Husband and wife team Bryan (MiiR's Founder and CEO) and Rebecca (MiiR's Director of Impact) spent two weeks traveling in Asia to develop and build working relationships and welcome new sources of inspiration through its culture, cuisine, history, rituals and trends. Read on for Rebecca’s reflections on the Japanese leg of their journey.
One week in Japan is certainly not enough time to absorb the offerings of this stunning country, especially when the trip’s agenda includes a healthy sprinkling of work, both in the form of face-to-face meetings with customers and distributors, as well as early morning and late night check-ins with our Seattle office.
But why not try?
We planned ahead, first and foremost, for a lot of WALKING. It is, after all, the best way to take inventory of your surroundings and engage all the senses. Tokyo was always on the agenda, but what about Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kobe, Mount Fuji? We would just have to narrow and choose.
Above: Obligatory selfie at the Golden temple.
We knew we wanted to tackle the cuisine, a handful of museums and historical sites, coffee shops, open spaces (parks, hiking trails, markets, etc.) and window shopping (particularly on the hunt for experiential or “emotional” retail) but also make space for a time of reading, reflection and rest (rest would be especially important in my case, as I carried around the extra awkwardness and weight that comes with being six months pregnant). Purchased in advance, we enlisted the Monacle's Travel Guide books for help, a totable resource of relevant, curated information designed for travelers wishing to venture beyond the “traditional tourist” mindset and hitting all the necessary categories: need-to-know, hotels, food and drink, retail and design & architecture, to name a few.
Kyoto, a quaint city of 1.5 million, was once the capital of Japan and is known for its formal traditions and practiced artisans. Take Kaikado for example - a six generation company producing hand-made tea caddies involving 130 manufacturing steps. Having been left nearly untouched in war times, many prewar buildings and temples still stand today, enhancing the richness of Kyoto’s history and charm. While there, we experience Japanese-style lodging called ryokan, see plenty of formal kimono-clad women (and men) as well as the more casual “yukata” version, and nearly fork it out for an authentic rickshaw tour (ultimately deciding we would rather be on foot).
Above: A Kaikado shop's outdoor seating area, complete with thoughtfully placed bamboo stalks and natural ergonomic seating.
Our Kyoto dates are intentionally nestled in the middle of our two week Asia adventure, where the bulk of R&R is scheduled to occur. A convenient rainfall reminiscent of Seattle’s springtime climate keeps us inside for a couple of days, but doesn’t prevent us from enjoying the hotel’s onsen (natural hot spring), gardens, teahouse and ponds stocked with fiery orange koi fish, representative of good fortune. In terms of reading, Bryan is halfway through Principles by Ray Dalio while I work on goal setting, thanks to Migoals.
Above: All day long this time of year, traditional boats move tourists slowly along the Katsura river.
[Every Japanese maple leaf, bloom and thatched roof strand is a scene of perfection. On the Hozu river, both traditional boats and rentable canoes seem to float by without effort. We walk the river’s boardwalk and almost accidentally make our way to the famous Sagano bamboo forest, named both a National Historic Site and Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government. It does not disappoint and is surely a place of scenic beauty. Gray in the shadows and all shades of green in the light, it’s impossible to describe the power each bamboo shoot holds in both stillness and stature.] Journal entry, 5/4/18
Not to be missed in Kyoto: Sagano bamboo forest, Golden Temple (Kinkaku-ji), Kiln restaurant, matcha soft serve
[We take the high speed train from Kyoto to Tokyo in the late afternoon, about a two-hour journey traveling at something like 175 mph. Both of us are motion sick the entire way. Is it worth noting that the most stressful and confusing moments of this trip BY FAR have been navigating transportation?
Soon after arriving to our hotel our Japanese distributor, Ken, whisks us away for dinner at an awesome 2nd (or 3rd?) story tempura establishment. It seats eight and the head chef has been perfecting his tempura craft for FORTY years. Every portion comes with multiple tiny dishes of all shapes that serve a specific purpose - an oil or sauce, onion, radish, a lemon wedge, salt with a miniature spoon covered by a tiny lid. For a brief moment in conversation, Ken shares his perspective of the US and it fascinates me - he heaps words over the freedom and creativity that abounds in my native country. The very uniformity I see and admire in Japan is the antithesis to his admiration for the individuality I take for granted.] Journal entry, 5/8/18
Above: Asakusa market.
I won’t attempt to describe Toyko better than the Monacle: “With its clean streets, punctual transport and polite service at every turn, the Japanese capital is the last word in efficiency. But its charms run so much deeper: in spite of its size - 13 million people live here - this city has warmth and cosiness. If Tokyo’s reputation is that of an imposing, neon-lit modern realm, a visit will reveal a very different side: low-rise, leafy and welcoming.” (pg 9, The Monacle Travel Guide Series, Tokyo)
The bulk of our time in Tokyo is spent in meetings and touring shopping districts to get a sense for retail offerings, consumer mindset and purchasing habits. The general outdoor market there is not to be ignored, with Japan’s mountains ripe for snow sports in the winter and a coastline with surfable options year-round. Though I visited their NYC location years ago, I fall in love again with MUJI stores, founded in Japan in 1980 and offering “a wide variety of good quality products” including unfussy stationary, luggage, household goods, food and apparel. It’s the perfect place to shop for friends and family.
Above: Enjoyed by school girls, a piece from Yayoi Kusama's exhibition entitled "Here, Now, I have Reached The Grandest Start of My Life" at Yayoi Kusama Museum.
Not to be missed in Tokyo: Yayoi Kusama Museum, Asakusa district, Tokyo Skytree, Omotesando (the “Champs-Élysées of Japan”)
Overall, the people we meet and the sites we enjoy while in Japan so beautifully represent a respect for its past, present and future. America has much to learn from this society whose culture is so clearly and deeply rooted in service, achievement, simplicity and efficiency. We’ll be back, either when the snow is falling or the cherry blossoms are blooming!