Sunday, September 14, 2014

Understanding Japanese Lifestyle

I moved to Tokyo from the US about half a year ago. In my time here, I have had the opportunity to experience Japanese culture firsthand and interact with many Japanese people. Although we are all humans and more similar than different, there are some key differences I have noticed between the lifestyles of Japanese and American people.

How will I lead my life? Like an American? Like a Japanese? Neither and both. My preference is to pick the best from both lifestyles and lead my life in this way. What is best? This is really a matter of opinion.
Below, I have listed some of the major differences I have observed, as well as my reasoning.
  • Japanese people plan things well ahead of time. For example, a dinner with friends would normally be planned 3+ weeks in advance, as opposed to one week advance.
    • Why? This reduces the level of stress because they know what to expect and have time to prepare.
  • They are more humble. They speak less and listen more. Americans are more talkative and boastful, controlling the flow of conversations.
    • Why? This allows them to learn at a rapid pace and become experts of whatever they do.
  • They ask less questions.
    • Why? Not sure. Perhaps to make it easier on whoever they are talking to?
    • Why not? I am able to understand many things because I keep a list of questions and constantly ask people for answers.
  • They are cleaner.
    • Why? Space is tight in Japan. If people were not clean, things like fully packed trains would not be tolerable.
  • They are more honest.
    • Why? Liars need to remember who they lied to and keep covering up the truth with more lies, which takes a lot of mental energy. If you're honest, you don't need to remember and things just add up.
  • They are more helpful and less selfish.
    • Why? They can easily get help from others when they need it
  • They don't often intentionally try to hurt others feelings.
    • Why? Nobody benefits from this. In fact, everybody feels worse.
  • They are fairer.
    • Why? As a society, they don't have to worry as much about being taken advantage of or being ripped off.
  • They are more trusting of others.
    • Why? Firearms are prohibited. Violence is very uncommon.
    • Why not? I am still careful who I trust, as this is safer.
    • Note: Less than 2% of the population is foreigners, so they understand the background/habits of a majority of people they interact with. Understandably, they are less trusting of foreigners.
  • They are very concerned with how the appear in the group and try to fit in.
    • Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps because they can expect support from the group?
    • Why not? I don't care much what the group thinks about me. This gives me a great level of freedom to live my best. The only issue is that this can make it harder to stay in a Japanese group or make friends within the group. People may stop inviting me because I am "weird".
  • They give their lives to the job, working overtime to their humanly limits. Americans on the other hand are more likely to treat work as an exchange of their time for money.
    • Why? My hunch is that it is a habit passed down after World War II. After the War, Japan's economy was very weak and a lot of work needed to be done to restore it.
    • Why not? I prefer the American way because I value my free time and overworking reduces my quality of life (and productivity).
    • Note: Job security here is very good. Once you are in, it's unlikely you will get fired, and, if you do, you will likely get a generous leaving package.
  •  Their average commute to work time is at least double that of Americans.
    • Why? Housing near working locations is limited and expensive and companies generally pay transportation fees. It also seems that commuting is part of the culture here.
    • Why not? I chose to live walking distance from my office, as I don't want to waste time commuting (in a jam-packed train!).
  • They are less direct.
    • Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps because they don't want to hurt your feelings?
    • Why not? I choose to be direct, so we can resolve the situation and move on with no misunderstandings or bad feelings. Many times, I need to do this one-on-one, so we can talk freely without worrying about who is listening. Japanese people are generally okay with this.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Music to my ears/微妙な英語を聞くのは音楽みたいです

While living in the Silicon Valley for over 20 years, I have had the opportunity to study with and work with people from all over the world. Although we all somehow managed to communicate in English, everyone had varying levels of fluency. Interestingly, people from similar regions seemed to share the same grammar mistakes and odd word choices.

However, this is not a bad thing! In fact, listening to foreigners trying to speak English has often been music to my ears. Depending on the person, it would even beat listening to music!

Now living in Tokyo among the Japanese, I hear music almost every day... perhaps my tattered Japanese is music to their ears as well?

Have you had the same experience as me? Have I been having too much fun by myself? Feel free to leave a comment.

