I 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:
I 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: