I went straight to the heart of the Samurai on a recent trip to Japan. This was primarily an Aikido training trip with some of my best friends from around the world. 14 days of intense Aikido training and some sight seeing wedged in there for good measure.
We trained hard for an average of about 4 hours per day. Our first practice started at 6:30am and you had to be in the dojo dressed and ready on the mat by 6:20am. This meant we needed to walk from the hotel usually from 5:35am to 6:10am each morning. So, we also packed on the miles with walking another 1-2 hours per day just getting to the dojo and back.
Needless to say, I slept really great in Japan!
I wanted to give you a glimpse into some of the focus points that came from traveling to this awesome land of the samurai. During my journey, I noticed many interesting observations that you may find interesting, new or plain odd. It’s okay if you do. But there is something to think upon and learn from the people of Japan.
This is the longest and most epic post that I have ever done. Please refer to the handy Article Guide / Table of Contents as follows to guide you:
We trained with the Doshu who is the head of the International Aikikai. He is also the grandson of the founder of Aikido, O'Sensei, Morihei Ueshiba.
We also traveled a way out to go to Iwama where O'Sensei went into the mountain area to refine his training and weapons techniques. His shrine can be found in Iwama.
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is literally covered in gold - gold leaf. The Golden Pavilion is World Heritage listed and surround by beautiful gardens.
Golden Pavilion is the popular name for one of the main buildings of a Buddhist Japanese temple in Kyoto Japan. The name Golden Pavilion comes from the Japanese term Kinkakuji, which literally means the temple of the Golden Pavilion(金閣寺). Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺 Deer Garden Temple) is the formal name of the temple complex in which the Golden Pavilion is found.
photo source: Shane Fielder
Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijō-jō?) is a flatland castle located in Kyoto, Japan. The castle consists of two concentric rings (Kuruwa) of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square meters is occupied by buildings.
It is one of the seventeen assets of Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto which have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
text source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nij%C5%8D_Castle
Ryōan-ji (Shinjitai: 竜安寺, Kyūjitai: 龍安寺?, The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is a Zen temple located in northwest Kyoto, Japan. It belongs to the Myōshin-ji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. The Ryōan-ji garden is considered one of the (if not the) finest surviving examples of kare-sansui ("dry landscape"), a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations arranged amidst a sweep of smooth pebbles (small, carefully selected polished river rocks) raked into linear patterns that facilitate meditation. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some of the dojo we traveled to were far in the mountains of Japan. Peace and serenity is a constant out there. A good reminder that we can choose this for ourselves each day wherever we are.
This was first and foremost to me. It was incredibly difficult to comprehend at first. I never saw any public garbage cans , yet I never saw trash on the ground. I saw a guy extinguish his cigarette and put the butt in his pocket.
The Japanese people are relentless in their focus on keeping things clean and tidy. On one adventure in Kyoto, I saw a woman on her knees scrubbing and washing the dirt out of the cracks in her driveway.
The aparment builidng that we walked by each day going to the dojo had the same lady outside at 5:45am sweeping the front entrance. Consistnecy in action. It reminded me of the quote by Mother Teresa:
"If everyone swept their front step, the whole world would be clean"
This was a great lesson that we all can improve the quality and care of our environments by keeping them even tidier than they may already be. There is great power from walking along a clean and tidy street. You get a sense of calm from walking into a room without clutter.
The one thing you get used to very quickly in Japan is the massive amounts of people in the big cities such as Tokyo. I was part of several crosswalk crossings where there was 150-200 people on each side of the street. The light changes and a sea of heads move across the street in perfect harmony.
Nobody bumps into each other. Everyone is aware of the crowd and are always self adjusting their pace to keep pace and not touch the people around them. It was a sight to behold.
It was also a contrast from major crosswalks I have done in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.Checkout the bicycles navigating the pedestrians with no crashing. Talk about being focus.
I will make the statement that our culture in North America is becoming increasingly "me" focused. The old saying, "what’s in it for me" holds true.
