Near Yellow Mountain

Monday, December 17, 2012

Travel "daze" - a quick trip into the heat of Japanese winter

I am in the midst of a transition from company employee to working on my own which essentially means I have less control over my travel  schedule – not what one thinks would be the case but my current situation. I am doing advisory work so when a client requests a meeting, it may only require a day or two of my time. As a result, for now,  trips are shorter which has good points and bad points -  less time away from home but a more intense travel schedule.

This week I left the US for Osaka on Tuesday morning arriving on Wednesday afternoon (due to the 14 hour time change). I had a dinner meeting Wednesday in Osaka with a client who was asked by another Japanese company to invite me to Japan for an introduction and to discuss a long term advisory services agreement. On Thursday morning, two people from my client company and I took the bullet train to Nagoya to meet with the potential client. After the meeting and lunch, the “client in waiting” took the train with the three of us to Tokyo to meet their Australian partner who had flown in only for our brief meeting and dinner.  Although I was flattered that so much time and travel expense was spent to meet me face to face, having a meeting that involved people from three continents seemed like a good opportunity to use the Skype "conference call" feature.

After returning to the hotel from dinner, I changed into casual clothes and left to meet a former customer and friend at a nearby yakitori shop/pub so we could catch up. In my former life, I knew I would be in Japan for at least one week out of every two months, now my schedule is much less certain so I wanted to see as many contacts and friends as I could during my short visit.

On Friday, I played golf with my client and the “client in waiting” and then had dinner with old friends in Tokyo.  One of my dinner companions was my (soon to be 80 years old) Japanese mentor.  I never miss a chance to see him. After dinner I met a customer from my old job for drinks and got back to my hotel at 1am.  Saturday morning, after a run around the Imperial Palace,  I met a former co-worker for tea and then made my way to Tokyo’s central train station.  I took the Shinkansen back to Osaka to catch my flight home since I couldn’t get a seat out of Tokyo. In five days, I spent 33 hours in the air, 9 hours in airports,   9 hours in cars or buses and 7 hours on trains all for a total of 6 hours in scheduled meetings, and a round of golf with lunch in between the front and back nines.  In my “spare time”,  I managed to spend  8 hours  with friends.  I flew over 16,000 actual miles but got more than 60,000 frequent flyer miles due to the bounty of incentives for top level frequent fliers.  I didn’t really experience jet-lag on this trip because I didn’t have time but being in Japan in December does present a special challenge for me.

Once in Japan,  I was almost constantly, uncomfortably warm – except when I was outside or in my hotel room where I could turn the heat off. From the taxis, buses and trains to the conference rooms and restaurants, the temperature was always about 5 degrees above my comfort zone.  My theory on this phenomenon is that the post war generation that endured years where food was not abundant and heat sources scarce during the winter made it a national policy to never be cold again once the Japanese economic boom began. From my perspective, they have been far too successful.

Everyone I contacted before the trip cautioned me that winter had arrived and Japan is “very cold” which to me is code for: “bring shorts”. When I walked outside the terminal building at Kansai Airport in a short sleeved shirt, I got many strange looks from the bundled up Japanese. When I handed my suitcase over to the limo bus attendant he inquired where my coat was. “In my suitcase”, I replied. I knew what was coming when I boarded the bus – high heat and low humidity.  Five minutes after the bus left the airport, I mopped the sweat off my forehead while the Japanese around me – most still wearing their overcoats were perfectly content. I was out of practice dealing with the Japanese winter heat. The next day on a balmy shinkansen ride I was wise enough to wear a short sleeve shirt on the train and wait until we neared our stop to duck in a restroom to “pull a Clark Kent” and emerge as “salaryman” in a blue suit. If I had a big “S” on my shirt it would have stood for sweaty rather than superman.  Of course,  I realize that I was born with a naturally low temperature set point and all foreigners do not have the same the “warm” feeling I have in Japanese public places.

I have endured countless lectures about the dangers of not wearing a coat in Japan when all those around me are wrapped in layers but have found it is better to smile rather than to explain.  Some of those who golf with me on a crisp winter morning seem to understand that my threshold for cold is different than that of the locals. I once played a winter round in short sleeves and asked my playing partner how many layers he had on. He had four thin layers on under his bulky top layer and also had disposable “heat bags” sealed on his inner layer.

Despite my love for the country overall, the Japanese desire to stay warm leaves me cold………