かき氷

After waiting literally years, trying to find the perfect Japanese shaved ice, I finally tried one at Korogi on the University of Tokyo campus.

I’m not sure what else to say about it, other than it was huge . . . and delicious.

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In addition to the shaved ice, there is kinako (i.e., roasted soy flour), red beans, and cream on top. On the inside is another pocket of cream and red bean paste. There is also a small container of kuromitsu (similar to molasses) that you can drizzle on there.

It is a recipe for something awesome.

A major new project, part II

On Tuesday, March 7th, I posted about how I was taking some time to reevaluate the things I’m giving my attention to, and how I am giving up Twitter and Facebook in order to make time for the things I want to cultivate in my life. Today, I want to write about the things I’m hoping to do with the time I’m not wasting on social media.

Chief among my goals is a real commitment to daily contemplative practice. For the last couple weeks, I have been making some effort to spend 30 minutes or more sitting in meditation. Although this sounds like it is easy to achieve, it has been very difficult to realize, even in spite of these benefits and my motivation to sit more.

If you are interested in Vipassana meditation, there are many great resources available. Basically, the idea behind Vipassana meditation is that one can come to see the true nature of reality by learning to focus on the breath and the various sensations experienced during meditation.

Another practice that I want to see more of is reading. Over the last several years, I have seen my book list grow to something more akin to a book itself. Although it is organized by year, there is very little organization to it, other than the fact that I would generally just add interesting authors and titles to the list as I came across them. Surely there are several books on there that I would probably not choose to read today, though the fact remains that there are most definitely a number of books that I should have read before now. So, to that end, I’m choosing to turn my attention to engaging in some real reading material.

The next item that I want to cultivate is not as much out of a desire to do it, but more as a necessity of my life — namely, Japanese language study. It is really shameful how much my ability to speak, read, and write Japanese has degraded over the 15 years since I worked here on the JET Programme in 2000-2001. Now that I am really living in Japan again, my language skills need to improve dramatically, if I want to have anything resembling a normal, productive life here. To that end, I am working to enroll in a Japanese language course at the University of Tokyo in the next month. My experience here in Tokyo, this far, says that I really need some daily requirements and structure, not to mention more opportunities to listen and speak to other people in Japanese. Although this item is currently third on my list of things to do, I know that this will require a higher priority in my life, in practice. So going forward, I will have to accept that improving my language skills may intrude on other life goals that I want to cultivate.

Finally, I want to recognize and show respect to the deep embarrassment that I feel about this blog. I have always wanted to have a blog. To write something. To regularly contribute to something . . . out . . . there. So far, my actions have shown that this is where my interest ends. Although it may be the case going forward as well, I’d really like to give it another go. So, I am currently lining up some items about what I’m doing — the things I’m doing here in Japan, what podcasts and music I’m listening to, and all the other things that grab my attention. So, without making any promises, I want to just let you know that this blog isn’t dead — it is just going to be what I put into it. Hopefully I can make a good showing in the next few weeks.

Thank you very much for your attention to my ramblings

Yuval Noah Harari, author of “Sapiens,” on The Ezra Klein Show

This was my first introduction to Yuval Harari, but it made quite an impression — so much so, in fact, that I immediately had to drop everything else to read Sapiens (iBooks link here). In this episode, Yuval Harari talked about his vipassana meditation practice and how it informs his thinking about his work, as well as the power of myths in modern human society. Really fascinating.

Listen to the episode here. While I’m on the subject, though, the Ezra Klein Show podcast is one that I highly recommend — very good guests, and I think Ezra Klein is a good interviewer.

A major new project

At some point in the last month, I realized that my life was more than a little out of balance. It wasn’t only that I had purchased a new PlayStation 4, though that certainly contributed. It also wasn’t my unhealthy relationship with Twitter, though that had become steadily worse since the Trump election. Likewise, I couldn’t squarely place the blame on a lot of other things that are wonky in my life: daily frustrations, terrible diet, or the other 80 problems that everyone has in their lives.

Instead, it is a function of many things working together that have left me without a real framework to have a happy and healthy life. To put it another way, I have let some parts of my life get out of control, at the expense of some other truly important parts. So, I’m starting a new project of self-cultivation, in order to regain some balance through constraining the less productive aspects of my life and fostering growth of the more valuable things. To accomplish this, my plan is to create some time by removing or severely curtailing some unproductive or less-valuable areas, then I can hopefully fill that vacuum by focusing on the areas I want to spend more time.

For now, I want to talk about something I’m culling. Social media has been such a mixed blessing in my life, ever since I started reading news groups in high school. In the 90’s and 00’s, it felt like an amazing time to be alive — that we were all on the edge of something great and exciting. In that time, however, we have all learned some important lessons about how we should and should not use social media. Some of these lessons were first-hand, while others were learned by watching others suffer or fail for their mistakes. Some people lost friends due to posts on Facebook, while others lost jobs for spending too much time on Google Reader instead of being productive at work. This list is interesting but very long, though not all lessons learned are as dramatic as these examples. Some are, like mine, fairly quotidian realizations that online interaction with others is taking too much time or is not satisfactory, for whatever reason.

For me, the recognition that my consumption or use of social media has crossed some line has been some regularly occurring phenomenon. That is to say, this isn’t the first time that I’ve had to reassess what I’m doing and make adjustments in where I am giving my attention. Maybe taking such an inventory is something that I should do on a regular basis. I’m honestly not sure. Chief among my concerns are my use of Twitter and Facebook. It seems that I no longer truly enjoy reading or contributing to these platforms, but instead only turning to them reflexively, when any fleeting moment of boredom is detected. And the worst part is that after I look through Twitter, I don’t come away feeling good — only that I suddenly need a shower. To make it even worse, the only reward that I feel I come away with is a shorter attention span.

So, for the time being, I’m taking a break from the largest offenders: Twitter and Facebook. I’m not sure exactly how long this embargo will last, though subsequent reassessments of this unofficial policy could go either way — even to include more (or all) social media platforms (I’m looking at you, Reddit!). This will mostly depend on whether I’m getting the results that I want — more on that, later. The fact is that I spent a lot of time on those two platforms, and it is possible that avoiding this narrow set of behaviors could result in a satisfactory amount of Time Well Spent. If it isn’t sufficient, I will have to dig deeper and cut more. For now, all I can say is, “We’ll see.”

Over the next week or so, I’m planning a few more posts to talk about what I will do with all my new time, as well as places where I am making some more complicated changes. After that, I expect to do some periodic updates, as the situation dictates.