Saturday, July 22, 2017

Tips for Tokyo Summer Travelers

Summers in Tokyo are hot and steamy, and in 2020 a lot of travelers will be heading to Tokyo for the summer Olympic games. As hindsight is 20/20, I'm noting what I learned from my travels and sharing these summer travels tips for Toyko:

1. Travel light
Portable, light suitcases that can easily navigate the tight spaces of trains, smaller hotel rooms, and crowded public spaces are essential. Fewer belongings are better than wrestling with too many bags! A reasonably small roller suitcase and a backpack or bag work well- especially one that slips over the suitcase handle which also reduces back strain. I made my kids use carryon suitcases for their stuff and had them put their electronics, book, sweater, and snacks in a backpack for easy access. I had a larger suitcase with half of it stuffed with OU t-shirts (see #7 below).

2. Pack quick drying clothes
Laundry in Japan is generally dried on the clothesline or rack. Public laundries do have dryers, but if you only have access to a hotel or apartment amenities, laundering items in the sink will require you to hang them up to dry. Quick drying clothes (polyester fibers, nylon, etc.) ensure your clothes are dry and ready. This particularly is relevant to your underwear but also applies to most things of thick cotton which can take a long while to dry. Pack well by bringing less- follow the 5 4 3 2 1 rule, choose coordinating colors (pick one scheme), and roll your stuff up.

3. Carry a hand towel
Public restrooms rarely provide paper towels or air dryers in Japan. The Japanese carry small hand towels for drying their hands in the bathroom. Purchase a small (wash cloth sized) hand towel- easily found in a variety of stores- look for absorbing fibers and darker colors.

4. Skip the water bottle
Japan has vending machines on top of mountains. My point here is that vending machines are every where in Japan. It's hot in Tokyo, and you'll want that drink cold. Skip the reusable bottle, and plan to purchase beverages as needed. I recently observed a Tokyo business man in his suit pull out and chug a liter bottle of o-cha at a cross walk- convenience stores sell single servings as well as half and full liter bottles. Restaurants do not generally provide refills in Japan, and in Japan, a small beverage is smaller than in America. Hydration might cost you a bit more in Japan, but you will need your fluids, and you'll appreciate them cold.

5. Pack out your garbage
Garbage can be complicated in Japan. At it's simplest you can find containers for "burnable" and "recyclable." However, you often have to pack out your garbage which means it is something to be mindful of that when you create trash, you'll need to think about when and where you can dispose of it. Sometimes this means carrying it for a bit. For example, some vending machines have a recycling collection for the bottles, but not always. Don't expect to readily find trash cans for your food wastes or hand wipes.

6. Hygiene products
I struggle the most with choosing which hygiene products. I've got curly hair so in humid weather the kind of hair products I use changes the way my hair behaves. In Japan, I opt for only taking hair gel as I can generally rely on the hair products in the hotels and onsens to be reasonably good, at most I would add conditioner. I also bring sunblock for my face, face lotion, deodorant, and contact cleaner. Everything else I can skip or buy there. Most of my Japanese friends buy toothbrushes at the convenience stores. You can even buy underwear at a convenience store in Japan- but you need to be a fairly small American (I wear a small in America but a large in Japan).

7. Gifts
Japan is a gifting culture that is alien to me- people give gifts when they go to your house, when you come to theirs, and so many other occasions that I don't understand. I often find myself in the awkward position of receiving a gift without one to give. Luckily,  much of the gift giving is food based; it's easy to use it up (this is my minimalism coming out). Bring something from your hometown to share- whether a special spice, t-shirt, a jar of jam- then take it with you if someone invites you over.

8. Get a rail pass card
It's safe and easy to get around Japan whether on the train, subway, or bus. The subways, trains, and buses are easiest with a rail pass. My husband thoughtfully brought our Suica cards from five years before. These electronic cards make daily travels (and using those vending machines for cold drinks) infinitely easier and more efficient since you won't have to fish for coins or make your jet-lagged fogged brain count- add yen to your card and the fare is deducted electronically. Different rail (and bus) lines such as East Japan Railway Co. versus private, etc. may use other cards like the Pasmo. In an around Tokyo, either work for most of your transportation needs. The station agents can help you navigate platforms, train lines, and generally assist you with directions, but there's also an app.

