On a rainy Sunday morning I got up early to take the cardboard out for the monthly pickup. Half the 町内会 (neighborhood association) were there! (I had met some of them when we went round the neighbourhood day before yesterday to make our greetings.)

Relocating to Kyoto

ANA airplane being loaded

Good afternoon from Vancouver International Airport. I am at Gate D70, about to board the plane. Yes, I just got back to Canada 3 weeks ago, but things… have been happening.

In last month’s newsletter I explained why we had to change our Spring Break destination from a drive to Squamish to an emergency flight to Kyoto. The long and the short of it is my father-in-law’s health has been deteriorating. Thus, we decided that we should relocate to Kyoto to spend the remainder of his life with him.

Two main factors led us to this decision: responsibility and ability.

As an only child, my wife feels the full weight of taking on elder care. This is also one of the many different responsibilities that weigh heavily on an international marriage. She supported me fully in taking an emergency flight to Canada when my dad got sick. I will absolutely support her in this.

Secondly is ability, which is entirely due to the awesome team at my company. I joined Fission to help execute their vision of growing a globally distributed network of internet industrial researchers. We already have team members in North and South America, Europe, and Africa. Now I get to be the first in Asia. They have been fully supportive of this move — for which I am very grateful — and it demonstrates again the benefits of designing a company as distributed and async. So, my job gave me the ability to support my wife in supporting her father. I am one of the lucky few to be in this position.

For the forseeable future I will be posting from Kyoto, a place where I lived from 1999 to 2004, and have been visiting ever since. I am not sure what our lives are going to look like for the next few months. But considering how it has been for the last few years, I am not making any solid plans, and am just going to go where nature leads us.

See you from the other side of the Pacific!

Unzen – Where foreigners go to hell to cool off

From a tiny speck on the horizon, the volcano slow grew as I crossed first the mud flats of Kumamoto and then the shallow waters of the Ariake Sea. Now, at the foot of the volcano, looming over the small city of Shimabara, there was only one way to go: up!

Unzen, the central volcano of the Shimabara peninsula, is actually a volcanic complex with a number of peaks. Fugen-dake (普賢岳) was the highest peak of the mountain until 1990 when the eruption mentioned last time saw a new peak jut out a further 127 meters. This is Heisei-shinzan (平成新山) — the “new mountain.”

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Living “with volcano” — a trip to Shimabara

The Shimabara Peninsula, a peninsula of a peninsula in Nagasaki prefecture, is just one of the fascinating places I travelled to in Kyushu, looking for “Kyushu Firsts.” This is where the “black samurai” Yasuke first landed in Japan in 1579 and is the location of Japan’s first printing press. The peninsula hosted many Portuguese Jesuits who built seminaries in the 16th century. It was the home of one of Japan’s Christian Daimyo and the site of a Christian rebellion (1637-1638). One could argue that Shimabara is where the Tokugawa shogunate’s finally set its resolve to isolate Japan from the rest of the world.

Jutting up from the center of the peninsula is the volcano-mountain Unzen. Farms cover the rolling hills, wrapped around the volcano like a thick green blanket. The rich volcanic soil produces strawberries and other produce, supplying the rest of Kyushu. Below the farms, at sea level, are the towns where most people live, some fishing the crabs of the shallow and muddy Ariake Sea. It is all quite bucolic, but there is a broiling history lying underneath.

Map of Kyushu with inset showing Shimabara peninsula in relation to Kumamoto with Ariake Sea in between

In getting to Shimabara I had to cross the relative placid inland sea. After leaving Kumamoto city by taxi we drove for nearly thirty minutes towards the Ariake across the mud flat, parcelled into farms. The warm April weather and straight road made me dozy. But as we approached the ferry terminal we could see in the distance the far-off peak of Unzen. It looks so close!

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Signing for more expressiveness in group video chat

Recently my kids have been exploring the differences between American Sign Language (ASL) and Japanese Sign Language (JSL). For them it is another way to explore their own bilingualism, and understand how language is tied to cultural context.

I recently read this short manga COVID-33 which describes a future world where talking outside is prohibited, and all must use signing to communicate. It is a beautiful mix of media with a powerful message about communication and symbols.

pages from the story COVID-33 by Yamamoto Miho

My workplace is fully distributed, with no central office. We are in multiple countries and spend a lot of time on Zoom in meetings. The courteous thing to do on Zoom when you are not speaking is to Mute yourself. However, this limits your expressiveness when reacting to what others are saying. All you have is just facial expressions and basic gestures such as 👍 or 👎.

Why limit ourselves to such a small vocabulary?

Before I joined the company they had already adopted the ASL sign for “Applause/Yay!” on camera, a tip they picked up from another colleague.

Applause

Inspired by my children’s experimentation and the COVID-33 manga, I proposed more signs that could be useful in our business context, increasing our expressiveness on camera. Here are a few basic signs we have gathered in an internal document on communicating with Zoom. Maybe you can introduce them into your own video group chats.

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