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    Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Seperation looming

    We're just entering the difficult stage now, where our impending separation, now less than two weeks away, and set to last for almost a year, becomes only too visible on the horizon, like a large cloud moving towards our beautifully warm sun.

    There's been the odd moment when one of us has suddenly been swamped by fear, fear of life without the other. It can be a terrifying thought if one chooses to indulge in journeying to an imaginary world based upon suppositions of what the future will be like.

    The way I personally am dealing with this, is by choosing to not focus upon the loss I am likely to feel, but instead to direct my attention towards the love I feel for her, and to celebrate our fortune to be together today. I am aware that denial can be dangerous, causing one to go into shock when reality finally does strike, thus, every now and then I look towards the near future, and think about the positive aspects of our year apart. I can only do it for a couple of minutes at a time, as inevitably the feeling of desolation is forever lurking in the wings, waiting to take the stage by storm at the slightest opportunity.

    This could either be the most difficult year of our lives, or it could be one of the most beneficial for our long-term stability. It's all a matter of what we choose to make of it, and to not listen to the typical response of, "Oh, that's going to be very difficult for you both". When your friend goes to the doctor, do you tell them, "oh, the diagnosis is probably going to be very bad..."?

    I can't say I'm not guilty of this. Before I had given this much thought, I would use the line in an attempt, I suppose, to attract sympathy. What a ridiculous, self harming thing to do! By constantly telling my brain that it was going to be difficult, I was securing for myself a future that was ...difficult!

    Drinking beer in Japan is a painful experience, if the adverts are to be believed!

    I think the owner of this salon is yet to figure out that in the world of beauty, PRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING!

    I'm finding everything I've learnt through my reading in the last 6 months to be of immense benefit. Finally discovering real-life situations in which to practice the theories of which I've heard so many people speak is an absolute joy - the theories work! I'm particularly impressed by how effective we can be if we choose to not attach unnecessary negative emotions (such as fear / guilt), or stress to situations that arise in our lives.

    Yesterday saw a great example of one such case.

    Recently, *Twinkle* has been wanting to cut down from working 5 days a week to 4 or 3. She doesn't need a 5 day working week income thanks to low overheads and other income streams. Doing so would enable her to put more of her energy into our business, which is where her passion lies.

    Anyhow, she's been finding that she hasn't been getting enough work to keep her busy at the office where she temps as a translator etc. She used this as an excuse when asking her agency if they could negotiate a shorter work week for her. Naturally, this backfired. The agency assumed that her reference to not having enough work to do was actually a request for more work, her not having been completely open about why she wanted less hours. Thus, last night she was offered a different (5 day) position in the same company paying a bit more, where her language skills would be put to better use.

    Thrown by this unexpected offer, she tentatively said yes. When we met several hours later she was looking troubled, and explained the situation to me. She was pretty stressed about it, and felt trapped by obligation towards the people who had negotiated the change for her.

    Together, we took a step back from it all, and made the conscious decision to throw out the emotional baggage attached to it. This enabled us to carry out a clear review of the situation, free of judgment-clouding crap, go back to step one of deciding upon the outcome that she desired, appreciate that she had got exactly the opposite of what she had set out to achieve (although it was actually what she had asked for!), and therefore the decision had to be to reject the new offer (a rejection which of course had to be carried out in a grateful and considerate manner). She would then explain what it was that she did want. Who knows, she might just get it.

    We did all of this in the 4 minutes that we stood waiting for the train back to Ikebukuro after inadvertently getting on the wrong bus home (I knew there must have been a reason for taking that bus...!). Several hours of worry were brought to an abrupt halt by a few minutes of clear thought and decisiveness - and we had a great evening free of stress!

    This may be a very simplistic example of the power of conscious life management, but boy, this kind of thing certainly makes a difference to one's quality of life. I have long had issues with decision making, and falling prey to the wants and desires of others. I guess its a case of finding that delicate balance of emotions/rational thought, taking into account the feelings of others whilst not losing sight of the fact that it's your life, and you have to be your primary concern. After all, if you don't look after yourself, you're of no use to anyone (indeed, you;re far more likely to become a burden upon others). Just a little determination, courage and consideration can bring about wondrous results in a matter of seconds, results that ultimately are beneficial to all who are affected by the sunshine you radiate.

    I feel like a bit of a late starter in all of this. Still, bloody exciting!
    What, you mean it's MY life?!!

    Monday, July 30, 2007

    bicycle tours, wedding dresses, raucous ramen and a Buddhist blessing for my camera

    I don't know quite how I manage it, but I always seem to make sure that I'm at least 2000% busier when on holiday. I guess it's because I allow myself to indulge in all the projects I have buzzing round in my head.

    For many years now, I've wanted to sell my photos online. I'm not a particularly good photographer, but that's no excuse for me to not even try to become one (I wouldn't have said that a year ago!). Having a web site to sell my photos on gives me another reason to keep on trying to improve, aside from the passion that drives me. I'd love to be able to do a photography module at uni next year, but haven't a clue what Sheffield is like in the arts arena. I know that there's a Photography Soc; I'll definitely join them.

    little Japanese purses

    I hope to launch the site in the next week or so. It's a very simple data-base driven affair (I'm attempting to move away from being dependent upon Dreamweaver, not that the few thousand pages of TGW will be going all dynamic any time soon!) but crikey, I've had a real heachache sorting out the template, the Paypal bit, and trying to deal with so many different photo resolutions and sizes. I've reached the point a couple of times now where I've thought I've finished preparing the images, only to discover that I made a slight error at some point along the line which means I have to start all over again. Then there was that times when I accidentally renamed over 200 photos at the slip of a finger. Rather than rename them all again by hand I opted to start again from scratch, making yet another batch copy of the originals. Hurrah for Photoshop and automated actions!

    But I love it. I love being creative.

    Cycling tours of Japan

    I'd like to spend a mo talking about a site that a friend pointed me towards a couple of days ago.

    Run by Kevin and his wife Tomoe, is the realisation of a dream that has been steadily growing within Kevin for some time. Formally a resident of Tokyo, Kevin recently made the brave decision to leave the job security he enjoyed in the capital, and follow his heart into the Japanese countryside. specialises in bicycle tours of Japan - surely the best way to see the country. It's all very well coming to Tokyo to see the skyscrapers, and take the bullet train to Tokyo to admire the temples - but by limiting oneself to this pretty common package one is missing out on so much. Having Wwoofed in several far-flung corners of the country, I know just how much beauty there is out there - something that is only too easy to forget when one is cooped up in the concrete jungle for long periods of time. I'd strongly recommend to anyone a bicycle tour of Japan - especially with someone like Kevin, as he has spent a lot of time researching the routes and places of interest to stop at. Oooh, and you do some organic rice farming too! I've always wanted to do that (preferably with ducks), but haven't yet made it happen.

    Kevin also happens to be a great photographer - check out his lovely canary! (or is it a budgie...?)

    I like Kevin's philosphy, demonstrated through both the services that his new company provides, and through the decisions he has made this year. I hope to meet him and his wife at some point in the next couple of years - if I keep that thought in mind it will help me to get out on my bike next year in Sheffield - having the Peak District so nearby I'd be silly to not go exploring. And now I have a proper camera and a business to expand...


    Yesterday *Twinkle* and I visited a wedding dress shop in Ikebukuro. Although the wedding won't be until late 08 / early 09, it's important that we start to visualise the event, to help with planning.

    Unfortunately I was told that I couldn't take any photos of *Twinkle* when she was actually wearing the dresses, as they were for sale (er, right...), so I only have a couple of pre-dress wearing shots.

    I tell you what though, I was pretty blown away by the sight of her when she was wearing those dresses. There was one in particular, a figure hugging dress without the somewhat ridiculous fluffy puffy bottoms of the others that made her look like a plastic barbie doll, that really made my jaw drop. I literally stood there, thinking, "is this beautiful woman really going to marry ME?!"

    I tried not to think about the price tag.

    Visit to a world famous ramen (noodle) house

    On the way home we decided that we'd eat out for a change. We rarely do this as we rarely have time our priorities are elsewhere - thus it was quite a treat. What better place to go than the nation-wide famous ramen shop just around the corner from our house. There's queues there ever day all day, starting hours before the place opens. If you think the Apple iPhone was popular, well, you should see this place. It has often been on TV, and quite a few famous people eat there on a regular basis, including the nation's kick-boxing lightweight champion.

    It's just a shame that we didn't know exactly why its ramen was famous.

    I loathe really spicy food. Stuff like Kimchi does nothing for me, but make me reach for a very big glass of water and wish I'd ordered something else.

    Thus, I was somewhat startled by my first mouthful of the dish that was served up before me.

    Elephants never eat noodles

    This was no ordinary spicy. This was SUPER SUPER spicy, with an extra super spicyness attached, you know, blow your socks off spicy. They had big boxes of tissues on all tables, and a special water vending machine that dispensed ice and water at the same time into your cup. THAT'S how hot it was.

    Then it all started to make sense. The pictures on the wall showing celebrities with tears flowing from their eyes, sweatbands round their heads. The kickboxer, who, in the magazine article pasted next to our table, said it was his "Power up food", and that's why he could kick so well.

