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    Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Tom and I run our first 15km

    Great day today.

    It started, in the beautiful autumnal morning sunlight, with Tom and I doing our first ever 15km run. This is a major achievement - I've never been a runner, and never would have thought that this year I'd be able to run 9.3 miles non-stop (ok, so I did stop briefly for a wee and to do my laces up).

    We only started training about 7 weeks ago, and I remember how knackered I felt after doing 5km back then. The idea of doing a second 5km lap made me want to fall over.

    Then last week we did the 10km. That was ok, although the final km sprint nearly killed me.

    Today, my legs were fine until about the 12km mark, when my right knee - the infamous Trailwalker knee (which packed up on me halfway through the 100km Oxfam sponsored hike in 2007) started to ache. At 14km, my granny's hip syndrome reappeared, as it does occasionally when I dance. But still, we did it.

    I had my iPhone tracking us for the entire 1 hour, 17 mins and 23 seconds. The map can be viewed on EveryTrail, although I recommend downloading the Google Earth file (link on the main trip page) and viewing it in that, as you can zoom around the emperor's garden and marvel at how we apparently jogged along the surface of the moat.

    First ever 15km! at EveryTrail

    Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Geotagging.

    This is really exciting stuff! We're thinking of entering the full Tokyo Marathon and possibly Honolulu Marathon in 2010.

    After a trip home for a shower, I was back out to Shibuya for a private lesson, then a few hours spent editing the photos I took for the nail shop, C&K Nail. Here's a few of the more interesting ones...




    Have you ever seen nails like this?! It's one from their special winter range.


    Tonight I'm trying to catch up with my Japanese, as well as learn more about nutrition, and write a letter. Hmm, just not enough hours in the day!

    I've decided to not eat any chocolate this week, so please, if you meet me on the street, don't offer me any.

    Thanks :-)

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    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    Mumbai, my job, and babymaking

    I don't think I could ever get bored with life. There's just too much going on.

    For a start, there's events in the news. I don't follow the news religiously, but I have recently subscribed to the Guardian feed on my iPhone - I scroll through the headlines on my way home to keep abreast of world events that my students may refer to. It's not entertainment, but it does push me into a different space, changes the context within which I live. Things today are different from how they were yesterday.

    I'm finding it difficult to put the horrific events in Mumbai into context, as I have not known this sort of thing before outside of Hollywood movies.

    Then there's Bangkok airport, temporary home to my friends Catherine, Stew and Annie. They tell me they're safe at least, which is a relief. My brother-in-law, Leigh, who lives here in Japan is also stuck out there - I reckon he's secretly happy to be able to extend his business trip into a holiday (Leigh is quite an inspiration for me, having come here a few years back for the first time with nothing, and having established his own successful football academy has now created a second company that is contracted by Nike to provide coaching clinics throughout Japan).

    A meeting was held at work today. There are big changes afoot in our office. The departure of a fairly central employee has prompted a major overhaul of the way the business is run. Whilst I was initially hired to search for / interview / place new teachers, it's now been decided that my 'talents' are needed elsewhere. Whilst initially surprised as the announcement, I soon realised that this was a very good thing.

    My new roles suit me down to the ground. I have several.

    The first is teaching English over the phone. As as far as I know we are almost unique within the industry for offering this service. Whilst it can be quite exhausting (8 students per hour) I find it pretty enjoyable - it helps me practice my communication skills - I get to play the game "How quickly can I suss this person out and connect with them?". I feel really good when it's clear the students have enjoyed talking with me.

    My second role is that of The Cleaner. We're not talking dusty shelves or dirty carpets (a little old lady comes in everyday to do that. She always asks me if I've got over the cold I had last month), we're talking stripping down and cleaning out the old systems/ workflows, and rebuilding them using a lean model. We're talking clearing out data archives, transferring operations currently carried out manually / using real paper to semi-automatic self-cleaning databases.

    I love this kind of thing. It's kind of funny, but at the same time sort of expected that a job be created especially for me that involves my doing what I love.

    My third role, and this one's a little more long term, is to revolutionise our web presence. We need to embrace mobile platforms, need to harness the power of these new technologies that will allow students to study wherever they happen to be - I can't help but think how effective iAnki is in giving me the freedom to fit study in with my everyday routine, with no significant additional impact upon my schedule (it's really working by the way. Amazing program).

    I find this all very exciting - I'm going to get paid to learn about and experiment with new systems that I have a natural interest in already. The only difficulty is in fitting all this in - there's only so many hours in the day. Thus, I've been given the go ahead to work overtime whenever I wish too, paid at overtime rate. This is great, just what we need as we save up more money to move house. I'll start tomorrow.

    This evening I met up with a bunch of boy-mates for a 'boys night out'. All eight of us have Japanese wives. Except for me, everyone had been married for several years.

    At one point the conversation turned to baby-making. "Oh no, you're not having to go through that are you..?" said one boymate to another. "You're lucky" they said to me. Sex is still for fun for you, right? For us, it's just a job, only to be done when the wife is 'on heat'."

    It all sounded a bit mechanical.

    I wondered if that would be *Twinkle* and I in 2 years. I hoped not.

    Anyway, it's now 1.15am. I need to get these photos processed before work tomorrow. TTFN

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    Friday, November 28, 2008

    How much does a university education cost these days?

    I can tell you, because today I got a statement from the student loans company.

    This is the total of four years of loans that have to be repaid - it excludes all the (non-repayable) grants that paid my tuition fees.

    That's this much in a few other currencies:

    It is increasing on a monthly basis - even with a low interest rate it's not an insignificant amount.

    But the university experience and degree were worth every penny.

