I am sitting here tonight in our classroom, as 10 of our members attempt an “all nighter” of television gaming.

I hate almost everything about “Terebi geimu” as they are called here, but on this one day, on our “Bou nen kai” (lit: forget the year party) I let them game until their eyes fall out.

They live at home surrounded by parents always telling them to shut it off.

Tonight, they can game until they really feel “full,” game until they are satiated, play until they themselves decide to stop.

I’m not sure it’s educational, but while it is fun, they eventually get a taste of “too much of a good thing,” and hopefully learn about setting good limits for themselves in terms of personal care.

In the meantime, behind me on the TV, battles rage on…


How to Get Smarter While Feeding the Hungry

Here is a fun test that also helps people.

If you go to www.freerice.com you will get a vocabulary test.

It ain't easy, and with each correct answer, the next question gets harder.

And here is the kicker: with each correct answer, the site will donate 10 grains of rice to fight world hunger.

Well, when you start playing you see the genius of the idea. The vocabulary test is kind of addictive, and the rice keeps piling up. When you miss, rice isn't taken away. It's not gambling!

Give it a try. Build your vocabulary, and fight world hunger. Hard to find a better side benefit to study and self-improvement!


Boiling Blood

In today's English class we were talking about figurative language, and one of the expressions was "blood is boiling." When I asked for someone to try to use this new phrase, everyone was at a loss, so I had to come up with something.

Then I remembered last Thursday. At the bank.

Japanese banks are not known for their speed. As a matter of fact, there isn't really a less-customer-friendly institution here, except maybe the haughty, holier-than-thou, former-monopoly travel agent JTB.

But today's gripe is about banks.

I don't really like to complain, especially on this blog, which tries to be postive. But maybe as a starting off point for "exploring cultural differences" it might be educational.

Firstly, banks offer the astouding interest rate on savings accounts of about 0.01 PERCENT, meaning depositing a 10,000 yen note would yeild a whopping one yen after a year. One one-hundreth of a cent for a $100 deposit.

To be fair, loan rates are low. My car loan is about 3%. But that is 300 times more than the interest I could get by keeping my money there.

Anyway, I went to the bank (A bank, which shall remain nameless, but contains in its name a number between three and five...)

I went to the ~~bank to open an account to receive donations from I CAN. I had our "Hanko," which is the stamp or seal which works pretty much like a signature here.

It took about 10 minutes for them to explain how hard it would be to open a new account that had a different name from the account that was already on file.

Really? I didn't know a one person per account rule existed.

Finally, we aggreed to open an account with a parenthesis after the account name, saying "donations." That only took 15 minutes.

Then the clock started ticking.

10 minutes
Would I like a cash machine card? No, not needed.
................30 minutes
Mind you, this was to open an account with 100 yen (about a buck)
....................................45 minutes
..............................................50 minutes

Finally, after about almost an hour, being the only customer in the bank with a staff of about 20, I got my little passbook. The bank lady said,
"Omataseshimashita" ("Thanks for waiting") and I walked out, wondering what in the &)%&'!! would take so long.

My good friend Simon from New Zealand said, "I always just hoped there was so much more money 'in the system' that it took longer for things to run their course."

Simon gets kudos for positive thinking but unless the passbook is being hand engraved with golden lettering, I don't see why this has to be.

And the Japanese who live here are just compliant, used to it, and never realize that when a company has to send someone out for half a day "ginkko mawari" (Making the bank rounds) that time could probably be better spent at the company.

Does anyone know why Japanese banks are like this? Any other horror stories?

Later that day I was further encouraged by my dealings with the POWERS at City Hall.

Asking "Could I bring my poster for the event tomorrow instead of today?" sent me on a phone tag game that lasted again for 20 minutes.

NOT ONE person would tell me if this was "within the rules" or not. Finally, when I reached "the man in charge," when I asked what time the event started, he had to put me on hold again to ask (a superior?).

Sometimes I am amazed this country works as well as it does.

Comments? Reactions?


Social Networking

I never really got the point of MySpace and Facebook.
Really a time-waster, if anything.

Then I found a new one.

Man, this will really eat into your day!

The idea is you get paid for how many clicks you and your referrals make every day.
It's a tiny percentage but grows exponentially with your referral tree also making clicks.

So, let's all join and make a million dollars!!

Here's the link:

See ya there!


A dying breed?

A friend wrote last week to recommend the new book
Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter, by former gangster daughter Shoko Tendo. The article posted on Reuters, here, says it all.

The Yakuza are a mixed lot, at times praised for their Samurai values of loyalty and honor, while on the otherhand dealing in violence, drugs, prostitution and other not-so-savory trades.

Though the numbers of gang members seem to be declining (not sure how they are counted...a Yakuza census?) those who remain in the lifestyle seem to becoming harder-core criminals.

Once of the most interesting parts of the Reuters article was this bit, with the ramifications of globalization and its implied implications for English teaching:

"As the world becomes more borderless, they'll need experts who can deal with this too, speaking Chinese and English."the world becomes more borderless, they'll need experts who can deal with this too, speaking Chinese and English."

Maybe some entreprenureal spirit could tap this niche, with a tattoo/English salon, or a new classes at the neighborhood Eikaiwa school: "Fuggedaboutit: How to Speak like a Mobster." Or "Illegal contracts and customer service" although that niche may already be adequately covered by our friends at NOVA.

While I haven't read Ms. Tendo's book yet, I plan to. Not only is she beautiful (if that really is her on the cover), I imagine she has had a few tales to tell, and a few insights even into the future of her country. An excellent chance to see "the underside" of an already sometimes-hard-to-fathom society. In hardcover now, below.


How to Communicate with Your Child

Today in Japan more than 3% of all school-age children are truant, or “futoko.” And the numbers are growing.

While it would be nice to live in a society where alternative styles of education were accepted, that future has yet to arrive. So for many of us, it is best to do the best we can within the system as it stands.

So, what can you do, as a parent, to ensure your child stays in school?

In real estate, it is said that the three most important factors are “location, location and location.” For raising children, it’s “communication, communication, communication.”

Communication with your Child:
This almost goes without saying, but in the day to day busi-ness of life, real communication often takes a back seat to commands (“put your toys away,” “brush your teeth”) or confirming our mutual schedules (“after school I’ll pick you up for karate practice”)

All parents have asked the question, “how was your day?” and received a succinct, “fine.” The key is to ask more specific, yet still open-ended questions. “Was the test as hard as you expected?” or “did you go in the pool today?” at first seem like yes/no questions, but they lead themselves to expansion. Of course follow-up questions are allowed and encouraged!

In the Car:
This is almost a magical communication zone. Maybe because we are NOT facing eye-to-eye, or because we are ostensibly doing something else, that communication seems easier. These conversations, “on the way” to the supermarket, to school, to practice, are vital communications with your child. Because the guards are down, real feelings can come to the surface.

When faced with Silence:
Kids are not stupid, and sometimes the only time they can feel power over an adult is to withhold information. Silence, from a kids point of view, is the great equalizer. If they don’t speak, they don’t have to “give” anything, and eventually, they hope, you will stop asking.

Just because a child is not speaking does not mean they are not listening. Feel free to speak your part of the communication, because even if there is no confirmation or response (and it CAN be frustrating!) chances are your child is listening to you quite carefully.

The key point is to make sure your child knows that you will be available to listen when they are ready to open up. If your schedule prevents a heart-to-heart when your child wants it, you CAN schedule private time later with your child. Children are busy too and can understand that you have other, if not more important, commitments in your life. The point is that if you make a promise to talk about school after dinner, you MUST honor that promise with your child. The investment you make will help build trust with your children.

Build Trust by Risking Feelings

You can encourage real communication by your children when you use honest, real communication yourself. “I had a busy day, my boss yelled at me, and I just want 20 minutes to relax by myself,” tells your child where you are emotionally and how you are feeling. Bringing your mood into the communication, WITHOUT EXPLAINING IT, leaves your child bewildered and unsure about which mood, and what kind of parent he will meet each time.

It is important to be real with our children, but we must not burden them with our adult problems. Sometimes, especially in single-parent families, the child becomes a confidant and best friend, when in fact what the child needs most is a parent. If mom is feeling lonely or upset about her boyfriend, or has financial worries, perhaps those issues are better discussed with adult friends. Be careful not to demand that your children solve YOUR problems.


Love letter to Yuto

Man, you are growing up!

Not yet even 3 years old, and already you laugh, make jokes, tell fibs, pour your own milk, wash your own plate, put your laundry away (better than me--just ask mom!) fight with your 11 month old baby sister one minute and then tenderly hug her the next. She loves you, and so do your mom and so do I.

We had a great summer vacation, didn't we?
I will never forget your first trip to the ocean.
"Big one coming!" and we jumped over the little ripples while you held me and giggled.

Fireworks? "I'm not scared!"

Then our time at the pool. I will never forget you "swimming! swimming!" as you kicked your arms and legs as I held you above the water. From the bottom pool step, just up to your neck, I stood a bit away, and you jumped toward me, smiling and with utter confidence that I would be there to hold you. Even as you started to go under, you never stopped smiling. For a flash of a moment of a second I thought what it would be like if I wasn't there to pull you up. You never doubted me.

I hope you never lose that trust in people.

When you walk into a room of strangers, you assume everyone is your friend, that everyone will love you. Usually, you're right.

You look older kids right in the eye, and say, "Konnichiwa!" Hello! Good Afternoon! Nice to meet you! More times then not, shy Japanese kids don't know what to make of your friendliness, and mutter a response, or look for their moms.

You always have trouble getting to bed, going to sleep. Last night was no different. "Go to bed, NOW!" I end up shouting. You cry, "Don't get mad, papa!"

You can sing all the songs from "High School Musical" in English.

You are a good climber.

You are a good wrestler.

You are a fast runner.

Last night, I had to go back to work, to get ready for Monday. You wanted to come too, even at 11:00 at night. "I wanna work!"

Finally, after scoldings from mom and me, you got into your futon and got quiet. After a few minutes, in a real quiet voice, you said, "papa? You can go to work now." My heart felt full. "Mama and I are going to sleep, so you go to work." I was at the genkan entrance of the apartment, frozen. "Papa, suki yo" (I love you). "And tomorrow pick me up from preschool in the black car."

Yuto, you don't have to grow up if you don't want to.


your Papa.



I just saw the semi-new Will Smith movie called, The Persuit of Happyness. I think the Japanese title was "Shiawase no Chikara" or "the Power of Happiness.”
After "I, Robot" and "Hitch," juuust little by little and step by step I am becoming able to watch a movie starring the Fresh Prince of Beverly Hills. I never thought I would say those words.

Anyway, Fresh's son is really a cute kid, as most reviews of the movie will tell you. I guess we are supposed to be rooting for this guy going for his Merril Lynch job, but it is certainly not the most altruistic of dreams. While he was pursuing his version of "Happyness," his son was at a rather questionable Chinatown daycare center watching episodes of the Love Boat.

While I was in tune with the "never give up" message of the movie, my friend Simon, who is always good for a reality check, said that the main character was completely irresponsible. Taking his kid into the subway station restroom to spend the night was supposed to show, I suppose, how desperate he had become, and how commited he was to finish his internship at Merril Lynch. According to friend Simon, he was just being an irresponsible dad.

I guess it is easier to make sacrifices for our dreams when it is only us who is affected by our decisions (successes or failures) Once you have a family, Simon reminded me, your pursuit of Happyness has to take a back seat to insuring the safety and well-being of your kids.

The real villian in the story was the wife/mother, who just skipped out on her family because, as she said, she didn't feel "Happy."

Worth a rental, to see Will Smith's cute son and scenes of San Francisco.


What if we gave a party and no body showed up?

This is kind of what's happening at work lately.

I admit that my enthusiasm for planning events at our Free School, I CAN, has, well, been curbed somewhat in the preceding months.

When I announce, "Let's plant a vegetable garden!"
I hear, "How long will THAT take?"

When I prepare an adventure-based field trip, "Let's go rafting in Gunma!"
I get, "Not interested."

So I try to turn the tables: "So, what do YOU guys want to do??"

It is sometimes hard to stay motivated when your surrounding environment is so, well, unmotivated.

Here are some thoughts: Maybe I should just LET the freeschoolers have their relax time. Don't pressure them to do the things that I think are good for them. Like I tell the parents: You don't have to hold expectations.

The question that has been with me since I CAN started is this: How much of a "kick in the ass" is good for kids, and how much is too much?

Okuchi Keiko and the Tokyo Shure gang seem to think that kids programs should be 100% kid-centered, with no adult curriculum set, no expectations, no pressure.

While this appeals to the lazy side of myself, I am not sure kids do their best with NO expectations.

This topic needs more thought and more discussion. Feel free to comment.


When the Earth Quakes...

Man, that was a big one!

Growing up in California got me kind of used to earthquakes. I was in San Francisco in '89, walking home in the weird, electicity-less twilight.

Almost 20 years later and patterns repeat, the earth still moves. This time, right under the largest nuclear reactor in Japan. While the TV cameras showed the black smoke billowing from the nuclear energy plant, the on air announcer assured us that the media had been assured that there was no unseemly damage.

More than a week later, and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (I think) have had their inspections delayed because the damage is unexpectedly bad. Kudos to the government of Niigata, though, for shutting them down. Should get interesting in August, when energy demands skyrocket.

Immediate fallout? Well, figuratively speaking, I had a beach barbeque cancelled because the managers of the participating free school thought their may be some radioactive waste flowing into the ocean water.

Radioactive, human, industrial. The beaches here don't discriminate on waste.

Have a great summer!


A hero talks about kids

My job in Japan is working at I CAN, which is a non-profit Free School which offers a place of caring and socialization for kids who are not in traditional schools. Here, Deepak Chopra tells about what kids need and want, and how adults can improve their relationships with kids.


From my new friend Regi, who came up to Noh:

So, I sit here on a seemingly Friday (but its Thursday) afternoon, planning my next trip overseas. One thing I have learnt over the past year is that I earn enough money in this job to take me anywhere I want to go, physically. It just can’t take me there for a long time. Which makes the decision to travel even harder!

This week has kind of come by as a relaxing, and yet totally present-minded week. Last weekend I headed to my favourite village around this area called Nou, which is situated on the coast. The reason I like this area is that it has that coastal feel to it. Relaxed, breezy and great seafood. What brought me to this place was an email off a stranger, suggesting a weekend of ‘yoga, massage, meditation and micro-biotic food’. After talking on the phone about the weekend a couple of times, it was brought to light that no-one else could come, so it was just us two, heading to the seaside village to visit a lady who like yoga and cooking.

Starting off the weekend with ‘meet and greet’, re-discovering that to trust of all people, as opposed to people having to earn your trust, can make all the difference to your perception of others and the perception of yourself by others. I remembered a friend I had, who for one reason or another, always used to say ‘you have to earn my trust’. The worst thing about this is that you never really fully ‘earn’ it as they are always holding you at arms length. Charlie, who has lived in Japan for 17 years and Akai-san who lives in Nou. This is our story (‘This is you Life’… teehee)

I was greeted by Akai-san at her beautiful timbre house which is out of town, alongside the river in a valley surrounded by lush green tree. We enentered her house and she greeted us with a hug; something, which was common in Ausland as a greeting, but I had since forgotten about as it is just not done in Japan. It was an amazing start to the weekend; to feel not just physically welcome in the house, but to be immediately trusted and welcomed as a spirit into someone’s life. The power of the hug!

Following an amazing lunch of salads, soup and brown rice (which apparently is readily available in Japan. Stupid me for believing otherwise and sub sequentially not looking) we headed to do some group yoga and shiatsu (finger-pressure) massaging. All relaxed and sharing deep breathing (it was nice to do yoga with others instead of just in my living room with a TV) we headed off to a local onsen for a soaking before an amazing dinner featuring a WHOLE fresh crab and seafood that I had never had before like Sazae (turban shell?).

A couple of drinks and we three like-minded/spirited people sat and discussed a range of topics, then headed off outside to view fireflies. I had never seen them before and watching them in the rice fields and the tress, with the hot air, reminded me of Christmas time at my grandparents house. It was such a wonderful, child-like feeling, running up and down the road, finding the glint of one, or watching as the jumped around.

Sunday we went on a 4km run and then 4km walk around the village. Being able to run 4km without stopping, made me feel awesome, followed by a BBQ with a friendly bunch of friends of Akai’s then off for a last onsen.

The events of the weekend were totally complimentary to the experience, but they weren’t what made this a weekend that affected me. It was the attitude, caring, sharing that occurred between three people that have made me feel so free, appreciative and appreciated. The whole feel of Akai and her house, and the company of Charlie and his level thoughts are what I have and will carry with me.

