December 30, 2006

Email Amnesty for the New Year

Yesterday morning I had several dozen emails in my "Read Me" folder. These are messages that weren't urgent or even very important, but that I wanted to take a look at when I had the chance. Some of them had been in there for several months. You know the type--newsletters, mailing list messages that might contain something interesting, "FW: FW: RE: funny story"--that kind of stuff. After a quick glance to make sure there wasn't anything I'd miss, I trashed them all. It feels great. I'll do the same thing with the "Read Me" stack of papers on my desk at home when I get back from vacation. What is a new year for if not a time for fresh starts?

A more drastic measure that you may need to consider if you're reeaally behind is to declare email bankruptcy like this guy did:
Lawrence Lessig hit upon a novel tactic after spending 80 hours trying to clear out his backlogged inbox: surrender. "Bankruptcy is now my only option," he wrote in a mass message to his correspondence creditors. Here's how Lessig erased his debts and turned over a new leaf.

1) Collect the email addresses of everyone you haven't replied to. Paste them into the BCC field of a new message you'll send to yourself.

2) Write a polite note explaining your predicament. Apologize profusely - Lessig managed five mea culpas in as many paragraphs - and promise to keep up with your email in the future. Try to sound credible.

3) Ask for a resend of anything particularly pressing, and offer to give such messages special attention.

How about you? Any fresh starts in the new year? Feel free to share in the comments.

December 26, 2006

Japan's Word of the Year: 命 (life)

Every year in Japan a word (more specifically a kanji or Chinese character) is selected to sum up the year. This year, the word is 命 which means life, in the spiritual, not the biological sense. The reasons listed were several.
  • A male heir to the imperial throne was born. Things were gettin so desperate that there was talk of changing the law to allow an empress.
  • Suicides by victims of bullying were evidently even higher than usual among children this year.
  • Drunk driving took more lives than ever this year.
  • Life became more precious and tenuous after North Korea tested an atomic bomb.
A word to sum up the year for me personally is 変 (change). My job changed, my children both started school, my wife began working outside the home, and we found out that we have another baby on the way.

How about you? What's your word for 2006? Let me know in the comments.

Word of the year and 20 runners-up.

December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

From Max Lucado's book, God Came Near:

Mary's Prayer

God. O infant-God. heaven's fairest child. Conceived by the union of divine grace with our disgrace. Sleep Well.

Sleep well. Bask in the coolness of this night bright wih diamonds. Sleep well, for the heat of anger simmers nearby. Enjoy the silence of the crib, for the noise of confusion rumbles in your future. Savor the sweet safety of my arms, for a day is soon coming when I cannot protect you.

Rest well, tiny hands. For though you belong to a king, you will touch no satin, own no gold. You will grasp no pen, guide no brush. No, your tiny hands are reserved for works more precious:
-to touch a leper's open wound,
-to wipe away a widow's weary tear,
-to claw the ground of Gethsemane.
Your hands, so tiny, so tender, so white--clutched tonight in an infant's fist. They aren't destined to hold a scepter nor wave from a palace balcony. They are reserved instead for a Roman spike that will staple them to a Roman cross.

Sleep deeply tiny eyes. Sleep while you can. For soon the blurriness will clear and you will see the mess we have made of your world.
-You will see our nakedness for we cannot hide.
-You will see our selfishness for we cannot give.
-You will see our pain for we cannot heal.
O eyes that will see hell's darkest pit and witness her ugly prince . . . sleep, please sleep; sleep while you can.

Lay still, tiny mouth. lay still mouth from which eternity will speak.
Tiny tongue that will soon summon the dead,
-that will define grace,
-that will silence our foolishness.
Rosebud lips--upon which ride a starborn kiss of forgiveness to those who believe you, and of death to those who deny you--lay still.

And tiny feet cupped in the palm of my hand, rest. For many difficult steps lie ahead for you.
-Do you taste the dust of the trails you will travel?
-Do you feel the cold sea water upon which you will walk?
-Do you wrench at the invasion of the nail you will bear?
-Do you fear the steep descent down the spiral staircase into Satan's dominion?
-Rest tiny feet. Rest today so that tomorrow you might walk with power. rest. For millions will follow in your steps.

And little heart . . . holy heart . . . pumping the blood of life through the universe: How many times will we break you?
-You'll be torn by the thorns of our accusations.
-You'll be ravaged by the cancer of our sin.
-You'll be crushed under the weight of your own sorrow.
-And you'll be pierced by the spear of our rejection.
Yet in that piercing, in that ultimate ripping of muscle and membrane, in that final rush of blood and water, you will find rest. Your hands will be freed, your eyes will see justice, your lips will smile, and your feet will carry you home.
And there you'll rest again--this time in the embrace of your Father.

Merry Christmas!
And thank you Jesus.

December 21, 2006

On Rules

"Rules were invented by elders, so they could go to bed early!" - Gene Edwards from A Tale of Three Kings.

At our preschool, we have three basic rules:
  • Be safe.
  • Be kind.
  • Have fun.
Of course these lead to many other sub-rules, like "Walk when you are carrying scissors," but if any rule I make doesn't fit under the one of the big three, then I need to ask myself if I'm not being a lazy teacher, leaving control of the children to an ever-growing list of rules rather than personal mentoring and the impartation of wisdom.