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    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Join me on my morning jog

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

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

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

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

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

    Widget powered by EveryTrail: GPS Geotagging

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

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    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Noodles for breakfast

    noodle eating karasu_0838


    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Chasing Bubbles all weekend

    bubble chase scene_1014

    It's been a great weekend. A bit manic at times, but thoroughly enjoyable, and productive too. I've had two private lessons, spent a couple of hours taking over 300 photos in Yoyogi park (the vast majority of which I've yet to develop - will save that treat for later in the week - photos in this post are from the Bubble-chasing scene), went to a fantastic Indian music gig (amazing sitar player) (thanks Tom), made a cake, made apple crumble (thanks Tom!), did a successful photo shoot for our Yoga-teacher friend, was asked to do a photo-shoot for a nail salon next Saturday, jogged 10 kilometres, helped host & iTunes DJ a Christmassy party attended by 20 friends (using iPhone as a remote control for the Mac enabling me to change the playlist as I did the drying up :-) ), started another blog (to save Mumblers from iPhone overload - yet to put any new content on it though), studied Japanese (Yay Anki & iAnki!), banged nails into walls, rearranged the furniture in *Twinkle*s 'office' (that was at about 1am Sunday), walked home with my shoes full of water having left them out in rain...

    bubble chase scene_0962

    bubble chase scene_0972

    There's so many things I'd like to do but making time is a challenge.

    I'm glad I'm really enjoying my full time job because otherwise I'd be mightily peeved about having to spend 9-10 hours a day putting energy into increasing someone else's profits, profits that might possibly be being used for a cause that I wouldn't necessarily choose to support.

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    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    This and that all over the place

    As usual, this post will probably be all over the place. There's so many things I've wanted to write about, each wanting it's own mumble, but I can't see that happening for a while. Here's what's on my mind tonight in any case.


    My learning is taking off all over again with Anki - an amazingly simple yet effective program that uses spaced repetition to help you remember stuff, whether it be a language, people's names, or a cake recipe.

    It's like having a pack of digital flashcards, with you choosing what goes on either side. You can access them on your computer, on any other computer with an Internet connection, and on any Internet-enabled mobile device (such as a bog standard moderm mobile phone). They all sync, so any changes made through one interface will be recognised in others.

    I'm using Anki on my Mac to input new words, phrases and people's names, and then reviewing them on my iPhone on the trains. Incidentally, an update for iAnki (the mobile version) was released today.

    Anki is FREE, but I would encourage anyone who ends up using it to make a donation to support the developer, Damien.

    AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: The New Psycho-Cybernetics (Unabridged)

    by Maxwell Maltz, edited by Dan S. Kennedy, available from or Amazon (etc)

    Ok, so this isn't a proper review, as this is the Daily Mumble. It's just my thoughts on what I've heard so far of this 11-hour audio book.

    First off, this classic from the 1960s reminds me of many other books that focus upon the power within us to shape our lives and reach any heights we might care to aim for. Anyone familiar with Anthony Robbins will recognise a lot of what Maltz talks about. Likewise, if you bought the video / audio / book of The Secret, you'll be 'know' this stuff, albeit with a lot more bells and whistles ...and over-acting, and elephants in people's houses.

    Despite being familiar with much of what is talked about in the book, I'm finding myself absolutely engrossed. It's very refreshing to look at this stuff from a clinical point of view. It 'makes sense'. I spent three hours listening to the first few chapters whilst making chocolate cake and curry last night, and over the course of the evening felt a physical change come over me as I started to let go of some pretty ridiculous beliefs.

    I feel I've gone backwards in the past few months when it comes to letting go of what's not important. My control tendencies have reared their ugly head as I battle to find some firm ground in this new life. With these tendencies has come stress, which serves absolutely no useful purpose other then decreasing my effectiveness in all sorts of ways.

    I especially like this new version as it contains a lot of references to modern-day events, thus making it feel relevant.

    I'll be listening to this book a lot over the next month, and putting what I learn into practice.

    If you're interested in this book I'd suggest reading some 'proper' reviews rather than buy it on the strength of my recommendation.

    Incidentally, I was very happy today to see that my manager has bought a set of Lock and Lock Tuppa based on my recommendation. Yay, changing lives!

    Work is getting pretty busy now. Much of today was spent designing a poster for an upcoming teaching EXPO - I was chosen for the job as it was apparent that I 'like computers'. The resulting poster (based on an Apple iWork Pages template) went down a treat, and is also going to be used internally as an example of 'what is possible'. One step closer towards persuading the company to ditch their PCs in favour of Macs. :-)

    I'm enjoying building relationships with my colleagues. I took another chocolate cake into work today - I needed to trial a new recipe in the saucepan-baked cake series, and thought it a good opportunity to encourage friendship-growth. It turned out really well, oh, and also gave me the opportunity to apologise properly to someone whom I could have offended pretty badly yesterday. The team were trying to come up with a nickname for me, and started throwing the name 'Joe'+ending around. The Japanese girl next to me, who also happens to be called Jo, asked me what I thought of the name. I was trying to explain how much I disliked being called "Joe" (as I was up until the age of 22 ish), although I think it's a great name for other people (I know a lot of Jo(e)s!), but inadvertently said to her,

    "Actually, I really don't like Joe" which, due to the way in which names are used in Japan, came across as "Actually, I really don't like you".

    The whole office went silent ...before laughter broke out. I was so embarrassed I literally ran away, hiding in my little phone cubicle at the other end of the office for a couple of hours (marking essays).

    As my move into my HR position approaches (I take over recruitment at the beginning of December) so my lack of business-Japanese becomes more apparent. I find it astonishing just how little confidence I have using Japanese in business situations versus everyday social situations. I must continue to fight the urge to slip back into English when feeling frustrated by a lack of vocab in the office.

