On Growing Old & Other Random Thoughts

The other day I was talking to my dog Toma on our daily early morning walk and said: “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.” Then I heard another voice: “Neither do I. But you will.”

You’ll never walk alone!

At age 77 I keep surprising myself with optimism and happiness flowing from a sense calm and contentment despite the moments of silence, doubt, fear, boredom and invisibility associated with growing older.

In fact, I have discovered that growing old is filled with big surprises.  The move to Japan, despite the pandemic, is a great adventure and I have more energy and hope than I imagined possible.

In an effort to keep my brain from deteriorating, I have my blog. While I realize that not many read it or care what I think, I enjoy writing and expressing my feelings and opinions.  It is an emotionally and intellectually healthy exercise even if a bit like releasing a balloon in space or putting a message in a bottle in the ocean!

Also ignoring the political chaos in America has been most beneficial for my physical and emotional well being.

Some months ago The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” columnist, Lori Gottlieb, wrote “Bingeing on up-to-the-minute news is like stress eating—it’s bloating our minds with unhealthy food that will make us feel sick.”

I have been following this advice; blood pressure and anxiety level in check; living a peaceful Zen oriented life.

The U.S. election results? ‘Que Sera, Sera.’

Soba: Tokyo’s Original Fast Food

Last night Keiko and I celebrated Japan’s fall buckwheat harvest with a filling and nutritious meal of Soba, a spaghetti-like noodle made of 100 percent gluten-free buckwheat flour that is called Tokyo’s “original fast food.”

Keiko selected a neighborhood family-run sobaya (soba shop) just blocks from our home for my first taste of the city’s time-honored soba culture since moving here last year.

For my soba selection I ordered a bowl of hot broth with slices of duck breast (kamo-nanban) accompanied by warm sake.  Keiko opted for tensoba, soba served with seafood tempura.

In addition to healthy and flavorful noodle dishes, the shop also features some first-rate side dishes. We started with an order of succulent fried oysters.  (I’ll be back just for the oysters and a beer soon!)

The decision for a soba meal was a health-based choice as we have both been working on diet and conditioning.  In my case, I have been steadily losing weight through daily fat-burning health walks/jogs, regular strength workouts, and recently more serious diet adjustments.  I plan to be at 82 kg in February 2021.

I love ramen, the signature Japanese noodle dish.  Unfortunately, ramen is anything but a healthy meal given that it is a high-sodium, monosodium glutamate-laden dish.  But in moderation, oh such an enjoyable eating experience!

In contrast to ramen as well as the thick wheat udon noodles and traditional pasta, Soba noodles are high in nutrients and low in fat and cholesterol with a distinctively nutty and earthy flavor.  Soba noodles, served either chilled with a dipping sauce or in hot broth as a noodle soup are a good source of manganese, fiber, protein and thiamin with many health benefits.

The Holiday Spirit

It’s October and Tokyo is already getting ready for Christmas! Along with Halloween decorations, shopping mall Christmas decorations and retail sale of holiday items are very much in evidence. I had to remind myself I was actually in Japan!

The Ario mall in Nishiarai
We can see the top of this 5 story Christmas tree from our living room.
Taken on a recent shopping trip to Costco.

Tokyo Recycling

I have tried to make my blog an invitation for family and friends to partake in the sights and experiences of life in Japan. Although the pandemic has restricted wider travels, my daily walks and bike rides through Tokyo neighborhoods are filled with interesting, curious, and a times somewhat humorous or mysterious, observations of everyday life.

The Recycle Cycle

Recycling in Japan is an art-form. With very few public waste containers and lots of sorting rules, Japan can be a hard (and expensive) place to get rid of trash.

Garbage in Japan must be very carefully separated into precise categories. In our building, a visit to the common recycling room takes time and effort. I have developed a system to meet expectations for packaging and placement of various categories of “trash.”

When out and about, it is almost impossible to find a trash can anywhere other than inside convenience stores. With few exceptions, everyone carries their trash with them. The practice makes the site of trash left lying in a public park exceptional.

While difficult to understand and master, the somewhat troublesome rules and accepted practice for trash recycling and disposal do make Tokyo one of the cleanest cities in the world.


Women and Japan’s Future

It is fascinating living in Japan at this time in history as the country faces a complex matrix of domestic and global issues. The following article speaks to one critical facet of the serious dilemma that Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga desperately needs to address: how to develop and deploy Japan’s human capital, women in particular, as a central feature of the bold reforms required to supercharge the country’s stagnant economy and transform the way it does business.

Despite the unfortunate Trump-like headline, the article is worthy of attention by Japan’s aged, male-dominated political leadership, ministerial bureaucracy and business elite. It will be interesting to see how the government responds.

Back in 2014, the former Prime Minister pledged to make Japan “a place where women shine.” Sadly, the lack of any significant government action to encourage private sector structural change, it remains an unfilled promise. The article concludes:

As a result, the benefits from the educational gains that women have made since the 1980s have fallen short of potential. To be sure, a new generation of university-educated women who graduated in the 1990s and 2000s is coming of age, and some will soon take up more prominent positions. But labor-market conditions for the bulk of Japanese women remain highly constrained. 

While this problem partly reflects persistent misogyny and rigid corporate attitudes, the main culprit is the cheap-labor strategy. Too many men and women suffer from job insecurity and low wages, which almost certainly has contributed to Japan’s low marriage and birth rates. And this, in turn, has kept the overall population in decline, putting a cap on economic growth.

When he entered office last month, Suga promised to “create a cabinet that works for people.” To make that mean something, he needs to put the Japanese people at the very center of his national economic strategy. Japan desperately needs to develop and deploy the human capital embedded in its population, so that it can replace the 30-year-old emphasis on cheap labor with a restored vision of a high-wage, high-productivity society. Japan should be the Switzerland of Asia, not its U.S.

You can read the article by Bill Emmott, former editor-in-chief of The Economist, and the author of Japan’s Far More Female Future here: