16 Years Later

Our Japan trip was amazing. It was so good to be back after 16 years; nostalgic even, as if I was returning to a dream or a prior life. The surroundings were familiar, but different in some ways from what I recalled from my two years in Japan years ago. When I first went to Japan in 1998, it was like I was going into the future given the technology disparity between the US and Japan – the mobile phones in Japan were amazing, more functions were automated at the time and so on. But I felt that less this time around, since no matter where you go in the world today, people have the same iPhones and earbuds and apps and games. I did, however, appreciate the food more this time around and had more cultural context to understand what makes the Japanese culture unique. And it is unique. It is orderly, clean, and respectful in a way that much of East Asia is not. Japan is a fantastic country.

This trip also marked my first trip to Tokyo, and wow, what a fantastic city. The size and scale of the city is incredible, both in terms of humanity and infrastructure. We stayed near Shinjuku Station, which is the busiest train station in the world. As someone who has commuted daily through New York’s Grand Central Terminal, I was used to a busy train station. But let me be clear: New York has nothing on Tokyo. Nothing. Shinjuku alone has around 3.6 million people a day traveling through its tunnels, walls, shops and connections. And there are multiple other stations in Tokyo alone that are almost as busy. It was incredible to see the morning rush hour. And in the evening, I was amazed to see that 11:00 pm felt almost as busy as 6:00 pm, not that I should have been surprised given the hours the typical Japanese salaryman works. But still, it was impressive and overwhelming.

One of the trip’s highlights was the day trip to Kyoto. Yes, that’s right, with our JR rail pass and thanks to the shinkansen bullet train, we were able to make a trip to Kyoto and Osaka from Tokyo a “day trip.” It was a long day, but we did it. We visited some sites I had never seen before, including Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Gion District. Kyoto has a much different feel from Tokyo and was worth the effort to visit while there.

We also spent a day in Kamamura just south of Tokyo along the coast. It was a quaint, touristy place and we walked the streets and hills of the town exploring the Buddhist and Shinto temples, including a temple built into a cave where the promise to visitors is that if they wash their money with the natural spring water from the mountain their money will double. We’re still waiting to see our Yen double from such a washing.

Overall, it was a great trip. Japan is a country that, despite its quirkiness, I still think I could live in. I fit there, even if I am a tall, white gaikokujin. But that’s just me. I am not sure my family would fit there. And were I ever to have an opportunity to move there, I am pretty certain that doing so would result in a substantial downgrade in comparison to our way of life here in Salt Lake City. Living quarters are smaller, working hours are longer, commutes are exhausting, housing is more expensive, not to mention the language difference. My time to move back to Japan has passed; I just don’t see how it could ever make sense with four children and our current lifestyle. But I do hope to visit again and can only hope it doesn’t take another 16 years.

It’s Finally Happening

Almost exactly five years ago, on September 1, 2011, I wrote the last paragraph below regarding my desire to return to Japan. Well, it’s finally happening – I am returning to Japan for a week. Better late than never, right? When I left Japan in August 2000, I truly believed I would be back within a short time, a matter of years at most. Of course, by attending college in Hawaii, I literally put myself as close as possible physically and culturally to Japan without leaving the United States, and my Japanese skills flourished as a result.

But then came marriage and a family and a large chunk of my Japanese skills and travel flexibility disappeared. The true test will be how easily my language skills come back while in Tokyo in a few weeks. I know Japanese is in my head somewhere, I just need to dust it off. Will I realize I missed the country as much as I thought I did once I’m there? Will it have noticeably changed in the last sixteen years? Will my desire to return again be just as strong this time when I land at LAX? I’ll report back next month.


