with the new address. There's not much left to do ...just need to get my Japanese driver's license I think.

I find sorting these kind of things out really satisfying. Perhaps it's the control freak in me, wanting order in my life. I like to have a clear picture in my head of what policies we have where and what's due when - it enables me to get on and concentrate on the important stuff.

The house is also starting to feel comfortable. Latest additions include a plant, and 2 x 780yen plastic stationary sets of drawers. They have CHANGED MY LIFE. I now have a whole drawer dedicated to pens, and another to scrap paper, with the other four also having their own unique role. With the arrival of the drawers, so we see the departure of the living out of boxes (except for the other cupboard.

I've also cleared out all the salad crops from the tubs on the balcony, except for the aubergine plants which are still producing. Bought ten tulip bulbs and look forward to planting them and watching them shoot. I'd like to plant some winter crops too - any ideas dad?

I'm getting better at making bread in the wok, although still need to experiment a bit more to get it good and crusty (by applying water and flour to the surface) without deflating it post-rise. I'm also enjoying making simple things like fruit salad (little known in Japan) and potato salad. Nothing too ambitious, but very healthy, tasty, nutritious and rewarding nonetheless.

We're pretty much completely vegetarian at home now. We might get a bit of chicken in when guests come to visit, but other than that we feel really good without any meat. I'm really grateful to *Twinkle* for being so accommodating (although it hadn't been a request of mine).

Joseph's foreign friends

I've really enjoyed having quite a lot of contact with my friend Tom (who lives pretty near us in Meguro-ku) - I can see the weekly Sunday morning jogs around the Imperial Palace becoming a long-term part of my routine. They're almost therapeutic. It's good being in phone contact with Stu as well - our schedules at the moment mean that I've seen a lot less of him than I'd like to have done. Hopefully we can work something out so we can ensure that life doesn't get in the way of communication.

That's something I missed in the UK - male (and to a certain extent female) friends whom I could talk to about pretty much anything. I think perhaps it's being in Japan that has enabled me to develop these friendships which otherwise might not have come to much, as I'm usually much more inclined to hang out with and talk to women. Here, we have shared challenges / experiences, and I think it's these that served as a foundation upon which the friendships have been built.

I've found that marrying *Twinkle* has led to a stronger sense of kinship on my part towards both Tom and Stu, both of whom have Japanese wives. Whilst our relationships are all very different, we all have our challenges at times, and it helps to be able to share these things.

It's only in writing this now that I appreciate just how much it means to me to have foreign friends in Tokyo. Last week, *Twinkle* and I visited two young 'old colleagues' of mine from the place of work I'll be returning to next week after six years away. I've not seen them in years, although I must say that due to the communication we've had via our blogs it didn't seem like a case of 'long time no see' at all. Alongside pizza we were treated to Shari's delicious homemade hummus. I tell you, it was fantastic, the genuine article, certainly didn't expect to find myself indulging in that here in Japan.

Anyhow, food aside, it was lovely to spend time with them and chat about this and that. They are the kind of people in whose presence it is hard not to feel relaxed (something which no doubt plays a part in their popularity as teachers); it felt good sharing 'stuff' with them, and I wondered to what extent our all being foreign played a part in creating such an atmosphere.

Ogura san, our homeless friend

I'm continuing to work on extending my social circle, which is currently distinctly square shaped. I've joined the Vegan Runners Club and Toastmasters, so should be giving them both a shot later this month. *Twinkle* and I meanwhile have been trying to open up our house a little more, now it's relatively organised (only one cupboard left to go). We've had a few visitors, including our homeless friend who sells the Big Issue in Shibuya, who came to supper the other night accompanied by another member of his support group of which we are members. As I mentioned in a previous post, he's a really interesting guy - now in his 50s, he owned his own company until someone else's business for which he had acted as a guarantor went belly up, resulting in him losing everything overnight.

Business, income, house, wife and child, all gone, just like that.

He often says that he can hardly believe that he's now homeless. He never even dreamt of the possibility. It's unfortunate that in Japan homeless people have the odds stacked against them: in addition to the discrimination they face, with no fixed abode they are not entitled to government assistance. Without government assistance it can be hard to find work that will generate an income sufficient to maintain a small home - it's a vicious circle.

He's now working to set up an NPO to support people like himself. It's hard though. Whilst Big Issue sales might generate enough for him to afford to stay in an Internet cafe overnight, it's not enough to lift him out of the hole he's in, thus his ability to move forward is hampered by a need to provide for today.

Despite all this, he's incredibly positive, with a similar outlook upon life as myself. We're working to try and promote the work he's doing and hope to have him speak at an event that we're organising for next month.

Ogura san can be found most days on the East side of Shibuya station.

MCs *Twinkle* and Tame

Speaking of events (and as mentioned before) *Twinkle* and are scheduled to MC at a meeting for 500 business-minded people in their twenties on Saturday. The aim is to encourage them to pursue their dreams (whatever they may be), and not just follow the crowd into jobs in which they have little interest, but feel they 'ought' to take. We have a few fairly high-profile speakers lined up whose names I forget. There's a nice article on one of them in this month's 'Free and Easy' Magazine featuring him camping in the Japanese outback, Ray Mears stylee.

I'm a bit nervous about that, as it's all going to be in Japanese, and I don't really know what I'm supposed to say or do.

Whether we will end up MCing or not I'm not quite sure. Since beginning this blog 5 hours ago we've returned to *Twinkle*s family home, and her eyes are now causing her an awful lot of pain follow the surgery. Thankfully she seems to be sleeping now; hopefully she'll be feeling better by tomorrow morning.

iPhone Update

The iPhone remains my darling. The new Facebook app is absolutely fantastic, taking advantage of the iPhone's distinct characteristics and putting on a pretty slick show, a great example of what a mobile app can be. I look forward to the other apps I have also being updated to more reflect rhe iPhone style rather than just feeling like ported versions of apps for other platforms.

It's also proving its worth whilst we have no broadband. For example, without the iPhone I wouldn't have got the job that I got today. That'll more than pay for the monthly contract.

However, I do find the iPhone's lack of an audio / vibration alert for new emails to be a bit of a pain, especially when *Twinkle* and I are carrying out a text conversation. Thus, I've bought a second mobile which does make a noise, and which also happens to give me free calls and sms to not only *Twinkle* but to all of my in-laws, and vice-versa.

When will Japanese carriers allow SMS to be sent cross-network me wonders?

My new phone basically uses the same OS as my old mobile, so hasn't required any brain power to make it work. I'm very impressed by the new predictive text function though, just amazing. Shame the iPhone can't match it when it comes to Japanese.

Anyhows, that about sums it up for now. As you can see, we're pretty busy, but things are good, very good.

oyasumi xxx

[EDIT] Happy to report that the patient has just woken up and CAN SEE! They were right when they said it would just be painful for a few hours - what an amazing thing the human body is!

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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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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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