    It didn't really have any taste apart from hotness. And pain. We swapped dishes so I could dig the plain rice out from below the lake of fire they'd poured on *Twinkle*s monkodon. After a few spoons of that I was so full of water that I couldn't eat another thing. I decided not to be disappointed, and instead focused on the irony of it all, what with our meal having been a 'special treat'. I had to laugh.

    Later that night we both suffered from stomach ache. At one point I did a half-vomit, burning my tongue with what came up. It made me wonder what the point in making such hot food was - surely it couldn't be good for you? Mind you, they make Mars Bars. I suppose the point is, it sells.

    T-shirts and temples

    *Twinkle*s parents returned from Egypt a couple of days ago. "And all I got was this lousy T-shirt!" No, not at all. I am known for my boring T-shirts, in fact boring clothes in general come to think of it (with a couple of notable exceptions), and I tend to rely on others to bring excitement into my wardrobe. Thus, I was delighted to be the recipient of a T-shirt with my name on in hieroglyphs: the Egyptian chap who sewed them on the spot to order mistakingly used an extra-small T-shirt the first time he sewed my name on, thus *Twinkle* also has a hieroglyphic T-shirt spelling out my name. We can wear them in tandem on our differing continents and be connected by the power of the pyramids. Maybe.

    They also brought some chocolate back, which was bloomin gorge.

    Anyhow, yesterday myself and *Twinkle* met up with mother and father in Eastern Tokyo for a trip to a rather interesting temple - Fukagawa Fudou. Her father knew of the place as his company had installed air conditioning in it some years ago (I thought that's what he did when he used to live in Iraq, but *Twinkle* tells me now that he was helping set a school up there. I must ask him about that next time I see him). Mother had also heard of the place, due to the traditional ceremony that takes place there every day.

    I like temples. Mainly for their architecture - but bald-headed monks are pretty groovy in my book too, especially when they chant. I didn't have the foggiest what was going to happen during this service, and so simply took a seat between father and *Twinkle* and watched out for when they put their hands together to pray etc.

    *Twinkle* and her father at the temple

    Anyway, it wasn't long before I had forgotten all thoughts of boredom, as four monks entered the holy area clutching huge great sea shells, and playing them just like horns! I've never seen / heard anything like it! They could each get a couple of notes out of their shells, and together in harmony they really sounded absolutely splendid. The Buddhist priest then entered, and following a rather grand ceremony focusing upon the arranging of his robes (to avoid the necessity for ironing afterwards I think) he took a seat on the tatami in front of the coffee-table sized alter.

    A second holy man entered the holy area, and handed him a great scroll, which the priest then unrolled, and began to chant out whatever was written there. I remember thinking at the time, "I hope he knows all the correct readings for the kanji, otherwise they'll be trouble".

    He was then handed a wadge of papers. With my glasses on, I could just make out passport-sized photos on each page; he chanted out each persons name and job title, before moving on to the next one. Apparently, all these people had paid to be prayed for; what a cunning ruse.

    The second he finished I nearly jumped out of my skin - just a few metres in front of me one of the musical monks suddenly raised a great big rolling pin above his head, and gave a huge taiko drum a great whack. It was just seconds before the other two drumming monks joined in at each side of the holy area, then came the monk hitting the bell-thing. It was a pretty groovy rhythm really, made even better by the chanting that suddenly broke out all around us: monks, staff and assembled crowd. Except for us, we didn't know the words, and glancing at what I suppose could be called a hymn book, I decided that no matter how close to God it brought me, the reading of those kanji would be more painful than they were worth.

    one of my favourite photos this week: sections of hessian cloth used for the traditional curtain at the entrance to a restaurant.

    It was shortly after this that I got my biggest shock. Here we were, in an ornate wooden temple, sitting on tatami mats, surrounded by paper scrolls - and the priest lit a blooming great fire in the middle of the alter! I think he must have used lighter fluid too because the little pile of sticks he had neatly piled in front of him went up in no time. I spent a little while worrying about the sparks setting light to the floor, but then decided that actually, if they do this every day, it couldn't be that dangerous.

    The powerful drums beat on. The bell rang out. The chanting filled the room, and my eyes were glued to the magical flames. Every now and then the priest, who was also chanting, would start to hit a whole series of metal objects on the alter in front of him, making me wonder if he had actually always wanted to be a drummer in a rock band. That aside though, there was something rather magical about the atmosphere. I wondered, with so many open, loving souls in such a small space, could there fail to be such an atmosphere? My hair stood on end, and my heart beat faster, and I felt incredibly happy... I didn't want it to end, but the fire was starting to die down, despite the priest throwing little spoonfuls of some magical powder upon the flames, sending sparks flying high into the air. The drums were building to a crescendo; surely something had to happen.

    And it did. One of the holy men reached over the mini wooded barrier which kept the masses (a.k.a. the 25 of us) at bay, and picked up someones bag. "What on Earth is he doing?" I thought, a thought which turned to "what the hell is he doing?!" as he held it over the flames!

    Looking at the owner, I was a little surprised to see that the owner of the leather bag seemed positively grateful for this impromptu roasting! And suddenly, there were more people, now offering their bags to the arsonist. He'd wave them over the fire for a few seconds, and then return them to the smiling owner. Those who didn't have bags offered their wallets and purses - the idea was to rid the object of evil, and bless it. I considered handing him my 15kg rucksac, but thought he might drop it in the fire due to the weight of it. Eventually, I decided upon my camera. After all, it was a physical incarnation of my hopes and dreams, something that I dearly love, and which gives me great pleasure. And it was wrapped in its padded case (which I hoped was moderately fireproof).

    I stood up, approached the man, and handed him the camera. As he took it, I stood there and focused upon the flames. I don't know what it was, but in that instant, I suddenly felt a wave of emotion come over me. As he handed the (thankfully unscorched) camera back, so I took my seat, and shed a few tears.

    A Mystery Gift

    The doorbell rang this afternoon. I was a bit surprised as we weren't expecting anything. Checked the intercom screen to make sure it wasn't the pony-tailed NHK TV license woman who started to bug us again last week (it wasn't), and opened the door. The delivery man handed me a pretty big box, asked me to sign, and was gone. What could it be?

    I checked the address label, but couldn't make out the name of the sender. Hhhmm, that's odd. It was addressed to both of us... I opened the big box, waded through a few light years of packing, and eventually found another box in the middle. Opened that, and once again lost myself in a snowstorm of packaging. Finally, the precious contents were revealed: two rather funky glasses, the first non-inherited ones we now own.

    No kidding. This is the box that the two glasses were packed in by the company that sent them on behalf of our friend.

    I was still a bit mystified by the gift. I guessed that it was a congratulations-on-your-engagement gift (we've had a few of these, mainly in the form of cards and lovely flowers - thank you all!), but who'd sent it? Technology came to my aid, as I was able to enter the sender's phone number as detailed on the label into my phone, and do a search against all those listed. Finally, the mystery giver was revealed as one of my team mates from the 100k sponsored hike - Tsujimura san; what a kind and totally unexpected gesture! It was also a thank you for the meal last week, when both he and our other Japanese team mate, Osamu came over for tea.

    That kind of gesture is the kind of gesture that I would like to make more of. It's the mark of a truly thoughtful person, and something that we need far more of in this world.

    Thank you Tarou!

    Anyway, it's very late now, so I'd better sleep.

    oyasumi xxx

    Saturday, July 28, 2007

    Halfway Around the World in 28 Days

    Snappy title huh?

    In order to help get people thinking about the environmental impact of flying, I've created a very mini-site (all of 4 pages in fact!), explaining the reasons behind my decision to travel 9000 miles /14000km by ferry and train back to the UK next month.

    You'll find it at

    (...although actually its real location is Note that it's 'dot Info' and not 'dot Com' - the reason being that .info domain names only cost about $2 a year...

    Here's a video intro to my trip - enjoy the ride.

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    SEAS Newsletter

    The June edition of my (uni) department's newsletter was published, er, well, in June funnily enough, and I've just got a hold of a copy hot off the internet.

    In addition to a story on The Trailwalkers, there's a great goofy picture of yours truly on the back cover. Well, we wouldn't want them to forget who I was whilst I was away, eh? (Thanks for your support, Dr. D!)

    I will get another podcast out before I leave. I can feel it bubbling away inside me, working its way out.

    Not caring about what others think

    "What you think of me is none of my business"

    One of the harder challenges I'm facing is this business of not caring what other people think of me. It's been a long bitter struggle, lasting for as long as I can remember, and of course it will never end - but I can work on not letting it affect me to such an extent. Getting back to my roots; oh to be a baby again!

    One of the most useful realisations I've had this year in this area is that people don't actually care. Curse our egos, always assuming that people are thinking about us! (My ego does indeed have a lot to answer for - isn't it the one that demands that I be separate from my nose-picking source-mates?). But seriously, I do have this assumption that people are easily affected by my actions when forming an image of the kind of person that I am. This in term results in them wanting or not wanting to be around me, right?

    Not so, or at least not to the extent that my ego would like to believe is the case. How can I say this with any degree of certainty? Well, I look at me and my own friends, think about their past actions, examine what judgments I have made following those actions, and finally the feelings I have towards them as people.

    The fact is, is that I don't really care what they do. If they are genuinely decent, honest, kind people then no matter what they do, I will still love them.

