Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2020 Is Here

A bowl of "toshikoshi soba" (New Year's Eve noodles)

Well it's finally here. We’re on the cusp of a brand new decade. Much has passed in the 2010s alone, some bad, but a lot of it good.

For me 2010 saw the beginning of my new life as a husband. It saw the birth of my three boys and thus my life as a father. I discovered a lot about myself this past decade. Who would have thought that I actually love kids so much! Who would have known that I would one day be proud to be a dad. I found out that I actually love teaching kids English. I found that I can't make it as a car salesman, or a car encyclopedia.

I learned that I need to listen to my intuition. On more than one occasion, I ignored a persistent voice in my head, and I later came to regret it. That's possibly one of the biggest lessons I learned in my life; learn to listen to your gut. If something doesn't sit right with you, there's probably a very important reason.

Here is something more I learned; there's nothing more important than family. There may be a lot I'd like to do, a lot I'd like to explore and discover, but at the end of the day, family comes first. From now on, for every decision I make, I need to keep into account that I have a family to take care of, three beautiful, handsome young boys to see through. And, it doesn't have to be a complete sacrifice, my boys and I can travel this life's journey together!

Every day, I am amazed to see how much of myself I see in my children, how much they take after me. Without my prompting, my eldest has gone through YouTube and listened to a lot of the video game music I love. Whenever I start humming some of my favorite chip tunes, my son starts humming along with me. "How do you know this song?" I ask. "I just heard it on YouTube." he responds. Kirby. Sonic. Link. Mario. My son knows a LOT of video game music without my guidance and I'm just blown away. He's a little mini-me. My second also joins in, and my 3rd is already learning to repeat melodies. In every one of my boys I see a piece of me and I'm just amazed.

Readers know the saying "You don't know what you got, 'till it's gone." I think I now understand what that means. I'm reminded of that here and there. Sometimes you complain about something all day long, or you take something or someone for granted, and then it's gone, and then things are different and you wish things were back how they used to be.

I had a job that I didn't know I loved until I left it. Every day I'd complain about disagreements at work. It was rare to come home without some sort of problem that happened. Then I quit to leave somewhere else. I was so proud of myself for doing that. "I'm going my own way," I thought to myself. And then, as they said, it was "Out of the pan and into the fire."

I took a pay-cut to have my "revenge" on my old job for having "mistreated" me. "The job would open up opportunities for a more permanent position," I was promised. "You'd grow in our international department and do more than just teaching." The job sounded too good to be true, and it turned out I should have listened to my first impulse; it was nothing more than a glorified conversation school. Worse; I often had to babysit immature college students, some whom I wasn't qualified to deal with because they had special needs. (I'm an English teacher, not a mental health clinician.) To make matters worse, some of the staff made it a very toxic environment; an environment in which I dreaded coming into every day because you never knew what it was going to be like. And then, and I should have seen it coming, the contract was up in 3 years. All 3 years I was thinking to myself "I should have never left my old job. I should have stayed. Sure I had problems, but not as much as this. And I used to make MORE. WHY DID I LEAVE??? I was a stupid idiot." The last time I could remember doing a job was being happy, doing something I felt was rewarding and fulfilling, was at my old job teaching kids.

I went through a really tough year. After 3 years at a 2nd tier Japanese university (they wouldn't rehire me because of the strict 3-year limit), I took on a job as an independent contractor selling cars from Japanese auction houses to foreign customers. "We'll teach you everything you need to know. All you need is N2 Japanese skills," I was told. That the "company" was only like 4 people based in Tokyo should have been my first red flag. Again, more lessons learned. I now know what it means to be an "independent contractor." It means your job has no obligation to keep you and can let you go at any time. They don't have to pay any insurance or worry about any tax information; everything is on you.

Well, the Japanese was there, but it was evident that I knew absolutely nothing about cars. On top of having sales skills, the people at the company I worked for briefly actually, really wanted someone who was car encyclopedia. And by car encyclopedia, I mean knowing cars by manufacturer, model, year, what problems it was prone to, what modifications people tended to make to them, what market there was for them etc. I thought I made it very clear from the beginning that I was not a car guy, but even so, after only 2 weeks, they started talking to me about "letting me go." For a second time, a job wasn’t actually what was advertised. Why did I ignore all the red flags? I was desperate, that’s why.

I didn't know what to do. With 3 boys and a mortgage, I seriously was contemplating the thought of suicide. Not even a month into the fiscal year, what was I going to do? All Japanese companies and schools usually hire well in advance before the start of the fiscal year, on April 1st. After that, few to no companies hire. Anyone looking to hire was probably desperate, which probably means something is wrong with the job conditions. I needed to find something and take what I found for now. Serious hiring doesn’t start until a few months before next April. I was seriously up a creek.

Luckily, my wife was understanding, and she was there the whole way. I applied for unemployment benefits and started "pounding the pavement" as they say. I applied here and there and went to different interviews until I finally decided on a conversation school. Gratefully, one of the interviewers saw my plight and saw that I could work out at his company, so after long last I finally had a source of income. It wasn't what I was making at my previous job, or the job before, but it was something to keep my family afloat for a while.

My new job barely payed, with meager raises every year based on performance. Most days I started at 9, sometimes 8, and I got home at 7 at the earliest, with swaths of unpaid time, up to four hours, in the middle of the day, because few people come in for lessons in the afternoon. It had minimal vacation time, and to top things off, I had an uneven schedule, working Saturdays and having Sunday and Thursday off. It made me miss my days as a teacher, when I had all of Summer and the Winter Break, not to mention most weekends off. I couldn’t complain, though, because the job was saving me and my family that year. The job did have insurance benefits and minor perks, like discounts at hotels. But I knew I just couldn’t stay here for too long. Thinks were looking rather bleak, and then a miracle happened.

Luckily, I kept in touch with a person at my old, old job, the job I wish I never left, and he started telling me about how the school was planning to expand, and that there might be an opportunity for me to come back. We kept in touch, and finally, by the winter of that year, they asked if I wanted to come back. "You won't start at your old salary, but it will definitely be more than what you're making now. And, there will be a chance for an increase as our school grows," he said. I TOTALLY WANTED TO DO IT.

 I talked with my wife, who wasn't very happy at first. "You're changing jobs again? Do you remember why you quit the last time? I don't want you to change jobs again if you're going to quit after another 3 years. Do this only if you are absolutely sure that this is what you want to do." I said "Yes. To be honest, I can't remember being happier than when I worked here. I want it. I want my old job back."

And so, a year ago, I started working at my old job again. And here I am, one year later, SO HAPPY to be doing my old job again, making SO MUCH MORE than at the conversation school I was working for previously.

The moral of the story is, you don't know what you got 'till it's gone. Appreciate what you have.

In some ways, perhaps I'm grateful for what I went through. Now I know where I stand, what the job market is, and how good I actually have it. I hug my boys and my wife every day. Where I work, I teach English and play with children with a smile. Old staff and parents who had seen me before are so glad to have me back. How could I ever leave here?

Every day, I am grateful to be where I am now.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I'm looking forward to this new decade in 2020.

So many things are coming down the pike.

For one, I'll be starting my 2nd year back at my old job. SO happy about that.

We're thinking of FINALLY buying a Nintendo Switch and some games for it. I'm TOTALLY looking forward to FINALLY being able to play the new Zelda: Link's Awakening remake! Can't wait to play the new Smash Brothers, Splatoon and Mario Kart. And who knows what else!

But you know what I'm REALLY looking forward to?

Visiting the new Super Nintendo World at USJ, here in Osaka!!!

Me and my boys are going to make some memories!!!

It will be a glorious 2020.

2020, HERE WE COME!!!

Me and my family, January 1st, 2020

Thank you to anyone reading this.

