Bet on Japan

There are 500,000 refugees in Tohoku. Regular electrical black outs are status quo & food, water and other supplies will soon require rations. The greatest challenge comes from the radiation spilling out of the Fukushima Plants. Watch CNN and it’s hard to conceptualize an upside to the crisis. The present situation in Japan is dire but history encourages the World to “Bet On Japan”.

Look over photos of Tokyo after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake or end of World War II in 1945. They are similar as destruction was total. Very few buildings were left standing and body counts were horrific. It’s an understatement to say that Tokyo was simply rebuilt. It remains one of the most vibrant and prosperous Cities in the World. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are fine places to visit, work and live. Both reconstructed after suffering the only Nuclear Attacks on human populations in history. The 1995 Kansai Earthquake leveled large parts of Kobe & is all but forgotten as Natives of Hyogo Prefecture rebuilt and repaired the scars on the beautiful City.

Historical precedents are worthy of note but more important is the strength and internal fortitude inherent to most Japanese Individuals. Many of the Japanese Men and Women who influenced me during my “honeymoon” with the Land of the Rising Son were War Veterans or grew up during the difficult years following the “dark period”. The memories of youth for this generation were extreme hardship and hunger. People who grow up hungry don’t complain about their hard work and long hours. One Senior Executive at a leading Sporting Goods Company was a Kamikaze Pilot awaiting assignment when the War Ended. Like many of the Japanese Veterans who returned home; he made the best of his second chance. These People created the juggernaut of an economy ranking second only to the United States.

The intrepid and hard working character trait admittedly diminished since my arrival in Japan in 1982. The ramp up to and bubble economy of the late 80s and early 90s inspired arrogance and expectations that arguably resulted in the Economic Doldrums experienced over the last decade. University Graduates during the bubble period had their choice of employment; house wives sported Imported Name Brand Hand Bags and Clothing. Companies moved from a six day work week to the Western Model granting employees weekends off. Traveling to Hawaii, LA, Vancouver or Europe on vacation became common place. English lessons, golf, tennis, skiing and other recreation became vogue and available to the common family. It was a generation born on third base and they all thought they’d hit a triple.

Why be optimistic? Japan just received the ultimate wake up call. People will literally be fighting for their lives and future of their children. It’s a battle they will win. I’ve seen the courage to come back on the sports field, in the Karate Dojo, at the Office and demonstrated by my own wife a product of Tokyo.

Our Karate Practices finished with every member holding strong in extended push up position for ten minutes. No one ever dropped. When the bell rang everyone attempted 10 pushups. Impossible, but once a tiny Japanese Woman aged about 40 completed a set of 15. Perhaps the future of Japan remains in the strength of its female population. It still astonishes me to witness my own wife prepare all night for difficult interpretation, work a grueling day and repeat the process for the next two nights. Ultimately tough.

In 1998 the UBC Thunderbird Football Team from Vancouver visited Kyoto and played the Ritsumeikan Panthers. The “Birds” scored two quick touch downs and I watched in disbelief as the Head Coach sent in his third string players. The Japanese Players scored a touchdown just before the half and with renewed confidence came back in the third quarter & played the game of their lives. They beat the faster & bigger Canadians. Japanese teams never give up. The UBC Coaching Staff remembers this lesson.

In recent years the people of Japan have grown dissatisfied with their Government. The catastrophe has forced Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Democratic Party of Japan to perform on the World Stage. It’s literally trial by fire for Japanese Leadership. The actions and results will determine politically positioning for years to come. In the land of the World Professional Baseball Champions it is time for Prime Minister Kan to step up to the plate. Whatever the results of the next few weeks. Change will be the result.

The Japanese have Heart and thrive on adversity. Never count them out. We will witness another come back. I’m betting on it.


Tohoku (Tokyo) Earthquake – living and working thru after shocks

“May you live thru interesting times” is an often quoted Chinese Curse. People working thru this period of crisis in Tokyo are testament to the concept. “Surreal”. No better way to describe the time since Friday, March 11th. After shocks, regular & serious, remind us that the crisis has not finished. The situation remains terrible for the people living in Northern Honshu who lost family members, their homes, livelihoods and now face real & immediate danger of radiation leaked by the Fukushima Nuclear Reactors. The people of Tokyo face less immediate danger but are challenged by real obstacles. Inconveniences have evolved to legitimate hardships.

