Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tokyo Marathon 2011 and Joseph Tame

Tokyo Marathon 2011 has come and gone. I was awake early this morning and ready to watch with a fresh pot of coffee brewed. It was a sunny and warm day in Tokyo. The runners were lucky to have such wonderful weather. The previous two years at the Tokyo Marathon, the conditions were wet and very cold.

The men’s race was won by Hailu Mekonnen of Ethiopia and the women’s race by Tatiana Aryasova of Russia.

The coolest story of the day for me was that of Joseph Tame. He is a Tokyo based Englishmen who was covering the race live via UStream, Runkeeper and some other means. He had created a device he dubbed the “iRun” using four iPhones, an Android handset and an iPad. He was ran the entire marathon carrying his contraption and interviewing people along the way.

here is a story about TameGoesWild, Joseph Tame in one of the biggest tech blogs out there, Engadget.

Joseph was also covered by CNN and many other news organizations. He fit the novelty/tech story bill!

I met Joseph in person very briefly last year while I was running the Tokyo Marathon. He then had an iPhone 3GS strapped to a headband. I ran over and chatted with him. Later over twitter, I learned that while we chatted, his audio was actually set to mute!

Here is Joseph on Japanese TV:

here is Joseph Tame's Tokyo Marathon 2011 site.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Week in Kobe

The week has come to an end and I'm relaxing at home enjoying the quiet life with my family. I tend to sit down and write my blogs or edit my vlogs once my son has gone to sleep for the night and the house is a little more mellow.

During the past week i've taken and posted many pictures to my Twitter. These are just a few I took with my iPhone.

I took this picture on Thursday evening on my way home from work. This was taken close to Kobe City Hall in Sannomiya.

I took this picture on Friday morning on my way to work in the morning. I got of the train close to my school and instead of walking along the main road, decided to zig zag through some smaller back streets (always more interesting in Japan).

A Korean restaurant in Sannomiya in Kobe, Japan. I ate at this place last year with my wife. The food was fairly decent as was the decor. The price was pretty high though!

I saw Tom and Jerry painted on an old wall close to an auto repair shop in Kobe earlier in the week.

I have worked a part time job on Saturdays for the past two years. This is a scene from JR Sannomiya Station platform this morning (Saturday) at 8:40ish in the morning.

Last night (Friday) I took a little time after work to wander around Sannomiya in downtown Kobe to capture some of the sights and sounds. I put together a video last night about what the city (at least this part) looks like on a Friday evening as people head home from work or head out for the night.

Friday Evening in Japan:

Follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Friday, February 25, 2011

Running Tokyo 東京マラソン2011

In just two days, tens of thousands of runners will hit the streets of Tokyo, Japan to take part in one of the world's biggest marathons. Tokyo Marathon 2011 is slated to be one of the biggest and best marathons in the world. This year, I won't be on the streets of Tokyo with 29,999 other runners. I'll be at home, in Kobe, Japan, watching it on television and I'll be filled with nostalgia.

Just one year ago today, I was in Tokyo and arriving back at my hotel in Shinjuku, near the marathon start line, after a fun and exciting day at the Tokyo Marathon race expo.

Tokyo Marathon 2010 wasn't my first full marathon, but it was my first major international one. Previous to that race I had only run a small community marathon on Osaka with about 2000 runners. It was along a river with no people there to watch and cheer the runners on. It was quiet, a little boring and basically, runner vs. the road.

What I experienced in Tokyo a year ago this weekend was a completely different beast from my first marathon. It WAS completely different and completely wonderful!

The fact that my trip to Tokyo was my first solo voyage to Japan's biggest city was fun. The fact that I had taken a few days off from work to go there was also fun. The energy that filled the city around race weekend was by far the most exciting aspect of the weekend! Runner tourists from around the world had descended on the downtown of Tokyo to enjoy the exciting culture, great food, dynamic sights and then top it all off by running a full marathon on Sunday morning.

The marathon started off on a very rainy and cold Sunday morning. To be honest, getting ready, lining up and waiting to start running was a miserable and cold experience. By the last 15 kilometers though, aside from the pain, I was having the time of my life. The fans cheered us runners on and the sun came out to shine brightly.

Sadly, I reapplied to run in Tokyo Marathon 2011, but wasn't given a spot. I will be watching it on television on Sunday morning like so many other folks across Japan. The coffee will be flowing in my kitchen and my family will gather around the TV. My son will get to watch his first marathon. My wife brought him to the last half marathon I ran, but he slept the whole time!

I did apply this month to run in the first ever Osaka Marathon this October. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that I get a spot in that one!

Here are some video blogs I made during last year's race. I filmed while I was running!

Follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Feels Like Spring in Japan

Spring is just around the corner here in Japan. At least that’s what the stores and shops are telling me! Spring themed products are all over the place. Starbucks Japan has now filled its shelves with Sakura themed cups, tumblers, snacks and drinks and many shops are getting ready for Hina Matsuri 雛祭り (Girl’s Day) and Kodomo no Hi (Children’s/Boy’s Day).

