Overtime, schmovertime

Stories about Japan’s “work ethic” are as legendary as they are, sadly, true. Late hours and weekends are extremely common, very much to the detriment of productivity and health. It doesn’t quite matter how late you turn up for work, but if you leave before the witching hour people will tut and glare askance. If Friday afternoon you get an email saying weekend work is required, mandatory, whether your own work schedule needs it or not, and regardless of any plans you may have made, you will show up. There are ways around this, but they require determination and some amount of gamesmanship. Foreigners wanting to work in Japan can try this tried and tested method and be part of the solution rather than exacerbate the problem that blind adherence to the Way Things Are Done Round Here seems to bring about.

Valuable working experience
A good working attitude (during working hours)
A friendly and helpful manner
A disarmingly witty way of pointing out other people’s mistakes
A continuous repeated reassertion of how things are done “back home”
Foreign mettle

Step 1:
Do as the Romans. When you first start your job you’ll be under a probationary contract. At this time you have little choice but to do as your colleagues. Work late, but maybe not hard, and if that is difficult for you, just come in late in the mornings. The important part is to be seen to be at the office until late and make sure you do your work properly. Wow them with how efficiently and quickly you get things done, simply by not sleeping at your desk during the day or wasting time reading manga.

Step 2
Settle. Once you pass your probationary period it will be much harder for them to get rid of you, especially if you manage to get a seishain full-time contract. Now the game begins.

Step 3
Train your colleagues. Start coming in earlier and earlier over the course of a few weeks. At the same time leave a little earlier and earlier too. The important thing is to always be at your desk when people start coming into work. You want the reputation of always being the first in. Make sure that during coffee or cigarette breaks you slip into the conversation how early you arrived. As there is never anybody there to check the truth of your claims you may exaggerate a little, but don’t push it. Any time before 9 a.m. is enough to blow the mind of most Japanese developers.

Step 4
Make sure your work is always done on time and to spec, such as there is. It’s much easier to get away with leaving “early” (meaning “on time” but earlier than anyone else) if your work for the day is done and dusted. Avoid having your work approved before you leave though, because there is no such thing as approval. Any time you show your work there will be change requests, whether justified or not. And any change request will have to be implemented NOW, regardless whether that particular task still has several months on the calendar. If a producer or director asks you to change something the implied timeline for that request is always “right now, before you even dare going home”. So check in your work, send an email to your lead and skedaddle. Alternatively, switch off, put on your coat, sling you bag over your shoulder and on your way out tell your lead the work is checked in. Never stay around long enough for feedback!

Step 5
Start making timekeeping an issue. Make sure you have plans after work, real or imagined; Japanese classes are a good one they can’t ignore. Whenever it looks like overtime is going to be creeping up on you, mention your plans. “Oh, I have to leave at 6.30 tonight, I have Japanese classes.” You are leaving “early” not because you’re foreign and lazy but because you have a life outside of work. Trust me, the assumption is you won’t have, so you have to make sure to let them know you actually do. When you’re in a meeting or being talked to by a director and leaving time is approaching, start getting fidgety, look at your watch or the wall clock obviously and nervously. When they get the hint and let you go, rush out as if it’s going out of fashion. They’ll start feeling conscious about having kept you up and hopefully even a little guilty.

Step 6
Make overtime the exception. Whenever you stay later than usual, make sure people know it’s a rare case. Over coffee sigh deeply, look at your watch and say something like “Oh, it’s already 7 p.m. Heh, late!

Step 7
During this time it is vitally important that you’re a valued colleague. During the day always be courteous and friendly with your leads and colleagues. Always jump to the task at hand and do it properly and on time. Make sure they feel they can ask you to do anything and you’ll happily comply, just don’t ask late in the day. However, and this is the difficult part, while keeping this charming and approachable attitude, be sure to make a point of avoiding blame for mistakes. If a planner drastically changes spec or a director demands some arbitrary change that triples he workload without altering the schedule, you need to communicate you’ll do you best, but if that is what they want, and if they are sure, you can implement their changes, just not tonight. If asked why a particular task hasn’t been finished yet, apologise and say it was but their changes required a lot of reworking. Never blame people outright but always imply these kinds of things are their doing, not yours.