-Public Transportation: once a given in Tokyo; where trains, subways and even buses run precisely to schedule. The Tokyo Transit System was the definition of reliability. Since the earthquake, train schedules are unpredictable with some lines closing service entirely for days. The people riding the trains are quiet and more reserved than usual. Remaining polite and tolerant as trains & subways now limiting service seem perpetually congested. (After returning from Okinawa yesterday, I changed trains at Kawasaki Station and entered a front car carrying two huge pieces of luggage. The crowd somehow made room for me and not one person complained.)

-Line ups: legitimate shortages and rationing have resulted in long queues at gas stations, grocery stores, taxi stands, banks and Narita Airport Check in Counters. My wife waited half an hour to get into a grocery store and another half an hour before she reached the cash register. (We observed numerous stores and service stations that locked down and closed due to lack of supplies.)

The Branches of Mizuho Bank could not supply cash to their patrons from tellers or ATM Machines. This was News worthy as several people politely turned away by bankers (dressed smartly in three piece suits) were interviewed by a local television station.

-Rotating Electrical Brown Outs: sectors outside of the main 23 wards of Tokyo are having power shut for hours at a time. Lights are shut off wherever possible, escalators are closed, and many companies are working half days to preserve energy. (The electric shut offs create a domino effect as traffic lights, computer generated communication and cell phone reception is negatively affected.) This distracts business offices but it shuts down most production operations. (What industry doesn’t need electricity?)

-Fear: decisions by Foreign Governments and Corporations to move Expatriate Employees to Southern Regions of Japan or out of the Country initiated concern with Japanese and Foreigners living in Tokyo. Some of our associates in Investment Banking moved to Osaka & Hong Kong to work temporarily with their respective satellite offices. (Flights from Narita to Kyushu, Guam, Hong Kong, Thailand, and other Southern Destinations are sold out. The Expatriate exodus and subsequent crowds at Narita and Haneda Airport resemble the Golden Week and New Year Holiday Travel Seasons. Rumors of winds carrying radioactive particles thru Tokyo on Wednesday Morning at 5 a.m. accelerated decisions to “fly South”.

While traveling to Narita Airport today one man asked if I was an “Expatriate” fleeing the nuclear danger. He seemed pleased when I answered that “my destination was Germany on a scheduled trip.” A reporter and photographer pulled me aside for a quick interview as I boarded the bus from Suitengumae to Narita Airport. They remarked that I was “lucky to be scheduled for a trip during these serious times”. “When will you come back they asked?” “Next week”. I replied. “Japan is my home. My wife is Japanese. This is where I live and work. I’ll be back.” They smiled.


Tohoku (Tokyo) Earthquake – A Lesson in Humility Friday, March 11th 2011

When the Quake struck Tokyo late Friday Afternoon my family was spread out around the Greater City. My daughter was studying in after school care, my wife Interpreting on the 8th Floor of Prince Park Hotel near Tokyo Tower & I was at my desk at our Kawasaki Office. Connecting to bring everyone home was challenging but it finished well. (We are doing better than Tsunami Battered People in Northern Honshu.) Following are actions and observations making up our family’s Surreal Day:

-Quite a Shake: Our three story home/office building resembles thin houses more common to Amsterdam than Kawasaki. (It moves with strong winds.) Our Consulting Team is spread throughout the first and second floor. We are seasoned veterans of smaller quakes in Asia & (one staff member slept thru the devastating Earth Quake in LA). Our building shook, bent and seemed to bounce for several minutes. It was beyond anyone’s expectations. Yet, no serious damage; our television needed repositioning, small items including free standing photos fell, drawers popped open and books fell of shelves. Easy clean up without broom & dust pan.

-Technology Failure: Phone communication was near impossible soon after the quake but email went thru to destination. Land lines worked better than Cell Phones and Internet Based Phones failed in places such as Miura (In Law’s Home) when electricity was cut off. My wife’s meeting terminated and everyone was evacuated to the Parking Lot via staircase. She called us from a pay phone & emailed from her BlackBerry.

-Community Support: My daughter’s school gathered children to the soccer field. I could hear their adrenaline charged chatter from a Kilometer away. Our daughter had been sick to her stomach and remained scared as we walked thru the shell shock neighborhood on our return home. The eyes of our neighbors standing in the streets, sitting in front of their homes and businesses, and the teachers at the Elementary School were different. A people experienced with Natural Catastrophe, fearful but resided to their fate and ready to carry on with life’s responsibilities. The teachers & special care givers would spend the night at the school with children whose parents could not return home.

-Above & Beyond: Our Evening Care Lady hired thru the “Sliver Center” peddled her bike to our place minutes after the quake. She entered the home obviously stressed by the entire experience but immediately started work by taking my daughter to her desk to review homework. She stayed the night allowing me to pick up my wife sparing concern for “Mom’s” comfort & safety.

-Transportation Stops: Safety protocol determines closure and reinitiating of public transportation. Most major highways, subway and train lines closed from time of the Quake n Friday until Saturday Morning. People had to taxi, drive, bus or walk home. Roads and side-walks were jammed.

-Longest Parking Lot in the World: (I picked up my wife in Roppongi, a Center of Downtown Tokyo. This trip is normally a two hour journey. It rounded out to 10 Hours.) We were warm, safe and in the company of thousands of other drivers. Most drivers were courteous which isn’t always common to Japanese Road Ways. Many of us slipped the gear to Park and slept in short durations- waking slightly refreshed to move back into place in the vehicle line up.

-Long Walk: Unfortunate Evacuees (refugees) from Downtown Offices walked home, stayed in Coffee Shops, Restaurants, Public Buildings and very lucky ones found Hotel Rooms. Government Buildings opened to Public and Private Businesses showed compassion and support for the unfortunate people stranded. (The Roppongi Grand Hyatt put out chairs and offered bottled water to comfort anyone in their Lobby. Starbucks extended hours to accommodate stranded Tokyo Compatriots and some Izakaya became “one off bed and breakfast.”) Estimated 90,000 People stranded as of 3 a.m. Saturday Morning. (My wife wonders how they project such a statistic.)

-Tokyo is still standing: Not without damage; we witnessed fires and plenty of fire fighting vehicles on the return trip from Downtown Tokyo. There will be costs of repair and extended inconvenience but for the most part the Capital City stands strong. Let’s Pray and hope the People in Sendai and Miyagi get relief and luck changes in their favor.

-Life Goes On: It’s Saturday Morning & The kids are playing soccer in the little park next door. Garbage will be picked up by the City of Kawasaki as promised. The trains are back in service and we’ll soon be back at business as usual. But then again; (We awoke this "day after" to loud speaker announcements of possible water & electricity shortages.) Fun Continues.

-Over Whelming Support: Many thanks to family and friends who've sent well wishes. We are not alone in this World. You people make the difference. It's sincerely appreciated.


Miura Marathon - 10 Things to Love & Hate:

Miura City in Southern Kanagawa is famous for beaches friendly to Wind Surfers, Fresh Tuna and delicious “Daikon” a Giant Japanese White Radish.  It also hosts a very exciting and competitive Half Marathon.  The Miura Half Marathon follows the Tokyo Marathon by only 7 days but shouldn’t be negated.  It’s a real treat for any serious runner or weekend warrior. 

My In-Laws live in walking distance of the starting line and my Father in Law began his four year string of entries at the age of 64.  His passion and excitement for the Miura Runs motivated my entry last year and today.  Last year’s rain, wind and cold made for one of the toughest sporting challenges of my life. 
This year’s perfect March Weather with sunshine and virtually no wind was ideal but it was difficult for other reasons.  (The Course has serious climbs stretching over 2K.) Miura Marathon institutes time limits defining ultimate failure.  My goal in 2010 & 2011 was to finish within time restrictions; the 2010 Half Marathon demanded you cross the line in 2 hours and 20 minutes and the 2011 10 K  required a 70 Minute Finish. 
Following are 10 items to Love or Hate about the Miura Half Marathon Festival:
-1-LINING UP TO START:  Feeling like a Rock Star as the Paparazzi (family) take photos while wish you luck as you line up to start.  All this while standing in the midst of thousands of other runners performing pre-race rituals. (This Year’s 10K had 4000 Runners.)

-2- SCENERY: Clean Air, Views of The Ocean, Palm Trees, Bamboo Fields, Rural Japanese Homes, Rice Fields, Vegetable Gardens, Mountains, Temples, Shrines and a large Traditional Cemetery along the course.
-3-WEATHER: The rain, cold, wind induced discomfort, & foot blisters that came with wet conditions.
 -4-CROWDS: The tight lanes that congest when course changes turn reasonable running paths into venturi with no hope for individuals to pass for better times or speed up to make the cut off. 
-5-COMPASSION: The runners and side line fans that successfully encouraged my father in law to continue after his Hip Flexor Injury.  (He wanted to limp to the side lines but other competitors wouldn’t let him quit with one kilometer left to run in his 5K Event.)  One over zealous spectator actually pushed him back onto the road way and yelled “Mousukoshi Ganbatte” (keep fighting –only a little more to go).
-6-INJURIES: Making the decision to continue running & not assist a competitor who went down over a speed bump.  (It was the right choice as he was already being assisted by two other runners, a race observer, and the ambulance ultimately arrived in minutes.)  It didn’t feel right & still doesn’t.
-7-FUN: The runners that dress in costumes. Many suit up as Giant White Japanese Radish “Daikon”, Fire Hydrants, Post Office Boxes and Comic Characters.  One Half Marathon Star paints his face like a Panda and runs in a China Dress. 

-8-RACING with ELITE ATHLETES: About 2K into the race the Police Motor Cade forces the Ten K Runners to the Left Side allowing the Elite of the Half Marathon to pass on the right.  I was humbled and inspired by the perfect glide and excessive speed of the athletes as they fly by us “also rans”.  (The crazy guy in the Panda Make Up and China Dress was in the Leader’s Pack.)
-9-RACE SOUVENIRS: A Beautiful Performance Running Shirt,  one Fresh Japanese Giant White Radish and a Color Finishing Certificate are collected at the Miura Beach after finishing the run. (We ate the fresh “Daikon” immediately after the race and it was sensational.) Talk about little big things; the race organizers promoted the local vegetable by handing out recipes for Daikon Dishes as you left the Beach.)

-10-FINISHING:  Making the half marathon cut last year in spite of wind, rain, cold and blisters was a personal triumph.  Beating the clock in this year’s 10 K without properly training was equally gratifying.  Both achievements were surpassed by my Father in Law who limped the final mile to record a reasonable time and Finish. 

Personally, the best part of the race has been locating my Bride on the finishers Beach to score a kiss that she’s awarded after both race completions. (It’s real motivation to sign up for the 2012 Event.)  Did I mention Finishing?
Miura International Marathon              http://www.miura-marathon.com/ (Japanese Only)

PASTA ITALIANO KICHIU: Futakotamagawa Station – A Sensational Place for Lunch

Last Sunday my wife and I found ourselves free for lunch.  (We dropped our daughter off at a Birthday Party and caught the train to Futakotamagawa to visit the Italian Trattoria “PASTA ITALIANO KICHIU”.  (We called in a Reservation the same morning and were fortunate to get a table for 2:00 pm.) The Restaurant is open from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm for lunch and seating is limited.  There’s room at the bar for about 9 individuals and five tables lined up against the wall. The kitchen is open air and the atmosphere is warm and comfortable. 

We ordered a Set Menu that included a mixed antipasti plate made with fresh local vegetables.  It came with a cup of nice vegetable soup lightly flavored with pumpkin.

 This was followed by a choice of Pasta or Risotto.  My wife’s risotto was delicious and the perfect texture might be well described as Al Dente.  My beef ragout egg noodle pasta was very tasty. 

 Main Courses of Grilled Fish and tender Beef Steak met all expectations. 

Our total bill for two complete meals was 6000 Yen.  (Beverages are not included in the set menu price.)
The KICHIU has a wine list well suited to their menu and special board. (My wife feels that the food favors the salty and spicy side of the equation lending itself to those who enjoy product from the vine.) We tried the Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2008.  The ruby red colored wine was light and peppery with an intense bouquet. It paired well with the Red Meat Dishes.

KICHIU has been one of our regular destinations as it is convenient to our home and always serves a quality product.  We find service at lunch best as the set menus favor timely delivery.  The young Part Time Staff working lunch are inexperienced but friendly.  (Japan’s Tabelog web site is full of critiques complaining about the professional but dour and stern faced waiters working evenings at this Trattoria.)  It is not a Restaurant that welcomes children but is a popular destination for couples. (There are plenty of other options for Italian Dining as a Family in Niko-Tama.) 
Bottom Line:  try the PASTA ITALIANO KICHIU for Lunch on a Weekend.  Make a Reservation and you won’t be disappointed.
Pasta Italiano Kichiu    http://www.kiwa-group.co.jp/restaurant/a100088.html     (Japanese Only)