Related Posts:

Oshogatsu: Japanese New Year

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Quick November Post

This November I don't really have anything to talk about, so I'm posting a couple of pictures of my kids which are only remotely related to the topic I cover on this blog; Japanese culture, music and video games.

Around this time of the year, schools in Japan have a kind of festival intended for students and parents to get together and know each other better, man! Parents involved in the PTA help plan an event where they have food and game stalls. The school is open to the locals "open-house" style, and parents and students can visit all the different classrooms, which have been decorated for the occasion.

My kids attend a local kindergarten, where one of the stalls has different character masks. Actually, if you go to almost any "matsuri" in Japan, there's bound to be a stand that sells only masks, and the masks can vary from traditional "hyottoko" (puckered old man) and "otafuku" (laughing lucky lady), to masks depicting characters kids are into at the time.

A mask shop at a festival

"Otafuku" and "Hyottoko" masks...

The stall at our school happened to have Mario and Pikachu masks, so we bought one of each for our younger boys.

Actually, without wanting to, this random filler post actually became about Japanese culture! Perhaps I'll expand on this topic and talk more about Japanese festivals and masks in the future!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tamagoyaki Garigari-kun

On a different post, I talked about Garigari-kun, which is a “soda-flavored” popsicle that Japanese people enjoy. I also talked about how this popsicle is infamous for coming in outrageous flavors.

Just recently, a new “tamagoyaki” popsicle caught my eye.

I was lining up to pay for breakfast at a convenience store. I was standing right next to the cold treat freezer when I saw a yellow-packaged Garigari-kun popsicle.

“What could this be?” I thought to myself.

Well, upon closer inspection, it turned out that I was looking at a recently released “tamagoyaki” flavored popsicle.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, “tamagoyaki” (玉子焼き, たまごやき) is a Japanese rolled omelet. Depending on the region and simply personal tastes, the omelet can be sweet or savory. Some people add sugar to it, others add soup stock, soy sauce and/or other condiments.

I personally don’t like it sweet and prefer it cooked with a nice soup stock. I can enjoy it piping hot or cold and fresh.

It’s hard for me to picture this dish as a popsicle, but there have been crazier attempts by Akagi Dairy, such as “yakisoba” flavor.

So when I saw it, I just knew I had to give it a try.

I bought myself a bar and gave it a try.

 One can clearly see the tamagoyaki on the package

 Garigari-kun stuffing a piece of tamagoyaki in his mouth...

 Garigari-kun in hand, I'm ready for the challenge!

 What the heck is this thing!

I took a bite...


Yeah, I think I could eat this.

You could see the slush inside...

The taste was actually enjoyable. It was like a nice custard; nothing like "tamagoyaki" at all.

I think what Akagi Dairy was going for "shock value," as you do in Japan.

That's it for this blog post!

Check out another related post on other outrageous mashups in Japan below!

Until next time... 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

McDonald's Japan Seasonal Treat - Otsukimi Pai

As I've said on other posts, one of the things I like about McDonald's in Japan is the seasonal foods they put out at certain times.

Right now it's Tsukimi season, and putting out Tsukimi burgers and muffins are a staple during this time. Something that I hadn't seen before is this new "tsukimi pie."

It's a twist on McDonald's original apple pie, only instead of apples, there's anko (sweet red bean paste) on the inside, along with a bit of mochi.

I'm already a fan of the traditional Japanese favorite "taiyaki," which is a pastry cooked on a hot iron in the shape of a "tai," or red sea bream.

It's stuffed with sweet red bean paste (anko) and served piping hot.The crust can be soft or crispy depending on who's making it.

So when I saw this at McDonald's I knew I just had to try it. Here are some pictures of what it looks like up close.

I thought it was quite tasty. It's got that crispy outside crust and the combination of warm anko with mochi hit the spot. It was a nice treat to enjoy in the morning as the weather begins to cool. I hope they bring it back next year.

Related Posts
TSUKIMI: A Japanese Autumn Tradition

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Summer 2019

 I usually post something related to Japanese language, culture or video games, but this time, since I don't really have anything to talk about related to these things, I figured I post a little about how my summer went this year.

