Back in Japan

After a month and some change in North America, I’m back in Japan for the Winter. Yes, like a few times before I have decided to write more this year, both on this blog and my new Active Travel Japan blog. So here we go.

Traveling back to the US and Mexico, it was nice to see family and the friends that I could, but the fact that nothing was open made it a different kind of trip. I’ve never sat inside so much life, or seen my family sit around for that matter. Everything was open in Mexico so the two weeks I spent there on our Camp Cabo Pickleball Trip were fun. Although back in Japan it’s some more of the same, I do have my backyard ski resort to alleviate the boredom. You can only snowboard so much though so I’m trying to find things to do, hence the writing.

My sense from visiting the US is that it’s no longer a country at peace. While Japan has its social problems, at the very least it can rally people around being Japanese. It seems that for many Americans now, political affiliation is more important than being American. Whereas during previous crises like World War II, citizens and politicians alike were willing to sacrifice personal interests for the good of the country, I don’t see that happening anymore. You can argue that Japan is more unified because it’s more ethnically unified, but the US has been diverse for its entire existence so that is nothing new. Its diversity is not going away so it must figure out how to unify people around being American. Even if you disagree with someone else’s views, at the end of the day you don’t know everything and both sides are trying to make America better so just work together. I know it’s not that simple, but that’s what I see looking at the US from the outside.

Like I mentioned previously, the hardest thing for me during the pandemic has been maintaining a sense of purpose. I have been fortunate financially because of the popularity of the Pickleball Masterclass, but that means I could literally sit in bed and watch Netflix all day. I haven’t done that of course, but it’s hard to do something today when there is absolutely no sense of urgency because no one is traveling anyway. I suppose it’s a good time to find purpose outside of work, but I loved what I was doing so I didn’t necessarily feel that need in the first place. I am in no position to complain, these are just my rambling thoughts.

Anyway, a new lockdown in Tokyo has cancelled my planned pickleball coaching next week. Last week people who were going to rent my house canceled as well. It’s just that kind of year. I’m less disappointed now, I feel more deflated. I have come to expect everything I plan to get cancelled so I’m not even surprised anymore. A couple of groups of friends are coming next week to ski and snowshoe though so at least that’s something. If it doesn’t get cancelled that is 😉

More to come, please stay tuned.

Home Base

Buying a house is a thrilling and terrifying experience. Everyone talks about how great it is to have your own place. No one tells you about buyer’s remorse, the cold sweats at night, the sudden realization that you are an adult and don’t even know how to paint a wall, the to-do lists and startling number of zeros that each item adds. The current coronavirus situation only compounds the problem with my tour businesses, this year at least, going down the proverbial drainage pipes (yet another item on my list to fix).

My seed of doubt comes from the fact that I could probably happily travel forever. I like some places better than others, but I don’t typically feel the need to return to one place for long. Even though I live and keep coming back to Japan, I travel all over the country. When I’m not traveling in Japan, I’m probably traveling somewhere else in the world. Last year, I spent only one month entirely in Japan, every other month I spent at least a few days overseas. When I reflect on my guiding and globe-trotting lifestyle, one side of me thinks that I could do this forever because it doesn’t feel like work. The planning and organizing feel like work, but not the traveling itself.

At the same time, even seabirds need a place to land. I love returning to Nagano at the end of a tour. I sit down in my armchair, crack open a beer, and revel in the feeling of having absolutely nothing to do. No matter how tired I am or how hard the job was, that moment of satisfaction makes the long days worthwhile. The main reason I’ve even had an apartment over the last few years is for those few days a month I spend at home.

In the end, there were a few other reasons that convinced me to buy my house. First, I want people from all eras of my life to visit me in Japan. Living in a one bedroom apartment makes that difficult, although I did put my brother on an air mattress in the closet when he came snowboarding in February. Also, renting an apartment is a waste of money, even though it’s a smaller chunk each month than paying for a house upfront. If I’m going to live there a long time, it made more sense to buy. Real estate prices in Japan are not rising, but at least now I’m not throwing away money on rent. Finally, I want to turn my house into a couple of other business. The virus has made me realize that diversification is crucial. Being right next to the Snow Monkey Park and 20 minutes from a ski resort, I’m going to try my hand at AirBnB. I will also host my snowshoe and hiking customers for Active Travel  Japan. I’m going to sell T-shirts online to the Asian pickleball market too. And I want to do pickleball camps for people all over Asia, training them up to compete against the best in the world.

For all those reasons, I’m excited to announce that I am a proud (and nervous) home owner. It’s scary right now because the whole world is in a difficult situation and that makes me wonder if I made the right decision. But I know things will improve and with that, I hope the confidence that I made the right choice.

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To join one of my tours or see the things I’m talking about for yourself, visit activetraveljapan.com or pickleballtrips.com and join us for the trip of a lifetime. We have tours for every season 😉 AirBnB website coming soon!

Living in Season

I’m taking the time I would have been working to do some writing. I’ve become somewhat stoic about the coronavirus, knowing I can do nothing to change the outcome. Almost daily the stock markets plunge and customers cancel, but I allow the virus less mental and emotional space. It’s not like I will be kicked out on the street and it’s not like my clients don’t want to join future tours. I just have to ride out the storm and be patient. It has been a practice in slowing down, thinking and enjoying life outside of work, as well as considering my direction when the clouds do clear. I hadn’t thought of this before choosing the title, but in a sense this is also living in a particular season.

People often ask why I live in Japan. Why not live in the States where things are admittedly easier and more comfortable? For many Americans it is unfathomable that anyone, especially a citizen would want to live outside the Promise Land. While I do like certain things about America, there are many aspects of Japan I just like better. One reason to live in Japan are the seasons. Seasons are so distinct in Japan that I would argue going to the same place in 4 different seasons is almost like going to 4 different places. Any tour inquiry I receive I automatically answer with, “what time of year would you like to visit” because the timing determines the trip. Scenery changes, only certain foods are available and activities are planned, all based on the time of year.

Food is one of the most important components of the changing seasons. In the States, sometimes there is seasonality to fruits and vegetables if they are grown locally. Practically everything else is available year-round. Want apples in Spring or blueberries in Winter? No problem, pick them while they’re green and import them from California or Chile. While that is convenient, each morsel of food now carries a significant carbon footprint and just as important, renders the food flavorless. An open secret of Japanese cuisine is pretty simple: Use freshly-picked ingredients. How could the food not taste better? Here Japan’s size is an advantage, being small enough to ship throughout the country on the same day. Further, one’s appreciation rises for something that is scarce. When apples are available all year, they are just an ordinary item. When you can only eat them from October to December, they become a delicacy. The ultimate in-season, low carbon food is wild vegetables foraged in the mountains. Every year in a salute to our hunter-gatherer days, throngs of foodie-hikers and enterprising mountain men climb into the hills and forage for food, not because they are hungry but because what they gather tastes good. All manner of leaves, shoots, bamboo, roots and mushrooms are gathered, in what is a delicious (and if you don’t know what you’re doing, deadly) tradition. “Sansai” as these wild vegetables are called, are still an integral part of Japanese cuisine. In some ways, it’s unfortunate to see Japan shifting away from its seasonality in food towards a convenience store and fast food culture. However, I think Japan still retains the ideal at least that food should be eaten in accordance with the season in which it was grown.

While I don’t know as much about art, seasonality is certainly an important component of the Japanese aesthetic. Ikebana, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, kimonos, wood block prints, origami and Japanese gardens are just some of the Japanese art forms I can think of that take the season into consideration. When checking into a traditional Japanese style inn, called a ryokan, there is typically an indented area of the room known as a Tokonoma. It contains a scroll or poem, a carving or piece of pottery and a flower or branch. All this is coordinated to be in keeping with the season, to reflect on the inside what is occurring in the outside world. It is a nice reminder to enjoy the current time because the only constant is change and something new is coming.

Finally, there are the physical changes that occur to the natural world in Japan that keep me exploring and interested. This is less unique to Japan but still a great part of living here. Bright red mountains in the Autumn, snowy peaks begging to be snowboarded in the Winter, cherry blossoms and flowers exploding in Spring and a carpet of deep, lush greenery in Summer. If you have never visited the same place in Japan in a different season, the change in scenery is drastic. It’s one of the things I love about this place.

To join one of my tours or see the things I’m talking about for yourself, visit activetraveljapan.com or pickleballtrips.com and join us for the trip of a lifetime. We have tours for every season 😉

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