Five Things

Another Sunday means it's time for another list. The last couple of days have seen a ridiculous amount of negativity projected my way, which has certainly taken its toll on my patience, but August was a pretty good month overall. The boy is starting to read more. Projects at the day job are moving forward. The summer heat and humidity has been replaced with some cooler temperatures with intermittent storms. All of these things are positive and each is worthy of a celebration … some more than others, of course. September is shaping up to have a bunch of positive events take place, too, and I'm looking forward to each one of these.

A Week Off … for Training

The last week of September will involve a solid week of Mulesoft training through an all-day intensive course. There will be a great deal of learning and a great deal of Java. Once complete, there will be a closed-book exam where I get to put the skills to use an earn certification for the technology, which will get put to use almost immediately with some upcoming projects at the day job. An added bonus of the training is that I'll need a new computer, and I've managed to convince the day job to provide a 15" MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM, as the 13" MacBook Pro I've been using for the last few years is simply not up to the task of dealing with AnyPoint Studio, the IDE used for Mulesoft development.

A New MacBook

Yes, this was mentioned in the previous point, but it's still something positive to look forward to … even if this is potentially coming a mere couple of weeks before Apple releases the fabled 16" MacBook Pro with the older-style butterfly keyboard, which is the same style that I've enjoyed since 2012. With 32GB of RAM and a dedicated video card, a number of the heat problems that I've been struggling with lately should be drastically minimized. It will also be feasible to do some of the more computationally demanding tasks that colleagues have been asking for help with. If the keyboards on the current 15" devices are as problematic as posts on the web make them out to be, then I'll attach an external keyboard and use the device that way. There's still a whole lot of positive with this hardware acquisition.

Reiko's Birthday

While she doesn't really like birthdays anymore, this annual celebration is a perfect excuse for the boy to make something nice for his mum. Last year involved a great deal of work on my part, as he was just one year old at the time. This year he'll get to help in the kitchen to make something nice. There will also be cards, flowers, and — possibly — something akin to a cake that is not a cake1

Cooler Temperatures

September is here, which means the summer heat is about to give way to a series of typhoons that will cool the country down and bring in the short, two-week autumn period where everybody wants to be outside before five months of winter hit. For me, this entire cycle is a positive as it means that the stupid mosquitoes that bother me at every opportunity will disappear for a short while. This is, of course, one of the many reasons that winter is my favourite season.

And finally …

Reading List Zero

For the vast majority of this year, the reading list has been sitting at about a dozen books to read. Some of these were the result of recommendations from authors of other books, and a couple were even picked up because I strongly disagreed with the author's stance on a subject but wanted to read a coherent argument about why they felt they were right. All in all, it's been a challenging reading year as I've managed to read just one work of fiction and 82 books that cover topics such as modern religion, historic events, sociology, education, child rearing, technology, and even a biography2. Rarely is the list shorter than a three or four books, but I've not had any new recommendations from other readers or authors for a number of months. If I do get down to zero, then I might just use the rest of the year for some science fiction, as the year of "real stuff" has been a bit much at times … particularly when reading something from someone I might slap in the face3.

September has just begun and I plan on making sure it's a positive one.

  1. Reiko doesn't like cake.

  2. Finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs a few months back. It has been sitting in the Reading List for 4 years.

  3. I read things from people I strongly disagree with, like Milo Yiannopoulos, in order to have a better understanding of their arguments. This allows me to construct better arguments for why their stance on a topic may be incorrect. Not exposing myself to ideas I detest is not exactly the best way to go through life.

A Decade

Ten years ago today Reiko and I were officially married. I say "officially" because we were actually married on paper the year before. As is custom, the wedding ceremony attended by friends and family made it "official". A lot has happened in the intervening time. Some of it great. Some of it scary. Some of it amazing. Some of it better left offline. Yet here we are, in a newly-built house with an incredibly energetic boy and a lovely puppy.

Taking It Easy with a Picnic

Maybe good things do come to those who wait. Maybe karma is more than people awarding arbitrary points to each other online. Looking back at all the highs and lows in life, where the family and I are today is lightyears ahead of any other time since my move to Japan.