It has been too long. I can’t believe that I left Japan in August 2000 and as of September 1, 2011, I have yet to return to visit – not even once. From 1998 to 2006, a good chunk of my adult life, I have identified myself partly as someone who was interested in Japan, its people, culture and language. Once people met me for the first time, it didn’t take long for them to know that I used to live in Japan and spoke Japanese fairly fluently. But since 2006, my Japanese speaking opportunities have dwindled as my family life has flourished. But I am still interested in Japan, although I have accepted that my career won’t revolve around Japan like I once thought it would. But that may not be a bad thing, as the country is not what it used to be in the world and may never be again. There are so many things in Japan, though, that I would still like to see and experience. Maybe one day I’ll be able to get back, if even for a short time, and experience life as a gaijin again. I still speak Japanese well enough that traveling throughout the country wouldn’t be a problem. It is just a matter of finding the right time and arrangement to be able to go back. My target Japan visit date is sometime in fall of 2013, two years from now. Unbelievably, it has been longer than I ever would have imagined it would have been. I just hope that this drought doesn’t continue for longer than I am imagining it could.

A Change Gonna Come

I was involved in a recent conversation where my counterpart was arguing that the world was going to end soon. In other words, Christ will come again in his glorious “Second Coming” and will cast out the wicked and usher in a thousand years of peace. Let me be clear, I have no idea when the Second Coming will happen; it could be next year, it could be in hundreds of years. I don’t know. But I do know that people have been insisting that the end is near for centuries. My view, for what it is worth, is that the so-called end of the world is a long time from now.

Despite the global concerns that exist today – and there are real concerns, to be sure – there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. We are on the verge of technologies that will forever change the world. I believe that by 2050 we will look back and realize that the most innovative, life-altering inventions of the first half of the twenty-first century did not yet exist by 2016. If they did exist in 2016, they were in their infancy. The Internet/networked era we are in the early stages of today (yes, the Internet is still in its early stages from what will come in the following decades) is much like the personal computing days of the mid 1980s. We are only just beginning. Screens will continue to proliferate, but the big data and AI capabilities behind them will make them smarter, more productive, and hard to live without. Robots may take away many of the jobs and functions we do today, which will lead to large job displacement, but will offer opportunities and careers (for the prepared) not even existing or imagined by today’s youth. How we communicate, transport ourselves and access information will continue to alter, further reducing barriers and costs. Customized healthcare based on your body’s specific needs will become a reality. In short, the world decades from now will be unrecognizable to today’s daily life, much like today’s younger generation cannot fathom, yet imagine, what life was like in the 1950s.

So I’m optimistic. Good and evil will still clash, problems will still abound, but I believe that life has a specific purpose and that one day this may in fact all end in a grand Second Coming. But it won’t be this year nor this decade, and maybe not even this century. I don’t know. I just know that despite the struggles we face as a society, country and each of us personally, I know that, in the famous words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come, yes it will.”


Designing the Future City

I’m not a futurist, but I take a heightened interest in the future. Not just in my future, which would be natural, but in society’s future at large. Of course, a large part of the future is technology and its transformative power (hey, remember what mobile phones looked like ten years ago?). A decade ago when I began this blog (and had a LG flip phone) I listed the topics I was going to cover: Business, History, Law, Technology, Japan, and New York (if not cities in general). These are my interests. No matter how much I am exposed to other ideas and places, my interests tend to come back to these general topics. And lately I have been reading a lot on how emerging technologies will forever change our cities and our world. From autonomous vehicles to the IoT connected cities and AI, the city of the future is an exciting place to imagine, where possibilities are literally endless and the use of space, human interaction, and the movement of people and goods look vastly different from what we know today.

This interest of mine is not accompanied by a particular skill set to do much about it, however. But when recently confronted with the ageless question of what I would do if I could do any job in the world for a living, helping design the city of the future is what came to mind. And Alphabet’s (fka Google’s) Sidewalk Labs is doing just that. The more I learn of the company and its mission, the more I am interested. The big question in my mind is whether I do anything about it, or will  I continue to solely read about the future and how it will shape me instead of actively taking a role in how it will shape us. My wheels are spinning, so stay tuned.