Step 8
Become uppity. Once you’ve established you’re a punctilious and punctual worker, driven yet strict, and a value to your company, you can let slip the Westerner. The idea of work-for-hire is still a little strange in Japan, where they favour the parchment signed in blood. Take contract issues extremely seriously. Unlike Japanese employers, don’t just sign whatever or agree to things you don’t fully understand. Ask for explanations, changes, let them know you are under contract with them and that this is a business arrangement. Once they know how seriously you take these matters, you can often get away from arbitrary overtime by simply reiterating contractual agreements. “Nah, I’m not staying late. My work doesn’t require it and my contract states I work for 8 hours a day.” Authority is scary to many Japanese, and with a reputation for strict contractual adherence they’ll often allow you to get away with this.

This technique will take some time, several months usually, but it does work as I’ve used it successfully several times. It certainly helped there weren’t many foreigners at the places I’ve worked and that I could play this game with the “weird foreigner” card, though as there is strength in numbers, the more people refuse arbitrary overtime the better and fellow foreigners are most likely to agree with your attitudes. That said, being the living example of how things can be done differently I did find several of my more daring colleagues following in my footsteps, which was immensely gratifying.

Another danger is that if your director doesn’t like you much you can be passed over for promotion or pay rises. Quality of your work isn’t as important as being seen to stay late. This is why it is so important to be likable and helpful during work hours, and to occasionally get drunk with your colleagues. You are not a bastard except when it comes to timekeeping. That said, I have enjoyed pay rises and a decent promotion within one company despite refusing to do any overtime whatsoever, so it can be done as long as your work is good enough. Sadly, you do actually need to work hard and be good at what you do; simply wanting to avoid work at all isn’t going to cut it.

Alternatively, anonymously contact the Labour Standards Office and have the weight of Japanese law fine your company and force a rigid working hours system.

VC or not VC…

That is the question. Whether tis nobler in the mind so suffer the slings and arrows of creative freedoms or to take up arms with a business partner who might oppose and end them. The dirty subject of filthy lucre is one any independent must face. The question whether or not to try and find venture capital is one I have not yet found a satisfactory answer to.

The case for
I am not as arrogant as to believe it’s all about the creativity. Game development is a business and though I have some experience in that area, a knowledgeable partner from the field of business can most definitely be a very strong asset, if not requirement, even.
Having some money to fund us will relieve a lot of stress from the early stages of development. We could focus on what we need to do without worrying so much about the short-term cash issues.
Though we have a pretty strong focus, a lot of the work we are doing between us right now could be sped up tremendously by hiring one or two more experienced people. Having some office space and much needed new hardware would be really helpful too.
Preparing for venture capital means having to work out a business plan and solidify your approaches. Just doing this is helpful, if even for your own sense, so it’s something I’m working on now. If investment was never an option, it’s little but massively important things like these that could slip under the radar as we focused on development alone.

The case against
We are currently building up something with our blood, sweat and tears. Why would we hand over a chunk of that to someone simply because they have a chequebook? If we manage to work it all out without investment, everything we build will belong to us, so any value we create is one for us alone to enjoy.
Finding an investor with the right mindset is as important as it is difficult. Can we find someone who shares our softly, softly, easy, squeezy approach? The goal for investors is, after all, to get a return and a profit as soon as possible, and not so much to focus on long term growth and stability. Getting the wrong kind of business-minded person in too soon can lead us down the usual path of rapid growth, over-achievement, lacklustre product and eventual bankruptcy; that is, after all, the norm these days. We’re not in it for the riches, but simply to finally do the work the way we want to and feel ought to. We want to create a stable, profitable system where we are comfortable, not so much to create a mega-corporation so we can buy private jets (though that would be nice).
Game development is perceived as a risky business; invest tons, hope for a rare mega-hit and retire on the profits. I personally don’t think it needs to be this way. A more conservative, realistic approach to development could form a very secure, stable company with decent profits, if maybe not Croesus-level riches. We all know, however, that the world economy is a little peaky these days, and investors may not know what they want, if they want to invest at all. The blurb “invest in us; you won’t get mega-rich but you won’t get poor either!” isn’t exactly one that eases the purse-strings.
Being based in Japan may or may not work in our favour. I doubt very much we could entice any Japanese investors because, quite frankly, we are dirty foreigners. Obviously we’d either escape the country with all the investment money stowed away in burlap sacks with a dollar sign on them, or we’d squander it all on Japanese women and drugs. Foreign investors looking at Japan might have different concerns and priorities. To be honest, I have no idea if it is even possible to entice foreign money to such a venture in such an inscrutable country.

