Election time

Coming back from dropping my kids off at nursery, one of our lovely neighbours gave us some daikon. Can’t wait to eat them for dinner!

They don’t use pesticides so they come in all shapes and sizes. 

So as today is Election Day, which one should we choose for our dinner?
今日は保育園に子供達をおいていて、帰り中に近くの家のおばさんに大根いただきました。農薬品使わないから、いろんな面白い形になっている。晩御飯まで待ちきれない!

今日は(アメリカの)選挙日なので、どっちを選んだらいいでしょうか…

“Are you mad?” Why I left my job and moved to the Japanese countryside

Click below for an article I wrote for GLOBIS Insights about why we chose to leave Tokyo for a life in rural Kansai. 

東京から関西へ移住についてのポスト(英語のみ🙇🏻)をグロービスInsightsのブログに載せていただきました。

ぜひご覧ください。

http://e.globis.jp/article/455

At the crossroads to the future – 岐路に立っていて

Today I had some really good meetings with the presidents of some sōmen noodle companies. We talked about what they are doing to reach other markets around the world, how to get people not used to eating cold noodles to try them and keep buying them, and we talked about how Japan has to tackle the next ten years as the average age of farmers here will increase from 66 years old now to even higher in the future. 

Japan is standing at a crossroads and I am excited to be here to help choose a direction.

今日は素麺会社の社長とても興味深い話ができました。海外市場への販路や、今まで冷たい麺に慣れてない外国人に試してもらうのにどうするのか、また現在66歳平均年齢の農家の今後についてなど、色んな面白いお話しをしました。

日本は今岐路に立っています。これからの方向一緒に考えて歩むのは楽しみになっています。

Signs of Autumn – 秋の兆し

Today was a little bit chilly—about 18 degrees when I started my morning run. The temperature was just the way I like it. If things carry on like this, I won’t have any excuses not to run. But who can blame me for not running in 35-degree heat?

Here are a few pics from today’s run. I particularly liked seeing the persimmon trees and the cosmos—a definite sign of Autumn!

今朝は18度で少し肌寒い日だったが、私にとって丁度良かった。こんなに良い気温は続けたら、走らない言い訳がなくなるのに。35度は無理だけど。

今日のランで撮った写真を何枚かを載せまーす。柿やコスモスはやっぱり秋の兆しですね。

Sometimes it’s best to just watch

It’s tempting as a parent to try to solve all the problems that our children are faced with. I know that’s my first instinct. 

Today at the park, I sat and watched as my son struggled with a tyre about half his height. I knew he wanted to transport it from point A to point B somewhere. I thought to myself, “How’s he going to do this?”

Eventually, he got the tyre up on its side and rolled it as you can see in this picture. I was quite impressed that a 2-year-old realised this was the best way to move a tyre.

  
It would have been cruel of me to make him build the construction that he wanted to put together though. So I let him instruct me. This is what he built. A slightly older kid actually copied him (you can see a similar structure in the background). 

  
If he doesn’t turn out to be a famous rugby player, influenced by his current hero Goromaru Ayumu, I think he would make a great foreman. Especially if he is happy to lead by example!

Feels like I ran a full marathon!

Today my wife went into hospital ahead of a special delivery tomorrow: yes, that’s right… Child number three!

Finally, the kids are asleep. And I feel like I ran an ultramarathon today, when my Fitbit tells me I walked a measly 9 kilometres (12,000 steps).

While my wife was getting settled in and hooked up to the baby monitor, I took the kids over the road to Denny’s. Denny’s is no longer what it was. I think they are trying to go upmarket, positioning themselves above Gusto and Jonathan’s, somewhere around Royal Host. Not that I’m a connoisseur of Japanese family restaurants. But I was surprised at having to pay more than double what we pay at Gusto for my son’s meal. 

I don’t know how my wife even managed it all those times when I went on business trips. I felt like I was being pulled in every direction. My two terrors tag-teamed me – deciding to take turns in playing up, and often giving me the double whammy of misbehaving simultaneously! It took me ten minutes just to get the kids to choose what they wanted off the menu, and even longer to choose my own!

