“Are you mad?” Why I left my job and moved to the Japanese countryside

Click below for an article I wrote for GLOBIS Insights about why we chose to leave Tokyo for a life in rural Kansai. 

東京から関西へ移住についてのポスト(英語のみ🙇🏻)をグロービスInsightsのブログに載せていただきました。

ぜひご覧ください。

http://e.globis.jp/article/455

Quality Time with the Kids ー 子供と充実した時間

One of the perks of being your own boss is being able to spend more time with the kids. 

When I was in Tokyo, I didn’t get home until after 7:00, which after eating dinner left very little time to do anything else with the kids. 

Now, I’m at home when the kids get back and can do lots more things with them. I’ve started teaching my daughter phonics again – after an 18-month hiatus. And recently, I also discovered this great app called Epic, which has thousands of picture books in English. My older two love it when I read stories to them on my iPad. 

個人事業主として一つの役得は子供と過ごせる時間。

東京に住んでいた時は毎晩7時以降帰ってしまい、一緒に晩御飯した後に他にほとんど何もする時間がなかった。

今は、子供が帰ったら、既に家にいるから、一緒に色々できている。最近は長女に英語のフォニックス(単語の読み方)を教えるのを1年半ぶりに再スタート。また、Epicという数万冊の絵本を持つアプリも発見して、子供達に毎晩英語の読み聞かせをしてる。子供も私も大喜び。

Why I’d rather be in Himeji than Tokyo, except Feb 26th –        一年364日東京より姫路に居たいが、2月26日だけは違う

Earlier this year, I moved with my family from Tokyo to a city just outside Himeji.

A city of 500,000 people, Himeji has a population similar to Copenhagen. It is the second largest city in Hyogo Prefecture, which has a population of about 5 million people. This happens to be about the same size as Denmark’s population. Himejians eat lots of almond butter but not so much Lurpak butter though. 

Tokyo is in a league of its own. Many people will remember the infographics that were doing the rounds on Buzzfeed a couple of years ago. If not, take a look at the link. It’s awe-inspiring. According to the UN, the population of the Greater Tokyo/Yokohama conurbation is more than 37 million people. That’s bigger than the population of over 100 countries on this planet, including the likes of Canada and Australia. Now try imagine getting on a train with all those people…

I already made my choice on where to live. It’s a no-brainer really: serene yet efficient Denmark, or the whole of Toronto packed every morning onto the Yamanote Line. Just thinking about sweaty summers and autumn typhoons was enough to make me feel faint. I chose Copenhagen – or a place on its outskirts really:

TOKYO < HIMEJI

世界遺産姫路城
World Heritage Himeji Castle

But recently, I was faced with a new choice between Himeji and Tokyo.
These two cities host a full marathon on the same day in 2017: February 26th.

I applied for both races because they are oversubscribed and hold a lottery to decide who can run. I wanted to run one of them and decided to let fate decide which. 

Tokyo Marathon had a subscription rate approximately twelve times the 35,000+ that can actually run the race. Even a vast city such as Tokyo has to limit the number of runners that can navigate the narrow streets at the start. When I last ran the race in 2014, I was in C block (the third section from the front) but it still took me ten minutes from the gun to get over the start line. That year, I foolishly paid a whopping 100,000 yen (I had more money than sense then) to enter as a charity runner, though I have to say it was worth the experience, and the money went to support the rebuilding efforts in Tohoku (northern Japan) after the 2011 earthquake. 

To be honest, I didn’t expect to get accepted although they do say that gaikokujin have a higher chance than native Japanese. Since 2014, I entered as a regular runner and failed to get in twice. So this was third time lucky!

Himeji Marathon is my local race and has a beautiful castle. It would be a great opportunity to get to know the city a little better. 
Having lived in Tokyo on and off for 11 years, I’ve had my fill of living there. I would definitely choose Himeji any day to live!

But I don’t know when the opportunity to run one of the six Majors will present itself again. So this time around, I’m going to run Tokyo:

TOKYO > HIMEJI

通天閣(東京編)
Not quite so world heritage Tokyo Tower
Definitely I will run Himeji in 2018!

Wish me luck!!