Another telltale sign of the approach of a warmer time is the appearance of “ume” or plum blossoms on the trees. In just a few more weeks the “sakura” or cherry blossoms will start to appear and that is always a great time to start the spring party!
Of course, spring is a time of change everywhere. It is a time for new things and a time for the world to be refreshed. I’m looking forward to the warmer weather and celebrating my first “Hanami” or cherry blossom party with my son.

I thought I’d show you wonderful folks some fun pictures from today, a beautiful day in and around Kobe. It was great day to be in Japan.

Hina Matsuri 雛祭り (Girl's Day) in Japan is just around the corner. Families buy beautiful and expensive displays of dolls to celebrate having a daughter.

Plum blossoms in a local park.

More great plum blossoms in a local park.

A very creative and silly student of mine wrote this on the white board at lunch today. I liked it! I'm a home room teacher from Monday to Friday, but I have a part time ESL job on Saturdays. It's a lot of fun teaching these kids!

I saw a unicycle locked up outside of my apartment today and just thought it an odd sight. I never saw children driving unicycles growing up in Canada. I see it all the time here in Japan. It's like an entire generation with dreams of someday going to clown school!

I was at Toys R' Us this afternoon buying some fun toys for my little son when I saw the display for Hinamatsuri dolls. Check out a little video I made with my iPhone about it:

I also wanted to share a new Japan oriented site with you folks. A friend and fellow Starbucks fan has created a blog dedicated to all things “Starbucks in Japan.” Check it out here. It is a new site and your comments and encouragement will keep a good thing going!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is the Expat Life a Lonely One?

Today was a great day. Although I have a cold, as do my wife and son, I felt great in other ways. I heard some great news with regards to work this week and am looking forward to a much happier year than last!

I was also happy because of a very touching blog post written by a dear friend who lives in Canada. My friend Lonnie wrote about a group of friends who were thicker than thieves back in the mid 1990’s.

There were a group of us who in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada who were as tight as any group of amigos could ever be. We based ourselves out of a local 24-hour coffee shop and shared more wonderful moments than one could count. Lonnie wrote about our group of wonderful friends and also of our team member who was so suddenly and tragically taken away from us at the young age of twenty-four years. I actually cried when I read his post.

Lonnie’s post got me thinking about friendship. Friendship is something we value so much and I think has been harder for me to find over my many years of life abroad. Correction! No, it hasn’t been hard to find. Good friends have been easy to find in my almost nine years of living outside of Canada. The difficult part is holding on to those friends in an expat world that sees people come and people go.

I lived in South Korea for more than five years and a now approaching three years here in Japan. I can’t speak for other countries, but I’ll at least share my experiences and feelings about living in these two places.

During my years in Korea, the expat community seemed to be fairly close. I first lived in a small suburb of Seoul and there weren’t many foreigners there at all. The few of us that spent time together really enjoyed our experiences in a new country. I think I was drawn closer to these people than friends I had back in Canada because of the fact that we were something familiar and comfortable in a foreign land. For two years that I lived in Ilsan (the city outside of Seoul), I had some amazing friends, but then I moved into Seoul.

With some amazing friends hanging out in Ilsan, Korea (2002)

While in Seoul, I met another amazing group of guys who were my coworkers at a large school called Pagoda. They were guys from Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. We worked together, drank together, played together and sometimes got into fights together! These guys would have done anything for me and vice versa. I loaned them large amounts of money and they did for me as well. We had each other’s backs in bars fights when rowdy American soldiers wanted to tussle with English teachers and we simply enjoyed quiet nights of watching DVDs together. They were amazing friends. Then I left Seoul. Eventually they all moved away as well.

My amazing group of coworkers and friends I had while living in downtown Seoul in 2004.

I then made my way to Busan, the southern port city in South Korea. I loved Busan. It was far more laid back than Seoul and the people seemed a little more foreigner friendly.

While in Busan I met another great group of people. I lived in a neighborhood in Haeundae called Jangsan that was riddled with foreigners. I loved it there. I even met my wife there. I became involved in music again for the first time since I was spending time with Lonnie and my friends back in that Cape Breton coffee shop. I was playing in bands, open mikes and generally enjoying life. I had a few amazing friends who, again, I will never forget. Then, as normally happens, we all left Korea. We left at different times, but we all left and went our ways. Friends I will never forget but had to say good-bye to.

My great friend Tom just after we ran the Terry Fox Run in Busan, Korea in 2007.

Life abroad, or at least the life I have led abroad is very different than if I had stayed in Canada. If I had stayed in Canada and settled, I would see the same people and have the same neighbors for years and years. I would work with the same people, see the same folks at the same hangouts. I would probably have friends that I would always see on a regular basis.

