A successful move to Ikijima, the Lucky Island

In the last post I described moving to Japan during a pandemic. After all that drama we followed up with an inter-prefectural move within Japan under a State of Emergency! The drama never ends around here…

Golden Week is around the beginning of May when a series of holidays fall in place almost almost one after another (a couple of Emperor’s birthdays, Constitution Day, Children’s Day etc.). Many people take the whole week off and travel around the country — either to visit relatives or for tourism — in the beautiful May weather before the rainy season brings the oppressive heat of summer. Since everyone has the same week off, everywhere is packed. But not in the year of coronovirus: the government asked everyone to stay home on their holidays.

The State of Emergency called on April 7th was to go to the end of Golden Week on May 6th. We considered waiting until the SOE had lifted before moving, but feared another outbreak as the country started up again. Travelling while everyone stayed home seemed like the best way to mitigate the risk. We paid attention to the news, and when the numbers came out that the Bullet Train only had about 6% ridership, we decided to head to the island.

It was a good move. We took the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka and there were only a handful of people waiting to get on the train. At most there were 10 people in our car, which had a capacity of 100. Everyone was wearing masks and we disinfected our seating area. It was the plane flight to Japan all over again. By the time we disembarked in Hakata there were only two people other than the four of us in the car.

Shinkansen scenery — shot and edited entirely on my iPhone

The jetfoil to Iki was a similar story. We were the only passengers on the upper deck, which holds about 90 people. Downstairs, I saw maybe another handful of people. Thus, we were able to traverse the 700 kilometers through 7 prefectures safely.

Jetfoil to Iki was pretty empty
All aboard…? An empty jetfoil to Iki.

Staying at Wasabi

We still didn’t have a home to go to though. So we stayed in a local guesthouse we found online called Wasabi. This cool little backpacker’s hostel is situated high up a hill overlooking Ashibe Fishing Port. I took a few photos around the guesthouse and made a little tour video:

[That whole video was shot and edited on my iPad Pro. I was really surprised at the capability!]

We stayed here for a couple of days while we met with the school district to secure our house and finalize the selection of our school. But we took the day after we arrived off to recover from the trip, and the master of Wasabi took us on a quick tour around the island (photos). We only drove around the outer rim of the island and visited a series of white sand beaches, some historical sites, climbed the biggest mountain (212 meters) to take a 360 video, and of course saw the famous Monkey Rock. I plan on going to each of these sites again and taking lots of pics and video, but this was a quick taste test since the weather was really nice (but windy!).

Moving into the house and first day of school

On our second day in Iki, a Thursday, we decided on a house and a school. After two and a half months of basically being homeless, we finally secured a place of our own! Friday was fridge and washing machine shopping, as well as other home stuff, and we picked up the 19 boxes we had sent from Kyoto. On the Saturday we began the move. We were going to take a little more time, but the school district wanted the kids in school for Monday, since school here just started up again after Golden Week and a bit of a hiatus during the State of Emergency (they only had 4 school days during the month of April).

Monday came soon enough as we spent all weekend unpacking boxes and cleaning. During the weekend some neighbourhood kids came over and offered to walk to school with my girls. On Monday morning they came over at 7:05. My kids were up and changed before the alarm went off at 6, and were out the door with big smiles on their faces. A couple of hours later, while cleaning, I came across this note:

To: Mom and Dad. I hope you will have a nice day by yourself. Mom and Dad thank you for letting us go to school.

Since Monday was an auspicious day (金剛峯日) we decided to make that our official move-in day. Thus we waited until then to set up Baba in the butsudan, enshrine the Sun Goddess ofuda we got while in Ise a few months ago, spread some Ise sand around the four corners of our house for purification, then we walked up a nearby hill (which reminded me a lot of that scene from Totoro!) to pay our respects to the local kami who oversees this area.

After planning this for nearly six months, we are finally here, and our island life can finally begin.

