Japanese Perfectionism

In the several times that I’ve been to Japan, I’ve always been at awe at the Japanese strive for perfectionism and dedication to work. This Japanese concept of “kaizen” of continual improvement in the pursuit of perfection or “kodawari” is noticeable the moment you step off the plane and onto Japanese soil.

I remember my first few times landing in Narita and noticing a unique phenomenon while waiting for baggage.  Typically for me, waiting for baggage is something I feel happens  in a daze. In most cases, I get off a long flight, and walk the walk through immigration and to the baggage claim. I find a spot and watch the bags roll off onto one another and onto the belt. Everyone stands and waits patiently for their bag to come and if you’re a small lady, you might struggle if your bag happens to have fallen on top of someone else’s bag.   In Japan, however, efficiency is key.  As airports most likely want to move people in and out of the airport as fast as possible, design and process are important. To help the travelers, as bags roll onto the conveyor belt, a man helps stack them in order. The bags are placed vertically, with the handle facing up and lined next to each other. They stay on the conveyor belt perfectly lined up waiting to be picked up.

It’s a simple action but is one that makes your travel so much more enjoyable.  There’s more space on the conveyor belt for other luggage and it’s easier for everyone to take their luggage. Travelers are efficiently and politely moved out of the airport. You enjoy a seamless customer experience.

Earlier this year on our snowboarding trip I saw more examples of this Japanese dedication to perfection.  When getting on the ski chair lift, the chair lift operator would without fail know perfectly where to brush off the snow before you fall on the chair.  For example, when I took a four seater chair lift by myself, I noticed that in the split second that the operator had time to brush off snow from the seats, he would accurately brush off the snow precisely where I would sit and lean back. The other three seats had snow, but where I sat, it was nice and dry.

Another example Alex and I noticed was when we were resting at the restaurant looking out onto the slopes. By the restaurant was a little slope area that had been cordoned off by ropes. Over time the rope had slacked a little but it wasn’t noticeable unless you really observed. In many other countries, I’m sure this would have been overlooked. The observant and dedicated Japanese slope patrols however noticed, and we watched them stop to pull the rope just that little bit tighter.

I believe it’s this Japanese dedication to perfectionism or “kodawari” that also makes their products so desirable. Japanese products are well known worldwide for their craftsmanship and unique designs. Everything is made with care and whether the customer sees it or not, as much care is given to the outside as to the inside. Every detail is thought of.  This is also reflected in their excellent customer service.

I wonder though, if future Japanese generations would continue on to carry on this culture of perfectionism.  If future generations lose this sense of perfectionism, then one of the  unique charms of the land of the rising sun would have been lost and their products less desired.  For now, let’s hope that we can all adopt a bit of this Japanese perfection into our work ethic. Let’s all continue to improve and strive for perfection. Let’s remember “Kaizen” and “Kodawari.” Good night!

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The Elder Gentleman

I’m tired and sleepy, but this story has been whirling around my head all day and it’s one I’d like to share .  Like many mornings the past eight years, I woke up and got myself to the gym for a run before work.  Over the years I’ve come to know a few ladies through locker room chit chat, and to recognize the regulars by face. After eight years you start to know who comes on what days, what time, and who likes what kinds of exercise. I’ve also grown accustomed to being greeted by a gentleman who must be in his late seventies or early eighties. He’s a regular and spends around an hour each day on the treadmill followed by the bicycle before lifting a few weights. In between he’d greet people with a big smile.

I always thought to myself how active and pleasant this man was.  He’d smile and go around asking people how they were.  If I had gone missing for a week or longer than a two days, he’d ask me where I’ve been and remind me that I should keep coming regularly. He’d encourage you to keep up the good work when he sees you working out well. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the familiar face at the gym even though I don’t know his name or anything else about him.

Then he disappeared for a few weeks.

I wondered where’d he gone. If it was for a holiday, it usually wasn’t more than a week but this time the absence was noticeable. Thoughts crossed my mind. I wondered if he’d fallen ill or passed away. After all he wasn’t young anymore. I pushed such thoughts out of my mind.

This morning I found out what happened.  Walking to the fitness room, I saw him sitting on a bench just in front of the fitness room. In that moment, I felt a big rock slide down my throat.  I felt like my heart dropped.  He was surrounded by two helpers with a walking aid in front of him. He wasn’t his old self and most probably had suffered a stroke. I dared not ask. When greeted, his speech was blurry but he still recognized and remembered everyone. After awhile, he slowly started his rounds at the various weight machines.

I write a lot about death, but it’s events like this that remind us how fragile life can be. One day you are living your life, following your daily routines, and the next, you find yourself having difficulty just moving a few steps. The trick is to keep on going. The gentleman continues his recovery but no one knows what will happen tomorrow.  Live life and enjoy it before it’s too late. In the end there’s one truth we can’t escape and that death is always on our doorstep.  Time stops for no one. Do what you want to do before it’s too late.

Good night!

Hanamaru Sushi @Sapporo

I like to try to make good use of my time and waiting in line for restaurants isn’t usually my thing. These past two days I’ve been waiting in line for over an hour to have lunch at the same place just because it’s so good. In Japan, I guess that’s what you do if you want to have good food. At the moment I’m in line waiting to have sushi at Hanamaru Sushi in Sapporo.

I had it yesterday and so I thought I’d write a little review on why we love it here. Hanamaru Sushi has several locations and the most convenient for us while waiting for our evening flight is a Kaiten Sushi place at Stellar Place or the Sapporo JR Station. It’s on the 6th floor next to the Daimaru mall entrance and you can’t miss it with the long line in front of it.

The first thing you must do is to quickly get a number from the receptionist machine. You key in the number of people and choose what kind of seating you want. They then ask you if you want to key in your mobile number so they can call you. We don’t have a number so we just wait. Its in Japanese so watching the person in front of you is a good idea.

They have an english menu so if there’s something that isn’t coming around, just write down the number on the paper at your table and give it to sushi chef. Don’t forget to ask them for the menu as they have seasonal specials.

The dishes are colour coded for the price starting from around 160 yen to 350 yen with the blue dish being the least expensive. The English menu has all this translated for you complete with instructions so it’s pretty easy.

What about the sushi? The sushi is absolutely delicious and fresh. The small rice balls with long pieces of fresh fish taste absolutely divine. Maybe it’s the wait that makes it all the more special but we still love it. The price is also very reasonable compared to the quality of the fish. We ate for the world with yellow tail, uni, and eel and the season’s special shirako for a total of almost 20 dishes and it came to roughly 4,000yen.

Ok, I’ve finished writing this very long post and we are still waiting in line. Getting hungry! Itadakimasu

http://www.sushi-hanamaru.com/la_en/

The Japanese Cash Register

The other day at the supermarket I was pleasantly surprised by the cash register at the local Niseko supermarket. I’m not sure if it’s new or not but it was definitely new to me. It was a combination of a vending machine and cash register at the same time.

Basically, you scan the items and the machine tallies up the bill. Usually you’d hand cash to the cashier and she’d open up the cash tray to give you your change right? Nope. At the supermarket the lady inserts the banknotes into the machine and it spits out exact change.

Fascinating and simple at the same time but not commonly seen (not in Thailand anyways). Here are some good things about it that I can quickly think of. First of all, this saves time. You don’t need to wait for the cashier to count your change. Secondly, it also prevents any mismatches at the end of the day. No human error. Thirdly, it’s safer. I’m not completely sure but I suspect the cash draw can’t be opened that easily so it would be harder to get cash stollen from. And lastly, I wonder if the machine scans for fake banknotes. If so it would be an all in one machine removing any possible problems that could have been caused by human error.

Although cash is being used less elsewhere in Japan it still prevails. Isn’t this cash register an awesome idea? Japanese inventions.

Flowing with the Snow

Alex and I are back in Hokkaido for the third year in a row snowboarding and we love it. Despite being a beginner snowboarder there’s something addictive about learning a new skill. It pushes you to just keep on trying and feeling wonderful once you’ve reached your goal.

