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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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!

Wellington Sunday Farmers’ Market

Whenever I am traveling, I always try to find out where the farmers’ market is and make a note of visiting it.   Many times I’d even plan the trip so that on Saturdays or Sundays I am in cities where there are markets. There’s something about walking around rows and rows of fresh food, straight from the farm that just makes my heart glow.  I love the hustle and bustle of the place and to be able to ask the seller all sorts of questions.  Wellington, of course, has a lovely farmers’ market on Sundays and without doubt, Alex and I had to visit.

We went to the harbourside market (http://www.harboursidemarket.co.nz). It’s not too far off from Te Papa museum and as it’s name, it is right by the Harbourside.  Unlike the Saturday night market, it is significantly larger with a lot more shops.  There are stalls selling everything from fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, to duck truffled onion soup and pizza.  I love it.  It’s a good walk in the morning and if you wake up early, it opens at 7.30am so you can visit it before you start your day.

Harbourside market

The market is outdoors and in a large space, so you don’t feel crowded and the noise level doesn’t get high.  I love it. You can take a leisurely stroll and everyone is in a pleasant mood. I mean, who wouldn’t be surrounded by all the food! There are clowns there to entertain children and benches on which you can have your sandwich or roast chicken.

Being somewhat avocado crazy, I had to check out the Avos or avocadoes at the market. Imported avocados from New Zealand in Bangkok costs around 80thb each (2.50 USD) so I wondered how much there were locally.   They were around $1 NZD (less than 1 USD) each and if you bought a large bag, the price was even lower.  Wow, needless to say, I did have to buy some avocados to eat. The price doubles though if you are out in Wanaka but that is understandable considering transportation costs.

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We had the duck truffled onion soup from “La Rotisserie de Canard” where the owners were speaking french.  I didn’t ask where they were from but I do know the soup was good. It really warms your belly up on a chilly day.

We saw signs going to the covered city market (http://www.citymarket.co.nz/) but sadly we were out of time. There was the lovely Te Papa museum waiting for us to visit.

Hmm, I feel like some onion soup now.  La Rotisserie de CanardSourdough pizza...

Happiness is contagious

Wellington Cable Car and Botanic Gardens

Wellington is everything we expected it to be, cold, rainy, windy, full of nature and charming. It’s the first month of winter here. Alex and I love this weather. For me it reminds me of cloudy Belgium and quiet peace. There’s no noise pollution here. You live with nature. Most importantly, you can hear your own thoughts. 
Today after visiting Te Papa museum, which is a must if you visit Wellington, we took the cable car from Lambton Quay up to the Botanic gardens and to see the magnificent view of the harbour. It’s breathtaking and when the sun shines, the harbour glitters. 

   

I could stay up there all afternoon and watch the clouds roll or simply look out towards the range of mountains where layers upon layers of mountains reflect the light turning various shades of grey, but time is not on our side. 

We walk down through the gardens admiring the trees, enormous ferns and trees that apparently existed during the times of the dinosaurs.   They are so tall and point up towards the sky as if reaching for heaven. It’s heavenly. The air smells so fresh of wet grass and wood. I feel at home.

If you have children there’s a lovely children’s playground which looks like a lot of fun.  There are places for you to swing from like Tarzan, see saws and swings.  I was even tempted to join the kids playing, but this girl’s grandparents beat me to it. Grandma and grandpa were swinging around.  Quality fun time.  

It’s such a contrast from Lambton quay below which is the Central Business District full of shops and skyscrapers. There you feel more ‘cosmopolitan.’ Up the hill, trees are the skyscrapers. I love them. 

The cable car entrance is just a little off Lambton Quay road next to McDonald’s and Lululemon.  I missed it the first time around as I was too engrossed by Lululemon but actually there’s a cable car sign. 

Tickets are 4 NZD one way and 7.50 NZD two- way. I prefer walking through the Botanic gardens if you have time. 

Going to Kiwiland

It’s Friday and the weather is just lovely in Bangkok today. I’m sitting outside watching the sunrise whilst the dogs play and birds chirp. This afternoon, Alex and I will board a plane to visit the land of the Lord of the Rings: New Zealand. It’s been on our bucket list for as long as we’ve known each other but haven’t had the chance to go visit. This year, we are finally going!

Our plan? We are going to Wellington, Queensland, Milford Sound, Lake Wanaka, Lake Tekapo and Christchurch. There are so many other places we’d like to go see like Doubtful sound and hike all the way to Roy’s peak, but time is not on our side. I suppose we will just have to go back again another trip.

It’s now the first month of winter in Kiwiland and lucky for us they had a big snowstorm earlier this week. I do love the cold weather especially since it’s so hot here in the land of smiles. Anyways keep tuned my dear readers, I will be posting updates from our journey in Kiwiland. xoxo

Travel Tales: Introducing Vientiane, Laos

Sometimes a place so close can seem so far and when you finally get there, you wonder what kept you from visiting sooner.  My work this year has given me the opportunity to travel to many South East Asian countries (as some might say “regional” travel) and though most days you miss the comfort of your own home, the almost monthly travels does have its perks; for a few hours in the evenings or early mornings, you get to explore the city.  Some cities are not so convenient, but Vientiane, Laos is a great city to walk around even if you only have a couple of hours.

It’s so charming I have to confess that I have fallen in love with it and even as I am writing, images of its streets and shops appear like a trailer in my mind.   It’s as if I have been charmed, intoxicated.  There’s something about the place that makes me yearn to go back and visit once more.

A city with a population of roughly 700,000 to 800,000 on the banks of the Mekong river, Vientiane still retains many of it’s old world charms.  There are no shopping malls, no large advertisement billboards or flashing electronic ads to numb our senses but rather there are streets of local shops and eateries nestled in between boutique hotels and guests houses.   I’m not sure how long this old world charm this will last, seeing that there are plans to build a large World Trade Centre Complex, but I have to admit I have a selfish dream that it will continue to retain its charm.

What is there to see in Vientiane and should you visit it?  Find out and follow me on my next few posts as I take you on a virtual tour around the city to ancient temples, bakeries, eateries and shopping.