Thank you.


Rainy Day Rejuvenation Retreat

Yes, a (small) group will be going up to Akai Nobue's Lodge and home this weekend to celebrate TANABATA, or the "Sky Weaver's Festival." I have written about the project before, here, but Akai san's place must be experienced. On our menu is Rejuvenation: Lots of Yoga, Healthy Dining, Onsening (Hot Spring Bathing) and good talk. Cost is ¥9,999, or less than you'd spend for a night drinking on the town here. And as I've said, you will feel much better the next morning spending the weekend with us.

You can still email or call me if you want to attend, up to Friday the 6th! email to charlie3@joetsu.ne.jp or comment right here.

Thanks. Be healthy.



One example of a Free School...

I was happy to find this when I did a seach on Google for "I CAN" and FREE SCHOOL. Although yours truly didn't get listed on the first page, this great promo for a free school in the US came up. SOoo, what do you think? Is this what education should be? Are these kids smart? Precocious? Normal?

The setting is beautiful. Might there be such a location for I CAN some day!!

Enjoy and comment as you wish.


How to be a Man...

After the sick-scares of May, June turned into a good month. Emiko and I just got back from taking our daughter, Elinor to the American Embassy in Tokyo to get her registered as a US citizen. In 3-4 weeks her passport and Social Security number should come. Congratulations, Eli!

While poking around on Amazon today, I found a great book! Part "I CAN manual" and part "Boy Scout Handbook," The Dangerous Book for Boys covers all the essential skills for being a boy: paper airplane making, go-cart building, bow and arrow making, as well as adventure stories about Shakleton and Perry, Edmund Hillary and the like. There is an American and a British version, and the crafty stuff kind of reminds me of the Japanese best selling series of a few years ago called Asobi Zukan (Play Guide) which had rules and diagrams for how to play sumo, make bamboo skates, sketches of common insects, how to pitch a tent, how to make a teru-teru bozu, and how to use a ken-dama. The "Zukan" is written in Japanese, but it has enough drawings and diagrams to make it nearly bilingual.

Apparently there is a debate (possibly manufactured?) about the political correctness of "A Dangerous book for Boys" I expect to be giving this to some father friends of mine. I say, turn of the Playstation and Go Outside! Even in the rainy season, there is more to be learned in a walk around the block than clearing another level of Dragon Quest. Check out the Amazon interview with co-author Conn Iggulden, who seems to hit it right on.

"Boys Be Ambitious" as William Clark famously said to the young men of what is now Hokkaido University, always had kind of a sexist ring to my ears, but I don't find anything to argue about with "Boys be Strong" or "Boys Be Adventurous" or "Boys Take Risks!" Of course, my argument about Clark's phrase was that it excluded girls. What, girls don't be ambitious, stay home and do the laundry? Yes, Girls Be Strong, Girls Be Adventurous, Girls Take Risks. Just watch the risky behavior. Hmm, am I falling into a quagmire of sexist debate? Of course I want freshly Americanized Elinor-chan to be strong and be adventurous, but I feel better about her brother taking on more risk.

Risk management in Japan is another topic for another post, but books like "Dangerous" and Asobi Zukan can give young or future men a good foundation in what it is to be...what it can be to be... a guy, and feel just fine about it.


Tasting Fear

The month of May in Japan is known for its doldrums and emotional blahs. There is even a term, "Gogatsu Byo" (lit. May disease) which describes this phenomenon. While merely anecdotal, it seems that May is a tough time for a lot of people: The new school/work year is now in full swing. After the extended (by Japanese standards) holidays of Golden Week at the beginning of the month, the rest is just a letdown. The cherries have dropped their blossoms, nothing but rainy season to look forward to...

For me, May was hell.

At the end of last year I was asked to schedule a follow-up exam to check on the shadow in my left lung. "90% there's nothing wrong, but we should check it to be on the safe side." That and dental check ups. I tend to let those slide, too.

When my dad had an operation for lung cancer 6 weeks ago, I remembered the physical that I had never re-taken. So I took time from work, went to the giant hospitalfactory in town, and had another x-ray taken of my chest. Not the greatest way to spend a morning, but certainly not painful. The doctor asked, "did you have a cold when you had your first x-ray last year?" and I answered negatively. Hmmm, he said, let's take a look at the new pictures.

