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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Car Shopping in Japan

Treat Bags, Toys & Free Beer

My wife and I walked through the sliding glass storefront doors, our kids not trailing us so much as swarming around us like a nebulous cloud of sweet-smelling humanity. The people working looked up, all of them at once, and greeted us with a rousing chorus of ‘Irrasshaimase~!’ A young girl with a pony tail as crisp as her white blouse and black skirt ensemble walked over, bent slightly at the waist in that subtle and ubiquitous display of deference, and offered us a string of niceties like flower petals laid out at our feet.

Japanese hospitality never gets old.

Her beaming smile was genuine and steady and, outside of Japan, a rare attribute for 8 bucks an hour. She continued her bowing, bobbing show of polished civility as she led us to our table. Not waiting for us to be seated, she produced out of nowhere a pristine faux-leather-bound menu and proceeded to ask us what we would like to drink.

My boys shouted in tandem – ‘Melon soda!’ – and headed for the foam-padded play area in the corner. Their little sister followed, focused only on the red slide. My wife asked our waitress something about tea. I stood next to her, looking around at the other people sitting and drinking at their tables, and wondered what the hell was going on.

I’d never been to a car dealership in Japan. I now go to them every weekend.

Monday, August 25, 2014

enRoute to Tokyo


Air Canada kicks ass.
I’ll give you three reasons why.
1. They have this check-in person named Janet who doesn’t care if every single one of the ten duffel bags and beaten cardboard boxes you throw at her goes overweight. “That’s what these are for,” she says as she sticks another bright orange HEAVY tag on another HEAVY box.
2. On overseas Air Canada flights the beer is free – and that includes the Molson, not just the crappy American beer in the stupid uber-patriotic cans.
3. Air Canada’s in-flight magazine is pure and genuine entertainment; unintentionally purely and genuinely entertaining. Like young children. The New York Mets. Donald Trump, you know.
Last month I flew Air Canada from Newark to Toronto to Tokyo. The 90-minute first leg consisted entirely of beverage service and my two sons wrestling for dominance over the arm rest controls. (If you have to ask why my two sons were fighting if they each had their own arm rest controls then you obviously don't have two sons). My kids kept hitting the call button, driving the flight attendants so absolutely nuts I began wondering how many more times it would be before they came down the aisle waving torches and pitchforks.
Talk about pure, genuine entertainment.
Settling in for the Toronto - Tokyo leg of the journey, while my kids were going bananas over the video entertainment system (and I was going bananas over the impending free beer system), I noticed that the seat pocket in front of me – and every other seat pocket within reach – still contained last month’s edition of enRoute, Air Canada’s mis-capitalized in-flight magazine.
My first thought: How can the guy on the cover look so happy carrying his twelve-year-old son around a museum on his shoulders? And while wearing red pants no less?
My second thought: Why can’t my kids just figure out the god damn touch-screen?
In-flight magazines are always good for a laugh. Continental/United offers up supercilious travel articles like this, while any given Chinese airline will, true to form, produce the cheapest crap on the planet, right down to the idiotic English translations.
Rarely, though, will an airline mag provide unwitting humor front to back. This sort of literary feat is normally only ever seen in the Wall Street Journal Magazine. But by the time I was finished confiscating my sons’ riot-inducing mini-pretzels and stuffing them into my seat pocket I’d realized two things. One, our plane’s video system was malfunctioning, not my sons’ brains as I had been suggesting for the past two hours. And two, Air Canada brings in-flight magazine entertainment to a whole new level. This back issue in my hands was so good, in fact, that I only had one beer the entire flight. One! And did I mention they were free?!
For any of you not lucky enough to have flown Air Canada lately (and who knows how long this June 2014 issue has actually been gracing Air Canada’s seat pockets), do not despair. For here I give you the 30 greatest highlights of this most recent outdated eNroUTe.