今年の3月末に、家族と一緒に姫路の近くにある都市に引っ越した。

兵庫県の二番目大きな都市として、姫路は約50万人の人口でヨーロッパのコーペンハーゲンにあたる。兵庫はちなみにデンマークと同じくらい500万人の人口。

東京には比べ物のない大都会。国連によると東京圏は3,700万人くらいの人口で、他にそれほど大きい大都市圏が世界にない。比べるなら、カナダの3,500万人やオーストラリアの2,300万人などの100カ国以上の国の人口より大きい。

生活の選択肢もうすでにできた。毎日山手線に乗る「カナダ」ではなく、落ち付いたが充分大きい「デンマーク」を選んだ。

東京より姫路

Faux German Shiratori Castle - Not the best castle in Himeji
白鳥城
でも最近、また東京と姫路の関わるチョイスをしなければならなかった。両市は来年2月26日にフルマラソンを開催する予定。

申込者人数が多く、抽選になるのと知っていて、両方のマラソンに申し込んだ。 どっちか走れるかと信じて、運を試した。

東京マラソンは毎年、当選倍率が厳しくて、2014年に常識よりお金あった時に(笑)チャリティランナーとして10万円出して走ったが、去年と一昨年普通に申し込んだが、落選だったが、今年は当選倍率12.2で3回目の正直、なんと当選だった。当たると思わなかったが、外国人の当たる確率が日本人より高いらし。悪いけど、ごめんね。m(__)m

世界遺産姫路城マラソンは私にとってのローカルレースで、もっと街を見るチャンスだなと思って、申し込んだ。

東京は11年間欠的に住んでいたが、もう暮らしたくない。住むなら西播磨(姫路のエリア)。

世界の6「メジャー」の一つを走るチャンスはもう2度とないかと思って、今回姫路より東京を選ぶ。

姫路より東京

Tokyo from quite high up
高い所(六本木ヒルズ)から撮った東京
絶対に2018年に姫路マラソンを走ると宣言しま〜す。

“Sports” Day?? – 体育の日

Today is a National Holiday in Japan. According to my calendar app, it is translated as Sports Day. I’m not really sure if 体育の日 (Taiiku no hi) really should be translated as Sports Day though. Taiiku is more accurately translated as physical education rather than the more general sports. But oh well, who am I to question the wisdom of Apple. They make far more money than me!

今日は体育の日です。iPhoneのカレンダーアプリによると英語で「Sports Day」だそうです。私にとっては、体育が「sports」より学科の「physical education」に訳する方が正しいか思うのですが、Appleは私よりずっと利益を取れる会社なので、本当は私から疑問できない立場かな!^_^

Anyway, here are some pics from today’s run. 

今日のランで撮った何枚かの写真です。

Shinagawa Kumin Park

While out walking with my family yesterday, we happened upon a great park that we never even knew was there! 

Tokyo and the surrounding area is home to about 37 million people, and so green space is quite hard to come by. 

A couple of hours after our discovery, I eagerly went out to run around it! It’s only a short distance from where we live and has now become my new favourite place to run!!! 

I haven’t yet paced it out properly. But Shinagawa Kumin Park (Shinagawa Kumin Kouen 品川区民公園) has a running / walking course of about 2 kilometres with all kinds of exercise bars, benches and beams all around. Shinagawa refers to the ward that the park is located in. And Kumin doesn’t refer to the spice associated with Indian food (sorry, my poor attempt at humour) but rather means “citizen of the ward”.

It has great playing facilities for the kids, an aquarium, restaurants and even a barbecue area.

Anyway, don’t recommend it to too many people, we should just keep this paradise to ourselves! 🙂
Map

   
 

   
 

Tokyo Imperial Palace Run

Ran around the Imperial Palace for the first time in ages today. Actually, I ended up doing two-and-a-bit circuits for a total of just over 12k. 
I was supposed to meet friends in Jimbocho but had to finish off an important presentation at work for tomorrow. So I ended up running alone for most of it, while my two friends ran together.

  

Believe it or not, people were actually running around the Imperial Palace!!
 
