Sunday, April 26, 2015

When the Coffee Machine Breaks

Idiotic Advice From An Unexpected Source

The editors over at are a bunch of god damn geniuses. Day after day they crank out new articles, many of them with numbered lists in the titles, all on the subject of how to succeed in business. And day after day people gobble this stuff up, in the same way those insatiable housewives read every issue of Cosmo for their fix of 10 New Ways to Drive Their Man Wild in Bed.

Sarcasm aside – a rarity around here – Entrepreneur’s cadre of contributors regularly come through with some quality advice. The only thing that is usually lacking is the electric shock reinforcement therapy for a certain unnamed person around here who forgets the advice faster than it takes to read the article. 

So when an article like the one I just read gets published I have to call it out. 18 Unusual Habits That Boost Your Energy More Than Coffee reads like an internal moral struggle on the part of the writer who can’t decide if he should give real advice or just go for the affiliate clicks. As most of us do when our conscience is at odds with itself, the guy tries to do both, hoping the good stuff will in the long run make up for the instant gratification of the bad stuff. Come on, I’ll make you breakfast in bed.

Question: Why 18 Unusual Habits?

Couldn’t think of two more for an even 20? Didn’t want to miss out on any affiliate clicks by rounding down to 10 or 12 or even 15?

Here’s what the author – and Co-Founder of Empact – had to say: “To understand unique and healthy ways to consistently and quickly boost energy daily, I interviewed the country’s top ambitious young entrepreneurs, honorees of the Empact Showcase…”

Nice self-promo.

OK, let’s see what advice the 18 Empact Showcase honorees have for us in exchange for a link.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Matsumoto’s Kōbō-yama

The Life & Times of a Non-Descript Mountain

Kōbō-yama does not draw much attention from the tourist and backpacker crowd. Visitors to Matsumoto, once they turn their eyes from the castle and the easy bustle of downtown, are drawn to the serrated alpine skyline across the valley to the west. Even to the natives Kōbō-yama goes largely unnoticed. And this is not surprising. Standing barely 50 meters above the traffic rolling up and down nearby Route 19, Mt. Kōbō can hardly be called a mountain at all.

Yet there is something very interesting about this very non-descript place. Two very interesting things, actually. One floats overhead and all around, as fantastic as it is fleeting. The other lies underfoot, old and unmoving and fantastically understated. One requires perfect timing. The other is constant as time itself.

Come in mid-April if you want to see both.

Read more at Taiken Japan...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Rush of a Run Through the Woods

Chasing Down Time

The first thing I realized, chugging up through the woods, was that I miss this feeling. I miss the exertion, the adrenalin. The rush that only comes when the physical meets the emotional in a drawn-out moment that we wish could last forever. When gasping breath and pounding heart are forced to share one’s attention with the love of something as simple and elemental as the forested side of a mountain.

It seems frivolous from a distance, this urge to go run up a trail. And from a distance the feeling is easy to forget. Life gets in the way, in the form of kids and play, of work and self-ascribed responsibilities, and over time the pursuits that give us pleasure get pushed to the side.

We realize it. We mean to lace up those old sneakers and go recapture that feeling. I’ll get out this weekend. Or the week after that. When things slow down enough to justify the frivolity of a run up a mountain.

Steadily, the months pass. Then so do the years, if we let them.

And I saw that I was letting them, even as I said I would not.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Jogging in the rain

Cherry blossom petals fall

And I slip on them.

(Based on a true story.)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tazawa-ko: Akita’s Deep Blue Jewel

Facts, Logistics & Fun

Photo: Agustin Rafael Reyes on Flickr
Tazawa Lake in Akita Prefecture is a near-perfect circle – and a perfect representation of Akita itself: unassuming, unspoiled and sublimely spectacular. Surrounded by mountains and laced with legend, this million-year-old volcanic crater offers the comfortable beauty of natural Japan without all the crowds.

Upon closer examination, we also see that unassuming Tazawa is quietly decorated with quirky details. But first…

A Few Facts

Initially thought by some to be an impact crater from a meteorite, research into the lake’s depths uncovered geological evidence of a tremendous volcanic eruption 1.4 million years ago that led to the lake’s present form. With no natural inflow or outflow, Tazawa’s waters consist entirely of eons of rain and snow.

With a surface area of roughly 10 square miles (26km2) Tazawa-ko sits well down the list of Japan’s largest lakes. But at 423 meters (1,388ft) she is Japan’s deepest. Drop Tokyo Tower into the lake and the top would still be 90 meters below the surface. Lake Tazawa sits at 249 meters above sea level, which means the deepest parts of the lake reach down lower than the waves crashing into the shores of Honshu. This translates into the lake never freezing over, no matter how harsh the Tohoku winter.

Read more at Taiken Japan...

Monday, April 6, 2015

Salaryman No More

Yen Pro Quo

There's a real good reason this is my first post since last Fall.
It has to do with that picture - more specifically, what's in it.

I moved my family back to Japan in July 2014. During our month in Fukushima, during which we did our best to decompress while simultaneously gearing up for our intended move to Nagano, I managed to land an interview for a teaching gig.