    My weekly Japanese lesson is helping (as is Anki). Whilst my lesson may only be one hour every Thursday its effect lasts for the whole week. Knowing that I am 'actively studying Japanese' encourages me to carry my electronic dictionary around with me, to look up words when on the go, to ask people to explain stuff that I don't understand. It's vital for me that I remain an active learner.

    The increased use of RSS feeds by blog-writing friends, combined with iPhone's Facebook and Twitter Apps is having a pretty strong impact upon my feeling of being connected with friends near and far. I'm now subscribed to 53 blogs written by people I actually know, with about half of them being updated on a regular basis. I love being allowed to share in their experiences. I learn from them. I'm inspired by them. I'm moved by them.

    There are some amazing people out there
    who are facing some very difficult challenges. RSS brings the part of their lives that they choose to share into my news reader inbox, allowing me to think of them throughout the day as I go about my business.

    I like having access to Facebook when out and about too (enjoying commenting on items in the newsfeed) - good to see that Twitter's slowly gaining momentum as well.

    My MacBook's hardrive has been running out of space recently, but I'll have to wait until January for Toshiba's new 500GB 2.5inch drive to be released. Thus, a few days back I moved all of my music from my internal hard disk to an external drive. This then necessitated the resetting of my iTunes library - playlists, ratings, last played status etc. all back to factory default (i.e. gone)

    What a refreshing change! If like me you find yourself listing to the same music again and again due to the way your library has evolved, I thoroughly recommend making a fresh start. I'm discovering all sorts of music I never even knew I had, bloomin marvellous. I love music.

    I love Bloom too. Anyone in need of relaxation (and in posession of an iPhone or iPod touch) needs it. Oh, and those of us in Japan - Ekitan (available in the Japanese App store) now uses GPS to find the station you're travelling from, whilst Google Mobile App has voice recognition for some very funny search results. Maybe my accent is just too British... Oh, and 'Japanese' (a dictionary) DOES support handwritten kanji input - enable the Chinese handwriting keyboard.

    Tokyo's getting bloody cold now, and our house is absolutely freezing. (they've has a load of snow in North Japan this week) I've finally succumbed to using the air-conditioner for about 15 mins before bead. Need to get some indoor gloves.

    Anyway, best get some kip.

    night night.


    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Overly content?

    A reoccurring theme for discussion in my head is one that revolves around being content.

    You see, I believe that it is important to be content with today's life, because there is no tomorrow. And thus, I generally feel very content.

    Yet, I can feel that this feeling of contentness is perhaps holding me back, in that I lack serious frustrations with my lot today to motivate me to push myself forward.

    I have small motivations - for example, an inability to communicate my thoughts on the new database with my boss has pushed me back to study ...yet I feel I don't feel a general discontent with my situation in general.

    Perhaps I've thought and felt myself into a corner.

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    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Back on track

    Mondays, my "day off" are fast becoming the busiest days of the week as I try and pack in everything that's been put off from the other six days due to time issues. Today's been good though. I've successfully trialled a new cake, washed the carpet, done another load of washing, tidied up, planned for tonight's two lessons (the first of which I'm walking to as I type), written a magazine article and sent it with appropriate photos, delivered some stuff twinkle needed at work, taken some autumn photos in the park ...but have run out of time to write the blog I've been wanting to write. Nevermind, it can wait.

    I love the buzz of getting things done.

    Anyway, just arrived at the company so had better get this posted!

    The straightest line in the world

    This photo is impossible

    I think it had to be the straightest line I'd ever seen painted on a road. I found it in Shin Kiba, on one of the man-made islands in Tokyo Bay. Here's a satellite image of the place it was taken, as I know you are desperate to see my squatting pose. See how it made me turn blue?

    It's been a rough week. Quite exhausting, with my body being quite ill with a cold, and a complete loss of interest in life.

    When in the trough I found it quite interesting to debate with myself what the merits of being in the trough were. Would I be more comfy if I climbed out? I decided that no, I was comfortable being down, and perhaps it was important that I follow it through. I needed the down in order to come back up.

    I'm grateful for the fact that my downs are pretty infrequent, and short-lived when they do occur.

    *Twinkle* copes wonderfully with me when I'm down. She's just patient. Doesn't buy into it, but doesn't deny it either.

    Will write more tomorrow.

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    A peek inside our mansion

    A few people have been asking to see our house - and today I finally got around to taking a few shots.

    The view from the front door.

    himonya house tour_0587

    Our flat is basically comprised of two rooms: a kitchen / dining room, and a living / bedroom. There's also a tiny bathroom, and a separate loo, oh, and a balcony. The two rooms are divided by glass-panelled sliding doors, which we've only now started to close at night to keep the heat in the bedroom.

    The table is an IKEA job, heroically carted back by my sister's-in-law's partner, Morris, when they they lived here. It's also a wedding gift, for which we are very grateful!

    The kitchen is basically everything along the left-hand side of the room.

    The kitchen in all it's glory.

    himonya house tour_0576

    I spent quite a long time re-organising all this. Improvements include the removal of heavy / lethal plates from the cupboards above the sink, which *Twinkle* had to stand on a chair in order to reach! It's now home to things like dish cloths, stores of spaghetti, and granny's best china.

    On the left is the gas stove, which we only use when our main hotplate (the induction range, to the right of the sink) is otherwise engaged. The induction range also serves as rice cooker, kettle, and oven (in conjunction with a saucepan of course!) and costs far less to run than regular hotplates (I took some meter readings last year). Why they are not more common I don't know, such a fantastic technology. There's a couple of companies that make them - ours is Sharp, distributed by Amway.

