Category Archives: Thoughts


2010 resolution list

Happy New Year everyone!  Hope you’ve enjoyed the holiday season and are ready and rarin to get back to work!  No?  I don’t blame you… I’m not quite out of “holiday mode” myself either…

I thought I put up my own small goals for 2010 (how are you going say that – “two thousand ten”?  “two thousand AND ten”?  “twenty ten”?).  These are just off the top of my head (mostly carrying over from last year) so I may make additions at some point later.

  • Get an IT certification – this goal is a carryover from last year, and I’m going to try to get more serious about this..
  • Study Japanese (again) – I’m not sure if I’ll go back to classes, or try to find someone for language exchange, or what exactly, but I would at the very least like to try and improve my conversational Japanese skills..
  • Run a marathon – yeah… that’s 42km, but… at least once I’d like to accomplish that!

And 3 more carryovers (which I plan to make constant every year) are to save, cook, and exercise more.  I’ve never been the most dedicated of “athletes”, but I’ve gotten into fairly decent shape this year (though I have to say that the holiday food has been weighing me down a tad AND I’ve slacked off on running for the past 3 months) so I’d like to maintain this since I know it will be beneficial in the long run.

I also started cooking more this year and find I rather enjoy it.  It’s relaxing, and there’s definitely a feeling of pride when I see people genuinely enjoying something I’ve made (though washing dishes continues to be a constant bane)

And finally, if the economic crisis of 2008 has had ANY personally positive impact, it would be that it has encouraged me to look more closely at how I handle money and the importance of having an “emergency fund” that I can fall back on if things ever go south in terms of employment.  I don’t expect I’ll ever be rich, but at least I hope that I never need to be scared that I may not have enough to pay the rent, buy food, etc.

I think that covers most of my resolutions for now, though I may add more if something comes to mind.


Happy Holidays

Well,  it’s rapidly approaching the end of 2009 and boy has this year gone by fast.  I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I think life started accelerating once I hit 19 – since then, each year has gone by faster than the last.

2009 has certainly had its challenges, particularly in the workplace after a good  friend and mentor was let go.  Since this is a publicly accessible site, I won’t go into any details, but things were fairly stressful at work for a good few months.

There were also frustrations/uncertainties of a more personal nature, but… sufficed to say that I’m still sorting through those.

In the long run though, 2009 was a year of growth in many ways.  Not that one doesn’t try to progress in some way in any given year, but this year I finally moved to a place of my own.  It’s not the biggest place in the world, nor in the trendiest part of town, and doesn’t have anything especially unique – but it’s my place, the first time I’ve ever been completely on my own… and I’m loving it!

I’m happy to say that I’ve also cleared through most of my (modest) goals for this year as well:

  • Move to my own place – done!
  • Save money so I’m not living paycheck to paycheck – done!
  • Get a driver’s license – done!
  • Exercise – done!
  • Start cooking more – done!

I didn’t get to accomplishing ALL the goals I had, namely:

  • Get an IT certification
  • Improve my Japanese (I think I’ve actually gotten worse)
  • Buy fewer books (But the I’ve bought a Kindle so maybe that balances things out? 😉

I’ll create a new list of “resolutions” after the New Year rolls around, but so far 2009 has been, despite its challenges, a pretty good year.  Let’s see if I can keep up the momentum and do even better in 2010!


More thoughts on the Kindle (and other things)

I’ve now really started using the Kindle in earnest, and I’ve gotta say I’m a pretty happy camper.  Though as previously mentioned it is somewhat heaver than I was expecting, it is great for reading on the crowded trains since one can flip through the “pages” one-handed.  I find myself pulling out the Kindle whenever I’ve got more than 5 minutes to spare (of course, it helps that I’m reading a really good book, but more on that at a later date) and reading a few pages before the next stop.

I actually hadn’t intended to gripe about anything Kindle-related right now, but now that I think about it, I do find myself wishing for a better Kindle case than the one I have.  The current cover is one that feels good, doesn’t add too much heft or thickness, at least keeps the screen protected when it’s in my bag.  The downside to it is that it flips open too easily.  In other words, a strap of some sort, or some kind of unobtrusive locking mechanism would be better.  Oh, and if waterproofing could be incorporated into the case/cover, it’d be perfect! (something to consider when a typhoon is blowing)  But enough of the gripe – I’m sure a better case will come out soon enough.