Vending machines in Japan

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lala Leaps

Over drinks, I grumped with a friend about a book I was struggling to read from our book group. Ugh was my general feeling a few pages in. The writer is one of those storytellers that engages millions but not me so when my friend concurred, I was relieved and surprised. Turns out that having just gotten through the holidays (ancient alien practices of hometowns and family), we agreed that we prefer avoiding that reality stuff in books and movies. Instead we prefer more upbeat stories which in the moment felt true, though I do love "Silence of the Lambs," "Delicatessen," "Die Hard," and "Pulp Fiction," now that I think about it. The tenor of our conversation led my friend to recommend "Lala Land" and "Whiplash." The next day another friend texted an invite to see "Lala Land." "Sure, I hear it's a positive, upbeat film!"

"Lala Land" is in a genre I rarely watch, a musical. I got dizzy or seasick or something with the camera work zooming around to give the lay of the land in the opening bridge scene. It happens a few more times too- pool party scene, etc., but mostly I liked the fresh twist on  romance until the abrupt halt. The ending gutted me. My friend headed off to the bathroom as I sat watching the credits in some version of stupification.

We reunited in the lobby. "I can't believe that was the ending."
""What did you want, the alternate reality version?"
"No, that's not it. I just didn't like it," I replied defensively.
My friend holds open the glass door and as I cross the threshold and says, "It just shows that one of them would have had to give up their dream if they stayed together."

Bam. That's why I hated the ending- too much like reality.

I want movies for romance, adventure, heroines and heroes. Of course those movies are kinda boring after you've watch a hundred of them. Or not. What the heck is with all the remakes? Safe bets. People watch them. Some don't even get released to theaters, straight to the rental/download market. Anyway, no one in film school aspires to write the formula stuff that we like or at least watch more than we admit. The Hangover 3? Star Wars

There are choices to be made in life as in art, and most of us opt for the safe ones.

The universe is priming me to do something outside my comfort zone, something arty, creative. Uncomfortable. I want to do something that makes me uncomfortable in 2017, a lala leap, a dream.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Get busy

"Do you ever think about dying?" a friend asked today which stands in contrast to recent thanksgiving holiday conversation spent chatting about martinis and dead plants. Yes, I'm aware that we're all going to die sometime sooner than we'd like; however, I'm not as worried about dying as I am about living.

I once had a bucket list in my early twenties. In making it I realized I was better off tossing the list for some deep work on a few things. 

In the movies the villains are identified by their lack of humanity and self-serving ways; they don't need much. Villains roam about alone with every pleasure met and in command, until they are not. Life too tends to celebrates aloofness and the fruits of self-control from graduation to promotion to physical commitments. It's easy to forget that the self-serving ways and lack of humanity toward others is what does in the bad guys. That and stagnation, the refusal to grow or change. 

"Get busy living or get busy dying," said someone, Red I think, in "Shawshank Redemption." The world shakes you up, swishes you around, and spits you out. It should change something in you or at least make you want to hang on to whoever's next to you. If you keep pulling back from others, letting go, you might be busy dying. If your hands are full from encouraging and holding others, well, you might just be busy living. I aim to live like I might die in the sense that I need to be kinder, softer, and more, well, more connected. 

Connection interests me because it's at the heart of community, vitality, and it relies upon openness, trust, and an inner resilience that springs from a faith in fellow beings as helpers, encouragers, and as vectors of good. Connection is hard, it can hurt. It's scary because it makes you vulnerable, but shutting yourself off doesn't work so great either. We don't always get to be givers. Sometimes we have to receive. Ask for help. If this feels hard, then this definitely applies to you. If you're of the opposite camp, always in need of help, go help someone else.

That crack in your heart that we are all so busy protecting, yeah, somebody is going to jump on that, let it be a springboard to something good instead of a pit into a vast darkness. Death isn't exactly waiting for you to eat the salmon mousse. A little sunshine, some patience, some quiet time- ask someone to rub your feet, you'll be just fine and better for asking for it or for giving it, just get busy, living. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016


I have voted absentee ballot most of my life. When I first lived on Capitol Hill in  DC, I was eating dinner at a local pub when the election results started coming in. Young hill staffers were sitting at tables with cups of beer watching the election results. As victories and losses were announced, staffers would groan, knowing they were facing job loss. Eventually shouts and calls ensued, with, “Who’s hiring!?” There are loses in every election.

