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    Wednesday, January 31, 2007

    TURN EVERYTHING OFF - 1st Feb 2007

    The first of February 2007: Participate in the biggest mobilization of
    Citizens Against Global Warming!

    The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations, apparently based in France] is calling out to all citizens (which is blatantly rather silly of them, calling out to ALL citizens is going to create some problems, see notes below); 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet. People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the 1st of February 2007 between,
    • for UK/London 18.55 and 19.00,
    • for New York 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm,
    • for Paris, Bruxelles, Italy etc between 19.55 and 20.00 (all local time).
    This is not about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity for that one day, this is about calling on the attention of the media, politicians, and social figures, telling them of the importance of immediate action! 5 minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, although you may miss the last 5 minutes of Hollyoaks on Channel 4.

    Why February 1st? This is the day before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launches a summary for policy makers of “Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis” at UNESCO Headquarters.


    • Airline pilot, currently at 55,000 feet
    • Doctor on duty in Intensive Care unit
    • Helicopter enthusiast inspecting the storm-damaged roof of your mansion from above, the repair bill will probably go up
    • Living in a battery-powered submarine that is currently running away from a giant sub-eating squid
    • In charge of the cooling plant at a nuclear power station
    • Someone who has just walked into a room full of scorpions that have been specially trained to only sting when you turn the lights off
    • Skydiving from 3 miles up using an electric parachute

    Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    A Year in Japan - Episode 04 out now!

    The slightly delayed Episode 4 of the podcast, A Year in Japan is out now!

    Learn all about New Year in Japan, and hear a fantastic recording of an impromptu performance on a Kyoto bus...

    Visit for more info on how you can subscribe for free.

    The advanced version, with its superior sound quality, chapter markers and photos is recommended!

    There's been over 2400 downloads of the the series now, who are all these people?!!

    and CAW BLIMEY! Search for "Japan" in iTunes and I come out at number 56! Not bad not bad... (Joseph + Japan sees me coming in at No.3)

    (As for Google searches: Joseph + Japan sees me coming in at No.6, whilst Japan + Joseph sees me coming in at No.5. It's a shame that these figures mean absolutely bugger all...!)

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    Sunday, January 28, 2007

    Another thing they don't teach you at school

    Glass plates don't microwave too well.


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    Saturday, January 27, 2007

    It's Saturday

    ...and I have a hangover!

    I went out with my old mate Stu, his wife and friends last night. Karaoke - It was great, I really really enjoyed myself!! It was "all you can drink" though, so the beers just kept on coming! Then on to an Irish bar, and eventually back home.

    Plumbed in our bathroom water filter this morning (invlved the use of a great big wrench - astonishing what you can get in 100 yen (42p) shops, ...then had my first chlorine-free shower in months. Wow, what a treat that was, no more asthma for us! Finally got round to getting some organic miso the other day too, so that's back on the menu.

    Mum - thanks for my hiking boots, they arrived today in their rather funny boot-shaped package, along with the other post. Shame I can't use them for snowboarding - the hotel I'm staying at next month says they don't have boots to fit my great big planks! I don't think boots will be all that important anyway as I can't snowboard - tried once in 1997, gave up after 30 mins, and suffered with a very bruised arse for a couple of weeks!

    What I meant to say was "I can't snowboard YET!"

    Oh Oh oh Remembering the Kanji Volume II has finally turned up, and it's in perfect condition! Am delighted. Perfect timing, so I don't lose the desire to learn the swines. RAAAAAAAAAAAA

    Spose I'd better have brekkie.


    Friday, January 26, 2007

    life overload

    Crikey, there's just so much going on to be excited about I just don't know how to deal with it all.

    You know that kanji study - it seems to be going out of the window. As for the Year Abroad Project due in next week, well, that may not be all that great, if things carry on like this.

    My mate Tom came up with a fabulous business idea yesterday, which I'm tremendously excited about - along with all the other business ideas I'm tremendously excited about, but have yet had the time / made the time to put into practice, other than register domain names and point them at Tame Goes Wild for the time being. I had ten at last count!

    Then there's the charity work too - I'm currently waiting for a call from the producer of Tokyo's most listened to podcast (the one that accompanies Metropolis magazine, which has a weekly print run of 30,000) in order to set up an interview promoting an event we're holding in early March in aid of Oxfam, the website for which I've yet to make.

    Then there's the Sponsored Hike in May - 100km in 48 hours over mountainous terrain. The website's not complete yet, and it is pretty basic, but it works. We've got 7 team members, need one more.

    Full launch will be in a couple of weeks.

    Had our first training session yesterday, just myself and Tom, boy do I ache today, I never knew I had that many muscles! I have a long way to go before I'm fit for the challenge.

    It's kinda getting to the stage where worrying about finding a job after graduation is just becoming irrelevant. Why work for someone else, when you already have all the tools you need to start up a business?

    Wow. This life thing, it's incredible scary at times! Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway! (I just received my 20th anniversary edition!)

    p.s. I almost totally forgot - look what they had in the public loo I visited yesterday - I was so happy, I could use it!

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    Tuesday, January 23, 2007

    A major revelation in the bathroom

    Wow. I've just experienced a major life-changing revelation.

    There's been something that has troubled me for years, as far back as I can remember, something that has made me wonder whether there's a secret global co-ordinated effort to made me feel like an idiot.

    Just a few moments ago, in the toilet here in this pretend Italian family restaurant in north-east Tokyo, years of confusion were blown away, leaving a perfectly clear blue, or in this case, green, sky.

    It's these soap dispensers.

    I've never been able to get them to work. Why does the soap never come out? And why is it ALWAYS the case, no matter where I am - Switzerland, Japan, the UK, - they just don't work! How come the public toilet industry still uses them when for years they have been proved, by my multiple soapless-experiences, to be utterly useless?

    I've spoken with a few friends about this issue over the years, but none of them have ever reported a similar problem.

    I don't know why things were different today, but whereas previously I'd either give up after a few attempts or unscrew the top and dip my fingers in, today I persevered when nothing came out. It just didn't make sense.

    As usual, I'd tried what I thought you're supposed to do, that is, press the top. Then I thought, "hmm, I wonder what happens if you hold your hand under the nozzle and press up, instead of pressing down on the top of the container..."

    And blow me down, if soap didn't come out of the bottom! For years I've been pressing the top down rather than the nozzle up! No wonder every single one I've tried to use has been 'faulty'! Explains quite a lot, about me if nothing else...

    Well, what a worthwhile trip this has proved to be. 100 kanji re-learnt, and a major life-discovery made.

    That's quite enough excitement for one day.

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    The wireless waves

    It's amazing how quickly Wireless Internet Access has spread. These days, no matter where I go, I find an abundance of wireless networks floating around. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for unprotected wireless networks. It seems that most people have now caught on to the fact that an unsecured Wireless Network is not a good idea, as it means that people can download dinosaurs (should they be collectors of dinosaurs), leaving the person with the transmitter with all the bandwidth to invite 10 ants round for supper, provided they only come by one at a time. Internet dinosaurs take up a lot of bandwidth, due to the density of their bones.

    This restaurant is quite typical of the average wireless environment: 5 networks, all protected. I wish people would be more imaginative with the names of their networks though. "137yhdjs873jdjdhd6s8893637494ddkd" is so dull. Next month should see the delivery of our Apple Airmac Extreme, yet to be released (I particularly like the idea of its Wireless USB capability, means I don't have to use that ridiculously long USB cable for the printer / external hard drives anymore. Constantly falling over it...). Anyway, I was thinking of naming our network something like "try-connecting-to-this-network-and-your-computer-will-explode" or "stealing-your-neighbours-connection-will-result-in-doggy-doos-through-the-letter-box". That'll learn 'em.

    Incidentally, did you know that all Mac's with built-in AirPorts can act as wireless base stations, broadcasting as well as receiving? I only discovered that a couple of weeks ago. I may have told you that before, but it's worth telling you again, if just for the pleasure of pressing this soft keys in that particular sequence once again.

    I had a great time with the cappuccino machine earlier. It did its huffing and puffing, lots of nice frothy milk - then it stopped. I thought it was a bit odd, I mean, there was no coffee in my coffee. Oh well, hot milk will do... walking away I heard the sound of hot coffee going down the drain as the machine went into phase two of the cappuccino-making-process. The woman at the table next to mine, who had observed the entire incident, tried not to laugh.

    You can see what an uphill struggle it is, this trying to convince myself I'm not a idiot business.

    Anyhow, back to the kanji.

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    The NHK Man Always Rings Thrice

    It's not uncommon for the doorbell to ring here. Visitors include

    • People trying to sell newspaper subscriptions (whilst generously handing out free toilet rolls and washing powder: I gave the latter to the secretary at uni, and the former I wiped my bum with. That's what I think of that newspaper)
    • the Japanese equivalent of a Jehovah's Witness
    • A chap trying to sell me a fibre-optic internet connection (he was dismayed when I pointed out the metre-high metal box right behind him containing the fibre optic modem-things that provided all apartments in the building not only with broadband internet but also video-on-demand courtesy of the Windows Media Centre TV things we all have)
    • Delivery men (food parcels from mum in the West of Japan, futons with needles in etc)
    • People from the water board making sure we know how to use the taps (!)
    • Someone who told us not to open the door to strangers as there had been an 'incident' in the area recently
    • The man who, upon seeing that I was a foreigner, said, "Oh, you're a foreigner aren't you? Sorry for bothering you. Bye."
    • The NHK Man
    Whenever the doorbell rings, I'm the one sent to to answer it. Initially this was done to ward off the salesmen - I could feign ignorance of the language. However, with the passing of time, so I've actually come to like answering the door. The thing is, I know full-well that I'm not going to sign up for whatever, thus I can just enjoy the opportunity to practice my Japanese with the stranger, humouring them, trying to make them talk about anything but whatever it is that they're trying to sell, trying to break down the formal barrier.

    In this was, the NHK man has come to be one of my best friends.

    NHK, the equivalent of the UK's BBC, is in the unfortunate position of relying upon subscription fees for a lot of it's income - the reason this is unfortunate is that the paying of these bloomin' expensive fees is not actually mandatory.

    In order to get people to cough up, NHK has an army of clipboard-wielding Subscription Fee Collectors, a job which requires applicants to be at least 6 foot tall and over 85kg. They spend their days wandering the streets of Japan, knocking on the doors of houses listed as not having paid the NHK fee, asking them to please hand over the money.

    The point at which their job gets difficult is when the customer says "No". There's no law that states that one must pay, so if you don't agree to pay, there's not much they can do. For people like us, who rarely watch TV, it just makes no sense to pay.

    The first time he rang the bell I was, I must admit, pretty thrown. Having had no direct experience of A Meeting With The NHK Man, upon seeing his badge I panicked. I knew that I didn't want to pay, and thus immediately felt guilty.

    It was bad. I just couldn't pull myself together. His speech became a blur in my ears as images of him pressing a ball-pen into my hand filled my mind. I felt sick, I wanted to slam the door, but knew that if I did that he'd stick his foot in the way and I'd be arrested for GBH. But then suddenly, he started to bow, and said goodbye. Quite what had happened I didn't know.

    The second time he rang, I was much more prepared. Hearing the doorbell, I looked up at the little screen on the wall behind the TV (which was off!) to see who it was. Ah, yes, that bald patch, I'd recognise that anywhere. I was feeling daring, ready for a fight.
    "Ah, hisashiburi desu ne!" ("Ah, long time no see!")
    My initial greeting threw him off guard. I was off to a good start.

    The 15-minute conversation began. We started with his usual spiel, which ended with the line,
    "I know that you have a TV because all apartments in this building have them as standard, it's in the contract you have with the owner".

    ME: "Yes, we do have a TV, but never watch it. Like you say, we have to have it, it's in the contract, but never use it".
    HIM: "I'm afraid it's irrelevant whether you use it or not. The fact is that you should pay if you have one."
    ME: "But don't you think that's crazy?!"
    Him: "That's how it is in Japan"
    ME: "I'm sorry, but I just can't agree with that. It's ridiculous"
    HIM: "I'm sorry. Please pay."
    ME: "Tell you what, I'd be more that happy for you to take the TV with you, as long as you tell the landlord.
    HIM (getting into the spirit of it): "I'm afraid I can't do that. I came on a bicyle."

    We both laugh.

    ME: "You know, I don't understand why, in Japan, you don't have TV detector vans like we do in the UK. You know, in the UK, instead of having people like you doing your difficult job, we just have people sitting in magic vans that can see through people's walls, like superman, to see if they have a TV".
    HIM: (laughing): "Ah, yes, but did you know that the NHK collection rate is higher than that of the BBC in the UK?"
    ME: "But the population of Japan is twice that of the UK."
    HIM: "No, not the number, the rate. We're much more successful in Japan."
    I noted that he was suspiciously knowledgeable about the BBC, something he seemed entirely ignorant of when I mentioned them in our first meeting. It seemed he'd been doing his homework.

    The conversation when on. Him babbling away, with me understanding most of what he was saying, adding the odd, "Yes, I understand" at opportune moments. Then he said something I didn't understand at all. I tried to keep up, but no, it was no good, I'd lost the sense of what he was saying. Thinking he was about to leave, and that this was his romantic farewell speech, I thought it best to feign an understanding, and so continued to say "yes".

    And Then It Happened.

    His face lit up. He looked delighted.

    I had just inadvertently agreed to paying a ridiculous sum of money for a service I don't use! What could I do?

    It was at that point that fate intervened. As The NHK Man reached into his big, heavy bag, he lost his balance, and almost fell over backwards. It was most unexpected, but I seized the opportunity before he could get his hand on his contract pad.

    "No, No, No, I absolutely won't pay. It's impossible, I won't pay"

    Had he not lost his balance, he would have been able to assert himself, to tell me that it was too late, I had agreed to pay, but as it was, he was feeling foolish, and was thus in no position to tell me what to do.

    He'd lost his confidence. I assured him again that I wouldn't pay, and perhaps he'd be better off talking to my girlfriend whose name is on the contract, but she works very long hours and is seldom at home.

    He knew he'd been beaten this time. Still, we'd both enjoyed the battle.

    "Goodbye, see you soon" I told him, although really I wanted to invite him in for a cup of tea and a bit of TV.

    Having spoken to a few friends about The NHK Man, I know that our relationship is not yet over - three visits before giving up is standard.

    The NHK Man Always Rings Thrice.

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    To Do list

    Hey hey hey so yes indeedy long time no mumble. Been veeeery busy building a mini-website, soon to be launched on the TGW Network. Also been busy not going to exams (I'm so naughty! Well, they are optional after all, what would YOU do?), feeling overwhelmed by all these ideas I have and just not enough time to put them into practice. I need a clone.

    So, my first semester is over. The final exams (those that were compulsory) were a mixture of very difficult and very easy. Overall, I'm happy with how I did. Well done me. I am now faced with an 11 week holiday, which may sound like a long time, but it isn't, especially when you have a list of to do items that looks a bit like this:

    • Learn readings of 2,042 kanji using Heisig's Remembering the Kanji II, when it finally turns up. I ordered it in November!
    • Record numerous episodes of A Year in Japan
    • Make website for Translation company
    • Read the ten books I really want to read
    • Revise all my grammar in preparation for progression to Japanese Level 5
    • Train for the very exciting event in May (web site already complete, to be launched soon)
    • Finish (or should that be 'start and finish'?) my Year Abroad Project for Sheffield Uni
    • Go to Osaka and see my friends
    • Go snowboarding with uni friends (already booked. I can ski, but can't snowboard at all. Thus I will learn next month!)
    • Start to plan my epic voyage home in late August, which will see me travel over land and sea all the way from Tokyo to the West of England. I am VERY excited about that.
    • Possibly launch a little shop on the TGW network

    So, as you can see, I have my work cut out!

    I am so excited by all the possibilities in life. I'm finally starting to realise that there's just no point in waiting for things to happen, I've got to MAKE it happen!

    The start of my holiday is not the only thing to have had a big impact upon our daily routine: *Twinkle* has started work. As she thought, the hours are incredibly long. I'm not exaggerating when I say that yesterday was typical; she left the house at 7.20am, and got back at 11pm. Still, working hours aside, in terms of how it treats its staff, it is a great company, Completely different from my image of a typical Japanese company. I'm really proud of her. her job is not at all easy, and I personally would be shitting myself if it was me.

    In three years from now she'll have completed her contract and be able to retire.

    Hurray for life!

    The excitement of water filters

    We open today with my latest portrait piece - that of Dodge.
    "Splatter & Dodge are the two bumbling sidekicks of Diesel 10. He collectively refers to them as "Splodge" claiming that saying both their names takes too long. Although the other engines do fear them, they do not have the intelligence or villainy to match Diesel 10. Splatter is purple and more talkative than Dodge. Dodge is olive and more intelligent than Splatter."

    Rather bizarrely, looking at this photo has just prompted me to order this DVD from Has it had the same effect upon anyone else?

    My quality of life rose dramatically at the weekend, with the acquisition of two new devices.

    Amongst the possessions that dear John John left behind last year was a pair of speakers for his Mac. Unfortunately, following the clearing of his box, the transformer for these speakers went walkabouts, rendering them unusable. Sunday saw me paying a visit to the stunning (relatively new) Yodobashi Akiba, a dangerous place for gadget boys with money.

    MUSIC! Boy have I missed it! Yes, my MacBook does have speakers, but they're tiny, and wearing an iPod makes one terribly isolationist isn't particularly sociable. Now, I have this lovely pair of pretty powerful speakers behind me, one to the left, one to the right. What a joy it is to be able to listen to all my music properly again. Also, when I send an email, there's a whooshing noise, like some kind of aeroplane whizzing by - I never before appreciated that this actually flies across the room - I could send emails all day now, just to hear that stereo whoosh!

    The other acquisition was considerably more expensive - we're talking hundreds of pounds. It doesn't have any buttons. It doesn't have any remote control. It has no moving parts. It just sits there, with three lights on. Sometimes it beeps. Yet, this simple device has made more of a difference to my quality of life that any other gadget I have ever bought. Oh, with the exception of my darling mac of course.

    What is it? It's a water filter. Dirty water goes in, clean water comes out.

    Before coming back to Tokyo I would have thought that anyone investing this kind of money in a water filter would have to be absolutely nuts, but now I'm of the opinion that not having one is just as silly, if one lives in a place with water like this.

    Late last year a friend of ours came round to visit. He just so happened to have a couple of chlorine-testing tablets in his wallet, as you do. They're pretty simple to use: you drop them in a glass of water, and the more chlorine there is in the water, the pinker it goes.

    I must admit, I was absolutely horrified. The water from our tap that we used to wash vegees, to make rice and miso soup, to boil potatoes, to make tea with, went pinker than your little pinky on a very pink day. What this did was visibly demonstrate what I'd long suspected. On the day we moved in I'd noted that the water stank. Pour a glass of it, inhale (no, not the water! The air around it!), and you really could smell that chlorine. We weren't alone in being unhappy about this. Over 50% of Tokyo Water customers don't like the idea of drinking the stuff that comes out of the taps [link].

    It's crazy really. Chlorine is known to be very poisonous in large doses, yet it remains one of the most common chemicals used for water purification.

    What this meant was that whenever we wanted to drink something other than tea (the chlorine smell and taste seemed to wane a bit post-boiling) we'd have to buy it. Thus, over the past 3 months we have spent a considerable amount of money on bottled water. The environmental cost of this has not been insignificant either: although we recycle the bottles, one has to consider the energy involved in making them in the first place, filling them with 'mineral water' (the quality and safety of which is not guaranteed), and finally transporting them to retailers. It just makes no sense, when we have the good fortune to have water piped to our home.

    Thus the decision to buy our filter, which is now semi-permanently plumbed into the kitchen tap thing. It's a very clever filter, even has an ultra-violet light in its middle to zap all those nasty bugs.

    The next step is to get one for the bathroom. Once again, when I first heard about bathroom filters I thought it was a bit of a daft idea, but having moved to Tokyo and actually smelt and felt the chlorine, well, one feels the need for a shower after having a shower!
    It has been shown that we take in 7-10 times more chlorine & other chemicals from showering than from drinking water. A recent study published in the American Journal Of Public Health documented the link between chlorine and breast, colon and bladder cancer and stated that "2/3s of the harmful exposure is from showering...".

    When chlorine vaporizes it combines with other airborne particles and forms chloroform gas, a known cause and contributor to asthma and other respiratory problems.

    "Cancer rates for people on chlorinated water systems are 93% higher than for those on non-chlorinated water systems..."
    (U.S. Council On Environmental Quality)
    I don't think I worry unnecessarily about my health - I generally try and maintain a positive attitude - but I really don't like the idea of having all these chemicals around me. It's important to look after yourself - it's the first step towards helping others.

    Anyhow, I'm very excited about having clean water.

    Now to provide others with clean water. We're not talking filtered water here, we're talking water pumps in refugee camps. Watch this space for a very exciting venture to be launched soon in partnership with the TGW network...

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    Tuesday, January 16, 2007

    Another Stupid Foreigner story

    It may only be 7.30am, but we've already had quite an eventful day.

    First, there was the 3.18am earthquake. Ok, so it was only a baby, 5.7 at the epicentre, 3 in Tokyo, but it was the first one we've had since September that's been strong enough to rock the house. I say 'only a baby', but you must admit it's a pretty strong baby, a baby on amphetamines perhaps, strong enough to shake absolutely everything in Western Japan at one time. I know I couldn't do that.

    Naturally, we got out of bed and switched the TV on to see where it was located and what strength it was. Had it been a biggy, we would have been concerned about relatives elsewhere, but as it was, it was ok. Back to sleep.

    Perhaps it's just the warm-up act. I'd rather be in Tokyo than the UK when the big one strikes. It would be incredibly challenging to have to deal with the worry and feeling of powerlessness associated with having friends and loved ones in the quake zone if one was the other side of the world, and phone lines were jammed etc. As I believe that our house is safe (it should be, being new ...unless the quake-proof data was faked), and I spend the majority of my time at home, I'd rather be here. At least I'd be able to help in an emergency. And we have our special earthquake torch and emergency supply of food for when the supermarket shelves are cleared. A man trying to sell me a newspaper subscription gave me a toilet roll yesterday. It's wrapped in pink plastic so I'm yet to see if there's a different news story on each page.

    The second somewhat alarming event this morning was *Twinkle* falling down the ladder that leads down from the loft, sending the rice cooker flying and banging her head upon landing. I don't think I've ever got out of a nice warm futon and into a freezing cold room so fast, her cry as she fell was something I never want to hear again. Apart from the initial shock, she's ok, the only mild injury being a bruised leg. Ironically, I was the one that burst into tears. It really brought it home to me...

    Moving back in time to yesterday evening, I played the classic part of the "Baka na gaijin" (stupid foreigner).

    So, I went to the supermarket to buy some apple juice. I saw a carton which had been reduced as it was nearing its Best Before Date, so picked that up, paid for it, came home.

    Once home, I opened the carton and, being thirsty, downed a fair bit.

    UUUuuughhhhhh!!! It was disgusting!! It was slightly fizzy, and tasted of vinegar! It had clearly gone off. I felt the urgent desire to put my head down the loo.

    After a couple of minutes I realised that of course I had to take it back to the supermarket - they couldn't go selling apple juice in this condition! So, carton and receipt in hand I march back to the supermarket, and approach the member of staff stacking strawberry jam.

    "Excuse me, I bought this apple juice about half-an-hour ago, and it's clearly gone off - it tastes of vinegar!

    The staff member looked at the carton, looked at me, and then asked me to please wait a moment whilst he fetched the manager.

