Japan's dangerous population shift

In Japan, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, a government-affiliated organization, released an announcement projecting that Japan's population could fall from 127.09 million in 2015 to 88.08 million by 2065.  See "Kansai leaders grope for ways to keep regional population stable amid projected slide"

But that's not the worst news.

According to the organization's estimates in 2013 the eight major prefectures that make up the Kansai region are projected to lose about 25% of their population by 2050, and the age demographic will dramatically change, with over 40% of the population over 65 years old, and less than 10% under age 14.

Making babies is one major are of concern. There are a variety of social, business and other economic issues impacting Japanese society, leading to one of the lowest birth rates the country has ever seen.  There are not enough births to replace the current population at the same level. In 2016, the total Japanese population dropped by 162,000, the sixth consecutive year of population decline.  But in reality, during the same year the Japanese population actually dropped 299,000. The delta was a 136,000 increase in foreign residents, somewhat slowing down the dramatic population decrease.  See Japan Times "Japan’s population slips for sixth consecutive year but foreign residents slowing the fall"

One of the biggest problems facing Japan is a potential calamity that the central government of Japan just isn't addressing at all.  And the data is right in front of them: In 2015, the national census showed that Japan's total population had declined by 960,000 since 2010.  But during the same period of time Tokyo's population actually grew by 350,000. The reason? A well-known pattern of young people moving from smaller cities to two places, Tokyo and Osaka, and primarily the former. There's an unprecedented concentration of the Japanese population in the capitol.  So why is this so dangerous?

Experts advise that there is a 30% chance of a massive quake hitting Tokyo in the next 10 years, and a 70% chance of a major quake in the next 30 years. Those aren't the kind of odds I'd like to bet against. Japan learned a serious lesson from the Great Hanshin Quake that struck Kobe and the surrounding region in Western Japan in 1995. Not only were thousands of lives tragically lost, but that quake essentially "choked" the flow of critical utilities, goods and services, and more, essentially shutting down the economy for months if not years.  Even as I write this in 2017, more than 20 years later, Kobe is still struggling to recover to its prior economic state.

In his book Reconstructing Kobe, author David Edgington draws on years of extensive fieldwork and research recording the the first ten years of reconstruction and recovery of the city following the Great Hanshin Quake.  In reading the book, I couldn't help find myself becoming terrified of the potential ripple of issues that could fundamentally set Japan back decades should a major quake hit Tokyo while it houses such a disproportionate volume of Japan's population.

I think the central government should realize that now is the time to address the over-concentration of the Japanese population in Tokyo. Not just for residents of Tokyo, but for the survival of Japan as a whole when, not if, the next quake hits.

Of course, that's easier said than done. The first step Japan will need to take is making a decision that addressing the over-concentration issue is a priority. The second step will be looking at the possible options for addressing it.  The third step will be taking action.

As I drove through Kobe yesterday I saw signs of a solution all around me. Entrepreneurs starting new businesses - and small businesses - all over Kobe. And what I am learning is that Kobe, which is a wildly attractive city to non-Japanese such as myself, has the potential to attract more entrepreneurs from overseas, and in doing so could take the first steps of creating an entrepreneurial culture that actually results in new small businesses being created.  New businesses create new jobs, and Kobe, like many other beautiful places in Japan, has the beauty and amenities of a desirable place to live. I have met some people who really appreciate congested, frenzied deep-urban environments like Tokyo, but they are rare. And I'm not one of them.  The potential exists to reverse the over-concentration population issue, and it will require open-minded leaders within the cities, like Kobe, who truly want to see a solution to the problem, and in doing so potentially save Japan from an unprecedented calamity in the future.

The disaster that struck Kobe provides a very serious warning of the potential catastrophic effect of a forthcoming disaster in Tokyo with it's massively over-concentrated population.  All leaders in Japan should pay attention to this.  Ironically, the seeds of the solution exist in Kobe as well, and the potential exists for Kobe to serve as a progressive, forward-leaning and highly entrepreneurial city that could reboot Japan with energy and passion into the next century.

My son found a baby bird

This morning I stepped out of the front door and was immediately greeted by a tiny baby bird, standing in the middle of the concrete walkway that is the path to the front of our house. It just stood there, its head looking up at me, this towering human in front of it. The bird just shook a little but didn't move.

The first thing I noticed was that it seemed disoriented, wobbly even. It was standing on two feet but having a difficult time. And it didn't run - or fly - when it saw me.  It just sat there, moving his little wings a little and blinking its big eyes at me.

I called out loud to my wife for help - she used to work for a pet rescue center - and she suggested we call the Irvine Police Department to get ahold of animal control. At this point my two sons ran out to see what all the commotion was about, and my wife grabbed a soft, clean towel to scoop up the little guy so he wouldn't get trampled by a toddler. My older son asked if he could help by holding him, and my wife and I both thought it would be OK with some guidance. My son held him as gently, with a touch as soft as anyone could possibly hold a fragile little animal, while I made the call.

Within a matter of minutes the Irvine Police Animal Services officer arrived, a professional and an expert. And thank goodness. I was an emotional wreck over the little bird being stranded, and I was trying my best to pretend I was strong and that everything was going to be fine. The Irvine animal services officer was calm and collected, and we were basically a group of emotional humans that were worried about what to do for this little guy.  Was he sick?  Hurt? Did he fall out of a nest? What do we do? How do we help him? Can we help him?  Do you take him for rehabilitation? You're don't euthanize him, right?

We had a million questions. And she patiently, and thoughtfully, listened to us. She helped us to understand a few things:

First, the little bird wasn't hurt or sick. His feathers weren't all quite in yet. We're guessing gender right now, so I'll stick with a pronoun picked at random. She also pointed out that she can't take an uninjured bird or their nest; Both actions are illegal and a federal offense.

Also, he was either a pigeon or a dove, and most likely the latter.  At this size it's a little hard to tell, but we have five nests in the exposed outdoor rafters of the walkway to our front door, and I know that at least three of them are dove nests.  I've seen the mom or dad bird peeking over the edge of the nests down at me from time to time, and I've even seen them return when it's time to feed the little ones.

