Going Full Nomad and Leaving Japan (for now)

It's time for the big update. My tourist visa is expiring, and I have to leave the country that's been my home for the past three months. So much has changed -- I feel happier, I can speak more Japanese, and most importantly, I found a job that I really love.

I had four job offers at the end of March, and a weighty decision on which direction I wanted my life to go, and the choice was really tough. After some soul searching, lots of 花見 (sakura viewing) and wearing a starfleet uniform while day-drinking in Ueno park with my roommate Kathrin, I chose the riskier play with a more modest salary, but I knew my heart would be in it. So I signed with Curvegrid, a blockchain middleware company, as the first hire. I'm absolutely thrilled to help build a company from the ground up, and help with everything from sysadmin and backend to learning frontend, UX, and more. I've been contracting for them since mid-March and I'm learning a ton of new skills every day. 

But my tourist visa is up, and although the work visa paperwork is in progress, I legally have to leave Japan. So I'm going to Chiang Mai, Thailand for a couple weeks. I moved out of my share house this morning and took the Narita Express to the airport. AirAsia dinged me with some hefty baggage charges because apparently you're only allowed 6kg on board, and it was 20,000円!!! for my 8kg backpack. Yikes, I could buy my bag its own ticket for that cost. Well I learned my lesson and will purchase ahead next time. 

So I'm full nomad now, living out of a suitcase with no real address. When I get a work visa and return to Japan, I can start looking for an apartment, but that might be a month or two. Might try a capsule hotel or love hotel for a bit. My coworkers gave me some good tips on how to gutterpunk it in Tokyo -- napping on the Yamanote Line because it's a loop, sleeping in Manga Kissa, or resting in Onsen until the cleaning crew kicks you out at 6:30 am. Don't worry, I will find sense of home, even if I borrow tips from Silicon Valley's Jared Dunn.  Home is where the wifi connects :)

It's not easy to leave the city I love, but I don't really have a choice, and Thailand will be a thrill. My おみくじ (fortune) is optimistic, but I might need antibiotics. Laos wasn't so kind to my digestive tract.

omikuji.jpg

Goodbye Dogenzaka, goodbye Love Hotel Hill, goodbye smoking salarymen. Goodbye, Japan. 

For now.

Sources of Randomness* in Japan

As a computer scientist living in Tokyo, I've been pondering creative ways to generate random numbers. Here are four sources of randomness in Japan:

1. Good old coin flip. I know, hardly unique to Japan, but the 五円 (5 yen) are lucky.

 But if it were truly lucky, it wouldn't be a fair coin flip.

But if it were truly lucky, it wouldn't be a fair coin flip.

2. Gatcha-pon. 

Japan's take on the vending machine, often found at arcades and near tourist destinations. Prices range between 200 and 500円. Usually there are 5-7 variants in the machine, each enclosed in a capsule. Assuming an equal distribution of each toy in the machine, you can generate a number between 1 and N. This one appears to contain some sort of feline torture device:

 Don't let the picture fool you. Cats hate this.

Don't let the picture fool you. Cats hate this.

3. Blind Boxes

Similar to the Gatcha capsules, but for retail. You can find these at places like LOFT. I really like this strange girl that hangs out on the side of a drinking glass -- カップのフチ子 or Fuchiko on the cup. 

IMG_20180312_125445.jpg
 Seven choices available in this box.

Seven choices available in this box.

 I got the best one on the first try.

I got the best one on the first try.

4. おみくじ Fortune Shaker found at Shrines and Temples. At places such as Sensō-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo, you can pay 100円 to get your fortune. Many fortunes are drawn via a hexagonal shaker with thin sticks. On each stick is a number, corresponding to a drawer of fortunes (a look up table!). Often there are 30-100 in total. Randomness might be hampered by missing sticks. Be respectful of religious sites at all times :)

 Omikuji at Sensō-ji

Omikuji at Sensō-ji

What are some other ways of generating a random number from your corner of the world?

* Yeah I'm not guaranteeing a perfect distribution on the gatcha-pon, so don't use it to generate cryptographic keys, alright? 

Letter from Dogenzaka

I've been in Japan two weeks now. Some days are easy, some days are tough. I came here to start a new life, and I've been interviewing for software jobs at a few companies. 

I live in Shibuya. Get off the Yamanote line, past the statue of Hachiko the loyal dog, past the crowded pedestrian "scramble" crosswalk, past the famous 109 Tower, the MEGA ドンキオテ, Bunkamura, up the hill into the winding, narrow streets of Dogenzaka. I pass the Hyakkendana red gates, nightclubs, love hotels, and other outrageous shops. (A favorite is the 420 lifestyle store that loudly states NO WEED, as the plant is very illegal here. Doesn't stop them from selling t-shirts). And among all that chaos is my new home. I actually really like this area -- I've stayed here before on my first visit to Japan, and it's quite safe. One of the advantages of living in Japan vs. America is I don't feel like a second-class citizen at night. I can go just about anywhere at any hour and be perfectly safe (except that one time in Golden Gai...). 

plum_blossom.jpg

I live in shared housing with eleven other people, plus a rat. Luxuries are for the employed, and for now, this is better rent than I had in Texas. Overall Shibuya's a pretty fancy place, though living in a red light district share house shaves a little off the cost. Might have to go country on that rat soon, though.

Last weekend I visited my Indigo teacher in Fujino and helped him with some housekeeping and yard work. It was good to see the country again, and we got the place looking nice for his upcoming workshops. It's amazing how connecting this country is. I was able to get to his place on my own by train, bus, and 20 minutes of walking. I sold my car before I moved, and I won't need one here.

I found a few affordable Japanese lessons, one at Waseda University is only 100円 per course, and there's usually 1 teacher per 2-3 students. Another is a class in Shibuya at the Cultural Center. So at least I'm picking up the language.

Interviews are nerve-wracking, though I've passed a few. I know I'm smart and capable, and I'm studying the right stuff, but I hate coding on a timer. I want to be thorough and check my work, and I still have sore feelings from the BAD PLACE last October. But they showed me who they were, and at least I know it's not what it used to be. Onward and upward. 

I miss my cat, and I miss tacos. If any friends are reading this and wanna skype date, I would like that. For now, Star Trek is getting me through it. The plum blossoms are out, and the cherries will bloom soon. At least I got back and fulfilled my promise to myself.