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.

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Stories from Nearly Disastrous Days

As a travel professional, you learn that experiencing nearly disastrous days is a given. Heck, sometimes you even have actually disastrous days, like the unmitigated disaster of leading my clients through a blood-sucking leach-infested forest, which you can read about here. It’s what you do with these experiences though, that either puts a positive, memorable spin on them or just turns them into plain old crappy days.

I began my summer guiding in Colorado last week, and already we’ve had some minor incidents. The first day, I took a Japanese high school group to remove graffiti and clean streets in a low-income neighborhood. Part of their American educational experience was to learn about the different facets of American society and interact with them. We leave Union Station in downtown Denver and are supposed to alight at Perry Street, 6 stops away. Just before Knox Street, I hear the words “Next Stop Perry Street”, panic, and tell everyone to jump off the train. I then discover that we’ve gotten off a station too soon, feel like the dumbest tour guide in the world, and have to wait 15 minutes for the next train. Luckily the students and teachers were nice about it.

Arriving at the streets we were going to clean, we discover that there is almost no graffiti or garbage to throw away. Instead, it is blazing hot. We doodle around for two hours, picking at some candy wrappers, pulling weeds and my favorite – playing baseball with balled-up work gloves. Since it’s still early, we head back to Denver, give the students some free time to go shopping, and call it a day. I suppose flexibility is another essential trait when working in the travel industry.

The next day, I meet a different group of Junior High girls and their teachers, who want to go to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, then go shopping. Ready at 12:30 for a bus that is supposedly leaving at 1:00, we wait and wait for a bus that does not arrive. Apparently the driver had received instructions to leave at 2:00. I am apologizing and doing my best to keep the girls entertained, but there is only so much you can do.

The bus finally arrives, and we’re off to Red Rocks. I tell them all about the outdoor amphitheater and how great it is – only to discover that a) we only have 10 minutes to see it, b) it’s raining and c) it’s not even open because the band that is playing in the evening is tuning up. I’ve learned that it’s best not to hype things up that you aren’t sure about but when you’re going to a specific place to see something and it’s closed, you’re toast. We continued on the shopping, where thankfully a monument to capitalism – the American shopping mall – is open rain snow sleet or hail.

It’s been a fun summer so far and I continue to learn. Whether in Japan or America, my attitude dictates the experience for my entire group – dealing with the inevitable challenges and managing their expectations makes their experience so much better.

After going to Rocky Mountain National Park again on Wednesday, I leave for Nebraska and the State Games of America pickleball tournament on Thursday. Wish me luck!

This is what it's all about

The people are what it’s all about

Life in Limbo

I have been traveling a lot. I love it and I chose to do it, but it gets tiring just the same. Since my last post, I flew to Oita Prefecture on Japan’s Southernmost major island of Kyushu for a work seminar. I learned all about the Walk Japan business in what was the largest gathering of foreigners fluent in Japanese I have ever attended. Later I flew to Tokyo and took the bullet train to Nagano where we had a 4th of July pickleball event (not really, we just happened to be playing pickleball on July 4th). I came back to Tokyo, only to wait all day for a plane to Portland that I was destined not to board (I’m flying standby). I then got a great last-minute deal on a hotel close by, waiting the next day for another doomed attempt at Portland. Frustrated, I got a bus to Tokyo’s international airport and flew to Seattle, where I am currently staying in a youth hostel waiting to take the bus to Portland in the morning. It is an elusive city.

Sunset in Ooita

Sunset in Oita

All of this waiting, however, provided me with plenty of time for reflection and for work on my travel website, which I will reveal soon. My conclusion upon pondering is that I am thankful for where I am right now. A year ago after coming back from Africa I didn’t know what I wanted to do. More importantly for me I think, I didn’t know where I wanted to do it. I now have a couple of jobs I love and creative, interesting projects. I am working towards bigger and better things. Life is crazy but it is so much better than being bored.

Some people mistake my like of Japan for dislike of America. I don’t dislike the States, it just never felt like home for me. It doesn’t make me want to dig down and stay. I am a little fish in a very big pond, and while speaking Japanese makes me an interesting novelty, it’s not necessarily very useful. Sometimes I describe it to people like this: “In America, I look like I should belong and as the conversation goes on people gradually realize how different we are. In Japan, I obviously don’t look like I belong, but as the conversation goes on people realize how similar we are.” I like that. People tell me all the time that as a foreigner, you can never fully be accepted as Japanese. Perhaps that’s true, but instead of trying to be accepted as Japanese I think I’m content with just being accepted.

A final note to please use common sense and at least gain a cursory knowledge of world events when traveling abroad. Also, eavesdropping makes for great blog material. The other day in Narita Airport, I overheard a 19-year old American kid from Texas chatting up three Russian girls. After hearing they were from Russia, he couldn’t remember if Russia was still communist and said he vaguely remembered something about a wall. He then asked if they were Sophomores or Juniors in high school, at which point they had no clue what he was saying and the conversation started falling apart. I’m not saying everyone needs to be expert world historians – just be interested in the world around you and aware that language can be a barrier or a bridge.

That’s all for now. I’m headed tomorrow to my brother’s wedding in Eugene, Oregon. Congratulations Jon and Makaya, I’m happy for you.