    I'm particularly happy with the rack to the left of the sink, which in this action shot is stacked with stuff. This is our third attempt at getting the draining board sorted, having experimented with non-purpose built metal racks we had around the place. The purchase of this £10 basket thing from our local supermarket dramatically changed my emotional relationship with the kitchen.

    The gas heater above the sink is unfortunately common in Japan. With no proper flu outlet the sticker on it instructs you to always have the fan on when using it - people have been known to die from carbon monoxide poisoning from these things. Because of this, we never use it for hot water, and have turned off the gas supply. Instead it's just used for washing up with cold water (which for some reason doesn't bother me in the slightest. Now, using hot water for washing up strikes me as being a bit wasteful!).

    To the right of the induction range is the food mixer and water filter, and below them six plastic baskets which serve as our pantry. Each one has a theme: Baking, liquids, packs of mysterious Japanese ingredients I don't understand, pasta etc, jams and hot drink supplies. To the right of that we have our sexy fridge, inherited from *Twinkle*s family. It now sports an Apple Sticker to help convince people it is cool.

    himonya house tour_0580

    The latest and final bit of furniture I purchased from the local department store was this wooden shelving unit. I'd realised that the space in front of the glass door was 'dead space', something I don't feel we can afford in this tiny place. This unit has turned out to be ideal. It's nice to have the fruit on display, and to have the saucepans ready to hand - encourages me to cook!

    One thing I find frustrating is not being able to put things into the wall. Like screws to attach racks and so forth. I try and make do though - here's my homemade utensil rack.

    himonya house tour_0577
    himonya house tour_0581

    Looking back towards the entrance you can see the door to the loo (pictured below), which just about allows me to sit down without having to cut my legs off. The sticky-out-bit on the left is the bathroom.

    himonya house tour_0584

    It's a typical Japanese toilet in that when you flush it the water to fill the cistern first comes out of a pipe on top into a mini-sink (lid of the cistern) - a great way to save water as you can wash your hands with water destined for the loo.

    himonya house tour_0583

    Typical Japanese bathrooms of this size are sealed units - one big piece of moulded plastic. Our water heater is traditional too. You have to turn the handle to get it started (to light the pilot), then wait forever for it to fill the narrow but deep tub (ours takes about half an hour to reach the half-full mark). The bath has two holes in the side: when full, the water is continuously drawn back into the boiler, reheated, and pumped back into the tub, to maintain a constant temperature. In Japan one washes outside of the bath using the shower, and then just uses the tub for soaking and warming (hhm, that phrase sounds a bit familiar... it's one of the answers on the tests that my English students take) - the whole family take it in turns, thus it makes sense to keep it warm.

    The big round thing with the pipes coming out the top is our bathroom water filter - our non-filtered tap water is quite heavily chlorinated, and tends to leave me feeling like I need a shower after I've had a shower, not to mention gives me real bad dandruff (and smells!). When I first heard that such a filter existed I thought it was utterly ridiculous and a complete waste of money, but now wonder how we managed without. (disclaimer: that too is distributed by Amway, in which we have a stake :-)

    himonya house tour_0585

    The ugliness of the space below the sink beside the door left me feeling pretty negative towards that whole part of the house. I resolved to fix it by hiding the sealed up-air vent and waste pipe by buying some white cotton and double sided fabric tape - hey presto, a lovely little curtain!

    The other area I set out to improve was the rubbish bins, located to the right of the door.

    himonya house_0610

    I bought a new bin for raw-rubbish, and then divided the bin to the right into two (one for plastics, the other for non-burnables). Note that below the bin on the left is a little space - this is actually another mini-bin on its side which I use for putting in recyclables like cans and glass jars. Recyclable paper is kept in the bag on the right.

    I'm a bit shocked by how much pleasure sorting out the bins gave me.

    The other side of the kitchen / living room is *Twinkle*s office. When working there she uses an IKEA chair as a desk, and sits on a cushion on the floor. Having said that, recently she has been using my Mac more and more, so often uses my desk in the next room instead.

    himonya house tour_0582

    The bookshelf is from IKEA. The curtains are all handmade by *Twinkle*s sister, a designer by trade.

    Welcome to my office

    himonya house tour_0593

    This then is where it all happens. My office / our bedroom.

    The table is from IKEA again, only about 2500 yen. The additional LCD (a generous gift from my other sister-in-law and her husband) is used for looking sexy, watching movies and when I'm attempting to multitask.

    himonya house tour_0598

    It looks a bit of mess from this angle, but usually I don't notice the cables. The printer is kept out of site below the table - possible due to it being front-feed. This was left to me by dear John John. There's also a flatbed scanner there, but it's only used now and then so doesn't warrant a permanent position on top of anything.

    To the left are my six little stationary drawers, bought from the local supermarket. They just happen to fit perfectly in the wooden bookshelf that is on it's side.

    himonya house tour_0591

    Our second IKEA bookshelf is used for all my documents / household records etc. The files were only 250 yen for a pack of five from IKEA.

    The opposite side of the room is taken up with traditional built-in cupboards.

    himonya house tour_0600

    himonya house tour_0601

    This is where the futons live during the day. I've also bought a load of plastic drawers, each one labelled with what's in it so *Twinkle* can find stuff after I tidy up. Whilst most have (homemade) purple inserts, I've given a couple of them different colours to help *Twinkle* find what she's looking for quickly :-) (the 'Temp Capsule' is for those clothes which have been worn once, but are not dirty enough for washing, but not brand-spanking clean either. Separate from the laundry basket, it's kind of temporary storage, gets sorted through when I do the laundry).

    himonya house tour_0602

    Our hanging space is limited - just that in the top-left cupboard, but that's OK as my suit a few shirts are the only things that can't be left in a drawer.

    himonya house tour_0604

    The shoe-rack, which was by the front door, is now in the cupboard. Whilst this may seem like a waste of space, it's actually helped a lot as we can now use all the space above it (up to the ceiling) and behind it to store things like my rucksack and extra bedding for guests - space that would otherwise go unused.

    himonya house tour_0595

    Finally, meet our washing machine (also a gift from Y & M). As is often the case in small apartments, it's outside, on the balcony. It doesn't seem to mind. It's cold-water only, and works a treat. After living in Japan the first time, I was left wondering why we waste all that electricity back home by using hot water to wash clothes.

    And that's it.

    Guests always welcome. Bring clothing suitable for expedition to north pole.

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    Don't unchi

    Recent breakthroughs in Brainy Animal Research Kommunications technology (or BARK for short) has enabled residents in Tokyo's Meguro-ward to enroll their dogs in new reading and writing classes. The move is part of an effort to educate the canine community in street manners - notably those connected with unchi (poos).

    Here we see one of the new signs now being introduced for the educated class of wanwans along kerb stones telling them not to do do-do's in inappropriate locations.

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    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Please do it at a pub

    do it at home_0421

    What I want to know if why has the salary man replaced his eye balls with golf balls?

    (This is one in a series of posters on the Tokyo Subway encouraging good manners. See the whole series here)

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    Faulty Nuts

    peanut letter00059

    It's worth complaining in Japan.

    Last week, we bought some butter peanuts. They were very nice ...apart from two of them which seemed to be kind of burnt in the middle.

    I didn't really think much of it, but *Twinkle* insisted that we send the remaining few peanuts back to the manufacturer.

    So we did.

    Fast forward three days and I have completely forgotten about said peanuts. I return to an empty home and find a letter on the table (pictured). I pick it up and read it.

    I am very confused. I scan the letter and see multiple references to peanuts, and then profuse apologies. Who on earth is sending us hand-written apologies, and why on earth are they talking about peanuts?

    It was only once I'd eaten the whole (new) pack of deep-fried soya beans that were lying on the table next to a new pack of peanuts that it clicked - these were the replacements for the two faulty peanuts!

    I turned the letter over, and there were two stamps attached with a paperclip - the refund of our postage. I re-read the letter in its entirety - it now made sense.

    So, the lesson is, when you find yourself with a pair of dodgy nuts, it will probably pay to write a letter of complaint.

    So there you go.


    How to regain inches lost to shrinkage - no chemicals required

    Last week, I put my Dry Clean Only trousers in the washing machine. I didn't think anything of it - labels are there to be ignored, right? Surely, being washed in a washing machine is one of the funnest times in a pair of trousers' life. Who am I to deny them that pleasure.

    I didn't realise that they'd shrunk that much until a few days later, when, walking down the corridor in the office, I heard laughter behind me, and then one of my female colleagues giggling, (in Japanese) "Joseph, you look really silly. Your trousers are much too short!".

    She was right. They were.

    It was time to resurrect the Ultimate Clothes Stretching System, patented by myself back in January 2005 following a cotton trouser shrinkage incident, and developed further in November 2005 to save my favourite blue jacket from a life of being too short.

    trouser stretching_0524

    How to Stretch Your Dry Clean Only Trousers that you Put in the Washing Machine.

    1) get them wet again. I decided to just handwash them again in the sink.

    2) Get three coathangers, a few bits of string, two tuppas, water, and a pack of stationary clips.

    3) Fill the tuppas with water until they are suitably heavy

    4) Attach a tuppa to the bottom of each trouser leg with string. This is done by clipping the strings attached to them to the legs using stationary clips.

    5) Attach the third hanger to the top of the trousers. I recommend using all of the belt clips so as to avoid putting too much strain on any one part of the trousers.

    trouser stretching_0523

    6) Hang up over the bath. Leave overnight.

    The results are amazing! Mine regained at least 4 inches, without the use of any man-made chemicals ( would have been used at the dry cleaners).

    I urge you to try this technique should you have similar shrinkage problems.

    trouser stretching_0522


    Apron fantasy comes true

    A wedding present from our friend M.

    You can't say it doesn't suit me.

    joseph in his kitchen gear_0572

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    The fragility of health

    I'm reminded tonight of the relative fragility of our health. Following a week of intense activity (otherwise known as 'Overdoing it' or 'being a Tame'), dad is back in hospital with continuous angina attacks. I don't know the details - should find out in the morning. 

    Another family that I'm very close to is also having a very difficult time, with one parent hospitalised, and two siblings undergoing chemotherapy. My heart goes out to you all.

    Another relative of mine is suffering badly from the recent onset of some pretty aggressive arthritis, whilst a couple of other people close to me are battling depression, combined with other fairly serious ailments.

    In situations like this I don't know what I can do, other than send all affected my love, and keep them in my thoughts.

    So that's what I'll do.

    [UPDATE, 6 hours later: I've just spoken to mum. Dad is being transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Birmingham) for a second angiogram and possibly angioplasty (and maybe fitting of a stent).

    Despite having to be on a lot of morphine, he's stable, and is being very well looked after.


    Friday, November 07, 2008

    Free hugs span the globe

    Ahh, feels just like Sheffield.

    The Exercise Project

    This morning's short jog, minus the first section where I was trying to get the GPS on the iPhone to work. Did a restart in the end.
    Have you tried regular exercise over a prolonged period of time? I think most people probably have. For me though, it's a first.