December 20, 2006

Jim Bakker Legacy

Jim Bakker, the disgraced TV evangelist has a bit of a comeback going on. He's married again, back on TV, and publishing books. I remember listening to and enjoying his and Tammy's record (the one in the picture) when I was young. If you want to hear some songs from the record, click here. Warning: I enjoyed them as a little kid. Listening to them now is a totally different experience.
Warning 2: The blog entry I linked to above has some profanity in the comments.

I remember hearing about Bakker's "fall" when I was a teenager and not really caring because, hey, teenagers don't have very high expectations for public role models. He went to jail. I vaguely remember hearing about him getting out and writing a book called I Was Wrong.

Then I saw something the other day on CNN about his son, Jay Bakker. Jay's a "punk preacher" in Atlanta. His relationship with his father is strained and he's dealing with his mother's terminal cancer. His church meets in a bar, but the funny thing is that he seems to have his head screwed on fairly straight. Check out the article about him and his commentary entitled "What the Hell Happened to Christianity?" It's good to see something good come out of the mess.

December 18, 2006


Tomomi and I led the children's ministry at our church for seven years. Yesterday was our last Sunday as leaders. Of course it was a time for reflection and, true to his character, God has been faithful. We began with three children; two were our pastors' kids and one was a missionary's kid. Now, including the satellite church at Narimasu, there are anywhere from thirty to fifty kids each week. We've had tough times--tears, fights, tumbles down stairs, a hole punched in a wall, and worst of all, the untimely death of a little one due to a heart defect. But we've also had wonderful times--lots of smiles, games, parties, songs, discussions, field trips, commitments to Jesus, and baptisms.

With us teaching Monday through Friday and sometimes Saturday at the preschool, doing the same thing on Sunday was getting to be too much. The classes at our main church in Ochanomizu as well as our satellite church in Narimasu are in loving, capable hands and we have confidence that the children's ministry will continue to grow and get better and better.

I know I'll forget some names, but I want to thank all the teachers and volunteers with whom we've been privileged to work over the years.
  • Toru
  • Maki
  • Andy
  • Yuka
  • Talo
  • Nori
  • Hershel
  • Kaoru
  • Diana
  • Rose
  • Emiko
  • Snow
  • Terence
  • Kenji
  • Kenji
  • Fukubi
  • Yuka
  • Sayuri
  • Yoshiko
  • Sam
  • Sumire
  • Momo
  • Keiko
  • Aiko
  • Keiko
  • Chan
  • Akane
  • Vicky
  • Yoshiko
  • Yukka
  • Lila
  • Flora
  • Midori
  • Carina
  • Wallance
  • Akki
  • Nacchan
  • Hiroko
  • Noriko
  • Jen
  • Jade
  • Keiichi
  • Jiyun
  • Isaku
  • Shintaro
  • Yuriko
  • Yuuki
  • Machiko
  • Setsuko
  • Ellen
  • Fuyuji
  • Masami
  • EJ
  • Ed
  • Naomi
  • Mariko
  • Seiko
  • Asuka
  • Tomoko
  • Mika
  • Sonoyo
That list turned out a lot longer than I thought it would be. Some have helped just once or twice, some for years, but I appreciate every person on the list. Because our children and so many of our friends are still involved, we will of course remain close to Sunday School. I'm not good at expressing sentiment like this, so I'll just post a picture of Tomomi with the flowers she got from some of the parents and staff.

December 16, 2006

Baby Names

The Baby Name Network introduces itself this way:
Are you an expectant parent? Just thinking about having a baby? A proud grandparent? Or just wondering what the origin of your name is? We offer an ever-growing database of baby names along with their meanings, origins, famous namesakes, and a gauge of how popular each name is. Baby names of all kinds: popular, unusual, ethnic, religious, unique, and many more. We make it easy for you to browse, search, and surf from baby name to baby name - until you find that perfect name for your new baby.
You can look for names several ways including by origin. For example, here is the list of Japanese baby names. Be warned that the list is sadly incomplete and the translations are laughably inaccurate. The site seems not to have been updated recently; the front page features the "Most Popular Baby Names of 2003." But all in all, it's not a bad place to start.

Why, you ask, am I suddenly interested in baby names? I'll give you three guesses. :)

Baby Name Network (via

December 12, 2006

Excellent Book on Christian Fellowship

I mentioned Jerry Bridges's book, The Crisis of Caring, before but after finally finishing it this afternoon I wanted to review it and give it high recommendations. I usually shy away from books with sensational words like "crisis" in their titles because they tend to be melodramatic and fluffy but this one is nothing of the sort. (The book was originally published as True Fellowship, a much better title in my opinion.) If you feel like there must be more to Christian fellowship than coffee and doughnuts, you will enjoy this book. I think the best way I can introduce it is to list the chapter titles and add a favorite quote or two from each chapter.