My mood darkened considerably when he said that yes, indeed, there was something there in the lung. I used to smoke about 3 cigarettes a day for a while, trying my hardest to act like a Japanese. I quit 3 years ago when Emiko got pregnant. So what were those spots?

"Well," said doctor X, "let's schedule a CT scan and take a closer look."

A CT scan? A CAT-scan, right? That's for really sick people! Shit, I thought, this is suddenly very serious. He wanted to schedule the CT scan for the 1st of May, in the middle of Golden Week, but I said no thank you. Vacation and all.

Little did I know how the upcomming test would color the days ahead... Being a good student of Law of Attraction and Positive Thinking, I gave my brain instructions to heal me every night. My mind starting down on a morbid, fearful ride that I didn't want to be on. Moody and Morose.

I told my wife, and decided against telling my own parents. I looked at my kids, Yuto and Eli, with a new kind of urgent love. Suddenly I realized, probably late, at age 43, that my tomorrows were not endless. Heck, this could be the end.

In the meantime, people started telling me I was losing weight. While Japanese people are prone to greet each other with, "Hey, you got fat!" Suddenly their observation that I was getting thin took on a new, cancerous meaning. I was also getting a cold, and a cough, so each hack took on the meaning of a death rattle. I was spinning toward panic.

In the middle of May I finally got the CT scan and blood test. And then two more weeks of waiting for the results. More time to brood and fantasize. People at the English school where I help out were commenting that I seemed distracted.

I CAN, our NPO for school refusal kids, turned in financial results almost exactly the same as last year: just a little in the red. Not turning a profit isn't as demoralizing for an NPO, maybe, but seeing the results of a year of new strategies and working style net the exact same results as before was uninspiring, to say the least.

In the meantime, Joe Vitale, of Hypnotic Marketing and The Secret fame wrote of a similar experience in his blog. He found that he had nothing, his cancers were not cancers, but he had been afraid. I took heart from that and intended/imagined a similar benign ending to my test series.

I also got unexpected support from an online friend in a mastermind group I semi-participate in. Susan Minarik, a woman who I "only" know online, showed incredible support and friendship when I was letting my mind get the best of me. She always had just the right message of positivity, realism and daily friendliness exactly in the dose and tone that I needed, just when I needed it.

When the day came to get the results of the CAT scan, my wife Emiko joined me while a friend watched our baby. I was a mess. Walking up and down the hospital corridors waiting for my number to come up (literally and figuratively!) I was completely dependant on the doctor's words. There was nothing now that I could do to help myself. I was either sick, or not.

His next words would either be extremely relieving, or the start of treatments, perhaps an operation, who knows. Death?

"There was something on your X-rays, but the CT scan shows no problems. 'Mondai nai desu ne.'" Never has the Japanese language sounded so beautiful!! Emiko looked at me and said, "I told you so!" and I literally started weeping tears of relief. There was no cancer, no TB, no treatments or quarantines. The sun shone a bit brighter.

I am still reflecting on what there is to be learned from my month of thinking about my own death. I'm not done yet, but it is amazing how quickly I have gone back to my normal day-to-day patterns. Not unhealthful, really, but not quite as intense, either, as it was earlier in the month.

Here are a few of the things to be taken away from all this:

1. Fear sucks. I know about F.E.A.R.: Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real. I knew that the energy I was spending worrying was negative and could be better spent. But I couldn't help my self. I DID imagine a healing of myself every night. I DID try to keep positive. But damn, it kept getting away from me.

2. Ask and receive support. You never know who your friends may turn out to be.

3. "I am not my disease." I wonder if I made that up. For example, if we are ill, or disabled, or in some other way not perfect, that in itself doesn't have to be our identity. In moments of clarity I realized that the me who I am is not even my body (although it deserves the best of care as a "vessel" of me.

4. Today, this moment, counts. There are not an unlimited number of tomorrows. Take care with your time.

5. Be Thankful. This is right out of The Secret. Be grateful for everything there already is. Be thankful for the disease or the scare of the disease because it is a learning opportunity.