Reduced Portions

I am certainly not getting any younger. But ever since I hit 35 years old, I have noticed my metabolism has not been what it was. I ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted for my entire life. Those days are sadly over. Just recently, I realized that I needed to make a change. Don’t get me wrong, my diet is not bad, but it could be better. The change I needed is primarily with portion sizes. In fact, I was convinced that most of my issue and recent weight gain was due to how much I ate rather than what I ate. Moderation was not my strong point, especially with certain foods and snacks.

But those days are behind me. I hope. I have begun a diet this week. And it’s a simple diet: eat real food, eat less at mealtime, and eat fewer snacks. That’s it. Eat less is the goal. I will report on my progress in coming months, but I realized that now is the time of my life when I need to learn to live on less food and on real food. There is still a lot I want to do in life and I need the time to make it happen. I am trying to control my destiny to the extent I can. And it begins with my health.

Fitbit Nation

I received a Fitbit as a gift last July. July 18, 2015, to be exact. I have always liked to walk and found the idea of tracking my steps interesting enough to try it. Much to my surprise, I am still using that Fitbit on a daily basis. With the exception of a few trips out of town, I have worn my Fitbit literally everyday since. These are just a few random thoughts on the experience.

  • I have recorded more than 3.5 million steps since July 2015.
    • Yes, I know that some of the “steps” are just hand motions by way of washing dishes or wrestling kids, but for the most part, those steps are actual steps since I tend to do two walks a day during the week and am on my feet all day during the weekend.
    • Fitbit tells me that this is more than 1,600 miles, or the length of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • My daily average is around 13,000. My daily goal of 10,000 is usually obtained by early evening. The most steps achieved in one day was over 29,000.
  • My average sleep per night comes out to 6 hours and 34 minutes. This has been surprisingly consistent over almost the past year.
  • My Fitbit has changed my behavior at times, encouraging me to take the stairs or take the long way back.
  • My resting heart rate is consistently at 62 beats per minute.
  • My love of wristwatches has meant that I have continued to wear my watches on my left wrist and my Fitbit on my dominant right wrist. In other words, unlike most people, my Fitbit has not replaced my watch. Future fitness trackers or smart watches need to be much more compelling than current versions for me to stop wearing my low-tech, but reliable watches.
  • Since I am using the Charge HR model, I have appreciated the call notification function. A text notification on a smaller non-smart watch would also be helpful. Yet, related to the point above, I am not ready to upgrade to current smart watches for this feature alone.

The wearable market is still young and will evolve in the decade to come, but I have obviously found some utility in my Fitbit and am excited as to how wearable technology and the quantified self help me make future health decisions.


I was recently in Santiago, Chile for the first time on business and visited some farmland in the greater Santiago area. These are my brief impressions in no particular order:

  • Chile is not the Latin America many people likely envision;
  • Santiago is a modern and efficient city and felt much more like Europe than my impression of much of Latin America;
  • Santiago reminded me of Spain, but that may be because so many of its people have Spanish or European roots;
  • I had the chance to view Santiago from the tallest man-made structure in all of Latin America – it was breathtaking;
  • I will never view grapes, walnuts or avocados in the produce aisle the same way again after seeing how such crops grow and are harvested – I have a much better appreciation for where my food comes from and the manpower and natural effort put forth to produce what ends up on my plate;
  • Valparaiso, on the west coast of Chile, is one of the largest Pacific Coast ports in the world and most people in the U.S. have likely eaten fruit shipped from Valparaiso;
  • Valparaiso is also an artist’s haven, with much of the city’s walls up and down its many hills painted by local artists – it makes for a stunning drive through the city’s streets;
  • Even in the rural areas I observed, my perception is that Chileans tend to live better than much of the world and definitely better than many people in the region;
  • Chile is a very livable city with extremely warm people and left a strong positive impression on me.