1. What is Fellowship?
These various uses of koinonia convey two related meanings: (1) to share together in the sense of joint participation or partnership, and (2) to share with in the sense of giving what we have to others.
2. Union with God
Through faith in Christ we are members of His Body. The term "His Body" does not signify mere ownership, as we might say in the expression "his house" or "his car." Rather, it signifies union or an actual attachment, as in the expression "his hand" or "his heart."
3. Communion with God
(Quoting Dallas Willard) "Does our mind spontaneously return to God when not intensely occupied, as the needle of the compass turns to the North Pole when removed from nearer magnetic sources?"

Our emphasis today is on doing things for God, or believing the right doctrines about God. But few believers take time to commune with God simply for the sake of enjoying Him and adoring Him.
4. Fellowship Is a Community
We are in fellowship with all other believers, whether or not we like it or even recognize the fact.

Why does the whole body hurt when only one part is injured? It is because all the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole. And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member. Rather than attacking the suffering part or ignoring the problem, the rest of the body demonstrates concern for the part that hurts. This is the way the Body of Christ should function.
5. Spiritual Fellowship
One of the most important things we can share with one another is the spiritual truth that God has been teaching us, which might be of great help to other believers.

There is an old adage that says, "Words disentangle themselves when passing over lips or through the pencil tips." As we share our thought with others, we learn because we are forced to organize and develop our ideas.
6. Partnership in the Gospel
Christ commands us to go into all the world, and the only way most of us can do that is by participating in the ministries of those who physically go.

(Quoting S. D. Gordon) The greatest thing each one of us can do is to pray. If we can go personally to some distant land, still we have gone to only one place. Prayer puts us into direct dynamic touch with a world. A man may go aside today, and shut the door, and as really spend a half-hour of his life in India for God as though he were there in person. Surely you and I must get more half-hours for this secret service.
7. The Fellowship of Spiritual Gifts
Many people these days are wondering what their gift is, but they are not finding the answer becasue they are asking the wrong question. We should be seeking primarily to find out our function in the Body: the particular task assigned to us by God. We may be sure that God has equipped us, both in natural ability and in spiritual gifts, for the function He has called us to perform.

It's been said that ninety percent of finding God's will lies in our willingness to do it.
8. Sharing Your Possessions
An analysis of the various ways koinonia [fellowship] is described in the New Testament reveals that its most common usage is to indicate the sharing of possessions with those in need.

Sharing materially with those in need is an experiential outworking of the objective nature of fellowship. It is important to remember that all experiential fellowship is based on an objective relationship. We are in fellowship with other members of the Body; therefore, we should work this out in our daily lives.
9. Supporting Your Local Ministry
(Quoting a deacon who was trying to determine a fair and adequate salary for their pastor) "Our pastor is or most valuable asset. He is worth far more than this church building."
10. The Fellowship of Suffering
The universal testimony of those who have suffered for the sake of Christ and his Church is that they have experienced a deep fellowship, an intimate communion with Him in the midst of their sufferings.

Many observers believe that the reason we in the West do not suffer more persecution is because we have accommodated ourselves too much to the world around us.
11. The Fellowship of Serving
One of the chief characteristics of a servant is that he serves downward, that is, to those who by the world's standards are beneath him in position or station in life.

As someone once observed, the true test of whether we are a servant is that we don't mind being treated like one.
12. Social Fellowship
Jesus always seemed to use social occasions to evangelize, to heal, or to teach principles of the Christian life. He did these things in such a way that they never seemed artificial or out of place.
I found it hard to find short passages from this book to quote. Because Bridges builds his theses point by point, most brief passages don't work out of context. The book seems to be out of print currently but it is available used online. But shoot, if you don't live to far from me, I'll lend it to you!

[Edit: It is in print and available at]

December 11, 2006

Harvard Med, here she comes!

R (age 4) bumped her head on the edge of a door this evening. Turning to my wife she said, "That didn't hurt, Mom, because I have a cranium."

Guess what the science theme was at preschool last week!

December 10, 2006

Get Out!

As a preschool teacher and parent, I struggle with balancing "study time" and "play time." Of course everyone knows that a big way children learn is through play, and I've long believed that a prepared environment, equipped with appropriate tools, toys and other materials, is as important as my lessons. But recently I've been going even farther and seeing that free outdoor play is an beneficial complement to what goes on in the classroom.

Free Outdoor Play Educates

Two weeks ago we did a unit on wells and underground water. Since then, the children have been "digging wells" in the park almost every day. They haven't struck water yet, but they have learned several other things.
  • Roots are everywhere and extend far out from trees.
  • The deeper you dig from the surface, the rockier and more densely packed the dirt gets.
  • There are several trade-offs in choosing tools for digging: thick, heavy sticks are more durable but harder to manage than thin light ones; sharp sticks can poke deep but not very wide; the best digging sticks take time to find and prepare but it can be time well spent.
Kids obviously cannot express what they've learned in terms of geology or physics, but that is what they are learning. If we didn't spend time outdoors they would have no idea how hard it really is to dig a well, and they wouldn't have learned other things about tools and what's underground.