The other day, I overheard a man saying “No pain, no gain” and he’s absolutely right. You have to work at it. I remember the first few days we started three years ago, we fell and fell till our legs were bruised and we couldn’t move our bodies. I remember going back to work with bruised legs.

Yesterday, as we ended our third day of snowboarding we looked at each other and said “Wow! we hardly fell today.” It’s a little achievement but am happy we took up snowboarding even at our age.

The exhilarating feeling of gliding through the soft soft snow is like floating on clouds. At that moment when you’re gliding down, it’s just you and the mountain and the sound of the snow swishing under your board. Amazingly therapeutic.

For the first time, I understand what my brother (a snowboarder for over 20 years) has been telling me all along when he said, “you have to flow with the snow.” You flow along with the snow with its curves and its bumps. You become a part of it and reconnect your soul with nature.

Back on the Writing Bandwagon

Waking up to cool breezes and sunshine without having rain pour down is heavenly.  Suddenly it’s November and year-end is approaching. I realize I haven’t written since January and I hit myself on the head.  I have so many stories I’d like to share with you. So many stories that remain swirling around in my head like dreams floating around in a cauldron.

I say this all the time and I’ll say it again, time flies. Time waits for no one, and each second, the clock continues to ticks on. If you’ve been following me, you know I’ve a big thing for “Time.” The fact is we all have 24hours in a day. The question is what are we going to do with those 24hours in a day?  What are some goals you would like to achieve? What are some places or things you would like to do? What do you want to do before you die?  I’ve been working on a few of my personal goals this year, but that is still no reason. There’s always time, you just have to allocate it well.

Today, I wanted to thank a dear friend (you know who you are) for pushing me back onto the writing bandwagon by recommending me to write for Urban Affairs, a new and upcoming magazine for Bangkokians. You’ll find it distributed at Villa supermarket and a few other places in Bangkok.  My first article will appear in the December issue and I’m excited.  Reading and writing have always been my passion and I’ve always loved and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my experiences with my readers. I hope to be able to keep doing this for a long time.

I promise I’ll write more often from now on. See you again soon my readers. Now it’s time to go out and enjoy the awesome Bangkok weather. Are you getting enough Vitamin D?

Ed Whitlock, 85 year old marathoner because he can.

Sitting on the plane from Sapporo to Bangkok, I read an interesting article in the Bangkok Post about Ed Whitlock, an 85 year old marathoner who ran the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 3:56:34. It’s inspirational. He doesn’t do any specific training, doesn’t adhere to any strict diet or use any gadgets to monitor his heart rate and training. All he does is run by the cemetery by his house in 15- year old shoes. He doesn’t run for his health, or gets runner’s high. He runs because “the real feeling of enjoyment is getting across the finish line and finding that you’ve done OK.”

Numerous tests have been conducted and he apparently has a large VO2Max capacity and good muscle retention for his age. I suspect his genes play a big part in his being able to continue running at such an age. What I find more intriguing though is his attitude which I think is what really keeps him going. In the article he is quoted as saying, ” I believe people can do far more than they think they can. You have to be idiot enough to try it.”
This, to me is probably his secret. If you believe you can do something and truly work at it, I believe you can achieve anything you want to. It’s the story we tell ourselves that determine the story of our lives.

If you tell yourself you can’t do something, then you can’t and you won’t. If you tell yourself, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish whatever your goal is. That said, it might take some time before you accomplish your goal, but if you work at it long enough, you’d be closer to your goal than if you had never started. If you focus on the end goal, you might get frustrated at not being able to reach it, but if you focus on taking action towards those goals, then you’d keep moving forward. As Ed Whitlock showed us, age is not a limit and is not a constraint to living your life because at whatever age you start working towards your goal, you are one day closer to your goal than the day before. 

Thank you Ed Whitlock for reminding us that life has no limitations than those we set for ourselves. Now, the burden is on you. What are your goals in life? Let’s get moving!