There are alternatives, of course, like personal loans and continued freelance work for extra coin. The problem with the former is that I’m personally liable and, as stated previously, a dirty foreigner. The problem with the latter is that it distracts me from what I really want to focus my attention on 24/7. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but in the meantime I’m going to pretend I’m seriously looking for investment; that way I force myself to write a solid business plan, work out business strategies and approaches and get realistic – something that cannot be a bad thing, even if I end up staying self-funded, which is honestly something I’d prefer.

But more, much more than this…

Being an independent developer is a little daunting as it gives you the freedom you’ve always craved but also the responsibility you never had. And being determined to make this work I’ve made some decisions on approaches that I feel couldn’t be done within the rigid structure of a larger studio, let alone a Japanese one. If it will all work out nicely and provide me with a stable income remains to be seen, but I have no desire to make the same mistakes I so often see in the industry; mistakes I feel that are responsible for many lackluster games and the annual Christmas company bankruptcy season. I have been very lucky to be working with someone who is, by and large, on the very same page as I am regarding many of the issues discussed below, and indeed on paper it all sounds good and dandy. The real challenge is to stick with it and make it work…

Tools, tools, tools
Somehow it is impossible to convince a studio head or director that time and money spent in advance of development can and will lead to significant savings later on. The feeling is still very much “if I am spending money now, I want something tangible for it NOW”, hence my very stressful experience with industry tools so far. How often have substandard tools slowed down the workflow tremendously? How much time have I wasted re-exporting or fixing perfectly serviceable art because something minor and foreseeable changed in the tool? Let me count the months. I have also seen work on sequels that could have been done in half the time they eventually took if only proper systems and tools were put in place during or, preferably before, the development of the previous titles.
For this reason our first project is proceeding slowly, infuriatingly slow, in fact, but for all the right reasons. By creating a toolset and pipeline that actually makes the flow of work easy, quick and comfortable future development not only on this title but next ones too will go a lot smoother and quicker. Getting a proper tool up and running, though, is no easy task and is taking a good deal of time, time, however, I think we’ll be making up for in the future.

Ambition in different areas
One major reason for the bad tools in big studio development is because each project has to be pushing some envelope, raise the bar or invent new techniques because somehow producers think that is important. Add more bloom, attach normalmaps to every surface, up the polycount on everything, add unique one-off elements in each level, etc., all the things that publishers want, regardless of the fact these more often than not don’t make the game any better. So tools are always changing drastically and can never settle, mature and be turned into something usable. Ambition is a good thing, but is best spent in other areas, like art direction, polishing, usability, playability and that all elusive fun.

Data driven
Listen to Tim Moss’s GDC speech of a few years back regarding the development of God of War. It’s eye opening, if, in retrospect, rather obvious. Data driven systems allow level design to be done by level designers, animation by the animators, etc. So far, and again, especially in Japan, each little aspect of development required at some point some programmer interaction. I make a small change in the UI, for example, I want to be able to see it and tweak it in-game, rather than request a programmer to do that for me. Tim Moss’s speech also talks about their connection between Maya and the engine, with changes exported back to and fro. It sounds, to me at least, wonderful. Using tools or scripting each development discipline should be able to do his or her own work.

Pander to the people, not my ego
There is a lot of ego in our industry; a lot of well-informed people who have their own opinions. Often this leads to interesting and creative results…but not always a success. All too often the customer is forgotten during development in favour of the designs and desires of a few planners or directors. Especially in Japan things like playtesting and market research are quite rare. As an indie it is too easy to become isolated and myopic regarding your own project and thus it is more important than ever to include as many potential customer-types to playtest and give feedback as often as possible. If people don’t like my game, I don’t get money, and I won’t be able to afford booze.

Rigid structures and trust
Even though I am taking on a lot of different roles for this project, I can’t do everything. Luckily I have found someone on the same page as I who can do all the things I can’t (and more). One thing I have always liked in the Japanese development system is the fact a single person stands at the top making all the decisions. What I didn’t like was the inability for these people to delegate. Even areas they had no expertise in didn’t escape their scrutiny and arbitrary change requests. One thing I know is very important is to work with people you can trust to make their own decisions. I do not want to have to worry about certain aspects of the development process but put that responsibility on someone with the expertise and knowledge, knowing it will get done properly. This requires finding the right people, which is hard, but there is no point in hiring someone for their skills and then to not let them use it; something that happens all too often in big studios.