"Nature Deficit Disorder"

Children these days spend much less time outdoors than even a generation ago. Free time is more likely spent playing a video game than climbing a tree. Richard Louv, a child advocacy expert has written a book called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder which calls attention to the fact that our plugged-in life has disconnected us from the natural world and leads to real problems like ADD, childhood depression, and obesity. He advocates hiking, swimming, birdwatching, camping and plain-old disorganized, creative outdoor play. (I haven't read the book yet, but plan too soon!)

A lot of bytes have been posted online about the need for children to spend more unstructured time outdoors. Please check out:
  • this article for a link between exercise in children and prevention of heart trouble,
  • this article about the therapeutic effect of outdoor play on children with ADHD,
  • this cover story from Time Magazine about the risks of being too wired for our own good,
  • this site about the developmental benefits of play on children,
  • this article extolling the virtues of school recess and outdoor play (pdf),
  • and not one, but two, excellent blogs from the National Wildlife Federation dealing with the "Green Hour" (an hour a day for children to play outside).
Now, I need to go to bed so I can get up early and go for a walk outside before work!

December 7, 2006

Let Them Eat Candy

My preschool is participating in Greatest Gift Ministries' gift box program this season. Donors choose the sex and age of the child they want to give to, and then pack a shoe box (or other similar sized box) with toys, school supplies and hygeine items. These boxes are then given to poor children in countries like Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Myanmar.

Today at preschool we watched a video about the project and our students were impressed that they would be able to give to children their own age who wouldn't ordinarily get much, if anything, for Christmas. After school, my wife read through the brochure about what kinds of things are and aren't allowed in the box. Hard candy is okay but no other food (because it could go bad or spill). After hearing that, my four-year-old daughter said, "The poor children living far away don't have any food. They just have to eat hard candy all the time. So we have to send them lots and lots of hard candy." We have a little more explaining to do.

(This is surreal: As I write this, I'm watching the news and farmers are plowing cabbage into the ground because there was a bumper crop and they don't want prices to fall.)

Anyway, if you're in Japan and want to participate in the gift box program, see their web site at

December 4, 2006

New Site for Families in Japan is a new site that says this about itself:
Are you raising a family in Japan? Do you have trouble getting simple things done? Piqniq is a Social Network Service tailored specifically toward English-speaking families living in Japan. Our concept is "Families helping Families" and we invite anyone that wants to meet other families, help other families, or discuss family-related issues pertinent to life in Japan to come and join the Piqniq!
I just discovered the site today. It looks like it's 6 or 7 weeks old. About 500 people have signed up by the looks of the user list, but it's hard to say how many are active (I'm signed up as "jeremy"). The home page automatically lists the most recent entries that members have written in their piqniq blogs. It also has tabs that link to "My Account," "Members," "Japan Directory" (a user submitted list of annotated links), "Forum" (not very active yet), and a "Feedback" form. The layout of the site is decent, but with the ability for users to add content that automatically shows up on the front page, the webmasters will have to be very vigilant in dealing with spam. A site like this is as good as the contributions of its members so we'll have to see how it turns out. The niche it seeks to fill is an important one. I wish all the best!

Edit 12/5: If you want to check out the site without signing up first, add /node to the end of the url. That's

December 2, 2006

Tasks for Google Calendar: A Stopgap Has Arrived

I'm a sucker for anything that promises to get me more organized and increase my productivity. Like many, I drooled over the announcements that Google would be coming out with a calendar. It arrived several months ago but with a gaping hole: no task lists. What's an organizer without a way to list tasks? Every time I log in and see the New Features link at the top of the page, I click it right away, just knowing it will be the task list. So far, I've been disappointed. Better integration with gmail was nice but who needs to see a little icon with the weather or be notified when there's a new google doodle? And now we can search public calendars and add events. Who cares? Just let me list up my to-dos!

It's to the rescue! RTM is a darn good task managing site that I tried out several months ago but abandoned because they lacked calendering. But now they just implemented a way for users to get their task lists onto Google calendars. If you already have a google calendar, just sign up at, click the google calendar link, allow google calendar to subscribe to the RTM feed and you're good to go. There will be a little check mark at the top of each day on your Google calendar. When you click on that check mark, you'll see your tasks for the day. You can mark them as completed, postpone them, edit them, delete them, and add new tasks right from your google calendar. Not quite as good as an integrated Google solution, but not so bad either.

Now I'm drooling over the impending release of scrybe. If it lives up to the hype it'll be awesome!

November 28, 2006

Fall Colors in Kyoto

I've heard several Japanese say that their country is unique in having four seasons. I don't know where the idea comes from that other countries have fewer seasons, but I do notice a lot of seasonal celebrations and observances here. My father-in-law took this picture today near the Uji River in Kyoto.

November 26, 2006


My son has said some crazy mixed-up stuff lately.

"Why didn't anybody like Murdoch?"
"Yeah, Murdoch the red-nosed reindeer."

"Dad, there are more chimpanzees outside this morning."
(Looking out) "I don't see any chimpanzees."
"In the pot right there."
"Oh, you mean pansies!"

(After reading a Bible story about John baptizing Jesus) "Dad, he was Jesus' cousin, right?"
"Wow, you remembered that?"
"Yeah, and his Mom is Emily Elizabeth."
(Emily Elizabeth is the girl in the "Clifford" stories.)