What I had actually wanted to talk about was free books.  EBooks, to be precise.  I’ve actually known of Project Gutenberg for some years now.  Back when I was still in university and working part time, a friend showed me a CD containing hundreds of books he had downloaded and saved to read later.  I thought the concept was great – thousands of books readily available to read – for FREE?  And we’re not talking about unknown novellas that no-one’s heard about either – many great classics by such authors such as Dickens, Keats, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, Emily Bronte, Tolstoy, R. L. Stevenson… too many to list here.  But many of their works are freely available to download and read.

What enthused me less though, was that…well… they were “E”books – meaning they could only be read on a computer.  Now… many of us work in front of a computer all day.  The last thing we want to do is come back home and sit in front of another computer.  It also doesn’t make much sense to print out the books since we can probably get the Massmarket Paperback version for cheaper than the cost of printing ink and paper.  Finally, it’s really not practical to lug around a laptop to read on the train – not unless you want to expose your thousand-dollar system to the risk of dropping or the elements, as well as have to deal with the frustrations of batteries that deplete after 2-3 hours.

Well, no more.  The (yep, you guessed it!) Kindle (or any other modern eReader for that matter) solves this.  To be honest, I hadn’t really thought much about using the Kindle for reading free ebooks.  However, (again, as I’ve previously mentioned) I’ve realised that while the Kindle books are cheap(er) than most of their paperback counterparts, the ease of buying and getting a book means that I will probably be spending whatever I save in book costs getting new books!  Enter Project Gutenberg (and maybe later, Google Books).  I’ve just downloaded “The Count of Monte Cristo“, “Dracula“, “Great Expectations“, “War and Peace“, “Paradise Lost“, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes“, “Les Miserables“, and a dozen other books – all for free. 🙂

Amazon Kindle supports eBooks in the .mobi format, but unfortunately not the epub format.  However, there is even a workaround for that in the form of Savory – a freely available application that converts epub books into mobi format directly on the Kindle.  To be honest, I haven’t tried it yet since I have too many books to catch up on as it is, but it’s good to know that such an app is out there (and I really REALLY hope that Amazon isn’t so fussy about 3rd party apps that they’ll try to take it down).

Knowing that there are thousand of free books out there gives one even more reason to consider getting an eReader at some point.  While I fully FULLY agree that nothing can replace the feel, the smell, the texture, the “warm fuzzies” that one gets when holding a real book, I do think that eReaders are definitely going to become more commonplace as more and more content gets digitized.  I hate to say it, but I can easily picture younger generations growing up not ever handling a paper book; I can imagine a future where books are, if not luxuries, then at least regarded the same way something like the… abacus is viewed today – something functional, and even elegant… but somewhat antiquated.  Or perhaps the way the iPod has supplanted the cassette tape Walkman.

I think the quote by Douglas Adams (of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame) is quite applicable here:

  • 1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  • 2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  • 3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.



$%#@*! NHK

My building had a water maintenance work yesterday, and so I had to be home around 13:00 to 14:00 to let the workers in.  When the doorbell rang around 12:30, I went to answer the door and, thinking that the maintenance staff had come early, didn’t bother to check the peephole.

Instead of the workers, there was a very serious looking man, possibly around my age or a little older, standing there with a briefcase and clipboard in hand, and a large electronic device hanging from his neck.  He immediately flashed a badge in front of me, which proclaimed him to be from NHK.  I knew what he was there for – I’ve been in Japan long enough to know that he wanted me to pay a TV fee.

According to Wikipedia, there is a mandatory fee that everyone who owns a TV needs to pay.  I find this ambiguous regulation totally ridiculous though – one has to pay what is essentially a tax, simply because one owns a TV?  However, I’ve also heard from everyone I’ve spoken to that one doesn’t need to pay – certainly no-one I know does.

What really bugs me though, is that I don’t watch Japanese TV.  I don’t understand the language!!  Yet, even though I tried to convey this to the NHK “money collector”, he still kept pressing me to fill out a form with my name, address, telephone number, AND bank account information.

Needless to say, I resisted, saying no, I didn’t want to do it.  He tried to make me understand that it was a “rule”, and mandatory.  Not having any English pamphlets on him, he even went so far as to dig out a Chinese language pamphlet he had in his briefcase to show me because it had 1 (one) English phrase on it – “Broaden your horizons with NHK”.

Yeah.  Right.

It ended with him asking if I would be around next Sunday, so that he could bring an English language pamphlet.  I said, maybe and left it at that.  Frankly, I don’t have any intention of paying this ridiculous fee.  If I actually watched NHK, I might feel more inclined to do so, but given the way things are now… no.  Plus I don’t see why NHK has to be such a bully about it when other channels stations such as Tokyo TV, Fuji TV, etc, also all broadcast for free but don’t come knocking on people’s doors to get them to pay.

I’m just going to have to remember to use the peephole.



A good musician is always impressive (though I know people’s definition of “good” varies), and even if you don’t necessarily like a particular genre, you can still admire the player’s skill.

Noboyuki Tsujii is blind – yet still manages to play the piano so well that he won a major competition against other international performers.  It’s simply amazing, and honestly, inspirational.


*bangs head on wall*

I am a proud non-reader of books” says Kanye West.

Now, I don’t listen to his music, I’m no fan of rap or hip-hop (or heavy/death metal for that matter) though I understand that many others do enjoy listening to those genres of music.  I don’t have anything against Kanye West – I really don’t know much about him.  I just feel sorry for him, not knowing just how wonderful books can be.  It sounds like he’s never read a good book before (which is surprising given that his mother was an English professor).

I also find his statement somewhat hypocritical – you’re not a fan of books but you “kind of” wrote one (it was a collaborative effort and, given that the description of the “tome” states that some pages contain just a few words while some pages are completely blank, leads me to feel that it didn’t necessarily require a momentous effort on his part) and you want your fans to buy it?

I think my biggest issue with this is that I’m sure he’s got a huge fan base – many of them young children and teenagers, and I worry that his scorn of books will influence them negatively.  As it is, I already think that not enough people read, preferring instead to turn to TV, computer/console games, or the internet for entertainment. (not that there’s anything wrong with those as a form of entertainment – they are also a valid and fun way to pass time…as long as it’s done in moderation and not at the expense of other important things – like reading. 😉 )

What frustrates me is that many people now prefer information “bites”, a la twitter, or the quick 30-second infomercials on TV, or skimming through magazines…instead of picking up a real book and actually reading it.  Kanye’s “book” sounds like more of the same – easily digestible tidbits of “thoughts” that you can read once before moving on to the next hot topic.  Heck, apparently you also have blank pages you can use to rest eyes that have been oh-so-strained from the act of absorbing such brain-heavy dictums as “Get used to being used”.  Ponderous thoughts indeed.

I’m just hoping that not too many will interpret Kanye’s pride of being a “non-reader” as cool and strive to emulate him…

To end on a positive note, I leave you with a picture of that best of combinations – books and food! (image shamelessly taken from Cake Wrecks – a great site which is also where I stumbled across the link to the Reuters article that trigged this overly lengthy post..)

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Ze internets – eet iz mine again!

Yes, I’m back online after nearly two weeks of no internet access.  Oddly enough, I missed it much less than I thought I would.  I guess partly because I was still able to check mail from my blackberry, and in a pinch also access it from work, the withdrawal wasn’t quite as painful as I had been anticipating.  But now I’m back online!  Which means… more posts to come soon 🙂

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For a larger version of that map of the internet, click HERE.


Happy Mother’s Day!

This post is for my mom, knowing her love of flowers.  Happy Mother’s Day and love ya mom! 🙂

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Experiences Thoughts

Apartment Hunting in Tokyo – Part 4

This is Part 4 of my experiences house/apartment-hunting in Japan.  For Part 1 please click HERE, for Part 2 please click HERE, and for Part 3 please click HERE.

I think I’ve dragged this topic on for long enough – let me see if I can wrap things up with this post!

I last ended by stating that I decided to visit other agencies after learning that I no longer had any particular reason to stick to just one.  To make a long story short, I ended up going to a lot of different agencies, and exploring a lot of different stations.  I have to say that it was good way for me to get to know more about Tokyo.  I tend to stick to familiar venues and this encouraged me to explore areas/stations around the Tokyo area that I’d never been to in my 7+ years in Japan.  But… I still wasn’t satisfied with what I was finding.  I’m pretty picky, I know, especially considering the fact that I’ve been living in a 5.5 tatami room for the past 3 years – wouldn’t ANYTHING be an upgrade from that?  But I still kept holding off… until now.

About a month ago, I sought out the advice of a friend who deals in real estate investment (he was a former classmate of mine, and I helped him set up the first incarnation of his company website before he needed to upgrade to a site that could handle more complexity).  After talking with him, he offered to keep an eye out for available properties for me as well.  It helped that he was a little more firm with me, telling me to choose the top 3 criteria that I was looking for in a property.  That proved to be a little difficult (I had too many criteria!) but I managed to isolate 4 “main” points.