The animal services officer explained: "At the right age, when the baby birds are mature enough to set out on their own, the parent birds kick them out of the nest. If they don't, a single predator could get them all. Their chances of surviving go up if they're already out on their own."

Apparently the little ones still get fed by mama bird for a few days at least. The baby bird cries, the mama finds it and feeds it. She concluded by saying that the best thing to do was find a relatively safe spot close to where we found him.

After the animal services officer explained this, I checked with my son to make sure he heard and understood what she had shared, before releasing the little bird back into the "wild".  He nodded, and gently started handing the baby bird, still snuggled in the towel, to the officer.  She cupped him gently with both hands and found a nice little spot underneath a big bush, just off to the side of where we had found him. He just stood there a little, flexing his wings, and seemingly testing his balance, wobbling a bit on his feet.

As the officer walked back up to the driveway with us, my older son started asking a lot of questions. He was mesmerized by the entire event; Here was a police officer who spent her entire day with animal life? How is this possible? I'm sure up until that morning he though police officers simply waited for bank robberies, wreckless drivers and the like.  She grabbed some Irvine Junior Police stickers for the boys from her truck, posed with them for a photo, then bid us farewell.

As she drove away, my son told me, "Papa, when I grow up I want to be a police officer that helps protect animals. They need our help."

I couldn't agree with him more. And I was proud of him for a different reason. For the first time ever, he matched up a profession with a cause.

Semper Legarus: Why going slow is key to going fast

My wife and I just met with my son's teachers for his evaluation. There's a lot of positive energy right now, because he's made incredible progress in a lot of areas. This was the first evaluation that did a deep dive into his technical skills: How is he doing in English, math, and other more granular skill sets related to his cognitive function, not just his ability to play well and follow directions. Before I continue, I should note that the school he goes to is exceptional. They are the embodiment of Maria Montessori, and yet with a keen awareness of modern life academic baseline requirements in both the US and in Japan. I haven't found another school like it after two exhaustive years searching.

During the review session, my son's teacher dove deep into a list of developmental and cognitive functions at his approximate age, supported by what felt like countless tests and the results of administering those tests to my son in recent days.  For example, when presented with a stack of a dozen legos and asked to order them by size, did he order them by height or by depth or other?

Another test was counting from one to twenty in English, as well as in Japanese.  Curiously, in English he would skip seventeen and barrel on to concluding at twenty.  I was curious why, so I asked. The answer? Don't worry, it's not uncommon for children to do this at this age. We just need to keep practicing.

In general, we were really pleased with the outcome.  Our son shows signs of creativity in select areas where he does things differently than the rest of the student population (I think this is a good thing), and his general level of competency is up to par with the rest of the student population.  Nothing to worry about, and he's creative and interesting to boot.

But what about that counting issue? I thought about it for the rest of that day. After a few hours, it hit me: My father dealt with the same problem with his students, and he had the solution, if they wanted it.

You see, my father was a classical guitarist.  He played professionally - concerts, weddings, other gigs - for a living. And he taught classical guitar at a college as well. One time, back when I was in junior college, I decided to take his course. In hindsight, I should have known what I was in for, but I was still rather shocked by the attitudes of the student population.

My father didn't need to point out to me the few students in the classroom that had never picked up a guitar in their lives until now, and yet they arrived to class with the expectation of playing like Eddie Van Halen. And yet, all they are working on Malaguena. And they were screwing it up. They were trying so hard to shred, they were actually sucking at it.

That was my son that night, at the end of dinner, when I smoothly transitioned the discussion into him reciting one through twenty. He wanted to be done with dinner, so he rattled off one through twenty as fast as he possibly could, practically slurring the numbers together. Guess which number he skipped? When I asked him to start over, mentioning that he missed a number, he exploded, "I don't known why are you doing that. I want to be done!"  I just calmly asked him to start over again.

He grunted, then started rattling off one through twenty as if through a machine gun.  I could barely make out the words as they seemed to come out in a stream.... "onetwohreefouriveixheveneightinetenelen....." Guess which one he skipped?  Good old lucky number 17.

"Again," I said. He scowled. I didn't care. "Do it again. You're still skipping number 17." He scowled even harder. And did it again. Skipping number 17. At this point he wasn't in tears. He was now raging against the parent machine. He was so mad that I had to keep my composure because it was both interesting and his reaction was, while mad and emotional, actually a little funny.

It was at that point that I channeled a little big of my father, Gregory Coleman, The Classical Guitarist. "I want you to count slowly, together with me."  At first he protested.  Then he protested again, and made a big stink.  I was unphased. "We are not leaving the table until we get through this."

He was mad. But he complied, and in the most defiant manner possible started to count, on tempo, one number every two seconds:

"one......

two......

three.....

four....

five.....

six.....

seven.....

eight.....

nine.....

ten....

eleven.....

twelve....

thirteen.....

fourteen....

fifteen...

sixteen....

........

.......

..........

..........

...................

......seeeeventeen.....

eighteen....

nineteen....

twenty....." 

"I DID IT!!"

He did it. The number was there in his head all along. He was just going too fast.  

When I was a child my father taught me the Latin words "semper legarus", always slowly.  He pointed out that there was a connection between the brain and his fingers, and that it often took a lot of practice to get these two in sync. I must have been four or five or six at the time he demonstrated this to me by playing a scale on his Ramirez guitar. Playing it to a slow tempo gave him time to get the fingerings just right. Then he could turn up the speed little by little, until suddenly his playing the same scale looked like a magical dance of his fingers on the frets of the guitar.

About a week later, I talked with my son's teacher.  She told me how he had excitedly he had shared with her "going slowly", and showed her how he was able to count without error.  I'm pretty sure he doesn't yet realize it, that all he was doing was reducing a self-inflicted error rate, and feeling much more confident and better for it.

Japan's dangerous population shift

In Japan, the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, a government-affiliated organization, released an announcement projecting that Japan's population could fall from 127.09 million in 2015 to 88.08 million by 2065.  See "Kansai leaders grope for ways to keep regional population stable amid projected slide"

But that's not the worst news.

