Things I learned in Japan

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  • Having one card that works for all public transit in different cities is such a blessing
  • Bento boxes are amazing, because they let you try many different foods in one box
  • Japan is not a great place if you’re vegetarian (I’m not, but a friend is) – there are only a few restaurants in each city that will work out
  • Service delays for local trains do happen occasionally. In such cases, it can be difficult to leave the train station, because most of the time, the system requires you to tag in and out of your departure and arrival station in order to work.
  • Water bottles get more expensive the higher up Fushimi Inari you climb
  • Vending machines with beverages on streets are remarkably…considerate when you’re feeling thirsty.
  • The Shinkansen takes 2.3 hours to go from Tokyo to Kyoto which are 318.6 miles apart. Compare that with the Acela, which takes 3.5 hrs to get you from Boston to New York which are 214 miles apart
  • The phrase for Good Morning is exceptionally fun to say: Ohayo (Oh-hi-oh)
  • Cardholders from the US generally fare better with 7-11 ATMs than others where you’ll get an error message
  • Don’t eat too much tempura or you’ll end up with stomach problems for weeks after you get back home
  • Women sometimes wear kimonos in the summer in Kyoto when they go out
  • There are beautiful places in every corner of the universe
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Ode to “Old Devices”

“What is that?” The guy next to me on the plane exclaimed, staring at my iPod.

Yes, I still use my iPod classic when traveling, because it carries thousands of songs that I can listen to without having to drain battery or data from the more important devices. It essentially has one function, but it works really, really well. I had to explain all of this to my seat neighbor when he shook his head, vehemently disagreeing with me from the look on his face. The fact that I even carried an older device was clearly a crime to him.

Nevertheless, it occurred to me that I’ve had this reaction before when I see people carrying around flip phones. Don’t you want apps on your phone? At least for Maps or Weather?  The answer I often get it is “I can get around fine without it.”

The truth is, having a phone with limited functionality is still pretty functional. It allows you to constant people without aimlessly distracting you wherever you go. This has been discussed at length in other blogs and online magazines, but it really hit me in the face this past weekend.

I’m currently in Zurich, Switzerland on a business trip. On the way to the hotel, I found myself needing to check the reservation info. 5 minutes later, I was in another app browsing the news. The taxi stopped momentarily at a red stop during the trip, causing me to look up. Outside my window were charming bridges and canals. Pedestrians waited as the tram rolled by. The Swiss flag flew quietly in a number of stores. The city was in front of me.

I’m in Zurich, I thought to myself. Why am I looking at my phone instead of out my window?

Our mobile devices can do a lot for us, and for the most part, they help make information and tools more accessible. But they also cause us to seek out information when we don’t need to. When we have a 200 apps, we tend to spend time looking at the content inside them rather than outside in reality. It’s much too easy to keep scrolling, swiping and tapping.

In an age when we’re constantly connected through the web, having a single-function device sounds …like a relaxing time.