It was a bit tiring to run right after work, but after a while I felt the benefit of doing an early evening run. Especially as I worked up quite a thirst. So when I finally caught up with my friends, we all went for a well deserved  chat over beers!

Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review

  
Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life. 

Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilling’s loose rendering of a Japanese proverb introduced to him by the husband of Japan’s former High Commissioner for the UNHCR, Ogata Sadako:

wazawai wo tenjite fuku to nasu.  災いを転じて福となす。
(Literally: Turn calamity into good fortune)

It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Japan in the current age. 

Starting in the small coastal town of Rikuzentakata a mere 40 kilometres from where I spent the first three years of my life in Japan, Pilling recounts the story of a hotel general manager and the fateful day that changed his life and the lives of 23,000 other inhabitants of the town.

He talks of the miracle Lone Pine that stood while 70,000 others fell on that fateful Friday in March. The before-and-after photos and words on a page don’t fully capture how harrowing the difference is.

The first time I went to “Takata” as the locals would call it was on my second weekend in Japan in early August 1997. I remember eating at the small fast food restaurant near the beach some eighteen years ago, which he describes from photographs:

An entire Mos Burger restaurant, Japan’s equivalent of McDonald’s, floats across the valley like some unmoored boat, its red roof and ‘M’ logo distinctly visible as it sweeps towards the hospital. By the time it gets there, it has been ripped in two.

I remember walking in amongst the trees remarking how huge Japanese crows were (like ravens), and how their voices sounded like grown men’s; picking up a stray volleyball as I walked on the beach, passing it back to some high school kids. Later that evening, I remember sipping beers, eating barbecue meat and camping out under the stars with my new-found teacher mates on the JET Programme. I went back there a few times over the years – to see the annual taiko festival, to watch a traditional street festival where men pulling floats would bash into them into one another, and to eat ramen after running in Ofunato further along the coast. After I moved further north, I didn’t go back there again. Not until six months after the disaster.

I saw the Lone Pine with my own eyes in September 2011 when I went to volunteer with All Hands. I couldn’t help but feel sad at seeing nothing but flat land where houses had once been. And a single tree where a forest had once stood.

In much the same way that we show signs of aging (not linearly but in sudden leaps and bounds) Japan has lurched forward and re-defined its direction through various events. Pilling goes back in time to chart Japan’s forced opening by Commodore Perry’s Black Ships off Yokohama, which brought about the Meiji Restoration but didn’t spell change in the shimaguni (island country) mindset. He also tells the story of expansionist Japan aspiring to be like the Western colonial powers around the turn of the 20th Century; the 1923 Tokyo earthquake; and the devastation of WWII; through the miracle years of growth, surviving not one but two oil shocks in the 1970s; through the bursting of the Bubble in 1990. 
Writing only a year after the earthquake, Pilling doesn’t go so far as to say that 2:46pm on March 11th 2011 was a turning point in history, though he does examine how Japan has defined itself through some very testing episodes. Based on interviews with Murakami Haruki among others, he picks out 1995 (the year of the Kobe earthquake and Sarin gas attacks) as a decisive post-war turning point for Japan, which really spelled the end of the boom years.
Still, the image of Japan in the West is of a waning economic power overshadowed by China. Yet, Pilling reminds us towards the end of his narrative that

[t]hough we have got used to the idea of Japan’s inexorable economic decline, it remains quite comfortably the third-largest economy in the world, the size of the combined economies of Britain and France and three times the size of India’s.

And this in spite of the cataclysmic events of March 2011. According to the World Economic Outlook Database (April 2013) he notes that Japan had a per-capita GDP eight times the size of China’s (or four times in per-capita purchasing power parity terms).

The Tokyo conurbation alone is home to about 37 million people, which is more than the population of whole countries including Canada, Finland or Australia to name a few.

I have called Japan home for nearly eighteen years now. And like Pilling, I can attest that there is still much hope in this beautiful country.

Why I’m really looking forward to today (Part 2)

After writing Part 1 this morning, I went to wake my wife up and give her her anniversary present. As the 7th anniversary in the UK is wool, I decided to go with the American convention: copper and bought two tumblers for us both. Now that we are in April, I didn’t think my wife would appreciate a woolly jumper. 

  

My wife surprised me with a really nice brown leather bag, which my daughter helped her choose. I like brown leather and it will really go well with some of the other brown items I use or wear for work. 

  

After a fairly slow and leisurely morning, where I used rain as an excuse to not run, we went out at about 11:30.

We enjoyed a nice Japanese lunch at Aqua City in Odaiba and then took a look around a few of the shops.

By 2:30, we were ready for our main event and went to the fourth floor of Decks to get our picture drawn. 

  

As with every year, the artist was different again and so we looked forward to how it would come out.

I must be honest. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so thrilled. But that has happened many times – and after a while, I get used to it. Caricature is often like that and this time is no different. In fact, I’m already getting used to it. 

  

Our kids look sprightly with their rosy cheeks. They are both looking upwards in anticipation of something(?) while my wife and I look quite tired. 

I suppose it has been quite a demanding year, with lots of new things happening: a new job for me, and new schools for both kids. So it is probably a fair reflection. After all, an artist can only draw what they see, and a caricaturist’s job is to exaggerate what they see.

What I read from my kids’ expressions is that it is my job to help them learn and to navigate their new worlds. So it should be another exciting and probably stressful year ahead. I will continue to worry only about what I can control and not about what I cannot. 

The artist commented at one point that my hair looked green. Maybe I left some shampoo in my hair today. I had been more concerned about going grey. 

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this year’s picture? How does it compare to previous years? Which is your favourite?

Why I’m really looking forward to today!

Today is my wife’s and my seventh wedding anniversary. I am really looking forward to it. 

Every year, we have our own little tradition that started on our first anniversary when our daughter was just two months old. 

You know when you go to tourist sights, you often see a line of artists: some drawing buildings, some doing portraits and others doing caricature? Well, I had always been an old stick-in-the-mud and avoided these like the plague – forever haunted by a comment outside Notre Dame in Paris in 1995: “Hey, big nose!” 

But finally on April 11th 2009 at Venus Fort in Odaiba, Tokyo with our daughter in tow, my wife persuaded me to take the plunge. Here’s the result:


 

I seem to have a little scowl on my face. I wasn’t scowling, I was just nervous how it might turn out! 

In fact, I was quite pleased with the result, though I did come out with a big nose. Don’t you think I look a bit French? Perhaps it was some secret pact between the Japanese artist, Hiro and the guy near Notre Dame fourteen years earlier. My wife and daughter came out well, don’t you think? 

 Year Two (2010)

The next year, we again had another drawing. We used the same company, Caricature Japan (which I can highly recommend). We always use them. They have several branches mainly in shopping malls around the Tokyo area – as well as in Kyoto and Osaka. We have been to their dedicated shops in Asakusa and Shibuya, but also to Odaiba (where there are a couple of booths) and Yokohama

The artist was different from the first one, as it has been each year since. This is all part of the fun and anticipation as we wonder how it’s going to turn out. 

2010 is one of my favourites as we are all actually smiling, and my daughter’s personality really shines through.

Excuse my photo of the drawing. I have cut off the artist’s name Shio and got a light reflection on the picture.

 Year Three (2011)

Exactly a month after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, we went to the Aka Renga Soko in Yokohama for this drawing. At a time when everyone was in deep sadness and the nation was refusing to spend money in a mass act of self restraint, the red-brick shopping centre converted from an old port warehouse was almost deserted.

The artist (Shokoii) captures the hope that sakura cherry blossom (a sign of spring renewal) was bringing back to Japan. 

 Year Four (2012)

We also went to Aka Renga Soko in 2012 but to a different booth (they have two there). This was when our daughter still hadn’t lost her “puppy fat”. I didn’t like this picture so much at the time because it made me start to think that I wasn’t such a good parent for letting my daughter get too fat. 

Year Five (2013)

Our first Family of Four portrait. Our son was just three months old at the time – even at this very early age, you can see mischief waiting to break through! 🙂 This and the next one are another two of my personal favourites! 

 Year Six (2014)

This one was drawn last year. While some pictures take a while to grow on me, I loved this one as soon as I saw it!

And so today, we’re off to Odaiba again to have our picture drawn. I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out!