6. Finally, I added 2 words to my closing signature, which used to be, Be Good, Laugh More.

Be Well, Be Good, Laugh More.
Charlie in Japan


Akai san's place

I don't usually do recommendations, but since we are planning a "healing" or "Real Japan" kind of retreat,
I thought I'd introduce my good friend who will be hosting the event in June.

Akai Nobue lives up the Noh River valley in a beautiful, European-styled "pension," or Lodge. Actually,
her place is part restaurant, part meeting place, part concert hall, part beer hall, and yoga/calligraphy studio.

The food is excellent. All natural, mostly macrobiotic. And most importantly, delicious.

The surroundings are beautiful. You can really see the seasons change with regular visits. Look up the valley
and see Hiuchi san and other beautiful mountains. Look the other way to see rice fields with a river running through.

Finally, and the real reason for visiting, is Akai san herself. She, by herself, has been running this establishment for years, while also serving until recently on the City Council of Noh. She is the most positive person I have ever met, mixing stories, advice and anecdotes with great coffee, tea, and usually something tasty from the oven.

Her website is here:


A typical "Weekend Yoga" course starts on a Saturday afternoon, begins with introductions and "ice breaking," then shiatsu massage (lit. "Finger Pressure," like acupuncture with fingers.) Then a walk up to the onsen hot springs a few hundred meters up the valley. After a delicious dinner there may be a concert, debate, or just good, real talk. At night there is a meditation session.

The next day begins early with shouji (cleaning: discipline for the mind) and a morning walk or jog up the river. After breakfast and a short rest, there is morning yoga and massage, followed by cooking (and eating!) of the day's harvest.

When we get together I'd like to add some "Tarot Reading" or "Spirit Readings" just for fun. We really could build the program ourselves and do what WE wanted to do.

Finally, please comment on what you think a FAIR price would be for this experience. (1 night, 2 days, 3 meals, 2 Yoga classes, card readings, cooking class, meditation, onsen, etc....

Thanks for your feedback and let's have a great event!



Steve Wrote a Book!!

Well, it finally happened.

My best friend in high school is a published author. I, alas, am not. Yet. And only if you don't count blog publishing.

Steve Martin was, in short, the funniest guy in high school. It probably helped that that OTHER Steve Martin was at the peak of his Saturday NIght Live appearences at that time, but Steve was funny. Still is.

We were originally introduced by a mutual friend through the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I had a D&D stage. We ate Doritos and Dr. Pepper and fought with our imaginary characters of Elves and Dwarves. OK, I had a kind of geeky stage. Possibly still in it.

Anyway, little did I know that Steve was honing his fantasy imagination skills as we were playing. Since graduating from Pepperdine in Malibu, he became a minister involved with young people. Apparently, as a counsellor and swim coach, he learned a lot about kids. The jacket of his book, The Brand Medallion says that he and his wife have 3 sons, and are "living the adventure..." I am sure his sons, the oldest which has graduated high school, have taught him a thing or two, too, as does my 2 year old.

Well, aside from the "High school reunion" aspects of this story, there are two more relevant points.

1. The book itself is great! Although Steve says he wrote about Christian themes, never once does he sound "preachy." It is the story of a teenaged adventurer who learns about himself, and the power of words, in a new land that he discovers. This is a book that I wish was translated in Japanese for my students. The issues are self-confidence, self-esteem and self-mastery, with sub themes of honesty, trust and companionship. Geez (hope I can write that, Steve), these are exactly the same things we work on at I CAN, the free school I work at. As important as the themes, though, is that the story is just a good read, exciting at the right times, moving, full of good teenage dialogue, well-described and also fun. Though I started the book because it was my buddy's first book, I finished it because I really wanted to find out what happened to Cael and his crew.

2. The second learning point is how Steve told me he wrote the manuscript. How? With discipline. A schedule that he stuck to without fail. I hope it will be OK with Steve if I quote from his email:

"I began in June, 2004 by reading extensively in that genre, taking notes on various fiction styles, and developing characters. I would say I spent about three months on that part. Then in September I began going to the library a couple of times a week to design a story outline. It was probably a sermon writing hazard, but I wanted to know where the story was going before I jumped in. The original layout was 22 chapters with 10-12 "key idea" bullet points for each.

"The key for my writing was just consistency. Along the way I added a couple of chapters, bringing the final book to 25 chapters. And although I took a couple of weeks off from writing fatigue, I managed to finish the rough draft at the end of June -- a little over a year from when I started."