According to the organization's estimates in 2013 the eight major prefectures that make up the Kansai region are projected to lose about 25% of their population by 2050, and the age demographic will dramatically change, with over 40% of the population over 65 years old, and less than 10% under age 14.

Making babies is one major area of concern. There are a variety of social, business and other economic issues impacting Japanese society, leading to one of the lowest birth rates the country has ever seen.  There are not enough births to replace the current population at the same level. In 2016, the total Japanese population dropped by 162,000, the sixth consecutive year of population decline.  But in reality, during the same year the Japanese population actually dropped 299,000. The delta was a 136,000 increase in foreign residents, somewhat slowing down the dramatic population decrease.  See Japan Times "Japan’s population slips for sixth consecutive year but foreign residents slowing the fall"

One of the biggest problems facing Japan is a potential calamity that the central government of Japan just isn't addressing at all.  And the data is right in front of them: In 2015, the national census showed that Japan's total population had declined by 960,000 since 2010.  But during the same period of time Tokyo's population actually grew by 350,000. The reason? A well-known pattern of young people moving from smaller cities to two places, Tokyo and Osaka, and primarily the former. There's an unprecedented concentration of the Japanese population in the capitol.  So why is this so dangerous?

Experts advise that there is a 30% chance of a massive quake hitting Tokyo in the next 10 years, and a 70% chance of a major quake in the next 30 years. Those aren't the kind of odds I'd like to bet against. Japan learned a serious lesson from the Great Hanshin Quake that struck Kobe and the surrounding region in Western Japan in 1995. Not only were thousands of lives tragically lost, but that quake essentially "choked" the flow of critical utilities, goods and services, and more, essentially shutting down the economy for months if not years.  Even as I write this in 2017, more than 20 years later, Kobe is still struggling to recover to its prior economic state.

Reconstructing Kobe , by David Edgington

Reconstructing Kobe, by David Edgington

In his book Reconstructing Kobe, author David Edgington draws on years of extensive fieldwork and research recording the the first ten years of reconstruction and recovery of the city following the Great Hanshin Quake.  In reading the book, I couldn't help find myself becoming terrified of the potential ripple of issues that could fundamentally set Japan back decades should a major quake hit Tokyo while it houses such a disproportionate volume of Japan's population.

I think the central government should realize that now is the time to address the over-concentration of the Japanese population in Tokyo. Not just for residents of Tokyo, but for the survival of Japan as a whole when, not if, the next quake hits.

Of course, that's easier said than done. The first step Japan will need to take is making a decision that addressing the over-concentration issue is a priority. The second step will be looking at the possible options for addressing it.  The third step will be taking action.

As I drove through Kobe yesterday I saw signs of a solution all around me. Entrepreneurs starting new businesses - and small businesses - all over Kobe. And what I am learning is that Kobe, which is a wildly attractive city to non-Japanese such as myself, has the potential to attract more entrepreneurs from overseas, and in doing so could take the first steps of creating an entrepreneurial culture that actually results in new small businesses being created.  New businesses create new jobs, and Kobe, like many other beautiful places in Japan, has the beauty and amenities of a desirable place to live. I have met some people who really appreciate congested, frenzied deep-urban environments like Tokyo, but they are rare. And I'm not one of them.  The potential exists to reverse the over-concentration population issue, and it will require open-minded leaders within the cities, like Kobe, who truly want to see a solution to the problem, and in doing so potentially save Japan from an unprecedented calamity in the future.

The disaster that struck Kobe provides a very serious warning of the potential catastrophic effect of a forthcoming disaster in Tokyo with it's massively over-concentrated population.  All leaders in Japan should pay attention to this.  Ironically, the seeds of the solution exist in Kobe as well, and the potential exists for Kobe to serve as a progressive, forward-leaning and highly entrepreneurial city that could reboot Japan with energy and passion into the next century.

via Japaneur

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends by using the links below, and please subscribe to my newsletter where I will from time to time send articles and news exclusive to my subscribed readers.  There's no cost and it is my pleasure to write about topics you and I are both interested in.  - James

The Japaneur Podcast - A Japan insider guide with an outsider perspective

Japan is a pretty big part of my life. My family, education, travel and business has always at some point connected with Japan. I even have a formal university degree in Japanese language and literature. And I get asked a lot of questions. Enough to make me realize that there are a ton of people out there that are Japan-curious, whether it's just an interest in going there on holiday, or a deeper interest in the unique and wonderful culture.

So I'm pleased to announce the Japaneur podcast. On iTunes, Soundcloud and Stitcher.

Whether it’s your first visit, or your 20th trip, Japaneur gives you a local’s point of view on all things Japan. From the food, customs, and culture, to the technology, language tips, and even life hacks for a gaijin planning the move of a lifetime, Japaneur will help you get the most out of your next travel experience in Japan.

The Japaneur site is home to all my blog posts on Japan, including my Japanese language practice and learning tools like Today's Kanji. Check out the podcast and let me know what you think.  If you have any question about Japan, a comment or a story to share, or you just want to say hi, you can connect with me on twitter @japaneur

This is how parents should do it

My oldest son discovered his first loose tooth yesterday. He was ecstatic. It's another sign of another rite of passage. I hadn't seen him this excited since last year when we came back from three months in Japan and he flipped out because he could see the tops of the kitchen counters without a chair.

So my wife and I necessarily had to have the discussion re the tooth fairy. Like everything, this is a great opportunity for him to explore his world. I think Neil deGrasse Tyson nails it:

What to do when you're completely and totally wrong about your child

My son's kindergarten reading log.

I spent an entire day confused, emotional and frustrated about a single problem with something my son did that turned out to not even be a real issue. What came out of it however was a very valuable lesson I'll never forget, not only because the real issues are still ahead, but because I love my son and I deeply respect and value his teachers.

My older son, now six, brings home a weekly reading assignment from school. It's a basic reading exercise that takes him about 2-3 minutes to read through, each time pushing his reading skills just a little bit farther. We typically practice it 3-4 times, so that each time his enunciation and intonation gets just a little bit better and more natural.

