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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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/

A Memory Stuck and New Years in Tokyo

Written on 2nd January 2017
I’m in writing heaven. I’m sitting on a train looking out at snow covered trees and rooftops and thinking about a moment roughly ten years ago. Some moments stick with you more clearly than others. About ten years ago, I came to the realisation that I should stop buying stuff I didn’t really need and instead spend my money on traveling and collecting memories. It’s liberating. I still have random spending plurges but they are significantly less frequent. I am also donating vociferously.

This year, Alex and I decided to take a trip to Tokyo during New Years before we head up north to Otaru and Kiroro for snowboarding. It’s out of the norm for us. Usually New Years is spent at home. Now that we’re out, I realise that it gives the trip a different kind of flavor. Every country has their own tradition during New Years and the vibe is different. 

If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you’d know how crazy busy it can be with everyone on schedules and rushing to get to the destination. The Japanese are orderly, so no matter how busy it is, it’s quiet yet buzzing. Try standing still at Shinjuku station on a busy workday morning and you’d know what I mean.

During New Years however, the vibe is different. From the 30th to 1st, every thing slows downs. People are still hurrying around, but it’s with a suitcase and luggage to go home for the holidays. Faces are relaxed and the general atmosphere is one of relaxation. You can feel it in the air.

Restaurants and shops close early on the 31st so plan your eating schedule well. On the 1st, many shops and restaurants are closed though apparently more and more are remaining open. Even though they are open, I feel that the English speakers seem to be fewer in number.

On New Years Eve and New Year Day, people go out to pray at temples and shrines. We went to the Meiji shrine. It’s also a day of shopping. From the 1st to 3rd, shops go on sale and people go crazy shopping. More details to follow. 🙂

We’re almost arriving at Otaru now. xoxo  

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year my readers! First of all, I’d like to thank all my readers for your comments and for sharing your updates with me. Although I have not written as much as I would have liked to, some of you have continued to keep touch and in the meanwhile inspired me as well. 
Looking back, 2016 for me was probably one of the craziest, funniest and unexpected years in a long time. There were so many changes going on both globally, in Thailand and within my work itself. Changes to challenge us all. I’m also grateful for all my family and friends. It’s been a year of reunions with friends from times past and a year of unexpected happenings. So much is going on, the question now is what are we going to do in 2017?  
For 2017, I hope you continue to stay healthy, exercise and have some ‘Me’ Time. With those things, we can achieve anything we set our minds to. Stay focused and ‘just do it’ I wish you all lots of success in all you endeavour.

Lots of love from snowy Japan somewhere in between the airport and Otaru.

PS. I’m going to start blogging about Tokyo, Otaru and snowboarding now so keep posted!

Japanese Sweets: Maple Snaffles from Hokkaido

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I wake up in the wee hours of the morning (4.30am) for no apparent reason today with the thought of Maple Snaffes in my head.  The thought of it won’t go away, my brain wants to have some, but helas we don’t have any and so I will just have to write about it instead.  Continuing from my previous posts on Snaffles from Hokkaido, where I talked about the original cheesecake flavor and chocolate favor, I have to say that my new favorite one is the Maple Snaffes Cheesecake.

The Maple Snaffles cheesecake have the same soft and feathery texture of the original cheesecake flavor but it has an added tinge of maple syrup.  The great thing is that you can taste and smell the maple syrup but yet it does not overwhelm the cheesecake.  It makes the cheesecake aromatic (I like the smell of maple syrup, don’t you? )  Too much of the maple syrup would make it too sweet, too little would not be enough to make it aromatic.  The Maple Snaffles, have the amount just right.

If you’ve never tried the Maple Snaffles, I think you should try it.  The chocolate cheesecake one is for chocolate lovers and if you don’t like the smell of maple syrup, then the original cheesecake one is good for you.

I suddenly have a craving for some rich maple syrup now writing about this.  Maybe today I shall go buy some and make some pancakes!

Have a good weekend everyone! 🙂

Bangkok Dining: Sendai Ramen Mokkori Silom @ Narathiwat Soi 1

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I love it when friends take me to off the beaten track eateries.  Little treasures that just make you wonder what other secrets lay hidden waiting to be discovered.   This latest discovery came quite unexpected for it was a chance meeting and we took the opportunity to go grab a bite to eat.  In search of somewhere not too far from Silom, Narathiwat and the Rama IV area my friend navigated me to this little japanese eatery called “Sendai Ramen Mokkori Silom.”

