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Just over a year ago I was in this same place. It's a short and touristy row of shops leading up to a temple in Asakusa, Japan. Last time I was here it was my first time in Japan, which meant that I was so enthralled with being there that I didn't realize what a tourist trap it was.
Now I'm here again and I see the place in a different light. I've lived in Japan for almost two months now as part of my year long trip around the world.
As I look up at the paper lanterns dangling above the street I have a thought.
What a day. In an effort to totally avoid paying for hotels we have worked out an elaborate system of only taking night trains, where we can sleep as we travel.
Today that landed us in Aomori, a small city in Northern Japan. After spending two hours researching things to do there, I had found only one possibility: eat apples. The city is known for having good apples, and nothing else whatsoever.
With 14 hours before our next train to Sapporo, we had to find something else to do. To fuel our brainstorming we found a little trendy Italian restaurant called Piccolo. Even one-street towns in Japan have restaurants with beautiful interior design. It's important here. We lucked out - they use high quality ingredients, make their own sauces, and use extra virgin olive oil.
Something strange has been happening to me over the past year or so. I haven't written much about it because I'm almost in denial that it's happening.
I'm caring far less about money.
This is scary to admit. A lot of my identity, at least internally, is based around the desire and eventuality that I will become rich. Losing my motivation to be rich is like losing a part of myself. I feel like I'm right on the edge, as if I could just say, "forget it..." and never look back.
When I was ten I went to a Christian summer camp called Camp Calumet. We stayed in cabins with our counselors and a dozen other kids.
By a stroke of luck my best friend Ryan and I ended up in the cabin with the cool counselors. I don't remember either of their names, or even what they looked like, but I remember that one of them had a sticker on his guitar case that asked, "Y B Normal?"
It was a cheesy sticker, of course, but as an impressionable kid it made me think. My counselor was probably the coolest guy I knew at the time, so I instantly equated being not normal with being cool.
I had better write an article today. The pressure from the family is mounting and we're about to take a mammoth train trip that will probably leave us internetless for a few days.
We got our train passes and immediately headed out on our pilgrimage to Shikoku. It was awesome. We'd never seen rural Japan before, but it was beautiful. There was a constant wind, which was the only thing you could hear once the train left. It sounded like a ghost town.
Some of the houses were built in such a traditional style that I mistook them for temples on more than one occasion.
I was reading a self improvement site a month ago and while reading it I had a thought.
"Is this actually going to make ANY difference in my life?"
Nope. Then I started thinking about what WOULD make a difference, and for reference I thought about things that had changed my life.
We're going on a pilgrimage. We just realized that our train passes are valid starting today, so we need to take a long trip to start it off.
Fourteen hours to the island prefecture of Shikoku sounds about right. In Shikoku there is a traditional 88 temple pilgrimage through the countryside and woods that covers 993 miles. Most people do it in 40-60 days on foot, although others wimp out and take the bus.
We don't have time for that, unfortunately, but we're going to head out tonight and walk for a day or two.
We finally bit the bullet and bought bikes. Not just any bikes, though, hilarious foldable ones.
They fold up pretty small and are light enough to carry around.
There's a term here, "gaijin smash", which is when a foreigner does something uncustomary or illegal but no one stops them because they're all too polite here.
I'm on day four of this magical adventure and I'm slowly becoming more capable.
I'm averaging around thirty words per minute now in the little typing program, but probably a bit less in real life. At least I don't want to kill myself when I type anymore. It's the little things in life, you know?
It has been really fascinating to learn a new skill, start from scratch, and watch my progress daily. One really interesting thing I've noticed is that my words per minute don't really go up during the day, even though it feels easier as I practice more throughout the day. However, when I wake up the next morning I am much faster.
I'm a fast typist. Ninety words per minute. Take it.
That last line, however, took three minutes to type. It's excruciating. Why?
I'm switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout. For those who don't know, typewriters started out with their keys arranged in an "ABCD" configuration this caused the hammers to bind, so the standard "QWERTY" keyboard was invented.