It also helped that I had already gone to so many other real estate agencies by now and visited so many other places because that gave me slightly more realistic expectations of what I could get given my budget because, really, I wanted everything.  For example (and these are points that other people house-hunting may want to take into consideration:

Size: a big point for me.  I’ve been spoiled by living in countries where land wasn’t prohibitively expensive (think Africa and Indonesia) and I wanted a little more than the average 20sqm.  You’ve got 1R (one room), 2K (2 rooms and a kitchen), 2DK (2 rooms and a kitchen that can theoretically hold a “dining” table), 1LDK (1 living room/dining room, kitchen, and single room), 2LDK, and more variations.  I was fixated on getting at least 2 separate rooms and a kitchen area, so at minimum 2K.
Cost: Of course this will the number one issue for most, and if you refer to my 3rd part in this post series, you’ll get an idea of what areas are more expensive than others.  For example, JPY100,000 can probably get you 2 (small) rooms and a dining area in the Northeast.  However, you can count yourself lucky to get a single room for JPY100,000 in the Northwest.
Furnishings: Most places do NOT include a fridge, furniture, washing machine, or cooking range.  If you’re lucky (or are have more money than I did) you can get a place with an A/C and maaaaybe lights.  If you’re really lucky (or again, have more money) you can also get a place with a “washlet/warmlet”! (one of those toilet contraptions that keep your butt warm – very nice in cold weather, I have to say…)
Proximity to station: also important for me.  I currently live about a 35 minute walk away from the station by foot so I need to catch a bus every morning – a bus that’s usually not on time.  I wanted something under 10min away from the station.

There are alot of other things to consider.  For example, distance from work (usually a very important point, unless you have a family and need the space but simply can’t afford to live downtown), nearby facilities (gym, supermarket, combini, dry cleaners, etc), greenery (if you want a park), pets (most places do NOT allow them so if you need a pet-friendly place, make sure your agent knows ahead of time!), musical instruments (many places do not allow these either but it depends on the instrument), parking, internet/TV availability, elevators (some places don’t have elevators – despite the fact that the room may be on the 3rd or 4th floor!)…the list goes on.  Heck, one selling point of Japanese properties is the fact that a room’s windows face East or South.  (East means you get the morning sunlight, South is popular because you get the least amount of sunlight in summer, and the most in winter – good natural cooling/heating system)

In my case though, particularly given my budget, I really needed to focus on my “needs” as opposed to my “wants”.  So this was the list of 4 points that I felt I “needed”.

  • 1) Proximity to work (under 30 minutes by train would be ideal)
  • 2) Cost (looking for something in the 105,000 range (including maintenance fees)
  • 3) Distance from station (under 10 minutes)
  • 4) Size (hoping for something around 40sqm – or at least 2K)

With that info, my friend was able to start looking around.  It’s worth noting that despite the economic recession, GOOD properties still get snapped up at an astonishing rate.  It doesn’t matter that I was doing my search during the “off-season” (technically the “busy season” for the real estate industry is during the holiday periods (such as Golden week) or the end of the fiscal year (late May/early April).  Very often my friend would find some potential places but they’d be taken before we even had a chance to visit them!  But perhaps my long search is over…

It took almost 2 months (he started from early March) from the time he started (and almost a year since I first started searching!) but he’s found a place in Minami-Senju that I’m going to try to apply for.  It’s a 2DK apartment, costing JPY105,000 per month, 30 minutes by train from the office, and less than 10 minutes to the station.  I think part of the reason I’m jumping on this is because I’m simply tired of searching, but I have to say that I also like the area (peaceful, not too much hustle and bustle), and though it’s near a cemetary (a big turn-off for many Japanese) the area is being built up a little so not too out in the boonies.  The application is being examined by the property management company as I type!

Woo!  That concludes my current experiences with house-hunting in Japan.  Actually… I guess I will be writing more about this – issues of cost, working through the application process, the moving experience, buying appliances/furniture – it should provide me with much more writing material 🙂

Wish me luck that I get this place! (^_^)

P.S. Here are a few of the agencies/websites I tried!

Able – 50% (as of this writing) discount on the agent fee!

Minimini – also 50% off!

Housing Japan – the first agency I used, focused on downtown Tokyo and very foreigner-friendly!

Mitsui Fudousan Group – a large presence in Tokyo, but a bit above my pay range.

Forrent – A popular site listing many properties (all Japanese though)

Yahoo! Property Search – Another aggregate of listings