[Chimp photo credit: ash by owenbooth]

November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, sushi, and goya. Sushi and goya?! Yes, we celebrated another Thanksgiving in Japan. Here is the spread:

We celebrated at our preschool / church / community life center. About ninety people showed up for the festivities, many from the church but also several preschool students and their families. An American guy explained the historical roots of the holiday, we feasted on turkey (and less traditional things), played some silly games, talked about what we're thankful for, and called it a day. What I'm thankful for, now more than ever, is my wonderful family. Here they are:

November 20, 2006

Christianity in Japan

This news had been out for a while but I read about it again today in Andy's brushed blog. Contrary to the one-percent figure that has been thrown about for years, four percent of Japanese claim to be Christians according to a recent Gallup poll. (Note the correction from six to four percent.) These numbers are in line with what I would guess from my own experience (the church I attend has gone from 15 to over 300 weekly attendees in six years) and with anecdotal evidence I've heard. A web search will uncover many perspectives on the poll's findings. I'll just share briefly what jumped out at me from Gallup's comments on the poll.

alf of teens say they do not know enough about the teachings of Jesus in order to give an evaluation." Yet, of the two in ten teenagers who claim they have a religion, one-third describe themselves as Christians. This means that about seven percent of Japanese teenagers call themselves Christians! It also leads me to think that if more young people knew the teachings of Jesus, the teenage Christian population would pass ten percent. Gallup says, "Clearly, all-out efforts should be made to increase the awareness and knowledge of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ---through schools . . ." I'm excited to be part of telling young people about the teachings of Jesus. What they choose to do with these teachings is up to them, but I'm glad that my students won't be among those who don't have a basis for evaluation.

November 19, 2006

Hike Japan

Yesterday I went hiking in the Tanzawa area with a few friends. I love getting some space, fresh air and open vistas. Going to the mountains once in a while is how I stay sane in Tokyo. They aren't far away, and a lot of nice places are easily accessible by train or bus. Here are a few pictures.

fall foliage

Mount Fuji in the distance

top of Tonodake

If you're interested in hiking Japan, there's much to read on the internet, or you can check out these books on They're also available in a lot of libraries.

November 17, 2006

Without It, I Am Nothing

I like to make the most of my reading time on the train; I usually don't close my book until I step out onto the platform, and sometimes not even then. But a passage struck me so hard this morning that I had to close my book a couple stops before my station and just let it sink in. From Jerry Bridges book, Crisis of Caring:
Write down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled a whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. [. . .] And just as the number two gives more value to a row of zeros than the number one does, so more and more love can add exponentially greater value to our gifts.

Of course the basis of these words is here. However innovative, productive, diligent, gifted, charismatic, and "successful" we are, without love we are nothing but zeros, a long row of zeros maybe, but zeros nonetheless.

November 15, 2006

Hair Dryer vs. Common Cold

The cold season is upon us and I've noticed a new remedy (new to me anyway) floating around on the internet. In addition to the usual ways to keep the immune system strong (healthy diet, plenty of sleep, exercise, water and hand-washing), some people swear by blowing a hair dryer up your nose.

According to this post on Ask Metafilter:

The hair dryer trick works on a number of levels. First, rhino virus (one of the virus families that causes about 35% of common colds in adults) grows best at temperatures around 91° F, and dies above 105° F. So, raising the temperature of your nose, and nasal and sinuses to 104° F for a few minutes can kill a lot of virus. Second, warming your nasal membranes and sinuses this way immediately dries them, and can shrink them, relieving headache pain and pressure. Drying the nose and sinuses temporarily also inhibits the growth of virus, and transmission of virus through nasal drip, tissues, and sneezing. Third, drying the nose and sinuses interrupts the natural histamine reactions that cause tissue swelling and sensitize you to other allergens.

Use a bit of lotion on your nose and face to keep from drying the skin unduly, set the hair dryer on low heat, low airflow settings (or higher, if you can take it), and breathe warm, dry air for 3 to 5 minutes at time, or until you can feel your nose and face are thoroughly warmed and dried. You can repeat as often as needed, but doing this 4 to 6 times in the first 24 hours of feeling drippy or stuffy will reliably stop a cold in its tracks, and will provide substantial symptomatic relief of on-going colds in later stages.

Your mileage may vary--after all, the writer goes on to extol the cold-fighting virtues of Scotch whiskey and buttered toast with marmalade. A slightly more authoritative source for the hair dryer cure is here.

I'm not planning to catch a cold, but if I do, I think I'll try this. How about you? What's your favorite home remedy?

Edit 12/21/2010: For some reason, this post has received a surprising amount of traffic. I researched the topic a little more and wrote a similar but better researched article on the hair dryer cure for the common cold.

November 14, 2006

Run-In with the Law

I like climbing things: mountains, rocks, walls, trees, whatever. Today we took the preschool children on an outing to a big park near the school. We climbed some "novice level" trees together. At one point when the children were busy with something else and other teachers were watching them, a bigger tree beckoned and I excused myself to climb. I climbed and must have lost myself in the experience because when I came down and jumped the last six or eight feet to the ground, I landed right at the feet of two police officers. Evidently, they hadn't seen me in the tree because one of them yelled out "Bikkurishita" which translates to "I was surprised" but really means something more like AAAAAHHH!!! This could have been a mess because police in Japan are occasionally known to hassle foreigners and I had definitely given them an excuse.They asked me what I was doing.