This past Friday, we got up a little early and my son read to me right after breakfast. The day was going great, we were ahead of schedule, and he still had a half hour of "free time" ahead of him before we normally leave for school.  After he finished reading, he handed me his Reading Log, a half-sheet form provided by his teacher. On the form I fill out the date, the title of what he read, my initials and any comments for the teacher. I was about to complete a row for the day's reading when I noticed something funny (see the above picture - my initials and teachers' initials blurred for privacy):

  • The last row was dated February 43
  • The title and comments were completely random squiggles
  • And my initials were there.  And the teacher's.

???

My brain was semi-stuck in a loop trying to figure this all out. So I just asked my son in a regular voice, "Did you write this?" To which he replied, with just the slightest bit of hesitation as if he were wondering if he were somehow in trouble, "Yes, papa."

That's when memories came flooding back. Things I shouldn't have done, at places and times I shouldn't have done them. I remember how things felt. Frustrated, burned, whatever.  The point is, as a child I didn't have parents giving me the kind of careful attention I devote to my son daily. And I made decisions sometimes out of frustration because of that. So why would my son carefully forge my initials on a homework sign-off sheet?  I mean, seriously- the forgery of my initials was excellent.  I honestly wondered how I could have signed off on that.  But I didn't.  It wasn't me.

What did I do wrong that led him to this? I thought.

Then I made the first mistake: I got mad. I responded to my son's response and honesty with a mini lecture on dishonesty and forgery of someone's signature. I even mentioned people going to jail over fraud. He looked terrified. His eyes started to tear up. Maybe it was just proximity to me, but now mama was mad too, disappointed that he would do something like this. His good morning suddenly went completely sideways.

On the way to school he apologized to me no less than five times. He definitely knew that this was a bad thing.

At school his main teacher was not yet there, but in being consistent with the critical process of parent-teacher communication I swear by, I decided to approach his other teacher off, out of earshot by my son, to share what had happened that morning. This was when I received surprise #2. The teacher already knew about it.

Apparently, some of the other kids were doing the same thing. Now I was even more confused and frustrated. I tried my best to remain calm and objective, and explained to her what I had explained to my son: In our house, forgery is not okay, and I wanted to make sure we were on the same page about this.

My son at this point was already having fun with the other students and well into what was going to be a great day for him.  "Bye papa!" he shouted, smiling as if nothing had happened. I felt relieved in a way that his mood was good. His teacher acknowledged me and said she would talk with my son's main teacher that day as well.  

Earlier that morning, before we left for school, I sent a brief email to his teacher about the issue with the above picture. While he was still in school, she called me to talk about what had happened.  As usual, she listened patiently and carefully.  I explained everything, including how I felt right then: Confused, unsure, and heavy with guilt if I was in any way wrong in condemning my son's actions earlier in the day.

What she explained next stopped me in my tracks.  I forgot everything I had done all day, and just listened.  She shared with me that, at my son's age, there's a certain level of innocence associated with most behaviors.  Sure, there's always the possibility of something bad, she explained. For example, if he didn't do his reading, and faked the reading log, then it's clearly deception.

That evening, instead of heading straight home, we decided to go out together for a quick dinner at one of our favorite places.  While we were waiting for food, I told me son that he wasn't in trouble, and that I had a couple questions.  I brought out the picture above on my iPhone and asked him what each column was, starting with the date. Starting with the date, and for every column I pointed at, he said, "I don't know papa, I just know you have to do it."

He was trying to help me.  The teacher had pointed out how well he did his reading that day, with pride over his improvement. He had clearly practiced. And in the midst of busyness or whatever, I neglected to review his homework and complete the reading log. So he did what he thought he needed to do: He put the same illegible scribbles down on the reading log that I had done each time.

He just wanted to help me.

When I realized this, I apologized to him.  And I was clear to let him know that I was apologizing because I had jumped to a conclusion that morning about his reading log, assuming that he had done something wrong. I told him that I understood that he didn't, and why.

I also remembered what else the teacher had told me, earlier that day on our call: She pointed out that my reaction to him that morning wasn't bad, and it wasn't wrong. She pointed out that because of my reaction, which contrasted highly from my normal demeanor, he now knows how seriously I take something like forgery - or for that matter anything bad -  even if he doesn't yet understand the context yet. He knows how I feel.  She pointed out how that can never be a bad thing, as long as it's rooted in honesty. His moral compass is developing and anchoring on it's North point, and my behavior is the magnet he's tuning to.

Still, something about this really bugs me. I remember learning about a concept in social psychology called the Fundamental Attribution Error, which claims that people have a tendency to judge other peoples behaviors by placing undue emphasis on character or intention rather than examining all the external factors. Ignoring things like information, knowledge, and facts. Recently I thought, as I'm more than halfway through the average life expectancy, I'm beyond this.  I know better.  I'm better than that. I'm more mature.

And yet I did it, immediately jumping to conclusions about my son because of my experience (Things I shouldn't have done, at places and times I shouldn't have done them), my passion as a parent (I want him to grow up to be a good and honest person) and my limited knowledge (about the prevailing innocence of a six year old, and how to validate that).

In my continuing education as a dad, I learned a valuable lesson. No matter what, always listen. The teachers know more than you. It's their practice and profession. And above all else, it's always OK to make a mistake, but it's always better to make a mistake being kind. I think in the long run, that's what my son will remember and carry with him.

Turning a dentist visit into an educational experience for my son

My son wearing UV glasses watching papa getting two crowns removed, drilled and prepped at dentist.

My son wearing UV glasses watching papa getting two crowns removed, drilled and prepped at dentist.

I brought my six year old son to my dentist appointment today. Of course, he's had several dentist visits already; Basic exams, cleanings, etc. at his pediatric dentist.

Today's visit was different. Today I had two crown replacements scheduled. For those that don't know what that is: Some 20-25 years ago I had a couple pretty bad decay and cavities that were serious enough where they had to drill the entire top of the tooth off. I was actually pretty lucky back then.  There was enough healthy tooth left where they could "crown" it, basically gluing an artificial top to the tooth.