    Off he runs, returning a few moments later with the manager in tow. I repeat my case to the manager, pointing out that they still have a load more on the shelf - they really shouldn't be selling apple juice in such a condition!

    The manager was very good about it. He understood that not all foreigners knew the Japanese kanji character for "Black vinegar", as prominently printed on the front of the carton, above the picture of a couple of apples. He kindly pointed out that in fact all the drinks in that isle were 'vinegar drinks', which are thought, in Japan at least, to be good for the body.

    I suppose that would explain why the vinegared apple juice I bought tasted of vinegar.

    Baka na gaijin!

    I felt like a right fool. Naturally, I apologised sincrely, whilst bowing so that my nose touched the ground, in my best Japanese style.

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    Monday, January 15, 2007

    A round of applause for Marks and Spencer

    A round of applause for Marks and Spencer please.

    [click here for the story]

    This is EXACTLY what we need to hear more of, and a prime example of what happens when enough individuals act with their wallets.

    Well done all concerned.

    Sunday, January 14, 2007

    Be the Change

    Thanks to Michael, who lives in The Sun, a house that sits on the opposite side of the valley where I was brought up, I have come across The preview videos are really worth watching. For the music alone if you don't agree with the message.

    We can make a difference.

    [EDIT] There will be a live webcast of the RSA lecture

    "The Economics of Climate Change"

    15 January 2007 10.30GMT (That's 7.30pm Tokyo time incidentally)

    Speakers: Sir Nicholas Stern

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    A 19-year-old-Joseph

    Browsing through my old photo albums in search of a travel story for the next edition of the 'magazine' I mentioned in my last post, I came across the one titled "Jened, Summer 1997".

    Wow, looking at these really takes me back.

    These were taken (surprisingly enough) on a ferry just off Manhatten island or whatever the place is called. Although I look really pissed off, I remember this time as marking one of those historic breakthroughs, one of those momentous transitions from childhood to adulthood. I was really happy. My nose was big even then.

    Wow, what a great pose. I think the clothes, and the fact that my friend William had 'accidentally' shaved all my hair off - he forgot to put the guard on the shaver - gave me a great sense of individuality. It was a complete break with the past. Here I was, in New York on my own terms, with a rebellious hair style (i.e. no hair), with new Wiggy Wiggy clothes and a baseball cap turned backwards. What's more, I'd just lost my virginity. I was Someone. This was my life. That was an immensely liberating experience, and tremendously exciting.

    And then I think back to the years following that time, and I recall how that sense of freedom gradually waned as the 'reality' of life weighed in. Relationship, mortgage, a 'career' stacking baked beans ...but thankfully that taste of freedom I'd had at the age of 19 was not entirely swallowed up in the sea of Tomato sauce, although there were times when the illusion that there were no more than 57 varieties of life did gain a firm foothold, threatening to submerge that glimpse into a world of other possibilities, much as a piece of wholesome organic toast might find itself starved of breath when swamped under an entire can of beans on the breakfast platter.

    I'm now wondering if it is possible to recapture that immature sense of endless possibilities and unqualified self-assurance. A year ago I would have said no, you have as much chance of recapturing such teenage feelings as you do of returning to early childhood, where one is relatively unaware of 'impossibilities'. Recently however, I'm not so sure. The only thing that has changed is my way of thinking. I've learnt that restrictions on my behaviour do exist - but such 'restrictions' are ultimately not set in concrete, they are but part of a belief system; can't I simply learn and adopt another belief system in which I am that 19-year-old in New York ago?

    Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers. The reason I don't like baseball today. It was the longest yawnathon I've ever been subjected to.

    Well, Ok, maybe I don't want all elements of that 19-year-old belief system - it wasn't all good! For a start, I was a nightmare in a relationship as I was very selfish, having yet to learn the art of compromise. There were other things too which can't be mentioned on this family site.

    Anyway, I must get on with promoting the belief that I will pass tomorrow's essay-writing exam. I guess a bit of revision might help with that one.

    jaa ne.

    A very happy birthday - and the discovery of my magic power

    My very thanks to all of you who really made my day!

    I had a lovely birthday, with *Twinkle*, and Tom, and this evening Miyu too. A surprise birthday cake, a second visit to the cinema to see James Bond, love it (with the exception of the appalling product-placement by Sony), messages on my mobile from lots of people, award-winning chocolate through the post from *Twinkle's* mum, e-cards from mum#2 and Helen in Bristol, birthday emails from old friends, real live cards in the letterbox from people I didn't even know had my address (!), a copy of an Australian magazine that got lost in the post for over a month that contains a double-page spread featuring my story and photos of WWOOFing in Shikoku in 2005, then a fan-mail letter from someone I don't know in response to that story that went from Japan to the UK and back to Japan (thanks mum), 2 birthday cards from mummy and daddy, a phone bill (!), 5 Christmas cards (!), home-made birthday gyouza...

    Ne, it's been a lovely day. I'm really happy. Thank you.

    I also realised that I have God-like powers. Today, we heard of yet another close friend who is pregnant, which now means that the number of people who I know that have either been pregnant (and given birth) or got pregnant in the last few months is now, let me count:

    1: J in Bristol
    2: J in Hereford
    3: J in Oxford (names starting with J seem to be quite popular!)
    4: M in Tokyo
    5: H in Saitama
    6: S in Ibaraki
    7: Y in Nara

    It seems that my aura is resulting in conceptions occurring all around me. Let's hope that for the time being *Twinkle* stays immune.

    I suppose I could offer myself as an alternative to current methods of fertility treatment. I'm totally non-invasive, unlike most men and other scientific methods.

    Well it's bed time now.

    oyasumi xxx

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    Friday, January 12, 2007

    Birthday Boy

    I'm VERY excited! TGW will be growing a couple of offshoots in the spring, which I can't tell you about just yet because they're just too exciting. In fact they're so exciting that it's a similar situation to The Funniest Joke in the World, used against the Germans in the Second World War.

    It was so funny, it killed people. Following its invention by Ernest Scribbler (who died just after he'd finished writing it):

    It was not long before the Army became interested in the military potential of the Killer Joke. Under top security, the joke was hurried to a meeting of Allied Commanders at the Ministry of War.

    Top brass were impressed. Tests on Salisbury Plain confirmed the joke's devastating effectiveness at a range of up to fifty yards.

    "All through the winter of '43 we had translators working, in joke-proof conditions, to try and produce a German version of the joke. They worked on one word each for greater safety. One of them saw two words of the joke and spent several weeks in hospital. But apart from that things went pretty quickly, and we soon had the joke by January, in a form which our troops couldn't understand but which the Germans could."

    It's that kind of idea. (Think employees at Cingular working on iPhone. They say even the CEO only saw it the day before Macworld, it was so secret)

    Thus, I don't know the whole idea myself, because it would kill me if I did. I have thought of bits of it at different times, written the bits down and hidden them around the house, emailed them to friends, put them in a safety deposit box.


    It's my birthday tomorrow. Thank you to those of you who have already sent me birthday emails, cards, videos, and baked potatoes!

    If you would like to wish me a happy birthday, do feel free to click on any of the Google ads you see on this page. Thank you ever so much. The money will go towards offsetting the startup costs of some rather exciting ventures.

    Thank you all for all your support for what has been a wonderful year for me, a turning point, a rebirth. Your support is muchly appreciated.

    Joseph xxx

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    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Omelette: Mark II

    This post follows on from the one I posted a couple of days ago which featured a great photo of my astonishing culinary skills.

    You know, the soggy mess, the soggy mess that one mumbler described as having been 'boiled in coffee', and containing lumps of snot.

    Well, amongst the many emails containing such compliments was one that was somewhat more constructive, in that it contained a detailed recipe for the perfect omelette.

    I am indebted to my old friend Mr.B.A.

    As promised, here is a photo of the result.

    It was as delicious as it looks - and those are the words of *Twinkle*, not me.

    That's three meals I can make now. And that's not including Corn Flakes.

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    A new dawn

    Oh. My. God.

    I'm off to join the queue now (it's well worth the 1-year wait we have in Japan!)

    Here's a quick intro to the amazing wonder that it is.

    The keynote is a must watch too - the excitement starts 25 mins into the two-hour drool fest.

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    Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    My carbon footprint

    My God. The US are at it again.

    "So many dead people were lying in the area. We do not know who is who, but the raid was a success," interim Somali government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told AFP news agency.

    Well, that's alright then. I don't think it matters what they have done, no one has the right to take another's life. It is truly horrendous that the US think they have the right to go and kill people wherever and whenever they want to. All in the name of the supposed war on terror.

    Anyway, that's not what I came here to talk about. I just discovered that fact, whilst attempting to find the online version of the story that that I read this morning on the front cover of London's Independent newspaper.

    The story basically demonstrated the true cost of travelling from Manchester to London, by plane and by train. The focus was not so much on the money, as on the amount of Co2 that one emits by making such a journey. The data:

    Train: 14.8kg of Co2 per person
    Plane: 90kg of Co2 per person

    90kg of Co2. I tried to visualise it but I don't know what Co2 looks like.

    Returning home tonight on the (electric) train I listened to a BBC Radio 4 program titled "The end of the world is nigh again". I would urge you to listen to it whilst it is still available. You need not listen to the whole (30 minute) program - just the first 8 minutes or so will do (although really I think the whole program is well worth a listen), in which Clive Anderson speaks with the eminent scientist, author, researcher, environmentalist and futurologist, James Lovelock.

    In this program James and other scientists speak of global warming, talking of the tonnes of Co2 that we have already released into the environment, and how there is now no scientific doubt that unless we make significant changes to our lifestyles in the next decade, this planet is going to become a very inhospitable place to live. We're not talking hundreds of year in the future - we're talking within the lifespans of our children (depending on how old you are!)

    And yet still the world's biggest polluter, the US, will not sign up to the Kyoto protocol (a treaty which itself is not actually strict enough to prevent catastrophe).

    Whilst standing at the lights waiting to cross the main road on my walk home from the station, I watched the endless line of cars stream past. Every single one churning out Co2 that is ultimately going to kill my descendants. That gas is essentially a poison, a direct threat to my family, and to yours. And yet we choose to ignore this fact, and just see it a smelly vapour that soon gets whisked away in the evening breeze. Imagine if the threat it does actively pose to human beings through global warming was made to be felt by us, the ones who are actively producing the stuff, right now, instead of our offspring. Standing by the road, we'd breathe it in, and die.

    This may be a dramatisation of the facts, but think about it, this is how it is. OK, we may be fortunate enough to have the economic means and the freedom to choose to move to an area not so badly affected by rising sea levels. We may be able to afford to buy appropriate clothing to adapt to our new environment, to pay for the air conditioner. But what about our brothers and sisters in the developing world who do not have the ability to adapt to such huge changes in the environment. What about the planet herself, all the species of wildlife that WILL become extinct?

    It's all very well me spouting off about this, but what about me, what am I going to do about it? Well, I'm going to do my bit.

    The reason I've been hit so hard by this story today is that it makes me hear raucous cries of HYPOCRITE!

    What did I do less than one month ago? I took a flight from Kobe to Tokyo, a flight that wasn't that different in terms of distance from a flight from Manchester to Tokyo. A journey that won't have been much different in terms of the Co2 it dumped in the atmosphere.

    I really am ashamed of myself. I laughed it off at the time, by saying, "I shall have to plant some trees when I get back.".

    Thus, I am making a public commitment here and now, to not take any domestic flights from here on. The UK is not big enough to warrant the use of them, whilst Japan has one of the best rail networks in the world, led by the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). It may be financially cheaper, but it would be utterly irresponsible.

    Furthermore, I shall avoid international flights when at all possible. Hhm, the idea of the Transiberian Express does appeal, although the 3-week element could be a bit problematic. I'm going to have to think about that one.

    I also think it's vital that tax on aviation fuel and on new aircraft be introduced. This will mean soaring ticket prices, but at the end of the day it's only by hitting people's wallets that they will start to take what is a major threat to our future seriously.

