Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ganbare Nippon

The country is in crisis.

Following the Great Tohoku Earthquake on March 11, it has been in a downward spiral involving aftershocks, tsunamis, radiation leakages, shortages, and other ill effects from the disaster.

Even more disturbing, the lackluster leadership by both the government and private sector firms involved have made a bad situation far worse, and fueled the fire of panic to a higher level that it would have been otherwise.

No doubt about it, the country is in crisis.

The last time Japan faced a crisis like this it was not a natural disaster. It was a political one.
The country had lost a war and suffered devastation from bombings, starvation, misery, and hopelessness not unlike what people are feeling right now. What happened next?

I am sure there were many people willing to write the country off and call it finished.
The old Japan and old ways that had led it to militarism and nationalism had been proven wrong, and the Japanese people suffered greatly for it. Following that, through force of will, the Post-war generation did what Japanese people do best - GANBARU - and transformed the shattered country into an economic powerhouse. It is time to do it again.

Just like in the post-war period, it is obvious the old ways will not work anymore.
A new order needs to emerge if Japan is to ever recover and survive. The problems of the past 20 years need to be laid to rest decisively.

Government and the HR Factor
In the post-war period, working for the government in service to the country was considered a noble thing to do. Many of the best and brightest went to work in the ministries and did a fantastic job of developing the export economy that drove Japan to greatness through the 1980s.
Now the government is a mockery, reduced to indecisive dead fish who could not survive in the private sector, or wealthy children with nothing to offer but their own inflated sense of entitlement.

For the country to endure, new leadership is needed. Government needs to be seen as a worthwhile place for bright young graduates. If Naoto Kan is the best we can do, sadly we are doomed.

The Trust Factor
Trust in government and business has been eroded even further than before by this crisis. The lies, doublespeak, and obfuscation of ministry officials and TEPCO management has put a great many people at risk who did not need to be - and a gomen nasai press conference will not absolve this recklessness. They would be wise to remember that this is a country of strong will, and that in addition to GANBARU, this is a country that can GAMAN - a country that has, and can, endure even the unendurable for the sake of its own survival.

This country can and must handle the truth of what has happened in Fukushima if it is to overcome and persevere. We need the advice of other countries, but our own leadership, to overcome this crisis.

Why I am Hopeful for Japan's Future
Now is not the time for the Japanese salaryman - those days are over.
Now is the time for women and children.

Women are often called the untapped resource of Japan.
Many are highly educated, highly motivated, and even more increasingly looking for challenging careers like their male peers have done. They are the heart and soul of Japan and it is time to let them take an even greater role in rebuilding the country. Continuing to exclude women from authority will destroy any real chance for Japan to revitalize itself.

Children are also better educated than ever before. They are increasingly exposed to the outside world at younger ages, and more and more of them live overseas and become fluent in English.
This is vital in order to reconnect Japan with the rest of the world and to bring back the kinds of important ideas that will help change the country for the better. Japan will not survive in isolation. The current generation lack effective role models, but this will also change.

Asia - China and Japan
One of the most important steps in the rebuilding of Europe was the single currency Euro.
I do not suggest that a single currency is politically viable in Asia yet, but Europe experienced post-war success and growth through inter-connected trade. ASEAN is still a long way off, and diplomatic relationships, especially between Japan and China, must reach a new level of harmony for Japan to become successful again. Whatever happened between Japan and China during the war must be let go, completely let go, for a new relationship to blossom that will benefit both. Recall that only a few years after the war in Europe ended, the SECOND world war, NATO was being formed and prior enemies were involved in positive dialog again.
This needs to happen in Asia once and for all.

In Conclusion
Japan always has in it the power to amaze.
If anything positive is to come from this tragedy, it will be a wake-up call for the country.
This crisis will be the catalyst that shocks the Japanese people into making the hard changes that are necessary for the country to survive and ultimately to prosper again - if not for this generation, for the next one.

I love Japan - always have, always will.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shaking The Trees

hardship is what causes ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

well, it's been a long weekend.

As everyone knows, Northern Japan got hit with the largest earthquake in Japanese history on Friday, and aftershocks, tsunami, nuclear power reactor explosions, food/gas/electrical shortages have ensued.

I was at home with the dog when all this started. In short order our family was together, and we spent the rest of the weekend watching the news as word of the devastation continued to spread, and the chain of events continues to play itself out in front of our eyes. Here are my takeaways as of Monday morning:

1) Quakes
It's Japan. There are earthquakes. I have been through many quakes since I got here in 1991, but this was truly the biggest and scariest of all. Panic doesn't help much. All you can do is try to get somewhere safer (under a table, etc.) and wait it out. and Hope.

I don't believe there is any completely safe place on Earth anymore, so to me leaving Japan doesn't help much. My colors don't run. Never have, never will.

2) Dying
I know I will die. It is up to me to choose how I live until then. As long as I can be with my family, I will go when it is my time. We have been together throughout, which is all I can ask for. If this is the end, lay me to rest in Yokohama. This is my home.

I am happier here than any other place I have ever been.

I am happier now than at any other time in my life so far.


At 44, I have beaten the odds many times already, and have been in a lot of hard places that I managed to get out of. I am determined and resourceful. I usually find a way, if a way can be found. I am confident in my ability to lead my family and survive/endure whatever comes our way.

I give my friends and family all the love I have, and if it is my time to die, I will face it with open eyes, open mind, and an open heart. I am grateful for my life, for all I have seen and done, for my family and the support of my friends.

3) Some Hardships, how hard are they really?
Now we enter a time of power rationing, gas rationing, food shortages, and other inconveniences. This could go on for a long time. How hard? I am not bothered.

There are so many dead, so many more who have lost their families, their homes, cars, livelihoods - everything. I have no right to complain about sharing the burden with them.
We can endure whatever must be endured to support them. Our hearts go out to them and are filled with sadness at their loss.

What has happened to us so far is a minor inconvenience compared to REAL HARDSHIP which is a daily aspect of life in much of the world. It is time to show how tough we can be. So far this is not so bad.

Everyone needs to develop a proper sense of perspective and let go of the illusion of entitlement. Realize how lucky we are.

In much of the world there is poor sanitation, no electrical infrastructure, no medical care system, no clean water, no public transport or education, no opportunity. Now is our turn to endure just a tiny taste of what most of those people have to face EVERY DAY OF THEIR LIVES. Buckle up and stand strong. Don't be a p*ssy. It could be so much worse.

Even in our parents and grandparents' generations they faced hardships like this constantly and overcame them through focus, determination, and courage. How can we be expected to do any less?

4) Power Down
Bring it on. I need electricity a lot less than I would have thought. I can cook without electricity. I don't really watch television anyway. I have plenty of books to read. I like my PC (and posting to my blog) but it is a luxury I can easily forego. My family is here with me. Not too worried.

5) No gas, no trains
Sucks if you have to try to commute to work. I don't right now. I can stay here in Yokohama happily for as long as is necessary. I can walk anywhere I need to go. Not too worried.

6) Japan
This is an amazing country filled with amazing people. Since I was 14 I have never lost my lifetime love affair with Japan and with the Japanese people.
They possess an indomitable spirit and community that cannot be broken by nature and will not be broken by this. This country will endure. These people will continue. My family and I will not leave.

Courage is the unbreakable will of the ordinary person under extreme circumstances. Under fire, we all do what we must. More courageous still is the slow, methodical rebuilding of the country in wake of devastation. Japan has already experienced this in the post-war period. A whole generation sacrificed to rebuild. We will do the same as needed to make this country whole again. This is an opportunity to show what our generation can really accomplish. This is our time.

The government has done a good job in a hard time. Now we must all do our part, too. No panic, no fear. One step at a time until we are stronger than before. That is real courage. We have it. It is time to show it. Together.

7) Martial Arts
Our training gives us the mental strength and determination to overcome any hardship and endure any suffering. We learn to overcome fear and find "right action in the moment without hesitation." We are taught to respect and preserve all life. We are taught to accept our place as part of the natural world and order - no better or worse than anyone or anything else. For me, this is my religion. Make your beliefs guide your actions and do not compromise. This is what we were trained for. These tests are the fires that forge the steel of our souls.

In Closing
This morning, the sun is shining and it is warm on my face.
My wife and children are with me. We are alive and healthy.
I don't need much more than that.

See you soon. hang in there.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Baby Steps

Health is a constant process of re-evaluation and improvement.
For many, making the change to vegetarian (or vegan, even better) lifestyles can be a huge shock, which can make it unsustainable despite best intentions.

Here are some tips on getting started:

1) One a Day
start by making one meal a day vegetarian or vegan.
I think breakfast is a good starting place since there are many breakfast foods that are easily available and that already fit the bill. Go for oatmeal, bran flakes (not frosted flakes), granola/muesli with soy milk, whole wheat toast with natural jam and fresh fruits. Make yourself a healthy smoothie or fruit shake, or some fresh-squeezed juice to wash it down. Since this is the first meal of the day, you can have your carbs now.

