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Japan Vault Archive – Ever get that feeling….?

Casually strolling down a dark and dreary street. Not a soul around. The trees are drooping sadly as their leaves are being stripped by the wind. The sun lazily rests on the horizon as it slowly rolls out of view. You are just minding your business as you make your way to your car. You get the sneaking suspicion someone is behind you quietly following. You spin around like Jackie Chan  off a spring board straight into action! No one is there…. You start walk a little faster thinking, “I will feel safer in my car.” You get the creepy feeling again, so you glance over your shoulder, nothing but trees rolling back and forth. You pick up the pace. You hear foot steps echoing and a panting that is bearing down on you. You spin around with Ninja Turtle preparedness… Only to find you are still alone! You start to think back, what did Wayne Gretzky teach me to do in these situations? You get a tap on the shoulder and you spin around shaking at the knees to see twilight staring back at you. You jet! You make it to your car and fumble around for your keys as you try prying your door open. Success! You get in to your car and slam the door shut behind you. Then you hear an eerie voice from the back seat, “Hey did you remember my cheesecake?”

No, I am not writing a thriller book about the cheesecake bandit. I know, I ruined your anticipation with such an enticing intro. Instead, I was imagining what kids at Japanese schools feel like when the 英語の先生 (English Teacher) spots them outside of class and says, “Hi.” I figure it might be a little scary. Maybe not super scary, but it most likely catches them off guard.  That and they are trying to remember when I taught them how to say “Hello” in English. To top it off, Japanese students are pretty shy in general, especially in more rural areas like Izumo. Being the only 外人 (foreigner) in my area, I say hi to all the students no matter where I am in town. Doesn’t matter whether I am happy, depressed, or down right sick. I pull out a smile and greet. Now most kids at school won’t be quiet. Getting them to STOP saying “hi” is the problem. But as soon as you leave the school grounds, they switch to shy mode around the foreigner. On my way to and from school I greet a number of children. Probably around 100 or so. I’ll be lucky if about 10 of them say “hi.” Most of them stare in wide eye wonderment like they have never seen me before. The rest of them pull a “I was looking in your direction, but now… umm…, WOW, this persimmon tree is amazing! Look at how orange that persimmon is! I really would like a persimmon right now. Mmmm, tasty cakes….” For those of you wondering what a persimmon is, it’s Picture Time!

Anyway, getting to know the kids and teachers in Japan has been interesting to say the least. They have taught me quite a bit, although they probably don’t realize it. Just hope the adventure keeps on introducing me to these quirky little culture differences.

Chinese Made Cars?

Would you buy them? Since early 2011 when I saw a Volvo I would point to it and tell the people, “Hey look, that’s made in China!” Chinese automotive brand Geely bought Volvo in 2010 and plans on using the Volvo brand to enter developed markets like the States. Shortly after the purchase there was much speculation as to the true intentions behind Geely’s purchase. Of course we can assume, like most companies, they assimilated technology and incorporated positive components from Volvo into their own corporate endeavors. In addition it seems that Geely is hoping to use the Volvo brand image to not only sell cars, but help open developed markets to the idea of “Chinese made autos? Why not?” Would you buy a Volvo now that you know they are Chinese owned and made? Seeing as I haven’t owned a car in the States for over six years, I certainly won’t. The real question is, will you?

Reporting from CNN

Ok Go

Keeps rocking it.

This was shot literally 30 minutes from my place in Japan.

Omiage

So in Japan “Omiage” is a custom that almost every Japanese person observes. Directly translated this word means souvenir. Of course when we think of souvenirs we usually think of the things we bought to cherish memories of a trip or a time we had fun. Although the Japanese do this, they also are in the practice of gift giving. This is the true idea of “Omiage.” It is bestowing a gift to someone else from your travels to other places.

In the US it isn’t so uncommon for us to engage in the practice of gift giving. Even when we return from trips we may have gifts for friends or family. In Japan they take it one step further and also do it at the work place. Now here is where things really differ…. it’s usually food! Each region in Japan takes pride in the products they produce and provide you a way to take them home and share them with friends, family and co-workers.

Due to the sheer cost of this custom, I usually stray away from it. A common single package of omiage can run you between 10 to 20 dollars. If you are buying for all the people who know you are traveling, it can easily become much more than 40 dollars. That aside, price is not so much an object for Japanese people. They seem to legitimately enjoy sharing their travel experience with co-workers and friends. I myself received some grapes from a co-worker! It is incredibly interesting being able to experience these simple cultural differences firsthand.

The Technology Age: Part 1

Technology has drastically changed our lives in the past decade. I have many things I love, but a number of gripes too, so I can easily see this becoming a multi-entry writing. I guess an interesting place to start would be here.

Recently I came across a company that provides a twist on an old and well-established service, mail. Essentially this company will come out and get your mail for you. Then they take it back to their facility where all the mail is digitized and e-mailed to you. They will even sort out your junk mail for you and keep those pesky solicitors out of your hair! All for a small fee of 4.99 USD a month, you get the great benefit of an amazing convenience!Sounds like a gift from the gods! Or does it?