See what you can do in a year?
Steve did not "manifest" his book, or dream about writing it someday (that's my department). What he did and what makes him successful in this project is that he DID THE WORK.

What a novel idea.


Peter Payne, from San Diego to Japan

There is a company that I have been watching here in Japan since before this blog even started. A guy in Gunma, the neighboring prefecture to Niigata, has set up an import/export business of all things Japanese. And in the last year or so, it looks like he has expanded his business to include wholesaling.

With a quick look at his site at J-List! which includes adult-themed goods or J-Box, which is strictly PG, you can order from America (or anywhere -- this is the internet!) T-shirts and study aids, Pocky and Black Black gum and even bikini model photo books.

This is a business that I would have like to have started myself. Someday, I suppose I might meet Mr. Peter Payne, and compare notes between Seal Beach and San Diego, Niigata and Gumna, our respective Japanese wives, and the like. Kind of interesting, and worth a check if you are interested in some wacky (for lack of a better word) Japanese products.


"Favorite Sakura Festival Food"

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Takada, in the southern part of Niigata prefecture, where I live and work. Two years ago my mother and sister came in April, hoping to catch "full bloom" but had to leave a few days before the flowers opened. This year, there was quite a stir caused in Japan because the incredibly mild winter (see Inconvenient Truth) was wreaking havoc on the national cherry blossom bloom predictions.

But this week, as you can see, is beautiful. Rows upon rows of cherry blossom trees that remind me of pink popcorn or cotton candy. At least the cotton candy (candy floss for Brits, 'Tralians and Kiwis) can be had at the food stalls that are just as important (or moreso) than the flowers themselves. The Japanese have a saying, "Hana yori Dango," literally, "Dumplings rather than Flowers," which shows the preference for eating and drinking at the festival. Actually, some think the cherry blossoms are merely an(other) excuse for loosen-the-tie eating and drinking to excess.

When I took the Day Program members of Free School I CAN to the park, we were all having a wonderful time until a well intentioned (?) grandmother came up and started interrogating us as to why we weren't "In School." While I patiently explained that we were members of an alternative school, she literally could not understand what that might be, and walked off muttering something about "compulsory education."

In Japan, compulsory education is mandatory until the age of 15 (vs. 18 in the US, at least in California). However, for those kids who can't or choose not to go to "regular" school, there are few options. Homeschooling is just getting started here. Free schools are seen as playhouses for selfish kids who "can't cope."

Our mission at I CAN is to give kids a safe, fun, friendly environment for kids to learn some of those coping skills. Whether they choose to apply them at school or not is not as important as the fact that they are growing into confident, happy kids, who look forward to getting up in the morning!


Freeschool Seminar + Charles Burke = Breakthrough?

I went to Tokyo for the National Freeschool Management seminar in February, hosted by Okuchi Keiko and her staff at Tokyo Shure. It was THE conference I had been waiting 10 years or so to attend.

One of the messages that came through loud and clear was that, while at regular schools, students are graded on what they can DO, free schools focus simply on BE-ing. In Japanese, that is "SURU" yori "IRU". Being rather than doing.

So how does I CAN fit into all this? With a name like I CAN, we certainly have SOME emphasis on DOING. I believe that the human body is made for movement. We gain in confidence by succeeding, eventually, in DOING what we set out to do. That is efficacy, and is also closely tied to self esteem.

Then, on a call with my friend and mentor Charles Burke, he said something similar. He said, (paraphrasing) "so many things we learn how to do are merely techniques (things to DO). We can learn the techniques of time management, or money management, or communication techniques and DO them. But not much of that sticks until we change who we ARE.

Hmm. Be and Do. Do and Be. I am reminded of the old joke:

Socrates: To Be is to Do
Plato: To Do is to Be
Sinatra: Do-be-do-be-dooo

Junior High school jokes aside, I think there is something to be learned here.
Maybe Free Schools do the "Inside work" that prepare kids and young adults for the Doing of school and work and society at large...?

Something like that? Comments please.

By the way, Freeschool network's page is here:
www.freeschoolnetwork.jp  (in Japanese)
Tokyo Shure's page is here:
http://www.shure.or.jp  (some English)
and Charles Burke's blog is here: