About Me

About Me – The short version

My name is Jason and I write about art, music, food, cameras, travel and parenting.

I like those things.

And I love Tokyo —  so much so that I lived there for 12 years. But what I really like is traveling, learning and spending time with my wife and kids, so we’ve taken them out of school for a field trip of an undetermined length. I continue to work remotely for a variety of employers, all while homeschooling my kids as we move from country to country. I’ve never done this before. Tune in and see what happens.

 Oh, still reading? Ok, here’s the long version:

I started my career as an elementary school teacher in the United States, working with at-risk youth. You know those movies  — think “Dangerous Minds” — where some whitebread teacher enters the “hood” and miraculously turns the whole community around using only wit, determination and an inability to rap? That was going to be ME, I thought.

I lasted three years.

I’m surprised I lasted that long, actually. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. I was surrounded by amazing, hard-working educators who battled it out every day, but most schools have at least one teacher who has just given up. They hated their job. They didn’t like kids anymore. They just went through the motions until retirement, trying not to have a nervous breakdown. Perhaps they started out as a good teacher, but the system had broken them. They were a shell of their former selves. I looked at this teacher in my school and had a terrifying realization:

That would be me in ten years or less.

I decided to take a year off. I still wanted to teach, but somewhere more exotic, like South America or Eastern Europe. Around that time I started dating Keiko, a plucky new Japanese teacher in the school district. I kinda fell for her, so I turned my attention to teaching jobs in Asia.

Ironically, Japan didn’t seem like the right fit — too strict, too formal, I thought. The kind of place where pressed pants and polished shoes were required for any job. I wanted adventure, and I wanted a break from a regimented system. A friend told me that I could find what I was looking for in Taiwan, so on his advice, I left for a year’s adventure.

That was 1997. I never looked back.

Taiwan delivered in the adventure department for sure, especially for a suburban kid like me. I learned to ride a motorcycle in shorts and flip-flops (no helmet, naturally). I camped in the jungle with wild boar and poisonous snakes crawling around the tent. I had thousands of bottle rockets fired at me, and watched massive boats filled with rice, tea and porn magazines ceremoniously drug out to the shore and torched as an offering to local deities. I drank until dawn with new friends from half a dozen countries.

It was awesome.

Ironically, the job I went for in Taiwan was the most “system” job in town. I went from teaching the underprivileged to the ultra-privileged, only to discover that rich kids weren’t that happy, either. These were the sons and daughters of doctors and industrialists, and they were being groomed for elite universities and then ruling positions in business and government. My job went from working with kids with zero parental support straight to working for parents who cracked the whip 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, and punished their pre-teens mercilessly if they didn’t remain in their class’s top percentile.

I wasn’t crazy about this system, either.

Keiko ended up following me to Taiwan, and then a few years after that I followed her to Japan. I started off teaching English, but mostly to adults in banking, and I hated it. Then after about a year of hustling and a spate of dumb luck, I had a freelance writing gig at the Japan Times and a full-time job at an ad agency in Tokyo. It was fun: the newspaper let me write about some of the artists and musicians that I was interested in at the time, while advertising projects gave me the opportunity to work with photographers like Chase Jarvis, Corey Rich, and Moose Peterson. I would travel in Japan and other places in Asia when I could, while my job occasionally took me to locations in the Americas and Europe.

Sounds great, right? It was, kinda. But at a cost.

Keiko and I were married by then and had two kids, both born in Tokyo — a son in 2002 and a daughter 4 years later. Keiko worked in finance and had crazy hours, and my jobs gave me an erratic schedule, so our kids spent a lot of time in daycares, schools and after-school programs. There were many days when the only time that all four of us were in the same room together was during breakfast. Sometimes not even then, since either Keiko or I would often need to leave early so that we could make it home in time to fix dinner. Weekends weren’t much better — I still had deadlines, and the kids had their own agendas (soccer, swimming, gymnastics) which sent Keiko and I dragging them off in different directions. Our kids did well enough in school, but they missed us, and told us as much. We missed them too, and we missed each other.

We always seemed to be racing against the clock to get them fed, bathed and in bed at a decent hour. Everything we said to them seemed to start with the word “Hurry!”

  • “Hurry and finish your homework!”
  • “Hurry and eat your breakfast/dinner!”
  • “Hurry and brush your teeth!”
  • “Hurry and get to school/get in bed!”

We were constantly pushing them out the door, into their schoolwork or into bed, but they still weren’t getting everything they needed. For example, my kids are fluent and on-level in Japanese (their first language), but both struggled to read and write in English. I needed to teach them to read — and I wanted to model good reading habits myself! — but there was so little free time that when we had a moment, I wanted us to talk or do something fun instead of pulling out another textbook.

And English lessons were just the beginning. I wanted to show them how to use cameras and computers. I wanted to explain how things like the sun and the human heart work. I wanted us to paint, and write stories about dinosaurs and pyramids. I wanted them to have a real understanding of who they were and where they came from.

I wanted to be a teacher again. For them.

I wanted time for myself, too. Don’t get me wrong: I love being a dad, but that’s not all I aspire to be. I wanted to read and work on my photography. I wanted to meet new friends and drink with old ones. I wanted to fool around with my wife without having to look at my watch first. I wanted to do all of this and still feel like I was giving my kids the attention they deserve.

Oh, and did I mention sleep? Yeah, I wanted to start sleeping. I’ve heard it’s good for you.

But you see, none of this was happening. There was just no time. This frustration began to take its toll, and so Keiko and I began to look for ways to spend more time as a family and let the world be our classroom. I knew travel and technology would make exceptional teaching aides. I just had to figure out how. This blog will document our experiment.

Know where I’m coming from? You don’t have to work salaryman hours in Tokyo to relate. We all want more meaningful experiences for our kids, our spouses, and ourselves, but today’s busy lifestyle makes that more difficult than ever. I hope that through this blog you can learn from our mistakes and triumphs, and discover your own ways of making your time matter — whether it’s across the world or in your own neighborhood.