Needless to say, it was one of the most memorable ones for me and my family. This is the first time we went camping together. Another family with whom we are friends invited us to go out camping with them. They let us borrow everything, from the tent to the sleeping bags. We took turns cooking and watching the place.

There was lots to do. There was a nearby river in which we cooled down during the afternoon. There was a trampoline near by and the kids had fun playing on it. The camp ground had equipment we could use, such as bug catching nets and cages; the kids went out hunting for dragon flies and rhinoceros beetles.

The camp ran a fishing lake where for a small fee, one could borrow a fishing rod complete with bait and a hook. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, it was almost guaranteed to result in a catch. The fishing experience was over in 15 minutes or after catching 3 fish, which ever came first.

It was fun going fishing with my kids and actually catching something. The camp offers to gut and clean the fish for free, so we ate the catch soon after, and we didn't even have to do the dirty work! The fish were great. Almost sweet!

It's almost obligatory that during the summer, children in Japan play with fireworks, and this camp wouldn't have been complete without it. It's just sparklers so they're not too dangerous.

It was definitely one of my most memorable summers. I hope that my kids will also look back on this as one of the best summers we had as a family.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Mewtwo Strikes Back: Evolution Review - POSSIBLE SPOILERS

It looks like I'm accidentally a Pokemon fan... well. No. Not really; my kids are into Pokemon so I'm kinda obliged to tag along.

Believe it or not, 3 years later, my family is only just getting into Pokemon GO.

My kids only just heard of it, and they have convinced me and my wife to install it on our iPhones.

One thing lead to another, and now my kids not only watch Pokemon on Japanese TV, they also often buy the Pokemon bread sold at grocery stores and collect the reusable stickers included.

My wife and kids drive me CRAZY with this Pokemon stuff!

"There's a Raid Battle going on! We HAVE to go! OMG! We need to get this new Pokemon! Tell your American friends to send you gifts! You might get an egg with an America only Pokemon!"

On weekends it's "Pokemon." In the middle of the night it's "Pokemon."

"Daddy, can I borrow your phone to play Pokemon Go? Mommy's going on a Raid battle and I want to come with."

It's taken over my phone!!!

OK. ANYWAY, I digress.

It must be known that I am unwitting, and oftentimes unwilling in all of this.

My wife thought it would be a good idea to take the kids out to see the Mewtwo Strikes Back movie. Afterward there would be an event where you could play rocks-scissors-paper with Pikachu and win some stuff.


Do not read past this point if you're one of those people who haven't seen the movie yet and it would end your world to hear what happens.

I'd have to say the movie wasn't all that special.

Like, it seemed like any other obligatory 3D rendition of a cartoon with no real plot.

What plot is there to Pokemon other than "gotta catch 'em all?"

Essentially, "the best Pokemon trainers" meet up to have a battle royale against Mewtwo to see who wins.

Can you guess who wins?

The movie shows how Mewtwo is basically a man-made creation using Mew's original DNA.

Mewtwo, wanting to show he is the "better" of the two wants to beat Mew.

He creates "newer, better pokemon, designed to be superior" and pits them against Ash's "normal" pokemon.

Ultimately, the show down boils down to being between Mewtwo and Mew himself.

The fight arrives at a stalemate, proving both are "as good."

Someone gets hurt in the battle though, but I won't say who.

All I'll say is it's the usuall sappy ending that all kids know and love.

Anyway, I thought it was alright... Nothing special. I mostly did it for the kids.

My kids enjoyed it and that's really all that matters.

I later came to find out that the movie was actually already released in normal cartoon format, and that this was just a re-imagining of that same movie.

At any rate, we watched the movie, ate a ton of popcorn, drank a lot of soft drinks.

There were no seat-wettings in the watching of this film.

After the film, we headed out to a stage to wait for the arrival of the pikachus which would be the stars of the event. Here are pics of what happened.