That simply hasn’t been the case for me as an expat. Most people don’t move to Asia for the rest of their lives. Most people come here for one year. Some even stay for two or three, but long-term folks aren’t so common. I have met many more here in Japan than in Korea, but nonetheless, Asia is a very fluid place where people come and go. Friendships are like that as well in my experience. Friends come and friends go. Eventually you sort of get used to it and harden yourself to the reality, but every once in awhile, it can weigh upon you and make you feel a little sad.

I’ve made so many wonderful and life long friends during my time in Asia. Luckily, with social media, I can keep in contact with these folks, but chatting on Twitter of Facebook isn’t as satisfying as stopping by their house for a Saturday afternoon BBQ. It’s not as fun as meeting at the pub for a beer or coffee shop for a latte.

Now of course, this may not be the experience for everyone who decides to make their way to Asia, but it has been for me, and many others I know.

Don’t get me wrong; life in Japan is wonderful. I really do like it here. The culture, history, food and people are great. Sometimes though, I feel a little lonely. I have an amazing and compassionate wife, a beautiful and silly son and a loving family back in Canada. I have friends here in Japan as well, but I often feel like something is missing.

I suppose this all comes back to my friend Lonnie’s post. His post got me thinking about those wonderful friends I had back in Cape Breton (who have all moved on to other parts of Canada). It then got me thinking about all the wonderful friends I have met and then had to say goodbye to during my many years in Korea and Japan.

The expat life is one filled with adventure and often the mundane. It is colorful and interesting. It is always blog and vlog-worthy as well as challenging. It can also at times be a little lonely (At least in my opinion).

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Also, check out my friend Lonnie’s blog.

Asia Tube

Ok, here's the deal. Most of you know that I am a fairly "well known" You Tube video blogger. I now have more than 19,000 subscribers combined on my two channels. i spend a lot of time on You Tube (not so much these days with a busy work schedule) and I spend a lot of time interacting with and meeting other You Tube video bloggers.

My good friend Johnathan, aka "reynoldsair" on You Tube just stared a new series of videos called "Asia Tube." These are a hilarious "analysis" of videos by other You Tubers in Asia. His first two videos are awesome. The first was great. the second even better!

Here they are:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Osaka Marathon Time 大阪マラソン2011

This blog has three basic themes, life as an educator, living in Japan and running. Today’s post is a mix of running and life in Japan.

All right, today the registration for the 1st Osaka Marathon 大阪マラソン opened. It was supposed to start at 10am this morning, but then got bumped up to 11am. Similar to the Tokyo Marathon, registration will be open for one month and it will be a lottery. If you are interested in running in the Kansai Region’s first major international marathon you apply and then sit back with your fingers crossed. At some point in late April they will announce the lucky 28,000 folks who get to run the full marathon.

I’m really hoping I get selected after last fall’s disappointment with the Tokyo Marathon 東京マラソン. I was selected in 2009 to run the 2010 Tokyo Marathon. That run was the time of my life. I was so happy to have done it and I applied to run in this year’s as well. Unfortunately I didn’t make the cut. Although many other folks I know were selected to run again, I wasn’t. To be honest, I think people who apply from outside of Japan have a far better chance (if not guaranteed) to be selected in the race (Tokyo Marathon) than those applying from within Japan!

Last fall, when I ran the Osaka Yodogawa Marathon I ran a sub 4-hour marathon. I have to admit that I trained well for the race, but was a little lazy and could have trained much harder. For the Osaka Marathon I put my “hoped” time as 3hrs 45mins. I think this time will be completely achievable if I add more tempo runs and more sprint training.

The Tokyo Marathon has a relatively short history, but has brought a great deal of attention to the city of Tokyo as well as a huge infusion of money into the Tokyo economy. I suppose Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto are looking for the same financial windfall! That’s why 2011 will see the first Osaka Marathon on October 30, the first Kobe Marathon will be at some point in November and Kyoto will have their first full marathon sometime in early 2012.

It’s shaping up to be a fun running year in this part of Japan!

On a side note, I was really surprised by the most recent poll I placed on my blog. I asked readers to vote on the Japanese city they would most likely want to visit. The results:

Sapporo 28%
Tokyo 21%
Kobe 14%
Osaka 14%
Kyoto 14%
Fukuoka: 8%

That’s right. Most people who voted wanted to see Sapporo. I haven’t been there yet, but I hope I get the chance.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Half Marathon in Kobe 2011神戸バレンタインラブラン

It is the day before Valentines here in Japan. The day before women around the country must give chocolate and gifts to their boyfriends, husbands or special someone’s. That’s right. In Japan, Valentines is a one-sided affair. Men have to give their gifts and whatnot a month later on March 14th, aka, White Day!

In Kobe, the Sunday before Valentines Day is when thousands of people descend upon Port Island for the Kobe Valentines Day Love Run (Half Marathon) 2011神戸バレンタインラブラン.