The problem is, over many years (I'm in my 40s now), a bunch of changes lead to a maintenance issue. First, the technology: The crowns can actually come loose over many years, and possibly 'leak'.  This didn't happen, thank goodness. But the bigger issue is that the older you get, the more your gums tend to recede (it's normal) and that means little gaps form, and brushing and flossing gets less effective, and decay can actually start up again on the edge of the healthy tooth still exposed.  And the decay can work it's way inside the tooth.  This is super bad if it's not caught.  It's like having an awesome solid roof on a building that's termite infested- and eventually the entire building can collapse.  I had this happen several years ago and had to get a titanium implant- that's another story.  Trust me, you don't want to go there.

So this year, together with my awesome dentist, we looked at my mouth and smile differently and decided we'll get the old crowns proactively replaced. Right?  I'm actually subjecting myself to it. Yeah! Bring it on. Drill me.

And that brings me to the opportunity I saw a few weeks ago. Why I decided to take my son to watch me get poked and drilled.

My oldest son, now six, has a killer smile.  I mean it- he's a looker (I'm a doting papa, 溺愛パパだね。。. And he's also lucky. Some little three year old girl pushed him off a jungle gym pretty violently when he was three (I was there) and he landed teeth first against some pole or whatnot. He was lucky because, over the next few months, the living root inside of his tooth died, and calcified turning into bone.  He still has all his baby teeth, and one of the front is just a tiny bit discolored. He's lucky because that little girl almost caused him to have a front tooth extracted forcibly.

We brush and floss him and his little brother ritually, morning and night, and often right after meals like lunchtime. It's a pretty serious, time-consuming endeavor. That, and his genetics (or luck) have paid off. No cavities. So a few weeks ago during the nightly brushing, he says "Papa, I don't get it, my teeth are good, why do I need to brush so much?"

I looked at him in horror.  My face was probably enough to answer the question.  It was like "serious face" times 1000 (真剣な顔).  So I decided, why not? I'll bring him to my appointment for the crown replacements.

I sent an email to his teacher this morning to make sure she knows what's going on:

From: James
Subject: My son - arriving late this morning (between 11-12)
To: Sensei
Dear Sensei,
Please accept my apologies I didn’t send this sooner- I am taking my son to my dentist appointment this morning for a good life lesson.  
He has never had cavities- he’s both lucky, and we are extremely attentive to his brushing habits, but recently he made a comment that meant that he doesn’t understand the real value of brushing and flossing, since he’s never had problems.  Sounds like very many adults who don’t value something until it’s too late.  So I thought, at age 6, I’ll take him to the dentist with me - I already prepared the dentist - so he can watch the entire process, needles, drilling and everything.  For an hour or however long it is (no books).   I have a couple crowns that are over 25 years old that I am proactively replacing, so this is perfect context for me to “teach” him about the value of preventive work.
I have a feeling he’ll think about it every time he brushes and flosses- or reminds himself why it’s a priority.
I’ll bring him into school straight from the dentist!  Thank you so much!
Kind regards,
James Coleman

This morning on our half-hour drive to the dentist, we talked about why I have crowns, the history of them, and why I have to deal with this now again.  Then, when we arrived, my dentist (who is incredible), welcomed him back in with me, and practically made him a part of the process.  He wore the cool UV glasses, and sat on my chest as they removed the old crowns and drilled away. I listened to a podcast in one ear while I could hear my son and the doctor talking for an hour about everything they were doing and why.

It turns out, she wanted to contribute to the educational experience. She pointed out to him (and to me) that there are certain important procedures to make the patient more comfortable, to get a better result, and why that's beneficial to his papa.  Basically, I think she did an incredibly effective job at communicating to my son why it's important to go to and rely on the dentist, and not be afraid.  It's a good thing.  Which is incredible, because I was inadvertently only focusing on the bad as it relates to incentivizing him to brush and floss.

On the way back to school today, he told me how much he learned.  Now he understands:

  1. The importance of brushing and flossing (why)
  2. What and how the dentist does besides cleaning
  3. and the importance of going to (a great) dentist proactively, without fear

All in all, I think today was a great life lesson for my son.  Last night, I asked his coach (the other teacher) if it was OK to take him out of school this morning for this, breaking his routine.  She told me, "Of course, this is another kind of education, and one that you need to capture."

When we got to school today the kids saw him, and asked where he was.  His response?

"My dad had a gold tooth!!!"

今日の漢字 Kanji of the day

I'm blogging daily on Japaneur now since my son and I started a new thing last week:  今日の漢字。"kyou no kanji" 

We pick one kanji each day to focus on and learn.  My son's 6, so this is a great time for him to really get into kanji in a fun way.  It's great for me as well, since I just committed myself to getting JLPT certified, starting with the basics and going all the way.

Want to come along for the ride?  I have a degree in Japanese language and literature and, at one point, I had about 2100 kanji committed to memory, reading and writing. Kanji is the key to everything in Japanese, and most non-Japanese find it the most "overwhelming" part of the language.  It's not. It's just a bunch of pictures.  If you can recognize a circle from a square, you can learn kanji. And if you get some kanji under your belt, your Japanese learning will hyper-accelerate.

Sooooooo...... come join us, or tell a friend who's interested in learning Japanese.  It'll be a blast.

Silencing your Mac really pays off

The "magic" of compounding interest over time.  Similar benefits come from optimizing  time  over time.

The "magic" of compounding interest over time.  Similar benefits come from optimizing time over time.

Remember the financial advice to start saving asap because of the magic of compounding interest? It's a simple phenomenon, a math pattern that produces a really great result when you take 1) money 2) earn interest on the money, adding it to the balance, then repeating 1 & 2 over time. Basically, someone who saves $5000 per year starting earlier in life will end up a LOT richer than someone who saves a lot more starting later in life.  Time is on their side.  See the graph as an example.

I think it the same "magic" of compounding interest applies in another area of our life as well: Structure. Freedom from distractions. Simply put, I think there's way more time on the table every single day than there is money to save. And remember the saying "time is money"? So let's look at how much time the average Mac user can save every day:

The Radicati Group, Inc. in Palo Alto estimates that the average person sends and receives about 120 messages per day.  If we assume half of that is inbound (it's probably more), that means that a "ding" alert sound is distracting you about 60 times per day.  That distraction is, at minimum, going to sidetrack you, and probably get you looking at email when you were focused doing something else.  Let's say you're distracted for about 2 minutes, then you try to figure out what you were doing to get back to it.  That's 120 distracted minutes, or 2 hours. A quick reality check tells us I'm lowballing it. Reuters reports that a study commissioned by Adobe Systems found that the average number of hours each person spends on email is 6.3 per day.  So 2 hours of that wasted seems like a reasonable estimate.  Sweet Christmas.

Before I started sanitizing my Mac's notification system (and my iPhone and iPad as well, btw), I used to have 10 pop-ups per day on the right hand side of my screen alerting me to upcoming meetings, appointments, etc. There is no "close all" button, so you spend 10-20 seconds clicking them all to close them out.  Add up the time doing that with all the notifications each day and you find that you're spending 5 minutes clicking on things you already know about.  EVERY DAY. Good grief.  That's over a half-hour of mindless clicking per week.

Add up the above two and we're at 10.5 hours per week. And we're not even adding into the formula how much extra time is required to get back to focus and effectiveness in the other tasks that you were distracted away from

Ever have one of those weeks where you feel like you didn't get much done?  It's no wonder.

MAC DISTRACTIONS AND WHERE TO STOP THEM

Your Mac, out of the box, is designed to distract you. Apple can't deny that. And things went from subtle to almost obnoxious as soon as the Apple watch entered the Mac ecosystem.  There are three major kind of distractions.  Want to find zen-like calm in your life?  Go to these things listed here, turn off everything or almost everything, set up your own routine for when you want to check for things or process things like email.  Then you can leave your Mac's volume up and play all the music you want.

NOTIFICATIONS

Located under the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications.  Almost every app, by default, is set to pop up, play a sound, and the pop up doesn't go away until it's dismissed.  I turn off almost all of these, with a few minor exceptions I'll get into below (under Exceptions).

You would think that's enough, but wait, there's more.  Individual apps have controls and preferences for both how and when to hand off notifications as well as in-app handling of reminders and invitations. For example, both Apple's Calendar app as well as my calendar app of choice, Fantastical 2, have separate preferences for turning off notifications.

SOUNDS

Sounds are notifications evil sibling. And by default they're almost all on.  Again, located under the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications.  The good news is that when you go through the list of notifications on your Mac, you can disable sounds while you're in there as well.

And again, individual apps have alert sounds as well.  The most notably irritating is Apple's Mail app.

BADGES

Badges are those little red circles on the apps in your Mac's dock that alert us to the fact that there's something unread, and how many/much is unread.  Again, you can turn these off under the Apple Menu -> System Preferences -> Notifications.

THIRD-PARTY, NON-MAC OS X DISTRACTIONS

I treat Chrome and Tweetbot the same way I treat all my built-in Mac apps.  I so totally dig it when someone follows me on twitter, or replies to me, or retweets me.  I really do. I just don't need the little machine that going PING to tell me it's happened. So I go into Tweetbot and turn off everything.  

Same for Chrome, which is a little more hidden, and not at all easy to find. I did some housekeeping recently after many months ago when I accepted Washington Post's and Huffington Post's request to notify me of important news.  Then the election happened and it just got depressing. I turned off the news alerts because I'd rather focus my despair in more concentrated, purposeful bouts each day instead of frequent and random despair ridiculous time-sucks.

ADDITIONAL AND ADVANCED ANTI-DISTRACTION COUNTERMEASURES

I use the Do Not Disturb (DND) feature strategically.  I set my Mac to go into full on Do Not Disturb for everything, including things I like to use my Mac for, like Facetime calls.  When Apple made it possible to use my mac for iMessage and text messages as well as Facetime, it made it possible for me to answer the phone from my Mac during the hours I wanted.  Way cool.  But there are hours, like right now as I'm writing this, where I don't want to take any calls.  

I still monitor for calls, but my personal operating procedure is simply to acknowledge my phone rang, and check on it in a reasonable period of time based on the expectations of my customer who I want to provide excellent response to.  Turning DND on my Mac means I can focus for the extra few minutes or however long I want to get something produced, and without breaking my creative flow.  A pop-up on my display with a name associated with it will still get the same response, but the difference is, I'm now mentally hijacked and can't finish my writing/creating/work/task, etc.

THE MAGIC OF COMPOUND INTEREST ON TIME

Ok, so I promised you some magic at the beginning of this post.  How's this: Once you get a routine established to manage all the chaos on your terms, not someone else's, then with 10.5 hours back per week, that's 546 hours per year.  Now, let's assume that you can get what you want to do done, more focused in 1 hour less per day, since you're less or undistracted.  Let's just take 5 days per week, time 52 weeks in a year.  That's another 260 hours per year.  

You're up to 806 hours per year.  That's twenty 40-hour work-weeks with time to spare.

Now rank up all the projects, ideas and anything else you want to get done that requires time.  Do any of them create a return on investment for you?  Maybe another college degree?  Writing a book? Creating an online course?  Or, if you're a billable hours person, turning just half that time into labor, let's just say at $150 an hour, is an extra $60,450 per year. Wow.

I think everyone should turn off the annoying ping sound in the Mac Mail app right now

Love what you read and want someone to get on-screen and on the phone to do it with you together?  Just create a service request at TechRoom here, and I'll be happy to help you from anywhere in the world. We can even streamline your iPhone and iPad notifications at the same time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

James Coleman is a technologist who helps people take their technology from practical, to masterful. James is CEO and founder of TechRoom, Inc. and created Tech Concierge, a service program designed to take care of all the maintenance and management of technology for busy professionals so they can focus their time on things that matter most.

This blog article was originally posted at techroom.com.

About a child's happiness, and realizing their full potential

I was recently invited to speak with a group of parents about dealing with undesirable behaviors that inevitably manifest in preschool and kindergarten age children.  I had just recently experienced what most people just assume is normal, something most people believe you just have to brace yourself for and contend with.

