5 Things You Must Do in Self-Isolation

2020 – A year that will go down in history. The year that Bong Joon Ho wins the Oscar for directing Parasite. Oh yeah, and that pandemic thing too. We’ve all read enough about the dark side of that. Not my focus today.

The vast majority of us are either stuck at home per government restriction, personal choice or quarantine. And if your greatest burden is to simply get through the boredom, then that’s a pretty good problem to have right now!

Self-isolation doesn’t have to be a jail sentence. There’s plenty of things we should all be doing to take advantage of this unique situation.

Here’s a list of my top 5 that I hope each of us are doing.

1. Be a Creator

I finally finished watching LOST. On-demand TV is a guilty pleasure, like chocolate ice-cream. Do you really want to eat it every day? I guess some people do but… well, look at Sean & Rina-336them. Reward yourself, yes – but reward yourself for a job well-done. Pick up an instrument and write a song. Get into the garage and hammer some nails into a board. Or simply write down your thoughts, your greatest memories. Maintain the goal of having more at the end of your creative session than what you started with. As I tell my son, it’s easy to destroy. It’s hard to create. Which will you be?

2. Grow Your Brain

We’ve all seen the advertisements for Masterclass. Holy crap is that solid marketing! But personal development can be as simple as reading that novel sitting on your bookshelf that you bought with the best intentions. Yes, we all have YouTube at our fingertips but that kind of passive learning is not going to cut it. What are you doing to challenge the way you think? “I’m happy with the way I think”, you say? Well you are boring, and wrong. Challenge yourself to be more than you currently are, and then pass judgement on your own reaction to opposing views.

3. Reach Out

When my father passed away earlier this year, there were a few things that touched me on a deeper level. I won’t elaborate, but I’ll say that your interactions with friends and family are finite. You can count them. With some people you may only have a few special moments left. I’m not talking about chat messages. I mean connecting with someone, via a phone call or hug or a laugh, discussing something important. Since we can’t meet everyone in person, for gods sake call your families, leave voice messages, maybe send a package with a letter. Moments of shared joy are fleeting.

4. Experience NothingnessIMG1574_edit

News can be hard to escape, often with no redeeming value. This leads to stress, anxiety and even depression. Close your eyes. What do you see? What do you hear? For me, I think of the 10 things I wanted to get done today. I see visualizations of my daily thoughts flash across the back of my eyelids. Noise, noise, noise. What if you could quiet your mind, and just “be” in the moment for 10 minutes a day. It would change your life. Practice meditation, as there are many excellent sources online to learn this skill. I say practice, because it is hard at first – but you will still feel positive effects. What have you got to lose besides 10 minutes of Instagram scroll time?

5. Do Things Differently

You know that funky outfit in the back of your closet? Put it on. Always wanted to cut off all your hair – now is your chance. Grow out that beard. With life disrupted, it’s time to switch things up. Move your bedroom to the dining room, and make the bedroom your art-space. Put up a tent somewhere inside and camp. Try something you would never do. If isolation is forcing us to be a little introspective, the least we can do is push our own boundaries a little and see where we become inspired and where we stop being comfortable. Maybe you will emerge from this cocoon as something new.

There’s many more of course. We can’t forget to maintain our physical health with exercise, to get sunlight on our faces, and get our hands dirty with a little garden planting. Don’t forget what it is to be human, and don’t squander the opportunity to take a step closer to your ideal.

Popular Japanese Language Apps Review

There’s a ton of Japanese language applications on the market today. Are any of them any good? It’s hard to tell without downloading, installing and signing up for some kind of account. I took a look at a few of them and give you some thoughts here today. With minimal time for study, I’ve been looking for something I can open up from time to time when waiting in line, or elsewhere with a spare moment, and learn a few new words. So I judged these apps with a rather specific search criteria.

  1. I want to be able to be able to jump ahead to my current level (intermediate somewhere?)
  2. I want to get a full idea of the application from the FREE trial, without paying up-front
  3. I want the application to be interesting actually work – making it worth my time investment

The applications which I took out for a test drive were:


At first glance Duolingo didn’t allow me to do much of anything. But by providing them my email address and registering (free) it unlocked some decent trial ability. It quizzes you using a variety of grammar, reading, matching and translating exercises. It does let you “placement test” in the beginning, and skips (apparently) a number of activities if you do well. The graphics and interface feel friendly and logical. They occasionally ask you to sign up for a 7 day free trial, and hit you with ad’s but it doesn’t prevent a nice trial experience. It’s all around a solid little app. It does feel a little bit like they are trying too hard to “gamify” the experience. To me, I don’t want to play a game. I just want to learn. But I get it – everyone is different, and some kids want that stuff I guess. The only downside for me is that it still felt rather basic to me in the beginning. Lots of “match the hiragana to the romanji” or “match the word to sound” kind of activities. I was pleased to see that there is a learning TIPS/GOALS button for each lesson, and that you can TEST UP/OUT of each category. This is big for me because I don’t want to waste time rehashing things I’ve already worked hard to learn. I also found it nice that their website interface was just as clean and simple (if not better) than the mobile App. I give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.