    I also think the Carbon Credit Card is a BRILLIANT idea, and should be introduced immediately in all developed nations, and China. The following text is taken from New Scientist magazine.

    Here's an interesting idea. We've all heard of carbon trading schemes for industry and nations – how about for individuals? The UK's environment minister is suggesting that all citizens could be issued with a carbon "credit card". Every time you fuel up the car, buy a plane ticket or collect the groceries, the matching carbon dioxide emissions are deducted.

    If you overspend on carbon in a year, you have to buy extra credits from those who have underspent. The minister, David Milliband, says the fact that 8 million people already have loyalty cards with supermarket Tesco shows practical difficulties need not hamper the scheme. Tesco records 50 billion bits of data a year.

    This seems like a pretty smart idea to me – it's fairly simple, links directly to people's behaviour and has a financial incentive. The really tough bit will be setting the amount of credit each person gets – it's easy to get it wrong.

    Anyway, I have my first exam in about 12 hours. Best be off.



    I've put a short snippet from last Tuesday's BBC Radio 4 PM program on the TGW server, in which Tony Blair's air travel, the pollution it causes and the steps he's taking to compensate for that are looked into.

    Listen to it here

    [EDIT 2]

    See the preview videos at

    [EDIT 3]
    "Aviation and Global Climate Change", is a report published on 2nd May 2000 by Friends of the Earth, the Aviation Environment Federation, the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection and HACAN/Clear Skies. It calculates that the average UK motorist produces 2255 kg of CO2 in one year, while one return flight from London to Miami produces 2415 kg of CO2 per passenger.

    [EDIT 4]

    [EDIT 5]

    calculate your own Co2 output:

    Here's mine, based on what I'm spend on energy every month at the moment, and including a return flight to Tokyo.

    Sunday, January 07, 2007

    The Google God

    About an hour ago, I wrote a Daily Mumble entry which made fun of certain segments of society. Nothing new there then. I had my usual mental list of people who might read it, and figured that they wouldn't be offended.

    However, in the course of doing a bit of post-publication research, a Google Search led me to a website of which I was completely unaware of until today, a website owned by someone whom I know personally (something that only dawned on me after a few minutes of reading), someone I'd forgotten about, indeed someone whom I have a good deal of respect for - and someone who would be offended by what I'd written.

    My search terms had not been specific to me or that person or anything to do with the nature of our connection - they simply contained the name of a shop.

    That was a bit of a shocker. Sometimes I'm a right idiot. That post came straight offline (although not before it had made it onto my RSS feed...) I have no idea if that person knows about this website or not. If they do, and they are offended, my sincere apologies.

    I think the Google God was at work here. By leading me to the homepage of someone I had forgotten about who would be offended by what I had written, The Google God was saying, "Joseph, you are making a mistake here. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

    The thing is, there's this battle going on. This battle between the freedom of speech, Don't let anyone else define you or confine you, and sensitivity towards others. Yet that statement is only valid if one is morally in the right - otherwise one could get away with anything, and justify oneself by stating that you are simply refusing to accept the straight jackets handed to you by those around you.

    For the record

    In the midst of all this I also happened to read something someone had written on their blog, words to the effect of "I dislike blogs that are overly egotistical".

    This all led me to query my style, and purpose. What IS the purpose of The Daily Mumble? Surely, as with everything in life, if it has no goal it will just drift aimlessly on the surf, until washed up one day on some internet backwater beach. Initially it was to communicate with friends and family back home. Some may argue that it has become a portal for me to spout off about why I am the top of the cake that humanity has ever created, although I would dispute that - that accolade goes to the person who invented chocolate.

    Its secondary purpose was to help others who wanted to live and work abroad to do just that. These days there's an awful lot of information and inspiration on this topic out there, but back in 2000 that wasn't the case. Thus, that purpose has served its time. There's the epilepsy thing, although that is pretty much separate from the Mumble. So where does this all leave me now?

    I suppose there are two main reasons for Mumbling: one is that it helps me remember what I have done, and thus helps me learn from my mistakes. Think soggy omelettes (update on that story later in the week). The second reason is that I would like to help others achieve their dreams. Thus, when I talk about something I've done that I feel is a great achievement, I don't mean it to come across in a "Look at me aren't I great" kind of way. Rather, its meant in a "If I can do it, so can you" kind of way.

    Anyway, that said, I shall now move on. To grammar study. Hurrah. :-)

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    Saturday, January 06, 2007

    Le Cuisine a la fit for a la Queen

    *Twinkle* started work this week. Being Japan, this means leaving the house just after 8am and returning at about 10pm - it's set to stay that way for the next 6 months or so.

    Anyhow, in order to do my best to help her cope with this gruelling schedule, I am now doing all the housework. In the past couple of days I've done two lots of washing, brought the futon down from the loft and put it out on the balcony to air, hoovered the living room (the first time it's been hoovered since we moved in in October; up until now we've just been scooping up the fluff when it forms big enough piles in the corners of the room), cleaned the filter on the bathroom extractor fan, made a new heat/cold proof curtain for the loft, sorted out all the rubbish for recycling and deposited it in the appropriate bins at the supermarket, and made a laundry basket.

    Perhaps my most important task however is preparing the meals for when *Twinkle* comes home after a hard days work.

    Here is today's creation. It's called "Omelette a la soggy". The black bits are actually sesame seeds - a nice touch don't you think?

    If any mumblers have any recipes that you'd recommended for a Creme de la Creme Chef (a la moi) do send them in.

    Thank you.

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    Wednesday, January 03, 2007

    Happy New Year!

    I really like *Twinkle's* family. This holiday season has seen me spend quite a bit of time with them (including the past three days), and thus we have got to know one another a lot better. I feel relaxed when at the family home, and the family are relaxed around me. We've started to pull one another's legs too, always a good sign.

    We really had a good time this New Year. In addition to myself, there were two other Brits present, what with two of *Twinkle's* siblings having been raised in the UK, and thus having British partners. They are both really nice people, and I feel very grateful that I have been so warmly welcomed, but I also see in one of them myself a few years back when I found myself in social situations, unable to understand what was going on around me. It was immensely frustrating - I do feel for him.

