Sun rising over Sagami Bay - Kamakura, Japan

This is it. Today’s the day. To those who have been nagging the last few months about not letting this and other projects die on the vine: you’re the best. The blog is back.

Some may remember that when I started writing I had recently found myself out of work and was gearing up for what turned out to be a very long job search. Though the original mission of this blog had been to cover a wide range of topics that I found interesting, it quickly and inadvertently ended up as a piece of my professional marketing collateral, with heavy emphasis on environmental sustainability, my chosen field. While that certainly won’t disappear, I hope this can be an inflection point where I can return to the bigger picture like a fish in water was meant to encompass.

So just where have I been?

Mei

Well, first, our baby girl Mei was born on Valentine’s Day. She is very cute and sweet, though seems to derive a worryingly large amount of amusement from waking her parents up at 3:00 in the morning.

The office

The next morning, I received an offer to work full-time with Corporate Eco Forum, the organization I had been helping as a part-time researcher during my job search. It is difficult to express just how great this job is in a small space, but I will do my best to deliver regular doses over time as my role and experiences grow. Not only have I been able to do exactly what I had wanted from a professional standpoint, I work either from home or wherever I can plunk down my laptop and find a wifi signal. This time a year ago, I had just lost what I thought would have been a great job at Deloitte in the final interview round, and was not thrilled about going into the summer job search doldrums. Last week I was part of two CEF videoconferences, one with about 15 high-level corporate sustainability officers and another with CIOs and IT professionals from some of the largest and most influential global companies. What a difference time makes.

With the job search now concluded and life generally getting back to an even keel, I am very excited to turn (or return) to other pursuits and share them via words and images. Here is both a summary of what’s happened in the last few months, as well as a preview of the kinds of things I’d like to cover in future posts:

Net Impact Service Corps volunteer orientation

After being part of two Net Impact Service Corps volunteer projects, with nonprofits Public Allies NY and E+Co, I graduated to become one of the Service Corps managers. I am currently advising one volunteer team for this spring’s session, and will fully move into the role as we begin planning for the next session in the fall.

Asia Society panel discussion on China urban development

After attending several very impressive presentations I became a member of the Asia Society, which just happens to have its global headquarters in New York. It has been a great way to learn more about many of the geopolitical and cultural aspects that interest me, as well as meet others who are passionate about the future of the region and its relationship with the west.

Something old and something new, in Kong Kong

My study of Chinese culture and language has resumed, thanks in no small part to the presence of my wife Min’s parents, who are staying with us for the first six months after Mei’s birth. At first I had to stick to my block Chinese (though the lack of verb conjugation in Mandarin is a blessing) and ask them to slow down frequently. Recently, I have had (very basic) conversations with my mom about centrally planned economies and gendercide in China and India. It seems practice really does help.

Along with my time spent at Asia Society, these conversations have highlighted one very interesting component of the Chinese perspective on the way things work. China has played a dominant role in world trade and development for the last several thousand years. They see the last few centuries of western control as a brief window by comparison. China’s current ascension is not so much a rise as a return. Westerners doing business with or living in China will undoubtedly have this pointed out to them on an increasingly frequent basis.

Shibuya, Tokyo - ground zero for all things young and hip

Hopping over the East China Sea I land in Japan, which has been on a lot of minds lately, but unfortunately for very tragic and disruptive reasons.

Long before the Tohoku earthquake, I had cultivated a deep and ever growing fascination (obsession?) with Japanese pop culture. At first I had traced this back to discovering anime as a college student. On further review, I realized it extends much farther back in time. During adolescence it was Nintendo. As a child it was Atari 2600 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even before that, it was Transformers and Voltron. Of course, I knew little or nothing about the Japanese origin of these things at the time, but in retrospect it’s little wonder that I slipped right into adult anime, manga (comic books) and literature, as if these were familiar things I had merely forgotten about. What began as an interest in just pop culture gradually broadened into wider Japanese culture, business, politics and life in general.

Living in Tokyo for several months in 2008 as part of my MBA program was the next step on this continuum. I had been a big fan of (and continue to watch) what is referred to as “slice of life” anime, which depicts relatively realistic experiences of life in Japan, so many things seemed very normal, despite never having had to do them before. I have not quite gotten bowing protocol down yet, but I never forgot to take my shoes off and always apologized to other elevator riders if I was getting off on a floor before theirs (thus slowing the trip and inconveniencing them). This awareness of others around you and placing the needs of the collective above your own was brought into stark relief during the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, in the selfless efforts of so many to help their neighbors (particularly by those who had lost so much themselves).

Hideo Furukawa chats with fan at Japan Society launch of Monkey Business

The Japan Society was among several organizations hosting the US launch of the first English edition of Monkey Business, a Japanese literary journal. Acquaintance and Oberlin College alumnus Roland Kelts is one of its editorial advisers and manages the relationship with A Public Space, the journal’s US publisher. It features English translations of very interesting work by new writers, an interview with contemporary author Haruki Murakami, and even some manga. Definitely pick one up if this interests you (I’m not getting paid for the endorsement!)

In the past year, I have gotten close to my goal of reading all the writing of Murakami, after which I plan to move on to other well-know writers like Mishima and Kawabata, and new ones like Hideo Furukawa (pictured above).

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - though translated to English, still flopped (read from right to left)

I have long had the idea that environmental sustainability is in large part driven by our personal behavior and consumptive habits (companies don’t manufacture and sell products we don’t want, usually). We can have a large impact as individuals by what products or services we buy, and sometimes by buying less of them, or using them in better ways. Because culture is a large influencer of behavior, I think that to ignore its role in shaping our attitude about our relationship to the Earth is to miss a large part of the solution to the current state of affairs. First things first, though, would be observing, defining and understanding the relationships between culture and consumption, to the extent possible.

Japan is my entry point. The finite space and resources have shaped a culture that largely values efficiency and a “waste not, want not” attitude. Awareness of the effect of human activity on the environment, specifically, is prevalent enough that it even finds its way into anime and manga, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The film version of Nausicaä was endorsed by the World Wide Fund for Nature when it was released in 1984. As a fun way to kickoff what could very well turnout to be a lifelong project, I am planning to read the entire manga version of the story, then review existing analysis about the manga and film (of which there is a surprisingly large amount, even just the English material). My hope is to find out if there is any more to say about the messages in the story, particularly as it relates to real-world attitudes about conservation and stewardship.

Homemade tonkotsu ramen

Lastly, rounding out my Japan love fest and this blog post, we have ramen. It’s the Japanese interpretation of Chinese noodles in soup. It could also be described as the universe in a bowl. I’m not talking about the $0.10 a brick variety that got many through the college years (though it has its place in the scheme of ramen-dom). The real thing is, when done well, an intense assault of flavors and textures. Salty, porky, chickeny, fishy soup. Chewy noodles, crunchy fungi, pork roasted to perfection and seasoned eggs cooked gently until just congealed. Hey, stop drooling on your keyboard! Wait, that’s me.

My pal Christa and I have made the rounds of many of the ramenya in New York. Most make an admirable try, but an elite few really dazzle and would clearly hold their own even in the hypercompetitive Tokyo scene.

I’ve recently escalated my noodling to more serious territory, first making a simple shio (clear chicken broth) ramen, and then the holy-grail of tonkotsu (cloudy pork broth) ramen in my home kitchen. The first attempt at tonkotsu is pictured above. One third of the freezer is now occupied with pork leg bones for subsequent rounds. This will get dangerous. Many thanks to the rameniac and Keizo for inspiring me to take my ramen infatuation to unhealthy levels.

Is it time to eat yet?