Are these apps related? Because they seem rather similar to me. I do like the somewhat cleaner, less gamified look of LingoDeer. LingoDeer provides a variety of grammar exercises and reading challenges, reinforced by stories that use audio/recording and pleasant graphics. The topics they offer you are all very relevant to daily life. In the App I ran into some problems. They seem to block you from anything more than an introductory lesson. The lessons appear as if you can open them – then it hits you with a road block saying you must sign up. When I logged in on the website it was much clearer, and I saw that I could “TEST OUT” of the first sections which I promptly did ! But this didn’t really open up anything new to explore, it still only gave me a glimpse of the App.  I’ll give it 2.5 out of 5 stars because I feel like I’ve invested too much time in something that isn’t giving me a full idea of the App’s ability. Maybe I’ll come back to it again someday. But why would I when other Apps are less restrictive?


LingQ works very different than the previous apps. It offers you various stories to read and listen to, allowing you to highlight words you don’t know (LingQ’s) and assign the definition which most like. These words you can be quizzed on and study later. As the words become more familiar you can assign a degree of understanding to them and eventually remove them from your LinQ’s. The learning experience here seems much more narrow or focused, but that’s not a bad thing. The App’s trial experience is a bit of a tease, but gives you a basic idea. The website, like the others seems to allow more exploring. He fact that you can select readings that match your current ability is highly appealing to me. So for me this is my top pick. 4 out of 5 stars.


I haven’t found that addictive learning App which has captured my love yet. Oh well. The search continues. And I did find at least one worth further examination. As always, whatever works for you – is in fact the best.


It should be noted that I found problems with multiple Apps when it came to accessing my account on the website, versus mobile. SO I would highly recommend confirming that you have the same account working on both your phone app and computer website interface before you begin your learning. Why use the website version at all you ask? I found that it was actually a bit easier/more fun to use the website when actually sitting in front of a computer anyway.


And just because it has saved me on so many occasions, I should probably throw in a mention for the best FREE Japanese Language Dictionary out there – “Imiwa?” (not a sponsor). www.imiwaapp.com While this app takes up a chunk of space on your phone, the instant access to translations, word definitions, examples, kanji and even stroke order have been indispensable! While not technically a learning App – I can’t recommend it enough.

Thank you for reading and following this blog. Check out my post about the recent harvest of the rice fields.

Keep the Kids Cool in the Summer in Japan

Summer winds down to a close in the Japanese countryside. Summer felt short but it didn’t arrive without providing a number of intense, potentially deadly, days of heat. The Earth is heating up. And Japan appears to be no exception to this trend. To add fuel to the fire, the humidity in Japan makes it feel far worse.

When you are accustomed to US cities like Phoenix or Sacramento – Air Conditioning is found almost universally. Not the case in Japan! Many homes (especially in the countryside) may have as a single room with AC or none at all.

Beating the heat feels great, but it also becomes downright necessary for mental and physical health.

Here’s a few ways that our family found to stay cool in the summertime:

Play In The River


Just remember, the rivers can be dangerous in the rainy seasons and claim lives every year. But they can also be a huge source of enjoyment and pleasure if precautions are taken. Find a shallow and kid friendly location, use flotation devices and plenty of supervision. Have a picnic and soak up the nature.

Water Parks

Water parks are abundant throughout Japan, and often quite affordable. While some may be a little on the older side, they are a great way to stay cool and enjoy a nice family day. Don’t forget drinks, sunblock, big hats, sunglasses, floatation devices, some kind of shade (like a portable tent), water shoes/slippers and towels.

Nagashi Somen 流しそうめん

I guess this one qualifies as a food, but really ends up being more of an event – especially with kids. Cold somen noodles are the perfect summertime food. Nagashi Somen flow past you on a bamboo slide and you need you catch them with chopsticks if you want to eat. No bamboo? The plastic version will be available at a nearby supermarket. Fair warning, there is no way to do this with kids and have them not get soaking wet. But I guess that’s the point.

Catch Fish with Your Bare Hands

You read that right. There are several places in the countryside with small creeks set up and separated into areas where fish can be placed. Typically these places will sell you the live fish in a bucket. You release them into your pool of water, and let the kids go crazy trying to catch them. After they are captured, the same person who sold you the fish is likely to grill them up for you to eat on the spot. This makes for a fun day trip and picnic.

Cool Off Areas in Parks

In Japan you will find parks just about everywhere, and it’s summertime that an additional feature is often put into place. Many parks have areas specifically for kids (or adults I guess?) to get wet and cool off. If you plan to take your child to a park with a water-play area, there is almost 0% chance you can keep them from getting wet. Cooling off is just too irresistible.

Drinks and Deserts

Kakigori - Shaved IceThere’s no shortage of beverage options in Japan. And a wide range of summertime deserts will keep you busy. Many farms that produce their own milk will offer flavors of soft-serve ice cream. I highly recommend this. Another option might be Kakigori かき氷 , a Japanese shaved ice desert. But don’t brush-off Kakigori as a Japanese snow-cone. While there are many cheap versions for kids, high quality Kakigori deserts featuring condensed milk and various toppings will cool you off in a completely unique way.


Visiting Japan Without Speaking Japanese: Part 3 of 3

Thinking about visiting Japan?
This is the final part in our 3-Part series about visiting Japan without speaking Japanese. Watch Part-1 and Part-2 before watching this final episode.

Today we finish out chat with Rob Dyer at TheRealJapan.com about the prospect of visiting Japan without speaking Japanese. Is lack of fluency a show-stopper?

Few would argue that as a foreigner, putting a little effort into communication by memorizing basic phrases and understanding the fundamentals of the culture is important. But for the average traveler who delights at the prospect of traveling through Japan, becoming fluent in the language may not be realistic.

In this final, Part 3 of our Video Series we conclude our discussion and touch upon topics including:

  • Exploring the city
  • Interacting with the locals
  • Body language

View Video Transcript
Click the Follow button at right to be notified about future posts and videos from this Blog.

And make sure to check out TheRealJapan.com to see what Rob is working on. His new E-Book, “How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese” can be found at HowToTravelInJapan.com.


Visiting Japan Without Speaking Japanese: Part 2 of 3

Thinking about visiting Japan?
Watch Part-1, before watching this Part-2 in our 3-Part series.

Today we continue our discussion with Rob Dyer of TheRealJapan.com on the topic of visiting Japan without speaking Japanese.

It’s advisable to have at minimum, basic Japanese phrases memorized and a sense of the cultural differences. But lack of language fluency should not be a barrier to your adventure. There are a number tasks you can perform in advance to help make your experience as smooth as possible. These preparations are discussed in these videos as well as in Rob’s new book, “How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese”.

In this Part 2 of a 3 Part Video Series we talk about some of the amusing things that can occur while traveling, as well as topics including:

  • Mental and Logistical Preparation
  • Transportation
  • Getting Lost

Rob’s recently penned an E-Book titled “How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese” can be found at HowToTravelInJapan.com.

Now check out PART-3 for the conclusion. Be sure to click the Follow button at right for future updates. View Video Transcript

Visiting Japan Without Speaking Japanese: Part 1 of 3

A discussion on the challenges of travelling to Japan without speaking the language.

Visiting Japan for the first time can be a daunting experience. Add in potential language challenges and cultural differences – it might give you some cause for concern before your big adventure.

Rob Dyer

Fear not! Today we sit down for a chat with someone with a wealth of knowledge about traveling through Japan – Rob Dyer of TheRealJapan.com.

In this Part 1 of a 3 Part Video Series we learn a little about each other and discuss the apprehension that some people feel about visiting Japan, including such topics as:

  • The Language Barrier
  • Japanese Hospitality (Omotenashi)
  • Trip Preparation

Rob’s recently penned an E-Book titled “How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese” can be found at HowToTravelInJapan.com.

Next check out PART-2 as our discussion continues. Be sure to click the Follow button at right for future updates. View Video Transcript

5 Common Traits of the Uncommon Foreigner in Japan

Are we all a bunch of weirdos? Not those just passing through – but those who choose to live here indefinitely. It’s a question I’ve asked myself before, and I include myself in that mix. Living in a small town in the countryside, it means the number of “Westerner” residents are few and far between. So few in fact, that I’ve had the chance to interact with a good percentage of them. To answer the question; No. I guess were not all weirdos. But there are a few characteristics I’ve noticed that seem to “pop out” across our tiny cross-section of the population.