Don’t ask me what the name means. I only know “Ramen” and “Silom”(road name.)   It’s one of those eateries you find in the least expected places.  It’s at the base of an old-fashioned condominium at Narathiwat Soi 1.  It seems to have been around for quite some time and probably well-known to those who go to that area, but for me it was an area I hardly go to and a street I’ve never driven into.

What’s surprising is that walking out of the condominium parking (you can get your parking ticket validated at the eatery) you do not see the eatery right away.  I saw another Japanese place and almost went there, but lo and behold suddenly this one appears.  It’s surrounded by a lot of things, and it the daylight it’s not easy to spot, but when the lights come on, you see it clearly with the red lanterns and the lights shining from inside.

It’s small and simple inside.  A wall full of photographs of the owner with celebrities and well-known people decorate the shop and japanese writings also adorn the walls.  I always wonder if they have something unique that’s not on the menu.

The menu is dizzying.  The large B5 sized menu is filled with pictures of many types of ramen, rice dishes and other japanese favorites.  Too many makes it hard for me to choose and so I go with my favorite Mabo tofu with ramen. (It’s ramen with tofu sauce) and of course the tonkatsu (fried breaded pork) with japanese curry.    The portions are HUGE.  Not somewhere to go if you are on a diet, but a great place to go if you want to just eat and enjoy.

I liked the fact that the atmosphere took us out of the typical restaurant vibe we get in downtown Siam.  It’s less hectic and probably because it was a lazy Sunday evening one could just chill and relax without feeling pressured to give up our table to the waiting customer.   (I don’t know what it’s like on weekdays since it’s near to the business district)

The food was good and delicious for its price even though the ramen noodles were not made in-house. It wasn’t the best ramen I’ve ever had, but I think it is not too far off from the authentic ramen noodles I’ve had in Japan.  (The owner is japanese and appears on the menu cover and on the photos on the wall) The tonkatsu was crispy and lean. However if you ask me to compare the tonkatsu to that at Saboten (another japanese eatery), I have to say Saboten still wins.  The thing is, food at this eatery is roughly half the price of Saboten.

Dishes were around 140-250thb each which is a pretty good deal compared to other japanese restaurants downtown where a medium pork loin at Saboten can cost you around 290thb.  The portions are large, the flavor authentic and the atmosphere unique. I could be somewhere in Soho.

Would I go back again? Yes I will.   It’s one of those places that isn’t pretentious, the food good and a nice hideaway from the crowds of Bangkok city.  Itadakimasu.

Japanese Sweets: Snaffles from Hokkaido

I love to eat. I think many like me also like to eat but our likes and dislikes change over time. I think our tastes also change the older we get. When I was young, I hated mushrooms. Now I devour them as if they were the most delicious thing on earth. Anything with mushrooms are good. Tonight I want to share with you one of my all time favorite sweets, not sweets but (as if you can’t tell from the post title) Snaffles.

In Japan, apparently each city/region has their own specialty when it comes to sweets. You can only get the triangular mojis from Kyoto, Tokyo Bananas from Tokyo, Castella cakes from Nakasaki, and Snaffles from Hokkaido (correct me if I am wrong here). My first experience with Snaffles was early last year when we had a Japanese friend come visit. With him came along a box of Snaffles which has since become one of my all time favorites amongst cheesecakes and japanese sweets.

I usually don’t like cheesecakes too much because they are heavy and creamy. Not my thing.

Snaffles’s cheesecakes, however, are light as a feather. As my spoon scoops up a piece I feel as if I am take a spoon through a souffle. Despite it’s lightness, it is rich in flavour and with the plain cheese one, you can taste the cheese. Not overwhelming. Just delicate and light. Snaffles also comes in chocolate and I have to admit I like chocolate purely for my love of chocolate. The chocolate is chocolate and the texture is light (though not as light as the cheese flavored one.)

Another detail I like about Snaffles is that they come in small little rounds. Each little piece is around two bite sizes and perfect for those who want a taste, but don’t want to over eat. It also lets you have a bit of each flavour without feeling overly guilty. Yes, I used that excuse. Tonight I had one cheese and one chocolate. Tomorrow I go running.

They also have different flavours that I have yet to try. Waiting for me is another box of Maple Snaffles. That will have to wait it’s turn, but I will let you know how it is. My guess is that it is light and tastes like aromatic maple syrup.

Oh, if you get a box of Snaffles be sure to open it right away and eat it. They have a very short lifespan and need to be refrigerated. www.snaffles.co.jp