It turned out that they were hungry. As soon as the food came, they were good as gold. For a while anyway. 

 

“You’re gonna regret letting me drink orange juice!”
  
This little madam drinks Darjeeling.
 
My wife said to me this evening: 

I’ll take the physical pain, you take the psychological pain. We should share the pain, right?  

She is the one that’s really going to run a proverbial ultramarathon tomorrow. And the nurses have promised to dutifully wake her up once an hour through the night tonight. 
But for my part, hopefully I will survive the eight to ten days until my wife gets out of the hospital! Then we can both share the joy and the pain of raising three lively… I mean… lovely kids.
I think I’m going to enjoy this paternity leave! 🙂

Eat and Run: Book Review

  

Whatever the problem in my life, the solution had always been the same: Keep going! My lungs might be screaming for oxygen, my muscles might be crying in agony, but I had always known the answer lay in my mind.

Not a bad solution to live by. 

Scott Jurek doesn’t do things by half. He gives his best and just keeps on pushing further and further. I first learned about AQ: Adversity Quotient (a theory developed by Dr. Paul Stoltz) when studying for my MBA a few years ago. Jurek epitomizes this never-say-die spirit.

We meet Jurek as he is vomiting, lying prostrate on the searing ground of Death Valley, his brain being cooked in the heat of one of the hottest places on Earth. He is attempting to run the Badwater Ultramarathon — 135 miles of pure scorching hell.

For those who have read Born to Run, you will know Jurek as ‘El Venado’ or The Deer. Jurek is one of the greatest ultra runners of all time. 

It is not often that he succumbs to the elements nor to his own inner monologue telling him to stop, asking why is he putting himself through it. And as we soon find out, this is not going to be one of those times.
We get an insight into the mind of an elite runner and learn that he is no different from you and me. He too gets that inner voice that says, “It’s ok to stop and have a rest. Just this once.”

The next morning I didn’t want to get out of bed. I could hear music. It was the siren song of a warm bed, a cozy couch, a few hours of reading, or listening to music, or just being. No one was forcing me to run. No one said I had to. No one was going to die if I just relaxed a little. Those were the lyrics of the song. It was the catchy, terrible tune that had seduced so many runners to drop out of races. It was a melody I could not afford to listen to. The song was calling: Rest. You just ran one mountain. No need to do another.

The difference is that he didn’t succumb. He doesn’t succumb. 

Jurek didn’t start out as an athlete. At school, he was a bookworm and spent most of his time studying. In fact, his route into running actually came through skiing. At his high school graduation, he gave the valedictory speech and left his peers with four key messages:

  1. Be different
  2. Help others
  3. Never let others discourage you from achieving your dream
  4. Do things while you are young

Good advice indeed from an 18-year-old. Sounds more like something a 41-year-old might say to his kids! He took his own advice, even if he admits that at the time of his speech, he didn’t know what his dream was. 

As an adult, Jurek remains an avid reader and a student of life. Through various encounters during his time as a runner, he has shaped his own development.  His visits to Japan and to his bookshelf exposed him to the principles of Bushido. He likens the emptiness of the warrior’s mind in battle to the importance of remaining in the present when running a race. A wandering mind loses focus, and in a 100-mile race that can be dangerous. 

His studies do not rest solely with philosophy. He also studies the effects of the foods he puts into his body. He started out as a meat-eater, became a vegetarian and is now a vegan. Jurek cites studies that link the Western diet with the three most common causes of death in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer and strokes. He has studied through trial and error and lots of reading the effects of various foods on his performance. This book is not just for runners, but for those who care about what they put in their body. He ends each chapter with a recipe that he himself cooks up for himself or for his friends.

The healthier I had eaten, the faster and stronger I had become. Was it a coincidence that sick people were being served starchy, crappy food?

If you like running, Eat and Run will give you lots of practical tips, from how to breath to what training to focus on. If you like Born to Run, you’ll love this book which has more of a flowing style. If you care about your body, you’ll learn some quick and practical recipes, including a good one for chia seeds. And if you like autobiographies, Jurek gives you a clear insight into his mind.

