Tags: japan



100 words 047

One of the great pleasures of travelling is partaking of the local cuisine. Today I travelled to Düsseldorf. As soon as I arrived, I went out for ramen.

Wait, what?

You might be thinking that I should really be making the most of the pork and potato dishes that Germany is famed for, but the fact is that the ramen here is really good.

Düsseldorf, you see, has one of the largest Japanese populations of anywhere in Germany. It all started in the ’50s when a number of Japanese companies set up shop here.

The result: great ramen in Düsseldorf.


I’ve spoken at quite a few events over the last few years (2014 was a particularly busy year). Many—in fact, most—of those events were overseas. Quite a few were across the atlantic ocean, so I’ve partaken of quite a few transatlantic flights.

Most of the time, I’d fly British Airways. They generally have direct flights to most of the US destinations where those speaking engagements were happening. This means that I racked up quite a lot of frequent-flyer miles, or as British Airways labels them, “avios.”

Frequent-flyer miles were doing gamification before gamification was even a thing. You’re lured into racking up your count, even though it’s basically a meaningless number. With BA, for example, after I’d accumulated a hefty balance of avios points, I figured I’d try to the use them to pay for an upcoming flight. No dice. You can increase your avios score all you like; when it actually comes to spending them, computer says “no.”

So my frequent-flyer miles were basically like bitcoins—in one sense, I had accumulated all this wealth, but in another sense, it was utterly worthless.

(I’m well aware of just how first-world-problemy this sounds: “Oh, it’s simply frightful how inconvenient it is for one to spend one’s air miles these days!”)

Early in 2014, I decided to flip it on its head. Instead of waiting until I needed to fly somewhere and then trying to spend my miles to get there (which never worked), I instead looked at where I could possibly get to, given my stash of avios points. The BA website was able to tell me, “hey, you can fly to Japan and back …if you travel in the off-season …in about eight months’ time.”

Alrighty, then. Let’s do that.

Now, even if you can book a flight using avios points, you still have to pay all the taxes and surcharges for the flight (death and taxes remain the only certainties). The taxes for two people to fly from London to Tokyo and back are not inconsiderable.

But here’s the interesting bit: the taxes are a fixed charge; they don’t vary according to what class you’re travelling. So when I was booking the flight, I was basically presented with the option to spend X amount of unspendable imaginary currency to fly economy, or more of unspendable imaginary currency to fly business class, or even more of the same unspendable imaginary currency to fly—get this—first class!

Hmmm …well, let me think about that decision for almost no discernible length of time. Of course I’m going to use as many of those avios points as I can! After all, what’s the point of holding on to them—it’s not like they’re of any use.

The end result is that tomorrow, myself and Jessica are going to fly from Heathrow to Narita …and we’re going to travel in the first class cabin! Squee!

Not only that, but it turns out that there are other things you can spend your avios points on after all. One of those things is hotel rooms. So we’ve managed to spend even more of the remaining meaningless balance of imaginary currency on some really nice hotels in Tokyo.

We’ll be in Japan for just over a week. We’ll start in Tokyo, head down to Kyoto, do a day trip to Mount Kōya, and then end up back in Tokyo.

We are both ridiculously excited about this trip. I’m actually going somewhere overseas that doesn’t involve speaking at a conference—imagine that!

There’s so much to look forward to—Sushi! Ramen! Yakitori!

And all it cost us was a depletion of an arbitrary number of points in a made-up scoring mechanism.


A few years back, Craig took some lovely pictures of four generations of sushi chefs:

The story goes something like: Jiro trained Shiro who ran off to Seattle, started one of the first sushi joints in the city, and trained Taiichi, who now runs his own sushi shop. Jiro also trained his son, who works at Sukiyabashi Jiro and (one assumes) plans to take over the business once his octogenarian father retires (which, according to Jiro, is when he dies).

I love the additional photos that Craig took of each chef making their nigiri-te (the hand motion they use when forming nigiri).

The undisputed Jedi master of these sushi chefs is Jiro Ono. He’s the subject of the forthcoming documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Big in Japan

I’m back from Japan. Thank you to everyone who took the time to give me some sightseeing tips. I had a a great trip.

Web Directions East was really well organised. John and his team took really good care of me and all the other speakers. The only glitch was on my part and it was medical in nature.

Maybe it was the long flight over, maybe it was lack of sleep, but my body protested its new-found surroundings by rebelling in the vocal department. As I was wrapping up my presentation on stage on the morning of the conference, I could feel my throat becoming raspier. An hour or two later, my voice was on its way out. I attempted some damage control by ducking back to the hotel for the afternoon which meant that sadly, I missed a whole bunch of undoubtedly excellent presentation while I tried resting up my body and throat. I still had a whole day of workshopping to do two days after the conference proper and I needed my voice for that.

I spent the day before the workshop being somewhat antisocial by not speaking at all. That helped somewhat but on the day of the workshop itself, I still sounded like Tom Waits. From a medical standpoint, I probably shouldn’t have attempted to spend a whole day talking about Ajax but from a professional standpoint, I was determined to deliver what I had promised. I made it through …just. There were times when I thought I really wouldn’t be able to reach the end of the workshop but it somehow worked out. On the positive side, I really only had to make sure I was audible to one person: the simultaneous interpreter. The interpreters’ voices were all working just fine so the workshop attendees received a translation of my words without an accompanying translation of my laryngitis.

On reflection, it probably wasn’t the best idea to celebrate the successful conclusion of the workshop with an evening of merriment that culminated with karaoke. But hey, when in Japan, right?

The rest of my time in Japan was spent soaking up as many sights, sounds and—most importantly—tastes as I possibly could. In brief…

  • Everybody I met in Japan was friendly and helpful. This is a country where people don’t get into fights when they get drunk, they just get even more polite and friendly.
  • Every subway stop in Tokyo has its own jingle. This is, quite simply, awesome.
  • Advertisements eschew telling you a domain name in favour of showing you what to search for. They must be very confident of their search engine rankings.
  • is a great part of Tokyo. Personally, I think it’s even cooler than .
  • A trip to proved fruitful. I successfully acquired a .
  • Getting up early to visit was totally worth it. It’s a huge chaotic cathedral of seafood.
  • Visiting the on a weekend was fortuitous. There was more than one wedding party to observe.
  • is a beautiful place, perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Staying in a heightened the experience.
  • —or at least the — is crazier than Shinjuku and Shibuya combined. It’s an unimaginative cliché to say this but it really was like Bladerunner.

Then there was the : , and in Tokyo, , and in Osaka …it was all wonderful.

Diligent tourist that I am, I had my camera with me at all times. For your viewing pleasure I give you:


I’ve been doing a lot of travelling this year. I intend to cut back (or attend more virtual conferences like Aral’s). I’m worried that my carbon footprint will require a few forests to offset. I mean, I’ve got the velocity of a squirrel, for crying out loud.

That said, there are certain opportunities that are just too good to pass up. Like, for example, when John asked me if I would speak at Web Directions East in Tokyo next weekend. Yes; Tokyo. A place I’ve always dreamt of visiting.

Tomorrow I’ll fly from Heathrow to Narita and I still can hardly believe it’s really happening. While I’m extremely nervous about my presentation and workshop, I’m also unbelievably excited about visiting the land of sushi and manga. Even better, Jessica is coming with me and, if anything, she’s even more excited.

We’ll be in Tokyo for the best part of a week before heading on for a couple of days in Kyoto and a couple of days in Osaka. We don’t have much of an agenda apart from soaking up the atmosphere and—being the foodies that we are—eating everything in sight.

If you have any hints or tips on what do in Japan, please share them. For my part, I can only promise lots of photographic documentation and maybe even a bit of blogging.