    This is a great comfort, and gives me an enormous sense of freedom, one that I have never felt so keenly until now. The only proviso is that I remain true to myself, honest with and loving towards all those around me. The details of my life don't really matter at the end of the day.

    And if I were to judge my friends negatively due to their daily activities, what kind of friend would I be?

    Anyway, it's late, and I must sleep.

    Another great day is in the can!

    Smiles and sunshine,


    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    The Secret

    I picked up my passport today, after it's month-long journey spent circulating various embassies. It's now full of full-page visas, just waiting to be stamped.

    Took me a while to find the Mongolian Embassy, despite the fact that I was there just a week ago. It's situated in the basement of a pretty normal apartment block - this matches its presence on the web, which takes the form of a message saying "This user has exceeded their bandwidth".

    Mind you, the area it lies in is not your average downtown suberb. It's Shibuya - home to the rich and famous. During my search for the embassy, I lost my way and ended up down a rather high-class cul-de-sac. The houses round there are extraordinary, as if some mad architect on speed has been let loose with a hyperactive etch-a-sketch - the resulting pictures springing up in glorious psychedelic 3D reality, complete with castle-style walls and CCTV systems that Jeremy Beadle would die for.

    They EVEN had their own private mini-police box. Poor police man, standing there in his phone-box size cubicle all day long, with nothing to do but count the number of atoms in a breath of humid air. He was so happy to help me out with his amazing map of the area - I think I made his day.

    After the embassy trip, it was off to meet my friend Stu for a coffee: last weekend he attended a two-day NLP seminar run by one of the most respected teachers in the field, and I was keen to hear about his impressions. I've been interested in NLP for a little while now, having unknowingly been learning some of the more basic tecniques over the past few months through my reading, and finding them to be very effective (things such as taking positive action against negative habitual thinking, overcoming fear through associating intense positive feelings with desired outcomes, telling myself IT DOESN'T MATTER, as ultimately, not much really does).

    The Secret

    We also chatted a bit about The Secret, a book which teaches The Law of Attraction, a book that I've mentioned before on TDM. At its peak last year, it was selling about 400,000 copies a week; pretty staggering stuff for a book that basically teaches the same thing as a thousand books before it. The DVD would have appeared to have done pretty well too, despite winning The Most Corny Beginning to a Video Ever Award 2007.

    Anyhow, a few days back I was listening to a conversation between a couple of best-selling authors, who between them have written well over 30 self-development books. It was interesting hearing their thoughts on The Secret, which pretty much matched my own feelings after I'd listened to the 5 hour audio version.

    Of course, one's first reaction is to dismiss it due to its commercial clothing, and reject it due its Hollywood makeup. But, the fact is, it has achieved an amazing thing. It has taught millions of people something which should really be common sense, something that should be taught in schools (along with basic finance and such practical things). It has changed a lot of lives, helped a huge number of people better their lives - that is no small thing. If it makes money in the process for the author, well, so what? (although I think 3000 yen is a bit steep!)

    There are two criticisms: The first is that it focuses upon material possessions. You know, Mercedes Benz in the driveway, a multi-million dollar home etc. There's no reference to more worthy causes, such as using the technique to help others, or helping to bring about wider changes in society. Of course, one can see why they chose to focus upon material gain: no-one would buy it otherwise. What's more appealing: a new BMW in the driveway or the end of conflict in some far-flung country that you've never heard of? Unfortunately, a great many people it would seem opt for the BMW.

    The second is that it's a bit simplistic. "Just imagine that BMW, and Hey Presto! It'll appear in your driveway". As the critics pointed out, one of the people who feature in the film, Jack wotsisname, author of the Chicken Soup series, speaks of how he went from rags to riches in a very short space of time. The producers of The Secret chose to focus upon his use of the law of attraction, but failed to mention the fact that even when Jack was absolutely broke, he was one of the most generous, kind and thoughtful people you could hope to meet. And as we all know, life is one big boomerang.

    Despite these faults, one can't deny that it's a great book for its intended audience of beginners in this field of self-development (which of course includes me. As a beginner I am especially appreciative of all the feedback I've been getting from readers. Thank you).

    Just carrying on in that vein for a second, it's amazing how much I've experienced the red car syndrome lately. People who I've never really thought of as having particularly enlightened beliefs in this area (not because I've thought them to be lacking in anything, but purely because I have never given this sort of thing much thought) are revealing their amazing inner beauty, and generously imparting this precious knowledge. It's a real joy, and serves to nurture my own core beliefs that until now have lain dormant below the surface.

    Oh, I heard a good definition of Success and Happiness today. Which one do you think is more important?

    - Success is Getting what you want

    - Happiness is Wanting what you get

    Accept Everything
    I was advised a couple of days back. You know what? It makes for a far easier life if you do! Just go with the flow... (that doesn't mean handing over all control to some other force - do that and you'll wonder why life is not going the way you would like it to!).

    Thank you to all teachers at my new Kindergarten.

    Another train incident

    Sometimes I'm so shocked by people's behaviour in Japan. Things like mopping the floor of the train and then sucking the 'mop' dry are just surprising, but other things can really hurt. On the Yamanote line train a couple of minutes ago, an old man who'd been a bit wobbly on his feet when he got on, fell out of his seat and onto the floor. I didn't see this when it happened as he was a little way down the carriage, and I was looking the other way; when I did notice I assumed that the people all around him (literally all around him) were about to help - by the time I got there all would be OK, right?

    Wrong. EVERYONE around the old man ignored him; in fact the woman whose feet he'd fallen at just backed off and looked the other way, leaving him to struggle up by himself, with nothing to hold onto. Once back in his seat, he bowed his head and apologised to all around him. In response, they looked the other way.

    Lesson: if you're going to feint or have a heart attack or come over all dizzy in public, make sure you're not in Japan.

    I've written about this kind of thing before, but today was the most blatant example yet of the insular nature of Japanese society. Some say it's a survival technique for city dwellers: with so little personal space they are forced to cast a curtain around themselves, to ignore people outside of their group, even if those people clearly need help, in order to deal with the daily assault upon the senses. Personally, I think it's a very sad thing; I also feel very bad that I didn't make my way down the carriage to help the chap, although I am comforted by the fact that this was not due to a lack of compassion, but rather due to my head miscalculating his need for my help and the (lack of) cooperativeness of others. Lesson learnt. Never again assume that someone in trouble in Japan will be helped by someone else.

    I thought afterwards that if I had gone over to help, having helped him out. I would have scolded those around him for not caring - but thinking over this again, I don't believe that would have been a good thing, as my words would have been spoken out of anger, and simply dismissed. Anyway, what right have I to tell other people how to live their lives? I can't change the world. Perhaps if I'd not felt angry, I would have been able to prompt at least a couple of people into thinking about their seeming lack of compassion. Perhaps by saying something along the lines of "I know you don't want to get involved in other people's business, but it had been your elderly father who had fallen from his seat, would you wish that everyone around him would not try to help?"

    Hhhm, there's never a dull moment in this city.

    Hey TEACH!

    Sorry, I've been watching You Tube again. Found this beauty.

    For the Sheffield students/ lecturers amongst you - doesn't the lecturer remind you of Rick?

    Oh, quote of the day:

    "If you follow the herd, you know what you'll step in!"

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    The salaryman on the train incident

    It's true, you really do have to be careful what you think about, as I discovered on the train home tonight from Hanno. The chap who sat opposite me for about 15 minutes as doing exactly what was mentioned in Tito's comment on this Mumble, for the duration of his ride. The worst bit was the way he subtly opened his mouth now and then and pretended to yawn...

    Mind you, something far more memorable happened on the journey to Hanno this morning. I wrote the following moments after the character I describe got off the train.

    I'm on a train on the Seibu Ikebukuro line, heading out into the countryside to see my friend David, who I've not seen for some time.
    It's been quite an interesting journey, thanks to the salary man sitting next to me. I didn't pay him any attention until he got his thermos flask out, and started to pour his tea. He held his cup as close to the ground as possible, and his flask as high as possible, as if he was some kind of cocktail expert. It was actually quite impressive as he didn't spill a drop, despite the fact that the train was rocking about as only trains know how. I guessed he'd been practicing for years, and wondered whether I should throw a coin at his feet.

    As he started to sip his chilled tea, so I went back to my email, until something happened that everyone managed to ignore superbly, as only the Japanese know how. He'd unscrewed the top of his thermos flask, and seemingly under the impression that it was virtually empty, tipped it right up to get the last few drops out.

    It seems he'd completely misjudged the amount of tea remaining in his flask, as when he tipped, about three cupfuls of fluid gushed out, going all over his trousers and all over the floor. As the train braked so we watched a river of tea head downstream.

    Well, accidents happen, ...but it was what he did next that really surprised me.

    With Japan being the land of nothing-to-dry-ones-hands-on when-using-a-public-toilet, most people (myself included) carry a little handkerchief-sized towel in their pockets, which doubles as a forehead mopper. This salary man was no different, and thus he was able to use this to mop up the big puddle at his feet. Hmm, that's very good of him I thought...

    ...then my draw dropped as he put half of the towel that he'd just used to mop the floor with in his mouth, and started to suck! Satisfied that he'd got as much tea out of it as he could he repeated the process, mopping the floor and then sucking the towel dry!