    But my God what an amazing transformation this uni course has brought about in my Japanese! Crikey, if I can learn it, anyone can. What is it they say - we only use 10% of our brains? Imagine what potential there is in each and everyone of us! We are truly amazing. Well done us. Now if we could just turn that brain power towards making some positive changes in our world, that would be wonderful. I had the misfortune to get sidetracked by a Photos of the Year thing on Mainichi News - what an appalling condemnation of humankind. Virtually every shot from the past 12 months highlighted human suffering, caused not by natural disasters, but by other humans. It is sickening what we are capable of, how primitive we are. Even more shocking than those photos however was a short film on Google Video (with multiple copies on You Tube): the hanging of Saddam Hussein as captured on a video phone.

    Naturally, the media do focus upon the dark side of life. They always have and always will. If only we had a media industry that focused on the positive things in life to counteract that which currently produces the majority of the world's news.

    As for the comments left by by viewers, and the viewing figures (that run into the millions) below videos of fat Americans miming along to Romanian folk songs, well, they point to the existence of millions of people employing less than 1% of their brain power. Imagine if we could harness the wasted talents of these people, imagine if these people, instead of spending hours leaving abusive messages on internet bulletin boards, put their energy into helping their community, or devising different ways to get itching powder into George Bush's undies... I know, I know, it's all very idealistic, but I so want to see more happiness in this world.

    Why is it that suffering is a lot more attractive than pleasure, when witnessing others experiencing these things? I recall an email I received shortly after I met *Twinkle*, complaining that The Daily Mumble had become incredibly boring since I'd quit whinging about being single. Personally I'll go for boring but happy thanks.

    Thinking of this kind of mass-, oh, what's it called, there's a proper word for it, when you get loads of people involved in a project to get something done... well, anyway, when I think of what IS possible, IF ONLY people would get together and do it, I recall the case of the replacement of the UK's entire network of railway lines in the space of just a couple of days (this was done in order to establish a standard gauge nationwide). One couldn't possibly imagine Network Rail pulling off that kind of stunt these days.

    This positive thinking malarky though really does show results. I was in a foul mood earlier, having inadvertently resized a whole load of photos without saving original copies. It lasted about an hour. I really felt like poo, and hadn't the slightest inclination to do the many things I'd planned to do tonight. Instead, I decided to go to bed and sleep my mood off. Then, as I was brushing my teeth, I began to think, "wouldnt it be nice to go to bed feeling happy tonight? could I achieve that? I suppose if I did actually get all those little chores done that I've been meaning to do since I got back, well, that would make me feel somewhat satisfied. What else is making me feel shitty? Ah, yes, stress over that essay. Ok, let's have a look at what I need to do for it..."

    And so I decided that I would no longer feel shitty. I got everything done that I'd not really wanted to do but that needed doing, I went through my uni folder and figured out what I needed to read, and then made a plan for tomorrow. That's important, the list of things to do.

    The result of this simple decision to stop feeling like a snail that's just had its new shell crushed by Britney Spears of all people is that I have got everything done. And, as a bonus, I feel great!

    *Twinkle* and I entered a business competition today, run by an educational group connected with Sheffield University. It was a close call. We knew that the deadline was sometime this week, but had been unable to get firm details on what exactly was required, due to the holidays and all. Then, at 1pm (today) I received an email from a friend informing us that the deadline was 9am (today)!! Well, thank heavens for time-zones! With Japan being 9 hours ahead of the UK, we were granted 5 hours in which to write and submit our Business Proposal. I just got it done in time, emailing it to the appropriate office just 8 minutes before the deadline! There's quite a lot at stake, what with a first prize of £10,000. We are very fortunate in that not only did our friend win a couple of years ago (and is thus able to advise us), but also, as a part of her MA last year *Twinkle* was required to write a complete business plan, which contained all the information I needed today.

    We'll find out on the 28th January as to whether or not we've been shortlisted. Fingers crossed eh?! I could do with a new camera (tee hee).

    With regards to New Year by the way, I think I'll tell you about it in the Year In Japan New Year Podcast Special, which will be coming out, appropriately enough, about 3 weeks into January. Until these exams are over, time is extra extra precious.

    But yes, really did have a fantastic time. Traditional Japanese New Year food is just gorgeous, and there's so much of it! I also got through about 7 cans of been on New Year's Eve which meant that I was still drunk when I got up at 2pm on New Year's Day! I was a little concerned that *Twinkle's* parents would be a little disapproving, but it was all laughed off - the previous evening had been so funny. Japanese TV really is strange though - the most popular program (now in its 4th year) involves two hours of watching comedians trying not to laugh, and having their bums spanked very hard whenever they do.

    New Years Resolutions:

    Continue to work on myself harder than I work on anything else. To stretch myself more than I have ever stretched myself before. To continue to appreciate just how lucky I am to be in the privileged position of living in a safe, secure, comfortable environment in which I can devote my time to pursuing goals that I set myself, as opposed to having to fight for my life on a daily basis.

    On a more pragmatic basis: learn and remember the readings of 2042 kanji bu April 3rd 2007 (combined with a revision of the writings and meanings). It's totally possible. I've seen people (on Japanese TV funnily enough) learn an entire language (Korean) to reach a near-native level in the space of 3 months. The main difference between him and me is not intelligence, it's will power, and the way of thinking.

    *Twinkle* at the shrine

    There's nothing I want to give up. Don't smoke. Rarely drink.

    Ah, I know, spend more time with different Japanese people, so as to not end up speaking just like *Twinkle*. I want to be totally comfortable with Japanese by the time I return to the UK in September 2007.

    Really kick the procrastination habit. It's coming, along with the positive thinking. Yes, that's probably the single-most detrimental force in terms of my pursuit of success, success being the achievement of my personal goals, which are many and varied. One of them is to marry *Twinkle*, but that won't be happening soon, as I haven't saved up enough to pay Mickey Mouse to conduct the ceremony yet...

    Happy New Year dear Mumblers. Let's make 2007 our happiest and most fulfilling yet!