    It's still early days. The jogging-three-times-a-week thing only started a fortnight back, but already I'm noticing the difference. Firstly, my legs don't hurt as much after a run. Secondly, for the first time in my adult life I can touch the ground without bending my legs at the knee (OK, so I have to do the splits, but it's a start!).

    But it's not these things that I'm most pleased about - it's the general feeling of healthiness. This week has been another week of very late nights and 7am starts, and not the most balanced diet in the world (haven't been out for shopping lately so lunch tends to consist of white rice with sesame, 10 tangerines and 3 bananas). Despite this, I'm feeling really energised. I can feel a difference both physically and mentally. Feel much more alert.

    And whilst I might be drawing lines where there are none, I'm sleeping much better too. It's now often the case that as soon as I decide I want to sleep, I sleep. Deeply. Of course, this could be due to suppressed exhaustion, but I'm not so sure. It's not been like this before.

    So whilst I don't recommend not getting enough sleep, I do recommend early morning exercise.

    My regular route is published above, so you know where to find me if you'd like to join me :-)

    p.s. I think we have a Trailwalker Team! More news on that to follow. Now off to work.

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    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    Japanese lesson, and cake

    Been a funny day today. In some ways a little frustrating, as I spent about 4 hours trying to do the simplest bit of coding in MS Office Access, but failing. I’m hoping I have an early morning breakthrough tomorrow as I have every time I’ve run into a difficult problem with it so far.

    Despite the frustration, I didn't really feel all that frustrated. Which I was happy about. Those books work wonders :-p

    The view from the office balcony: looking between the neighbours

    between buildings_0419

    Last night's sloppy blog post did cause me a bit of disappointment, disappointment with myself. However, I’ve decided to take it as one of those precious lessons, and thus something to be grateful for, not regretful of.

    Work at the office is starting to pick up now, with my telephone-conversation ‘classes’ (5 minute phone calls on topics such as personal info / directions / social issues in Japan) now taking up about four hours a day. [My job is firstly: taking 5 min conversation calls and marking written essays from my 300 students. Secondly: recruiting teachers for in-company classes throughout Japan]. The lower level calls are pretty easy, allowing me a little brain rest as I go through the routine. I find the higher level students really stimulating though, especially those who have lived abroad or are non-Japanese - being exposed to other cultures makes a huge difference in terms of attitude towards life.

    As the departure of my British colleague approaches so I'm being slowly trained in what will be my new job. My core role will be recruiting new teachers, which necessitates a lot of good ole' human interaction, not just with potential employees, but also with many of my Japanese colleagues. This is something I positively look forward to - I really want to improve my Japanese, and this will provide me many opportunities for doing so.


    It will also give me the opportunity to develop a new teacher-recruitment workflow. Whilst the existing system works, it is pretty laborious, requiring far too many tedious stages that could either be automated or scrapped. I've started thinking how I might work this. Ideally, I'd like to be able to use my Mac to get it all sorted as Japanese Windows XP is pretty pants when it comes to automation (and more importantly it lacks the sex appeal of Leopard), but there may be some issues with data security, i.e. carrying a laptop to and from work each day. One way around that could be to keep everything on the shared server, and just use my mac as a portal. Well, we'll see.

    Tonight I had my first tandem learning session with my new (qualified) Japanese teacher, who also taught my classmate Phil and whose brother taught another classmate of mine (all 'coincidentally'). Bloomin' marvellous.

    As mentioned in previous posts, whilst I do use Japanese at home with *Twinkle* at times, on the whole we're using English so that she doesn't forget what she already knows ...the idea being that I use Japanese everywhere else. Which I do, but not very well. I'm too inclined to fall back on familiar grammar patterns, or simply Japonize English words. At work I tend to give up when I hit unknowns, like today when trying to explain the problem I was having with my database. Everyone speaks at least a little English, so it's only too easy to do.

    My new teacher, Nami, gives me the opportunity to take the time I need to recall the vocab I've already learnt (but is buried at the back of my head). She corrects my persistent errors, and explains terms that I hear often but don't quite understand. She teaches me new vocab. Reminds me of kanji meanings. Prompts me to use polite Japanese.

    Polite Japanese is possibly my weakest point. Yes, I can use it if I think about it, but I have a bad habit of slipping into casual speech. With Nami, I deliberately stick to polite / formal japanese in order to help develop that habit within me, as I'll need it if I'm going to do business in Japan.

    She also took the time to explain to me the 'all new' Japanese Language Proficiency test, being introduced in 2010. I won't go into details here - my ex-classmate from Bristol has done a good job of outlining the changes a here if you'd like to know more - but basically, after 2009 it's going to get a lot harder as previous exam papers will no longer be published.

    She'll not only be helping me learn the actual language, but will also be teaching me specific exam techniques that help one to pass JLPT.

    I'm inspired by Nami (she also happens to be the first Japanese person I've met whose been as happy as I am to see Obama elected), and thus will be taking JLPT level 1 next July (as of next year the top two levels, 1 and 2 will be biannual). This excites me. She reminded me how much I love the Japanese language, and how much I love getting better at it. It's vital I have a goal to work towards - this is perfect. It would be only too easy to just get by with what Japanese I've got. There's nothing wrong with that as such, but it's not what I want for me.

    How stiff are your whites?


    Living with *Twinkle* continues to be absolutely bloomin fantastic. We're both getting home pretty late most weekday nights, me with teaching and *Twinkle* with our Amway business. But we get to cuddle up together under a tonne of the warmest wooly blankets at night, and that's nice. The honeymoon period is far from over.

