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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Forced to Rest

I should have been on a snowshoe tour right now. That’s what I would have been doing if everything had gone to plan. To my consternation, however, the Coronavirus caused most of my clients for the Winter tour season to cancel, opening up my schedule dramatically and leaving me to wonder what I should do with all my newfound time. So I checked out new snowshoe routes and did administrative work, both of which were necessary but but not urgent and kept getting pushed to the back burner. I would have preferred to be on tour, but perhaps I was handed some time to reflect. I would not have had time to write this post otherwise.

I’ve been told before I don’t know how to rest. To an extent, I think that’s true. I do always like doing something, work or play. I never saw it as a problem though because I know so many people more extreme than me. America and Japan are not exactly known for their work life balance, nor do they score high on societal happiness assessments. I would guess there is some correlation. Americans sacrifice their lives to achieve the American Dream while Japanese give them up for the company;  either way the result are the same. I see in myself the influences of both, the temptation to “always be doing something” instead of taking a moment to breathe or reflect. I want to feel productive, that’s not a bad thing . But if it’s simply checking items off to feel productive it’s meaningless, a mouse spinning on a wheel. It can even be damaging because you don’t take time to reflect on the big picture. There is motion but no movement.

I’m reading a book called “The One Thing” and I’m trying to now narrow the scope of my life. The premise is that most extremely successful people focus on one or two things, excelling and being known for just those. That’s hard for me because I want to do everything. I want to start more businesses and travel everywhere, play professional pickleball, teach camps, grow both of my travel companies, work as a freelance tour guide, organize tourmaments and introduce pickleball to more people (all of which I have been doing concurrently). Doing all those things are great and they might be profitable but are they sustainable long-term? Maybe not. Warren Buffet has a similar exercise where you write down 25 goals, then decide the top 5. Because you can only focus on 5 things at a time, you are not allowed to even think about the other 20 goals until you have accomplished the first 5.

I also like the ideas of the FIRE community (Financial Independence, Retire Early) and watch a lot of videos on the concept. As a minimalist, it appeals to me to live simply now so that when you achieve your financial goals, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to. While I like the idea, I’ve realized that it can turn work into something to trudge through with the light (retirement) at the end of the tunnel (work). I don’t want work to be a burden though, I want it to be fun and fulfilling. I want the financial independence of not having to work, but the desire to continue working because it’s meaningful. And for work to be all those things, I’m realizing I have to do a little bit less. Maybe that’s asking for too much. Or maybe turning 31 has forced me to realize that I’m not superman, I’m getting pretty old after all 😉

All that to say, it’s nice to have some time to reflect. I see the value now of scheduling time for reflection because it can be as important as the time you spend working. I wouldn’t say I’m in the rat race, but I can force myself back in if I constantly work without reflecting. You can’t always align your work with your talents or preferences, but at least you should know why you are working. There is still so much I want to do, I’m realizing it just takes time. As someone else famous said, “we overestimate what we can do in 1 year and underestimate what we can do in 10”. I want to continue doing the things I love for a long time, that’s what real achievement means to me.

 

World Pickleball Tour

For the past 3 and a half weeks, I have been traveling around the world playing, coaching and starting up pickleball in new locations. It’s been quite the adventure and I met some incredible people along the way.

I began my journey in Hua Hin, Thailand where I taught two pickleball clinics and played with the local club members. Next year, Pickleball Trips will bring a group of Americans to Thailand to play in a tournament and see the country, so I wanted to experience it firsthand. The beaches are pretty, the weather is warm and the food is delicious. What is there not to love about Thailand? After Hua Hin, I traveled to Bangkok, where I visited my friend Greg for a night and saw a band perform. Bangkok is ok but like most big cities, I try to get out as quickly as possible. Next I flew to Chiang Mai, where I played with the club there for a couple of days. Chiang Mai is a great city, loud and noisy but full of delicious food, things to see and just enough chaos. The players here are also among the best in Asia.

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From Chinag Mai, it was off to Singapore, where I had never been before, for 5 days of clinics and way too much food. On my list were chili crab, lakhsa, chicken rice and Singapore noodles, all of which lived up to their hype. A huge thank you to Janet and David Lye for hosting me, driving me around, being my tour guides, and organizing the pickleball in Singapore. There is no way I could have done it without them. I feel like I saw a lot of Singapore in the short few days I was there.

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Onto India. Wow, my impression and expectations about India changed drastically in the week that I visited. When I went almost 15 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the pollution, the heat, the mass of humanity all around me. Perhaps because I have seen more of the world and lived in other places, now it just seems like a developing country. Traffic is bad and there is poverty but it is growing and changing fast.

Speaking of growing, that’s what pickleball is doing rapidly in India and it’s exciting to see. Thanks to the dedication of Manish Rao, India has the largest population of pickleball players in all of Asia. I played with them in Mumbai and Jaipur, and their excitement about pickleball is obvious. Manish and Niraj (pictured below) showed me around some beautiful places in Rajastan in the Northwest including Uddaipur and Jaipur. We are also considering a pickleball trip to India sometime, please stay tuned.

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Finally to Kenya. I lived in Kenya for 2 years, where a majority of my posts on this blog were written. It had been 4 years since my last visit though. It was great to be back and meet with some of my best friends in the world. I also met new friends through pickleball, which tends to happen a lot. We played at Amani Gardens Inn and JD Tennis Academy, the latter of which is going to continue playing on a regular basis. I was also visiting potential locations for the Safari Pickleball Trip to Kenya, where we will play pickleball in Nairobi and go on Safaris around Kenya. It’s  going to be an awesome trip, please check it out on pickleballtrips.com in the near future!

36764633_10156484271778637_6684399976635695104_n.jpg36944813_10156493557683637_6804401337116131328_n.jpgThat’s all for now! I’m back in Japan and exhausted, looking forward for a couple of weeks at home to rest, hike and get some work done before the Fall tour season starts again.