I posted my first entry on this blog on 14 October 2012 – exactly one year ago. It happened to be also a month after I got married and took my wife’s surname. In this sense, the blog helped me to on my journey to establish my new “persona”. Some more personal reflections below the jump.
I stumbled into my sabbatical without much previous planning. My wife’s then-employer offered to send her on secondments to Berlin and to Tokyo. This included a full accommodation package, so I thought if I wanted to take time off my regular 9-5 job pattern, now would be the time to do it.
Before we knew it, we found ourselves in Tokyo, a city we would come to love dearly over the next six months. The blog was set up around our arrival to record my observations, with my great friend Ollie helping me out to set it up quickly. The sabbatical – as it slowly but surely crystallised – would be a period for recalibration and curious exploration. What better is there to keep a diary of sorts in the form of a blog?
Today, one year later, there are more than 125 published posts, making it one every three days. While prolific bloggers manage to write serially more than that, I am very happy with the tally. The depth of each posts varies greatly, sometimes my inspiration carries me past the 100-word-mark, sometimes much further. Going back through the pages now is like reading a diary – immensely valuable in such changing times.
I had initially wanted to reflect on my past occupations to find out which elements I wanted to preserve and save into the next stage of employment. I looked back at several of my trips as a fund manager, remembering dearly the travel and intellectual intensity of the job. More importantly though, I wanted to use the blog to look “outside of the box” and see what else was out there. This culminated in some posts about agriculture and publishing projects.
But the true focus of this blog was quickly to become Tokyo’s architecture and the ingenuity of its urban fabric. With it came an ever-growing exploration into the first few decades of post-war Japanese history. Not being an architect nor a Japan expert, and neither speaking the language made this a challenging undertaking from the very beginning.
Being from Berlin possibly inspired part of this exploration. Back home, history is omnipresent. So many buildings have a very special place in history. The War, the Wall and the Wende are everywhere you look.
I felt that in Tokyo I had the time and energy to actually delve into the place’s history and understand the context of the buildings around me more than say in London or the Netherlands, where I lived before.
The book project was the logical next step. As an economist by training, I could make some sense of the post-war economic miracle and some of the buildings that fit into that specific narrative. I couldn’t really connect the dots with several other buildings, though, and started looking for experts who could authoritatively lend their voice to do just that.
I think that without the blog this project would not have materialised. The first careful posts about buildings got longer as I became hungrier for facts. The more posts there were the more connections I could draw and the more frequent links to older posts became.
Most importantly though, the writing about Tokyo as a place vastly improved my experience of my time in Japan and connected me with the place, as well as the here and now. It also inspired some real-life action, walking tours and urban exploration, such as walking the Yamamote circle line on foot (and despite the rain).
Unfortunately, we had to leave Japan once my wife’s secondment was over. A semester of travel was about to follow, and most of it was chronicled on the blog too.
We visited relatives in India and stayed in Delhi and Varanasi. It was fantastic to meet all those we couldn’t have over at our wedding in Germany. Feeling so welcome by all our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins was truly one of the most amazing experiences I can remember.
From India we went via Thailand to Myanmar, where we stayed for about a month. I wrote a 10,000-word piece on the state of play for a small consultancy based out of New York. For that I met and interviewed dozens of people and went into retreat for a week after being back in Europe to put it all together. Unfortunately, the report was bespoke so I cannot post it here, but if you want a copy, please get in touch.
The rest of the time before moving over to New York was spent in Europe, mainly in Berlin and London, from where I blogged quite extensively as well. Taking the “skills” developed in Tokyo to work, I re-discovered these cities with a new set of eyes, e.g. Alexanderplatz or the City of London. We also spent time in the German countryside, cycling there from Berlin and revisiting the town we got married in, among others.
The Guggenheim Museum
Now New York has taken over much of this blog. Blogging here has been a little less systematic although I still try to jot down “spatial” observations or little posts about interesting buildings.
I have no idea where we will be in twelve months’ time and what I will be doing by then. I just know that if I manage to write a blog post every 2-3 days, it will be as “productive” a journey as it has been over the last twelve months! Thanks for checking in!