"Climbing trees?"
"Yes. Just climbing trees."
"Hmmmm . . . OK. Good bye.
"Good bye. Thank you. (sigh of relief)"

November 12, 2006

Softbank Mobile: Really a Good Deal?

Last month, number portability came into effect in Japan. Customers can now switch mobile providers and keep their phone numbers. Softbank Mobile (formerly Vodafone Japan) made big news with a new flat-rate plan and a promise always to undercut the other two big providers by 200 yen per month.

Frugal guy that I am, I've been researching the different providers for the best deal. Japanese bloggers have written a lot about the different providers' plans, but there isn't much out there in English. I'm by no means an expert, but I'll share what I've learned.

Softbank's flat-rate plan (Gold Plan) has a basic monthly rate of 2880 yen and advertises free email and free calls to other Softbank subscribers. There are a few catches though (aren't there always).

* There is no monthly call allowance to phones other than Softbank. The first minute of the first call to a fixed line or another mobile phone company is charged in addition to the basic monthly fee.
* Softbank to Softbank calls are not free if calls exceed 200 minutes per month between 9PM and 1AM. That's about six minutes per day during those hours.
* Subscribers to the Gold Plan must sign a two-year contract called "New Super Bonus." This "Bonus" basically means Softbank subsidizes the cost of the phone. A subscriber who doesn't fulfill the whole two years has to pay whatever is left on the price of the phone. (Most phones are tens of thousands of yen.)

This plan is good for people who mostly talk to other Softbank subscribers in the off-peak times and don't mind a two-year commitment.

I spent some time in the Softbank shop the other day and after asking a lot of questions, found that the Orange Plan and Blue Plan are the same as plans offered by Au and Docomo respectively, but 200 yen cheaper. Au has two 3G systems with two price plans so Softbank also has the two price plans even though they only have one 3G system. The Softbank associate recommended the "Orange Plan W" and mysteriously kept his hand over the "Orange Plan X" page of the brochure. Surprise! The "X" plan is less expensive.

I've been a Softbank user since the J-Phone days and have over four years in the system. Rather than swtiching to another company, I'll probably go with the Orange Plan (X) Economy package. I'll wait another month or so and see if Docomo or Au run an enticing campaign and then finally upgrade my antique phone.

In a nutshell, I learned that there isn't much point in changing carriers. Unless your calling patterns fit the profile of the ideal Softbank Gold Plan user, price differences aren't that big. Especially considering the issues of network coverage, and changing email addresses, if you are happy with your current service, just keep it.

If you're interested in comparing, here are Softbank's, Au's, and Docomo's price plans. Be aware that the price of the handsets and each carrier's various discounts can greatly change the final price you pay.

Edit 11/24/2006: If you are interested in changing providers and are having some trouble with the process, please see this post at tsukublog for an excellent English explanation.

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November 11, 2006

Learning to Like Natto

People who grew up eating natto (fermented soybeans) love it, but to everyone else it's an offense to all five senses. The smell is like old gym socks. The sight of the sticky, spiderwebby strands hanging from lips or chopsticks is revolting. The taste is like, um, what old gym socks must taste like. And the texture is the worst combination of sticky and slimy. (That was only four senses, wasn't it? Fine, I'll grant that hearing isn't traumatized.)

After living in Japan for almost nine years, I decided to grow up and acquire a taste for the stuff by sheer force of willpower. It's said to be very healthy and I enjoy other fermented foods like yogurt and cheese. Last week I ate some with rice and nori (dry seaweed). This evening I ate two servings. I was able to swallow it without gagging or needing to wash it down right away. I don't plan to start ordering it in restaurants or anything, but I'm happy to say that pretty soon when I'm asked the inevitable "You're a foreigner so you can't eat natto, can you?" I'll be able to answer, "Yes, as a matter of fact I can."

[Photo Credit: ...natto... by roboppy]


In Japan, the land of complicated garbage, you can't just throw umbrellas away when they get broken; you have to separate the fabric from the frame and throw the pieces away separately. While cutting an umbrella apart with T, one of us had the idea to make a parachute. We quickly assembled one with some string, harnessed Green Lantern into it and . . . you see the result. It worked really well. This shot is of the parachute flying from the top bunk. We also dropped it from the fourth floor of our apartment stairwell a few times, but what with the rain and all, I couldn't get a good photo. Great fun!

November 6, 2006

"Go to the Ant"

Via Joe's Blog, "Top Ten Reasons Why Ants Are better Goal Setters Than You" on Achieve-It.

The whole Achieve-It article is worth reading. The author took seriously King Solomon's words from a few thousand years ago and considered the ways of the ant.
  1. Ants follow proven instruction.
  2. Ants are determined.
  3. Ants see defeat as only temporary.
  4. Ants collaborate better than Wall Street executives.
  5. Ants defend what they have and expand it.
  6. Ants never let personalities get in the way.
  7. Ants never spend their whole paycheck.
  8. Ants expect more from themselves than should be possible.
  9. Ants remain focused until they succeed.
  10. Ants never give up.
[Photo Credit: Ant Party by tarotastic.]