Bending Adversity – Japan and the Art of Survival: Book Review

  
Currently based in Hong Kong, David Pilling is the Asia Editor of the Financial Times . He was Tokyo Bureau Chief from 2002–8. After the earthquake in 2011, he came back to Japan on a number of occasions. This book covers the recent history of Japan interlaced with interviews with Japanese from all walks of life. 

Bending Adversity takes its name from Pilling’s loose rendering of a Japanese proverb introduced to him by the husband of Japan’s former High Commissioner for the UNHCR, Ogata Sadako:

wazawai wo tenjite fuku to nasu.  災いを転じて福となす。
(Literally: Turn calamity into good fortune)

It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Japan in the current age. 

Starting in the small coastal town of Rikuzentakata a mere 40 kilometres from where I spent the first three years of my life in Japan, Pilling recounts the story of a hotel general manager and the fateful day that changed his life and the lives of 23,000 other inhabitants of the town.

He talks of the miracle Lone Pine that stood while 70,000 others fell on that fateful Friday in March. The before-and-after photos and words on a page don’t fully capture how harrowing the difference is.

The first time I went to “Takata” as the locals would call it was on my second weekend in Japan in early August 1997. I remember eating at the small fast food restaurant near the beach some eighteen years ago, which he describes from photographs:

An entire Mos Burger restaurant, Japan’s equivalent of McDonald’s, floats across the valley like some unmoored boat, its red roof and ‘M’ logo distinctly visible as it sweeps towards the hospital. By the time it gets there, it has been ripped in two.

I remember walking in amongst the trees remarking how huge Japanese crows were (like ravens), and how their voices sounded like grown men’s; picking up a stray volleyball as I walked on the beach, passing it back to some high school kids. Later that evening, I remember sipping beers, eating barbecue meat and camping out under the stars with my new-found teacher mates on the JET Programme. I went back there a few times over the years – to see the annual taiko festival, to watch a traditional street festival where men pulling floats would bash into them into one another, and to eat ramen after running in Ofunato further along the coast. After I moved further north, I didn’t go back there again. Not until six months after the disaster.

I saw the Lone Pine with my own eyes in September 2011 when I went to volunteer with All Hands. I couldn’t help but feel sad at seeing nothing but flat land where houses had once been. And a single tree where a forest had once stood.

In much the same way that we show signs of aging (not linearly but in sudden leaps and bounds) Japan has lurched forward and re-defined its direction through various events. Pilling goes back in time to chart Japan’s forced opening by Commodore Perry’s Black Ships off Yokohama, which brought about the Meiji Restoration but didn’t spell change in the shimaguni (island country) mindset. He also tells the story of expansionist Japan aspiring to be like the Western colonial powers around the turn of the 20th Century; the 1923 Tokyo earthquake; and the devastation of WWII; through the miracle years of growth, surviving not one but two oil shocks in the 1970s; through the bursting of the Bubble in 1990. 
Writing only a year after the earthquake, Pilling doesn’t go so far as to say that 2:46pm on March 11th 2011 was a turning point in history, though he does examine how Japan has defined itself through some very testing episodes. Based on interviews with Murakami Haruki among others, he picks out 1995 (the year of the Kobe earthquake and Sarin gas attacks) as a decisive post-war turning point for Japan, which really spelled the end of the boom years.
Still, the image of Japan in the West is of a waning economic power overshadowed by China. Yet, Pilling reminds us towards the end of his narrative that

[t]hough we have got used to the idea of Japan’s inexorable economic decline, it remains quite comfortably the third-largest economy in the world, the size of the combined economies of Britain and France and three times the size of India’s.

And this in spite of the cataclysmic events of March 2011. According to the World Economic Outlook Database (April 2013) he notes that Japan had a per-capita GDP eight times the size of China’s (or four times in per-capita purchasing power parity terms).

The Tokyo conurbation alone is home to about 37 million people, which is more than the population of whole countries including Canada, Finland or Australia to name a few.

I have called Japan home for nearly eighteen years now. And like Pilling, I can attest that there is still much hope in this beautiful country.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: Book Review

[A] person doesn’t become a runner because someone recommends it. People basically become runners because they’re meant to.

This autobiographical journey seen through the eyes of an avid runner was written by the famous Japanese novelist, Murakami Haruki and was originally published in Japan in 2007 as  「走ることについて語る時に僕の語ること」Hashiru koto ni tsuite kataru toki ni boku no kataru koto (literally “What I talk about when I talk about running). 

Have you ever felt self-conscious about running? I remember when I first got back into it three years ago, I was always thinking that someone was watching me. Seems I wasn’t alone in this thought. 

When I first started running I couldn’t run long distances. I could only run for about twenty minutes, or thirty. That much left me panting, my heart pounding, my legs shaky. It was to be expected, though, since I hadn’t really exercised for a long time. At first, I was also a little embarrassed to have people in the neighborhood see me running— the same feeling I had upon first seeing the title novelist put in parentheses after my name. But as I continued to run, my body started to accept the fact that it was running, and I could gradually increase the distance.

This book not only inspired me to keep pushing on as a runner, but also as a writer. I had already started writing this blog, but had stalled many times. 

If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog. 

As I just entered my forties last year, Murakami’s talk of his running peak which came in his late forties, and the goals he had at that time strike a chord with me as I am at a similar place in my own running journey, even down to very similar running speeds: I broke 3:30:00 for the first time ever just two months ago in February.

My peak as a runner came in my late forties. Before then I’d aimed at running a full marathon in three and a half hours, a pace of exactly one kilometer in five minutes, or one mile in eight. Sometimes I broke three and a half hours, sometimes not (more often not).

It is through his inspiration that I decided to name my blog “Suffering is Optional”. Murakami recalls a conversation he had with a fellow runner, whose older brother told him that allowing ourselves to suffer is actually a choice. If we choose to focus on that pain, we will increase it and it is all we will think about.

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

But like the author says, pain is a necessary part of the journey of growth. Without making the effort, we will never reach the next goal or target to better ourselves. 

If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself. If things go well, that is.

And while running can be a social activity as many members of running clubs will attest, it is largely a solitary activity where we compete against ourselves. Like Murakami, I have always been energized by my own quiet time. I guess that makes me an introvert rather than an extrovert.

I’ve had this tendency ever since I was young, when, given a choice, I much preferred reading books on my own or concentrating on listening to music over being with someone else.

Within the pages of this book, I found a true kindred spirit. I strongly recommend this book to all runners, writers and to all who like to push themselves to the next level. 

Why I’m really looking forward to today (Part 2)

After writing Part 1 this morning, I went to wake my wife up and give her her anniversary present. As the 7th anniversary in the UK is wool, I decided to go with the American convention: copper and bought two tumblers for us both. Now that we are in April, I didn’t think my wife would appreciate a woolly jumper. 

  

My wife surprised me with a really nice brown leather bag, which my daughter helped her choose. I like brown leather and it will really go well with some of the other brown items I use or wear for work. 

  

After a fairly slow and leisurely morning, where I used rain as an excuse to not run, we went out at about 11:30.

We enjoyed a nice Japanese lunch at Aqua City in Odaiba and then took a look around a few of the shops.

By 2:30, we were ready for our main event and went to the fourth floor of Decks to get our picture drawn. 

  

As with every year, the artist was different again and so we looked forward to how it would come out.

I must be honest. When I first saw it, I wasn’t so thrilled. But that has happened many times – and after a while, I get used to it. Caricature is often like that and this time is no different. In fact, I’m already getting used to it. 

  

Our kids look sprightly with their rosy cheeks. They are both looking upwards in anticipation of something(?) while my wife and I look quite tired. 

I suppose it has been quite a demanding year, with lots of new things happening: a new job for me, and new schools for both kids. So it is probably a fair reflection. After all, an artist can only draw what they see, and a caricaturist’s job is to exaggerate what they see.

What I read from my kids’ expressions is that it is my job to help them learn and to navigate their new worlds. So it should be another exciting and probably stressful year ahead. I will continue to worry only about what I can control and not about what I cannot. 

The artist commented at one point that my hair looked green. Maybe I left some shampoo in my hair today. I had been more concerned about going grey. 

I would love to hear from you. What do you think of this year’s picture? How does it compare to previous years? Which is your favourite?