10 months before my trip, I knew I had to improve my Japanese language skills. I wanted to make the investment into learning Japanese so that I could have a better time in Japan. I wanted to get the most from the trip considering the large cost of time and dollars to be there.
I enrolled in an online language class and found one of my Japanese friends who agreed to tutor me each week at our local Starbucks. The time spent focusing on learning and practicing my Japanese everyday for the majority of 2014 worked. It paid off immensely for me.
What was the payoff?
Glad you asked.
I know other non-Japanese speakers who went to Japan to only come back with negative stories. Some were refused service at restaurants and pubs. Some didn't enjoy the language. Some couldn't shop for what they needed easily. Some couldn't get around easy enough.
That was not my experience. Mine was the reverse.
Because I could speak Japanese, I got better directions more often. Eating in restaurants was awesome. Shopping was easier and I found the service staff friendly and very accommodating.
I made new friends easily. Hint: go to the bottom of the page and see all my new Halloween friends I made. It was a result of being able to speak Japanese.
The key lesson here?
The lesson is that when you go out of your comfort zone and try to accommodate another person, they are more likely to help you. The Japanese people I encountered were happy to see a Canadian guy speaking their language and trying to fit into their culture versus trying to impose my culture on them.
I think a lot of problems can be solved in advance when we seek first to understand, then be understood as Stephen Covey so eloquently observed.
In Japanese restaurants, you often are served a hot cloth called Oshibori. This is so that guests can cleanse the hands before eating. In Japan, you will find a large focus and obsession with keeping things clean, tidy and orderly. There are no wasted movements or practices, everything has purpose and meaning.
Oshibori also changes your state. Forget the alcohol or cigarette for a minute. Grab a hot oshibori and just holding it changes your physical state and refreshes your cells instantly.
I saw numerous places where time, cost and effort went into saving a tree. Older trees near shrines and temples commanded a higher level of care and attention. Its about focusing on the trees that gave life and continue to be part of the physical and spiritual realms that we live in.
In North America, we tend to focus on replacement versus preservation. Cut a tree down, plant 5 new ones. But in Japan, it was evident that this is not the best practice.
The focus is on preservation of life's precious resources. What could you focus on preserving more of in your life?
Sometimes we all need a little pressure to test ourselves and perform. I call it the Moment of Truth. It is a moment where you either do something or don't do it. The doing can mean success while inaction may lead to failure.
Here we were, a group of 5 of us on a long journey to a distant mountain area called Iwama. Iwama has had a pivotal role in the development of Aikido which I practice and teach. This is where the Founder of Aikido spent many of his formative years practicing and teaching.
So, we are done our trip in Iwama and need to make the 2.5 hour train ride including connections to Tokyo. We get a ticket for the last 7:30pm train out. We had 15 minutes to find something to eat and get on the train. Our group found a food market in the Mito train station.
Here was my Moment of Truth… everyone in the market spoke only Japanese and no English. I had been taking intense Japanese classes and tutoring for most of 2014 in preparation of the trip. Now was my moment.
I would either eat or starve based on whether I could order what I wanted, pay and get on the train.
The end result was I ordered 300grams of cooked chicken and ended up getting a few pieces because the girl behind the counter didn’t think I needed to eat that much chicken. But I got my meal and made it onto the train with 3 minutes to spare (a little close for comfort).
A little linguistic pressure did the trick! I did it and it felt great.
How about you?
What can you prepare for so that you pass your Moment of Truth?
In North America, you walk into a restaurant and are seated with a smiling server who comes over to greet you and take your order. Then the food comes. Then the server comes back to check on you multiple times to make sure you are happy and well taken care of. Then you pay and go home.
Not so in Japan.
You are greeted and shown to your table. If you don’t notice the little call button on the table, you could be there a while and go very hungry. You want service? Push the call button.
When you push it, instantly someone is at your table at the ready to assist you.
I thought at first this was different, but soon realized that the service staff don't want to bother you over and over. Plus, when the last dish of food is brought to your table, so is the bill.