November 3, 2006

Ueno Zoo

Yesterday was a holiday. The weather was great. A perfect day for the zoo. We weren't the only ones who thought so. Maybe I've lived in Japan too long, but the crowds didn't really bother me. I'd always rather spend more time with fewer animals than fighting crowds.

The zoo brought out the poetic in T and R. Watching a large bird T said, ""It's flapping its wings like . . . like thunder and lightning!" And R, holding a fluffy chicken in the petting zoo, said, "It feels like I'm holding a cloud."

I posted some other zoo photos with descriptions on flickr. Ueno Zoo is easily accessible by train or subway. It's open every day except Monday. Tickets are 600 yen for 15 years and up, 200 yen for junior high students, and free for elementary school students and younger. Admission is free on the zoo's anniversary (March 20), Greenery Day (April 29) and Tokyo Citizens' Day (October 1). Group discounts and senior discounts are available. More information is available in English here.

October 29, 2006

TV and Autism

Researchers at Cornell University published a paper earlier this month exploring a possible link between excessive television viewing by toddlers and increased risk for autism. The findings demonstrate that autism rates have risen with the introduction of cable television and programming specifically targeting young children, like Nickelodeon.

The full paper is available as a pdf file here. Gregg Easterbrook also has an article about the findings in Slate. Unless you are into 40+ pages of academic writing with tons of footnotes and graphs, you'll probably want to start with the Slate article. The findings are preliminary and definitely not bulletproof, as you'll see in the readers' comments to Easterbrook's article, but they're good enough to give me an excuse to banish the Teletubbies from my home.

[Photo Credit: "Tubi" by Juan Nosé]

October 27, 2006

Battery Babel (Part 2)

Tomomi and I woke up very early this morning to a robotic voice from our living room saying, "U . . . . . . . Umbrella" over and over again. It sometimes repeated every few seconds, sometimes not for five minutes or so. After the initial fright, we realized it was a talking alphabet game that the kids hadn't played with in over a year. (If a talking alphabet game sounds familiar, see my post from October 14. Weird coincidence?)

Yesterday evening, R found the game and asked Tomomi to install batteries. The game worked fine until the kids went to bed and only started acting up at around 5:00 this morning. I wonder what makes it do that, and why it doesn't say any of the other letters.

U. S. Geography Quiz

Just for fun, how good are you at placing states on a blank map of the USA? Try it at this link. If you want to have a little contest, put your score in the comments. For the record, my score was 82%, my average error was 42 miles, and it took me 369 seconds. This California boy had the hardest time with those little New England states.

Good luck!

October 23, 2006

Trains in Japan: Cheap and Easy (Part 2)

My last entry discussed how to find the best train or subway route from A to B using route and fare finder web sites. Once you've figured out your route, you'd still probably like to save some yen on ticket fares. I'll tell you how in this and other posts. This one will be about buying kaisuuken or multiple trip tickets.

When you buy kaisuuken (sometime called coupon tickets) you pay for 10 tickets, but get 11, 12 or 14. Here are photos and descriptions of the kaisuuken. These are Tokyo Metro tickets, but most other train lines are similar.

Regular kaisuuken (left photo--the button on the machines says 回数券) can be used any time. You get 11 for the price of ten. You can buy child or adult tickets.

Off-peak kaisuuken (center photo--時差券 jisaken) can be used between 10AM and 4PM on weekdays and any time on weekends and holidays. You get 12 tickets for the price of ten (adult tickets only).

Holiday kaisuuken (right photo--土休券 dokyuuken) can be used any time on weekends and holidays. You get 14 tickets for the price of 10 (adult tickets only).

These holiday kaisuuken save us about 1800 yen or so each month on our transportation to and from church.

October 21, 2006

Trains in Japan: Cheap and Easy (Part 1)

Trains are a great way to travel around in Japan, but they can be confusing and expensive. I'll share in the next couple posts how I cut 3383 yen (about US$30) per month from my family's Sunday train fare. We live in Shiki, a Tokyo bedroom community, and go to church in Ochanomizu, downtown Tokyo. At first we took the Tobu Tojo line to Ikebukuro and transfered to the Marunouchi line, which stops at Ochanomizu. It takes about 40 minutes and costs 490 yen one way. This adds up to 7840 yen per month, just to get to church and back. It's a little expensive, but definitely worth it. After a few months we checked out some online "fare and course search sites" (kind of like MapQuest but for trains), and found a better way to go. It takes about 5 minutes longer, but if we use the Yurakucho line instead of the Tobu Tojo line for part of our trip, the one-way fare is only 390 yen or 6240 yen per month. Plus the Yurakucho line is less crowed so we almost always get a seat.