On May 4th the Japanese government extended the State of Emergency to the end of May, but already they are letting up restrictions in rural areas where the impact has been limited. Ikijima has not had any infections since the original six people back in early March, and is taking passenger temperatures before they board any ships or planes before heading to the island. There are still many restaurant and hotel closures on the island, and everyone is still wearing masks, but it seems to be pretty much a return to normal life here. We’ve been here for just 1 week and have settled into a house, saw some sites, made some friends, and enjoyed some beautiful weather. So far so good! Now I just need to get my internet and desk sorted, and then I can get down to some serious work.

iMac sitting in empty tokonoma
Current (temporary) workstation

Moving to Japan during a pandemic

We have now spent 1 month in Japan. This post is a bit of a personal update, for friends and family wondering how things are going on the other side of the world, and also to document my experience during the early days of the pandemic in Japan. This is obviously a snapshot, written during the 10th and 11th of April. The situation is constantly changing, so I refrain from adding too many official details.

The first time I moved to Japan, as an exchange student to Ritsumeikan University, it was Y2K. My friend and I had a plan to escape to the small neighnbbourhood grocery store. It was packed full of food, and had a shutter that could be pulled down in a siege. Seemed like a logical place to go…

The second time I moved to Japan was just after 9/11. During the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, I happened to be in Japan for a week visiting my girlfriend (now spouse) before my final semester at university. When all planes were grounded I was stuck here in Kyoto and started looking for a job. I interviewed at my old alma mater, and secured a position in the PR department. The ban on flights lifted, and my new employers let me go back to Canada to finish my degree. I returned on January 2nd, 2002. It was a different world.

The third time I moved to Japan full time was in the aftershock of the financial crisis in 2008. I was just out of grad school, and having a tough time interviewing for jobs in Canada. Luckily, the company I worked for part time in Nagoya (Apple) was willing to give me a full time position.

This is the fourth time I have moved to Japan to stay for an extended period of time. We arrived on March 11th, the 9th anniversary of the Tōhoku Earthquake Triple Disaster. Again, there is a global crisis happening in the background.

Continue reading “Moving to Japan during a pandemic”

The next chapter

Some personal news:

After more than 3 years at eDynamic Learning, I have chosen to leave to pursue some personal projects. My family and I will be spending a year on a small island off the southern coast of Japan (see previous post) “on exchange” while I research and write a book about Kyushu’s “Asia strategy.” (I will go into more details in future posts, so please sign up for updates via RSS or the Newsletter!)

This decision has been a while in the making. Regrettably I have not been able to be very open about it, so it may come as a shock to some people. Furthermore the timing has not been great what with the pandemic and with my mother-in-law passing away a couple of weeks ago. We were lucky to leave Canada when we did considering all the travel restrictions. Right now I am still in Kyoto, and will be for the next few weeks before making the move to Ikijima (which hopefully doesn’t get further postponed due to the looming lockdown here in Japan).

Despite all the challenges I am so excited to finally pursue my long-held dream of writing a book! I will be recording that journey, as well as our experiences living on the “Lucky Island” in Japan, on this site once things get settled down in the coming weeks. Watch out for it!

Growth

self portrait of Chad with bristly beard and sombre expression

The last time I shaved was 2 weeks ago. It was the last time that I saw my grandmother alive. She was in hospice and I had been driving up to Vernon to visit her. We knew this was the end. (She was 87). So, I decided to stop shaving.

I have done something similar only a couple times before. Like when my wife told me she was pregnant, I stopped shaving for the whole pregnancy. I let my hair grow and everything for nine months and then shaved it once the baby was born.

There must be something deep — evolutionarily speaking — to do this kind of ritual at important life events. Some sort of inner emotional need to externally represent cycles — whether birth or death. I am not sure. I don’t think I learned it, it is just a feeling… a thing that has to be done.

My grandmother — my last living grandparent — is gone. She passed away on her terms, helping people while she went. It was pretty amazing actually. She will be missed.

Her funeral is soon. It has been exactly two weeks, so tonight I will shave the beard.

Let a new cycle begin.

