Another year passes 

Today marks the last day of my working year, and for most people in Japan the national new year holidays start today too. While Christmas is not really celebrated here, new year is a very important holiday for many. It is a time when people go to the temples to pray for a good new year and watch the first sunrise with their families. It’s also very traditional to clean your home before the end of the year, to start clean and fresh in the next. This makes me glad that my home is not so big here and thus much easier to clean.

Personally this has been one of the most interesting and exciting years of my life, as it’s the first time I have lived in another country (unless you count moving from England to Wales, which I really don’t). The food here is good, the places are interesting and the language is crazy. I’m also still really enjoying my job, and the people I work with are great. It helps that they like to go on little adventures, which leads me to my next point… 

Adventures in Kyoto – a day trip.

As mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Kyoto for the day with the other teachers. 

This day mostly consisted of walking from temple to temple, eating some amazing food, seeing more temples and then going for a rather delightful boat ride before we got to view the city at night.

Kyoto is a city of historical sites, as the former capital of Japan there are a lot of buildings that stand as testament to that fact 

I have never seen so much red in one place before today (it’s a lucky colour here) and as it’s winter even the leaves on the floor are matching the rest of the city in colour. It’s just kind of a shame they were not so attached to the trees.

On the plus side it did give our boat guide the opportunity to ask us to imagine what all the trees will look like in about 4 months, which I promise was much funnier at the time. Mostly because he started by telling us how amazing it is (I’m guessing from a prepared script) before looking at the bare trees and then switched to ‘imagine’.
We also got to see some interesting rocks with names based on the vague shapes they resembled (other than rock shape, although I for one would like to see more rocks named rock rock). Some were more believable than others. Snoopy rock was actually pretty clear while Monkey Jamp, yes Jamp, was more than a little perplexing if only because I have no idea what Jamp looks like.

The city at night is of course also a beautiful thing to behold, made more so by the illuminated bamboo forests

While I was sad to have to go in the end, it’s always nice to know that it’s reasonably easy and not so expensive to visit places like this in my spare time. In the UK while I would go places occasionally, I’ve never traveled as much as I have here. Every month I’m visiting a new city but it doesn’t feel like such an effort. 

Next time I’m visiting Osaka, and then next year I’m going to try for a little further away and visit Hiroshima which will likely be my first time on a bullet train too. 

So until then, have a great new year and I’ll see you all in the future!


An overdue update

Hello once again from the glorious land of Japan. A land that has seemingly allowed me to live in it without asking any important questions like ‘why not Canada, everyone seems to love Canada’ or ‘why can’t he wiggle his ears.’ 

That being said, here I am and I’ve been fully taking advantage if the situation by visiting lots of nice places. On my recent adventures I visited Hammamatsu and Mishima (the later of which I am convinced is a place from the final fantasy universe). Should you find yourself in the area, I can heartily recommend the castle at Hammamatsu. With the beautiful park surrounding it, you can enjoy some very peaceful walks around the area, including some wonderful waterfalls.

And of course you can explore the castle, which was once home to Japanese nobility. 

Mishima was a little less impressive as a place to visit, but it did have one very cool thing going for it which is the sky bridge. 400m long and 500m off the ground at the highest point it has some quite impressive views. You can also look straight down through the grating if you have a head for heights.

Autumn (or Fall as everyone keeps calling it like they are American or something) is certainly a beautiful time in this part of Japan, making me once again very happy to have randomly ended up in this slightly more rural prefecture.

I’m heading to Kyoto next week so brace yourselves for even more awesome and also more blog.

The Future is Tomorrow

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about the future, and how nihilism was basically for cowards. Frankly, I agree and I think it is a shame that so much of our futurism is eyes deep in the ‘optimistic’ outlook that everything will be destroyed, we will struggle to start again and then also die.

