Adventures in Japan

photo-55I am writing a draft of this post 7 hours into an 11 hour plane flight from Tokyo to Dallas. I spent the past week in Japan with my husband, exploring the country and the culture. I saw a blue fin tuna get carved up with a knife the size of a broomstick. Not unrelated, I ate some incredible sashimi. I watched a Japanese fashion show and admired Japanese school girl street fashion. I biked around the Imperial Palace gardens on a lovely spring day with a few sakura (cherry blossom) trees still flowering, and numerous azaleas brightening the view. I went on a boat cruise around Tokyo. I took the bullet train (Shinkansen) to and from Kyoto and saw Mount Fuji through the windows when the clouds lifted on the way back. And heck, when you have small kids, traveling without them makes even an 11 hour flight relaxing. I read all of Eat, Pray, Love on my trip, and I’ll write a post about that in the next week or two. Feel free to leave your thoughts on that book in the comments.

A few observations on Japan, and travel:

photo-56I am happy that I am able and willing to eat anything. International travel is much easier when you figure that food is generally pretty good. Just because it’s not what you’re used to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat it. I remember being mystified, during a trip to the Czech Republic years ago, when a young man at my hotel complained bitterly that they were serving rolls and plates of meat and cheeses and yogurt for breakfast again, as if it was a personal affront, or at least a sign that we were in a bad establishment. I’m not sure what he thought a continental breakfast was. My second night in Tokyo I ate a somewhat bizarre concoction of thin slices of meat cooked in oil and then served in a raw egg sauce. I was told that there would be a raw egg sauce, but I kind of figured you could dip the meat in, thereby controlling the dose. Not so much. The meat was immersed in the raw egg. But it tasted OK and I didn’t get sick. I also ate a very fishy looking fish out of my bento lunch box one day (see picture). I ate a lot of raw fish, of course, but that’s not terribly adventurous.

Jet lag is tough. I spent a lot of time trying to sleep this week. I made my peace with the idea that if you can’t sleep, it’s at least helpful to rest. If you wake up in the middle of the night, you can check email as it’s coming in from the U.S. (Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast). If you’re up at dawn, you can also use that time to go exercise in the hotel gym. I worked out three times in the early morning, and loved it, as I always do, even though I find it difficult to follow this advice I give in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast at home. I also took a lot of naps, since I’d become overwhelmingly tired at some point in the late afternoon every day. Fortunately, when you’re traveling without kids, all of this is doable.

Japan is struggling to grow. As the population declines, we may have to change the idea of what growth means — rising per capita living standards, even if GDP remains constant, could be good. But to grow, the Japanese economy has a lot of evolving still to do. A business man was explaining to me that everybody starts work in new jobs right around April 1. He had a crop of new graduates starting April 1, which didn’t work well with some other projects he had going on, so he offered to start their salaries April 1, but let them come to work in May or June. No one took him up on his offer. There is a lot of conformity in the culture. I asked what happened if you, as an employer, needed a new employee in July. Or if you as a young person didn’t have a job and wanted to find one in October. He said this pretty much did not happen. If you don’t figure out your staffing needs April 1, you’ll have trouble. You either take the shipment or you don’t. There are many problems with the American labor market, but the flexibility to have multiple points of entry is, in my view, a plus.

Japanese people are punctual. Really punctual. I love this. This is the upside of inflexibility.

If you’re looking for old, historic touristy sites, Tokyo is not the place to go. You can walk around the Imperial Palace gardens, but you can’t actually see the palace (except on two days per year). Yet all tours bring people to the Imperial Palace area, I guess because that’s what Tokyo’s got going on, and it seems like the kind of thing tourists should see. Tokyo is best thought as a new city built where an old city used to be before big chunks of it were destroyed in World War II. If you embrace the place as a modern city, it’s much more fun — you can explore restaurants, go shopping, look at art, and generally find it a lovely place to be.

In other news: My next ebook, What the Most Successful People Do at Work, goes on sale tomorrow. I would really appreciate if you’d pick up a copy (only $2.99!) and if you enjoy it, please let people know that via social media or a review posted wherever you purchased the book. Online book reviews really do affect sales!
Over at Free Range Kids, Lenore posts a letter from a woman wondering if her helicopter parenting led to both her divorce and her adult children being screwed up. It’s quite a reflective letter, and the comments are also thoughtful and reflective — a rarity on the internet (except for here!)

Here’s a picture of some koi from the Imperial Palace gardens:


10 thoughts on “Adventures in Japan

    1. @NicoleandMaggie- nice. I don’t like waving the privilege flag — any of us reading this are pretty privileged by humanity’s standards — but there were a few things that bugged me about what I agree is a highly readable book. One of the big things is I hate the idea of changing names in anything purporting to be non-fiction. It makes it very easy to blur things

  1. I was still in my 20s (I think) when I read EPL and I was all “OMG Yes!” but now, flipping through it, I roll my eyes a bit at the author and her “difficult life”. Maybe I’m just more cynical now 🙂

    There were a few passages where the writing was just beautiful, though.

  2. Oh, and Japan is on my “must visit” list, though hubby disagrees. So maybe when the girls are older, I’ll do a solo trip there. (Dare to dream…) Vacation without kids sounds so dreamy right now, since we can’t do that for a while…

  3. I loved the Italy section, mainly because I live in Mexico part of the year, and identified with her love of learning another language and all those joys and missteps. I was less taken with the experiences in the other two countries.
    I also heard EG speak, and found her articulate and very engaging.
    What did you mean about changing names? I didn’t follow.

    1. @Louisa- she writes in the intro that she changed lots of people’s names from the book. I think only Richard from Texas is really named Richard. “Felipe” is really Jose — she even changed the name of the guy she wound up marrying. It’s just a practice that really bugs me because it’s a first big step toward fictionalization. Having the mantle of non-fiction makes a story believable — “it really happened!” — but changing names does change characters. It’s one of my big problems with memoir as a genre.

  4. “Eat, Pray, Love” is a book I’ve actually read and have snobbily made fun of a lot over the years as not really being a thinking person’s kind of book while lacking the awareness that it is not, but I will definitely read your thoughts on it. I disliked how Gilbert buried the lede: so why did she enter and then leave the not-bad marriage? What about it exactly made her lie down on the bathroom floor and ponder the feeling of the tiles against her skin there? Also there’s a fine line between appropriating and appreciating other cultures and I think she did the former in a superficial way, and it was all a bit eye-rollish for my taste.

    Enjoyed your trip review of Japan – how awesome that you and your husband could enjoy that getaway without the kids. What a great time to visit. I used to live in Japan, and I’ve visited almost every Prefecture, but I haven’t been back in over a decade. It sounds like the dish you ate with the raw egg dip might have been shabu shabu? You’re right – a willingness to try new foods (and a lack of food allergies) is a real plus for a world traveler.

    1. @hush – Japan was fun, and yes, the flowers were nice! I think we missed the peak by a week or two, alas, but still got some lovely shots of the sakura. Ah yes, here’s the name of the cuisine:

      On EPL, it was highly readable and fun. Gilbert’s self-deprecation kept it from being insufferable. On the other hand, there were aspects of her personality and voice that did rub me wrong. Everyone else is just a character in the drama of her. That’s fine if you’re writing a novel, but this purports to be true. These are real people with real lives — right? I guess she felt better about it by changing the names. But changing the name of the lover you wind up marrying (thus putting his real name in the actual legal record) is just kind of funny.

      1. I’m relieved to hear you say you thought EPL was “fun” and “highly readable” as opposed to, say, “life-changing” or “deeply spiritual”! But good for Gilbert for earning her success and fame as a writer, and for doing it all on her own, even if the end product leaves a lot to be desired. I wish I could have liked the book, because I felt some of the ad hominem attacks Gilbert suffered were uncalled for even if other the criticisms of the book had some merit. If a man had written it, we all know he would have been spared the “too self-indulgent” criticisms.

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