This is my third year in Japan and I have run this half marathon my first two years here. I intended to run again this year, but like with the Kakagawa Marathon late last year, registration filled up much faster than expected and I didn’t get a spot (you snooze, you lose)! I wasn’t bothered too much since I have run it a few times in the past and to be honest, it isn’t the most exciting or scenic race course I’ve been on.

I did however take the opportunity to head out and watch some of the runners. I took some photos and some video as well. The weather was great and the day looked to be a huge success!

These are some of the race leaders running beside Kobe Gakuin University on Port Island. This was probably at about the 6-7k mark.

More people, front to mid-packers running beside some residence apartments at Kobe Gakuin University.

Folks enjoying themselves running past the Daiei building across from Kobe General Hospital. This was almost the half way point.

Here are a few videos I shot and uploaded to You Tube with my iPhone (quality isn't the best):

Now, today I am suffering from a cold, but really wanted to go out and watch. I made a video when I ran this race in 2009 and when I just watched it this evening was surprised that I actually had a chest cold on that day as well!

Here is my video blog of the race from 2 years ago (I'm dying from a chest cold as I type this blog tonight as well!):

For lots of fun stuff, FOLLOW me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Soju Boy...You're Fired!

I spent more than five years living and working in South Korea. I left Korea several years ago, but of course have a lot of memories. With some of those memories go some good stories. This is a story about one teacher I knew who let Korea's famous and potent drink, soju 소주, get the best of him.

95% of teachers I met and worked with in Korea were great people. I did however cross paths with a few human train wrecks.

Follow me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

The Quiet Life?

I often wonder what would I enjoy more, the quiet life in Japan or life here in the city. I am planning a big change next year and I wonder if moving to a quieter locale in Japan might be the answer. I do plan to head to Canada sometime in the near future (I hope) and resume my teaching career, but before I leave Japan’s shores, would it be a healthy move to live in the countryside or at least a smaller city/town?

I realize that life in a large Japanese city is exciting and fast paced. There are so many things to do and of course so many amenities. Some things I would definitely miss if I were to relocate to a smaller area, but there are many things I would not miss at all.

What would I miss about big city living?

1. International restaurants. My wife and I really do enjoy stopping by a Thai, Indian, Turkish, Italian, etc., restaurant on a Sunday afternoon for a late lunch. I would miss the variety of international eateries if I were to live in a small town.

2. Transportation. Public transportation in Japan’s large urban areas is really good. I suppose I would have to get a car!

3. Department stores. I would miss the convenience and variety of department store shopping.

4. Cultural events. I would miss the museums, parks and frequent outdoor cultural events.

5. More people speak English so it is easier to communicate.

6. More foreigners living in the big cities. People in a city like Kobe are quite used to seeing foreigners on a daily basis so they don’t tend to gawk much.

Things I would not miss:

1. Crowds of people all over the place.

2. Nightclubs and bars. I’m in my mid-thirties, married and have a child. To be honest, I have no interest in going to clubs anymore. I do however enjoy an occasional pint at a pub, but to be honest, I only go out once every few months!

3. Traffic

4. Air pollution

5. Tired looking salary men everywhere I go. They really are depressing.

6. Lack of green-space (mind you, Kobe does have a lot of it).

7. Having to commute by crowded train.

Now of course, life in the country would have its benefits. It would be quiet and peaceful. I could get outside and be much closer to nature. The environment would be cleaner and possibly safer for raising a child. I could also get involved in more outdoor activities. I would also be forced to speak more Japanese!

There would also be some downsides. I would stick out like a sore thumb as a foreigner and it would probably be more difficult to make friends and certainly not easy to have a variety of friends. I also think that the lack of amenities might start to get to me.

My wife thinks that I would have a romance period with my new rural location for about two weeks and then be bored out of my tree. She may be right. She tends to know me better than I know myself!

To be honest, I have no idea if I would be happier living in a smaller population center. I might be or I might not be. I suppose the only way I would ever know would be to give it a try. There are clearly both upsides and downsides to living in the city vs. living in the country. I suppose that is the same in any country you call home. Food for thought though!

Follow me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Osaka Sumo Blues

Disappointment is definitely a word that comes to mind when I found out that the March Sumo tournament in Osaka was to be canceled amid the match fixing scandal here in Japan. Sumo is the ancient Japanese sport that pits two wrestlers against each other. There have always been suspicions that the sport had been filled with rigged fights and other shady dealings, but it recently came to light that these suspicions were a reality.

Last year there was a baseball betting scandal involving several wrestlers who were betting on games with the help of yakuza members. One top ranked ozeki, Kotomitsuki was even banned from fighting for life because of his involvement. During that investigation police seized several sumo wrestler's mobile phones. On their phones they found text messages where wrestlers were planning to throw their fights.

I am not by any means a die-hard fan of the sport, but I do enjoy watching it when it is on television. Last year I went to the Osaka tournament on a Sunday with one of my friends. I had a great time seeing the massive wrestlers live, having beer and the general atmosphere of the day. This year, I was hoping to go again, but with my family. We were thinking about getting a family box so I could sit with my wife, son and in laws. That is why I am disappointed.