I don't know why I keep doing this. It is an undeniable fact that me and full-time jobs are about as compatible as Binyamin Netanyahu and any randomly-chosen sane person. I guess it's the idea that as a husband and father I'm supposed to do shit like this.

I enjoy teaching people, don't get me wrong. I get a kick out of it actually. As long as my students are all okay with having a good time first and are willing to consider any real learning a bonus they I'd say we're golden.

The downside is that my students - and my bosses too - expect me to show up every day. And on their schedule. No negotiating, no deal-making. Evening class means evening class, no switching to the morning so I can go home and eat dinner with my family like a real husband and father. Can't even move class across the street to the yakitori bar.

So while I liked my bosses, enjoyed my students and looked forward to seeing the other teachers at our weekly chat which everyone had a habit of callling a 'staff meeting', the immovable object that was the sum of demands of the job met with the irresistable force of my need for self-determination and I decided to return the keys to the company roadster you see in the picture.

So once again I am the master of my own schedule. I can use each hour of my day as I see fit. I can leave those neckties in the closet, stash the attache and settle down to dinner with my family.

Of course, now I have to figure out just who's going to pay for all that food on the table.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Japanofiles Interview with Dave Carlson

In January I had the pleasure of sitting down with media master and long-time Matsumoto resident Dave Carlson. Dave, among his various involvements in the academic and social community, is also the producer of Japanofiles, a series of podcast interviews with local expats who share their broad range of experiences working and living in Japan.

Since I was living in Fukushima City at the time of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 2011 I expected Dave to spend a lot of our time talking on that. But that was just one aspect of our chat, which took several turns I didn't expect but thoroughly enjoyed.

At the time of this writing Dave is working on his 70th podcast. You can find them all at his site, The Japanofiles Broadcast. Our talk checks in at Number 69, which went live just a few days before the fourth anniversary of the quake.

And for those who do want to know more about what it was like to be there, on the ground, among the beautiful, resilient people of Japan during one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded, please check out my short memoir For Now: After the Quake - A Father's Journey.

NOTE: This past Saturday a Magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal, triggering avalanches in the Himalayas that have taken over 2,000 lives according to early counts. This New York Times article from a woman who has lived in Kathmandu for two years and was with her son in their car when the quake hit offers a heart-wrenching yet hope-inspiring account of what it has been like to be in the capital of Nepal during this tragedy. Please read. Please take a moment to ponder the images. And please, count your blessings.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bringing Home the Melon

The Life of a $14 Piece of Fruit

¥1500 = $13.97 (on 9/14/14)
Today we are here at the farmer's market adjacent to the famed (well it should be) Yamabe Winery in Matsumoto, Japan. The weather has been gracious here in the mouth of the Susukigawa River Valley, and someone is ready to start spewing his garbled genius out a mouth full of the best apples and grapes this side of Mt. Olympus.

No chopsticks needed here, just bring your appetite for fresh, healthy eating and a wheelbarrow full of napkins. Make no mistake, this is fruit at its finest, available for exhorbitant prices in a setting where your urge to haggle is politely smothered under a blanket of glib Japanese niceties from elderly men and women who would also bow if they weren't permanently bent over at the waist from a lifetime of tilling the soil with hand tools.

But breathe easy, suspicious traveler. This is one place you never have to worry about being short-changed (largely because you probably won't be getting any change).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Finding Wall Street Funny - Part 8

Caviar Emptor

What do Bedouins, bad neighborhoods and beachfront apartments with beach-less views have in common?

“They’re all things you are writing about for no money!”

Ah, the wife.

She’s right. But more importantly, they are all alluded to in our eternally-amusing Wall Street Journal Magazine April 2014 edition, in a string of advertisements so smooth and slick you’d think you were being hit on by Barack Obama’s teleprompter.

No Bedouins are seen in this magazine. No bad neighborhoods, no beach-less views. WSJ prefers images of diamond prenuptual agreement rings and confused metrosexuals sitting in the dark – images that obfuscate the truth of what’s being sold in these advertisements.

I say what could be more fun than to un-obfuscate the truth?

“How about un-obfuscating our mortgage situation?!”

Nah. Not nearly as fun. And so...

Friday, August 29, 2014

Deciding What Matters

Making It Home

My recent decision to move my family back to Japan has been met with tons of positive support and good wishes. For this, my wife and I are extremely grateful. The decision at the time was not an easy one.

There have also been those who, albeit with the best of intentions, have questioned the wisdom of our return, particularly with three young children. I don’t resent the questions; I’m not offended by the concerns, necessarily based on information that is debatable. We don’t know ourselves just what the present situation is, what needs to be done or what the future holds. No one does. Even the so-called experts disagree.

We saw in Fukushima the radiation meters – microsieverts per hour, displayed digitally on machines posted in parks, on school grounds and throughout the center of town. We read updates in the newspaper, day after day. We stared at the spectrum of opinion offered up in cyberspace, mostly from people thousands of miles removed from the reality those they are supposedly educating are living with every day.

Amid all this, we saw the people of Fukushima going about the business of living.

This is, simply, what my wife and I have decided to do.