    Green Tea and Strawberry Cake

    cake making_0483

    I've started taking a more active role with our Amway business lately, and am finding it very rewarding. More than anything, it gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded (mostly young) people, all looking for an alternative to the usual diet of graduate jobs (not that there's anything wrong with them if that's what you want to do). It also tends to involve eating a lot of good food, or, as was the case last night, cake. We had a professional cake chef (there must be a proper name for them) come up from Wakayama and teach us how to make various kinds of real simple and quick cakes. Reminded me of home - mum's home-made cakes are one thing I miss.

    cakes up close_0449

    cakes up close_0459

    cakes up close_0502

    Anyway anyway, I'd best tidy up and put the hottlebots on. It's getting chilly, and this house has an amazing ability to amplify the outside temperature, Need to be up early too for the second jog of the week :-)


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    People Change Politics

    [Apologies for the reposting. Trying out some new blogging software on my iPhone]

    There are some cynics who believe that we are powerless to bring about massive change. I would strongly disagree with that. would Friends of the Earth UK.

    Message to supporters:
    Together we've done it!

    A huge thank you to everyone who has supported us on our Big Ask campaign. Together we have finally got a strong Climate Change Law.

    Parliament voted on 28 October for the world-beating legislation after a 3 and a half year campaign by Friends of the Earth. The first of its kind in the world, the Law is a huge step in the fight against climate change.

    The Law commits the Government to 80 per cent cuts in the UK's emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, including emissions from aviation and shipping, and with annual targets along the way to keep us on track.

    This really is an astonishing achievement. And you helped make this happen - thank you!

    And there's more great news for the planet: Obama got elected! This is fantastic, what we've needed for so long.

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    Yay Obama!

    [Watch Obama's victory speech in full on the BBC]

    What an historic day. A day I am very happy to be alive and witnessing. Bloomin' marvellous.

    I've been looking at photos of reactions around the world for the last hour. Reading the editorials, learning about Obama's background. It's clear that a lot of the world is as happy as I am.

    What a day for democracy! This is really what it's all about. Millions of people simultaneously saying "Yes, we want change". It makes me proud to be, er, British, with American friends.

    This is not just the election of a new president, this could be the beginning of a significant change in direction for a country we love to hate. The election of Obama could fundamentally alter my attitude towards the US. I might even find myself wanting to visit there again. No, but seriously, I feel the barriers are melting.

    For me, Obama represents the diversity of the modern multicultural world we now live in. Here's a quote from the Guardian:

    Barack Obama won the US presidential election by building a broad rainbow coalition of voters embracing younger people under 45, black people, Hispanics, independents, moderates, people from most income groups, and women.

    White males apart, McCain attracted majority support in a limited number of categories, including older Americans, evangelical Christians, and conservatives – the bedrock of the Republican base. This apparent narrowing of the GOP's appeal will fuel speculation about the end of the Republican "era" that began in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan.

    Reagan owed his victory to so-called Reagan Democrats, southern white blue-collar workers.

    In the age of Obama, it is upwardly mobile, middle class suburban and ex-urban voters who are now changing the paradigm and setting the pace in states such as North Carolina and Virginia. Increasingly, they identify with the Democrats.

    I've never paid any attention to US political parties before now, but I learnt a fair bit today, and am delighted the Democrats are in.

    And check out his environmental policies! This is such good news for the world after years of a pro-oil anti-reform administration. The Earth can breath a sigh of relief!

    What a great role model he is. What an inspiration. Ahh, it's bloomin marvellous. I'm so happy. This is a time to embrace.

    hmmm. I'm going to watch his speech on race now.

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    Monday, November 03, 2008

    Why I'm happy Obama will be president in a few hours from now

    Wow. Kinda feeling ecstatic tonight. Been reading the news about the US election, and getting very excited.

    Whilst having Obama as president doesn't necessarily mean huge changes for the better in US policy (such the entire defence budget being redirected towards peaceful solutions / humanitarian projects / environmental protection), it does give me hope.

    For me, it's not the political aspect of the US elections that excites me, it's the human aspect. I admit to knowing nothing about US politics. I don't know the difference between the republicans and the democrats - I couldn't even tell you which George Bush is. That's how interested in US politics I am.

    But I do know that John McCain tends to go on about the war. And he's 72. And if he dies in office, Palin would be president - how scary is that?!

    So why do I want Obama to be president? For one thing, he's inspiring. Have you heard him speak? He's a fantastic motivational speaker. He knows how to tell stories. He knows how to engage with his audience. How to get them on board. How to get them laughing with him - as opposed to at him.

    I'm genuinely inspired by Obama to be all that I can be. He proves that if you're a decent person, if you have passion and belief, and if you try hard enough, if you never give up, you can achieve the 'impossible', regardless of what social norms suggest.

    We need people like him in the headlines.

    Oh, and did you know, he's good news for tourism in Japan too?

    I'm also excited by the buzz. Check out what's happening on Twitter!

    (I was shocked when I saw that McCain's campaign crewhaven't updated his Twitter status for almost ten days. Mind you, he only had about 5000 followers. Incidentally, Obama, with 114,143, is the world's No.1 Twitterer in terms of followers- i wonder if he has it update his Facebook status too?)

    We need a US president who knows how to update their Twitter status, and make use of the new media in general.

    I'm also attracted by his efforts to not conduct negative campaigning (although I am aware that a significant proportion of his adverts have included some negativity). Positive is the way forward. Yay positivity!

    I'm buzzing for other reasons too. Tonight I was contacted by the editor of a pretend magazine in Australia, and asked to write another story for them. I say 'pretend' because it's only sent to about 7000 members of a penpal organisation - it's not available in the shops. Nonetheless, I love having my stories published - this will be the sixth in a series; I think I'll write about last year's trip halfway around the world in 28 days.