A quick end of year roundup

Last day of 2018. Only wrote 5 posts this year, but it was a big one for me since I took a big step up in my job and even took on a second job. Some highlights:

  • taught 2 semesters of Computer Science as a sessional instructor at University of British Columbia (Okanagan) 👨‍🎓
  • though I didn’t do a lot of writing, I did create over 600 slides for my lectures ✍️
  • paid off 2 of my 3 students loans (the final one will be done in the coming months) 💰
  • a magical trip to Hawaii (review) 🏝️
  • World Cup, which was brilliant, and motivated me to start tracking La Liga, in addition to my beloved Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League ⚽
  • read 50 books, including a lot about Asian history (not just Japan, but China, India, Tibet, Southeast Asia). Really taken an interest in what is happening on continental Asia these days. So interesting! 🌏
  • was even able to re-read a few books, which never happens ♻️
  • discovered Murakami Haruki (read 3 of his books) 📚
  • only watched 30 films (a third were rewatches). My all time favourite of the year: Bao 🥟

Now that my teaching is done, I plan on writing more in 2019. I haven’t set a goal yet, but likely the topic will be on Asia. Kinda think I might be going back to my Coming Anarchy roots. I will be in India next month, and Japan in the summer. So there will be at least 2 travelogues.

2018 was big for me. It feels like a new beginning. Here’s to 2019! 🥂

Your life-changing books

Here is the concept: what books have changed your life? I am not talking about your favourite books, or comfort food books that you have re-read over and over again (ahem… Harry Potter series), or even books that you recognize are a masterwork (eg Invisible Man or The Handmaid’s Tale) and deserving of praise. I mean books that, looking back, you see the ingredients for who you are today; books that are waymarkers for your life, turning points that you can say there are distinct periods before and after the book.

Some caveats: self-help books (like Getting Things Done which was transformational for me) don’t count, even though they will motivate you to take action. That also goes for books that inspire you to do (more of) an activity in the short term, like write (eg. Stephen King’s On Writing or Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler).

Lastly, I think we should skip over non-fiction books, like history, politics, and biographies. A person often reads these kinds of books with the intention of changing how they think about things, or at least further refining their thought. I think we should limit this to fictional works, which though may be written to affect the reader’s heart, due to the individual’s present life circumstances of which the author can never know, can often do so incommensurately.

So, if you will indulge me in my little game: which novels have changed your life?

Thinking about the various distinct phases of my 40 years in this existence, I trawled through the 600+ books on my Goodreads to see if I could determine the waypoints. However, the truth is, I already knew before even looking. There are only a handful (not sure if that is a good or a bad thing) that have left such an impression on my mind that I think of them often, even though many of them I have only read once. The candidates are below.
Continue reading “Your life-changing books”

A brief pause

It has been a couple of months since I have made an entry here — it is merely due to life keeping me very busy. I am working on some large projects at my day job (at which I was recently promoted to Director, Platforms & Technology), and in late December was offered the opportunity to teach a class at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus.The course is Digital Citizenship, a sort of technology ethics course. It was a last minute emergency appointment, and preparation for three lectures each week has taken all of my spare time. Luckily I am team-teaching with a very talented friend, otherwise there is no way I could do it.

Once things begin to calm down in late March or April, I should like to get back to writing. I certainly want to reflect on my experience teaching, and I still have to write about my new year’s trip to Japan, including my stay on one of Japan’s holiest mountains Koya-san (see pics here). Furthermore, there are a number of book reviews I need to write. See you in spring!

100 days of meditation

At 6am this morning I quietly rose out of bed, padded into the bathroom to wash the sleep out my eyes, and then sat down on a cushion in front of the fireplace in my living room, surrounded by shadow and silence. Crossing my legs into a half-lotus position, I took a couple of deep breaths, and then settled into my morning habit… a habit I have been able to maintain for 100 days as of today.

screencap of InsightTimer profile page
Profile on InsightTimer showing 100 consecutive days.

At the very beginning of this year I set out four “goals.” I wrote these goals on my dive slate which hangs in my shower. One was to build a meditation habit. Kickstarting that habit was a reason I went on retreat at the Birken Forest Monastery this summer. As a side note, one thing I have learned about New Years resolutions is to not necessarily try to do them cold turkey. Give yourself some space to build towards the goal, and when the time is right, it will happen. Two of my other goals (learn more about Buddhism, and lose weight) have been successful. This year I have lost 20 pounds and so far have read 13 books on Buddhism, in addition to going on 2 retreats and planning my third for the year end. It might take a few months to get started, so don’t give up on your resolutions too early.

But back to the meditation habit. As you can see from the data, I have been consistent ever since that time at the monastery, except for one day: Aug 19th. If not for that, I would be at 135 consecutive days. But who is counting? I suppose I should not cling to the numbers… 😉

chart of meditation time by date
2017 sessions to date. The vast majority come after my retreat (indicated by the arrow on the left)

100 days is nothing compared to more experienced practitioners, but it is a milestone for me. Meditation has been a game changer in terms of stress reduction. But there are many more benefits waiting to be unlocked. Currently I only do the basic breath meditation for about 20 mins per sit. I sit at least once a day, and often twice. More recently I have been listening to some guided mettā meditations. I would really like to explore other meditation techniques, but I feel like I need access to a teacher. Spending time at retreat helped me get started (I first picked up Bhante G’s Mindfulness in Plain English 7 years ago, but only sporadically tried to sit, and only did so for very short periods) and in order to move to the next level, I am going to look for more instruction.

Why I moved here

Friends at startupvernon.com have been canvassing for stories about what made people move to the Okanagan. I would like to add mine using their questions (slightly adjusted).

NOTE: On November 30 our friends in Vernon will be hosting this years #megageekbeers which brings together community members from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton, Kamloops and surrounding areas. I hope to see you there! RSVP here →

Where are you originally from?

We came to Kelowna from Vancouver, where was had lived for just a year after moving back to Canada from Japan.

After having our second baby, we spent a few months in Armstrong where my parents retired. The original intention was to go back to Vancouver, but that changed after just a couple of months.

What were your biggest concerns about moving to Kelowna? What helped you overcome those worries?

When it was first suggested to me to move to Kelowna (by my parents), my first reaction was “I dunno how to drive a tractor!”

But after couple of months attending Digital Okanagan meetups, and learning about the types of technology opportunities here, I decided to quit my job at Apple and start a new path here.

And to echo some of the other responses, Kelowna’s reputation as a retirement community was not exactly attractive. But things are getting more diverse (not just age-wise but also a bit ethnically) and we have a somewhat progressive and young municipal administration which is making things better (eg. increasing density, active transportation, etc) for retirees and non-retirees alike. At the time I moved here I could already see that my impressions of Kelowna was well out of date.

What kind of research did you do before you moved to Kelowna?

It was really being here and meeting people. Having the opportunity to hang around for a couple of months is a real luxury that most people do not have.

What other cities did you consider moving to?

Hmmm… we weren’t really planning on leaving the Lower Mainland. It just kind of happened. Really happy it did though!

What’s kept you in Kelowna?

Family for sure. It is a great place to raise small children, and with extended family here we get lots of support.

The community is great too. As I have written elsewhere:

We have lived for 3 years in Kelowna. Since leaving my hometown at 18, this is the longest I have ever lived in one location. I am involved in a few different community groups including the startup community, Japanese immigrant community, the wider immigrant community, and others. … at this point in my late thirties, with all the connections to the local community that I have been building over the past few years, I am finally achieving a sense of long-term belonging.

Career wise it has been great. I have been exposed to many opportunities that I would not have in a larger centre.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering moving to Kelowna?

I always advise people that we are in the West, and it is kind of frontier land, so we need people that are resilient and willing to help build. For people looking to make a real impact, the Okanagan is a great place.

About running your company

[I am going to skip these questions since I do not run my own company here. But I will say that we are an international company that is based in Kelowna, and we a growing like crazy. Probably the biggest challenge — something I think most other companies here face — is finding talent. Our talent pool is too shallow, so we need more great people to move here!]

What would make Kelowna even better?

Housing affordability, less inequality, immigrant services, protected bike lanes… I have a long list of pet issues 😜 but this might be more of an objective place to start.

Kelowna has been great to us, but there is certainly much room for improvement. The cool thing is that I see many people fighting to make it a better place, which makes it just that much cooler to be here.

39

39_thank_you_by_lancelot_73-d4saebv.jpg
Miku image by lancelot-73

Today I am 39.

“3” in Japanese is san.

“9” in Japanese is kyuu.

San-kyuu is how Japanese pronounce “Thank you.”

Thus, I am making my 39th year my Thank You Year.

I intend to me more mindful of how I got to where I am, and thankful to the people, organizations, and organisms without whose support I might not have made it to 39, like so many others.

Thinking about how I got here despite how many animals I have eaten, how much carbon I have exhausted, how much ignorance I have propagated, should help me make the next years of my life more benefecial to others, and more fulfilling for me.

Thank you!