You math smarties are probably wondering where the rest of the savings is. I'll tell you in the next post. For now, I'll offer some instructions on using the fare search sites.
  1. Find a site you like. I use Yahoo!'s because I'm used to it and I've found it to be fast, configurable and accurate. It's all in Japanese though. If you want one in English, then looks good. There aren't as many search options, but at least the translation of the help documents will make you laugh. Other sites are optimized for mobile phones. I always check from my PC, so someone who uses a keitai for this might be able to help out in the comments.
  2. Enter your starting point and your destination. Here is where the search tool can be helpful. If there is more than one similarly named station, it will give a dropdown menu (Ochanomizu, Shin-Ochanomizu). If more than one station works for you, run the search multiple times to find out the fastest or cheapest way.
  3. Enter the date and time. This can be the time you want to depart or arrive. Also you can tick the last train ( 終電) button to find out the the last train you can catch at night to make it to your destination.
  4. Sort your results. Depending on the search site, results can be sorted by travel time, number of transfers, and price.
  5. Choose the best route and go! Don't forget to think about things like walking to and from stations, buying tickets, and how crowded particular trains might be. It can help to try taking different routes at different times. Also cars on the same train are heated and cooled differently and may have more or fewer people in them. If you are a woman, many trains now have "Ladies Only Cars" during rush hour.
Next time I'll write about the various discount tickets that are available.

[Photo Credit: "Twilight Yamanote" by Kappuru]

October 20, 2006

Guest Book

Thank you for visiting. You can write greetings, general comments, requests for posts, or anything else in the comments below. Thanks for keeping it family friendly and spam-free.

Your turn!

October 17, 2006

Wisdom of Children

As a father and a preschool teacher, I take notice when Jesus talks about children. And he talks about them a lot.

"Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." -Luke 18:16-17

"I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." -Luke 10:21

How could this be? How could children have direct access to Jesus, the key to receiving the kingdom of God, and revelation that is hidden from the wise and intelligent? I think it has to do with three qualities we all possess as children, but tend to lose as we get older.

Children live entirely in the moment.
We often think of young children as easily distracted, but when something grabs their attention, it grips hard. Try talking to children who are building an underground tunnel in the sand box. Observe the intense concentration as they paint, build a city with blocks, or run to kick a ball. "Seize the day!" is the unspoken motto of all children.They aren't hung up in the past. (It's over--who cares?) They aren't worried about the future (There will be clean clothes tomorrow--so what if these are smeared with paint or mud?) Children don't need to be reminded like adults not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34). In fact, they haven't even begun to think in that stressful, counterproductive way.

Children are quick to apologize and quick to forgive.
The fiercest fight, with flying fists, feet and angry words, ends in a moment with a simple "I'm sorry" and "It's okay." Former enemies play happily together even before the tears are dry. And not only do children forgive one another, but they also forgive themselves quickly. They move on without shame to the next adventure, usually having learned a lesson.

Children still know how to learn.
"Why?" and "What does that mean?" are questions I hear many times a day, but rarely from adults. Children know they don't have it all figured out, and their minds are wide open. Have you ever seen a child bluff with a knowing smile when he is clueless?

You don't need to be a parent, a teacher, or even a Christian to gain from what Jesus says above. Just hang around kids, or think back to when you were younger. Reclaim some childlike winsomeness, be a little easier on yourself and others, and once again open your eyes wide with curiosity. I know that whenever I do these things, I'm better for having done so.

October 16, 2006

Japan Window

If Japan interests you, or if you just enjoy great photos, then you must see Andy Gray's photoblog. He has an excellent eye and offers keen commentary on life in this country. He mainly does street photography (what he calls "people related to their environments"), but there are also portraits, buildings, and shots of nature and temples.

After getting numerous requests, he recently began offering some of his photos for sale.

By the way, Andy doesn't mind people reposting his images as long as they do so appropriately.

Automate It

Just over a month ago, I started using a goal-tracking web site called Joe's Goals. It's great for keeping track of daily and weekly (but not long-term) goals. You pick as many goals as you want and check them off whenever you meet them. Who would have guessed that the prospect of an unbroken line of green checkmarks could be so motivating? You can add notes each day and even share goals and progress with others for more accountability. I use the notes feature a lot but as for sharing, I'll just do it here.

One of my goals is to read the Bible and pray every day. Another is doing push-ups and sit-ups. My routine every morning is to wake up, start the coffee, do calisthenics, and open my Bible. By the time I've read a few verses, the coffee is ready and I can complete my devotions with a double rush of exercise and caffeine. There hasn't been a blank day for these two goals in quite a while.

Another goal is to clean my desk every day. I don't have a set time to do that. The last time I checked off that goal was September 22 (although since then I have a note that says "almost" and one that says "pile is smaller.") I take care of very important matters or anything with a looming deadline, but papers that just need filing or a "someday" decision can float around for weeks.

So what have I learned from this? Looking back over the past month, I generally succeed in meeting the goals that are an automatic part of my day and pretty lousy with the things I can do any time. Now I just need to find more ways of making things automatic for myself without turning into too much of a robot.

Any ideas?

October 14, 2006

Battery Babel

Yesterday evening, we tried to get a talking alphabet game to work. It was old and the battery compartment showed signs of leakage and corrosion. As feared, even with new batteries, the game gave nothing more than an electronic whine.

Six-year-old T observed, "Dad, I think it doesn't work because we put Japanese batteries into the English game and they can't understand each other."