I discovered, partially by accident, partially through preparation, and most certainly through good luck, that one specific parenting change can increase a child's happiness and confidence, and significantly improve family life. To me, the results are unmistakeable.  It can give parents a new, profound calm and confidence. And I also believe it's a critical first component of preparing your child take on and accomplish anything in life.

My skill and career in tech has always been about reducing complex systems into approachable, useable tools that anyone can use to go from practical, to masterful, in anything. The presentation here is my attempt to simplify and share what I've learned over several months that, I believe, is critical for every parent to know as early as possible.  

If you know another parent, or anyone who you think this could benefit, please use the share buttons below. And please let me know what you think in the comments.

My favorite Japanese language app for iPhone

One app that has lived on my home screen since it was released in 2008 is very simply called Japanese.

I've tried dozens of other Japanese dictionaries and language apps, but I always ditch them after a few uses.  Japanese, by renzo Inc., is exceptional. I tell every single person who expresses any interest in learning Japanese, regardless of whether they're a beginner or advanced, to get this app.

When I was studying Japanese at the university, I carried around a thick, heavy book by Nelson that was a required tool of all Japanese majors, the Japanese-English Character Dictionary. I still recommend getting this book if you're serious about learning Japanese. One of the best things I learned early on was how to look up any Japanese kanji character by its radicals. The 214 historical radicals are the building blocks of every Japanese kanji. Think of them as the elements that, when combined, create the thousands of different kanji characters available. You learn to look up characters by 12 steps. The first, for example, is the total stroke count of the radical.

Academically, this is awesome, and useful as you learn how to read.  But it's not so practical when you're out and about and just need to know something right away. Or if you're out at an Izakaya having drinks with friends. Not cool to pull out the big, heavy book.

That's where Japanese comes in.

It has 170,000 entries and over 70,000 example sentences, right in your pocket. With no Internet connection required. I bet Steve Jobs had this in his pocket on those frequent trips to Japan. Everything is broken down into syllables, and not only in Japanese, but also into the English alphabet. You look up words just by typing in English how they sound. That means any student with a basic grasp of hiragana can access nearly the entire Japanese language with a somewhat disciplined ear.  How cool is that?  No other app does that effectively.

The app uses Apple iOS's built in voice recognition, so you can also enter words with speech. And even with conjugation, so it's no problem for Japanese to look up a given entry for you.

If you're studying Japanese, the app even has kanji lists broken out for you already with levels N1, N2, N3, N4 and N5.  And you can create your own lists.  I create lists for all sorts of things, from new words I learn on various outings in Japan, to vocabulary specific to my older son's Japanese education.  I even have a list created with the kanji my wife and I lovingly and painstakingly picked for their first names, which was handy for me to refer back to as I practiced writing them to commit them to memory.

Once you get a little more advanced in your Japanese writing, the handwriting recognition feature is fun and incredibly effective.  Sometimes it's easier to write a character, especially if you don't know how to pronounce it.  This has been a game-changer for me when I'm reading a magazine, newspaper, or just out and about anywhere in Japan.  Just tap to switch to handwriting mode and draw the character, and voila. Pure magic.  This is the kind of magic that iOS is all about.

Japanese by renzo Inc. is an indispensable tool for anyone in or around the Japanese language.  I can't recommend it highly enough.

This article was originally published on Japaneur.

One email feature that can give you back an hour a day

Ever have an email that won't go away?  I'm not talking about a technical problem.  I'm talking about a sender that is uninvited, unresponsive, and their messages keep showing up in your inbox.  Those messages clutter up your inbox, and just the process of unsubscribing and deleting them takes your attention away from the things you want to do.  10 minutes a day of unwanted, unsolicited email spam is 60 hours per year, or four full waking days of your life, wasted on stuff you don't want.

I have the answer to this problem.  I've largely given up on unsubscribe, which depends on a lot of factors, most of which don't apply when you've been added to a list without your permission.  I use Google Apps for Business filters.   

As a quick intro, I don't use the Gmail interface. I don't care for it, and I prefer using my Mac.  Apple's Mail.app looks like my iPhone and iPad interface, and I'm comfortable with it.  Google Apps is basically my email service, the back end that powers my email.  Apple's Mac and iOS products are basically my interface tools that I use to send and receive email.  I disable Apple's "Junk Mail" filter by default.  It's never been good, and actually creates a ton of false positives, which results in loosing important messages.  I use Google Apps anti-spam, which does a great job catching 99.9% of the junk, like pharmaceutical and adult ads, etc.

Now here's the awesome trick to waking up to an inbox with only mail you care about.  Log in to your Gmail interface, and select an message from a sender you don't want, or that you want to file away and skip your inbox.

Once you select the message, you can pull down the menu and select "Filter Messages Like These".  Then you're presented with the options you see in the picture above.  I typically do one of two things:  1) for messages from senders I never want to see again, I'll pick "skip the inbox" and "delete it", 2) for messages I don't need to see during the work day, but want to go back and reference when I need to, I'll select "skip the inbox", and "apply the label" and select a label (think folder) to have the messages go to.  

This is better than using rules in Mail.app or Outlook in a lot of ways.  First, it's server-side.  It doesn't require your computer be on and processing email to work.  That means my iPhone, iPad and Mac (and anything else I use) all get the benefit of having the email filtered before I check it.   It also allows me to organize proactively the various emails I do want to check on my schedule, but consider lower priority.  For example, all my email from the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage Business school, including Alumni message, LinkedIn emails, etc. go into a folder called "Social Networking Low Priority" where I can go to browse on a Sunday morning over a cup of coffee before everyone at home wakes up.  

When I first discovered filters, I went from an average 100 messages in my inbox at 6:00AM to less than 5.   Just today I filtered a few more, including one person who kept apologizing for not taking me off her list.  

What would you do with 60 hours per year of time back to your life?  I'm planning on spending more time in the backyard with my little boy.

Note: I originally published this article on the TechRoom blog (link to original here).  On this post I changed the title, but all content is still relevant, four years later.

