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!

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.

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!

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!

Be Kind to Yourself

This morning I had the opportunity to Skype with one of Having ‘Me’ Time’s readers and we had a good discussion about our journey to better health and weight loss.  A lot about the path to better health means avoiding processed, unhealthy foods, sweets or what seems to be almost all of our favourite foods.  It often feels like we are starving ourselves of what we love, especially if that’s how we’ve been eating our whole lives.

What happens when we mess up our diet and fall for that piece of decadently delicious chocolate fudge cake, or that juicy cheese hamburger?   Nothing. Nada.

Many times we are so strict with ourselves that when we fall for that piece of cupcake or donut, we feel like we’ve failed the diet and end up eating for the world.  We throw all our hard work away and lose hope. We go back to our old ways and eat and eat.

My advice to you is this:  Be kind to yourself.  Don’t lose hope and enjoy the experience.

Remember that it’s okay to treat yourself every now and then.  If you crave a hamburger really badly, go out and eat it.  If you want that cake, eat it.  Sometimes having a bite is enough to satisfy the craving. Enjoy it, savour it and then just make a mental note to yourself to work out extra at the gym the next day.  Add an extra session to the week’s workout.

No big deal right?  Have fun being healthy.  Enjoy the experience!

I’ve lost 5kgs or 12 lbs since the beginning of the year and every night I treat myself to some dark chocolate.  I have ice cream and egg tart.  I do, however, make sure that it’s super delicious and worth my extra workout time.

There’s no failing, no wrong in becoming healthy.  It’s a journey that goes up hill, down hill, turns corners and brings you to wonderful new places.  Just keep working at it! Keep on walking down the path. Don’t stop and turn back.

Five years on and I am still working on it 🙂  Step by step, little by little, we’ll get there. Be kind to yourself and be patient.

The Up (Weight) and Down (Weight) Cycle

If you’ve been through weightless and moved towards a healthier life, one of the questions is how do you sustain it? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question, and you have to find a model that fits you. For me, it’s been five years since I lost half of me and I am still working on it. I am still exercising and watching what I eat, but there are cycles that results in weight gain. The Up (Weight) and Down (Weight) Cycle.

The Up Cycle starts when there’s a lot of work, you’re tired, and you find reasons to work out less. When I was at my most healthy, I’d work out four to five days a week. After awhile, I grew comfortable with my health, and the workouts gradually decreased to three times then two times per week. No matter how much I ate, the weight barely moved on the scale. I was in a cycle of happiness. Sustained health (or so I thought.) I was good, I told myself. I could still run well. No problem.

Then age started playing a role coupled with my love of eating. Age, because I think my metabolism slowed down. It seems to slow down every five years and now that I’m nearing my forties, it seems to have moved a notch lower. I have to work out more to get the same gains.

My love of eating, over two months from Thanksgiving dinners, celebrations with friends, to New Years, trying out bread recipes, having pastries and eating it all, my weight went up. Of course, if you eat that much and still just work out two days a week it’s going to go up. Finally, my body caved and my weight went up 6 kgs (13 pounds) in a matter of one week. It’s like a technical barrier had been broken and you weren’t quite sure where it was going to stop. ‘Stop, stop’ I’d tell the weigh scale, but it didn’t listen.

The only way to stop it was to ‘reboot’ myself.

The Down (Weight) Cycle starts when I got back to running four times a week, getting to the gym earlier, working out a little bit longer, and even going on weekends. I started cooking, not just for dinners, but also for lunches. I brought my own lunches to work which consisted of various recipes with vegetables as the main dish coupled with some pork or chicken. It just required a bit more advanced planning, but you are assured a healthy meal. I cut out on my favourite baked goodies and processed foods. I have now lost 5kg (11 pounds) now and feel reenergised. I’ve still got a few more to lose but as the technical barrier broke on the way up, it breaks on the way down too.

So how do I sustain a healthy lifestyle? I realise now that for me I have to constantly remind myself, that no matter how much you have going on in your life, there’s never a reason to reduce the amount of exercise you do.  Do not cave into the ‘Lazy Me’ which comes in many forms.  She’s a tricky gal with a million reasons.

For me, I have to keep it up exercising three times per week and as I age, I find that I probably have to up the intensity as well. Also, make sure that your fridge is stocked full of veggies and good wholesome foods. Don’t fall into the trap of commercial food industry!  I make my own hummus now. 🙂

What works for you? How do you sustain it?

Guest Writer: From Binge Eating to Olympic Distance Triathlon

Today’s post comes from one of Having ‘Me’ Time’s readers who is now having a healthy lifestyle and working towards an Olympic distance triathlon! Isn’t she inspirational?  She inspires me to keep up my healthy lifestyle and keep working at it! Thank you!

 *****

I had struggled with my weight for the majority of my teenage years. I grew up relatively skinny, but started to gain weight during high school and college. It was right around this time that I was introduced to binge eating. Food became my main source of comfort when I was stressed out, bored, or lonely. My weight started to creep up on me, and it never really went back down. I didn’t like taking photos because I thought my face was too round. I wore baggy pants because I didn’t like the way my thighs look. I avoided wearing sleeveless shirts because I didn’t want to expose my flappy arms. And the list went on.

I had tried restricting calories, but once my stress level passed a certain threshold I would grab anything that was in front of me and ate it like there was no tomorrow. I would hate myself the next day, which resulting in over-exercising the next day to compensate the calories I over-consumed the night before.

After many failed attempts of losing weight through restricting diets, binge eating, and hating myself, I told myself that something had to change. I decided that I would focus on completing a race instead of purely losing pounds. A sprint triathlon came into mind because I have always enjoyed biking and swimming, and even though I never really liked running all that much I knew I could run a 5K. I looked into the distances that constitute a sprint triathlon: 600m swimming, 20K biking, and 5K running. I knew it was totally possible if I really put my mind to it. I found a race that was 3 months away and started training.

I did not know how much 3 months of training could have changed my perspective about my body. The race started of as a way for me to lose weight, but it did so much more than that. I have not reached my goal weight yet, but I am a lot more comfortable with the way I look. I view my body as the main vehicle to get me to my fitness goal. I can proudly say that I am physically and mentally stronger. There were days that I really did not want to get up and train, and was too tired after work to do any exercise, but I did it anyway. I knew that if I didn’t put in the necessary work each day, I would not be able to reach the goal I set for myself. I know I would not be ready by the race day. Every workout counted as a small step towards a bigger goal.

Through this experience of training for a triathlon, I learn that life is about setting goals and achieving them. My goal, however, has shifted from purely losing weight to becoming a triathlete and accepting my body every single day. My next goal is to finish a half marathon in April and an olympic distance triathlon in May. I am in the middle of my journey, and I cannot wait to see where it will take me.