The first thought that crossed my mind was, “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. You want me to allow someone other than myself to open my mail?” In my head I heard all sorts of alarms going off, “Alert! Data miners!” Sure some people don’t mind, so for these people, opting for this service takes priority over privacy.

Then I got to thinking on why would you pay someone to go and get your mail for you? Does this company really think people are that lazy? Maybe I am being naive and don’t realize the true potentiality, but walking down to your mail box is hardly a hassle. Call it a good break between all the work you are doing to get some air and feel refreshed when you sit back down and hit the grind.

But what if are too busy or don’t work at home? Well while you hit the job, they will be hitting the pavement going out to diligently collect your mail. Unfortunately no matter what method is used, there is bound to be some sort of  footprint left behind and that brings me to the next point. What an epic waste of resources. Are you seriously telling me that after the mail was so painstakingly delivered, this company will use MORE resources to RECOLLECT the mail that was delivered only to then e-mail it to me? What is this a joke? This sounds like an exacerbation to a problem, not a solution to a problem. In fact, aren’t businesses supposed to focus on solutions instead of convoluting working models?

Surely it can’t all be bad right? Well, sure enough there are positive sides that speak for the service. As I mentioned before, they can help you out by ridding you of all the unwanted mail you get. They also trash it for you, which means less for you to throw away. Of course, this in no way changes the actual amount of garbage, just the amount of garbage you deal with. That too might be a takeaway for some people, but environment minded beware. Just because you can’t see the trash, doesn’t mean you are being friendly to mother nature.

However for some of us, priorities lie in the timely delivery of information. For those busy times in our life like when we aren’t home this service could come in handy. If there is an important letter coming via mail while you are on vacation, you can be sure to get it while you are away. In addition, they can be a great alternative to asking the neighbor or family member to take care of things till you return.

Lastly, there is the economic side of things to look at. Just like any good business in any industry, it brings more jobs to the market. And let’s be honest here, the market needs them.

Unfortunately for me, the ups versus the downs hardly convince me this service is necessary. The pure waste of resources alone is more than enough for me to say “No thanks.”

Currently, they only service  Austin, TX, but it looks like they are expanding to San Francisco very soon. Check it out and decide for yourself at Outbox (Update: Link Removed)!

This service was also recently reported on at Mashable.

Update (7/10/2016) – Looks like I wasn’t the only one who thought this wasn a bad idea. Since this post was written, their website has been taken over by Able Lenders. -DiNof

A Boycott of MiniMatt Proportions

For the past year I have been debating on whether or not boycotting certain goods would actually benefit me in anyway. There are the obvious gains: such as…. umm…. well….. errr,… making a statement. The downsides are: I find something I like, this one is cheaper than that one, this product is only made a certain way or in a certain place,… The list could go on, I won’t.

Officially, starting a couple months ago I decided to give it a try. I have started boycotting all goods that are made in or benefit China. As futile as it may seem, I have taken it seriously and so far I feel there are a lot of things I have learned simply by shuffling around for a label or stamp. There are a plethora of countries that are in the fold of producing goods. Each of them vie for the right to produce goods and everyday I am finding new, more interesting countries to report on. It’s also a great indicator of what economies to watch out for. The soon to be, up and coming players if you will.

The point is, limiting what I buy hasn’t been so much of an inconvenience as it has been an eye opener. It has made me hunt for things more carefully and I have become more aware of the current economies that have a great effect on world production.

What are you grateful for?

A friend of mine posed this question to me about a week ago. It really stopped me in my tracks for a moment and made my mind dust off the cobwebs. This past year I would be lying if I said my life was golden. In fact, the truth is it was be plagued with potholes the like of which I never imagined possible. But this question made me wonder…. what am I really doing?

From the moment I moved to Japan my mind went into a hibernation. I became one of those sheep counters I mentioned before in Have a Dream and Count Sheep. I got into an endless cycle that negatively impacted me and apparently others around me as well. When this thought crossed my mind the lightbulb flickered from the slow cranking of gears that creaked from lack of use deep within the folds of my brain.

After this past week, I have come up with dozens of things I am enthralled to say I am thankful for. My sister, my newly born niece, my parents, my new friends here in Japan, for having a job, and even the difficult experiences that I have had here. I am grateful for all of them. I am even more grateful for being given the chance to live through it all and meet all the fantastic people along the way. I have found some of the challenges this year to be daunting thus far, but nothing has stopped me from moving forward but myself.

Today that changes.

To answer your question in one sentence, “I am grateful for being the one in control of my life and being able to have a positive impact on those around me.”

One Year

Later and I might actually come back to writing. I stopped sometime ago back in July (2010) because of some difficulties I was having in Japan. Those difficulties ever so subtly increased day by day till they came full circle and I am where I am now. As a way to keep in better touch with all of you (and most importantly myself) I will be reviving this blog and another site to accomodate it. I hope you are all well back home and abroad. Keep at things no matter what life throws at you.

Want a call?

Well then give me your phone numbers! Send me a private message or e-mail (matt@mattdinofrio.com) and I’ll get back to you!