Admittedly I have the advantage of currently living in a very beautiful place while surrounded by many wonderful people. Just yesterday I could look out of my front door and see the peak of Mt Fuji covered in snow while the sunlight warmed the autumn trees just starting to change colour. On my days off I can walk to a park and bask in the visual delights that nature has to offer, while remaining only a stones throw away from ‘civilization’. With this in mind I can completely understand why it is so easy for someone like me to imagine a more positive outlook, where society doesn’t have to be brought down to its knees, decapitated and then burnt while some strange plague/ zombie horde/ alien space monster rampages around us.

When there are so many people who are being crushed by a way of life that will literally kill them if it doesn’t stop, it is easy to understand why nihilism looks appealing. But these are not the same people who are making the zombie movies, or writing the end of days books. These people struggle through and make the most of it. They tolerate a lifestyle that I think is fair to say would finish most of us in less than an hour, but if the interviews and documentaries are anything to go by, they still hope for a better future and not the end of the future.

So why are we, the reasonably well off few, so desperate for a future where there is no hope and only a fleeting struggle against the impossible before oblivion kicks in? (you know, the worst of the elder scrolls games…)  At this point, I don’t have an answer, but I would suggest it is because we have no idea how hard it would be to survive in that sort of world. We have no experience that can relate to these situations so we fantasize about how much better it could be if our bosses were all zombies and could just kill with the justification that they were already dead. So this is why I think it’s more important than ever for people like me to become people who act (says the guy writing a blog post). If we are so sick of our current conditions we need to start doing something about it that doesn’t destroy what already exists. Again I appreciate this is easier said than done, but we can become other. Already people are trying with small scale communities and larger projects like Asgardia. Sure right now these may seem crazy or even just impossible, and maybe you’re right. But if we don’t try we will never know, and surely trying for a better future is a whole lot better than just sitting around and waiting for this one to end?

Personally, I believe that with enough like-minded people this better future can happen and it doesn’t need millionaires either. Just being nice to people is a great start, literally world changing. As always, easier said than done. There are customers from previous jobs who I would very much have enjoyed hitting with a large heavy object, but long term that doesn’t solve anything and just makes the world a slightly darker place. So please, if you can, let’s try and make a better place for anyone who wants it. Stop hoping for the end of all existence and instead try and build a place we would actually all enjoy living in, and then invite all the people who would enjoy such a place to live in it. Ultimately I think it is possible for us to create a ‘safe space’ where we can leave the power hungry and the warmongering behind, and maybe they will eventually kill themselves off, but we won’t be struggling to survive the collapse of society because we will already have a much better one.

The Good and the Bad

Today has proven to be something of a mixed bag in terms of productivity and reward. After my phone broke last week and my internet connection started to prove more than a little temperamental (It’s currently free so I can’t really complain about that) I decided I would finally ‘splash out’ and gt a pocket WiFi. Things were going rather well, I had bought a friend who spoke enough Japanese to get though the transaction and had enough documentation with me to start the contact. Unfortunately it turns out that the bank had decided to use a different spelling for my middle name on my bank card compared to my health insurance card. This being Japan meant that rather than looking at the more official ID, or even calling the bank to check that I am who I am, one little character difference stopped the whole process and now I have to go to the bank tomorrow to change it.

On the plus side after watching some friends fail to win an ice cream at a horrendously rigged claw machine I decided to try my luck on a different machine and won some anime statue thing on my first try. I don’t quite understand what this anime is all about. My best guess from what I have seen is that there are battleships, but these ships are also girls who fight other battleships, who are of course also girls. See why I’m confused yet?

Other than this slight name problem, everything else is still going pretty well. We are now on the third summer of the year as every time it gets a little bit colder two days later it shoots right back up. I’m starting to think that winter may actually never happen here and the land of the rising and permanent sun might be a better name for this place.

Japanese; it’s almost easy

But unfortunately it really isn’t. Japanese has the appeal and struggle of being considered the hardest language for a native English speaker to learn. And not for the reasons you might expect. Sure there are two alphabets with 46 characters in each. But once you learn these sounds they almost never change.

Of course there is also kanji, the 3000+ symbol writing system. Memorising this lot is quite the challenge, but with each one you learn you are safe knowing that it’s done, the meaning of that reading will not change. 