    Picking your nose is one thing, but mopping the floor and sucking the cloth dry....?!!!

    I think the funniest thing though was the manner in which everyone else pretended not to notice what was going on, heads partially turned away in a bid to give the impression that they weren't all staring at the spectacle!

    I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself!

    Had a great day in the countryside with David and his wife. What a nice couple. Thank you both. I really enjoyed being out in the open, with not a man-made sound within ear shot.

    We went for a lovely walk through the woods, and met a few friends along the way, one of whom had had an accident with a snake...

    I'm not entirely sure why, but when I saw this snake, I asked,
    "Is it still alive?"

    I think I was having one of those soap-dispenser days.

    John-John's peace flags flutter in the mountain breeze



    I figured out how to do macro shots with my camera tonight, with the aid of a macro filter which just after I bought it (last month) was deliberately confusing, causing me to throw it in the loft. This evening I was hit with inspiration whilst looking at the guy picking his nose in the seat opposite mine...

    Now I can focus all the way down to a single pixel, and thus spend hours photographing my beautiful mac screen.

    Just look at this shot of the iTunes nav bar. Now I really have reached a state of pure bliss.

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Two great sites for a better life

    I've been meaning to mention these sites for a while, but keep on forgetting.

    They are both widely known, and one is even referenced on the other. I've known about them for some time now, thanks to Leo Laporte and Merlin Mann of the TWIT Network / 43 folders.

    The first is - It's not just tech stuff, there's some valuable life lessons in there too such as this and this.

    The second is / .com.

    This last year has been the Year That I Have Discovered the Book - and what a revolution it has caused! The only problem is, is that I put so much emphasis on the other areas of my life that I seldom make the time that I desperately want to make to read a book. Yet books are incredible, they can revolutionise your life, give you the skills you need to make your dreams a reality (or bore you silly if you pick the wrong one).

    As the author of lifehack says:

    A book is incredibly powerful because it gives you leverage. The author could have spent years of his or her life studying a subject, reading everything that had already been written, learning from the best, summarizing different theories, and simplifying complex ideas. After ten years of research, thousands of hours and millions of pages can be condensed into a concise little 200 page novel, and little old you comes along to get it for $10.

    So what do you do when you don't have time to read a book a fortnight? get the book read to you! And that's where Audible comes in.

    I have subscribed to their monthly service, which allows me to download 2 audio books per month to my computer (for use on MP3 player etc). Oh, there's a free trial too, so you could get your first two books without paying a penny. I'm not sure why, but
    I ended up getting three for free, which means I am the lucky recipient of £120 worth of audio books having only paid £14.99.

    This has been a true blessing. One of the books I downloaded was one I bought the paperback edition of six months ago - and have yet to open the front cover. Then, last Monday I was able to listen to the entire (7 hour) book, word for word read by the author, as I went about my embassy errands in Tokyo. Talk about making good use of the precious little time we have!

    I'm so that Leo Laporte mentioned Audible on the TWIT podcast (this was before they became sponsors of the show!). Now I can be sure that my education will never cease and I can stop feeling a little sad at 'not having time' to read books!

    (n.b. Harry Potter not available yet!)

    Single Source

    This follows on from my last post...

    There was one final thing that I wanted to mention, something I've been working on and experimenting with this week, and that is, taking the notion that we are all of a single source, and thus inextricably linked. Like the National Grid, or the internet, which sees all linked to all others, but without the cables or ISPs who block torrent downloads.

    If we are all thus linked to a single source, then we are a part of all those around us, and they are a part of us.

    If you bear this in mind, when sitting on the train look around you at the 'strangers', you can't help but smile, for they all share your source.

    It makes it a lot harder to become angry or frustrated with others. Even if you think that I'm talking complete rubbish, you might want to just try it. If you can believe this notion, you may feel a really strong sensation of joy when around other people, as I did when experomenting on the train the other day, and you may possibly even pause to think before punching the nose of the driver who accidentally put his car into reverse when pulling away from the lights in front of you.

    Further thoughts on spirituality

    This Mumble repeats much of what I said in an earlier Mumble, but such is the nature of Mumbles...

    'Anonymous' posted the following comment on the Daily Mumble a couple of days back; I've decided to use it as a jumping-off point for today's post.

    Have you read the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins? If not, you should, it's quite interesting. There is a slight whiff of coffee-table atheism about it and some of the arguments are somewhat cyclical but overall a soundly argued polemic.

    I, like you, was raised Catholic but have grown increasingly disillusioned and skeptical of mainstream religion. I don't believe in God but I don't believe in NOTHING after death so I suppose that makes me...err...agnostic? Perhaps? Not sure.

    Anyway, in my mind all religion and spiritual belief seems focused on the word you used a lot in your most recent post "why?". As humans we seem unable to cope with the concept of infinite randomness. It's something in our make up. It's like those ink splodges psychiatrists use sometimes...they are completely random...but our brain FORCES us to try and make sense of what we're seeing and so we end up seeing familiar images that are not there.

    By the same token I feel religion serves the same purpose - "Why has this happened to me?"/"Why did this event occur?". Religion or some spiritual framework (call it, say, fate) answers these questions for us and gives us piece of mind. However, to me, it seems that religion and other belief systems are just a response to our inability to accept that LIFE IS RANDOM. Random things happen for no reason all the time... sometimes good, sometimes bad (we often only notice the bad)...but ultimately, in my opinion, there is no rhyme and reason - no great solution. In my life I try to "go with the flow"...accept things that happen and move on...change my plans and move to the next step without the incessant questioning. In a way it could even be construed as self-pity (as you seem to allude to in your later post). This is just my observations...there's no greater reasoning behind it than my own thoughts but I'd be interested to hear your views Joseph?

    Thank you Anonymous, for your comment, welcome as always.

    I was aware of Richard Hawkins' book The God Delusion, having heard him talk about it on Radio 4 when it came out. Since then I have read the first chapter, but am not moved to read the rest of it.

    It seems to me that his argument is based upon the notion that we are humans with a spiritual life - rather than spirits temporarily enjoying a human life, as I have long felt but until recently not acknowledged. Thus, I don't really see the relevance of his argument to my existence.

    He seems to be arguing against those who believe in 'Our Father, who art in heaven'. Whilst I don't subscribe to what little I understand to be his argument, I too do not feel comfortable with the concept promoted by this line. My Catholic upbringing instilled in me this idea that I was a wee little human down here, at the mercy of an almighty God who was, as literally stated in the Lord's Prayer, in Heaven, out of reach, only appearing now and then through a parting of clouds (ok, so I have to admit that Terry Gilliam may have had a hand in that...!). A lord whose mercy had to be sought (suggesting to me that God was not fundamentally a nice guy), whose help had to be requested (suggesting he was a withholding God). And why was it that I could not experience God directly, in everyday life? Why was an intermediary necessary (i.e. a church and a priest)?

    I know that organised religion brings a great deal of strength to many many people, and thus I am not dismissing it as an altogether unnecessary or negative thing. Looking at the religious communities in my home county, I see a great deal of good being done. For many, I know it is a lifeline. I have a few friends who work in the church, and whom I know bring a great deal of light into the lives of the congregations that attend services that they participate in. I have a great deal of respect for the selfless work that they do, and it is an absolute joy to be around them.

    My childhood experience however, whilst by no means 'bad', was one of being controlled and at the mercy of a higher being, out of sight, out of reach. I was disenfranchised. I don't resent my Catholic upbringing one jot, indeed I am grateful, as it has led me to be very skeptical of any religious teachings directed my way, thus, if anything does feel 'so right' to me, as it does now, I can feel confident that I have stumbled across something that resonates with my soul, my energy.

    These past few weeks I have been trying to live in congruence with my core feelings / soul. That is, making decisions based on what my heart tells me, not what my head or ego are demanding. I have found that doing so provides me with a stillness, a calmness, a peacefulness that has been lacking when my head has tried to make controversial decisions in the past. We know the answers to many of lives 'problems' (the existence of 'problems', along with 'coincidences' is something I am growing increasingly skeptical of) within us. We may ask others for advice, but at the end of the day, if we don't act in accordance with the way in which our 'souls' are directing us, we will suffer a great deal of anguish.

    I've also started to work upon acceptance of all that happens. For example, the other day, when I was attempting to visit both the Chinese and Mongolian embassies in the space of 90 minutes , I missed a train by a couple of seconds - the doors shut in my face.

    My initial reaction was that which I have long had in such situations: mild anger, frustration and stress.

    I then stopped, and thought, "Ok, so I could carry on feeling like this, and have a bad day, or I could simply let go, cast the negativity aside and smile". I opted for the latter. The weight was lifted from my shoulders, I straightened my back, I felt happy and relaxed. And, ultimately, I did get to the Mongolian embassy before 12pm.

    Anonymous, you stated that LIFE IS RANDOM; perhaps it is, but I choose to not believe that that is the case. We are similar in that we both "...accept things that happen and move on...change [our] plans and move to the next step without the incessant questioning", the only difference being that whereas you choose to ascribe no particular reason to events, I choose to ascribe to it a reason that will in due course reveal itself, before moving on.

    If nothing else, this makes for a great game, as when the meaning does reveal itself you can cross out another square on your mental bingo card. There is no incessant questioning, just acceptance of what has occurred, and then joy when the pieces fit.

    Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is some grand masterplan, as that takes me back to the idea of a supreme being partially or wholly separate from myself, I still strongly believe that everything happens for a reason. For me, there is an energy that balances all. For me, to say that all is random is to say that we are random, that the eco-system is random, that night and day are random.

    At the end of the day though, it doesn't really matter if Life is random or not. I choose to subscribe to the notion that it is not, as it gives me a mightily powerful tool to work through 'difficulties' when they arise. If one is truly able to dismiss all as random and not raise the question 'why?', then that's great, and I admire your ability to do so, but I would imagine that a lot of people would find it difficult to not ask the question. You may think that my method is a kind of get-out clause, but the number of times I have found a reason (often in the form of a valuable lesson learned) for inexplicable events after they have occurred informs me that in my life has a core thread that connects everything together, a thread that could be thought of as my source.

    It occurred to me this morning that this notion of us being fundamentally spiritual beings living a human life is reinforced in business and self-development literature. Last year, The Secret was unleashed upon the world, riding the crest of a media campaign that was expertly executed to ensure maximum exposure and returns. The Secret, the title and theme of which is virtually identical to the late Earl Nightingale's The Strangest Secret, speaks of manifesting your destiny through the power of thought and belief. Of course, this idea is nothing new, it's been around for centuries, and tends to be reinvented every few decades (as it was last year) for the new generation. "What you think about Expands" "What you think about and thank about you bring about" "You are what you think" - there's endless ways of putting it.

    We see the results of the power of our thoughts all around us - but thinking alone won't bring ideas to fruition. It takes passion, and a strong belief in your project which is rooted not in your physical body, but in your core, your source, your soul, your spirit, your thread. Without this, you are unlikely to succeed in (for example) your business venture. Think iPhone production.

    This truth, which is demonstrated time and time again all around us, shows the strong link between current thinking and future events. The link is not the simple ticking of the clock and a series of random things that have 'just happened', rather, it is this continuous thread that runs through our spiritual lives, a minute section of wire on the fairly lights that Shari wrote about last week.

    If one was to accept the notion that is was a spiritual being living a temporary physical life, illness and disease would not wreak half as much damage as they normally do.

    "How are you today?"
    "I'm great!! I really feel so good! Mind you, my body's not doing so well since I broke its right hip last week. It'll be as good as new soon enough though. Its immune system is kicking the arse of this flu too. I'll just keep on feeding it what it needs and it'll be back on track in no time."

    This positive attitude will have a great effect upon your recovery time: I have a friend here in Tokyo who, after he broke his leg, refused to acknowledge that he was temporarily disabled, took a high dose of organic multivitamins, minerals and protein as demanded by his body, used his leg as much as possible, and was running around again in a tenth of the time the doctors predicted his recovery would take. The power of our thoughts can be especially powerful with diseases such as cancer and Aids. last week I heard a very inspiring story told by an American chap who had been living with HIV AIDS for 17 years. His condition was worsening, and the doctors gave him just a few months to live. It was then that he started to change his thinking, to believe in his bodies power to beat the illness ...and sure enough, a month later he started showing signs of recovery, and has since enjoyed the best health he's ever had, and now spends his time running marathons to raise money for AIDS charities.

    I do not believe that such things would be possible if we were not able to draw upon our source. A thought is but a few electrical impulses in the physical brain - a strong feeling, a belief is much more and reaches deep down into our spiritual energy reserves which are ultimately limitless.

    At least, that's what I feel to be the case.

    For me, the greatest struggle this week has been with the notion that "What you think of me is none of my business".

    This is another of those phrases that is often repeated in self-development books. "Learn to be independent of the good opinion of others" is another. It does not promote selfishness, and it does not promote the taking advantage of those around you. It does, however, encourage you to trust in and act in accordance with your source, to not be negatively affected by the opinion of others. I understand that this is necessary for a peaceful inner life, but losing 16 years of social conditioning is not something that can be done overnight. Mind you, it does help in the short term. Provided I always act in accordance with what I feel is fundamentally right, I should not fear the opinions of others. They are perfectly entitled to their opinions, but they have their own lives with which to experiment, and I should not feel obliged to fit in with what they think is right just for the sake of making them feel 'right'.

    At the end of the day, they most likely feel like me anyway: I would be quite disappointed if someone was to change their position just so that they would be looked upon favourably by me.

    Anyhow, time to move on.

    Thanks for listening.

    Sunday, July 22, 2007

    Telling the folks / Riding a Panda / Introducing Pepe

    I have a tremendous amount to write about. So much has been going on inside (digestion) and outside (washing-up) of me.

    Firstly, a note to friends back home in Herefordshire: I hope you're ok, and dry. There's been the most incredible flash floods - as demonstrated by the photo below of the Regal Cinema in Tenbury Wells. I got an excited phone message from mum last night (they live on a hill so they're ok) telling me about all the army helicopters that had been flying around rescuing people, and the caravans seen floating down the river. Note to self: when I return to the UK, make sure house is nowhere near a river.

    (Courtesy of David Hambleton/BBC)

    So, Thursday saw the grand trip to the parents' place, to announce our engagement. We'd already told *Twinkle's* sisters our news, and thus, when it came to about 9.30pm (and we still hadn't mentioned anything), we started to get text messages from her eldest sister (across the room) saying "SO?!! ARE YOU GOING TO TELL THEM OR WHAT?!!).

    It was only when her dad said he was going to bed that we summoned up the courage to ask them to sit down with us. Arranged ourselves in a formal kneeling position, and then stumbled over our words as we made the announcement. As a sort of pointless token gesture / joke (as we were all kind of laughing anyway - perhaps they were doing so to hold back the tears of dissapointment...!!), I then asked them for their daughter. It was nerve-wracking to say the least.

    Thankfully, they were delighted, especially her mum who just last week was making noises about us getting married. *Twinkle's eldest sister then produced an 'engagement cake', which she just happened to have in the kitchen!

    Father then went to bed as he had planned, and I found the next day, when we went to the allotment together to pick tomatoes, that nothing had changed in our good friendship; there had been no sharpening of samurai swords overnight.

    It turned out to be a long night though, as after our announcement, myself and Mother started to talk about spirituality, a conversation we began via email last week. It was fascinating to hear her ideas, which broadly matched how I felt (I won't go into details here). Now there was a conversation I couldn't have had a year back.

    Yesterday we made a trip down Hachioji way to break the news to Grandma. I've met Grandma a couple of times before, but it's always been when she's come over to the (lively) family home in Saitama, thus have never really had a proper conversation with her.

    She was typically thoughtful and fussed over us as Grandma's too, trying to decide which room would be best to serve our green tea and Japanese sweets in. We assured her that the usual living room would be ok, rather than the formal guest reception room. After an hour or so chatting about this and that (one of the that's being a video that Tom pointed me in the direction of, which i thought was absolutely fascinating: The Boy with the Incredible Brain - someone hit me round the head with a rolling pin!), Satoko broke the news to Granny: she was absolutely delighted! Having been born in the 1920s, she maintains the thinking of her day, when there was always concern if women had not found a suitable partner by a certain age. It really was wonderful though to see her happiness; she'd go on and on with her congratulations, talk about something else, and then suddenly go back to thanking me!

    bamboo water spout

    She then went on to talk about her wedding, and told us how in her day the wife was not permitted to use the front door of the house - instead, she had to scurry round to the back, and always be ready to greet her husband when he returned home. (The literal translation of the Japanese word for 'wife' can be "woman in the back").

    After leaving grandma, *Twinkle* headed back into town to meet a friend, whilst I wandered around the grounds of the local temple, which sported a beautiful pagoda.

    Social life section

    As seems to always be the case, now that I am "on holiday", I found myself snowed under with stuff to do. Booking yurts/gers in Mongolia and trying to negotiate with Russian travel agencies has taken up a considerable amount of time. As has socialising.

    Stu (left) celebrates his 18th birthday whilst Jon pours him another Tequila in what was a very fun party - complete with radio controlled helicopter.

    I''m wondering, who looks the most idiotic?

    I met up with Brendan again - introduced to me via email by a mutula friend whom I worked with in Switzerland 6 years ago. I'm trying to figure out who looks the silliest in this photo, taken in a giant games center in Odaiba. It's quite an interesting games centre in that despite having a huge gambling arcade, it's impossible to make any money. If you win on any of the slot machines, you ca't do anything with the tokens but use them again. You can't exchange them for money (which is illegal in Japan), and you can't even exchange them for prizes which one then sells at a nearby kiosk for real cash, as is the case with most gambling arcades in Japan. Thus, any money you spend on buying tokens, you are guaranteed to not get back in any form except more tokens, which can only be used there. You would have thought that this system would result in a rather quiet gaming parlour - not so.

    They had a huge line of these strange exercise machines - not a single one being used. We wondered whether anyone would ever really be inspired enough by these pictures to actually give them a go. We also noted that the machines, surrounded by plastic walls that prevented wheelchair access, would be used all that much by wheelchair users...

    In a bid to elevate ourselves to another plane, we boarded the ferris wheel, which apparently is one of the tallest in the world. It was pretty damn high actually - taking us right up into the clouds!

    life is a rollercoaster just gotta ride it.
    I once agreed with this statement as it was. I now think life is a rollercoaster with a steering wheel and brakes (which do not always work as per manufacturer's instructions)

    Fruit and Veg section

    I am pleased to announce that the vegetable pot is coming along nicely. We have now harvested about 10 tomoatoes, whilst the aubergines are swelling marvelously.

    Watermelon season is well and truly upon us now, as demonstrated by the fact that these wonderful fruits are actually becoming affordable now.

    Unless you go for the famous square variety - this one, which I spotted in an Ebisu supermarket, is sporting a price tag of £84/US$170.

    Park section

    The other day, whilst on my way to the Chinese Embassy, I passed through a lovely little park which was home to a whole squaggle of ducks.

    Including this one, who clearly feels that he was a dog in his last life, thus the tattoo of a cute little puppy that he had inked into his beak.

    I also paid a visit to one of my favourite parks in the city, located next to Tokyo Big Egg at Kourakuen.

    One sometimes wonders whether the Japanese know that the war's over - these lawn-weeders are clearly prepared for an aerial bombardment.

    Bunny Costume Section

    I think you'll agree that this chap looks mighty fine in his bunny costume, as captured from a second-floor window in central Shibuya.

    The Lovers


    I'd like to introduce you to Pepe, Pepe the Penguin. He plays a significant role in my Masterplan for Global Domination.

    You have been warned.

    Nanny State
    Anyone living in Japan will of course be familiar with the advertising campaign by Japan Tobacco which, whilst superficially is trying to make smokers more considerate of others, is actually just an attempt to make smoking socially acceptable.

    Despite the fact that they are promoting suicide and murder, I can't help but like them.

    (Incidentally, the English and Japanese are identical in meaning, this isn't a case of poor translation)

    To further promote the idea that this is just a campaign in manners and not a campaign to encourage people to fill their lungs with cancer-causing chemicals, it seems that Japan Tobacco is moving into other areas of our lives...

    This is perhaps my favourite.


    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Why one should never gobble down one's peas

    I just found a wriggling caterpillar in the pea-pod I was eating.

    That would have been ok, if it weren't for the fact that only half of it was left.

    *sound of joseph running to bathroom heard*

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Trailwalker: Final report

    It's now almost two months since our legendary hike across the mountains of Southern Japan, and with the fundraising deadline almost upon us, it's time to draw the curtains.

    A huge thank you to all of our sponsors: our grand total is £2365 ($4800) (between our two teams, including the money donated by the participants themselves, a portion of which went towards covering the costs of staging the event).

    Thank you everyone for making this happen, including you, dear Mumblers, for clicking so faithfully upon my Google Adwords.

    I have just finished our team report (pdf format), which includes a list of sponsors - you can download it by clicking on the image below.

    It really was an incredible experience, and the money raised will have a big impact upon the lives of those in some of the world's poorest communities. Thanks indeedy for all your support.

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    It was a beautiful day today.

    Not in terms of weather - it pissed it down thanks to Typhoon #4 - but in terms of the people I met, and the laughter and joy.

    You know, if you smile, chances are they will smile back. The same thing occurs when you shine: the world really does shine back.

    It began 5 minutes before the alarm went off, as planned. I made an orange cake for Stu's party - took all of 5 minutes prep and then a 30 minute bake in the saucepan - and oh boy! I'll have to take a photo next time, it was amazing! A domed beauty. The ingredients were 3 eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, 1/6 cup of oil, 90g flour and an orange. Shame Stu's party wasn't till 5 hours later; it tastes so much better when hot.

    After that I went to Shinjuku to loiter in a cafe for a couple of hours. There was the possibility that a friend of mine needed some help (in Shinjuku), but wouldn't know until minutes before the help was needed, thus I was on 'standby'. In the end they were ok without me, but this was wonderful, as it gave me the chance to sit in a beautiful little cafe in Shinjuku West, and write a 12-page letter to an old friend back in the UK. I don't usually rate establishments in railway stations, but this was something else. Organic food, very comfy chairs, and really friendly staff who were happy to start conversations! That made me smile even more.

    On the train to Stu and Mariko's, I listened to the story of a very brave little girl who contracted a rare body-wasting disease. Despite the fact that there was no cure for this, she did not give up her will to live, but put all the remaining energy she had into recovery, and eventually was able to leave hospital. It was then that she started her fundraising for that children's hospital, making it an even better place.

    Late last year, this little girl passed away. Her story, as I was listening to it, was being told by someone who loved her very much, and who had been told of her passing only hours before the recording was made. It was a very emotional experience, and I couldn't stop myself from crying as I sat there on the train. The salary man sitting opposite me looked up with concern. I looked back at him, and smiled to put him at ease, wiping the tears away.

    It was an immensely inspiring story of someone who summoned up the inner strength that, with many of us, lies dormant within for years on end.

    Of course, we hear these stories all the time. Our most inspiring role models are often those who have been through immense hardship and triumphed. As someone who has had a tough time recently said to me last week, "Sometimes you know, I think why should we always have to learn through pain?".

    A valid question. Why DO so many of life's most valuable lessons result from hardship? Why can they not result from pleasure?

    I find it a little troubling that when things do go wrong on a big scale, when bad things do happen that we can't attribute to a concrete cause, we tend to ask "God" (or equivalent) WHY? Why me? Why Us?

    The reason I find this troubling is that I see it as a kind of get-out clause. The placing of blame upon an outside 'being' who supposedly brought it about, or had the power to stop it. I feel that in times of pain, we should perhaps be looking in the mirror and asking ourselves "what have I done to invite this into my life?" Rather than feeling angry or upset towards a 3rd party, perhaps we should examine our own contributions to the world. Individuality and collectively. Clearly I'm in the minority for thinking such a thing though, judging by the popularity of Christianity.

    Having said that, if one was to think of God as being within each and every one of us in the form of the energy that magically makes our hearts beat, our electrons fire and our lungs expand and contract, and not Our Father Who Art in Heaven, then by asking God "Why did you let this happen", we are indeed asking ourselves the question.

    I feel I'm a bit too distracted by forming some kind of structured notion of spirit. I think that's partly due the way I think about things in general. I do tend to place thoughts in certain physical places. "God" in the traditional sense has always been at about 1 o'clock in the sky. The numbers 1 to 121 have definite places in my mind (they follow a zig zag pattern, which is has a blue tinge. When I think of any number I see it in its specific 'physical' location within this pattern. This could date back to my school days, although I've long since forgotten how I learned to count and thus can't be sure. I'm sure a lot of other people think like this too.

    And so it goes with spirit. I have this habit of giving thoughts physical dimensions - thus my trouble coming to terms with the "God" I have been familiar with since my catholic upbringing. His physical presence outside of me clashes with how I really feel. 'He' can't be there in that specific location outside of me AND inside me at the time, my beliefs won't allow for that. Thus, I have to scrap this traditional God altogether, which I had thought would be pretty easy as I've never been a strong believer in him in the traditional form, but he's actually proving to be a bit hard to budge.

    little girl in stu's hat

    There's this clash between my mind trying to figure out the logistics, and my soul which is happily finding delight in simply loving others. I don't think I should encourage my conscious mind in its crusade to find The Answer - because that will only lead to confusion, as I don't think I could ever construct some perfect, tangible model of my spiritual feelings.

    So perhaps the key is to simply scrap the conscious thinking and just let stuff wash over me, and then enjoy the spiritual developments that result (and to be honest, that is actually what I'm doing in practice. It's only sitting here typing that I start to try and put things in their place).

    I took my final Epilim tablet one week ago, after what I estimate to be the consumption of a minimum of 20,000 of the little purple pills over the past 13 years, in order to control my epilepsy.

    I have never been able to come off the meds altogether before; one or two days without would result in a series of petit mal seizures. As you know, I have replaced this artificial drug with totally organic vitamin, mineral and phytochemical supplements (specifically 4 x Vitamin B complex, 3 x vitamin C, 4 x multivitamin - daily).

    The message to me is clear: your body is highly complex. Give it what nature intended it to have in the quantities it needs them in, and you will be healthy.

    I'm really really happy about this.

    My phone died tonight. Seemed to overheat all by itself, and now won't respond at all. Just in case you were thinking of calling me (my UK Skype number 0121 286 XX XX is unaffected of course).

    Ah, I was going to tell you about Stu's party. Hmm, that'll have to wait for another day I guess. I loved it though. So many nice, interesting people. I'm very fortunate to have been invited.


    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    Messages to People. And thoughts on God

    There's so much I want to say, but numerous calls back to loved ones in the in the UK have brought the clock on to past 3am, and I need my sleep, so I shall try and be brief. To start with though, I have a few messages:

    Firstly, my sincere and loving thanks to all of you who have sent congratulatory messages to myself and *Twinkle*. We really appreciate it.

    We are very happy. It's just perfect. I love her very much, she loves me very much. Over the past two years we have enjoyed venturing into new worlds of self-discovery together, and I look forward to many many years of such adventures. Ne.

    My love also to my brother, whose birthday it is today (at least today in Japan!). It's a special landmark birthday, and I am sorry I can't be there with you. have fun in the bath tomorrow, and in the woods next week. Thank you so much for being there. I feel so so lucky to have you as a big brother; you're the best big brother a little brother could ever have. I am particularly grateful for the sense of humour you gave me - you have such a positive impact upon every single day of my life.

    And to my two sisters with whom I talked this evening. What wonderful people they are. What incredible things they have done, and what an inspiration to me they are. Thank you both.

    My love and thoughts to Charlie, and Colin, both experiencing enourmous challenges at present. Danny too.

    My love and oodles of complete happiness to Jo and Joe, marrying today in Hereford. What a beautiful family. My apologies for not being there with you.

    Tom, Miyu, Emmie and Russ - tee hee, I'm so excited! Babies only a few weeks away!

    Stu - Happy Birthday today - I'm so happy to have found the Stu in you I didn't appreciate before.

    Last, but by no means least my love and pain-relieving thoughts to Jo in Bristol, having contractions as I type. You are going to be the most amazing mum - and Jim, it was so nice to talk to you tonight, really, I really enjoyed that, and am so happy that you are Jo are together.

    This is perhaps one of the happiest times of my life so far. I am deeply grateful, and appreciate every day. Things are so good. I have the relationship that I always dreamed of. I have many loving friends who are experiencing love, birth, celebration, and freedom.

    I have been given a precious wake up call: it all began with a book about basic financial planning, and has led me on the most exciting adventure through a world of books and CDs. They have opened my eyes to so many possibilities - possibilities that were always there but, in my mind, out of reach.

    It's only the beginning of this tremendously exciting journey though. Just recently, my meandering path through the world of books designed to help one be happy have led me to look, for the first time, at my spiritual self.

    This is one area of my being that I have always felt lacking in. I am inclined to think that it was my Catholic upbringing that put me off organised religion - this then became a dislike of delving into my spiritual self - any inclusion of God in a direct reference to myself made me feel uncomfortable. I don't feel that when others speak of their thoughts about God: I respect that everyone has their own beliefs, and I feel fine with that. I feel OK being surrounded by symbols of Christianity (for example, I had a very emotional morning in the chapel at Rikkyo university a few weeks back, on one of those rare occasions when I do seek comfort in a church).

    These past couple of months however, I have been listening to hours and hours of recordings by a very spiritual person who does not represent any particular religion. He often refers to God ("or whatever you want to call the energy"), and speaks of everything happening for a reason - something I have strongly believed myself for a long time now. I do not believe in coincidence, or "blind luck". Take tonight for example. I was in Shinjuku, one of the busiest railway stations in the world. Arriving on the platform I was faced with two trains, both with their doors due to shut within 10 seconds (the 'shutting door' music was playing), about to leave. One of them was my train, but unlike most times when I take this train from this platform, I couldn't figure out which was going which way.

    I bumbled, and by the time I saw the sign telling me which one was mine, the doors were shutting.

    Rather than swear at having missed my train, despite it having been right there in front of me, I smiled. "There'll be a reason for it".

    20 seconds later, *Twinkle* appeared next to me. I had no idea she was even in Shinjuku.

    These things happen all the time, to us all. I don't feel there is anything accidental about this.

    What I'm hearing now is really making sense to me. It feels really right. We've all heard that "God is within us all", a phrase which has always made me feel, "hmm, well maybe that's the case for you in your organised religion, but I'll just stick with my vague idea that there's something out there thanks very much". Say that to me now, and I still feel the same!

    But how about if you phrase it a different way? How about if you think of a universal energy source from which we all come, and to which we all return. This energy is within us from conception to death, at which point it rejoins the pool. This fits in with Lovelock's Gaia theory which I subscribe to, and can be reworded to fit into any of the major religious texts. Perhaps there could be some truth to it? There doesn't have to be any central God figure to worship (I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of a centralised pool of power located in a single God Figure, who is separate from onself, somewhere 'up there', a God who makes decisions and the acts upon them).

    I can't look on what I've just written with objective eyes (not at 4.09am), thus I don't know if I'm giving the impression that I'm being swept up by some religious guru who believes they are the mouthpiece of God. If that's the impression I give, my apologies, as that is not the case at all. As a great sceptic, I'm finding enourmous delight in the fact that this is something that is actually sounding pretty, er, sound.

    I mean, the consequences of this are quite incredible. It opens up a whole new world, a whole wealth of spiritual resources which until now have been kept hidden by my unwillingness to acknowledge them.

    It's tremendously exciting to have found a path that is hinting at leading towards a spiritual awakening. It's been 29 years in the coming, and is very welcome. I look forward to the long journey ahead.

    Perhaps it's ironic (perhaps it isn't) that I will remember this "Year Abroad" not for the things I've learnt at uni (which has felt like more of a hobby to be enjoyed in my spare time!), but rather for the things I've learnt about myself through reading and listening to English language texts!

    watch this space.

    Much love to you all


    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Want to cheat on your partner? Here's how to do it and keep a clear conscience

    One of the video podcasts I subscribe to is, a fantastic channel with some really innovative stuff on it.

    A couple of days ago, whilst sitting in the library attempting to avoid revision, I watched their latest release.

    It had quite an effect on me. For the first minute or so I hadn't a clue what they were on about, and then it hit me...

    I think everyone who has the slightest interest in climate change should watch this little film. It is a brilliant expose of the flawed thinking behind carbon offsetting - something which is being promoted by countless governments and industries around the world.

    The website behind all this can be found at, where you can pay other people to be faithful to their partners whilst you go out and party...

    Calling all Tokyoites

    So, we've got this GREAT event in a very nice privately owned British bar on Sunday night from 8pm, and we want to have loads of fun and raise money for Oxfam Japan at the same time.

    Thus, I'm inviting everyone to come along and pit their wits against the greatest of Tokyo's brains, for a chance to win some great prizes, oh, and Paul (the owner) hands out free shots between rounds if we're nice to him, which we are, because he's nice.

    There's also a drunken auction afterwards where you can get hold of some amazing bargains because people sell stuff they wouldn't normally when sobre. Feel free to bring anything of your own along to auction too.

    Location: Heaven's Door, Shimo Kitazawa (10 mins on Odakyu line from Shinjuku, or Inokashira line from Shibuya / Kichijoji).

    Starts 8pm.

    Teams of 3, 4 or 5, come along even if you don't have a team yet, or if you just want to laugh with everyone else. 1000 yen per team member which goes to Oxfam Japan.

    See you there, and please don't heckle me if I end up being the MC which is looking increasingly likely at the moment...!

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    a quiet announcement

    It's been quite a comical week, if one looks on it from the point of view of a camera being used to film a Hollywood comedy in which the main character repeatedly tries to find opportunities to propose to his girlfriend, but is repeatedly frustrated by the occurrence of unexpected events.

    Finally, however, he manages it, although not quite in the style he was initially planning on.

    Full details will be revealed in due course.

    However, the administration of a few bottles of brandy to the somewhat 'surprised' *Twinkle* finally brought about a favorable response - we are very happy to announce that...

    Tags: | | |

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    Revising at Jonathons

    Crikey gov, i don't know what's got into me today, but i'm just flying. It could be the coffee i guess. I stop what i'm doing and think for a moment how fortunate i am to have been reincarnated into this beautiful world, and so surrounded by loving, supportive people, and with a wealth of resources to draw upon to further expand my horizons.
    Perhaps I'd better switch to fruit juice. And stop emailing The Daily Mumble.

    Cherry Picker

    The first exam was what could technically be classed as 'a bit of a disaster', in that I was unable to do anything but guess at the answers. Still, I prefer to think of it as an insignificant afternoon class which was tougher than most. I think it accounts for 30% of the final mark for that module, so even if I did do very badly it's unlikely to result in a fail.

    Yesterday I studied solidly for about 8 hours. The study took place in a few cafes, oh, and from atop a cherry-picker too, owned by a friend of mine who was driving round counting people for the 2007 census. I hitched a ride - it was up there that I got this shot, which has been commissioned by the makers of Where's Wally? for their next publication.

    A note to myself:
    They say that when one is on the cusp of achieving something wonderful, some long-term goal, your efforts will be sabotaged. The powers that be will send great challenges to trip you up, just as the finish line comes into sight. This has happened to me this week, although I can't divulge in what area of my life (it's not education).

    I'm now wondering though, was it the being aware that we are often tested as never before just prior to a great victory that brought on this unforeseen challenge, or would it have happened even if I had been ignorant? Personally, I'm going for the latter.

    Knowing that this is most likely to be a test by the energy that is, I feel reassured; it makes me realise that this is just how it's meant to be, and I should persevere, despite signs that could be interpretated as saying this is not the right thing to do.

    Crikey, I really love life, it's so exciting. There's just so much to discover, and that's even before you look outside of your own little circle of existence! And then when you do, you find Bjork!

    Mind you, I'll love life even more when my exams are over.

    Friday, July 06, 2007


    Please, everyone who can, see this film, and then tell me what it's like, because it's not on release here in Japan.

    I just bought the soundtrack. It's my favourite kind of music.

    I think this has just become one of my favourite films of all time, and I've not even seen it yet. It's the love. You can't help but be touched by it. Watch the Trailer, or for a taste of the music check out the live performance below.

    This afternoon, I was in the bathroom filling up a bucket with water to feed our 6 foot tomato plants. I'm not quite sure what happened, but suddenly, I was in my parents' bathroom in Orcop, England. The hard plastic floor was replaced by the worn yet fluffy carpet. The shower curtain appeared, the window opened up in the featureless wall.

    It was as I stood there, looking out through the frosted glass, that I remembered that one of my passions is singing. I'm not a good singer at all, and tend to only sing a couple of songs when at karaoke, voice frequently breaking when I leave my narrow comfort zone. Thus, I would like to have singing lessons at some point in the future. Hhmm, and I shouldn't really have given up the guitar 16 years ago!

    The power of thought

    One thing that has always made me laugh when in Japan is the way that Japanese people thank me whenever I say something positive about the country, as if it was a personal compliment - which of course it isn't!

    My friend Shari has written a superb little piece on this common phenomenon, which I would encourage anyone thinking of coming to Japan to read, as it's something that you will no doubt come across during your stay.

    In fact as with all of Shari's writing, the entire post is well worth a read. I wholly subscribe to the views portrayed in the last 3 paragraphs - not that she needs me to validate them :-)

    I believe the paralysis may be passing. I say that as if I am a victim of it, not the perpetrator, ridiculous I know, but life can seem a lot easier if one passes the buck, at least in the short term. I had this idea that in order to revise properly, I needed to transfer all my grammar points and example sentences to my Mac, and so spent hours yesterday typing up just a week's worth of grammar - leaving the other 9 week's worth for the weekend. Clearly, it wasn't going to work, considering the exam is on Tuesday, then I thought that perhaps I should just use the little index cards that I have been making on a weekly basis ever since I began this degree in 2004. They really are fantastic. Just bog standard index cards, each one with a single grammar point on and example sentences, arranged in alphabetical order.

    Thoroughly recommend the system to anyone who wants a record of what they have studied, and a quick way to refer back to grammar points that may have become a bit hazy. I think I'd feel somewhat scared if I didn't have this record, as those points which I don't use on a regular basis would have simply vanished into the void that is forgotten knowledge, and which could only be recovered through consulting numerous grammar dictionaries. (We're now studying JLPT2 grammar, and I am yet to find a grammar dictionary that contains more than half of these points). I never want to be in the position where I think, "hmm, I wonder what we actually studied at university..." - a course that is costing me over £20,000 ($40,000), oh, plus interest.

    I'm continuing to read up on the power of thought. Wow. Imagine if children were taught about the power of imagination and a positive attitude in school! Of course, in some education systems creativity and a belief in one's ability to do incredible things is actively encouraged (such as at the Steiner School that I was fortunate enough to attend, or Kinokuni, the alternative school that *Twinkle* attended in Wakayama), but in others (take the Japanese education system as an example) it seems that the emphasis is more on conformity, and temporary retention of facts for regurgitation in exams. This works well in some ways - it has benefited an economy that until now has relied upon a steady supply of graduates who accept the notion that getting a job doing something that they really enjoy is something of an ideal that is unlikely to be fulfilled - but I don't think it does much to lift the overall happiness and contentment of the country (see here for an interesting survey which could be thought of as an indication of the state of the (allegedly) somewhat unhappy Japanese mindset).

    Looking back, I can now see how my life has indeed been shaped by my beliefs. One example is that of *Twinkle*. I have for many years had a picture of her in mind. I always knew that I would never really be truly happy with anyone less than this person, and thus it comes as no surprise that all my previous relationships have eventually come to an end - it was always on the cards (and the times when I didn't consciously think that were few and far between). She also pictured me, and in fact told her mum (prior to even stepping foot in the UK) that she'd be coming back with me. As she did, 15 months later, on the same plane.

    Another example of the power of thought: Before arriving in Japan this time around I had a clear picture of myself in my Japanese class at Rikkyo, surrounded by really nice classmates whom I liked, and who all liked me. The teacher was one of us, and we all had a great year together and would be sorry when we went our separate ways. And lo and behold, that is exactly the situation I am in. Coincidence? I don't believe in coincidences any more.

    A final example could be that of me and my kanji. I have struggled with the kanji from the start, and vocalised this "inability to remember them" many times. "I'm not too good at Kanji" I told others, and then opted out of the optional kanji tests. Looking at my kanji ability today I can see that, surprise surprise, I still struggle with Kanji. Well isn't that funny! My situation today precisely mirrors the situation I have been thinking that I would end up in!

    I'm guessing that many people would read these paragraphs, and think that this is all common sense. But I don't think it is. If it was, and if people believed in its power, would you still hear people complaining? Say for example you caught a cold, and you felt pretty grim. It wouldn't be unusual for you to tell your friends "Oh, I feel just awful. I'm really sick. I think it's going to take me at least a week to get over this". Surely, if you believed in the power of thought, that's the last thing that you would want to do! If you think you'll be feeling grim for a week, chances are you will be! On the other hand, if you were to say "I'm not feeling too good right now, but I can feel I'm really on the mend! My immune system is fighting off this this little bug and I'll be as right as rain in no time!" - before you know it, you'll be feeling better.

    It's just amazing what power we have to shape our futures. Try it. Pick up some books on the subject. See if works with you.

    With this in mind, it's important that I look towards next year - our year apart - as a positive thing. There are some positive aspects, relating to strengthening our bond, personal space etc.

    I set about buying tickets yesterday. Crikey, if ever you want to take Eurostar (the one that goes under the channel between France and the UK) give DeutscheBahn a call. Through them I got a ticket from Cologne to London for only £35! This is a 4 hour journey that usually costs over £150! I've also got my night train booked from Berlin to Cologne (got 60% off that ticket as well),and am now trying to sort out the one from Moscow to Berlin - I think that'll be about US$180. As for the rest, I think it may be a case of picking them up along the way.

    I was back in the gym this morning after an 8 week break. It was nice to know I'd been missed, by Jesse, the American guy, and thingamijig, the rather odd Japanese chap who I'm pretty fond of. It feels good to be stretching my muscles again after the long post-walk splurge.

    Anyhow, I have an exam in a couple of hours. Best be off. After I've watched that iPhone musical video one more time.

    I want an iPhone - The Musical

    Classic video from David Pogue of the New York Times.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Muhammad Yunus to speak at Rikkyo

    Muhammad Yunus, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work tackling poverty through his successful application of the concept of microcredit, will be speaking at Rikkyo University next Wednesday from 1.30pm - 3.30pm.

    I'm a big fan of his perspective on poverty
    & business, and the latter's role in helping others (see interview here).

    There's limited spaces for this free event. You can sign up here.

    Unfortunately I have an exam from 2.50pm, so I'll miss the last 40 minutes, but I can't think of a better way to take my mind off the exam in the hours leading up to it!

    This week we celebrate Tanabata in Japan - the Star Festival.

    From our good friend Wikipedia:
    Tanabata, meaning "Seven Evenings" is a Japanese star festival, derived from Obon traditions and the Chinese star festival. The festival is usually held on July 7, and celebrates the meeting of Orihime and Hikoboshi. The Milky Way, a river made from stars that crosses the sky, separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year. This special day is the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.
    In the days leading up to Tanabata, you 'll find little bamboo trees shooting up all over the place, such as these in the long underground passage leading from Ikebukuro Station to my university.

    Under the trees are tables, on which you'll find pens and little pieces of coloured paper (Tanzaku), on which you may write your wish before tying it to the tree.

    These are then burnt, or set afloat upon a river around midnight on the day itself.

    Let's hope that string is biodegradable and that the ink is made from soy!

    Tanzaku tied to bamboo branches

    Two schoolgirls admire a photo of a particularly funny wish on one of the Tanzaku

    The blue Tanzaku reads: "Sekai ga heiwa de arimasu yo ni" - a simple wish for world peace.

    Trying not to surrender

    ....just ...more ...week...

    In non-exam news, and I know it's not helpful, but I can't help but think of my departure, now just 5 weeks off. I think it would be easier if I hadn't been through this kind of thing before, and thus wasn't aware of how difficult it is for me.

    Perhaps all of my reading this year has been in preparation for this, the greatest challenge yet.

    We're going to move out of here 2 days before my boat sails from Osaka. That's a deliberate ploy to try and make it easier on *Twinkle*. Living alone in a place that you have only known as a couple can be excruciating. It will also help me avoid that feeling of walking out on her, and the guilt that is associated with such a thing.

    I think I need to get out of the house.

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    One Year On

    Dear John John,

    It was on this day, 1 year ago, that you began the next leg of your journey. A journey through places free of the constraints of the laws that govern physical matter, a journey free of the need to make seat reservations with Malaysian Air.

    On one of your amazing bikes with its auto-gear-changer, in Milton Keynes.

    I've missed you this year. It was always a great comfort to know that you were just along the line at Kichijoji, when you weren't off galavanting the globe, collecting stories of princes and pianists.

    I would have loved to have had you here, to mull over my changing impressions of Japan this past year. To share with you my insider information on the education system, and to go on expeditions to try and sort out some technical problem with your satellite TV.

    I know you are still with us here in Japan, as you are in the myriad of places you have been with your biscuits and black bag. It's been a comfort.

    Thank you.