しかし、これは悪いことではないですよ。私にとって外国人の英語は音楽みたいです(music to my ears)。人によって、音楽を聴くより面白かったですよ。
「music to my ears」のイディオムの意味は2つあります:
 例)You got accepted to UC Berkeley!? That's music to my ears! Let's party tonight! ー> バークレー大学に入学だと!?朗報だよ!今晩はぱてぃーしよう!
 例) Her voice is music to my ears. -> 彼女の声は快適です。

ちなみに、女性に声が美しいと言いたければ、「You have the voice of an angel」も言えます。直訳は「君は天使の声を持っています」。


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Keeping a Car Log with Google Calendar

Keeping a log of all activity related to your car is very useful. Without needing to rely on memory, a concrete record can make it easy to answer questions about your car, such as how many miles you drove in the past year, when your last oil change was, or what was done in your last service appointment.

Originally I kept my car log on paper in my car, as you can see below:

However, once I got my Android smartphone, I found an even neater way: to use Google Calendar. This has several advantages:
  • You can access the car log on your cell phone (= anywhere) and on your computer
  • You don't need to worry about misplacing it
  • You can search for specific events (like "oil change")
  • You don't need to take up space with a pen and paper
  • You can set up reminders for appointments
    • On my phone, I can set it up so that I get notifications before every event

Creating your car log calendar

1. Open Google Calendar in your web browser
2. Click on the drop down arrow next to My calendars and select "Create new calendar" 

3. Name your new calendar something like "car log" or "Lexus ES350 car log"
4. Give your calendar a color
5. Sync the calendar on your smartphone. Below is a screenshot from my Motorola Atrix 4G:

Repeat this for each car you own. In other words, one calendar per car.

From here on...

Just keep updating your calendar. With every event, it is also a good idea to note the mileage of your car (even the PSI of each tire could be useful).
  • Every time you have an appointment
  • Every time something goes wrong ("bumped back left bumper into tree", "car vandalized at office parking lot", "car engine light came on")
  • Every time you renew your DMV paperwork for this car
  • (optional) Every time you fill up gas, including the cost of the gas and number of gallons

Sample event

4600 miles, 32 PSI all tires

Stepped on acceleration very fast a few days ago and heard sounds similar to as if I was going over speed bumps.
My check engine light came on today.

I called the dealership. Susan says the acceleration probably did not cause the issue and asked me to tighten my gas cap. I did so. She says that if I wait a day, the light should go out. If it does not, I should call back.


One area this solution does not address is receipts and other car-related paper documents. If you got a receipt for an oil change, for example, how would you integrate it with this solution? Currently, what I do is digitize all paper documents (scan or take a photograph) and keep a separate folder in my computer for them. Of course, the downside is that you can only access these files from your computer (unless, of course, you maintained this folder in the cloud, such as in Google Drive).
Folder containing receipts for E320

Google Calendar Attachments

Google Calendar actually does have a beta feature to attach documents to calendar events. However, the Android app currently does not support this feature (as of 2013/11/4). Anyways, this is another option to keep in mind.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sources of Physical Mail

When considering a Change of Address, it is important to know that certain mail and packages may not be forwarded to your new address. For example, an important document your bank is sending to you through UPS will not automatically be forwarded. For this reason, it is a good idea to manually update your mailing address with each of the organizations sending you mail ASAP.

Here is a list of common sources of physical mail:
  1. Friends and family
  2. DMV
  3. IRS
  4. Online stores such as Amazon or eBay
  5. Advertisers
  6. Medical providers and insurance companies
  7. Dental providers and insurance companies
  8. Vision-care providers and insurance companies
  9. Motor insurance companies
  10. Car dealership and clubs
  11. The company you work at
  12. Banks
  13. Financial investment companies (401k, stocks)
  14. Airlines
  15. Hotels
  16. Credit card companies
  17. Shopping stores
  18. Utilities
  19. Internet
  20. Cell phone
  21. Educational institutions
  22. Debt collectors... don't worry they will find you!
  23. If you own a business:
    1. your clients
    2. the city your business is registered in

Personally, I prefer to have everything sent to me electronically where possible and most companies are happy to provide this option. However, even in this digital age, physical mail is still important.

Also, note that there do exist programs to opt-out of junk mail, spam phone calls, among other things. Some of these programs can be found on this page maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.