    I've also just taken delivery of my first ever set of professionally printed postcards, thus realising a dream I have had for some 15 years. These aren't for retail purposes though - I got a batch of 60 as a trial, to see how my photos look in postcard format. Perhaps I'm biased, but I like them a lot.

    Actually, I'm thrilled!

    This encourages me to move forward with 'doing' something with some of my better shots. I know I'm no professional, and in fact it's no dream of mine to become a professional either. Professional photography is tough, and I think the pressures involved rob the photographer of the freedom to shoot as they please, as amateurs can.

    Nonetheless, I'm thinking that perhaps these images can play an important role in helping us achieve one of our goals: the establishment of a perpetual charitable fund. I could decide that any profits derived from the sale of any of my photographic products be placed in a bank account that we set aside for such a charity.

    Hhmm, I like that idea. Yeah, i like it a lot. Mmm, it feels like the missing link. This gives me a real reason to pursue my photography. Makes it into a worthy cause, over and above making me (and possibly others) happy.

    I like the idea of having multiple revenue streams. This can be one that is specifically for charity, complimenting our full time incomes, our monthly Amway income, teaching work, advertising on TGW, and ad-hoc translation jobs.

    Then there's ThreeSeeds too, our online publishing company. The website is all there, ready to go, but has been neglected in the face of the big changes that all three of us partners have experienced over the past few months. Must do something with that. Ha... if only I felt able to make the time for it!

    Anyway, it's late, and I must sleep. Up at 7am for the first of the week's three jogs! Then work, and then I think in the evening we're being taught Moroccan style cooking by a pro chef - perhaps I can extend my repertoire so that it goes beyond Wok Bread, miso soup and banana cake!

    I look forward to reading the headlines in the morning :-)

    [EDIT: Ok, so I know who are Democrats and who are Republicans now. And I'm delighted to see that we now have a President Obama :-)  ]

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    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Brandon Steep hit the shelves at HMV Japan

    It's so good to see your friends doing well.

    The Kirk family have been good friends of mine for about 20 years. My trip to Islay (Scotland) to visit them 17 years ago was probably my first ever 'big' trip somewhere by myself. Later, they were kind enough to let me live with them for a few months. Jo remains one of my bestest friends - it's been great to grow up 'together' (by letter / phone / email / visits to Hereford & Bristol).

    It's also been great to see the boys (Jo's brothers) grow up. They're not much younger than me, although when you're a child a few years seems like decades.

    Anyhow, a few years back Pedro, the eldest, started a band with his friend Luke. Joined by another three friends, they converted the garage into a studio, and then worked damn hard at getting good at what they did.

    Things are really taking off now for Brandon Steep. Just last week I got a mail to let me know that they have a CD out in Japan, available from (Amazon, HMV and iTunes.

    I was so excited buying this CD at HMV today. I've never bought a friend's CD from a 'proper' shop before. It felt real good to be able to support them from such a distance (and get something good to listen to too).

    (The chap behind the counter was full of praise for them, saying they were getting quite a following over here).

    Congrats to Brandon Steep for your continuing rise, long may it continue!

    Their website seems to be being re-worked at the moment, so for now is the place to go to check them out.

    Oh, and check out the Herefordian field in this video :-)

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    My dad plays God

    Photo courtesy of John Dinnen

    He's back on the stage, this time playing God in a 'Modern Mystery Play'.

    Not quite the image I was brought up with - shows how times change :-)

    The reviews are now coming in, and by all accounts it was a sterling performance. 

    Well done dad. 

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    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Lock and Lock changed my life

    Tuppa was never our household's strong point.when we lived in Sheffield, we had these nasty little tubs with lids that had a habit of cracking. Whilst we did invest in some slightly higher quality recepticles, they didn't last long, getting fried in a microwave at a Japan Soc food party.

    Things didn't improve much last year in Itabashi-ku. Just after we moved in we bought some 100 yen tuppa. The lids stopped fitting whenever anything remotely warm was put in them - but we never thought to do anything about it.

    Thus, until now, I have been hesitant to take radish and carrot salad, fearful that it would escape its temporary unlockable home and run riot in my computer's CD slot. I did not enjoy taking rice dishes to my work place, knowing that I may well end up picking the grains out from the bottom of my rucksack.

    That has all changed now. Last week I made the Executive Decision to procure an entire set of the snazzily titled Lock and Lock series of food storage devices.

    Our new flock of Lock n' Locks positively encourage the creation of packed lunches. They hold our food with confidence, not a hint of hesitation when asked if they would like to host the day's edibles.

    Thus, I would encourage others who suffer as we once did to seek out a local shop that stocks them, and invest in the best tuppas you might ever own.

    They will change your life. maybe.


    Autumn in the park

    komozawa park_0313

    The view from my jogging track. 500m mark.

    For some truly beautiful autumnal (Japanese) pictures, I recommend you head over to

    (If you're squeamish you'd better not look at the ones of the calf being born).

    Kevin and Tomoe are truly remarkable photographers, and they provide me with a great deal of inspiration. It's not just their photography I'm taken by though - their way of life has me spellbound. I often find myself reading their tales of organic living whilst on the commute home from work - the contrast between the tubes that run below Tokyo and the beautiful scenery of the Japanese outback could not be greater.

    Kevin and Tomoe also run One Life Japan, and I would encourage anyone coming to Japan for a holiday and looking for something a bit more 'authentic' to take a look at what they offer.

    Hhm. I seem to be a bit obsessed with this pig. I just can't help but post another shot of her.

    komozawa park pig_0294


    The boy by the water

    kitanomura children playing_0353-2


    Little Runners

    kitanomura children playing_0348

    kitanomura children playing_0355

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

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

    It felt a bit funny.

    The wonders of modern technology.

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