A picture I took at last year's Osaka Sumo Basho (tournament).

I was looking forward to a great first time sumo family outing. Apparently my in laws, who are from Osaka have never been to live sumo. Now there is even talk of the remainder of 2011 sumo tournaments being cancelled. I suppose we’ll just have to see. It would have been a great family event, but it looks like I’ll have to wait until next year!

Here is a video about the Osaka Tournament cancellation by a very knowledgeable sumo fan. JasonInJapan AKA myargonauts is a popular You Tube vlogger who vlogs about Japan and Sumo:

Follow me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Teaching is Great, but Vacations are Even Better!

Compared to many around the world, teachers generally have long vacations. Educators have extended winter holidays and often a lengthy summer holiday, but they are very necessary. Teachers need these longer than the average person holidays because the work they do is not that of average people.

By no means am I suggesting that people out there in other fields of work don't work hard. What I am saying is that, while teachers (most of us anyway), work hard, our day-to-day work life can be very taxing mentally. Simply put, teaching can be stressful.

How can this career so many of us have chosen be stress inducing? Well, there are many ways:

1. Kids. For some reason they seem to be everywhere when you are a teacher. Kids are wonderful little creatures, but they can also be little munchkins from the dark side as well. They will challenge you and push boundaries at every opportunity, play when they aren't supposed to and they can have a tendency to put a wide variety of things in their noses and ears!

2. Coworkers. Sometimes they are good and sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they can be an inspiration and sometimes they can be a nightmare. You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your coworkers!

3. The work itself. It's the end of the school year and I have to worry about writing report cards, compiling student portfolios, parent-teacher meetings, assessment, assessment and more assessment. Oh yeah, I also have to plan and prepare lessons!

4. Parents. Like your coworkers, you can't pick them. Sometimes they are amazing and appreciate the hard work you put in as a teacher to help their child. Other times, there is nothing you can do that is good enough (the later tend to be the kind of parents who would never win any sort of parenting award!). I suppose they are the monster moms or the new catch phrase "tiger moms."

There are other reasons of course, but those are just a few I wanted to touch on in this post.
So, at the end of the day, most teachers work really hard. Of course there are some lazy ones and we of course can think back to our own childhoods and remember some of those chaps, but most do work very hard!

These days there seem to be more and more detractors of teachers. More people with a “teacher” chip on their shoulder. So many people think teachers don’t deserve the pay they get (in many parts of Canada a teachers salary is a decent wage), nor do they deserve the vacation time they have. The folks with this “teacher” chip on their shoulder tend to be the people who are the most ignorant to what a teacher really does! They are the folks who I assume always blame others when things aren’t going their way.

That being said, teachers do need a nice long vacation every once in a while to unwind from the stress they may face at work. They also need to recharge their batteries and start the next school year off with a bang! Wouldn’t you want your child’s teacher to be energetic and full of creativity and passion? I know I certainly would.

I think that just about does it for this post. You know what? Teaching is great, but vacation is even better! I am really looking forward to my vacation next month.

Follow me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Working Life in Japan and Elsewhere

Whether you work in Canada, the United States, Japan or any other country, it can be easy to find yourself falling into the trap of over work! I have been living in this world for more than a year now. Due to my job, a promotion last year, unforeseen recent circumstances and the fact that I teach on Saturdays as well, I am someone who simply works too much.

I put in what seems like a regular 9-5 day at work on paper, but in reality, it is quite different. I arrive at work in the morning and go flat out (no break whatsoever) until it is time to leave. The “office-time” work ends there, but the work at home and on the train doesn’t.

I suppose the five days a week is hard enough, but the additional Saturday workday makes for a week a 6-day workweek. That is really tough. One day off is not enough to recharge your burning out batteries. My six-day workweek has also put a damper on many things I had hoped to do this spring. One dream of mine was to run my first ultra marathon this spring. Two things threw me off the rails. I had a somewhat annoying knee injury and upon scanning several training routines, realized I need to do two long runs on weekends. Due to working Saturdays and having a family I want to spend time with, a Saturday long run would never be a reality!

So, where does this leave me? It leaves me tired and realizing that in the upcoming year I need to change things a little and make sure I have more time to be with my family (the most important thing there is) and for me to relax, unwind and make sure that I am a better teacher. I plan to work less and play more so to speak!

I have also been thinking a great deal about post-Japan work in Canada or abroad. Thoughts of the future of my teaching career are also mixed with daydreams of an independent working life.

Of course, you all know that I am quite a prolific new media content creator. I have a blog and two You Tube channels. I have thousands of subscribers/readers and have now turned my little hobby into a part time job. I do make some income through my blogging and vlogging now and am really excited about that. I love vlogging/blogging and building my social media network. It’s just plain fun. The fact that something so fun has become somewhat profitable for me makes me think about what it might be like to be a professional blogger!