    1. Non-Conformist
      By this I mean that many of us have not guided our lives along the typical success path laid out for us by our home country. Perhaps we didn’t enter college right out of high school, attempted unusual jobs, or have otherwise met with curves in the directions of our lives. However you’d like to define it, Expats tend to have unique personality traits which set them apart from the average Joe.
    2. Problem-Solver
      Setting up camp indefinitely in a foreign environment brings challenges. You are destined to encounter pleasant surprises, and strange problems that you never could have imagined. You don’t have to be a problem-solver to be an Expat, but you have to be one in order to become a successful Expat.
    3. Able to Read Personalities
      When you are not an expert at a language, you must be able to pick up on subtle social clues in order to make decisions. This is further complicated by cultural differences which may leave people being socially-kind to you even when you are making rather large mistakes. Highly sensitive people hold an advantage here at determining the best course of action.
    4. Comfort with Being Alone
      Let’s face it, being an Expat could be a lonely business for some. But it’s really not too bad for those who are comfortable with spending lengths of time on their own. Social people will no doubt make friends, and relationships over time, but a willingness to battle loneliness is almost a required skill when living thousands of miles from home.
    5. Able to Handle Attention
      Loneliness is often interrupted with bursts of the exact opposite – unsolicited attention. People are naturally curious, and will often lavish attention upon you as if you were a D-List celebrity. Usually it’s all in fun, but it can also be obnoxious. The hardened expat has the class to deal with both wanted and unwanted attention in the most prudent way possible.

    Am I providing a gross stereotype here? Maybe. It’s just one man’s observation. Whether you agree with me, have more to add, or think I’m crazy – let me know in the comments. Also, check out my blog post about 6 Striking Cultural Personality  Differences. Thanks as always, for following my observations.

Reverse Culture Shock – Part 2

Can two years away from your home country make you feel like an outsider when you return? To some degree, yes. It makes me re-question;
“What kind of person volunteers themselves to be dropped into a foreign land indefinitely?”

Beauty of the countryside.

I suppose you have different types; the adventurous who will take on anything, and those who are willing to exile themselves from their current world. Which am I? I’d like to think the former, but more likely the latter. Hopefully at least a combination of the two.

The outgoing, very social nature of Americans reminded me that small-town Japan is generally rather reserved, at least socially. It felt good to experience the “chit chat” once again that doesn’t really take place in Japan.

As for the American chaos… I think some chaos is good. In fact I needed my kids to experience a bit of chaos. A little USA-vaccination so to speak, to let them feel that the world is much bigger than what they currently understand.

On the Topic of Raising (half American/half Japanese) Children

IMG_3214Of course I could never think of my children as half of anything, only able to experience both worlds. But let’s be honest, they will have benefits and disadvantages. As kids there are instance where they will benefit from the novelty of having a foreign (American) father. Of course my fear is that there will also be exclusion – as being different often creates when you are a child. As adults we value our uniqueness, but a kid just wants to be like their friends.

Then again, “exclusion” is not exclusive to where I live. Kids can be mean, anywhere. And often are. And as much as we’d like to protect them from the realities of life, sheltering them is no solution.

As a father, it’s my job to prepare them. Should they choose to live in Japan, they must have the patience, demeanor and sense of order as a Japanese citizen. Should they choose to live in America they must be able to speak-out and let themselves be heard, to be creative and take risks when called for.

These personalities seem almost at odds. At 180 degrees. Yet, some fascination exists within each culture for the other. Maybe we both wish our own cultures had a little bit more of the character we idealize in each other – to balance ourselves out.

Ultimately I come to the conclusion that there is no one better to exhibit of striking a balance between both cultures, than the example of me and my wife. An imperfect example that we must continue to improve upon. They will need to seek the balance within themselves.

(Read Part 1 of this article)


Reverse Culture Shock – Part 1

I recently returned from my first trip back to the USA, after 2 Years of life in Japan. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a mixed bag of emotions. The concept of reverse culture shock, of returning to your home country after spending just a couple years away – is a real thing. I suppose in my case there is also a Big City VS. Small City contrast which plays a part.

LA - The Belly of the Beast
Although it was only two years away I think it was the closest that I had ever come to seeing America, specifically Southern California, from the eyes of an outsider. It had me thinking about my identity a bit.

Some of the Things That Popped Out;

The chaos of American is both good and bad. It feels quite liberating and free, while the lack of process can be frustrating at times. It’s good for my kids to see that this world (and life) is more than any one country or culture. A person needs to have the skill set to thrive in both an environment of chaos, or an an environment of order.

LA is a big city, noise pollution and people are loud. But beyond the number of people, they are also unconcerned about others. Whether it’s someone speaking loudly on their cell phone, or bumping music from their car – it’s simply a louder environment.

Korea Town Los AngelesThe Food:
It’s no secret that I like to eat. The city holds a range of ethnic foods that is simply unavailable in small town Japan. It was great to eat all of the things I had been missing for the last couple years, and I definitely gained a few pounds. How many tacos did I eat? I lost count! But the almost universally unhealthy food as you walk through the average grocery store (American snacks) – that’s another story.

While LA is not especially known as a friendly city, it sure felt welcoming to me. I imagine this was just due to being around English and feeling at-ease. Also, all those tiny conversations you have throughout the course of a day, you usually take for granted. But as a foreigner in small-town Japan, people are far more hesitant to strike up a conversation for multiple reasons.

Never underestimate the convenience of being able to walk into a clean bathroom anywhere you go. This is not the case in Los Angeles. One of the big reasons for moving to a smaller town, I got sick of telling my kids not to touch things. The pure unspoiled nature of the Japanese countryside is hard to compare with anything else. The grim of the city, I don’t miss.

Oh boy, the traffic. When I lived in Los Angeles I hated it, but I was used to it and tolerated it because… what choice is there? But visiting it again after getting used to a small town made me scream むり, impossible, and that I could never deal with that again.

While living in Japan, the local supermarket we used to shop at was in the news recently. The police had chased a suspect into the store and gunfire was exchanged. One of the employees was caught in the crossfire and unfortunately killed – by police. While crime exists everywhere, theres no denying the number of guns and crime levels in big American cities. It’s nice to worry about my kids less in a small, relatively safe town.

To have my children get to know my family and bond was/is priceless, and our time together was too short. This is a huge downside to living abroad. Seeing old friends reminded us of all the things that we have in common with them, and the close relationships we had there. We miss them. Starting over in a new country, with new priorities means that new, deep friendships come very slowly.

There’s more of course, but these are the things that most jumped out at me. But what I realized more than before, is that Japan is now my home, at least for now. I need to do a better job of making my home a place that I cherish by creating deeper bonds, reaching out to people and embracing my experience to its fullest.
Strive for fearlessness.

In my next blog post I speak more about having children caught between two cultures – Japanese and American.

Raising Kids in Japan – Changing Schools

One thing that struck me as my kids entered preschool here in Japan, was that the teacher-to-child ratio was quite generous. Also, the cost is quite manageable compared to the USA. The children by all accounts love where they are and enjoy themselves, looking forward to school just as kids should. In short, I’ve been mostly happy with it.

Side note: Their Japanese Hoikuen 保育園 preschool is really more about socialization and play than it is about studying. If I had wanted them pushed in education more early-on, I would have put them into a Youchien 幼稚園 type of preschool, however I figured the relocation from the US was stressful enough.

Now after 2 years of their adjusting and making friends, we may be imparting another shock upon them which concerns me. As we consider building a home in a nearby area, we must also consider changing their preschool. If we do not – then they will be faced with entering an elementary school later down the road with no friends/acquaintances. If we move them now, they have a solid year to adjust and make new friends.

This in itself is not insurmountable. But I then consider the other issues:

  • They are the youngest in their classes: Children in Japan are placed into classes strictly by birth date, and the maturity difference between oldest to youngest can be striking. The US seems to be much more flexible in this regard. Studies have shown, the older kids in the classes perform better.
  • They are the only “hafu’s” ハーフ: In their current school, and likely in their new school they will likely be the only non-full-Japanese kids. Isn’t fife is hard enough without being regarded as different, especially as a kid?
  • My kids are small: Being the youngest, and having parents who are relatively short means my kids are relatively small in stature. Sure, being bigger and stronger isn’t everything. But, this effects their sports and athletics ability (rather important in the countryside schools), and likewise their confidence.

I should also say – these are my concerns, my own demons. Not my kids’ worries. They simply take one day at a time. They are happy, well-adjusted children. But I know that childhood is far from simple. For now I must consider how I can ease them into this new possibility. I plan to:

  • Visit the new school often, even if to just play
  • Start meeting member of the new school
  • Let the children know, a move will put us closer to grandparents

Do you have children as you live in a foreign country? How have they adjusted? Any tips you can provide for changing schools? I would love to hear the thoughts of others. Comment below.