Land and Mortgage Approval Looking Good

The last few months have been an absolute whirlwind of activity with the boy at home growing by leaps and bounds, house shopping with every spare minute, and an endless parade of deadlines at the day job. Thinking back to the last few years, it's interesting just how much free time there was! That said, the year of non-stop action has resulted in some pretty interesting developments with regards to one of the most expensive elements of the modern lifestyle dream: home ownership.

Reiko and I have spent the better part of six months scouring property and housing company websites in an attempt to find a place that would be great for our son to grow up. All in all, we weren't asking for much. Any plot of land that we bought had to meet these conditions:

  • be more than 220m² in total
  • be close to good schools1
  • be in a safe area
  • be close to Reiko's parents' house
  • be relatively close to work
  • cost no more than 1500万円 (about $168,840 CAD as of today)
  • face south (important in Japan)

You'd be surprised how many thousands of properties we looked through to find something that meets most of these criteria. The plot of land we finally settled on is slightly larger than 220m² and it's a bit over our budget, but Reiko was able to talk the sellers down a bit so that we could get it for about $5,000 under the asking price. This coming Sunday we'll go and sign the papers that signal we're serious about buying the property, which will then give us a little under 60 days to confirm which housing company we'll hire to build the house and also obtain the mortgage that we'll need to pay for this incredible purchase.

More on that later.

Buying a house in Japan is a little different from how I've seen it done elsewhere. While people can buy pre-built homes that housing companies put up in tight packs, Reiko and I wanted something different. The pre-built homes are certainly cheaper than the route we've chosen, but they lack the personality and space that we would like our home to have. So many of the buildings today are essentially boxes with tiny windows and a door up front. There's rarely any grass on the property unless it's accidental, which makes it a weed, and the neighboring homes are simply too close for comfort. When I look out a window in my home, I don't want to see another wall less than a meter beyond the glass.

Instead, we've opted to buy the land and hire a housing company to build us a home with many of the little customizations that we've looked forward to since before marriage. A nice staircase. An open-concept kitchen. A dedicated workspace for two next to a large window. A yard with grass intentionally growing. These are not impossible requests when buying pre-built, but they are a lot harder to find.

Reiko, being the investigative person she is, has put in a massive amount of effort to find both the perfect piece of land as well as collect information on house makers. I've helped whenever possible, but it really pales in comparison. So after a great deal of legwork, the land is just about ours and we've narrowed our home builder down to one of two — possibly three — companies that can build us something that isn't a two-tone, bland box with slits of glass cut into the walls like an afterthought. Of course, money is something that's an important equation here as well.

Again, Reiko has done a bunch of research to find some banks that would be willing to lend us the money to buy our home. Many personal mortgages in Japan are for 35 years, but neither of us want to be paying for our house until we're 75. It's just bad financial planning. I'd like to "retire" no later than 65, and I'm sure Reiko would like to have the freedom in her 60s to work only if she wants to without the obligations that come with staggering amounts of debt. At the moment we're planning to pay down the mortgage in 25 years at the most, with the ambitious goal to have it completely paid off in 14 so long as we can maintain our current savings pattern. We've saved up about 20% the cost of the home over the last decade, and a good deal of this will be spent in the coming months.

Typically, the home purchase process in Japan works like this:

  1. find a piece of land / find a home builder (sometimes this can be done together)
  2. sign a document saying you intend to buy the land and pay $100 to show you're serious
  3. go to the bank to seek preliminary approval to apply for a mortgage by showing the document for the land you've signed to buy
  4. sign a contract with the housing company to build your home
  5. apply for the mortgage
  6. once approved, pay the down payment to the bank (usually between 5~10%)
  7. pay at least 5% the land price to the land owners
  8. pay at least 5% the house price to the builders
  9. pay taxes and fees to the city
  10. pay the fees to connect the home to the water, power, and sewage lines
  11. once the house is complete, pay inspectors to perform a safety analysis
  12. buy insurance on the house
  13. receive the mortgage amount from the bank
  14. pay the remaining amount to the former land owners
  15. pay the remaining amount to the home builders
  16. pay the previous city any outstanding residential taxes
  17. pay the moving company to move that heavy piano that nearly destroyed your spine two years back
  18. move into the new home
  19. breathe a sigh of relief and take a bloody vacation at the library, because that's really the only thing you can afford

Notice that the mortgage is not actually received until point 13. This is because the bank will not release the money until the house is fit to be lived in, as per Japanese law. What this means is that we're technically asking a company to construct a building on another person's property on our behalf in the hopes that all of the financial stuff will pan out. Despite this, we need to pay the land owners, the home builders, the moving company, the city, and various utility companies out of our own pocket in order to get things done. A lot of people can't afford this and take out additional loans in order to make this happen, but more debt isn't something Reiko or I want to do. Instead, we've saved like mad, choosing to not take long vacations2 or buy that really nice Mazda Axela despite the age and size of our little car.

Thanks to all of this, we might actually have a shot at getting a decent home.

As of this moment, we've made it up to point 3 despite not knowing who will build our home. This weekend we'll reach point 4 and next week will hopefully be the completion of point 1 and 5. This purchase is coming in about 75% higher than I ever thought I'd pay for a home, and the good fortune I've had at the day job has made it possible. After years and years of struggle, life is looking up. I just need to make sure it stays this way for a while.

  1. Ideally these schools would also have kids who had at least one parent from outside the country so that our son wouldn't be "the only foreign kid"

  2. I landed in Japan in August of 2007 and I haven't left the country yet … though I did come close to doing so a few years back.

Welcome to Earth

Today at 4:52pm local time our long wait was finally over: Reiko and I are now the happy parents to a very healthy boy.

Hungry Baby

It's hard to believe just how much the world has changed in the 37 years I've been on this planet. This little human will see even more change take place in the first 37 of his. My job now, is to make sure he's well-equipped to handle it.

Seven Years

Seven Years ago today Reiko and I first exchanged emails. In these seven years a number of things have happened, many of which were completely unimaginable at the start of 2006. Heck, looking back at all the adventurestrialstribulationschangesadditions, and unexpected jobs, I can actually say that too much has happened. But such is life. Every day is an adventure, and there are bound to be even more changes and exciting times ahead.

Reiko and I are still working to accomplish many of our personal goals. We want to have children. We want to buy a house. She wants to earn her Master's degree, and I want to be completely self-employed. With each one of these items there is a slew of impossible to guess issues that can pop up along the way but, one thing is for sure; we've survived much worse than anything the future might throw at us1.

On an side, it's now official that Reiko and I have known each other and been in close proximity for longer than I have been with anybody else in my life. Even family members cannot claim to have lived with me for this long … which is kind of sad.

Valentine Surprise from the Mrs.

Valentine's Obento From Reiko

Every day I am one of the few lucky husbands that brings a home-made お弁当 to work. Not only is this a great way to save money, but Reiko's cooking is far better than anything I'll find at a nearby restaurant for some ridiculous price. To celebrate Valentine's Day (our 5th Valentine's, no less), a message accompanied the yummy meal.

Lunch Time at the Park

Despite claims for a cold and wet weekend, Saturday and Sunday have been exceptionally warm and sunny. We decided to take advantage of the 20-degree weather and have lunch at a nearby park. Just the Mrs., のんちゃん, and I. Little did we know there would be a 20 minute wait for a parking spot and 2000 other people with the exact same line of thought already there.

That said, people be darned, we all had fun and enjoyed lunch by the man-made lake where a dozen swan boats were slowly going in circles trailed by real ducks.

のぞみ Waiting to LeaveMmmm … コーヒーはおいしいです~Drink My Coffee Again, and I'll Crush Your Ribs

A Happy Family秋のあき…Lovely Leaves of Red

Up Close And PersonalA Comfy Walkおやすみ~

I Am Not a Chef ...

This weekend marks the Mrs' birthday and as part of the celebration I promised to cook dinner. She's been asking for a Canadian meal for a while, which meant that this would be as good a time as any to take out some of my little-used recipes for foods that are not often available in Japan. There were some last minute changes, but it all panned out at the end.