What it feels like to be an (imperfect) parent

Anyone who has had children has had this experience at one point or another:

Your child says something that stops the room. Immediately you're dumbfounded.  Where did she learn that? you think. Maybe the next sentence out of your mouth is, "We don't talk like that. Where did you learn that?  Say ______ instead."

Then it strikes you, like your subconscious is reaching into your head and squeezing your brain, telling you: You said it.  She's just copying you. 

These situations have the potential to create one or more of these:

  1. Awareness: This is the single most critical thing you can get out of this. Remember, any damage done is water under the bridge. Once words are uttered you can't take them back. So don't try. Focus forward. If you recognize there's a problem, you've accomplished the first step in resolving it, and ultimately preventing it.
  2. Embarrassment: In most societies people won't confront you on your word choice unless it's really bad or even a public attack on someone. So we go about our lives rather oblivious to the language that we're still carrying around from wherever we picked it up, elementary school, high school, a locker room, a party, a friend, even a TV show or movie. Language is rather contagious, which isn't always a good thing.
  3. Passing it on: Ibid. See above. If you don't change your language, and fast, your kids will copy not only everything you say, but how you say it.  You may have said something really innocuous or silly, but the principle still holds true, and what's silly at the dinner table could be repeated somewhere else where it's not silly.  And even more important, the words you use represent how you think and what you believe, which means you're passing on much more than vocabulary to your child. You're passing on attitudes and behaviors.. Take an extreme example: A lot of ridiculous, hateful racism persists today that should have died off years ago.  Why? Racists had children. It's like second-hand-smoke.
  4. Confrontation: When a spouse or partner discovers an issue with your child's language before you, they'll likely be every bit as shocked as you are, and likely mad about it. They've known their partner well enough to know where the language came from. So there's now a choice: Talk about it in a constructive manner, or turn it into an argument. I recommend the former.

Obviously, it's good to be embarrassed.  That's a sign of recognizing it's an issue.  If you're not embarrassed, there's a much bigger problem: You.  And you can't just look past it.  That only serves to make the problem worse. The entire world is about reaching for a higher standard. Remember, adult racists turning their kids into little racists by osmosis, and that just damns them in a world that's inevitably becoming more progressive.

The biggest problem that I want to address here is much more simple, but often overlooked by both parents: Ego and reactivity,

As parents, we're just older and more experienced children. Nothing more. And when we become parents, we somehow accept this belief that we're supposed to know everything and be model citizens, when none of us are perfect. That's not the problem.  The problem is when a parent reacts and confronts the other parent as if they should know everything.  As spouses or partners, you probably spent years together acting and talking exactly the same way, only there wasn't a precious little toddler hyper-focused on everything you're saying in the room. Now there is.

This doesn't make the slip of the tongue right in any way.  It needs to be corrected and it needs to be changed.  

How should spouses act instead?  It's unintuitive and yet simple and critical:

  1. Address the language coming out of your child immediately, and with a serious face and tone.
  2. Whoever it was who said it at home, acknowledge it. Apologize for saying it, and commit to never saying it again.  And mean it.  Children pick up on hypocrisy every bit as fast as they do words.
  3. The other spouse or partner should immediately be 100% supportive of the other parent. "Listen to your mother" or "Listen to your father" is all that needs to be said.
  4. If you find there's more to discuss between spouses for any reason, do it out of earshot and in private.  

You're both just bigger children.  And having children, the most wonderful happiness on this planet, is going to expose every single thing about you, whether you like it or not.  It's not necessarily good, or bad.  It just is.  

Now you have a new choice: Determine if it's good or bad, and do something about it.

The Power (and Danger) of a Hallway Conversation

Anyone in a position of leadership automatically has a critical responsibility to recognize the power, and the danger, of a hallway conversation. It doesn't matter if you've just hired your first employee, you're a CEO of a public company, or if you're President of the United States; When you are a leader, people pay attention to your every word and action at all times.  

What you say and do has a deeper and more powerful impact than it ever did before. Your every word and sentence, the tone of your voice, and even your body language automatically sends a message to everyone who sees and hears you: Anything you do or say automatically becomes direction to those you lead. And the implications of this are far more reaching than you realize.

I remember the first time I learned this principle. I was perplexed by a behavior I had noticed with some of my employees prioritizing certain customers and not others. I raised my concern to my business mentor at the time, and he simply asked me a question: "Aren't those the customers you said you want to focus more directly on next year?" 

"Well, yes, I do," I replied, "But not like this, not at the expense of current customers."

Then there was an unusually long pause. The painful kind. In hindsight I realized he was giving me time to think about it.  That's the luxury of having a mentor early on: I was about to learn from my own mistakes while the damage was still minor, while I had a few employees and not hundreds.  It's one thing to fall of a bicycle.  It's entirely another thing to fall off a motorcycle at freeway speeds.

"I wonder, how did they receive the direction from you regarding next year's plan?" he asked me.

"I didn't present the plan yet."

"Interesting," he replied, looking at me as if I knew the answer already.

That's when it hit me. I had ordered in lunch for everyone one day a week earlier, and we had a great time talking about everything everyone was doing. I was really familiar with my team, we had known each other and worked together for years. And I had lost sight of the responsibility that comes with a formal position of leadership.  I had slipped and talked, without setting the kind of context that usually requires a few slides in a keynote presentation. No one knew the plan. They just heard pieces of it, and without any context to help them understand how we were going to act on it without alienating existing customers.

I had already set wheels in motion and I hadn't even realized it. And the wheels were quietly beginning to steer the bus toward a cliff.

Whether you've just hired your first employee, you're a CEO of a public company, or you're the President of the United States, what you do, what you say, and how you frame what you say matters. To the degree a leader is careful to think before speaking, and always set the appropriate context, regardless of how boringly redundant that sounds, most people will get the message that's intended. And it doesn't matter what medium a leader uses. Twitter, Facebook, Typepad. A leader is always on, 100% of the time. And they are party to and responsible for the effects and aftermath of any direction they provide via their communications, intended or otherwise.  

There is no "I didn't mean that" excuse in leadership.