After this election it occurred to me that for a long time, there has been a portion of our population that has felt left out- left out of jobs, of growth, of opportunity. Look around, you are in Appalachia where a lot of poor white people have felt left out for a long time. I’m starting to think that Trump's appeal is about populism, about standing against a political machine, and, unfortunately, I surmise that the Democrats populist candidate (Bernie) was out maneuvered by the political machine which left only one outsider, Trump.

What if Trump's election is not about his social policy, but about standing up to the political machines that have only paid lip service to those who have been left out?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

When to Walk Away...

A recent experience with collaboration left me feeling frustrated, though, coordination, not true collaboration, gets closer to the interactions. The group adhered to Robert’s Rules, but we did not talk much outside of the meetings. There was little knowledge of each other, and we had no discussion of ground rules, priorities, or specific goals for the work we were doing. As the year evolved, we had less and less trust and no place for feedback. At one point when ideas were brought forth for discussion, instead, accusations vented momentary frustration and caused irreparable damage.

How to collaborate? My “to read” pile proffered help from Dan Sanker’s Collaborate! The Art of We.

Turns out, it’s a good idea to spend time getting to know each other, building trust and mutual understanding, writing down goals and measures for success, and establishing communication protocols. Ground rules for constructive feedback include focusing on ideas, not the person. It’s helpful to have leadership that has the ability to see the big picture and has the ability to tolerate intense exchanges of ideas and opinions without withdrawing or becoming defensive, thus avoiding the shouting match/accusation mess endured in the above experience.

What can group members do in these situations?

Executives are the ones to set up the ground rules, agenda, and goals. It falls to them to articulate this and leaves the non exec in the weak position of asking non-threatening questions or throwing out reminders of why we are gathered. Without trust, specific goals, or a place for feedback, the best tact is retreat. If the group dissolves, hopefully, a new, more collaboratively minded group will step in.

Individually, it helps to be self-reflective, work on our interpersonal skills, and contribute to the mindset of how we can work together which includes things like treating one another with respect, listening to one another, being honest, honoring commitments, and sharing the blame when things go wrong.

I stuck out the group and tried to focus on the reason I was there. In retrospect, I would advise myself differently. It takes a toll to be part of something unhealthy, and it tends to draw you down. If you’re involved in a collaboration or group work in which there is not a discussion of the group’s goals, a reminder of what’s been accomplished, what work needs to be done, lacks written communication, allows negative comments to block the flow of ideas, walk away.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Licked by a Tiger

The soft probing lips of a camel nuzzles my cheek and sends tingling sensations allover my surprised body, confounded by the sensory overload.  The wet sandpaper lick of a cat offers a sense of intimacy that makes me both pull back and fall into it with giggles and pleasure. The tiger's stealthily approach and giant tongue that goes up one side of my face and down the other, sends neurological synapses firing from my brain to my toes in wave patterns; I brace for the claws. The teeth. They never come. The overwhelming physical and emotional violation of this kind of intense engagement is hard to explain to both the tiger or others, unless they too have been reared or loved by one. My mother-in-law loved in this intense fashion.

The cost of loving like a wild beast is that some will fear you even as you learn to relax and accept it. As I grew more confident as a daughter-in-law and later as a mother, I was able to better appreciate that my mother-in-law loved me in her way. Still, I had to manage the intensity of her love, every time, and I spent a lot of time avoiding the licks of the tiger.

I often wished that she could have adjusted her approach to love to something that wasn't so overwhelming, so daunting. I was certain that she had never been told, but the truth is she could never hear it. No one can tell the tiger anything but perhaps the young, the pure of heart. My daughter once told her grandmother, in her firm child voice, "No. I don't like that Mimi." My husband and I looked up, curious. The look on Mimi's face was priceless, of shock, but then it gave way to a breaking smile. No one but the wee one dared to tell her no.

The child took the licks and earned the right to say no to the requests. Never the licks. Childhood is a time of intense relationship building, of intimate bonding, but as we grow, the need to connect to the wider, broader world, increases.

Those intense, well-meaning, licks, kept us isolated and apart. The tiger never learned and neither did I. Consider this. Anytime your licks create walls or gates to go up, you are making it harder to become one, to bring others together.