What was on the menu? Two of the many, many food groups:

Reiko's Birthday Dinner

Ham cooked in Canada Dry Ginger ale, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies, and fried onion. I also whipped up some applesauce to go with the ham. The Mrs. made some of her world-famous baked spaghetti, and we dug right in. The number of dishes that went into making and consuming this dinner was quite extraordinary. Makes me wish we had a maid every so often …

Tomorrow is her actual birthday and we'll be off to an onsen to relax in the wonderful waters.


Three Years And Counting

Champagne at the BeachIt's hard to believe, but three years have passed since Reiko and I traveled to the 各務原市役所 to sign the documents that would make us husband and wife.  Thinking back on everything that has happened over the last 1,095 days, I still think it was one of the best decisions I've made.

Wonder how long it will be before we forget this paper-wedding anniversary. Hopefully it won't happen until long after she and I have gone senile with age.

My Wife: The Un-Giftable Woman?

A Wrapped Present with a BowBuying presents has never been an easy thing for me.  It's not for lack of importance, lack of information, or lack of imagination, but something far more sinister: lack of consistency from the receiver.

The Mrs. and I have exchanged gifts uncounted times over the years for all sorts of occasions.  Sometimes I'll just make up an occasion so I have an excuse to get my wife a nice gift every now and again.  玲子の日 is by far my favorite gift-giving day, because it comes more than once a year.  However, there are some pretty big hurtles that I need to surmount in order for the gift to be considered a success.

Here are just some of the rules that I need to follow:

No Clothes - My (apparent) lack of taste in womens' fashion means that my wife would never in a million years wear any article of clothing I would buy for her.  It would be easier to just buy myself a sweater, because I know she'll wear it before any dress, skirt, or blouse I'd ever pick out (she looks great in my ten-times-too-big-for-her sweaters, so it's all good).

No Milk - The Mrs. has a problem digesting milk and, since 95% of all treats in this country are packed full of creme, cheese, pudding, or some combination thereof, it's incredibly tricky finding yummy treats to bring home every now and again.  Although I can enjoy メロンパン each and every day, I'm sure my wife would like a little more variety and thoughtfulness if I were to bring home a surprise dessert.

No Books - This rule doesn't really exist but, aside from some Liar Game manga, she hasn't gotten past the first chapter of any book I've ever bought her.  Sure, the list isn't very extensive, but that's not the point.  She will not enjoy books.

No Items She Said She Wanted Yesterday or Earlier - This little rule is the biggest stumbling block of buying my wife any gift at all.  Almost every Christmas, Anniversary (both marriage and ceremony dates), and birthday gift has been something she specifically asked for at one point in the past … only to say "I don't need it" shortly after I buy it.

Liar Game Manga | Volume IIA perfect example of the last rule would be what happened this past Christmas.  My wife loves Liar Game and everything related to it … or so I thought.  She loves the music. She loves the drama.  Last November she said she wanted to read the manga and compare it to the TV show, so I went out and bought her 8 of the 10 available mangas.  The day after buying them (and hiding them in the house), she says that she doesn't want the manga because the artists style isn't かわいい.


Upon hearing this, I had to find her a different "main gift" for Christmas, as I didn't want to return the Liar Game mangas in the event she'd change her mind in the future.  Luckily, she really enjoyed the books and has read them all twice. But here's another problem: she doesn't want me to complete her set.

Today we went to a pretty big book store and I quickly made my way over to the comic section to see if they had the volumes that she's missing.  They didn't.  Instead, I picked up a ヒカルの囲碁 (Hikaru no Go) book that I don't have yet and met her back at the languages section.

Me: "These guys don't have the Liar Game mangas you need."
Her: "That's okay. I don't want you to buy any more of those books, anyway."
Me: "Wha-? Why not?"
Her: "I like the drama better."


It's so difficult to do nice things for her sometimes.  It seems the only gifts that have actually been appreciated for any amount of time have all been Valentine's presents.  Incidentally, those are also the gifts where I get the most creative.

Perhaps this means I'm just too darned predictable.  It wouldn't be the first time someone's accused me of such a thing.

Does anyone else face a similar problem when buying gifts for their wife or loved ones? Are there a strict (but ever shifting) set of rules that you need to somehow follow when picking out that perfect present that says "I still want to spend the rest of my life with you"?  I'd love to hear your stories.