Monday, June 10, 2013

Defining technology advancement

On the topic of technology, Japan usually comes to mind. They came up
with smart toilets, robots that run like humans, bullet trains, and
Honda. Despite these accomplishments, I noticed two things I
considered "backwards:"

1) Paper Books - On the train, most people either look down at their
phone or a book.... with real paper! On a rare occasion, I spotted an
iPad but not a single eReader (except mine). A bookstore in the train
station is not an uncommon sight. In the US, mortar and brick Barnes
and Noble stores are becoming obsolete since we buy our books online
or read them on our Nooks and Kindles.

2) CDs - In the US we listen to our music using our favorite Apple
product or Android phone. In Japan, however, Tower Records still
exists! People still buy CDs rather than download it.

While Japan paves the way for new technology or improves existing
technologies, the US appears to incorporate technology in the day to

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Traveling around Japan I noticed A LOT of people wearing surgical masks in public. Obviously the sick wear them to prevent spreading their germs. Then there are the germaphobes who wear them to prevent from getting sick. This still leaves too many.

In an article I read, it listed other reasons:

- Prevent/reduce allergy symptoms
- Cover bad breath
- Hide a pimple
- Women wanting to appear mysterious to men (similar to wearing oversized sunglasses)
- Hiding emotions or facial expressions

The last item is interesting. In Japanese culture they say the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. By wearing a mask, they can hide their emotion and/or facial reaction to reduce attention to themselves.

The phrase also explains why everyone wears white surgical masks rather than something colorful or printed with a cute design. In 2007 I went to Ho Chi Minh and observed everyone wearing masks; however, it was out of necessity. The air is extremely polluted and after walking around a few hours my eyes stung. Back at the hotel, I noticed my nostrils were black. Gross! The masks in Vietnam are colorful and come in a variety of patterns. I am not as familiar with Vietnamese culture, but individuality was not discouraged. It rather seemed capitalistic and encouraged people to stand out in order for their business to thrive.

Before signing off, I would like to clarify that Japanese people are accepting of individuality and cultural differences. On this trip, I met and spoke with a lot of natives who were genuinely interested in my background. They enjoy learning about the differences in cultures throughout the world. In the school and work environment, individuals may be required to fit in with certain norms, but their free time is spent exploring their own interests. The surgical mask is just one visual reminder of our difference in values.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Maintaining a "healthy" diet by American standards has been challenge. The meals in Japan highly favor simple carbs - noodles (ramen, Okinawa soba), white rice, and white bread. At home, I try to eat lean proteins and vegetables, but the salad craze hasn't reached Japan. I will be headed to Akita soon where I will have access to a kitchen and supermarkets so I'm looking forward to that.

Avoiding carbs has not only been a challenge, it has been a test of will power. I love LOVE noodles and they are so good in Japan. Okinawa soba is chewy and delicious. Ramen is flavorful and cheap - 800 yen for a bowl of ramen, fried rice, and 2 shrimp tempura. The bread is fluffy, even at McDonald's. I'm surprised people here aren't fatter.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Japan isn't a tipping country. Traveling around, I wonder why we tip in US when service is inconsistent and often poor when compared to a country like Japan.

When I set snorkeling, the operators were extremely professional and explained everything in such depth I have never experienced. They explained how to wear the wetsuit, how to put the snorkel in your mouth, how to bite down, and how to put on the mask.

My experience with the dive operator was similar as well. There is definitely no worry about being left out in the ocean (like that terrible movie).

After service like that, it's difficult to justify NOT tipping in Japan. If you try to tip, they will refuse. It is actually more trouble for them if they accept it since they don't know what to do with the money.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Don't walk and drink...

...or smoke or eat 

Every time I come to Japan, there are subtle differences I notice about our cultures. This trip made we realize how little oral restraint we have. 

In the mornings, the streets of Tokyo are busy with business men and women. Despite the volume of traffic, I have not spotted a single person walk around drinking a cup of coffee, eating breakfast, or smoking cigarettes. (The last one may be against the law). I stopped at Starbucks but I couldn't resist the urge to walk back to my hotel and drink my tiny cup of coffee. I felt like a deviant. 

In Japan, there is an overwhelming feeling of citizen's patrol - everyone is watching each other. If someone acts in an errant manner, they get dirty looks. No one needs to say anything because the look is enough. It's similar to mom shutting you up with her look of death in the museum or at the movies. 

I saw one woman eating a typical fast food meal on the train - fries, burger, and a soft drink. She started discreetly by popping fries in her mouth once every few minutes. Then she proceeded with her burger. She unwrapped it just enough that she could take a bite with the wrapper covering her face while she did it. Metaphorically the wrapper seemed to shield her actions and emotions. Throughout the meal, her neighbor would occasionally side glance a dirty look at her.

In New York, it's a regular occurrence to see people walking around with coffee or a cigarette their hand. On subway in NY, people are always eating - fries, a leftover pork chop from dinner, a sandwich, or just chewing gum. You're probably saying, "Our commute is longer," but it's probably about the same. Those who live within the city have about a 30 min commute. Those living in the outskirts, spend over an hour each way. Instead of eating, the Japanese usually sleep or read. Breakfast is usually consumed at home or a quick bowl of noodles before catching their train.

The only time you see public eating is on the Shinkansen. At the Shinkansen station and during the ride, bento boxes are sold. The boxes often usually contain rice with accompaniments like pickled or stewed vegetables, fish, or meat. They also have sandwiches with the crust cut off.

From an American point of view, the Japanese appear to have great self-restraint. From childhood, they endure rigid structure - school 6 days a week with tutoring on Sundays. An athlete, would require additional training. With so much structure, refraining from eating and drinking on the commute is probably a cinch.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Back in Tokyo

It's been a while since I last wrote.  I'm currently back in Japan and really happy to have internet access.  Finding free wi-ri is nearly impossible in Japan so I brought my laptop with me.  From what a friend told me, it was available at one point, but concerns of privacy no longer made it widely to the public.

As soon as I step foot outside of the airport, I felt a wave of nostalgia pass over me: clean buses with polite drivers, handles so low they hit MY head @ 5'4", paying my fare in paper bills, machines that provide change.... I will spare you the remainder of my mundane list.

The best part is, coming to a business hotel and reading awesome signs like this on my bathroom door:

"Thank you fire alarm for working when steam leaves the bathroom."  I was worried that I would no longer find awkward sentences like this anymore but am happy to know that is not true!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blackbeard's Cruises

Just came back from a dive trip where I lived on a 65' sailboat which was converted into a liveaboard for 20+ people. The rooms were tiny. When you enter the room, you face the beds (4 people per room) and when you turn around, your nose practically hits the wall. It's very tight. The bathrooms were just as tight and you can't flush paper down or else you will jam the toilet. We had one very rough day at sea and someone threw up in the middle of the night and reupholstered the walls.

The diving was great. Spotted some awesome creatures: Carribean reef sharks, octopus, scorpion fish, trumpet fish, spiny lobster, arrowhead crabs, coral banded crabs, sea cucumber, electric ray, etc. Sharks were my favorite! It's so humbling to sit on the ocean floor while the sharks circle around you. Unless you're facing them, you don't even know they're close to you until you see them right behind you or over you.

Aside from the lodging, the temperatures were very, very chilly. At one point it was 43F and 39F with the wind chill. It was not appropriate to be standing around wet in a bathing suit on a ship without protection from the wind.