When you can do this for a month or more easily, you can move on to two meals a day.

2) Red = dead
In the transition phase, if you must continue to eat some meat, keep to "clean meats" such as chicken or fish/seafood. Avoid fatty meats and red meats, whose proteins are the worst for you. Watch your protion sizes and remember that most of this craving is mental and can be overcome. Keep your ultimate goal in mind and don't be too hard on yourself. Stay the course.

3) Substitution
There are many things you can put into foods to replace meat. One of my favorites is shiitake mushrooms, which I slice up to replace slices of beef, or finely chop to replace ground beef. With some tomato paste, mushrooms are a big hit of umami, and their savory flavor can give your body the same satisfaction without ill benefits. Tofu isanother mainstay. For those who cannot do without, TVP (textured vegetable protein), TSP (textured soy protein), and Seitan are all good vegan substitutes.
There are vegan versions of many popular meaty dishes/condiments such as mayonnaise, butter, shortening, chili, bouillion, burgers (some of these are FANTASTIC!), lasagna, burritos, chicken nuggets, etcetera.

4) Snack Time
A lot of vegetarians/vegans blow it here. Plan ahead, and surround yourself with healthy options such as nuts/dried fruits, veggie sticks w/dips, healthy chips (minimal salt, baked not fried), healthy energy bars (some fantastic ones are available!). Humans like the convenience of grazing, and so we grab what is nearby. Think about what is in reach during snack time. High sodium notwithstanding, I am a big man of instant miso soup for snacktime, and of miso in general.

5) Water Bottle
I keep a one-liter water bottle on my desk and have a full one in the morning and a full one in the afternoon. I also drink water with most meals, so that gets me to between 3-4 liters daily, which is what I want. Stay away from the coke machine.
I also kept a variety of good healthy herbal teas in my desk for when I wanted something else.

6) Turning Japanese
Japanese food is some of the healthiest on earth (and Japanese live very long lives because of it). I am usually happy and satisfied after a bowl of rice w/nori topping, miso soup, and some tofu. There are healthy rice balls, and a variety of Japanese side dishes that are completely vegan and taste AMAZING! These are also usually very easy to prepare, so a Japanese diet is a great way to get healthy. My Japanese wife constantly amazes me by the traditional Japanese vegan foods she serves me.

Even if you picked only one of the points above, it would be a good start.
Try it for a montha dn see how you feel. Notice that you sleep better, have more energy, and feel better about yourself. This stuff can change your life.


Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Last weekend I was fortunate to get an invite from Shin Kali to attend a workshop on contradas (countering) led by Agalon Kit Acenas from PTK Manila. It was a great seminar and Agalon Kit is extremely talented.
PTK is the family system of the Tortal family, now headed by Grand Tuhon Leo Gaje. PTK has a lot of overlap with what we do in Kali Majapahit, and a lot of the movements looked familiar to me and were easy to pick up. They do some things that we don't, however, and the emphasis is a bit different.
The seminar included a lot of work on solo baston, daga/doble daga (pakal/saksak), knife tapping, espada y daga, and some empty hand applications of the contradas principles. The curriculum was well thought-out and showcased the contradas theme continually. In addition to Agalon Kit, Shihan Eain, Sensei Satoshi, Sensei RahD, and several of the Japanese instructors (Funaba-san, Kitagawa-san, Kitamori-san) were there to work with everyone and make sure we understood correctly.
PTK's main bladed weapon is the ginunting, a type of single-edged downward-curved sword originating in the Visayas region which is carried by the Philippine Marines. The size and shape of this weapon make a close overlap to the solo baston work, similar to the way we would use the barong for slashing and stabbing attacks either single-handed or reinforced.
It was interesting to see the overlap for commonly used triangle footwork, guntings, sinawali, punio sombrada, elbow strikes, and the like. Some of their movements differ, for example the "arm shuffle", but all are easily and quickly integrated if one's FMA foundation is solid.
PTK includes kata, which is uncommon is many FMA systems. In particular, they use the 64 attacks form to develop basic movements which appear later in subsequent drills and applications. To this are added various "inserts" which expand the fighting vocabulary and highlight options for additional techniques inside the basic flow.
In summary, PTK has some outstanding instructors and is worth a look if you can find it near you. Better still to go and see them next time you are in Manila.
The shinkali group are extremely friendly and open, and have been organizing visits to Japan from some very high-level instructors. They are a great group of people to know!