Spare the rod, spoil the customer
DRM is an onerous thing indeed; personally, as a consumer, I hate it with a passion as usually it is the paying customer who enjoys all the pain (boot discs, install limitations, etc.) whereas the pirate has the better experience (NoCD patches, unlimited installations, etc.) especially as some of the more popular methods install all manner of hidden content, often interfering with or breaking drivers and whatnot. I have the greatest respect for developers who put their games out without any DRM whatsoever, however I don’t quite trust the majority of the consumers yet. But then again, I really don’t want paying, loyal customers to suffer. So what is the alternative? Reward paying customers; give away extra free content for registrations, for example. Sure, these things can and will be pirated too, you can never plug that hole a 100%, but as a consumer I know it means a lot to have your loyalty rewarded, not punished. Keeping a good and benevolent relationship with your customer is something that takes time and dedication but is something the smaller independent developer can do better than a huge faceless corporation, and is something that I think will pay dividends in the long run.

All these things are very much pie in the sky thinking, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be goals to strive for. Commercial realities will sooner or later force some changes I might not be comfortable with, and I am not stupid enough to believe these are entirely avoidable. That said, with a good mindset at the start and building up slowly but steadily towards something good is a fairly noble pursuit, even if only for my own mental wealth.

The only real problem I am facing right now, though, is work ethic. Once I had had enough of my break and loafing around the house actually became boring I got to work. However, not having colleagues surrounding me, a clock to stare at all day and, annoyingly, working on things I really enjoy has lead to some stupidly long days focused and dead to the outside world. I’ve already had a few 10 hour days without breakfast or lunch simply because I was on a roll. If I am to survive it is imperative I force myself into a more rigid working hours system. One thing at a time though.

Love and Monkeys

This most recent bout of inactivity on the blog is due to my periodic trips to one of Japan’s many hot spring areas, onsen, this time up north in Yonezawa in the southern-most part of Yamagata prefecture. This trip was strategically planned for just after the holiday season, as prices are easily half of what they are over Christmas and as most people have jobs to go to availability not a problem. Also, as a European, I like the snow and though the southern onsen are nice in their own right, I fancied something more cold, snowy and picturesque.

The trip started off at Tokyo station where a bullet train would take us up to Fukushima at which point it would split and take our half up to Yamagata. The trip to Yonezawa itself would take only two and a half hours. Travelling this route the duplicity of Japan’s climate is fairly obvious, as the first leg takes you along the Pacific side, with its brisk, clear skies and bearable temperatures, while keeping to your left snow-capped mountains behind which fast banks of clouds are pushed from the thither side. After Fukushima a sharp turn West brings you closer to the mountains and within minutes patches of ice and snow appear on the ground surrounding the tracks before the train slows down considerably to navigate the sudden valleys and foothills all covered in thick blankets of snow, deposited perilously high on either side and on the branches of the trees where they hang as improbable and gravity-defying droops of sugar icing. Suddenly the brown and dark green greyness of the Pacific-facing side of Japan is forgotten and you enter a dreamy winter landscape of blacks and whites.

Our ryoukan, as I always insist we frequent on these occasions, was a good forty-minute private van ride away from Yonezawa station, through the small village and up a winding mountain road demanding spectacular views of the valley below. Suddenly the road widens somewhat to accommodate a small smattering of buildings and hotels with pretty much nothing else; here was our destination, a fairly new ryoukan built on the ruins of its ancient ancestor burnt down a few decades ago, run by an old, distinguished gentleman and a small army of old biddies pandering to our every need.

Yonezawa is famous for several things. First, for me at least, are the wild monkeys, my favourite beast after cows and penguins. Indeed, on our initial ferry to the ryoukan we were greeted by two separate gangs of the things alongside the road. At first a small family of them were dangerously close to the edge with one of them picking at something in the middle of the asphalt. As we approached he scuttled back to his companions along the side where they looked at us annoyed and put out. The second gang of them was hanging from small branches that appeared unfit to carry their weight alongside the road, where they looked down on us with a disinterest and disdain I had previously thought only cats were capable of. Sadly, on subsequent trips, with my camera ready, they refused to be seen, so I have no photographic evidence.

Secondly, Yonezawa has an interesting history, started, as it was, by, amongst others, Naoe Kanetsugu, a defeated samurai from the neighbouring prefecture of today’s Niigata. His helmet carries the kanji symbol for “love” (“Ai”), which is shown on posters and merchandise everywhere, and he also happens to be the subject of a new historical drama on Japanese television, of which many posters were strewn around the town too. More beloved than him, though, was Yozan, a Tokyo (Edo) born and bred daimyo who married into the power structure of Yonezawa. He is best remembered for building up the area during a time of great poverty and famine by introducing several new foodstuffs and crafts to the area. Any travelers there will see much of the otaka poppo, a bird (usually eagle) statue carved of wood. To both these people the small center of Yonezawa has a new museum, bereft of any English-language texts or pamphlets, and several shrines and temples where once their castle stood.

The third claim to fame is Yonezawa beef, as famous nationally as Kobe beef and equal to or greater in quality to it, depending on whom you listen to. It is indeed wonderful meat, soft and tender in ways I cannot describe on-line for fear of my florid language mucking up your average pervert’s Google searches. It is one to remember, for your amateur gamesman, the next time some unenlightened bore extols the virtues of Kobe beef. “It is indeed nice, if a little popular, but cannot hold a candle, as you know, to the rarer and much more prized Yonezawa variations.” The dinners at the ryoukan obviously revolved heavily around this product. The first night was a sukiyaki meal with a huge plate of this beef, as well as vegetables and a huge variety of side-dishes. You cook the meat and vegetables yourself in a heated dish at your table in a tasty mixture of water and sauces, before dipping it in a bowl of raw egg. It is an absolute delight and more than a little filling. The second night we had shabu-shabu, the same ingredients basically, but this time dipped in a pan of boiling water, hence the onomatopoeic name. After mere seconds the beef is boiled after which you can dip it in a choice of sauces, my favourite by far the sesame one. This meal too was accompanied by the usual dishes of pickles, sushi, salads, potato dishes, miso soup and sweet red beans covered with flecks of your actual gold.

The ryoukan was chosen for its two private baths alongside the usual public and gender-separated ones. Still being too British for public nudity we alternated between the two private baths available at any time without booking. One was your usual small room with a single shower to clean yourself with before your dip. The water there was, I am not alone in saying, too hot for comfort. After you managed to tease yourself in it was mere minutes before you turned pink and light-headed with an uncomfortable tingling sensations in your extremities, all of them. The second bath was altogether more pleasant, situated in a small shack, half open to the snowy outside, but lacked a shower, leaving us to wash ourselves old-fashioned style with hand-buckets dipped in the bath itself.

Yonezawa being a small rural community the sight of a foreigner was still something for the ryoukan’s old biddies to get excited about. They did their best to find me a yukata that fit, an impossible task, sadly, which was followed by bemused and astounded exclamations of regret and worry that I’d catch a cold as half of my ankles remained exposed. There was a lot of questioning; whether I could eat Japanese food, if I could eat natto (no way!), whether everything was comfortable for me and, though I thought I could escape it, where my country was. All these questions aimed at my wife, of course, even though I answered them in Japanese. At times like these I regret to say I find myself regressing into foreign tourist mode, mumbling along, being pampered and held in awe and refusing to even try to speak Japanese properly. Sometimes it’s quite nice not having to pretend to be a local, and as us foreigners usually get great treatment from rural locals, considering we are tourists and not residents, I let it wash over me, which includes getting free hand-outs at shops and cups of green tea here and there.

Other notable occasions were our walk from the center’s one museum to the station, where we were on a quest to find a nice place to have lunch and cursing how rural Japan isn’t as convenient as downtown Tokyo, like the big city snobs we are, and getting a ride back to the hotel sharing the van with new customers for the night, a duo of giggly Tokyo girls with outrageous fake nails and, by Jehovah, sparkly wellington boots. The presence of these loud, young fleshpots made our octogenarian driver a little more talkative and boastful, the dirty sod, not just filling them in on the historical details of the area but also his own woes and heroic deeds of surviving 40 meter snowfalls over one winter.

As we left, snow started lightly with the promise of an extra 40 cm of the stuff over the weekend. Tokyo has seen some drizzly snow that very night but it was rainy a dreary when we arrived back in our cold and humble abode. As I love the occasional onsen dip I’m sure I’ll have another before too long, but there is no denying they feel extra pleasant in the winter, when the icy cold outside is offset by the wonderful natural heat of the water and the cosy tatami rooms and futons, and copious amounts of unhealthy snacks and alcohol. They do say northern Japan has the better onsen, due to there being more volcanoes there, and from the few I’ve experienced I’d say this is true.