The problem is Japanese is a high context language. You can know all the words but unless you are in the situation good luck guessing what the topic was, cause that will be said once at the beginning and then dropped for the rest of the conversation. In English we like to state everyone quite clearly. Even when we are being ambiguous there is still only so much guesswork that’s needed. Japanese is closer to 50% understanding the language and 50% paying enough attention to figure out if we are talking about your house and friends house or a house you once visited ten years ago on holiday.

That being said I think it is a beautiful language and the challenges are exciting and interesting. Living here certainly helps my interest, as being able to actually order food rather than pointing and looking hungry is quite a rewarding experience. 

I’m particularly pleased today as I passed my first language test, and I’m now studying harder lessons. So yay for more language but oh dear for the complexities and confusion that is bound to follow. If you are also interested in learning this delightfully challenging language, aside from taking lessons I can really recommend two apps to help you along. First is kanji study. This one helps learn kanji (surprising I know!) as well as teaches you how to write them and gives you a good bulk of vocabulary too. It’s a flashcard style teaching app and quite effective in my opinion.

The other is memrise. This app deals with a few languages but I’ve only tried it for Japanese and I’ve really noticed a jump in my learning since I started using it. It’s fun and simple enough a tool that I actually want to use it every day, and have done so for nearly a month now.

Both apps have a good free to use section, but have the option to pay for more features. I’m still on the free versions but would not consider it a waste of money when I’m done with those to upgrade to the full versions. (This is not a sponsored review, I really do just like them.)

That’s all from me this week, happy learning!

Things what I did in Japan 

This week I’ve been back up to my usual shenanigans of traveling around bits of Japan and taking pictures, because apparently that’s what I do now.

Once again I managed to find another volcano to climb, because that’s also what I do now. This one was a much easier climb, mostly because I could use a ski lift instead. It’s amazing really how much easier walking is when you don’t have to do any real movement.

At the top of this particular volcano was a rather interesting sight. Now I don’t know about you but when I think volcano I think rocky, maybe lava in the crater if it’s active. I do not usually think ‘this would be a great spot for some archery.’ Well apparently someone did think this and that’s exactly what you can do here.

This week has also seen a return to eating more delicious raw fish, and generally amazing Japanese food. This pleases me.

It was also the week of the lucky moon, although I failed to cash in on this luck by eating a dumpling while staring at the moon. I assume this is some sort of threat, that the dumpling represents the moon and on this clearest of nights the moon can see that if it does not give you luck you will come up there and bite it.

Until proven otherwise I will assume this is basically a fact.

Power for All

So one of the interesting things about Fuji is all the water and rivers running along side the roads. Yet even with the environmental awareness of the country, all of this free kinetic power is just running off to the sea. It makes me wonder why across the world we are just letting very easily used energy resources just go to waste.

Back in the UK before the national grid came into place each town was expected to provide it’s own power needs. While I never lived through that part of history I imagine that much like in Japan now, people were more aware of their power consumption. Yet since the implementation of the grid we can take energy from one place and send it to another. While useful for keeping everyone provided with all the power they need, it removes us from the problem which seems to means for many the problem has also gone. 

People here already use the river to water their gardens, so is it really that big a step to start using these easy to access resources to lower our reliance on burning things for power? I’m always amazed that we still support our civilisation by setting fire to things, even though the technology already exists to move beyond this. 

It would appear that we cannot wait for some large corporation to bail us out of this energy issue. If we could, then we would already see the technology bringing power across the globe. Instead only a few progressive places have made the switch, and that’s just not enough change. Right now there are still companies stealing land from people to mine resources or to make way for pipelines. 

While we cannot all go to stand by these people at every atrocity committed in the name of power, we can limit how much we use and look for alternative ways to power our homes. Remove our need for external energy and these companies will no longer have the funds to ruin lives. This is not an easy thing to do, nor am I by any stretch the first to suggest it, but it is important. Not just for the morality of the situation but for the selfishness of our own survival.