Another conflicting practice with North Americans. When you are done, you take the bill to the cashier at the door and pay. There is one big small detail:
Tipping is not required anywhere in Japan. The service people believe that they should do the job well and right to keep you coming back again. They do not require a tip to escalate you to status of being a "good tipper" in order to get served.
What would happen if you or your employees took this attitude forward in your work?
It was refreshing to see. All of the people that I encounter had a strong devotion to serving the customer or guest, even to a fault.
The Japanese people serve with dedication and focus on the happiness of the customer; to a fault. Two specific situations come to mind:
My friends and I were travelling by subway train. We bought tickets valued at 500 Yen each and thought we were on the right path. Then we stopped at the Station Master's office asking why our tickets didn’t work in the gate.
He realized we needed a different ticket and only at a 180 Yen value. The Station Master asked for all of our tickets back. He then issued new tickets and refunded us the difference in what we paid for the 500 Yen ticket.
How many times has this happened in North America where you are told, "sorry, buyer beware"?
Not in Japan. Honour and service to the customer means something to stand by. That Station Master never will know that you are reading this today. He will never know that he was an amazing ambassador for Japan. His action that day is one of hundreds of reasons why I will return often again to Japan.
Think… how can you adapt this to your business or work?
I was in Akihabara at the Yodobashi Camera store. This is a nine level, football stadium sized place. EVERY and ANY camera, computer, phone, tablet and other electronic gizmo or gadget can be found. It was truly overwhelming to say the least.
I was ready to buy this one tablet when the tablet salesman runs over to me. He proceeds to tell me in English that this one tablet has a "big problem". He goes on to explain that the back of the tablet overheats. He asked me not to buy that one and instead consider three other similar tablets from other manufacturers.
A salesman who cares about the end use value and safety of his customer versus making the sale. Again, refreshing. Plus, business was by no means slow that day and plenty of $500 to $1,000 products were flying off the shelves.
The next thing the Japanese folks do well is make doing business easy.
You will never go thirsty in Japan. There is an abundance of vending machines everywhere. It is so convenient to buy 10 varieties of bottled water, 40 versions of soda, milk water, electrolyte water and hot coffee.
Yes I said Hot Coffee! You buy a can of piping hot coffee or espresso and open the tab and you are jolting or topping up the caffeine levels really quickly for about a $1.50 or so. Iced coffee is available too if that is your preference.
This makes travelling in a train or by bus so easy and convenient. Now, part two is what happens when the liquid is processed?
Right, you need a toilet. No problem, they are everywhere. I know friends who would not venture into a subway washroom in some American cities. But it's different in Japan. The washroom/restroom facilities are high quality of the kind you would expect in an airport washroom/restroom.
This added to the convenience of not worrying about riding the rails for 35, 45 or 75 minutes at a time.
The Shinkansen (speed bullet trains) and other longer commuter trains has onboard washrooms similar quality to that of an airplane.
The Laundromats were the best I ever saw. They had extra large size capacity washers and dryers that could handle out sweaty, heavy training uniforms. It was so convenient to walk by on the way back from training and throw our stuff in to wash. We made a ritual of grabbing breakfast for the wash cycle and hit Tullys coffee shop for the dry cycle.
Laundry for a wash/dry cycle costs less than a latte at a coffee shop. Next time, I will pack half the clothes and wash twice as much (key lesson).
What are you doing in your place of work or business to make doing business with you easy, accessible and convenient?
These bullet trains cut regular travel time by two-thirds. The seating is better than executive airline seating. There is constant meal, beverage and snack service attendants strolling through the cabins. Riding a train that drives at 320km/hr feels like you are riding a pillow through the air. Extremely comfortable.
The Shinkansen were ALWAYS ON TIME. Remarkable.
How much could our economies in North America be improved if major cities 3-4 hours of driving time could be reached in an hour? Cities could attract business talent and skill based labour from other cities which would bolster economic output without having to deal with housing shortages and other problems where employees are required to migrate to other cities to work.
Plus, cities would see an increase in entertainment and tourism dollars that could be more easily spent with convenient access to other cities.
I saw so many examples of attention to detail and design. The Japanese people are very intentional in many areas of their culture and living. It is evident by the way they take pride in producing exceptional products and services. Checkout the following awesome examples of attention to detail.
My friend Michael Friedl and I were checking out the impressive Government Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo when we stumbled across the Love sculpture. This is a famous sculpture that exists in many prominent locations throughout the world.
Here is the excerpt of the Love Sculpture from Wikipedia:
LOVE is an iconic Pop Art image by American artist Robert Indiana. It consists of the letters LO over the letters VE; the O is canted sideways so that its oblong negative space creates a line leading to the V. The original image, with green and blue spaces backing red lettering, served as a print image for a Museum of Modern Art Christmas card in 1964. In much this same form the design soon graced a popular US postage stamp. Its original rendering in sculpture was made in 1970 and is displayed in Indiana at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
The Shinjuku Government offers a free observatory for access from the 45th Floor. You will see quickly the impressive view of the "concrete jungle" as my Japanese friends call it. It is a sea of concrete of massive proportions. I am amazed that Japan doesn’t sink into the ocean.
The ride up to the 350th floor of the Tokyo Skytree took just under 2 minutes. WOW.
The views were incredible as we arrived at about 5:00pm and it took about 45 minutes in line to make our way to the top after paying our 2,000 Yen. Checkout some of the night views we captured here in the second tallest building in the world.
Yes those were my two Halloween costumes. Yes the eye patch was 100% real and authentic.
I was training two days prior to Halloween in the morning class. There was about 110 people on the mat practicing together in a small space. I went to strike my partner and the folks next to us collided with us and I ended up with a few fingers in my right eye.
I thought the pain would go away after a few hours of first aid care. But I was not so lucky. I had to call my global travel medical provider and seek a hospital for treatment. So, off I went to St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo. The experience was tremendous from a service perspective.
The nurses at the hospital said it would take a long time to get treated as they were very busy. My friend Michael joined me and we thought we would need to hunker down for 4-5 hours similar to back home.
I was in and out in just under two hours!
They have everything under one roof. It was a great multi-discipline hospital. All your services were fully integrated including the pharmacy. I was treated, measured for my eye patch, got the gels and drops, paid and was on my way.
Now onto Halloween. The younger folks take Halloween seriously. It is a growing obsession for them. I was able to ask in Japanese and explain that I was from Canada and could I take their picture. Below is a few snapshots of some of my newest Halloween friends.
This comes back to focus. Because I focused on learning Japanese, I was able to introduce myself and ask to take a picture of my new friends!
Your efforts and focus into goal setting will payoff for you and here is my proof.
Yes, Burger King was offering the Halloween Black Burger. Considering I only eat fast food a few times of year, I went for it with my friends Michael, Roland and Monica. Proof:
These ten best tips I found at Laline in Shibuya. Laline sells all sorts of creams, moisturizers and beauty products. They take a boring top ten list and make it unique while putting in a subtle sales message in the tenth spot. What do you think?
1. Brush your teeth 3 times a day
2. Drink 8 glasses of water (at least) a day
3. Run for 20 minutes. 3 times a week.
4. Eat healthy food in correct quantities
5. Make love
6. Stretch your body 7 times a day
7. In moments of stress, take 2 deep breaths, the stress will pass
8. Seek and enjoy the pleasures life has to offer, but don't overdo it
9. Work well, not hard
10. And most importantly - for body and soul alike - take a shower, then treat your body to creams and perfumes.
I could have covered more here, but I want to respect your time. I captured over 700 great photos and several hours of video from the trip. Drop me a comment below and ask me your question or share your experience.
I can go back and add more things depending on what you ask.
I am a grower of human capability and a business builder. The best part of my life is helping people become stronger and develop their skills, talents and character in order to lead powerful lives. I have had the great privilege to study under some of the greatest minds of business, leadership, health and fitness along with the most talented Martial Arts instructors. My passion is helping people to become even more powerful in life than they already are.