I love the idea of being my own boss. I love the idea of being the captain of my own ship. I love the idea of not having to be folly to the bad decisions and planning of others. I know that am a hard-working and talented guy and I also know I have the ability to push myself towards a goal.

Now, that being said, I have never owned a business. I also can’t imagine how stressful it might be to “have” to write or vlog to pay the bills, but I think it would be cool! Again, I say this now, but first of all, I don’t have the audience size to make any of these dreams a reality and of course, I used to the stability of a steady monthly salary.

Nonetheless, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in me. I know it is! We will have to see where things lead me in the future. I love writing, I love being in front of a camera and I love being in control of what I do!

Here is an amazing TED Talk video I recently saw about balancing your work life and REAL life!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bread in Japan? Guess I'll Have to Make It!

If you come from North America, Europe, Australia or many other countries that have bread as a staple food in their diet, you may be surprised when you arrive in Japan (or any other Asian country for that matter). Bread is something simple. Bread is something wonderful. Bread is something you may take for granted. If you ever plan to move to Asia, it will be something that you will eventually learn to appreciate in a new way!

Obviously, many, if not most Asian countries have rice as their staple food. For me, rice is good, but lacks in flavour. I feel this way, but my Japanese wife laughs and simply says that my palate isn't refined enough to know the difference between different types of rice (that is probably very true). This being a "rice culture" bread is something new. There isn't a long history of bread in this country. Even if it has been here for awhile, bread is consumed on a different way in Japan. Bread is by no means a staple food, it is a treat!

When you walk into a Japanese bakery, you will see many wonderful things. There are so many amazing paistries, cakes, muffins and very cool (if not downright weird) combinations of bread/food! Sausage and curry in a bun. Sweet potato and curry in a bun. Potato and mayonnaise in a bun. This of course goes on!

There are many wonderful types of baked product, but one thing you will soon realize, if you are a bread lover and long term resident of Japan, is that good loaves of bread are a rare thing. 95% of bread is white and lacking in taste (in my opinion). Rye bread, whole wheat bread, pumpernickle bread are almost impossible to find and if you do find them, will probably disappoint! The bread palate of Japanese people is very different than a Canadian such as myself! My wife always loves to say to me, "You come from a bread culture!" Maybe she is right!

If you plan to move to Japan and live here for more than a few years, there is a simple solution. Buy a bread maker, or "home bakery" as they are called in Japan.

We bought this bread maker last year at a major Wal-Mart-ish store called Izumiya. This machine cost about $150 and can make a loaf of bread in a few hours. It's a nifty contraption and we make bread five or six days a week! I realize that many people out there buy bread makers on a whim and use it a few times before it gets sent off to the "dust collecting" appliance corner of the room, but here in Japan, it is very necessary for me. I love bread and this is my means to an end!

It is pretty simple to use and only takes about five minutes to mix your bread ingredients together (flour, yeast, butter, salt and milk). One advantage to living in Kobe is that there are many "foreign food" stores here. While in Japanese supermarkets you can only buy processed and refined white flour, in the foreign food shops I can buy many more types. My wife and I tend to shop in a foreign food store in Sannomiya in the Santica shop area. There we can buy whole wheat, rye and graham flour. it is indeed more expensive than white flour, but for a Canuck like me, it's well worth it.

I still eat rice twice a day, but it is nice to have a piece of whole wheat toast for breakfast or some peanut butter on a peiece of graham and whole wheat toast for an evening snack!

Earlier in the week I made a video for You Tube about some of the "interesting" baked goods you can buy at a Japanese bakery. I featured a muffin that was made from two types of sweet potato. it was made from Murasaki Imo, a purple skinned sweet potato and a regular sweet potato.

This was a murasaki imo/satsuma imo (purple and regular sweet potato) muffin I bought at a bakery called Dans marche in Akashi Station in Akashi, Japan.

I also made a video about my PURPLE MUFFIN experience:

REMEMBER folks, you can follow my Twitter business here @jlandkev

Sunday, February 6, 2011

50 Things That Make Me Happy

Lists are fun to make. Lists are fun to write. Lists are fun to write about. I decided to make another “List” blog.

What makes me happy? That is always a good question. Many things of course make me happy and they make me happy to different degrees. I thought it would be fun to just sit down and make a list (sometimes humorous) about the various things that make me happy! These are not all Japan-related and are in random order (the first 2 are my top priorities though).


1. My wife and son (of course that’s #1)

2. My family back in Canada (I am tight with my family)

3. Pizza (here in Japan I make it from scratch at home)

4. Polo Burger (at a pub called Polo Dog in Kobe)

5. Running early in the morning.

6. Running late in the evening.

7. Milk chocolate

8. Kettle chips (love crispy potato chips…just salted)

9. Harvey’s hamburgers (only in Canada)

10. BBQing on the back deck (can’t do that in Japan)

11. Castles (all over the place here)

12. The cool and crazy things I see everyday in Japan

13. Cold beer on a hot summer day.

14. Cold beer on a crisp Fall day.

15. Yakisoba

16. My wife’s cooking

17. My son’s excitement when I walk in the door every evening from work.

18. Dreaming of having an adventure

19. Finishing a marathon

20. Blogging

21. Video blogging

22. How happy my students are to see me every morning

23. Hiking in the woods

24. Watching my son make new discoveries

25. Tim Horton’s breakfast sandwiched (yep…I am a proud Canadian)

26. Weekends

27. Cold beer on a cold Winter’s day

28. A nice red wine

29. Cooking

30. Starbucks

31. Coffee (anytime…anywhere)

32. Popcorn

33. The really genki (energetic) clerk at my local Lawsons (convenience store)

34. Apple products

35. The friends I’ve made through new media

36. The fact that my hobby is turning into a part-time job (sort of)

37. Writing

38. Teaching

39. Living in the beautiful city of Kobe

40. Being from Cape Breton

41. East Coast music (Canada)

42. Soon I will only have a 5 day work week

43. Q (the CBC radio show)

44. Cold beer on a wet Spring day

45. My iPhone

46. TWiT (This Week in Tech…the podcast)

47. Daydreams of buying a new camera and laptop (DSLR and a MacBook Pro)

48. The smell of a fresh pot of coffee in the morning!

49. Sleep

50. Vacation time to hang out with my family!

By the way, you have probably already heard that I was a panelist last week in the Seoul Podcast. It was cool to hear today that the episode I was featured in and my You Tube channel were mentioned on the Japan Talk podcast!

A really great information video for anyone interested in traveling to or moving to Korea:

You awesome folks can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Friday, February 4, 2011

Too Many Teachers in Canada?

I have to admit that I have been feeling more than a little homesick these days. Although I really enjoy life in Japan, I miss many things about Canada. More than eight years in Asia and to be honest, I would love to be standing in front of a class again inside a Canadian classroom. I would love to try to connect with a group of kids who can relate to my cultural references and parents, whom I could, for the most part, communicate with without the need of a translator.

Of course there are other things I long for such as owning my own house, barbeques on a back deck I can call my own and being able to drive on the "proper" side of the rode! Again, like I mentioned, what I am really interested in is teaching in Canada.

There is a serious problem with my "plan" though. There don't seem to be any jobs for teachers out there. In the province of Ontario alone, each year, universities are pumping out 7,000 more new teachers than are retiring in the province. Friends of mine who graduated in my teacher's college cohort several years ago are still working as supply teachers and on short-term contracts. These are really good teachers. They are highly skilled and talented in the classroom and even they are having trouble landing permanent positions.

This bleak situation isn't just in Ontario, but across most of the country. Many areas are suffering from population declines and of course that means that there are inevitable school closures. Now of course, many urban areas are growing, but that means that many teachers simply flock to those areas in hopes of landing a permanent contract. Either way, things don't look great for a guy like me.

I am a qualified teacher and I love what I do. I have passion for my work and know that I am good at it. I even have a pretty impressive resume. Once upon a time, that would have guaranteed me a permanent contract in a good school board. In 2011 though, it means I am pretty much bunched in with the deluge of new teachers graduating and the folks who've been on supply lists for years.

People have suggested I think about moving to Northern Canada to work. I'm sure it is very beautiful in the more remote areas of Canada. I'm sure that the environment and nature would certainly tap into my sense of adventure, but to be honest, I would rather have the immunities of living in a larger center. The idea of a rural way of life is fine with me (I grew up in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia), but the idea of an isolated one isn't so appealing.

I'm constantly reassured by friends back home that the situation will change in time. In time, more teachers will retire and there will be more openings. Unfortunately, I've been hearing this for many years and haven't seen it happen. Canadian universities make big bucks with their teacher education programs. It makes simple sense for them to train more teachers every year. The more students enrolled in their program, the more funding they receive! It doesn't seem to matter that they are contributing to the ever-increasing teacher surplus across Canada. It's somewhat of a no-brainer that university teacher training programs need to be capped asap!

I have thought often about the possibility that a career change may be in my future. Although I know I am a talented teacher, I may have simply decided to become one at the wrong time in history. Maybe I can use my knowledge and skills in the private sector? Maybe, I should just consider a drastic change in the future?

All in all, I really do hope things change. I hope there will be a demographic swing and job markets will open up more for people like me in the near future. I want to bring my skills and talents back to Canada and make a difference in Canadian classrooms. My feelings of pessimism have been far stronger than my optimism as of late. Let's hope I can turn that around and start feeling more positive about that sooner than later!

A little something extra: After I wrote this post (hours before posting it on my blog) I tweeted about what I had written. My great friend back in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Lonnie replied to me on Twitter. He wrote something very true: “ Reiki_Jones @jlandkev There’s a NEED for teachers in every province, but the governments don’t want to spend the money.”
I really think there is something to what my friend Lonnie has to say!