Though the trip is somewhat long and tedious, and the area rural and empty, it is a trip I can recommend to anyone, not only for the wonderful, wonderful beef but the scenery, friendly locals, hot springs and the ability to walk around in a yukata without feeling too much like a foreign idiot, but possibly mostly because it is sometimes very good to get away from Tokyo for a bit.

PS: Any readers about to form a glam-goth punk-rock band can use the name “Love and Monkeys” with my compliments.

2009, the year in preview

If you'll indulge me for a moment I'd like to commit to the paper screen some of my plans for the coming year, if only to have them as a permanent reminder floating around the internet for me to look back on in shame 12 months hence. As much as 2008 was not as much an annus horribilis as an annus nihilis, with absolutely nothing happening that would cement my place in future history, this year is going to be a year of change and, for the first time in my life, achievements, no matter how personal and insignificant.

1. Revamp Japanmanship
The site is due a restructuring and redesign, with F.A.Q.s and significantly informative posts, few though they are, clearly indicated for the newcomer with a dream of working in Japan. Visually I just need a change and much as I loathe faffing about in CSS I'll get round to it sooner rather than later. I also need to go through the old comments and delete the dozens of spam messages, and possibly integrate some kind of verification system, although ease of commenting is a high priority for me. I personally usually don’t comment on blogs that require a lengthy process or a log in before I’m allowed to. There will also be new and hopefully hilarious merchandise, and as I'm too cheap to pay for a premium Cafepress shop it'll mean recycling some of the older wares, so now is the time to buy them if you still want them. There should also be some new focus on gamesmanship in Japan, a sadly ignored art these days.

2. Pad out my writing portfolio
This not only means getting significantly ahead in writing my magnum opus, a daring and challenging novel that plums the depth of humanity and the readers’ tolerance, but also branch out into print media of sorts, maybe online media too. Editors take note of my email address if you want your publication to benefit from some badly informed yet deeply ingrained opinion on irrelevant matters!

3. Do the indie thing proper
Work on my first indie project has been plodding along for a while now, but 2009 is the year it's going to get organised, with self-imposed milestones and a harsh work ethic. I might start writing about its progress at some point, but that would also rely on my shadowy secret partner in this venture. I can at least write about the trials and tribulations of setting up a limited liability and all that encompasses in Japan. I've had the good fortune to meet several delightful gaijin over here who have gone through the process, whom I plan to bury under an endless siege of questions and advice. Prepare for thrilling stories of form fillings in, taxes and lawyers.

4. Health and efficiency
Though I have no short-term plans to curb my tobacco and caffeine intake, I do plan to limit my drinking to the pleasurable, rather than the excessive, and cut out as much snacking and unhealthy foods as possible. I do not only need to lose a few pounds, but could do with the extra energy a healthy lifestyle imparts on you. I will have a lot of work to do, mostly seated, so looking after this temple of mine is going to be important.
With this comes my continued though as yet rather pusillanimous quest for beard growth. With the luxury of being able to hole up at home for days on end I can experiment with facial hair without much fuss. The goal is to go for an Old Dutch or Hollywoodian, possibly a Franz-Josef, yet the patchy nature of the growth so far, let alone the itchiness of it all, has meant that after several days I've gone for the complete shave (Jon Dyers is a God amongst men!). One of these days I'll manage something more substantial, which will then lead to my dream of being a pipe-smoker. Hopefully by then top hats and cloaks will be back in fashion too.

5. Learning Japanese
Well, I do of course already speak Japanese as well as your average drunken salaryman, but the writing is still a problem, the reading too. In these long years in Japan it has become clear there are no plans at all for the government to scrap kanji, so it would appear I have no other choice but to study the damn things. Long discussion about kanji in personal names, all taking place on the palm of the hand, and hours-long quiz shows on terrestrial television about the more obtuse variations are apparently not enough to dissuade the Japanese away and into the welcoming arms of the Western alphabet. Damn and blast!

6. Damn trophies
Get more PS3 trophies. I don’t know what it is about them, but they speak directly to the OCD in me and am currently well on my way to my 2nd platinum. This is rather curious as I have never completed any Xbox360 game with 100% of achievements. I guess Sony has dumbed them down enough for even someone like me to achieve the goals, which makes it all the more enticing.

The second day of the year has already been a bad start with both a full shave and a period of relative hung-over inactivity. The month is long, though, and young so things can only go up from here.

All the best for the new year, dear readers. I hope it will at least be an interesting one!