Ken Hartmann, 71, still opens doors for ladies, and still speaks with a brusque, no-nonsense New York accent even after 27 years in Japan. As founder and director of the Hokkaido Insider, he brings this gallant grittiness to Sapporo and sees his efforts with his online information service as another way to open doors for people.

"It never hurts to go in a door," Hartmann believes. "If it's the wrong door you can always go back out or find another way. But if you just shut the door and don't take that chance, you'll never know."

Fifteen years ago, Hokkaido Insider was his way of connecting the growing foreign community in Sapporo. It started as a free email news service, sent out to the many connections he knew from teaching and working during his first 10 years here. It has grown to also include a subscription service connecting job-seekers with jobs and a notice board for selling items, acting in the last decade as a communication hub for Sapporo's English-speaking community.