Follow more of what I think on Twitter: @jlandkev

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Japanese commute

I have been commuting to work for most of my adult life. I suppose for most people it is necessary evil. We must travel to get to school or our places of work. Some of us take cars while others take public transportation. With the exception of my first two years in Korea (2002-2004), when lived within walking distance of my school, I have been wither driving, cycling, busing or training it!

here in Japan i take the train everyday to get to work. Actually, I take two. This evening on my way home I decided to give you a little glimpse into what I see. I was also playing with the Instagram iPhone app. I stared using it today and it is a nifty little toy!

Now, for many people in the larger cities of Japan, their daily commute can be a long and painful one. Some people spend hours everyday on the train. Luckily, my commute is a relatively short one. I can get to work everyday in about 40-45 minutes, door to door. I suppose that isn't so bad!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Kevin interviewed on Seoul Podcast

A very cool thing happened earlier this week. I was invited to be a panelist on the Seoul Podcast. The Seoul Podcast is a show that has been around for a few years. A panel of teachers/new media producers take a weekly look at the politics and culture of South Korea and how it effects the foreigners who live there.

I of course lived in South Korea for several years and now live in Japan. I've been a loyal listener to the show and had built somewhat of a relationship of the host Joe ( via twitter and You Tube. A few weeks ago I listened to an episode where they had qiranger (Travel vlogger Steve Miller) and I was mentioned a few times. I of course am known by some in the Jaan/Korea blogging/vlogging community as BusanKevin. I then contacted the host and as asked to come on board.

In this episode we talk about life in Korea vs. life in Japan and many other things.

Download "SeoulPodcast #110: Is Japan Really All That Great?" featuring ME!

I vlogged about it!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

So, you wanna live in Japan? Part 2

Last weekend I wrote a post that seemed to stir a great deal of interest in a lot of people. "So wanna live in Japan?" drew more traffic to my blog than any other post I have written. Actually, my blog saw more traffic that day than any other! I suppose (actually, I know for a fact) there are a lot of people out there who are really interested in Japan and would of course like to come here. Some people would like to venture to Japan's shores simply to visit, while others would like to work and live here. This post will be something of a follow-up to "So you wanna live in Japan?"

I didn't write that post to be a negative person. In fact, I don't think it was negative in anyway. I think it was a realistic look at what you need to do if you are looking to come to Japan long-term. Of course, if you are just planning to come and visit, there are no problems, but if you are seeking a more permanent situation, you must put thought into it. Simply showing up in Japan with a backpack and some money and expecting to make a go of it might not work out. I do realize that it can for some people, but not for everyone.

Japan is a place like any other place. It does of course have a rich history, interesting culture and awesome cuisine, but in the end, other places do as well. I really enjoy living here. There are some wonderful aspects of life in this country. There of course many wonderful aspects to my home country of Canada as well, a place I miss considerably. Much like when I lived in Canada and Korea, I wake up in the morning and go to work. I have a routine similar to that I had in other places. Of course, there are many interesting and exciting things around me, but at the end of the day, life goes on in quite a normal fashion for me.

I think some people have unrealistic expectations. Japan is definitely cool, but it isn't a place where anime characters walk off the TV screen into real life. It isn't a place where manga can solve all of life's problems. It isn't a place where women blindly throw themselves at foreign men just because they are foreign. It is however a place, where you can be very happy and successful if you work hard and have the right attitude.

In my "So you wanna live in Japan?" post, I talked about people who think anyone can become successful and famous in Japan. If that were the case, I wouldn't be doing what I am today. I would be far to busy counting piles of money and managing my television appearances. Sadly (but not too sadly), that isn't the case, but I am doing what I am meant to do. I'm a teacher.

There seems to be a lot of negative sentiments surrounding the education industry in Asia. I suppose that is because many of the people who are drawn to Asia are interested in the place and not the work. They become teachers because it is the only field they can find employment in. They want to be in Japan, not in a classroom in Japan. I of course completely understand. Teaching is definitely not for everyone. Actually, being a teacher isn't for most people.

I was an ESL teacher for five years in South Korea and enjoyed teaching so much that I went back to graduate school in Canada, got my teaching certification and then experience in Canadian public and Catholic schools. Then I came to Japan. I am a teacher now and I love it. Teaching is what I do. I am not searching for something else, but I can understand those who do. My career path may change in the future if better opportunities arise, but for now I am content.

At the end of the day, if you are driven enough to do anything, you can make it happen. If your goal in life is to become a lawyer, doctor or artist, etc., you can do it with enough focus and determination. Coming to Japan is of course no different. You can make your way to Japan's shores and become successful. It may take time though. It will also take persistence. Again, it is the same as in the country you call home.

I hope you set your goals and I hope you can do all of the things you want. Japan is a great place and it makes sense that so many people want to come here. If you are one of those people, do your research and enjoy everything when you finally land in Tokyo, Osaka or wherever you may be.

here is a glimpse of downtown Kobe, Japan as I saw it this evening on my way home from work.